Names and coincidences

Church Lawton to Wedgewood: 12¼ miles, 12 locks, 1 tunnel 

Slowly Cleddau and Tentatrice are making their way towards the Staffs and Worcs Canal. The plan had been to continue south from Chester down the Shropshire Union and to turn left at Autherley Junction onto the Staffs and Worcs. There was a change of plan (another one) when notification was received that a week’s closure was scheduled to repair Wheaton Aston lock, from 31st July to 7th August…

An alternative route was needed, hence the diversion across to Middlewich to re-join the Trent and Mersey Canal, again to continue south.

It was along the Middlewich Arm that nb Water Shed was passed for the second time in a couple of months.   What a brilliant name. “It’s got at least three meanings,” the boat’s skipper divulged…

Names don’t always mean what they suggest. Take the conversation at the top of the Stoke locks on Thursday morning. There was a short queue of boats. One shuffled forwards into the full lock, ready to descend. The boat in front shuffled along the lock landing, Cleddau coming in behind. Noticing the boat’s name Slowly Boatwif made a quip about an appropriately named boat for the current pace of activity.

“No,” said the lady holding the boat by its mid-rope, and in a very matter of fact tone she added, “It’s named after an elephant.”

An elephant??

An explanation eventually emerged.  In 1970 the film The Elephant called Slowly (1970) starring Virginia McKenna was made. The actor later gained fame for her work as a wildlife campaigner.

Banter is often passed between boaters; cruising in a short pound between locks the other day a stationary boater hailed the Captain loudly.

“Oh, Cleddau!” he proclaimed, pronouncing the name correctly. His own boat bore a Welsh dragon flag on the tiller arm, he was from North Wales but didn’t recognise the Welsh-sounding location.

The Captain went into his “river in Pembrokeshire that flows into Milford Haven” routine, adding that in 1096 the Normans threw the Welsh out.

“And we want it back now!” came the swift response…

Because there are frequent references both to the boat’s name and to her Tudor rose Boatwif was intrigued to come across a mention to a bleeding wolf and a Tudor rose.

The Bleeding Wolf pub is accessible from the southern end of the Macclesfield Canal although it is on the busy A34. There are signs to it from Hall Green. It may be a longer walk  but it can also be reached from the Church Lawton moorings by walking up through Lawton Woods to join the A34. The pub’s unusual name is said to come from an incident where keeper Adam de Lauton rescued either King John, or alternately the Earl of Chester, from attack by a wounded wolf and in gratitude was granted all the land he could walk over in a week, taking the bleeding wolf as his starting point. The land amounted to a thousand acres stretching from Sandbach to Congleton. “The bleeding wolf was incorporated into the Lawton family coat of arms and consists of the three crosses of Calvary and the Tudor Rose underneath a wolf licking its left shoulder.” (Church leaflet). Is this the coat of arms? And if this is the Tudor rose – what is the significance of its inclusion?

After last week’s torrid heat these last few days have been characterised by deluge-type rain. The phones pinged twice on Wednesday night, shortly after the BBC news item about Poynton’s emergency, friends seeking reassurance that Cleddau and crew were still above water.

30 miles or so away from Poynton the crew started Wednesday by paddling along the towpath, heading the last six locks up Heartbreak Hill to the Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove, climbing from Cheshire into Staffordshire.        Word on the towpath telegraph was that the tunnel was closed, due to flooding…

And so it had been for four hours during the morning, a decision made locally by the tunnel keepers but not known by the regional Canal and River Trust office.

Through the tunnel – the resident skeleton glimpsed during the wettest transit ever as rain leached through the brick roof lining      and gushed into the canal from surface water drains.

Mooring space at Westport Lake was at a premium and the two boats squeezed in close to the striking looking building that is overseen by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Rather hidden from view at the base of the building are some very colourful mosaics.

Onward on Thursday, past places previously and frequently mentioned, Stoke Boats at Longport Wharf  and Middleport Pottery.   Just beyond Middleport some painted fencing provides a sharp blue background for close up studies of the natural world    – and some waste ground nearby appears to have been seeded with wild flowers.

There was a pause for a replacement gas cylinder – and then the chug continued to Etruria (wonderful name, thanks to Josiah Wedgewood’s passion for classical association) where the Stoke locks begin.

Two volunteer lock keepers were on hand at the first two locks – the remaining four were DIY operated.

Down the first deep lock – and this lock assistant crept down the steep cobbled path to the second lock. How many thousands (tens of thousands?) of pairs of feet have tramped this way since the canal’s inauguration in 1777…

The canal wends through Stoke-on-Trent. There’s a curious mix of old, derelict and new. Grass cutting and strimming were under way at the large graveyard. Two bottle kilns are reminders of the very many potteries (pot banks) that were typical in this area.

A seventies house, once the lock keeper’s house, sits beside New Lock, the fifth and last of the Stoke Locks. The lock keeper at the top lock had explained that the previous house and lock were demolished in the seventies to make way for the dual carriageway, a new concrete-lined lock being built in replacement.

“Isn’t there a funny name just along here?” commented the Captain. And, yes, there it was.   Surely crews of a mature age should be beyond sniggering at the word “bottom”…!

The A500 parallels the canal now, brown signposts indicating the direction to three popular visitor attraction potteries.

A small sign screwed to an old wall (blink and you’ll miss it!) indicates an aqueduct, the small River Trent running below.

On past curious sights and diverse activities…

High old wharves with scrub greenery behind hint at past industry,  probably a now abandoned colliery.  Further along on the towpath a pithead wheel is represented. But how were these wagons used?

The canal creeps out of Stoke towards Trentham   where houses are well cared for. One more lock   and then a favourite mooring half a mile past the Wedgewood factory (relocated from Etruria in the 1940s) was secured.

A hot afternoon became showery; the showers became a cloudburst. There was minimal shelter beside the hedge outside the boat so a bedraggled ‘waif and stray’, a lady and her black Scottie dog, were invited aboard. Over mugs of tea a series of coincidences emerged – just one for the Bedfordshire readers: she had lived opposite Kempston Sainsbury’s and sung in a choir that met at the Church of the Transfiguration… The rain continued, relentlessly. What else is an emergency poncho for than such a situation? A yellow poncho pack had been on board for seven years or so, one of Techno Son-in-Law’s useless/ful donations. Gratefully Denise paddled back to her car. Regrettably no emergency dog ponchos were available!

It’s not much more than a stone’s throw from Barlaston to the next proposed stop – the little canal town of Stone.

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