Monday 1st May - day in the Haywoods
We woke to teeming rain so made the decision to stay put for the day.
By the afternoon the sun had come out, so we walked along the towpath towards Great Haywood and visited the Canalside Farm Shop. We then had a quiet drink at the Clifford Arms sitting in the sunshine.
Towards the end of the day, three boats moored up in front of us, heading in the opposite direction to us. They enjoyed a drink on the towpath, but we discovered that the first gentleman is called John Snook, father of Hywel Snook who is the vicar of Christ Church, Little Drayton. The church we can see from our bedroom windows at home! What a small world!
Tuesday 2nd May - Little Haywood to Salt
Today it is warm and sunny, perfect cruising weather. I walked up to the Village Stores in Little Haywood to get bread and milk. It is a delightful little shop but probably within the next three years it will close down and the owners will concentrate on their bed and breakfast business. It will be a real shame!
One of the unusual follies in the grounds of Shugborough Hall, I think this one is called 'Tower of the Winds' An octagonal building built in 1765, possibly used as a banqueting hall, but later as a gambling den during the 19th Century.
The management of the estate was transferred back to The National Trust in November 2016 after being looked after by Staffordshire County Council since 1966 and a large amount of work has been done prior to its reopening in March this year, it will remain open everyday except Christmas Day.
As we were cruising through Weston, we were being chased by a swan who kept trying to eat the button fender on the stern of the boat. Toby was not impressed!
Finally today our first goslings of the season! We have seen baby ducks, baby moorhens and now baby goslings. I hope to see cygnets before we complete our trip!
We have moored up in open countryside between Weston and Salt, these 'wild' moorings are great for Toby as there is no risk of him getting on to roads and he has free rein on the towpath.
Wednesday 3rd May - Weston to Stone
View from the back of the boat - Weston Hall originated in 1550 when it was built as a small dower house. Dower houses were moderately large dwellings built for the widow of an estate owner. The house was then extended around 1660 into a three gable structure with three high pitched roofs.
Weather looks perfect doesn't it? Our mooring was actually in a very exposed spot and we struggled to get the boat off the side of the canal. We ended up taking her down to the trees which acted as a windbreak and we were able to get going!
This has to be my favourite bridge, the brick work is beautiful, aesthetically very pleasing!
Love these mile markers on the Trent and Mersey Canal, especially as this shows us we are at the exact half way point of the canal!
The official photographer has surpassed himself with this one! The heron was stationery until we arrived and he turned and walked towards us, impressive shot!
As we approached Stone we found work being done on the towpath, very pleased to see it, I wonder if they are doing other towpaths?
Stone is a delightful canal town, the canal was built to connect the River Trent and River Mersey and was used by the potteries to bring in raw materials and transport out the finished pottery.
We moored up here for the night and had a pleasant wander around the town.
Thursday 4th May - Stone to Barlaston
We left Stone and cruised passed the old Joule's Brewery. The original Joule’s pale ales famously originate from Stone just across the county border from Market Drayton where beer has been brewed since the 12th century, first by Augustinian monks. They brewed at the priory which stood until 1749 and were known to bless each barrel and mark with a cross to identify its superior quality. The red cross that it still uses today.
Having completed the locks through Stone, I decided to work the Meaford Locks. These are very rural and very pleasant to operate.
The third lock takes a long time to fill so I had a lie down on the beam in the sunshine!!
We moored up just past Barlaston, once again in the open countryside. Toby knows that once we have secured the boat he gets to have a walk along the towpath whilst Dave sets up the boat. How can you resist that face? He is such a good boat dog!
Friday 5th May - day in Barlaston
Today we decided to spend the day here. I spent some time reading on the towpath in the sunshine, then cleaning the inside of the boat and then we went for a walk to explore Barlaston.
This is Barlaston Hall an English Palladian Country house built in the 1750's. The estate was bought by The Wedgwood Pottery Company in 1937 and they built the new Wedgwood Factory and village for the workers in the grounds.
A beautiful pollarded drive leads up to the hall
complete with bluebells in the woods close by.
The level crossing was closed for a high speed train to come through - it really is going very fast!
The pub beside the canal is called the Plume of Feathers and is owned by Neil Morrissey, of 'Boys Behaving Badly' and 'Bob the Builder' fame. According to the locals he pays regular visits and stays in the local hotel. Needless to say he wasn't here today!
Toby was enjoying his walk, but by the evening he was refusing to walk and holding up his back paw. We spent an anxious night worrying about him, but this morning he seems better and is keen to go for a walk. A check up with the vet when we get home, I think.
Saturday 6th May - Barlaston to Westport Lake
We passed Barlaston Alpacas in the field, their fleece makes the most wonderful yarn for knitting or crochet.
The remains of the pottery bottle kilns, reminding us that Stoke was once upon a time a centre for pottery production.
As we were coming through the last lock in Stoke we passed a boat called nb Itsa Kinda Magic as they were going through the lock. They had three Labradoodles from Jo Clayton, the breeder that Toby came from. There have been so many coincidences on this trip, this is another one!
Middleport Pottery is home to Burleigh Pottery and has been made even more famous by the TV series 'Great Pottery Throwdown' which is filmed on site. Yes, we moored Ella up in front of the factory and had a look round the shop before tea and cake in the cafe.
We moored up opposite Westport Lake, Stoke's largest expanse of water and a fascinating place to see water birds and any birds, whilst walking around the lake.
Sunday 7th May - Westport Lake to Rode Heath
Today we made an early start and headed for the Harecastle Tunnel. Only the second time Ella has been through this tunnel, so just a little apprehensive. The queue of boats was moving off into the tunnel and after some simple checks - lights, horn, head room, - the tunnel keeper who recognised us set us off on our way.
We were following a hire boat, which was a little worrying, much revving of engines and loud bangs as the boat bounced off the walls, but eventually they seemed to get the hang of it. This is the half way point in the tunnel, 1,333 metres.
The northern portal as we left the tunnel and there was a group of youngsters preparing to abseil down the wall, how exciting!
The hire boat in front turned onto the Macclesfield Canal and we continued through the locks on the Trent and Mersey. The colour of the water is always a shock once you come out of the tunnel, iron ore is responsible for the rusty colour of the water.
The Macclesfield Canal doubles back and crosses over the top of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Such a feat of engineering!
All of the locks on this stretch of the canal are duplicate locks, some of which both are working and some of which one has been left to go into disrepair.
We moored up for the evening near Rode Heath, where Ella was built and where she was launched in September 2015. The weather was wonderful and we sat on the towpath with our lunch enjoying the view!