Locks, Stock and Secret Nuclear Bunkers

From Tom's Moorings to Beeston Stone Lock No 33, a distance of 19 miles, 2½ flg and 26 locks.

After an evening checking out some of the pubs in Market Drayton we made a moderately early start. Not a traditional early start (like 6:30 am) but a more sensible 8am.

Things started off quite well but, as with so many things, it was just too good to last.

The 5 locks at Addersley went OK but Audlem was a complete disaster. We arrived at Audlem Top Lock No 13 at 10am and started off down the 15. Progress was slow – there were quite a few boats that were either single handed or only had one person working the locks. Throw into that a smattering of boats with no clue and its a recipe for disaster.

[ Google Route Map embedded here ]

Just above Audlem Wharf we met Huffler No 2 and three other boats out from Braunston. We used to moor on the other side of the jetty to Huffler No 2 so we had a good chat as they worked through. They had been out since March and were obviously having a good time. Two of the boats were single handed but with 4 boats running as a convoy, all using walkie-talkies, and sharing crew they were extremely efficient.

We arrived at the bottom lock at 1pm – far from the best time we’ve ever made down the locks.

On the way to Hack Green and its “secret nuclear bunker” we met a Challenger boat heading towards Audlem. This boat was another fine example of the “Challenger Boats are crewed by idiots” theory in that it was, somehow, managing to pull a breaking wash which was the full width of the canal, and by the smell of their exhaust the engine was about as keen on it as the local duck population who were beating a hasty retreat from the tidal wave that threatened to engulf them.

There was a shortish delay at the Hack Green Locks as a boat, which had pulled out in front of us from the Coole Pilate “leisure area” moorings, had to work through and there was a boat coming up.

The visitor moorings at Nantwich were pretty full; apart from the long section where BW removed the visitor moorings because people living in the newly built houses below the canal embankment complained. This sort of behaviour is really annoying : if you buy a house by a canal then don’t complain when a boat moors up outside your windows. I guess the sort of people who make complaints about mooring boats are the sort of sad people who move to the countryside and then complain about church bells or the local cockerel crowing.

By the time we reached Barbridge Junction  people seemed to be mooring up for the night even though it was still relatively early. The A51 was pretty much stationary due to road works and for the distance between the junction and Wardle Hall Bridge No 103 we were actually moving at a higher average speed than vehicles heading the same direction on the road.

Bunbury Locks  were pretty deserted by the time we got there as the boat yard was shutting up for the day and most of the visitors had gone home.

We had the canal to ourselves as we made our way through Tilstone Lock No 32  and down to Beeston Stone Lock . We noticed that Ivor and Mel Bachelor’s working pair were moored up above Beeston Stone but there seemed to be no sign of life on the boats and no indication that they are still selling fuel. It was a surprise to see the boats this far north as we had been regular customers of Ivor’s when we were moored down in Braunston – I hope that it doesn’t mean that another trader has been forced off the waterways.

We decided to stop for the night just below Beeston Stone lock – its not a long walk to the Beeston Castle Hotel but you are not too near the road or the railway line.

After we had moored we noticed the water level was dropping so Neil set off to check no-one had done anything silly at Beeston Iron Lock . He came back a few minutes later saying there was a boat coming up.

A while passed, no boat appeared and the water level continued to drop and by now there was a noticeable flow on the water so I went off to see what was going on; there was a boat in the lock with both top paddles open and the gates shut. They said they were stuck -the bottom gates were leaking (they are worn but something was obviously stuck between the gates) and they couldn’t open the top gates. I tried the top gates and they opened fine – so I guess if I hadn’t gone down they would have sat there until they had drained the pound and the lock had emptied itself.

As the pound was now down by over a foot I told them that I’d go up and get the next lock ready for them. So off I went and worked them through Beeston Stone and then once they were through I dropped the lock into the rather low pound – water was still running over the overflow so it would top itself up in time but…

So we went off to the pub and had several good pints of beer, and by the time we staggered back to the boat the pound was full once more.

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