The Potteries and Beyond, southbound for Winter

Westport Lake visitot centreMooring out of Harecastle tunnel is best at the rather scenic Westport Lake where we squeezed in so as not to miss out. A wide tow path, an expanse of green and then the path circumnavigating the lake itself makes it a spacious and pleasant area. It even boasts its own visitor centre which looks like it’s landed from outer space to settle amidst the Canada geese, cyclists and happy boaters for research purposes.Blue and white graffiti Onwards through the potteries on the Trent and Mersey with its mix of old and new we stopped at Middleport Pottery at its convenient visitor mooring spot (with overlooking pretty blue and white graffiti for a change) and popped in for a bit of essential historical knowledge and unnecessary gift shop sophistication. I found the bins outside to be of equal interest – ginormous brown skips crammed with broken crockery waiting to go…where? Middleport PotteryFor what? (I’m sure I could have found the odd piece in there that could easily have dressed a narrowboat’s dining table, tiny chip excused; imperfection celebrated). The hot July weather percolated on unrelentingly so we had a day’s respite at Hem Heath where we met Rivendell and her youthful and sparkling crew of two and also bumped into Narrow Escape with her captain James Bond (not really – but he’s as suave) and his faithful hound dog. I was unexpectedly lifted off my feet and swirled around by James in an unrivalled greeting – me still in my pyjamas, all sleepy dusty and hair doing its own wild tango. We drank tea, but all too soon James had to continue his journey far into the north seeking adventures and escapades as only the neatly dressed undercover man can. Rivendell had broken down so we towed her the following day to Stone for attention. Once in full swing, the novice can feel confident and purposeful when towing. This is a cruel illusion which  is  crushed in an instant when around the bend pokes another boat’s nose, a bridge or a bush and I am gripped by sweaty alarm and apprehension. Still, all character building stuff I understand, and a day’s endurance testing for Rivendell’s captain who had the more difficult job altogether, fending off other boats with his feet, hauling Rivendell into the locks and moving spectacularly on her roof under bridges with fizzing acrobatic energy. Mark and I rewarded ourselves with al-fresco dining at The Star by the lock in Stone with much deserved beer and slept the sleep of sleepy people who have used all their arms and legs altogether and all day and are dog tired. We left the cosy town of Stone with its ‘Welcome to Stone’ stoneware monument, beached narrowboat brimming with flowers and helpful CRT volunteers who joined us for a cup of tea in search of the elusive launderette – which we found later at Aston Marina. If you ever need your washing doing: go to Aston Marina. What pleasant and helpful people they are and the whole place has such a mediterranean vibe as relaxed sun-kissed customers sip white wine on the restaurant’s terrace. There is also a delicatessen where you can stock up on peculiarly pickled treats and all manner of delights you didn’t know you needed. We thought we could easily live there forever until the call of baked beans on toast and builders’ tea beckoned us back to reality. Thanks to Donna and Mark for permission to publish their blog here.

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