The Last Leg

From Shebdon Aqueduct to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 7 miles, 5½ flg and 5 locks.

The morning looked promising but it was quite cool when we got up and got under way.

Looking back at the Winding Hole
Looking back at the Winding Hole

Although the sun when it was out was quite hot and by the time we’d reached Goldstone Wharf it had turned into quite a pleasant day. However that pleasant day hadn’t made it into Woodseaves Cutting where it was more like dusk at the end of Autumn and by the time we reached Tyrley Farm Bridge No 59 we were both quite cold and looking forward to getting back into the sunshine on the locks.

There were a few boats on the locks – more of them coming up than going down but things were going pretty smoothly for us. Further down the lock flight however things were going a bit wrong. The pound between Tyrley Lock 4 No 6 and Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 has a large stone shelf in it and there are warning notices on both locks about making sure you don’t try to moor up in the pound and to go straight through the pound. So putting three boats into that pound is just asking for trouble isn’t it? Yes it is – but we missed it all and we even met a boat approaching the bottom lock which meant we didn’t need to close the gates and battle against the rather crazy by-wash.

It was good to see that the boat yard at Talbot Wharf is now advertising its diesel and its very competitively priced which means that if we are heading north we can pick up fuel easily without having to go all the way south to Norbury.

As we passed through Betton Bridge No 63 it was good to see that the visitor moorings opposite our mooring where empty so it was quite easy to put Mintball nose in on the mooring

Back on the Straight and Narrow

From Straight Mile Turn to Shebdon Aqueduct, a distance of 24 miles, 5¾ flg and 2 locks.

The canal from Hatherton Junction to Ford Houses Aqueduct is all twists and turns but there were few boats on the move which meant that it was possible to do a reasonable speed and also not meet a boat at each of the blind bends.

At Aspley Wharf the towath which is pretty rough and ready for most of its time becomes much wider, is made of brick and the towpath edge has the remains of steel girders in it.

Is it a wharf or is it something else?
Is it a wharf or is it something else?

It looks like a wharf of some sorts (which is why I named it that in Canalplan) but the railway line is so close it doesn’t seem likely. However it was obviously something important and quite substantial.

The Coven Heath M54 Motorway Bridge is being widened for the new Jaguar Land Rover factory and there were people swarming all over it preparing the concrete and steel for the next phase of the construction.

There's a regular flat motorway bridge hiding under that scaffolding
There’s a regular flat motorway bridge hiding under that scaffolding

Unlike last time we arrived at the Autherley narrows with no other boats around – and I’m sure they looked narrower this time round.

It's a bit narrow
It’s a bit narrow

After the narrows the canal widens out and takes on a rather European look….

French Canal or Wolverhampton??
French Canal or Wolverhampton??

… as long as you ignore the large housing estate which is hiding just out of camera shot.

We had to wait a few minutes at the junction as there was a boat in the lock and another boat coming up the canal from the other direction. There was a little bit of confusion but apart from one boat (not us) not making the turn properly and hitting the bank (and they’d not be the first or the last) it wasn’t too bad.

The Shroppie was pretty quiet and even Brewood Visitor Moorings where half empty. What I have noticed is the large number of boats on the Shroppie that don’t show any registration number or valid licence (or even a licence at all), and its not just like the semi derelicts at Deans Hall Bridge No 12 – some of which have been there for years and have never shown either a plate or a valid licence. There are also smartly decorated boats with no plates or licence, and one of those – a working boat was moored right up against High Green Bridge No 14.

The canal remained quiet until we reached Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 where although there were no boats ahead of us there seemed to be a small convoy waiting to come up the lock, and there were boats right down from the lock through the far end of the visitor moorings at Dirty Lane Bridge No 20

Things weren’t that bad until we got to Cowley Bridge No 32 and the cutting and tunnel – but apparently some people don’t think its possible for 2 boats to pass in the cutting. OK there isn’t a lot of room to spare but it should be obvious that you can….

The moorings from Cowley Tunnel No 33 (North end) right through to Plardiwick Bridge No 36 were pretty full but oddly enough there seemed to be quite a bit of space round Norbury Junction. All I can assume is that everyone had stopped for the day as we only saw a couple of boats on the move from there until we stopped for the night on the moorings by Wharf Inn (Shebdon) Winding Hole.

Is that Stafford over there?

From Rugeley North Visitor Moorings to Straight Mile Turn, a distance of 19 miles, 4½ flg and 14 locks.

It was bright and sunny when we cast off but by the time we reached Brindley Bank Corner – the site of another murder (and one used by Colin Dexter as the basis for one of his Morse stories) – it was starting to cloud over and look rather uninspiring again and I’m not sure if the people in the hot air balloon were having much fun.

Once again at Great Haywood Junction it looks like horn signals just aren’t used by anyone any more. I sounded our horn and went under the bridge and found a boat who might have been hanging back because they’d heard my horn (although they’d not responded) or they might just have been there anyway. The boat, which had pulled out right behind me, just steamed through the junction as he carried straight on up the canal for Stone. I told the boat on the S&W about the boat behind me but they seemed unconcerned as they moved towards the junction bridge. Boats have horns for very good reasons – I just wish people would use them.

There was a boat waiting to go up at Tixall Lock No 43 and we actually followed them all the way up the canal to Filance Lock No 37. On the stretch between River Sow Aqueduct and Stoneford Bridge No 103 the reeds on the offside have grown out of control to the point that the canal is in places only wide enough for one boat – hopefully C&RT will do something about it soon although I suspect that they’ll be stopped from doing anything by Natural England.

At Staffordshire and Worcestershire – Stafford Branch Junction where the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Stafford Riverway Link) joins you can almost see what it would be like with the towpath bridge re-instated and the canal re-opened allowing you to boat up to Stafford rather than walking in from Radford Bridge Visitor Moorings. The scattered locks slow lift you up towards the canal summit but its only at Penkridge Lock No 38 that it starts to feel like you’re actually in a lock flight. The lower lock gates were leaking a lot and so the pound above the lock was low – although I do suspect that someone might have made a bit of a mistake somewhere because Filance Lock is much deeper and there was water running rounds its by-wash.

There had been a few boats on the move but as we continued on up to Gailey Wharf the canal became quieter and there was no-one moving at all when we stopped at the top lock to get rid of rubbish, empty the loo and fill up the water tanks.

Just by Calf Heath Bridge there is an odd building on the towpath. It seems to have some switch gear attached to it and fenced off, but would seem to also be fenced off from the factory next door.

Any idea what this is?
Any idea what this is?

Once you’ve passed through the factory complex there is a big new Power From Waste facility run for Staffordshire County Council which apparently produces over 23MW of power and although the canal looks suitable for moorings, and indeed there seems to be a small collection of “derelicts” starting to collect on the canal near here, we decided to push on towards Hatherton Junction for the night.

What’s Your Poison?

From Ordish Bridge No 33E to Rugeley North Visitor Moorings, a distance of 16 miles, 3 flg and 13 locks.

There seemed to be a lot of boats on the move first thing and the moorings at Branston Water Park suggested that things were going to get even busier once people woke up. We met boats coming in and out of both Tattenhill Lock No 9, Barton Turn Lock No 10 and Wychnor Lock No 11 which made things easy.

We also met a boat about 100 yards from Alrewas Lock No 12 but by the time we got to the lock it had already been filled by one of the large number of boats who filled up the canal from the lock almost to Gaskells Bridge No 46. Alrewas was heaving with boats, and I’m not sure where they’d all been moored. Talking to one of the boaters they told us that Fradley locks had been very busy yesterday which was a bit of a worry as Fradley Junction is only just over two miles away. As it was nearly noon had it really taken them over half a day to get here?

At Common Lock No 14 we met yet more boats who told us that it was very busy and there were two volunteers helping out on the locks. It was starting to sound like it was going to be a bad couple of hours but I’m not sure if all the boats stopped for lunch along with the volunteers but we made very good time through the locks and at most only ever had one boat waiting to go into the locks ahead of us.

C&RT have said that they are going to spend an additional £3 Million on maintenance – I hope they spend some dredging the canal below Wood End Lock No 20 because we were several feet out from the offside bank by some moored boats when we ran aground and what we stirred up getting back into the channel suggested that its just soft mud and rotting leaves. There were a couple of boats above the lock waiting to come down but the number of boats on the move seemed to tail off

King’s Bromley Marina was our next port of call for Fuel. You have to back onto the jetty in the marina but there is plenty of space to manoeuvre and although their prices are not the cheapest the service was friendly and efficient.

The trip through Armitage Tunnel went without incident and we now seemed to have the canal pretty much to ourselves – probably because everyone was moored up at the Rugeley Visitor Moorings. The weather was starting to look a bit ominous and so we decided to stop for the night and do a little shop at the Aldi at the north end of town.

The north moorings are by the church and by the church is the house that William Palmer lived in. Palmer insured his wife for £13,000 before murdering her, and then he insured his brother and killed him – the life insurance policy and murder is one of the stock plots of TV murder mysteries and you do wonder if he was the first person to do this?

Carry on Up the Trent Valley!

From Shardlow to Ordish Bridge No 33E, a distance of 16 miles, 6¼ flg and 6 locks.

If you want a nice lie in at Shardlow then don’t moor on the visitor moorings by the boat yard. At 8am sharp they take some large hammers and hit some sheets of steel for about 20 minutes and then cut them into bits with angle grinders. Then at 08:40 they stop and have breakfast, or something!

So the idea of a bit of a lie in had gone out of the window so we decided to head off. The lower section of the Trent and Mersey in many way feels like a totally different canal to the rest. It’s not only that it’s a broad canal rather than narrow – the engineering just seems to be on a larger scale. The broad locks are deep, and they seem to be more than 72 foot long too (unless that’s just an optical illusion) and for a single boat with just 2 crew members they are hard work.

Between Barrow Bridge No 16 and Deepdale Bridge No 17 the road comes alongside the canal, and it is extremely close with no crash barrier. So to make it safer they’ve added some useful road signs.

Look out!!
Look out!!

The big locks are bad enough at the best of times but Stenson Lock No 6 in the torrential rain is not something I could ever recommend to anyone, and of course it takes forever to fill as its so deep and you can’t wind the paddles up too far as they’re pretty rough, and there is nowhere to hide from the rain. Having people sitting in the pub taking photos of you on their mobile phone (I assume so they can send it to their friends making comments about mad people) really doesn’t make the fact that you are soaked through to the skin any less unpleasant, although it doesn’t make it much worse.

Then suddenly at Dallow Lane Lock No 7 everything changes and the canal is all narrow and the locks are pretty shallow – so shallow in fact that rather than use the rather narrow walkways on the bottom gates it’s easier just to walk over the roof of the boat.

Burton has changed a lot since we first came through – I remember having our ropes untied when we moored here once but now the houses seem to “like” the canal and there are some great moorings at Shobnall Fields Visitor Moorings

We’d checked the fuel back at Sawley lock, and had decided not to use the 24 hour self service pump at the marina as the base cost sounded rather too high. But we knew we needed some just to make sure we didn’t get down to the bottom of the tank before we got home. So we decided to call in at Shobnall Basin and pick some up. Now its a bit of a pain getting the boat under the entrance bridge but then to find that the fuel pump has a short line and there is a bridge blocking your way which implies the only way to actually get fuel is to back in… well frankly NO – we needed fuel but not that much.

We backed out and continued on our way before stopping just outside of Burton. There are some pretty good moorings either side of the A38 bridge – the ones before it have fixed rings and the ones after are a bit further way from the road and sheltered by bushes and trees, but both sets have a good piled edge and seem to be well dredged.

Out of Nottingham

From Holme Lock Weir Entrance to Shardlow, a distance of 16 miles, 1¼ flg and 8 locks.

There had been a festival on in Nottingham and according to the lockie at Holme Lock there had been over 160 boats penned through Sawley lock on Sunday – so I was imagining that it could be a pretty busy day

We got to Meadow Lane Lock just before three other boats so we shared the lock with one of them – which makes it a lot easier to work as you can be a bit more vigorous with the paddles. We worked through Castle Lock with them too but they were pulling into the marina. We stopped at the Sainsbury’s to do a shop and drop off some post but this Sainsbury’s does not have a post box – it’s been sealed shut and the nearest one is apparently somewhere on Lenton Boulevard, or some other grandiosely named place.

Coming past Lenton Chain a small cabin cruiser made it clear he wanted to come past even though we were pretty much doing the speed limit. Obviously pulling a wash that breaks over the towpath counts as OK in these parts. However as we approached Redfield Road Bridge it looked like the mad boater had had an accident as there was another small open topped boat and his boat both floating round and a strong smell of petrol and people were on phones and saying things.

So we left them to it, having not witnesses anything (apart from him acting like an arse) and headed off towards Beeston.

Two boats had just left Beeston Lock No 4 and were heading upstream. The lock has two paddles, one at each end, which are painted red and both of these paddles MUST be left open when leaving the lock – but apparently the crews on the two boats didn’t think it applied to them as the left them both closed.

There is a pretty long mooring jetty above the lock which I assume is for you to pull up against when coming down stream to let crew off for the lock. But apparently it’s actually for using to paint your boat and to moor against whilst you enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of lager.

We made our way slowly upstream but soon caught up, and then passed, not one but both of the boats that had left the lock before we got to it. One of the things we were told when we first ventured out onto the big commercial waterways and rivers was to check at regular intervals to see what might be sneaking up on you. Obviously neither of these boat crews had ever heard of that as they seemed rather surprised that we were there.

We arrived at the abomination that is Cranfleet Lock No 3 where we seemed to take someone on the lock by surprise as he was crew for one of the two boats we’d passed and he wasn’t expecting us. There was a boat to come down and they were just going to turn in the weir entrance and go back up and off up the River Soar so we shared the lock with them which made it slightly less of a chore.

We followed them up to Trent Junction and they turned to the left and we carried on up the river to Sawley Locks No 2 where we, once again, filled up with water and got rid of the rubbish. It’s actually quite a sneaky move as it’s only a couple of minutes walk from the services jetty over to the lock which was, as before, under boater operation, and the moorings right below the lock are a pain which seems to involve climbing on the roof to get off the boat.

We continued up stream to Shardlow quite expecting the place to be heaving but actually it wasn’t and we moored up within feet of the Shardlow Milepost for the night.

Holme Pierrepont – a Consulting Detective Agency Maybe?

From Cromwell Lock Weir Entrance to Holme Lock Weir Entrance, a distance of 26 miles, ½ flg and 6 locks.

We set off planning to get to Nether Lock No 10 by about 9:30 when the lock keeper should be on duty but we got there a few minutes early and Kathy was just about to get the lock ready when he turned up so I used the centre line and stood on the roof as we came up the lock.

It’s very obvious when you come out of the lock that the current lock is not the original and you can see part of the original gate recess just where you have to do a sharp turn to get under the small access bridge.

As usual there seemed to be boats moving round at Newark with no real purpose – apart from confusing people and once again it was proved that a lot of boaters either can’t read or just ignore notices as the moorings opposite Newark Castle are clearly marked “Fishing Prohibited” but I guess people on boats think that it doesn’t apply to them as there were at least 3 people fishing from the back decks of their boats.

Just above Newark Town Lock Weir Entrance os the old British Waterways Maintenance yard and on the hard standing there is the Newark barge project.

On hard standing - I think its having a new bottom
On hard standing – I think its having a new bottom

Averham Weir is rather daunting and although it is well signed and marked it does look like it could be so easy to accidentally go over it if you got distracted by anything.

Mind how you go
Mind how you go

Passing Farndon Ferry the pitiful public mooring was still totally full and it does seem totally bizarre to create a 100 foot public mooring and then let a permanent mooring take up half of it.

Sorry - the public moorings are reserved for a trip boat
Sorry – the public moorings are reserved for a trip boat

The river wasn’t particularly busy – I guess when there are sod all moorings people aren’t likely to jump in thei boats and head up, or down, stream and go a visit a riverside pub.

We shared Gunthorpe Lock No 7 with several boats including a small speed boat which had a couple of young kids in it along with people I assume where their parents. When the lock was opened and we all moved out this little boat hurtled off into the distance leaving an 18 inch high wash mark though Gunthorpe Bridge. I saw a couple of other boats hit their wash and was almost dreading coming round a corner and finding that boat upside down…. but luckily we didn’t.

At Stoke Bardolph Lock No 6 we caught the lockie unawares as he’d gone off to get himself a mug of tea or coffee thinking he’d got time before we turned up!

We motored on to Holme Lock No 5 where we were the last boat of the day so he kept us at the tail of the lock and really wound the paddles up – it was quite a wild ride.

All Paddles Open with the boat the back of the lock. DO NOT try this at home
All Paddles Open with the boat the back of the lock. DO NOT try this at home

I mentioned the speed boat to him and they had been clocked at over 24mph – which, when you consider the up stream speed is 6mph, is just a tad fast!

We moored above the lock on the extensive visitor moorings and after eating I went for a walk round the National Watersports Centre which runs an amazing white water course using the natural fall of the water past the lock. The sluice gates here are also pretty impressive – each one is over 12 metres wide, and they were installed as part of a large project to control flooding on the river.

The Holme Lock Sluice
The Holme Lock Sluice

The Tidal Trent – it’s a bit of a bore

From Torksey Visitor Moorings to Cromwell Lock Weir Entrance, a distance of 17 miles, 7 flg and 2 locks.

There’s one problem with coming down onto the Fossdyke – and that’s getting back off it. We’d been pretty lucky with the tide timings coming down stream but to head back we basically lost half a day – and that was one of the reasons we’d not gone through with the trip down to Boston as by the time we’d have got back to Torksey we’d be looking at a late afternoon tide and as it’s between 3 to 5 hours between Torksey Lock and Cromwell Lock No 11 it would have made things very messy

It’s quite a way from the far end of the visitor moorings to the lock basin and we knew we had to be there before 12 so after a lazy start we chugged down to the basin. But things were already going wrong – the wind on the river was so strong it was holding the incoming tide back so there wasn’t enough water to get over the cill in the lock. So we – us and two other narrowboats, sat and waited and got onto the river about 30 minutes later than planned.

Coming out on to the River Trent from the Fossdyke we met a cabin cruiser turning into the Fossdyke, and a narrow boat motoring like a bat out of hell up the river – you could hear the whine of its engine from its engine room from over 100 feet away and all we can imagine is that they had the revs right up on the red line.

In some ways you can’t blame them because frankly the tidal river trent is about as interesting as watching paint dry. There are hardly any land marks and the only real way of gauging progress is by looking out for the Kilometre markers.

Nothing to see here ... Move along!
Nothing to see here … Move along!

There are a few sunken islands and abandoned, or apparently abandoned, gravel wharfs

Quite a nice, but large, planter!
Quite a nice, but large, planter!

But really there isn’t much to see and there is even less to see when the wind picks up and it starts raining.

One of the semi abandoned gravel wharfs
One of the semi abandoned gravel wharfs

So when Cromwell Lock No 11 finally came into view it was with great relief and it looked like it was going to be an easy end to the day. However there aren’t a lot of moorings at Cromwell and a large apparently unlicensed cabin cruiser didn’t want us mooring in from of him because “he had a friend coming down and he’d reserved the space for him”. So we backed up and stuck ourselves off the back of the 72 hour moorings and hoped we’d be OK.

Of Cathedrals and Glory Holes

From Saxilby Village Wharf Moorings to Torksey Visitor Moorings, a distance of 17 miles, 3¾ flg.

Setting off from Saxilby towards Lincoln in the early morning means you are basically looking directly at the sun and the Fossdyke is one of those canals that likes it’s straight sections.

There is very little to see between Saxilby and Lincoln… no seriously…. the canal is accompanied by a road for a while then that goes off on its own way and the railway line comes along to keep you company.

Lincoln sort of just turns up… you are cruising through open countryside and then you hit the Lincoln Long Term moorings which present the usual mish-mash of good boats and floating junk heaps that all C&RT long term moorings seem to breed and you have to wonder what people on the Brayford Belle trip boat make of it all when it cruises past.

It’s been a long time since Mintball was in Lincoln and things have changed a lot round the Brayford Pool since we were last there. It used to be a pretty grim area and was fairly run down but now its all been redeveloped – the university occupies one side along with the marina and the other side is hotels and big name cafes and restaurants.

The Brayford Pool in all its redeveloped magnificence
The Brayford Pool in all its redeveloped magnificence

The official visitor moorings which are located between Lincoln Sanitary Station andthe Brayford pool are, as you’d expect, pretty feeble and of course they were full.

However the lockie back at Torksey had told us that there were lots of good moorings by the Waterside Centre. So we went through the pool and onto the River Witham

One of the “sights” of the waterways is High Bridge Lincoln (the Glory Hole)

The "Glory Hole"
The “Glory Hole”

But I suspect a lot of visitors to Lincoln never actually go through it as there is officially no winding hole between the bridge and Stamp End Lock No 1 but it is actually on this section that most of the moorings can be found. There are plenty of rings and you are behind a low ornamental fence (there I suspect to stop the public falling into the canal) but there is space to walk and there are regular gates which you can open with your “watermate’ key.

So we stopped there and went for a look at the Cathedral. We were also going to go into the castle to look at the Magna Carta but for some unexplained reason that part of the castle was closed leaving just a bit of the battlements and the dungeon open – So we skipped that and went and had a nice breakfast in a tiny little cafe on Steep Street.

Steep Street
Steep Street

Steep by name, Steep by Nature
Steep by name, Steep by Nature

Lincoln Cathedral is quite impressive with its own claim to fame being the “Lincoln Imp” who caused “mischief” and was “tuned to stone by one of the angels”

Its the Imp!!
Its the Imp!!

We turned the boat just before Waterside House Pedestrian Bridge No 4 where you probably can turn, if you pick your spot right, a 57 foot boat (well one of the locals said he turns his boat there) and headed back towards Saxilby.

High Bridge (The "Glory Hole") from the other side
High Bridge (The “Glory Hole”) from the other side

The self service pumpout at the Lincoln Services is, at the time of writing, a very good one – it seems to have a lot of suction and a very long timer setting and we were able to do a couple of tank flushes as well as the initial pump out.

We thought about stopping in Saxilby for the for the night and having fish and chips but “selfish” mooring by people (not sharing rings/bollards and sometimes leaving one ring/bollard empty) meant that there were about 4 boats less moored there than there could have been. So we decided to head back to Torksey for the night.

One thing they do well in Lincolnshire is the rain – it was torrential and those 5 miles back to Torksey seemed to take forever and I was rather cold and damp by the time we arrived at Torksey Visitor Moorings and moored up for the night.

We got round in Lincoln using the Walk and Ride bus which does a circular route round the town – the nearest stop to the river is near the junction of High Street and Silver Street. An all day ticket is £3 per person and it makes getting up to the cathedral (the stop is right outside the door) very easy.

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