TREADING water, as usual, last week's column tied up at Cockerton Docks - that legendary, but never sunk port of call on Darlington's northern shores. Now we're up to the oxters.

David Walsh in Redcar was prompted to consult the section in Bulmer's History of Cleveland on Moorsholm, a decidedly landlocked spot on the edge of the Whitby moors, beyond Guisborough.

The village, recorded Bulmer, had a church, a mission room, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodist chapels and, on the main street, six stone drinking troughs for cattle, known as Moorsholm Docks.

However greatly doubts may be harboured, the "docks" themselves remain.

WE knew little else of Moorsholm save that the pub, once the Plough, is now intriguingly named the Toad Hall Arms.

A 19th century account called it "a dismal prototype of Goldsmith's haunted village"; the Echo in the 1960s variously described it as "forgotten" and "murdered", the North Riding equivalent of Category D.

When the pub was the Plough, local GP Dr John Frood held his weekly surgery in the bar, on busy days overflowing into opening hours. The village hall was too big, too cold and altogether less congenial.

"You don't usually associate drinking with health," said Dr Frood at the time, ignoring all that Winston Churchill averred (and Winnie lasted until he was 90.)

David Walsh also recalls that a plan to extend the railway from Loftus to Moorsholm never materialised, though a second pub was still called The Station.

Not even the redoubtable David - as good a mole as any peripatetic columnist could wish to find - is able to throw light on the Toad Hall Arms. "I asked all night in the pub," he insists. Readers may tell a better story.

SPEAKING of Redcar, of pubs and of matters maritime, memory suggests that the Wetherspoon's house in the High Street is named the Samuel Plimsoll, after the chap who came up with the Plimsoll line. So which O-level history student, asked to write briefly on three of the following, concocted an ingenious account of the man who invented the sandshoe? Alas, there is no need to look further.

COMPLETE coincidence, Arnold Sanderson rings from Hunwick, near Crook. How, he wonders, did Toadpool - in West Auckland - come by its name?

Once it was a distinct area, as Hummerbeck is now. Now only a street name identifies Toadpool, though Arnold believes there should be road signs, too. "It seems to have been abolished by the local authority," he says.

We happened last Thursday evening to be in West Auckland for a meeting, among others present Mr Jim Palfreyman - a parish councillor who lives in Toadpool - and Mr Allen Bayles, who doesn't.

Allen kindly rang Tommy Snaith. "If Tommy doesn't knaa, nee one'll knaa," he said. Tommy didn't knaa, neither did his sister.

Clearly there must once have been a pond inhabited by tailless amphibians, but can anyone get further in?

SO what of Middridge Docks, or indeed the Middridge Fairies - established not just as local legends but in the minds of us bit bairns when at Timothy Hackworth juniors.

Middridge is between Shildon and Newton Aycliffe, not close by the river at all. The fairies, so folklore has it, were nasty little devils who chased a horseman until he took refuge at Middridge Grange, their fairy arrow marks still visible in the door.

King Charles I is also said to have taken refuge at the Grange, though whether from fairies or more substantial pursuers is unrecorded.

In the mid-1990s, the fairy story was re-enacted at several schools in the area, thanks chiefly to much missed local councillor Tony Moore.

The docks legend appears rather more unfathomable. Though the Echo in March 1975 carried a picture captioned "Middridge Docks", it appeared to be no more than Middridge clarts. The waters remain as muddy as ever.

COCKERTON Docks resurfaced because former Darlington lad Brian Madden, now in America, had paid $85 on eBay for a copy of a 1772 map of the proposed canal, from Middlesbrough to Winston, which would have fed them.

Chris Mills in Butterknowle points out that the canal was intended to continue, via Esperley and Cockfield Fell, to Copley, for the purpose of carrying coal to the coast.

A test section of canal was built atop the fell by Jeremiah Dixon - he of the Mason Dixon Line - and can still be seen. Unlike some of the folk tales, it still holds water, too.

TIM Stahl in Darlington not only recalls a model railway lay-out of Cockerton Docks - "You may be aware that it's a common theme of railway modellers to use something that might have been, but wasn't" - but also draws attention to a song about them.

It's contained in Brian Childs's "Darlington Town and Other Songs of the North-East", published last year. The chorus tells the tale:

I'm a bold navigator, and sooner now or later

We'll be warping all the barges through the locks,

Where once was just a stream, no longer now a dream

Soon we will be building Cockerton Docks.

Sadly, it all ended high and dry:

And so it was, alas, it never came to pass,

A hundred barges never left the stocks,

And who is there today, believes a word I say

Come on - you must be joking - Cockerton Docks?

Tim can't yet track down the model railway? Anyone know what happened to it?

DRY docked, we return finally to the dear old John H Amos, Britain's only remaining steam paddle tug.

Long moored and rusting on the north bank of the Tees - was it not the late lamented Stockton councillor Stephen Smailes who supposed that a scrapman wouldn't give a goldfish in a jam jar for it? - the 300-ton vessel is now painstakingly being restored on the Medway.

Prompted by last week's note on Whitworth spanners - "Your namesake is full of them," he says - Ron Young in Stockton points out that old Amos is also to be towed by a barge called the Portal Novack, which itself has a sea story to tell.

The Portal Novack was once the front part of a landing ship tank that was at Christmas Island during the A-bomb tests. "How close she came I don't know," says Ron, "but if she glows in the dark, it was too damn close."

We try to float another column next week. columnists/feature/gadfly