Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Shelagh, Sunburn & Stoke

Shelagh here! .....After only one day in the great outdoors I'm as pink as a lobster. I've even had to resort to wearing a hat - (I don't do hats).

I'm not quite sure what will end up in my sections of the but I did a lot of reading up on our destinations(s) as I always do before any trip & found a lot of useful info on other narrowboaters' blogs that wasn't in the 'official' guides, like, "when is it safe to boat through Stoke?"!

Although we've had the Robber Button since Sept, this is the first longer trip we've done & it has been wonderful to move into unchartered territory. The furthest north we had previously made it up the Trent & Mersey canal was just past Weston. Stone was absolutely charming (the restaurant was called 'La Dolce Vita' by the way ) and travelling through the locks in the centre of Stone & then Meaford (pronounced 'Method' apparently) was an absolute delight in the glorious sunshine. We encountered a couple of very helpful British Waterways guys who were repainting Trentham lock. In fact there were lots of pleasant conversations at locks, finding out where folks had come from & were heading to. I took the opportunity on each occasion to ask where to moor in Stoke having read a few scare stories in guidebooks & on the net. Everyone advised stopping anywhere on the Caldon in Stoke, and advised it was best to either moor up at Etruria by the old Festival Park site, or better still, just don't stop at all! However, as we'd set off much later than planned yesterday I couldn't see how we could get all the way through Stoke & out the other side as we would need to be travelling the reported 'dodgy' area in the late afternoon/early evening which we'd been told to avoid at all costs. More on that later!

Coming into Stoke is fascinating - there is a sudden change from rural bliss to industrial cityscape with factories, 'A' roads & train lines literally next to, or over, the canal. Having worked in Stoke at one time, Davie was intrigued to see it from such a different perpective. It was late afternoon by this time & there were lots of ordinary folks walking or cycling the towpath & it didn't feel scary at all as we went through the flight of 5 locks, the last of which (Summit lock as it is one of the highest in the country) was absolutely huge. Rather than turning into the Caldon Canal just there we continued straight ahead for 5 mins to moor at Festival Park as recommended. I didn't feel unsafe there, unlike Davie, but it did seem such a shame to moor up on about the least interesting stretch of canal we have encountered with a busy traffic bridge & Toby Carvery for a view! The advantage of being out around Midsummers day is the number of daylight hours & being only late afternoon, we still had a number of potential cruising hours left. So we made the decision to press ahead & do what everyone had said to avoid.... and I'm so glad we did!

Our first challenge was our first ever staircase locks. Fortunately British Waterways had put up idiot proof step-by-step on the lock-side. We were taking it in turns to work the locks & the paddles were so stiff I could hardly move them - I shall have huge muscles by the end of this holiday! After a stretch of 'Coronation Street' style housing we went through Hanley Park - beautiful but a couple of anxious moments as the canal is very narrow with the tow path so close to the boat, groups of lads we passed could have stepped onto the boat very easily if they wanted to. There were lots of people around & it was a beautiful stretch with overhanging trees & beautiful old victorian iron bridges. The scenery then changed to a more industrial style with old bottle kilns & derelict factories -but rather than being ugly as we had been led to believe, we felt there was so much character & we gave a few moments thought to the hundreds of boatmen travelling this route who would have seen much the same views in previous centuries. We saw signs saying Stoke Council & British Waterways are undertaking a regeneration project in the area & this was very much in evidence with a stretch of beautifully paved towpath with new moorings & other restoration work. The Ivy House lift bridge was the next challenge. Despite numerous searches on the interweb I had not been able to find out how it worked. Davie eventually figured it out but won't tell me! He says it's similar to a Krypton Factor challenge & it looks like I'll have to do it on the way back - I don't mind except that you have to stop the traffic to let the bridge come up; I really don't want to have queues of impatient motorists watching me trying to solve the puzzle!
As we exited the suburbs. pleased we had not encountered groups of towpath yobs, a rain of stones clattered into the roof of the boat & fortunately not on our heads. This happened twice more at bridges further on. At one point the perpetrators peeped over the wall of the bridge so we could see their faces - I would guess at their ages being 10 or 11. I was just thankful it was small stones & not bricks!
A sudden downpour happened just as we were passing a pub that offered an overnight mooring - how convenient! We moored up & headed for a pint after a fascinating first full day.

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