Thursday, 31 May 2007

Meetings and missings
When we stopped for water near Endon on the Caldon Canal a week or so ago we passed a little tug - Ivy - which appeared to be unoccupied. Ivy usually lives at Willington where her owners, Trevor and Marion, live. Today we are in Willington and Trevor and Marion are on the Caldon Canal. We have never met yet, but my mother's cousin, Babs, who lives near here knows them very well and I believe they do exist.
We did manage to meet Babs this afternoon and enjoyed her splendid cooking. Yesterday her younger daughter and two grand-daughters visited us in Burton for something of a reunion.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

We left Gt. Haywood on Sudday afternoon during a break in the rain which proved to be much briefer than we had anticipated. However we enjoyed the fresh air, mooring just short of Rugeley. On the way we passed Me and er another Severn Valley boat in its distinctive turquoise livery. At one of the locks we also met a couple of campanologists moving their mooring to Stourport. As Craig and Janet, who share their interest, will be mooring there this winter with Rainbow Lorikeet they should settle quite quickly into their new berth by the rug shop.
Having lost my sense of smell a few years ago I was unable to appreciate the aroma here by Marston's Brewery in Burton on Trent. However I can remember waiting for a bus outside Young's Wandsworth brewery every morning for three weeks during my first teaching practice in Fulham in 1969 and how it really set me up for the day ahead.

Passing the brewery last October

Saturday, 26 May 2007

A cordial evening
On our way to Great Haywood Jct we learned that Di & Martin had moored Uisce Beatha there whilst they went off to the Crick show. Margaret spent the day making elderflower cordial from her hedgerow garnering and in the evening we drank a few beers with Di & Martin and put the world to rights. We moored directly behind Uisce Beatha adn shared this view of Shugborough Hall from our porthole

Friday, 25 May 2007

Stoned again!
The owners of Trentham Gardens near Stoke have been spending a lot of money recently and now the visitors are doing the same in the convenient retail park. But there is no need to spend anything. To walk around the lake takes a good hour and a half and can be extended by climbing up to the monument. And to enjoy the gardens is free. We spent a lovely afternoon there yesterday and even spent some money in the shops. The usual culprits are there but one shop in particular took our fancy - it sells predominently local produce which is mostly unpackaged, including frozen fruit, and the shelves are labelled with the food miles involved in bringing the item to sale. We bought some asparagus that had travelled four miles. Some of it travelled a little further before it was consumed.
Thence to Stone where we filled up with diesel at Stone Boat Builders but did not see any stone boats - perhaps they had sunk. We took our first canal holiday in 1976 from Canla Cruising Co here in Stone and they are still going strong.This undoubted event of national interest has been overshadowed recently by the antics of Terry Darlington who hit the headlines with his Narrow Dog to Carcassonne . His boat was prepared for the loopy journey by CCC.
Stone is another interesting canal town which has suffered some redevelopment but managed to stop it before wiping out everything of interest. The Joules Brewery building is still standing and the pedestrianised High Street has much to keep browsers happy.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Catch them unawares
The Etruscan Flint and Bone Mill at Etruria, you may recall, was closed on Bank Holiday Monday a few weeks ago but we have crept back down the Caldon Canal over the past few days in order to arrive here at noon on Wednesday when it opens. And we succeeded! Although Jesse Shirley & Co still grind flint here for the production of pottery and cattle bones for bone china, this is now carried out in vast new premises. The original steam-powered mill has been preserved and for a small fee one can walk around the Kiln, Crusher room, Gear room, Pan room, Boiler House, and Engine House. Once a month the Princess beam engine built in 1820 is in steam when all the machinery does its thing.
Next weekend the Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club is celebrating its golden anniversary with a boat rally to which they are expecting about 150 boats. We must have met most of them coming the other way!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Back in the Five (?) Towns
After our trip to Bristol yesterday we drove down to see our friend Ruth in Sturminster Newton. As we did not give her any notice she could not produce the usual gourmet meal for us. However, Sturminster has another culinary secret - the best curry restaurant in Dorset. It is very unassuming and does not have an alcohol licence but the food is exquisite and the menu a delight of unusual dishes. I can only give the name to people who ask very nicely via the comment facility of this blog.
As a youngster I recall listening to the football results being read out on the Home Service every Saturday night. Such wonderful names the teams had! Fifty years later I have just learned where Port Vale is - it's near Stoke-on-Trent. It seemed that the football results were always followed by an urgent message for someone on holiday in Cornwall to contact a hospital in Sunderland where his mother/father/brother/sister was seriously ill.
On our return to SOT I mused on how easily an incorrect 'fact' can become common currency. In 1910 the six towns of Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall were combined to form Stock-on-Trent. But when Arnold Bennett wrote Anna of the Five Towns he changed this for the vast majority of the population.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Ship-Shape and Bristol Fashion
I. K. Brunel was a very busy man: He always had a lot of irons in the fire.
So when the board of the Great Western Railway engaged him to build a railway linking London and Bristol his contract stipulated that he should not be involved in any other railway venture until the GWR (God's Wonderful Railway) was complete.
The businessmen of Bristol insisted on there being a board of directors in Bristol as well as London and so Brunel started at both ends of the route and worked towards the middle. On the way he built such famous structures as Maidenhead Bridge and Box Tunnel, both of which are still in use by a very much heavier railway service than when it commenced.
The wise men at GWR had overlooked one characteristic of Mr. Brunel's to which I alluded above and when the GWR opened in 1841 it was smartly followed by ss Great Britain in 1843. He also completed that year the Thames Tunnel which his father had started. Thus, without breaking the terms of his contract he managed to simultaneously develop and build the world's first underwater tunnel and first iron-hulled ship with a screw propulsion.
We have come to Bristol today to join an excursion by Watford & District Industrial History Society.
After visiting the Empire and Commonwealth Museum at Temple Meads we were given a tour of Brunel's original station buildings which now house the museum. With the demise of the Commonwealth Institute in London this new venture is a much less jingoistic reflection of our imperial past and, I think, does the subject justice.
About 20 years ago we paid for a couple of deck planks during the restoration of ss Great Britain and when we went to see them we were rather disappointed at the poor quality job that was being done. I am pleased to say that visiting the ss Great Britain today is a vastly improved experience. The ship now sits in water which you can walk underneath and their is an interesting exhibition shoreside.
To complete the day we took a boat tour oft he floating dock. And all the while the sun shone.This is the way excursions should be organised.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Beyond the End of the Line
The Churnet Valley Railway terminates at the southern end at Kingsley & Froghall station but the line used to continue well beyond there before Dr Beeching and his axe. One of the stations beyond the end of the current line is Alton. And yet another Landmark Trust property. Today we went to meet some more Landmark Friends there. Two of these friends - Joe and John - picked us up from Froghall and conveyed us by motor car to and from the venue. The Italianate architecture has been carefully restored and the stationmaster's house now sleeps six people on three floors. The waiting room is waiting - for its future to be determined. Will it house more beds or become a games room? As it rained all day we only took a brief look at the platform which was long enough for excursion trains of 21 coaches. Now, however, those headed for Alton Towers do not queue all the way from the station but arrive by road.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

All steamed up
The Caldon Canal no longer goes to Uttoxeter (which you can blame on the railway which arrived 35 years after the canal). The North Staffs Railway no longer goes to Uttoxeter (that was Dr. Beeching in 1963) And I have never been to Uttoxeter.
However, I have travelled along the canal as far as Froghall where lock No 1 of the Uttoxeter extension has been beautifully restored. It is a shame that 90% of the boats which travel this canal do not pass through the 76yd tunnel to reach this point. This is not due to any aversion to Uttoxeter, you understand, the tunnel profile is just not compatible with the modern interpretation of the narrowboat. Whilst I wish all the best to the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canal Trust and their plan to restore the missing link, I feel the canal will remain rather quiet as far as craft go.
The original canal was built to bring limestone down from Cauldon Low. As befits a location so named, it is 200ft above the canal terminus. It is also three miles away as the crow flies. Although 200 ft climb in three miles was not beyond the skill of the canal engineers they had the good sense to build a tramway for this part of the journey. In fact there were four incarnations of the tramway as it was changed to accommodate the rapid expansion in demand for lime. The first three versions all used horse power but the final one used cablesand steam power. As a matter of interest the third one was built by John Rennie, the engineer responsible for the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Yesterday we stopped at Cheddleton by an old mill where they used to grind up flint for the pottery industry. There is a small museum but we moved on before it had chance to spoil our record by opening. The canal follows the River Churnet throughout its route and for a mile or so shares the same bed. Also squeezed into this valley is the old North Staffs Railway, now called the Churnet Valley Railway and operating at weekends with steam and diesel locos. We spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday watching through the rain as these trains chugged past our window (and the river rose)
PS. Whey, when the canal serves Cauldon Low, is it named Caldon without the U?

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Hunt the library
The Caldon Canal has two branches which divide at Hazelhurst Locks. We have taken the lock-free and shorter arm (and more attractive in my view) to Leek. James Brindley of whom you have heard earlier, started his commercial career at a watermill in Leek (see photo, left). This is still standing and open to the public at odd times, but not whilst we are here of course. We have known for some time that towns love to hide their libraries away but only recently have we encountered so many shy museums. This one, however, is run be volunteers so we should feel lucky that it exists at all. After looking at the mill from outside we wandered around the town and indulged in Hunt the Library. Like many towns we visit, there are no signs anywhere to assist in the game. But Leek has invented a few new rules. After our tireless, and ultimately successful, efforts in Daventry last year we have to award the prize now to Leek (or Staffordshire Moorland Council as it likes to be known). Their first ploy is to house the library in an old college building but to make the main entrance through a bridge from the new council building. In order to throw you off the scent, however there is no mention of the library on the outside of this building and furthermore THEY HAVE NOT TOLD ANY OF THE LOCAL POPULATION. Thus, when I tracked down the council building and asked a gentleman standing outside where the library was he directed me back down the street to an old college entrance where, in large letters I found I could enrol NOW for all sorts of subjects. But even this did not throw this intrepid library hunter and I ventured inside to find myself in the middle of a children's resource centre. Feeling bold, and a little worried about being of a certain age and alone in a children's area, I entered the cunning maze they have created with bookshelves. Following my ears towards the sound of human (adult) voices I burst into a clearing where a librarian was sheltering behind a desk. My sense of success soon waned when I tried to find a book. Having been brought up on the Dewey Decimal system I went in search of the 900's, But each corner I turned was headed with a large brightly coloured sign with such useful classifications as READ, LISTEN, ENJOY. Perhaps I should go back to the computer where I know where to find things.
Back in the town (avoid the chippy in the market square at all costs) I was surprised to find a shop which still bears the original signboard of Home & Colonial Stores. Some will remember this splendid chain of grocers whose success was founded on their fine selection of teas. For a few weeks in my very dim and distant past I actually worked on the deli counter of Maypole Dairies branch in Amersham (built on the site of the old Regent cinema) who bought H & C from their founder Julius Drewe. This gentleman, you will recall employed Sir Edwin Lutyens to build Castle Drogo in Devon which the National Trust claims to be the last castle built in England (1911-31). I have a feeling Drewe added an s to the end of his name at some point and was a tea taster before he established H & C. Anyway this store is an Aladin's cave of distressed stock - Dali-esque chocolate bars, breakfast cereals in Arabic packaging and esoteric and obviously unpopular flavours of well known products. It is worth visiting Leek for this experience if no other.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Sofa so good

Bank Holiday Monday and we are at Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent. Just in time for the museum. Except it opens Wed-Sun afternoons only! Regardless of demand!
Never mind, we have moored opposite a statue of James Brindley, the father of British canals. He was the engineer for the Staffs & Worcs, Trent & Mersey amongst others which he hoped would eventually create a Silver Cross of canals linking the four corners of the country. When we were here in the 1970's there was no statue but the Wedgewood pottery factory and one had to be wary of the trimarans flying up and down the Caldon Canal laden with pottery. They must have had outboard motors as they moved very fast without creating a noticeable wash. Back then we wsaw no other pleasure boats on this very pretty canal. This evening six hire boats have come passed us dashing back to their hire bases after a weekend break.

Things have certainly changed over the past 30 years. Now the only bottle kilns we pass are redundant but look lost divorced from their original surroundings.

Are all aspects of our life becoming just spectator activities?

Saturday, 5 May 2007

One you see; One you don't

Today we left the Staffs and Worcs Canal, turning left at Great Haywood to head up the Trent & Mersey. No time today to visit Shugbrough Hall. It's Saturday - not a day we normally travel - and we want to keep out of the way of the hire boats.
On the last stretch of the S&W we crossed Tixall Wide - a stretch of canal which was widened to present a satisfying vista for the owners of Tixall House. The original house was built in 1580 by Sir Walter Aston, and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here for tow weeks in 1586. Sadly this house and a its successor built in 1780 are no more. However, the Gatehouse remains - and so does the view. Although we did not see any of the kingfishers for which this area is noted, there were plenty of ducks and geese around with their young.

Often as we pass these little families one baby will get separated from the rest by our passage. The stranded chick then tries to get round in front of us to be reunited with its siblings and mother and it is amazing to see the effort expended in this impossible endeavour. At times they appear to stand up and run on the water before sinking down into a more traditional stance. Usually fatigue is their saviour and as they give up the unequal race, we move forward from them to reveal the remaining family still squeaking vociferously.
Soon after joining the T&M we pass Ingestre. Like Tixall Gatehouse, Ingestre Pavillion is a Landmark Trust property but whilst the Gatehouse sits in spleandour, the Pavillion is not visible form the canal.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Snowstorms in May
When we were young there always seemed to be one of those snowstorm toys around at Christmas. Where they came from and where they went to I never knew, but every year one would appear, we would play with it and then it would disappear. I guess it was one of the many mysteries which abound at that time of year.
Yesterday we came down the Wolverhampton 21 and joined the wonderful Staffs & Worcs at Aldersley where we headed north to Gailey. It was sunny but very windy: some seed heads from one of the trees were constantly swirling around and I suddenly felt I was inside one of those snowstorm toys.