Tuesday 19 September 2023

Trent Lock to Fradley. River Trent. Trent and Mersey Canal.

The last 27 miles of the Trent and Mersey between Sawley and Fradley Junction were new water for us. That stretch was one of the few widely scattered bits of the network that we hadn’t navigated, so we were quite excited when we left the pontoon at Trent Junction and set off westwards. To be perfectly honest, even after all this time, we’re still quite excited every time we set off anywhere. We do remember a lot of what we’ve done, but our second trip in two years up the Chesterfield brought home just how much we don’t (Dave especially. Senile old codger) so every voyage is still one of discovery to some extent.

In the morning before we set off, we ran into Long Eaton to pick up some painting supplies and discovered that it’s not easy running with a rucksack full of paint and turpentine. Who knew? As soon as we’d got the final coat on the starboard panel we cast off with a big sweeping turn in the river and headed up stream to Sawley. There were two very friendly volunteers on duty at the paired river locks and they were very complimentary about our roof garden, despite it looking a bit raggedy.

We passed the big Sawley marina and carried on to Derwent Mouth lock which marked the beginning of our last bit of new water this year.

There was a decent looking mooring spot just beyond the lock and we pulled in, but a water treatment plant on the other side of the hedge made it a bit wiffy, so we pulled out again and carried on. Shardlow was as full as we expected it would be, but we found a spot above Shardlow Lock and cycled back for the car.

From Shardlow we went to Weston Lock for a couple of days. In the morning, as soon as the mist had cleared, Dave was back out with the paint, this time on the port side. Almost immediately he had to set up a parasol to try and stop the steel getting too hot.

It’s tricky painting outside; it’s either too hot or too cold, if it’s windy you get dust, pollen and bits of foliage stuck to it, and flies, always flies. The poor things not only get stuck, but then proceed to go round in circles till they drown in paint, while drawing annoying swirls in your beautiful shiny finish. The answer of course is to hire a paint dock, but that involves parting with money and we can’t be having that sort of thing.

On Saturday morning we were up and out early to cycle back to Shardlow for the car, then drove into Long Eaton for Dave’s 50th parkrun.

It was a double whammy because Ann-Marie got a new PB as well, so we had a bacon cob and a coffee to celebrate. While we were in town we popped into a couple of charity shops and came home with a whole pile of lovely Denby crockery which matched some bowls we already had. Real winner! All we have to do now is decide what to get rid of to make room for it all. We also went to Argos to pick up some bicycle mirrors that we’d bought on Ebay. They’re bar-end ones and fold up, so they shouldn’t get in the way when the bikes are folded.

In the afternoon we pulled the pins and carried on, past the end of the derelict Derby Canal...

...then up Swarkstone lock and onto the services before mooring up. We’re quite impressed by how much of this bit of canal is moorable, but that maybe because we’ve recently been on a lots of bits that aren’t.  The next day Dave had planned to get the second coat of paint on Legend’s name, but it drizzled all morning so we did some family and friends phone calls instead, then left to join the Mikes, who were moored in Congleton, where there happened to be a Jazz and Blues festival going on. We spent the afternoon in the Town Walk, a Victorian arcade that had been derelict, but has now been bought up restored, and each of the shops is a different food outlet, so it’s a bit like a food court in a shopping centre, but much more diverse and with real atmosphere.

There was an amazing mix of cultures; Asian, Italian, South American, Jamaican, plus cocktail and coffee bars. The beauty of it is that they have a central ordering system, so you can sit inside or outside any of the restaurants, cafés and bars, and order food on line from anywhere and have it brought to your table. There was a blues band making the most of the acoustics on the balcony above us, so by the time we went back to Nb Shanti for more coffee and cocktails, we were hoarse from yelling at each other over the music. It was a really great afternoon though; we hadn’t seen the Mikes since last summer so it was really good to catch up on what they’d been up to, including their train holiday from Norway to Portugal. Wow! The Arctic Circle to the Med by train! We left a lot later than we’d planned, parked at Stenson Lock and walked back to Legend in  the dark with head torches. The towpath was bedraggled from the earlier rain, so Ann-Marie, who was in front and a little bit sloshed, had an hour of shouting out “Slug!” “Snail!” “Nettle!” to Dave who was behind her. By the time we got home she could hardly talk.

While we were with the Mikes, we got a phone call from Paul and Maxine, telling us they’d just gone past our boat heading the other direction (them, not Legend) and had moored up a couple of hundred yards behind it. So in the morning after Dave had got the 2nd coat on the left side...

...we walked back for a coffee and a chat with them. Another lovely catchup; sometimes this boating lark can be so sociable. We said goodbye and set off for Stenson Lock, which is next to a very busy café and pub, so there were lots of Gongoozlers, plus a chap who was very keen to tell us how to operate it, which was fun; “It’s very deep this one, so you need to…Oh, you are doing….Then you need… Yes that’s right…” etc.

We moored up just above the lock and arranged with the Foxes to meet us there. So while Dave went to take the car to Willington, Ann-Marie got busy baking cheese scones, orange & ginger brownies and blackberry buns to keep our visitors happy. Dave got back just before they arrived, so we set off with a well deck full of Foxes on a short by lovely trip to Willington. We had Rachael, with Isaac and Lewis, and Alan & Vicky, who brought news of their new house purchase which should be completed before Christmas! Very exciting.

Dave had another early morning painting the shadow on the sign writing. We were originally going to do it red, but in a last minute change of heart went for grey instead, which we think was good call. As soon as he’d finished we set off through Burton and up the first of the single locks to Shobnall Fields then huddled inside to watch a wet afternoon film. Later on, the cycle back for the car involved a lot of wet nettles and gunnera overhanging the towpath. CRT have adopted a “No Mow” policy which is better for wild life and obviously saves money, and to a point we agree with it; we don’t expect manicured edges everywhere we go and we’ve got a pair of shears to make a mooring better, but we feel that in some places they’ve thrown the cliché out with the bathwater. Bits of the Chesterfield were completely impassable on foot, never mind trying to cycle.

We left the boat early the next day and set off northwards to spend the day with Dave’s Australian cousin Bernadette, who was walking Hadrian’s wall with her husband Pete and their friend Ian. We parked at Corbridge, where they’d planned to spend that night, then walked west along the wall path, met them in Chollerford and walked back with them, chatting non-stop all the way.

Picking bilberries for a quick snack.

A little fairy glen

Bilberry picking fingers!

The weather was glorious and the scenery was unbelievable. We’d never been on the wall path before and it inspired us to put it on our bucket list. Back at the car squeezed everyone and their backpacks into the back and took them down into Corbridge to their accommodation, then back into the town for dinner in the Black Bull.

A lovely meal in a lovely town with lovely people and, to top it all, half way through the evening we got an invite to Ben and Megan’s wedding next year! We drove home under a huge, bright perigean full moon; a fitting end to a perfect day.

As our mooring at Shobnall was on the off-side Dave was able to get the 2nd coat on the right hand name.

As soon as it was done we set off through Burton...

...past Branston Waterpark, then along the boring bit that runs parallel to the busy A38, followed by the lovely river section from Wychnor lock to Alrewas lock where, for a brief period, the adolescent Trent joins the canal that has been following it since Harecastle tunnel. We moored in Alrewas...

...and because neither the A38 or the towpath looked very inviting and it had started raining again, Dave caught the bus back to Burton to get the car.

We did the final leg to Fradley the next morning, queueing for the locks all the way. Jenn and Jim met us as we emerged from Keepers lock, and we squeezed on the end of the moorings so they could come in for a brew and another big chatty catch-up. We worked out that we hadn’t seen each other for six years so we had a lot of catching up to do. In the afternoon Dave got the final shadow done, so it was all finished! After nearly a year of being incognito, Legend had its name on the back panels and we’re really pleased with it.

We just need to design something for the front now. In the evening it was warm enough to join Jim & Jenn for a pint and more chatting, sitting outside the Swan Inn looking out over Fradley Junction.

The weather in 2023 was all over the place. Spring had been cold and wet, then summer had been promising to start with, but fizzled out in July, and now September was looking like the best thing ever. Apparently the jet stream has been "stuck" for more lengthy periods than ever before and is expected to do so more and more into the future. As the climate changes, we feel extremely lucky to have a life that lets us take advantage of it, however it comes.

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