Stone to Barlaston, 4 miles and 8 locks

             It was a quiet climb out of Stone this morning, first through the lock by the Star pub, the bells from St Michael and St Wulfad’s Church drifting across the town from about 10 o’clock. The locks in Stone are fairly close together, the towpath well-used by cyclists, runners and dog-walkers.  In several places the view of a boat waiting below a lock is totally obscured by a bridge, in one case with a long horse tunnel underneath it. A steerer’s understanding of what is going on above may therefore be completely different from the picture of events seen by the lock side crew… On several occasions this morning Boatwif and the Captain attempted to catch up with events with a “What was that all about then?” It was about twenty minutes after the event of three boats’ sterns all seeming to fight for the same patch of water that the sequence of events finally became clear. Later, a little cruiser being operated singlehandedly got turned round by a fierce outflow beside a lock and this caused the breakage of another boat’s window: all that completely escaped Boatwif’s attention until it was relayed to her several hours later this evening…

Even though the heart of Stone is obviously industrial it remains a pleasant place with no obvious eyesores. More or less in the middle of the town is a large chandlery, a hire boat company and a boatyard. Then, suddenly the canal pops you up to the town’s boundary, with some modern housing continuing along one side. There are a few hundred yards of countryside – then the first of the four Meaford Locks. It was busy – and a boater coming down the locks relayed a walkie talkie message to the crew.


“Can you find out which side that boat wants me to pass.”

“ Will do. Over and out.”

How efficient!* Here, on board Cleddau, due to Techno Son-in-Law’s long term enthusiasm for things, well, technical, are at least two walkie talkie sets. They lie in the corner cupboard, just an arm’s stretch away. Maybe Boatwif and the Captain could speed up their communications, not shout and wave arms wildly at each other…   Perhaps the forthcoming  long winter nights could be spent in comms practice, instead of skulking in front of fire and screen. Then next season oncoming boaters might appreciate the sheer professionalism of this crew…?

            In due course Cleddau arrived at Barlaston, the village not very visible from the canal. Where to moor? Boatwif tried to decipher a scribbled note on the Nicholson’s Guide: “good moorings …” but where?

“You jump off and walk ahead,” said the Captain, “AND TAKE YOUR PHONE”.

And so, armed with the faithful much derided Nokia, Boatwif walked on – and in due course, via phone, communicated back to the Captain her suggestion for a mooring place.  By phone, of course!

            Success! Cleddau was tied up within about a five minute walk of the Wedgewood Visitor Centre. Approach from the canal takes pedestrians in via a back entrance. Apart from the absence of school PE kit smells the corridors felt just like a mid-century secondary school. Past the glazed cupboard containing the flags of all nations, past unexplained machinery and into the Wedgewood Shop. From there it was a short walk across the courtyard to the Museum. What to look at and for, when time was limited on a Sunday afternoon.

            “There are eight thousand objects here,” said the lady on the desk, “but the iconic twenty are marked with red stickers.” Once her leaflet and the floor layout were matched up all became clear. Ceramics from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries were beautifully displayed, alongside biographical and historical explanation. As with the Porcelain in Worcester the design effects of fashion, patronage and two world wars were specified. Then there was a film outlining Josiah Wedgewood’s life: he, along with the help of Bentley and Darwin, promoted the idea of a canal to link the rivers Trent and Mersey to carry materials and products.  To reach the Museum from the canal the Manchester railway line has to be crossed. Communication: waving and shouting, slow waterways, fast trains and speaking into hand-held devices!

            Hasn’t the need for improved communication always been an instigator for development…

Tomorrow: to the Harecastle Tunnel (Kidsgrove) or beyond.

*Near Stoke Bruerne we came across another crew (on a widebeam boat) using walkie-talkies; she insisted because he had had two heart attacks and she wanted to be in constant touch.

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