The last 5 miles

We left Cheddleton in good spirits for the last 5 miles of navigation on the Froghall branch. Warned that we might not make it through the extremely narrow tunnel, we hadn’t realised just how narrow the rest of the Caldon Canal was. Narrow, but also incredibly beautiful, including a mile or so of gentle river cruising where the canal and river Churnet flow together.

The river Churnet section

The river section ends at the Consall lime kilns, where there is a water point.

The Consall Lime Kilns

This water point has a phenomenal high pressure, so high that we actually had to turn the tap to half flow so it didn’t burst our expandable hose. For anyone used to CRT water points, you’ll know how often we suffer from the opposite problem, lucky to get a trickle of the wet stuff. But taking advantage of the pressure, and lack of boats waiting, Eric changed the nozzle end so he could wash the side of the boat. Argh, even though he’d put our carefully adapted weighty brass nozzle in the bucket, easily 6 foot from the edge, the high pressure caused the hose to make a spectacular wiggle, which flipped the bucket over and we watched our nozzle fly cartoon style through the air, bash into the side of the boat and sink beyond reach into the murky depths of the canal. We would have given it a full 10 points if we hadn’t been inspecting the paintwork for a new chip and wondering where on earth we’d buy a new brass end in the middle of nowhere. Such is boating life, at least we had a plastic hozelock spare to allow us to fill the tank and maximise our ballast to help us through the tunnel.
This little wharf/basin that serviced the lime kilns is also the last full size (70′) winding hole for those unable to complete the journey. Although the last lock containing a tunnel gauge profile is half a mile further on. Being a 60′ boat meant we didn’t have to make the decision whether we could or should risk it just yet. What we hadn’t appreciated was just how narrow the following section of canal would be. I walked ahead to check it was a clear passage.

Breath in, hope no one is coming the other way


The canal follows the line of the Churnet Valley Railway, nowadays a heritage line complete with a steam train. We think this sections wins the prize for closest track and canal can actually get, they are practically on top of each other. So much so that the station platform overhangs the canal.

The Churnet Steam railway line


We think this is almost the only time we were glad not to see a steam train running parallel to us, cause it might have been a bit scary. We reached Flint Mill Lock with the warning signs of the imminent tunnel.

Dire warnings

We removed our ariels before exiting the lock under the profile gauge. (I fluffed my photos so this shows our entry into the lock on our return)

Duck!

Holey Moley, we slid under with barely a stroke from the flapping plastic. This bode well for the tunnel, as we had heard conflicting advice about the pessimistic clearance given by the gauge. Greatly encouraged we continued knowing there was a 65′ winding hole we could use, as we disappeared into the tunnel of overhanging trees, blind corners and oddly angled bridges. At one point we thought the Towpath was wider than the canal

Canal? where’s the canal?

The little plastic cruiser moored West of Cherry Eye bridge caused us a bit of alarm,

Cherry Eye bridge


We were very glad not to meet another narrowboat, as we made our way towards Froghall wharf, the open basin and winding hole just before the tunnel. But would we make it….
To be continued …..

Cheddleton Flint Mill

We stummbled upon this gem on our way down the Froghall branch. The Cheddleton Flint Mill is a restored mill that has been on this site for 800 years, although the current buildings are from the industrial revolution when the canal was used for bringing the flint and lime. There are 2 water wheels that are powered by the water race from the river Churnet.

George and Helen, the two wheels


The opening times are a bit sketchy right now, but the wheels are turning when there are volunteers on site

Inside the mill

One thing that I appreciated about the work that had been done in creating this heritage site, was the lack of physical barriers between me and the working machinery. I didn’t feel restrained by the Health and Safety elves, but free to exercise my own common sense, knowing not to stick my fingers underneath the grinding wheel .

Flint grinding pit

Over the centuries the mill has ground flour, flint, glass and other things, although mainly products relating to the potteries. The Trust has been gifted various other pieces of machinery over time. So not everything is “original”

This engine was gifted to the site, but it can’t be given back, without demolishing the walls around it

Or housed in it’s original place

One of the smaller grinders outside

The site includes several buildings, including the Miller’s cottage. His daughter lived here until she died in her 90’s

Hard to imagine some homes have less space than we do.

Whilst we were poking around the mill we could hear that familiar toot of a steam train, and sure enough the cheddleton heritage station is just a further 10 minutes along the canal. It hadn’t yet reopened to the public but we were able to walk along the platform, they had been working on the engines preparing them for the coming season. We didnt see any of the classic engines, but I imagine the scenery makes for a stunning journey regardless of the train.

Should we go left or right. Hazelhurst Junction.


Decisions decisions, to the left would take us to Froghall, to the right we’d be going to Leek.

Go this way, I’ve set the lock

The canal divides at this point, and as no boat wants to leak we continued to Froghall.

Good choice

This has to be one of the prettiest lock settings, with the 1842 iron bridge and the lock cottage, not to mention the stunning scenery all around.

House envy

But just in case you think I had all the hard work to do, as we worked through the Hazelhurst flight of 3 locks, one of the gates got jammed with a floating island of weed. And it took both of us a lot of effort to haul it out.

There’s a lot of floating reed clumps, at least this one won’t foul the lock

So we could continue our journey underneath the Hazelhurst aqueduct, that carries the Leek arm.

1831 aqueduct

The Leek arm was added after much deliberation and opposition from conflicting commercial bodies, at one stage a direct route from Leek to Marple had been proposed -wouldn’t that have made an attractive canal to cruise now. The screenshot taken from our waterway routes maps shows the earlier route to Froghall. https://www.waterwayroutes.co.uk/blog/

Cruising the Caldon

For the first time in nearly a year we are cruising on new territory for Firecrest. Now that we don’t have any deadlines or commitments to meet, we are free to meander and explore again. It feels a bit like we are going on holiday, which is saying something, as a lot of people think life on a narrowboat is one long holiday. The Caldon Canal joins the Trent and Mersey at Etruria Junction. And is marked by a statue of James Brindley the engineer responsible for building of this Canal.

James Brindley

The potteries needed lime for their kilns, and a canal was the most efficient way to transport it from the quarries at Caldon Low, (which is the area to the east of Froghall). The proprieters borrowed some £25000 and completed it in 1778. The milemarkers measure all the way to Uttoxeter. But the section between Froghall and Uttoxeter only opened in 1811 and was closed within 40 years in order to built a rail track along it’s route.

Etruria 1 Uttoxeter 22

The first few miles of the Caldon pass through the outskirts of Stoke, where the 2 bottle kilns from the Johnson Brothers pottery have been preserved as part of a modern residential area.

The Johnson Brothers

The canal also runs through the centre of a very attractive Victorian park, complete with bandstands and fountains. You’d think it would be an idyllic place to moor for the night but a local boater warned us against it.

The bandstand in Hanley park

But it wasn’t long before we were out in the open country side surrounded by noisy birdsong. We couldn’t resist going for an evening stroll along the disused railway through the cow parsley, it felt like we were in a different world after the expanse of the Trent and Mersey.

Hayfever heaven

Our cruising took us on a twisting windy route through bluebell woods

Beautiful bluebells

And buttercup meadows

Moored at Endon

Some beautiful old stone bridges

Bridge 32

And some frustratingly awkward angled bridges that you didn’t stand a chance of getting through unscathed if you met someone intent of getting to their destination.

I hate to think what it did to their boat

There were a few swing bridges that still required a bit of effort, but they are so much quicker than the automated ones.

And some that had been partially removed, this one had a central pillar still in the canal, but at least we knew which way to go.

Hope they aren’t expecting heavy traffic

But despite the sections which needed a lot of concentration, this Canal has been a breath of fresh air and a real joy to cruise, made all the more enjoyable by some summer sunshine at long last. And we are in no hurry to complete this journey.

This is the life, who needs to go abroad for a holiday

Pottering around Stoke


From the south, Stoke on Trent itself isn’t the prettiest of places to cruise into. It suffers from the typical neglected backsides of light industrial units, security fences, barbed wire, graffiti and litter entangled in overgrown vegetation. But it is what it is, and it isn’t the worst we’ve seen. At least here the town planners have realised what an asset the canal can be and the towpath is in good condition.

A warm welcome

But there are some major highways that run close by so the mooring is either noisy, undesirable or non existent, and with 5 locks within the centre of town, it means that we have never stopped to explore the centre of Stoke itself. I have a sneaking suspicion that if I took the time to explore, Stoke could be a fascinating place with a strong industrial and creative heritage. However, we carried on cruising until we got to Etruria junction and the canal regains its prominence.

One of the old flint mills, now home to two historic working boats

Many of the old wharfs have been repurposed to serve as CRT yards and workshops for the benefit of boaters and gongoozlers alike. And although many of the heritage buildings which were once a hive of activity for the canal traffic have been allowed to fall into disrepair.

This is the Anderton wharf which possibly has some connection to the Anderton boat lift,


At least one gem remains, the Middleport Pottery has thrown open it’s gates to the tourist trade and despite still being a working pottery, it welcomes visitors.

The Middleport bottle kiln

Although we were a bit concerned about it’s health and safety notices warning people to be careful near the canal

Don’t say you haven’t been warned

The abundance of coal and clay meant that Stoke was ideally placed for entrepreneurs and innovators such as Wedgewood and Spode to create a world famous industry here and why in the mid 1700’s Brindley’s team began to dig the canal where bridge 128 now stands.

Where it all began


100 years after the canal had been in existence Westport Lake was created , although not for the benefit of the local industry, Brownhills Colliery hit the water table and flooded both the mine and surrounding land. Nowadays its a local beauty spot along side the canal.

Westport Lake

We were lucky enough to moor opposite the pottery and spent a few days walking around and enjoying the sights. (Middleport have daytime only mooring for visitors)

A prime mooring spot


We would have loved to have done the factory tour, but it is still waiting for it’s release from Covid restrictions. We were allowed to walk around the site though, and it’s very atmospheric.

I can’t imagine it was this quiet in it’s hey day

Most of Stokes bottle kilns have been dismantled now, although some just appear to have been abandoned.

So sad to see such an eyesore

As I looked opposite this decay I wondered if our descendants will feel the same nostalgia for the current factories if they are still standing in 50 years time.

I wonder how long this one will last.

Fully Cooked

I don’t tend to share about more personal things, but we both feel strongly about this, and now “Mission possible 2” is complete. Both Eric and I have had our second vaccine, 10 weeks after our first in Leicester. We had followed the instructions and booked both at the same time, but when the fresh advice came through to have number 2 at 8 weeks, everything fell into place for us to re book in Stoke, and the even better, the Tunstall centre is within an easy walk from the canal. We did make our nurse laugh when she asked if we had travelled by car, “no we came by boat”

Complementary masks and stickers


We’re still keen to maintain our social distances and wear our masks, and we’re still keeping shopping trips to a minimum and washing our hands with more zeal than we did 18 months ago. But it is getting harder to remember that we still need to take care.

And here’s a tray of freshly fully cooked scones to celebrate.

From Stone to Stoke


Having achieved the first of our commitments by getting the Boat Safety Certificate, it was time to move on to Stoke for “mission possible 2”. But with 4 days to do the 10 miles, we were going to take our time enjoying this bit of canal.
We paid our respects to poor Christina Collins, a passenger travelling south, who, in 1830, was “meddled with and murdered” despite having reported her fears to the canal company office in Stone. Her sculpture by the bridge has been cleaned up since we saw her last October.

Stone bottom lock overlooked by Christna.

Stone itself, was a prominent place on this canal when, in 1755, a group of Liverpool merchants and Staffordshire potters, sponsored Thomas Brindley to survey the land with a view to linking the Trent and the Mersey rivers together. However it wasn’t until 1764 when Josiah Wedgewood and his partner Thomas Bently, realised the potential and took the idea forward. In 1766 an act of parliament was passed and the Grand Trunk Canal company was formed. With its headquarters here, the Stone section was opened in 1771. Amusingly, the celebration party proved to be a little too exuberant as £1000 worth of damage was done “by repeated firing of the cannon”. A whole lock and bridge fell in causing CRT to issue a navigation closure notice… (Ok I made up that last bit about CRT)
Despite initial opposition to the canal from packhorse owners and river navigators, Stone grew and thrived bringing a huge economic upturn for the small market town. And not just for the potteries.

Beer is still brewed in Stone,

After all the rain we’ve had , it looks like summer might be putting in an appearance and it’s a joy to wake up and want to set off cruising

Oh what a beautiful morning…

Good bye swans, thanks for having us.

Past the Wedgewood factory, thanking Josiah for his part in getting this Canal built, but not stopping to for a visit this time.

I don’t think this is the original building


However we did moor up to do some essential shopping at the Trentham Estate, a destination shopping complex incorporated into the Trentham Hall and Gardens. (About a mile’s walk from bridge 106) It’s focus is more on garden centre type concessions, rather than the high street fashion, and we needed a Mountain Warehouse to pick up a replacement pair of shoes for Eric. Footwear sorted we moored for the night at Sideaways, on the long straight section that’s just ripe for development before Stoke. It’s close to the railway and is what we call a functional overnighter. So gave us the breathing space we needed before the final push through the graffiti covered neglect that sadly seems to be the norm on the outskirts of some towns and cities.

You’ve got to hand it to them, not all graffiti is bad

However it’s not all bad, someone along the line has realised what an asset a well maintained Towpath is to the community and has given us a warm welcome.

Stoke bottom lock

Cruising Statistics for May 2021

May is the first full month since we increased our Solar Panel capacity from 640W to 1kW.

May has not been a good month for Solar power but we still got more than twice the power we used for propulsion from the sun.  It is noticeable how much less we need to run the generator to keep our batteries charged.

It is now quite practical for us to cruise and live on our boat for a whole week without running the generator.  Since we cook with an electric oven, electric hob and use an electric kettle, that is impressive.

Don’t tell Cheryl but I now have a cunning plan to add two more panels bringing our capacity up to 1.5kW so that a greater proportion of our total electricity usage comes from the sun and we can run out generator even less. 

Cruising stats

  • 35:41 hours cruising
  • 56 miles covered
  • 39 locks
  • 13 days cruising, 18 days moored
  • Genset use 19hrs
  • Rain – too much ! !

Electricity usage

  • Total 238kWhrs
  • Propulsion 40kWhrs (17%)
  • Domestic 197kWhrs (83%)

Sources of electricity

  • Solar Panels 89kWhrs (38%) (over twice what we used for propulsion)
  • Genset 148kWhrs (62%)

Power required for propulsion

  • 1,138 watts per hour cruised
  • 725 watts per mile cruised

Note: Cruising time is based on time from unmooring to starting to moor up. It excludes stops for water and fuel, but includes waiting for locks and sitting in locks waiting for them to fill or empty.

Jammin’ with the Stone Strawberries

Our deadline destination was to reach Stone. Because way back in early April we booked to have our 4 year Boat Safety Scheme examination done there. Give or take a few miles, that’s about 80 miles and 50 locks. According to ACC canal planner it could take us less than a week if we put our minds to it. Up the Grand Union Leicester line and the River Soar, then turn left for a few miles upstream on the River Trent, and finally onto the Trent and Mersey Canal. 7 weeks later we have finally made it. We had been looking forward to mooring up at Great Haywood to visit the Shugborough Hall, but alas Covid booking requirements and dreary weather meant that I only caught a glimpse from the canal, and the rather lovely Essex pack horse Bridge over the Trent as I hopped off to work us through the lock.

Shugborough Estate

We enjoy the Trent and Mersey, being so long, there’s a real diversity of things to look at, so one day we will be back to exercise our National Trust cards, and actually go inside the Hall. That is, of course, if we don’t get seen off first, as this rather aggressive swan foolishly tried to do.

Trespassers will be pecked

We’ve ruffled a few feathers in the past, but never been attacked whilst in the boat, but this rather over protective father certainly made it known we weren’t welcome anywhere near his offspring. Perhaps he was offended because I didn’t take a photo of them. Unlike these cuties that were being shown off in Stone.

Obligatory cute swan with cygnets photo

We needed to moor close to a convenient parking space for our BSS and as luck would have it there was space on the 5 day mooring next to M&S, ideal for Mike our examiner. He came, examined and passed us without any problem. We get the impression that this boat MOT requirement is more concerned to ensure that your boat shouldn’t be a hazard to any neighbours, rather than checking it’s integrity for your own safety. Mind you, it wouldn’t be practical to insist every boat is hauled out of the water to look for thin patches on the hull structure. And narrowboats don’t have break pads to check, though perhaps an oral exam that anyone helming a boat understands the need to slow down well before they pass a moored boat might might not be a bad thing. Being so close to M&S did have other advantages besides its car park. They had over stocked on strawberries so at 50p for 500g I couldn’t resist.

What a bargain

And I made the Stone Strawberry jam.

4 jars of stone strawberry jam

This will be labelled up and eaten during Wimbledon fortnight with scones and clotted cream.

Still going West, slowly going North


The canal and the river Trent follow a fairly close trajectory, which makes sense both geographically and economically. Great rivers have always provided opportunities for settlement and industry, however it was the building of the canals that allowed for economic expansion with a horsedrawn barge being able to carry up to 50 times more cargo than a cart, and with probably fewer breakages and a speedier transit. This is one of the things that we love about continual cruising on the canals. The canal’s transport links create a sense of purpose, yet one minute we can be moored in the most idyllic rural haven without a care in the world sitting on the towpath with my spinning wheel.

Moored by Tuppenhurst lane, Handisacre


but the next day we will be passing through our countries industrial necessities. Why does travelling past the Armitage toilet factory always make me chuckle, perhaps it’s a sign of me being a boater or perhaps it’s my inner child escaping.

What a convenience having the canal so close

And of course, where there is industry, there are also people, who are endlessly fascinating to watch, especially those who choose to adorn their space with a wackiness that just begs to be captured, and as Naomi’s Landing fb page is advertised on a big banner, I’m sure she doesn’t mind being a boaters talking point.

Naomi’s Landing at Rugeley


Especially as Dr Feelgood and Nurse Rached are so keen on vacinating everyone. I only hope when my turn comes the syringe isnt quite that big.

Even the NHS need to take some time gongoozleing

We think the Dancing Sheep manequins have the edge over the Top Gear team at Charity dock on the Ashby. But you still can’t beat a real sheep. These beauties were at Tuppenhurst lane farm.

The content sheep at Tuppenhurst farm

We took a several days to get from Fradley through to Stone, taking some time in Rugeley to meet friends in a pub for lunch and take advantage of the very convenient Tesco. Life is starting to feel strangely normal. Or is it? Is this boat moored or parked?

Irrelevance? Good name for a stranded boat

We’ve even seen some sunshine.

Yes, we’re still getting sun on the solar panels