Victor meets angry boaters

Published: Monday, 17 September 2018

WITH so many boaters about means you obviously get to converse with more, and one of them was very angry indeed.

Told he could not reach the Llangollen

Vincent and Phylis Long had planned a long Autumn boating holiday on the Llangollen, but Vincent was very angry indeed to be told at Stone that he could not possibly reach the Llangollen this year, as the Middlewich Branch he intended using was closed until Christmas.

NoticeJunctionThe pair were like so many nowadays, occasional boaters, both being in employment and so not regular boaters or readers of the waterways Press. But what caused the anger is that they had come up from moorings at Willington yet had seen no official notices of the closure anywhere, asking why wasn't it posted on such as lock beams so people could make alternative arrangement such as via the Staffs & Worcs?

The picture shows the important notice by the side of the Caldon Junction lock, but no mention of either the Middlewich Branch or Caldon Canal closures. Personally I believe its because Cart do not want visitors to learn about the awful state of the canals at the moment, and bugger the boaters.


Being rather crafty and asking such an innocent question of boaters such as 'what do you think about the state of the waterways nowadays?' Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear! I really wish I had not asked, but one boater summed it up nicely by telling me:

"Cart published a survey result showing that boaters had about 90% satisfaction, which was absolute crap, as 10% would be pushing it!" 

He added that he wasn't asked to take part, and would you believe—of course you wouldneither was I. How about you?

More fake news?


Approaching Aston Lock and discovering it nearly empty, Jan was about to use her windlass when a man came out of the boat moored above looking most surprised. For the fella had just seen a boat come up the lock so assumed it would be full so went up to Jan to tell he was going down and not to empty the lock.

MSStoneThen he saw that in just a few minutes the water had all drained away, so was virtually empty for us to use.  That, my friends is a fine example of why there is such a water shortage and why for weeks on end northern boaters have had all their waterways closed

.A pleasant surprise

There was a pleasant surprise indeed at the bottom of Star Lock in Stonea brand new Marks & Spencer food store, which can be very handy indeed being right by the side of the canal and there being so few such handy outlets after Rugeley.

YardLockLeakBut being the only boat at the lock and knowing we had a clear run and that there were eight to work, we alas gave it a miss, even with the promise of a real cappuccino for Thomas, our not wanting to fall behind the host of boats behind so we kept going. But a promise of a call on the way back.

Should be two hours only

I know I have mentioned it before, but surely if those offside moorings at Stone were installed for boaters to do a bit of shopping in the town then they should surely be two hours not 24, for as usual there were just two boats taking up the space of three, neither of them at an end of the moorings to allow space for another boat.

As we passed just after 8am it was obvious they had been there both the previous day and overnight.

Needs some TLC

Concerning leaking locks, how about Yard Lock on the flight as pictured above? Surely needs a little TLC this winter—and perhaps a new cill. Should it last that long.

BoatYardLockIn fact quite a few of the locks at Stone would benefit from a bit of TLC this winter, as you boaters who have worked them will well realise.

What I found annoying was a boat securely taking up part of the not too generous lock mooring, compete with a licence that had expired in January. Cart obviously not doing its job again.

More hire boats

With the decline of the hire companies of Canaltime and Shakespeare from the eastern end of the Trent & Mersey we encounted very few hire boats over the past days, but approaching Stone, its hire boats and those of Black Prince were in abundance on the waterway, especially as the weeks after the Bank Holiday is when hire prices start to tumble.

WedgwoodSEP18Which means there are more speeding boats, but as we make sure we are well secured with a spring, they have little effect upon us. I have never been able to understand those boatersmany on permanent moorings that are plastered with 'Slow Down' notices yet who haven't the nous to tie their boats properly.  You have all seen them.

Shock horror!

Then we arrived at the Wedgwood Factory moorings, that have always been full of boats, but not now. As the picture shows, just two boats on the whole long length. Speaking to the boater on the one moored way in the distance he too was amazed at the lack of boats on this once popular spot.  And none at the other side of the bridge either.

Plume and FeathersSo it was into Stoke yet again, and I really have lost count of how many times since 1997, yet all those times going up the locks early in the morning this was the first time ever we have followed another boata Black Prince on its was back to base.

He told us that asking the hire company where best to go he was told to go down through Stoke and recommended calling at the Plume & Feathers pub 'with Neil Morrissey', so there they went then on to Stone, but the wife wanted scenery, and it certainly isn't very scenic, with both rather annoyed when we told him about the very picturesque Caldon.

Pantomime time

Arriving at the lock at the junction with the Caldon is was indeed pantomime time causing us from 9.05am to 10.35 to negotiate that and the twin lock on the Caldon, with just a 15 minutes stop for water.

GardnerEngineRallyFirst the Black Prince lady could not open the top gates on the lock on the Trent & Mersey, and even with many 'helpers' from the nearby Gardner Engine Rally taking place over the weekend (pictured) they still would not budge, and it was not until Jan had made her way up there to of course made sure the bottom gates paddles were closedthey were not!

Eventually making our way out of the lock we discovered a 70 footer coming out of the Caldon wanting to come down so maneuvered well out of the way, but seeing the lady cringe as we bumped on the side, I thought here's someone who is most concerned of his paintwork.  And so it proved, as even with a fender he would not place his bow on the Armco to turn, but jigged the boat back and forth time and time again until he had it dead in line with the lock, so as not to touch its sides. Personally we see it as a contact sport and so expect a few knocks, so of course re-black when it gets too battered. All part of real boating.

TopTwinPaddleThen there was the pair who had just bought a boat attempting the twin first lock on the Caldon, and though there was an explanation board complete with a picture, they had failed to fill the top lock first before entering the bottom one, then eventually did so.

However, with the top paddles being so stiff they were not properly closed, so they sat there in the lock waiting for it to empty to enable them to go forward, but of course water was running straight through. 

Luckily, a fella sorted them out, and eventually we were at last on our way. The picture shows why the paddles would not close, they were fairly new so tight but of course had seen no grease.

OvergrownThe shock

Coming off the Trent & Mersey on to the Caldon was a shock, for breezing along at a steady 1,500 revs and around three miles an hour we were suddenly slowed to tick-over speed when leaving the twin lock, for in the two and half years we last cruised the Caldon it had become more silted up, and for the first few miles until the next lock we simply slowed the revs down as the more you put on the more the prop pulled the boat down into the silt and consequently the slower you went.

It was still hard going through the next lock, and the encroaching greenery on both sides of the waterway (pictured) did not help matters so eventually we gave up at Lock 4 as this was a good stopping place we had discovered the last time so called it a day, mooring above the lock.

ChainedUpLuckily the next day matters improved and for a while we were able to manage our usual pace up to the five locks, but then it became shallow again up to the junction.

Foiled again

Too many times over the past few years we have been stopped from reaching our destinations (the Leicester Section hold-ups and three times to try to get to Bugsworth) and it has happened again.

For Hazelhurst Locks at the junction have their paddles well and truly chained up, and to make doubly sure no one gets down or anyone can escape, there was a lock on a gate too. Which makes it most peculiar that there was no notice anywhere advising that the Caldon is closed, and its most scenic section at that.

Yet with all the recent rainfall there seems to be ample water as all the pounds so far were overflowing as the overflow pictured shows, so why the canal is not now open to Froghall is strange.

TwinLockoverflowA folly

Some time ago money was spent restoring a completely demolished lock at Froghall that dropped the canal into a brand new small marina with pontoons and facilities including a water point that was opened with much pomp and circumstance by the then British Waterways.

But alas it was nothing short of a folly, for the short tunnel under the road is too low to allow all but the smallest boats through.  Our Thomas attempted it in our boat that is quite low but resulted in the loss of a navigation light and getting no further in that a foot.

CaldonLakeFirst time ever

So it was along the Leek Branch yet again, and very slow going indeed with no vegetation having been cut anywhere, and from the junction to the tunnel absolutely no mooring whatsoever. This time we stayed before the tunnel and moored at the attractive lake, where cows keep the vegetation under control.

In over 10,000 mies of cruising in over 20 years this was the first time ever that we met no moving boats all day, the canal being completely deserted. So it was obviously known that the Caldon was now a no-go canal, lack of posted information or not. 

Wide steps

WideStepsWhat we found surprising were the very wide steps up over the tunnel, but I expect that these were installed for the 500 plus visitors that Cart tell us visit every mile of canal every day. 

No, no, I'm not going to flog my favorite topic, only that they did not appear whilst we were there.

There were a few couples however walking the towpath on the Sunday, with I noticed lovely figures, but I expect it was the exercise that kept them that way—sorry, but I did not notice the fellas.

It is now Monday and the hire boats have finally arrived, and now being moored by the junction we are being asked when they can get down to Froghall—"Never! It's closed." shout back I. Well it could well be, the way things are going, eh?

Victor Swift