Sunday 18 November 2018

Sideway (night time cruising)

Night time cruising on Saturday
Learning from my mistake of not eating enough before setting off through Harecastle tunnel on Wednesday, I made sure I had my three breakfasts (pain au chocolate, muesli & yogurt, apple cake & cream) before Buddy and I started a mini cruise on Friday.  No, I wasn’t taking advantage of Karen being away, I normally have at least three breakfasts like that – sometimes the cake is exchanged for a banana and a chocolate bar.

We topped up with water at the Etruria water point where Buddy was rather taken with a statue.  At first, he was sitting by the cut, incredibly alert, and clearly couldn’t work out why a human was standing on a plinth.

Still interested in the statue but no longer so alert
The statue is of James Brindley who was a famous canal builder of the late 18th century.  We had been moored opposite the statue for the last couple of nights, so Buddy hadn’t noticed it as the boat was hiding it.

Lee & Roberta were delivering fuel in the afternoon along the Stoke stretch of the Trent & Mersey but we were on a different canal, the Caldon, so that’s why we were moving.

I thought of mooring above the top lock at Stoke but the trees make it all a bit dark there.  Also, the towpath is very busy with commuters and as it isn’t that wide it would be difficult to get on with some of the jobs I wanted to do.

I carried on northwards for a while even though it was in the opposite direction that we needed to be going.  At Festival Park I winded the boat and moored up opposite the marina there.  It’s a nice open spot (although there was no sun all day) and the towpath is wider.

Moored at Festival Park
We were moored next to the Bet365 head office which occupies the site of the Wedgwood factory that was built in 1769.  Right alongside the boat is the only building from that period that still stands.  It is called the Roundhouse and there were originally two of them on the site.  There appears to be no record of why they were built or what they were used for.

The Roundhouse outside the boat
During the day Karen sent me pictures of four VR boxes she had found in Edinburgh; I did rather wonder whether she really had gone to see Jo and had gone on a secret VR box hunt instead ūüėČ

Buddy and I went for a good walk around Stoke on the hunt for VR boxes and more bottle kilns.  I only learnt today that Stoke is actually comprised of six towns.  Stoke upon Trent the centre of government, Hanley the commercial centre, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton were amalgamated in 1910.

I was unlucky as far as the boxes were concerned but found a bottle kiln nearly in the city centre and also saw a small tortoiseshell butterfly – my first butterfly since arriving back in the UK three weeks ago.

This was the Smithfield pottery but now offices
And then one near the Emma Bridgewater factory near the Caldon canal.  Emma Bridgewater makes popular modern pottery of this century, but the factory was originally built as the Meakin factory in 1883.

Bottle kiln in what was once the Imperial pottery
Walking further out of town along the Caldon we passed two kilns that have been pleasingly preserved in the middle of a new housing estate.

I know it’s more bottle kilns but these are rather nice on the site of the Johnson’s Brothers pottery

When we got home, I started clearing out and organising the engine bay as I know we will need to store more things there for when we go to France.  I want to take lots of spare parts to cover the servicing I will need to do as we will then avoid the faff of trying to find filters, belts, oil etc. while we’re over there.

I was in the middle of doing this when I heard from the fuel boat, they had been held up by an obstruction in a lock so were running late.  It meant they wouldn’t be with me until Saturday morning but that didn’t bother me because, even if I started cruising, we would have to pass each other. 

I was coming back from Buddy’s pre-breakfast walk on Saturday morning when I saw the fuel boat tying up alongside us.  122 litres of diesel and six bags of coal later, Lee & Roberta were off to get through the Harecastle tunnel on the 11 o’clock passage, making more deliveries to boats in Middleport along the way.

Delivery of fuel from a happy looking Roberta & Lee soon after 8 on Saturday morning

Karen was due back into Stoke station at 4.30 and I had said I would take the boat down to the station, so she didn’t have to walk a mile along the towpath in the dark.  The canal’s in a bit of a grotty area down by the station and it doesn’t feel that safe, so I left it until later in the day before going down the five locks.

Buddy and I had another walk around Stoke during the morning and I learnt a new fact.  I hadn’t realised one of the Wedgwoods, Thomas, was a pioneer in photography at the end of the 18th century; he died in 1805 aged 34.

Commemoration plinth and plaque in Etruria park
It was a lovely sunny day, but it did feel like it had turned a bit chillier as Buddy and I set off for the top lock after lunch.

Approaching Stoke top lock (a few days ago we had headed left onto the Caldon)
Stoke top and bottom locks are deeper than the middle three at about 12 feet which means a long climb down the lock ladder to get back to the boat once you’ve emptied the lock and opened the gates.  Luckily another boater was walking past as I was starting the lock and he offered to finish it meaning I could get back on the boat and avoid the long (and slimy) climb down.

Another boater opening the bottom gates for me
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it felt so tranquil cruising along even though we were in a town.

Looking back to the top lock
As we were going downhill in the locks it meant Buddy had to stay on the boat as he can’t climb down ladders ūüėČ  If we’re out in the countryside I would let him stay lockside but not in a town.

Buddy takes control
A couple of locks had secure offside areas, so he was able to stay lockside at those.

Waiting patiently at the middle lock
Some of the bridges are quite low in Stoke town centre but none low enough that things have to be taken off the roof.  Very low bridges/tunnels that come to mind are under the M5 on the Droitwich, some bridges on the River Stort and, of course, Standedge tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow.

Not the lowest of the Stoke bridges but I had to duck when it got lower half-way through
We had plenty of time and I took it really easy and slow but still arrived at the station with an hour to wait.  We had decided that I wouldn’t walk up and meet Karen because we didn’t want to leave the boat on its own in this area.

Waiting for Karen near Stoke station
Karen got home soon before 5 and I immediately set off, so we could moor a few miles outside of Stoke at a place called Sideway.  I wanted to get to a spot we have moored at several times before which is nice and rural and open.  

Mind you, I say that, but each time we moor there, the out-of-town warehousing seems to be getting farther out of town Having cruised through the town a few times now, it meant I knew all the bends and narrows along the route which made night time cruising easier. 

I still had to put the motor in reverse several times as leaves built up but at least I avoided any trips to the weed hatch.  There was a half-moon so, when away from the glare of the lights, it was much easier to see where I was going.

Nearly at our mooring for Saturday night
I had noticed people walking along the towpath during the day and they were generally tired looking, but all had numbers and backpacks on.  I hadn’t got around to asking any of them what it was in aid of, but I did ask two guys where they had started from.  They told me that it was a place called Meriden and they had to walk as far as they could in 24 hours.  Karen looked it up on the internet and it’s a six-monthly event called Escape from Meriden.  Walkers can go in any direction they like and are tracked by GPS.  Meriden is chosen as it’s the geographical centre of England.

Reading the rules, the distance is measured as the crow flies so maybe that’s why many of them were walking along the canal.  More information can be found on the Escape Meriden website here.  

Sunday will see us with a relatively easy day as Buddy and I already did five locks and three miles of the Sunday plan during Saturday ūüėČ

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