Froghall to Etruria
2nd November 2010
16 miles - 18 locks - 8 hours
The above tally isn't impressive by summer cruising standards but with less than eight hours of daylight and a very shallow canal that's about all you can achieve in a November day.
After the thrills and spills at Alton Towers yesterday I left Jeff in bed and set off at 8.00 am, working through the Uttoxeter Canal's solitary lock and then mooring in the chamber whilst I replenished the water tank. This was desperately needed to provide as much headroom as possible for the return through the tunnel. There is a pretty full suite of BW services at Froghall Wharf but given its apparent inaccessibility they are little used.
Froghall Wharf visitor Moorings
As I was leaving the lock I realised that there was an adjacent aqueduct carrying the canal over a tributary of the Churnet, a discovery which justified a mad scramble down the cutting side to secure an all important photo for my collection.
Jeff emerged bleary eyed as I made my final approach on the tunnel, puzzling over how I had negotiated the lock single handed. I may lose to him on shoot em up games, but there are still some things I can do unaided!
Beyond a nagging fear that the water levels may have risen by a centimetre I was much more confident about the tunnel this time and left the boat on tickover, sliding through without a scratch. The added confidence also allowed me to get out the camera as demonstrated in my post from a couple of days ago.
When we planned our trip to the Caldon we decided to meet Belle and Tilly for a birthday meal at Coven on the Sunday, and providing we get back to the Trent and Mersey today we just had time to include a round trip of the Four Counties Ring. It dawned on me that in spite of having covered every inch of the ring and some bits many times, I have never actually completed the entire circuit in a single outing.
The Caldon is slow and shallow but we determined to have a crack at completing the full 16 mile length in a single day. It's really not the way to do the canal, in fact it's almost disrespectful but as we had sauntered in over a lazy three day period we felt that this balanced things out. With at least three stoppages planned for next week, and some sections being dewatered be got the feeling that we were the last craft of the season. Indeed to only met one boat during the day, and that was local refilling with water at Park Lane moorings, a temporary refuge for the boaters who will be grounded by the dewatering at Hazlehurst locks.
Entrance to the old staircase three at Hazlehurst - and a classic working boat that hasnt moved in years
All those lovely leaves are a joy to behold but are less than a blessing in the water. I started a little scientific study of the relative effect on boat propulsion based on the type of tree we passed. I found that the hardy Oak with its diddy crisp leaves offered little trouble and the broad but small Beech were little worse. But the real boaters enemy are those big floppy leaves from the Sycamore. The tough pocket handkerchief sized leaved build up round the prop, all tied together with their sinuous stalks with the end result being a huge bundle of decomposing vegetation and a propeller with the effectiveness of a ball of wool.
The day started pleasantly enough but a heavy mist descended as we crossed the summit, developing into steady rain as we descended the five Stockton Brook locks. The rain got heavier and heavier as we approached Stoke, reaching deluge status at Ivy House Lift Bridge and its new housing development. After all those days of isolation we finally spied another boat, its departing stern shrouded in mist and rain as we slowed to get the bridge open.
Ivy House lift bridge in its new setting
Planet Lock and the staircase pair were negotiated in gale force winds and lashing rain making our planned night time trip to the mouth of the Harecastle a very unappealing prospect. In the event we crawled into Etruria with waterproofs tested to the limits, and gloves which needed ringing out before being hung over the fire to dry.
A final look see at the notice board revealed that the Harecastle tunnel had entered winter operations yesterday, which means alternate days opening for mornings only with 48 hours advance booking required. Well at least tomorrow is an 'open' day so we will set off early and give BW a call as we go along to see if we can get through. If not its back the way we came.