Hello again dear friends. My weekly blog finds us now deep in Staffordshire and we now are heading North-west after travelling due west for most of last week.
The weather has been cold, depressing, wet and windy, with very short windows of sun, though last weekend wasn’t too bad. I don’t mind the cold and wet (I spent long enough experiencing those sort of conditions on a motorbike for years) but the wind is a different matter altogether. We were literally slammed across the cut and on to the opposite bank last Friday when we hit a freak hailstorm near Stone and there was nothing much I could do about it. I guess anything 60ft long that meets a gust sideways on is going to move on its own accord, even if it weighs four tons.
We are now zooming along at an average of 2mph and travelled some 65 miles since we left Trent Lock just over a week ago. I think if we can do around 30-50 miles a week, that will give us a couple of rest days in the week and we will be in Llangollen in around two weeks, at about the same time as the bank holiday which is our aim. We need to be fairly near a railway station over that weekend as we want to spend a day at Crick in Northants at the annual boat show on the holiday Tuesday, so I guess we will have to get a cab to Ruabon or Wrexham. Then we head south and will take a leisurely cruise south to the Thames where we hope to be in mid-August.
We arranged to meet an old CAMRA buddy and his wife in Stoke on Sunday where we were planning to moor. Paul and Carolyn are big Stoke City fans and we passed the Britannia Stadium as the fans were coming out at 4.45pm at the last game of this season, but finding a mooring in the city was impossible and a lot of the towpath was, quite frankly, very uninviting, so we pushed on to Festival Park to the north of the city, and had a quiet pastoral mooring there, close to the marina and the essentials, such as B&Q and Halfords! Had a good drink with them both that evening. Good to catch up after a long time.
Earlier in the day, we popped into the Wedgwood Visitor Centre, which is minutes from the canal to the south of the city. Pat was keen to visit as she has three generations of her family who worked at Wedgwood in the late 18th and early nineteenth century. It’s a good tour and I am glad we decided to do it. Paul told us though, that Wedgwood has financial problems with their pension fund so watch this space.
|Pat and Josiah Wedgwood. "Hey Jo, know any of my relations?"|
Our meanderings also took us through Rugeley, which Pat insists shouldn’t be pronounced with an “oo” in it, as there is no “ou”. She was further non-plussed when she asked for some butter in a grocers and was offered “batter”. Should have asked for “boooter”. We live and learn.
The boat is behaving itself and I have been busy putting additional war wounds on her, mainly, I am glad to say in and around the water line which I am not too bothered about. The locks are quite narrow on this stretch and some of the approaches are at oblique angles, so a few scrapes are to be expected. We had a day in Stone on Saturday. It has always been one of my favourite canal towns and, for a change, we had a warm, sunny day there. After the previous day’s activities, Pat wanted a rest and we took the opportunity of giving the boat its first proper clean outside. I waxed one side and will do the other when we are moored the other way round. It was also a chance to return to The Swan. What a great pub this is, and I could have stayed all evening. Great beers in excellent condition and a very convivial atmosphere.
|Pat fills up in Stone|
As we left Stone, and were passing the old “Joules” brewery building, I started looking out for a local boatbuilder I had heard of. Evidently this gentleman is masquerading as my stunt double and goes by the name “Roger Fuller”. Damn cheek. As we passed his place I whipped my camera out to find the batteries had gone flat but the picture here is of the boat moored there, with said gentlemen looking suitably snug. If you are reading this Roger, hello.
|What a change. A sunny morning chugging through Stone|
|Roger Fuller, Boatbuilder (No Relation)|
I finally got Pat on the tiller at the weekend and she steered the boat very well for a mile or so. I would not be at all surprised if, after a while, she became very good at it, then we can share the locking duties.
This morning we experienced the Harecastle Tunnel, which took us around 40 minutes to get through. I think its a mile and a quarter long. I’ve been through a number of tunnels as a passenger, but never steered through a long tunnel such as Harecastle so I was a little nervous and all was well, and we are now moored in Kidsgrove. It is literally lashing it down outside and we have had more hail today to contend with. But we are cosy. Pat has lit the stove so it’s nice and warm. Tonight we are trying out a Balti house, that everyone raves about in these parts called Rozeys. Cheap as chips and bring your own alcohol, but evidently the food is superb. We are not great Indian food lovers but it seems rude not to give it a go.
|The southern entrance to Harecastle Tunnel. Nobody here but us, though a boat had just gone in.|
One of the best things I did was to bring my fold-up Brompton bike with us. It has been invaluable both to get essentials from the supermarkets, my daily paper and to relieve pressure on my left foot, which is still playing me up. Anyway, I am seeing a Physio on Thursday, here in Kidsgrove. Then we have to pleasures of “Heartbreak Hill”, a succession of locks as we descend towards Middlewitch and Nantwich, where we hope to meet up with old pal Vic for a few days. The forecast for the next few days is rain, rain and more rain, interspersed with... more rain! Want to see my webbed feet?