Saturday 29 May 2021

Car Shuffle

 Actually this is posted on 31st as other things got in the way . . . 

The car was back at Droitwich Marina so it was the usual combination of walking, bus, train and taxi to retrieve it. Mike booked the train tickets online yesterday so at least that part was reasonably confident.

The next scheduled bus from the stop nearest to Barton Marina was at 10:23, according to Google, but it looked from the map to be a little further to walk than it turned out. As a result there was quite a with with nothing to sit on - grass is till rather damp despite having good sunshine today. At least he could see the service bus going in the other direction towards Burton-on-Trent but it was at least five minutes late.

So, although a little nervous when 10:23 came and went, Mike was not surprised that when it did appear it was perhaps even a little later. However, the new Bus Pass (now issued by Wiltshire not Cornwall) worked. The route is a tour de force for the driver as it wends a very circuitous route around several villages with narrow streets, lots of parked cars and quite a bit of traffic. At one point the bus does a trip around a village and ends up going back the way it had entered before continuing onwards to Lichfield.

The bus dropped Mike at Trent Valley Station and the ticket office was able to print out the tickets from the reference code. Despite the slight late running of the bus there was plenty of time before the train departure. The station has a very small coffee shop - not much difficulty in enforcing social distancing as there is only room for one customer at a time anyway! Still, very friendly and a good cup of coffee.

The train to Birmingham is a service that shuttles between Bromsgrove and Lichfield - an electrified service. It departed and arrived into New Street on time and Mike had sufficient gap to find a place to sit and eat his lunch.

It was then the familiar train to Droitwich and Mike had a short wait for the pre-booked taxi - which also arrived on schedule!

The drive back to Barton was uneventful - a couple of stretches on the M42 were slow, with a Smart Management limit of 40mph at two junctions. The sat nav is welcome as there are a couple of complex intersections, especially the one when leaving the M42 as it seems to have been designed to encourage the unwary to take the M6 Toll unless very careful! Overall the journey time was at least half an hour better than estimated, thanks mainly to the efficient taxi transfer.

Meanwhile, as always, Christine had been slaving over a hot boat (actually in the boat) cleaning and packing.

Friday 28 May 2021

Barton Marina

 Today's Canal - Trent and Mersey

Although the day began somewhat overcast, it was a thin cloud layer and otherwise we were very warm. We set off in good time as we wanted to arrive at the marina before the office shuts at 3.

Opposite our overnight mooring we could see work on planting new trees to offset those cut down to make way for the HS2 route across the canal near to the next lock.

The bridge at the tail of the lock has recesses where the shortened balance beams could fit when the gates are opened. However, the beams have now been cranked and the recesses not used. However, one of them has been taken over by a revival of the custom of leaving teapots around locks. The name boards for the locks on the Trent and Mersey all have bright new, shiny blue versions, replacing the former black and white ones. However, the new ones have the grid reference rather than the CaRT telephone number!

A short distance and we arrived at the Fradley Locks - two above the junction and two below frequently haver volunteer lock keepers on hand to assist boaters. They were all very friendly and helpful, giving just the right amount of help - unlike in the early days of the scheme when some opted to interfere too much whilst others just stood away.

Fradley Junction, with the well-known Swan Inn, can become very busy, even congested, in the summer time but even today, with far more boats on the move than we have seen so far on this trip, it was pleasantly busy. The cafe at Fradley Wharf, just below the next lock, seemed to have a reasonable number of customers, all sitting outside under giant umbrellas.

Beside Common Lock a new marina is under construction. It seems to be a long term project for local boatbuilders, taming some time to come to fruition. Nothing seemed to be happening today! When complete it looks as if it will be a very pleasant base for around 60 long term leisure boats.

By the time we arrived at Bagnall Lock the clouds were gradually clearing and we had good glimpses of blue sky. It was definitely warm and fewer layers of clothing were needed.

Below Alrewas Lock the canal crosses the River Trent. When the river is in flood then the navigation has to be closed but there was no such difficulty today - unlike most of the other rivers that from part of the canal and river network which have had flood closures for much of the past week. The towpath continues over a series of  bridges across the various streams that branch out from the river on a flood plain.

By lunch time we were just a very short distance  away from the marina but we pulled in to moor leaving plenty of time t check in afterwards. Sadly, this part of the canal is right beside the very, very busy A38 trunk road which is exceptionally noisy across quite a wide area.

Later we entered the marina and found a space on their visitor moorings before checking in at the Office and paying our dues.

5.9 Miles - 10 Locks

Thursday 27 May 2021

Wood End - almost Fradley

Today's Canal - Trent and Mersey 

We awoke to a very bright blue sky - alas it was still cloudy last night when the lunar eclipse was supposed to happen so we saw absolutely nothing! Did it happen? 

Our overnight mooring was as good as we thought - just a photo to highlight how much improved this short length of bank now is.

Mike had a video conference meeting all morning and Christine took the opportunity to visit both Morrisons and Tesco, neither very far away. It was almost noon by the time we sere able to set off.

In a short distance we passed under a couple of railway bridges very near to each other. The first still carries the electrified main line but the other was a branch into the power station site. This was taken out of use some while ago but the imminent demolition of the cooling towers make the future more certain. A large school and extensive housing is planned to replace it - other parts of the site have already been developed for modern industrial units.

In any event, the photos show how blue the sky was!

Armitage Tunnel was only opened out in 1971, necessitated by the effects of mining subsidence. A wide modern road crosses over at the eastern end. It is at such a skew angle that it makes a 'tunnel' longer than some other original ones! We arrived as a boat was part way through from the other end but as soon as they emerged it was clear behind them.

We stopped for lunch around 1 o'clock for just over an hour. Apart from the towns, this canal is generally very green.

Building supplies are supposed to be in very short supply but at least Armitage Shanks are doing their bit for the fundamentals of construction!

As we passed the  entrance to Kings Bromley Marina (we thought about a temporary stay here but it is too far from any public transport for the car shuffle) we see that the clear skies were giving way to more complex cloud formations.

Kings Bromley Wharf was an early part of the canal economy but it was not until the early 20C that a creamery was built here. The buildings now all look very decrepit -some are listed so there limits on what can be done - but there were signs of activity. We later found a small car sales business advertising 17 used cars for sale from here. A Kings Bromley Village Plan from 2005 has an interesting photo of the creamery.

The other side of the main road is a much smaller boatyard and moorings. It is not clear how successful this is as it has now ceased to supply fuel (diesel and coal) and in 2016 the main building was put up for sale and a planning application made to convert into a dwelling. Not sure where that now stands.#

We planned to stop for the night before starting the locks down through Fradley and were fortunate to find a very good mooring just above the first, Wood End Lock.

6.6 Miles - 0 Locks

*The observant reader will have noticed that despite references to the contrary there are as yet no photos. Blogger is playing up and we cannot work out what the problem is! Hopefully will fix soon.

** If you have returned to this blog then you should now see the photos - this morning they uploaded without a hitch!

Wednesday 26 May 2021


 Today's Canals - Staffs and Worcs, Trent and Mersey

After the splendid sunshine yesterday afternoon, the night sky was very clear and we had a great view of the supermoon as it rose just after 9 o'clock.

We had thought that there was a lunar eclipse due at this time but, alas, it is not until tonight (Wednesday) It does not look as if there will a chance of such a clear view. The picture is the best that our phone camera could manage.

As soon as we set off we entered the main part of Tixall Wide. The first picture shows where the Gatehouse is - the zoomed photo is again the best that our mobile can manage. 

Note that we took to using a redundant mobile phone as a camera - in many situations is does a better job than our last compact camera. However, we were in need of a replacement for that but could not find one with the spec we were after. Taking photos whilst steering the boat or operating a lock needs something that can be tethered safely or kept in a deep pocket whilst at the same time able to be deployed quickly. It used to be helpful to have the images GPS marked but it seems that the compact cameras no longer have that feature. Zoom, however, is not a great feature on this older mobile. However, it is not often that there is time to use that anyway.

A short distance before Haywood Junction we crossed the River Trent on a stone aqueduct. Along with almost all the English rivers at the moment, it was  rather full and fast flowing.

At the junction the service block is immediately to the north so, after emerging from the Staffs and Worcs, we backed up a couple of boat lengths to the water point.

After recommencing our journey, now on the Trent and Mersey going south, we arrived at Haywood Lock sooner than we had expected. However, there was a three boat queue here and at the next lock - something we have not experienced since 2019! Sadfly the normally very busy tea room is currently all closed up. Let's hope that it will not be long before it can resume business.

Below the lock we moored up for lunch - we also found that the temperature was dropping quickly. Later we continued southwards as we wanted to moor close to Rugeley tonight. Mike has another video meeting tomorrow morning and so needs to have a better signal than we had last night at Tixall!

It was only about half an hour before we could see the cooling towers of Rugeley Power Station, some of the very few left on the Trent.  They will soon disappear as it is planned to blow them up on June 6th. As we approached the town we again passed over the river, somewhat larger than at Haywood.

One of the houses alongside the canal as it continues into the town  seems to have become home to an outpost of Charity Dock on the Coventry Canal! However, this seems to be more specifically themed than the randomness of the figures at Charity Dock and inspired by the work of NHS staff during the pandemic.

In the past we have found mooring near the shops in Rugeley to be a bit tricky, especially for just a quick larder top up, Although there is plenty of space, much of the bank is shallow and the last couple of times we discovered to our cost that the known mooring north of Bridge 66 was unusable for much of its length. We would arrive and think that we were lucky to find a space until we tried to fill it! We were  therefore very pleased to see that the worst section, about three boats length, has very recently been re-piled and, in the middle, there was just enough room for us to squeeze in! Hopefully, we will also have a mobile signal but it may be a bit much to ask for a tv signal as well!

6.0 Miles - 2 Locks

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Tixall Wide - Almost

 Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

The morning was very grey but dry and not quite as cold as yesterday. We had found on the map a slightly larger Co-Op than the one in the centre of Penkridge, just a short walk from Cross Keys Bridge 83A.

We needed an intermediate shop so we set off in good time from our overnight mooring opposite Otherton Boat Haven.

There are ringed moorings just after the bridge which was a further bonus.n well under an hour.We walked to the store, collected our shopping and returned to the boat in well under an hour.

There was one lock before the wharf in Penkridge - and as we started away again after descending, a break in clouds suddenly appeared, just for a short while.

We only had a very brief stop at the service block above Penkridge Lock as we waited for a boat coming up.

In the pound below we spotted The Jam Butty and its motor, The Wandering Bark. They are the pride and joy of Andy Tidy and his wife Helen. Andy blogs as Captain Ahab's Wandering Tales about their travels as well as his passion for documenting old canals. We have not heard much from them lately - in February he shared some great old photos of the Delph Locks.

The noisy M6 follows the canal for some distance - although it does change sides, it is only shortly before Stafford that it is far enough away not to be a disturbance. However, the photo shows another patch of blue sky - something that was now giving us hope of a better afternoon!

Teddesley Boat Centre alongside Park Gate Lock has had a chequered history over the past ten years or more.When we first came this way with Take Five, it was home to a much respected hire boat business and boat builders. When we needed a proper re-paint we opted for a new painter that had set up in an undercover workshop here. We were pleased with the results. There as also a good branch of Midland Chandlers which we used each time we passed by. However all that has now gone but Bourne Boatbuilders have relocated from the Trent and Mersey. In 2019 they also purchased Midway Boats whose established base is at Barbridge Junction but now operate from here as well.

Down one further lock and we paused for lunch. By the time we set off again, the bright blue sky had returned to stay with us for the rest of the day.

The canal skirts the centre of Stafford and all that we saw was a lot of new, or newish, housing estates. As we reached the northern edge, we stopped for a few minutes at the site of the Stafford Riverway Link. At one time a short canal connected with the River Sow for a mile and half navigation into the town centre. Sadly, it closed in the 1920's but a restoration trust is hoping to restore a connection. Since we last took a look a few years ago, work has started on a small basin and a lock down to the river.

At the end of  a line of open country moorings, this one has a wonderful tree house and playground. Thomas may be at home (a real railway line is only a few metres behind so he will feel at home here) but alas no-one else was there today.

Just a picture of a tree, not yet in full leaf at the end of May, against a bright sky!

The only downside this afternoon was that the sun was in entirely the wrong direction (or we were travelling the wrong way!) to take useful pictures of bridges!

We opted to take a risk and drop down through Tixall Lock so that we could look for an overnight mooring at Tixall Wide. This is a honeypot site and usually we just pass through. On the way to the widest part there were plenty of spaces but just before the final bend we could see what looked like a long line of boats already taking up the best spots. So we quickly pulled in - in fact a good place and with a tv signal, if we can find anything worth watching. The iconic picture of the Gatehoiuse will have to wait until the morning.

10.6 Miles - 7 Locks

Monday 24 May 2021

Otherton - Penkridge

 Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

This morning was very grey and overcast, not too chilly with a few glimpses of sun, but it did remain dry. 

We still had and half miles of the summit pound to complete, including passing through Hatherton Junction.

In the line of moored boats just before Calf Heath we spotted this one - of course, Kernow is the popular name for Cornwall, until recently our 'home' county. Whilst it sported a Cornish Flag on its ensign staff. However, it also says that it comes from Tipton (in the Black Country)

Hatherton Junction is one end of the former Hatherton Canal that connected from here through to the Wyrley and Essington Canal near to the Cannock Extension Canal. It is paet of the the aim of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust to re-open both and create several new cruising routes. The trust benefits greatly from the publicity that David Suchet gives. The canal, a branch of the Staffs and Worcs, opened in 1863 and primarily carried coal from the very valuable mines around Great Wyrley. By the post war period when there was a rush to close many canals, the Hatherton Canal suffered from the effects of the mining especially some extensive open cast workings.

A large waste to energy plant operated by Veolia was opened about five years ago on the old industrial site at Four Ashes. It first comes into view well before Hatherton Junction but it is some while later that we actually passed close by. It processes 340,000 tonnes of household waste each year - it is initially burnt to producer heat and thus electricity whilst valuable metals are later recovered from the ash.

Both sides of the canal at Four Ashes have been a chemical site for a long time. At one stage it belonged to Shell but now, after several takeovers, it is party of the US Schenectady International company. The eastern side of the site has now been decontaminated and several large industrial units have been built, with more on the way. One houses a factory making car parts.

We continued to Gailey where we paused above the lock to carry out a full service - the last time was in the basin at Stourbridge before we left on Friday morning.

When we had finished we descended the lock (it is all downhill from here to the Trent!) to moor for lunch just below. As we tied up rain arrived and it was very wet - in fact this lasted all afternoon until after we stopped for the night.

We eventually made a move even if we knew we would be soaked! The first lock was Brick Kiln Lock and our photo shows how hard it was raining.

We had to work through four locks before we could expect a mooring not immediately alongside he motorway. We were doing reasonably well until the last - we were well aware of how slippery everywhere was (not go mention muddy) and as he stepped off the boat as we came into the lock he reminded himself to be careful. Nevertheless, is feet slipped under him and he ended up flat on the lockside but with his legs in the water up to his knees! Fortunately he was able to roll himself safely clear of the edge before continuing with the lock operation.

Shortly after, just outside Otherton Boat Haven, we found a mooring marked on our maps that was as far away from the motorway as we were going to get for some distance. In any event, Penkridge is just around the corner and we may need to do a top-up shop there in the morning. After we tied up, we could not light the fire quickly enough and put on the radiators and Mike was rather keen to change into some dry clothes!

6.6 Miles - 5 Locks

Sunday 23 May 2021

Cross Green

 Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

We began the day by tuning in to the streamed service from Bishops Cannings. The benefice (group of parishes) there have just started to have a mixture of on line and in-person services. At least this means that when we are away we can at least be part of the parish in which we live, especially as finding a church near the canal is now rather more complicated than it was before as many places presently have a booking system.

We were away by coffee time on a morning that was rather grey and somewhat chilly. We quickly added an extra layer. The first lock, Awbridge, was just a short distance around the corner from our overnight mooring. 

Although a road bridge is shown here on the 1884 map, it does feel as if the present bridge was a later addition with the tail of the lock squeezed uncomfortably underneath.

Dimmingsdale was the last of three locks close together before a rather longer pound intervenes.

Just before Dimmingsdale Bridge there is a very short arm with just about enough room for two or three working boats. It is not shown on the old OS maps (but there is a wharf given) so it must have been dug since 1944. It is not even on the current OS map!

At the end of the long pound we arrived at the two Wightwick locks. At the first there was a chap who used to teach canal history. He was keen to borrow a windlass so that he could lend a hand!

At Compton Bridge there are several of older buildings that look as if they were once part of a canal complex. This one, now converted into a home, is very reminiscent of several canal stables that have survived and found similar new uses.

A railway line is also shown on old maps running through Compton with a station nearby at Tettenhall, and called the Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth Railway - its track is still shown today. A little further on, we passed under a former bridge over the canal. An information board just above the lock shows that there is now a footpath along the track of the line. However , several websites suggest that it took several failed attempts to connect the two towns before anything was actually constructed. It began in 1913 but was halted during the war and revived in 1924. The section between Wombourne and Wolverhampton was the only part completed and opened to passengers.

Double Pennant Boatyard (DP Marine Services) is a bit of a mystery: we have not found anything on the internet about it and it does seem to be largely moribund. On old maps there is no clue other than to say that it was a wharf. Today is houses a couple of boats that appear not to move very often.

At Aldersley Junction we have noticed before the unusual arches and derelict building at the roving bridge. However, there is nothing obvious to suggest what was once here. The history teacher mentioned earlier told us that he understood that there was once a lock cottage and a hotel on this site but an inspection of various maps leads us nowhere.

We did find a Wolverhampton Council document on the Conservation Area that includes the 21 locks. It says of this site Remains of stables and lodging houses form part of the locally listed archaeological site so describing it as a hotel may have been overstating it!

We stopped for lunch at Oxley and afterwards called at the boatyard opposite to fill up our diesel tank. We came here for work to be done on our previous boats, several times, but last in 2016 when they replaced its engine - a slightly harder task than they envisage! We ave always found them excellent and very chatty - if a little eccentric! Orph disappeared before we could talk to him but we had a long chat with Phil who, as always, was full of stories of past exploits.

The Pendeford Narrows only provide room for one boat at a time, apart from a couple of passing places. We always have to hold our breath (for at least 15 minutes) hoping that no-one has started from the other end - it is not possible to tell at the start. We were fortunate that there was nothing coming!

By now the weather was threatening to turn for the worse and we managed to find a useful mooring with the opportunity of a tv signal between Cross Green and Slade House. Soon after the wind pucked up and most of the evening was very wet indeed.

9.1 Miles - 6 Locks