Monday 19 September
Oh the delight of a dead rabbit! Apologies to those humans who keep rabbits as pets but…I came across one today; rolling, rubbing and relishing the scent of it on my back bought back all of my natural instincts. Leigh soon snapped me out of my delight by shouting, ‘Get up Martha – now!’.
In case you think I must have been running over some remote field may be surprised to hear that I was actually on-lead and on the lawn of the factory of Josiah Wedgewood, on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent. Yelp!
Josiah Wedgewood is to Stoke what the Cadbury brothers are to Birmingham – well Bournville to be precise; a huge employer back in the day. The factory site is still well manicured, now housing a shop and museum within its stunning grounds. Wedgwood is wedged-in (excuse the pun) between the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey canal. Cadbury’s site is also canal side. This would have been a key factor in the planning of situating these large businesses; transporting raw materials to these factories would have been via the amazing canal network, so Leigh tells me!
We didn’t stop off in Stoke but the evidence of its past industry makes for interesting cruising as you glide past huge bottle kilns and falling-down warehouses and a good amount of locks.
Some of the lock gates really test Leigh’s strength. Instead of just winding up the paddles fairly easily, she has to use her whole body weight as she carefully forces the winders round. One gate in particular she described to me as, ‘A beast of a gate that almost beat me in our wrestling competition’.
We then passed Middleport, Longport and Westport – we moored overnight at Westport Lake where Leigh’s sister, Pamela, met us for dinner. Rosie and I took Pamela and Leigh for a walk around the lake. With the sun shining on the water it really is a beautiful sight. There is a maze, a smaller lake, a coffee shop and an information centre here and it reminded us of Arrow Valley lake back in Redditch!
The three humans ate out at a restaurant in the nearby marina – they said it served good food, good service and very inexpensive prices – so if you are in the vicinity of Stoke on Trent do consider eating at the Toby Inn! Grab a table near a window, so that you can see the boats moored up, and think of me. Yelp!
It’s sad in a way to think of all the great potteries that thrived here just a hundred or so years ago. Most of them gone now to make way for cheaper, imported table-ware. We really should have stopped off to visit the Etruria Industrial Museum which is a Victorian, steam-powered, potter’s miller’s works, which would have ground bone, flint and stone for the industry. Next time we come this way we’ll make sure we pop in there.
For those of you who remember Men Behaving Badly (a sit-com on TV years ago) we passed the pub part owned by Neil Morrisey. Now he is an interesting guy. Neil did a programme about his childhood and teenage years, growing up in care. He is from this region of the U.K. It’s nice to see that he still has links with the area.
On Wednesday we set off for Harecastle tunnel – one of the longest tunnels in the network this is exceptionally low and narrow. We were all a little concerned that the top box (welded on) and the cratch would have to be somehow dismantled to allow us through. As we approached the tunnel we saw a bitofanunusual sight…
Once at the mouth of the tunnel the tunnel-keeper measured the NB and assured us we would be fine. Tom discussed the cratch with him and he instilled us with (99%) confidence that we would get through OK as long as Tom kept us a fairly fast speed so that the water wouldn’t pull the NB to one side.
I don’t often praise Tom but he did a sterling job, Leigh prepared lunch during the two=thousand-nine-hundred and twenty-six yard journey; she didn’t want to sit outside as the tunnel is supposedly haunted! I won’t bore you with all the detail of the tunnels (there are three) which run though Harecastle Hill, yet you need to know that when the first was built by James Brindley – in seventeen-seventy-seven – it represented engineering on a scale unknown to the world; makes me proud to be British. You do know that Parson Russels were bred by a Brit – Parson Jack Russel – don’t you? I am British through and through.
The water in the canal around the tunnel is really red. This is down to the mining and the iron pouring down into the canal.
I have seen the prettiest cottages, amazing lush green fields, perfectly shaped trees; souglythattheyaresomehowbeautiful industrial derelict buildings and allsorts so far on this adventure. However, I saw a sight that saddened me on Wednesday. These poor animals on a piece of farmland in Betchton near Sandbach. I think the owner should be ashamed of himself. No animal would choose to have their lower legs stuck in soggy mud all day. Words can’t describe how this made Leigh and me feel.
As we travelled along a stretch of canal today (Thursday) Leigh worked about ten locks, which meant we cruised at a very leisurely pace. Whilst working the locks (her) and keeping the NB under control in the lock (him) my humans chatted to some Canal and River Trust Workers as they went about their work. Nice job I reckon – working in such a beautiful atmosphere.
Leigh also taught a guy (a gongoozler) how to work the locks. He had been watching her and admitted he had no idea how they worked. She took advantage and coached him as he worked the lock; she calls this a win-win. She had a rest and he learnt about locks, gates, paddles and the importance of closing paddles in a controlled manner. I did tell her she is getting a little boring as she keeps telling me how she is, ‘Learning more and more about the intricacies of lock-keeping’. Yelp!
Talking of locks, we have been through the deepest lock on the British canal network. It’s quite scary as you look into these deep prisons and realise the depth and the sheer amount of water needed to fill them.
We have also come through lots of paired locks – which are super interesting.
I bet these were a sightforsoreeyes when busy boaters worked the canals – they must have relieved potential bottle necks. Sort of like dual-carriageways must have been an exciting invention for road travellers…
Whilst whiling away some time, relaxing in the NB I observed this sign, which I felt was pretty clever – stylistically speaking. Note: I’ve been reading some of Leigh’s new O.U. course-books…
Nearing today’s destination we saw a lock which is being re-built. There’s quite a lot of maintenance along the stretch of canal we have travelled today. At least we can see what our licence fee is being spent on.
After Leigh’s business meeting this afternoon – which took place in the NB to Caroline’s delight – (Caroline Checkett is a delight in herself actually) my humans went out for a snazzy dinner in the Italian/European restaurant on the side of the canal in Wheelock. It is, at most, three minutes walk from our mooring. Bar Chetta served up the most flavoursome pasta (her) and calzone (him), followed by mouth-watering desserts. Tom said he wished the restaurant was local to our home town – but then retracted that statement; if it were local it would be too tempting to visit regularly and wouldn’t be any good for their waistlines at all!
To finish my day, or to start my day as it is now around three in the morning, I am sat here, paws and claws flying over the keyboard, listening to an owl. Life on the canal is simply, simplicity in all it’s glory!
Woofs, Martha x