Friday 26 July 2019

Stone and Car Shuffle

Today's Canal - Trent and Mersey

We again woke with the alarm at six and were pushing away from the mooring just on seven. Although it was forecast to be another hot day, less so than yesterday, it turned out to be mostly overcast and sticky - just the day for a car shuffle!

But first we had to get withing walking distance of Stone Railway Station which is on the north western edge of the town. Both Barlaston and Wedgwood stations (which in former times would have been ideal as they were only short distances from the canal) have both been closed since 2004 with only vague hopes of seeing them re-open. (A notice at Stone that Mike saw later seems to suggest that the upcoming new timetable will achieve faster long distance trains at the expense of reducing the number of intermediate stops, passing the responsibility for that traffic to smaller, regional companies who will feed passengers in to larger hubs. Since the Northern Powerhouse HS3 is back on the agenda, perhaps someone will decide that small rural stops, not that Stone is rural but the other two are commuter villages, are worth re-considering even if the numbers are relatively small)

Barlaston Boatyard is now a private residence but they have retained space to moor a couple of boats.

This former railway bridge is one of the few visible reminders that this was once Meaford Power Station - a short branch from the nearby main line was used to bring coal down from Hem Heath Colliery, on the southern edge of Stoke. Both have long since closed, well before the push to eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels.

There was a pleasant early morning cruise for about 45 minutes to the top of the four Meaford Locks. We passed another boat on the move just before the flight and then one in the middle, all helps with the locks.

However, the first one had already dropped a bit and took Christine a surprising amount of time to be able to open the top gate.

This bridge in the middle of the flight is a turnover bridge but not as efficient or elegant as the ones on the Macclesfield.

The rest of the flight was unremarkable and we pulled in just before bridge 96A as planned. The modern estate on the opposite bank looks especially well maintained and makes a feature of the winding hole. From here there is a footpath up to a road into town, crossing the railway line, no longer on the level, but up and over a high footbridge.

Mike set off in good time - the route he was expecting began with the 10:04 out of stone towards Crewe. He had tried to book tickets last night but the websites all persistently reported a problem and as it was not an Advance ticket he left it until this morning. Hence the need to leave in plenty of time as well as not being wholly sure about the walking route. In the end it was rather longer than anticipated - the entrance to the station is inconveniently located relative to the foot bridge! However, even after fighting an uncooperative ticket machine - there are no people at all at this station - he still had half an hour to wait. The train duly arrived albeit 5 minutes late.

By now Mike had checked the on-line live trains data and found that there was significant disruption to the trains out of Crewe. After consulting several staff at the station as well as various display boards, he found a train bound for Liverpool Lime Street that was ,much delayed and still awaiting a driver but was expected to leave within minutes. He was assured that his ticket was valid for that train - there was some doubt as some information told him that the next train to leave was a Virgin train and others that it was a NorthWestern - this matters in these days of privatised operating companies and a multiplicity of ticket interchangeability. In any event the train manager accepted his ticket!

That train arrived into Liverpool not much after the time that had been timetabled, even if it was a different train. There was then a short walk to Central station where Mike caught a Merseyrail train out to Ormskirk.

The final leg of the transport was a bus from Ormskirk to Scarisbrick Bridge. The original timing showed that he would have a reasonable time to walk from the train to the bus station. With the earlier delay he arrived at 22 minutes past the hour with the bus due out at 25. Heq uickly spotted that the walking route was signposted and a bit quicker than he though but it was right on 25 past when he found the right stand.

There were several people waiting and they conformed that the bus has had not yet left - it is an hourly service so if he had missed it, Mike would have had quite a wait. In the end it arrived ten minutes late but efficiently then took him out gto his final destination from where it was a shirt walk into the marina - all the quicker as he knew the short cut from when we passed by earlier in the month.

It was now lunch time and the marina has a very popular tea room and as he had not brought a packed lunch, Mike succumbed to the temptation of a hot turkey panini before hitting the road.

The car ride back to Stone took around 90 minutes - the second part on the M6 was somewhat tedious with several stop-start sections having no obvious cause for delay. Mike drove straight to the marina where we will leave the boat for the next couple of week whilst back home and in London. Unfortunately, the engineer had already left for the day so we will have to see whether we will be able to speak to him tomorrow when we arrive.

Time then to walk back to the boat - a bit further than anticipated but the afternoon was not quite as warm as the morning so a pleasant level walk along the towpath for three miles.

The A51 road bridge which was crossed in the car a short while earlier.

Near to Brassworks Bridge this splendid building was probably once a farm house, also called Brassworks. We have yet to discover the origin of the name as, although the bridge is given this name on early OS maps, there is no sign of any industrial site in that area.

Just below Yard Lock a statue called Christine recalls an infamous incident in the history of Stone. (see) Sadly, it is now almost completely overgrown and would be missed entirely unless previously seen.

Joules Brewery is an iconic feature of the canalside in Stone and was one of the early brewing brands - it adopted a red cross symbol even before it was used by the eponymous humanitarian organisation. It was a great rival to Bass who eventually took it over, then closing down the brewery in the 1970's. Bass then became sold on and the new owners of the brand were willing, in 2009, to let a new company recreate the brand with a small brewery in Market Drayton. They have subsequently built up a portfolio of around 40 pubs in this area. The new company is heavily involved in a regeneration of a site next to Canal Cruising, known as Crown Wharf, adjacent to the former brewery. The scheme which is expected to be complete in late 2020, will include a pub, a small 140 seat theatre and an information centre.

Although we have passed this way several times, this is the first that we have spotted this unusual garden shed. Stoneycombe Sidings were originally built to serve a quarry near Newton Abbott. Not yet discovered how the signal box came to be transplanted here after it became redundant.

Whilst Mike was away enjoying the delights of public transport, the motorway and strolling the towpath, Christine cleaned, washed, laundered and whatever was needed to spruce up the inside of the boat after a couple of weeks of continuous usage. By mid afternoon she was finished and opted to walk into town, along the towpath and visited a few shops - she would like to return to the bakery tomorrow when they are re-stocked. There best items had already sold out for the day!

By the time Mike was passing the last lock back to the mooring, Christine reported by phone that she was only a short distance ahead - we checked as she could then see a cyclist that had just passed Mike - but she still made it back in time to have the kettle already on when Mike completed his car shuffle for this trip.

Alas, energy levels (aka commitment and enthusiasm) had dropped a little and this blog was left until Saturday to compile!

3.0 Miles - 4 Locks

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