Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Kent Green to Stone

Kent Green to Stone
Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey Canals
15th April 2010

17 Miles - 16 locks - 9 hours
These days of endless sunshine just seem to roll on and on - when will it ever end? Sure it's a chilly easterly wind driven in by an unusual cyclonic weather system, but two weeks without rain at Easter is amazing.

Misty morning at Ramsdell Hall
Our moorings near Ramsdell Hall were idyllic and a quick walk down a frosty towpath at 7.30am was rewarded by a bunch of lovely misty photos. I often think that this first hour of the day is the best - better even than twilight. Ramsdell Hall is an impressive place, and still in private hands owned by the guy that built the Kwik Save supermarket chain.

Reflections at Scholars Green

We made a brief stop at Hertiage Boatyard for a pump out, which was relatively expensive at £16. But that included a pint of blu and a very thorough rinse out. All in all I would say it was fair value for money.

Wand'ring Bark at Harecastle Tunnel

The highlight of the day had to be the passage through the Harecastle Tunnel. After the Standedge Tunnel the Harecastle is my favourite and, in spite of making several trips through it, this was the first journey from north to south. I have to say that the journey in this direction is probably the best, allowing the tunnel to show off its party piece at the very end.

 Harecastle Tunnel north portal

We enetered after a reasonable 30 minute wait and motored on for 45 minutes accompanied only by the distant runble of trains in the adjoining tunnel. Unlike the northbound passage, there is no gradual dawning of light from an initial pinprick as your near the end. Instead the blackness seems to go on for ever and you gradually become aware of an ever strengthening droning from the extractor fans. To ensure that the fumes are pulled out of the tunnel the southern end is covered by an airproof door, which is thrown open at the last moment by the tunnel keeper who has been watching your approach from a small cubby hole in the side of the shaft.  You are then left blinking like a bemused mole as you return to the land of the living in the northern environs of Stoke on Trent - a nautical rabbit out of the hat.

The old Harecastle Tunnel - north

There is an older and narrower tunnel just to the west which was the Brindley original, initially used for southbound traffic but abandoned after subsidence and last passed through by canoes in the 1960's. It it now highly unsafe and believed to be completely blocked.

Bottle Kilns at Stoke

It was then on through the various towns which together make up Stoke on Trent - Hanley, Burslem, Stoke etc. The route through Stoke offers a good selection of old industrial buildings, the real thing and not recreated representations of what went before, as seen in so many other places. These ones are aged, crumbling and sagging - mostly abandoned but really interesting if you like industrial history. The distinctive bottle kilns are particularly attention grabbing.

Bone mill at Eturia

Odd looking characters popped up from time to time on the towpath, and whilst some looked threatening, none caused us any trouble and all sauntered off after exchanging plesanteries.

On reaching Meaford Locks I had cause to consider the relative merits of living with a vintage engine. I can see the attraction of a slow running lump but I am not so sure about the smoke issue. We came up behind nb Catkin who was out on a maiden journey to test a new more powerful diesel engine, but by new we are still talking about something from the 1950's. The engine pulled ok to be sure, but only after filling the lock chamber with a huge cloud of blue diesel fumes. This echoed an observation of nb Frankie with whom we shared a cassion at Anderton and who we were to meet again at Stone. Frankie had a much used R&N unit which was tricky to start and kicked out black smoke which coated the stern and its skipper in spite of an over length exhaust pipe. To be fair, the skippers seemed completely unconcerned about this downside but personally I am but sure that peering into a pall of smoke hour after hour would not hit the spot for me.

I would love a vintage engine gleaming in it's engine room, perhaps like Revilo with its new R&N as reviewed by Adam in June's Canal Boat. But I don't fancy authenticity at any price. I think I will stick with my utterly reliable, economical, quiet and smoke free Beta for a bit longer.

We ended up mooring just below the Stone bottom lock, walking back to the Star for a rather average Stake and Ale Pie before returning to WB and watching part of a DVD before sleep overcame me. All these early moring photo expeditions are getting a bit much.


Adam said...

Beacuse of the Shroppie being closed last year, we ended up doing the Harecastle Tunnel in both directions on our September trip. I found the southbound journey much harder to steer because of the lack of light from the end. I think my favourite bit was heading north, when the doors make that almighty clang behind you as they shut.

Halfie said...

As Shadow was based at Etruria for a few years we passed through Harecastle Tunnel several times, and like you, I love going through. I've never been aware of the trains though. Mind you, it's difficult to hear much above the noise of the engine, and the rumble of the fan at the south end.

Captain Ahab said...

Maybe that rumble was my exhaust coming loose again! Actually is was quite distant and I felt it as much as heard it.