Tuesday 30 April 2024


Today's Canal - Shropshire Union

Mike woke at the strange and unusual time of 5:30 and could see outside a colourful dawn beginning to show. Alas, he also remembered the old adage and wondered what the day;s weather might bring. 

Luckily he managed to return to sleep a little longer but woke after 8 to see that the answer, for now, to the question above was more of the same of the past few days.

For several reasons we were nit in any hurry this morning - firstly, we do not want to go into Market Drayton as the two shops in Gnosall stocked us well; secondly, we do nit want to go down the whole of the Audlem flight (15 locks) as well as Adderley (5). And thirdly, Mike had a hospital check up phone appointment at 1 pm. This should have happened last week but an unfortunate combination of issues meant that the nurse called just as he was getting onto a train in Wolverhampton - no chance of hearing anything much! Then, at the weekend, a text arrived giving a new date of 30 April. So, we needed to make sure that we were in mobile contact - and it had to be his phone (we have two different phones and networks to maximise the chance normally when which phone does not matter!)

Just after 10:30 when we got going and immediately passed a boat that was moored ahead os when we arrived. Turned out to be Laura Maise, owned by and permanently the home the home of Rich and Fran who are well known for their quite frequent YouTube vlog Floating our Boat. We did not see anything moving last night and no-one was at home today. Perhaps their next film will be about the history of Market Drayton, or even the long-closed railway that ran through it (it kept close company with the canal for some distance north of here)

We only went at first to the service mooring opposite Talbot Wharf. We had a little wait as both water points were in use but one soon finished (they did not seem to have any way of knowing accurately - or even approximately - how full they were) Mike also wanted to empty two elsan cassettes but discovered that the unit was well and truly blocked and in the most disgusting condition - it looked as if some folk had tried to use it even though it was clearly blocked.Ugh! (tripled) We have reported it but yet to see an official notice.

On again and yet another 'cave' boat was on the main mooring for the town centre. It seems to sat Crepe factory Afloat but we could not track it down on Google. We assumed that it was also heading to Norbury. (See the current Channel 4 series Narrow Escape about liveaboard boaters for another example of a canal food trader at a festival) This cave is towed not pushed.

Just after Victoria Bridge is this all but abandoned site which once housed for a long time a traditional canal boatyard. We think we saw recently information about it being available for lease or buy (cannot remember which) but general internet comments seemed to wonder about its price!

Just after 12 we came to the next decent  mooring opportunity and checked the mobile before tying up. Then to sit and wait! The call was almost on the dot and, once the checkup was over, we were able to have lunch.

When we set off again, what a change in  the weather! Not only blue skies but also much warmer, despite the continuing strong winds.

A large field with, it seemed, meadow grass - or was the yellow a deliberate attempt to crop dandelions?

Another rural spring scene.

Several new interpretation/information boards have recently been installed. The one at Adderley Top Lock focusses attention on Frank Butter who, in the 1970s and 1980s was a permanent lock keeper here who, like many others, kept the garden in great condition and won three prizes and runner up as well. Alas, today there is little left to show for all the effort.

In the sunshine, the locks in this flight all looked picture book.

We completed the flight in an hour despite having them all against us.

It is only a short distance to the top of the Audlem flight where the Visitor Mooring was entirely empty. We knew from past experience, however, that the next VM, below the second lock, is more open and a pleasanter stop. We also knew that the occupiers of the former lock cottage (now more extended than renovated) have a small self service stall with usually delicious home made cakes and other goodies. Whilst Mike set the lock, Christine raided the supplies, leaving little behind for the next boat! Enough to keep tea time going for several days! Let's hope that there is nothing to tempt us in Audlem . . . (except perhaps another good pork pie, as tasty as the one we have just finished from the shop in Gnosall)

We dropped down the first two locks - helped by passing a boat just completing coming up and then a boat behind that had enough crew to set their locks ahead. Hence we did not have to close up at either of them. Three boats were already moored but plenty of room for us.

5.6 Miles - 7 Locks

Monday 29 April 2024

Market Drayton

Today's Canal - Shropshire Union

When we first awoke it was quite bright but by the time we were ready to set off at 9.30, the weather had taken a look at the forecast and remembered that it was supposed to be cloudy, cold and windy today!

There was quite a long straight ahead to start the day. Just after this picture was taken a boat came from behind us and we had to follow it all the way to Tyrley. It was often slower than us but the numerous long stretches of offside moorings eroded the difference for most of the time.

At Goldstone we passed this boat - another trader's cave boat! Their fb page says Roving Traders on the Inland Waterways selling Fair Trade clothing from jackets to trousers to dungarees to children’s clothing and much more. We are Fair Trade supporters. We also sell hand made items. They are on their way to next weekend's event at Norbury Junction. Their main boat, Jenny Wren was built 43 years ago by in his spare time by Douglas, the founder of Hayter Lawnmowers. They have a reputation for long term reliability as well.

And so we began the long, slow transit of Woodseaves Cutting, The southern end is especially narrow with almost vertical walls both sides.

The cutting has, almost from the off, been problematic and there seemed to be even more falls this time than we have seen before. At present the towpath is closed since a year ago at least and many of the falls have simply been made passable by boat.

We would not have been happy to be passing when this rock hit the water!

It looks as if more could follow ere long as the rock above is gradually cracking apart.

In the centre of the cutting is a farm accommodation bridge - rather boringly called High Bridge.

Whist this tree was cut back to permit boats to pass, it has been left over the towpath for so long that shoots have sprouted up vertically, at least from last year if not longer.

The notices at either end of the cutting warning of the towpath closure are definitely unambiguous!

And so we arrived at Tyrley Locks. When we came by txo years ago, a boat was winding on the space alongside the former wharf house. Alas since then, a new owner had discovered that they have the right to treat this as their private space and have not only banned turning but laid a rope across to deter attempts to follow the guide books.

We were following another boat down, and several came the other way, so we could not rush.There were plenty of gongoozlers at the second lock - they com in all shapes, colours and sizes! Alas we were unable to offerany of this lot the chance to help with the paddles . . . 

The bywashes at the bottom three locks are quite fierce. This one attenuates quite quickly so is only a problem if waiting just below the lock.

Saving the best to the end, the bottom lock is set in a narrow rock lined section and the baffle was only partially successful today in protecting us. Coming out onto the lock landing was rather a challenge.

Just below the klocks, Sid looks as if he has had a but of  a face lift. We did not recall that he had then started a rescue service - perhaps he will soon get a medal as we are sure that the casualty is suitably grateful.

As soon as the landscape opened out a bit we found a mooring - it was by now definitely lunch time. Even before we had fully tied up we came to the conclusion that this will do for an overnight stop and we can have an indoor afternoon. Christine also booked us a space at Overwater for the few days we need to return home next week and she also checked with Swanley Bridge about the dates when they will be taking the boat out of the water ready for work to be done on it and when they expect it to be returned. More detail when the time comes - we have been waiting for this for two years now.

6.3 Miles - 5 Locks 

Sunday 28 April 2024


Today's Canal - Shropshire Union

Early morning and heavy rain arrived. By the time we were up, it was still coming down quite extensively - not something to encourage a speedy getaway! 

We noticed yesterday that there are two convenience stores in Gnosall Heath, only a short walk from the bridge closest to our overnight mooring. Whilst they both open early, even on a Sunday, we did not make a speedy start to the day. 

After breakfast we watched the weekly online service - the church is in the main village of Gnosall (a little further away) but does not have a service on the Fourth Sunday in the month.

So it was 11 o'clock when we set out with shopping bags, not being sure just how much of our list we might be able to fulfil. The nearer shop, also a Post Office, was the more limited, but we found a few items which included a bag of potatoes. Whilst Christine continued on down to the other shop, Mike took the first load back to the boat as they were heavy enough on their own.

The second shop was somewhat more extensive and we were surprised by just how many of the things on our list we found. The main problem in both was the lack of skimmed or even semi skimmed milk. 

Back to the boat and we soon set off - as we looked across to the houses and moorings opposite we were relieved to see the first signs of blue sky breaking through.

Then, with the last of the village just behind us, even better!

And, on the Shelmore embankment, definitely a sunny afternoon. Alas, the pictures do not show the strong wind which kept us quite chilly.

Around an hour later we arrived at Norbury Junction. If we had been a week later, it would have (hopefully) very much busier. Today, a long stretch of moorings, largely empty, were signed with reservation notices for the many traders expected in the next few days. We stopped long enough to empty the elsan - took several times longer than it should have done as an 'entitled' trader` (not the one in the picture, that was a boat having a pump out at the wharf) was occupying the middle section of a service space easily able to accommodate two boats . . .

At the end of the long visitor and long term mooring beyond the junction we managed, at our second attempt, to moor up for lunch. And then on once more. We did not plan a specific target for tonight's mooring, more a matter of finding one that has a mobile signal - our lunch stop lacked one.

No comment! (see)

We paused at the VMs at the start of the great Shebdon Embankment but alas neither phone could find a signal so we pressed on.

The embankment is 1400m in length and was a massive and risky project when built in late 1790's. From the canal, it is harder to see the extent of the works, compared with passing through some of the cuttings. For many years, probably as a result of long term slow subsidence, the embankment has been a challenge to those responsible for its maintenance. In 2009, there was a major failure, which was an opportunity to try out innovative techniques to repair it as quickly as possible (see) The photo was taken as we neared the northern end.

Knighton became an important place on this canal when Cadbury's built a chocolate crumb factory and used the canal for transportation. No longer is the wharf used in this way and has long failed to find a new lease in its life. It looks a bit sad, in  a way. Although trees and other vegetation largely screen the works from the canal, it is obviously today a substantial enterprise. However, last year Premier Foods, the conglomerate that now owns it, announced that is likely to close later this year with the loss of 300 jobs.

The next mooring opportunity was shortly after Knighton, just beyond Bridge 47. Mobile signals were not brilliant but at least enough to allow the uploading of this blog!

7.2 Miles - 0 Locks

Saturday 27 April 2024


Today's Canal - Shropshire Union

Just after 10 when we set off -  very over cast and chilly, not good for a day of mostly level cruising. At least the rain kept away whilst we were on the move - tomorrow iex not expected to even be dry!

Shortly after leaving we passed under the M54 - the picture shows just how dull it was.

Along section of towpath was closed between Hattons and Brewood (although it was clear that the fencing has been 'bypassed' quite a few times!)

The 'blockage' did not seem to be that difficult to clear and the larger stump, just to the left of this picture, is already quite well weathered. However, the CaRT Stoppage Notice indicates that there are concerns about a crack in the towpath that may take some time to fix.

Just a photo to show the scenic nature of long stretches of the Shroppie but which are also responsible for frequent closures and restorations.

The southern part of the Shroppie does not have many hire boats based here (although as part of several popular rings, many from elsewhere on the network often pass through) Countrywide Cruisers is based at Brewood. It was founded over 35 years and remains a family business. As is reported from most places,. the hire fleet is currently far from busy and some of this still moored did  not look as if they have yet been prepared for hirers. The fleet is looking a little tired. We did pass one of heir boats a little later in the day.

One of the oldest long distance transport system in the country is Watling Street. Now that faster alternatives via motorways are available, this road today was not too busy - in the past it could often be nose-to-tail.

We began to meet a number of walking groups, largely army and air cadets. Some were just a handful but this one was around a hundred!. Over an hour and half, perhaps a little longer, we must have seen several hundred - we were told later that up to 700 from all over the country take part, but the two day event, starting from RAF  Cosford, offers a choice of lengths and routes. By the time they passed us they had already done 15 miles (joining the towpath at Wheaton Aston) and aimed to complete 25 today and more to follow tomorrow. They looked well organised - obviously dispatched are regular intervals - and very keen.

The lonely lock at Wheaton Aston arrived around midday - we passed a boat that had just come up only a short distance away so it was full for us. 

Below the lock is a set of services - unusually a line of water points. Hence we had no threat of having to queue, as has happened to us in the past.  Mike chatted to a boater that had just moved across from a permanent mooring just opposite. Formerly a dedicated continuous cruiser, he now has a partner and small girl, just starting school in the nearby village. Hence they have found it important to be able to be nearby and so have taken this mooring. They are still very committed to a life on water!

After filling and emptying, we pulled forward a couple of boat lengths onto the 48 hr moorings for lunch. When we set off again we immediately passed this short, stumpy boat. We think that they trade in arts and crafts  but we have found only a little about them.

A long line of empty offside moorings between Little and High Onn seems to be under renovation (it was needed!) but we were surprised to see the new section with mooring points on the inside of the pontoon. Would this not make it difficult with ropes across the access?

Bridge 26 is a splendid turnover bridge. Although this design, with the long and roomy slopes, was an improvement on some early bridges that required a towrope to be detached whilst the boat went underneath, even later designs such as several on the Macclesfield, made the route for the horse even easier.

The very short Cowley Tunnel, hewn out of solid rock, signalled the imminent arrival in to Gnosall with its extensive Visitor Moorings. We passed on the first section as it was still in a cutting and phone signals likely to be poor, but pulled in at the next, just far enough away from the pub.

The tunnel was originally going to be much longer but, solid though it may seem, the rock proved not strong enough for tunnelling and had to be opened out into a cutting.

11.7 Miles - 1 Lock

Friday 26 April 2024


Today's Canals - BCN Main Line, Staffs and Worcester, Shropshire Union

It was a better day, weather-wise, to start although cloud gradually covered everywhere and the temperature became chillier.

Even though a boat had come up a few minutes earlier, by the time we went to set the first lock it had dropped to almost half empty.

Dunstall Park Bridge, below Lock 19, is about the only one on this flight to retain a rural, pre-railway and road eras that otherwise dominate the landscape around the flight. This marks a transition away from the largely urban and industrial, sometimes post-industrial, context of the past few days.

Lock 20 is in a quite different style from the rest of the flight having a single bottom gate rather than a pair. This follows the preferred style on most of the BCN. It was not built along with the rest originally, but the bottom lock was exceptionally deep and took a long time to pass through, Hence this new lock was added to help speed up travel. We have not yet discovered when this happened but it is shown on the earliest OS maps available from the second half of the 19C.

And so, we some slight relief, we arrived at Lock 21, the bottom lock, and turned right at Aldersley Junction on the Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Immediately we saw the very distinctive style of bridge name plates on this canal, where most of the bridges were identified by name rather than number. 

We called at Oxley Marine to fill up with diesel (it is always a good price here) We have had several reasons to use their sefrv oces over the years, especially in Take Five and Orph and Phil in particular, Phil had had gone out to find lunch for the team but Orph was installed in front of his office computer! Although, like many of us, now looking his age, he was  chatty and knowledgeable. Good to see him still in charge! One of the 'characters' of the canals.

Soon we arrived at Autherley Junction (just over half a mile rom Aldersley) where no sooner had we made a perfect turn under the junction bridge when we realised that there was a single hander and a cruiser just about to come through the stop lock. So we had to back out - it took him a bit longer as he was reluctant to lift his fenders and he had difficulty passing the bottom gate which would  not open fully. We also struggled a bit when we came through, much to the annoyance of a couple followi ng on down who did not immediately appreciate the issue! Another boat arrived as we were leaving, seemingly intent on pushing his way into the lock ahead of the waiting boat . . . 

The scenery was now rural as we began the long, largely level, Shroppie. We only went a short distance before pulling in to the first official mooring (although it was missing and signage) and re-discovered the delights of the Shroppie Shelf. (The housing on the skyline is  Bilbrook, barely detached from the rest of the Wolverhampton conurbation) We had the rest of the afternoon off!

Between Bridge 4 and our mooring are the remains of a now derelict pair of stop gates. We have still to find out why they were constructed as they appear to be relatively recent. Nothing is indicated on older OS maps and, although there is some indication of a narrows on the CaRT system map, they do not identify any asset here. Further on, stop gates are common as they were deemed important to protect long, often high, embankments but there does not seem such a need at this point. 

2.5 Miles - 6 Locks