Saturday, 22 September 2012

Journey’s End

Well we’ve finally reached Mercia Marina near Derby where we are leaving Leo for the winter.  The days are getting noticeably shorter and the wind lately has been very much on the chilly side.  Nevertheless it is with mixed feelings that we have reached the end of our travelling this year.  So this will be the last posting on this blog in 2012.  It is extremely likely that we shall be doing something similar next year and we have already started discussing where we will go.

When we returned to the Trent and Mersey we moored just south of Great Hayward junction overlooking Shugborough Park.  On Tuesday morning far too many boats set off just at the same time and we finished up with a queue of four boats at the first lock at Colwich.
Queuing for Colwich Lock
A lovely dog, Bracken, on one of the boats watched all the activity with interest:
Bracken watching the proceedings with obvious interest
Further on at Armitage there used to be a tunnel but the top has now been taken away because mining subsidence was reducing the headroom in the tunnel.  So we now travelled through a very narrow section of canal:
Armitage Narrows
On Tuesday evening we came to Fradley Junction.  Here there are five locks and after the second one down, the Coventry Canal branches off to the right.  It is a busy area for canal boats with a delightful canal shop and a pub, the Swan (also known as the Mucky Duck), which, of course, we had to sample. At the fifth lock we met “Yes Dear” who we had last seen in Todmorden and briefly exchanged news as we went down in lock 5 and they waited to go up lock 4.
Gift Shop and pub (the Swan) at Fradley Junction

Dragonfly - what a whopper!

Signpost at Fradley Junction - we headed for Shardlow

Typical narrow bridge by lock at Fradley

By the time we got to Fradley we had been following the valley of the River Trent for several days and, at Alrewas, a lock lets you down onto the river itself.  For the first time for ages we were on more rapidly flowing water, but only for a short distance until a weir allows the river to leave to the right as the canal turns left.
To the right leads over the weir

Weir on the Trent below Alrewas

A long section through Burton upon Trent follows.  The canalside is fairly pleasant but the scene is of factories and breweries with the busy A38 providing the background noise for several miles.  Coming out of town the canal crosses the River Dove (of Dovedale in the Derbyshire Peaks) on a low stout aqueduct.
Aqueduct over the River Dove - boats just visible on the canal

View of old road bridge over the Dove

Finally on Thursday afternoon we arrived at Mercia Marina at Willington near Derby where we have arranged for Leo to spend the winter:
Leo final destination
Now we have a few days here to do some odd jobs on Leo before David makes good on his kind offer to give us a lift back home to Surrey.  Here is a lovely photo in the early morning mist on Saturday:
Early morning mist on Saturday
It has been a great adventure this year and one that we are very likely to repeat next year.  The grand total of the trip as a whole is 1,178 miles and 767 locks, not to mention lots of swing and lift bridges.  During the winter we may well spend a few days at a time on Leo and explore some of the waterways around here.  But no long trips until next Spring.  We hope you have enjoyed this account of our adventures.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Diversion to Autherley Junction

After our last posting we’ve spent several days leaving the Trent and Mersey to travel up the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal to Autherley Junction where the Shropshire Union starts.  We’ve done this partly to complete what is referred to as the Four Counties Ring (Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire and West Midlands) and partly we had the time and wanted to explore somewhere new.

Leaving behind Tixall Wide mentioned in our last post we came through the very picturesque Tixall Lock:
Tixall Lock
From here the canal leaves the Trent Valley and follows the valley first of the River Sow and then of its tributary the River Penk.
River Sow seen from the Canal aqueduct that crosses the Sow
A few locks are well spaced out and then we came through Acton Trussell passing Acton Church which stands on its own in the fields to the south of the village.
Acton Church
We moored at Park Gate Lock on both our outward and our return journeys.  This lock has the advantage of having a branch of Midland Chandlers right beside the canal.
Park Gate Lock and Boatyard
Gailey Lock, a few miles further, has an unusual round tower beside it which once functioned as a lookout for the wharfinger who made sure that passing boats paid their proper dues to use the canal.  This is now a canal shop and we bought some nice prints to frame for Leo’s saloon.
Gailey Lock
At Gailey Lucy joined us for the weekend and on Saturday we pressed on southwards to Hatherton Junction where a branch once left the canal to cut across north of Wolverhampton to join the Birmingham Canal network.  You can see from the picture below that the branch is used by the adjoining marina and the first two locks remain to access other basins for mooring.
Hatherton Canal Arm

A very canal relevant coat of arms

Heading southwards from Hatherton one section of the canal has been cut through solid rock.  This is referred to as Pendeford Rockin’ and is too narrow for two boats to pass except in the few passing bays.
Pendeford Rockin'
Once through the narrows and a couple more bridges and Autherley Junction appears.  Here the Shropshire Union leaves to the right.  We were here in late May on our outward trip so this completes the Four Counties Ring round the Shropshire Union, including the Middlewich Branch, the Trent and Mersey and the northern part of the Staffs and Worcester.
Autherley Junction - Shropshire Union Canal turns right under the bridge
We turned Leo at Autherley but then took the opportunity to walk the mile or so further to Aldersley Junction where the canal comes down the 21 locks from Wolverhampton.

From Autherley we’ve retraced our steps down the Staffs and Worcs Canal saying goodbye to Lucy on Sunday evening at Park Gate Lock.  Today we’ve returned to the Trent and Mersey at Great Haywood and are once more heading south to our final destination this year at Mercia Marina near Derby in a few days time.  This evening we again passed Shugborough Hall which can be seen across the fields from the Trent and Mersey:
Shugborough Hall seen across the fields from the Trent and Mersey Canal
And finally here is a strange craft we passed this evening which looked more like a car coming towards us.
Unusual Canal Craft

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Moored in a Lake

I’m writing this post on our blog while Helen does the washing.  We are moored today on a wide open stretch of water called Tixall’s Wide.  In the wind yesterday evening there were waves slapping against the hull, but we’ve enjoyed two lovely sunsets seen across this expanse of water.

To bring you up to date, we’ve travelled South along the Trent & Mersey descending the Meaford Locks
Meaford Locks - waiting for a boat coming up
On the way we passed this splendid garden of a canalside house:
Canalside Garden at Barlaston
Now that’s the sort of house we’d like but unfortunately it wasn’t for sale.

Soon we came into Stone which has its own flight of four locks with the last being alongside the Star where we had our evening meal on Monday.  Steaks were two for the price of one which was too good to miss.  The High Street in Stone was quiet and peaceful with some nice shops, not part of the usual chains.  However you take your life in your hands crossing the one way racetrack round the outside of the town to get to the High Street.
Stone Locks - old Workhouse in background

Stone High Street

In one boatyard at Stone we came across this toilet pumpout truck gaily painted with Pooh and Piglet.  Perhaps it should be called “Winnie the Poo”.

From Stone we dropped down a few more locks to Great Haywood Junction where the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal turns right.
Great Haywood Junction - Staffs and Worcs Canal under bridge to right

Sign Post at Great Haywood

We have turned right so now we’re once more on a new canal.  A mile down the Staffs and Worcs, after crossing an aqueduct over the River Trent, you come to Tixall’s Wide.  Here the Canal when built was widened to make the view more attractive from Tixall House.  Perversely the House has now been demolished but the lake in the canal remains.  It is a lovely place and we’ve now spent two nights here. 
Aqueduct over River Trent

Tixall's Wide - Leo tucked into the bank on the left

Yesterday we visited the nearby National Trust property of Shugborough Hall.  This was the home until very recently of the Earls of Lichfield, most famously of Patrick Lichfield the photographer who died in 2005.  It has some splendid 18th century interiors and ceilings as well as now being able to view the private apartments only vacated in 2010.
Essex Bridge over Trent - the way the Lichfields walked to church

Shugborough Hall

Friendly Turkey - ready for Christmas?

When the washing is done, we plan to press on down the Staffs and Worcs with the aim of getting to Autherley Junction where the Shropshire Union begins.  By doing this we will have completed the Four Counties Ring.  Once we turn at Autherley we will be heading back the same way to the Trent and Mersey to reach our chosen marina, Mercia at Willington near Derby where our trip this year will come to an end.  Just to end this posting here is a picture of the other Leo helping with the Observer crossword:
Leo doing the crossword

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Back on the Trent and Mersey Canal

This afternoon we left the Caldon Canal to continue our route South on the Trent and Mersey Canal.  We’ve enjoyed nearly a week on the Caldon Canal which goes up from Stoke on Trent into the Staffordshire Hills, referred to as “Little Switzerland”.

Coming back on Thursday from the end of the Leek Branch we managed the very tight turn onto the main line of the Caldon Canal at the junction and then dropped down the three Hazlehurst Locks to go under the aqueduct carrying the Leek Branch of the canal.
Hazelhurst Middle Lock
From here the route winds round a few really tight bends and down the valley of the River Churnet.  At Cheddleton we passed the Flint Mill where two waterwheels powered the grinding of flint and bone into a fine paste for addition to clay in making china.
Cheddleton Flint Mill

Cheddleton - the canal goes under the wooden building!

Near where we stopped for lunch we spotted a tractor ploughing an amazingly steep field.

After a couple more locks the canal actually joins the River Churnet for a mile or so until a weir takes the river down and the canal continues on its own course.
Looking back - Oakmeadowford lock to left and river to right

River Churnet

At Consall Forge is a lovely remote pub, the Black Lion, where we enjoyed excellent beer and food on Thursday evening.  There is even a station here on a preserved steam railway and the platform and waiting room are cantilevered out over the canal, which like much of the last mile or so is very narrow, certainly too narrow to pass another boat.
Station platform and waiting room hanging over the canal
At the end of the main line of the canal is the Froghall Tunnel which is both narrow and very low in the middle.  We read various accounts of just how low at 5 feet, 4 feet 9 inches and 4 feet 4 inches.  Leo is around 5 feet 11 inches to the top of the cratch at the front (though we could remove the cratch).  There is a nice basin at the end of the canal but this is only 200 yards beyond the tunnel and dismantling the boat for such a short section of canal seemed silly.  So, in short, we decided against tackling the tunnel, so here are pictures of each end of the tunnel and one of where the canal ends:
Froghall Tunnel West End - note height gauges

Froghall Tunnel East End

Froghall Wharf - end of the Canal

We took our time coming back along the Caldon, spotting this lovely Victorian Waterworks at the foot of the Stockton Brook flight of five locks:
Stockton Water Works, now sadly derelict
Yesterday we cycled into Stoke and visited the Potteries Museum, concentrating particularly on their displays of items from the Staffordshire Hoard and the exhibition of, you’ve guessed it, ceramics.  The quality of workmanship in the gold and garnet pieces of the Hoard was astonishing for the 7th century.  In the afternoon we also visited the Etruria Industrial Museum where a beam engine from 1820 was working and demonstrating how flint and bone was ground in pans a bit like grinding flour in a water or wind mill.
Etruria Beam Engine - note flywheel is blurred because it is turning

Horizontal shaft drives the pan grinders on the floor above

Above Stoke on Trent we were in the Trent valley and very close to its source so we walked down for a closer look as the Trent will be our companion for most of the rest of our trip.
Infant River Trent
And finally here are pictures taken from our moorings over the last couple of days:
The horse came to watch me painting!

Splendid Sunset behind Norton in the Moors Church

So we are now back on the Trent and Mersey and we will be heading to Stone and Great Hayward.  We are nearing the end of our trip but are planning to complete the “Four Counties Ring” by turning right at Great Hayward to the start of the Shropshire Union at Autherley Junction which we passed back at the end of May.