The Caldon Canal

 

       Drone photo of the Leek Tunnel
 
  Well, we eventually made it onto the Caldon Canal!

We left Barlaston on the 5th April, with a view to getting onto the Caldon on the 7th, mooring in Trentham only a short distance away and the last decent mooring spot before the section to Stoke on Trent. We managed to get an Amazon/Morrisons delivery whilst we were there, to tide us over for the few days delay we were suffering. We only intended to stay overnight but even if we hadn’t, we would’ve moved the next day, as some brain dead with nothing-better-to-do morons kept banging – hard – on the windows each time they passed after dark. It was a real hard thump and I’m surprised the glass didn’t break, too! It was a shame as every other person that passed during daylight hours was lovely – all stopping for a chat and very friendly.

So, on the 6th April, we had a cruise through the less attractive, semi industrial and unremarkable stretch to Etruria, turning onto the Caldon Canal and the moorings there. The 7th came and went – and the canal did not open! A new date of the 10th was posted on the CRT website – more time to waste! We decided that, if it didn’t open on the 10th, there was obviously a problem and we wouldn’t wait beyond that date. However, despite it being a Saturday evening, the chains were removed from the locks, which had been preventing the passage of boats, and it was open! Yay! I was pleased to move off as the walks with Sal around that area were not the prettiest and I felt a little unsafe in some parts – probably due to the fact that our canal guide advises against mooring between Etruria and 5 miles further along the canal due to trouble with the natives! Doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence when you’re walking those areas alone! I don’t think Sal would be a very good protection dog, either – she’d shoot off in the other direction and hide!

We had experienced some weird weather over those few days. When we were moored at Barlaston, it had been really hot and sunny – definitely T-shirt weather at least, but then, only a few days later, we were having heavy snow showers whilst moored in Etruria and it turned really cold again!

On the morning of the 11th April, then, we set off, along with 5 other boats all of which had been moored at Etruria waiting for the canal to open. The first locks were a staircase of two – I always find staircase locks quite intimidating because the middle pair of doors are so big as they are double height between the two locks. We were soon through, though and continued our cruise to the first mooring spot. Despite the warnings in the canal guide to not stop, it was really very pleasant surroundings, the first mile or so a bit industrial, but after that, very pretty and getting increasingly rural. We did have a little trouble with the shallowness of the canal – kept losing our steering going round bends and we also picked up a huge carpet on our prop, resulting in having to pull over to the side and Tony cutting it off in bits! It was a whole room size – someone had just dumped it in the canal! Having removed that, we continued and stopped and moored in a gorgeous location near Engine Lock.We’d had the washing machine going and hung the washing out in bright sunny weather – then 10 minutes later watched as the snow fell in almost blizzard conditions!

We set off again on 12th April, Monday, along a fairly lock intensive stretch, so only went for a couple of miles but worked 6 locks and two lift bridges along the way, stopping in another glorious spot just past Stockton Brook. The weather was beautiful and Tony got a deck chair out and sat out for the first time this year.

On Tuesday, the 13th April, we cruised, lock free, to the end of the Leek Branch, stopping to fill with water at Endon services. We also took advantage of the lovely weather to give Sal a very much-needed and overdue bath, using the hot water from the shower facilities in our Mud Daddy. The canal along this stretch was absolutely stunning, with views over the open rolling hills around us. We arrived at the junction of the canal and the Leek Branch and stopped for lunch, then I walked Sal as Tony steered the boat – it was about 2.5 miles to the end. It was a very pleasant walk but not such a pleasant task for Tony – the canal was very shallow here again and it was a bit of a slow slog, lots of reversing off mud banks and even having to deploy the barge pole in some parts! Consequently, I made it to the end well ahead of him so was able to scope out the winding holes and moorings. This is one of the Silver Propeller locations so we needed to get to at least the winding hole to qualify. He successfully made it to the end, we turned the boat and reversed a short way onto the moorings. 

We stayed at the end of the Leek Branch for two nights, visiting the nearby Morrisons for another shop. There were a few different walking options here and we had some lovely walks with Sal!

On Thursday 15th, we reversed the boat up to the very end of the branch and took our photo for the Silver Propeller Challenge, then cruised back to the junction, stopping just the other side of the Leek Tunnel so I could take some drone footage – it is so beautiful here. The water level had risen a little but an extra few inches made all the difference and our journey back was a lot easier than the journey in had been! We stopped for lunch again before turning back onto the main canal, heading towards Froghall. This was a very tight and tricky turn – it’s virtually a 180° turn – but with careful toing-and-froing and a tug on the front rope, we made it into the first lock. We worked three locks and cruised another couple of miles and moored near Cheddleton Flint Mill, although it was closed so no visit possible.

We moved again on Friday 16th, and reached the end of the canal at Froghall. It was, again, a very pleasant cruise, and a section of it is on the River Churnet, but very tame at this time of year and with current water levels. The Churnet Valley Railway runs alongside much of the canal here and it was interesting to see the vast selection of old rolling stock and the platform which juts out and runs just above the canal for a short distance. We reached the winding hole at the end, just before the Froghall Tunnel and moored up. The tunnel is very low, I think the lowest navigable tunnel on the whole system (don’t quote me!) and we walked up to see whether we thought we would get through. It’s touch and go – we would have to remove the top box and drop the solar panels, and it is tempting to try to do it, but there is very little on the other side of the tunnel, another couple of hundred metres of canal and a small basin. We wouldn’t want to moor overnight in case the water level rose and we couldn’t get out again, so it seems an awful lot of effort for a very short trip! It is another Silver Propellor location, but for boats that can’t get through the tunnel, the entrance to the tunnel qualifies, so it seems a bit daft to go through.  

On the morning of Sunday, 18th April, we cruised the boat up to the entrance of Froghall Tunnel to take our photos for the Silver Propeller Challenge, some 100 metres or so, reversed up and winded, then began the journey back towards Etruria. Froghall was a pleasant spot, in the middle of nowhere with no shops, pubs or anything much around. There is a huge derelict site right beside the moorings that used to house a massive copper works, so not particularly scenic, but it is a very popular place for walking – the walks from the basin just beyond the tunnel were lovely – but every way was up! Sal and I had a lovely walk – rather than a steep scramble up a virtually vertical incline, I chose a gentle uphill path, only to find at the end of it….  a steep scramble up a virtually vertical incline! I’m afraid my poor knees can’t cope with that, so we returned back the way we’d come but Tony did manage it the next morning. We decided that we wanted to moor in different places on the return journey, so we stopped on the river section at Consall Forge. There is a station for the Churnet Valley Railway here as well as a popular canal-side pub, so I think we had a very different experience mooring here than we would have under normal circumstances. The pub was open, but seating outside only, and with the evenings still chilly, was closed by 8 pm. Consequently, it was a quiet spot, albeit quite busy during the day with walkers. There was an explosion of pheasants all along this stretch – apparently Covid has stopped the shoots! The sound of pheasants made a change from the sound of geese and ducks! The only downside of this lovely spot was that there was no phone signal – we have three networks to deal with this situation but all three were useless – the first time we’d experienced this. We joked that we’d have to talk to each other – but we have our DVD collection backed up onto a hard drive so just chose a movie to watch from our collection.

On the 19th April, Monday, we had an easy day and went for only two miles and one lock to stop just before Cheddleton, in our bid to moor in different spots. This, again, was a gorgeous mooring, overlooking the rolling hills. The phone signal was still not great, though!

On Tuesday, 20th, we had to decide whether to go to the junction of the canal and beyond, working 6 locks, or to have another easy day and only work 3. We decided that 3 was enough, so moored fairly near to the junction, but before the last 3 locks. This spot gave views of the Leek Branch up on the hill above and also a great walk along the disused section of the railway, even walking underneath the aqueduct of the Leek Branch above. That was a bit wet underfoot due to the water leaking from the aqueduct, I suppose, so I had to play stepping stones across the old railway sleepers! Fortunately, the phone signal was better here – just as well as it was my Brother Graham’s birthday, as well as our old next door neighbour, Jean’s, so I had a lovely chat to both of them whilst there.

We had a slightly longer cruise on the 21st April, mooring, once again, in a beautiful spot near the village of Stockton Brook. When Sal and I went for our afternoon walk, we met a very friendly donkey which was, fortunately, on the other side of the fence, but on a very narrow path, who walked with us the entire length of his field, just a few inches away. Sal ignored him, thank goodness!

On Thursday, 22nd April, we returned to the moorings at Engine Lock, which is the last recommended mooring spot before the end of the canal at Etruria. Another lovely mooring spot and another lovely walk along the disused railway. 

Yesterday, Friday, 23rd April, saw us making our way on the last leg of our return journey along the Caldon Canal back to Etruria. The first couple of miles are just as scenic as the rest, but the nearer you get to Stoke, the more the scenery changes and is more urban. There are a couple of low bridges on this stretch – we had managed to go through on the journey in, but the water levels had raised a bit, making the steering coming out a bit easier, too, but also making the bridges that bit tighter. We actually got off the boat at the lowest bridge and just scraped through, with only about an inch to spare above the top box. It would’ve been a bit of a pain to have to dismantle and remove the top box, so we were very grateful that we just managed to squeeze through! We arrived back in Etruria to moor in exactly the same spot as before.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our cruise on the Caldon Canal – I had forgotten what it’s like to wake up every morning and not quite be able to remember where you are! And the views out of the window each day were certainly worth waking up to!! We did wonder whether we “did” it too quickly, but after having been sitting still for so long, and with beautiful cruising weather, we wanted to enjoy cruising  and not stay moored up for too long. There are some canals that I’m not overly bothered to visit again, but the Caldon is definitely NOT on that list!  Another thing, we were astounded at how quiet it was – we had no trouble mooring wherever we wanted,  but I think we timed it nicely – as I have been sitting here this morning, 10 boats have passed to go onto the Caldon – that’s more than we saw in the whole 12 days!

We have managed to get a Tesco delivery here so will stay put for today, then move off again tomorrow. We have changed our plans for the summer again, as one of the stoppages heading north has been partially cleared so passage is again now possible – as we as this far north already, it makes sense to carry on going north, so rather than turning left at the junction, we are now turning right and pastures new again, at least for a few miles.