Sunday, 23 March 2014

Anderton Country Park

Temporarily, we have come to a halt in our journey north, which in a way is just as well, since heavy rain showers, frequently of hail, keep thrashing us relentlessly today and would have caused the fair-weather sailors in this little fleet to have given up the task ages ago anyway.

However the official reason for our stoppage at a very quiet part of the towpath deep in the centre of quiet wooded country about a mile east of the famous boat lift, is to allow Janis to get away on one of her energetic weekends, this time to Snowdonia with her good friend Tina. The latter picked her up by car yesterday and they are due to return on Tuesday. So, in the meantime I am up to my well rehearsed ship sitting duties again.



The Anderton Boat Lift

We arrived here on Friday afternoon after an uneventful passage along the  upper Trent and Mersey Canal from Middlewich. Unfortunately the stretch of countryside on both sides of us along this part of the waterway has been scarred by land subsidence over time caused by the greedy extraction of brine far below the surface. This is the prime ingredient in the manufacture of salt. However Nature as always has made the best of mankind’s voracity and the land, with careful management this time on the latter’s behalf, is now designated the Anderton Country Park. There are lots of wonderful wooded walks and the many depressions in the land, known locally as flashes, have filled with rainwater creating havens for all types of wildlife.


Our quiet mooring at Bridge 196, Anderton


Since there are no roads close to the towpath where we are moored, yesterday Janis and I walked as far as the lift with all her weekend kit and met Tina in the car park. But while there we made arrangements to travel down the fifty feet on the lift on Wednesday next. We plan to spend a few days on The River Weaver before coming up again the same way and resuming our passage north.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Good Run through to Nantwich

We are  trying hard to arrive at, or be very close to Liverpool by 1st April, the day scheduled for an annual reunion luncheon at Liverpool Sailing Club with my old colleagues and friends from Blue Star Line.

We’re giving it a good try anyway and so have been burning the miles from Warwick. Ninety one of them altogether and ninety five locks in a fortnight is amazing travel for ‘Futurest’ and I who otherwise tend to take our time getting anywhere; there is always so much to see after all, which one misses at speed when all concentration is used trying to keep the boat on a straight course down the middle of a narrow canal. We’ve covered good mileages each day and up until now, with the exception of two in Birmingham, we have allowed ourselves only an overnight stay at each end of day mooring.

What has helped us in this quest is that we have travelled the Shropshire Union Canal before so we have seen much already of the beautiful countryside we are travelling through. I am certain too that we shall be visiting this lovely waterway again so what we don’t see this time we can see on another occasion.


An unusual sight. A George VII post box at Goldstone. Well painted!



Daffodils on the Shropshire Union


On our passage along the canal we have noticed much work being carried out by contractors employed by the C&RT dredging and cutting back offside vegetation and in fact much work has been in evidence all the way on our passage from Warwick. Here on the ‘Shroppie’ the team were doing a very tricky job most adequately and conscientiously and the towpath side is superb as well in that it has obviously benefitted from much care and attention. Both Janis and I have noticed that there is very little rubbish in the canal too and all of this care has to be motivated by our new trust.

Well done to them I say as none of this work, I have noticed,  was ever carried out so profusely before they took over the authority.

The weather has been so kind to us since we began our cruise and on most days apart from the first when we were soaked and sad working our wet way through the Hatton Flight, the Sun has shone brilliantly and as a result signs of Spring are now well evidenced and entrenched. At our rural settings we are awakened each day by the dawn chorus of bird song  and in particular the Blackbird flinging out his vigorous courting song, while bright young lambs gambol and play with each other across the lush green meadows of Springtime. It’s wonderful that come what may, Nature carries on each and every year with her bounteous task. She never fails us.

Now we are at Nantwich in Cheshire, moored high on the embankment above the ancient town and as another exception to our rule, we have remained here for two days. Ray, a friend of Janis’s, met us yesterday and stayed the night on board. I’ve met him before and he’s good company so it was a pleasure to see him again. We were due to move on this morning towards Barbridge Junction and the Middlewich Arm but high in this unsheltered mooring we were battered first thing by rain showers and a strong south westerly breeze so we’ve decided to stay here for a further twenty four hours hoping for sunshine to cheer us on our way tomorrow.

However this decision does enable me to write this account which otherwise would have been well overdue.


DSCN0281  Almshouses

Alms-houses at Nantwich


Ladybirds awakening from hibernation in the Sun


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Working the Wolverhampton 21 and the Shropshire Union

Birmingham was wonderful as always but one day with a night at either end was never going to be enough time to see everything that the city had to offer. As it was we saw a rather long and enlightening play at the Crescent Theatre nearby on Saturday night about the motives and morality of war as understood by a recruiting sergeant. All the parts were very dramatic and were acted well but I found the plot too long. I felt glad when the whole thing was over. 

Earlier in the day I had taken Janis on a whistle-stop tour of the main Squares of the city and we both marvelled as usual at the opulent architecture of the surrounding buildings; such richness that had arrived along with the Industrial Revolution. St Philip’s Cathedral too with its bright and beautiful Pre- Raphaelite east window held our attention as we sat quietly and listened to some soft music, designed to relax entirely the busy lunchtime visitor.


DSCN0210  Centenial Square from the roof of the Library

The woven pattern of tiles in Centenary Square Birmingham


DSCN0213  Janis in Victoria Square

Janis in Victoria Square


The East Windows in St Philip’s Cathedral


In the Foyer of the Symphony Hall there was a concert of Indian music which was again very soothing for the lunchtime brain. Unfortunately we didn't see the beginning of the concert so missed the description of the instruments by the two players.  One of them I know was the Tabla, the percussion instrument while the other was a type of multi-stringed Zither, which was played with two hammers. It was beautiful and again relaxing.

We also did the shops in New Street and the Bull Ring before returning to the ships. It had been a good day out.

On Sunday we slipped our moorings and travelled swiftly across the lock free Birmingham Main Line, except for the three taking us up at Tipton Green and at around five we moored in Wolverhampton at the safe mooring opposite the C,R&T depot near the Top Lock of the descending Wolverhampton 21. This mooring is completely secure from the outside world in general and the city, which has an unfriendly reputation, in particular. However because there is no entrance to the canal here it also means that the boater cannot get out. This suited us well as we were only there overnight.



The entrance to Galton Tunnel on the Birmingham Mainline


Hibernating Peacock Butterfly at Wolverhampton Facilities



Green perspective


The following day we descended the twenty one single locks that took us down the one and a half miles to Aldersley Junction on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. There was no traffic and the going was very tedious since every lock on the way down was empty and had to be filled before we could enter. There was no way of making things easier, for example by nipping to the next lock down, while ‘Futurest’ was being lowered, to fill it before we arrived. The locks were just too far apart to make this practical. I tried it only once but all it did was to delay Janis on ‘Roots and Wings’, waiting patiently behind, just above the lock that ‘Futurest’ was in. The most satisfactory way was simply to work our own locks till we arrived eventually, six hours later, at the bottom of the flight.

There was just one more lock, hardly one at all, after we arrived at Autherley Junction, to carry us into the Shropshire Union Canal and all stops north. The wide beauty of the ‘Shroppie’ was all ours and though it was chilly when we made fast in the country just beyond the urban limits, the Sun that had been our encouraging companion all day, was about to set in a sky with only a few high wispy Cirrus clouds to paint.

I slept well that night in quiet contentment.



Sunset on the Shropshire Union


Since then we have passed another night deep in the countryside and during the days have travelled alternately across flat open views and wonderful wooded cuttings that are beginning to burst with vibrant Spring green colours as we pass beneath tall ornate bridges. Today busy Norbury Junction slipped by where boats are beginning to move after their winter’s hibernation.



Dropping off rubbish at Norbury Junction



High Bridge north of Norbury Junction


There is another lovely sunset tonight.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Passage to Birmingham

On Monday last at ten thirty in the morning we let go our lines at Kate Boats. For the first time ever we left as planned and on schedule.

My friend Jenny had arrived at ten and was ready to leave as soon as she had parked her car in the yard and stowed her case aboard ‘Futurest’. She was thrilled at the prospect of going through the Hatton flight, no matter what hard graft this entailed in working the total number of twenty three double locks in one day and clinging on for dear life at the stern of ‘Futurest’s unsociable traditional stern in between time.

She had also asked me whether she could travel through the Shrewley Tunnel a bit further north, which is where her grandparents used to take her for a walk while she was staying with them years ago when she was a little girl and when they lived at Shrewley Common just above the tunnel.

It would be a long day ahead of us with all the locks to work even though we would only cover a total of five miles before we tied up for the night at the northern end of the tunnel, so we set off in good spirits.

I was happy to be cruising again, I know Janis in ‘Roots and Wings’ close behind was pleased to be on the move too and Jenny was as excited as a little child out on a treat. We were all inspired too by the warm Spring sunshine on our faces and looking forward to the trip.

So when thick black clouds began to lean on us, blocking out the Sun an hour later, just as we were about to enter the Hatton Bottom Lock, we weren’t particularly bothered; even at the few specks of rain that soon followed. We were warm and we were working hard; nothing could daunt us.

But very quickly so that we weren’t at all prepared  it started to rain hard. We were ashore without waterproofs working the lock and the ship’s hatch was wide open.

It came down in sheets.

Never mind! This would be just one of those showers so prevalent at this time of the year (especially this year it would seem) and be over as quickly as it had begun.



A wet Monday afternoon on the Hatton Flight


Five hours later as we came out of the Top Lock, though it had eased slightly, the rain was still coming down very consistently to make life most uncomfortable for us all by this stage. I had early on during the flight breasted the two ships together to make the passage through the locks much quicker but by the end we were all very wet and cold. However we had to carry on for a further hour up to and through the tunnel where the following morning (Tuesday) Jenny had arranged a rendezvous with another friend to take her back to Warwick to collect her car.

The inside of the tunnel was wet too and dripped on us profusely as we passed through its darkness but we were thankful for the tunnel’s relative respite as this experience was a positive relief from the unrelenting wetness of the rain outside.



The North Portal of Shrewley Tunnel



The exit from the towpath tunnel in Shrewley Common


Now in my experience I have found that tunnels behave generally like magical mediums in that when I exit at one end, the weather is usually completely different from how it was when I entered. So many times this has happened to me and this time was no exception. On bursting into the daylight on Monday evening at the end of Shrewley Tunnel, the rain had lifted completely and we experienced at the end of the day a lovely quiet sunset. But the towpath was a soggy quagmire in that place making the mooring up very difficult and quite dangerous.

On Tuesday morning Jenny left early and Janis and I set off afterwards towards Birmingham. We had decided to travel the Grand Union route via Knowle Locks arriving at the city by way of the strenuous and almost subterranean Farmers Bridge Locks. But early on Tuesday afternoon we tied up just to the north of Kingswood Junction so that we could walk the half a mile across the fields to view Baddesley Clinton, the ancient and moated National Trust Property. Again the ground was wet and boggy and it was beneficial that we had remembered to wear our waterproof boots. The authorities let us in though, so long as we covered our muddy footwear with the plastic covers that they supplied.



Baddesley Clinton House

It was a lovely afternoon even though on that day due to repairs we could only see the ground floor. But the rain kept away for us and our visit was most memorable.

On Wednesday we found our way blocked at the bottom of the Knowle Locks with an unscheduled stoppage halfway up the flight by a lock gate being replaced. So we turned round, retraced our way to the junction and tackled the Lapworth bottom Locks instead.



The Guillotine Lock at the north end of the Stratford Canal


The following morning we worked our way up the Lapworth Top flight of locks and then the six miles of top pound to a wonderful rural mooring just south of the Shirley Drawbridge alongside a portion of towpath slightly less boggy than the rest we had experienced so far and the following day we spent an uneventful passage cruising the lock free ten miles to the centre of Birmingham. Yesterday evening we arrived here at the city moorings adjacent to the NIA  well pleased with our effort so far.



Birmingham City Centre from the roof of the Library


Our mooring is close to the Crescent Theatre in Sheepcote Street and tonight Janis and I have booked tickets for a play there. I don’t know ‘Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance’ at all but from the flyer we collected with our tickets the First World War is involved.

In spite of the fact that my spell check keeps throwing back at me the way I have spelt ‘Sergeant’ the play is definitely advertised in the way I have written it.



Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Day before…….

Janis arrived back in Warwick on Thursday evening. Her National Express Coach from Gatwick was an hour overdue and because of a lack of precise delay details, I had been waiting for around half that period at the bus station, as twilight set in and the air became distinctly cooler, by the time it arrived.

But I was so glad to see her. She looked healthy and made me look, and feel, quite pale against her well tanned mahogany complexion. In the gathering dusk she looked more like one of the indigenous inhabitants of Sri Lanka where she had been for over a month than one of us cold mortals here in UK.

After the driver had retrieved her rucksack and bag from the luggage compartment, the bus quickly sped off in a cloud of exhaled diesel fumes, well aware no doubt of its timetable setback. The lady though, insisted (as she always does) on carrying her own rucksack, which was larger than herself in spite of my alternative offer, leaving me looking like a ninny to carry the smaller bag and, as a healthy strong male, a very guilty conscience. But soon we were back on board and it was great to have her back.

Since then we’ve been preparing to head north on our proposed 2014 cruise,  which eventually will take us to the top of the Lancaster Canal. The intermediate plan is to be close to Liverpool by the 1st April where there is an annual reunion of my old shipping company that I want to attend. It will be good to see old faces again.

Hopefully but as always somewhat tentatively after four months on our 240 volt umbilical cord with all the decadent advantages that this has indulged us with, we plan to leave Kate Boats tomorrow morning.

In past years there has always been something that has made us put off this fateful day. But this time it will need to be something really serious to prevent us leaving, as my friend Jenny is arriving here expectantly early tomorrow morning anticipating a passage up the twenty one Hatton Locks and through the Shrewley Tunnel beyond. She has to return home on Tuesday so it’s important that we set off tomorrow. Janis’s friend Andy is also meeting us tomorrow evening above the tunnel so we need to arrive there on time.

This afternoon Janis and I have made our final visit to Tesco to stock our cupboards and fridges for the forthcoming voyage. So all we have to do tomorrow is finally to fill the tanks of the two little ships with fresh water and then….

Off we jolly well go!