Water, water everywhere

Crew: Pat & Bill Baker, Chris & Terry Rigden, Phil & Katrin Dooley
Boat: Maximus
Route: Gailey to Stoke-on-Trent

This was Pat & Bill's first cruise on Maximus, we went along to familiarise them with the boat and help with the locks.

Saturday 12th May, Gailey - Hatherton - Gailey

Pat and Bill were flying in from the USA so we travelled up the day before their arrival to deliver supplies and get the boat ready for them. After loading everything on the boat we decided it was too good an evening to waste so (as the boat was facing the wrong way) we went down to Hatherton to turn it.

What a contrast to last time we past this way - it's amazing what an extra 20 degrees C can do for comfort and enjoyment. On the way back I was dazzled by the setting sun reflecting off the water as I approached a bridge. I couldn't see a thing, but a fisherman who was sat at the bend saw my predicament. He got up, looked through the bridge and let me know it was all clear. I thanked him for his courtesy and we exchanged pleasantries as we passed.

The "Good Days Boating" score was further enhanced by a pint of beer and a bacon and tomato butty in cheese bread delivered by Christine. This was one of those magical times on a boat that makes the cold and rain fade into insignificance.

Sunday 13th May, Gailey - Penkridge

Gailey lockWe woke to bright sunshine and the sound of the local blackbird mimicking our mobile phone. We weren't expecting Pat and Bill till later so we pottered about doing odd jobs on the boat. We took a look round the lock shop, a nice little place selling canalia and ice-cream. While we waited, Steve Wood came by on Bream and we enjoyed a good chat while the boat parked itself. I guess being an old working boat it knows what to do. It was the day for meeting the Woods as not long afterwards Barry Woods went past on the Duke of Rutland.

Our weary travellers finally made it about 4:30, and after a brief look round the boat they declared themselves ready for departure so we set off northward. As we dropped down the lock, Dave from JD Boatservices asked us to sign a form declaring that we had read and understood the Foot and Mouth disease precautions. That done, we were on our way. Bill's many years of sailing experience was immediately apparent and he was soon entering locks like a pro. Meanwhile Chris & I worked the locks and Pat put the finishing touches to the domestic arrangements.

After we had been underway about half an hour we could see ominous clouds behind us, and it soon became apparent we were in for rain. Thinking it was just going to be a short sharp thunder storm we pulled in for dinner. We enjoyed one of Christine's excellent beef stews while the thunder rolled, lightning flashed and the rain came down like stair rods.

After dinner we realised this weather wasn't going to clear, but we didn't want to spend the night where we were as it was right up close to the M6. When the rain eased off somewhat, we made a run for it. The light was fading fast as we finally got away from the M6 and headed into Penkridge. There weren't many good mooring spots this far out, but given the gloom we took what we could. We were right under a tree and learnt that in heavy rain the noise gets amplified, as the drops coming off the leaves are bigger.

Monday 14th May Penkridge - Weston

We were woken by the sound of rain several times in the night, and again at a more civilised hour. Given the weather, we were in no hurry to get away. As we seemed to be in for a wet day, I started to give serious consideration to a tonneau cover for the rear cockpit. I made a temporary one from a bin liner held in place by magnets. Crude, but effective - it certainly keeps one's legs dry. We got away about 9:30 in a lull in the precipitation, and soon made our way down hill with Chris & I doing the locks while Bill steered. We made a brief stop at the Teddersley boat company to enquire about diesel and pumpout charges for the fuel price survey. The morning stayed dry.

We stopped at Great Haywood for water, coal, and to pick up more diesel and pumpout prices. We had brought a flat hose to try out as it stores so much more neatly but it does need careful handling to put away so we may not persevere with it.

We made good progress up the Trent & Mersey as the weather started to close in again. By the time we got to Weston at teatiime, it was raining hard and getting quite cold. We later discovered that it was the coldest May day on record at only 7C.

We found a mooring quite close to bridge 80. In view of the weather our plans to show folks our first home were shelved and we made a dash for the Scarcens Head which is right by the canal. A friendly place, but that night they were having a staffing crisis, and one of the regulars was behind the bar. I introduced Bill to his first "cultural experience" of the trip, with a pint of M&B mild (I don't think he's a fan). Then it was back to the boat for an early night after a cold and damp day.

Tuesday 15th May Weston - Barlaston

Weston hall & floodsWe woke to the sound of rain again, and there was no great rush to go out in the wet again. But it eased off to a light drizzle by about 9:30 so we set off. We noticed that the water level in the canal was about a foot above normal, and that the towpath north of bridge 80 was under water in places. We had some fine views across the valley to Weston hall our first home (then tatty student flats, now a posh restaurant).

As we proceeded north the precipitation gradually dried, but we could see extensive flooding which went all the way to Stone. In places the river level was quite a bit higher than the canal and large amounts of water were running over the towpath into the canal.

We got to Stone at lunchtime and as it was still dry, we moored just below the bottom lock and went to explore the town. Pat and Bill went to Safeway where they stocked up on goodies. Meanwhile we wandered round the market and bought some "cultural experiences" for our guests, Oatcakes and Eccles cakes which went down better that the Mild.

After lunch we set off up the Stone flight but soon caught a Canaltime boat making very slow progress despite (or maybe because of) a large crew. The lack of foredeck on those boats doesn't make it any easier.

Now that the weather had dried up and we were going to have plenty of time, Pat decided that she would learn lock operation. Mercifully the Canaltime lot turned round and head back the way they had come after just a few locks. After the Meaford flight the crew was pretty tired so we pulled over for the night just south of bridge 104 - close to the Wedgewood factory but too late for a tour.

Wednesday 16th May Barlaston - Etruria

I thought I had gone deaf when I woke up, I couldn't hear rain on the roof. But a train went by and I knew all was well. I decided to make a move while it was dry, and had the show on the road by 8:15 while the others got up in a more leisurely manner. We had a little trouble with a paddle that wouldn't close at Trentham lock but apart from that we had a good (if slightly dull) run into Stoke.

Bill at the helm with PatBill took over the tiller in time for Chris and I to work us through the Stoke locks. We arrived just at Etruria just before lunchtime to await the arrival of Chris's brother Phil and his fiancee Katrin. After doing a few boaty things, Chris & I went for a nostalgic wander round Hanley, but so much had changed in the 27 years since Chris lived there, we didn't recognise much. The guests arrived while we were out, and so could settle in before we added to the crowd.

That evening we went up to a nice looking Indian restaurant called "The Elms" at Snowhill, Shelton (01782 266360), just 10 minutes walk from the boat. It's best described as an Indian restaurant with class. There is plenty of room and they have a separate bar. The menu is more varied than usual and the food and service are first class. We enjoyed our meal immensely and highly recommend the place. We will return....

Thursday 17th Etruria - Stoke

This was our last day on the boat, as Pat & Bill were now proficient and they had new crew. Once again the weather was vile - cold and very wet. I turned the boat just below the Etruria staircase and we headed back down the Stoke flight. The rain eased off for a time as we progressed.

Phil and Katrin quickly learned lock operation and it didn't take long to get to Bridge 113, which is right by Stoke railway station. By the time we got there a full blown hailstorm was in progress. We waited till it was merely raining, and set off with our luggage for the station.

Once there we decided to take the easiest route, and got a cab to Gailey. From there, we went to the Spread Eagle for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised at the improvements made since our last visit in September. The place has been completely refurbished and it's now a competent (if formulaic) pub and restaurant.