Shortly after leaving Endon, we entered a world little altered in 200 years and the Staffordshire Peak District becoming ever more picturesque and the Autumnal colours changing day by day, and no communication signal!
We arrived at the junction with the Leak Branch and decided to head towards Fragley first (7.5 miles and 8 locks) and so took the left fork and headed down the first three locks. We decided to head straight to Fragley, taking note of places that looked interesting that we would visit on our way back.
We passed under the Leek Branch and immediately came across a row of six pretty canal side cottages beside the Holly Bush pub.
We resisted the temptation to stop and carried on towards Cheddleton where the imposing Flint Mill also looked interesting and which according to our Nicholson’s guide was open to the public most afternoons.
We passed through Cheddleton and down two further locks, passing a large steelwork factory called ‘Batemans’, and then another cosy looking pub called The Boat Inn. Here we passed the home mooring of a boat we’d done the Hattan Flight with earlier in the Summer but there was no-one on board today.
After Cheddleton we saw little sign of civilisation as even the Churnet Valley Steam Railway wasn’t operating during October or November. In December it runs a ‘Santa Special’ service. The river Churnet kept us company all the way and at Oakmeadowford Lock, we joined the river and then travelled along it all the way to Flint Mill Lock, passing Consall Forge en-route.
At Consall Forge, the railway crosses the river and we passed the old lime kilns and negotiated our way through the two bridges there where the towpath under the rail bridge had collapsed and then we negotiated our way along the narrow channel beside the station where the waiting room is cantilevered out over the canal.
At Flint Mill Lock we were met by a sign detailing what dimensions of boat could pass through Fragley Tunnel. Unfortunately Blackbird is too big at more than 5ft from cabin top to water line and so we winded and moored up and completed the rest of the way to the terminus on foot, although we could have motored on to the winding hole just west of the tunnel.
It was like a secret secluded world beside the canal as it was so quiet. In the past it would have been very busy with both boats and trains laden with limestone from Caldon competing for trade.
We arrived at Froghall Wharf and suffered camera battery failure!
As very few boats will have a cabin height of less than 5 ft, to allow them to pass through the tunnel which has sagged significantly since it was first built, the lovely basin beyond with pontoons was deserted.
In Froghall itself huge industrial works still exist and we discovered that in more recent times Thomas Bolton’s copper works occupied a huge site beside the canal, a factory the Germans had wanted to bomb but couldn’t find in the valley bottom. The factory has been recently demolished leaving a huge expanse of concrete floor.
We vowed to revisit this part of the world another time, probably by car, and instead returned to the boat and headed back to Consall Forge where the Black Lion pub looked most welcoming.
We moored up opposite and went to see what meals they served. This is a superb pub in splendid isolation, having no access by road. All their supplies have to be barrowed across the canal and the railway. Chickens running wild in the garden added to its feeling of isolation. We enjoyed a lovely meal here and were pleased that the eating area was quite separate from the bar, which had an excellent choice of real ales on offer and despite being so isolated was quite busy. We wouldn’t have minded getting locked in here!