Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Leek and a Scarecrow.

6 Locks, 7 Miles, 1 Tunnel. 2 lift bridges, Now moored at the head of navigation, Leek Canal.

It’s been a very interesting sort of day today. The weather hasn’t improved much but we wanted to press on to be in Leek for the Wednesday market and Cheddleton on Saturday for the Churnet Valley Railway.

The first interesting experience was the old railway swing bridge at Endon Basin. The centre swivel mounting is still sitting in the middle of the canal although the rest of the bridge has long gone. It was used to transport limestone on a narrow gauge railway to the Endon Canal Basin which is now occupied by a boat club. Passing this and then approaching a bridge hole was a bit tricky especially when you meet a boat in the opposite direction.

A bit of a tight squeeze and we met another boat in the bridge hole.

The next surprise for the day came when we stopped at the BW facilities block at bridge 31. While Dot filled the water tank I went to have a look at the old railway line that follows the canal. What I found was contractors to Network Rail underpinning the road bridge with a new re-inforced wall and the track still in place. I spoke to a workman on site and it appears that the line is to be re-opened probably just for freight but its a move in the right direction. The last freight train ran over these rails in 1969.

Network Rail have built this reinforced wall to strengthen the road bridge as this line is due to re-open possibly for Quarry traffic. Hopefully passenger traffic later.

At the Hazelhurst Junction there was a boat waiting to enter the locks just as another was exiting but it was here that we turned right onto the Leek Branch of the canal. This canal is probably the narrowest canal we have navigated but scenic wise it is splendid. At the tunnel, which is only 130 yards long, there is a huge winding hole in which to manoeuvre to line yourself up with the tunnel because initial thoughts are ”That’s not wide enough to fit through”. Once inside, the tunnel is in very good condition with one section having been completely rebuilt. Its different from most tunnels in that it’s built with blocks rather than bricks.

Getting lined up to make sure the tunnel is clear.

At the Leek head of navigation we had to wind and then reverse back about 150 yards to a mooring as the winding hole at the very end of the canal only caters for boats up to 45ft.

The end of the Leek navigation. The feeder stream is straight ahead with the canal course going off to the right over the Aqueduct, now filled in.

After mooring up the weather eased so we took a stroll into town. We worked out roughly where the last half mile of canal used to be before it was closed and filled in. As we passed across the old aqueduct over the River Churnet we naturally had a look over the parapet and shock horror, there appeared to be a body in the river. We reported the sighting to the police who investigated it and found that it was a farmers scarecrow but it looked very life like.

The walk into town started off through an industrial estate where “Kerrygold “ have a new and very large refrigerated warehouse where 8 large articulated trucks were loading. The trek into town was all uphill as the centre of town is smack bang on top of a hill. Leek looks like a town stood still in the early to mid 20th century with very few new buildings. The only real evidence of modernisation was Morrison’s supermarket on the edge of town at the bottom of the hill where the original canal basin used to be.

In the centre of town we found the market square where council workers were busy setting up the stalls for tomorrow’s market, which weather permitting, we will visit as it is supposed to be the best in the district, we shall see!

1637 locks, 3469 miles, 60 Tunnels, 45 swing bridges and 42 lift bridges since Nov 2006

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