Mintball has done this trip so many times now that she could probably navigate it without us actually doing anything. In some ways this part of the canal is the most scenic and when the weather is good there are some good views out to the West with the Wrekin and the Welsh Hills beyond especially on the section near Fox Bridge No 52
It’s along this section that you realise that the Shroppie has a lot of bridges – there is, on average, a bridge every half mile along this section, with there being an average of 2.4 per mile between Autherley Junction and Nantwich.
There is, however, a bit of a downside to this section and that’s the number of moored boats. There’s a long set between Anchor Bridge No 42 and Wharf Inn (Shebdon) Winding Hole and when the wind is strong it can be a bit of pain to navigate as you balance a sensible speed to pass the boats with the necessary speed to avoid being blown sideways onto either the bank or the boats themselves.
But when there aren’t any moored boats you can make pretty good time even through the long and narrow Woodseaves Cutting.
The locks at Tyrley were even more autumnal than they had been a week earlier but we made pretty good time back to the moorings.
It was all a bit dull and gloomy when we got up the next morning to head off down the locks. There were a couple of other boats pointing down the locks but there was no sign of life as we got the top lock ready and set off.
We were a few locks down when I lifted the back deck board to check something with the gear linkages and I saw that diesel fuel was happily spraying all over the engine. We pulled over to the bank and stopped to investigate. The slight fuel leak from the other day had got a lot worse, and the return line from the spill rail had sheared totally where it was work hardened from its construction. We scratched our heads for a bit before coming up with a solution:
Crimp the sheared line shut so that excess fuel from the fuel filter can’t go up the pipe and spray over the engine
Using part of a nozzle off a tube of mastic make an adaptor that fits onto the stump of pipe on the spill rail. Fix a hose to that adaptor and run the hose into an empty wine bottle propped up in a paint kettle sitting in the bilges. Fuel only drips into the bottle so it lasts a few hours
Empty the contents of the wine bottle back into the fuel tank every few hours – which probably gets you some very odd looks.
So running repairs made we continued on our way at quite a reasonable speed and we even met a couple of boats on the way up and we left Wolverhampton Bottom Lock No 21 less than 3 hours after we’d entered the flight.
We saw some of the most uncivilised boating behaviour at Autherley Junction that we have seen for a long time.
As we came past Oxley Marine a boat pulled out from the towpath moorings and turned under the bridge onto the Shroppie. We started to head over to the bank to drop off crew and a narrowboat that was coming in the opposite direction simply turned and went under the bridge – without checking what was going on.
So when we get to the lock there is this situation:
Boat in the lock going onto the Shroppie
Second boat under the bridge with his nose resting on the lock gate
Boat waiting, by the boat yard, to come into the lock.
So what happens next? Does the boat under the bridge back up and make space for the other boat to come through the lock? No of course it doesn’t – its crew slam the lock gate shut in front of the other boat (which is single handed) as it approached the lock and proceed to take their boat through the lock. If we had been on that other boat we would have had some choice words for the guy on the tiller of boat in the lock – and those words would have been “Frankly Sir, you are an arse”
The boat left the lock and slowly moved off down the canal. We helped the single handed boat through the lock and then got Mintball into the lock – by this time Mr unsociable hadn’t even made it to Bathurst Bridge No 2 and although we proceeded at a less than normal speed we were slowly catching up with him – he seemed to have serious problems with any bridge hole as he had to slow down to a crawl, didn’t seem to understand the concept of bridge etiquette when there is boat coming the other way, and basically seemed to be pissing people off from the comments we got from boats we met who had met him.
Luckily we’d decided where to stop for the night and so, even with him in front of us, we still had time to stop at Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings and have a couple of relaxing pints, and it is worth taking the walk up to the Coach and Horses especially if you swing round via the church, as there is quite a lot more to Wheaton Aston than you see from the canal.
We spent the rest of the afternoon tidying things up as we chugged along as as we’d reserved a table at The Junction Inn at Norbury we knew that as long as we could find somewhere to moor anywhere near the pub we’d be fine and so, as the darkness started to fall we pulled onto the first available mooring we could find on the extensive visitor moorings on the embankment near High Meadow Aqueduct
I think it was a train on the line that runs right by the canal that woke us up and after doing the morning engine checks we cast off on the rather long run into Birmingham city centre
The run into Birmingham is not only long it is remarkably depressing. It starts off quite well as the photo below shows but once you get near King’s Norton Junction things start going down hill.
Not quite what you expect from Birmingham
Birmingham has done so much over the past 20 years to pull its city centre up from the mess it was and there have been huge developments at the university and at the hospital. There have even been huge improvements to the canal in terms of access and the towpath but one thing that does not change is the graffiti. There is hardly one single vertical surface between Kings Norton and Holliday Wharf that isn’t covered in graffiti – even the mew buildings at the hospital which back onto the railway line aren’t immune. Why? I ask you Why? Do the Mayor and Birmingham City council know? Do they care? Don’t they realise that although not the post popular canal route into the city this is also a major rail commuter line. What image of your wonderful city does that present? What do the secure moorings by Bournville Lane Aqueduct No 4 and the vandalised station tell us about your city apart from “You really don’t want to stop here”
It’s only when you reach the start of the city centre re-development at Holliday Wharf that the vandalism stops. The wharf has a good set of boater facilities and we took the opportunity to empty the Portable loo as it was getting pretty full, We had arrived in Birmingham the weekend before the Conservative Party conference and security was already being tightened – moorings had been suspended, there were security turnstyles on the bridges over the canal and The Mailbox Footbridge had a notice on it telling all boats to stop and contact the police. We chugged through the bustling city centre and made our way out to Smethwick Junction where we turned onto the Birmingham Canal Navigations (Old Main Line) … DON’T try to pull in to drop crew off before the bollards below Pope Bridge because although the bank edge is good engineering brick the canal runs out of water a couple of feet out from it. Despite the desolation around you the three Smethwick Locks are quite easy to work, although you do need security keys to unlock the paddles, and before long you’ve made it out of the top lock and are heading past Engine Arm Junction on the rather wibbly wobbly Old Main Line.
Like parts of the New Main Line it is sometimes hard to believe you are in the middle of a sprawling city but then you meet the M5 and reality comes crashing in around you again and Oldbury Junction is almost hidden amongst the concrete pillars of the motorway. We’re not sure what the Estate Agents say about the cottages at the bottom lock but it must be a pretty hard place to sell.
Again, like the Smethwick locks the 6 Oldbury Locks, which are also known as “The Crow” due to the fact that the Crow Arm which leaves the canal half way up the flight led into a large factory owned by James Crow, are actually very easy to work… well pretty easy but the bottom gates can be a bit of a pain. The canal seemed very shallow and was full of floating weed but we made it to the Tat Bank Branch junction which has a rather nice engine house by it.
Titford Engine House
We were advised by some people who keep their boat on the Tat Bank Branch NOT to enter the Titford pools as they are very silted up and so we turned at Portway – Causeway Green Junction
Titford Pools beyond the bridge
We headed back down to Oldbury junction and nowhere along the way did we see anything that remotely matched anything in “Wall To Wall” by Michael Pennington (Deceased) 1 which was a pity, but who knows maybe the abandoned boat yard is on anther bit of Oldbury canal that we’ve not yet visited. By the time we reached the locks the weed had spread out again and it was hard to believe a boat had actually been this way in weeks.
We headed off towards Wolverhampton and apart from one boat coming through the lock at Tipton Factory Junction the canal was pretty quiet. There were some kids sitting above the portal of Coseley Tunnel (South end) who waved at us an there was also a tramp in the tunnel who must have climbed past the security fences which close off the towpaths as they are blocked in the cutting immediately before the tunnel.
At Chillington Interchange Basin there is an impressive frame mounted crane but as it isn’t used I can’t imagine it will be long before someone cuts it up for scrap which would be a great pity.
The night was starting to draw in and as we passed Broad Street Basin someone on a boat told us that the moorings at the top of the locks were full but we managed to find a mooring that was just the right length for us although we did end up having to use a mooring spike to keep one end in.
Michael Pennington met a violent death – murdered and thrown into a coal shaft that was later bricked up, his body was to remain undiscovered for over thirty years. Jack however had witnessed the gruesome event, powerless to do anything about it – he was, after all, in the spirit world himself…
In the afterlife Michael struggled to come to terms with his extraordinary existence. He was, like many other spirits, a lost soul trapped as a result of his past traumatic experience. He desperately sought retribution. Painstakingly he learned to communicate – using modern technology, the internet. Would his death be avenged?
Michael’s story may seem far-fetched, indeed beyond comprehension and the laws of physics, but the growing number of strange contacts and stories on message forums should not be dismissed lightly. Wall to Wall Michael Pennington is more than a paranormal whodunnit – it will provoke some searching questions on future supernatural contact with the past.
The story started on January 15th 2004 on a Birmingham Message Forum. A person calling themselves Michael Pennington told an interesting tale about his murderous death in 1971 and subsequent life as a spirit in an old derelict boatyard. In recent times the building became occupied and the ghost found a way to communicate with the living using a computer. ↩
After the coldest night of the holiday we were all quite dreading getting up and getting going but it was actually not a bad morning and so three of the crew went off with keys and windlasses to get the three swingbridges and the Barge Lock open.
The first Saltway swing bridge
The second bridge, which is permanently open and the bridge deck is fenced off
The third bridge looking back along the canal
Just above Bromsgrove Road Bridge No 8 the canalised river makes a turn to the left and straight ahead there seems to be the remains of a bridge – we suspect this is the original line of the canal which has been obliterated.
The original line of the canal?
There seemed to be a little bit more flow on the river but we still made it through the M5 tunnel with no problems. The Body Brook where it enters into the canal immediately below lcck 6 is really nothing more than a trickle but obviously it can carry quite a lot of water at times.
The Body Brook below Lock 6
The M5 was a lot noisier this time round and even inside the chamber of the staircase lock you couldn’t get away from it and you could hear it over the boat’s engine.
Inside the staircase
Between the staircase lock and Rugby Club Bridge No 2 the canal is almost totally overgrown with reeds and I suspect you’d have problems if a boat was coming the other way.
This is a canal.. I promise…
but beyond the bridge the canal opens up again as you return to the old line of the canal.
The last three locks on the canal even have side ponds which work and although its obvious that a lot of people DON’T use them they work perfectly.
Astwood Bottom Lock No 17 marks the start of the long slog up to Birmingham but for a bottom lock its rather a long way (over 3 furlongs) to the next lock in the flight and in fact its pretty much the same distance from the bottom lock to Astwood Lock No 18 as it is from that lock to Astwood Top Lock No 22. Its worth getting on the boat after the top lock and taking time to have a coffee and go to the loo before you hit Stoke Bottom Lock No 23 as from there until the top of the flight at Tardebigge you might as well walk.
We were just about through Stoke Bottom lock and had crew well on the way to Stoke Prior Lock No 24 when a boat cast off from the boat yard and although the person steering seemed to know what he was doing the same could not be said of the rest of his crew. Apparently they had just picked up the boat and were heading off down the Grand Union. We were really rather worried that being stuck behind them would mean we’d just never make it up the locks but they slowly started to get their act together and by the time we got to the top they were actually doing quite well.
When we got to Tardebigge Lock No 50 several of us scrambled up to look at the water level in Tardebigge Reservoir and it was quite a long way down but then again if the canal reservoirs aren’t getting low by September then you’ve obviously had a very wet summer.
At Tardebigge Top Lock No 58 we met a boat coming down that we’d last met at Swindon Locks earlier in the week – they were heading for Worcester but had had a leisurely trip through Birmingham and had even taken in a show.
We filled up with water at Tardebigge Wharf which took quite a while as the pressure is quite low, but it allowed the boats ahead of us to get through Tardebigge Tunnel so we weren’t breathing in their exhaust fumes as we went through.
We made our way through the late afternoon until we got to Alvechurch Marina where we saw “Slipstream” which we’d last seen near bilford bottom lock the previous morning.
The moorings by the bridge were pretty full and although we got a mooring the next boat along only got in with some juggling and lifting their hinged rear fender up. We were going to eat on board and then go to the pub but we felt like a pre-supper drink and as the Weighbridge didn’t open until 7pm we walked along the bank to the Crown Inn by Alvechurch Visitor Moorings (which were also full). The beer range was rather limited and rather expensive so after a couple we walked back to the boat and after eating headed off to the Weighbridge which had a good range and they always have a mild on tap – and a good mild it was too.
After a few nice cool misty mornings we woke up to a damp miserable one but luckily the rain had just about stopped after being quite heavy over night.
The pound, which was several inches down when we’d come on to it, hadn’t dropped any more but it also hadn’t gone up by much and so we were a little worried that somewhere ahead of us there was going to be another pound that was down.
When we got to Tibberton Top Lock No 16 there were some CaRT vehicles but no notices about the flight being closed or there being problems ahead and so we started off on the descent down to Worcester. A couple of locks down someone who was cycling down the towpath told us that the canal was closed as there was no water- however we continued on down the flight and although some of the pounds were down a few inches there were no pounds that looked that low. Even the longish pound down to Blockhouse Lock No 4 seemed OK so we’re not sure where the problem had been.
We shared Diglis Lock No 2 with a boat which the boat yard were moving around and it didn’t come through the next lock with us. For some reason Diglis Bottom Lock No 1, which is a very large lock, has no top gate paddles and it’s a complete pain to work. The bottom gates aren’t much better and if you’re heading upstream then the location of the lock landing stage which is downstream of the lock is an annoyance too, but at least you don’t need to work the swingbridge under normal river conditions.
We headed up river and stopped on the visitor moorings between Worcester Railway Bridge and Sabrina Footbridge – you have to pay but its a pretty cheap flat rate for 24 hours and you simply buy a ticket from a pay and display machine located in the park above the moorings. We had a longish stop as this was the point at which we changed half our crew but once we’d got the new crew we headed off up river again.
The moorings for Bevere Lock can apparently be used for overnight moorings after 6pm as long as you have cleared it with the lock keeper and I assume you moor there if you want to go to the Camp House Pub as its own moorings seem to have vanished. Exiting the lock you are advised to keep left to avoid the weir and the shallows between it and the large marker posts. Swinging round the corner Hawford Junction quickly comes into view.
Above Hawford Lock No 2 the large length of moorings that CaRT were working on the day before had come on quite a lot and they’re probably finished by now.
New Moorings above the second lock
It was a bit odd doing the same canal again so soon again but the different time of day made things look quite different and we spent an enjoyable afternoon working our way up the canal and there were as many people out and about using the towpath as there had been the other day. We shared the locks with a hire boat who had come down the canal a couple of days earlier and had been up to Stourport. As you approach Droitwich there seemed to be quite a few joggers and runners using the canal and the low level of graffiti and vandalism is quite refreshing and although Netherwich Basin has security gates I suspect that they’re not really needed (unless its different at other times of the year). We moored stern in on the pontoon moorings as we didn’t fancy having to walk out along the gunwales in the dark, and for Mintball the mooring actually worked better that way than nose in.
Vines Park which runs alongside the canal is very well kept and very popular and despite the day cooling off rapidly there were quite a few people around. We ate at The Old Cock Inn which does some good beer and some excellent food – as long as you like pies.. .but they are Pieminister pies and they had a good range and we can heartily recommend them. We stuck our head in at The Hope Pole but didn’t stay long as by now it was getting quite cold and they didn’t seem to think they needed any heating.. you really shouldn’t need to wear your coat in a pub in order to keep warm. After that we walked back towards the boat and stuck our head in at The Gardeners Arms for a pint or two – there was a quiz on and the place was crowed but it was a good atmosphere. The pub has a large terrace and probably one of the longest domain names we’ve ever seen.
Another cool and misty morning meant another good opportunity for some photos both before we left the moorings and when we were on the move
Holt Fleet Bridge in the morning
Misty morning on the river
Swans in the mist
Sunshine and mist
But suddenly the mist cleared and for a short distance we had sunshine and a blue sky, and a Buzzard in a tree:
The River Severn can be a very pretty river but one thing it lacks is landmarks so its actually quite hard to work out where you are and when you are looking for a canal junction that you know comes off just above Bevere Lock but there are no other obvious land marks it makes it quite hard to find and CaRT have decided that apparently this junction is one of the few places that doesn’t need any navigation signs.
There is a landing stage by itself and then another set of landing stages. The second set were moored up so we assumed it was the first one but is the landing stage above or below the junction and which side of the landing stage is the entrance to the lock. We decided to go past and turn and approaching from downstream everything is totally clear.
Much better from this side
Mintball approaching the lock
The first two locks set the tone for all the wide locks on the canal – the paddles are pretty light but the bottom gates are pretty heavy and are far from easy to close – so don’t attempt this canal unless you have some strong members of crew on your boat.
The first bridge (Hawford Bridge) on the canal takes you under the Worcester – Kidderminster road and it was lost in the 1940s, and the road was subsequently widened to a big dual carriage way. So one of two new tunnel was built – this one being the A449 Tunnel and given that they never really closed the road over the top whilst they built this new tunnel it’s pretty impressive.
Coming out from the bridge you’d be inclined to think you were still on a river, and the canal retains this feeling all the way up to Droitwich, as the canal winds its way slowly up the valley of the River Salwarpe. The canal is really quite isolated and it’s probably this isolation that saved it from being lost for ever.
The 5 locks that make up the Ladywood flight are extremely pretty and with a couple of crew lock wheeling you can make good time through them, although be prepared to spend time talking to the large number of locals who are walking their dogs – the tow path is in very good condition and is obviously a very popular place to walk. In some ways it’s a pity the same can’t be said about the mooring facilities as mooring is extremely limited along the whole canal but at the same time that, and the large reed banks do give it a sort of pioneer feeling.
This pioneer feeling is further boosted by the relative lack of signage on the canal and with a few notable exceptions the ones that are there are actually very sensible.
Even as you approach Droitwich the canal keeps its very rural feeling and its only really as you get towards the two railway bridges in the town itself that you really realise you are in the middle of a town.
The only boating facility on the canal – a waterpoint – can be found on the end mooring pontoon at Droitwich basin. but be warned the pontoon isn’t too long so long boats will find that significant portion of their length is sticking off the end of the pontoon at one end or another..
The next half mile of canal contains 4 swing bridges : three before the lock (one of which is always open) and one over the lock itself. You’ll need a Watermate Key to remove the padlocks and the third one (from the basin) is pretty awkward to remove.
The Barge Locktakes you onto the River Salwarpe for a few hundred yards. This used to be a much shorter distance butthe orignal line of the canal has been lost and from here until Droitwich Spa Marina you’re on a totally new canal. This bit of canal does seem to have two rather unnecessary sets of signs:
You would have thought it was pretty obvious where you need to go here without the signs
You’d think the same here too!
The locks from here are narrow and the new ones seem pretty well built and are a lot better than the nightmare that is Stoke Lock on the Trent and Mersey canal.
Although the canal has got through one big navigational problem at the Worcester-Kidderminster road there is a much bigger one ahead : the M5 which basically obliterated the canal when it was built.
So after a few hundred yards you come off the River Salwarpe and onto what is basically a canalised version of the the Body Brook. The Body Brook is pretty small but oddly enough it has a culvert under the M5 that is wide enough to take a narrow boat and also has enough height to allow a boat with reasonable water and air draft to get through. This does seem slightly more than co-incidence and you have to wonder if someone made a very sensible and forward looking decision quite a number of years ago. So this culvert was turned into the M5 Motorway Tunnel
OK I said it was big enough to take a narrow boat but there is “big enough” and “just big enough” and the M5 tunnel certainly falls into that category. Mintball’s aerial just about cleared the roof but any boat with half a garden centre on it’s roof or carrying the contents of a spare shed up there is NOT going to make it. Approaching it from Droitwich you first pass through the Impney Way Tunnel which contains warnings out the height of the tunnel. After the Impney tunnel there is an Emergency/Escape area area where you’ll have one final chance to clear the roof of your boat and also to check the available headroom using the guide on the side of the tunnel.
Mind how you go!!
After the tunnel there is a short length of canal before you arrive at Lock No 6. You’ll need to drop crew off but don’t attempt to drop them off on the bridge where the Body Brook enters the canal – only use the landing stage! Only one bottom paddle on the lock seems to be in use, we assume its to stop getting too big a surge going down the canal and through the tunnel.
Lock 6 is one of four new locks on the canal and the last two are in a two lock staircase – Staircase Locks No 4 and No 5 – are, like the other locks, very smooth to use and quite quick.
We turned right at the junction and headed off towards Worcester. We stopped for the night at Tibberton and discovered that the injector spill rail was leaking very slightly at one end so we carried out an emergency repair using some tape, heat shrink tubing and some cable ties. We ate in The Bridge Inn and then went down to the Speed The Plough as the Bridge closed early.
It was another rather chilly but sunny morning and once again mist rolled across the canal as we set off to continue our journey down towards Stourport and the River Severn.
Another Misty Morning
At Whittington Lock No 10 filling the lock caused a new fog bank to be created and it was rather odd to watch it rising into the sky from inside the lock, but by then the sun was starting to burn off all the mist and by the time we reached Austcliffe Bridge No 24 most of the mist had gone. The Austcliffe is still quite impressive but nowhere near as impressive as it used to be when it really overhung the canal. It’s a pity they had to chop so much of the rock off but you can understand why they did it.
Cowley Tunnel takes, according to the notice at its end, 3 minutes to navigate, which considering its only 65 yards long means that they think you are only doing 1300 yard per hour…which comes out at 0.73 miles per hour! Some mistake surely?
By the time you reach Wolverley Lock No 8 you are on the outskirts of Kidderminster but it’s not until well after Wolverley Court Lock No 7 that the town makes it’s presence felt and the houses along side the canal might be a bit derivative but they’re a lot better than the industrial wasteland that used to be there.
But like your entrance to the town the exit is as equally abrupt and even though you are still in the town (and the antivandal keys on the locks are obviously there for a good reason) by the time you reach Caldwell Lock No 5 you feel that you’re actually back in the countryside.
At Falling Sands Lock No 4 we met someone who was walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End just for fun – her route was going to be about 1000 miles and she had already been out for 5 weeks. She was carry a tent with her so we assumed she was camping over night. We asked her why she was doing it and she said it was something that had been in her mind for a while so she just decided to do it.
Stourport has a nick name “The Blackpool of the Midlands”. Well it’s not quite tacky for that but they were certainly giving it a good go. Working through the narrow locks down to the Severn was not the most pleasant experience due to our encounter with someone who could only be described as a stereotype, and it’s the first time any of us have been threatened by another boater. He moors his boat there so I guess he’s part of what makes the place live up to its reputation.
Not quite Blackpool Pleasure Beach
There seemed to be quite a flow on the river and we made extremely good time down to Lincomb Lock which we shared with a boat out from Starline. Coming past Lenchford Ferry one of the various buzzards we’d seen flying about decided to settle on top of a building and posed for photos.
Holt Lock occupies a rather scenic position on the river and if you are going downstream it’s worth looking back once you’ve gone under Holt Fleet Bridge.
Holt Fleet Bridge at Sunset
We stopped for the night at the pub which has lots of moorings but boats with low gunwhales might need to pick their spot carefully to stop any possibility of getting trapped if the water levels rise.
It was a bright and sunny morning, unlike yesterday, when Mintball cast off. Mist was rising from the canal and from the surrounding fields and there was a cold edge on the air.
The mist soon cleared, but the sun stayed with us for most of the day although it did cloud over a little later, and that cold edge on the air was never far away – it was quite pleasant in the sunshine it was much cooler in the shade.
No other boats seemed to be on the move and we made very good time down to Autherley Junction which looked quite timeless in the mist.
The canal remained fairly quiet through to Compton Lock No 31 but once we’d got through the lock there were more boats and people about and the towpath was quite busy. Bt now the sun had burned most of the mist away and we were under clear blue skies and, apart from the cool edge on the air, it was hard to believe it was late September. The ivy flowers were swarming with insects who swarmed round you as you walked past them when going from lock to lock. The locks on the canal never really make it into any solid flights but there are clusters of them where its easier to walk between them and as the towpath is in such good condition it’s actually quite pleasant.
The canal meanders across the landscape until it reaches the 3 locks at The Bratch which aren’t actually a staircase flight but might as well be. Unlike a staircase lock where the tail gates of one lock form the head gates of the other the three locks at the Bratch all have their own top and bottom gates and are separated by about 5 feet. All three locks are built into one single structure and there are large sideponds connected to each of the gaps between the locks. So when you are going through them, and passage is controlled by a set of lock keepers, you have to open the paddles on the lock you want to fill before opening the paddles on the lock you want to empty. Opening the paddles to fill the locks causes a large whirlpool to form in the gap between the two locks which makes a rather scary roaring noise. Opening the next set of paddles turns the whirlpool into a churning mass of very choppy water, and one thing is certain – its not something you’d want to fall into.
We had to wait, with one boat in front of us, whilst 3 boats came up which gave us time to have a spot of lunch, but once they were through we got through very quickly due in part to the lockeepers working the boat ahead of us through.
We stopped at Houndel Bridge No 45 and stuck our heads into The Round Oak for a drink. Its a very large family friendly pub and the menu looked good and the portions looked more than adequate, and there are good moorings right outside so it’s probably a good place to consider stopping if you’re heading up the canal and realised you wont make it through The Bratch.
The Botterham Staircase Locks No 20 and 21 always feel so rural and the large hazelnut tree by the top lock just adds to that feeling. The ground was covered in fragments of hazelnut shells and obviously the squirrels had been having a good time. A few untouched nuts lay on the ground but when we broke them open they were bad nuts so the squirrels, just like they do in Willy Wonka, obviously have a fool proof method of working out which nuts are good and which aren’t.
The whole area round Marsh Lock No 19 and Swindon Lock No 18 used to be a huge iron works but no sign of it remains at all and you cruise along a canal with houses on either side of it. The only indication that its not always been this way is the information boards along the canal towpath explaining how things used to be.
Dunsley Tunnel is hardly a tunnel at all and Mintball has been under a lot of bridges that are longer than it is, but it does go through quite a hill so I think we’ll let them off this time.
Kinver sort of creeps up on you – at Hyde Lock No 12 you can’t really see much of the town and due to large number of long term moorings between Hyde Lock and Kinver Lock No 11 it seems to take a long time to actually get anywhere.
We stopped just below the lock on the visitor moorings and headed into town. The beer at Ye Olde White Harte was very good and the curry at Shimla’s was excellent and very different. They do a buffet on Sunday nights but their full menu is also available. If 4 of you can have poppadoms with the pickle tray (which was a good selection), followed by starters and main courses with rice, naan bread and a couple of side dishes, AND 6 large bottles of Cobra (at £6 a bottle) for less than £100 you really can’t complain
Sitting in the Red Lion on Friday night we’d talked about what time we’d get up on Saturday morning and we decided that we didn’t need to make a super early start mainly we wanted to be somewhere near a pub on Saturday night and the Shroppie isn’t over endowed with pubs on its southern reaches.
However those plans were upset slightly because when Nick and I had come up a few weeks ago and moved the inverter and rebuilt all the 240 wiring at the back of the boat we had checked everything worked… but we’d not started the engine, although we had checked the heaters worked.
The engine started perfectly but the no charge light didn’t go out although we could see that the domestic battery was being charged. There was also a rather odd buzzing noise from behind the control panel which along with the light suggested something was not quite right.
15 minutes of delving into the wiring behind the control panel revealed an earth wire had come off and once it was reconnected everything worked perfectly.
The rain which we’d had overnight had cleared away and so we headed off towards Tyrley Locks with just a cool damp mist surrounding us.
We could see a boat in the lock and it was going up and as they only had one person working the locks we lent them a hand and even with meeting a couple of boats coming down we made pretty good time.
Slightly more autumnal than the last time we came through here
Autumn has definitely arrived on the Shroppie and the air had that cool dampness to it that you only get in Autumn and there was also that very distinctive smell of old leaves in the air, tinged with just a hint of frying sausages.
For a coolish weekend in late September there were a surprising number of boats on the move and as you’d expect we met most of them at awkward spots such as bridges, the narrow spots in the long cuttings and also at High Bridge No 39 of course.
A quick stop at Norbury Junction to top up the boat fuel and a pint for us was in order before continuing on down towards Gnosall. We’d decided by this time that there was no point in trying to push on beyond Brewood for the night so as there are two pubs in Gnosall, which are as to to the canal as you can be without falling in, it seemed only fair to stop in at at least one of them so we did.
There were quite a few boats on the move but there were also quite a few moored up and the canal seems to be slightly narrower through Gnosall but with some careful manoeuvring we made it through to Cowley Tunnel without incident.
The weather, which had been pretty nondescript all day started turning for the worse and the long drag down to Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 wasn’t the most enjoyable trip especially as we had two boats in front of us who obviously didn’t know that you can actually do more than tickover most of the time.
Luckily one pulled in onto the visitor moorings and the other seemed to get their act together slightly more and so we made it to the visitor moorings at Brewood in the last of the daylight.
After a extremely good curry on board we headed off into the town to have a few beers at The Swan which had been recommended to us.
This is the planned route for our September trip. It includes doing the Droitwich Canals twice as we’ve never done it before and we’re going to be changing some of the crew during the trip so this way everyone gets to do it once
We’re also planning on going up to Titford if time permits – it’s another bit of canal that we’ve never done before either.
All the stopping places are (12/09/2014) simply calculated from Canalplan but as we do the holiday they’ll change to the actual overnights as we update the blog.