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 Ring.

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 further use.

From the Trent and Mersey, looking to the Red Bull Aqueduct carrying the Macclesfield Canal.

Merry and Helen ponder something as we continue the descent of the Cheshire locks.

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 Reservoir.

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.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson