Red and orange

Barlaston to Church Lawton, 12 miles and 12 locks (including the Harecastle Tunnel)

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue…

So go the opening lines of I Can Sing A Rainbow. The tune of it began to bounce in the brain this afternoon after contemplating the colour contrasts of the day.  

            An early (0800) start had been called for. The engine had roared into life before breakfast cereals had emerged from the cupboard. When tackling Stoke it is best to tackle it early, so as to get through to the Harecastle Tunnel before darkness falls or bandits attack (such is the theory).Within the first hundred yards the Wedgewood factory sign appeared on the right. Within another hundred yards was a moored boat, seen before, pointing south, perhaps going back to Bedford…? The first lock was close, another boat already preparing to enter it and this was the first lock for which a vandal-proof device was needed. At the lock side was a just-retired teacher, he inclined to talk – progress was slow. The Captain, having secured the boat on the towpath below, retreated inside and ate breakfast…

            A couple of miles takes the canal through leafy Barlaston to the perimeter of Stoke. Radio sports news yesterday afternoon reported that Stoke City was being beaten at the Britannia Stadium by Swansea FC, so to have cruised past there late afternoon in a Welsh-named boat might have been a trifle provocative. Still, no football fans were about this morning, and hardly anybody else either. The traffic could be heard, lorries could be seen manoeuvring at distribution sites, but there was barely a sign of human life, apart from the overalled and hair-netted lady at the back door of the lock cottage and, at two different points, female photographers (students?) focusing, it seemed, on bridges, boats and gantries.

            Up Cleddau climbed, up six deep locks. The flashes of orange were frequent: not just  bushes, trees and berries but also buildings and bridges. At the top of the Stoke locks the Caldon Canal heads eastwards. On goes the Trent and Mersey, (its water today five inches shallower than usual), past derelict factories, past a couple of boat builders, past cleared land, past some new waterside apartments, past pottery kilns and workshops, past Westport Park, heading into a cutting – ahead lie the closed doors of the Harecastle Tunnel.

An orderly queue of two other boats was already tied up there. There was time for the tunnel keeper’s briefing, a quick lunch and then off – off into the 1.75 mile long tunnel. The Captain had tweaked the front tunnel light upwards; lights were ablaze in the cabin; a spotlight clipped onto the back hatch pointed upwards; a rear facing navigation light completed the illuminations. Conclusion: the more light thrown out into the tunnel the easier it is for navigation.

            Cleddau emerged into bright sunlight upon the characteristically orange waters.  So often weather one end of the tunnel is very different from weather at the other end. Through the hill we had cruised, now we were – we are – in the North. The various bridges of Kidsgrove were negotiated, the left turn to the Macclesfield Canal was ignored and Cleddau continued straight ahead for Heartbreak Hill, otherwise known as the Cheshire Locks. There are  34 locks in total over 14 miles; we dropped through the first three, took on more water at Red Bull, then in blustery breezes managed three more before tying up for the night.

As to the colours looked at today, probably:

Red and yellow and grey and green
Darkness and orange and blue…

But no rainbow.

            Tomorrow: 10 more locks to Hassall Green.

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