Thursday, 31 July 2014

Touring the Caldon Canal

We stayed an extra day in Stoke, really just because we could. However, Friday we were off early, we had a few things to do before we could 'put the foot down'. We took the boat up to the winding hole, did our 'U' turn and headed back to the Caldon Canal/Trent and Mersey Canal junction, right at the top of Lock One of the Stoke Flight. We promptly pulled into the Services right at the junction. While we filled the tank with water, there was plenty of time to ditch the garbage, Serafina has a 550 litre tank. We don't let the tank get too empty or we could be there for a few hours at some of the water points, the water pressure can be very poor in places.

With the jobs done we cruised the 300m to the base of the staircase lock to take us up and out of Stoke. The workers were dredging this section of the canal, there was a significant stack of rusty bicycles, shopping trolleys and steel bed bases. I hovered at the bottom of the lock while Rachael set it. Rachael's not a fan of these, things can go wrong! This time it did but Rachael was up to the task. The bottom lock didn't fill enough and the boat was grounded on the cill of the next lock, a quick release of more water from the top lock paddles and the boat was afloat again.

We cruised out of Stoke once again but this time on new water with some interesting sights, more bottle kilns, more evidence of the huge pottery industry that once was. Day one was really uneventful apart from all the rubbish that floated by and the double bed mattress that I managed to avoid. This is the worst part of the canals in cities, it seems there is always lots of rubbish that finds it way into the water. Our first stop was Milton, the last mile was rather slow with the boat very sluggish and running hotter than usual, the obvious signs of having rubbish wrapped around the propeller shaft. We moored at Milton and straight away I opened the weed hatch, donned a rubber glove and dived my hand in to feel what was going on. I pulled out some booty, mainly weeds and what was left of an old cloth. Propeller sorted! Rachael has started spending a lot more time on the tiller but mainly at locks to share the workload.

Cheddleton was the next port of call, a cruise of 3.5 to 4 hours normally, but with quite a lot of work being done on the canal tow path it slowed the trip somewhat. On our way we cruised past the Leek junction, then down three locks to pass under the canal to Leek, we will head that way in a few days. We moored in front of an old flint mill that had been around for quite a long time with reference to corn milling back in 1694 and then converting to flint grinding in the late 18th century. I took a self guided tour which was well signed giving you an idea of how the mill worked. One of the most interesting things was the double water wheels, must have been a busy place! If you would like to know more go here.

We headed into the Churnet Valley which was very picturesque. Today we spent most of our time cruising beside a historical railway with the same steam engine passing us both ways several times. It's no wonder the railways took over from the boats delivering cargo, so much faster! We cruised to the terminus of both the canal boats and the trains at Froghall. Cruising mainly through thick forest, it reminded me of Puffing Billy and The Dandenongs at home. It was early afternoon so we moored the boat and went down to the station for a cream tea. Turning the boat at the terminus we headed back to Cheddleton to spend the night.

The plan for the next day was to spend a few days at Leek, a short arm of the canal and only around two hours cruising from Cheddleton, an easy day. This was also where we had told our solar panel installer to meet us to do the solar installation. We passed through the Leek tunnel, around 70 metres, I dropped Rachael off to search for a mooring while I turned the boat.  I got Serafina half way around and there was a hell of a commotion on the bank behind me. A dog owner's two dogs off the lead had jumped onto one of the boats after the boat owner's cat. I think they had had words before because of the way the argument was going. The poor old cat ended up in the water to escape after dropping off the side of the boat and swimming to the other side. The owners saw Sarafina as the quick way across the canal and asked to come aboard. I dropped them off  to search for the cat who was well hidden by now. I continued my turn and as I picked up Rachael the cat was being carried, dripping wet back to the boat. Rachael had come back empty handed, no space! We promptly headed off to an alternative mooring, reaching Endon in 1.5 hours. An interesting phenomenon in Endon, opposite the moorings, is a paddock that the geese seem to like, there must be over a hundred of them squawking.

We let the installer know of our change of plans, which is always a challenge because phone signals on the canal are usually poor. In this case we had to walk up to a bridge about 100 metres away to get a phone signal. While we were on the bridge we received a text message from friends wanting us to meet them in Milton tomorrow which fitted in nicely, it gave us a free day. We had to be in Milton on the 31st because Rachael had made a hair appointment on the way up.

A nice low key day in Milton ensued, some beers and a spot of fishing off the back of 'Dunslavin', we could see the fish but none were prepared to commit suicide on our lines. The carpenter had rung and said he wanted to pick up our table to do some work on it that we had requested. Turns out it is near his home so he was there in a flash and over a cup of tea decided to completely demolish the Pullman dinette while he was there, not just the table. While we are away in Scotland he is going to rebuild it to Rachael's specifications.

We are now back in Stoke and leaving Serafina in a marina for a few days while we head off to Scotland for birthdays and farewells. It's nearly time to go home and back to work.

Filling with water at Stoke Services before setting off
Rachael bringing Serafina through a lock

Artwork beside one of the Stoke locks, this one dedicated to the pottery industry

Passing under the Leek Arm Aquaduct, Caldon Canal.
Cheddleton Flint Mill

House built across the canal at Cheddleton, probably an old warehouse

Cruising beside the historical railway
Train arriving at Froghall as we are on our way to the station for cream tea
Just some of the geese at Endon

Fishing off the back of Dunslavin at Milton

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Two Day Trip: Stoke to Hem Heath and Back

Rachael's back on board fresh from Scotland and she brought a traveling companion, her cousin Johnny. Johnny was here for three days so we spent the night in the marina and planned a short trip so he could have a run on the boat.
We had planned to get going early but after some discussion with our marina neighbour we needed to test the leisure batteries. The battery management system was telling me that after four days in the marina, on a shoreline, they still weren't fully charged. Mmm something wrong here! Serafina has a bank of four, 110 Ahr leisure batteries and a smaller single starter battery. I hadn't pulled the batteries apart since buying the boat and now they needed checking. All the terminals were disconnected and each battery was load tested, all checked out ok but every terminal connection was loose especially the main positive terminal. All reconnected tightly, the alternator output also checked, the new battery reading on the monitor read 'Full Charge', we were off.

Johnny taking it easy while the lock fills on the way out

Preparing to go into a lock in Stoke
We headed out to Hem Heath for an overnight stop, it's a nice spot on the way to Trentham, just three hours cruising from Stoke-on-Trent. We arrived in plenty of time to look around and take in a few pints of cider in the evening. The next day we walked the three quarters of a mile to the Trentham Estate for a spot of shopping. The Estate has some beautiful gardens that are very popular, after shopping and a cream tea it was time to head back to the boat for the trip back to Stoke. The trip back starts off in beautiful surroundings and slowly builds up into an old industrial city that is Stoke. We negotiated the five locks in Stoke and moored at the top of the final lock for the afternoon, ready for dinner and a few pints afterwards at the local pub.

Last lock done, ready to moor back in Stoke
With Johnny back on a train heading for Scotland Rachael and I thought we would head up the Caldon Canal. This trip is a nice little one week tour along a canal that has two terminus', one at Froghall and one at Leek. We have to be back in Stoke in a weeks time to head up to Scotland again, this time for three or four days.

Once back from Scotland we plan to do another canal ring, this time The Cheshire Ring. Our guide tells us this tour can be done in one week, we plan to do it in a leisurely two weeks. We hope to be back in Stoke with a few days to prepare the boat for the English winter, pack our bags and head off.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Final Leg - Four Counties Ring Complete!

Up until Nantwich we had been taking our time with no schedules to keep, spending as much time at each stop as we liked. Rachael now needed to go to Scotland on 17 July for a few days so we had just enough time to get back to Stoke-on-Trent to get her on the train and I could moor in the marina to do a few bits and pieces on Serafina. The cruising has still been pleasant averaging around five hours cruising each day, broken up by a lunch stop on the side of the canal wherever we found a nice spot.

The cruising from Penkridge to Great Haywood was through some very pleasant countryside with very few locks to slow the trip. The overnight mooring was just a kilometre from the Haywood Junction at a place called Tixall Wide and as the name suggests the canal widens here to approximately 70 or 80 metres. Nothing here really, just a nice spot to moor for the night.

Tixall Wide

We got underway for a short run into Great Haywood where we moored up and walked the few hundred metres into town. Rachael and I had a quick look around, bought a few things and headed back to the boat. The main attraction here is The Shugborough Estate, we had seen narrow boats moored from across the paddocks when we visited here several weeks ago, now we were looking at the estate across the paddocks from the moorings. On our stroll we came across a nice tea house and with time on our side we couldn't resist! An hour later and back on the boat we turned back on to the Trent and Mersey Canal at the Haywood Junction heading for Stone.

Stone is another old canal town where the canal runs straight through the middle. We arrived mid-afternoon, moored up straight away and walked into town for a look around and eventually get to the supermarket. Rachael was keen to give away some of her novels to one of he local charity shops and buy a few extras. The television reception is usually very poor so there is always plenty of time to read, blog and work on the boat.

Our carpenter had planned to meet us here in the morning to take some measurements for the new dinette. We had always said we wanted a raised dinette on the boat we bought but Serafina doesn't have one, it will soon! Besides Rachael being able to see outside when we are at the table we also gain a significant amount of storage, a valuable commodity on a boat. The carpenter also dropped off some decking off-cuts so I can do the modifications badly needed to cut down engine noise.

Stone's friendly locals
Measurements complete we were off again back to Stoke, our final leg to complete the ring. Again, it was a beautiful area to cruise, our lunch stop was in Trentham next to the estate and right next to the Wedgewood Pottery. Unfortunately, no free samples but some of the locals came over to see what was going on.

Trentham lunch Stop
After cruising through some beautiful countryside we finally got to the outskirts of Stoke, an old industrial city. Once again the canal goes almost through the centre of the city, we moored up on our way to the marina and picked up Rachael's train tickets from the central station, just a five minute walk from the canal. We finished off the last mile with the final five locks of the trip, several of which required lots of ducking to get under some very low city bridges.

Old bottle kilns on the way through Stoke
Serafina is now moored back in Stoke-on-Trent for a few days while I wait on Rachael to get back so we can set off again. With The Four Counties Ring complete as well as several side trips, I'm now planning our next long trip. This will probably be our last long cruise before returning back home to Australia. We have a short cruise to do first as we need to go back up to Scotland quite soon.
Moored up at the marina amongst the hire fleet

Totals for the trip: 195 miles, 114 locks
Four Counties Ring 109 miles, 94 locks
Several trips between Nantwich and Middlewich: 28 miles, 6 locks
Nantwich to Ellesmere Port and back to Barbridge: 58 miles, 14 locks
NB: Barbridge is where we continued our tour around 'The Ring'.

*The link used in this blog is the property of Canal Holidays, Skipton, UK

Monday, 14 July 2014

Finally! Up the Audlem Locks

We pushed off from Nantwich heading for new water. We had gone to the base of the Audlem Locks and returned several times while we waited to pick up our crew members and also once during their visit. We weren't prepared to go any further than the base of Lock 1 at Audlem, once you commit to completing the first lock you are committing to all fifteen, one after the other and less than one hundred metres between each lock. There is also an additional five at Adderley to complete before you can turn around. Thursday was a big day; our biggest! Rachael and I completed twenty-two locks for the day. Rachael spent most of the time on the windlass while I was mainly on the tiller. We did swap a few times but several of the locks were quite difficult with a cross current right at the lock entry gate. Serafina was pushed into the side of the lock on several occasions. We came inside to find cupboard doors open and bits and pieces over the floor. The day was made much more pleasant having met a nice couple at the Adderley locks from NB Ferndale. I passed their boat while moving into the lock and thinking how strange it was to have a narrow boat out of Melbourne painted on its side. Rachael was up on the lock having an in-depth conversation with a couple who, as I moved into the lock, yelled 'G'day!' instead of the very proper 'Hello'. We chatted for a little while but there was a queue to use the lock, I had held it up as long as I could.

Market Drayton, our overnight mooring, is one of our favourite places having visited there on several occasions while waiting for contracts and maintenance to be finalised while purchasing Serafina. We had found a Weatherspoon's Pub there and Rachael had already booked in for breakfast, they serve a very good Eggs Benedict! Unfortunately, it wasn't market day so we were straight back to the boat after breakfast and off.

Friday was a scorcher by English standards and I must admit when we moored at Norbury Junction we were straight up to the Junction Inn for a pint or two. Norbury Junction is a quaint place to moor having retained its name even though no longer a junction.

The sailing from Norbury was generally uneventful with the countryside mostly flat. Just after leaving Norbury on Saturday we must have stumbled across every member of the local angling club out to catch a fish. There was a line of pole fishermen of around 400 to 500 metres, spaced at 20 metre intervals. Each fisherman seemed to have the latest, shiny fishing gear and of course their carbon fibre pole that reached over 20 metres. The wildlife continued to be amazing along the canal, I grabbed a quick snap of a heron searching for fish. Herons are a regular on the canal along with the swans with their signets and plenty of ducks with their ducklings. I didn't tell Rachael until we were moored up but there was also a huge rat scurrying off into the hedge at the last lock going into Penkridge.

I must admit sailing through suburbia is different to being out in the countryside, I started to get that 'closed-in' feeling while going through Wolverhampton, and we really just went around the side of it. We turned on to the Staffs and Worcs Canal and immediately passed through some very narrow cuttings as we started to move out of the suburbs. Our lunch stop was at Gailey where we filled the water tank and had some lunch at the same time, it's a big water tank! There are CRT Services at Gailey so it was a chance to ditch the garbage as well and not to mention taking a look at the wares in the Roundhouse Canal Shop, originally a Toll Clerk's office. Our overnight stop was Penkridge where we arrived in the late afternoon but with plenty of time to take a walk into the village centre to stretch our legs and pick up some milk and fresh bread.

Audlem No.2 Lock from an earlier walking trek - 13 to go!

Scenery on the way to Market Drayton

Moored at Market Drayton

Moored at Norbury Junction, the washing out drying in the cratch

The view from our mooring at Norbury Junction.

The Junction Inn at Norbury Junction and just 50m from our mooring

Norbuiry Wharf

Passing pole fishermen on the way to Brewood

A heron looking for lunch

View of the Roundhouse from the canal

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Back in Nantwich With Some Tales to Tell

We both enjoyed our stay in Chester. The mooring in the middle of the city turned out to be comfortable. Sometimes the city noise, especially over a weekend, can be rather loud. I guess you can't complain too much anyway since we sailed straight into the middle of the city and moored for free for two nights. Rachael and I had time to do some sightseeing, Chester is very compact and easy to get around so we were able to walk everywhere we needed to go. First port of call was the Roman Amphitheatre, the largest in the UK. Not too much left of it but you get the idea.

The Roman Gardens contained a collection of Roman artefacts found throughout Chester and surrounding areas, this mosaic was eye-catching. If you look closely at the wall in the background you should be able to make out a patch. This was a repair after the wall was breached by the Roundheads in 1645 during the Civil War and just prior to taking the city a few months later.

 Rachael standing by the remains of a Roman bath house.

The lentil didn't need to be very high back when these houses were built inside the city walls. At the highest the door openings here would be approx. 160cm.
The Chester Town Crier in action in the city square.

 Taking a break from circumnavigating the Chester City Wall.

We headed out of Chester after two nights stay heading for Ellesmere Port, the northern termination point of the Shropshire Union Canal. The canal follows the city wall for quite a while, a lovely cruise.

We had planned to stay two days in Ellesmere and then make our way back to Nantwich to continue our journey around the Four Counties Ring. We arrived in Ellesmere Port around mid afternoon, moored and took a look around. Statistics say that only 25% of the boats that get to Chester continue on to Ellesmere, I now know why! The scenery is nothing to write home about and Ellesmere is nothing out of the box either. There is a boat museum there however, we weren't up for it. Rachael and I headed back to the boat, had an early dinner and headed back up the canal to moor just before the staircase locks at Chester.

The next morning was interesting. After taking on the staircase locks, nearly an hour to do the three, we stopped off at Chester for one last shopping trip. Back to the boat and off through the suburbs, we were followed out by a young couple in a hire boat. These locks can fit two boats in at one time so we both went into the lock as the girls closed the gates and started filling the lock. We were chatting in the lock and slowly drifted forward, as we reversed Serafina reversed back but the other boat didn't. I could see most of the propeller out of the water. A leak in the lock gate had sprayed water into the Well Deck and started sinking the boat. The gates were quickly shut down just in time to allow the water to empty. Funny after the fact.

We moored in Christleton just behind the hire boat couple for the night. Next morning Rachael noticed the hire boat drifting out in the middle of the canal with only the rear peg attached. There was some quick work to haul the boat back to the bank. They left Christleton well before us on a cold, wet and windy day where I was content to lay in bed and listen to the rain on the roof.

The only excitement left was today, going through the Bunbury Staircase Locks with another boat. I went to move into Lock One after filling Lock Two and the boat wouldn't move. We checked everything out and realised that we were grounded, not enough water had come into the lock. Easily fixed with another metre of water!

Sharing the locks at Bunbury.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Cruising Nantwich to Chester

Back to two of us again!

Having dropped off Frankie and Josh back at Nantwich on Friday after five days of cruising, Rachael and I set off for a different part of the Shropshire Union canal. We reached Barbridge around lunchtime and pulled up to the services, the water tank was pretty empty so we set up the hose and had our lunch. I came back to check the tank half an hour later with my cuppa in hand and there was still at least another 20cm to go. The tank is around 680 litres.

With the tank filled, instead of turning to head to Middlewich, as we had done several times over the last week or so, we continued straight on. Our plan; to get to Ellesmere Port, the northern termination point of the Shropshire Union canal. Our overnight stop was near Tiverton, our mooring overlooked by Beeston Castle on the hill. As we sailed out of the lock to our mooring there was Kevin and Carole from NB Dunslavin, a nice surprise! We last met on the Montgomery Canal and had a great night together, that was back in early May. After saying our hellos and grabbing a bite to eat we enjoyed a few drinks up the hill at Beeston Castle Hotel.

Our trip to Christleton was interesting. We needed to stop off at Tattenhall Marina for services and normally that wouldn't be very eventful, but Tattenhall is very open and unprotected from the wind. Most of the new marinas seem to be like this, Tattenhall being only established four years ago. I turned off the main canal to go into the marina and got blown away from the entrance, I didn't even come close! Nothing coming either way, I reversed back and gave it another go. This time heavily over steering the boat to finally be blown through the centre of the entrance. Didn't learn the first time and turned into the service area to be blown across it and had to give it another go. I was glad there was plenty of room for mistakes for my learning experience.

The run into Christleton was made very slow by several kilometres of moored boats, you could tell we were getting close to a city. Once there, Christleton turned out to be a nice little town that has been around for a very long time having been mentioned in The Doomsday Book in 1086AD. We went for an evening stroll and took a few photos after dinner, it's light here until around 10pm.

The run down into Chester was just a couple of hours with only four locks to negotiate. We left it until after 9 am to get underway and arrived just in time to have a little lunch. Our mooring in Chester is in the heart of the city, I don't know how quiet it's going to be, we plan to be here for two nights. We waited for an extra hour or so to charge the batteries then headed into the city.

Chester is an old Roman walled city full of pedestrian walk ways and very old buildings, the most obvious ones being the Tudor style. It's the first city since Stoke-on-Trent and Rachael made the most of it, mainly to the benefit of the grandchildren. Tomorrow is a sightseeing day.

Slow going - kilometres of moored boats

Beeston Castle from the canal


Chester CBD

Meeting an old friend in Chester
Chester CBD