We woke to bright blue skies and sunshine – a complete contrast to yesterday, and the forecast for the day looked good.
The new Joule’s development above Stone Wharf is rapidly taking shape and it’s good to see the business back in the town it grew up in.The old Joules brewery buildings are still there too – it would be good if they could get permission to repaint the signage on the canal facing wall as it really does need a lick of paint.
Although they weren’t in sight it soon became obvious that we were following another boat and we caught up with them just before Meaford Road Lock No 33 but they were pretty slick at their lock working and they didn’t hold us up at all.
We were by Plume of Feathers PH when we were hit by a boat coming south. There were two boats moored up outside the pub and I saw a boat coming round the corner rather quickly. I decided that the best thing to do was hold back and let him pass between me and the two moored boats. Well that was the idea, what happened was that “Piggie Wiggie” didn’t slow down and failed to actually make it through the 9 foot wide gap I’d left him. He bounced off our boat, didn’t apologise (actually he blanked us totally), and didn’t slow down at all. Some people on the second moored boat commented “Well that’s not what I’d call slowing down”.
By now there was quite a flow of boats heading south and we could see that we had a couple more boats in front of us – which shouldn’t be a problem. Well it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Trentham Lock No 35. I know its a deep lock but with boats coming down and three boats in front of us it took over an hour to get through – and it wasn’t that people were working the lock inefficiently : it was just slow and I bet it can be a real bottleneck in the summer.
The approach to the Stoke Flight really hasn’t improved – for a city that owes so much of its growth to the canal it really doesn’t seem to care much about it.
Stoke Bottom Lock No 36 has to be one of the worst locks on the canal. Given it’s relatively recent construction you would have thought that we could have learned something from 200 years of building locks, but apparently not. Stoke Lock is abysmal – who ever designed it had obviously been told how a lock worked but had never actually been and looked at one and seen one being used.
The pound above the lock was a little low but the canal was quite deep and with boats having been spaced out a little by the slowness of the bottom lock we didn’t have to queue at any lock until we got to Stoke Lock No 39 but even that wasn’t that bad and we soon got to Etruria Junction where we managed to do the sharp right turn into the Caldon Canal with relative ease.
We pulled in onto the visitor moorings outside the museum entrance and grabbed a bite of lunch. There were a few hire boats from Stone all heading south and heading up the Caldon – we found out later that they were all going to go up the Macclesfield canal but due to a towpath collapse at the top of Bosley Locks they’d all had to turn round and come back so were off up the Caldon.
So we ended up basically at the tail end of a small convoy of boats who weren’t the fastest of boats and who did seem to be extremely over eager when tying up to wait for locks.
The last time I was on the Caldon was in 1999 and the canal has changed a lot, mainly for the good = they were hard at work painting Hanley Park Lower Bridge No 5A and it looks like there is a major refurbishment of the main pavilion and bandstand area going on with lots of new terracotta ornate walling being put in and new flowerbeds being laid.
The Caldon isn’t the straightest or deepest of canals and it does seem to love putting bridges on sharp bends with no straight approach, and sometimes to add a bit more fun it throws in overhanging vegetation which means you either can’t see through the bridge, or you can’t see the edges which leads to lots of swearing. Luckily we didn’t meet many boats coming down the canal but it still was very much a matter of taking your life into your hands on some of the bends.
We had to wait in the queue at Engine Lock No 4 and when we got into the lock the pound above it was down by well over a foot – however it looked like most of it wasn’t recent. Getting crew off for Norton Green Lift Bridge No 21 wasn’t actually that hard but did involve a bit of a leap of faith both getting off the boat and then getting back on it afterwards.
We took it slowly keeping very much to the middle of the channel and just after Heakley Hall Bridge No 22 we found one of the boats that had gone up the lock in front of us stationary in the canal with their back deck up. We edged our way slowly past them and they didn’t move an inch – so they were very hard aground.
Progress along the section and through Long Butts Lift Bridge No 23 was slow and we had to wait at Stockton Brook Bottom Lock No 5 to start our slow passage up the locks. If we thought the level was low before the locks then it was just about empty above Stockton Brook Lock No 7 where we probably had about 6 inches over the cill at best – but we made it to the next lock without running aground. We had to help one of the boats going ahead of us as they cut the corner on the way up to the top lock and got stuck – we ended up flushing water through the lock to bring the pound up a little bit which got them moving again.
We worked our way though the top lock and moored right at the end of the moorings above the bridge and after eating walked down to The Sportsman for several well deserved pints.