Sliding and splashing through Staffordshire

Stoke – Stone – Tixall Wide – Rugeley: 25½ miles, 20 locks

‘Thank goodness for gaiters’ has been the unspoken thought these last few days.  What was forecast to be a dry morning on Friday became a raw downpour by mid-morning. That was the Etruria (top of the six Stoke locks) to Stone day. In the event, full waterproofs were donned mid-cruise, and Friday and Saturday nights were spent at a star (pun alert…) mooring just above Star Lock and the Star pub.

Sunday’s Stone to Tixall Wide stretch was dry, less cold, but very windy. Controlling a 60’ slab sided boat either on a rope from the bank or while holding off from a lock is no easy matter when a wild wind is whipping through the hedge gaps… As for the gaiters, they were essential wear again on Monday when a walk from Tixall Wide out to the Shugborough Hall Estate and back via Little Haywood was a splashing and paddling adventure…

This stretch of canal is familiar now, travelled most years since 2008. There are the deep Stoke locks,     a well-tended graveyard and two tree-sprouting bottle kilns…     Five miles south the famous Wedgewood factory is passed,     then after the four Meaford Locks comes Stone,     and a cruise past small boatyards     and down 3 more locks to Star Lock and the Star Inn.

          

To squeeze onto a mooring here was a triumph: it’s near to the town centre,     adjacent to a small ampitheatre    and yards only from the Stone Peace Pole installed last year by the Quakers.    

Courtesy of Chris and Jane, local friends and previous Cleddau visitors, there was a couth lunch in a pub at Sandon      – and transport to a launderette in Stone.     (Fresh bedding, bliss!) Thanks to them both for their thoughtful offers of assistance.

On Sunday Cleddau cruised from Stone to Great Haywood Junction (and a diversion onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal for an overnight mooring at Tixall Wide). Not far out of Stone there was evidence of some towpath and canal bank upgrading work.

 

At Aston Lock is the very photogenic Trent and Mersey Canal midpoint mile marker,     and over the wall can be glimpsed Aston Church.     On through the delightful rural scenery: lambs and sheep,    trees bursting into blossom,    a hill top copse, boats moored up in rural isolation,    old wartime air raid shelters re-purposed as animal shelters,    locks in charming locations,    trees bending in the wind near the Great Haywood Farm Shop     – and wind churned water at Tixall Wide.

Rarely should the weather interfere with the project – and so, with a plan to walk into Shugborough Park on Monday morning the wet weather gear was donned again. Sploosh, slip, slide, splash … progress along the half mile towpath back to the Junction was slow, requiring a willingness to paddle and an ability to tiptoe around the deeper puddles…

There are changes going on at Shugborough: Staffordshire County Council has surrendered its responsibility of Shugborough Mansion House to the National Trust.   Making their way on Monday morning along the footpaths in the Park were little clusters of folk, all crouched under their umbrellas. The Park was open, (its first day this year) and locals had been invited to inspect Work in Progress. The Mansion House was still closed     (“Two rooms not changed at all, though all the rest are,” reported a volunteer in the know). But the Servants’ Quarters were open to visitors

  

– and the shop too. With such relentless quantities of vertical water (RAIN) the Captain craved an umbrella. There’s a fair stock of them on the boat, though of no practical use when the boat was moored a good couple of miles away. The National Trust shop, normally a place he would avoid, acted as a magnet in his  umbrella-hungry state. On this first day of opening there was a distinct smell of fresh paint and as you’d expect all the displays were artistically arranged. Bright red item selected, a kerfuffle then ensued as the tills had not yet been commissioned… Eventually, with a legally paid for umbrella, the Captain was happy to parade back through the Park, over the Essex Bridge,     back through Little Haywood village and, of course, take a diversion via the glorious Great Haywood Farm Shop.

Overrun of winter works seemed to be the theme of the day. Late afternoon, under dry skies, Boatwif walked the further half mile to pretty Tixall Lock. Underfoot was another slippery, gooey mud bath. Lock repairs here have taken longer than planned; several boaters are hopeful of a Wednesday reopening

 

to allow onward cruising to Stafford, Wolverhampton, Kidderminster and Stourport-on-Severn.

After a second night at Tixall Wide

 

it was time on Tuesday to move on, back to the Junction     and a right turn onto the Trent and Mersey Canal, to follow it as it parallels the River Trent through the broad Trent Valley

 

to the old market town of Rugeley.

Some thoughts from there next time…

Stats so far: miles and locks from Higher Poynton – 54 miles, 33 locks

 

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