Quiet times as the weather keeps boats moored up

12-14 September Pershore – Bidford on Avon

About 17 miles 7 locks

If you look at the distance we’ve covered in the last couple of days, you may think that we’ve come quite far, but we always seem to travel more quickly on rivers than on canals. And to be honest, it really doesn’t feel as though we have done that much.

We’ve had some strong winds over the last couple of days as you can see from the trees in this picture.

Mind you, the weather in the last few days has been quite bad.  We’ve had some really strong winds which have made steering quite tough, and has kept a lot of boats moored up until conditions improve.

On Monday and Tuesday, we met hardly any boats on the move at all.  We did catch up again with Kingfisher, which we had seen at Tewkesbury.  The last time we had seen them, they were watching the first of the England rugby world cup matches while we headed upstream for Pershore. But now they were heading for their home mooring in Evesham, but were going to stay overnight at a good mooring spot at Craycombe turn (about 6 miles before Evesham) where we also intended to stop.

The trip up to Craycombe from Pershore was pretty windy with a few squally showers.  We had to get through just two locks on the way, at Wyre Piddle, Fladbury and Chadbury.  The lock at Wyre is a diamond shape, and like most locks of this shape is not the easiest to get through.  For some reason, they take a long time to empty and fill, the boat moves around more than usual and the gates are always more difficult to open and shut than on a ‘standard’ rectangular lock.  There used to be services at this lock, but apparently the caravan park has taken them over and won’t allow boaters to use them any more!

One of the mills near to Fladbury lock. This one, nearest the lock, is called Chadbury mill, because it is nearest to the village of Chadbury a few miles upstream. Confusing!!

But once through that lock, we had a stretch of about 4 miles before reaching Fladbury lock, which has not just one, but two mills on the approach.  Confusingly the mill nearest the lock is called Chadbury mill (because it is nearer to Chadbury), and the one furthest away at the bottom of the weir is Fladbury Mill. Although Chadbury lock would be the next on our itinerary, we wouldn’t reach it until Tuesday.

We were really pleased to reach Craycombe and find enough space for us to moor, and a bit of refuge from the wind.  Its only a small mooring place and we joined two other boats there.  Nell had a great time as there was a lovely field next to the moorings where she could have a good run around.

Moored up at Craycombe to escape the strong winds which have made steering a bit of a challenge.

Tuesday morning dawned a lot quieter and much more pleasant than Monday had ended.  By the time we had given Nell a good run, it was around 10am and by then the sky had clouded over and the wind was getting strong again as we set off towards Evesham.

We had an uneventful if quite breezy trip to Evesham, where we stopped for a short break before heading on up through the large lock there.  There used to be a lock keeper here, and the lock was automatic.  The lock keeper is now on the ANT information boat in Stratford, so the lock is set to manual and is quite hard to get through.

They’ve installed new water points and Elsan here, as the ones downstream near the railway bridge have been closed by the Environment Agency, but the new ones are much, much better and easier to use.

Waiting for Offenham lock to empty so that we can go through.This lock has a ‘lighthouse’ in it

Then it was a short trip upstream to Offenham lock.  Just as we were closing the gates to start letting water in the lock, another boat appeared.  It really does make life a lot easier on these river locks if you can go through with another, especially as you have to have ropes fore and aft.

We moored up above the lock, where there are excellent overnight moorings and it’s very peaceful.  Richard did a spot of fishing and saw a pair of kingfishers flying past.  We’ve seen quite a few kingfishers today, a real treat.

The Avon is a lovely river, with some stunning scenery as this picture shows.

Wednesday has been a much better day weatherwise.  There is not much wind and it has been quite sunny and warm in the sunshine.  We have only come as far as Bidford and moored up next to the recreation ground along with a few other boats.

We’ve seen quite a few boats on the move today, in fact more today than in all of the previous two days put together. Think they’ve all been taking shelter from the wind, but are now back on the move again.

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Homeward bound as Autumn arrives too early!!

7 – 11 September Worcester – Pershore

A pretty rainbow appears at Pershore, after a downpour on Saturday afternoon.

Do you know, it really doesn’t seem that long ago that we were setting off on our little summer expedition, and now all of a sudden were well into September, and it really does feel like Autumn’s well and truly here.  The days are getting noticeably shorter, there is an autumn chill in the air in the mornings, and the weather has taken a decidely downward turn with strong winds and several torrential downpours in the last few days.

But we’re still on board Trafalgar, although we’re definitely heading towards home now that we’ve turned off the Severn and are heading towards Stratford on the River Avon.

The view inside the large river lock at Diglis as we wait for the gates to open.

After mooring overnight in Worcester, we set off on Wednesday morning towards the last of the locks we would encounter on the River Severn, at Diglis, just below the junction with the Worcester & Birmingham canal.

There are actually two river locks at Diglis, but BW is currently preparing for some major maintenance works, which will see their use severely restricted over the next couple of months. We were pleased to be going through ahead of these works, as it may even be that the locks are closed completely at times.

Trafalgar moored up on the pontoon at Upton upon Severn.

Then we had a pretty uneventful trip down the very scenic Severn to Upton on Severn, a pretty riverside town, with a good selection of shops, especially if you like gift shops with lots of variety. There are good pontoon moorings here, which are extremely popular, and by the end of the day they were completely full. As you can moor on both sides of the pontoon, its easy to get to know your fellow moorers and there’s quite an atmosphere of camaraderie.

A bonus for us was a large field on the opposite bank, where we could take Nell for a good run to use up some of her ever-increasing energy.  The field was so large, taking in some of the Severn way footpath, so by the time we had walked around the field, and taken some time to get Nell back on her lead, we had probably walked a good couple of miles each time we went there.

Mythe bridge at Tewkesbury. You know you are close to Tewkesbury when this bridge comes into view.

We stayed in Upton for two nights, before taking a leisurely cruise down to Tewkesbury.  We did like this part of the Severn, although there are few landmarks to indicate exactly where you are, and it was quite windy as we headed downstream. There are only two bridges between Upton and Tewkesbury – the M50 about half way down river – and then the Mythe bridge just a few hundred yards before the junction with the Avon.  We turned off the Severn here towards the lock which would take us onto the Avon just a few hours cruising away from Stratford.

The Avon is still managed by the Avon Navigation Trust, and as such all its funding comes from donations and from licence fees from boaters using the river.  Its not bad value – this year a month’s licence is £70.  As we are not in too much of a hurry, and we really do like this river, we bought a month’s licence so we can pootle around on the river on and off until 9th October!

Magnificent Tewkesbury abbey is well worh a visit.

Tewekesbury is another town we like a lot.  We’ve been through here a few times, but never managed to visit the Abbey before. So on this visit, we made sure that we did visit it, and very worthwile it was too.  There’s also a good selection of shops and places to eat, so many in fact that it’s difficult to choose.

We stayed overnight on the visitor moorings above the lock – they charge a modest £3 for the privilege, but all receipts go to the ANT so its a good cause.

So, that takes us to Saturday, and about four hours cruising upstream to Pershore.  We stopped at Tewkesbury marina to get some diesel at extortionate prices, but it had to be done.  It also meant that we could fill up with water and dispose of our rubbish, and Elsan for free as we had bought fuel from them.

We had three locks to go through on the way to Pershore – Strensham (nowhere near to the M5 services), Nafford and Pershore.  All of the locks require boaters to use a fore and aft line as the boat can (and does) swing around a lot in the lock with the force of the water, and with the strong winds we had on Saturday, we really needed them.

A cormorant sits on a pipe bridge over the Avon near Strensham. Maybe he is comtemplating the dark skies, and the impending downpour.

Strensham was no real problem, but Nafford is an altogether different kettle of fish.  For a start, there’s a swing bridge in the middle of the lock, which has to be moved before you can go into the lock.  Then there’s a very sharp double bend to get round as you come out of the top gates, a difficult enough thing without a heavy wind.  And if that wasn’t enough, Nell had decided to get off the boat and give us the run around trying to catch her.  It wouldn’t have been too bad, but we had an audience in the shape of a couple out for a quiet stroll by the river.  We felt quite stupid, but I suppose we gave them something to talk about later.

Having managed to get Nell back on board and got around the double bend and back on the river, it was a pleasant enough trip up to the lock at Pershore.  As we approached, a narrowboat was just coming out of the lock channel, so we assumed that the lock would be waiting for us.  But when we got to the lock landing we could see that someone was filling the lock again, and two cruisers duly entered the lock when it had filled.

Now we’re usually very helpful at locks – Richard often tells me that I’m a bit too helpful, but on this occasion we assumed that two boats would have plenty of people to help with the lock, so we decided to give Nell a quick walk and I stayed with the boat.  The lock duly emptied, and the boats came out.

Imagine our surprise when we got abused by a guy on the second boat to leave the lock, who thought that we should have been helping them. It turned out that the two boats were travelling together, and the crew of one was a couple in their eighties who weren’t up to working the locks.

Now, we’re all for people doing everything they can to carry on with activities as you get older, but on a river with heavy locks, if you can’t operate them, then you really should consider if you should be on it in the first place.  But in the end, we just thought that he really had something against narrowboats – he may not have made the same comments if we had been on a cruiser.

The two bridges at Pershore. The one nearest dates from 1928, but the older one behind is a 14th century structure (and much prettier).

No other boats arrived, so there was no one to help us get through the lock, which is quite a tough one, but we managed it (somehow!!!) and then moored up next to the recreation ground just a short way from the town centre.  We have moored here before, and have even had to go past because the moorings have been full, but on Saturday night we had the place to ourselves.

Dragon boats crews in training on the Avon at Pershore.

We are staying here on Sunday as well, having been entertained all day long with football matches on the park, and dragonboats on the river.  It is still very windy, although sunny on and off.  Let’s hope that the wind dies down a bit for tomorrow when we will move a bit further upstream.

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Droitwich Canals and Worcester revisited

4 – 6 September Tibberton – Worcester

14 locks about 10 miles

Sunday is a quiet affair in Tibberton.  Its only shop, a Post Office and stores is open until 11am, so if it’s newpapers and that odd pint of milk or eggs for breakfast that you need, then you’d best be up early or you may well miss out!!

Needless to say, with a young dog you don’t have the luxury of a long lie in bed on Sunday morning, and so as usual, we were up early and had a lovely walk along waymarked footpaths and around a (presently unoccupied) cowfield.  As we were looking for the path out of the field, a couple of very friendly local people chatted with us over their garden fence, bemoaing the fact that the local farmer was not keeping the fences in good order and therefore the cows were eating peoples roses and other hedges.  Apparently the farmer had sold the farmhouse, which is now turned into apartments, and so doesn’t live on the farm any more.  That’s progress for you!

Dunhempstead tunnel - short, but the only one on this canal.

A short tunnel at Dunhampstead was our first landmark of the day, just a few hundred yards on from where we had moored overnight in Tibberton.  It’s only 236 yards long, very dry inside and not very straight, despite its short length.  So it only took a few minutes to get through it and then we were on the short approach to Hanbury wharf, where the Worcester & Birmingham canal meets the newly restored Droitwich Junction and Droitwich Barge canals which would take us back down to the River Severn at Hawford.

Just after bridge 31, we began to see a number of dead fish, all types and sizes, and as we got nearer to bridge 32, we saw dozens and dozens.  In all we thought there were well over 100 dead fish, which was a big concern, so we did contact BW to let them know, and they said they would send somebody from their Ecology dept to take a look.

Water cascades through the top gate of a lock at Hanbury.

The junction with the Droitwich Junction canal was very busy, with a boat in front turning onto it, another coming towards us from it and yet one more waiting to go under the bridge to continue on its way towards Worcester on the W&B.  After a short wait, we made the very sharp turn onto the Droitwith Junction canal and then we were straight into the first of the six narrow locks taking us down towards Droitwich.

Richard checks the water level in a side pond at Hanbury locks, before closing the paddle.

These locks all have side ponds, and today they were being used in a water saving exercise.  So instead of just using the gate paddles to let water out of the locks, we first had to open the paddles to let around 1/2 a lock full of water flow into the side pond.  The we had to close the paddles and only then open the gate paddles on the bottom gates.  It took a bit longer, but was quite an interesting exercise.

We also noticed a dead fish in one of the lock weirs and mentioned it to the lock keeper who was helping with the locks today.  He said he was glad we had reported the dead fish to BW, as if he had done it, he would have had mountains of papers to fill in! But he also said that it was probable that someone had emptied something nasty into the water – and that not long ago someone had been seen emptying their Elsan cassette into the canal near Droitwich!!!   While there’s absolutely no excuse for this, it is unfortunate that the Droitwich canals have no sanitary facilites at all, with water and rubbish only available at Droitwich basin.  Let’s hope that the canal society will be able to install some in due course, as it is certainly a problem for some.

The culvert under the M5 motorway is extremely low, and is quite difficult to get through.

After the first three locks, the next two are a staircase pair, which have been newly reinstated as part of the restoration.  Then there is a single lock before you reach a very, very low culvert, which takes the canal below the M5 motorway.  We had to take the chimney and a couple of other things off the roof to get through and Richard had a bit of a job steering as he had to bend right down and peer around the side to try and get through without hitting the boat.

A boat approaches one of the three swing bridges on the canal in Droitwich.

And then before you know it you reach the wide locks of the Barge canal, the first at Droitwich, which also has a swing bridge across the middle of the chamber.  There’s three swing bridges on a very short stretch going into the town and just before you reach the very good, secure, moorings in Droitwich basin, next to Vines park.  It’s a really good place from which to explore the town, and to stock up the cupboards from the handy Waitrose.  Unfortunately there are few local food shops – another example of a town where the supermarkets have taken over.

The weather had got worse as we approached Droitwich, with a real feel of Autumn.  By the time we moored up, it was raining, and very windy.  Although we tied the boat up as well as we could, the wind seemed to be swirling around and the ropes were groaning on and off all night, so it wasn’t the best night’s sleep we have had.

But we set off again on Monday, despite the wind doing its best to swing us all around the cut.  If we are on our own, we usually open only one lock gate on wide locks, but the wind was catching the boat so much that we had to open both gates to avoid damaging the boat, the gates or both. At one point the wind caught a raincoat which was hanging in the front cratch, and took it for a wash in the cut, and Richard had to fish it out with the boathook.

Locking down through Hawford lock before rejoinging the Severn.

We did have to laugh a few times today – two people asked us which way we were going – not really hard to work out as you are usually going in the direction that the pointed end is facing.  Then Richard got so close to a lock (set in our favour), that if the gate had been open, he would have gone straight in, when two guys on a boat coming up the canal started to let the water out and Richard had to sound the horn to stop them.  Their excuse was that they didn’t see him!!! Then we met a lovely couple out on a cycling trip along the canal, who had never seen a lock working before and didn’t realise how quickly they emptied – and then I opened the second paddle and of course it emptied even faster!  The guy helped to open and close the gates on the last lock before we got back on the Severn – he was still trying to close the gate on his side of the lock as we waved them farewell.

Worcester cathedral and Telfords bridge across the Severn as seen from the water.

We got back to Worcester to use the facilities near Diglis basin, and had hoped to moor on the pontoon just above Diglis river locks, but due to building works nearby, the pontoon was closed, so after sorting out the loo, we headed back up river and tied up at the city moorings near the racecourse.  It was still quite windy, and lots of canoeists going up and down the river, but compared to the previous night it was very peaceful.

We had enjoyed out little trip on this new cruising ring and applaud everyone who has been involved in its restoration, which has been ongoing since 1974.  It is a little overgrown with reeds in places, which makes it quite narrow, but its history is very interesting and well worth taking the time to cruise it.

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Cruising down the river (Severn) and a new canal ring.

1 – 3 September Stourport – Tibberton

About 15 miles, 24 locks

Well, we’ve had a short break at home and in London to see Much Ado About Nothing, which should have starred David Tennant and Catherine Tate, but David Tennant was a bit unwell, so we had to make do with Cathering Tate and David Tennant’s understudy.  But we managed and in fact we had a fantastic evening, rounding it off with a lovely meal at The Ivy, and a glimpse of Jude Law who had also gone there for a late night bite too.   A tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

Taking on water in Stourport Basins before heading onto the River Severn.

So now we’re back on Trafalgar, just the two of us, and without Marley, it really does seem a little quiet and flat.We got back on Thursday afternoon, and were quite relieved to find the boat just as we had left it, moored up above York Street lock in Stourport and the basins we would need to navigate through to get to the River Severn.

It was a very pleasant, if breezy, afternoon as we set off down the 12ft of the lock and into the first of the Stourport basins, where we stopped to top up the water, etc.  Going down onto the river means that you have to negotiate two sets of narrow staircase locks, but unusually you don’t have to empty the bottom chambers before going through as they have an automatic levelling system – ie a gigantic overflow – so there’s no danger of flooding the locks as with most other staircases.

We met a couple of boats going in the opposite direction through the staircases. The first was skippered by a (local?) guy single-handing his ex-working boat through, but we really couldn’t understand him at all and just hoped that we nodded and said ‘yes’ in all the right places.  The second was an older Springer boat with an elderly couple (ie older than us!!!) on board.  They really did look a bit frail and took their time  to negotiate their way up through the locks, but all power to them for still having the determination to stay on the water and not give in to their advancing years.

It may only be the beginning of September, but already Autumn is showing its colours in the trees along the river Severn.

Then we were on the river – wide, flowing, beautiful, – and quiet in the evening sunshine. Going down through the staircase locks, you have a continuous accompaniment of loud music from the permanent fun fair next door.

By the time we got onto the Severn it was getting late in the day, so we got as far as Lincomb lock (the first river lock for us) and got permission from the lock keeper to moor on the pontoon below the lock.  It was actually a very good, quiet and pretty mooring, and we spent a really good night there.

As the River Severn locks are manned and open from 8am, we decided to set off downstream early, stopping briefly on the way at moorings at The Wharf hotel,where we  had a late breakfast before heading into Worcester.

Cruising down the Severn to Worcester.

The entrance into Worcester was quite pleasant, passing the racecourse and finding the city moorings well positioned to allow us to explore the city on foot. They do charge £3.50 a day for the privilege of mooring near the city centre, but not bad in the scheme of things, although Friday night in a university city – need I say more? Not the best night’s sleep, but hey, we’re only  here for one night!

Worcester cathedral looks stunning from the river.

It was only a short walk into the city centre and all of its shops.  After exploring the retail opportunities, we took time out to visit the magnificent cathedral, which really is well worth a look. Then we went to find the entrance of the Worcester & Birmingham canal at Diglis basins,.  This year a new cruising ring has been created with the reopening of the newly restored Droitwich Barge canal which joins up with the Worcester & Birmingham canal and the River Severn.  As we are in this neck of the woods we thought it a good opportunity to take the time to explore this ring while we were here.

As you would expect from a city on the river, there are a lot of rowers around, and we have discovered that Nell is not particulary fond of the noises they make.  Probably because she is not too familiar with them, and some of them sound a little Maria Sharopova as they pass by the boat!!

The locks at Diglis basins on the Worcester & Birmingham canal are wide and deep. All the others on this canal are narrow.

After a little boat maintenance and cleaning, we set off late morning on Saturday for the delights of the Worcester and Birmingham canal, and were quite lucky that the two large barge locks up into Diglis basins were set in our favour and we didn’t have to wait long on the river before making the sharp turn into the canal.

After these first two large locks, all of the other locks are narrow, and not too difficult to operate.  Mind you, the lack of recent rainfall has meant the pounds were quite low and as we got to the locks near Worcester City FC, we met a BW lockkeeper who was letting water down to bring the levels up. At one point, we did scrape the bottom and making headway was really like trying to swim through treacle.

But getting past through the six locks at Offerton didn’t take too long, and we have moored up at Tibberton, which has got some good official moorings and a couple of pubs. We did have a pint in the Bridge Inn, but we are being good tonight and cooking on board.

The new cruising ring is not very long, but we hope to make it last another couple of days before getting back onto the Severn and heading downstream again towards Tewkesbury and the River Avon.

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Bratch, Bumblehole and other strange sounding places!!!

22 – 26 August Wheaton Aston – Stourport

About 30 miles – 28 Locks

Early morning mist at Wheaton Aston - surely Autumn hasn't arrived already?

We left Wheaton Aston on a sunny Monday morning and headed down the remaining few miles of the Shropshire Union canal to its junction with the Staffs and Worcester canal at Autherley.

After the single lock at Wheaton Aston, which we got through very quickly, there were no more ‘proper’ locks until after the junction.  None, that is, unless you count the stop lock at Autherley, which only has a rise/fall of a few inches and was originally used to protect the water supplies of the rival canal companies of the day.

A rare treat to see a kingfisher at close quarters sitting still on a post while we cruised past!

On the way down to the junction we passed through a shady cutting.  A passing boater had mentioned that he had seen several kingfishers there and we were lucky enough to see one perched on a pole near the side of the canal.  Its always a treat to see one of these colourful birds, but a rare treat indeed to see one perched so close at hand.

Elaborate Avenue bridge near Brewood on the Shropshire Union, built to appease the land owner who was reluctant to allow the canal to be sited on his land.

Also on this stretch, south of Brewood, is a good example of an elaborate bridge constructed to appease the landowner of two centuries ago, who objected to the newly dug canal crossing his land.

Not long after this bridge, we reached the junction.  While we waited in the stop lock, another boat turned onto the Shroppie from the direction of Wolverhampton, without checking to see if the way was clear.  There’s no way that it could come round onto the Shroppie, so had to make some quick manouevres to allow us to turn out and onto the Staffs & Worcester.

The first thing to surprise us was the clarity of the water, which is quite weedy and riverlike, and we could see thousands of small fish swimming around.  But this clear water didn’t last too long and quickly cruising past the junction with the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) and its 21 locks through Wolverhampton, it wasn’t too long until we met our first lock at Compton.

A circular lock weir, a unique feature of the Staffs & Worcester canal.

A particular feature of the locks on this canal are the circular lock weirs, although there also some which are octagonal and a few are even tear drop shaped!

And then we started to reach locks and places with strange sounding names – Dimmingsdale, Ebstree, Awbridge – before mooring up for the night just above the Bratch locks.  This is a very interesting flight of three locks, but built so close together with a pound of just a few feet between each chamber, that they are almost a staircase flight.

Looking up towards the top of the Bratch flight as the boat descends through the middle lock..

There’s a friendly lockkeeper on hand to help you through these locks, in case you run into any problems, so it took  no time at all to descend all three chambers.  Marley bought a postcard to send home, and the lockkeeper kindly let him try out his chair in his office in the ’roundhouse’ in the centre of the flight. From here he can keep a weather eye on whatever is happening anywhere on the locks and can prevent anything toward happening.

Then we were onto Bumble Hole lock and then a staircase pair at Botterham, a busy staircase pair, where everyone seemed to be in quite a hurry.  That’s a shame because this canal has turned out to be a really pretty and for the most part rural waterway, with so much to enjoy.  To be in too much of a rush would mean missing out on the scenery and talking to some very nice and friendly people along the way.

A very picturesque scene in the early morning shunshine at Stourton Junction.

We moored up overnight at Stourton junction, where the Dudley & Stourbridge canal heads off towards Birmingham.  After some heavy overnight rain, Wednesday morning dawned bright and sunny, we headed off towards Kinver where we had hoped to get our cratch cover repaired, as we had unfortunately torn in on a lock gate as we went through Manchester earlier in the summer.  Just our luck, Wilsons are on shut down this week, and as there was no one available to help, we’ll have to get the cover repaired another time (or do it ourselves!!!!) So instead, we took a walk into the village, and were very pleased to find it a very pleasant place.  Strange though to have a Coop and a Spar right next door to each other!!!

We stopped overnight at Cookley, from where we had thought we may catch a bus on Thrusday to Kidderminster.  Originally we were going to boat down to Kidderminster

One of the fine exhibits at the Severn Valley Railway Engine House.

and then go on the Severn Valley Railway and stay in the town overnight.  But several people had stories to tell about problems in Kidderminster, and it had rather made us a bit nervous about leaving the boat there.  But in the event, we did take the boat into the town and left it moored outside Sainsburys while we went off for a few hours on the SVR, taking the train to Highley and spending a very enjoyable couple of hours at the engine shed and education centre there.

We got back to the boat around 5.00, but not before Marley went for an unexpected dip in the canal!! Oh dear.  He was fine – just his pride that was a bit dented – although he was a bit wet and had to have an early shower.  Once he was clean and dry, we set off again,  heading towards Stourport where we are staying for a few days before heading down the River Severn to Tewksbury.

One of several narrow rocky cuttings on the Staffs & Worcester canal near Kidderminster.

There is some quite stunning scenery on this canal, not least the rocky outcrops and steep sided, narrow cuttings which are only wide enough for one boat.  We’re really glad that we have covered this bit of the waterways, which has been another ‘first’ for us this year.

It was getting a bit overcast and wet by the time we stopped, deciding that it was best to wait until morning before getting to Stourport.  Just as well we did stop, as it did rain quite heavily and we would have got quite wet if we’d carried on.

Marley and Richard have fun on the Dodgems at Stourport fair.

We have finally reached Stourport, and have moored up just before the basins here. The weather today has been a bit wet and showery, although we hope it will get better as the day wears on.  Stourport is quite a nice riverside town, only spoiled by the noisy permanent funfair situated right next to the basins.  Don’t think we would like to moor up in the basins here as the noise would probably be quite unbearable at night!!! Oh dear, think I must be getting old.

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A wedding, a secret bunker and a new crew member

18 – 21 August Nantwich – Wheaton Aston

About 36 miles – 28 locks

When we last left a message here, we had left Trafalgar at Venetian Marina Village just outside Nantwich while we popped home for a week or so to help Katie and Jamie while they went away for a couple of days to Oxford to celebrate Jamie’s big birthday.  Well, that was what we thought we were doing, but as it turned out Katie and Jamie had other (secret) ideas, and leaving the children with us, headed north to Gretna Green and got married!!!!  Somehow they managed to keep their secret safe until their return, and although it would have been nice to have been there, we are just delighted that they have eventually tied the knot.

Marley is certainly a very helpful and useful member of our crew now, and makes our lives a bit easier.

So we’ve come back to reality on board Trafalgar, along with Marley, who is staying with us on the boat for about 10 days. He really is a delight to have around, as well as being a very valuable addition to the crew, as he’s really enthusiastic about helping with locks, mooring and filling up with water, but not too keen on emptying the loo!!! Surprising that.

After two trains and two taxis, we arrived back at Venetian Marina on Wednesday afternoon, and once our shopping had been delivered by Graham in Strawberry van, (thank heaven for online shopping!!) we were all set to begin our journey down the Shropshire Union canal towards its junction with the Staffs and Worcester at Autherley before heading south towards Kidderminster where Marley would be leaving us.

Locking up through the fifteen locks at Audlem. They are all single, but quite easy to operate and didn't take too long.

The holiday season is now well and truly in full swing, so the canal is very busy.  All of the locks on this section of the Shroppie  are narrow, so at busy times, there can be queues, but thankfully we have not had to wait very long at any time this week so far.

Not long after leaving Nantwich, we reached the locks at Hack Green.  There was a small group of BW employees gathered togethered having a photoshoot, and obviously being presented with some sort of award.  They were actually being given an award for excellence in recognition of having completed some good improvement works along this stretch in conjunction with the Shropshire Union Canal Society (who as it happens has also provided a lot of good moorings along the canal since our last trip 10 years ago). Unkown to us, Robin Evans, CEO of BW was among the group.  We had been chatting to him for several minutes about our summer trip and the state of the canals that we had been on, when he introduced himself to us and Marley.  We did discover that he is a Liverpool supporter, and he (correctly) told Marley, who happened to be wearing his Arsenal shirt, that Liverpool would win their match on Saturday.

Hack Green also has a secret – a Secret Nuclear Bunker, crammed with memorabilia from the cold war.  Well it’s not that secret now as there are signposts for it all over the place and it is quite a tourist attraction.  We spent a good couple of hours there, looking at the exhibits and listening to the “four minute warning”, with Marley taking part in a children’s activity to find as many Spy Mice as possible.

A barrel roofed maintenance building in the lock flight at Audlem, remiscent of those along the Stratford canal.

Then we were into the first of the flights of locks on this part of the Shroppie – the Audlem 15 which are actually quite a pleasure to operate and didn’t take too long to get through.  Well we actually did 13 on the first day, mooring just above lock 3.  At the bottom of the flight is a well stocked farm stall selling all sorts of fresh vegetables, free range eggs (double yolks on this occasion!) and even pork and chicken.  Audlem is a good village to stock up as well, with a Co-op, butcher, newsagent, Post Office and one or two other shops to add interest, although it was a bit disappointing to find that the chickens on sale in the butcher were from Norfolk and not free range!

Market Drayton, by contrast, was really disappointing. It seems to be in a time warp, and to be honest looked a bit neglected and doesn’t seem to have a heart.  Maybe its a casualty of out of town shopping centres, but apart from a good chippie, it didn’t seem to have many good shops and didn’t do anything to encourage us to linger.

One of the two very high bridges in leafy Woodseaves cutting.

A lot of this part of the Shropshire Union is very rural, none of it more so that the narrow cutting at Woodseaves, which in places is difficult to accommodate two boats passing in opposite direccitons.  The cutting is a bit like a rain forest, although it has very high, rocky sides with ferns and other moisture loving plants in abundance.  There are two extremely high bridges in the cutting, and it is difficult to imagine the navvies of two centuries ago constructing them in the difficult conditions of the time.

We moored up for the night at Goldstone wharf, opposite the Wharf Tavern with its caravan/campsite.  This was not a problem but the owls and a loud thunderstorm with torrential rain managed to keep Richard and me awake for a lot of the night, so we were a bit jaded when we set off on Sunday morning.

Between Goldstone and Norbury junction there are now a lot of long term moorings, so instead of the two hours the guide book said it should take, it was three hours before we reached Norbury, which was a bit busy.  Last time we were here, there was a little craft shop there, and we bought a wooden parrot mobile for Katie, who was expecting Marley then.  Unfortunately, the craft shop is no longer there, and is now a tea shop/cafe.

A pretty turnover bridge near Wheaton Aston, taking the towpath from one side of the canal to the other.

We stopped at Gnosall Heath for a pint in The Boat pub next to the canal before heading off again towards Wheaton Aston, where we stopped for the night.  Wheaton Aston used to have several shops, but apart from its Post Office now has just a couple of convenience stores – maybe another casualty of retail parks. Mind you, the canalside garage was selling red diesel at 71.9p/litre, although we didn’t actually need to get any.

The very niche bream that Marley caught at Wheaton Aston.

Marley did a bit of fishing with Richard, and was lucky enough to catch a small roach and then a sizeable bream, which made his day.  Monday would see us complete our trip on the Shropshire Union and start the trip down the Staffs & Worcester towards Kidderminster and Stourport on Severn.

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An unexpected break in the Big Smoke – and a visit to Chester

24 July – 3 August

Wheelock – Beeston by way of Middlewich, London and Chester!

Well, it’s a while since we posted anything on our blog, so we better let you know what we’ve been up to since our last entry.

Now that the schools have broken up for the summer holidays, the canals are a lot busier

Our approach to Middlewich was somewhat slowed down to a fishing match. The roach poles were all raised like a guard of honour as we approached.

than they have been up until now.  We quickly found out just how busy they are as we set off on Sunday morning heading for Middlewich.  There was a big fishing match under way and we had to slow down to pass what must have been getting on for 100 or so anglers, so it took us longer than expected to actually reach Middlewich where we we stopped briefly to get some much needed supplies from the large(ish) Tesco there. It was a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon, and we just wanted to turn onto the Middlewich arm of the Shropshire Union and perhaps find a quiet mooring where we could enjoy the afternoon sunshine without too much going on around us.

A busy summer Sunday at the junction of the Middlewich arm.

Well, to reach the junction of the T&M with the Middlewhich arm you have to get through Kings Lock, which strangely enough is directly outside a pub of the same name.  Once through that lock, you find yourself in a queue to turn into the junction, because immediately you turn, you have to go through yet another lock.  Being a nice day in the summer holidays, we discovered there were three or four boats ahead of us in the queue, and as the lock was filling and emptying quite slowly, it took a while for us to eventually get through it.

But get through it we did, and once we were clear of the Middlewhich area, it was very pleasant, and we did indeed find a lovely place to moor up overnight, intending to get onto the main line of the Shroppie on Monday morning and head northwards once again towards Chester and Ellesmere Port.

But don’t you just find that life has a habit of messing up your plans? A call from number one son on Monday morning, finding him in desperate need of some help with child care for a few days in turn found us searching for somewhere to leave the boat while we made a dash to London to lend a hand.

On one hand we were fortunate in that we weren’t far from Venetian Marina where we have already booked in for a week or so while we go home for a major birthday celebration.

The pretty setting of the lock at Church Minshull. Just a pity it took us four hours to get through it.

But on the other hand, we had to get through just one more lock before we reached the marina.  Not a problem in the normal way of things, but this is summer and the busy period and it took us four hours – yes four hours – to get through the pretty lock at Church Minshull.  There were 16 boats in front of us when we joined the queue and more were joining by the minute.

But we eventually made it to Venetian Marina, and we really can’t praise their service enough.  They are very welcoming, very efficient, and very reasonable.  It’s not the most up to date marina in terms of facilities, but we understand that plans are afoot to upgrade in the near future. There’s a lot of competition from other, newer marinas in the area, so refurbishment is probably necessary,  but I do hope that this won’t push up prices too much.

Anyway, after getting  taxi to Crewe Station and a train to  London, we eventually reached Andy’s on Monday evening, staying to help out for a few days, which was a lovely treat as it gave us a chance to spend some ‘quality’ time with Lu and Alex.

We came back to Trafalgar on Saturday afternoon, catching a rather crowded train from Euston, and standing all the way to Crewe.  Apparently there had been some trouble with signals earlier in the day, so our train was the first for some time to leave the capital.

We opted to stay another night in the marina and set off towards the Shropshire union proper on Sunday morning.  It was quite a nice day, and the canal was busy – a lot of hire boats around, plus a number of privately owned boats out for the day or weekend and making the most of the weather.

This lock at Beeston is unusual, being constructed in iron, like the aquaduct at Pontcysyllte near LLgollen.

Back on the Shroppie main line north of the Middlewich junction, all of the locks are doubles, so at least you can share with another boat if possible, which always makes life a little easier.  We wanted to reach Chester and spend a couple of days there, as neither of us have ever been there before, but have always heard good things about it.

As you do, we got talking to several people on the way along, and were somewhat disappointed to hear from virtually everyone that mooring overnight in Chester is not recommended.  Reports of damage to boats, things being taken from moored boats, etc and all because the city has a big drug problem, rather shattered our desire to take the boat into the city centre. Besides, if we did take the boat all the way into the city, there was no guarantee we could get a secure mooring, and we’d have to go through five locks into the city and five locks back out which would take quite a while both ways.

We found that there is a good bus service from pleasant and safe moorings near the Cheshire Cat pub at a little place called Christleton, so in the end we opted to stay there for two nights and took the opportunity to use our bus passes and the local bus service and spent some lovely time in the city.

Impressive Chester cathedral - even if you're not into things religious, it's worth a visit for the architecture alone.

Hightlights must include a visit to the Cathedral, the Military museum of the Chesire regiment, a walk around the city walls, and listening to the lovely music of electronic violinst Ed Alleyne-Johnson as he played outside the town hall in warm summer sunshine.

Chester castle. This is about all you can see today - it's closed now due to trouble with local low life.

Disappointment was the fact that the castle has been closed to the public for around 4 years due to damage sustained from the local low life!

We’ve turned around again and have come back to another lovely mooring spot near the ruins of 13th Century Beeston castle, which is set up high on a prominent hill and can be seen for miles.  We have visited it today, taking it in as part of a five mile walk, which also took us to the local market and auction which was really interesting.

Another view of Beeston castle.

Caves at Beeston castle - can you see the face carved into the rock?

The hazy, but stunning view from the top of Beeston castle, which can be seen from aroundn 30 miles away.

Tomorrow we’ll continue to retrace our way back to Venetian Marina, as are putting the boat back there while we go home to celebrate Jamie’s big 4 – 0. When we come back, Marley will be coming with us for a week or so, which will be lovely.  I think that lots of fishing will be required –  hope he has the same good luck that he did last year when he came with us on the River Avon.

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