Tuesday 26 September 2023

Trent & Mersey Canal homewards

 Tuesday 26 September Westport Lake to Hem Heath (6 miles, 5 locks)

What a day! First, we had tea and toast, then traveled to Middleport Pottery. We viewed all the Burleigh pottery and the historic site, plus coffee and cake.

As our friends Norman (Min) and Angela are arriving and meeting us at Etruria after lunch, we set off. 

There are still derelict remains of potteries, but for how long we don’t know, sadly.

See this curved Springer hull, made from 4mm thick gasometers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Spotting diesel was £1 a litre at Longport Marina (Stoke Boats), we filled up. Later, at a blind bend John sounded the horn and heard a reply, so reversed the throttle …….., oh no, the cable snapped, so he couldn’t reverse! Thankfully the other skipper took avoiding action, as did John, as far as he could, so the collision was minor.

John managed to get Annie to the services at Etruria, where he took out the broken cable. We emptied loo cassettes and filled up with water. Liana kindly took a taxi back to Stoke Boats, and returned with a new cable. After fitting the new cable, with some help from Min, we eventually set off down the five Stoke locks. Min drove, Angela lockwheeled while John and Liana took turns helping a young couple attempting their first locks, with tiny baby and two dogs! They soon got the hang of it.

Annie then picked up something big on her prop shaft!

John found a complete boat tonneau cover wrapped around it!! Thankfully it came off in one piece. Hem Heath has some lovely back gardens, some like Monte Carlo! We passed through the rather dark canal visitor moorings and moored just outside town in the country, just before Trentham lock.

Later we played Settlers of Catan for the first time this cruise. Liana won, no surprise!!

Wednesday 27 September Barlaston to Stone (4 miles, 9 locks)

We had a fried breakfast as boats passed, then moved to the lock about 8am, to get to below The Star pub at Stone before the forecasted rain started. There were boats in front and behind us, plus oncoming boats. We must have passed well over forty boats moored in the pleasant countryside between Barlaston and the four  Meaford ( aka “Method”) locks just before Stone. We passed a fancy house with its own garden dry dock, and the Wedgewood factory.

The engine idling speed is now 900rpm, not 700rpm, so we pass boats slightly faster ….. but ok. I may adjust it down a bit later.

John took Annie down Meaford locks, while Min, Angela and Liana lockwheeled.

Canada geese swirled above in the country after Barlaston.
We wondered if these houses were once canal workers’ cottages.
An impressive garden feature??!!
Min helming Annie at Stone.

Liana and Angela

Min took Annie down the four Stone locks, while we other three operated them and chatted to various boaters and dog walkers.

After mooring and shopping for food close by, we all went into town. After buying some Dunoon china at the well-stocked factory shop, we lunched at the local Wetherspoons. Min and John both nodded off, so we trudged back in the rain and decided not to move on today.

The Star Inn at Stone overlooks the bottom lock.

Thursday 28 September Stone to Great Haywood and Rugeley (14 miles, 6 locks)
After a pleasant breakfast with Min and Angela, we set off on the couple of miles to Aston lock. Two chaps were just untying their boats as we went past: one grumbled about our speed. John just said politely that the engine was at  idling speed. Aston lock took ages to fill as the ground paddle was unserviceable, so we guess they knew about it already!

Sandon Hall has a fancy canal bridge leading to it.

The countryside through Sandon, Weston and Hoo Mill locks is pleasant but not memorable pasture, with railway and road close by.

Pumpkins are growing well, ready for Halloween.
Pirates were out and about at Rugeley!

We used the services at Anglo Welsh’s marina at Great Haywood Junction and had lunch there. Later, Min steered Annie to Rugeley while John napped!! Later, we all had a good walk around the largely pedestrianised town centre before playing Settlers of Catan again. Liana won again, naturally!

Friday 29 September Rugeley to Fradley Junction and Alrewas (9 miles, 8 locks)

At Rugeley we moored behind our friends Brian and Mrs Greaves, the canal blacksmith, with their boat Emily and smithy butty Bronte. We meet them most years on the canals, and they are a lovely couple. One famous time was at Winsford Flash regatta on the River Weaver, where Brian did some welding on Annie. Brian was busy painting Bronte bright pink with a primer undercoat, so we had a laugh about that.

Later, our old friends Mike and Wendy arrived to have the evening with us all. We all enjoyed  their wine and Angela’s cooking, and had a fun time together.

Saturday 30 September Alrewas to Burton-on-Trent (7 miles, 5 locks)

After tasting Mike and Wendy’s Irish Rich Barmbrack, made by McCanns, and finding it to be very like Lincolnshire plum bread, we ate it for breakfast with butter and extra mature cheddar - lovely!

We passed Emily and Bronte on our way to Alrewas river lock. Min and Angela passed through it for the first time. We all enjoyed the picturesque passage across the River Trent and water meadows to Wychnor lock. 

After this, the noisy A38 accompanies the canal for more than two miles, past Barton-under-Needlewood marina and lock. Through Bagnall lock, we found that Branston lock had a CRT sign warning that BOTH top ground paddles were nearly blocked, so filling this shallow lock would take half an hour!!! We cannot believe CRT didn’t send an emergency crew to sort out the problem!! Clearly, from the crushed lumps of wood around, boaters have been pulling the top gate open and jamming wood to keep it ajar and fill the lock. This is clearly dangerous and could damage the top gate too. FIX IT, CRT, please!!

We moored outside Shobnall Marina so that Min and Angela could depart and Liana find a post office. After visiting Starbucks, we decided to stay as the rain began ….

Sunday 1 October Shobnall Marina to Willington Marina (7 miles, 1 lock)

We thought we’d tootle along to Wellington Marina and have a break there, visiting coffee shop and chandlers. In fact, we stayed there as the afternoon was rather showery. Ten boats were moored on the towpath side after Shobnall Marina. Four boats were moored on the offside at the Shobnall Fields recreation ground,  busier than expected.
Dallow Lane lock was no problem

Horninglow Wharf looks sadly down at heal at the moment, with only one decrepit boat moored there, but the CRT loo and Elsan services were fine after John backed Annie in.

We passed some good hulls moored, but few travelling boats.

The Mill House inn at Stretton had lights on as we passed. We have moored here for lunch and overnight before, and it has been fine. 

Over the Dove Aqueduct, we could hear dogs at the adjacent kennels, as usual. They kept us awake when we once moored opposite, rather stupidly!!

The A38 and railway run close by here, but it is not unpleasant. Once through Willington, we passed under the railway and soon moored by the pedestrian bridge which leads to the marina. There are plenty of shops here, including Art galleries. We did admire some of the original works by contemporary artists. Prices ranged up to over £3000, but they were good, to be fair. There were some good limited run prints for less than £1000, too.
Wild flowers by Kimberley Harris

London street scene by Alena Carvalho

We tried the cafe boat moored by the marina entrance bridges. The food was good quality, well cooked and hot! We enjoyed the cappuccinos, too. 

Rain stopped play, so we chilled out on board.

Monday 2 October Willington to Stenson, Swarkstone and Shardlow (10 miles, 5 locks)
We shared all five locks with Ivan and Janet on NB Little Dawn, which made life easier for all of us.

Both boats moored up outside the New Inn and Malt Shovel at Shardlow, on the refurbished moorings. We had a decent meal in the Malt Shovel before settling down for the evening, as the rain began and settled in overnight.