Canal Holiday: Four Counties Ring
Stoke-on-Trent to Audlem
2 to 4 June 2007
Well, here we are again, our fourth annual bellringers' canal holiday (fifth if
you count the day trip) - and Stephen's 24th. This year we are doing the Four
Counties Ring, the four counties in question being Staffordshire, Cheshire,
Shropshire, and ... well, what? The traditional answer is "West Midlands", but
that no longer exists as a county, so one answer is that it should now be the
Five Counties Ring, the three large counties being joined by the City of
Stoke-on-Trent, and the City of Wolverhampton. As Wolverhampton used to be in
Staffordshire, a more historically accurate name would be the Three Counties
Whatever the county names, this is a good mix of canals, a route Lucy and
Stephen had done in 1998 as their first canal holiday.
After a good and inexpensive meal at the Toby carvery pub by the marina in
Stoke-on-Trent, we made a fairly quick getaway on our boat, which being the same
layout as last June's boat from Stoke Prior, was fairly familiar to us. Here we
pass one of the few remaining bottle kilns in the Potteries.
The reason for our desire to make a quick getaway from the boatyard (other than
the normal desire to get the holiday fully underway) was to reach Harecastle
Tunnel in good time. The tunnel is one-way alternate operation, and the official
instruction at this time of year is to arrive by 4pm to be guaranteed passage.
It was about 4.15pm when we arrived, but having passed several boats going the
other way in the last few minutes, there was a good chance that it was shortly
to be our turn. Several boats were moored a long way back from the tunnel, so we
pressed on in the assumption that they weren't planning to go through, and
waited behind those who were more obviously waiting, and soon the boats in our
direction began to make their way through the tunnel entrance. This building
houses the fans that seek to provide a through draft to provide clean air inside
the long tunnel. The white chains hanging down show how low the curved tunnel
roof, which has suffered some subsidence, goes in some places.
Soon after entering the tunnel, a view forward.
On emerging some 45 minutes later, a look back to the tunnel. On the right can
be seen the entrance to Brindley's tunnel, which is now disused having suffered
serious subsidence, and replaced by Telford's tunnel.
The start of the Macclesfield Canal (well, technically a branch of the Trent and
Mersey Canal which soon leads to the Macc). The route turns left, which is the
wrong way for Macclesfield, and then runs parallel to the Trent and Mersey while
the latter drops through a couple of locks, before the Macc turns to cross the
T&M on an aqueduct.
Lucy winds a paddle letting water out of the lock to allow Maria to
descend. The photograph is taken from a footbridge over the Macclesfield Canal,
itself passing over the Red Bull Aqueduct. Most of the locks on this part of the
Trent and Mersey were duplicated, that is, had a second lock built alongside to
speed traffic and save water. Many of them have been allowed to fall into
disrepair as a cost-saving measure, including here, there the lock on the right
is in the early stages of decay, but has had its paddles removed so will see no
From the Trent and Mersey, looking to the Red Bull Aqueduct carrying the
Merry and Helen ponder something as we continue the descent of the Cheshire
We near our mooring spot for Saturday night as we turn away from the West Coast
Main Line railway.
On Sunday, we continue the descent of the Cheshire locks, and here are about to
go under the M6.
Another pair of duplicated locks, that on the right of picture having been
cascaded and thus no longer available for use.
As we approach Middlewich, we pass the British Salt works, with a very large
pile of salt.
On Monday morning, we turn left onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire
Union Canal, home to many ducklings.
Jane enjoying the good weather.
We had problems right from the start with one of the toilets, and on Sunday
morning an engineer came out and investigated. The electronics were found to be
at fault, and a new toilet was brought to us from Wales on Monday morning. This
scene was the cause of much amusement from passing boaters as we waited for the
new toilet to be fitted. It worked wonderfully, but did show that no-one had
tested the old one before the boat was sent out.
A new boat shell waiting to be put in the water.
Helen and Helen as we continue along the Middlewich Branch
Looking back along the Middlewich Branch as we turn onto the mainline of the
Shropshire Union Canal.
Merry at the tiller with Mary watching the world.
Stephen looking cheerful
Alan and Sheila looking pensive.
Travelling along the Shropshire Union Canal under the banks of Hurlestone
Hurlestone Junction, looking up the four Hurlestone locks of the Llangollen
Canal, our current likely option for next year.
An interesting tree
Placid waters at Nantwich Junction, where the stub of the old Chester Canal goes
straight on to the right, and the old Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal
bears left. The B&LJ was among the last major canals to be built, and its
impressive cuttings, embankments and direct course show that it was built in a
different era from the Trent & Mersey and Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canals,
very much as an intercity canal.
Preparing to cross the aqueduct at Nantwich
Looking down on the road from the aqueduct
For much of the day, thick black smoke had been billowing into the sky. It was
from a fire at a chemical works in Crewe.
The view from our mooring spot at Audlem.