Summer 2011 was wet and I picked it to show off the canal system to Canadian family. It was the first real canal boat holiday I’d arranged myself and, despite the weather, confirmed I had a serious case of the narrowboat bug. Today the weather played ball, a blessing as the whole crew would be busy outside working locks!
Day 3: Wheelock, Cheshire to Kidsgrove, Staffordshire (Trent and Mersey Canal)
Aldo and I were now in a routine of rising early: I’d perform the daily pre-start checks, while Aldo made espresso and cooked breakfast, having mastered the vagaries of the gas stove by the second day.
There are a few things to keep an eye on when holidaying-afloat, especially before setting off each day: check the weed hatch, the compartment allowing access to the propeller (so you could remove any tangled foliage, plastic carrier bags, ex-copper’s narks and other canal-borne detritus that otherwise impedes its operation), top-up the radiator and prime the stern gland greaser to keep water out of the bilge.
Head-chef Aldo produced what could only be described as a culinary masterpiece, toast with embedded fried egg. We were having a hard time with the grill (broiler) and with no toaster on board, Aldo was toasting bread by fork over a gas ring. By tearing the centre out of a slice of bread, it was toasted in a frying pan with an egg cracked in the middle, over easy once the slice was flipped to complete toasting – genius, and the perfect egg-on(in)-toast!
There are some limitations to the kitchen experience in a narrowboat’s galley. Roasts can take a while, for example, and I’d be reluctant to risk a soufflé, but I pride myself in my Kodran Christmas puddings 2 years ago!
Fully fuelled, we were on our way before the ladies emerged to assume their duties which amounted to lunch or dinner preparations, depending on the timing of passing pubs, interspersed with hot and cold beverage service, mixed with a liberal sprinkling of land-based assignments when encountering locks, from which they earned the monikers Sue the Rope and Enza the Windlass.
Onwards and up the locks
We filled with water again having all showered the night before and emptied the water tank. We headed down the Trent and Mersey to face the Wheelock Flight of 8 locks, the first of what was to be a 26 lock day!
Many of these locks are doubled-up – not double-width as some locks further south on the Grand Union – a testament to the amount of floating traffic that once plied this vital route. These pairs of locks take the canal from the lowland of the Cheshire Plain to the edge of the Peak District, a rise of some 250 feet. This many single locks would have slowed traffic considerably.
The T&M connects two great north-central English rivers: the Trent, with it’s mouth on Humberside and the possibly more-famous Mersey to Liverpool. It navigates through the mostly rural counties of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire and makes for lovely cruising. Construction of the canal was funded in part by Josiah Wedgwood to move his wares from the Potteries, where we are heading, to the port of Liverpool for export.
But before that, a trip to Tesco in Kidsgrove – a short walk from tonight’s mooring – for a grocery top-up and a relaxing evening meal in the Red Bull amid thoughts of trepidation as we face Harecastle tunnel first thing in the morning.
This was a busy but satisfying day, the trip takes 7 1/2 hours with 26 locks which could have been less fun had the weather not improved over previous days. We took 9 hours including a pub lunch at the Broughton Arms, Rode Heath. There’s water points at the beginning, Wheelock Wharf, and end, Red Bull Visitor moorings.