… or in this case, the arrival of the King of Song & Dance.
A quick trip home to collect the important things: cat (1 off) and guitar (1 off). So far the boat remains a morris kit-free zone.
Biggles immediately checks out the sleeping accommodation doing his “prince(ss) and the pea” imitation, while I try and work out where I am going to stow the musical instrument. Fortunately a hidey hole was found in the end.
Canals and railways often run close to each other for sound technical reasons. In the case of the Churnet Valley Railway, one might even say “too close” – another challenge for the steerer along the Froghall Branch of the Caldon Canal.
The Black Lion is a splendid pub previously only accessible by rail or canal, but a recent road doesn’t seem to have done it too much harm. A splendid lunch spot, with hens running amok in the garden, ducks ignoring the railway signage, more lime kilns across the canal, and the place from which this blog’s header picture was taken.
Then it’s back down through the Stoke potteries, a quick overnight stop next to “the man” (James Brindley) at Etruria junction, then into the Festival Park marina for a for a few days while we catch up on cats, repairs, washing and boring stuff like that.
Perhaps deciding to stay close to Biddulph on the Caldon Canal was – with hindsight – a mistake… it’s very narrow and shallow, the bridge holes are even narrower and overgrown. With a boat that swims beautifully through the water and doesn’t want to slow down, and the engine idle/tick-over set a tadge high, it was certainly a challenge, particularly on some corners where on a couple of occasions the boat just went where IT wanted to go, rather than where the steerer wanted. Greenery? What greenery?
Froghall terminus and basin, with its nice buildings and lime kilns across the road is delightful. The final few hundred yards are preceded by a very low tunnel, so – discretion being the better part of valour – we didn’t attempt it. Spoke to some live-aboard boaters that had spent all day removing everything off the roof (top boxes, the work) so the could get through and moor up for a week, and the said the height gauges were very conservative. They said some people even put sacrificial wooden protectors on the top and “drive” their boat through.
Perhaps next time we might fill all the tanks and have a go – very gingerly. Would be a lovely spot to moor up for a day or two and listen to Andy Irvine records.
Second day on our own saw us mooring up just along the Leek branch of the Caldon Canal, just beyond Hazlehurst locks, which gave us our first indication that a strimmer or hedge cutter might be a vital part of the inventory.
A lovely stroll down Hazlehurst Locks and under the Hazlehurst Viaduct that carries the Leek Branch over the Froghall Branch took us to the busy watering hole The Hollybush Inn for dinner. (Seen here two days later at lunchtime, after we’d stopped over in Leek for provisions before turning round and heading for Froghall).
And somewhere along the line we became aware the water on the bathroom floor seemed to be leaking from the loo rather from wet bodies exiting the shower. Ho hum…
First day’s cruising on our own: we’d decided to stay close to Biddulph and the Piper factory in case of any problems, and revisit the delightful Caldon Canal, which we had done on our last hire-boat trip. Pointing north but wanting to head south we wound (winded?) at the winding hole just by the entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel.
Then back down to Etruria and the first challenge: the staircase locks. Not quite as daunting as they look, but a challenge for Song & Dance’s first lock.
Then it’s through the not quite so interesting pottery areas, (restraining SWMBO from visiting the Emma Bridgewater factory shop), and past Stoke-on-Trent College, with its educational priorities proudly displayed for all to see, before emerging into the sunshine and country where we moored for the night by a field with several Gypsy Cob ponies including a foal. Look just like miniature Clydesdales!
Piper’s chaps left us moored up at Westport Lake: an artificial pleasure lake that has become a nature reserve pretty much in the middle of Stoke-on-Trent. Not a bad place to spend one’s first night and day.
A gentle first meander with Vinny & Graham from Pipers on board took us past the Festival Park to the Etruria Industrial museum then back to Westport Lake for our first overnight stop afloat.
We broke out the champagne eventually, but after drinking it the picture came out as blurry as us.
The other guests crashed out too.
The salubrious surroundings of Longport Wharf are close and convenient, and the “launch” went without a hitch, although getting the lorry to the wharf was a challenge for the driver because of other boats parked on the hard standing, not normally there. Nothing’s ever easy.
We saved the Champagne for later, rather than mess up the shiny new paintwork, as the commissioning chaps Graham and Vinny wanted to go for a quick spin to make sure everything was OK.
A car park on an industrial estate in Biddulph isn’t quite the place for a romantic first-night party, particularly with a large crane and lorry arriving first thing the next morning to take the boat away. We’d found a few things not quite right overnight, and chaps were beavering away trying to fix things right up to departure.
Watching the boat being swung in the air was almost as scary as watching it being towed out and manoeuvred round the car park! Not sure which way the boat went: we followed the SatNav, never saw her, but on arrival at the launch site, she was already there.
A big day… Song & Dance gets pulled out from the workshop into the light of day, and gets moored up in the factory car park, ready for us to spend the night on board checking everything out.
The paint scheme looks quite different in daylight!