Well it didn’t quite go to plan even though I took the following notice to heart. I do wonder if it was put up by the same company who do most of the road works in Cheltenham – they certainly take their time doing things too!
When we got to the lock it was showing an Amber light – which means self operate.
So to get crew off at Newark Town lock you either have to pull into a 60 gap between two large barges and then climb off your roof and walk a couple of hundred feet to the lock, or you go past the entry to the dry dock and your crew jump off the front of your boat in a D-Day style manoeuvre, or if they can’t do that then they can climb onto the roof of the boat and then climb through a chain fence… user friendly it isn’t… and it’s just about as bad below the lock.
There was boat coming up through the lock and they seemed to be having problems and hadn’t managed to get through the lock before the lockie turned up and got things working properly.
The moorings below the lock were actually pretty empty so we could have pushed on last night.
Newark Castle reminds you of how important the river was in times past even if in many ways it’s lost that importance now.
Nether Lock No 10 has a very odd entrance in that there is bend with a bridge on it so you just have to hope that when the lights are on green that there is somewhere to go.
As you head down towards Cromwell Lock No 11 civilisation starts to back away from the river and by the time you reach the lock you really do seem to be in the middle of nowhere.
It’s a long way from Cromwell lock to Torksey with very little to see – civilisation has pretty much turned it back on the river and you spend hours just heading down stream keeping clear of the inside of the bends as this is a tidal river and going aground when the tide is going out is not a good idea.
There is even less to see than there used to be since they demolished the powerstation, leaving just a couple of building where High Marnham Power Station used to be.
Dunham Bridge is almost a welcome sight but it soon vanishes into distance and even though its only 3 miles it feels like an age before Torksey Junction comes into view and you swing round into the short arm and wait on the pontoons for the lock.
Torksey Lock is a mad affair with way too many gates ( I think there are 4 pairs at the bottom end) and it includes a road bridge as well. The lock takes you from the tidal river Trent onto the Fossdyke Canal which was originally constructed by the Romans and seems to share their fascination with straight lines.
As we approached Saxilby we saw the unmistakable Delta wing of the Vulcan bomber doing what looked like aerobatics over the countryside but it never came that close to us before flying off.
We stopped for the night on what used to be the village wharf but is now rather pleasant visitor moorings with easy access to the village facilities.
After a peaceful night just by the railway bridge – I always knew living for several years near a busy railway line must have some advantages – we were rudely awakened by someone who obviously thinks that because he’s on a river that he longer needs to slow down.. When I got up to cast off the two mooring pins which were 3/4 hammered into the ground were both so loose that I could remove them without even trying.
Cranfleet Lock No 3 is one of those locks that if you could you’d take it out and shoot it. The gates are heavy and don’t seem to be well balanced, the bottom paddles are a complete pain and why is the bottom gate walk way so damned narrow? For such a deep lock it really needs a wide bottom walk way – unless forcing you to keep walking to the top gates and back is some secret forced exercise plan.
The next lock ( Beeston Lock No 4 ) isn’t much better – the lock itself is easier to work but there is a permanently open bypass valve which dumps its water back into the canal right under the lock moorings, and that along with the fact that you have to leave one paddle at each end open all the time means that there is a lot of water washing round and trying to push you away from the lock landing and over onto the sanitary station moorings.
But once you’ve picked your crew up it’s a pretty easy ride – there are lots of visitor moorings before you get to the grimness that is the “Boots Estate”. Once the home to Boots the Chemists most of the site is now derelict although there did seem to be some activity going on and towards the far end of the site there were new office developments, and in many ways the approach to Castle Lock is a lot better than it used to be although it’s still a little grim round Chain Lane Bridge. There are some good moorings just beforeCastle Boulevard Footbridge and a very handy, and large, Sainsbury’s which includes a pharmacy.
Last time we were at Castle lock there was a local football derby about to start and the side of the lock which doubles as the pub beer garden was full of rather rowdy, slightly pissed, but not really dangerous football fans. Although their behaviour might have been different it if hadn’t been for the two police officers. This time the beer garden was deserted and the only accompaniment to the sound of the water in the lock was from the Pub’s juke box which has speakers bolted to the top of the wall.
Below Castle lock, and indeed the whole run down to Meadow Lane Lock, used to be pretty grim but now all the derelict buildings have gone and there are new offices and new apartment blocks (some standing empty) and the towpath is well maintained and used by a lot of people including people out for lunch time runs from work. Gone is the security fencing by the lock and the whole place is bright and open and much much nicer than it was when we first came through here.
It was good to see some commercial traffic on the river – OK it was only restaurant boats but we saw two of them before we got to Holme Lock No 5 and the lockie there said that some times they go through the lock, but luckily this time they decided not to. The white water canoe facility parallel to the lock seemed to be full use with a lot of water being run through it.
The Trent, like the Severn, really is primarily seen as a way of getting from A to B but unlike the Severn the Trent has much lower banks and there just seems to be “connection” between the river and the surrounding communities – be that villages coming up to the river edge or large open public areas with people sitting and watching the world go by.
So it was a pleasant afternoon down to Hazelford Lock No 8 where we had to wait for the lockie as someone had forgotten to tell him we were coming. We got through the lock but he advised us not to go and stop in Newark as it can be “a bit noisy” and there were a lot of boats coming up to Nottingham for a festival so moorings would be limited.
We decided to push on to Farndon Ferry and try the public moorings there…. ha ha ha!
Nicholson’s makes a big thing about how C&RT (and BW before them) have done a lot to make the river more visitor friendly – well maybe they have but it’s still pretty bad. There is 100 foot of public mooring between Hazelford Lock and Newark Town Lock – and 50 foot of that is taken up by a permanent mooring for a charity trip boat.
They have also made the locks operable by boaters out of opening hours (which might be 09:30 to 18:00 [Nicholson’s] or they might be sometime round about 9am to 17:30 (last penning at 17:15) [personal experience] but you need to understand that it still means you having to climb onto the roof of your boat and then get onto the bank..
So we pulled onto Fardon Marina moorings and stayed there for the night (overnight mooring is permitted but it costs).
Having basically”gained” a day compared to the time we came back from Nottingham – in that we stopped on the third night further away from Market Drayton than it took us for days going the other way – we decided that we could probably do it again.
It was a bright sunny day at 6am, but it wasn’t by the time we rolled out of bed and got under way. We’d stopped just before the lock and luckily someone was just coming up it when we arrived so we were able to sail straight in.
There isn’t a lot to see and even when you arrive at Branston Lock No 8 you are still very much in the countryside and although Branston is supposed to be the place the Pickle was first made there seems to be no interest in publicising it – but then again I guess a Pickle Museum or the Museum of Pickling isn’t really going to draw in the visitors.
A museum of Brewing, or more specifically “The Bass Museum” is just what Burton-upon-Trent has and although the big Bass sign on the brewery has gone the other real brewer in the town, Marston, Thompson & Evershed make sure that you know just who is brewing what by having their Own Bridge over the canal
Although viewed from the other side the location of the Pump out sign isn’t probably the best placement around (unless a rival paid for it of course)
Dallow Lane is the last of the narrow locks but the canal doesn’t really change much in character at all and Horninglow Basin could be almost anywhere on the narrow canal system.
By now the A38 which we’d shaken off last night just after Barton Turns returns like a rather over enthusiastic puppy who just won’t leave you alone and it takes several more miles before you finally manage to get rid of it for good.
Horninglow basin marks the boundary between two part of the Trent and Mersey canal but you’d be pushed see any obvious signs. You really have to wait until you get to River Dove Aqueduct No 23 before you really realise that the canal is officially wide, and doesn’t just have rather wide narrow bridges, and if you’d not realised it at that point then the rather large Stenson Lock No 6 puts any doubts totally to rest.
We had to wait for a bit at the lock as there was dredging going on above the lock, and the stuff they were dragging out was very dark and very very smelly. We shared the lock with a hire boat with a fairly inexperienced crew on board but it all went quite well even if I did have to climb down over 10 foot of mud encrusted ladder to get onto the boat as there wasn’t any real chance of getting in on the landing stage.
Years ago Nick and I went on a wrg camp where we were trying to make it clear that the Derby and Sandiacre Canal could be restored and that building a bypass over it with no bridge was a foolish idea. However bypasses are bypasses and they have to be built (even if the plans were locked away in a disused filing cabinet in a basement…) and so Swarkestone Junction still goes nowhere, but we can but hope that someday they’ll sort something out.
Ever since I started boating Nicholsons has always had a bit of text saying that you’ll hear people near Weston Cliffe Bridge No 10 talking Russian because there is a Ukrainian settlement near by. This factoid is missing from the current version and I’ve always wondered if the settlement created after World War II had faded away. However it apparently hasn’t because according to notices on the bridge visitors are welcome at the Ukrainian Community Centre between 10am and 4pm daily.
Shardlow has this big canal “image” but I’ve always found it a bit nondescript and having visited it by boat and by foot – I walked to it from Long Eaton once – it’s not one of those places I’d rave about. The New Inn though apparently has 7 Real Ales on tap but, as is the norm for Shardlow, all the moorings were full we had to refuse their invitation.
Derwent Mouth lost its foot bridge a few years ago meaning that the aforementioned walk wasn’t possible any more but now there’s a big new foot bridge a few hundred yards up the River Trent from the junction so now you can walk from Sawley Bridge into Shardlow once more.
Sawley Locks No 2 can now be operated by boaters and its a pretty clever system because you can’t open the bottom paddles if the top paddles are still open – however it would be better if it wasn’t possible for other boaters to take their keys out having left the top paddles open. Still it was quite a bit of fun and Kathy seemed to enjoy herself pushing all those buttons.
Just up the weir stream below the locks is a landing stage with water points, refuse disposal, and more importantly free showers. So after topping up the water, disposing of the rubbish and washing several days of factor 39 sunscreen off we did the last little bit of the run of the day down to Trent Junction and our mooring for the night just in the Cranfleet cut
After a very peaceful night we made the short trip to Tixall lock and met our first boat of the day, actually we met our first and second boats of the day at the lock both of which were apparently single handed and crewed by women – which makes a change as the world of “solo” canal boating seems to be predominantly a male bastion.
Once through the lock we made our way to Tixall Wide (Southwest end) and into the Wide itself. No-one seems to know why the wide was built – there seems to be no reason for it from a canal engineering point of view such as water storage and the other various ideas like it was built because the owner of Tixall Hall didn’t want a canal spoiling his view so it was disguised as a lake, seem to have no solid provenance. Of course its quite possible that it was built for that reason although in many ways the canal won in the end because of Tixall Hall there is no sign, with only its rather over the top gatehouse and some equally mad stables, giving any hint that there was ever anything there.
It’s only a short distance from Tixall Wide (Northeast end) to Great Haywood Junction where the S&W meets the Trent and Mersey Canal (Main Line – Fradley to Great Haywood). I throttled down and gave a long blast on the horn to warn people we were coming into the junction and we listened for any horn blasts in return and there were none. So I throttled back up and as we came into the bridge on the junction another boat coming down from Stone started to turn into the junction as well. To be fair they did stop but they seemed completely blasé about the whole thing.
Apart from that boat there was no-one else on the move which given that it was 9am on a glorious sunny day did seem a little surprising and it made a change to go through Haywood Lock No 22 without having to wait.
Just below the lock is Fancy Bridge No 73A which is exactly what the name suggests. The reasons for this bridge are better known but still probably a little over egged.
It was built so that the Owners of Shugborough Hall could go to church, and when the railway came along they got a bridge built for that too. It looks a little odd now as the bridge over the River Trent is missing so basically the bridge leads to nowhere. But then again when you’ve got serious amounts of money then why not just go for it!
Even if you don’t get held up at Haywood lock you can usually guarantee that Colwich Lock No 21 will be totally congested, but again it, rather worryingly, wasn’t and with only one boat ahead of us we hardly had to wait, however apparently even though both myself and the person from the other boat who was working the lock, and the person on that boat checked for another boat coming up we apparently were supposed to have walked down the canal and round the bend to check for other boats, because if we had we would have seen the boat coming and I wouldn’t have been accused of “stealing a lock” from someone.
The canal keeps to the side of the river valley until just before Rugeley when it crosses the valley, and then river itself on the rather solidly constructed Brindley Bank Aqueduct, so that it can just about miss Rugeley itself.
Rugeley is also where you meet the first of the Trent Valley power stations which is still in use. There used to be a coal mine right by the side of the powerstation but it’s long gone and has been replaced by industrial and business units.
The mine might have gone but it’s legacy in the form of extreme subsidence can be seen all around, but no more so on either side of Armitage Tunnel where the cast concrete sides of the canal show repeated applications of extra levels of concrete to keep the banks above water level, and of course there is the tunnel itself. Well I say “tunnel” but it was opened up in the 1970s when the top got to be too close to the bottom.
its only a short wobble from Armitage tunnel to the Armitage Shanks works by Armitage Railway Bridge No 59A where the collection of bathroom fittings, especially toilets always reminds me of the classic NTNON sketch
Almost without warning you find yourself out in the countryside again and it’s quite a pleasant trip down to Wood End Lock No 20 which is one of those places that really epitomises the English Country Canal.
Shade House Lock No 19 marks the start of the flight of 5 locks through Fradley and it is usually completely manic. Today it was busy but each lock had one or more Canal and River Trust Volunteers on it and they were co-ordinating things nicely and keeping the boats moving smoothly through the flight.
The canal retains its pretty rural aspect even when it passes through Alrewas and once you go through Alrewas Lock No 12 and onto the River Trent itself for a short while, you realise that you really are quite out in the middle of nowhere.
That idea is brought crashing down when you arrive at Wychnor Lock No 11 where the A38 comes along side. I’m quite sure that when the canal was built that Ryknild Street was a busy road but now it’s a dual carriage way with lots of traffic doing 70mph+ on it, and although Burton Mutual Angling Association might own the fishing rights along this stretch you have to wonder who in the right mind would sit on a canal towpath fishing with traffic zooming right past your back – certainly they’d not be able to push their rods back through the hedgerow like they often do.
The canal tries to shake off the A39 and for a few hundred yards by Barton Turn Lock No 10 it actually does and the Pub (of the same name) looks out over a now empty Ryknild Street.
But soon the A38 is back until the canal manages to finally escape from it by heading off through a couple of gravel pits towards Tattenhill Lock
Another not quite as an early start as planned, but hey it was Sunday you know!
The air was fresher following the torrential rain we’d had the previous evening and the spare paint kettle on the back deck had well over half an inch of water in it.
We’d left the fridge running when we went to bed and it was still running when we got up which considering its a 240 Volt fridge running off an inverter is pretty good going but it did take about 5 hours of battery charging (30+ amps for the first couple of hours cruising) to put all the power back
In those two hours we’d chugged down to Autherley Stop Lock where we discovered that the entire holiday fleet from the hire base was out and about, and we also discovered that their shop obviously doesn’t expect anyone cruising from there to head off into the heart of Lincolnshire as they don’t stock the relevant Nicholson’s guide.
There is another “feature” of the S&W which is hard to ignore and that is it’s habit of putting narrow bridges on blind bends. Of course when all the boats were horse drawn these bridges weren’t any where near as bad but you know that if you are going to meet a boat at a bridge then the fact that neither of you can see if anything is coming the other way means that you are more likely to meet someone (I’m not sure if I can prove this statistically but I’m sure any boater will agree with me)
So the canal from Autherley to Hatherton Junction basically meanders it’s way across the open countryside having done a good job of avoiding Wolverhampton, and if anyone knows why there are ornate bridge works over the lakes just by the junction I’d love to know.
Turning left at the junction (because turning right takes you through a couple of locks and dead ends in the M6 motorway) you head, via some more very silly twists and turns, towards Calf Heath and its chemical works. This used to be an impressive site with tall chimney stacks burning off gas flares, strong smells of phenol, wonderful notices on the bridges over the canal warning you of the dangers of smoking and “Naked lights” and large vessels of rather nasty sounding acids.
But like so many things along the canal that have changed in the early 30 years since we started boating the Coven Heath chemical works is now just a shadow of its former self and I imagine soon it will all be gone.
We stopped at Gailey Wharf to top up the water tanks and to see if the shop in the “Round House” had the guide book – which it did, but at a price – but now we can head down the Trent with at least some idea of where we are.
At Gailey Lock you get to go under the A5, which we’d gone over late yesterday afternoon and I bet the motorists have even less knowledge of this canal / road crossing than the do of the one on the Shroppie.
As you head down toward Penkridge the M6 which was pretty close at Hatherton junction comes right along side the canal and its traffic noise is always present even when the motorway itself is hidden from view.
The vistor moorings above and below Penkridge Lock No 38 were pretty full when we came through early in the afternoon and I’ve no idea where the boats we met coming upstream were thinking of going.
You eventually escape from the noise of the motorway but its replaced by a rather fast road which runs parallel to the canal between Park Gate Lock No 40 and Shutt Hill Bridge No 91, but then that too leaves you and its all pretty quiet, and even the big wedding at The Moat House didn’t really impose.
The canal carries on in its rather rural, light urban, way until the Railway line decides to muscle in as you pass Baswich and it stays with you, sometimes rather in your face, sometimes much more discretely right up to the end of the canal.
We did consider pushing on to Tixall Wide but it’s one of those places that is very popular and so rather than risk not getting a mooring we stopped for the night just before Tixall lock – opposite a house that has a lawn that you’d not want to mow. Kathy said that you’d have a ride on mower, I suspect you’d actually have someone to mow it for you as between us and the house are some trees which hide the outdoor swimming pool and its pool house, along side its own tennis courts.
The planned early start wasn’t quite as early as we planned but it was still early enough, especially for a Saturday, and no-one else seemed to be on the move as we eased Mintball off the mud in the mooring and pointed her bow southwards.
Although the visitor moorings opposite us were empty, luckily as getting the boat in and out of its mooring with its 55 foot jetty alongside can be a bit of as pain, the rest of the moorings seemed quite full and when we met a boat coming north we foolishly thought that it would mean that Tyrley Locks would be set for us. And so they would have been if a boat being handled singled handed hadn’t cast off in front of us.
The sun wasn’t that bad and the first part of the lock flight is in a cutting so it was quite shady but it was extremely humid.
We didn’t make quite as good time as we’d planned and we met our second northbound boat just below Tyrley Top Lock No 3 which made the last lock a little quicker and before long the lock was full and we left the rather picturesque wharf buildings behind:
Which means you are almost at Woodseaves Cutting which is just under 1.5 miles long and in places it’s nearly 100 feet deep with some pretty steep sides. The cutting sneaks up on you and only really starts at Hollings Bridge No 58 whose imposing engineering should give you some idea of what is to come:
The canal is a lot narrower through the cutting, and in some places you start to wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere
In fact in some places it is only just wide enough for two boats to pass at it’s widest points, and the regular landslips mean that you really need to sit right in the middle of the channel to avoid running aground.
When you think that this was dug in 1832 you realise just what a massive undertaking it must have been, and even today it wouldn’t be a simple job.
At the southern end of the cutting is Goldstone Wharf and the start of a couple of miles of open canal before you hit the next serious bit of engineering at Knighton Wharf
Shebdon Embankment is the first of the seriously big embankments but unlike the cuttings it’s much less obvious that they’re there when you’re cruising along them, especially in summer when the leaves on the trees hide the spectacular views across the countryside.
So what comes after that stretch of open canal? Another cuttting perchance? Ah! how astute of you – Grub Street Cutting is nowhere near as impressive as Woodseves but it’s still pretty good and near Grub Street Winding Hole there is a collection of boats and a classic Daimler motor car.
Years ago we made a joke about how we’d found Lord Lucan ( who was a canal enthusiast apparently) and its sort of stuck.
Tucked away between the southern end of Grub Street, which is marked by this amazing bridge,
and the northern end of the Shelmore embankment is Norbury Junction home to The Junction Inn and also Norbury Wharf Boatyard and it was here that we topped up the fuel tanks with 60 litres of diesel.
Up to a few years ago canal boats were allowed to use “Red” diesel – basically regular diesel marked with red dye which is used by farmers and carries a low level of tax. However for many reasons the government decided that boaters should be taxed at regular “road” rates for their fuel as it was being used to move the boats through the water.
But diesel used for heating / generation isn’t taxed at road rates – it is taxed at a different rate – just like it is if you use it at home as fuel oil, and on a canal boat you use quite a bit of fuel to provide power and heat – for example on Mintball we run a 240 volt system off the engine via an inverter which can supply upto 700 Watts ( 60 amps at 12 volts) and we also have a 20 gallon calorifier to provide plenty of “domestic” hot water (and we can also circulate engine warmed water round the boat central heating) from the engine cooling water – heat which otherwise would be dumped into the canal water.
But we only have one 60+ gallon fuel tank (OK so actually its two 30 and a bit fuel tanks, one on each side of the boat), so how do you cope with the fact that we use fuel taxed at two different rates, especially when they both use the same engine?
The simple solution is that you pay two different rates of tax on your fuel. The “norm” is to declare a 60/40 split but its really up to each boater to decide and often in winter you change the split as you use more fuel for power/heat than you do in summer and we have in the past claimed a 100% heating rate – as I did this time so we only paid 79.9 pence per litre (well we’ve got to run the engine to run the fridge to keep the drinks cold you know!)
Shelmore Embankment is another one of the great bits of engineering on this canal – it is just over a mile long and carries the canal more than 60 feet above the surrounding countryside. It took over 6 years to build as it kept slipping which given that it was built out of the stuff they dug out of Woodseaves and Grub Street Cutting its hardly surprising.
But just like Shebdon its just about impossible in Summer to even realise you’re on a huge embankment apart from the odd occasional glimpse of the surround countryside which is so obviously a long way below you
Once you’re off the embankment its a pleasant chug down to Gnosall Heath and its two pubs before you head into the rather short (but should have been longer) Cowley tunnel which is just hacked right through the living rock
The weather today was a lot nicer than some other previous trips along this section and the long straight cutting south of the tunnel was quite pleasant and we saw a few boats on the move, along with a couple of mad canoeists, before arriving at Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 which was rather ominously quiet and we went straight through as there was a boat just coming out.
At Stretton Aqueduct Telford had to get his new canal over his upgraded version of Watling Street (A Roman Road) and you have to wonder how many people driving along the A5 even notice the canal above them.
We pushed on through Brewood even though the moorings were half empty and stopped for the night out in the countryside. It’s rained since we moored but if we get a thunderstorm we should have some great views