30. May, 2019

A CHANGE OF PLAN

We head off to Stone and spent a couple of days there. We travelled through the locks with a couple of other boats, The Dreamcatchers and Mercury Rising. Both Captains and crew were pleasant and I had many a happy chat with them.

It was whilst we were in the Swan the Captain suggested a trip up the Caldon Canal, a canal we haven’t done, and I was more than happy to agree.

The junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon is at Etruria in Stoke on Trent, and it took us a couple of days to get there.

But first disaster struck, I always enjoy cooking a Sunday dinner for us, and I had prepped a lovely piece of pork and all the trimmings, when the gas went, not a problem, the Captain is very well organised and it was simply a matter of connecting the full bottle, but we didn’t have a full bottle, shock horror, he had forgotten to get a new bottle just before we left. So, no Sunday dinner for us.

However there was a silver lining to our dilemma, we were heading for Barleston and the very good pub the Plume of Feathers. We have been in a couple of times for a drink, and I had always fancied trying the food. This was the perfect solution to our problem. The food was as good as the beer and we had a great time.

Next day and we replaced both bottles, at a very good price, and I managed to cook the dinner.

History time now folks the Caldon canal was opened in 1779 and is a narrow canal, it runs for 18miles to Froghall, it has 17 locks and the Froghall tunnel, which is very low and we certainly couldn’t get through. It was built to carry limestone and coal. There were 2 branches, one for the Uttoxeter canal, which is no longer there unfortunately, and one to Leek which is navigable. For a time the canal joins the Churnet river. The last commercial traffic was in 1952, but then in an unusual move, Johnson Brothers, a local pottery, commission 3 new barges called Milton Princess, Milton Queen and Milton Maid, to transport their pottery 2 ½ miles from the factory in Milton to the new packaging plant in Hanley. It was a great commercial success and continued until 1990.

The first of the locks is a staircase, which caused a hire boat a few interesting moments, as its crew tried to work out what to do, but it was at the number 3 lock that we had a problem. As the Captain picked me up coming out of the lock, a combination of a side wind and a weir, forced the boat onto some underwater obstruction and we tilted alarmingly. We were truly stuck, the Captain tried all the tricks he knew but to no avail. A friendly cyclist stopped to see if he could help but it was no good. We seemed to be pivoting on whatever was under the water. Luckily behind us just coming up the lock was a CRT workboat, and the guys on the boat came to see what they could do. The Captain managed to get the backend to the side and jumped off with the centre rope. It took all of them pulling on the rope to free us from the unknown.

It was a bit scary but I have great faith in the Captain.

At the next locks we met up with Mercury Rising again. Also at the locks was the charity boat, The Beatrice, with a group of school kids on. I greatly admired how they encouraged the children to get off and do the locks. They were having the best of times.

We moored up at the Holly Bush at Denford and went for a couple of pints. When we returned it was obvious Sam was on her last legs, and sadly she died later that evening. The Captain buried her at the side of the canal in a very peaceful location.

We spent the next couple of days at Cheddleton outside the Flint Mill. We had a look round the church before trying the 2 pubs, The Black Lion and Red Lion. All I will say about this village is ‘its on a bloody great hill, and everything is up’.

The end of the canal is at Froghall, which is the home of the Churnet Valley heritage railway, and as it was the bank holiday weekend they had a 1940’s event on, well we couldn’t miss that could we. So the dressing up clothes came out and off we went. At first I was unsure, as not many people seemed to be getting into the spirit, but as the afternoon wore on things improved. There are 3 stations on the railway, Kingsley and Froghall, Consall and Cheddleton. There are plans to extend the line to Leek Brook, there is a platform there but no other access but from the train.  Also at each station there is a pub just a walk away from the railway.

We started at Kingsley and Froghall and went to the end, Leek Brook, before getting off at Cheddleton and had a look round. More people were turning up in period dress which was nice. The pub here is the Boat Inn, and we went and had a couple of pints. The landlord was very friendly and asked for a photo to put on the pubs FB page, and of course we were happy to oblige.

There was a battle re- enactment at Cheddleton station which was very well done, and of course the yanks won. Then we boarded the train and headed for Consall. After looking around the pub called again this time the Black Lion, which had been recommended to us by Rob the lock, we got our drinks and headed outside (the weather had been very kind to us), looking round we spotted a couple sitting at one of the tables, also dressed up, so we asked if we could join them. This was the start of the most enjoyable time. We were chatting about boaty things when the lady asked is we had a boat, and of course that was it, we got chatting and got on like a house on fire. Diane and Richard from Oakham. Diane had been in the RAF, so her and the Captain had a lot in common. The conversation just flowed, it was lovely but time passed and we headed off to get the train back to Froghall, but oh dear, we had just missed the train and the next one wasn’t due for an hour, so back to the pub.

When we got back to Froghall we went down to the marquee to see what the entertainment was, a dance lesson was just finishing and a jazz trio had started playing, suddenly I found myself swept off my feet by Richard and I was dancing. For you that don’t know I have 2 left feet, but I did my best and I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. We stayed to the end dancing and laughing but it didn’t end there and we headed for the Railway Inn and a rather strange game of darts.

We were sorry to part company with them and I hope we will see them again, they have a camper van so there are places we could meet up. Watch this space folks.