From our lovely quiet moorings at Barlaston we wended our way towards Stoke then onwards to Etruria (original home of Wedgwood potteries) where we were delightfully surprised by the arrival of friends James and Debbie (nb “Lois Jane”) who we only saw very briefly the day before.
They travelled with us through the Stoke locks until we arrived at Etruria where a canal festival was in full swing.
Lock 40 at Etruria Junction was alive the visitors, all interested in us ‘coming up’ in the world.
Out of the way of the crowds we moored up briefly and, before James and Debbie left us, we all enjoyed an early glass of wine with a slice of Pauline’s terrific cake. Doug, Debbie, James, Pauline and Neil on the back of “Chance”.
Not to be left out – Dudley (James and Debbie’s 14 month old puppy dog) had a cuddle from Doug.
Getting through Stoke and Etruria, we passed Middleport where some of the priceless old buildings and Bottle Furnaces are in dire need of restoration.
Another iconic piece of British heritage needing a bit of TLC was this Jensen Interceptor parked next to the canal. (Only James was interested of course!)
After 40 minutes inside we were soon safely through the mighty Harecastle tunnel and into the lurid orange waters on its north side.
After negotiating the four locks at Red Bull we reached the delightful moorings at Church Lawton where we had the most sumptuous BBQ.
“Chance’s” Taff rail has many uses, not least of which is to be a very adequate buffet table.
The evening’s entertainment included a bit of towpath ballroom dancing from Pauline and Doug.
Later, as the sun began to set and the air took on a night time chill, Doug got out his new glitter ball (thanks to Dave & Allison, nb Free Spirit) and Pauline got out her blanket!
Many locks have much to interest the boat steerer who, spending quite some time many feet below everyone else, is not party to all the interesting gossip going on between the lock operators.
What a treat! Acres of “real” plant nursery. Tens of thousands of baby species trees and shrubs growing over many years and to be later sold to discerning gardeners.
The canal banks are now at their zenith with wild flowers and grasses providing a carpet of colour.
Including those at Red Bull there are 25 locks which make up “Heartbreak Hill” for the canal boater. Many of the locks still have duplicate chambers which helps with the passage of large numbers of boats sometimes. Here “Waterlily” and “Chance” sit side by side on their way down to the Wheelock valley.
A good day’s boating brought us down to Middlewich where we moored for the night above King’s Lock. In the early morning of Tuesday the stillness and silence of the canal was mesmerising.
Tuesday’s cruising was to get us as far as Anderton and, as the canal meanders around in the valley of the River Dane, we came across the numerous “flashes” – wide, open waters caused by the collapse of some of the underground salt mines in the area. Mooring your boat on one of these gorgeous expanses of water is a real treat.
At Anderton we had a planned visit by great friends Bill and Eileen and their friend Gill (who we missed meeting in India earlier this year).
In the canal side Stanley Arms we all had a great meal and, of course as usual, it was the company which made things even more special.
From Anderton it was to be a ‘3 tunnel day’. Here is the delightful setting just before we entered the very wiggly Barton tunnel …….
……. and here we are winding our way through the bends in the tunnel.
After the Saltisford Tunnel came the long (1290 yard) Preston Brook tunnel. There are timed entries for this one and, at south portal, we had to wait 20 minutes for our slot.
Preston Brook is the end of the 92 mile long Trent and Mersey canal and the start of the Bridgewater canal. The atmosphere and character of the Bridgewater is very different. The bridges have names, not numbers, and you regularly come across little canal side cranes to lift stop planks into place. As there are no locks on the canal stop planks are needed to section off parts which may need to be drained for maintenance.
With our mooring at Stockton Heath within reach we cruised through the sylvan setting of Higher Walton on the outskirts of Stockton.
Safely moored up, we were visited by our cruise friends Jill and Bill for a catch-up chat over wine and nibbles. We shall be spending more time with Jill and Bill and their family very soon but it was great to spend time with them now.