Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - Descending the Churnet valley

Caldon 2010
Leek to Froghall - the Churnet valley
31 October 2010

I make no apologies for spending a bit more time on this section. It was particularly interesting and why limit myself to a "post a day" when there is much pleasure to be derived from reviewing those last warm rays of autumn sunshine in a bit more detail.

Cheddleton Mill

I left you at Hazlehurst Junction, having just completed a bizarre loop which saw us first cross the Aqueducts (there are three of them), descend three rather rickety locks and then dive beneath the soaring arch of the main aqueduct span.

It feels rather 'other worldly' beyond Hazlehurst. For more than a day we had been climbing to the summit and source of the feeder water, and then suddenly we were descending on a watery road to nowhere. These far reaches of the Caldon get even shallower and narrower, worse then the Peak Forest but maybe not in the scale of the Huddersfield Narrow. Progress slows to sub 2mph and the projected timings in the normally pessimistic Pearson's guide become a challenge to maintain.

Off to the left there were the marshaled ranks of Churnet Valley steam railway's rolling stock, all being fettled after last nights spooky outing. Then it's on to Cheddleton with its Flint Mill and associated museum. The museum door were wide oped revealing a huge engine which begged to be viewed, but alas we didn't have the time and pressed on down the locks. These are more of the 1976 restoration originals and BW had lots of kit on site ready to do open gate surgery as soon ad the stoppage season kicks in next week.

Oakmeadow Lock

Then you come to Oakmeadow Lock which takes the canal for a spin on the River Churnet for a mile or so. What freedom to escape the clutches of the shallows and the drag,  speeding along with deep water beneath  you and a slight current to assist. Fifteen minutes of full power brings you to Consall Forge, site of the infamous Black Lion, restored lime kilns and most importantly a water point. I say most importantly because I was tempted to make an attempt on the very low Froghall Tunnel and I knew that I would need all the ballast I could get!

 Consall Forge

For the last stretch into Froghall the canal returns to form. Narrower and shallow than before but leading ever southwards. Consall Forge station shares the narrow valley bottom with the canal, river, railway and a track but there isn't really room for all four. As a result the platform and signal box have been cantilevered over the line of the canal - passable but an obstacle none the less.

Approaching Froghall

The canal hugs the hillside and repeated slippages have resulted in the construction of a series of narrow concrete sections, very similar to those between Trevor and Llangollen. This area was once a hive of activity, mining, quarrying, metal making and lime production employing thousands and thousands of men. It's all silent now, reclaimed by nature which has covered the scars with a deep carpet of vegetation . The last vestiges of industry can be found on the approach to Froghall Tunnel. Abandoned pipes snake through the undergrowth and the concrete slab of the old factory floor fies beneath piles of rubble all wrapped in security fencing. 

But one final thought:

A quart into a pint pot just wont go - or will it?

At Flint Mill Lock there is a hanging gauge offering the profile of the tunnel and letting you draw your own conclusions if there is sufficient clearance to get your boat through. Based on this picture, will Wand'ring Bark make it or will she get stuck, entombing two intrepid boaters way below the Staffordshire countryside? Would you give it a go?


Doug said...

you will be fine getting through the tunnel at Froghall the mooring ponttns at the other side are great, the tunnel is higher than you think, but do remove your chimney if you have one. Doug

Captain Ahab said...

The outcome will become apparent in tomorrows post.