Although the Trent and Mersey Canal is classed as a narrow canal, either end it’s actually broad. In the north-west Big Lock in Middlewich allowed salt barges to trade up to the Bridgewater and the Weaver, south and east six broad locks take the canal up from the Trent to Burton, carrying raw materials and Burton’s finest product, ale, to and from the town.
Ne'er tell me of liquors from Spain or from France,
They may get in your heels and inspire you to dance.
But Ale of old Burton if mellow and right
Will get in your head and inspire you to fight.
These six locks were added by Brindley during the construction of the waterway, and were bitterly opposed by the Burton Boat Company, who owned and managed the Trent Navigation and warehousing on the riverside. The Trent, at the time, was navigable from Shardlow to Burton, although subject to closure in floods. Brindley's new cut bypassed the flood-prone river, and the warehouse owners were afraid that the ditch would take business away from it. They unsuccessfully petitioned Brindley to end his new Grand Trunk Canal at Horninglow, ensuring that traffic to and from the east would use the river.
They were right; soon after the canal opened trade dwindled on the river, the locks deteriorated and the navigation ultimately closed.
The Bond End Canal was built to link the two routes, from Bond End on the river to Shobnall on the cut. But the T&M company refused permission to make the connection, so goods travelling from one canal to the other had to be transhipped.
Finally, in 1794, agreement was reached, a 3’9” lock was constructed on the Bond End, and Shobnall Basin was connected to the T&M. But the Canal Company were wily. The connection was through a narrow stop-lock, ensuring that barges using the broad Bond End couldn’t also use the less hazardous Trent and Mersey back down to Shardlow. Sneaky, eh.
The Bond End Canal was pretty much disused by the 1870’s, succumbing as many canals did, to the introduction of rail transport. The final insult was the infilling of the canal for a line to be built on it. This left just the upper basin at Shobnall in water, a situation which still exists today.
Entrance to Shobnall Basin, actually the chamber of the narrow stop-lock
The basin was never adopted during the British Waterways Board introduction in the 1930’s, and still remains private water for which boats don’t need a licence. Unsurprisingly there’s a waiting list for moorings in the marina…
History over, back to today. After a very pleasant weekend at Branston (known as the home of the pickle, but also a machine-gun factory in WWI), we pushed on towards Shardlow. Our first lock, Branston Lock, was just a few minutes down the canal.
Approaching Branston Lock.
If it’s not anglers on the lock landings it’s Canada geese!
From here the outskirts of Burton upon Trent start to fringe the canal, and the malty smell of the breweries occasionally drifts tantalisingly on the breeze.
There’re lots of chicks along here, coot, moorhen and duck.
Spot the moorhen chicks…
Shobnall Fields moorings were shunned as being a bit dodgy at one time, but now they’re well used. We’ve stayed here overnight a couple of times; great for dogs!
Dallow Lock is the last of the narrow locks, beyond is Horninglow Basin and the stretch of broad canal to Shardlow.
In Dallow Lock
I’m on the tiller instead of Mags because we’ve gained a helper. The chap on the left had just left a boat at Shobnall Marina to be blacked and needed a lift back to Willington. He offered to do the lock for us in exchange. It’s a pity there weren’t more to do…
Out of town now, and about to cross the River Dove Aqueduct.
The WWII pill box on the left formed part of one of the defensive lines built in the event of an enemy invasion.
Despite the proximity of the railway, Willington is always a popular spot for mooring. Pubs, shops and take-aways make it a good overnight stop. It was fairly quiet as we came through today, though.
Then again, it was only lunchtime.
We dropped our erstwhile hitchhiker off near Mercia Marina
Lloyd had been interesting company for an hour or so..
The steady stream of boats coming the other way seemed to dry up as we headed for Stenson and the first (and deepest) of the broad locks. As we arrived two boats were just going in to go down ahead of us. Typical. So we pulled in at the end of the moorings opposite the marina for a bite to eat, hoping that a) someone would come up the lock, filling it for us, or b) someone would arrive to share the lock.
Of course, neither happened, so I refilled the chamber and we went down on our own.
Filling the 12’4” deep Stenson Lock
Going down, not the place to cock-up your locking technique with a popular cafe right alongside!
Another three miles of steady cruising brought us to Swarkestone Lock. On the way we’d had to pause for a couple of minutes while the dredging crew moved their gear.
Dredging. Offloading near Bridge 17…
..and the target area near Bridge 16
Once again we had to refill Swarkestone Lock and descend on our own, mooring just below.
Moored below Swarkestone Lock
Spoke too soon, we’ve just been joined by a Canaltime boat with two couples from Pontypridd…
A long day today, but we didn’t want to have to do all of the broad locks in one go. Now we’ve only three before stopping at Shardlow.
Locks 4, miles 12.