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.
We got straight through the lock and turned right on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Aldersley to Autherley) and our long slow descent to the River Severn (main river). There are a lot of bridges on this section and in the arches of one of them someone has painted some very large pictures:
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