Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Llangollen Canal

Everyone you speak to that has passed along this canal has nothing but positive and beautiful things to say about it and I am not about to contradict this general feeling. Ever since we went up through the first difficult lock after the sharp turn to the left at Hurleston Junction, I have found everything to be sheer bliss.

There are just about enough locks and lift bridges along the way to keep the single hander busy without the process beginning to become tiring, though this never ceases to be anything but a labour of love for me.

Then from Grindley Brook there is the wonderful long and continuously changing pound as far as Ellesmere, where we now find ourselves. It has been a superb experience even though the weather has been heavily overcast and showery for most of the time and quite cool in the moderate westerly breeze that has been with us.

The scenery, always very green at this time of the year, changes frequently from rich pastorally fragranced cow meadows strewn liberally with predominant yellow Buttercup and the almost overpowering scent  from nearby hedgerows across the towpath, of sweet smelling Honeysuckle as it climbs great distances up and along its host flora, to mighty wetland fens and mosses that seem to stretch for ever on both sides.

However this latter observation might have something to do with the speed at which ‘Futurest’ travels. The slow pitch of her chug has never seemed to change as if she too is quite happy and contented with the countryside we pass through.

The only draw back we have experienced is that the internet signals along this quiet (though busy) thoroughfare remain almost non-existent. Today, though the speed very slow, is the best that I’ve experienced since leaving Nantwich and hopefully I will be able to upload this posting. At all other times I haven’t even managed to get onto the internet, which is sad as I’ve taken many photos as well as having plenty to say at the time. I shall endeavour to recap as I proceed further.

Janis and I have both agreed that we need to see everything on the canal that we can, so on Friday last we visited the short Whitchurch Arm and remained at its end till Tuesday where we shopped, walked, both had haircuts and Janis entertained her two friends Tina and Jane who stayed for the weekend.

Then yesterday we travelled as far the marina at the end of the navigable Prees Branch and walked for about a mile even further along the canal which is still in water and has been turned into the most beautiful nature reserve. It has all been quite wonderful.

Finally today we were treated to an extravagant pageant of Nature as we passed beneath low tunnels of green branches that have at times gently stroked ‘Futurest’s chimneys and past large lakes on both sides called meres. It reminded me very much of a mini Lake District (with a canal of course) and the weather was warm while the Sun began shining for us again.

This evening we are tied up at the busy little town of Ellesmere and tomorrow we plan to explore the shops as well as the various walks around. In Nicholson’s Guide the adjacent mere looks very enticing.

All will be revealed.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

‘Roots and Wings’

I don’t know what was going through the Skipper’s head this morning when Janis brought ‘Roots and Wings’ back to the mooring after their short trip with a friend yesterday but he did have that silly faraway look on his face which I know for sure means that he’s excited about something. I’ve seen now it many times before.

Could it be that he was pleased just a bit to see Janis?

But if he did feel that way then I have to say for a change, I’m pleased, as it’s exactly how I felt at seeing the return of my new friend ‘Roots and Wings’.

It’s been over a year now since we first met and she saved my life then by towing me back on the tidal Trent to Newark for which I was very grateful. And since leaving there last month we have been in very close company.

But I didn’t realise until today how  things would seem without her and it took one night away to make me realise that I had got used to just …. having her around.

She has kind of …. grown on me …. especially as she was breasted up to me all day and overnight before she left for her short trip.

And it’s lovely to know that she perhaps feels the same way as me ‘coz when she came alongside ahead of me this morning she made certain that she rubbed her button nose up against mine in such a lovely way.

…. It made me go quite funny!

And she didn’t need to have done that you know, unless she was pleased to be back, did she?



Ahhh! Ain’t that nice? Bless!

She ‘s not as old as me …. no more than four years I think …. so at thirteen I feel like a big sister to her and could teach her a lot about life ….  and in particular about the devious ways of humans.

She’d like that I’m sure.

The Skipper and Janis have gone off for a walk together …. they go as often as they can …. He’s suddenly enjoying it. I wonder why?

That’s super ‘coz it means that I can use the computer while he’s away and I needed to tell someone how I felt.

But I’ll end now as I know they’ll be back shortly. Morrison’s close at 4pm on a Sunday.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Audlem and the Secret Bunker

On Thursday last having negotiated the fifteen locks down into Audlem we tied up in the early afternoon a couple of miles further on at very pleasant visitor moorings near Mickley Bridge.


001  Approaching Audlem Top Lock

Approaching Audlem Top Lock


002  Looking down the Audlem Flight of fifteen

Looking down the Audlem Flight


004  'The Shroppie Fly' at Audlem

‘The Shroppie Flyer’ at Audlem


In between the showers we walked across the fields to the Hack Green Secret Bunker as shown in Nicholson’s Guide.

… And what a strange eerie place it was too!

Deep in the middle of a wet quiet meadow with placid cows and sheep grazing peacefully nearby we came across this large rectangular concrete building surrounded with a high barbed wire fence which reminded me of a set out of ‘Dr Who’. It had been built during the ‘Cold War’ when at any moment we could have been devastated by long range nuclear weapons. This was the place that the government would have retreated to to keep them free of the effects of the blasts. There was a self supporting little village within the thick concrete walls.


Signage for Roots and Wings 048

The Information Board

It is now open to the public as a museum and Janis and I decided to investigate.


Signage for Roots and Wings 056

The original Dalek?


Signage for Roots and Wings 057

Goodbye cruel World

Of course there is no daylight to be seen anywhere inside and bright tungsten lights glare into one’s eyes almost continuously. Alternatively other strobe-like effects flash from 1970’s and 1980’s electrical spy equipment that now appears as obsolete and eerie to today’s technology as the hair styles and clothes of the mannequins do that man the rather ghostly settings. And overall there is the slightly acrid smell of dampness that adds to the feeling of unease about the place.

It was a most interesting experience to see everything but it was wonderful to return to beautiful daylight even though it was filtered through an overcast sky heavy with rain showers. Thoughts of what might have happened then, make me eternally grateful for what I have now come rain or come shine.


At Nantwich, where we arrived yesterday, we are at the northern end  of what used to be called the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. At Hurleston Junction two miles beyond it joins the Chester Canal as was and the Llangollen Canal, which are now all called the Shropshire Union Canal. This waterway has carried us majestically for forty miles from Autherley Junction, through one small tunnel and only twenty nine locks.


001  Tudor and Georgian Nantwich

Tudor and Georgian Nantwich


002  The shopping area

The shopping area at Nantwich


It was the last of the man made locks to be dug before the growing influence of the railways became to strong to make them economical any more and it was certainly the last canal built by Thomas Telford, who died before it was completed in 1835. However in an endeavour to make it competitive it was built as straight as possible over high steep embankments and through deep sharp cuttings unlike the previous canal procedure of following the contours of the land. This from the boaters point of view has changed what could have been a boring unchanging journey in a straight line into a never ending change of rural features, which have been both impressive as well as beautiful.


005  Quietly at rest in Nantwich

Breasted up in Nantwich


However the canal has been busy all the way up and on our arrival at Nantwich we could only find one berth available to fit a fifty seven footer so we needed to breast up together to make the most of the one spot.

By midday we were tied up and later after a friend of Janis’ had arrived to stay aboard for the weekend, we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to Nigel and drinking tea before Janis provided a wholesome Spaghetti Bolognaise. Afterwards we all went ashore for a couple of pints to ‘The Oddfellows’ pub to watch the England v Sweden match. Not being a normal football spectator or even a follower of the game, I found it nonetheless quite exciting and it was a pleasant change to see England actually win a match.

This morning Janis has taken ‘Roots and Wings’ with Nigel aboard for a short trip further north to return here tomorrow morning, when her friend has to return to civilization.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

….. And of Wightwick Manor


017  The south face of the house

The south face of Wightwick Manor


015  Foxglove

The friendly Foxglove



Better weather today


022  The woodland walk

The Woodland Walk


024  Yellow Iris

Yellow Iris



Across the lake


031  Greater Celandine

Greater Celandine

Late Photos of Moseley Old Hall

Here are some late pictures of our visit to Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton on our way down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The signal then was so poor that I was unable to post them then.


005  A panelled sitting room

The panelled Sitting Room


006  The illegal RC Chapel  in the roof

The then illegal Roman Catholic Chapel easily hidden if necessary


010  The priest hole b eneath the floor boards in the Privy

The priest hole hidden beneath the floorboards of the Privy


011  The mooring at Laches Bridge (73) on a rainy afternoon

A wet return to the moorings at Laches Bridge


Looking a bit waterlogged on return to the ships

An Extra Day

After Janis and I returned from our shopping expedition into Market Drayton yesterday and as we considered we had seen all there was to see, we thought we would continue our journey this morning.

However soon after arriving back at the ship I realised I had forgotten half my proper shopping list and filled the heavy bag with stuff I hadn’t intended to buy at all. I had erred so seriously in this respect that I needed a second visit.


011  The old Sanbrook Vaults 1653

The old Sandbrook Vaults dated 1657, Market Drayton


We thought also that as England had managed to scrape a draw yesterday, the town might be more relaxed and therefore more exciting. The inhabitants might even actually have gone to work so we expected to be able to visit lots of the small busy shops in town.



Herb Robert on our way back to the ships


014  Creeping Buttercup

….. and Creeping Buttercup

But even on our second visit I found that apart from the thriving supermarkets of Morrison's and Asda, everywhere else was as quiet as yesterday. The charity shops were open but were empty of customers and I was surprised at the number of shop windows that were boarded up or with empty windows like gaping eye sockets. In fact the liveliest part of the town was inside the parish church where we disturbed three ladies who were doing some quiet bible studies together.

After the church we made our return pilgrimage to Asda and remembering all my shopping this time we returned by a round about footpath back to the ships.


016  'Futurest' at her berth at Bridge 63

‘Futurest’, patient as ever at her mooring in Market Drayton


As it is now the afternoon we have decided to remain here for a further night and to proceed into the unknown region of darkest Shropshire tomorrow.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Photos of my new granddaughter

My son Alex and Catherine his wife sent me these photographs of Penelope May, which they have since shortened to Penny, sometime ago but owing to my internet signal being so weak it is only now that I have been able to post them. Hope you don’t mind me indulging myself.

I think she is gorgeous though I’m not too certain who she looks like at this time in her sweet life. I do know that she will be well loved by all the family.



One of the first pictures



How sweetly she sleepeth



Awake and taking everything in

Market Drayton

At around midday today we arrived at the little town of Market Drayton, the two little ships still in close formation in spite of the five Tyrley Locks that led us down after a long spell on the top summit of the Shropshire Union being very busy with queues of three deep in both directions.


002  Woodseaves Cutting

Woodseaves Cutting on the Shropshire Union Canal .…


004  ...looking like  a scene from the South American Jungle

…. Looking more like a South American Jungle


005  A landslide

A landslide


013  Tyrley Top Lock

Tyrley Top Lock


015  Foxgloves and roots

Foxgloves and roots


016  A contented fellow, as he should be on the canal

A contented fellow… And so he should be on the canal


With such an amount of traffic as this, one could expect that at this time of the day there would be plenty of visitor moorings available in the town. But obviously all the traffic was passing through only as it became more disappointing that nothing was available right the way through the town until we arrived at the water point, where there was barely enough room for just one fifty seven footer, without being accused of tying up on this temporary only mooring.

But it was this or probably nothing and as I was ahead of ‘Roots and Wings’ in ‘Futurest’ I edged past and out into the canal again to see through the next bridge hole if there was anything available further on. If not I could reverse quickly back into the spot before some other eager boater nicked the space for himself. Then ‘Roots and Wings’ could breast up on the outside of me. Not the ideal solution but okay temporarily until someone else moved on.

Luckily there was another space just beyond the bridge and having let Janis know that she had a mooring available beyond the first bridge by means of our very useful walkie-talkie sets, I set off through my bridge and onto the further mooring knowing that she would be okay near the water point.

We were very lucky as no other moorings were free and I needed to visit the local post office to collect some forwarded mail.

When we were in Stafford during the Olympic Torch Ceremony, I somehow lost my phone and having obtained a replacement there, afterwards I had to get my network provider to forward a new SIM. They would only send it to my ‘home’ address so Alex my son had to send it on to a forwarding address. The post office at Market Drayton was it.

The letter was waiting so now all I have to do is set the phone up and still find all my old contacts hopefully.

The rest of the town was dead with all the shops being closed as if it was early closing day. But on buying some gingerbread (‘cows’ in particular if it’s important), because legend has it that this town is the originator of this confection, the lady who served us said that everybody had closed up in order to see the England v France match on the television!

Goodness gracious! What is the World coming to?

Friday, 8 June 2012

Wightwick Manor

Today the duo of little ships is at Brewood (pronounced ‘Brood’) on the Shropshire Union Canal at the visitor moorings within a long reach of tall Beeches and Oaks on both sides.

Just a little sunlight is normally let in at this time of the year  through the small gap where the tops of the trees, abundantly waving and swishing in the fresh breeze almost meet and with a tall grey stoned ornate bridge at each end of the three or four hundred yards stretch, ‘Futurest’ and ‘Roots and Wings’ sit stem to stern very snugly in this natural form of tunnel.

But today there is very little daylight being filtered through the leaves let alone sunlight to sparkle on the water as one might hope, as the rain is beating down furiously from a very leaden sky while the wind leaves all kinds of tree debris on top of our roofs. Yesterday was even worse as the two little ships battled through the driving rain to arrive here in the early afternoon.

All of us had had enough by then as the rain had not let up during the week at all.

On Monday we finally left our comfortable rural mooring at Laches Bridge, from where we had been to visit ‘Moseley Old Hall’. It was raining then, but only lightly on and off, and always optimistic we decided the Sun would stick his head through the cloud layer eventually.

We arrived at Autherley Junction at midday in continuous light rain and though we wanted to enter the Shropshire Union Canal eventually, we had previously decided to venture a further two and a half miles down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in order to visit ‘Wightwick Manor’ another National Trust property.

So in the early Monday afternoon we tied up to ‘tin’ in the middle of the pound between Compton Lock and Wightwick Mill Lock while it was still raining hard and on Wednesday we went off to explore the manor house.

Standing in extensive grounds the home of Theodore Mander, of paint manufacturing fame, was built in 1887 to look, very convincingly like a black and white Tudor mansion and both Janis and I, in spite of the weather, found it all quite breathtakingly beautiful. The wife of the  the last owner, the descendant of Theodore, was a great collector of art especially that of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and she and her husband owned many paintings and sketches by these artists as well as having most of the rooms decorated by wallpaper and wall coverings designed and made by William Morris.

It was wonderful and we were pleased we had made the effort to get there.

Still raining heavily yesterday on and off, Janis and I in the morning, took our ships down through the lock and turned around just above Wightwick Lock for the return journey to Autherley Junction.

Here we found it very busy with a queue on the Shropshire side right back beyond the water point, which is where we intended to fill up our tanks. There was nobody actually using the facility for what it was designed and luckily one by one we both managed to stick our noses into an available chink to get alongside briefly for taking on our water.

Then it was plain sailing, in spite of the rain which was now continuous and heavy, for the last five miles of the journey here to Brewood. Today we are enjoying a relaxing day, though the weather has shown little improvement. But we have had our friends John and Barbara from ‘Baljon II’ visiting earlier. It was a delightful surprise and lovely to see them again.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Moseley Old Hall

On Saturday afternoon last, the two little ships tied up near Laches Bridge on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. It was a splendid  mooring deep in the Staffordshire countryside with just Water Forget-me-nots, clinging Common Vetch and tall Stinging Nettles, acting as their host, as very close neighbours to our starboard sides.

The moorings were so rural that they hadn’t been used as such for some time and I had to find my shears and do some gardening before I could even reach the interlocking steel edging of the canal, which Janis and I affectionately call ‘the tin’ now. We had to pull away great clods of rooted flora  in order to thread our mooring chains through the gaps made by the cross steel section.

But it was a safe mooring and very quiet.

The following morning in continuous light drizzle, we trudged about a mile across a wet bridle path into the small village of Coven to buy necessary provisions. But in spite of the weather the walk was most enjoyable as well as exhilarating and the little Co op shop was as busy as one would expect late on a Sunday morning.

In the afternoon we dug out our folding bikes (mine stows under my bunk when not in use) and we enjoyed, in spite of the rain, even heavier now than in the morning, and, avoiding the large puddles (or perhaps small floods) pedalled along narrow country roads the three or four miles to Moseley Old Hall.

This is another National Trust Property, a farmhouse built at the end of the sixteenth century and is famous for hiding Prince Charles (later to be Charles II) for two nights from the Parliamentarians after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. It was owned by a Roman Catholic family who had a resident priest living with them to practice the now illegal Mass. Hence they had a priest hole where the would be king was able to hide at one point when the house was searched by Cromwell’s men. Floorboards were placed over the hole and a privy (a Tudor toilet) was placed on top. This made the hole almost perfectly safe as the smell emanating from it should have put anybody off searching any further here.

 Unfortunately the Tudor wattle and daub, wooden framed exterior was so badly deteriorated by 1962 that it all had to be refaced with red brick, which has removed some of the original charm when viewed from the outside. But the interior is almost entirely unchanged so none of the magic allure that a house of this age induces is lost.

On a beautiful day the occasion would have been perfect as Janis and I could have wandered through the extensive gardens as well. As it was we had to be content with peering through one of the small Tudor windows at the beautifully trimmed and trained short box hedges in the ‘Knot Garden’. We took other photos but unfortunately the internet signal here is too weak to transmit them as well as the text. I shall post them later on.

 After the viewing we enjoyed a cup of tea in the little cafĂ© before facing the rain on the way back home.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Fender and Frolics

On Tuesday morning after our weekend at Stone, I took ‘Futurest’ into Great Haywood Marina to have a bow fender fitted, which has been missing since the Claydon Flight on the South Oxford Canal back in early April. I hadn’t seriously missed the fender, managing to avoid mostly close quarter situations, including lock gates. But it certainly didn’t look right without a fender on the bow.

The old tip cat fender that had been there from the start had lost its top chains at Claydon and was of no further use and it had always seemed to be slung too far down the stem to be of any use anyway. It was ideal for lower damage against lock cills but was no use in keeping the nose protected and it was forever getting caught under the plate at the bottom of the lock gate in an empty lock, putting the chains under continuous stress.

So John at Marine Services welded a new lug on top of the nose and we now have a button fender in a much better position to prevent damage.



The new fender


The job was completed within a couple of hours and having re-acquainted ourselves with the staff and other friends that we had made during the course of our stay three years ago when we had a full outside paint job, we moved to moorings back out on the canal and moved off at about eight the following morning (Wednesday).

The weather was beautiful still as the two little ships entered the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and progressed at a leisurely pace through Tixall Wide and onto the lock. It was good to be clear of the continuous Great Haywood traffic and jostling for the busy water point and moorings. We had been there for long enough.

We were in the country again and it was beautiful.


001-1  'Roots and Wings' exiting Tixall Wide

‘Roots and Wings’ exiting Tixall Wide


004  Herons in the tree

Herons high in the tree


We passed through Tixall Lock but the traffic in both directions meant that we had to wait our turn. ‘Futurest’ went through first which meant that ‘Roots and Wings’ next in line travelling westwards had to wait until the boat waiting at the top of the lock had passed through in the opposite direction. But with me tootling along at tick over revs, Janis was able to catch up with me by the time we arrived at Bridge 101, called St Thomas Bridge.


021-1  Moored at St Thomas Bridge, where the Stafford Coal Canal once joined the Staffs & Worcs

Moored at St Thomas’ Bridge, the nearest point to Stafford


We had covered all of four miles since leaving Great Haywood but we decided to moor up here with our chains on the steel and spend the afternoon visiting Stafford.

On this north westerly point of the the Staffs & Worcs Canal, the old Stafford Coal Canal, which ran right into the town, had been connected. There were still traces of the filled in lock at the blocked up entrance and it was encouraging to note that there had been recent activity to clear the site for excavation.

It’s a mile and a half into the centre of Stafford so Janis and I followed the footpath and spent the afternoon there.


012-1  Dog Rose

The Dog Rose


As well as shopping we witnessed the arrival of the Olympic Torch through the town. The weather was superb for such a day and the deep crowds collected early along the route. Because of this we couldn’t see too much of the actual torch though other entertainment was well received and cheered by the crowd.


017-1  Can just see the arrival of the torch

The arrival of the Olympic Flame


However the event was a unique occasion which had been a very pleasant surprise for us and all part of our continuing adventure.