To Gnosall

From Cross Green Visitor Moorings to Gnosall Visitor Moorings (South), a distance of 15 miles, 5¾ flg and 2 locks.

The moorings by the pub are always a good place to stop for the night – there are plenty of them and its usually quite quiet. Also if you are heading towards Autherley Junction they are really the last good place to stop before the urban sprawl of Wolverhampton swamps the canal.

The sprawl really starts at Coven Heath M54 Motorway Bridge which now it’s been widened to take in the new junction for the business park is almost as long as some of the tunnels on the canal.  When you are driving on the motorway you hardly notice it going over the canal here and it takes a matter of minutes to get to the bridge where you pass over the Shroppie…. a trip that takes a few hours by boat.

We got through the narrows without meeting another boat and then flew along the straight by the Wolverhampton Academy. The tall trees here give the canal an almost French / Belgian feel to it, but the housing estate on the other side soon strips the illusion away.

All was quiet at the junction and, as the boatyard was open and their moorings were empty (yes they really did have all their boats out), we pulled in and got the loo tank pumped out, and then set off on our way north.

Like the M54 the A5 is one of those roads that if you are travelling along it the time taken between crossing over the Staffs & Worcs to where you go under the Shroppie is only a few minutes but a long time by canal. I often wonder as we pass over Stretton Aqueduct how many people hurtling along the road at 60mph are even aware of the canal they go under – I suspect the answer is very few.

Often when Kathy and I were out boating we’d head down this way and moor in the cutting near Lapley Wood Bridge No 17, have a fire and sit in the darkness just relaxing. Even during the day the cuttings along here are peaceful but there are no boats moored up  – so maybe it was just us.

It was pretty quite above Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 but complete chaos below, but we managed to find a spot on the Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (South) and walked into the village to pick up some supplies and also have a couple of beers at The Coach and Horses They only had one beer on but it was in good form and the pork pies were extremely good. There are two small mini-market style shops in Wheaton Aston – one by the Church and one on the road back to the canal – between them they carry a reasonable range of produce – enough certainly to get you through.

We did consider a pint at the Hartley Arms but thought that maybe it would be a bit too much if we were actually going to get anywhere in the afternoon so we went back to the boat and cast off.

We decided that rather than continue to Norbury we’d stop at Gnosall and do a bit of a pub crawl and find somewhere to eat. There are 5 pubs in the area :
The Boat Inn and The Navigation Inn in Gnosall Heath
The Royal Oak, which is half way between Gnosall Heath and Gnosall
The Horns Inn and George and The Dragon in Gnosall itself.

The Boat Inn was closed for the afternoon when we got there but the Navigation Inn was open so we had a pint in there before deciding to head down the road to Gnosall itself

Gnosall is about a mile away  – you can either walk down the side of the rather busy A518 from The Navigation or you can walk down the much quieter road from The Boat Inn – you still have to walk along some of the A518 (from the junction by The Royal Oak) but there is a lot less of it.

A quick check of the Royal Oak, which is a Greene King pub, meant we skipped it and headed into the centre of town and The Horns. We’d heard that The Horns did good food but when we got there it had no real ale and we thought we’d wasted a walk, but then we noticed George and The Dragon almost opposite it : now this is a pub worth visiting – quirky furniture, good beer, friendly locals and a good atmosphere. We had a few pints before walking back up to The Boat where we had a very good meal and then we walked back down to town and finished the evening off in George and The Dragon.

Wandering through nowhere

From Rugeley North Visitor Moorings to Cross Green Visitor Moorings, a distance of 22 miles, 2 flg and 14 locks.

To say the weather was miserable when we got up would be an understatement – it was pretty foul and it actually got worse once we’d cast off but at least there aren’t a lot of locks so only the helmsman needs to get wet.

When the weather is nice this part of the Trent Valley is quite pleasant : now the big power stations have gone there’s nothing big to look at and the canal just meanders gently along the valley, following the contour and apart from Brindley Bank Aqueduct there is really no engineering of any scale on this part of the canal.

Colwich Lock No 21 tries hard to look picturesque but the railway line running close by spoils the whole illusion, and when its still raining a bit it really doesn’t work at all. The only advantage of the rain was it meant that no other boats were moving so there was no queue at all!

Fancy Bridge No 73A lives up to its name but I’m not sure if I really believe the story that it was made for the Lady of Shugborough Hall so she didn’t have to look at a plain old bridge from her carriage as she went to and from church.

Often when you get to Haywood Lock No 22 there is a rather pleasant smell of cooking food from the lock side tea room and cafe – but not this time as it looks like its either closed for a major refurbishment or has closed for good.

As there were a lot of moored boats I walked up the towpath to Great Haywood Junction and stood on top of the bridge so I could indicate if there were any other boats coming through. There weren’t : but immediately north of the junction is a water point and there were two boats moored on it, well I say two : One was moored right in the middle of it (for no reason) and the one behind it was sort of sticking back over the bridge hole, luckily enough our helmsman can steer the boat and so we swung round the corner with no problems at all.

The rain hadn’t really stopped but it had turned patchy which did allow things to start to dry out a little but of course it still decided to rain when we were working our way through Tixall Lock No 43 which really does need Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs re-instating.

The top end of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal is similar in many way to the bit of Trent and Mersey it meets in that it meanders along the edge of the valley and manages to avoid pretty much everything. The scenery is pretty to look at rather than outstanding and there is little to note at all. Even as you pass the Staffordshire and Worcestershire – Stafford Branch Junction the industrial estate on the offside bank sort of passes you by and I think this is the only canal where I’ve seen hops growing wild along the towpath fence.

As we approached Radford Bridge No 98 we found a boat right across the canal. We pulled over and I got out and met the crew off another boat coming the other way who had also pulled in. We started to get the boat back into the bank when a person stuck their head out of cabin on it. He knew he’d come un-moored when a boat had gone past at high speed but hadn’t bothered doing anything about it. We got him back into the bank but his ropes were more knot than usable rope and I suspect the next boat past him was just going to break the ropes again.

Just below Deptmore Lock No 42 the canal goes over a stream and the offside bank has been trampled by animals and water was tricking out of the canal and into the stream – I suspect that sooner or later this is going to turn into another breach : only time will tell.

We arrived at Penkridge and did consider stopping for a few beers or probably the day but decided to continue onwards. There were a few boats moving and we had to wait for a couple of locks but it was pretty good going up to Gailey Top Lock. The canal from here through to Hatherton Junction is pretty deep and you can really make good progress and actually the good deep water continues beyond the junction but there are few unexpected shallow spots which catch you unawares.

We had phoned ahead and reserved a table at the The Anchor Inn and after eating there we walked down to The Harrows : it’s a bit of a hike down the side of the dual carriage way but worth it. If you are walking from The Anchor then turn RIGHT out of the carpark onto the Brewood Road – it’s a lot shorter than the way google maps will take you.

North by North West

From Fazeley Visitor Moorings (Tolson's Mill) to Rugeley North Visitor Moorings, a distance of 18 miles, 4¼ flg and 3 locks.

Unlike central Birmingham it was nice and quiet over night in Fazeley, and although the weather wasn’t perfect when we woke up it wasn’t raining.

You exit Fazeley almost as quickly as you enter it and you are soon back in the open countryside, which is pleasant rather than outstanding, as the canal meanders its way through Hopwas and on to Huddlesford Junction.

It was just beyond the junction when a boat pulled out behind us – he never slowed down past moored boats but seemed unable to get through bridges without really slowing down – so we’d pull ahead at points and then he’d come right up behind us : it was extremely annoying and completely pointless because if we had let him past us we’d either to have had to slow down or we’d have kept catching up with him.

We were coming through Fradley Bridge No 90 when we met a working boat coming the other way – it went into reverse to give us space to slip past and we indicated to the boat behind us that there was a boat coming the other way… and what did he do? Did he slow down and let the working boat through? Of course not – we’d told the working boat that there was a boat behind us but I don’t think he imagined this meant that the person was going to charge through the bridge without checking if the way was clear… it was all a bit chaotic.

About halfway along the section between Fradley Estate Access Bridge No 90A and New Bridge No 91 there was a C&RT work boat moored up who were doing some work on the bank edge, we could see a boat coming the other way but we were closer so we made our way past the boat and then said Hello to the boat going the other way. By now the tailgating boat was catching up with us and, once again, they decided that they had the right of way… however they realised at the last moment that they didn’t have the space and had to basically nose into the bank.

We felt a little sorry for the boat coming up Junction Lock No 17 because in the space of about 3 minutes they went from being second in the queue to go up the rest of the locks to fourth. As it was lunch time the volunteer lockies had knocked off for lunch so it was just us and the crews of other boats working the locks. We stopped immediately above Shade House Lock No 19 and walked back down to The Swan where we had a rather good pint of Everard’s Tiger.

A large amount of reed had got stuck in the gate paddle at Wood End Lock No 20 and as it only has one ground paddle it made getting through the lock a little slow and a queue was starting to build up. Various attempts with boat hooks etc to pull it out didn’t work but at least it was possible to close the gate paddle so you could empty the lock. The only good thing about the reed slowing the lock filling down was that we weren’t stuck in a convoy once we’d got through the lock. As we were making pretty good time we decided to stop at The Plum Pudding PH and have a drink – we don’t think we’ve ever stopped here for a drink, or if we have it was a long, long time ago.

We managed to get through Armitage Tunnel with absolutely no waiting, and without another boat wanting to come in at the other end, which for us was rather unusual.

We have no idea what was under the water right by Rugeley Railway Bridge No 65A (disused) but it tipped the boat quite dramatically and made a rather unpleasant grinding noise as we slid over it. Rugeley Visitor Moorings were completely rammed, as usual and so we cruised on to the always vacant, and rather neglected visitor moorings at the north end of the town where we stopped for the night. After eating on board we went out into town to explore the pubs where we managed to have a few good pints of beer.

Get down deeper and down

From Sheepcote Street Visitor Moorings to Fazeley Visitor Moorings (Tolson's Mill), a distance of 15 miles, 4½ flg and 38 locks.

Mooring on the visitor moorings on the main line in Birmingham is not one of the best places to stop – it was noisy for most of the night : either with people heading home from pubs and clubs or with people heading into work early… oh and someone stole our old brush off the roof.

It was a little damp and a little cool when we cast off and made our way to Farmer’s Bridge Junction and started the long, slow, descent to Fazeley.

One thing you can say about the locks on the Farmer’s Bridge flight is that they are quite quick to fill and empty and they’re pretty easy to use. We met a single hander going down in front of us so we gave him some help and we got to the bottom in quite a reasonable time.

When we got to Aston Junction he had pulled over to let us go down the Aston Locks first – so we made sure that we wound one of the top paddles up after we’d gone through each lock to make things a little easier for him.

There was more than enough water on the flight, in fact there was a little too much, and some of the locks were almost overflowing as we went down – each lock was full and the overflows were running so each lock we emptied just put even more water into the already full pounds.

We saw a couple of people from C&RT above Lock 9 but they didn’t seem to be doing anything useful – and the owner of the working boat we met near the lock wasn’t too impressed with them either. There had been quite a lot of people walking the towpath since we’d left Farmers Bridge but once we were past Aston Bottom Lock 11 No 24 we pretty much had the canal to ourselves.

The moorings at Cuckoo Wharf looked a little forlorn and unloved which seems a shame as there is a shortage of overnight / visitor moorings on this length of canal.

We were trying to arrange a crew pickup and were exchanging text messages and phone calls but finally worked out that The Tyburn House PH seemed like a sensible rendezvous point, but when we got there we found that the extremely well maintained towpath has no rings or bollards so you can’t actually moor up, and apparently the pub has no real ale which meant our new crew member had been forced to drink a rather bland national brand lager. We’d all rather been looking forward to a lunch time pint so we looked at the maps and decided that we’d go through the Minworth locks and moor up at The Boat Inn (Minworth) – however when we got there we found that they had no food and no real ale – not really a good situation to be in on a Sunday lunch time. We sent a scouting party ahead to the Hare & Hounds PH and they texted back that the pub had beer. We moved the boat down to just before Minworth Green Bridge and moored up but found out that actually there are moorings right outside the pub. After a not too bad pint of beer and a discussion about where we’d stop for the night we went back to the boat and cast off again. The Cuttle Bridge Inn looked extremely busy and it seems to have turned into a hotel – there are moorings here so it could well be a sensible place to stop for the night when heading into Birmingham if you can’t make it through to the centre.

There were a few boats moored on the Curdworth Visitor Moorings but no-one was moving and we were able to go straight through the tunnel without having to wait.

Curdworth Locks were, as usual, well maintained and we made good time through them. The towpath seemed to be quite popular again for cyclists and dog walkers – a lot of whom seemed to be making their way to Dog & Doublet PH which we decided not to visit as it seemed to have a rather uninspiring range of beers.

The derelict Kingsbury Swing Bridge and Curdworth Bottom Lock No 38 are extremely picturesque and the old gravel pits, which are now a large water park and nature reserve just add to the scene. There are some moorings below the locks and lot of posted paths and its nice to see that the relics of our industrial past have been turned into something that encourages nature and wildlife.

One of the side effects of all this gravel extraction would seem to be that the canal is quite deep and you really can make some good time along the stretch to the wonderfully ornate footbridge at Drayton Manor Bridges where the swing bridge now seem to be kept open so there is no need to pull in and use the two spiral staircases to cross the canal.

We stopped just before the junction on the visitor moorings which were totally vacant even though there were several boats moored on the bank just before them. We explored a few of the pubs and ate at The Ivory Tusk Indian restaurant.

Birmingham – and it’s raining

From Coalbourne Brook Bridge to Sheepcote Street Visitor Moorings, a distance of 20 miles, 4¼ flg and 25 locks.

We got up to overcast skies and we just knew the weather was no going to be good. We headed off up the arm and turned at the Closed Arm to the old Iron Works before heading back to the junction and dropping crew off so we could start up the Stourbridge 16

We’d only done a couple of the locks before it started to drizzle, and that pretty much set the weather for the day although there were periods of relative dryness. We made pretty good time up the flight even though it wasn’t fun getting over the top balance beams in the wet.

It was interesting to see how much the area round the flight has changed – even from our last visit which was only a few years ago. I can remember when the glass works was still operational and you could go on factory floor trips. The conversion of most of the buildings has been quite tasteful and sensible and most of the new build even though its done in a rather obvious mock industrial doesn’t look that bad at all.

As you get towardsDouble Lock Cottage Bridge you could almost be back in the countryside and it’s hard to believe you are only a few miles from the centre of Birmingham.

C&RT were out kebbing each of the weirs collecting weed and rubbish and apart from some minor vandalism the whole lock flight, and indeed the whole canal, was actually quite pleasant – and I’m not sure why many more people don’t use the canal as it gives you a much more interesting way out of Birmingham than say Wolverhampton or Tardebigge, and although the locks can be a bit awkward they are relatively easy to use and pretty quick to empty and fill and there is just about no surging – we just sat at the back of the lock and didn’t even ride the bottom gates.

We turned right at Leys Junction and made our way in the now quite heavy rain towards the Delph locks. It hadn’t eased off by the time we reached Black Delph and the bottom lock. The Delph locks are often know as “The Nine” and the local pub is called “The 10th Lock” even though there are only 8. The top lock and the bottom lock are the 1st and 9th lock of the old flight but a new flight with one less lock was built alongside the original flight which was then abandoned. The only indication that the lock layout has changed is the alignment of the top and bottom locks in relation to the main flight of 6 locks, and the arm leading off below the top lock. The overflow weirs for the new locks are very impressive, especially when there is a lot of spare water on the flight, and look more like reservoir spillways than simple canal lock overflows.

We met a boat at lock number 3 who wanted to know if all the locks were this big and we had to tell them yes – they were heading to Stourbridge and they looked about as soaked through as us.

There was a lone angler just above the top lock and apart from him we saw no-one until we got to Merry Hill where the Merry Hill Visitor Moorings were pretty much full of anglers who seemed far from pleasant. We stopped on The Waterfront Visitor Moorings (Dudley) and had a coffee and warmed up a bit.

It was still raining when we got to Blowers Green Lock and we swung round the corner, moored up and filled up with water. The rain was pretty set now and all we could do was chug on – parts of this route into Birmingham aren’t the most enticing and continual rain doesn’t really help make it any better, and as you pass Blackbrook Junction you kind of wish that the old “Two Locks” Line hadn’t succumbed to mining subsidence.

We finally got a break from the rain when we dived underground at Netherton Tunnel (South end) but even then we had to dodge water pouring down some of the air shafts. We sort of hoped that maybe the weather might have got a little better whilst we were in the tunnel but by the time we reached Dudley Port Junction it was pretty torrential and rather unpleasant. We plough on through the rain until we reached the centre of Birmingham where we stopped for the night. After drying off and getting changed we went and had a couple of beers at The Craven Arms before wandering down into the Chinese Quarter and having quite a good Vietnamese which was very different to the “Vietnamese” food we’d had in the past in Cheltenham. Then we wandered up to The Wellington where we finished the evening off.

Ambling to Amblecote

From High Green Bridge No 14 to Coalbourne Brook Bridge, a distance of 20 miles, 6½ flg and 23 locks.

It was a nice sunny day when we got up and took another look at the wiring. Nick had had an idea over night – he suspected he’d not reconnected the main engine negative… He hadn’t, so basically the engine was trying to crank using the exhaust as the negative. We reconnected it, swapped out the fan belt which had been slipping, got it started with no problems, and cast off.

We only met a couple of boats on the move between Brewood and Autherley Junction and we made pretty good time. Close to Three Mile Post there was a man on a moored boat who asked us if there was a supermarket near by. We told him there were two small ones in Brewood but he said he needed a big one, so we told him the nearest big supermarket is in Market Drayton and it’s quite a walk from the canal.

There were the usual problems at Autherley Stop Lock as the hire base had moored boats right up to the entrance to the lock. So we did the usual and put our bow into the lock entrance and the crew jumped off. Unusually there were no boats waiting to come in, or even cruising down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Aldersley to Autherley) so we were able to go straight out in the canal. There was no sign of activity at Aldersley Junction and we only saw one boat on the move until we were through Compton Lock No 31. We had a single handed boat pull out from the moorings beyond the bridge and he headed straight for us before stopping and backing up a little – he said he’d not seen us at all.

We met another single hander at Wightwick Mill Lock No 30 who, as the lock was pretty much full, got it ready for us. So in return we stayed back after we’d worked through the locks to close the bottom gates for him. The person at Wightwick Lock No 29 hadn’t even looked before emptying the lock in front of all, and all he could say was “Its getting a bit cold isn’t it?”

After we were though the lock we threw a whole chicken into the slow cooker for supper. – we’ve found that the slow cooker is a great addition to the boat’s galley because it can just sit there tucked away safely on counter top cooking away and you don’t really need to check on it as much as if you were cooking in the oven or on the stove top, and of course you’re not burning lots of Calor Gas or heating up the boat doing so.

By now the clouds had started to build and without the sun shining the wind was quite cool and we really thought the weather was going to turn like it had the previous day. We met very little traffic as we made our way along the canal and through the scattered locks. We got to The Bratch and were basically waved straight in the the C&RT lock crew who said that most of the traffic was heading south which possibly explained why we’d not seen many other boats. There were two boats waiting at the bottom but then it was back to it just being us alone on the canal.

We stopped at Round Oak PH for a couple of drinks and discussed our plans for the evening which basically boiled down to “Get to Amblecote, moor up, eat and then and visit the pubs”.

It was a bit chaotic atGreensforge Wharf Services with people moving boats round and people standing round holding ropes. We suspect that the Viking Afloat boat that decided to send crew off to the lock as we went past them might have felt that we’d “stolen” their lock but ….

There were quite a few boats moored on the Stourton Moorings including a boat that was selling engine oil – and as we seemed to have a leak round the oil filter we picked up a gallon of oil just to be on the safe side.

The pounds between the four Stourton locks were low, especially below Stourton Top Lock, Lock No 17 where it must have been a foot to 18 inches down, but luckily above the lock the canal was nice and full and we made good time across the remarkably rural landscape until we reached Wordsley Junction where we turned onto the Stourbridge Town arm. The arm is quite deep, with a lot of weed, and very clear so you can see all the rubbish on the bottom of the canal.

We moored for the night opposite the moorings for the Ruskin Mill Trust and after enjoying the rather delicious chicken which we served with new potatoes and veg we got cleaned up a bit and went off into town for some drinks at The Maverick, The Swan and The Starving Rascal, before heading back to the boat past The Robin Hood which we keep failing to visit (Note to self : next time do the loop in reverse so we do the Robin Hood first).

We flew to Brewood.

From Tom's Moorings to High Green Bridge No 14, a distance of 21 miles, 6¼ flg and 6 locks.

After an easy drive up via The Falcon at Hinstock on Wednesday evening  we went and tried Market Drayton’s newest pub – The William Chester. It’s a really rather nice pub and it feels like its been there for ages and has just had a rather nice refit. The beer range was limited but given that it was a Wednesday night in early September you couldn’t complain, and it was in good condition. Over a few pints we made plans about when we were getting up on Thursday morning and where we were going to stop for the night.

We walked back to the boat under cloudless skies : the stars were clear and there was a nip on the edge of the breeze,

We woke to a slightly cloudy day but the sun was shining and so we got ready to set off…. but the engine wouldn’t start! Borrowing the jump leads from Nick’s car we established that the engine battery was basically dead and just about open circuit. So we left the engine running and jumped into the car and drove over to XX Motor Factors and picked up a replacement battery. We decided not to fit it right there and then but to get going. So we left the moorings at about 08:20 with a new battery sitting on the back deck.

We chugged past the moored boats and arrived at Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 where there was a boat just entering the lock so we pulled in and waited. There was a single hander in front of them but he seemed quite efficient and with some sensible lock wheeling we made it out of Tyrley Top Lock No 3 before 09:35 which isn’t bad considering.

We recently acquired a cheap sandwich toaster so rather than regular bacon and mushroom sandwiches for breakfast, which can be awkward to eat whilst steering, we had toasted versions which were very good apart from the pockets of super-heated ketchup that they seemed to contain.

The moored boat situation on the southern Shroppie hasn’t improved so progress was a bit slow in places and of course we met a couple of boats either at bridge holes or other narrow place, and to cap it all off it had started raining, but we made it to Norbury Junction by early afternoon where we fueled up and got a pump out before pushing over to the other side of the canal, mooring up and going for a couple of pints in The Junction Inn.

We sort of hoped that sitting in the pub for a bit might give the weather time to improve but it didn’t so just after 2:30 we headed back to the boat and cast off into the rain. We had to jump the engine battery so we’re going to swap it out first thing tomorrow morning.

The rain never really got very heavy – it just varied between various intensities of drizzle – but it made steering a less than pleasurable experience until it dried up round Rye Hill Bridge No 22 and the last couple of miles to Brewood were quite pleasant.

We mooed up just before the bridge and swapped out the dead engine battery for the new one which didn’t seem too keen on starting the engine!

We got cleaned up and went for a pint at The Bridge Inn before heading off for a curry at The Curry Inn.  We finished the night with a couple of pints at The Three Stirrups before wandering back to the boat under clear skies