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.
The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Autherley to Great Haywood) is chalk to the Shropshire Union Canal (Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal – Main Line)’s cheese. The two canals could not be more different. Whilst the Shroppie takes a “Sod You” attitude to things like hills and valleys the S&W goes out of it’s way to avoid anything that might mean actually doing any major engineering – if there is a choice between a medium sized embankment to cross a valley or detouring a few hundred yards to go round it then you just know which option the S&W will take. The only place where the S&W really seems to push itself is on the section between Marsh Lane Bridge No 67 (South End of Narrows) and Autherley Narrows (North end) where the canal is only wide enough for one boat as the channel is cut through solid rock. It almost feels like it should have been a tunnel apart from the fact that its only about 7 feet tall and they did put a few passing places in so that boats can squeeze past each other and we actually had to pull into one of them so that another boat could go the other way.
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.