Numbers crunched…

Wedgewood to Aston Marina: 5 ½  miles, 9 locks

Just as Cleddau was drawing away from one of her top favourite moorings between Trentham and Barlaston on Friday morning another boat drew in.

“How far is it to walk to the Wedgewood Factory from here?” was the question. Boatwif was summonsed from the front deck to explain and advise. It was three months ago that her last visit had been made and shamefully some of the crucial detail was perhaps less than fresh, overtaken in the memory perhaps by the northerly destinations of Liverpool and Lancaster, two tidal river crossings and rain-drenched days…

Farewell then to Wedgewood and the huge flock of Canada geese.     The trip down into Stone was not rain-drenched, more hot, then humid.

The route is familiar, past bird shapes on a wind vane, past the delightful private dock, drifting along a tree-lined canal, cruising towards the four neat Meaford Locks.  A posse of Canal and River Trust workers approached purposefully, tools in hand. Clearing the weirs, they were.

Down through the 4 locks.

Arriving in Stone it’s worth keeping sharp-eyed to catch some treats: the railway signals, one in a garden, another in a small boatyard, the miniature railway track at a yard (no locos in motion), the improvement works going on at St Dominic’s Priory School  , the wonderful Joule’s Stone Ales buildings (more on Joule later) the new construction beside Joule’s that is to be a microbrewery and tap house.

Down through 3 more locks (At Newcastle Road Lock 1 boater divulged that on the previous day she had slipped off her cruiser and gone completely under the water…)

Maybe there was luck but the securing of two prize moorings close to the town, to a park, by the Quaker-inspired Peace Pole, and between The Star pub and Workhouse Bridge was very fortunate.

3 volunteer lock keepers were stationed at Star Lock (“…having a Health and Safety meeting at the pub”, one boater joked).

Mid-Friday afternoon the High Street was quiet. Contrast that with Saturday morning when the monthly Farmers’ Market was in town…

  An opportunity to compare these Portuguese egg custard tarts with those that the Biologist makes could not be ignored:  Verdict: pretty tasty but hers are lighter…

It so happens that on Farmers’ Market Saturdays the church is open to visitors. The church of St Michael and St Wulfud replaced the older, smaller priory church. There are 2 seats in the churchyard commemorating the end of the first World War and 3 areas of wildflower meadow.

The information board outside refers to the Two Saints Way,  a route that Boatwif had spotted in Burston on a winter trip in February.  “Pilgrims can now leave stones on the window ledge in front of the St Wulfad and St Rufin window” says the notice. And so they do.

There are lots of stained glass windows, many created by Charles Eamer Kempe, a Victorian stained glass designer,  whose trademark feature is the wheatsheaf.

Built in 1758, the church has that rectangular galleried feel typical of many Georgian churches. The previous church had been an Augustinian Priory which had collapsed. A fascinating link to the more distant past is a 13th century bronze seal, displayed in the church, which in 2011 was uncovered in a field in Cobham, Surrey. The inscription on it was identified by the British Museum as belonging to the church in Stone and it now is kept in a smash-proof glass display box secured by 3 locks.

Any visitor to Stone will come across the name Joule, prominent on the old brewery building. A stone tablet remembered one John Joule Esquire: he seems to have been a man of upstanding character. (See lower paragraph on the tablet).

The church on Saturday was being prepared for a wedding: the organ was open, likewise a grand piano. Below a floral display is a shining bell, a gift from the naval shore establishment of HMS St Vincent, donated in recognition of Admiral Sir John Jervis of (local) Meaford Hall whose success as commander during a sea battle for Cape St Vincent led to his ennoblement as Earl St Vincent.

Dainty flowers had been added as decoration to the pew ends  – and later a glimpse was caught of the bridal party.

There are often pluses and minuses about a particular mooring: close to Star Lock meant that the town centre was nearby. There was a seat close by on the towpath, a natural resting place for visitors in the sun  – and for youths rolling their own. There was a good view of the lock ahead which provided interesting moments, as when an upcoming boat lurked for a full 15 minutes on the lock landing, its crew distracted perhaps by the lock side pub, and a down coming boater made it quite clear that the lock landing was his to claim…

What had not been anticipated was The Star’s Saturday night live outdoor music,  3 hours of female vocals, guitar strumming and drum bashing with only one 20 minute interval.    It started at 9pm … and finished at midnight. Gentle lullabies it wasn’t!

On Sunday morning the High Street was deserted, only the 2 betting shops and the Costa Coffee were open. There was no life either in the pub courtyard,  the venue for the previous night’s entertainment.  –

2 locks   (a queue of 3 boats at Aston Lock) in the next mile and a half, and then Cleddau took a left turn, to moor back in Aston Marina just for one night, across the basin from where her 6 winter months had been spent. There was a splendid lunch at No 26 with Staffordshire Friends and in the early evening sunshine a bride and groom posed on a pontoon.

“So how far have you been this year?” was a question asked. “And how many locks have you done?”

For those numbers the Captain had to consult his spreadsheet:

Mileage since leaving Aston Marina on 31st March: 497¼

Locks since leaving Aston Marina: 238

Transits of Harecastle Tunnel: 2

Tidal river crossings between Rufford and Preston: 2

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