Trains and boats – and caravans!

Norton Green to Cheddleton, 5.4 miles, 8 locks

            Saturday: a day Radio 4 listeners may feel deprived of an Archers fix, so a Brookfield picture (taken in Endon) for you!

            This morning Boatwif set off along the tow path to wind up the lift bridge which was a few hundred yards ahead. Would-be Caldon boaters take note: the tow path all the way from Etruria to Stockton locks (about 6 miles) is tarmac paved so there are no puddles and quagmires to contend with and far less grass and mud gets trodden through the boat…

            Bank holiday weekends usually herald rain (not until mid-evening in these parts) and charity events. This morning, stretched from below the Stockton Brook Bottom Lock to the top lock (about half a mile) fishermen were lined up on the tow path taking part in a charity fishing match. As boats crept past the anglers and each other between two of the locks one rod-wielding voice muttered: “What’s this? A regatta…?” This afternoon walkers from Etruria were heading for Froghall (a 16 mile walk) to raise funds for the Air Ambulance.

            After 5 locks at Stockton Brook (two of which have ceramic murals on the lock side) the canal weaves its way to Endon, passes a strange obstruction mid-stream, bends past Stoke Boat Club and comes in alongside Endon and its cricket club. This is rural territory:  a tractor and trailer rumbled through the village, cows and sheep share the fields sloping down to the canal, winter cattle feed wrapped in plastic is stacked in field corners. The canal creeps from bridge-hole to bridge-hole, a mile or so later arriving at Hazelhurst, the prettiest of canal junctions. Here the Leek Branch sweeps away to the right, then curving back to the left it crosses the Caldon on a sturdy aqueduct, built in 1841. The main route drops below via three delightful locks. It is all so perfectly proportioned here: the locks, the junction signpost, the white houses, the swings from the tree, the valley below. After the aqueduct comes the popular flower-festooned Holly Bush pub and then the route continues through the tree-lined Deep Hayes Country Park to Cheddleton.

            The River Churnet runs just below the canal at this point and has long been utilised by the waterwheels at the Flint Mill, one in action today. While the Captain tackled the port side of the cabin with his polishing rags Boatwif set off to explore.

            The Flint Mill (waterwheels, 1800s Miller’s Cottage and private museum) was open and so was the Cheddleton Railway Station. “Thomas” is supposed to be appearing this weekend on the Churnet Valley Railway so Boatwif naively set off down Station Road in search of some photo opportunities. It’s a long road, Station Road, and still with no sign of a railway Boatwif sought advice at a caravan park. “Use our road,” said the kind lady, “it’s not so dangerous.” And so, while walking through a meticulously cared for caravan site Boatwif  first heard, and then saw, Thomas (or one of his friends!)  Once at the station she wished she could remember just who was who amongst the characters.  Is it “Gordon” who is the goods van…?. Excited children piled into a goods van to be shunted and pulled backwards and forwards a distance of a few hundred yards by the appropriately blue, Number 1 Thomas the Tank Engine! Delight; it brings back memories of seeing Cal Guy Jnr, then still under two, falling in love with trains in a Californian park one Sunday last November.  

            During stays in California there have been meals at Mexican style restaurants. Tonight the Captain achieved an ambition: having driven over Cheddleton Bridge many, many times and passed this way by boat twice before he secured a table at Castro’s, the restaurant by the bridge, overlooking the lock, Latin American cuisine its speciality. Couldn’t hear the trains, but the family on the next table were from the caravan park – and two boats came up the locks during the rather good meal!

            Tomorrow – to the canal terminus at Froghall.

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