Friday, 23 September 2016

Three Canals in Five Days


It could only have been a matter of minutes after leaving our mooring at Market Drayton on Monday morning when a man in a red top, who had run along the towpath to get to us, hailed us with the question “Are you friends of Paul and CJ?” Well we do happen to be friends with Paul and CJ so we stopped the boat and had a great ‘friends-of-friends’ meeting with two charming guys – Tim and Chris. Thanks so much for spotting us Tim and Chris. It was a great chat (hope we didn’t delay you too much!) and we look forward to a longer meet next time.


Soon after Market Drayton the wide Shropshire Union Canal suddenly narrows into a deep rock cutting at the base of the very picturesque Tyrley lock flight.


After rising 33 feet up the five locks we arrived in the pretty setting at the top lock.


Hot on the heels of the Tyrley locks is the equally narrow “Woodseaves Cutting”. The cutting is so deep that some bridges are approaching 80 feet high and there’s a 2mph speed limit on boats to stop erosion of the bank as this stretch is very prone to landslides. It’s certainly not a place to hang around!


At Knighton we passed the old Cadbury wharf with it’s lovely Art Deco buildings. Cadburys used to blend raw chocolate here which was then returned to Bournville for further processing. The final cargo from these original buildings was carried in 1961 but Cadbury still process in the modern building behind.


We moored for the night on Monday at Lord Talbot’s Wharf, between bridges 26 and 25. In the morning fortune was on our side as John Jackson came along with his coal boat and butty. We only had a third of a bag of coal left and with the evenings getting chillier we decided to hail him down for a couple of bags. After delivering a load opposite he swung across to us ……..


…… and got his boat stuck in the mud on both sides of the canal! A laden working boat is very deep in the water and can easily get grounded.


Interestingly, to save time and effort, before stopping his ‘motie’ (motor boat) he unhitched the butty (no engine) and let it sail on down the canal under it’s own momentum, intending to catch it up later, rehitch and continue his journey. Very clever – there’s always something to learn on the canals!


On Tuesday morning we stopped at Wheaton Aston to fuel up (at 51.9p/litre it was the cheapest we’ve ever paid for fuel in five years!) And it was a good job too as we got 200 litres in! Motoring on we crossed the old Roman road of Watling Street on a superbly elegant aqueduct constructed of cast iron, brick with the most glorious stone pillars.


Not stopping this time, we passed the lovely village of Brewood (pronounced ‘Brood’) which, from the canal, presents the quintessentially English picture. 


At the end of the “Shroppie” is the junction to the Staffs and Worcs Canal and the stop lock. The lock protects the water supplies between the two canals and is only 6 inches deep!


Now on the Staffs and Worcs canal we were soon into another cutting. This one goes by the old boatman’s name of “Pendeford Rockin” and, going on for 1/2 mile, it’s damned narrow in places! These things keep James on his toes which is a good thing really!


Getting tired by now, and then being “ambushed” by an army of young canoeists (who, incidentally, all saluted as we went past!) we chose to moor up for the night in a quiet spot and settle our nerves. (only joking!)


Off again on Wednesday morning and, as we’ve said so many time before, the canals have a surprise round most corners. This one was the very unusual, and rather lovely narrow boat “Elizabeth” which we’ve seen a few times now but it’s always a pleasure.


The old Roman road of Watling Street crossed our path again, over the bridge at the far end of the lock, at Gailey Wharf. The most interesting thing here though is the Round House. Originally a toll clerks office it’s now a canal shop and always worth a visit (even if it’s only an ice cream!)


Soon after Gailey we were deafened by the roar of the M6 which follows the course of the canal for far too long.


Penkridge, and Wednesday nights mooring, came next and we knew we were getting close as we approached the delightful setting of the Cross Keys and bridge 84.


After a quiet night in Penkridge, where the M6 moves far enough away to allow for a good night’s sleep, we were on our way again on Thursday morning with one last encounter with the motorway monster. The day was very slow with about four boats queueing at each lock (much to the surprise of everyone as the previous day was so quiet!). However, we had a lot of fun and ribald banter with each other and, at one lock (can’t remember which), we were so pleased that Pam and Terry on nb “Rooster’s Rest” spotted us ahead of them in the queue and came to say ‘hello’. We met them in Alrewas last year.


After journeying through the perfectly manicured village of Acton Trussell we arrived at the penultimate lock of the day – Tixall Lock is shallow at 4ft 3in and has a pretty little lock cottage to enhance our enjoyment.


The extraordinary Elizabethan gatehouse of Tixall Hall overlooks the wide expanse of canal known as Tixall Wide and it wasn’t long then before we arrived at Great Haywood and our last lock of the day. After that it was a few hundred yards to find a lovely mooring overlooking the Shugborough Hall estate.


Friday’s journey took us from Great Haywood (stopping briefly at Rugely for groceries -as every boater does of course!) and ended in dear old Fradley in the early afternoon. We winded at the junction with the Coventry and backed down through the lock to arrive at our favourite mooring spot as we want to be facing the right way to go down the Coventry canal when we leave on Sunday. We were amazed at how deserted these Fradley moorings were on a Friday.

Well, it’s not often we travel three different canals in such a short time but each one has offered it’s own delights and surprises. How very lucky!

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