Maximus Winter cruise June 9 - 23rd 2002 (part one)

Route : Gailey - Leek - Whaley Bridge - Wheaton Aston
186 miles 135 locks 92 hrs

Winter cruising in June ?? Well that's what it felt like especially in the first week, it was cold and very windy with frequent rain showers. Anyway I like winter cruising, that feeling of battling the elements and the cabin feels so warm and cosy afterwards. There were very few boats about which added to that winter feeling. The advantage in doing it in June is the days are longer and those nice people in hire boats are about with their quaint antics in locks and they mark the winding holes and water points for you by mooring in them.

Sunday 9th June
Gailey to Br 92 (nr Baswich) 6.5 miles, 10 locks, 3 1/4 hrs

We had arranged to rendezvous at the Spread Eagle at Gailey and have lunch before going to the boat. We arrived just before noon and were amazed to find a gate across the car park entrance just as we were committed to a right turn off the busy A5. Dangerous or what? We were grudgingly admitted on the dot of 12 and were served a rather ordinary pub lunch while we watched the torrential rain outside. When the rain let up at about 2 we made a move to the boatyard just down the road. We left Gailey Wharf at 3 p.m. and headed north in heavy showers. To our surprise all the locks were set our way and often had an oncoming boat leaving or arriving at just the right time. The new improved Mk II tonneau cover earned its keep that afternoon in the blustery showers. We were at our planned overnight stop in Penkridge by 4:30 so we decided to press on as the sun had come out. We pulled over for the night near bridge 92 which is one of the few places on that stretch that isn't adjacent to the M6. The evening was a bit cold so we lit the stove and got on with unpacking and settling in.

Monday 10th June
Br 92 to Stone 16.5 miles, 6 locks, 8 hrs 20 mins

As we were all awake pretty early and the day seemed promising, we got underway before 8:30 with the idea of reaching Stone, to meet up with our old friends Peter and Karen. Our previous luck with the locks had deserted us but never the less we made good progress over familiar ground.

Great hayward Junction looking eastAs we approached Tixall wide the heavens opened and we had a torrential downpour, fortunately it was just a shower and it was sunny again by the time we reached Great Haywood Junction (Left). Whilst there we took a walk down to see the packhorse bridge, then tucked into toasted cheese and bacon butties washed down with beer. After that I was ready for anything, which was just as well. The afternoon weather deteriorated with strong wind and heavy showers. The wind was dead astern so I was getting concerned about the security of the tonneau cover which is held on with magnets. I was using it in it's "almost a Trad" mode where the rear foot or so is rolled up. This gave quite a bit of protection from the weather but did make it vulnerable to gusts from astern, however it all stayed in place.

The crew of the preceding boat Falstaff from Stratford Court had the annoying habit of leaving the top gates open even though they could see we were right behind them. When I advised them of the normal way of doing things they did not acknowledge or apologise. I didn't want to follow them up the Stone and Meaford flights ahead of them the next day so we planned an early start. Stone is deservedly popular and the moorings were quite full but were lucky and found a mooring close to the bridge at the foot of the flight. This made it easy for Peter and Karen to find us and we had a good evenings chat catching up on a few years news.

Tuesday 11th June
Stone to Milton 13 miles, 17 locks, 8 hrs

We made a start on the Stone flight before 8 to get ahead of Falstaff we weren't the only ones as there was a boat right behind us. Despite the early hour we soon caught a slow moving hire boat with a huge crew, fortunately they pulled over for a rest so we had a good run up the Meaford flight with a little assistance from conveniently spaced oncoming traffic. The breadmaker had its first run afloat and we were delighted that it could digest the rather dodgy waveform from the inverter and produce yet another perfect loaf. The aroma wafting back past the helm was irresistible and we soon had a flotilla of hopeful ducks following us. After a brief Post Office stop at Barlaston we pressed on, taking lunch (more bacon butties) on the move as we approached the Stoke flight.

Enering Etruria staircase lockAs usual the paddles at Stoke were stiff and the gates heavy but we went up in under an hour which was pretty good going. Christine took the helm as Jeremy and I wound the ironmongery, she made an elegant job of the tricky turn into the Caldon in blustery conditions. The top lock at Stoke has the hydraulic granny gears on the paddles, they are painfully slow and no easier to wind than the conventional ones. I hope these "innovations" will be replaced with proper paddle mechanisms soon. We were delighted to find that the industrial museum was open at last so we took the tour round the flint mill. The staff were very friendly and informative, it's well worth a visit. After taking on water (and rescuing the rubbish bag Chris threw on top of rather than in the skip!) we made our way up the stair case lock (right)and onto the Caldon canal.

Industrial dereliction at StokeThe Caldon has a totally different feel to the Trent and Mersey main line, it's narrow and winds under some really low bridges. I had to duck as we went under several of them. The first few miles are through some of the worst industrial dereliction I know of (left). Hanley park offers a bit of relief but it is short lived. It looks like there is some regeneration underway, some of the factory sites have been cleared leaving great areas of brick rubble. There were a couple of disreputable types hanging around the Planet lock but they did no worse than exchange garbled pleasantries and shut the top gate for us.. Never the less I was relieved when we waved farewell and headed off.

Ivy House lift BridgeThe landscape improved after the Ivy House lift bridge (right) and we passed out into the suburbs. One couldn't relax on the helm as there were a lot of tight corners, it was on one of these we met the hire boat Gandalf coming the other way. They were going too fast and the helmsman lost control and ended up on our side of the cut. Fortunately I had already slowed to a crawl and with lots of reverse managed to reduce the impact to a tap but I totally ruined the afternoon for a fisherman on the bend. He was very nice about it and accepted my apology with good grace. The folks on Gandalf pretended we didn't exist.
After that I approached the notorious bend by the Foxley pub with great care and got round without problems, it was just as well I took it slow as a hotel boat pair were moored just beyond the corner. We overshot the best (only) mooring in Milton by bridge 18 and backed up to reach it. Then it was all hands on deck to pipe Captain Beeky aboard for his tour of inspection. He moored his gig "Unpassatable" along side and came aboard. Maximus passed inspection despite the lack of rivets, or ripples in the cabin side. The modern engine was discretely passed over. We were delighted to receive the Beeky seal of approval in the form of a dozen tins of Banks bitter. Christine produced baked chicken & potatoes which vanished rapidly, while we talked boats and the joys of having a boat built.

Wednesday 12th June
Milton to Leek and back to Hazelhurst Junction. 9 miles, 6 locks, 5 hrs

By now we were into the routine of an early start as we didn't want to follow the hotel pair up the Stockton Brook flight, so we set off for the pretty bit at 8 am. We caught a very slow boat in the lock flight and Chris and Jeremy ended up working both boats through. We made a brief pause at the very posh and well patronised facilities at Park Lane. Where the folks on Nb "Flirty Gertie" gave us some good advice on where to moor on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest and tips on breadmaking. After that it was a short hop to Hazelhurst junction, past that bit of swing bridge carelessly left in the canal. We turned right for Leek and had some excellent views of the Froghall branch as it fell down the flight of locks to pass under us. The aqueduct where the two canals cross has a really tight turn with a narrow over-bridge at one end. And just to add interest someone moors their boat right on the corner. From that point on we seemed to be exploring the outer reaches of the system as the canal wound its way to Leek.

Leek TunnelWhen we entered the Leek tunnel (left)we discovered that the boat's tunnel light wasn't working - we were relieved to find that out now rather than as we entered Harecastle! The canal just peters out at the end, but there was a winding hole with the statutory hire boat moored in it. I got round in the reduced space OK but the folks on the hire boat seemed bemused that I was less than delighted by their choice of mooring, despite the fact that they must have done the same manoeuvre themselves.

The moorings are a pleasant enough spot but the town certainly doesn't go out of it's way to attract visitors from the canal. One is faced with a mile walk uphill on rough overgrown paths through the scrapyard, concrete factory, cattle market and an evil smelling chemical works before emerging on a busy road with an intermittent pavement. What few signs there were had been moved to send you in the wrong direction. Why don't they just dig a moat, put up wall and pour boiling oil on all who approach from the canal ? Once we staggered into town it was market day but there was little else of interest except the "Home and Colonial Stores Ltd". I thought they had died out years ago. They were advertising reversible toilet paper!! Inside it was a maze of rooms leading off one another more like a second hand book shop than a grocers. After getting a few essentials including a new bulb for the tunnel light we made our weary way back to the canal, shook the dust from our shoes and reboarded the boat. By now the moorings were deserted so I guess every one else felt the same about the town. We headed back to Hazelhurst and moored near the Hollybush Inn where we had an excellent meal while listening to vintage Genesis.

Thursday 13th June
Hazelhurst to Redbull 13 miles, 9 locks, 7 1/4 hrs

harecastle southAfter our usual 8 am start we headed back to Stoke with a brief shopping stop at Milton. As we were leaving the Caldon saw an oncoming boat with a large conifer garden on the roof and thought life was going to get interesting for them. The plan had been to moor at Harecastle and go through the tunnel the next day but we reckoned we should just make the last convoy. Once we were back on the main line the wide but unlovely section though the ex Shelton steelworks was passed pretty rapidly, but not rapidly enough for the guy following us about two boatlengths from our counter. He was worried about making the tunnel in time but we got there at 3:45 and only had to wait about 20 minutes or so before we set off into the dark - just as it started to rain (right). Jeremy took the helm and took us right through without a touch. Our secondary back up tunnel light failed after a few yards so I was relieved the main one had been fixed. We had the main one plus one of those half a million candle power BIG yellow torches. It was raining quite heavily when we emerged so we decided to moor as soon as we could after turning onto the Macclesfield canal. We found an excellent spot right on the viaduct crossing the T&M. After dinner the rain stopped and we ventured out to take some pictures of the twinned locks on the main line as it passed underneath.

Friday 14th June
Redbull to Macclesfield 15 miles, 13 locks, 7 1/2 hrs

We had a lie-in and didn't depart till 8:15, we made a short stop at Sherborne Wharf, had a look round the Chandlery and noted they were charging 30p/litre for diesel. We arrived at Bosley bottom lock at 12:40 and stopped for lunch. When we started up the flight, we discovered that the top gates are in two halves but there are no planks on the gates to cross the lock on. It was a windy day (again) so the gates kept blowing open or shut at the most inconvenient times. The flight took us one and a half hours. At the top we made a brief pause to take on water, have a cup of tea and let the ground crew get their breath back. While we were there a couple with a Sea Otter boat did a very neat 180 degree turn before going back down the flight rather gingerly. As the afternoon wore on the weather began to look quite threatening and the wind was now very strong and gusty. We at the Royal Oak swing bridge ( br 49) during rush hour and got sworn at for daring to hold up the traffic. We could see a storm coming our way over the hills as we approached Br 45 so we pulled in for dinner and waited out the rain. It's a bit exposed there and the wind and rain pounded on the cabin's sides. We were also the only boat there and we were beside a rather disreputable looking industrial estate. Later on the wind died and it dried up for a very pleasant evening so we decided to go the extra 1/2 mile or so and found a much nicer mooring just south if Br 43.

Saturday 15th June
Macclesfield to Marple Junction 10 1/2 miles, 0 locks, 3 1/2 hours

We had a late start as we were meeting Tim & Kate at the Macclesfield Canal Centre just a mile or so away and they would be arriving late morning. The folks there kindly allowed Tim to park his car in exchange for a bottle of wine, fair deal I thought. We bought some bits in the chandlery and the lady there showed Christine some splicing techniques. After getting Tim & Kate aboard we moved over to the public mooring by bridge 37. Whilst this was OK for a daytime stop I wouldn't want it for overnight as its right by a pub garden and busy road.

Anderton boat liftTim took Jeremy and I in his car to take a look at the newly restored Anderton boat lift (left). It's quite an impressive structure from river level and there is a grand view of a chemical works from the top. Finding it by road is a challenge as it's only signposted for the last few yards. Tim had been there before which helped. We had timed our trip to coincide with one of England's world cup matches and the roads were deserted (so there is some point in football after all). British Waterways have put on a display in a marquee showing how the restoration was done. It was certainly a big project. There were quite a few boats about but we didn't see any in transit on the lift, we got there just as the trip boat was leaving. We hope to visit by water some day and take the trip down to the river Weaver.

We were soon back at the boat and heading north for Marple Junction where we would spend the night. The picture shows the top lock looking towards Whaley bridge. The Macclesfield canal enters from the right under the bridge through what looks like the remains of a stop or gauging lock.. The moorings were pretty full and we had to go quite a way along the Peak Forest canal before we found a spot. Despite it being a recognised visitor mooring we couldn't get the boat to the bank because of underwater obstructions. We set off for the Ring O' Bells pub only to find it packed and to be told there was no chance of a meal. We had a drink in the garden to consider our options but as we were leaving we were offered a table. The meal was fine but it was very late by the time we got out of there.

(Because of the photos and the length of this trip report, we've put the second week on the next page)