Victor: Back on the Trent & Mersey

Published: Saturday, 13 May 2017

AT LAST we were off the Macclesfield and once again back on the Trent & Mersey Canal, and what a relief, as the boat moved as it should with so much more water underneath.

A most peculiar explanation

So of course it was the tunnel for the 14th time and hoping that once again we were first in, but alas no such luck. But the visit from the lock keeper left us wondering what on earth he was raving about.  We told him that the mobile phone emergency system in the tunnel did not work, when we last came through, as we could get no signal, but then he asked if we had pressed 999, but I pointed out that if there was no signal it did not matter what you pressed—it was dead.

Then he changed tack and asked which provider I used, to which I answered I used 3, so then he told that they had changed from Vodaphone to BT so it had to be a BT provider that I used.  I explained that we all had mobiles on the boat with different providers but if there was a signal all could use the 999 emergency service .

Then the fella changed tack again and said the service had not yet begun and they had no idea when it would be! However we had been told by another lock keeper beforehand that the service had started but only worked for 200 metres from each end of the tunnel—so make of that what you will.

HarecasleNInto the tunnel

It was just our luck to follow a very slow one into the tunnel, and from the performance negotiating the entrance obviously a beginner. It is always left to Jan to steer through tunnels (even the Standedge), as she doesn't hit the sides! 

She wanted to give the boat in front five minutes to allow her to get a decent rate of knots to make steering easier, but the lock keeper would have none of it, telling that she had to follow, but just being the two boats she stayed inside the entrance to put some distance between us.

I reckon I must have upset the locky, for after coming out of the tunnel we had gone to the water point and were filling up when another boat came through, which he obviously must have let in after us, so why couldn't we have waited a short while?

The leaflet that you are handed goes into great detail about safety and what you can and cannot do, but fails to give the advice that in a narrow tunnel a decent speed makes it much easier to steer in a straight line.  Alas all too often we have been behind someone who does not realise this, ricocheting from side to side.  After all, they are brick, so you cannot damaged the sides by going at a decent speed.  Most likely the person who wrote the leaflet has never been through a tunnel, so hasn't a clue. 

Easy going

With solid sides to the waterway through Stoke, progress is very easy, and it was a pleasure to use the bottom gate paddles on the five locks. Though exactly the same gearing as those on the Bosley Flight, these were so much easier—something I never understood, though 'She' believes the Bosley ones never get greased, but I believe the slides are over-tightened by the contractors who know no better.

Not leakingThere have been so many pictures of leaking lock gates—after all, there are so many—but for a change a picture of a top gate that does not leak on the Meaford Flight.

Not experienced

On this trip we have met many who are clearly not experienced boaters, easily ascertained by the way they operate locks, and alas we had such at the Meaford Flight.  It took them ages to get down the top lock, but having our 'second breakfast' by that time we did not go forward to help, but all was revealed at the second when I walked down to give a hand.

A first for us

It is widely known that this lock leaks so much it is very slow filling, and has been for years, yet would you believe the woman had opened only one ground paddle to fill an empty lock!  Yes, my friends, there she was being very careful when there wasn't even a boat in the lock. I thought, surely she must have forgotten, but no, the water was just a foot from the top when she walked over and opened the other ground paddle!  And after the boat was in the lock, proceeded to do the same when descending, with the first ground paddle just raised a fraction, Though of course going down, if the boat is up to the bottom gate it would never move however much you open the paddles, as experienced boaters well know.

Jan pansiesThey had obviously been told to only open the paddles very slowly but had not realised it did not matter when the lock being filled with no boat in it, and really hadn't the sense to realise. It is only hoped that experience will give them a bit of knowledge, and eventually know exactly where to place a boat whether ascending or descending so that paddles can be opened fully with no boat movement whatsoever.  Mind you, there are some who never seem to get the know-how.


All I can assume is that the pair, though in a private boat were very new to boating or had just taken on a share boat.  For once, I was speechless—and did not even attempt to explain!  It took us exactly one hour 35 minutes for us to descent the first four locks following the pair.  Jan filled some of her time de-heading the dead pansies, so they would flower again in the Brownies garden by the lock, whilst Thomas searched the area for footpaths to walk the dog.

Less boats stokeAs none of us could cope with that pair, we pulled in opposite the new houses by the bottom of the fourth lock down and packed up for the day. 

Out on hire

On the way out there was a photograph of the many hire boats still at base in Stone, but passing a week later there were only five!

Of course the first time it was May Day Bank Holiday week, whilst coming back it was a non-holiday week, which I believe rather proves something—hirers had become aware that it was best to hire away from the holiday periods when the hire is obviously less expensive.

I am not going to attempt to compare the prices of different hire companies, as there are too many variations with boats and occupancies, but a yard full of idle boats should be telling someone something...

Aston paddle blockedStill held water

It took so long to fill Aston Lock, we actually checked if the bottom gate paddles had been left up to allowing water to run through, but they were firmly closed. But eventually it filled enough for two of us to open the gate.

Then it was discovered when closing the gate paddle it would only wind down half way, then stopped solid.  The picture shows why—it was packed with debris, so solid it stopped water coming through.

Being right outside the big Aston Marina, we would have thought this would have been reported and attended to (no, no—no mention of pigs that er, might fly) as it will be causing quite a bottleneck, especially with the week-end approaching.

Moored lock WestonOvernight on lock moorings

We all know of boaters who use lock mooring to stay overnight, but strangely this time out we had seen none, even the favourite Canaltime place of Alrewas Lock was deserted, But it was at Aston that we came across the first firmly secured on the lock moorings as can be seen. And caused a bit of a problem for the charity boat coming out of the marina, it having to maneuver to get past.

A rather apt statement from 'She' who remarked 'If they are going to moor on lock moorings then they ought to have the decency to get up and go in the morning'.  We had been on the move for two hours and getting on for 9am, but no sign of life from that moored boat—here's a picture.

Mad Weston swanChased by a swan

On the way up through Weston we had a half-hearted chase by Weston's mad swan, but coming back he was proudly displaying his new seven cygnets and his wife, and we thought no more of it, carrying on our way. when suddenly he bombed in with the hell of a clatter, ignoring the many ducks and homed in on our fender, pecking it and then the boat, driving the interloper away, though his his brood and his 'wife' were now way behind.

Then we were in luck, as there was another boat passing the other way so the mad swan changed tactics and veered away attacking that boat, as of course it was heading towards his new brood.

I could imagine a very  knackered swan by the end of the day should he be chasing every boat that passed.

Lock House restaurant

Our early starts then preferences for the 'sticks' to moor means we rarely get the chance to sample the offerings of canalside eateries, but for once we finished around noon below Haywood Junction, and though we had passed the Lock House Restaurant by Haywood Lock dozens of times we had never done so at a reasonable hour, but this time we had—so in we went.

Lock House HaywoodFirst impression was very good indeed—no piped 'music', that these days always seems to be some woman or other screeching.  After all, no one can know the taste of music of all the people in a restaurant, and the stuff they normally churn out is certainly not my choice.

The second good impression—no 'two meals for a tenner'—that usually means cheap crap 'plastic' stuff, but instead a menu giving a very wide choice,of what we all discovered was good food. Okay you paid somewhat more, but it was certainly worth it. No 'chips with everything' either, but three types of potatoes and four different vegetables.  But most importantly this was no 'chain' restaurant food, but obviously cooked to order, and well cooked at that, with excellent service to boot.

Our problem was that there was too much!  But it was suggested if we call again—and we certainly shall—to ask for small portions.  After enjoying the main course there was no way any of us could manage a pudding, but upon asking they quickly agreed to supply the puddings as 'take away' that were a real treat during our afternoon drink on the boat.  Highly recommended.

Victor Swift