Sunday, June 30, 2019

Out in the country…

After a quiet night at Wheaton Aston we untied and moved up to the water point at around half-nine, a quarter to ten. Not a fast tap, this, and it was twenty-past ten when we headed for Wheaton Aston Lock, the last “proper” lock on the Shroppie. There’s the shallow stop lock to negotiate at Autherley Junction, but at just 4” it hardly counts.

So much water is leaking past the lower gates that it takes a little longer to fill than expected…

…but we were on our way 20 minutes later.

After the lock the canal runs through Lapley Wood, atmospheric with sunbeams lancing down through the canopy and birdsong filling the air.

The woods flank the navigation for quite some time, then suddenly fall back as it approaches Stretton Aqueduct crossing the busy A5.

I wonder how many people, buzzing to and from Wales in their little tin boxes, realise that there’s a canal passing overhead?

I used to drive this road regularly, and I didn’t!

There’s a long elevated straight from here into the next village, Brewood (“Brood”). At the end is the base for Countrywide Cruisers hire boats, then some permanent moorings in the cutting before Brewood Bridge.

The “moss boat” is still here, an old Springer that looks as though it’s been here for years!

Brewood itself is a lovely village to have a potter around, but the moorings are a bit grim, stuck as they are in the cutting below the village. Still busy, though.

We had no need to stop as I picked up essentials from the Spar shop tucked behind the church in Wheaton Aston, back out into daylight with a good view of the splendid spire of St. Mary’s.

The church is large for a small village, but was financed by the local wealthy landowners, the Giffards of Chillington Hall.

The canal was built across part of the Giffard’s estate, and the bridge carrying the carriage road to the hall from Coven was stipulated to be broad and decorated.

The stone-built Avenue Bridge, with it’s ornate balustrades.

Not much further on we pulled in on the pleasant, open moorings between Bridges 8 and 7.

It was half-twelve and we were all glad to get in out of the sun. We spent the afternoon trying to keep cool, with every door and window open. Later in the afternoon the wind picked up, so it was a lot more comfortable.

Locks 1, miles 5

Friday, June 28, 2019

I love it when a plan comes together…

Today dawned a bit grey and pretty windy, but had started to brighten up by the time we untied and set off, past a long line of permanent moorings on the offside.

Hi Nev, this one’s for you…

…And these are for Mags!

The moorings end near Bridge 42, with the Anchor Inn alongside.

Shortly afterwards we entered the gloom of Grub Street Cutting.

A little shallower and less dramatic than Woodseaves, but it does sport a curious double-arched bridge with a stumpy telegraph pole in the middle!

After this quiet and remote stretch, Norbury Junction is an opportunity for boaty bits and services, with good moorings either side of the junction.
The junction, off to the left in the picture, once gave access to a network of waterways centred around the Shrewsbury Canal. Long since abandoned, only a short stub remains, leading to a lock now used as a dry dock.

Leaving Norbury there’s another long embankment, Shelmore, which runs for a gently curving mile above Shelmore Wood.

At either end are stop gates to protect the rest of the canal from a possible breach.
During WWII these were closed every night as a precaution against a Luftwaffe bomber pilot seeing the embankment as a target of opportunity. In fact our canal network was rarely directly targeted, damage was caused due to their proximity to docks and industry.

Just over a mile further on the canal reaches Gnosall Heath, a chance to top up the groceries and have a pint with pubs at either end of the village.

The Navigation at the west end…

…and The Boat at the east.

We pulled in on the outskirts of the village for a bite to eat and a comfort break, before heading onwards through Cowley Tunnel.

The tunnel was intended to be 690 yards long, but the instability of the rock through which it was cut caused it to be opened out during construction, leaving us with an 81 yard tunnel and a long, steep-sided cutting.

The west end is cut through the rock, but the eastern end is lined with dressed stone blocks.

Leaving the tunnel the canal passes through fine open countryside, over less impressive embankments and shallower cuttings as the terrain levels out a little.

Trees arch over the navigation in Castle Cutting.

The final run into Wheaton Aston and our destination for the night is a long straight passing over three small streams piercing the low embankment.

Looking east towards Cannock Chase.
To the right of the picture, just visible on the horizon, is the Pye Green Tower, a 320 foot high communications mast built as part of a network during the late 1950s and early 1960s to provide line-of-sight microwave communications country-wide.

Into Wheaton Aston, visitor moorings on the left and in the distance the vacant wharf at Turner’s Garage, supplying what’s believed to be the cheapest diesel on the network.
Well, it’d be a shame not to, wouldn’t it – even though we needed less than 50 litres.

After topping off the tank and picking up 10 litres of oil (the engine is due a service) we chugged under Tavern Bridge and moored in the sunshine between the bridge and the winding hole. It’s a preferable spot than in the cutting the other side of the bridge.
We were lucky to get on here.

Locks 0, miles 11¼ 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Two days, two short lock flights…

We stayed below Adderley Locks until yesterday morning. I know, we’d planned on heading to Market Drayton last Sunday, but instead I washed and polished the left side of the boat. Then the weather turned…

So it was under cloudy but dry skies that we set off, only a few hundred yards to the bottom of the Adderley Locks. We had to turn the first one as we were following a boat up, but after that we met downhill traffic at each lock, making it an easy run up.

Heading for Adderley Bottom Lock

In the flight…

…and out of the top.
We went in the bottom lock at around 10:10, and left the top one at 10:50. Can’t complain about that!
After the locks we had about an hour to cruise before getting to Market Drayton.

Bridge 67 is a turnover bridge which carries the towpath from the east side of the canal to the west.

These bridges are specifically designed to allow boat horses to cross over without having to drop the tow-line. Not as attractive as the Macclesfield Canal snake bridges that do the same job further north, but effective.

Through Betton Wood

Into Market Drayton.

We pulled in just past Bridge 63 for water, having to queue for half an hour before one of the two taps became available. Then another half hour while the tank filled.

Grooves worn by gritty tow-lines in the iron bridge protection thingy.

We started looking for a space on the main moorings after Newcastle Road Bridge, but we finished up past the River Tern aqueduct before we could get in, sat on the muddy bottom.
A bit of a trek up to the town from here, but I made one trip last night and another before we left this morning, to top up the cupboards.

Just up the canal from where we’d moored a CRT team was repairing a minor leak in the bank in the time-honoured tradition – shoveling puddle clay in the ‘ole and stamping it down with big boots!

The bottom end of the Tyrley Lock flight is reached through an oppressive rock cutting with damp, vegetation-dripping walls and a soggy towpath. We had to wait for a boat to go up ahead and another to come down. The lady lockie on duty was very efficient, though.

At Lock 3 the canal rises out of the cutting between fields, a pleasant contrast.

We had to turn the final two locks, with no-one coming down, but still made it out of the top in good time.

Tyrley Top Lock, with a coach-load of gongoozlers waiting to ambush the next boat up…

Woodseaves Cutting follows the locks, cut through solid rock and about 60 feet deep at it’s deepest part. It’s also the longer of the two large cuttings on the Shroppie, beating Grub Street by only a few yards.

Woodseaves Cutting

We didn’t meet any oncoming boats until near the southern end, where the channel runs between vertical hand-cut walls of rock. Just enough room for boats to pass.

Back out into the sunshine and the canal soon passes Goldstone Wharf, with a pub, good moorings a water point and winding hole it’s a popular stop. We spent the night here with Val and John, on a hire boat out of Middlewich, when we did the Four Counties Ring way back in the Dark Ages. I remember I had a drop too much to drink on that occasion…

It’s a remote stretch of canal, this, passing through rolling farmland. Chugging past the long lines of moorings near Soudley give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery on a day like today.

The Knighton milk factory used to be a major part of Cadbury’s operation, producing chocolate crumb for shipping to Bournville.
Opened in 1911 by Cadbury’s, it’s since produced a variety of products for the company, including Angel Delight and Smash instant potato (remember those?). It’s core business is the production of spray-dried milk powder. The last boat, carrying chocolate crumb to Bournville, left from under that loading canopy in 1961.

Immediately after the factory the canal crosses the mile-long Shebdon Embankment, at it’s highest point forty or fifty feet above the valley it crosses. You’ve got to admire the sheer determination of those 19th century guys, armed with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, shifting millions of tons of earth from Woodseaves Cutting and piling it into a big heap here.

We pulled in at the far end of the embankment, there’re good moorings here.

Tomorrow we’ll toddle on, probably getting to Wheaton Aston. I’ve said that before, though…

Locks 10, miles 11½ (2 days)