Richard's Retirement Blog

The Trent and Mersey Canal

May 2011 2011

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Through Stoke-on-Trent

These picstures may not be up to the usual standard, such as that is - it was grey, and at times wet, and they were taken with a mobile phone. Regular readers will guess why.

I know little of the history of this area, so there are more questions and guesses than facts in this account.

The bridge under the A5035 near Trentham: this is where I started. It's at the southern end of Stoke, and it was the nearest access point to where I am staying. I went north, through the town, to the junction with the Macclesfield Canal, which is that in which I am really interested.

Soon one comes to a rising flight of locks - double lower gates, single upper gates, quite long pounds between them.

Next to Twyford lock is a derelict, but interesting, building. Guess - maybe an engine house. No sign that it has, or ever had, any connection with the canal. I'm open to correction here ... ?

Etruria Industrial Museum - opportunity for another day.

Etruria was a name that intrigued me as a traveller by train in my teens - it seemed very odd, and I had no idea where it was!

The lock at Etruria is also very odd. You can see here that it's quite a deep one ...

...but unlike most, it isn't a hole in the ground, it's built along the hill, and this side of it is a wall, as you can see.

A roving bridge: unlike every other roving bridge I've ever seen, it is not constructed as part of a road bridge. It's also cast iron, so it's a surely not as old as the canal - yet the towpath must have crossed the canal here - you wouldn't change that later, would you? Intriguing.

The style of the steelwork under this modern road bridge is reminiscent of the early iron bridges in Shropshire - Ironbridge, Cound Arbour and Cantlop, for example. It's height ...

... and that of the quite different, slim, elegant railway bridge next to it, is impressive, because of the depth of the cutting the canal runs through at this point.

At Burslem, another interesting building. The round tower is obviously (part of) a smoke-stack; but what is, or was on top or, the very solid squarish thingy?

Newport Pottery (I think that's right); one of the new suburban works that sprang up along the canal to take advantage of the latest, most modern, most cost-effective, fastest (strange as that seems to us) transport system.

Shame about this building, once splendid, now derelict. Notice the watergate (bottom right): it's too small for a narrowboat; I wonder what went in and out of there?

Middleport Pottery is still in use: there were modern lights, on, behind some of the windows.

In the yard is a bottle kiln of a type once ubiquitous in the Potteries.

Sorry about the finger. I used it to block out some of the sky to regulate the exposure, but it wasn't meant to be in shot.

Longport Wharf, once busy with boats loading and unloading coal, clay and finished goods; still busy today offering workshop services to the pleasure boater.

Another wharf, another bottle kiln, closer and less surrounded so you can see it better.

Harecastle Tunnels, south end. For detailed information, follow the link. Very briefly, James Brindley built this, the earlier tunnel. It was twice as long as any previous tunnel, and the ground was very variable and difficult to work. It was eleven years a-building, and was not completed until after Brindley's death. It suffered various collapses over the years, and today is abandoned. Orange water leaks into the canal from the tunnel (from iron ore deposits), and some people want it cleaned up. That would be a shame - it's history.

The brick building to the right at the end of the canal hides the original stone end of the later tunnel, built by Telford in three years. (He had the advantage of previous experience and superior techniques.)

It contains fans, added since the coming of diesel boats to blow air through so that the crews don't suffocate. Interesting that it was seen as viable to do this as late as 1954. Prior to that (1921) an electric tug did away with the original practice of legging the boats through.

The boats were legged through the tunnel, the horses went over the hill. At this point, the powers-that-be abandon the cyclist or pedestrian with no clue how to get to the next bit of canal. I got quite thoroughly lost - my map is 33 years old and they've built some new roads - and eventually emerged into Kidsgrove, from where I went to Hardings Wood (on the A34, which I know well) and covered the last half mile of my route in the other direction.

At Hardings Wood the Macclesfield Canal passes over the Trent and Mersey and turns left, parallel. The Trent and Mersey has a couple of rising locks to bring it up to the same level as the Macc, which then joins from the south. We're used to this sort of engineering on the motorway network, but it must have seemed really weird to turn-of-the-nineteenth-century boatmen encountering it for the first time. (It was raining like stink. I'll get a photo of the junction when I explore the Macc, starting from here.)

Looking down from the Macc viaduct to the Trent and Mersey, westwards ...

... and eastwards ...

... and back from the T&M to the Macc aqueduct.

The locks on this part of the canal are double, to increase the throughput of boats. Traffic congestion on busy commercial routes is not a new problem.

This is the north end of the Harecastle Tunnels, Telford's to the left, Brindley's to the right. The tunnels are single track, and used to operate one in each direction; but now they operate an alternating pattern of trains of boats.

This end of the tunnel is - just - in Cheshire, and I learned from someone I was chatting to that the other end is known as the "French" end. Well, it's quite true that the southern end is nearer France than the northern.

With detours and photo-stops, it took two-and-a-half hours, riding easily with a following wind, to get here. The rain, which had eased off, now came down heavily, and I didn't feel like getting lost again, so the return down the main A34 trunk road, though tedious, wet, cold and full into a head wind, was accomplished under power in half the time. Now that I'm home and dry, the sun's shining. C'est la guerre.

Two days later ...

A couple of bonus pics, taken south of Stoke on a ride to Stone, and hardly worth a page of their own.

Considering the use of roving bridges on this canal, it's odd that this bridge, immediately below a lock, should be so narrow as th require the horse to be untied and led over the road; and the boat, presumably, to be "legged" through.

This is the next lock down/south.

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