Back to the Macc
Stone (Staffordshire) to Congleton (Cheshire)
Stone in Staffordshire is a canal-minded town. The bottom lock (of four) is right beside The Star Inn. Early morning on Saturday only a father and toddler watched proceedings as Cleddau rose in the lock. Boatyards, former workboats and old buildings make the transit through the town an interesting one. Then, with barely enough time to boil a kettle, the four Meaford Locks had to be tackled. Here stunning Autumn colour begged to be photographed!
Beyond Barlaston the canal is open on both sides: there is plenty of company here, horses in a field alongside the towpath, with cows and Canada geese in the fields opposite. Moor up near Bridge 104 and you can walk up to the Wedgewood factory. The site has been undergoing a major revamp and The World of Wedgewood was launched in July this year. (See here for details). It’s a longer walk than previously, via a smart new estate of executive houses to a revitalised visitor centre. It was late on Saturday afternoon so there was never going to be time for a factory or museum tour but drifting through a design-led “Flagship Store” after months of narrow boat living seemed a bizarre experience…
Onwards on Sunday to Stoke-on-Trent. Initially the canal threads itself through rural parts but soon the city is apparent. There is the huge incinerator, very near to Stoke City Football Stadium. The towpath is well used by angling competitors, by cyclists, runners and walkers and the towpath foliage was full of colour.
It was at the bottom of the Stoke five locks that local character Rob the Lock was met. He volunteers his lock operating services over a wide area. Only the previous day he had cycled for 1 hour and 40 minutes to Great Heywood to escort and assist a boat up the 18 locks between there and Stoke Top Lock. He carries his own windlass, BW key and anti-vandal key and he WORKS!
Discovering that at least two of the northbound boats would be continuing on the Trent and Mersey Canal after the Harecastle Tunnel on Monday he announced: “Right, I’ll probably cycle over there tomorrow and get them moving down Heartbreak Hill.”
Onwards after the locks for the last three miles or so to Westport Lake. There are familiar sights of course, bottle kilns, a pottery still in production, some derelict buildings and Stoke Boats at Longport Wharf. (Remember all those visits, progress reports and sea trials in 2013 /14!)
Another maintenance task (the front deck locker) was being worked on at Westport Lake when the “mutual acquaintance” mentioned towards the end of the last post called. “We’re over in Leek but we’ll be with you in half an hour,” said Chris. To the Captain’s delight Chris and Jane brought with them a parcel of Staffordshire oatcakes. (In the spirit of cross-cultural foods wasn’t it a lucky thing that Welsh cakes had been purchased from a farm shop some days previously!) There was time late afternoon to regale with the oatcake bearers just a few of the summer’s adventures …
Now some would say that by train you have to get to Macclesfield to be “really in the north”. Travelling north on the M6 perhaps you have to at least get to Sandbach Services… But by boat? Stoke is more North Midlands, the 1¾ mile long Harecastle Tunnel separating the canal at Stoke from the Junction onto the Macclesfield Canal and the drop down the Cheshire Locks towards Middlewich and Manchester. No, you’re on northern waterways when you are north of the Harecastle …
It was cold on the way to the tunnel on Monday morning
– and cold inside too! (Was it the chill set up by the resident Spook?)
Here too Scottish Sis’s words rang in the ears: in a phone call recently she had advised “Now no wrist risk-taking…” It was right here, thirteen months ago, that a backward slip led to a broken wrist. As the boat was pulled in for water the Captain made a seriously unfunny remark: “Shall I ring the Minor Injuries Unit in Congleton so that they’re ready for you…?”
There’s a comfortable familiarity with being “back on the Macc”. High up above Scholar Green, visible from far away down on the Cheshire Plain, is the contorted shape of the Mow Cop folly. Then came a familiar boat, smart now in her new livery. Last year’s Wash Crossing had been made in a three boat flotilla, Cleddau, Tentatrice and Chouette. Just round the corner is another familiar sight, the black and white railings opposite Ramsdell Hall. Behind, but still in view, is Mow Cop. Rounded stone arches with distinct eye appeal bridge the canal as it steals above and behind Congleton town. There’s a first glimpse of another familiar feature, The Cloud, and then a welcome overnight mooring on the Biddulph Aqueduct.
Stats since last post: 21 miles, 15 locks
Monkton Moments* to date: 23
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)