All the way to Stafford

From Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (north) to Radford Bridge Visitor Moorings, a distance of 24 miles, ¼ flg and 13 locks.

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.

Heron on a boat at Wolverhampton Boat Club

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)

Autherley Junction

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.

Trees

The canal changes totally at Marsh Lane Bridge No 67 (South End of Narrows) where you plunge into the rock edged narrows

The 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.

Fishermen, as far as the eye can see!

From Tom's Moorings to Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (north), a distance of 18 miles, 5½ flg and 5 locks.

For family reasons we didn’t make it up to the boat on Friday night so we had an early start on Saturday morning (I do so love my alarm going off at 6:30am on a weekend).

Crew were collected from their homes and we made very good time up to the moorings. We’d done the food shop the night before so we just unloaded everything onto the boat knowing we could unpack and put stuff away later. We cast off just before 09:30

We got to Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 which was empty (We’d passed a boat at Berisford Road Aqueduct ) and the overflows weren’t running too viciously – which is always a good thing.

Even though this is our regular time for our September trip the locks didnt look quite as Autumnal as they often do.

Tyrley Bottom Lock
Tyrley bottom lock

Luckily the second lock was empty too with no boat coming through which meant that it was an easy run through the rock ledge pound and into the lock – even though both the overflows were running quite strongly.

Tyrley Lock wiers

There was a boat coming down the next lock so we waited for a couple of minutes – but it was a very pleasant day so we didn’t mind sitting round.

Blue Skies at Tyrley Lobucks

We passed another boat below the top lock and exited the locks about an hour after we’d cast off.

Tyrley Wharf

Woodseaves Cutting is usually quite quiet but we were following one boat and met 4 coming towards us. The canals in September are usually quite quiet so this made quite a change.

We knew that there was a fishing match described as being “near Market Drayton” and we found it … it started at Goldstone Wharf… fishmen, dour, unpleasant fishermen as far as the eye could see. There were obviously annoyed by the number of boats, but if you fish on canals then you just have to expect it.

Progress was slow and when we got to Black Flat Bridge No 47 we moored up and took the track across the fields to The Haberdashers Arms – an oddly named pub for its location but well worth a visit.

The Haberdashers Arms

We sat out in the garden and had a couple of pints in the sunshine.

Beer at The Haberdashers Arms

There was a biker’s meeting at the campsite behind the pub and so there were quite a lot of big bikes (and big bikers) around. We were just about to leave when we heard a very distinct airplane engine noise and looked up and saw this.

It’s a plane
>

We walked back to the boat and cast off and carried on past the fishermen – the match eventually finished near Anchor Bridge No 42 – which is about 5 miles from Goldstone.

We pulled in at Norbury Wharf Boatyard and picked up 100 litres of fuel and got the loo pumped out. We decided not to stop for a beer at the pub as it was getting a little late.

There seemed to be a very loud “pub singer” at The Navigation Inn (Gnosall) – a very loud singer, so we decided not to stop and made our way slowly through the village as we had a family of canoes ahead of us.

We passed one more moving boat just before the tunnel and then we basically had the canal all to ourselves as we chugged across the Shropshire countryside as the sun went down. The sunset as we went along the long straight into Wheaton Aston was very impressive but then it went quickly dark and by the time we pulled into the end of the visitor moorings we just about needed torches to see what we were doing.

After eating on board we walked up to the Coach and Horses for a few beers.

A leisurely two week trip

This is the proposed plan for September – for us its quite a laid back trip considering that we’re going for two weeks. If Hurleston is still open we might detour on the way back and go up to The Bhurtpore Inn in Aston (just outside Wrenbury)

At the moment the overnights are only what Canalplan has worked them out to be – as we do the trip they’ll get set to our actual overnights.

Starting at Tom's Moorings and finishing at Tom's Moorings with overnight stops at : Wheaton Aston Visitor Moorings (north), Radford Bridge Visitor Moorings, Stone Visitor Moorings, Stanley Road Bridge No 26, Basford Bridge No 44, Hazelhurst Junction, Congleton Wharf Moorings, Wheelock Visitor Moorings, The Paint Shed Moorings, Acton Swing Bridge, Northwich Visitor Moorings, Lymm Visitor Moorings, Newton Brewery Inn, and Audlem Vistor Moorings (above wharf). A total distance of 255 miles, 4¼ flg and 150 locks.

Back to Drayton

From Gnosall Visitor Moorings to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 13 miles, 7 flg and 5 locks.

It was cool again when we got up on Sunday morning and once again we pretty much had the canal to ourselves as we headed back to the moorings. Things were pretty quiet at Norbury Junction but I’m quite sure that behind the scenes in the cafe things were already ramping up.

We got to the top of Tyrley Locks and there seemed to be some boats moving round but no-one seemed to be really sure what they were doing, so we held back for a few minutes until people actually worked out what they were doing.

Progress down the locks wasn’t as fast as it could have been as there were some boats coming up who, although they were private boats, didn’t really seem to know how to work locks or lock wheel.

Below the locks all was quiet again and we turned in the winding hole and then backed into the mooring.

A Misty and cool Saturday

From Tom's Moorings to Gnosall Visitor Moorings, a distance of 18 miles, ½ flg and 5 locks.

After a pleasant evening in the William Chesters and The Red Lion where we shared a single shot of the Tiki Fire Rum (a mere 75.5% alcohol) we got up to a rather cool and misty Saturday morning

We checked the oil and coolant on the engine and started it and, whilst we let it warm up a bit, we re-filled the water tank and reconnected the water pump and let the calorifier fill up.

Once that was done we cast off and headed south.

For once the overflows on Tyrley Locks weren’t overwhelming and so you didn’t need to take a run up to the lock in an attempt to get in without hitting the sides.

Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 is, I think, the most photogenic of the flight and always gives off this impression that you are miles and miles away from anywhere.

We made pretty good time up to the top lock where we noticed that the house just after the wharf was for sale and so we spent a bit of time, on fairly poor internet connections, trying to find it on line. We did and we were quite surprised at how cheap it was.

They’d been doing a lot of work in Woodseaves Cutting – mainly clearing back the trees to try to stabilise the cutting sides. The cutting always looks a lot more desolate in spring than it does in the summer and the piles of chipped tree trunks just made it look even more desolate.

Surprisingly we didn’t meet many boats on the move at all and we arrived at Norbury Junction round about lunch time so we got some fuel put in and pushed over and moored outside the pub and went in for a couple of pints of beer. As this was just the spring shakedown cruise we weren’t in a hurry so we took our time over our beer before heading off south again until we got to High Onn Wharf where we winded and then moored up so we could walk into Church Eaton to visit The Royal Oak which is run by Woods Brewery and had all three of their regular beers and, and all were in fine form. It’s a bit of a hike down a country road from the canal to the village but the pub really makes it worth it.

We really had to drag ourselves back to the boat so we could make it back to Gnosall where we ate in The Navigation Inn before heading down into the village to visit George and the Dragon which really has to be one of he best micro pubs around.

Back to the Moorings

From Gnosall Visitor Moorings (south) to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 14 miles and 5 locks.

There was a faint smell of woodsmoke and sulphur when we cast off the next morning – its something that you just associate with boating at this time of year and its actually quite enjoyable in small doses

As usual the canal was very quiet and it was even quiet at Norbury Junction which is quite unusual. We made very quick progress through Grub Street Cutting and across Shebdon Embankment .  For once the weather was kind to us as we made our way along the exposed section of the canal round Soudley Bridge No 50 and it wasn’t long before we dived into the dark green tunnel of Woodseaves Cutting .

We made pretty good time down the locks and got back to the moorings just in time for brunch

To Gnosall

From Cross Green Visitor Moorings to Gnosall Visitor Moorings (south), a distance of 15 miles, 5¼ 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, 3¾ 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.