Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Middleport (all over the place)

Moored outside Middleport pottery

We set off at 7.30 on Monday morning to make sure we got to Harecastle tunnel early.  Two boats had moored behind us on Sunday evening so we assumed they were going through the tunnel too.  The chances were that they would have booked in (unlike us) and we could piggy back on their passage.  We had to go up one lock which still has the old gas lamp standing on the left hand side.

Kidsgrove lock (we set it the previous night so we could go straight in in the morning)
The lock stands next to the old Kidsgrove gas works.

About 400 yards before the tunnel we passed the junction with the Macclesfield canal that we went on in April last year on our trip around the Peak Forest and various other North Western canals.

Signpost at Hardings Wood junction
Our luck was in and the two boats that were moored behind us on Sunday night soon moored up with us at the entrance to the tunnel.  One couple were on their way back to their marina having just had their boat blacked at the dry dock in Middlewich.  The other couple were delivering a new hire boat to a hire boat base in Nottingham.

The tunnel keepers arrived at 8.30 and went through all the safety procedures.  We had to take nearly everything of the roof as the tunnel gets very low and narrow in the middle (a boater died when he was knocked off his boat in 2013).  We had to wait for two boats to come through before we could set off.  

At 1 ¾ miles long it takes about 40 minutes to get through and with no air vents it gets very fumy.  A door is pulled across the southern portal when boats are in the tunnel.  Attached to the door is a massive fan that sucks the foul air out.  The noise of the fan is quite unnerving until you realise what it is.  As we were the first in the convoy we experienced the tunnel keeper’s expert timing as the door opened just as we got to it.

Coming out just after the door was opened
We are still amazed that the tunnel was built by hand in the early 1800s.  It's even more amazing that it was built as an additional tunnel, the original, completed in 1777 was causing bottlenecks as it only accommodated one way traffic.  The earlier tunnel is now closed due to subsidence and the entrances can still be seen at either end. The two portals of the current tunnel are quite different in style. 

North entrance on the left; South on the right
The aim was to get to Middleport as the canal runs close to Longport station.  As we approached Middleport we passed a bottle kiln that we had missed on our last trip here in June last year.

There are still 47 of these left in Stoke but it's only the seventh that we have taken a picture of
The view from our mooring is shown at the top of the page and this is looking from the pottery.  Those of you who watched the Great British Pottery Throw Down will recognise the buildings.

Looking from Middleport pottery across our mooring to Longport
After a quick lunch we caught a train to Crewe and then a bus to Sandbach where we had left the car.  We then drove to Knutsford so Karen could hand in her work belongings like laptop and phone as she is now ending her garden leave.  I dropped Karen and Buddy back at the boat and then drove down the M6 to Tamworth. I found a quiet spot by the Coventry canal to leave the car so it will be ready for when we get there at the weekend and Karen starts her new contract.  The next mode of transport was a taxi to Lichfield station and then I caught a couple of trains to get back to Longport.

Arriving back at the boat in the dark I was welcomed by the delicious smell of a biryani that Karen had made from the left over vindaloo we had at the weekend.

We are still on target for getting to Tamworth by the end of the week and as the weather is forecast to be cold and dry  it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep on track.

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