It was slightly cool and misty when we got up, and the mist was quite a bit heavier than yesterday but you could still see where you were going without too much difficulty.
It was very quiet as we made our way down through Woods Lock No 15 and the mist really added to the atmosphere. Parkhouse Wood Lift Bridge loomed up out of the mist – it looks like it’s basically left open all the time and it looked quite impressive.
The mist had lifted a bit by the time we got to Oak Meadow Ford Lock No 16 and a quick check of the gauge showed that the river was still in the green zone and it was safe to navigate, and as we could actually see a reasonable distance we slipped out of the lock and onto the River Churnet.
It’s so tempting to open up the throttle on river sections and let the boat go at a good speed but the river section is rather attractive so keeping the revs down and enjoying the mist and the light mixing through the trees was the right thing to do, and to be honest it doesn’t take long before you reach Consall Forge where you leave the river and go back onto the canal for the last few miles. The Black Lion Inn looked quite moody in the mist but it was too early to stop so we checked the mooring situation for later.
Once you’ve passed under Churnet Railway Bridge No 50A the canal becomes very narrow as the space between the river and the valley side has to be shared by the canal and the railway, and the space is so small that the platform and the waiting room at Consall Station actually overhang the canal – which makes navigating this section quite interesting.
At Flint Mill Lock Winding Hole there is a notice about Froghall tunnel showing the profile and basically saying if you have a full length boat and your profile is such that you wont fit then you should turn round here and not proceed as the next winding hole which is before the tunnel isn’t big enough for full length boats.
By Flint Mill Lock No 17 the old flint mill has now been turned into a large house – the last time I came down here the mill was abandoned and open to the elements. I think the conversion has shrunk the height of the building but it’s so long ago that I can’t really remember.
As you exit the lock there is a plastic curtain which supposedly matches the profile of Froghall tunnel – if your boat doesn’t fit under it then theoretically you can’t get through the tunnel.. Mintball didn’t fit under it at all!
Below the lock the canal has a couple of very narrow sections with no obvious passing places and of course there are bends so you can’t see if anything is coming the other way. All I can assume is that when the canal was in commercial use they either sent people ahead or they did a sort of batch processing – moving several boats one way and then several the other way.
As with a lot of the canal the final section down to Froghall runs through woodland with very little sign of any industry or any civilisation at all. The strangely named Cherry Eye Bridge No 53, with its rather unique shape, is one of the few bridges on this stretch and the rurality of the canal continues until you reach Froghall Footbridge where the now flattened Froghall works comes along side.
There are some rather odd pipes here – one crosses the canal by the footbridge, runs down the non-towpath side of the canal and then crosses the canal again at Froghall Pipe Bridge and vanishes back into the factory site it first came out of – I’m sure there was some logical reason for it but….
If you can’t make it through the tunnel then it’s vitally important not to miss Froghall Winding Hole because the tunnel is just round the corner.
We slowed right down and eased Mintball’s prow into the tunnel. After about 20 feet I was convinced that the cabin roof at the front was going to hit the roof of the tunnel but we moved crew around and continued our slow progress into the tunnel… there was NOT a lot of head room but apart from one scrape on the front right hand cabin edge we made it through with no issues.
Once you are through the tunnel it is only a few minutes to Froghall Junction where the Uttoxeter Canal leaves the Caldon. We continued past the junction and got the first half of the boat under Froghall Junction Bridge No 55 before we ran out of water – so we backed up and went down Uttoxeter Branch Lock No 1 and moored up in Froghall Basin which has some really nice pontoon moorings (although they are slightly short for a 52 foot boat). We were the only boat in the basin and it’s a pity that more boats can’t make it through the tunnel because the area really is worth visiting.
By now the mist had cleared and it had turned into quite a nice day so we spent a bit of time wandering round the area looking at the old lime kilns and although we were the only people there who had come by boat there were actually a good number of people there and the coffee shop seemed to be doing a good trade.
You can tell that this bit of canal isn’t used much as there is a small garden growing on the walls in the junction lock, and I really hope someone at C&RT has it under control because I saw at least one small tree getting quite well established.
By the time we got back to Consall Station the sun was shining and the station almost looked like a film set.. it just needed a steam train to complete the picture but as this time of year they don’t run any trains mid week.
The moorings at Black Lion Inn were empty so we pulled in and headed over to the pub for a couple of pints. It was extremely pleasant sitting outside in the remarkably warm sunshine drinking some rather strong beer.
We could quite happily have stayed there for the rest of the day – we didn’t actually need to go any further but an evening meal at The Hollybush sounded quite appealing so after a couple of pints we headed back to the boat.
We made our way at a relaxed pace back up the river and then back onto the canal. There was someone at Woods Lock No 15 who was obviously just passing their time helping boats work through the lock… however he’d been there for a couple of hours and we were the first boat he’d actually seen.
It was a bit busy round The HollyBush so we made our way up the locks and then backed onto the moorings at the start of the Leek Branch and then walked down to the pub for the evening.