We continue to be blessed with an abundance of lovely people – mostly expected, but also a few surprises!
A statue of James Brindley stands justifiably proudly, overlooking the junction of the Trent and Mersey and Caldon Canals - he did after all build the T & M!
Last Sunday, as arranged, Kath, Viv and Ray met us at The Holly Bush on the Caldon Canal – spookily enough the feature photo on page three of August’s ‘Canal Boat’ magazine which I splashed out on a few days ago – sadly just days too late for our trip on the delightful waterway. Lucky it was though, as we forgot to take a photo of the pub!
The kilns used to dominate the skyline of Stoke-on-Trent when the pottery industry was blooming - some still stand majestically, though sadly many are quite derelict and run-down
The sharp right turn to the Caldon Canal
Etruria Junction - there's a museum here on the left, but we've yet to find it open!
Up the Etruria Staircase Locks on another sunny day
Past the dilapidated but still delightful factory buildings
The kilns, daubed with graffiti, stand side-by-side with modern-day canalside developments
Kath stayed overnight on Sunday after kindly bringing Ray and Viv to us. We had a trip up the Leek Branch and back on Monday, then dropped her off mid-afternoon at the Holly Bush, to drive back to Lichfield, and we meandered on Consall Forge.
Snug in the cratch and spreading across the towpath!
Ray takes the Captain's spot at the stern - he looks very comfortable there!
The first of three locks on the Leek Branch - Kath jumps ship to lend a hand
The three locking ladies - Kath, Viv and Sandra - dressed for the warm weather
Ray practices his portrait pose
And here's the finished product
Loving the colours here at Hazlehurst Locks!
Stunning in black and white too when the master's in charge
We continued up to the Black Lion at Consall Forge, where we moored in 2009 (click here to read about it) and watched the boat behind us catch buckets full of Signal Crayfish. This time we planned to dine there for Ray’s birthday – if only we’d known previously (i.e. if I’d done a bit of research!), that booking a table in advance would've scored us a 20% discount!
So for anyone who may be heading that way – phone and book in to save money. Makes sense really as they then have an idea of how many to cater for. Maybe they need to publicise it a bit more though, as they said they’d only taken two booking but done around 35 meals by the time we got there around 7.30pm. Such a unique setting, and absolutely packed out on a Monday night - the pub isn’t even on a road.
The Black Lion
A rare photo of the two us us - at The Black Lion. Cheers Ray!
We managed to get all the way to Froghall Basin on Tuesday - though chose not to attempt the very low tunnel. You'll understand why below (the red and white plastic gauge the height of your boat for the tunnel) ...
I don't think so!
The water's so clear in the basin and there's an abundance of marine life to be seen - instead of the usual murkiness of the canal water with the occasional splash to show there's a fish under the water.
How clear is this?!
Stunning shot of a dragonfly - by Mr Ray Burns
Sadly we couldn't linger, as we needed to get Viv and Ray back to Stoke for their train home on Wednesday afternoon, but we're pleased we returned here, it's such a pleasant place to walk around. And we saw something you rarely see on the canal - the launch of a frigate!
Slowly does it ...
Off she goes!
Returning to to our mooring, I spotted a boat called 'Waitangi'. There seems to be a lot of New Zealand/Maori named boats around, and this one intrigued me. I asked the nice man if he was from New Zealand. The tale he told amused me. February, as those who live in UK are aware, is a rather bleak month here, and he and a few friends decided some years ago to brighten it up a bit by travelling to different places each year. Looking around for a suitable memorable date in February, they happened upon Waitangi Day - the founding (often controversially) document of present-day New Zealand, celebrated on 6th February. So they called themselves 'The Waitangi Day Wanderers'. Well fancy that! He even had a t-shirt on with the name on the back and the dates and places they'd visited - one of which, though I forget which year, was actually Aotearoa herself. What a small world.
Mooring up at Stockton Brook on our way back to Stoke-on-Trent, I heard a lady calling to ask “Are you Barry?” Lesley and Howard hailed from Melbourne, and have been reading our blog for some time. We didn’t get to chat to them very much as it was late when we stopped, then had dinner, and by the time we were up and about the following morning they’d already pulled their pins. We hope to meet you again on the cut sometime, as we know you’re here for a while.
Sadly Wednesday was back to Stoke and farewell to Viv and Ray - what a jam-packed full few days and a great way to celebrate Ray's birthday ...
Spot the odd one out
Viv gets stranded at the lift bridge!
Thank you for coming! Do come again next year ...
Despite not bagging the 20% off at The Black Lion, we did manage to grab a bargain with the cheapest diesel this year at Stoke Boat services – 85p a litre. We’d stopped at the boatyard before (no names mentioned), and when Barry told me the price I suggested we move on – luckily they were just breaking for lunch so we were able to slink away quietly, once I’d phoned Stoke and discovered there’s was so much cheaper.
We were then delighted to discover it was even less at 82p/litre, as we needed (well) over 100 gallons! This may sound girly, but why don’t they have a fuel gauge on narrowboats? I know Barry puts a stick down the hole to check on the level – but isn’t that a terribly crude way of monitoring, and prone to disasters? I find myself wondering how frequently boaters don’t quite guess the levels timely and correctly, run out at an inconvenient place, and have to walk to the nearest place can in hand as one would on the road?
Saving money has become a bit of a passion of mine now we have extremely limited incomings, but
our my recent attempt at frugality was almost disastrous.
Whilst filling up with diesel, Barry suggested we also pump out the
toilet. We hadn’t yet got a ‘red light’
to show a full toilet tank, so I suggested we could wait and last another day
or so – not taking the time or trouble (or even thinking about it to be fair!) to
ask where the next available pump out would be found.
That night, moored at Westport Lake, Longport, guess what happened? Well it doesn’t take a genius to work it out
really. Looking at the Nicholson’s
Guide (bit late really!), we discovered there wasn’t another one for many miles – and in between was
a rather large number of locks known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’! So the next day we sheepishly went to the next winding
hole, turned around (just before the Harecastle Tunnel), and returned to Stoke.
It was around 1500hrs on a Friday afternoon when we arrived – we’d started out late because Barry had travelled to visit the home brew store for supplies in Stoke that morning, unfortunately got a puncture, hadn’t taken the repair kit, and had to walk back! Then we were aghast to be informed by the lovely lady at the boatyard, that there was no-one to perform said pump out as he’d already gone home – it is Friday she said! Our hearts sunk at the challenge ahead. She assured us there was another pump out at Etruria, which we knew, but it’s a BW card operated one and of course it’s nigh on impossible to buy those anywhere – actually you can buy them on-line! Hilarious! As a live-aboard, how are you supposed to buy them on line and get them delivered?
Thankfully, there was a young man hanging around the boatyard who used to work there are she persuaded him to do the dirty deed for us. He vocalised how unhappy he was, informing us how much it made him heave to do it (bless him!), consequently we weren’t convinced he did the best job of emptying the tank. We’ll see how long it lasts. Our halfway light bulb has gone, so it’s either green for empty or red for full with little warning of the impending predicament!
Barry the bird man after our stroll around the lake
We travelled back to the lovely lake, whereupon that evening we hooked up with a couple of fairly novice hire boaters from Lewes, not far from my daughter in Brighton. Katie, David and Lucas had just collected the boat from Stoke-on-Trent Boatbuilding at Longport Wharf and Barry helped them moor up. We soon got chatting and ended up frequenting a very friendly and homely pub called 'The Pack Horse Inn'. Just a couple of rounds, our budget doesn’t run to much more than that once a week sadly, but the drinks were very cheap and the company was delightful. Great to meet you all and enjoy your holiday up the Macclesfield.
Our next guests will be Kerry and Tony from Gisborne, New Zealand, who arrive on Wednesday evening for six or seven nights. Actually, that’s a lie! We heard today we have an extra to itinerary visitor on Tuesday evening, from Sheffield. Fred visited us a few times in 2009 (twice) and 2010, and he’s been trying to get to see us since we’ve been back without success – until now we hope.
Once Kerry and Tony leave, we have two more lovely kiwis coming for two nights initially. Rivka and Richard have been touring around USA and Europe for the past couple of months so it’ll be fabulous to hear about all their adventures.
And then, we may have another surprise guest from Gisborne. But I shan’t mention whom until/unless I hear from them, as it may not eventuate.
So, although this is a boating blog, featured on the ‘Waterways Ranking Site’, I have to admit it’s often a challenge to write anything terribly ‘boaty’! But how wonderful that our beautiful ‘AreandAre’ is, and has been, very much a ‘Rest and Relaxation’ retreat for lots of people we’re proud to have the pleasure and privilege of knowing.
However, ending on a positive note, we may have an opportunity to get our writing and photography in print in the near future - and with it the possibility of a bit of extra income (we hope!).
Awesome, as they’d say in New Zealand.