Three Mile Post

There is one advantage of heading south on the Shropshire Union and that is that after Tyrley there is only the single lock at Wheaton Aston which means that the day can be spent relaxing, reading, listening to music or just watching the world go by.

There is one disadvantage however : the what feels like endless lines of moored boats on the offside. Still I suppose it does give you even more time to watch the world go by.

During the mad rush on Friday we’d forgotten to take some stuff out of the fridge and we found we had no butter – still thats not a problem we thought, there is a handy little store at Norbury junction so we can just pick some stuff up there when we pull in for a pumpout.

Just before we cast off from the moorings there was a small flurry of traffic and I did wonder if we were going to spend the entire day stuck in a traffic jam – anyone who has boated round Braunston over a bank holiday weekend will know just what I’m talking about. However things went quiet and we found ourselves making our solitary way southwards.

It was a perfect day for canal boating – the sun was shining but there was a slight breeze which stopped things getting too hot.

The Daimler was back by the boats near Grub Street Winding Hole – it seems such an odd juxtapositioning – rather smart classic car and really scruffy boats.

The moorings on the approach to Norbury Junction seemed to be pretty full, which surprised me as the forecast for the weekend was good and its really the last long weekend in the “season” so you’d expect more people to be out and about.

We called in at the boatyard at Norbury Junction for a pump out and a new front fender (which was pretty rotten). The store had everything but butter so we decided to wait until Wheaton Aston and pop to the store there.

Passing through Gnosall we noticed Tyseley moored up on the offside by Coton Mill and signs advertising that Mikron were playing there tonight. I have to say I was surprised to see them there as I’d expected them to be at the IWA National Gathering over at St Ives, but I guess they decided not to go – which in a way is understandable as the way there does involve a lot of rather desolate waterways and if your business is theatre there probably isn’t much financial sense in it.

The shop at Wheaton Aston (a couple of hundred yards up from the garage) had butter and quite a range of supplies so its something worth remembering.

Our “target” for the night was the stretch of 48 hour moorings by the three mile mile post near Hunting Bridge No 7 – primarily because we know we can get Mintball into the side properly on these mooring as they don’t have the rather annoying concrete ledge about a foot under water. I was expecting them to be quite full as the visitor moorings at Brewood were packed, but when we got there we found plenty of space.

Halcyon days

The next morning Kathy (who doesn’t often lie in at the weekends, compared to me who will lie in at the drop of a hat) got up early and took some photos, hoping to catch some atmospheric shots before the canal filled up with boats.

She took several photos which are on her Flickr site but the best one has to be of a heron sitting in Cowley Tunnel:

Heron in Cowley Tunnel

Although we didn’t have a long way to go to get back to the moorings we didn’t really need an early start but Tyrley locks can easil turn into a bottle neck and we did want to get home at a reasonable time.

We were the only boat on the move again – there seemed to be no sign of life on most of the moored boats, curtains were drawn, doors closed, padlocks in place. Hard to believe it was the middle of the summer holidays.

By the time we got to Norbury there were a few more signs of life: dogs on the towpath (blissfully unaware of the squirrel that was scampering along the fence above its head), a few people walking round and a couple of boats on the move. The Cafe at Norbury was open and we nearly pulled in for breakfast but decided to push on.

Kathy really wanted to see if she could get some better pictures of the bird in the cutting so she was on the back deck, camera primed.

I noticed the Kingfisher first – it darted down the canal in front of us which is normal behaviour. Then it went and stood on the bank. As we got closer it seemed to hop round a bit and seemed to be distracted.

Kathy zoomed right in on it using her zoom lens and got the following:

Kingfisher with a fish

The Kingfisher had a fish and seemed to be intent on eating it rather than flying away.

As we went through the cutting we kept a close lookout for the Kestrel. There was no sign of it and the whole cutting was still (even the cat wasn’t lying on the roof of the moored boat).

Just as we approached the end of the cutting the Kestrel zoomed in from overhead and vanished into the trees, and then a minute or so later crossed the canal and vanished again. It was obviously doing it just to spite us 😉

We kept meeting boats coming the other way, but they seemed to come in pulses, small batches of 3-4 boats, which is odd given that the locks would tend to remove grouping and thin the boats out into a regular spaced out stream.

Of course it was a given that we’d meet one of these bursts of boats going through Woodseaves cutting. It was fun but at least it shows that the channel is actually 14 feet wide!

Tyrley locks turned out to be the bottle neck that it can so often be. There were 3 boats in front of us and a few coming up. It didn’t help that some of the boats going down had never seen a lock before in their lives and didn’t have even the basic idea on how to use a lock.

So with novices heading down the locks the last thing you need is arrogant “I’ve been boating for ever” types coming up and stealing locks off people. Chaos – at one point there were 4 boats in the pound between the top and second lock. We got one coming up as we were going down – turns up, opens the paddle on the near side (without checking that we were ready) which meant Kathy had to walk over to the far side of the lock (I usually do that side on the way down to avoid her having to walk over) and then of course she was on the wrong side of the lock so had to walk all the way back round again when she was heading down to the second lock.

Waiting between the 3rd and 4th locks wasn’t exactly fun due to at least two wasps nests in the bank and I don’t think they were too happy to have boats right outside their front doors. Maybe BW could put some notices up saying “Please do not moor outside the Wasps Nests”, they seem all too keen to put similar notices up for people who choose to live in properties that overlook the canal.

The public moorings at Market Drayton weren’t too busy and we were able to turn and back into our moorings with no real difficulty

Geneshale, knows Al !

Despite being moored opposite the long term moorings (a couple of boats had had their engines running into the mid/late evening) it was a very quiet night.

We decided to make an earlish start just in case there was a long queue at the lock, so having pulled up our mooring pins we chugged past the visitor moorings which were probably about 60% full – so we could have moored there but our alternative moorings were as good.

There was no queue at the lock and we were able to cruise straight in. As we were closing the gates a small fibre glass bucket hurtled up the canal at quite some speed, I’m not sure where they thought they were going, but it wasn’t in the lock with us.

It was quite pleasant to work through the lock without having other boaters waiting and actually doing it in the dry with the sun shining.

I’ve always found the shallow cutting through Lapley Wood very picturesque – I think its probably my “favourite” cutting on the canal. The light filters through the trees in a different way to the other cuttings and it adds a lot of depth and character to the banks which makes it an interesting place to steer through.

Again there seemed to be little other traffic moving and so we made our solitary way over the A5 (which also seemed remarkably quiet) and along the embankment towards Brewood.

Brewood is one of those places where the long linear moorings announce the village quite a time before you get there. It was as we chugged slowly past these boats that the fibre glass bucket appeared behind us and proceded to turn round to moor.

As we came through the cutting a hireboat decided that the best time to cast off is right in front of another boat… not a good idea at the best of times but when your stern is stuck on the bottom its certainly foolish.

As we wanted an easy weekend we decided to turn round in the winding hole by bridge 3. The winding hole would seem to be huge and it looks like you could do a U-turn in it… Ha ha ha!. Don’t try it. The canal by the towpath is silted up so your back end snags as you start to turn and the rest of the winding hole is rather shallow which leads to rather a lot of rather smelly mud being stirred up.

We decided that we would head back to Wheaton Aston for lunch and as it was only mid morning this seemed perfectly sensible. Just after we had winded a boat came through bridge 3 and as we approached Brewood it slowly gained on it.

We slowed down for the moorings and held back for a Viking Afloat boat which cast off ahead of us but was heading into Countrywide Cruisers. As we passed the Viking Alfoat boat I was asked if I was Nick or Steve !

The boat behind us was now almost on top of us so I waited until a gap in the moored boats and pulled over and waved them past. The person on the boat claimed that they weren’t pressuring me but that they couldn’t go any slower due to their tickover. Frankly if that was the slowest speed I’d hate to be the boat at the front of any gap he tried to pull into! If people insist on putting high revving modern engines in their boats then they need to look very carefully at the gearbox ratio and the prop size/pitch.

We made our way back to Wheaton Aston and only had to wait a couple of minutes for the lock. We stopped right at the top end of the visitor moorings for lunch.

After lunch we decided to feed the boat so it was off to the Garage for 111 litres of fuel. The tanks are now brim full and it should keep us going for a bit!

After the fun of the fast boat we then got stuck behind a slow boat. I had to keep dropping into neutral to stop us running into them. Their engine seemed to be running quite fast and was smoking but there seemed to be almost no power. The boat kept wobbling all over the canal and they seemed quite unaware of us being there – despite looking at us several times. I eventually got past them at High Onn wharft and winding hole where they pulled in to pick up some people. We kept an eye on them after we had gone past. By the time we reached the next bridge (about a third of a mile) they still hadn’t managed to turn round.

We stopped for the night in the cutting by Cowley Tunnel. There were a couple of other boats there but apart from the people messing round on their bikes in the woods we could have been miles away from civilisation.

Supper was some 21 day aged steak washed down with a couple bottles of Lindauer Brut.