Stockton Brook Pumping Station
Stockton Brook Pumping Station. I gather that attempts have been made to return this fine old building to beneficial use.

This is my first time on the Caldon Canal (on a boat – the towpath so far has been excellent for walking and cycling – National Cycle Route 550), which branches off the Trent & Mersey at Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent.  From there it leads to Froghall, via Cheddleton, with a branch going almost to Leek.  Once again the kindness of the stranger played its role.

“Don’t go down t’ clough.” the policeman said,
“It’s mucky road for thee to tread,
Canal’s at bottom… deep and wide.”
“That’s not my road.” the lad replied,
It’s… ‘Uppards

Extract from the poem Uppards by Marriott Edgar, a response Excelsior!, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in which the “hero” dies of cold in the mountain snow.

The twisting, turning, winding cuts of northern Staffordshire

Apologies to the Saw Doctors, still a band I like.

Well, it is much more hilly on the way to Leek, in northern Staffordshire.  Before today’s ups and downs, I had progressed through single locks and flights lifting Whiskey Mac by approximately 182 feet 5 inches (55.6m), since Wednesday last (12 June) on my way north from Haywood Junction.  These locks included Stone, Meaford and Stoke flights, all on the Trent & Mersey, and Bedford Street staircase and the tame Planet Lock on the Caldon Canal.  All measurements from the Nicholson Waterways Guide 4:  Four Counties and Welsh Waterways, published by Collins.  (I prefer these because they use an Ordnance Survey base, though, even with that guide, the bends seem much tighter in real life.  That may simply be a function of having 60 feet of boat forward of the tiller.)

Yesterday, I turned onto the Caldon Canal at Etruria, in Stoke, and stopped for water at the CRT yard, 150 gallon (682 litre) tank to fill.

WM water Etruria
Whiskey Mac watering at Etruria Wharf on the Caldon Canal (Trent & Mersey Canal in background).

Opposite the wharf is a sort of island garden with a statue to the engineer James Brindley.

James Brindley statue Etruria

Beside the canal is the Etruria Industrial Museum, which was closed, and outside this striking exhibit.

Goodwin Ball Mill
Goodwin Ball Mill

The information board reads:

The Goodwin Ball Mill

This ball mill was manufactured by J. Rohrbach, Iron Works, Katzhütte, Thuringia, Germany and installed at Goodwin’s Westwood Mill in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent in 1904. It is reputed to be the first ball mill to be installed in the UK. Afterwards it was employed at Lower Washwood Mill in Congleton, Cheshire. When it closed in 2000 Mr John Goodwin donated it to the Etruria Industrial Museum.

Until the late 1800s materials were ground in open pans using the wet process patented in 1726 by Thomas Benson. This method may be seen at the steam powered Shirley’s Bone and Flint Mill on this site and at the water powered Cheddleton Flint Mill. 15 miles (24 km) along the Caldon Canal.

Ball mills were developed in the 1870s as next stage in milling technology. The material to be ground was put into the mill with water and hard balls of a substance such as flint or ceramic. The cylinder was rotated for typically 6 to 12 hours at a speed of 16 revolutions per minute. The action of the hard substance produced a fine material in suspension. The tank ran in a channel under the mill and was used to collect the ground material and transport it to settling arks (tanks) and drying beds.

Restored and erected in 2017 supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

At Bedford Street staircase, two locks with no pound between, I was helped considerably by a New Zealand couple (NB After Time) and a bit by a lady on another boat.  I really am hopeless when it comes to names, both of people and boats.

Bedford Street staircase locks
Bedford Street staircase bottom lock. The New Zealand man at the top is about to open the paddles to equalise the water levels in the two locks.
Bedford Street staircase sign
Diagram. Enter bottom lock, empty water from top lock to equalise levels, move into top lock, fill, and proceed. These folk saved me a lot of effort.

The Caldon Canal is especially twisty and presents some challenges for pilots.  There are also some low bridges, especially bridge 9, which added another slight kink to my TV aerial.  As it turned out there were not too many boats going the other way, though they always seem to turn up at the trickiest places!

Ivy House lift bridge
Approaching Ivy House lift bridge, Hanley. The bridge was operated by CRT folk.

So to today:  Wednesday (I had to look that up!).

The main obstacles were:

  1. Engine Lock, at 12 feet 2.5 inches the deepest I have tackled, but I made an early start so that I could go at my own pace and go through easily;
  2. Norton Green lift bridge;
  3. Long Butts lift bridge; and
  4. Stockton Brook Locks, four locks rising 41 feet 1 inch.

Lift bridges

Lift bridges can be a problem for single-handers.  The first of these is push-button controlled.  The key is that the mechanism is on the on (towpath) side, which is easily accessed.  Make sure no traffic, insert BWB key, lights on, hold open button until fully open, go through, tie up, hold close button until fully closed, remove key, move on.  No problem.

The second, however, has the control mechanism of the off side, which means you have to cross the bridge to raise it, but then you can’t get back on the boat (easy if you have crew).  My idea had been to wait for another boat, and it would not have been a long wait, but as I arrived a passing man offered to help, so I got through without a hitch.  Whoever you are, a big thankyou!

Long Butts lift bridge
Long Butts Lift Bridge, note cylindrical mechanism on right hand upright is on the off side.


Then some trouble.  I reached the bottom lock without mishap, but when I put the engine in gear to exit movement was very sluggish, and I was unable to turn right.  The engine sounded normal, water temperature and oil pressure were fine, no smoke, there was no extra vibration, reverse was fine, and the tiller moved easily.  Probably, some debris.  I managed to get into the second lock, and there was another boat arriving at the bottom lock.  Possible help, I thought.  So I persevered with help from the other boat (at this point I could not see her name).  Somehow, when approaching mooring bollards before the top lock I was aground, stuck fast.  Eventually, I was freed and crawled into the top lock.  The wash from the screw was coming out to one side.  I prodded round the rudder with a pole, felt something move, but didn’t see it.  The other crew operated the lock, and when I put the engine in gear again, all seemed well.  Either my efforts, or the action of swirling water in the lock had dislodged the mystery debris.

On reflection I suspect I picked up some debris that was causing drag and deflecting pressure from the screw so that I was unable to turn right going forward.  Presumably, this is what caused me to be aground (where boats regularly tie up there should be enough water), then fell off in the lock so that I was able to proceed as normal.  (Looked in the weed hatch later, but nothing seemed amiss.)


So, I proceeded through Doles Bridge, neatly managing the slalom around the “Obstruction in centre of canal” and the narrow bridge: now that would have been somewhat tricky with dodgy steering!  I stopped just beyond.

Obstruction in centre of canal and Doles Bridge.

As I was mooring, my helpers passed:  NB The Lady Eleanor, Longport Wharf.  Thank you so much!

Today’s movement uppards amounted to 53 feet 2.5 inches.  I am now at the same level as the terminus just south of Leek, which I hope to reach tomorrow.

After finding the broadband near Doles Bridge very slow, I moved a short distance to Post Lane visitor moorings, near Endon, where it is much better.

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