Monday, 16 November 2009

Re-opening the North West Passage

The name "Norbury Junction" is a bit of a misnomer as the Newport Branch that left the main line here has been closed for over 60 years. The Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust is working on re-opening the line but until they do so there are only two ways you can go from Norbury: south-eastwards to Autherley Junction or north-west to Nantwich and beyond. Except that for much of the summer and early autumn the "north-west passage" was closed due to the appearance of a serious leak at Shebdon embankment. Because of this Starcross hadn't been this way since June so, with the repair work completed and the canal re-opened, I took advantage of a free weekend to take a trip north. The forecast had been atrocious, but the weather didn't seem so bad as I drove up to Norbury. The canal here is quite sheltered and as soon as one leaves the Junction you are into Grub Street cutting, so it wasn't until I was past the Anchor at High Offley and on the approach to Shebdon that I felt the full force of the crosswind.The strong westerly winds sweep across the cut here and, if you're not careful, can blow you broadside on to the long line of moored boats. Just around the corner from where the photo was taken an oncoming boat was approaching crab-like with bow in mid-channel but stern dangerous close to the moorings. By now I was at a similar angle myself but with slowing down not really an option the other steerer and I just managed to avoid each other - and all other boats.
By now it had started to rain, but I had to abort an attempted mooring at Shebdon wharf because after I'd jumped off with the centre rope the wind took my front end back out into the channel and although I had enough strength to stop the boat being blown out completely I couldn't pull it in any further! For a while stalemate reigned until I gave in and dropped the rope and leapt onto the counter, which was luckily still within reach, remembering to pull in my now trailing line before it got caught round the prop.

Then it was across the embankment where there is little to see of the extensive works with only the bare edgings and a left-over excavator to indicate the site.
But there have also been problems further north near Bridge 52 at Soudley, resulting in this coffer dam in the canal here and some pretty large-scale works which, fortunately, haven't resulted in any further closures so far, apart from the towpath from bridge 51.

After all this excitement I then had to follow an extremely slow boat up to Goldstone Wharf and wait an age while he made a meal out of a simple winding operation before turning myself and reversing onto a convenient spot opposite the Wharf Tavern for the rest of the day.

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