Thursday, 10 July 2014

Stafford to the Shroppie

Saturday 5th July

Several of the boaters round here seem to know each other, and there appears to be a live aboard boating community.

It was hot enough to warrant putting in fly screens.   There are several things that come through windows, not all of which are welcome:

Air  -  Light  -  Noise  -  Smells  -  Insects  -  Rain  -  Hugo

We took a bus into Stafford. They are very frequent, with several to choose from.  We visited some shops – shoes for Hazel, learning curve for James at Phones4u, maps and bus info from the tourist office.  We visited the “Collegiate Church of St Mary”, where there was an impressive display of embroidered kneelers

Collegiate Church of St Mary, Stafford

The Church kneelers on display

We had a very economical lunch: £1.50 chicken kebab and chips, followed by a visit to Wetherspoons for a drink.  This was a converted cinema where they were showing the Wimbledon ladies final.

We did some sightseeing, going first to St Chad’s, an interesting Norman church, followed by the museum, housed in an ancient timber framed house on four floors.  Called the ancient High House, it is the largest timber-framed town house in England, built in 1595.



Ancient High House, Stafford



Jehovah’s Witnesses spreading the word in Stafford

Then a visit to Sainsbury’s and Wilkinson’s before catching the bus back.

Nibbles and wine in the evening.

No boating

Sunday 6th July


Back by bus into Stafford (aren’t these bus passes useful?). Then breakfast at the Butler’s Bell  -  eggs benedict was excellent.  This was another Wetherspoons pub. Two in Stafford!

A quick return to Sainsbury’s and Wilko to check out picture frames for our canal map – no use.

Then to morning worship at Trinity Church, a Methodist / URC establishment. The theme was discipleship. The reading was the calling of Samuel.  Well-known hymns led by a talented lady on piano.

Trinity Church, Stafford

Back by bus to the boat, before setting off.  After a few yards, James remembered that he had planned to inspect the propeller, so we tied up again after the bridge, and removed the mangled remains of some item of clothing.

We only went one mile to just past Stafford Boat Club, where we found a lovely mooring with a meadow on one side, and a field on the other. 

Moored south of Stafford

We had a little doze, and were woken up suddenly as we were hit by a passing boat that couldn't keep a straight line. No other boats coming or going. Mumbled apologies.  We noticed some empty beer cans on the boat.

Then we watched the Wimbledon men’s final. A nail biter of a match between Federer and Djokovic.   In the middle of it we were hit by another passing boat!  Again some apologies. The helmsman must have been about 14.

After the tennis, we took a walk to the lock and back to savour the evening air and see who was about.  A beautiful sunny evening.

Evening sun

As we went to bed there was a bird singing in the dark. From the song description in our bird book it could have been a sedge warbler.

0 locks, 1 mile, 0hr35

Monday 7th July

Stafford to Gailey

A sunny start to the day, with several boats coming down, leaving Deptford Lock in our favour with a small lock queue above it.

Acton Trussell seems to be a modern village, affected by the noisy M6 just across the fields.  The church was isolated in farmland. Perhaps the village moved due to plague?

Under the M6

The canal went under the M6 (and so did we!), bringing us into Penkridge. Hazel went shopping, while James used some hot water for a shower (not enough earlier).

We met the guy on Matthew Flinders, who used to moor on the Wey in Pyrford Marina.

After Penkridge Lock we used the facilities, and while the water tank was filling, James nipped to the convenience store for eggs and black olives.

The canal returned to the M6 for a while, and we moored at the first available quieter place, above Bogg’s Lock 34.  Cloudy

The M6 thunders past

Longford Lock

What’s the spiky thing for?

There was a strange looking piece of lock furniture at Longford Lock – a thin vertical iron bar with a rounded top. Does anyone know what it might have been used for?
9 locks, 7 miles, 4hr35

Tuesday 8th July

Gailey to Hatherton

There was heavy dew early and morning mist, followed by bright sunshine.

Morning mist
We ascended the final two locks to Gailey. A hire boat was following us up the locks and he was asking directions to the Black Country Museum, followed by Chester!  He has two weeks.

We disposed of some rubbish at Gailey, as we seemed to have emptied lots of things since Penkridge yesterday.  The round tower here is one of the features of this canal.

Gailey Round House

At Calf Heath Wood, some years ago they built a chemical factory on the towpath side, with pipes going across the canal to other buildings in what had been a perfectly good wood.  Now the newer buildings seem to have been mostly demolished, but the pipe bridges remain.

Chemical factory at Calf Heath Wood

We passed Calf Heath Marina, but couldn’t see any BCF boats, even though there are some listed in the BCF directory.

Then came the junction with the Hatherton branch, which used to lead eventually to the Curly Wyrley at Pelsall (Fishley Lane Bridge). There are plans to restore this through route.

Hatherton Junction

Just after this there is an old moat by the canal, with just a square island in the middle. Presumably thus once had a fortified house.

We moored for the day just before Moat House Bridge (Br 74).

We did a lot of washing -  clothes, the boat roof, the plates and cutlery

Hugo caught a small bank vole.

Then came some heavy rain, which we had anticipated. It rinsed off the boat roof nicely.

2 locks, 4 miles, 1 mouse

Wednesday 9th July

Hatherton to Autherley (Shropshire Union Canal)

Rain in the night meant that the hood was all wet.  Two herons were sitting in the middle of the field opposite, wondering why they weren’t catching any fish.

Just round the corner, sandwiched between the M54 and the sewage works, we came upon a fishing competition just after bridge 70. It is a strange experience, boating through long carp rods.  The fishermen leave it till the very last minute before getting their rods out of the way.   Some lift them up; some move them to one side, either towards us or away from us. Others withdraw them, taking them apart as they go. This usually means it is time to replace the bait. 

Fishing competition

Under the M54 bridgeworks were taking place with scaffolding and protruding planks narrowing the canal.  Perhaps this was practice for what came next – a “Very Narrow Cutting” according to the Nicholson Guide.  It was cut out of rock, with a passing place at one point. Thankfully we met no other boats.

Rock cutting passing place
Thankfully our boat is narrow too

In fact we had met no other boats all morning, but just after the cutting there were two boats coming towards us. Then a short gap and two more, then another single one, then number six was a Viking hire boat called Torvern.  There was a BCF logo in the window, and it turned out to be Malcolm and Anne Jones from Bristol, with sister Christine and daughter Ruth.  Both boats found reverse gear with lots of revs, and we tied up to the big concrete pillars under Blaydon Road Bridge, and had tea and cake on the hire boat.
BCF boat hirers

After a sociable hour of catching up, we moved to Autherley Junction. A boat was just emerging, and turning to port to head in our direction, so we held back and waited for them. By the time we were turning in (bow thrusters are useful) there was another boat waiting, coming from Wolverhampton direction.

Autherley Junction

Autherley Stop lock drops down into the Shropshire Union with a fall of about two inches.  The guide says it was there to stop the Shroppie stealing water from the Staffs and Worcs, but if that were so, wouldn’t the lock have been the other way round, going up into the Shroppie?  Perhaps it was there to ensure that boats stopped and paid their dues.

We paused at the shop to buy a fender – no joy. We did collect July’s copy of Towpath Talk and Tillergraph.

We discovered that there is no elsan point here, despite one being shown in Nicholson.

We moored just before bridge 2, by poking our mooring pins into holes in the concrete piling, and then we went to visit Morrisons.

Moored on the Shroppie

We are hoping the see Malcolm and Stephanie Grey-Smart when we get to Market Drayton, but we have had no replies from them either through Facebook or email.

We also phoned Chris, the lady who is running the folk club in Brewood tomorrow night, just to check things out. It sounds fine.

1 lock, 5 miles, 2hr15

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