Thursday, October 31, 2013

A glimpse into Wales.

We set off around 11 this morning; Mags refused to get up until the fire was blazing and the saloon had warmed up! I’ve been letting the stove out overnight, not a lot of point in keeping it going while it’s still fairly mild, and it took some getting going this morning. I’ve made the mistake of running out of firelighters, and the only kindling I could find in the hedge bottom was a bit damp after the overnight rain. Still, got there in the end. We’re at our usual 25°, now….

Leaving our overnight mooring, onto Shebdon EmbankmentSAM_6921

Shebdon EmbankmentSAM_6923

The principal of surveying a fast straight route for the canal was sound, in practice, these immense embankments were a continuous cause of problems during the construction. In fact, Shelmore Embankment, behind us now, near Norbury Junction, was the last section to be finished before the canal could be opened to through traffic. They still need regulart maintenance. At either end there are stop gates, just in case…SAM_6930

At Knighton there’s a milk products factory, now making powdered milk but built by Cadbury’s to take locally sourced milk and chocolate crumb to Bourneville for processing. The wharf and canopy have been preserved, although haven’t been used for their intended purpose since 1961.


The canal is fairly open past Soudley, with more extensive linear moorings on the offside. It’s these that make doing the Four Counties Ring in a week so difficult, especially late or early in the year. That’s if you stick to tick-over when passing, of course….SAM_6937

With less wind today it wasn’t such a chore gently motoring past, and there were fine views to the south and west.

The Wrekin, 14 miles away, and just visible to the far right is, I think, the conical mound of Breidden Hill, just over the Welsh border. That’s 27 miles…SAM_6936
It’s difficult to see in this shot, but if I adjust the contrast a bit….SAM_6936
There you go. Trouble is, it also emphasises the dust in the lens.

SAM_6942We pulled in at Goldstone Wharf, opposite the Wharf Tavern.
Way back, when we did the Ring on a hire boat with friends Val and John, we stopped overnight here and availed ourselves of the hospitality over there. Me a little too much…

Tomorrow we’ll tackle the first of the three lock flights, just five at Tyrley, then drop down into Market Drayton. Must put firelighters on the shopping list. And a new smoke detector. Our Fire-Angel has started to alarm even when there’s no smoke. I’ve tried cleaning it out but I’d rather replace it than risk it not working.
Before the locks, though, we’ve to negotiate the deepest and narrowest cutting on the navigation, Woodseaves. It’s reputed to be haunted, maybe we should be doing it tonight…
Surprised smile

Locks 0, miles 4¾

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Toddling on a bit…

It was a bit grey first thing, but by the time we were ready to go the sky had brightened and the drizzly rain had passed on towards Stoke.

Just before Gnosall lies the only tunnel on the main line. Cowley Tunnel is only 81 yards long, but I suspect it was intended to be longer. The cutting leading to the south portal is deep and steep-sided, the rock loose and unstable.

Cowley CuttingSAM_6883 

Several collapses would have forced them to open out the channel into a cutting, even where the rock was more sound a stone arch and short lining was used to support it.SAM_6890 (2)

The condition of the strata must improve, the rest of the tunnel is self supporting.

Cowley Tunnel, north endSAM_6894

There has been a lot of traffic about today, of course, I‘d forgotten it’s half-term. So when we got to Gnosall and saw the water point vacant we pulled in to fill up.

Topping up in Gnosall
There’s full facilities at Norbury Junction, but I thought it might be a bit busy there. I could moor away from the wharf to get rid of rubbish and empty the loo.

End of the season, ploughing stubble in ready for next yearSAM_6897

The high Shelmore Embankment gives odd glimpses of the west, through the trees on it’s flanks. SAM_6905
It must have been a bit grim in a blow before the slopes got so heavily wooded.

The embankment ends at Norbury Junction, where the Newport Branch used to drop through a flight of locks to the town, nearly 4 miles away. This in turn connected to a network of other branches and short canals, primarily built to carry coal and iron ore in the Shrewsbury area. Only the top lock remains today, used as a dry dock.

Busy Norbury Junction
As it turned out we could have filled with water here, the wharf was empty when we arrived.

Leaving the junction the canal dives into Grub Street Cutting, the byway of the same name crossing at the far end. This end is crossed by High Bridge, probably the most photographed bridge on the whole network.

The obligatory shot of High Bridge

I did get another, slightly unusual image, from the other side though.SAM_6914

There’s a small enclave of boats in the cutting, and under a shelter on the bank sits a fine example of British motor engineering. I think it’s a 1930’s Daimler drop head coupe. It looks in good nick.SAM_6917

Leaving the cutting there’s over a mile of offside moorings near High Offley, a tedious section cruising at tick-over with a cold cross-wind.
I’d lost the will to live by the time we got to Shebdon, so pulled in on the embankment above the Wharf Inn. It’s fairly sheltered here.
Probably Goldstone Wharf tomorrow, then Tyrley Locks and down to Market Drayton for the weekend.

Locks 0, miles 7

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Slight change of plan.

We intended to aim for Norbury Junction today, 2½ to 3 hours down the canal. But I had to take some time out in the middle of the day, so we didn’t even get as far as Gnosall.

Typical Shroppie. Long straights….SAM_6862

…views from high embankments…

…and wooded cuttings.SAM_6864

Cruising slowly through Rye Hill Cutting I spotted this guy,

and then this.SAM_6869

I pulled in and went to investigate, but the wood was soft and rotten, so I had a walk a bit further through the cutting, camera in hand, hoping for another crack at that elusive kingfisher. No bird, but I did spy some more wood up on the embankment. This turned out be good stuff, maybe the top half of a beech tree, a casualty of the recent winds.

So I moved the boat up 100 yards, connected two extension leads to the 10 metre cable on my chain saw, and recovered several decent lumps. It's a problem with an electric chain saw, you can't work very far from a power source. But I'd rather have that restriction than carry petrol...
It was a bit of a struggle getting them down the steep slope without losing control, but finally they were safe on the roof.

We still planned to get to Norbury, and I didn’t want to cut it into rings on official moorings, so we pulled in at Little Onn where I got it all sliced. The chain on the saw is pretty dull, I’ve been sharpening them myself, but they don’t last long. Either I‘ve got to buy a new one or get the two I have done professionally.

Little OnnSAM_6871

It’s a pleasant spot here, and if it hadn’t been so windy we’d probably have stayed the night, but decided to press on for somewhere more sheltered.

Unusual schooner stern on a narrowboat near High Onn Wharf

Old warehousing at High OnnSAM_6874

The towpath swaps sides at Bridge 26, once again an efficient turnover bridge, but it just hasn’t the style of the Macclesfield Canal turnover bridges. Depending on where you are on the network, they are variously known as turnover, changeline or snake bridges.

Bridge 26SAM_6876

The towpath will be on our left till just before Adderley Locks, a distance of around 17 miles. With the prevailing wind from the west, I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Up till now we’ve been blown onto moorings and struggled to get off, now the situation is reversed. It’s OK where we’ve moored tonight just past Castle Cutting, there’s a chest-high hedge acting as a windbreak.

Moored near Castle CuttingSAM_6880

It’s been a fine but breezy day, quite a few boats about, including several Viking Afloat hire boats from Gailey. I guess they’ll be on a mission to complete the Four Counties Ring in a week. We did it, with a boat from Autherley, way back in the ‘80s. Hard work, though. 110 miles and 94 locks. Realistically 65 to 70 hours at the helm.

Not going to plan to be anyway particular tomorrow, we’ll just see where we end up.

Locks 0, miles 4¼

Monday, October 28, 2013

That was the storm that wasn’t…

Not up here in Staffordshire, anyway. It looks like the south and south-west got well battered though. We had rain on and off for most of the night, but the gales didn’t materialise. It was breezy, but nothing like as bad as we expected.

I did Wheaton Aston a disservice yesterday, the towpath alongside the village moorings is not as bad as I made out.

Wheaton Aston mooringsSAM_6858 It is damp in places, but there’s not that layer of several generations of rotted leaves that overlay the hard surface at Brewood.

Moorings the other side of Tavern Bridge, we’re in the middle with a gap in frontSAM_6860

Turner’s Garage is still trying to keep the reputation of having the cheapest diesel on the network. It’s 75.9 p/Lt today.

We’re toddle on tomorrow, probably finishing up at Norbury Junction.

Locks 0, miles 0

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Windy to Wheaton Aston.

We left our mooring yesterday morning at about 11:00, fine and sunny if a little breezy as we headed towards Brewood. The first of the cuttings was just after the first bridge.

Bridge 8, Park Bridge.SAM_6823
It actually looks more like a tunnel entrance than a bridge. The cutting isn’t very long, nor very deep compared to those further north.


The general run of the land is east-west, as the high ground around Cannock Chase drains towards the Welsh border. This means that the embankments and cuttings appear almost alternately as the canal encounters valleys and ridges.
Unfortunately, the villages tended to be established on the higher ground, so any associated moorings are in the gloomy cuttings.

Chillington Hall, the ancestral home of the Giffard family, lies to the west of the canal, and one of the carriage roads into the estate had to go over the canal. No ordinary bridge would do, though, it had to be in keeping with the family status.

Ornate Avenue Bridge SAM_6827

Brewood Church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin and St. Chad.SAM_6830

We moored in the village and I made a visit to the shops, but, as expected the towpath was a bit muddy so we pushed on out of town, stopping just before Bridge 15 as it started to rain.

Yours truly messing with ropes in Brewood

We decided to push on a bit further this morning, Wheaton Aston seemed a good place to wait out the stormy weather we’re due tonight.

Once again, it was a bright start to the day, but I decided to light the fire anyway. If I get wet I’d need to be able dry off!
The wind was a bit gusty, and the paper and kindling smoky, and when I opened the front doors……
…….the smoke alarm started warbling insistently!

Opening both ends soon cleared the fog, though, and we were on our way.SAM_6838

I thought we might have a bit of trouble crossing the A5 aqueduct, the wind was coming in strongly from the west, but we got across without touching the sides.

Stretton Aqueduct….SAM_6841

….and the A5

Heading through Lapley Wood Cutting I caught a glimpse of electric blue plumage as a kingfisher flew ahead of us. I made a careful note of where it settled… and got another blurred picture!
One of these days….

It was “interesting” at Wheaton Aston Lock. The landings are a bit exposed, making getting off them a bit of a struggle, and the lock chamber was full of leaves, clogging the propeller. There was a boat coming up as we arrived, who battled to get in then lost power coming out so ran down our offside gunwale. Just behind us had arrived a hire boat, so I sent them down ahead of us, as they’d further to go than us today. They could barely make headway out of the lock, a burst in reverse cleared the prop for a few seconds, but going forward fouled it again. It turned out that he had a load of plastic on the blades, too.

The steerer of the boat coming up had to hold off while the hirer got himself out of the lock, and was a bit uncharitable, poo-pooing the idea that it was leaves that delayed his exit… till he had the same trouble himself!SAM_6854

We dropped down without incident, pulled onto the services for water and the usual “offices”, then sneaked into the last space above Tavern Bridge. It’s the preferred spot for mooring in Wheaton Aston, the other side of the bridge is in a cutting (again), poor TV and manky path.

Leafy Lock

We’ll wait out the weather here, moving on on Tuesday. So long as we’re at Market Drayton by this time next week we won’t get stuck on the wrong side of the winter stoppage at Tyrley Locks.

Two days – Locks 1, miles 5

Friday, October 25, 2013

Change of canal, change of direction

We’re now on the Shropshire Union heading north, having left the southbound Staffs and Worcester at Autherley Junction.

After the dire weather forecast for today we nearly didn’t move on, heavy, thundery showers and gusty winds make cruising less of a joy, more of a chore. But they didn’t materialise. We did have wind and rain overnight, and it was breezy and drizzly this morning when Meg and I went for a walk, but by half-ten the skies had cleared and it’s been a fine, mainly sunny, day.

What a cracking morningSAM_6787
Even the moon was happy to be out and about!

Near Slade Heath there must be some sort of outward bound centre. Last evening we had a group of youngsters in canoes go past, some more were just setting off this morning.SAM_6790
For stability they use pairs of Canadian canoes rafted up.  Perhaps as well looking at the way some of the kids perform!

If we’d have carried on yesterday this is where we’d have stopped, near the Fox and Anchor at Coven. There are some really nice places to moor around here.

The outskirts of Wolverhampton soon start to encroach on the canal, with more bridges crossing. The original brick ones are wide but quite low compared to those on the T&M.

Under Cross Green Bridge, sunlight highlighting the brickwork.SAM_6796

Passing under the M54 the urban sprawl becomes apparent, then the canal becomes single track as it cuts through a rocky ridge. There are a couple of passing places, but we’ve not had to use them yet.

Pendeford RockingSAM_6799

SAM_6800Forster Bridge, halfway through the cutting.

The engineers met this very hard rock, and chose the easy option of just cutting a narrow channel. It must have led to some conflicts between boatmen during commercial carrying days, though.

It’s only for half a mile or so, the canal widens again at Marsh Lane, and passes a fine avenue of poplars planted alongside a sports field.SAM_6803

Ducking under Blaydon Road the junction with the Shropshire Union is reached, our route back north.

Junction Bridge at AutherleySAM_6806

There’s a shallow stop-lock just beyond the bridge, built to prevent loss of water from the S&W to the later Shroppie, then a boat hire base, and we’re onto the wide waters of the more modern canal.

Autherley Stop Lock and Napton NarrowboatsSAM_6808

SAM_6809Autumn colour

It’s a pity the sun had just gone in, the leaves were glowing in the sunlight!

The Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was conceived as a fast transport route from the Chester area and the Dee to the workshops and resources of the Midlands. Thomas Telford was contracted to survey the route and chose to ignore the earlier James Brindley style of contour canal. This canal would take a direct line from Nantwich to Woverhampton, crossing valleys on embankments and aqueducts, slicing through hills in deep cuttings. When a change in elevation was required, locks were grouped together as much as possible.
It connected with the earlier Chester Canal at Nantwich, and various canals branched from it to the west. Opened in 1835, it received it’s current name when under railway ownership in 1845. The SU now includes the Chester Canal, the Ellesmere Canal, Middlewich Branch, the Llangollen Canal and branches off it, including the Montgomery Canal.

Wide, deep and straight, the Shroppie was the canal equivalent of a motorwaySAM_6813

They had a problem when they encountered the same ridge of tough rock that the Staffs and
Worcester engineers had come across 60 years earlier…. and came up with the same solution!

Narrows between Bridges 4 and 5

As we cruised past Calf Heath yesterday, I spotted a building I hadn’t seen before rising above the towpath hedge.

SAM_6775Poor photo, literally a snapshot

It’s a new waste recycling facility, due to start production of electricity later this year. It’s designed to take 300,000 tonnes of domestic waste a year, producing enough power for 38,000 homes, according to the spiel.

The reason I’m mentioning it now is that we can see it again from the other side, now!SAM_6818

We were thinking of stopping at Brewood overnight, but, unless it’s been improved, the towpath there is muddy and the canal is in a cutting. So we decided to pull in on the open moorings between Bridges 7 and 8.SAM_6820

We’ll go into Brewood tomorrow for shopping, then push on out the other side before mooring again.

I’m going to have to dismantle my camera. Notice on today’s pic of the waste facility the hair on the lens? It’s inside the lens body, I reckon. I hope I’ll be able to get it together again…

Just been chatting to Roly and Bev off NB Klara, moored just up from us. They told me about this super storm that’s likely to hit us on Sunday night. I’d missed that completely! I guess we’d better be looking for somewhere sheltered, but not under trees. Although there might be a lot of firewood available afterwards…

Locks 1, miles 8