Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cruising through Staffordshire

We now reckon that we shall be meeting our sister ship, Pas Mèche, with David and Victoria tomorrow evening.  We have been converging on each other along the Trent and Mersey Canal with us travelling North and them travelling South.  We are both going uphill as Stoke on Trent is at the summit of this canal.

After our lazy day on Sunday we climbed the five locks at Fradley Junction on Monday and moored just before Handsacre, close to Rugeley.

Here we are coming up in the first lock with the second one visible through the narrow bridge ahead.

This is the very famous White Swan Pub at Fradley, known as the 'Mucky Duck'.  Part way up the flight of 5 locks the Coventry Canal turns off left and the pub sits right by the junction.  Fradley is a major junction on the canal system but is virtually unknown outside canal circles.

On Tuesday we carried on to the next junction at Great Hayward.  

 This narrow section cut through solid rock was once the Armitage Tunnel.  The roof was taken off in 1971 as part of moves to combat mining subsidence.  Helen got off Leo here and ran ahead to make sure no boats were coming.

We stopped to do some shopping in Rugeley which boasts a Morrisons, Tesco and Aldi as well as an excellent DIY supplies shop.  Just North of the town the canal crosses the River Trent on an aqueduct.  Here we are approaching it.

Poor Christina Collins was murdered near here in 1839 when using a canal boat to travel from Preston Brook near Runcorn to London.  Some of the crew were executed and some transported.

Here is the view from the aqueduct looking down to a much smaller River Trent than we had last cruised on at Alrewas.

This was our first family of goslings seen this year.  We reckon these were just a day or two old.

Colwich Lock breaks a run of nine miles without a lock.  Locks now become more frequent as the canal climbs into the upper Trent Valley.
  And here we are at Great Haywood Junction where the  Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal branches off to the left (under the bridge) and runs down to Stourport where it joins the River Severn.  We turned left here for a mile to reach Tixall Wide, a large lake on the canal which we remembered as a lovely place to moor.  But first we had to wait for this boat coming out.

This is Leo moored on Tixall Wide.  There was plenty of bird life here and we thought we would be woken early by geese, but we managed to sleep through the dawn chorus.

A surprise yesterday evening was a hot air balloon coming up from the grounds of Shugborough Hall to the South of the Canal.  The evening was dead still so it didn't move far.

This morning we were all ready to leave our mooring when a fuel boat, Auriga, came past.  We hailed her and took the opportunity to fill with diesel.  The fuel boat came alongside and then it is just like filling the car.  Just over 100 litres, not bad for nearly three weeks cruising.
Filling with Diesel
Today we returned to Great Haywood junction and turned North back on the Trent and Mersey.

A Grey Heron seen beside the canal.

Helen is adding to the milepost which marks the half way point on the Trent and Mersey with Shardlow and Preston Brook both 46 miles from this point.  These characteristic mileposts are a feature of this canal.

There are four deep locks in Stone which lift the canal a total of 40 feet in half a mile.  Here we are in the second one.  The fine building behind was a workhouse but was later turned into a hospital.

This is the third lock in Stone and to the right you can see a tunnel under the road.  This was for the use of the canal horses in crossing under the road.

We are moored tonight just above the four locks in Stone.  Having spoken to David this evening it looks likely that we shall meet at the Westport Lake just above Stoke on Trent tomorrow evening.  We will then pair up first to explore the Caldon Canal which we cruised in 2012 but David and Victoria have yet to enjoy.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Heading North on the Trent and Mersey

It has been threatening rain and we are feeling lazy so we've stopped for an easy Sunday afternoon, and I thought I'd update the blog.  Since the last posting we've travelled back down the Erewash Canal onto the River Trent and then started our gradual climb up the Trent and Mersey Canal towards Stoke on Trent where we plan to meet David and Victoria next weekend on their boat, Pas Mèche.  On Wednesday Ian did most of the engine service and Helen cleaned the inside of the boat.  We then walked into Eastwood and enjoyed visiting the house where DH Lawrence was born and a Heritage Centre where he collected his father's wages as a coal miner.  We learned a lot about his life, the legal battle over Lady Chatterley, and his relations with women over his short life.  The house is decorated and furnished as it would have been in 1885 when he was born.

In the afternoon we went a short way back down the canal and moored below Shipley Lock.  There is a curious pub here which has been turned into a night club and was playing host to scores of bikers.  However they were well behaved and our sleep was not disturbed.  On Thursday we returned down the Erewash Canal to moor above Trent Lock.

This picture shows us moored (the second boat up the canal) for lunch at Sandiacre.  The mill chimney belongs to Springfield Mill which was built for lacemakers.

We got back to Trent Lock in good time as all but one of the locks were set in our favour.  So Ian did the oil change which completes the engine service.
Above you see Ian just making sure there are no oil leaks after changing the oil filter and refilling the engine. Sorry about the glare from the bald head! On Thursday evening we were pleased to meet our friends Rowan and Martin who live near Derby and we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Trent Lock Inn.  It was good to catch up with them.

On Friday morning we came down through Trent Lock back onto the River Trent and turned upstream.

Having just turned onto the River you pass this mooring pontoon.  We wanted to stay a night on this because it gives excellent views of all the passing boat traffic, but it didn't work out and the alternative mooring above Trent Lock has the advantage of a toilet beside the boat.

About three-quarters of a mile upstream under the railway bridge we came to Sawley Locks.  You can just make out the locks under the left side of the bridge.  Landing here is a bit tricky because the walls by the water are very high (for flood reasons).

 Once through Sawley Cut we were back on the River again above a big weir.  Another half mile brings you to this junction.  The River Derwent comes in from the right but sadly is not navigable, hence the 'No Entry' sign.  We followed the Trent left for an excursion of another mile up the river to Cavendish Bridge where you have to turn round.

Here is the view having turned left.  The flow of the river up this stretch was noticeably stronger.  We went up pretty slowly and then zoomed back.  On our return we turned off onto the Trent and Mersey Canal which starts here and runs all the way to Preston Brook near Runcorn, a distance of about 92 miles.

Having left the River Trent behind our cruise took us through Shardlow which is a delightful canal village.

Here beyond the moored boats you can see the Salt Warehouse.  At one time boats entered the warehouse under the shallow arch for loading.

There are some pretty cottages right beside Shardlow Lock.
The first locks on the Trent and Mersey are 14 foot wide locks and so will take two narrowboats, but they are shallow in the sense that the rise in water level is only four or five feet.  You then meet a succession of very deep locks.  Here is the view looking back having climbed Swarkestone Lock which is 11 feet deep.  The canal arm on the left is the remains of the end of the Derby Canal which used to go to through the city.

We moored on Friday night above Swarkestone Lock.  More socialising in the evening as we had a meal in the village with our friend Steve (known as Hodge).  He was kind enough to pick us up from the boat as it was raining heavily.  On Saturday Helen did the washing (yes we have a machine onboard) and we carried on.

 Soon we came to Stenson Lock which is not only the deepest of the wide locks at 12 feet but is also the last of them.  From here on there are only narrow locks which we much prefer.  Nowhere for the boat to slop about when you are on your own and they fill so much more quickly.  You can see the tiny top gates sitting on top of the huge cill.

We came past our old marina, Mercia, and soon crossed the River Dove (flows through Dovedale further upstream).  This picture taken from the canal aqueduct shows the old road bridge across the river.

Soon you find yourself going through Burton on Trent which is not the prettiest place and much of the way the canal follows beside the busy A38.  Burton does however have a local authority waste facility at Shobnall where Ian was able to get rid of the waste oil from the engine.  We moored near Branston Water Park just beyond Burton where the road is a bit further away from the canal.

Today we've not come far and have stopped in Alrewas which is a delightful village that we remember from previous trips.

This is Tatenhill Lock which is very pretty and has the characteristic narrow bridge below it.

After Wychenor Lock you come back briefly onto the River Trent.  You can make out the floating boom in the background which is there to prevent you making a mistake and being swept over the weir.

Here is Leo moored waiting for Alrewas Lock which lifts boats up away from the Trent again.

The wisteria seems particularly good this year and here is some growing on a cottage in the village of Alrewas.

David sent us a text this lunchtime to say that they have now joined the Trent and Mersey at its top end, so we are now on the same canal, albeit about 70 miles apart.  The next few days we'll be climbing up the Trent Valley on the canal through Rugeley and Stone towards Stoke.  No longer are we enjoying days of dry weather but we have so far avoided a real soaking.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Across the Trent to the Erewash

It has been a few days since we have updated the blog due to poor mobile signal and the distraction of having guests.

On Thursday we came into Leicester, arriving around lunchtime. We enjoyed our visit to the city which has an area of narrow streets, the Lanes, and many interesting old buildings.

This is the Guildhall in Leicester.  It was built in the 14th century and was nearly demolished in the 20th.

The Great Hall in the Guildhall was extended later with the addition of two extra bays (at the far end).  The tables were laid with the remains of craft materials as they had been keeping groups of schoolchildren occupied making all sorts of things, it being the Easter holidays.

Leicester has a huge covered market.  It was the end of the day so we made the most of the offers on fruit and vegetables and then Helen cooked a lovely vegetarian meal on Leo that evening.

 On Friday afternoon we left the very secure moorings in the centre of Leicester at Castle Gardens and carried on down river. One or two of the locks were very heavy and the scenery coming out of the city to the North is pretty dreary with derelict industrial premises on either side of the canal. Eventually we passed the National Space Centre close to Belgrave Lock:

You can see the Space Centre in the centre of the picture.  Just beyond Leo and to the right is one of several unprotected weirs on the River Soar.  Thank goodness the river was not running fast and high.

We moored at Birstall on some lovely moorings just below the lock. Lucy joined us on Friday evening and stayed until Sunday. We had read about a life sized statue of a woolly Mammoth near Birstall and on Saturday morning we walked back along the riverside lakes to find it.

The Mammoth is the one in the middle!

 The River Soar below Leicester is quite wide and deep and Leo dug in her propeller with gusto.

It was nice to be back on a river again.  The willows were just coming into leaf and were a gorgeous shade of green.

You do not expect to find bikes along the river but it seems that cycles get everywhere these days.  These were hired from Barrow on Soar.  The conventional bicycle pedals drive a propellor and you turn the handlebars to steer a rudder.

Of course it being Easter we had a Simnel cake.  Helen had in fact cooked this before we set out on our canal journey this year.  It was delicious and Lucy was able to share this with us.

Saturday evening we moored in countryside just a mile or so outside Loughborough. On Sunday morning we cruised in to the town and went to look at steam trains at the old Great Central Railway station. Lucy is going on a 'steam driving experience' day in May and we saw two of the engines she is going to be driving.

This is 92214 which was built in 1959 right at the end of the steam age.

We had lunch in a pub close by the Canal Basin in Loughborough which is at the end of a short branch of the canal. Lucy left us here to go back to her car with the aid of a trip on a steam train! We carried on downstream.

Here we are queuing for a lock.  This was a new experience this year.  It was Easter weekend and lots of boats were on the move including three that we had seen in Loughborough Basin.  We had five boats waiting at one lock and seven at the next and only two boats fit into each lock full.

Normanton Church is right beside the river together with some rather nice houses.  It reminded us of cruising along parts of the Thames.

 We moored for the night in a lovely spot just above Zouch Lock (pronounced 'Zoch' so we were told). On Monday we found companions for all the remaining locks on the Soar which made life easier. A couple of the locks are flood locks which have both sets of gates held open except in times of flooding. No danger of floods at the moment as we have had very little rain since we started boating.

This is coming out of Kegworth Deep Lock which is about 9 feet and it replaces a smaller lock which was put out of action when river levels were changed in the 1980s to reduce flooding.

Ratcliffe Power Station dwarfs surrounding buildings including the local church.  We had seen this from where we set off that morning and it got steadily closer.

 Below Redhill Flood Lock we rejoined the River Soar and just a few hundred yards later the Soar joins the River Trent. To the right of the junction and under a railway bridge is a huge weir so that is not the way to go. We turned up the Trent to the junction with the Erewash Canal and with the Cranfleet Cut which leads towards Nottingham.  Our route led straight on at this complicated canal and river junction onto the Erewash Canal.

Here we are cruising up the River Trent which seems huge compared with our usual canal travels.  Right in the middle of the photo you can spot the entrance to the Erewash Canal.

Here we are approaching the first lock, Trent Lock, coming off the Trent onto the Canal.  Another boat is just coming down below the lock.

How is this for a complicated Canal sign?  The 'no entry' sign shows the River Trent heading for the weir.  All the other three ways are navigable.

 Lunch on Monday was at the Trent Lock Inn and we took the opportunity to have a good look round the various navigable waterways here. It really is a major crossways on the canal system. After lunch we carried on up the Erewash to Sandiacre to moor for the night.

This is Sandiacre Lock with some fine old buildings next to it.  The folk on the left were very helpful in closing lock gates which had a habit of swinging open.  Many of the locks and paddles on the Erewash are really heavy and 'anti-vandal' locks add to the difficulty.

This is Springfield Mill at Sandiacre which has been turned into flats.  It has four spiral stair wells and a large lit clock in the middle of the building.

Though we enjoyed the River Soar, it was good to get back on a proper canal with picturesque bridges and buildings.  Today we welcomed Ian's nephew Martin on board.  Martin arrived rather drenched having cycled in the rain from the other side of Derby. With the heavy locks Martin's extra muscle was really welcome and he enjoyed the day (or at least he said he did).  The day began in rain ranging from drizzle to persistent heavy rain, but the afternoon was mainly hot and sunny.  We have no complaints.  This was our first rain during the day since we set off.

With Martin we travelled the remaining 8 miles of the Erewash up to the basin at Langley Mill.

Here is Martin at the helm in Shipley Lock.

In the working days of the Canal there was a stable for canal horses by Shipley Lock.  More alarmingly next door was another building used as a slaughterhouse for horses no longer fit for work!  As you can see the stables is still in use for horses.  We saw no sign of slaughtering though.

Shipley Lock again - well the sun had come out by then.

And here is Leo (on the left) moored in the Great Northern Basin at Langley Mill.  Though it looks as if the canal continues this is in fact a very short length all taken up with private moorings.  The way straight on was the Cromford Canal which carried on for another 15 miles into the High Peak country, but is no longer navigable.  The right hand branch was the Nottingham Canal which went to Nottingham.

Tomorrow we plan to visit the DH Lawrence Museum (he was born here) and then we have to return back down the Erewash Canal to the Trent before we carry on our journey.  The top few miles of the Erewash have been delighfully rural but the sections through Long Eaton and Ilkeston were not really very exciting and there was lots of rubbish in the canal.  Ian has spent longer down the weed hatch today than the rest of the time we have been cruising this year so far.