As the week came to a close Trustee, John Dodwell, was joined by a range of Trust staff and others as he cruised down the Stockton Brook flight of five locks and on to Stone.
Heavy dew overnight and a cold and misty morning. Autumn is definitely here - but then it is 2 October. A plus is that you can now see the spiders' webs as the dew clings to them.
Trust staff today - I was joined by Simon Salem, head of marketing and fundraising, and by Peter Birch who heads the environmental team. They brought with them Claire Horton from Defra where she deals with waterways policy. She wanted to do a bit of "seeing for herself". Although CRT is not responsible to Defra in the way that BW was, the Government still has an interest in all waterways.
Claire was the first to steer HELEN. Although she hadn't steered a canalboat before, she turned out to be a natural. Simon each year takes out a hire boat so he knew what he was doing and Peter's steering was pretty good.
We came down the Stockton Brook flight of five in good time - as indeed we should with a crew of four and setting locks ahead. We saw an extensive area where dredgings had been put as infill behind new bank protection.
We stopped at Etruria for the night - after a mild panic in the Hanley area where two low bridges caught us unawares. We got the back chimney down in time. Just as well the engine exhaust chimney has a rubberised substance and so is flexible!
Andrew Morris was with me today. He joined in January this year as Maintenance Manager for the Central Shires area - that's the Trent & Mersey south from Harecastle (including the Caldon); Coventry; Ashby; Soar; part of GU north of Kilby Bridge. He came from the construction industry. We talked about the changes in waterway management from 1 November with the construction teams and stoppages going to new groups. This will leave the waterways management to concentrate on customer focussed activities. Andrew welcomed these and other changes which show the need to be around when users are around. Andrew has a background in organising scouts and he is a keen supporter of the roles which volunteers can play - not just in litter picking and painting but in helping with repairs.
As a new recruit, Andrew is one of those affected by one of Richard Parry' innovations. This is that all new staff are strongly urged to go on a boat soon after joining and experience what the waterways ( not just pure boating) are about. Andrew lives near the Coventry Canal and is looking forward to taking up a "boating buddy" opportunity from a local boater. As readers of my blog will know, I have had a number of staff on HELEN and I encourage all boat owners to think about offering to take staff on their boat.
Andrew worked all the five Stoke locks but afterwards took over the steering to Stone: he was very good. He noted with approval that locks 37 and 38 had very tightly sealed top gates (a result of works last winter) but that 36 and some others were not so good.
We came across the Fountains contract staff cutting the grass below lock 38. They stopped their machinery as HELEN approached and told us this was their standing instruction. We had seen a similar approach on the Shroppie in September.
At Trentham Lock, we could see that the leak by the bottom offside steps which was so troublesome in earlier years had been repaired. We would have stopped at The Plume of Feathers at Barlaston - but it's stopped doing food.
At Meaford top lock, the parapet repairs to the bridge which seem to have been waiting for ever have still not been done so that was another entry in my note book. It's quite a busy road so it may be the responsibility of the council, not the Trust.
We found all the paddles in working order and none of those irritating over growing offside trees - unlike the Caldon.
I stopped at Stone and bought a replacement gas bottle. When tied up for the night, I got talking with a neighbour who turned out to be a member of the Australian Canal Society. This is a group of people based in Australia but who spend most of the British summer on our waterways each year. Somewhat to my surprise, their last AGM in Sydney attracted 70 people. They also have a meeting every other year at The Blue Lias, Stockton.
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