It’s an interesting contrast going back via the T&M rather than the SU. The Shroppie is beautiful in places and deservedly popular, but the T&M has it’s charms too. The rural sections are as pretty as the SU and the industrial sections are interesting. The T&M was largely financed by Wedgwood and his Etruria Works were right by the canal in Stoke. There are still some modern potteries near the canal and an old bottle kiln, though sadly it has weeds growing out of the brickwork.
South of Stoke city centre there are suburban developments that really make the most of the canalside. Some older houses with large gardens leading down to the canal. And some new developments set just three or four metres back with room for a patio/deck. I passed one expensive looking house with a nice garden, plenty of parking, and it’s own little branch off the canal with a 70′ boat in it. It even had a replica canalside crane to lift out the ‘stop planks’ isolating the arm from the canal.
You do get the impression at times though that the T&M is the system’s poor relation. Many of the locks are in a poor state and hard to operate. Some gates have been replaced with BW steel ones that rattle and clang. A few though have recent CRT traditional style wooden gates and they are great.
Many of the locks are doubled, ie there are two side by side but in some cases one is out of action, apparently long-term, and in a few cases one has been infilled or converted to a weir. That’s a real shame because having a spare lock should enable traffic to continue when one needs maintenance, filling it in, or just neglecting it as it falls apart is a lost opportunity. Budget issues I suppose.
Most of locks I passed today were as deep or deeper than yesterday. I was trying to estimate one, the rungs on the lock ladder are about a foot apart and the falling water exposed 12½ of them. It’s a long way down climbing back into the boat. But better than twice as many 6′ locks.
The summit level of the canal passes through the Harecastle Tunnel which is about 1½miles long. Since I last came down here 35 years ago the towpath has been removed making it much easier to steer through without bouncing off the sides. It’s still one-way though with keepers either end controlling batches of boats. Harecastle marks an East/West divide. Rain falling west of the tunnel ends up in the Mersey and the Irish sea. That falling to the east makes it’s way to the Trent and the Humber estuary.
I’ve stopped for the night just north of Stone before the next flight.
About 2 more days to reach Fradley Junction where I will join the Coventry canal.
It was pouring down this morning which wasn’t a surprise. It does make it difficult to get up much enthusiasm for boating though. If you haven’t seen Seren, let me explain. Unlike most GRP cruisers Seren has a front cockpit with a sliding roof, Perspex windscreen and PVC curtain sides. This gives her a low roofline for navigating narrow canals with low bridges and tunnels. Theoretically one can steer with the roof closed and stay dry.
In practice it’s tricky because the perspex windscreen has no wipers (it would scratch) and the inside steams up, but you can manage by folding the side curtains back and poking your head out for a clearer view when necessary. The big problem is locking. It’s impossible to get out of the side of the cockpit in order to handle mooring ropes, you have to slide the roof back and at that point the rain pours in. It’s hard to open too, especially under way so to be safe you have to do it some way out from the intended mooring. And get soaked. Then it’s hard to close and if you do you can’t get back in to move the boat into the lock.
So this is the best routine I’ve worked out so far for canal locks (going up):
- Don’t moor on landing stage, cruise right up to the lock and get off at the last minute. Tie the front rope to some convenient part of the lock gate.
- Switch off engine and if raining, close roof.
- Drain lock if necessary, open gates.
- Bow haul Seren into lock and tie front rope to bollard (or top gate).
- Close bottom gates.
- Open paddles on top gate, then open gate when lock is full.
- If raining bow haul Seren out of lock and tie stern rope to top gate. If not raining get onboard and cruise out, but still tie up as above.
- Close top gate.
- Climb on stern of Seren and depart.
Canal locks rarely have bridges, there are walkways on the gates themselves, but once you’ve opened a gate the only way to get to the opposite one is to walk to the other end of the lock. Well not quite the only way. On a narrow canal the lock is just over 7′ wide so when one gate is open there’s a gap of 3’9″ or so. Nick on Ebenezer was in front of me for part of the afternoon and being taller, younger and braver than me he climbed across the gap saving himself a lot of walking.
Normally you don’t have to reset canal locks, but you do have to close the gates as they are often old and leaky and relying on a single gate isn’t wise. Nick though had taken pity on the ancient mariner and was leaving the lock empty and the bottom gates open ready for me. Despite that I couldn’t keep up. I gave up for the day at lock 7 (ie 7 from the top of the flight) but Nick and Tony got to the top. Unless I set off early I doubt I’ll see them again before Llangollen.
The weather has blasted my schedule a bit, I’m about 2 days behind where I expected to be. Good job I allowed 27 days for a 21 day trip!
Nothing went wrong today so this will a short post. Also just got low battery warning! Did remaining 9 Rothersthorpe locks without incident by mid morning then stopped at Gayton Marina for fuel and water, and to empty the loo.
Carried on to Br 41 had lunch then walked to town for bread milk etc.
The leisure battery hasn’t been holding charge very well right since the start, the inverter and fridge are putting a liitle more load on it that usual but not enough to account for the loss. The wiring looks OK and it charges up from the solar panel and the engine but each evening it falls to 10.x volts by bedtime. I checked the fluid level, and it is a bit low so I looked for deionised water in Bugbrooke, even trekking across town to the pharmacy, but they hadn’t any. Still, walking is good. Though maybe not so good when you’ve just done 9 locks.
Tonight I’m by Bridge 19 on the GU main line, between M1 and railway. Both are sheilded by trees though so the noise is bearable. Not far from Buckby locks so will do those in the morning. After that is Norton Junction where I have to take the Leicester line, then the Watford locks, Watford as in Gap not in N London. I might save them for Friday morning.
Yesterday’s dose of ATF in the gearbox didn’t seem to make a lot of difference so before setting off I checked the oil. There wasn’t any, it was all in the drip tray under the engine and gear box. After a bit of a panic I looked at it logically and found that the drainplug under the geear box had unscrewed it self and was also in the drip tray. Screwed it back in with some ‘plastic gasket’ gunk and set off again to buy more ATF. Fortunately thw mooring is about a 15 min walk from a retail park with a Halfords.
The river through the wash lands is wide. Therefore shallow and weedy. Halfway to Northants city centre and the prop is fouled again. As before there’s no where to moor so I crept on until I saw a guy on a residential boat moored in a little backwater. He let me tie up alongside while I untangled the prop. Then in to town and stopped for lunch at the embankment.
Just one more river lock before the narrow canal so took off the fat fenders and fitted some skinny ones.
The canal locks seem tiny after the Gt Ouse and Nene and need a whole different technique, especially being single handed. The first one has CRT padlocks on one side that don’t work, fortunately the paddles on the other side were unlocked. Quite a few more after that had broken locks, but also broken locking mechanisms so they can be used without a key. After #13 the first of the Rothersthorpe flight there are no locks on the locks.
They are still hard work though, I gave up for the day between 10 and 9.