Old Friends. 26th September

Brook House Winding Hole to Hall Green Footbridge 93, Macclesfield Canal

With Harecastle Tunnel booked for this afternoon we didn’t want to be sat in queues at the locks into Stoke today, the alarm was set and we pushed off with our first cuppas in hand at 7:30am. Slowly and quietly past the other moored boats, a little glimpse of Barlaston Hall, we can still dream, and on past Wedgewood.

Trentham Lock

Trentham Lock was almost in our favour, we helped set it for the first boat soon to come towards us. Then we were on the long pound heading in towards Stoke.


I headed below to prepare breakfast, it being Sunday and an early start we deserved bacon butties, with a few mushrooms and ketchup.

The hot dog on legs and Shooting Range are still there. The wood clad boat now has weeds, maybe intentional, growing in it’s gutters (wonder if we’ve had a quote for the gutters in Scarborough yet?) and Shufflebottoms has had the bank side seriously cut back. Owls and Halloween graffiti have been added to the walls along with a lot of scrawl.

Stoke Bottom Lock

Stoke Bottom Lock soon came into view. This huge concrete structure kind of fits it’s surroundings of the A500 Queensway and the house alongside it, today only five vehicles parked in the drive and on the road. This lock and the next four are currently being locked up overnight as vandals have been emptying pounds. We arrived at 9:30 so this wasn’t a problem for us.

No train for us whilst in the lock today

A train sped past over Cockshute’s Lock just before we arrived. Boaters hope to get a photo of their boat in the lock as a train passes, I wonder if train drivers keep a tally of how many narrowboats they get to see here?

A couple of fishermen were set up on the towpath in the next pound, I got my first ‘Ay up Duck’ as I walked ahead to the next lock. Here the lock was half full, or half empty and the first downhill boat was approaching. I was there first so lifted the paddles to empty it. If I’d known that it was a single hander I’d most probably have filled it and helped lock them down. The lady was very chatty and said she was being followed by several boats, the first one being a hire boat that she’d had to go back and help as they were doing their best to adjust water levels with all four paddles open on the top lock.

Waiting to use the next locks

Johnson’s Lock is just round a bend, so the line of sight from it isn’t good, the gates were just opening as I came into view, chance to holler up to leave the gates for us. Above the next boat sat waiting in the short pound, another single hander who’d come to help the hirers whilst he waited. All downhill boats today were heading back to moorings, their summer cruises coming to an end.

Up at the top

We rose as another boat descended Stoke Top Lock, then some do-ci-doing happened to move the three boats round each other and we were on our way up to the summit of the Trent and Mersey. As another boat was waiting to come down we didn’t get a chance to drop off rubbish at Etruria Junction bins and we didn’t fancy turning or backing down to them, so it could wait for the next ones.

New Bridge

The huge wasteland that has laid dormant for as long as we can remember is starting to show signs of redevelopment a new bridge crosses the canal to link it to east.

A group huddled around a large sign where the canal used to have an arm. Burslem Branch Canal used to head off here to the north, a trust was set up in 2011 with an aim of restoring and regenerating the branch.

A new footpath has been opened this year connecting the old port to Middleport and an artwork showing what the area was most probably like just before the branch breached in 1961 which saw it’s closure. So many bottle kilns.

Along the towpath is a long mural, the painters fuelled with oatcakes. It makes for a far jollier scene than the fence used to be.

Middleport Pottery stands bold and proud, showing buildings in the area just what they could become. We still haven’t visited, so it has been added to the ‘next time’ list. Stoke Boats had plenty of boats out on the hard, one looking like it needs quite a bit of tlc, another being jet washed to within an inch of it’s life.

Such a small flag!

Under Bridge 127A. Up ahead we could see a small flag fluttering on the stern of a boat, far smaller than we’d expected from a member of the Flag Bubble! There sat Barry by NB AreandAre and Sandra reading an information board. We’d known they’d be here and shouted out ‘Veg Box delivery!’ Last year in Lockdown 1 they were moored close to us at the bottom of Hurleston Locks, we became a little community on our ‘home’ moorings.

Barry’s waterways cards

We pulled up in the next space, thankfully plenty available at this time of day. Chance for a catch up with them and get to meet one of their grandsons. Barry had his greeting cards on display for sale, so we bought a few and had a go at the raffle, winning another card. It was very good to see them again after their elongated trip to New Zealand last year.

Mick selecting raffle tickets

We’d arrived in plenty of time for our next rendez vous. The well deck contents were stowed in the shower, strawberry plants popped on the roof. Gosh there’s a lot of space in there! Just before 2pm we walked back to say our farewells to NB AreandAre and to await our visitors, Bill and Lisa.

Lisa, Bill and Mick

Lisa used to be a Stage Manager in Scarborough and Bill is an actor who has lived in our house much of this summer. They have recently moved to Stoke so it was an opportunity to meet up not to be missed.

Tunnel bound

We pushed off and headed onwards towards Harecastle Tunnel. At the moment you can just turn up in the morning and join the queue to go through, or you can book passage in the afternoon. We were joined by a hire boat and another behind, neither had booked but were added to our passage. We were given the safety briefing, nothing new from our last trip through, horn and light tested.

Harecastle Tunnel

Life jackets were handed out and because Mick would be at the stern by himself we equipped ourselves with walkie talkies. A few years ago a tragic accident happened in the tunnel when the chap at the helm bumped his head on one of the tunnel profile changes and fell in. His wife was below and didn’t notice anything until the boat started to bump the sides. So it’s best to keep talking to each other to make sure you are there. We acknowledge each other, even when stood close at the stern, every 100m (this is also a bit of a joke between us pointing out the direction of the closest exit).

It’s quite well lit at the front

Bill, Lisa and I sat in the well deck and chatted our way through the tunnel, catching up on all sorts. After the third boat entered the tunnel the doors at the southern end were closed, the fans cranked up and the flow of cold air could be felt coming past us. Harecastle has no ventilation shafts so the air is moved using the fans.

Sitting the bow is a whole different experience from being at the stern. Having your head around about 4ft lower in the tunnel and not looking over the cabin top makes it seem cavernous. I was waiting for it to get really tight, it got a touch smaller, but never tight at the pointy end of Oleanna. Water Explorer has our passage through the tunnel at 45 minutes, not bad as we were following the hire boat, the chap at the helm not having done so for thirty years.

Popping out the northern portal we slowed whilst the hire boat worked out which way they were going. They wanted to go right, the lady kept pointing that way, but to do that you have to go left first. They turned and we followed only to come face to face with a boat wanting to exit the junction. Mick made sure he informed NB Bethany May who were following us from the tunnel as we apologised to the on coming boat.

Past the moored boats

The canal turned over the top of the Trent and Mersey and we managed to find space on the aqueduct for a cuppa. It had been lovely having Bill and Lisa with us for the trip, hopefully we’ll get to see them next time we come through the area.

They were given directions back to Kidsgrove Station via the Trent and Mersey canal. Our trip from Westport Lake had taken an hour and three quarters, journey back would take 15 minutes by rail replacement bus, plus the walk.

We decided to move on a touch further and get onto the Macclesfield Canal properly. On the next stretch of moorings there were a couple of familiar boats from Lockdown 1 and ‘Home’. The Pooh Boat with it’s toys in the windows and ducks on the roof, wonder if their dog still barks as they come in to moor each time? Then a touch further on was NB Plum, Solar Afloat who was one of the Flag Bubble with Barry and Sandra. Next door was The Toastie Boat who turned up to Hurleston at the end of our time there.

Onwards to Hall Green Lock, the stop lock between the Trent and Mersey and Macclesfield canals, all 1ft 3″ of it. We pulled in just past the water point and quickly got our Sunday dinner in the oven, roast chicken, Yum!

Onto the Macc proper now

7 locks, 12.67 miles, 2 canals, 1.5 miles of tunnel, 1 straight, 1 left, 2 go right, 3 lockdown boats, 12 years, 4 cards, 2 SJT friends, 0 shore leave! 1 roast chicken, 1 long day, 1 lovely day.


3 thoughts on “Old Friends. 26th September

  1. Sandra Walsh

    It was a wonderful surprise when you pulled alongside! Great to catch up, albeit briefly. Safe journeys to your winter mooring and hope to see you next year 🤗

  2. boatwif

    So nb Blanche is back at the farm near the Dane Aqueduct! Thanks for the info.

    Hope you enjoy your trip up “our” canal. If we were still on this week’s Plan A we might have spotted you from our mooring just past Bridge 15, but plans change!

    Best of luck with your onward cruising and with the Panto.

    Sue /Boatwif / nb Cleddau

    1. Pip Post author

      Thank you Sue. We shall wave to NB Cleddau as we pass, even though you are not on board.
      NB Blanche has passed us since, heading for Bosley before anyone else, not been seen since.

Comments are closed.