Stoke-on-Trent and a bung of saggars

This pair of Canada Geese swam past whilst we were having breakfast on Saturday.  They seemed to have adopted or fostered some goslings. 

We had been a bit concerned about Buddy on Friday evening as he was scratching an ear and it did seem rather red.  It was still sore on Saturday morning and we discussed it with Karen’s sister, Heather, who is a vet.  She recommended that we get to see a local vet as it was probably infected and he could also have a grass seed stuck in his ear.  We made an appointment for three in the afternoon so cruised about a mile to the Middleport Pottery which was the closest access point to the vets.

Just after we started cruising we passed a dog boat – it was a pet shop on the water but focussed mainly on dogs.

We took advantage of some down time and visited the pottery museum and found it absolutely fascinating.  The staff were both knowledgeable and friendly; they were also keen to show you areas that are normally closed to the public.   They even allowed Buddy in.  We had passed a bottle kiln earlier in the day – the one at the top of this page.  The museum still had a bottle kiln and we were able to look round it.  The kiln itself is inside the exterior bottle building which protects the kiln from the elements.

We learnt many new words, including saggars which are the clay baskets that the pottery is placed in for firing.  There are saggars stacked up inside the kiln here.

As you can see from the diagram the pile of saggars are called a bung of saggars.

In their heyday there were over 2,000 bottle kilns around Stoke; there are just 47 left today, all of which are listed.  We managed to see six during the day, here are a couple of them.   

The clean air act in the ‘60s caused the discontinuance of their use and they were replaced by gas and electric fired kilns like this one at the Burleigh pottery.

Karen couldn’t understand why they would have moulds in a pottery.

Until she saw that they weren’t the type that form on old food!

Buddy and I continued looking around whilst Karen visited the pottery shop and bought a couple of pieces.

We took Buddy to the vet for his appointment and it turned out his ear was infected so it was cleaned out and he got a prescription for antibiotics (he seems fine now by the way).  We finally set off for our cruise at about five but is was nice and sunny, albeit windy, so we were looking forward to an evening cruise.  We passed many derelict buildings in Stoke.

We soon reached Etruria junction where the Caldon canal branches off North towards Froghall.  It originally continued a further 13 miles and went South from Frogahall as far as Uttoxeter.   

Not many boaters use this canal as it is notoriously shallow and also narrow in many places.  Being intrepid explorers we didn’t let this put us off so left the Trent & Mersey canal and ventured onto the Caldon.

Just after the junction was a statue of James Brindley, one of the earliest canal engineers, who lived in Leek which we hope to visit.  Leek is on the Leek canal which branches off the Caldon canal.

The first two locks on the Caldon were staircase locks…

…and the third was a normal, but somewhat shallow, lock.

We passed a bottle kiln that had been built into a house, a bit like an oast house conversion in the South.

We also passed two more bottle kilns that were in the middle of a cleared area that was being developed for housing.  It would be interesting to see how the kilns will be preserved in a housing estate.

Many of the bridges were very low and you can just see Karen standing on the gunwhales making sure I didn’t damage any of her flowers.

As expected the canal was narrow in places and had many blind bends.


We felt like having a good cruise on Sunday so set off for Leek which is in Derbyshire.  It meant heading north on the Caldon canal until the junction with the Leek branch and then getting to the end of the branch at Leek.   

We soon realised that the Caldon canal is one of the most beautiful canals we have been on.  I know we keep saying it on nearly every new canal we go on but it’s true – you have to travel extremely slowly because it is so shallow and sometimes very narrow which makes the surrounding countryside even more tranquil.

We had to pass through some lift bridges, all of which Karen had to wind up by hand.

After the sixth lock we were 500 feet above sea level and soon reached the junction with the Leek branch.  Just before the junction was an unusual piece of canal signage – not sure why this was there but we followed the direction.

On the right hand side was evidence of a tramway – I tried researching it but could find nothing about it or the signage.

The Caldon canal continues to the left and starts descending through a flight of locks.  We turned to the right onto the Leek branch.

When we have visited Leek we will come back to this junction and head for Froghall before going back down to the Trent & Mersey.

The Leek branch was even narrower and more twisty than the Caldon adding to its charm.  Soon after joining the Leek branch we crossed over the Caldon canal which had dropped down through three locks by this point.  

Karen was pleased to spot a disused railway line before I did.

This typical Victorian waterworks is falling into disrepair.  We have since learnt that it used to pump water for use in Stoke and has now been sold.  There are plans to preserve it and turn it into a museum and visitor centre which is good news.

The stanking planks are conveniently marked on this canal so that it is clear which way round they go…

…and also the order in which they are dropped into the cut.

After three miles we were nearing the end of the Leek branch but had to go through the short Leek tunnel first.

Shortly before reaching Leek basin we had to turn (wind) as we were too long to proceed further.

so we did so and then went back through the tunnel to moor for the rest of the day in a peaceful lagoon.

We moored up feeling very happy as we have had a brilliant weekend exploring new places and new canals.  Karen made a delicious tagliatelle with ricotta, basil and sausages for dinner.  Here are the six locks we went up today.

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