Slip, glaze and a game of cards

Milton (Caldon Canal) to Westport Lake (Trent & Mersey). 8.4 miles, 3 locks.

Remember how last week Boatwif had been taken with the idea of an Emma Bridgewater factory tour, the Captain permitting? After four phone calls, an on-line booking and a distressingly early start on Tuesday morning  Boatwif was off-loaded at Bridge 8 with instructions to do the 10am tour.

It was a glorious morning: sun sparkled on the water, boaters and dog-walkers smiled and waved. There was a brief supplies stop in Milton and then onward… The canal weaves, the bridges are tauntingly placed on tricky bends and for a while it is a green cruise. Then the Stoke-on-Trent outskirts appear, a mixture of cleared land, new buildings under construction, the pair of pot kilns, old stone walls, some fifties houses and gardens. Two lift bridges were lifted and at 0940 Cleddau was tied up opposite the factory at Bridge 8. The canal side is broad here and inset into the old bricks are shiny new mooring rings. The Captain remained aboard – for breakfast and boat maintenance duties – while Boatwif galloped off.

The tours (£2.50) take visitors right through the entire production area of the factory. Rules read, trip hazards warned of, fire assembly point noted and the tour could commence. First the casting room: here the slip (pottery clay) has been poured into moulds and after an initial firing is removed from the moulds. Then there is a sponging or wiping process. Then more firing (in modern gas-fired kilns). Next comes glazing and more firing. Then the really fascinating part – the decoration. The pots are either sponge decorated, by colour stamping with a pre-cut piece of upholstery sponge, or by lithography which is via the pressing on of a pre-printed transfer. It is all very skilled, precise and repetitive work. Two twenty minute breaks are allowed per shift and payment (according to the number and complexity of units finished in a week) is by “piece work”. When you browse the wares in the shops you realise that, for example, there are only three different mug shapes. Market response to a new event or fashion can be done via new decorative patterns using existing moulds but the design of a new shape is very costly because of the requirement for new moulds. Boatwif’s classification for the tour: glad she did it.

Back on the boat the focus was an evening liaison at Westport Park. Down Planet Lock. Down the Bedford Street Staircase Locks. A hire boat was coming up. A mother offered her two strapping teenager crew as windlass wielders. A boater from below muttered about water wastage, 100,000 gallons… had he not heard the rain recently? Are we still in drought?! Did he not realise the Caldon feeds the Trent and Mersey? Should two boats go up before / if one can come down? Conversation with two lady boaters was far less confrontational.  Boatwif filled them in with where to find the Bridgewater factory, where to buy provisions, the prettiest Caldon bits… but both gave the same response: “My husband wants to see the railway station.” Is this a man thing…? See nb Valerie’s blog, scroll down to very bottom, see Les’s picture taken about three years ago… that is what is in a Caldon man’s soul.

            By mid-afternoon Cleddau was tied up at Westport Park, bow-button to bow-button with nb Valerie. Adventures regaled; news swapped. For Les and Jaq phase 1 of boat modifications has been completed and American visitors from Washington State have cruised the lower Macc with them. For the crew of Cleddau, well, read below! There was a superb dinner on board Valerie, much talk and laughter – and a lengthy card game, Phase 10. No time to explain the rules: the Captain is in a hurry to get moving, but maybe it’s because one crew member won the card game, and it wasn’t him!

            Today, Wednesday, just through the Harecastle Tunnel and back onto the Macc.

FOOTNOTE: if map and text do not correspond bear in mind that Techno Son-in-Law is on the Lleyn Peninsula, a broadband signal deprived area…


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