The Cardinal is not amused. I didn’t exactly have a giggle-fest either. #narrowboat #England

A booking has been made.

Harecastle Tunnel.

Tomorrow morning, Friday.

That meant that the Cardinal and I had to get ourselves within hailing distance ready for the appointed hour, and that meant not just moving, but moving through the lovely human space that appears, so far, to be Stoke on Trent.

Six miles, six horrid locks – but at least at the end we found some decent moorings. There are five moorings tucked on the end of the Caldon Canal (it begins/ends in Stoke, joining the Trent & Mersey) at Etruria near the junction/services/Etruria Industrial Museum. The Cardinal and I hove up and got the fifth such, the last vacant.

There was a little ice on the canal as we set off from Barlaston, a light skim but enough to make that “SONAR” pinging sound as it broke up in our (gentle) wash. To wit, it was bloody freezing all day, and the day was a good five and more hours including servicing and farting about turning twice and mooring at Etruria. In spite of the constant sirens and traffic and foot-fall of the area, I slept rather well last night, once my brain had stopped gibbering.

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Cardinal afront, “Visitor Centre”, CaRT building, Service Area (left to right)

Brain was gibbering the moment I made the booking for the tunnel. What didn’t help was the journey through this, the first part of Stoke. Gordon Bennet, it’s ugly. Doubtless there are nice places, and doubtless some folk love living in this …in this… this. I don’t. I don’t even like travelling through it. Knowing some of what was to come I locked the Cardinal fore and aft – a lot of the lock landings are in areas where the SAS only go in pairs, well out of sight of the similarly-placed locks themselves. All of the locks are deep with a capital “eep”.

The water level in one of the short pounds between two locks rose so much (unexpectedly) while I was preparing the lock that the (hitherto nicely loose) centreline that I had the Cardinal moored on became too taught, jammed solid and began to give him a list – the only way I could free the Cardinal was to cut the rope… [Yet] Another obscure lesson learned – some lock pounds have a ridiculous rise and fall. Thanks be to my trusty knife, and apologies be to the dead rope, and to the Cardinal who, thankfully, lives on.

The last lock of the set, the deepest by far, I now know has a vicious undertow even with only the one paddle working. The Cardinal rammed the top gate and managed to get his front button fender jammed as well for good measure. All safe now, but my boxer shorts will need to fly from the main mast to air out until at least autumn before they are wearable again. All within the boat that was hitherto loose and upright remained loose but become horizontal – a world of canted-over books and canted-over candelabra.

I must, at this point, extend my thanks to the chap from the CaRT yard who was working me through that last lock of the flight. The CaRT yard is right alongside, the lock is as good as in the yard.

Stoke, from the canal, offers a welcome similar to that offered by Tolkien’s land of Mordor.

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This factory in Stoke on Trent is where they make the thick, grey clouds that cover England at this time of the year.
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I must ask – just who are these urban spaces designed for? I know that it’s not for humans…

A country mouse such as I entering this territory is filled with nought but horror. The air is thick with thundering traffic noise and with screaming police sirens (both police and their sirens scream, this is that sort of a neighbourhood). There seems to even be a helicopter hovering overhead constantly, presumably using high-tech cameras to look for people issuing offensive tweets or for folk using the wrong personal pronouns. I am sorry, Stoke, but I loathe spaces such as these.

I have tried with these photographs to show Stoke’s best side.

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One of Stoke’s locks, after I have locked up the Cardinal and walked up there to set it and open the lower gates. Lovely, isn’t it?
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Stoke locks. Yes, there’s a lock under there, and it is NOT the little glimmer of light that you can make out under the railway bridge, the lock is in the blackness to the right…

The Cardinal looks distinctly unhappy. Say “cheeeeeese”… and I’ll be back for you in ten minutes after I’ve walked up and set the lock.

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Cardinal Wolsey, most assuredly NOT in his natural habitat.

The view back towards the Cardinal as I neared one of the locks…

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Stoke on Trent locks

…and, yes, that is the what passes for a towpath around here, and that is the canal.

Would you be bothered by badgers in the night here? No. Rats, possibly, two-legged rats, certainly. Chuffin’ Nora, how we have improved upon Father Nature’s work (not).

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Stoke on Trent locks

The guidebook maps are a little free with the truth at this stage, where I thought that it would be lock – service area – final lock, it was in fact lock – final lock of the flight – service area. The service area and these moorings are on the beginning of the Caldon Canal, a 180° turn immediately after the last lock.

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Stoke top lock, ideal for picnics.
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The view up to the sky in Stoke top lock.

Today is what we Ingurlish chaps call “murky”. It’s not misty exactly, it’s not drizzling as such, but it’s doing a lot of both. Everything is grey and dull and damp. Lovely. I shall be foregoing my customary walkabouts, out of respect for both the weather and the neighbourhood.

We’re turned and moored in the direction we’ll need to take tomorrow for the tunnel (north). That’s about a three mile trip, but thankfully free from locks, so I’ll allow a good two hours to get there and find out where I have to be, where I need to report to and where the safety briefing is given &etc &etc.

Today I’ll spend digging out the life-jacket, removing all that may be lowered and removed from the roof, checking over the engine and wotnots, and really doing sodski allski elseski to the best of my ability.

This isn’t the tunnel. This is the view looking back after that first major road-bridge on entering Stoke.

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Stoke on Trent canal

There really ought to be a sign above it.

‘Abandon hobbits all ye who enter here.’

If you do a search on ‘Stoke on Trent’ there’s a website suggesting “the ten best things to do in Stoke”.

I have compiled my own list.

  1. Leave
  2. Leave
  3. Leave…

I commend Stoke to you. May someone (else) find its good side, for it is certainly well-hidden when approaching from the canal!

Honestly, I am sure that it’s a lovely place. There must be nice parts.

Surely?

Ah well, that was yesterday’s cruise that was, and unless I want to re-trace the last hundred miles or so, the tunnel beckons tomorrow.

I must away and gird my loins.

Chin-chin chaps.

[Emits mouse-squeak, and exits stage left.]

Ian H.

 

23 Comments

    1. Logged in at one end and logged out again at the other… although were a chap to be switched mid-tunnel by MI5/6/7/8, Bond-style, I doubt that the checks would show it. 😉

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        1. If a boat doesn’t appear after seventy-five minutes they begin (officially) to investigate… (I’ve just read the leaflet)! 😉

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          1. Seventy-five minutes! To do one and a half miles? One could surely do that paddling with a teaspoon! Or do they think one is going to stop in the middle to enjoy the view?

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  1. Holy moly! I think I’ve seen that movie set – was it Zombie Apocalypse or 28 days later? Those locks sound like death traps, maybe it’s how they select the population of Stoke which does look like a carbuncle on the ass end of a baboon. Who on earth would put a lock in total darkness? So glad you got through okay. Here’s keeping everything crossed for the tunnel!

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    1. They have not been my favourite locks, not one little bit – too deep, too urban by far. The tunnel tomorrow will be … interesting! You won’t be surprised to learn that I am not one of Father Nature’s keen and eager little troglodytes, small spaces make me paaaaaaaannnniiiiiiccccccccc. Coffee, two Aspirin and a handful of bananas will get me to the portal. Beyond that, temporary insanity is assured. 😉

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  2. It’s well-known that Tolkien originally called Moria ‘Stoke on Trent’ but in the final proof copy it was inexplicably altered to ‘Moria’. Apparently you can get a very cheap timeshare there.

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    1. I haven’t looked at house prices in Stoke, so no idea how much they pay people to take them away! To be fair, there must be nice parts, and to a lot of folk it is home, so I really shouldn’t be so rude about it. That said, gosh it’s ugly and unfriendly-looking!

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  3. Wow. It strikes me more as the abandoned Mines of Moria, but you know, made my skillless depressed Dwarves. But, I do appreciate that the locals express their horror/art on all available surfaces. If only just to cheer up the bleakness of the urban dismalness.

    One must pass through the Mines of Moria to get to see the Beautiful Galadriel. You got this.

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    1. Apparently this tunnel has doors at both ends that they close after you’ve entered, so there isn’t even a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to! I wonder how they know to open the damned doors when I get to the end? Perhaps the Cardinal and I will just ram through… It will be done, but I am not confessing to enjoying any sense of “enjoyable anticipation”. Brain is now disconnected and body running on remote control. 🙂

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      1. No one would enter Khazad-dûm without being in automatic pilot. Just acceptance of necessity. I’m looking forward to reading about it. I’m very curious about the process.

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      2. There is a door at the southern end, the northern end has a barrier.
        It isn’t too bad really. Have your headlight on and all lights inside on. Curtains, if you have them, leave open. Close the back doors, and closd one eye about 2 minutes before entering. Once inside, open said eye, don t pootle through, go at a reasonable speed. The wash from the bows, will hit the sides of the tunnel and bounce back to hit the sides of your boat keeping it steady in the center. Then enjoy this amazing achievement. You could also sing Jerusalem if you want. The acoustics are amazing.

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        1. How do, sir! It was very dark, I just whistled – until I looked behind, saw how pitch-black it was, and remembered a ghost story ‘Whistle and I’ll come’ (or something of that nature). Then I stopped whistling… 😉

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  4. Dwell not upon the horrors of your recent past, think only of the darkness yet to come, having passed through the Blisworth tunnel a couple of times I can only say I’m not too envious on this occasion.

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    1. My mantra at the moment is “tomorrow at this time of day it will all be over”. Hopefully meaning that I will have successfully navigated the tunnel… 😉

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  5. I quite liked Stoke when we went through it a couple of years ago. Full of history. I don’t remember there being so much graffiti though. Good luck through the tunnel tomorrow and watch your head!

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    1. Tis an ancient place, no doubt of that. It’s good that _someone_ likes it, too! If I had thought about it properly I would have bought myself a hard-hat… 😉

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