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Narrowboat Holidays on the Caldon Canal

Etruria Cruising
Etruria Cruising © AboutBritain.com

This is the third in our popular series of trip reports from our narrowboat holidays exploring Britain’s fascinating canal system.

The first canals in Britain were built in Roman times, but canal building really took off in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were used to transport large loads of coal and raw materials, and were vital arteries that enabled the Industrial Revolution.

Travel by canal offers holidaymakers a chance to see Britain from a completely new perspective, and to slow down the pace of life for a few days.

Although it was slightly shorter than our previous trips at only 4 nights - this trip took in three different canals and a range of scenery and surroundings which told the story of Britain’s canals very well.

There were five of us on this trip: Myself - Quenton, my partner Clare, our daughter Emily, her friend Eve and our dog Oscar.

Not quite the Famous Five (despite the dog) - there were no mysteries to solve, but there was a long dark tunnel that legend says is haunted, a spooky story, and a ghostly surprise in the dark!


Choosing a Route

This trip was generously sponsored by Heritage Narrow Boats based in Scholar Green on the Macclesfield Canal.

Etruria Moored at Heritage Narrowboats
Etruria Moored at Heritage Narrowboats © AboutBritain.com

This is an excellent location as it gives holidaymakers lots of routes to choose from. We considered:

1. To Aston Lock (near Stone) :- South on the Macclesfield Canal, then South down the Trent & Mersey (30 locks)

2. To Footbridge 165A on Trent and Mersey :-  South on the Macclesfield Canal and North up Trent & Mersey (60 locks)

3. Along the Caldon Canal :- South on the Macclesfield Canal, South on Trent and Mersey then along the Caldon Canal (possibly down the Leek Arm) (20 locks)

4. To High Lane Railway Aqueduct :- north on Macclesfield Canal (24 locks)

Video: Etruria Cruising Past

We chose option 3 - the Caldon Canal. It gave us the chance to try three different canals and the option of the Leek Arm of the Caldon Canal when we got there.

It meant we would pass through the Harecastle Tunnel and pass through plenty of locks and lift bridges.

This route seemed to have the right amount of locks to keep the girls occupied - 20 seemed a good amount for 4 days of travelling, whereas 60 seemed too much for a short break!


Packing and Guidebooks

Our Pearson Canal Guidebooks
Our Pearson Canal Guidebooks © AboutBritain.com

With this being a four day trip rather than the usual week, we fondly imagined that we might need to pack less stuff - but it didn’t seem to work out that way.

Check out our article What to Take on a Canal Boat Holiday to find out more about what you should pack.

Two adults, two teenagers and a dog still need to take plenty of things for 4 days afloat, and with four full-size passengers and a dog, it doesn’t leave a lot of space in the car.

Each passenger shared their space with several bags - including Oscar, who didn’t seem to mind at all.

We wouldn’t set off on a canal trip without the relevant Pearson’s Canal Companion guidebook - and this trip needed two to cover the route.


Day One (Mon) - Collecting the Boat

After an early start, we had a good journey down the M6 from Scotland. Heritage Narrowboats isn’t far from the motorway and was easy to find, so we arrived at midday as arranged.

We were met by Dave who suggested we move our car down to the waterside so we could carry our stuff from the car to the boat more easily.

The Cabin Area
The Cabin Area © AboutBritain.com

Our boat “Etruria” was ready for us when we arrived, was beautifully clean and tidy and we were able to park right next to it, so unloading our seemingly enormous amount of stuff couldn’t have been easier.

We were pleased to see our Tesco order had arrived as planned and been loaded onto the boat, including chilled and frozen items being put into the fridge and freezer.

Having an order of food for the week delivered directly to the boat is a great idea - it’s a big time-saver, and saves valuable space in the car too!

Kitchen Area with Shopping
Kitchen Area with Shopping © AboutBritain.com

Once packed, we were ready for our safety briefing and boat handover. Dave gave us a clear and thorough briefing, including the use of a model of a boat and lock! He then took us onboard Etruria for a thorough tour so we knew where everything was, and what we needed to do.

Although three of our party have been on the canals before, we’re still learning: Each boat is slightly different, and the briefing gave us the opportunity to ask some questions about the best ways to do things.

The Girls' Room
The Girls' Room © AboutBritain.com

Double Room
Double Room © AboutBritain.com

Dave then manoeuvred Etruria out of the marina onto the canal, before handing me the tiller. Fortunately I remembered what to do, so Dave was happy to leave us with the boat at the first bridge and we were on our way!

We cruised down the Macclesfield Canal for about a mile, during which time the girls were able to start unpacking and organising their room at the front of the boat.

Soon we came to our first lock. Unusually, there was almost no change of water level - because this is a stop lock, originally built to separate the Macclesfield Canal from the Trent and Mersey Canal which was owned by a different canal company. So it was an easy task for our lock team - novice lock-operator Eve being shown the ropes by the more experienced windlass wielder Emily.

A slightly complicated set of junctions and turns came next, as our canal crossed over the Trent and Mersey on an aqueduct, before joining it at a junction. We managed to achieve this with no bumps or scrapes, and pointed the boat towards Kidsgrove, and eventually Stoke on Trent.


Harecastle Tunnel

Next came one of the features of this trip - the 2,926 metre long Harecastle Tunnel.

We knew we were approaching the tunnel because the water in the canal turned a surprisingly bright orange colour. At first it looks like some terrible chemical pollution - but in fact, it’s caused by seepage of tiny particles of ironstone washed into the tunnel by rainwater, and is quite harmless.

The Harecastle Tunnel is operated by a Tunnel Keeper at each end, who forms arriving boats into convoys for their passage through the tunnel. This is because the tunnel is only 1 boat wide.

There were a few minutes of barely controlled chaos as someone ahead of us had moored beneath a bridge, and blocked the passage of a convoy of boats coming the other way through the tunnel. We decided to hang well back and not make things any worse, so I disembarked and held our boat with the centre line until things resolved themselves.

Chaos at the Entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel!
Chaos at the Entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel! © AboutBritain.com

After about 10 minutes the log-jam was cleared and, after a brief safety chat with the Tunnel Keeper, it was our turn to go into the tunnel, so we switched on our headlight and the cabin lights and went in. The tunnel was quite dry compared to some others we’ve been through - with just the occasional stream of rainwater descending from the roof.

It took us 40 minutes to reach the other end of the tunnel. For most of that time the only lights were from our boat, the boat ahead and the boat behind - there was no light at the end of the tunnel! That’s because there are big steel doors over the tunnel exit to allow the two enormous extractor fans to pull air through the tunnel so diesel fumes don’t build up.

Looking Back at the Boat Behind in the Convoy
Looking Back at the Boat Behind in the Convoy © AboutBritain.com

A small gap had grown between us and the boat ahead - and as they exited the tunnel the doors banged shut behind them, blocking out the light once more. Fortunately the doors opened up again when we reached them, and we escaped unscathed into the daylight.

Looking Back at the Harecastle Tunnel Exit
Looking Back at the Harecastle Tunnel Exit © AboutBritain.com

I’ll write more about the Harecastle Tunnel, including its terrifying ghost story, when we return on Day 4.

Moored up for a Snack
Moored up for a Snack © AboutBritain.com

At this point we decided it was time to moor up for a welcome cup of tea and one of the ice-lollies Tesco had delivered to our freezer compartment.

Getting underway again, and cruising towards the pottery town of Hanley, we noticed one of the changes of landscape which are such a feature of this route - from countryside to an urban landscape of industrial buildings, both past and current, derelict and recently re-developed.

Middleport Pottery
Middleport Pottery © AboutBritain.com

We cruised past Middleport Pottery, catching glimpses through open doors and windows of the workers making the crockery this part of the world is famous for.

Middleport Pottery
Middleport Pottery © AboutBritain.com

They had a nice looking tearoom with seating by the canal, places to moor up and signs saying “Boaters Welcome” - very tempting.

We also passed a couple of disused bottle kilns - the distinctive brick-built ovens which were used to fire pottery in years gone by now surrounded by new housing.

We moored-up for the day after bridge 119c in a quiet area near Festival Park.

Clare and I took Oscar for a walk down the towpath while the girls prepared dinner. We walked past the site of the former Shelton Bar steelworks which has now been cleared awaiting development.

Moored up for the Night
Moored up for the Night © AboutBritain.com

We also passed Waterworld which was in the process of having new flumes added, and the colourful tubes were already snaking around the building. It’ll be a great place to moor up and take the kids.

Waterworld Under Construction
Waterworld Under Construction © AboutBritain.com

Shortly afterwards we came to a large area of mooring opposite some new-looking offices and call centres that have sprung up - looking very manicured, and quite a contrast to some of the derelict industrial sites we’d passed earlier in the afternoon.

There’s a Toby Inn here, which could be handy if you want to eat out, and the A53 crosses the canal here if you want to head into town.

Today was Eve’s 16th Birthday, so we had a celebration dinner on the boat, before retiring for some well-earned sleep!


Day Two (Tue) - Festival Park to Hazelhurst Junction

We awoke to dry weather - always a blessing. Clare walked Oscar while the rest of us ate breakfast, and we got underway quite promptly.

New Offices and Call Centres
New Offices and Call Centres © AboutBritain.com

We cruised past the various features of Festival Park that we’d seen on Oscar’s walk the previous evening, making sure we pointed Waterworld out to the girls.

James Brindley
James Brindley © AboutBritain.com

We quickly came to Etruria Junction where we turned left onto the Congleton Canal and made use of a convenient water point to top up the tank.

This water point is situated right next to the Etruria Industrial Museum, and opposite a statue of canal engineer James Brindley.

Brindley was the engineer responsible for the original Harecastle Tunnel, as well as working on the Bridgewater Canal, the Oxford Canal and the Coventry Canal.

In all, Brindley is credited with building 365 miles of Britain's canal network.

Filling up with Water
Filling up with Water © AboutBritain.com

We didn’t have time in our schedule to visit the museum on this trip - perhaps another time.

Etruria Industrial Museum
Etruria Industrial Museum © AboutBritain.com

Sign at Staircase Lock
Sign at Staircase Lock © AboutBritain.com

With the water tank topped-up, we proceeded round the corner to Bedford Street Staircase Locks - our first “proper” locks of the journey.

This is a pair of locks where there is no pound between the locks, so that the upper gate of one lock is also the lower gate of the one above it.

We had a bit of a struggle with this one, as the top chamber wouldn’t fully empty, so we couldn’t open the lock to ascend.

Luckily an experienced crew came along and diagnosed the problem (the ground paddle had stuck not quite closed, and was allowing water to leak in).

Opening the Gates at Bedford Street Staircase Lock
Opening the Gates at Bedford Street Staircase Lock © AboutBritain.com

Once that was sorted, we were on our way again, through the more straight forward Planet Lock and on to a section where the canal runs through picturesque Hanley Park.

With its ornate bridges and terracotta balustrades, Hanley Park is a pleasure to cruise through. The magnificent Pavilion building is apparently unused at the moment. There was quite a lot of work being done to the surrounding gardens which looked lovely.

Hanley Park
Hanley Park © AboutBritain.com

Leaving the park we passed through another industrial area with some more derelict factories as well as others with productive work going on.

The Emma Bridgewater factory is supposed to be around here somewhere - we kept an eye out, but didn’t see a sign on any of the factories we passed. We think it might be this one:

Emma Bridgewater Factory
Emma Bridgewater Factory © AboutBritain.com

Some of the distinctive bottle kilns have been preserved and form part of the urban landscape - focal points within new developments of flats along the canal which are slowly replacing the derelict factories.

A few of the bridges in this section were exceptionally low - so I had to crouch down to avoid hitting my head on them as we passed underneath.

Bottle Kilns
Bottle Kilns © AboutBritain.com

The girls took the opportunity of a lock-free section to sit outside at the front of the boat and play a board game, while looking out for families of ducklings. We saw quite a few as we went along.

They did have one job to do though - our first lift bridge! This one is electric, and the girls enjoyed being able to stop the road traffic and open the bridge so that we could pass through.

Then it was time to moor up for a quick lunch before getting underway again.

We were leaving Hanley now, and as we cruised past Northwood and Milton the urban landscape started to give way to countryside. Fields stretch right down to the canal without much of a bank in places, and cows and horses come down to the water to drink and cool off.

We saw several families of ducklings in this section, as well as a heron and three baby moorhens (little more than black balls of fluff).

Cute Ducklings
Cute Ducklings © AboutBritain.com

Shortly after lunch, we came to Engine Lock, which is one of the deepest locks on the network, with a height change of more than 12ft. Thankfully it was no more difficult to operate than any other lock, and didn’t cause the girls any problems.

Filling a Lock
Filling a Lock © AboutBritain.com

We cruised past a couple of Canal and River Trust working parties, one clearing overgrown vegetation from a boat, another working on the structure of the canal bank with a mini digger on a boat.

The vegetation clearing party’s boat was right across the canal, but they’d left a gap just big enough for a narrowboat to pass by. At least that’s what I thought, as I reduced our speed and headed towards the gap.

As I got closer, I began to think that the gap looked a bit tight. The slightly frantic hand signals from the captain of their boat when he noticed us told me they hadn’t intended to leave a gap for passing boats, so we waited for them to move before continuing.

As usual on the canals, minor dramas taking place at 3mph give plenty of time to sort things out, and no harm is usually done.

After a couple more lift bridges, we came to Stockton Brook Locks - a group of five locks in quick succession that would really put our lock crew through their paces.

Lifting Bridge 21
Lifting Bridge 21 © AboutBritain.com

The weather had been grey but dry all day, but this was the moment when the rain showers began - some of them quite heavy. By the fifth lock our lock crew were looking a bit bedraggled.

As we navigated this lock we met a group of gongoozlers. No, it’s not some exotic form of wildlife - a gongoozler is the name given to a spectator of canal activity.

Our gongoozlers were a group of young boys on bikes, with loads of questions about canals in general, and our boat in particular.

Video: Descending Planet Lock

By this time we’d reached the conclusion that Oscar doesn’t like locks. Whether it’s the sound of the water pouring in, the high walls when the lock is empty or the feel of the boat occasionally banging off the side of the lock, I don’t know, but he barks in locks, and doesn’t seem convinced that everything is in fact ok. Everything else about life on board a narrowboat seems to suit him fine - it’s just doesn’t like locks.

With the locks over for the day, the cold and wet lock crew took advantage of the lashings of hot water available for warming showers. The water is heated as a by-product of running the engine so there is always plenty of hot water available (provided you have enough water in the tank of course).

Obstruction © AboutBritain.com

At bridge 27 we came to an obstruction in the canal. It’s a round mini-island in the middle of the canal. We joked that it’s the plug keeping the water in the canal, but what it really is, I have no idea.

There’s a big sign on it, telling you which side to go, and plenty of space to slot the boat down that side and still get under the bridge. (It’s trickier going the other way because the bridge hides it from view until you’re almost upon it).

Etruria Cruising Past
Etruria Cruising Past © AboutBritain.com

As we cruised on, the rain intensified and we started to look for a suitable mooring spot to spend the night. This was tricky because the banks on this section of the canal seem to be quite overgrown.

In the end we chose a section with a nice view, got as close to the bank as we could and moored up. Oscar was ok leaping the gap - and we trod-down the weeds and long grass, so we could disembark safely.

View From our Mooring
View From our Mooring © AboutBritain.com

Our first impressions of the Caldon Canal were very positive. It’s very rural, and a little overgrown in places (despite the best efforts of the Canal and River Trust maintenance crews) so visibility round some of the corners is quite restricted. But that doesn’t really cause any problems because it’s lovely and quiet with very few boats on the move.

We finished our second day with dinner - a lovely Dorito casserole that Emily has created (which tastes better than it sounds), followed by home made (well boat-made) flapjacks and coffee.

We played a board game (221b Baker Street - a detective game, a bit like an enhanced version of Cluedo and great fun) before bed. We never seem to have time to play board games at home any more, but canal-time is different!


Day Three (Wed) - Turnaround Day - Hazelhurst Junction to End of Leek Arm and back to Engine Lock

Day Three dawned with more overcast weather - but thankfully last night’s rain had stopped. Once Oscar was walked and breakfast eaten, it was 9:45 before we got underway.

Today was the day we had to turn round and head back about halfway through the day, but first there was more outbound cruising to do, and we had a choice of routes:

We could choose to continue down the main part of the Caldon Canal to Cheddleton, or to explore the Leek branch.

Sign at Hazlehurst Junction
Sign at Hazlehurst Junction © AboutBritain.com

The main route to Cheddleton has a few locks to negotiate, and with our limited time, we wouldn’t get very far on that route, so we chose to explore the Leek Branch which has no locks, which would allow us to explore the whole of this branch before needing to turn.

Turning Onto the Leek Arm at Hazlehurst Junction
Turning Onto the Leek Arm at Hazlehurst Junction © AboutBritain.com

It proved to be a good choice, as the Leek Branch of the Caldon Canal is charming. Very rural, it twists and turns through the countryside and is quite overgrown in places, yet in others it widens out to a generous size.

Bridge 3 on the Leek Arm
Bridge 3 on the Leek Arm © AboutBritain.com

Visibility on some of the corners could have been a challenge if the canal had been busy - but it was very quiet on this out-of-season Wednesday morning, and we virtually had it to ourselves, meeting only three or four boats all morning!

A mile or so from the end, the canal widens out into a basin, before entering the Leek Tunnel. There was a large heron guarding the entrance to the tunnel, but he let us pass!

Heron © AboutBritain.com

Entrance to the Leek Tunnel
Entrance to the Leek Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

The Leek Tunnel is quite short compared to the Harecastle, at only 130 yards, so it didn’t take long before we re-emerged into the daylight, with the sun just starting to break through the clouds.

The last winding hole (turning point) large enough for 57ft boats like “Etruria” is a few hundred yards from the end of the canal. This would mark the halfway point of our holiday.

Cows Drinking by the Leek Tunnel
Cows Drinking by the Leek Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

We had planned to moor up nearby and walk right to the end of the canal, but there were no suitable moorings available, and a couple of other places we tried were too silted-up to get close enough to the bank, so we abandoned the walk and began our return journey.

Video: Leaving Leek Tunnel

We had taken the morning quite slowly (which is my preferred approach to a canal holiday anyway - if you’re in a hurry, a narrowboat is the wrong mode of transport), so it had taken nearer two hours to reach the end, rather than the one hour we had planned.

Travelling Through the Leek Tunnel
Travelling Through the Leek Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

The sun came out as we headed back - the longest sustained period of sunshine on the trip so far - and we enjoyed navigating the twists and turns through the countryside.

Spotted this Striking Paint Job
Spotted this Striking Paint Job © AboutBritain.com

There are some lovely properties next to the canal, many of which were being extended or upgraded, so it’s obviously a popular place to live. One garden in particular was stunning - beautifully kept - the sort of place that makes you think “why doesn’t my garden ever look like that?”.

Beautiful Garden Coming Down to the Canal
Beautiful Garden Coming Down to the Canal © AboutBritain.com

We moored up just before bridge 3 where the Leek arm of the canal crosses the main canal on an aqueduct and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Etruria © AboutBritain.com

Clare, Emily and Eve went to take some photographs at the Hazelhurst Locks while I chilled out in the sunshine with a book.

Lovely Lunchtime View
Lovely Lunchtime View © AboutBritain.com

Getting underway again, we rejoined the main canal - and passed the flattened patch of grass that signified last night’s mooring spot. We then stopped at Park Lane Wharf at bridge 31 to take on some water.

Park Lane Services
Park Lane Services © AboutBritain.com

Oscar (replete with noodles) Keeping a Lookout.
Oscar (replete with noodles) Keeping a Lookout. © AboutBritain.com

The girls had made me a bowl of noodles which I briefly left unattended as I manoeuvred alongside the water point. By the time I returned, Oscar had helped himself!

Every dog owner knows you can’t leave food unattended when there’s a labrador about, so I only have myself to blame.

The sunshine continued as we navigated the five Stockton Brook Locks, dropping 40 feet overall. The weather was a welcome contrast to the conditions we encountered on our outbound trip at the same spot.

Since Oscar isn’t very fond of locks, he and Clare disembarked and walked this section, enjoying the sunshine.

Girls with Windlasses at the Ready
Girls with Windlasses at the Ready © AboutBritain.com

All the locks were in our favour as another boat had recently come the other way. They did need topped-up as we approached though, so I suspect they must have been leaking slightly.

Just About to go Under Bridge 26
Just About to go Under Bridge 26 © AboutBritain.com

We made good progress and quickly made up the extra time we’d taken on the Leek arm.

At one of the locks, we saw this interesting sculpture:

Sculpture by the Canal
Sculpture by the Canal © AboutBritain.com

And this wonderful old pumping house, now disused:

Derelict Pumping House
Derelict Pumping House © AboutBritain.com

Two lift-bridges later and it was back to the deep 12ft “Engine Lock”, which is named after a pumping engine that used to be on the site.

Just after bridge 20 we found a great spot with a lovely countryside view to moor up for the night. I love the freedom to moor up almost anywhere, and being able to choose the view you’ll wake up to the next morning.

Etruria at Sunset
Etruria at Sunset © AboutBritain.com

Shortly after we stopped, a huge flock of Canada geese swam past the boat and started getting out of the canal into the field opposite. We opened the hatch and the girls soon tempted them back with some food.

We counted 38 geese in total. As we fed them, we noticed that a lot of them were juveniles, and that the adult geese had positioned themselves as sentries surrounding the group and keeping a lookout while the juveniles ate, but not taking any food for themselves. After a brief foray into the field when the food ran out, once darkness fell the geese returned to the water for the night.

Video: Feeding Geese from a Narrowboat

It rained during the evening, and we saw some bats flying around - which we hoped might reduce the population of midges trying to get into the boat through any open window!

We made sure we got an early night because the next day was the only really time-critical part of the trip - we need to be back at the Harecastle Tunnel well before the last guaranteed passage at 16:00* because if we didn’t get through on the Thursday afternoon, we’d be late back with the boat on Friday morning.

*NB: Harecastle Tunnel opening hours vary throughout the year - it’s only open by appointment in the winter!


Day Four (Thu) - Engine Lock to Red Bull Junction

Clare was woken up at 04:45 by an insistent tapping on the side of the boat. It turned out it was 38 Canada geese wanting their breakfast! Or so she says - it would take more than that to wake me up at 04:45, so I’ll take her word for it.

The weather forecast for today was pretty dire - steady rain for most of the day - but when we woke up it was a lovely sunny morning, pleasantly cool - the sort of weather that makes you rejoice to be on the canals.

Etruria Moored for the Night
Etruria Moored for the Night © AboutBritain.com

Once again the canal was very quiet with few other boats on the move. We passed the Canal and River Trust boat with the mini-digger on board, still reconstructing the canal bank.

Canal & River Trust Workmen
Canal & River Trust Workmen © AboutBritain.com

Cruising back through the re-developed areas on the outskirts of Hanley, we took the opportunity to shoot some time-lapse video of the area which shows some of the derelict factories, right next to areas that have been re-developed.

Video: Cruising Past Bottle Kilns on the Caldon Canal (Hyperlapse)

Then it was back through Hanley Park, to the staircase locks at Etruria which caused us no problems this time.

Hanley Park Bridge
Hanley Park Bridge © AboutBritain.com

We’d planned to stop at the Etruria Junction water point we’d used on the way out, to top up the tank in case everyone wanted to shower before going out to eat that night. But when we rounded the corner it was total chaos - narrowboats everywhere, and more arriving by the minute! We quickly abandoned the idea of topping-up, and concentrated on navigating Etruria Junction and back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Rejoining the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria Junction
Rejoining the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria Junction © AboutBritain.com

Still not sure what caused the rush - perhaps the convoy system at Harecastle Tunnel had bunched a lot of boats together, and they’d all arrived at once.

Some Bright Paintings Improve a Drab Concrete Fence
Some Bright Paintings Improve a Drab Concrete Fence © AboutBritain.com

We cruised on past Middleport Pottery, and decided we had time in our schedule for a quick lunch stop. Just after bridge 127 we joined a number of boats moored up near Westport Lake and had a bite to eat and a quick wander round the park and lake.

Westport Lake Visitor Centre
Westport Lake Visitor Centre © AboutBritain.com

The girls enjoyed talking to and photographing the baby geese in the park - which the adult geese, surprisingly, seemed to tolerate just fine.

Photographing the Goslings
Photographing the Goslings © AboutBritain.com

Back on board, it took a few minutes to get underway as we waited for another convoy of five or six boats coming the other way.

Looking Back at the Boats Moored at Westport Lake
Looking Back at the Boats Moored at Westport Lake © AboutBritain.com

We soon set off, and arrived at Harecastle Tunnel with plenty of time to spare before it closed.

We were the first ones there for our convoy, and had 40 minutes or so to wait for boats coming through in the other direction. The sun was still shining, and the girls practiced cartwheels on the grass while we enjoyed an interesting chat with the tunnel-keeper.

Waiting to go Back in the Harecastle Tunnel
Waiting to go Back in the Harecastle Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

A couple of other boats queued-up behind us, then it was time to go. In this direction, you can hear the big steel doors clang shut behind the convoy as you enter the tunnel, and you feel the strong draft rushing towards you as the two huge fans start pulling the air through the tunnel.

Being the lead boat I tried to keep lined up with the tiny spot of daylight nearly three thousand yards away, but I needed quite a few corrections on the tiller to avoid the sides, and took a slightly zig-zag path towards the daylight in places.

I promised you some more information on the Harecastle Tunnel and a ghost story on the return journey:

The original tunnel took 11 years to build and was completed in 1777. For the first 50 years, boats had to be “legged” through the tunnel by men who lay on the boat with their legs over the side and propelled the boat by walking along the tunnel walls!

This amazing feat could take 2-3 hours and caused enormous traffic jams, so a second tunnel was built, opening in 1827, so that each tunnel could take traffic in a single direction.

Video: Narrowboat Leaving the Harecastle Tunnel

The original tunnel began to suffer structural problems caused by subsidence, and by 1914 it was abandoned, leaving just the new tunnel, with boats now moved by an electric tug running along cables.

There are several versions of the tunnel’s (somewhat gruesome) ghost story - one of them goes something like this:

In the 1830s a young woman travelling from Liverpool to London to join her husband, decided to save money by hitching a ride on a narrowboat on the Trent and Mersey Canal.

It proved to be a fatal decision, as she was never seen alive again. Alerted to her disappearance by her worried husband, police searched for days before discovering her headless body concealed in an alcove in the Harecastle Tunnel

Ever since then, there have been occasional reports of a ghostly sightings in the form of either a headless woman with a blood-curdling scream, or a red-eyed dog in the area of the tunnel.

This unhappy spirit is known as the Kidsgrove Boggart.

Tunnel users have also reported seeing a boat behind them in the tunnel, but finding that they were in fact the last boat in the convoy when they reach the other end.

Whether you believe the old story or not, watch out for something unexpected in one of the tunnel alcoves as you pass through - you might get a surprise!

Later in the day I opened one of the lockers by the tiller to discover a bluetooth speaker hidden inside. Apparently, the girls had hidden it there earlier in the day, and planned to play back a suitably blood-curdling scream as we went through the tunnel. Luckily for me the tech let them down. Just as well, otherwise I might have had a heart attack and become the latest victim of the Kidsgrove Boggart!

After 40 minutes in the darkness, and thankfully unmolested by boggarts we emerged into the sunshine which was turning the water at Kidsgrove even more bright orange than it appeared on the way out.

The Colour of the Canal at the Harecastle Tunnel
The colour of the canal at the Harecastle Tunnel © AboutBritain.com

Shortly afterwards we turned neatly onto the Macclesfield Canal, and found a nice place to moor up just after bridge 96 - which we thought would give us a nice hour or so cruise in to Heritage Narrowboats the following morning.

Going Under Bridge 96
Going Under Bridge 96 © AboutBritain.com

Our plan for the evening was to walk to the Rising Sun Inn, which has a good reputation for its food, and have dinner there.

Although we’d expected quite a long walk, it turned out to be a bit further than we’d anticipated - and anyone following this route might want to moor a bit closer than this.

Oscar Anticipating His Dinner
Oscar Anticipating His Dinner © AboutBritain.com

The Rising Sun Inn was very friendly and made Oscar welcome too, and the food, when it eventually arrived was very good indeed.

Delicious Dessert at the Rising Sun Inn
Delicious Dessert at the Rising Sun Inn © AboutBritain.com

While we were eating the heavens opened with a downpour of biblical proportions.

The rain showed no signs of letting-up so our long walk back to the boat in the dark, by torchlight along a towpath beginning to flood in places was quite an adventure, and we were properly soaked by the time we got back to the boat. Thankfully “Etruria” was warm and cosy, and we soon dried out as we finished packing up our things ready for the morning.


Day Five (Fri) - Returning the Boat

We awoke to rain - though not quite as heavy as the previous night - but it didn’t matter as we only had an hour’s cruise, and a single stop-lock to do.

Misty Last Morning
Misty Last Morning © AboutBritain.com

Emily took the opportunity to drive the boat into the lock, before hopping off to operate the lock. On this trip she had operated every lock - ably assisted by Eve. They made a great team and their efficient lock-work helped us make good progress throughout the holiday.

Once we drew into Heritage Narrowboats they took over the helm and manoeuvred the boat to a convenient place for us to unpack everything back into the car, drawing our latest trip on Britain’s waterways to a close.

We think Emily and Eve enjoyed the trip as much as we did - and they’ve written some quick summaries of their thoughts, to inform other teens and parents:



Eve Says

The eighth of July marked the beginning of an exciting adventure for me. The first time I went on a narrowboat. For my birthday my best friend’s family and I decided that we should go on a canal trip as it was something I’d never done before.

The night before we left I was both excited and nervous: what if the boat was too small?, had I packed enough?, what if I can’t work the locks? As it turned out I had no need to worry.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect: I thought that sleeping in a boat would be really unique but as it turned out the boat didn’t rock half as much as I thought it would. It was still fun as you knew you were on a boat.

I also expected there to be limited water and certainly no showers but, to my delight, there was plenty of hot water, and two showers (one of which was extremely small but it got the job done). All in all I expected a fun trip and I wasn’t disappointed.

I particularly enjoyed doing the locks and swing bridges, I always enjoy learning and experiencing new things no matter how big or small.

Any downsides? Well a boat is a small space and doesn’t afford much privacy, especially for an introvert like me, used to having a room to myself and being alone whenever I want. Fortunately, I didn’t mind too much as there was always plenty to do.

Would I recommend this trip to my fellow teens? Provided you get on well with your crew-mates like I did, then yes I’d 100% recommend a canal boat trip. The experience is rewarding and it’s a learning curve if nothing else and I feel that it’s worth anyone’s time to give it a go.

The eighth of July will always stick with me. Not just because it’s my birthday, but because it’s also the day I learned how to use a windlass.

The Lock Crew!
The Lock Crew! © AboutBritain.com

Emily Says

As someone who’s been on a canal boat before, I had some frame of reference for this trip compared to previous ones.

To start off, this holiday was different to others I’ve been on because it was a different canal, a different length of boat, and different views. I also had a good friend with me, rather than just my parents.

Things I found fun were when we spent some time sitting on the front of the boat playing board games, and Eve and I volunteering to do all the cooking. Of course, there were more active things to do as well, like locks and lift bridges.

There’s not a huge amount of storage space on a narrowboat so there was only one cupboard in the bedroom I shared with Eve and we had to fit all our clothes in there, so we were glad we didn’t pack too many outfits!

Things that other teens should remember to bring:

  • Insect repellent
  • Enough clothes for the trip as there isn’t normally a washing machine on the boat!
  • A change of shoes in case you get them muddy.

All in all, it was very relaxing to be on the canal boat, and seeing the views and going through the tunnel was really interesting.

I’d definitely go again if the opportunity arose and I’d also recommend it to others.



Once again we’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable few days exploring a small part of the canal network at a relaxed pace, and getting a new perspective on an area of the country.

Etruria Approaching
Etruria Approaching © AboutBritain.com

This route, taking in Macclesfield, the Trent & Mersey and the Caldon canals has been a real pleasure to explore. Offering wonderful contrasts between areas of beautiful countryside, industrial heritage, current industry and shiny new developments it’s been a fascinating window into the past, present and future of the Potteries.

Finding a holiday that both parents and teenage kids will enjoy can be a real challenge - but I think a canal trip has a lot to offer. With mobile data, the teens can stay connected to their online worlds for part of the time, but they also have lots of scenery and wildlife to enjoy, and plenty of energetic tasks to perform operating locks and bridges.

Etruria Moored Up
Etruria Moored Up © AboutBritain.com

Full Disclosure: We’d like to thank Heritage Narrow Boats who sponsored our trip. They did not seek or receive any editorial input to this article.


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