Friday, January 31, 2014

Our weather luck couldn’t last…

Today’s trip started OK, a bit grey, a bit breezy, but dry. By the time we’d Baswich where the canal turns to the east around the rising ground that marks the end of Cannock Chase, the rain had arrived and was continuous till later this afternoon.

I’d heard chainsaws at work below Deptmore Lock yesterday afternoon, contractors had been at work cutting back several willows growing between the canal and the the field drainage ditch. We pulled over and took several lengths, but there’s still plenty more there.

Below Deptmore Lock, it’ll not hang around long!SAM_8068

The River Penk has overflowed it’s bed, spreading out across the water meadows.

The proposed Riverway Link uses the River Sow as a route into Stafford, re-establishing a long-lost navigation. Although I think it would be difficult to find today….SAM_8073

The towpath swaps sides at Milford, over a brick roving bridge.

Milford Bridge

Tixall Lock is the most northern lock on the S&W, with a well kept lock cottage alongside.

Tixall LockSAM_8084
I insisted Mags stayed inside for this one, no point in us both getting wet through!

It’s not very often that there’re no boats moored at Tixall Wide!SAM_8086

Ivy is the cause of a lot of the blow-downs in the recent weeks. Although it doesn’t attack the tree directly, only using it as a climbing frame, it’s foliage inhibits the tree’s own leaves, weakening it. Then along comes a winter gale and the extra top hamper proves too much.SAM_8089


One solution, employed here, is to cut through the vines, removing a substantial portion. Ideally though, the area around the base of the tree should also be cleared.

Once it gets hold it spreads rapidly from tree to tree. It’s only really obvious in the winter.

Taken in one of the Shroppie cuttings a few days ago… all ivy.SAM_7969

Approaching Great Haywood Junction, Anglo Welsh hire base on the leftSAM_8092
Junction Bridge is almost obscured by smoke from our chimney.

The only boat we’ve seen on the move today came from here, met just below Tixall Lock. He’ll have had a miserable first day’s cruise.

We reversed onto the water point to fill the tank, then moored on a spot above Haywood Lock. All the paths are either puddles or mud, I think we’ll have to head into Shugborough Park for a walk tomorrow.

Locks 2, miles 7½

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cool and grey but we’re moving on.

We seem to be doing well for the weather at the moment. Today’s blowy and showery forecast didn’t apply here; although we’ve had a couple of flurries of fine snow, it wasn’t until this evening that it actually rained properly. Probably all change for tomorrow, though.

I had a good root around the market at Penkridge yesterday, picking up some useful bargains. I got all the fresh veg, printer cartridges, and some varieties of liquorice for Mags. The tool stall provided panel adhesive, silicon sealant and some soft brushes for the current project.

This morning we were off at around half-past-ten, I emptied a loo and got rid of the rubbish while Penkridge Lock was filling.

Penkridge Lock, the services above.SAM_8054

We had a short but steady day, the locks coming regularly for the first 2 miles, then a 2 mile lock-free section to the top of Deptmore Lock, where we pulled over.

Longford Lock, with the slow-moving M6 in the distance

There are roadworks along this section of the motorway, reinforcing the embankments.

Park Gate Lock gets it’s name from one of the entrances to Teddesley Park to the east.

Looking towards Teddesley Park, Midland Chandlers on the right.SAM_8059
There are some pleasant walks through the estate, though the Georgian Hall was demolished in the 1950s.


Arriving at this, and the following, lock, we found the bottom gates open and the paddles left up. We were obviously following a lazy git, probably single-handing. Still no excuse, if you choose to boat alone, you’re still obliged to follow the “rules of the road”.

Final Lock today, Shutt HillSAM_8061

It was around noon as we left the lock, so I thought we’d pull over for a bite to eat. There was another good reason, too….
A few good lumps on the roof now. I’ll have to sharpen my saw chains, I’ve dulled all three again…
Between here and Acton Trussel there are several trees down following the gales, tidied up but needing sawing up to be manageable.

Fuel foraging has gone better than expected since we left the Llangollen Canal. I expected there to be lean pickings on these more travelled canals, but there’s still quite a bit about.

We pulled in not far above Deptmore Lock, the towpath is fairly dry here for a change.
Just watched the weather forecast, I guess I’ll be breaking out the waterproofs tomorrow, there’s a large band of rain sitting across the middle of the country on the weather map. Normally we would sit it out, but we’ve got to get through Colwich Lock, the other side of Great Haywood, before it closes for maintenance on Monday. We’ve got a mail drop to collect in the village as well.

I forgot to mention, I rang the Post Office in Great Haywood to confirm it would be OK, to be told by the very sad Post Master that the office is now shut. He sounded very down as he told me he was clearing out the last of the stock on the shelves. What a shame. The Post Office has moved to inside the Spar Shop further up the village. They were happy to accept Poste Restante, so all is not lost, but it’s still sad to see the old place go. The chap there was very helpful.

Cruising towards Deptmore Lock

Locks 4, miles 4

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A better day than expected.

We thought that we may get wet today, or cut the trip short to avoid getting wet, but as it happened we did neither. It’s been fine, dry and frequently sunny, so there’s one in the eye for the weather forecasters!

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was completed in 1772, linking the Trent and Mersey at Great Haywood to the River Severn at Stourport. As was common in those days, it’s a contour canal, hanging on to the same elevation as much as possible. This entails much to-ing and fro-ing, for instance today’s trip of 7½ miles is less than 5 in a direct line. But even if it involved a scenic tour of the countryside, it was still much easier, quicker and more economical than the alternative pack-horse or horse and cart over the poor roads of the day.SAM_8012

It’s a bit of a change from the straight course of the much later Shropshire Union.

After 2 tortuous miles Hatherton Junction is passed on the right. The Hatherton Branch of the S&W connected to the northern end of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, via the Cannock Extension Canal.

Hatherton Branch Canal
Although currently un-navigable above the second lock, a lot of work has been done to reopen the link, including a new diversion to connect with the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Lots of info here…

Ultimately the idea is to re-establish the connection between the Wyrley and Essington and Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Junction. If they were both open already it would save us a good few miles….

There’s an extensive chemical works at Four Ashes, originally straddling the canal but mainly just on the west side, that on the east having been demolished.

Pipe bridges to nowhere cross the canalSAM_8035

The canal is uncharacteristically straight for over half a mile through the works.

The first lock heading north from the Autherley Junction is at Gailey, where we topped up the water tank before dropping down.

Approaching Gailey, smart Anglo-Welsh boats laid up for winterSAM_8040

You can’t not take a picture of the Roundhouse at Gailey LockSAM_8042

The lock has awkward cranked balance beams at the lower end, fitted when the road above was widened.


We’d had a 40 minute pause earlier to collect some wood alongside the towpath. I had to get the saw out to make it manageable across the 2 foot gap, which was the closest I could get to the bank, but it was worth it.

From Gailey through to Penkridge the locks start to come as the canal drops down the Penk valley. There’re seven between here and Penkridge.

Brick Kiln Lock, with views down the valleySAM_8047

Rodbaston Lock, alongside the M6

We only did one of the two locks actually in Penkridge, Filance Lock, before tying up on the visitor moorings opposite Tom’s Moorings.
We’re going to take a day off tomorrow, it’s market day, always well worth a visit.

Hi Carol, I’d forgotten I’d mentioned the changes to you…. I’ve been waiting to get to somewhere to easily source the materials.

Locks 6, miles 7½

Monday, January 27, 2014

Change of canal, change of direction, same old muddy towpath!

We headed down the remainder of the Shropshire Union today, turning sharp left at Autherley Junction onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.

A bright start as we set offSAM_7987
A big improvement on when we arrived!

SAM_8011I spent yesterday marking out and cutting the wood I’d picked up at Norbury Wharf. An 8 foot by 4 foot sheet of oak-faced MDF was reduced to this…

….and a large pile of sawdust!

Unfortunately, with the weather being as it was, I had to convert the bedroom into a workshop, so every level surface in the boat was covered in a fine layer of dust.
Any ideas on what it’ll be? For those that know Seyella there’s a bit of a clue in the background…

We had a steady three miles down to the junction, with a cool breeze and bright sun almost dead ahead.

Under the M54.SAM_7991
We’ll go under again in a couple of hours. 

It looks like whatsisname and Chel finally broke up, then. She was too good for him, anyway.

Silent sentinel.

Fishing herons look as miserable as their human counterparts often do.

Threading between the hireboats at Napton Boats at the junctionSAM_7997

Autherley Stop LockSAM_7998
The lock only rises three inches, but is there to prevent the Shroppie from “stealing” water from the S&W. When the canals were built, water was a precious commodity. Expensive reservoirs had to be built to provide enough to supply the locks, rivers and streams were often diverted or commandeered as additional feeders. So the canal companies were very possessive of “their” water.

We pulled over just outside the junction for a quick lunch, then set off again, now heading north.

On the Staffs and Worcs, Junction Bridge on the left. 

I’m glad we met this boat at Marsh Lane Bridge…..

…as just beyond is the narrow section know as the Rockins.SAM_8003

It must have been hard work cutting the channel through the hard rock. Under Forsters Bridge you can see the chisel marks. No explosives used in 1772!

As we passed under the M54 again, the construction of access roads for the I54 development is well under way. The I54 is a joint project between Advantage West Midlands and the local councils, and will be an enterprise and technology business park covering 98 hectares and costing £67m. There are already a couple of companies operating on site, and Jaguar-Landrover are opening a new engine plant here this year.
I made a pigs-ear of the photo, though. But there are some pretty pictures here…

The original bridges on the S&W are low, you have to watch your chimney and your head!SAM_8010
What they lack in headroom, they make up for in width.

We pulled in just past the Fox and Anchor at Cross Green. it’s a bit muddy along here; it’s generally drier around the corner but I needed to go to the Co-op in Coven. I forgot the washing up liquid the other day and the plate situation is getting desperate. Only joking, Meg makes a good plate cleaner….

Locks 1, miles 7½

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chance of showers? Just a bit!

We were away at 10 o’clock today, a fairly long day ahead but the forecast was OK, sunny periods, with a chance of showers later. Well, they were right about that!

Ready to go this morning, looking across the fields in the sunshineSAM_7960

Sunlight filtering through the trees in Rye Hill Cutting

The towpath switches to the left over Bridge 26, a classic turnover bridge which allowed the towrope to stay connected between horse and boat.

Turnover Bridge 26SAM_7961
These on the Shroppie are not as elegant as the snake bridges on the Macclesfield Canal. More functional…

It crosses the canal on a slant, and the brick courses under the arch are angled to follow the skew.
It’s a lot more visible on a stone bridge. There must be some sort of formula which tells the brickie what the variation from horizontal is required.

We pulled over for shopping in Wheaton Aston, the mooring maintaining it’s reputation for being among the boggiest on the network.

Wheaton Aston 48 hour visitor moorings
I had a pleasant surprise up in the village. Since the National Lottery went up from £1 to £2 a line, we’ve not been regular punters, but just occasionally we’ll have a ticket. Last week’s gave us three matched numbers so I took it with me to get it redeemed. You remember that three numbers gave you a tenner under the previous rules. I was delighted to find that three numbers now gives you £25! Fancy that. It paid for another Lucky Dip and the groceries! Result!

After lunch we set off again up the last lock on the Shroppie. (Last but one if you count the 3 inch rise on the stop lock at Autherley Junction).

Up Wheaton Aston Lock SAM_7973

The day was still bright at this point, but as we left the village the wind got up and ominous clouds started to build behind us.

Just across Stretton Aqueduct, the storm approaching.SAM_7977

SAM_7980Looking a bit troubling as we approach Brewood….

…rumbles of thunder and some impressive lightening chased us until suddenly…SAM_7981

Extremely painful hail!

It lasted for maybe 10 minutes, then turned to lighter rain.

Mags thought I might pull in on the Brewood moorings but they were pretty muddy too, and I was wet already so decided to push on to moor between Bridges 8 and 7 as planned.

Looking back at Brewood church

The rain has stopped now, in fact it stopped pretty well as soon as we did. Typical. We’ll take a day off cruising tomorrow, I reckon.

Locks 1, miles 9.