Saturday, December 20, 2014

Toddling on a bit…

This morning I had a bit of shopping to do before we moved on. Bread, paper, and a visit to the butcher just up the lane provided a lump of pork for lunch tomorrow. I also bought a sausage roll for lunch, very tasty but pretty explosive. It’s a good job I ate it outside while steering; the flaky pastry was extremely flaky!

Apart from the moored boats we also had an angling match to contend with as we cruised through Gnosall.IMG_2940 
We missed the opportunity to have a chat with Scooby and Rita, NB Maple Knot. They were moored just the other side of Boat Inn Bridge, and I hadn’t realised. We passed this morning, Rita waving through the window. It looks like they’re heading the other way. Shame.

Heading out of Gnosall, leaving the moorings and anglers behind, the country to the south and west opens up, giving fine views over to The Wrekin, 14 miles away.IMG_2941
Rising to 1335 feet it looms over the Shropshire plain. Mainly formed of volcanic rock around 680 million years ago, the hardness of the formations has resisted erosion that has weathered away the flanks of sedimentary shales and mudstones, leaving the prominent ridge exposed.

The higher ground to the west, in Staffordshire, drained into what was then a vast, shallow sea, leaving a series of ridges and valleys running east to west. It’s these geological features that dominated the construction of the canal along here, requiring the cuttings and embankments that were such a trial to the engineers. The sides of the cuttings slipped in; the flanks of the embankments slid out.
One of the largest embankments is just south of Norbury Junction. Shelmore Embankment is around 50 feet high and a mile long, and was the last section on the canal to be completed.

Shelmore Embankment.


As the terrain rises again to the level of the canal, the entrance to the Newport Branch Canal is passed at Norbury Junction.

Norbury JunctionIMG_2955

This canal was built to link the 18th century network of canals around Shrewsbury to the “Main Line” and ran for around 10 miles, dropping down 17 locks to Wappenshall Junction. The Shrewsbury Canals were built to move iron ore and coal around the local vicinity but were isolated, having access to the main canal network was an obvious advantage.

Around the junction a small community grew up, with wharfs, workshops and of course a pub being rapidly established. The Newport Branch has been derelict for a number of years, only the first section to the top lock, now used as a dry dock, is in water. Lots more info here.

Out of Norbury and we’re back into a cutting, the delightfully named Grub Street, with the much-photographed High Bridge crossing. Let’s add another one…IMG_2961

…or twoIMG_2962

The Anchor at High Offley, at the other end of the cutting is a popular stop in the summer, but quiet this time of year.

The AnchorIMG_2963

From here it gets a bit tedious. There’s nearly a mile of linear moorings to crawl slowly past.

Shebdon moorings, High Offley on the hill beyondIMG_2967

The hamlet of Shebdon also lends it’s name to the next high embankment. There’s good moorings at the south end, rings to tie to and a dry towpath. A luxury at this time of year. And this is where we pulled in.

Moored at Shebdon EmbankmentIMG_2968

After a couple of showers while we moved, the sun has made an appearance this afternoon. We’ll stay here tomorrow, then move down to Market Drayton on Monday.

Locks 0, miles 6

Friday, December 19, 2014

Down the cut to Gnosall

Yesterday we stayed where we were. The forecast predicted wind and heavy showers, and it wasn’t far wrong. We had sun first thing though, even though the rain clouds were advancing from the west…
You get some fantastic colours at this time of year.

We were off at just after 10:30, and managed all of 50 yards before we were back against the bank. We picked up a couple of items of unidentifiable apparel on the prop, and no amount of “chucking back” would throw them off. They must have been lurking, just waiting for us to set off… A visit to the weed plastic bag hatch filled most of a carrier bag.

All clear and we were off for the second time, heading into the first of the cuttings that the Shroppie is known for. IMG_2894Only short and relatively shallow, this one. They get considerably more dramatic further north.

When I walked Meg up to Avenue Bridge yesterday I could hear a pair of buzzards calling, but only caught a fleeting glimpse. Today one of them was much more co-operative…IMG_2903

The ornate Avenue BridgeIMG_2904
This carried the East Avenue carriage road to Chillington Hall, over to the west.

Taken yesterday, on the bridge
Often, local landowners would insist on making a feature of the canal in exchange for permission to cross their land. All at the canal company’s expense, of course.

Brewood is the first settlement of any substance encountered as you head north. IMG_2907

It takes a while to leave it behind, long lines of moored boats flank the canal to the north.IMG_2908

There’s a hire base here and permit holder and private moorings.

I wonder how long you have to neglect your boat to grow this much moss?IMG_2910

IMG_2913Although the Shropshire Union runs from Autherley Junction to Ellesmere Port on the Mersey, the mileposts only indicate the distances to Nantwich.

The clue as to why is in the “Union” part of the name. Like the Grand Union Canal, the Shropshire Union came into being as an amalgamation of existing navigations. This section was fully opened in 1835, and was named the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. It joined the existing, much earlier Chester Canal at Nantwich, just to the north of Nantwich Basin.

There nearly wasn’t a junction at Autherley. The intention was that the canal would form a fast shipment route between Birmingham and the port of Liverpool, far more direct than the round-about route currently used. Unfortunately a half-mile of the Staffs and Worcester Canal would need to be utilised, between Autherley and Aldersley Junction, where the Birmingham Canal started it’s climb up to Wolverhampton. The S&W weren’t impressed, and threatened to charge ridiculously high tolls for the use of their bit of cut. The B&LJ countered this by investigating whether a canal fly-over, crossing the S&W and joining the Wolverhampton Flight part way up, was feasible. Facing the loss of any trade on their water the S&W backed down and Autherley Junction was constructed.

The canal can be a bit boring to cruise, consisting as it does of long straights over embankments…IMG_2930

…or long straights through cuttings.
At least on this canal if you’re heading north you’re generally pointing north, unlike some of the earlier twisty contour-hugging canals!

One embanked straight is interrupted by the crossing of Watling Street at Stretton on a cast iron aqueduct supported on blue brick and stone abutments.

Stretton AqueductIMG_2916
The railings could do with a coat of paint!
It looks far more impressive from the road below. We got a toot from a Wales-bound truck as we crossed.

After Stretton there’s another cutting through Lapley Wood before the canal arrives at it’s first proper lock at Wheaton Aston.

Wheaton AstonIMG_2929

Bridge 26 sees the towpath switch sides from east to west, the side it’ll stay on till just above Adderley Locks.

The low sun provides some beautiful soft light…IMG_2935
…Winter Soltice on Sunday!

Near the end of today’s trip we entered the steep sided Cowley Cutting, which ends at Cowley Tunnel.

Cowley Cutting
The slopes are very friable; I think the intention was to make this a longer tunnel, only the roof wouldn’t stay up! The tunnel is only 81 yards long, faced and lined at the south end…IMG_2938

…and rough-cut stone at the north where the strata is more stable. IMG_2939

We pulled in beside Boat Inn Bridge, on the edge of the village of Gnosall Heath. There are more moorings through the bridge, but they’re in the cutting and a bit gloomy.

We didn’t waste yesterday, instead we had a marathon Christmas card writing session. They all went in the post box just up the road when we stopped today.

It’s been cooler today, with the southerly wind moving more to the west. But it’s been generally dry, just a couple of short, light showers. After a grocery top-up tomorrow we’ll head on, probably up to High Offley or Knighton.

Hi Jaqx. Thanks for the comment. Yes, we’re both on the up again. Someone else mentioned arnica, I’ll pick some up in Market Drayton, I guess. Glad to see Les is steadily improving. Keep well, both of you.

Hey up KevinToo. We’re almost back to normal. If you can call it that! Mags “did” Wheaton Aston Lock today, and I had a good run this morning before we set off. Thanks, mate.

Ade, I don’t know where you’re up to at this time, but I’ve got to admire your stamina! Well done!

Locks 1, miles 11

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where did Tuesday go?

We should have moved on yesterday, it was an unusually fine day, almost windless and mostly sunny. But I picked up a malicious tummy bug on Monday night, and I spent from midnight to 4am mostly in the loo, with explosive evacuation from both ends. (I know, too much information…)
So yesterday I was in no fit state to do much at all, spending most of the day in bed, recovering and catching up on sleep. I lost 4lbs in the 24 hour period!

Today I’m back to eating, though carefully. Mags is steadily improving, more agile now the aches and pains are wearing off.

So this morning, with both of us feeling fairly fit, we were away at around 10:30, with just a few hundred yards to Gailey Lock.

All’s right with the world, Mags on the tiller in Gailey LockIMG_2852

Above the lock we filled and emptied the relevant receptacles, then set off up the long pound to Autherley Junction.

The Viking Afloat base at Gailey hauls half of their fleet out for hull maintenance in the winter. Perhaps as well, otherwise they’d be no chance of getting through! IMG_2854

There’s a large chemical works alongside the canal at Calf Heath, I think these signs are new…
As if you would! If I heard an alarm along here you wouldn’t see me for dust diesel exhaust!

On an unusually bendy section (for this canal) is the western junction of the currently derelict Lichfield Canal, more properly the Hatherton Branch of the Staffs and Worcester. The Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust have made good progress in the restoration of the waterway, but there’s a lot more work to do. This is probably one of the most worthwhile canal restoration projects currently underway. A restored canal would form part of two new canal rings, and would also give northern access to the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Hatherton JunctionIMG_2858

Hopefully they can paint this out in the not too distant future.IMG_2861 

I’d decided that I wasn’t stopping for any wood today, the roof is quite full still. Then we came under Cross Green Bridge…IMG_2871

Too good an opportunity to miss!
I only took two rings though, and those I had to split before I could lift them.

Heading into the built up area at the edge of Wolverhampton the canal builders encountered a ridge of particularly hard rock. With no sensible way around they had to go through, but they only cut the channel wide enough for one boat.

Forster Bridge crosses the middle of the narrows.IMG_2877

I wonder how traffic was controlled during commercial carrying? There are a couple of passing places, but it would be near impossible to reverse a loaded pair.

This chap was causing a bit of consternation among the local population of seagulls. IMG_2873
He was smugly indifferent to them wheeling around, as he was to us. I think he’s a kestrel?

After around three hours we arrived at Autherley Junction and our right turn onto the Shropshire Union.

Autherley JunctionIMG_2881

There’s a shallow stop lock just under the bridgeIMG_2882

The Wolverhampton Boat Club occupies a prime position just on the fringes of the urban sprawl. Lots of moored boats and an impressive looking clubhouse.


Another hour from here saw us moored between Bridges 7 and 8, a popular spot in the summer, but completely empty today. For some reason I didn’t take any pictures of this latter bit of today’s trip.

The forecast threatened showers, but we seem to have avoided them. It’s been very mild, if a little grey.

As soon as we stopped I chopped up those large tree rings into more manageable pieces. They should last a while. 

Locks 2, miles 11½

Monday, December 15, 2014

A fine day’s cruise to Gailey.

We should have moved out of Penkridge yesterday, but I thought I’d give Mags the chance to have a lie in as long as she wanted. She’s feeling a lot better, now, a lot of the soreness has eased. I also wanted a quiet day. I’d got a little lost on my morning run and ended up doing 11½ instead of 10 miles. I was feeling a little weary by the time I got back.

So it was around half-ten when we cast off from the visitor moorings opposite Tom’s Moorings.

Leaving Penkridge

Mags is still banned from the tiller, so I was single-handing again.

There’s one more lock actually in the village, then the canal winds out of the built-up area to pass the large Otherton Boat Haven.IMG_2844

It’s here that the sound of the M6 becomes audible over the engine. After Otherton Lock the canal and motorway run parallel for ¾ mile.

Alongside the motorway.IMG_2846
Just after the above was taken we were reversing to pick up some logs I’d spied in the towpath hedge. I only got three, with the shallow sides I had to use the plank to get across and it was a bit precarious. I didn’t want to push my luck in light of recent events…

Approaching Rodbaston Lock I saw a chap ahead on the lockside. I couldn’t tell if he was  a boater coming down when he drew the lower paddles, but then I was beckoned in. It was only when we were going under the tail bridge that I recognised him – it was Paul Balmer, last met when he helped us through the locks to Star City, around Birmingham.
He was out checking for any inaccuracies on his canal guides, today from Wolverhampton to Stafford.

Paul, Mags and Meg at Rodbaston Lock IMG_2847
Unfortunately it was a bit of a flying visit; he was going in the opposite direction. Still, it was good to see him again. And if you’re wondering what to buy boating friends for Christmas…

Another two locks, the delightfully named Boggs, and then Brick Kiln, saw us below Gailey Lock and our planned destination for today.

Looking back over Staffordshire from Brick Kiln LockIMG_2850

We didn’t pull up to the moorings below the lock, instead mooring in a sunny spot about a ¼ mile short. It’s quieter here.

At just over 2 hours it’s been an easier day than the last time we did this self-same trip. Exactly 4 years ago we broke ice to get here, to join Moore2Life and Rock’n’Roll.

Mags has been mithering to get on the tiller again today, but I said no. If she’s feeling up to it she can do Gailey Lock in the morning. That and the Stop Lock at Autherley are the only ones tomorrow.

Hi Steve, Angela. Yes, you’re right. Anyway, even if it happens there’s not a lot we can do about it, eh?

Locks 5, miles 2½

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A touch of déjà vu…

December 2nd, 2010…
December 2010 004 Still  snowing B

…and December 13th, 2014.IMG_2839
The boats opposite have moved around a bit, and we’re a little further along, but the ice on the water looked familiar!

By the time the top photo was taken we’d already been fast in the ice for a week. It was to be another 13 days before we forced our way to Gailey, only to be stuck there until January 11th.

I see the Mirror is running a story about arctic conditions in the New Year…
…get your thermals out!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chance meeting and a good turn as we head to Penkridge

Before we left Shutt Hill this morning I got that log sliced and chopped, as well as a couple more that were lurking in the undergrowth. So that space behind the top-box is once again occupied. Saves me having to scrub it, which was the plan this weekend…

Heading into Shutt Hill LockIMG_2829

A kind gentleman on a boat called Meg had passed us this morning, heading downhill at 07:15. He’d left all the bottom gates open… making it easy for me.

There’s a short pound to Park Gate Lock, alongside a busy B road. Below the lock, if you can put up with the traffic, is a good stopping spot. IMG_2830
With parking alongside it’s handy for visitors or deliveries, and Midland Chandlers and Teddesley Boat Services are alongside and above the lock respectively.

I’d just got into the lock when we were hailed from MC’s car park. It was Pete and Dawn, NB White Atlas, who we’d met earlier in the year. They’re wintering at Stafford Boat Club, we passed the boat yesterday. We had a short catch up before we left them to their shopping and pushed on.

Pete closing the top gate behind us.IMG_2831

Under the M6
Short tunnel or wide bridge? You decide.

We arrived at Longford Lock to find the lock empty as expected and with a boat on the top landing. We went in, the downhill boater came to help me up. It turned out that he’d broken down as he arrived at the lock; a raw water cooling pipe had fractured, so instead of going over the side the “used” water was going into the bilge. He obviously couldn’t run the engine in that condition, so was going to pull the boat back the half-mile to below Penkridge Lock, to make it easier for an engineer. I told him I’d tow him back if we could turn him around, but at 37 foot he was just too long for the width of the canal. So I towed him backwards. Not easy, the fore-end tended to wag about a bit, but I got the hang of it in the end and got him back to outside of the Boat Inn. And we didn’t hit the bank or another boat either! Luckily no-one was coming the other way, though.

Safely outside the pub

The steerer (I never did get his name) worked me up the lock in return for the favour, then we pulled in on the visitor moorings opposite Tom’s Moorings.
After a damp and grey start the day improved no end, by the time we’d stopped the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. It was almost warm!

Moored in PenkridgeIMG_2838

We stay here tomorrow, there’s an excellent market in the village, we'll move on a bit on Sunday.

Hi Lesley. Now, who did you say was offering that money? I could do with a new laptop!

Locks 4, miles 2