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7. Jun, 2019

After last year’s glorious sunshine and barmy temperatures we are back to normal for dear old England, with changeable weather, sunshine and showers have been the recipe for the last few days.

After our amazing time at the 1940’s event, we moved off in the rain, and made our way back to Cheddleton and moored once again outside the flint mill there.

It was bank holiday and the flint mill was open to the public, so of course we had to go and have a look round. It is unique, in that it has 2 water wheels to power the grinding pans, and both of these where running.

History time folks.

The earliest reference to milling at Cheddleton dates back to 1253. It is possible that the foundations of the South Mill date back to this period. Another document, dating to 1694, refers to corn milling at the site. In the late 18th century the complex was converted to grind flint. The North Mill was built specifically for that purpose and the South Mill was converted to grind flint instead of corn. About the same time, the Caldon Canal was built making transport of heavy goods to and from the mill easier. The ground, calcined flint produced by the mill was becoming a very important ingredient in earthenwares being produced in the nearby Potteries. Josiah Wedgwood had successfully marketed a new product called "creamware" which was becoming very popular. Calcined flint is white and thermally stable, making it an excellent ingredient in the new light-coloured wares that had become fashionable.

It was very interesting, and the water wheels were amazing to watch and hear.

Being bank holiday Monday it was also the Championship playoff’s, and much to my amazement my team Derby County had made it to Wembley and were facing Aston Villa. The Black Lion had the match on so, I got to watch their unfortunate defeat, it ended 2-1 to Villa. So it’s another year in the Championship for the Rams.

To end a very enjoyable day I treated the Captain to tea in the Red Lion, chicken and chips in a basket, and a pint of Hobgoblin, what could be better.

Our next destination was Leek, which is at the end of the Leek branch, (of course). The trip there was hairy in places as this part of the canal was very narrow and shallow, but we made it, and moored up with the help of a friendly boater called Richard on Beryl of Bridgwater. He was a local, and very knowledgeable. He explained that the town centre was quite a walk, but well worth a visit, and that Morrisions was only 10mins way, which was handy. The best bit of info he gave us, was it was worth using the local taxi to get into town, at amazing price of £4.00, cheaper than the bus.

We also got chatting to Pat and Ste off Nellie who were lovely

Although it threatened rain next day we decided to go into town, and we weren’t disappointed at all. It is a fascinating, with connections to William Morris of the arts and craft movement, and was the home of the great canal builder James Brindley. I had used google to check out what was worth seeing, and firstly we made for the 13C church dedicated to Edward the Confessor, lovely. The town is full of interesting buildings. The most notable building is the Nicholson Institute, it was built in 1882 in the Queen Ann style, and is home to the library and the local museum. It is tucked behind a 17C building, which the architect  Larner Sugden refused to demolish to make way for the institute, as he had great respect for old buildings. The front gate to this house is an amazing example of the arts and craft movement. Leek also boasts the Nicholson War Memorial, dedicated in 1925 and said to be the largest in the country.

Then the rain started, so we had to find a pub. I had found a couple of micro-pubs on Google, but we never made it to them, as the Captain spotted a Titanic tap house, The Roebuck Inn. I can highly recommend this pub, the food menu looked interesting, and the choice of beer was brilliant.

After a couple of days travelling along the shallow, narrow canal we made it back to Etruria, and the junction with the Trent and Mersey, this time without any mishaps at the locks. It was busy at the junction where the Etruria flint mill and museum is. This was because there was a festival on at the weekend, and the steam engine which powered the mill was in steam. Of course we had to stop, but we moored away from the junction, as quite a few boats were jostling for the closest moorings to the festival.

Unlike Cheddleton, flint mill Etruria actually prepared the flint and bone before grinding, by heating them in huge kilns to make them easier to grind. Before grinding the flint and bone are crushed. The grinding process is wet pan grinding, which stops the production of a fine dust, which caused the early death of many workers due to “Potters Rot”, or silicosis of the lungs. Flint and bone were used in the pottery industry, flint added to clay produces earthenware products, it gives the ware strength, whiteness and prevents shrinkage during the firing process. Bone is added to clay to produce bone china, it  gives it its translucent quality, and makes it whiter than any other ware, and its high strength allows it to be finer.

The mill is powered by “Princess”, a double acting condensing rotative beam engine to the design of James Watt. She was purchased second hand and installed when the mill was built in 1856, and is believed to have been built in Manchester in about 1820.

Right enough history. The day of the festival dawned, and luckily it was going to be fine and sunny, so after a hearty brunch off we went. It was a great event, and well supported by the local and boating community. There were a number of old historic and working boats in attendance, and a few trading boats including the Staffordshire Oat Cake Boat, Que Sara Sara, and the “Barge in Booze”  beer boat. We had a walk round the event field, which had loads to see and do, there was live music and of course a bar. After a pint we headed back to the Oat Cake boat, as I was determined to try this local delicacy, but I wasn’t in luck as they had sold out and shut up shop.

We took the tour round the mill which was very informative, and got to see Princess in action, and for you of those who know me, this was the best bit for me, I love steam engines, and there is something about the smell of the boiler, the smoke , the oil, everything really.

To finish of a perfect day we headed off to find a pub, I had found one on Google called the Holy Inadequate. It was anything but inadequate, with a wonderful selection of beers, and pork pies for only £1.80.

Our final night in Stoke was spent at Westport Lake, we took a walk round the lake and put our bird song app to good use.

Next challenge, the Harecastle Tunnel, and then the Macclesfield canal.

30. May, 2019

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.

27. May, 2019

Sam was our old lady cat and definitely queen of all she surveyed. At 18yrs old she was a good age many people will say, but it doesn’t make losing her any easier.

She travelled over the rainbow bridge on the evening of the 24th May, she had been poorly for a few days but her last hours were peaceful, and like Bubbles she had her box.

Sam was a strange cat, off hand with you most of the time, but she loved nothing better than being picked up and cuddled, and she would purr loudly.

Unlike Bubbles she was a very vocal cat, with a wide range of meows and purrs, the loudest being when she decided it was time to be fed.

I have already said she loved to purr, and she was so loud it would drown out the TV, and sounded like a small engine.

She took to life on the boat with ease and learnt to swim, but she didn’t like the water (what cat does), and soon let you know when she had fallen in, wow that cat could make a racket when necessary. To start with when she was hoisted out she would run off and hide, ashamed at her clumsiness and not return until she was dry, but then she learnt that we would dry her off and give her lots of love and cuddles (and treats) when the unfortunate happened. She would get off and explore when we moored up for the night, but her favourite place was on the roof in the sun, but just out of reach of us, and anyone who might disturb her slumbers. We had to keep the cabin door shut when travelling or she would be out and on the roof, not the safest place for a small elderly cat. She had a good life.

She was also fearless and would stand up to any dog, but usually from the safety of the boats roof. I remember Cassie, a very large Belgian shepherd we met at the IWA festival, Sam hissed and growled  at her, whilst Cassie looked on in wonderment that something so small could think she was a match for her, but Sam did.

Woe betide any strange cat that might stray into her territory, she would be there protecting what was hers and seeing off the interloper.

She eventually took to the Captain, who came into her life quite late on, and sometimes would inch onto his lap when Bubbles wasn’t looking, but she never was a lap cat in the true sense.

She became a minor celebrity last year in Nottingham. She took up residence on the bench at the side of the boat because of the heat, and the Captain had to put a note on explaining that she lived on the boat, and wasn’t lost, or a stray, after a very kind gentleman wanted to take her home. Many people stopped to read the note and spend time with her.

I would like to think that she is reunited with her sister Tiggy , Bubbles and Puss in the happy hunting grounds over the rainbow bridge.

23. May, 2019

I meant to post this blog a couple of days ago, unfortunately in the meantime our old lady Sam has crossed the rainbow bridge to join her sister Tiggy and Bubbles and Puss in the happy hunting ground.

At the end of my last blog we were heading for Atherstone, but the first night we spent in the middle of nowhere, and an incident occurred which show you are never ever far from idiots. We were sat quietly when we heard voices and a splash, someone, somehow had managed to roll a large JCB/tractor tyre down through the offside woods and into the canal, unbelievable. Not having the power to remove it we have reported it to CRT.

We got to Atherstone and spent an extra day there, the weather was not good and we tend to be fair-weather boaters. We called in at Bates butchers, and had a few pints in the Angel and met up with Eric off of NB Cherrie, we had met him in the Angel once before, and it was great to catch up.

Before we went to the Angel we called in at the New Swan, and this is where I decided I must be getting old. Although it is not the most genteel of pubs, we have been in before and I have found it ok, but on this occasion the cliental really got to me, they were swearing loudly for no good reason and I felt uneasy. They were all in their late teens, early 20’s, but that is no excuse for that kind of language. When we went to the Angel I looked around the people in there and they were all of a mature age, sitting quietly at tables having proper conversation with their companions and I felt I fitted in better. But don’t worry it won’t stop us trying many a pub on our journey.

 Next day and the rain had cleared, so we set off down the 11 locks and on to Polesworth. There seemed a lot of boats going in the opposite direction to us so I had many a chat with their crews whilst helping out with the locks.

Polesworth has a couple of decent pubs, but we decided to give them a miss this time and had a quiet night on the boat. This is when, whilst watching the Gadget Show, we discovered there are a number of apps for identifying bird song. As we cruise along we hear many birds singing, cheeping and in some cases just being downright noisy. I can recognise some, but my knowledge is not that broad. So of course we had to download them and have a little play. It was not always that successful but it was fun. And whilst on the subject of birds, we have had a great start to our bird watching for this year. We have already seen 2 Kingfishers, Sand Martins, Woodpeckers, Song Thrush, and a Lapwing. We have also had our fair share of Herons, Mallards, Swans, Moorhens and Coots and many first year and newly hatched water fowl.  Robins, Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits And Great Tits. Blackbirds, Magpies, Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A Kestrel and Buzzards, to mention but a few.

Tamworth was our next port of call, and after a gentle walk into the centre, and a little shopping, the pub called again. I had discovered 2 micro pubs that we had missed on our last visit, so off we went to find them. First The Tamworth Brewing company, a lovely little place with a great selection, but terrible cushions on the bench seats, which would not stay still. Then on to the Kings Ditch, which was a much more quirky place. The beer is fetched straight from the barrel in the back, and you can watch it being poured on CCTV. 2 great finds, both worth a visit. And to top off a great day the Captain treated me to a Chinese takeaway yummmmmmmy.

But next day I made up for not cooking the night before and went on a major baking session, making a banana and choc chip cake, a corned beef and potato pie and pasties, a leek and potato soup, a quiche, a cauliflower cheese, and a full roast dinner. It kept the Captain happy all week.

The weather changed  for the better, and it was a real pleasure cruising in the warm sunshine. We stopped at Huddleston and tried the Plough, nothing dark on, so the Captain had to make do with a bitter which was brewed especially for the pub. I checked out the menu (as I always do) and found it a tad on the expensive side for my taste.

The weather forecast for the next day was just as good, so we got up and got going early heading to Fradley junction, which is where we leave the Coventry canal, and join the Trent and Mersey for our journey up north.

Of course at Fradley is the Swan, I had raved about the food at this pub a couple of years ago, but on our last visit it seemed to have lost its mojo a little, so I was interested to see if it had got it back. The Captain was even more eager than me to get there and we had a very early session. The choice of beer had improved on last time, and there was a very nice mild on called Black Dog by Elgoods. We had to sit outside on such a glorious day, and so become gongoozlers for a time. There was a friendly group sat next to us and we fell into conversation. They all worked at the same bar in Walsall and were on a works outing. They had some food and it looked wonderful, and the portions were most generous. I checked out the menu and the prices seemed reasonable too.

The young girl in the group said she had never been on a narrowboat, and wondered how tiny they were inside, so I invited her to come and have a look, and she was, I am pleased to say, impressed with our layout.

After a couple of weeks cruising we were getting ready for a little shopping so we decided to stop at Rugeley (there is a Tesco by the canal). I knew Yvonne Plant had her boat Rogue III moored somewhere in the Rugeley area, so I was keeping a look out for it.

We met her last year in Nottingham, she came to visit Sam on her bench after seeing my post on face book, about having to put a note on the bench so no one thought Sam was lost or a stray.

I spotted Rogue III and Yvonne was sunbathing by the boat, so we had to stop and have a chat. She will be out cruising later in the summer, and hopefully our bows will cross at some point.

Unfortunately we couldn’t moor outside Tesco so we went a little further on, we found there was a Aldi, also near to the canal with plenty of room. A happy ending to the story, Aldi had a good selection of gins in, and I got a Seville Orange and Persian Lime one, and its very tasty.

Now for the reason for the title of this blog. As we were setting off the next morning, another boat was coming towards us called Pegasus, our tiller pin is a brass Pegasus and I was looking forward to having the craic with the Captain and crew, but it was not to be, as they passed us, both the Captain and his lady stared resolutely at the far bank never even glancing in my direction. My Captains happy ‘good morning’ also went unacknowledged. Like I said ‘there nowt as strange as folk’.

That’s all for now folks

8. May, 2019

Picture of Col and Henry on Regal Romantic bidding us farewell.

 

After the sombre tone of my last blog this one couldn’t be more different.

I must first apologies for my tardiness of not blogging earlier, but I have been working full time until just before Easter, and we have had many family celebrations to attend, including my sons 30th and the Captains sister’s 70th birthday bashes. Time has just flown.

As I have said before, life on the wharf in the winter can be very quiet, but the very good weather at Easter brought on an impromptu cruise. Thursday night, and the Captain and I were sat quietly watching TV, when a message popped up from our neighbours and fellow boaters ,Col and Mags  on Regal Romantic, enquiring if we fancied a little trip down to Atherstone.

Well they didn’t have to ask twice and we set off next day, but only made it as far as Hawksbury junction and the very good pub there the Greyhound, the weather was glorious and the pub was heaving. We were joined later by a Sam and Jenny, also from the wharf who cycled down to meet us as a surprise.

As I have said the pub was heaving, and the queue for the bar was sooooo long we decided after the first couple to head back to the boats, where we had plenty of beer on board and a stew I had made which went down very well with our visitors.

Next day and a reasonably early start for us, we headed for Atherstone, unfortunately ahead of us was a very slow hire boat, now don’t get me wrong cruising is not about speed, that is for sure, but there is slow, and then there is slow, and this boat was slow.........

But it did not detract from the beautiful sunshine and the wonderful scenery. The Captain put some music on and I happily bopped and boogied on the back of the boat stopping for the occasional kiss and cuddle, (I know too much information).

The hire boat pulled over for lunch and we sped up a little. We got to Atherstone early afternoon and of course off to the pub we went. We treated ourselves to an Indian meal at the Raj Mahal, it was very good and I would highly recommend giving it a try.

So back to the boat.  It was such a lovely evening ,so we sat on the towpath chatting again. The crew on the hire boat passed us and stopped for a chat, they were from Texas and had been boating for 3 years and loved it.

We headed back next day, but once again the call of the Greyhound was to strong once again and we stopped and had a couple of pints. A wonderful way to end a fantastic little cruise.

Our main reason for coming back on the Sunday was the next happy event in this blog, the wedding of my daughter Jess to Stuart in Cornwall. We still had a few things to sort out before heading south on Wednesday.

The wedding was wonderful and went without a hitch. Jess looked stunning and I was a blubbering mess throughout the ceremony. The nice thing about the venue is that everyone is together for 3 days, there is accommodation for 40 people, and all your meals are included from the evening before the wedding, to breakfast on the morning after. It was lovely to be with our lovely family celebrating such a special occasion (pictures to follow).  The food was amazing and the Captain was a very happy bunny with an excellent Cornish stout.

However the trip back was a nightmare, which started when our car wouldn’t start, this took about 1 ½ hrs to sort out. Then we hit the M5, it was stop start for miles and miles. The journey which took us 4 ½ hrs going down took us 7hrs coming back. The Captain has vowed never to return to Cornwall.

After a magical couple of days it was back to the reality of preparing the boat for our summer cruise, lots of cleaning, washing and planting our little garden. In the midst of this we also organised a wharf BBQ for the May Day bank holiday.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as kind as at Easter but the rain managed to hold off and everyone who came a great time.

Then sitting round the brazier toasting marshmallows the conversation turned to our imminent departure, which was set for Monday (this was Saturday), and a plan started to emerge of a convoy down to the Greyhound to see us off the next day.

 Col and Mags were definitely up for it, as was Jenny on Fleur, and Sam cadged a lift with Jenny. So after a mad rush round finishing off all our little jobs and shopping we set off from the wharf mid afternoon.

The Captain and Col swopped boats for part of the journey, as Col was complaining how heavy his tiller was and wanted the Captains thoughts on it. He thought our tiller was a dream, as steering our boat is quite light and it is very responsive. We lost Jenny and Sam who were bringing up the rear, as she got a lot of crap round her prop (one the joys of cruising in urban areas, people use the canal as a tip). But she caught up with us shortly after we moored up. We headed to the pub, but it was much too cold to sit outside, and inside was very busy, so after a few pints we headed back to the boat and Sam headed back to the wharf (Jenny only has a small boat). Everyone came round to ours which meant it was very cosy but it was a great send off for us.

As I just said Jenny has a small boat, only 30ft, so next morning it meant she could spin it round where she was moored, but Col had to go down to the winding hole about 20minutes down the cut. We set off and met up with Col after he had winded and we shouted our goodbyes.

We didn’t travel to far before mooring up as the wind was quite biting, but tomorrow we will be in Atherstone, and we will be  getting faggots from Bates Butchers, and a pint of good real ale in the Angel before batoning down the hatch for the rain, which is forecast for Wednesday. Thursday we will start out cruise in earnest which will start by going down the Atherstone flight of locks.

We still have Sam, our old lady cat, but unfortunately she did take a swim just before we left. I am happy to report that she has suffered no ill consequences from it. It was her own fault as she had taken to sleeping on the gunnels which aren’t very wide. Hopefully she has learnt her lesson.