The Froghall tunnel, Did we make it…..

Well of course we did. I was convinced we wouldn’t until we exited Flint Mill lock, under the profile guide, giving Eric even more ammunition to tease me about my cautious approach to cruising.

The flint Mill profile gauge


The last 100m or so before the tunnel, opens into a small non discript mooring area with winding for a 65′ boat. However the tunnel entrance itself is hidden around a 90 degree angle to the channel which only adds to the anxiety. (Similar to the north portal of the Harecastle tunnel, only smaller) We opted to bow haul the boat around the final bend to give Eric the best chance of threading this particular needle.

Where’s the tunnel?

I positioned myself on the bow ready to fend off either side as necessary as Eric somehow managed to steer and take photos at the same time.

Once inside he had to crouch down to steer and we could see that the biggest risk to Firecrest was to the paintwork on our hand rails.

Is that an inch or a centimetre to spare

A lot of anecdotes we heard suggested that switching off the power and legging it through was a favoured method of transit. However one big advantage of our electric motor is that we can turn our revs right down which allowed us to creep through yet still retain power and the ability to steer. Fortunately unlike a lot of the Caldon, the tunnel is nice and straight on the inside. And it’s only 70m long.

Glad it is only 70m long

Once out the other side, I hopped off onto the Towpath because again the tunnel exit was angled against the channel.

Im ok, what about you

This isn’t a tunnel for the faint hearted. Take heed of the profile, and the water levels, maximise your ballast, and take it extremely slowly.

I’m sure he hair before he went in

I hauled us around the bend and we looked back with a huge sigh of relief and an even bigger sense of achievement.

The east portal

It’s only a few minutes cruise to the final hurdle. The lock (again at a right angle to the canal) that descends into a small piece of heaven. The Froghall basin.

Easy

We found ourselves in a secluded little basin, with 8 pontoons but only one other boat for company, surrounded by trees and wild flowers, the water being clear enough to watch the fishes. And there were some bigguns as well.

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone about this place

But perhaps best of all was Hetty’s tea room right next door. And they serve Icecream and Staffordshire Oat Cakes not on the same plate though.

A true honey pot

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 …..