Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Up the Creek at Leek and Others

At Etruria Junction, on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Stoke-on-Trent, a small waterway leads off towards the east in a sharp winding manner, past the handsome statue of James Brindley on a tall pedestal to the left and, looking very forlorn on the right, the recently closed Pottery Museum. Almost immediately afterwards around a very sharp right hand turn, a steep and impressive staircase lock bars the way. This is the vigorous entrance to the Caldon Canal.

At the top of the lock, the surrounding vista of industrial buildings that flourished emphatically all through the Industrial Revolution until very recently, now reek only of silence and dereliction. Their glass-less windows gaze like open eye sockets to the passing boater seeking in vain his sympathy for their unloved condition of partial or complete demolition, surrounded by heavily graffiti-ed hoarding. Unfortunately it gives one only a sad feeling of depression, which coupled with the physical exertion recently required to get the ship up through the staircase lock, makes one wonder whether the effort of coming onto the canal was really worth it.

However within a just few miles one is rewarded as the waterway meanders past Milton into wonderful breath-taking Staffordshire countryside. It becomes narrower and shallower as the reeds, blackberry briars and the voluptuous looking but nonetheless insidious Himalayan Balsam encroach onto the waterway. The latter though its fragrance is as exotic as its orchid-like blossom, has over the years vigorously covered the banks of the canals much to the detriment of the indigenous flora.

But this notwithstanding, at this time of the year it all looks lovely.

‘Futurest’ and ‘Roots and Wings’, still in close convoy arrived at Etruria Junction during the morning of Tuesday 21st August under an overcast sky and a gentle south westerly breeze that carried the occasional spot of rain on its breath.

After four miles we were at Milton where because of encroaching thick black cloud, decided to tie up for the night in mid afternoon.

We were just in time. As we battened down, we were greeted by a reverberating clap of thunder, after which for over an hour we were battered by a violent and picturesque storm.

Two days later we arrived at Hazelford Junction and branched off to the right to enter the Leek Branch, passing very soon over the other arm that winds its lazy way down to Froghall. We were deep in the Staffordshire countryside now and revelled in its pastoral envelopment. The waterway was embraced by steep green meadows with contentedly grazing cattle between brown dry stone walling and lush copses of overhanging Oak and Ash.

Moving gently along through the muddied waters around steep bends and low rustic bridges, we finally arrived at Leek having passed through the narrow Leek Tunnel. Beyond the last bridge, where we turned around, the visitor moorings were very full. But thankfully there were two lengths of fifty seven feet available for us to reverse and move into.

At the end of the very pleasing day Janis and I walked up to the nearby Morrison's for provisions where I bought her a cup of tea at the café inside the shop to celebrate our arrival.

Yes I know; I can be very generous when I want to be.

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