Continuing South towards the Caldon Canal, a range of friends, volunteers and family join me as we start to see dramatic views of the Penines and come across hirers enjoying what may be the last of the good weather.
On Friday we had an early start - we left Middlewich at 7.15. Despite what the barometer showed, hardly any sun today but still dry. My son Richard wasn't complaining as he knew we had the Cheshire Locks (Heartbreak Hill) ahead - a rise of 250 feet. But before I go on, let me tell you about a chat I'd had the previous night with the owner of the Wardle Lock House - the Maureen Shaw one.
After planning and other delays, he's now starting to repair it and so it's not going to go to rack and ruin.. He's a waterways guy - he began boating when very young - and his parents have a boat on the Leeds & LIverpool.
My sister and her partner joined us at Wheelock; they live near Anderton. We lunched at Roade Heath's Broughton Arms and had an evening meal at the Red Bull hotel at the top - I'd recommend both. The evening was enlivened by a customer brining in a tame owl on his shoulder!
We heard during the day from the Northwich office that the overgrown trees on the Shroppie I'd mentioned in an earlier blog are on the list to be done this winter, along with those in the cutting south of Cowley Tunnel which at present make it almost a single boat width.
The duplicated lcoks on this part of the Trent & Mersey were very helpful. There was quite a lot of traffic. We were able to go up one lock whilst another boat came down the other one. In another case we worked up a lock alongside another boat. This meant no queues like those on the Middlewich Branch - until we came to places where there was no duplicate.
Our route took us through a number of small villages where you can see signs of the old canal life - mainly in the buildings but also the odd old factory arm. Places like Wheelock and Malkins Bank.
We decided not to tie at the top of the flight - too close to the railway - and so went round to the Poole Aqueduct where the Macclesfield crosses over the T&M - and then walked down to steps to the pub. Tomorrow will see us heading for Harecastle Tunnel.
We were lucky on Saturday - as we left Hardings Wood Junction, Don Gray on PENSAX came the other way and said that if we were quick about it, we might get to the Tunnel mouth before the last boat went in.We did and so were tail end Charlie - better than having to wait a couple of hours or so before the convoy got through the Tunnel and another lot came north. Today we had as passengers Janice and Steve Gledhill. Janice is a new volunteer this year who spends 3 days a week at the Red Bull Welcome Centre.
They meet lots of people who have been through the Tunnel and they wanted to experience it themselves. They stayed with us to Stockton Brook on the Caldon that evening and so also got to work some locks. As you may know, the Trust is opening up a number of Welcome Centres - all manned by volunteers. The aim is to talk to people new to the canals, not those long accustomed to working the waterways.
I hope some of these new people become Friends of the Trust. The Trust has changed its approach to Friends' recruitment and instead of using agencies is now using new staff members with a successful record in this type of work. The agencies had their use initially as without a vast outlay (the agencies were paid by results), the Trust was able to see that the Friends' idea was actually feasible. The average monthly donation is about £5 but some give more - I heard recently of someone in Blackburn giving £30 a month. The Trust needs all the public support it can get.
So if any readers of this blog are not Friends and would like to sign up, I urge you to go on the website. By the way, assuming the Trust's Council approves it at the AGM later this month, Friends - and Volunteers - will become two new constituencies from which Council members wil be elected.
Back to boating. When passing Etruria and turning onto the Caldon, we saw the historic boat LINDSAY setting out with some passengers. The Bedford Street staircase lokcs were intriguing for Janice and Steve. A warning when you get to Stockton Brook locks. The Harvester is closed (another firm is due to re-open in November) and The Sportsman doesn't do food. So it was an unexpected half mile walk to an Indian - with my son declining my offer of stewing steak on the boat!
It was slow progress up the locks on Sunday, with lots of boats around but then it was Sunday and the hire boats would have left the Black Prince yard the day before. On the summit pound we saw plenty of signs of the towpath improvements works being paid for by Staffordshire County Council - in very many places, towpath works you see being done are funded by a local authority of similar, not by the Trust. We saw the boats owned by Ian Braine's Canal and River Services civil engineering firm who are doing the works. We were now starting to get dramatic views of the Pennines but we stopped at Hazelhurst, leaving the boat at Rupert and Alison Smedley's place - they are long standing IWA friends. And it was so back to Stoke-on Trent station for us and home. We've left HELEN for almost a fortnight. Then we shall come back to celebrate 40 years since the Caldon was restored.
In the train home and catching up with emails, I saw that nearly £55,000 is being raised for the Trust by the annual sponsored bike ride. The Trust riders are mainly from the property and finance sections but I can see they've also roped in as sponsored riders people from ABC Leisure (one of the biggest boat hire firms); OCS Fountains (who cut the grass) and others who do work for or advise the Trust. You wouldn't have found them doing that for BW!
(Apologies for the delay in posting this - but now I'm home., I've been at my step-mother's 100th birthday)
John Dodwell is one of our 10 volunteer trustees, who carry responsibility for the charity’s policies and strategies. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.
John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!See more blogs from John Dodwell