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The 1997 Mega Cruise

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14. Marple to Etruria inc. the whole Caldon Canal. Lower Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canals.

Thursday 24th July we shoved off fairly early at 7.20 as we wanted a free passage up the beautiful Marple Flight of Locks. After the short Hyde Bank Tunnel we passed the site of the recent work done to the narrows just before the Goyt Aqueduct. This was the site of another tunnel, which had been opened out. We knew from experience that it was extremely narrow, apparently the non towpath wash wall had been moving in due to slippage on the cutting. B.W. had just re-stabilised this and put the course of the canal in a concrete trough, it was all clad with stone and looked very in keeping. The Goyt Aqueduct is a stone affair, with a railway viaduct beside it, from a helmsman view it is very easy to get it mixed up with the Chirk Aqueduct and railway viaduct on the Llangollen Canal. It was as hoped a quiet morning and soon we were over the Goyt Aqueduct and at the bottom of the Marple flight of 16 locks, arriving here at 7.50. 
Neil went ahead and lock wheeled, after first making sure all the windows were shut as we know from experience the stone lock chambers spurt water through the cracks! This has always been one of our favourite flights of locks in a superb location, creeping up the wooded slopes of the Goyt Valley. At the top is the junction with the Macclesfield Canal and at 9.55 we turned right under the stone towpath bridge and onto the Macclesfield. Straight on the Upper Peak Forest Canal carries on to Whaley Bridge and Buxworth. Maybe one day we will go up here again, but not until the Buxworth Basins are finally open and in water. Neil first went up the Upper Peak Forest Canal in 1970 and viewed the dried out basins. 
This morning the weather was taking a turn for the worse, but that is normal for it always rains when we do the Bosley Flight of 12 locks on the Macclesfield Canal. The Macclesfield has always been shallow, but B.W. have just finished a serious dredge of the whole canal and it was much improved. We arrived at the top of the Bosley locks at 15.40 with two boats in front. At this point, right on queue the heavens opened. This had the marvellous effect of stopping the two boats in front who let us pass! It was still warm, so Alan, Neil and Linda got soaked, not bothering with any waterproofs. Peter and Wendy rather sensibly stayed inside. Neil put on his swimming shorts and lock wheeled on the bike through deep puddles and hail. Predictably the storm just lasted for the 1 hours it took for us to get down the Bosley Flight. Near the bottom we just caught up with some other soggy idiots who stopped on the beautiful moorings on the River Dane Aqueduct embankment. We obviously carried on, the three soggy crew members taking turns in the shower. 
For some strange reason, probably stemming from the many Cheshire Ring in a week hire boat holidays, we tend to view the beautiful Macclesfield Canal as a day trip. This year was going to be the same as we wanted to get in the Harecastle Tunnel overnight
queue. Most people seemed to have been stopped by the rain and we had a free run to Hardings Wood Junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal passing this at 20.50. At 21.00 we were moored behind three boats at the Kidsgrove portal of the Harecastle Tunnel. Neil had got unpopular ordering an on the move diner! That night we had a bit of disturbance from the cruiser sterned hire boat in front. This was because being a bit chilly, they had their un-silencered Eberspacer diesel heater on, which sounded like a V2 rocket about to take off!


Friday 25th July we started moving up to the tunnel at 8.17. We were going to be the first batch set through. We were let in spaced apart and had a steady uneventful trip through. Neil always puts the large tyre fenders down on the right hand side when going through a long tunnel. If it is a wide tunnel we have found it is better to be fendered from the new emergency chain wood crash bar now fitted at the side of all tunnels. This wood always seems to be of a height to scrape "Beatty's" red painted gunwales! If passing some one it is better to scrape the fenders on the wall and hit the passing boat if they are not skilled enough to keep over. We know that we would not be meeting any one in this narrow tunnel, but is was force of habit as Neil always tends to steer biased towards the right side when navigating tunnels. We all got bunched up near the shuttered southern portal. Suddenly the fan stopped and the door swung open and brilliant daylight flooded in. Off we set still in convoy at 9.00. 
Our first stop for diesel was at Longport Marina, a wasted 10minute stop for it took us this long to find someone, only to tell us they did not open for diesel until 10.00! We made a quick stop at the Stoke Festival Marina and got served with diesel in less time than our aborted stop at Longport Marina! 10.35 saw us swing left at Etruria onto our much loved Caldon Canal. Just round the corner we made a hour stop for water, by 11.05 we were on our way again. It was sad to see much of the old Johnson's pottery was being pulled down. The remains of the little drawbridges which were used to roll gages of pottery onto the "Milton Maid" workboat, for ferrying to various sites on the local canal could still be seen. There was a bit of traffic on the canal, but we soon spaced ourselves out. It was an overcast start to the day, but by lunch time it was brilliant sunshine. 
At Hazelhurst Junction we carried straight on down the classic Hazelhurst Locks, it was from here on that the canal had to be completely restored in the early 1970's, as it had always been possible to just reach this point in a shallow draughted boat. Not far beyond this you pass under the single brick arched Hazlehurst Aqueduct, this had been painted up during the 1970's restoration. This now looks terrible, it should all be sand blasted off, then maybe it would look smart and natural like Bratch Locks on the Staffs and Worcs Canal. The 1970's Neil refers to as British Waterway's  "Snowcem" phase. This was characterised by Sir Frank Price being in control, a fair bit of restoration, hydraulic paddles and pumps on every thing that moves, composite steel gates and finally painting any exposed brickwork white! Just after this is "The Hollybush" pub, which was as far as we got on the last hire boat holiday in 1990. Not far beyond this is the Cheddleton Flint Mill and two locks. At bridge No44 we passed "The Boat" pub, which from the outside seemed considerably changed from when we last stopped here in 1975. 
We carried on passing the picturesque "Black Lion" pub, Consall Forge at 17.45. Our plan had been to get to Froghall and come back to here tonight as it is a historic T.N.C. mooring spot, but due to traffic we were running late. We have only been once right to Froghall, in 1979, when we ground our Peak Forest Cruises hire boat through the tiny Froghall Tunnel. This we were going to try to get "Beatty" through as the brass strip covered handrails would take any scraping. It was slow going as we had forgotten how much of the canal was in single file concrete troughs, to counteract the many slippages, a la Llangollen Canal. 
We got to Froghall Tunnel at 18.45, then Neil wasted hour taking the cratch of "Beatty" and getting it wedged in the Tunnel. There was no way it was going to go, even though we were filled up with water. Neil knows from his 1979 experience that the lowest point is only about 15ft into the tunnel, after this the roof goes up. While Neil was walking to the end to do a bit of video, Alan and Linda put the cratch back and winded the boat. There is a wide point a few hundred yards back from the tunnel where you can wind a 70ft boat, this yet another omission on the new Nicholson's Guides. During Neil's quick walk about he was amazed to see an old working narrowboat the other side of the tunnel. 
The owner was on it and he said that most working boats if empty and bow light can get through with the cratch off. Neil vaguely recognised the boat as "Elaine / Dory" the working narrowboat bought by the Bath Stone Company to transport stone to Windsor Castle, during it's restoration, following the disastrous fire. The winding point beyond the tunnel was into the neck of the next abandoned lock on the old course down to Uttoxetter. Neil legged it back to "Beatty" that was now in the final stages of winding, this was at 19.30. Linda had phoned up the "Black Lion" at Consall Forge and yes they were doing food until 21.00. 
We finally moored just on the river by the old lime kilns at Consall Forge at 20.20. It had been heard that this pub had been changed beyond all recognition and it certainly had! It still looks the same from the outside, because it has been extended into the once extensive living accommodation. Inside it was just a normal, busy pub, most people now arriving by car. The service was a bit haphazard, but the food and beer were OK. When we first stopped here in 1977 the road had not been brought down to the lime kiln site, which we found out later, is a busy car park. The only patrons then were walkers or occasional boaters. The North Staffordshire Steam Railway was nearly installed back into the station here and hopefully on our next trip we could wait for the trains in the little waiting shelter that is cranked out over the canal. 


Saturday 26th July we shoved off at 8.45, with no particular destination that night. Alan would have to leave us the next day by train and Stoke was an obvious station. This would mean a direct journey straight back to Wigan. It was not a particularly good day weather wise, starting of with showers and getting quite windy in the afternoon. At Hazlehurst Junction. which we reached at 11.25, we decided to polish off the Leek Branch. We had never been passed the final winding point, which is just after West Bridge No9. Beyond here the canal continues for another few hundred yards up to the infilled aqueduct over the River Churnet. Also at this point the feeder comes in from Rudyard Lake. Soon we were over the two Hazelhurst Aqueducts, the first over the main line of the canal and the second over the North Staffordshire Railway. This mothballed section from Stoke to Leekbrook Junction has been retained by Railtrack in case some of the sand quarry traffic returns to rail. 
After this there are a lot of moored boats as the canal clings to the valley side. It is at this point you can see the turreted water tower of St Edwards Hospital on the other side of the valley. This fairy castle feature helps give this area it's nick name of "Little Switzerland". Beyond here the Churnet valley broadens out and there is a wide lake / winding point just before the short, narrow but surprisingly high Leek Tunnel. It is then a short distance to the final bridge and winding hole. 
There were some young kids on the bridge and they surprisingly showered us with mud and gravel. This caught us unaware as we would not have thought that the nearby town of Leek suffered from yob culture. We winded and then reversed right to the end. This proved to be unnecessary as you could have winded a 50ft narrowboat in the junction between the feeder and the entrance to the filled in aqueduct. After this we moved the boat back down a bit and moored up on some barely deep enough visitor moorings which did have the benefit of piling to chain yourself to. The mud flinging kids were still about unconcerned about their deed. Alan went to give them a lecture as he was particularly upset by this incident. We did not think we would have any other trouble, but we still chained and padlocked "Beatty" to the piles just in case. 
We then walked into town along the old course of the canal. It could be brought back nearer to the the town centre but it would be through an uninspiring trading estate. It is believed the old terminus would be very near the old railway station site. This had a brand new Safeway Supermarket on it and the town had missed the opportunity of restoring the North Staffordshire Steam Railway back to this point. The old railway station still exists at Alton Towers and the railway restored between these two points would be a worthwhile money spinner due to the many tourists visiting the Alton Towers amusement park. At least the supermarket was useful for shopping. A different layout here would have enabled the railway to be put back at a later date, but it is now not to be. We spent an hour going right up to the end and shopping, at 14.05 after also having a quick lunch we were off back again. 
There was no more mud throwing incidents and we passed Hazelhurst Junction at 15.00. It was decided to make for the Caldon Canal Junction at Etruria as we wanted water. We arrived just short of the water point at 20.20 and used our long hose to fill up while we were having our diner. This meant when filled up we would not have to move off again. Predictably another late arriving hire boat did moor on the water point all night!


Goyt Mill, Hyde. Lower Peak Forest Canal.

Marple Aqueduct, Lower Peak Forest Canal.

Marple Flight of 16 Locks. Lower Peak Forest Canal.

Marple Flight.

Marple Flight. Luxuriant growth in lock chamber.

Marple Flight. Dadford Warehouse, from Lock No9.

Marple Flight. looking back at A626 Bridge, where canal apparently disappears! From Lock No9.

Marple Flight.

Marple Flight.

Marple Top Lock No16. Lower Peak Forest Canal.

"4055'", the Kiwi owned narrowboat Alan and Neil shared a journey with on the Thames tideway, in 1996.

Bosley Flight of 12 locks, bottom lock. It has just about stopped raining! Macclesfield Canal.

Harecastle Tunnel, Trent and Mersey Canal. Northern, Kidsgrove portal. Waiting for morning start. Notice B.W.'s normal sloppy mooring!

Harecastle Tunnel, Southern Portal. Brindley's old tunnel to left.

Harecastle Tunnel, Southern Portal. Notice air vent shaft right at top of image.

Old Shelton steelworks sheds over canal. How much longer will this old feature survive? Stoke on Trent, Trent and Mersey Canal.

The junction with the Caldon Canal at Etruria.

Etruria Staircase Locks, Caldon Canal.

Etruria Staircase.

Etruria Staircase.

Planet Lock, Caldon Canal.

The Caldon Canal where it slips through the pretty Hanley Park.

Johnson's old pottery site in Hanley, not long for this world.

The derelict old Johnson's pottery site, Hanley. Caldon Canal.

One of the old loading drawbridges for the "Milton Maid" pottery movement craft. Hanley, Caldon Canal.

The Ivy House Lift Bridge No11, where you can always create a nice traffic jam! Electric, B.W. key operated. Hanley, Caldon Canal.

Railway Bridge No14A. This carries the mothballed North Staffordshire mineral line to Oakmoor. 

Visitor moorings at Milton Bridge No18. Caldon Canal.

The stylish new Downfield Bridge No19. Milton.

That mothballed branch line again and pottery at Milton. Caldon Canal.

Hydraulic ram powered Long Butts Lift Bridge No23.

Stockton Brook Bottom lock No5. Caldon Canal.

Stockton Brook Lock No7 just under railway bridge.

The mothballed Oakmoor branch line bridge, just below Lock No7, Stockton Brook.

Stockton Brook Top lock. Old stables are now private and being turned into a dwelling.

Dole's Bridge No27. Bridge in distance is over entrance to Endon Basin. Caldon Canal.

Park Lane Bridge No31 visitor moorings and sanitary station. mile to Endon Bank village. Caldon Canal.

Hazelhurst Junction and Locks. Caldon Canal.

Hazelhurst Top Lock No10. Peter and Alan in control.

Linda in control of "Beatty", coming out of Hazelhurst Top Lock No10

Hazelhurst Locks.

Peter was warned about the Hazelhurst geysers!

Hazelhurst Aqueduct carries the Leek branch over. It still sports it's 1970's "Snowcem" finish, now rather stained and tired.

"The Hollybush" pub at Denford. We stopped here in 1990 and Danny tried to video Neil in the toilet!

Denford. Caldon Canal.

Cheddleton Mill and Flint Mill. Boat in front very quickly pulled of in front of us. This is the normal thanks you get for slowing down!

Caldon Canal finally officially reopened to Froghall 25th September 1974. When we first came here in 1975 it was closed again below Flint Mill Lock No17 due to a large bank slippage. This plaque is still in undamaged condition at Cheddleton Locks.

Peter and Alan have just jumped on from lock wing walls. Cheddleton Bottom Lock No14.

The tiny River Churnet we will soon lock down to. Cheddleton Railway Station is just behind the trees, headquarters of the North Staffordshire Railway Company that will soon be running stem trains from here to Consall Forge. 

Linda in control. Has she been polishing that tiller?

"The Boat" pub at Cheddleton, Basford Bridge No44. Where Ian Scott over imbibed in 1975 and got molested by a 40year old woman! Now he should be so lucky! We left the pub at 22.30 to escape her clutches and got off the Caldon about 2.30 the next morning!

Caldon locks are child's play! Wendy now proficient at these tiny locks. Wood's Lock No15, Caldon Canal.

We are still hassling that boat that pulled off in front of us. Oak Meadow Ford Lock No16.

A notice to send a shiver down Linda's spine! Oak Meadow Ford Lock No16, where you lock down to the mighty River Churnet!

Oak Meadow Ford Lock Bridge No48. Will we be dashed to pieces by the vicious currents below?

The river Churnet visitor moorings at Consall Forge.

River Churnet, Consall Forge. Bridge over weir race, navigation channel to left, will we make it?

Made it! The bridge and flood gates as you swing off the River Churnet, Consall Forge.

The unspoilt exterior of "The Back Horse" pub, Consall Forge. Actually it was not too bad inside, but you would not recognise it from 1977.

Our moorings that night when we came back to Consall Forge. Linda was worried about the river level, Neil was worried about a drunk driver hitting the boat!

The bridge and flood gates at Consall Forge.

The tiny rail bridge at Consall Forge. As the railway will soon be running again B.W. have fitted an awkward to navigate wooden towpath under here.

The tiny station platform shelter, canted over the canal at Consall Forge. This, against all odds has survived since passenger services were withdrawn in the early1960's.

Looking back at Consall Forge Station. The platform the other side is nearly complete.

View of Consall Forge Station from the "Black Horse" pub crossing. The line has been re-ballasted from Cheddleton up to this point

Overflow weir under the railway, just down from Consall Forge. The track was in poor condition here with hardly any ballast.

London Bridge No50 over the canal and railway. 

New pottery, where Alan bought a vase for his Mum, just below Bridge No 50.

Mill Bridge No51.

Flint Mill Lock No17. 

Old mill and houses just below Flint Mill Lock No17.

Towpath Turnover Bridge No52. Caldon Canal.

Treeless bank shows the site of the 1975 breech. A new overspill weir has been incorporated here.

Cherryeye Bridge No53.

Back in the distance you can see the end of one of the narrowed sections. 

Thomas Bolton's copper works at Froghall. Visitor moorings for normal air draught narrowboats here!

The cratch and equipment off, ready to see if "Beatty" will fit the Froghall Tunnel. Wendy looks on in amusement!

The stupidly low Froghall Tunnel. "Beatty" is stuck. If we had put the power on and us all jumped down in the front it probably would have gone through! It only needs a bit ground off the brickwork at the sides at this end.

The other end of the Froghall Tunnel. 

Froghall Wharf and trip boat. Notice the extreme tumblehome and no outside grab rails!

Linda and Alan have re-assembled "Beatty" and are trying to escape!

Mandy the flying whippet!

We have just started up the Leek branch, about to go over the Hazelhurst Aqueducts. Caldon Canal. 

Looking back after the valley opens up. Leek Branch, Caldon Canal.

The wide pool before Leek Tunnel.

Leek Tunnel. Froghall Tunnel should have been built with this headroom!

Looking back at the East portal of Leek Tunnel. Leek Branch, Caldon Canal.

Having reversed back to the end, we find "Beatty" would have winded here. Feeder comes in to the right, and infilled Aqueduct over the River Churnet is to the left.

The tour continues...

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