Sunday, 2 October 2016

Move along, nothing to see here

Stoke's bottle kilns are still crumbling away
You know that feeling when you've been on a long and exciting holiday. So much seems to have happened. You almost feel like the world has changed. Then you get home, return to work and quickly discover that nothing very much has happened at all in your absence. The world is actually pretty much as you left it.
Well that's what it feels like to be back on this stretch of the Trent & Mersey. It's five years since we were here (on our old boat, Star) and nothing really seems to have changed. The canalside through Stoke is still a wasteland – the buddleia on the ruined buildings has grown thicker, the acres of rubble are now covered with a thick fuzz of weed - and that's about it.
Back in 2011 I said this about the place: "I always find Stoke a fascinating but sad and sorry place to boat through. Fascinating because there are so many remnants of its old industries - the bottle kilns, the wharves, the ruined brick warehouses. Sad because that's all they are - remnants.
People have told me of cruising through the town when steel furnaces spat fire along the canal and the kilns belched smoke. What a sight that must have been!
All that has gone, the warehouses are deserted ruins, the kilns silent museum pieces and for nearly a mile the canal runs through a wasteland; a bulldozed desert of nothingness."

A sign and wasteland with no past and no future
I would have hoped that by now one or two of the bottle kilns might have been restored; some of the wasteland built on, a few of the warehouses made into apartments but, no. Nothing has changed. The plan to restore the Burslem Port arm remains just a sign on the edge of wasteland.There's no past and no future to be seen.
Even the town centre was an unappetising blend of a modern 'intu' mall, some '70s developments that were looking tired to the point of exhaustion and a few old buildings that had somehow ducked generations of wrecking ball. On the way from the canal we passed two casinos and the HQ of Bet365 in a mile. Says it all, really.
My favourite boatyard: a one-stop shop for all your needs
Trentham Gardens, south of the city, is where the money has migrated to. They were pouring into the 'shopping village' on Saturday, eager to spend. The carpark is about the size of a Heathrow runway so it can soak 'em up. Those that made it past the boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants had expensively restored Italianate gardens to admire too.
After a day of rain yesterday, we woke to sun and nurdled slowly south, passing the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston. Josiah Wedgwood was one of the principal movers behind the creation of the T&M Canal. These days, after going more or less bust and being bought by a private equity firm it is now in the hands of Finnish home goods makers Fiskars. Apparently they plan to expand the limited production still at Barlaston. Here too is the museum where the huge collection of 80,000 items was rescued from being sold off to pay the firm's debts when it went bust. Fiskars plan to turn this into an 'experience' which is how we Brits can discover what it was like to actually make things here.
Coming down through the Meaford locks towards Stone
We've pottered through mild countryside, following the line of the River Trent, and into the archetypal little canal town of Stone where we arrived just in time to miss the end of the local Food & Drink weekend. Which was probably no bad thing for my waistline. Here in Stone, too, nothing seems to have changed, though in this case that's probably for the best.

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