It was a little overcast but still quite pleasant when we cast off just after 7:30. Due to a problem with the bottom mitre on Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 the lock was empty, but despite the leak it still filled quite quickly and with all the paddles open (as the C&RT notices point out) it wasn’t really an issue at all.
We met another boat near Lapley Wood Bridge No 17 and somehow we ended up hard aground on a pile of mud and rock but after a couple of minutes of work with the barge pole we got ourselves free and continued on our way.
Just after Park Bridge No 8 we had a close shave with another boat – he had so much greenery on his roof that the only way he could see where he was going was to look down the side of the boat. As there were some moored boats he was looking down the right side of his boat and was blissfully unaware of us approaching as he was basically taking up all the available channel. A blast on the horn , some quick manoeuvring by us, and some shouting got him to move over slightly but he seem totally unaware (or didn’t care) that he’d nearly hit us.
All was quiet right down to Autherley Stop Lock where, for once, we didn’t have to wait for the lock and there was actually space to pull in by the lock. We were in the lock and about to open the top paddle when a boat swung round in the junction and they stopped and looked at us. They then asked which way we were going and then they had to back out of the way so we had the space to swing round to head East on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Autherley to Great Haywood)
The canal East from the junction is deep and you can make good progress. The trees on the offside give an almost European feel to the canal and it’s hard to believe you are only a few miles from Wolverhampton.
The canal changes totally at Marsh Lane Bridge No 67 (South End of Narrows) where you plunge into the rock edged narrows
The widened version of Forster Bridge No 68 really isn’t something to write home about and if I was writing a murder mystery I’d use the offside area under the bridge as a place to hide a body!
Once you’re out of the narrows the canal deepens off again as the canal starts to wind its way across the countryside. Coven Heath M54 Motorway Bridge is now so long that it could almost count as a short tunnel – and unlike the bridge on the Shroppie there isn’t a sign on the motoroway telling you the canal is there, and the bridge isn’t obvious at all from on top.
There were a few fishermen fishing by Coven Heath Pipe Bridge obviously hoping that the outfall from the sewage plant would attract the fish – which it possibly does but the smell wasn’t exactly enticing.
Apart from one boat and a lone fisherman the Cross Green Visitor Moorings were empty which is quite unusual.
We did meet a few boats on the move – usually on corners, or at bridges, or at bridges on corners – but we were soon at Hatherton Junction where the ornamental lake and balustraded walkways seem totally out of place. A quick check on old maps indicates nothing was there in the late 1880s so who knows why they are there.
It was pretty quiet from there right to Gailey Top Lock where we met a boat coming up the lock. We actually met a few boats on the flight and we made pretty good time down to Penkridge Lock No 38. We did think about stopping for a quick pint but decided to push on without stopping. We tried to stop just before Radford Bridge No 98 but it was a bit shallow so we pushed on through the bridge and found a 54 foot space between two other boats and slipped into it.
Then it was off into Stafford for a few beers and a curry – it’s not the most interesting walk into town and when we came to leave the pub in the evening it was raining. Trying to get a taxi at 11pm in Stafford on a rainy Sunday evening isn’t easy, but we eventually got one so we didn’t end up getting soaked through.