Thursday, 31 July 2014

Unexpected Meetings and a change of direction

We are now moored on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union, having turned right at Barbridge Junction.  On Tuesday we left Nantwich after a couple of days there.  On our 'day off' from boating we walked into the town, which has some lovely old buildings and in the afternoon went for a country walk.

There is a sculpture trail at Nantwich along the canal.  We were not impressed with most of the art pieces but rather liked this barge horse which is portrayed leaning forward and taking the strain as he pulls a barge from a standing start.

As you can see there are some fine buildings on the road into town.  It is about half a mile into Nantwich from the canal but well worth the walk, though if, like us, you want to see the Museum don't go on a Monday as it's closed!

This old pub is called the Cheshire Cat.

Cheshire is famous for its black and white buildings but just look at the angles of the walls on this one.

Our walk in the afternoon arose when we looked at the map and realised that the Llangollen Canal was not far away on foot.  We have decided not to go up the Llangollen in school holidays because of the crowds but decided to walk over in the afternoon.  Most of the walk was through sweet corn which did rather restrict the views.

Below you can see Helen walking towards the top lock of the two Swanley locks on the Llangollen.  We followed that canal for a little way and then came back to Nantwich by a different route.
The canal passing Nantwich is on a high embankment because the owner of the neighboroughing park would not allow Telford to build on an easier course across his land.  Where the canal crosses the A51 it does so on an impressive aqueduct:

A narrowboat is just crossing the aqueduct in this photo.  The aqueduct is only wide enough for one boat at a time.

And here's the view from Leo looking down to the road from the canal.  Unlike the much more famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales there are stout railings here to stop you falling off a boat into the road.

Having set off from Nantwich on Tuesday we came soon to Hurleston Junction where four locks lead off to the left at the start of the Llangollen Canal.  Just as we had passed the junction we passed a boat going the other way.  The name, Theddingworth, sounded familiar and then we looked more closely at the people onboard and realised it was our friends Graham and Alison.  Heavy reversing followed and we moored for an hour or more to enjoy a coffee together:
Helen with Graham and Alison on Leo
It was lovely to finally meet them on the waterways and to have the opportunity of guided tours of our respective boats.  But they had an appointment with the Llangollen and ours was with the Middlewich Branch.  So we carried on to Barbridge Junction and moored on the embankment above Church Minshull, a favourite spot.

Here is Barbridge Junction.  The Shropshire Union goes forward behind the blue boat towards Chester and the branch to Middlewich goes under the bridge to the right.

At the second lock on the Middlewich branch we met Duke and butty Duchess, a pair of hotel boats.  Duke was sitting above the lock while the butty was pulled through the lock by hand.   We had last seen these fine looking boats moored at Oxford in 2012.  They are now under new ownership by a family concern with son, daughter, Mum and Dad and up to 7 guests.

This is the view from the window of Leo, looking towards the village of Church Minshull.  The canal is on an embankment here, hence the view, and the River Weaver lies just below.  We walked into the village in the evening.

The walk is a bit of a scramble in places above the River Weaver but as you can see has its compensations, the Badger being right next to the church in the village, though strangely this pub is not mentioned in the Nicholson's Guide.

In the next few days we'll be going through Middlewich, turning right to go up the Cheshire Locks (or 'Heartbreak Hill' as they are sometimes called).  Our sights are set now on the Huddersfield Narrow, one of the challenges of the canal system that we have not yet met.  That canal climbs to over 600 feet above sea level to cross the pennines through the longest canal tunnel in the country.  So lots to look forward to.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Historic Boats and Secret Bunkers

We are moored tonight on the embankment at Nantwich so we are now in the salt mining area of Cheshire.  We have been passed over the last few days by a good number of old working narrowboats heading for a festival at Audlem and yesterday we saw them all assembled there.

On Wednesday we carried on past Norbury Junction.  This used to be a junction with a canal that went down locks to the West heading for Newport and Shrewsbury.  Sadly that canal no longer exists.

As you can see there is still quite a lot of boating activity at the wharf there and a thriving cafe for boaters and non-boaters alike.

This unusual bridge across one of Telford's deep cuttings has a telegraph pole in the middle.  The bridge has become very much a symbol of the Shropshire Union Canal.
The last few evenings when the extreme temperatures of the day have subsided, we have gone on short bike rides to see more of the surrounding countryside.  We moored on Wednesday at Goldstone Wharf and visited the village of  Cheswardine which proved to be quite a climb from the canal.  The church had this elaborate tryptic behind the altar.

And in the evening, back on Leo, we saw this wonderful sunset.

On Thursday we moored in Market Drayton, partly to catch up on shopping.  The town has some lovely old buildings:

This was the old Grammar School right next to the church.

Ian had drunk a pint of Joule's the other day (he does try to sample the local brews) and here is the brewery. 

We both liked this notice on a seat by the canal.  The Shropshire Union Canal Society have put in a number of seats and picnic tables by the canal.

On Friday we filled up with diesel in Market Drayton (only 78p a litre!) and then while also filling with water, Willow Too pulled in.  We had met them last on the Caldon Canal in May.  It was a very hot day and we were grateful for Telford's deep cuttings which give welcome shade.  We went down the five Adderley Locks and moored below.

Again we went out on the bikes visiting Adderley village and then down the main road to Coxbank where we climbed back over the old railway to the canal bridge where the picture is taken.  We then cycled along the towpath back up the top few Audlem locks.

On Saturday we went down the Audlem locks and through the festival of working boats.  There are 15 locks but they are well maintained and a delight to use.  The centre of the village is between locks 12 and 13, but we could not moor here because of the festival.  CRT volunteers were managing a very sensible and efficient one way system through the festival area of moored boats.  We moored a mile or more beyond Audlem and cycled back to see the boats.  Two of them, Stanton and Purton, moored at High House where Leo spent last winter, so we were able to renew friendships.  Ice creams and then beers by the Shroppie Fly pub made a nice end to the afternoon.
Audlem Locks - the small building was probably a stable

We've seen several other boats this year called 'Leo' and this Leo was one of the working boats in the festival.  She was built in 1935 and has no engine, being designed and still used as a butty towed by a powered narrowboat.

Two old boats were carrying coal.  The coal was given by UK Coal as a form of sponsorship for extending the restoration of the Ashby Canal.

This gives some idea of the difficulties of travelling through the festival area.  There was only space for one boat at a time.

Today we've cruised on to Nantwich and this morning visited the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker.  In Cold War days this would have been used in the event of a nuclear strike as the seat of Government for the North West.

We both like the idea of signs to a secret intallation.  Obviously it is now decommissioned and a tourist attraction.

But they have preserved the appearance of the site as a secret military establishment.  Part of the display was the playing of a BBC film that was never shown on TV about the effect of a nuclear strike on military locations in Kent.

It was an interesting visit but not a happy place - we both came away feeling a bit gloomy but also wondering what similar arrangements exist today?  One point of interest was the communication console used by Margaret Thatcher in giving the order in the Falklands War to sink the Belgrano.

I'm pleased to say that we have cheered up now and having come down two more locks this afternoon we are moored in Nantwich.  We are off now to explore our surroundings as last time we came here it was pouring with rain.

In the next few days we are heading towards Middlewich, another salt town but we need to go home for a few days so there may be a break before the next posting on this blog.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Going North on the Shropshire Union Canal

Our last posting was from the Cannock Extension Canal which is a branch off the Wyrley and Essington Canal.  We decided that it would not be wise to moor on a Saturday evening in the centre of Wolverhampton and so did a short day stopping at Sneyd Junction. 

There is a short arm here which used to go up through several locks to form two more branches of the canal.  You can see the remains of the first lock in the picture.

It was a very calm evening at Sneyd Junction as you can see from this view out of the window on Leo.

On Sunday we carried on to Wolverhampton

We passed this splendid Duck Castle.  You can see the weed in the canal which is very pretty but gives slow progress as the tendrils continually get wrapped round the prop.

We had lunch at the top of the 21 locks of the Wolverhampton flight.  The first lock is by the cottage.  We debated whether to go down, and in the end we did because it was quieter and safer lower down.

And here is where we spent Sunday night between locks 17 and 18 of the flight.  There are a couple of long pounds down here which are fine for mooring.  It is quiet and peaceful compared to the centre.

So what did we really think of the Wyrley and Essington?  It is a most underused canal. In six days we saw only half a dozen boats moving.  Sitting at the top of the flight in Wolverhampton we saw four boats in an hour!  The canal is fairly urban but as often forms a green corridor among houses.  Sometimes there are good views and occasionally you are in open country.  We especially enjoyed mooring by Chasewater Reservoir.  So in summary it is not a canal we will hurry back to visit, but it was certainly interesting and provides a different route through the West Midlands.  Once the restorations are complete of the link to Hatherton on the Staffs and Worcs and the link to Huddlestone near Lichfield on the Coventry Canal, we are sure the Wyrley will get a lot more use.

By Monday morning we were heading North on the Shropshire Union which we have not cruised for a couple of years.
But first we had to contend with navigating this.  We strongly suspect that it was a hire boat we saw coming up the Wolverhampton flight who left the bottom paddles partly open and the top gates wide open on lock 21, the last in the flight.  It took us a while to refill the pound and complete our descent from Wolverhampton on Monday.

Once through the last lock you are on the Staffs and Worcs Canal again for just half a mile turning right and then turning left (where the boat ahead is going) onto the Shropshire Union.  This starts with a stop lock with a fall of about 4 inches.  It was put in originally so that the Shropshire Union did not take water from the S&W.

The Wyrley and Essington is nicknamed the 'Curly Whirly' for good reasons but look how straight the Shroppie is.  This is a late canal built by Thomas Telford and has all his hallmarks of deep cuttings and high embankments.

This fine balustraded bridge was required by the local landowner to fit in with the estate.

Last night we moored in Brewood but out on the embankment in the sunshine not down in this cutting where we had moored before.  In this hot weather it is always a question whether to have the sun for the solar panel or the shade to keep us cool.

Brewood has some lovely old buildings including this strange house called Speedwell House after a horse.  A bet on the horse provided the funds to build the house.

Today we've cruised on to Gnosall where we are moored tonight.

Soon after leaving Brewood you come over Stretton Aqueduct which crosses the A5.  Interesting that Telford was responsible also for the road.

Now we are on a much more popular canal.  We had to queue for the one lock today at Wheaton Aston.  Still we were able to have a coffee and chat to the others in line waiting their turn.

This is Cowley Tunnel cut, as you can see, through solid rock.  It is short and before it is a long narrow rock cut section of canal which was intended to be part of the tunnel but the top was taken off because the rock was unstable.

And finally a few novelty photos to finish off this posting:
These are our flowers on the roof of Leo.  The Fuschia on the left was a disaster earlier in the year after an attack of greenfly.  The Petunias  were half price in Pershore and have come on a treat.  We left the flowers in the care of David and Victoria when we went home for a few days and we are grateful for their tender care of them.

We are always on the lookout for the smallest narrowboat (not sure why) and reckon this might win the prize.  It looked like a model but there was a chap onboard whose head was bent because of the restricted headroom.

Here is an example of the mileposts along the Shroppie.  We are heading from Autherley Junction to Nantwich via Norbury Junction.

The Shroppie is lovely; quiet and peaceful with fine views from the embankments. There are few villages close by but those that are, seem to be interesting and full of old buildings.  The pubs are good too.

We shall be carrying on Northwards over the next few days.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Exploring the Birmingham Canal Navigations and more

Well it's been a while since I posted anything on this blog.  My excuses are that we had visitors over last weekend, we changed our method of internet connection and then, to cap it all, the fridge broke down.

As it has been a while I think the best way to catch up will be to tell you where we've been and then show a few photos of memorable people and places rather than the usual day by day account of our travels.

We returned back along the Stourbridge branch and then turned right up the 16 locks of the Stourbridge flight.  We then explored the Fens Branch, a couple of dead ends, North of the Stourbridge Canal.  There are some really nice green areas around Birmingham which have been developed on the location of old colliery workings.  Goodness it must have been grim when these were black rather than green.  We stopped below the 8 Delph locks last Friday and waited for our visitors, our daughter Lucy and her friend Becca.  They had expressed a wish to do some locks with us, so the following day we climbed the 8 locks to Merry Hill and moored by the shopping centre for Ian to sort out problems with charges on the dongle we have been using.  It took ages but we now have a "free" tablet to play with too.

We carried on to Park Head and walked up the three locks to see the South portal of the Dudley Tunnel and then cruised on to Windmill End (by the entrance to the Netherton Tunnel) for the evening.  We followed a recommendation from a fellow boater and went to Ma Pardoe's at the Swan at Netherton which was reasonably priced and excellent.  On Sunday we visited Hawne Basin via the Gosty Hill Tunnel.  This is only 600 yards long but varies in height from huge to just above our roof line.

Back down that branch and then through the Netherton Tunnel (which is cavernous) to Birmingham where we met with David and Victoria on Pas Mèche who we had not seen for nearly two weeks.  Cue for some photos:

This is taken part way up the Stourbridge 16 locks.  The curious cone shaped building is the Red Cone Glass Works.  Stourbridge is famous for making quality glass.

Here's our new lock crew for the eight Delph Locks.  Lucy is on the left and Becca on the right.  While the two young ones are posing you can see Helen in the background setting the next lock.  Actually Lucy and Becca did help a lot.

Here's a nice picture taken by Becca of the Wrights (though obviously without David) sitting on a lock beam on the Delph Locks.

This view is at Park Head looking down the three locks which lead up to the Dudley Tunnel.  The tunnel is not open to diesel engined boats unless under tow by an electric tug or by legging through.  We didn't.

Gosty Hill Tunnel has this odd picture of Dracula which looms up in the headlight.  You can see the drop in height of the tunnel at this point.

This interesting representation of spraying graffiti is one of several information boards on the Hawne Basin branch of the Dudley Canal.  It is beside a toll island in the canal where loaded boats were measured and charged tolls.

Netherton Tunnel is about a mile and three-quarters long with sufficient width to pass and a towpath each side.  It was one of the later canal tunnels built.

Coming into Birmingham we went round the loops of the Old Main Line and here is a most unusual situation with a cross roads of canals.

Here's a nice photo of Becca and Lucy.  Note that Becca has her hand on the tiller.  She proved to be an excellent steerer.

And here we are coming into Birmingham.  Pas Mèche is the green boat with the red flowers on top on the right.  We moored right behind.  It was lovely to see David and Victoria again, if only fairly briefly.

We had to say goodbye to Lucy and Becca who had to drive home and then we had a meal out with David and Victoria.  On Monday we descended the 13 Farmer's Bridge Locks and the 11 Aston Locks mooring together at Cuckoo Wharf close to Salford Junction which is a canal junction almost underneath the M6 junction known as Spaghetti Junction.  Here sadly we said our goodbyes and Pas Mèche went right on the Birmingham and Fazeley heading South while we turned left on the Tame Valley Canal.

We had problems with dry pounds on both the Perry Bar Locks (13) and the Rushall Locks (9) but since reaching the top on the Wyrley and Essington Canal and its branches we have had no problems other than the fridge which stopped working on Tuesday evening.  We only bought it last October and Shoreline who made it said it was an unusual fault and would have to be returned.  This is difficult from a canal boat but we were delighted that Darren Cook of Midland Chandlers who supplied the fridge agreed to deliver a new fridge to us at the top of the Rushall Locks on the same day we phoned them.  That really is excellent customer service.  Thank you Midland Chandlers for getting us out of a difficult situation.

On Thursday we cycled into Walsall and visited the Leather Museum.  This is well worth a visit and is even free!  Did you know that Walsall was, and to an extent still is, the centre of leather manufacture in the UK and at one time in the world?  Wendy in the museum who used to sew and make leather wallets and purses showed us how to stitch leather and went on to demonstrate the other machines common in a leather workshop.  Fascinating.  Even the coffee was cheap and good.  We had a quick look at the Town Wharf on the Walsall Canal but have decided not to cruise this canal.  The Town Wharf was deserted of boats and looks pretty exposed as a place to spend the night.

We are enjoying the Wyrley and Essington Canal and tonight we are moored on a branch called the Cannock Extension Canal.  Having moved a few hundred yards to avoid a noisy road we first got a mattress round the prop (stopped the engine instantly) and then Ian managed to fling the mallet into the canal.  All now satisfactorily resolved we're pleased to say, though the mattress was heavy and very difficult to remove.  Cue for some more pictures.

The Farmer's Bridge flight of locks creeps under buildings and railway arches as it heads downhill.

This is taken at Salford Junction and you can see Pas Mèche heading away as we turn the other way.  We are keeping in touch but there will be no more cruising together this year.  We haven't fallen out though so we hope to meet boats next year sometime.

The Tame Valley Canal finds its way at first among the columns that support Spaghetti Junction.

This shows part of the Perry Bar flight of locks.  It is close to houses and the Alexander Athletic Stadium but looks green and peaceful despite the anti-vandal locks on the paddle mechanisms.

The Tame Valley Canal is very straight with deep cuttings and a high embankment.  This tall bridge is called Chimney Bridge and spans the cutting.  There were distant views from the embankment of central Birmingham and of Netherton Hill.

This was one empty pound on the Rushall flight which we had to fill from above.

And further up the flight we came to a standstill aground and stuck under this bridge.  Though CRT said they would sort the problem in the end Helen cycled up to the next lock a mile and a half away and slowly managed to fill the long pound.

There are lots of weeds (or should that be flowers) on the Rushall Canal.  One CRT chap told us that only one boat a week comes up here, though in fact we've seen a very few boats on the move so it must be more than that.

A rare picture of Ian at the tiller having just come through the narrows at Catshill Junction where the Daw End Branch meets the main Wyrley and Essington.

On the Anglesey Branch there were lovely views of countryside so the BCN is not all built up townscapes.

This is the peaceful end of the Anglesey Branch and the Dam of Chasewater Reservoir is behind the buildings.  The Reservoir feeds the BCN canals.  There are a couple of short moorings right at the end where the water comes in from the reservoir, though we did not find these until we had turned and moored further back.

Chasewater Reservoir is a playground with sailing, water skiing and this 'wakeboarding' where the skier is pulled along a static wire.  All good entertainment for boaters!

We are forecast torrential thunderstorms for tomorrow, but unless the weather is dire we will cruise on the Wyrley and Essington (sensibly nicknamed the 'Curly Wyrley') to Wolverhampton before going down the 21 locks there on Sunday.  And then the Shroppie beckons.