Monday, April 30, 2018

We’ve turned the corner…

Last night’s moon, just a day from full, shone eerily through a veil of mottled cloud.DSCF3078

Today we completed the southern leg of our journey up to the Lancaster Canal. We’re now heading north-ish, more north-east than north-west, but at least roughly in the right direction.

We were off at soon after 9 this morning, wanting to get a good start on a longish day.
Looking back at the moorings, that field of rape stretching off into the distance.DSCF3084 

We made good time heading down to Autherley Junction. The canal is wide and of a good depth, at least until it passes under the M54. Then the engineers encountered a ridge of hard stone, and the most efficient way of dealing with it was to cut the channel narrower.

Under the M54

Narrows near Bridge 4
We’ll meet the same rock outcrop later in the day, on the Staffs and Worcs.

Just over an hour saw us approaching the junction and the shallow lock. A boat was just coming down so we hung back for them to come out.DSCF3096
We didn’t have to wait long, it’s only a 4” change of level after all.

The toll house alongside the lock

Out of the lock, and turning onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire CanalDSCF3098


The canal north of the junction starts wide and deep, similar to the Shroppie, but then that stone ridge gets in the way…DSCF3107
I’ve often wondered whether this was intended to be a tunnel. On all of our trips through here we’ve never met an oncoming boat. Although there are passing places, it would be interesting… I bet there were a few confrontations between commercial boatmen!

From here the canal follows an obvious Brindley-surveyed route. These earlier navigations tended to follow the contours of the land, and only used engineered solutions like embankments, cuttings and locks where absolutely necessary. Left behind are the long straights of the Shroppie, now we have twists and turns and blind bridges as the canal hangs onto the 340 foot contour.

To complicate matters further, some of the bridge arches are wide…DSCF3129

…and others are narrow!

Hatherton Junction is always busy with boats, with linear moorings and a large marina.

The Hatherton Canal headed east and south to link up with the top end of the Birmingham Canal Navigations at Fishley Junction on the Wyrley and Essington Canal. A lot of the original route, abandoned in 1955, has been lost to development but there are proposals to reopen the canal  on a new line.

The entrance to the Hatherton Canal, now used for moorings up to the second lock.DSCF3119

Judging by our recent experience, there must be a lot of frog-skippered boats around here…

North of Hatherton the canal follows a long straight past a large chemical works on the towpath side. Associated buildings on the offside have been demolished and the area is being redeveloped. There’s a huge new warehouse on the site. 
It’s a good spot for road access, the M6 Junction 12 is only a mile away.

A mile further on is Gailey Lock, with moored boats narrowing the approach a bit.DSCF3130

Gailey Lock, with The Roundhouse alongside.DSCF3131
The Roundhouse was originally a canal company toll-house, but is now private with a small gift shop at ground level.

We dropped down the lock and moored below.

Out of Gailey Lock, under the A5

It’s been cold today, in a brisk northerly wind. But at least it’s stayed dry. So long as we tie up soon enough tomorrow we should stay dry then too.

Locks 2, miles 11.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Out of the way for the weekend.

It rained pretty much all day yesterday, only brightening up in the late afternoon. So it was a good decision to stay tied up in Wheaton Aston. This morning it was dry but grey as we set off.

NB Owl turning around at the winding hole.

I’d been up to the spar shop earlier, and stopped off at Turner’s Garage for a bag of solid fuel and some oil, then we moved up to the services to top up the water tank. So it was past 10 by the time we were heading into Wheaton Aston Lock.DSCF3063
This is the last “proper” lock when heading south. There’s the stop lock at the junction ahead of us, but with a rise of just 4” it hardly counts… At nearly eight deep this is also the deepest.

From here it’s a straight run of about 8 miles to the junction with the Staffs and Worcester at Autherley.

Above the lock the canal enters Lapley Wood Cutting.DSCF3066 I’d just said to Mags that it was ideal kingfisher country when she glimpsed a flash of electric blue in the shrubbery. But a hasty shot over my shoulder didn’t come out too well…DSCF3065

The canal emerges from the cutting into open country towards Stretton Aqueduct.

Stretton Wharf and the aqueduct ahead…DSCF3067

…carrying the canal over the A5.

There’s a long straight ahead which takes you into Brewood, with lots of permanent moorings and a hire base at this end.DSCF3069

Some of the boats on the moorings haven’t seen soap and water for a long, long time…

Brewood is a smart village, good for supplies and pleasant to have a stroll around. It’s a pity that the moorings are in a gloomy, damp cutting. DSCF3072
OK for a short stop, but for overnight we’ve stayed out at one end or the other.

Looking back at Brewood from near Bridge 12

The canal has another cutting to negotiate south of Brewood, passing under the ornamental Avenue Bridge, number 10.DSCF3075
It carried the carriage road to Chillington Hall, ancestral home of the Giffard family, and the wide and decorated bridge was insisted upon before permission for the canal to cross their land was granted.

We pulled in between Bridges 8 and 7, on an open stretch of moorings with rings.DSCF3076
On the right there’s a long row of flowering cherries, and over the hedge the rape is just coming into flower. Very fragrant.

We’ll be here tomorrow, moving on on Monday. A change of canal will see us finally heading back north again, the direction we intended all along.

Locks 1, miles 5

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Rattling on…

It was a bit grey and gloomy as we left Goldstone Wharf yesterday.

The Wharf Inn at Goldstone

It was to stay grey for most of the day, although we did see some brief spells of the yellow stuff.DSCF3004

That’s The Wrekin over there, 14 miles to the south-east. You can just about make out the mast on the summit. Although not the highest of the Shropshire Hills, at 1335 feet it’s still prominent. And it’s position at the north-western end of the range makes it more so, rising above the Shropshire Plain.

Looking a bit dodgy…

We had showers on and off, blown across on that cool south-westerly. At Knighton stands what used to be part of the Cadbury chocolate manufacturing process.

Local milk was processed here, with cocoa, to produce chocolate crumb which was then shipped, by canal, to the main factory at Bournville.DSCF3016

After Knighton the first of two massive embankments is crossed.DSCF3020
Shebdon Embankment is just under a mile in length and rises about 45 feet over a shallow valley.

The wind had picked up by now, and the showers were becoming more frequent. Following the embankment there’s over a mile of offside moorings, and by the time I’d passed all the boats in the wind and wet I’d just about lost the will to live.DSCF3024

There’s good moorings either side of Anchor Bridge, so I pulled on there. The intention was just to stop for lunch and a comfort break, but we finished up staying for the rest of the day.
It actually improved later in the afternoon, but we were too comfortable to be bothered about moving on.

Today’s forecast was better, so we were up and on the move by soon after nine.

The Anchor Inn at High Offley.

Grub Street Cutting follows shortly, not as deep or as long or as narrow as Woodseaves.DSCF3030

But it still sports a High Bridge. And the Not So High Bridge is the one with the telegraph pole in the middle.DSCF3032

Out of the cutting a long straight takes you to Norbury Junction. We pulled in here, I just needed a couple of bits from the well-stocked chandlery.DSCF3034
The boatyard, hire base, café and chandlery are on the left, the Navigation Inn on the right. Just beyond the inn is an arm to the right, which leads to a lock now used as a dry dock.
This lock was the top one of 17 which dropped the Newport Branch down just over 100 feet. Another 6 locks over 10 miles took the canal past Newport to join the existing Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall Junction. The Shrewsbury was the main line of an extended network connecting Shrewsbury and Telford with collieries and ironworks. These were built at around the turn of the 18th century for horse drawn tub-boats, the locks being only 6’2” wide but 81 feet long to take a train of four boats.
When the Newport Branch was opened in 1835 the two locks towards Shrewsbury were enlarged to take what had become the standard narrowboat size of 7x72 feet, but the rest of the network was untouched.
Trade on the tub-boat sections ceased in 1921, and, along with the Newport Branch, were officially abandoned in 1944.  But there are ambitious plans to re-open the route to Shrewsbury… See the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust website.

There was plenty of space on the visitor moorings here today, but it’s going to be jammed over the Bank Holiday weekend – Norbury Canal Festival.

Leaving the junction the canal crosses another high embankment. This one is Sheldon, and caused the canal engineers no end of trouble with the sides slipping during construction.

Over Sheldon Embankment


These massive earthworks, the cuttings and embankments, would never have been considered during the previous century. There just wasn’t the civil engineering skill and equipment available. Using them here made this a very efficient commercial waterway, allowing the company to turn a profit long after most other canals.

The next place for provisions is Gnosall Heath, with good moorings and water. On the southern end of the village is Cowley Tunnel, originally intended to be nearly 700 yards long.

Cowley Tunnel, north end

All went well for the first 80 yards, the solid rock was self-supporting.DSCF3046

But as the tunnel progressed further south the rock became unstable, and the only solution was to open out the tunnel into a cutting, with a masonry arch to stabilise the southern portal.DSCF3048

The cutting, impressively deep and steep sided, is clad in ferns and young trees. DSCF3052

Between Bridges 29 and 28 there’s a fine bit of mooring that we’ve used before. Spectacular views to both sides.DSCF3054


Heading towards Wheaton Aston the views just keep on coming…DSCF3057

We pulled in at Wheaton Aston, just through the bridge opposite the Hartley Arms. It’s a bit brighter here than on the main moorings in the cutting.

We’ll be staying put tomorrow, it’s supposed to rain all day. Saturday we’ll move on, mooring out of the way for the weekend.

Locks 0, miles 15 (2 days)