Sunday, 12 May 2013


Our plan was to visit Audlem parish Church for their morning service at 11 o'clock. This meant that we had a leisurely start to the day and it was only a few minutes walk down the towpath to the main road bridge and from there through the village.

Outside the church is the former Butter Market.

The service was a Family Service with Baptism, led by the deacon who is coming to the end of her first year of post ordination training. Also taking part were their music group - about 9 musicians all of whom seemed to be pretty competent - ranging from flute, violin, clarinet, euphonium and cello plus keyboard. There were about 40 in the regular congregation as well as the family and supporters of the little baby boy being baptised.

On the way back to the boat we called at the Co-op - we were missing red kidney beans for a chili, a revision to our planned menu.

After lunch we moved the boat down the remaining four locks so that we were just a short distance from Overwater Marina where we are due to leave the boat tomorrow morning. At the bottom lock, George's seems to be surviving well, despite his arguments with CRT earlier this year.

Rain arrived just in time to dampen our short journey but it stayed with us, quite heavy at times, as we did some boat cleaning. Whilst Christine tackled the usual routine items inside, Mike set about doing something to the outside roof. There seemed to be a fine spray of paint - at least something was creating a fine spattering of tiny blue specks which came off with vigorous scrubbing. The trail from the chimney, inevitable when rain falls on the residue from wood and coal fire - marked not only the edge of the roof where the rain runs along to the rear of the boat before draining down the side. Experimental use of a cream cleanser - we did not want to damage the paint surface - seemed to be successful in removing most of the problem. All we now need is some sunshine so that we can see what else needs doing!

So that's about it for the next three weeks whilst we return home. The next trip should see us ending up in Liverpool Docks.

0.5 miles - 4 locks

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Christine has a plan which involves us getting to Audlem by the end of today - so that we can go to church in the village tomorrow morning. Our trip plan suggested that we would have allowed at least an extra half day if not more but, hey ho, let's give it a try. As a result we set the alarm for 7 and Mike set off rather earlier than is our normal schedule!

The day started cold, overcast and, when not sheltered by trees or cuttings, rather windy as well. But at least it was dry - for now.

Soon after getting underway we came up to a heron standing on the towpath edge. As we reached it, it took off, flew down the canal for about 100m and then landed back on the towpath. This was repeated three times after which it flew high above the trees and back behind us. Presumably it had come to the end of its 'patch'. We saw a number of herons during the morning all doing the same thing. Mike made many attempts to take a photo as one of them lifted off and this is about the best of the bunch! Although we have seen this behaviour before, what we had not noticed is that as the heron flaps its wings in flight, its body goes up and down as well as the wings. (Newton's Laws of Motion?)

In one of many deep cuttings we approached a high bridge - this one is the much photographed one with a telegraph pole still preserved in the middle.

Shebdon Embankment
We crossed the enormous Shebdon Embankment - although the thickness of the trees meant that we could not really see how high we really were above the surrounding countryside. bearing in mind the problems with the embankment at Dutton over the winter, it was comforting to see the substantial piling here. An large investment some time in the past but no doubt worth it.

Knighton Factory Wharf
At the end of the embankment is the Knighton Dairy Factory - the wharf is no longer used but the factory is still operational. It was founded in 1911 and details can be found here.

At either end of most of the embankments is a stop gate which can be used in the event of a breach to restrict the amount of water that is lost.

For a short while we could see some of the Wrekin in the distance. (Originally called them Welsh, but Adam from nb Briar Rose corrected me)

We now entered Woodseaves Cutting - one of the more notorious for rock and earth falls. Here is where one more recent extensive fall has been stabilised. Further along there were many places where recent falls have taken place, fortunately not causing any injury or blocking the towpath or navigation.

The height of the bridges indicates the extent of the problems - it is clear that the original construction was very optimistic about soil mechanics - unlikely that modern calculations would support the design! However, given the amount of sheer manpower involved in this work it is no wonder that some corners were cut in order to contain costs.

Tyrley Top Lock
As we arrived at the first locks for some distance - Tyrley Locks - rain arrived! The bottom two of the five are also cut out of a rock cutting, making them very dark and mysterious!

Tyrley Bottom Lock

We stopped at the water point in Market Drayton. Whilst Mike filled up the tank, Christine went into town for a newspaper and a few other items. It is a bit further than she had remembered and less attractive! Nevertheless, she returned successful but rather wet as a heavy shower arrived just in time to make sure she was soaked!

We have heard about this chap on one of the canal online forums - he is raising money for the Macmillan charity.

Another flight of five locks came next - as can be seen, there were some bright spells and we anticipated a pleasant time through these. But, alas, some very heavy rain changed all that before we reached the bottom and Mike glimpsed a flash of lightning in the distance.

Audlem Top Lock
The final flight of the day was that at Audlem - we would not do all of the fifteen, hopefully, as we planned on mooring after the first 11. The cottage at the top lock had a cake stall and we bought a couple of small packs - the Bakewell tart went down well with our tea as soon as we moored.

There was now some sunshine and it was warm enough at Lock 4 for Christine to do a bit sunbathing as we waited for a boat to come through the next lock.

Almost as soon as started to feel the warmth a very sudden shower arrived which quickly turned into rather sharp hail for a few minutes. Quite unpleasant.

Equally remarkable is this scene just a couple of locks later when sunshine once more returned and most of the rest of the afternoon was quite pleasant.

As we hoped, there was room on the visitor moorings just above the main bridge in the centre of Audlem.

16.0 miles - 21 locks

Friday, 10 May 2013


(No signal last night so uploaded on Saturday)

We were promised rain today but at least it held off until mid afternoon. However we did still have the strong, cold wind. Yesterday's wind had brought down several trees across the Shropshire Union and an overnight message from CRT reported that the canal at Bridge 29 was blocked until that tree could be removed.

Before going very far we moved across the canal to Oxley Marine to fill up with diesel. The pleasant young lad who served us last autumn was again on duty today.

Autherley Stop Lock
Once we were off we almost immediately turned left at Autherley Junction onto the Shropshire Union, famous for its long straight route with many steep cuttings and huge embankments. But first there is the stop lock designed to control the flow of water between the two canals.

The Shropshire Union canal Society is well-respected for the work which it does to enhance and maintain canal facilities especially moorings. Also there are clear distance posts every mile which are distinctive of this canal.

The tree-lined cuttings are especially good looking at this time - there is plenty of greenery but the leaves are not so thick that they obscure the light (sunlight if we ever have any!).

Avenue Bridge
Because of the deep cuttings, many of the bridges are quite high and dramatic. Avenue Bridge carries a long tree-lined drive as part of the Chillington Hall estate, home to the Giffard family - more about them in a moment. No doubt they were promised a grand bridge in return for helping the canal builders gain permission for this route.

We decided that this time we had enough time to stop off along the way - several villages are supposed to be worth visiting. Consequently, we pulled in at the good visitor moorings in Brewood and walked into the village - just a short distance.

It indeed seems a very pleasant and active village - it even has a Civic Society!

We paid a visit to the parish church. Although it dates back 800 years, it has been heavily restored over the generations and much of the present building dates back to the 19C.

Giffard Tomb
Four large tombs are memorials to some of the more famous Giffards - who came to prominence in the time of Henry VIII, serving in the Royal Household. The tombs depict both wives as well as his many children including those that did not survive, shown in shrouds. Another memorial, in the form of a wall plaque, shows two generations of another family.

We picked up a few items from the shops including a pork pie and loaf of bread from a deli. They soon became part of our lunch - delicious!

Stretton Aqueduct
Back at the boat we set off once more. We crossed then short Stretton Aqueduct which carries the canal over the former Roman road: Watling Street, now the A5. At this point this is no longer the major road that it once was, the traffic now preferring the motorways.

At one of the boatyards along the canal a rather unusual design of hull is ready to be fitted out. Definitely not traditional lines!

Old sailing ships often had figureheads to decorate the bows. Not sure what this boat owner has in mind!

We have not seen very many primroses this year but the wooded banks here had many thriving clumps well into flower.

A striking stretch of tree trunks.

Wheaton Aston Lock
The sun was still shining as we reached the solitary Wheaton Aston lock - the only change in level between the initial stop lock and the Tyrley flight just before Market Drayton, some 25 miles. This is a tribute to the surveyors of the route and the determination of the 'navigators' who created the cuttings and embankments. Although they probably cost more than building locks, the aim was to enable traffic to pass as efficiently as possible.

We saw several kingfishers - one stayed still on a branch just long enough to get a picture.

It was raining by the time we arrived at Bridge 29 and moored behind a line of other boats, some of which had been waiting for some hours whilst the tree was cut up and cleared away. We were more fortunate - arriving in time to see the last of the action but not significantly delayed. Soon after removing this final section of the trunk the navigation was re-opened.

Cowley Tunnel
The short Cowley Tunnel is carved out of solid rock which no doubt explains why the steep cutting turns into a tunnel for this 81 yards.

Tunnel Approach
By now the promised rain was rather miserable - cold with it! We might have gone further but the promise of a fire in the stove led us to decide to pull in for the night just after Norbury Junction.

Later, Christine took some shots of the sunset:

16.2 miles - 2 locks

Thursday, 9 May 2013


The weather forecast for today that it would be wet. It was not wrong! There were some dry, even sunny, spells in the morning but the afternoon was consistently raining. However, it was fairly light rain until just after we moored for the night.

Before setting off we filled up with water at the tap opposite our overnight mooring. We were the third boat to do so!

The morning was spent level cruising to Wolverhampton, re-joining the Main Line at Factory Junction, the top of the three locks up from the Birmingham level.

New housing continues to replace former industrial sites. In most cases it is a matter of covering the levelled ground with unimaginative 'little boxes'. Here, however, we saw one development that managed to incorporate a restored building alongside the new.

Coseley Tunnel
The brick-lined Coseley Tunnel is not very long and, with towpaths either side, comparatively spacious.

Land Slip
The towpath between the tunnel and the last bridge before it was closed - the landslip is just before the tunnel entrance.

Deepfields Junction
Not long after passing Deepfields Junction the first shower arrived and gradually became more continuous as the day progressed.

A lad's day out?

Just before the entrance to Broad Street Basin near the centre of Wolverhampton, we moored for lunch and the last helpings of Christine's latest soup. Afterwards we walked into town to find a supermarket for a few supplies. It turned out that Wolverhampton is a Guardian-free zone. Even Tesco had no space for it on its stands.

Wolverhampton Top Lock
Two o'clock and we set off down the Wolverhampton 21. From here onwards the rain was non-stop, somewhat taking the shine off what was otherwise quite a good passage through the flight. At one time these locks had quite a poor reputation but they are now all in reasonably good condition and almost all of the paddles were smooth to operate. Each has a security lock - the so-called handcuff lock - which has to be opened and reset after use to help combat water loss from vandals who open paddles and drain off large quantities of water.

One of the locks sported a splendid group of cowslips looking very decorative.

We passed under the main electrified railway line a couple of times - just after this viaduct we were half way down the flight.

Lock 17 is different in that it has a tail footbridge which makes using the lock much easier. None of the others in the flight has this feature which is common on some canals such as the Staffs and Worcester which we join briefly at the bottom of the flight. The lock was also different on this occasion as it was the only one with onlookers - the little child was intrigued but could not be persuaded to help!

Wolverhampton Bottom Lock
Lock 21 - hooray - but Mike suspected that we had picked up something around the propeller in the previous pound so we stopped under the junction bridge to investigate. Indeed there was a collection of heavy plastic sheeting and some binder twine. Ugh!

Aldersley Junction
Now going much better we turned northwards and left the BCN behind us. Just a short distance further and we passed Oxley Marine - too late for diesel tonight but a mooring we have used before is just opposite. We pulled in and tied up just as the rain turned even heavier. At least this time we were able to find a tv signal!

8.1 miles - 21 locks