Friday, 18 May 2012

Staffs & Worcs, Shropshire Union canals. Bratch to Tyrley Wharf.

"Well up the Shroppy" describes our situation perfectly.
When we got back from Bristol we went through The Bratch
and followed the Staff & Worcs, past Tettenhal where our mate John used to moor,

up to Aldersley Junction where we turned off onto the Shropshire Union.
The signpost says Chester and ultimately this canal goes to Elsmere Port, but we’re only going as far as Nantwich where, after a little meander to Llangollen, the Middlewich Branch will take us east to the Trent & Mersey. The southern end of the Shroppy has a very distinctive look about it. Originally the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal, it was built by Thomas Telford in 1835, quite a bit later than the Staffs & Worcs, and with all the engineering skills that had been learnt to date. Bold cuttings and embankments take it in straight lines across the countryside; a super-highway of its day, and result in both spectacular views and high sweeping bridges.
When we got to Brewood the visitor moorings were all taken so we went through the bridge and moored up at the first available spot, which just happened to be opposite these two boats.
The old working boat under the blue tarp is called Lynx. This is what she looks like without the covers.
Lynx and Straw Bear belong to Fred & Sadie, who we know through Pig Dyke Molly. Straw Bear spends the winter at the end of Sadie’s garden on the River Nene in Whittlesea. In the spring it makes the long trip up through Northampton and Birmingham to Brewood where they swap it for Lynx and go cruising. We had the privilege of being aboard Lynx when she went down the Anderton Boat Lift a couple of years ago.
Hopefully we’ll have enough time when we’re passing to give Legend a go on it and a couple of days on the River Weaver.

After Brewood (and in need of a lick of paint), there is the very ornate Stretton Aqueduct over the busy A5
followed by the only lock for miles at Wheaton Aston, which due to being the first, and often only, lock encountered by day trippers and hire-boaters provides lots of entertainment . Out next stop was Norbury junction – very pretty and touristy with a pub, cafĂ©, gift shop, chandlery, hire base and nicely restored BW offices - but not much of a junction anymore as the Newport Branch which used to go off from here is now just a short arm to a dry dock where the first lock used to be.

The next afternoon Elizabeth and Pete came aboard for a little trip with their 3 beautiful girls. We rolled the front covers away and took them up to Shebdon. In the space of a couple of hours we passed under the famous High Bridge, one of the most photographed icons of the canals, and made short work of an Ann-Marie chocolate cake, one of the most looked-forward-to icons of our boat.
After the impressive Shebdon Aqueduct there is an overhanging canopy and loading bay at Knighton Wharf which has this sign on it -
It could do with a good scrub, if you can’t make it out it reads “This wharf was used between 1911 & 1961 for the processing of locally collected milk products and shipment of chocolate crumb by canal to Cadbury Ltd Bourneville”. It had to be done.
After that came the vertically sided sandstone cutting at Woodseaves
(over a mile long and dug with shovels and wheelbarrows) followed by a lovely 48hr mooring at the top of Tyrley locks just before Market Drayton. There’s a car park, a sanitary station, a winding hole and some permanent moorings here; when we’re too old and knackered to be continuous cruisers any more this will do nicely.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Stourport junction to The Bratch.

We’re getting a lot of practice at driving up and down the A46/M5 from Daventry to the West Country. We’d only just got back from Cornwall when we were off again to Bristol. We’ve left Legend just below The Bratch; a very popular 3 lock staircase with a resident lock keeper who looks after it beautifully. The grass is always trim, the gardens neat and tidy and the paintwork spotless. Legend should be happy there for a few days. We had to dash off and leave it again because, lucky us, we won a pair of tickets to Bristol Folk Festival. Yipee!! Yes it is possible to get to Bristol by boat; there are several narrowboats in the harbour and it’s on our list of future destinations. If we’d had the necessary river licenses and six months to do it we wouldn’t have hesitated. However we hadn’t so, after spending Friday with Chloe, (the afternoon in Ikea spending her money, the evening at her house with Janice and Paul – great fish & chips, by the way – and the night in her spare room) we were heading west again.

The line-up at Bristol is great; Show of Hands, Cara Dillon, Afro Celt Sound System and lots of other good stuff. It's all on at the Colston Hall right in the middle of the city centre, so it's a bit different to other festivals we’ve been to. There's no marquee for one thing, just two stages in a warm, dry, acoustically perfect theatre. And, of course nowhere to pitch a tent; instead we are experiencing the delights of “indoor camping” which, we happily discovered, is as much floor as you want in a church crypt, plus use of a kitchen and toilets. Again it’s warm and dry, there’s a fan oven, the water never runs out and we can sit opposite each other at a table without our knees touching. Our fellow campers seem to be grimly enduring the primitive conditions, we can’t think why – we’re revelling in the luxuriousness of it all. And what a front door!

Our personal favorites from the 150-odd acts over the 3 days are a brilliant performance poet called Ash Dickinson, a very talented 18 year-old singer songwriter and future star called Kitty Macfarlane, and our old friends 3 Daft Monkeys who had us all bouncing around like loons on Monday evening before we attacked the M5 for the final time in the pouring rain.

Dave has got another dentist appointment on Tuesday, so our next boat move will be Wednesday, followed by several more over the following few days. Hopefully we’ll be well up the Shroppy by our next instalment.

Stourbridge Canal. Delph to Stourport Junction

As you come away from the BCN, just before the Stourbridge locks, there is a junction on the right which takes the intrepid onto the Fens Branch; a short feeder arm which is navigable for about 300yds, after which it rapidly becomes a shallow weedy ditch reminiscent of canals of our youth. Just before it gets too bad (only just) there is another junction with the 200yd-long Stourbridge Extension Canal. On the off-side of this are moorings behind a fence with a BW keyed gate.
It’s a seldom used back-water and the turn is a bit silted up; we only draw about 2’ and we still had a fight winding and backing onto the moorings, although once we’d got tied up we found ourselves in about 4’ of clear water. The lakes that feed the canals, together with the un-navigable section and the dis-used railway line that lies alongside it, have all been turned into a nature reserve, so that despite being between heavy industry and housing estates it was the quietest night we’ve had since entering suburbia a month ago. But it still wasn’t the countryside and, although we couldn’t justify it and were annoyed with ourselves for feeling it, instead of being happy and secure behind our locked gate, we felt isolated and vulnerable. Which is a sad reflection of what society has become.

No…No it’s not, it’s a sad reflection of what the media, the frightened, the paranoid and the power hungry would have us believe. The facts are these; we had a peaceful night in a lovely spot. Birds came to our bird table and we scavenged some firewood from the surrounding area. We exchanged pleasantries with some local people and no-one fire-bombed our boat or mugged us at knife point. No different to anywhere else we’ve moored. Our only excuse for our unjustified wariness is the relentless threatening presence those urban ugly sisters, graffiti and razor-wire.

The descent of the Stourbridge 16 the following day was a rather damp affair, and was foreshortened to the Stourbridge 12 at lunchtime.
We stopped outside the glass factory museum, warmed ourselves up with a shower and a hot chocolate and watched it rain all afternoon, then did the remaining 4 locks the following morning. At the bottom we turned left into the Stourbridge Town Arm and followed it to the basin at the end where we turned round before mooring up for a look at the town.
Dave used to deliver steel to a big stockholder right by the basin when he first started trucking 20 odd years ago and remembered seeing the boats tied up. The steelworks have long gone- there’s nothing left but the empty shell of the weighbridge - but the canal has flourished, the wharf offices have been renovated and the basin is a busy boatyard with so many boats there’s only just enough room to wind.
After unloading at the steelworks, Dave would drive past the end of Canal St in his artic at silly o-clock in the morning, look longingly down the cobbled street to the wharf and promise himself he’d bring his own boat there one day. A lot of water has gone under a lot of bridges since then, but he got there.

Back on the Stourbridge Canal we did the final 4 locks down to the Staffs and Worcs and tied up just off the junction on a 5 day mooring.
Perfect. We were in two minds about going south to Kinver with the boat before starting northwards, but in the end we went for a walk down the tow-path instead. On the way is Stewpony Wharf, packed with fab stuff for the canal maniac; a hexagonal toll house,
a circular weir
and this gorgeous bridge.
The little Dunsley Tunnel is a strange affair, hewn from the sandstone and quite low.
The sign says 1.89m, which would mean having to take stuff of the roof, so it’s just as well we walked. We needed a 5 day mooring where we felt Legend would be safe as we were charging around the country in the car for a while; first to the dentist and then down to visit Dave’s sister Kate in her new house in Newlyn, near Penzance. We’d arranged to meet Anne at Chloe’s in Daventry and take her with us. It all sounds manic, and it was, but it does make sense, honest. Kate’s visit was a belated birthday celebration; we had a lovely day beachcombing, (Ann-Marie made this penguin – a copy of the one that Dave made in Oz)
and milling around Penzance shops and cafes, then in the evening went for a super dinner followed by a jam session in a pub; lots of very good local talent taking it in turns with everything from The Beatles to George Michael, including a stunning ‘All along the Watchtower’. It was like Hendrix was in the room.

It was lovely to see Kate happy in her beautiful little cottage, but sadly we only had one day - since we’ve retired we don’t have time for anything – so the next morning we said goodbye to Kate, hurtled back up to Chloe’s where we said goodbye to Anne, then back over to the Staffs & Worcs. We left the car at The Bratch at Wombourne, our next mooring spot, and walked back to Legend. We were back on board by 7pm, not bad going. We’ve decided to adopt that pattern of moving for a while; always having the car ahead and walking - or cycling - back for the boat. We’ve got to abandon our ‘not very far, not very often’ policy and get a shift on for a bit; we want to be up on the Llangollen Canal, (or ‘The Welsh’ as old boaters called it) at the end of May. Mandy & Chas are coming for a visit and we want to take them over the Pontypontycyclisty aqueduct and we’ve got our booking on the Ribble Link for the 19th July. This boating lark is all go isn’t it?

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all. The Stourton and ...