Tuesday 30 August

Yesterday and this morning we’ve been basking in the sunshine in the beautiful surroundings of Tixall Wide.  It wasn’t very peaceful during the day though as there were so many boats on the move.

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Our fold up bikes had a maintenance make-over yesterday and before tea we went for a short bike ride along the tow path, through Shugborough Park and back, stopping off for a drink at The Clifford Arms in Great Heywood before riding back along the towpath.

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Shuborough Hall

We haven’t seen or heard a single kingfisher while we’ve been moored here even though it is noted for its kingfisher population.

This lunch-time we undid our mooring pins, winded and headed back to the junction at Great Heywood where we turned right towards Fradley and then immediately reversed onto the service jetty to fill up with water and offload our waste.

While I filled up with water, Storm disappeared and reappeared with two samples of chilled medication which he stashed in the freezer box of our fridge to be enjoyed after I’d tackled the two locks ahead of us.

There were still plenty of boaters out enjoying the good weather but we didn’t get caught in any queues today.

We reached our destination of Bridge 67, on the outskirts of Rugeley, where in the morning we will meet our crew before heading to the shops to restock the cupboards at Bridge 66.   Here you have a choice of supermarkets with Tesco at one side of the canal and Morrisons at the other.

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Sunday 28 August

After yesterday’s torrential downpours it was a relief to wake to a blue sky and to be able to open the windows to dry out some of the condensation which always looks worse after its been raining.

We planned to head to Tixall Wide today and knew we’d need to make an early start if we stood any chance of mooring in this popular place on a Bank Holiday weekend.  From Stone to the junction at Great Heywood is a distance of 9.5 miles and 4 locks.

While Storm steered, I cooked breakfast and this was ready by the time we arrived at the first lock.  There was a boat in front of us preparing to go down the lock, another waiting to come up so we pulled in just before the lock landing and moored up to try to make it clear we weren’t queuing for the lock.  While we were having breakfast another boat passed us heading to the lock.

By the time we’d eaten our breakfast and washed up, the last boat to pass us was just leaving the lock, and there was another boat waiting to come up and so we neatly moved onto the lock landing to wait our turn – almost perfect timing.

The same could not be said of our second lock though.  As we came out from under Bridge 84, where Storm and Max leapt ashore to go and prepare the lock, I couldn’t quite work out what was happening ahead as there seemed to be boats all over the place.  It turned out there was a boat winding, and a hire boat between me and the winding boat, and then another boat ahead of them moving into a gap between moored boats.

The winding boat pulled in and moored up and the hire boat followed their example and so I moved forward and by this time Storm was waving to me to pull in to the side.   I pulled in behind a long line of boats and here the towpath telegraph kicked into action as word came back that most of the boats were long term moorers and only five of us were queuing for the lock.  Other boats arrived behind us and word soon reached them about where they were in the queue.

(Can I just say here that I didn’t queue jump, the winding boat and the hire boat as they were heading to the pub for Sunday lunch!)

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As each waiting boat pulled out from gaps between the long term moorers to move nearer the lock, the rest of the queue moved forward too to fill the space left by the boat in front, and to stand on the towpath holding a centre rope.

I followed a boat with four crew and they needed all four to move their boat forward.  One to steer, one to catch the centre line, one to push the bow out and one to hang on to the dog.  The one catching the centre line was very keen to make sure his ropes were tidy, so much so that by the time it was their turn to enter the lock, and the lock had been standing ready for a few minutes with the gates open, it took them a good while to untie and move their boat into the lock and another few minutes to locate the windlass so they could help with the front gate paddles.

By now there were no boats coming up through the locks and so it was just a case of boat in, empty and lower boat, refill lock quickly opening all paddles, ready for the next boat.   To speed things up even more, I’d been keeping an eye on the filling lock, and by the time the gate was opened, the boat was untied and hovering in the middle of the canal ready to go straight in.

I picked Storm and Max up at the bottom of the lock landing steps and we continued on our way.  Storm had had a good lock work out helping five boats down and three boats up through the locks.

We expected to rejoin the queue at the next two locks but surprisingly there wasn’t one and we went straight in and down.

We made it to Tixall Wide mid afternoon and although we could see boats moored ahead, we moored up on the first available length of Armco where there was a nice wide stretch of grass for our deckchairs.   Half an hour later, there weren’t any spaces left, so it was a good job we hadn’t had to queue at each lock.

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Our window through the hedge looking towards Shugborough Park.

We’re going to stay here for two nights as we now only have five miles and two locks to do before we pick up our crew on Wednesday.

Saturday, 27 August

A quick walk across the bridge for our Saturday newspaper, before we untied and headed for Stone.  What began as a sunny day soon turned damp and then wet and, as the afternoon wore on, even wetter.

It was a good job we travelled the 3.5 miles and 8 locks before lunch as the moorings in Stone were already full and we think we got the last space just below the bottom lock, and after the winding hole, before the weather turned really nasty.

It was heart-breaking listening to  soaked crew members during the afternoon bemoaning the fact they couldn’t find space to moor and knowing they had to negotiate at least another three locks before finding somewhere to stop for the night north of Stone.

By 8pm the rain had stopped and we ventured out to The Swan for a drink.  The large room beside the bar was kitted out with amps and lights for a band of mature rockers who were setting up to play.  Periodically they counted to two to check the sound system, but other than that there seemed little action.   We hung around for over an hour but there was still no sign that they were ready to play and in the end we gave up and headed home.

Friday 26 August

After a disturbed night’s sleep (I blame “The Man in the High Castle”) we were awake quite early with the boat cracking and clicking in the heat of the sunshine as the metal expanded.

With sun lotion applied, we set off early.   We filled up with water at the Etruria Yard and because the services are on the Caldon Canal side, we had to reverse back out onto the Trent & Mersey before heading down the locks. We had to queue at the first lock, but after that, we were lucky with one boat up and one boat down for most of the way, which meant that the spacing sorted itself out and we didn’t have to queue at any of the others.

Today we headed to Barlaston (8 miles and six locks).  Our next rendezvous is next week when James & Ali are joining us for a couple of nights and as the meeting point is only about 17 miles south of where we are now,  we don’t need to rush.

After an afternoon nap, Storm  found time to practice his new hobby.    With a bit more practice, and a few more chords, we may have a new income stream.   Ukulele Orchestra of the UK watch out!  He’s got the dog already and Max wasn’t trying to escape!

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It turned out nice again.

Thursday 25 August

The day dawned misty and damp.  We walked Max round  Westport Lake, keeping him on his lead, so he didn’t disturb the birdlife.

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The swans, whilst so graceful in the water, walk like  old arthritic people, with every step looking so painful.  The geese, on the other hand, were on a mission to get to the water, and they sure were a ‘gaggle’.

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We’d just got back to the boat when the heavens opened and it poured down for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon, in between showers, we caught the bus to Newcastle Under Lyme, a journey of about 15 minutes up hill and down dale.   The town didn’t have a lot to recommend it and even it’s Wickipedia entry concentrates more on its past than the present!

We did walk up the hill to the New Vic Theatre, but as the cafe stopped serving drinks and cakes at 3.30pm  and we’d missed it by ten minutes, we walked back to the bus station.    Performances start again next week, after the Summer holiday.

As there wasn’t much worth watching on the TV last night, we settled down to watch a few more episodes of “The Man in the High Castle”.   We’ve only two more to watch and its getting tense, and we’re trying to work out whether there are any good guys at all!

(Yesterday’s entry contained an error and I’d like to thank Adrian for pointing it out.   It’s reassuring to know someone’s paying attention as my personal blog checker failed to spot it).

Wednesday 24 August

Our morning didn’t get off to a good start as Max disturbed a wasps’ nest in a hole beside the towpath.  Thankfully he was on his lead and I managed to quickly drag him away to a safe distance before trying to waft off quite a number of wasps that had hitched a ride with him.  I don’t think he got stung but I did!  Thankfully I don’t react badly to wasp stings and once I’d treated it with my Ammonia Bite & Sting pen I was fine.  (Max is fine this evening and doesn’t appear to have suffered any after effects).

We warned other dog walkers who passed us by and one local lady admitted she’d had exactly the same experience last week.  If I’d thought of it at the time, I should have made some signs and hung them on the nearby fence.

Instead we decided to move on.   It was my turn to do the locks today and we began our climb up Heartbreak Hill towards Kidsgrove.  Thankfully no heartbreak was experienced.  One or two of the pounds were low on water but we managed to stay afloat without having to let any extra water through.

Near the top of the flight we noticed that the boat we’d been following had pulled into the side and had his weed hatch open.  He was trying to free a very long length of polythene from round his propellor, which turned out to be a CRT “Welcome to the Waterways” Banner.   Glad they’re doing their bit for the environment!

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At the top of the paired locks, Kidsgrove

Leaving the last of the paired locks behind us, we joined the queue for the Harecastle Tunnel.   The Tunnel Keeper shouted instructions to us  across the canal and advised that we would have a wait of about an hour but while we were waiting he suggested we check that our light and horn were in good working order.  This took less than a minute.  To kill time we had a late lunch and a cuppa.

At last we got the signal to prepare and once the three boats heading towards us had cleared the tunnel entrance we were underway.   We joined a procession of three other boats and the skippers were advised to maintain cruising speed through the tunnel which would assist them maintain a steady centre line as going slow apparently encourages bouncing off the tunnel walls!

The approach to The Harecastle Tunnel. Note the old Brunel tunnel entrance to the right.

The approach to The Harecastle Tunnel. Note the disused Brindley tunnel entrance to the right.

There are three Harecastle Tunnels, two of which are now disused; a railway tunnel which closed in the 1960’s, a canal tunnel built by Brindley in 1777 and  Telford’s Tunnel built in 1827.  Telford’s tunnel is still used today.

After about 50 minutes underground we came out just north of Stoke On Trent to cloudy skies in Staffordshire, having left the sunshine behind in Cheshire.

We moored up soon afterwards beside Longport Lake, on the pleasant visitor moorings there.

Tuesday 23 August

After an undisturbed night’s sleep we woke to blue skies and sunshine rather than the cloudy skies we were expecting.

On the ‘Arm’ five swans had been coming to visit at regular intervals on the look out for scraps of food, but sadly once we turned right onto the Trent & Mersey it was easy to count the swans – 3!  (One swimming and two snoozing).   This was really disappointing as normally there are far too many to count.

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We carried on towards Sandbach and through Lock 67 and Bridge 160 where the former site of Eton Moss Boatbuilders and Carefree Cruising now looks somewhat unloved since their move to to Middlewich.

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We stopped for water in Wheelock and then began our climb up towards Stoke on Trent.

The first of the paired locks with its pretty lock cottage with roses round the door was a welcome sight.

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The  smell of freshly cut grass,  the sight of bees enjoying the Buddlea and the cows also enjoying the sunshine, all reminded us why we love this cruising lifestyle.

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We climbed steadily to Thurlwood, passing under the M6 motorway, before pulling in for the night and heading to the pub for a refreshing cool pint of beer (or two) before we headed back to the boat for something to eat.