The end of the road, and back again

From Stanley Road Bridge No 26 to Basford Bridge No 44, a distance of 10 miles, 4¾ flg and 5 locks.

It was a little misty when we got up and did a quick engine check before casting off. Some of the other boats were showing signs of crew getting up and on the one behind us someone came out and drank a coffee as we were checking the oil but they didn’t get their crew out of bed fast enough and we were first off the moorings.

The summit stretch of the Caldon just meanders over open countryside, which is rather pleasing to the eye, Even the very industrial features such as Endon Basin don’t look that way, but the little traffic island in the middle of the canal just before you get to the basin reminds you that this canal was very much an industrial artery in the day. The island is all the remains of a swivel bridge for a tramway which crossed the canal and ran parallel to the railway line down to Endon Station. After Endon, where the canal takes a right hand turn you wind your way to Park Lane Bridge No 31 where there is a small C&RT yard offering water, elsan (and pumpout), showers, refuse disposal and dry recycling (cardboard, glass, tins etc.)

When the Caldon Canal was first constructed the line dropped down three locks just past Park Lane – the Park Lane Locks – but it’s impossible to work out just where the canal went as the line was altered towards the end of the 18th Century and the summit was extended along to Hazelhurst when the line from Leek was added.

At Hazelhurst Junction the main line drops through three locks and the line to Leek goes off to the right. But it wasn’t always like this. Originally you carried along the line towards Leek until you got to Hazelhurst Turnover Bridge No 3 where there was a staircase of locks dropping you down to the main line. However these locks were slow and so a hole was punched through the Leek Branch Embankment ( Hazelhurst Aqueduct ), the new locks were built and the staircase locks were closed off.

The Leek Branch is really nothing more than a navigable feeder for most of its length – think the Llangollen Canal to Llangollen but narrower with less flow and a lot more vegetation. But it seems to be quite deep so you make quite good progress.

Leek Tunnel Winding Hole is less of a winding hole and more of a small lagoon, but how deep it is out towards the edge we didn’t try to find out. But it does allow you to get a good alignment for the tunnel so you can see if it’s clear. The tunnel isn’t much wider than a boat but it does have good head room and it’s almost pleasant to navigate.

Just after Leek Bridge No 9 there is a winding hole with a notice saying that all boats over 45 feet should wind here. We wilfully ignored it – and the comments from the person on a moored boat saying we couldn’t turn round and continued right up to the end of the canal where the feeder from Rudyard Lake joins and the canal used to cross the River Churnet. The canal from here to a basin just outside Leek was filled in in the 1960 and the basin has now been completely built over.

End of the Line
You apparently can’t turn boats longer than 45 feet here. Well you can… but 52 foot is probably the limit and you need to know what you are doing

After a bit of manoeuvring and some bow hauling we got turned round and chugged back down towards the winding hole where we moored up and walked back into town.

Anther view of the end of the canal
I still can’t work out how we got the boat turned round here.
You should turn here
All boats over 45 feet should wind here and then reverse back onto the moorings

The route into Leek isn’t clearly sign posted at all and it doesn’t take you along the old route of the canal, although we suspect you could do it by walking up the road, instead it takes you across to the old railway line which leads you straight to the Morrisons supermarket which now occupies the site of the railway station, which was next to the canal basin. There are long term plans for the railway to Leek to be restored and linked to the Churnet Valley Railway so when that happens they’ll have to come up with an alternative route into town… or they could restore the canal and build a new basin over what is a pretty grim, run down, industrial area.

When you get to Morrisons it’s still a little walk, up hill, to get to Leek itself but it’s worth the walk. The town still has a thriving market and a lot of independent shops, and the Red Lion on the Market Place does a very good pint of Hydes. We’d gone into Leek to do a crew swap so when people had left and others had arrived we walked back to the boat via the Morrisons where we picked up some supplies.

When we got back to Hazlehurst junction we did the sharp turn and headed down the three locks and under the aqueduct. Just past the aqueduct there is the stub of the old line for the staircase locks which seems to be used as a private mooring now.

Hazlehurt Junciion
Bottom end of the long abandoned staircase locks

The canal passes The Hollybush Inn , which is right by the canal and is a very popular stopping point for obvious reasons, and then it meanders its way down the river valley to Cheddleton Flint Mill which occupies a large site by the side of the canal – it’s now a working museum. Just before the mill are set of visitor moorings – if you want to stop and go to the pubs in the village then you must stop here as there are no moorings below the two locks.

If you go down the locks then the next place you can moor is on the very short length of visitor moorings opposite the Boat Inn but be prepared to tie up to the wooden fencing poles as there are no rings and the bank isn’t suitable for spikes or hooks.

Onwards and upwards along the winding road

From Stone Visitor Moorings to Stanley Road Bridge No 26, a distance of 16 miles, 2¾ flg and 23 locks.

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.

A rainy day.

From Radford Bridge Visitor Moorings to Stone Visitor Moorings, a distance of 14 miles, 1¼ flg and 5 locks.

The rain, which had started before we’d left the pub last night had continued throughout the night but by the time we cast off, having been to the local supermarket to pick up a few things, it had reduced to an annoying, and continuous, drizzle.

Maybe it’s just our luck but a lot of our trips along this section of canal seem to have been damp and miserable, or maybe it just feels that way – it’s not the most interesting stretch of canal at the best of times.

We didn’t meet another boat until we were approaching Tixall Lock No 43 where we found a day boat on the lock moorings (we think they were just having problems picking up their crew) and another boat emptying the lock. Once the day boat had moved out of the way we pulled over onto the loc mooring much to the puzzlement of the person who was working the second boat through the lock. They seemed slightly confused about what to do – which was worrying as they were in a boat from Stone, but I guess this was their first “up” lock so it could possibly explain it.

We reached Great Haywood Junction and it was totally and utterly deserted so our turn left was one of the easiest passages through the junction we’ve made recently. The rain had eased off a little bit by now and there were brief periods of it actually not raining which try to trick you into taking your waterproofs off.

We met a bunch of Canadians at Hoo Mill Lock No 23 who. despite the weather, seemed to be enjoying themselves but they were one of the few boats we met moving all day.

We’d decided that we’d stop at Stone for the night so we decided to stop at Salt for a quick lunchtime drink. There are some good moorings south of Salt Bridge No 82 and the pub (The Holly Bush) is a few minutes walk up the road into the village. They do food and don’t reserve tables so its worth knowing about if you are around there and really don’t feel like cooking on board.

Salt Bridge
We suspect that when they had to make the bridge higher to get over the railway they just added more rows to the arch and then put a top on it

The clouds were lifting as we walked back from the pub and it pretty much stayed dry for the rest of the day, but it stayed rather cool and overcast. Like the top end of the S&W this part of the T&M just seems to wobble it’s way through the Staffordshire countryside with very little sign of the industry that provided so much business for the canal – even the bridges don’t reflect it, apart from Brassworks Bridge No 91 and Andre Mills Bridge No 92 which now stand in the middle of modern housing developments.

The housing continues into Stone where we stopped just before the winding hole below the bottom lock.

After mooring up we walked around town for a bit and did some shopping at the Morrisons Supermarket. There is now an M&S food hall right by the canal at the bottom lock if you want to splash out a bit.

We had another good Indian, just up the road from the Royal Exchange which is where we ended up for the rest of the evening. Walking back through Stone at 11pm was like walking through a ghost town – most of the pubs were already locked up and dark and the streets were empty.

All the way to Stafford

From Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (north) to Radford Bridge Visitor Moorings, a distance of 24 miles, ¼ flg and 13 locks.

It was a little overcast but still quite pleasant when we cast off just after 7:30. Due to a problem with the bottom mitre on Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 the lock was empty, but despite the leak it still filled quite quickly and with all the paddles open (as the C&RT notices point out) it wasn’t really an issue at all.

We met another boat near Lapley Wood Bridge No 17 and somehow we ended up hard aground on a pile of mud and rock but after a couple of minutes of work with the barge pole we got ourselves free and continued on our way.

Just after Park Bridge No 8 we had a close shave with another boat – he had so much greenery on his roof that the only way he could see where he was going was to look down the side of the boat. As there were some moored boats he was looking down the right side of his boat and was blissfully unaware of us approaching as he was basically taking up all the available channel. A blast on the horn , some quick manoeuvring by us, and some shouting got him to move over slightly but he seem totally unaware (or didn’t care) that he’d nearly hit us.

Heron on a boat at Wolverhampton Boat Club

All was quiet right down to Autherley Stop Lock where, for once, we didn’t have to wait for the lock and there was actually space to pull in by the lock. We were in the lock and about to open the top paddle when a boat swung round in the junction and they stopped and looked at us. They then asked which way we were going and then they had to back out of the way so we had the space to swing round to head East on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Autherley to Great Haywood)

Autherley Junction

The canal East from the junction is deep and you can make good progress. The trees on the offside give an almost European feel to the canal and it’s hard to believe you are only a few miles from Wolverhampton.


The canal changes totally at Marsh Lane Bridge No 67 (South End of Narrows) where you plunge into the rock edged narrows

The narrows

The widened version of Forster Bridge No 68 really isn’t something to write home about and if I was writing a murder mystery I’d use the offside area under the bridge as a place to hide a body!

Once you’re out of the narrows the canal deepens off again as the canal starts to wind its way across the countryside. Coven Heath M54 Motorway Bridge is now so long that it could almost count as a short tunnel – and unlike the bridge on the Shroppie there isn’t a sign on the motoroway telling you the canal is there, and the bridge isn’t obvious at all from on top.

There were a few fishermen fishing by Coven Heath Pipe Bridge obviously hoping that the outfall from the sewage plant would attract the fish – which it possibly does but the smell wasn’t exactly enticing.

Apart from one boat and a lone fisherman the Cross Green Visitor Moorings were empty which is quite unusual.

We did meet a few boats on the move – usually on corners, or at bridges, or at bridges on corners – but we were soon at Hatherton Junction where the ornamental lake and balustraded walkways seem totally out of place. A quick check on old maps indicates nothing was there in the late 1880s so who knows why they are there.

It was pretty quiet from there right to Gailey Top Lock where we met a boat coming up the lock. We actually met a few boats on the flight and we made pretty good time down to Penkridge Lock No 38. We did think about stopping for a quick pint but decided to push on without stopping. We tried to stop just before Radford Bridge No 98 but it was a bit shallow so we pushed on through the bridge and found a 54 foot space between two other boats and slipped into it.

Then it was off into Stafford for a few beers and a curry – it’s not the most interesting walk into town and when we came to leave the pub in the evening it was raining. Trying to get a taxi at 11pm in Stafford on a rainy Sunday evening isn’t easy, but we eventually got one so we didn’t end up getting soaked through.

Fishermen, as far as the eye can see!

From Tom's Moorings to Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (north), a distance of 18 miles, 5½ flg and 5 locks.

For family reasons we didn’t make it up to the boat on Friday night so we had an early start on Saturday morning (I do so love my alarm going off at 6:30am on a weekend).

Crew were collected from their homes and we made very good time up to the moorings. We’d done the food shop the night before so we just unloaded everything onto the boat knowing we could unpack and put stuff away later. We cast off just before 09:30

We got to Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 which was empty (We’d passed a boat at Berisford Road Aqueduct ) and the overflows weren’t running too viciously – which is always a good thing.

Even though this is our regular time for our September trip the locks didnt look quite as Autumnal as they often do.

Tyrley Bottom Lock
Tyrley bottom lock

Luckily the second lock was empty too with no boat coming through which meant that it was an easy run through the rock ledge pound and into the lock – even though both the overflows were running quite strongly.

Tyrley Lock wiers

There was a boat coming down the next lock so we waited for a couple of minutes – but it was a very pleasant day so we didn’t mind sitting round.

Blue Skies at Tyrley Lobucks

We passed another boat below the top lock and exited the locks about an hour after we’d cast off.

Tyrley Wharf

Woodseaves Cutting is usually quite quiet but we were following one boat and met 4 coming towards us. The canals in September are usually quite quiet so this made quite a change.

We knew that there was a fishing match described as being “near Market Drayton” and we found it … it started at Goldstone Wharf… fishmen, dour, unpleasant fishermen as far as the eye could see. There were obviously annoyed by the number of boats, but if you fish on canals then you just have to expect it.

Progress was slow and when we got to Black Flat Bridge No 47 we moored up and took the track across the fields to The Haberdashers Arms – an oddly named pub for its location but well worth a visit.

The Haberdashers Arms

We sat out in the garden and had a couple of pints in the sunshine.

Beer at The Haberdashers Arms

There was a biker’s meeting at the campsite behind the pub and so there were quite a lot of big bikes (and big bikers) around. We were just about to leave when we heard a very distinct airplane engine noise and looked up and saw this.

It’s a plane

We walked back to the boat and cast off and carried on past the fishermen – the match eventually finished near Anchor Bridge No 42 – which is about 5 miles from Goldstone.

We pulled in at Norbury Wharf Boatyard and picked up 100 litres of fuel and got the loo pumped out. We decided not to stop for a beer at the pub as it was getting a little late.

There seemed to be a very loud “pub singer” at The Navigation Inn (Gnosall) – a very loud singer, so we decided not to stop and made our way slowly through the village as we had a family of canoes ahead of us.

We passed one more moving boat just before the tunnel and then we basically had the canal all to ourselves as we chugged across the Shropshire countryside as the sun went down. The sunset as we went along the long straight into Wheaton Aston was very impressive but then it went quickly dark and by the time we pulled into the end of the visitor moorings we just about needed torches to see what we were doing.

After eating on board we walked up to the Coach and Horses for a few beers.