Author Topic: From Dolphin Boatyard to Priscilla Queen of the Canal.  (Read 319 times)


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I descended a flight of metal steps near to Stoke station to get to the towpath of the Trent and Mersey canal.

On one the far side of the canal currently stands a grey shed that will, some day soon, be swept away and replaced by a luxury hotel. If you live in Stoke-on-Trent long enough you get to take the likelihood of such grand schemes coming to pass with a pinch of salt large enough to give a government health advisor nightmares.

If such a hotel is ever built then the guests will be able to enjoy a fine view of reeds, ducks and tied up canal boats as they eat their breakfast. On this day it belonged to me and a handful of bargees who were at that moment waking up, drinking their first coffee of the day and wondering where they were going to sail to next.

For myself my plan was to head towards Trentham following what used to be one of the areas industrial arteries.

By the time I had negotiated a low bridge followed by a tight bend, marked with a helpful reminder to cyclists that the towpath isn’t their personal racetrack the traffic noise firm the nearby A500 had almost vanished.

The ghosts of Stoke's industrial past were all too evident. Almost the first sight I was met with was the decaying bulk of a bottle kiln, attached to a building that seemed, since the kiln cooled, to have been home to a succession of none too successful businesses. These had left behind a palimpsest of abandoned sheds and piles of stone and steel that looked like they hadn’t been touched for decades.

Further into the walk as I reached Sideway I passed through a tunnel next to the incinerator built in the seventies and now deemed too small to meet the city’s needs to the faintly intimidating booming sounds from an engineering plant screened from the canal by trees. Emerging at its end to where more grey sheds, soon to be home to light manufacturing and call centres, the city’s hope of a new prosperity.

Before that after passing what looked like a former wharf turned into units for small businesses I found myself in the Dolphin Boatyard, a place I remembered from childhood, but thought had long since closed.

As a teenager I used to by bait there during my brief infatuation with fishing, as memory serves it has changed very little over that past thirty plus years. There is still the same cluster of boats along the bank. Some of them as spick and span as destroyers, clearly somebody’s weekend retreat or retirement project, others faded, forlorn and ready to sink.

A jumble of sheds crowded the water’s edge, some built by boat owners as places to sit watching the world go by. Others housing various functions, one had a sign offering, in this order, tackle and bait, air guns, archery, boats and engines, country line dancing. Something for everyone who wants to step off the rushing everyday world.

Back in the day we used to buy our bait and walk along the canal to a spot opposite a large pottery factory built in the days when workplaces were designed on an epic scale. Its gone now, demolished in 2001 as the pottery industry went into sharp decline, the space it left behind choked with nettles. A sad reminder of the void left behind when work skips town for somewhere cheaper.

Then, once I’d passed the incinerator, emerging from the tunnel into bright sunlight, I was in something close to open countryside. Empty fields stretched away on both sides, traffic noise was replaced by birdsong and butterflies I wish I could name flittered aimlessly about.

For three quarters of an hour the only signs of life I encountered were passing narrow boats, everyone brightly painted and with a cheerfully waving captain for a day at the tiller, and occasionally a train speeding past on the nearby line like an arrow fired by one of the archers back at the Dolphin boatyard.

Then just as suddenly I was back in suburbia, the outskirts of Trentham, neat back gardens replaced fields and England flags new enough to show the creases where they had been taken from the packaging fluttered in the warm breeze.

Even though I had reached its end and would soon have to climb up to the road to catch a bus home there were some pleasing similarities to my starting point. Here too boats bobbed at their moorings, the pride and joy of people who might have been in a different council tax band to those at Dolphin boatyard; but were united by a common desire to escape from the ordinary.

One bore the name ‘Priscilla Queen of the Canal’ on its side in ornate lettering, may good fortune bless all who sail in her and similar craft.


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Re: From Dolphin Boatyard to Priscilla Queen of the Canal.
« Reply #1 on: 08:08:22, 14/07/18 »
Not sure this part of the forum is the right place for it, but I enjoyed reading this trip report. You have a way with words. You didn't take any photos by any chance?
Make the most of the available light


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Re: From Dolphin Boatyard to Priscilla Queen of the Canal.
« Reply #2 on: 10:29:10, 14/07/18 »
Nice write up.  I enjoyed reading that.