Day-by-Day 2009

Goodbye to the Paloma

2nd January 2009: At Norbury Junction
We called at Norbury on the way home from Warslow to check up on Starcross. The weather had been cold and frosty with more to come so it was time to drain the water system. We were only just in time as it was so cold that the water in the pipes was beginning to freeze! However, we did find the reason for the pump “cycling” on and off – the Paloma water heater had sprung an internal leak, which looked as if it had been there for some time. No one repairs Palomas any more so, correctly as it turned out, we declared it a probable write off and went home.

To Goldstone Wharf

17th – 18th January 2009
Crew: Jim and Hil

On the previous Wednesday I’d finally had a tooth that had been troubling me for six months extracted, so to celebrate it was “off to the boat!” driving up from Hereford and arriving at Norbury Junction at 10.55 on a bright and sunny Winter’s day. First job was to collect some water from the water point, essential as the tank on board is drained for the winter. To make this easier, I pulled over to the towpath side so that we could use our new trolley to take the jerry can there and back, but despite being an official permanent mooring it was very shallow and the stern stuck out a good few feet into the cut. We moved up a bit to find somewhere a bit deeper to stay for lunch and then set off northwards at about 12.45. Hil got off at bridge 41 to walk the rest of the way across country and as soon as she did so the sun went in, leaving me to carry on alone on an increasingly dull and wintry day.

Despite the season, there were a few other boats about and I passed three or four on the way north, arriving at Goldstone at 15.15 to find the visitor moorings empty. I winded the boat, tied up, lit the fire and got the kettle on, and washed down the counter and well deck before Hil arrived an hour later having walked seven miles on a series of footpaths and field tracks.
We ate out that evening at the Wharf Tavern, which was busy with locals and visitors from the adjacent caravan site. The food is best described as “basic pub fare” and the decor is a bit basic as well but the beer’s OK and we stayed until mid-evening before going back to the boat for a game of cards until bedtime.
There was some heavy wind and rain in the night, but the fire stayed in – just as well as there was ice on the roof in the morning. We were away by 10.20 on  a bright and sunny morning. At Soudley, I found myself steering directly into the sun, which prevented me from seeing an oncoming boat until the very last minute. I had to apologise to the other steerer and assure him that I was not playing chicken. Later, at bridge 49, I met another oncoming boat and this time annoyed the steerer because I couldn’t see that he was waving me through! We stopped briefly at the Anchor at High Offley as there was an itinerant fender maker tied up outside. Unfortunately, in the time it took us to find a spot and tie up he had disappeared inside the Anchor and we had to drag him back out to sell as a new set of fenders. After this, it was straight back to Norbury arriving at the mooring at 13.30

High Onn

7th-8th February 2009
Crew: Jim

I drove up to Newport arriving at 10.30, to do a bit of shopping in the market – including having a bacon sarnie in the cafe there – before going on to Norbury. First job was to mop out some water from the bilge under the engine room after which I removed the remains of last week’s snow from the roof, wondering why it appeared only to have fallen upon Starcross! As the boat was facing south already I could get away, without ceremony, by 13.30 for a very pleasant run down to High Onn on yet another cold and bright winter’s day. High Onn was reached at 15.00 after which I winded and tied up. I made use of the last hour of daylight to attach some of the new fenders bought at High Offley and later that evening, walked into the village to the Royal Oak. The pub was saved from closure by a consortium of villagers a couple of years ago but it was very quiet for a Saturday night. The village is over a kilometre from the canal down a narrow unlit lane but the almost full moon made the walking easy, although ice was beginning to form on the road on the way back.
I had an early morning walk round the village on Sunday which included a tour of the village hall by the local vicar,  although, in truth, there wasn’t much to see and the building is much more interesting from the outside than in. I untied at 10.30 and, after a brief coffee stop at Gnosall, was soon back at the mooring. It was here that I found that I’d fitted too short a line to one of the fenders yesterday and so I had to put another, longer, one on. Just as I was getting ready to leave it came on to snow and it continued to do so all the way home.

The New Murco and a Walk to Hinstock

6th – 8th March 2009
Crew: Jim and Hil
Friday, 6th March: At Norbury
We called in at Norbury on our way home from a week visiting friends in Lancashire and Cumbria, with a few days over the border at Middleton-in-Teesdale. We’d ordered a new water heater to replace the frost-damaged Paloma from Norbury Wharf and, as promised, they had fitted it before our visit. It works in a very similar manner to the old one, although its noisier and requires an extended vent fitting on the roof which, sooner or later will come a cropper on a low bridge or tunnel!
There was more good news the following morning when we met Norbury Wharf’s manager, David, on the towpath and he offered us a new mooring spot nearer the yard and away from the tree (and a noisy liveaboard). He even offered to move the boat for us as soon as the spot was ready.  After this, we set off northwards at 10.45 as far as Park Heath, where we winded before tying up on the nearby visitor moorings for lunch. This necessitated some repairs to the roll top table in the kitchen area, which refused to roll until Hil set to and sorted it out. We decided to stay for the night and set off for an afternoon walk across the fields to Hinstock, returning via Soudley and getting back just before dark after a six-mile hike.

                                    The walk took us past the 18thC Ellerton Hall
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and we were away by 09.00 eating breakfast on the move for once as a large raincloud followed us southwards. The cut was quite busy and at one point we were third in a convoy of three boats passing four or five heading north! It was only 10.45 when we got back to Norbury and the rain began in earnest shortly afterwards. Hil had been investigating a possible leak in the bathroom and eventually found it in probably the most inaccessible spot imaginable. She set to with the hacksaw to cut a hole in the wall separating kitchen and bathroom to get at the offending pipe but in the end had to give in – even after borrowing some tools from Norbury Wharf, so – yet again – we commissioned them to undertake the necessary repair.

A Visit to Gnosall

20th – 22nd March 2009
Crew: Jim

Friday, 20th March: Norbury to Gnosall
I arrived at Norbury Junction at 15.00 having walked from the Stafford bus at Gnosall and after a work meeting in Birmingham – an enjoyable walk on a warm and sunny Spring afternoon. True to his word, the yard manager had moved Starcross onto the new mooring, although he had neglected to move my signboard with it and as I was retrieving that I met Adrian on “Treskelly” which is moored nearby. What with bumping into Chris and Bea off Poppy and manager, David, I felt as if I belonged!
Nevertheless I lost no time in setting off up to Grub Street to wind (at this stage I wasn’t confident enough to reverse even the reduced distance down to the wharf!). Calling in at the sanitary station I emptied the toilet cassette before carrying on over Shelmore embankment to Gnosall. Although it was, by now, 17.30 and very nearly the end of the afternoon it was such a nice day that I decided to press on down to High Onn and wind again, enjoying the splendid sight of the sun setting over the Shroppie on my return. Actually I left it a bit late to get back to Gnosall and it was more or less completely dark when I tied up at 19.10. Despite the earliness of the season there were quite a few hire boats around including two from Anglo-Welsh moored just in front of me. While I’d been away, Norbury Wharf had repaired the leak under the bath and I had to replace the side panel and put back the shelving we’d had to remove to allow them access.

Saturday, 21st March: At Gnosall
On Saturday, I had a day out in Birmingham and the Black Country with my mate Bob, from Sheffield, meeting him at New Street station. Just a £2 “plus bus” add-on to your rail fare to Birmingham gives unlimited bus and tram travel throughout the former West Midlands County and we visited West Bromwich, Walsall, Bloxwich, Wednesbury and the Ward End area of Birmingham (because we wanted a ride on one of the soon to be withdrawn “Metrobus” double-deckers that were once almost as ubiquitous in this area as the Routemaster was in London.  I broke my train journey back to Stafford in the Black Country village of Coseley with the intention of visiting a couple of pubs featured in the Good Beer Guide but I had a bit of difficulty in finding the first – the Rollers Arms – so didn’t have time for the other.

 Sunday, 22nd March: Gnosall to Norbury
Despite supping a few pints in Stafford as well (whilst waiting for the Gnosall bus, you understand) I was up bright and early on Sunday morning and Starcross was back on its new mooring at Norbury Wharf by 10.00

                                  Starcross on the new mooring at Norbury

First Trip of the Year to Tyrley

3rd – 5th April 2009
Crew: Jim
Friday, 3rd April: At Norbury Junction
Having taken the afternoon off work I came up to Norbury Junction on the train to Shrewsbury then the bus to Newport. Unfortunately, Friday afternoon traffic in Shrewsbury delayed the bus and we were 20 minutes late arriving at Newport, which means that I missed the connecting bus to Norbury village. Fortunately, I had my folding cycle with me and soon covered the five miles to the boat, arriving at 17.15 to sit in the well deck enjoying a beer on a warm Spring evening.

Saturday, 4th April: Norbury to Tyrley
There was some heavy rain in the night that woke me, although by morning it was dry and sunny again. The new mooring has a paved sitting or storage area cut out of the low embankment which needed a bit of weeding before I could set off northwards at about 10.40. The trip north was uneventful with few moving boats around  although plenty of static ones on the linear moorings around Shebdon and Soudley – and I arrived at the empty visitor moorings at Tyrley at 13.50, tied up and made myself a late lunch. The afternoon was spent quietly watching the occasional boat go by and listening to the Grand National on the radio (won by a 100/1 outsider, but I didn’t have a bet on!). After tea, I cycled into Market Drayton and noticed at least four closed pubs in the town centre, although fortunately all my favourites were still open.

Sunday, 5th April: Tyrley to Norbury
Despite a few pints, I was up and away by 08.00 meeting a few oncoming boats including Debdale, a shared-ownership boat based at Norbury Wharf and Atlas, an ex-working boat heading for the Easter rally at Ellesmere Port. On the way I listened to the Malaysian Grand Prix on the radio, realising for the first time how much more exciting it sounds on the radio compared to watching in on TV. The race had to be abandoned due to a thunderstorm but there were no storms on the Shroppie and I was back at Norbury Wharf and tied up by 11.00

To Brewood

18th – 19th April 2009
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday, 18th April: Norbury to Brewood
I’d been in Hereford hospital the day before for a minor operation to try and sort out my irregular heartbeat (successful at the time but I later relapsed) so I was looking forward to this trip. We drove up via Much Wenlock and arrived at the boat about 11.00 and set off towards Brewood an hour later. The water points at Norbury Junction were both occupied so we carried on to Gnosall and filled the tank there, judging that by mid-April it would be safe to assume the pipes would not suffer any further frost damage. We picked up a bit of rope on the prop on the way but it was easily removed at Gnosall during the water stop. One of the signs of Spring on the canals is the appearance of ducklings and we saw the first broods of 2009 at Gnosall. we were away from Gnosall at 14.15 following an erratically steered local boat, “Dorothy Jean”, which waved us by at High Onn. There was a delay at Wheaton Aston lock whilst the training boat “Shropshire Lass” worked through with its trainees, preceded and followed by downhill boats before we could go through. The boatyard at Stretton usually has some interesting craft being worked on or awaiting jobs and today was no exception, with “Battersea” and Hampstead” tied up outside and “BW 135″ up on the stocks.

                                                    Some interesting boats at Stretton
We eventually good to Brewood at 17.45 and tied up outside the village just north of Countrywide Cruisers’ wharf. It was not a good choice of mooring- we couldn’t get the stern within a foot of the bank, Hil stood in some dog mess and just about the only boat running its engine for miles was tied up opposite although it soon stopped). We did, however, have an excellent view of the interesting wharf buildings opposite.
Brewood Wharf, base for Countrywide Cruisers
Hil had been busy relining the cool box (which replaced the fridge after it broke) and putting a hinge on the lid to make it easier to use. When she’d finished we walked into the village for a meal at “The Mess” a restaurant in the village square. We’ve eaten there a few times but unfortunately, each time we do so we find that the experience is somehow less satisfactory than before, perhaps because as they become established they don’t need to try so hard?
Sunday morning dawned cloudy but the sun came up as we made our way back to Norbury and for once it was Hil’s turn to steer while I tidied up and got the vacuum cleaner out.

May Day Bank Holiday at Norbury Junction

1st – 4th May 2009
Crew Jim and Hil
Friday 1st May
Whilst the rest of Europe had a day off, I, like other Brits, toiled at work until I could get away to catch the Shrewsbury train and the bus to Newport (on which I was the only passenger for most of the way). After a bit of light shopping in Somerfield it was on to the folder and off to Norbury Junction arriving at 19.30 for a quiet evening on the boat.
Saturday 2nd May
I was up early for breakfast and then set to polishing the brasses to make good the neglect of the last few weeks. Hil arrived by car at 13.30 and then we had a walk around the Canal Festival. It’s a small-scale event held annually but more akin to a village fete than a full blown waterways festival. In fact, there seemed to be even less to see this year than previously and we didn’t stay long.
 The Cheese Boat and the Fudge Boat at Norbury Canal Festival
Instead, we returned to the boat for the rest of the afternoon before going for a pre-dinner walk from the mooring. Norbury Junction’s not a bad place for country walks and we started directly from the mooring, going over the fields towards Norbury Manor

                                              Walk across the fields from our mooring
The manor is not the building visible at the far side of the field but a ruin, that was once a moated property, lying in the trees to the left. From the manor there’s a lane leading to the main road that crosses the canal at the famous High Bridge (the one with the telegraph pole, for those that know the Shroppie). the woods alongside the path were full of the most wonderful display of bluebells.
From High Bridge it was a simple walk down the towpath to Norbury Junction, although as Starcross is moored on the offside bank we had to go down to bridge 38 to cross the canal. That evening it was warm enough not to have to light the fire for the first time this year – a sure sign that summer is on the way.
Sunday, 3rd May
We had already decided that we would do no boating this weekend but instead use Starcross as a base for some walking and cycling – making the most of the fact that my heart complaint that had prevented us from doing so for the last few months was now cured. I jhought it would be a good opportunity to explore the remains of the Newport branch of the canal, an arm that left the main line at Norbury Junction (thereby giving it its name) and ran through Newport to link with the Shropshire tub boat system and the Shrewsbury Canal – all since long closed. Our ride took us through the lanes to Weston Jones, Sambrook, Crudgington and Longdon-on-Tern.One of the most impressive features of the Shrewsbury Canal is the iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern. This was originally planned as a more conventional masonry construction and it was only when the partly-built structure was washed away by floods in 1795 and Thomas Telford was brought in as engineer that the then revolutionary iron aqueduct came into being. As well as being a significant edifice in its own right, the aqueduct functioned as a precursor to the much grander structure at Pontcysyllte (Pont – cuss – ulch – tay for non-Welsh speakers) on the Ellesmere Canal opened 10 years later. This view shows the original masonry abutments and the replacement iron trough.
Unlike Pontcysyllte, the towpath crosses the river in a separate trough and the very uneven
sides are bolted together through the external flanges. The aqueduct is now a scheduled ancient monument and, as such, is unlikely to form part of the route of the canal should the Trust ever succeed in its ambition to reopen it. According to their website the whole site is on private land and permission is needed for a visit but this information may be out of date as a notice on the footpath that passes within a few hundred metres indicates that “permissive access” is allowed (which means that you can cross private land to get there without creating a “right of way”)Longdon-on-Term was the furthest point of our cycle ride, but not the end of the waterway interest. Our route back to Norbury took us via the tiny hamlet of Wappenshall – so small that not only is it difficult to find on the map its difficult to realise when you’ve actually got there! We missed it completely and had to retrace our steps from the splendidly-named next village of Preston-upon-the-Weald-Moors. Even when we found Wappenshall we still had difficulty in finding what we were looking for as it was situated some way down a track that appears at first sight to be a private driveway.
The attraction at Wappenshall is a canal junction and transhipment warehouse, situated at the junction of the Shrewsbury Canal and the Newport Branch of what is now the Shropshire Union. This illustration, taken from the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Trust website shows how the Trust think the site might look at some future date. Today’s reality is, I am afraid, somewhat different as these photographs show, not surprising really given that the canal was legally abandoned 55 years ago.

The Trust recently persuaded Telford and Wrekin Council to purchase the site to save it from falling into the hands of unsympathetic developers and they can now hold regular working parties to restore and improve the site. In fact, there’s one this coming weekend if you are interested.
Its obviously going to take volunteer labour some considerable time to restore the area to its former glory but once they have done so, as well as being an attraction in its own right it will serve as an example of the benefits of restoring the rest of the line. I wish them luck.

And by the way, if the nPower electricity company is wondering why Telford and Wrekin Council hasn’t paid the electricty bill for the site its probably because they sent it to “Telford and Wrekin Council”, Wappenshall warehouse, Long Lane, Wappenshall, Telford” and the postman, confronted with an unoccupied site, took the only sensible course of wedging it into a gap in the entrance gate!
On our way back from Wappenshall to Norbury Junction we cycled through the village of Preston upon the Weald Moors. The “weald moors” themselves are a bit disappointing, being just an area of flattish agricultural land, but the village green contains these two wonderful icons of “Englishness” – the post box and the telephone kiosk.
Between them they represent the communications network of the 20th-Century but not, alas, the 21st. Take a closer look inside that phone box:
Yes, the telephone itself has been removed – and not by vandals but officially and the notice pinned up on the wall explains why. This is happening all over the country as use of the kiosks declines and makes them uneconomic to maintain. Actually, whoever composes the removal notices has a sense of humour as they read: “This payphone has been removed by BT. If you wish to comment on its removal please telephone the following number…….” Assuming, of course, that your mobile phone a) doesn’t have a flat battery, b) isn’t out of credit and c) can get a signal in the first place.
It’s mobile phones, of course, that have dealt the final blow to the phone box and it was when I came across a similarly denuded box when needing to make a call at a railway station in the north of England that I realised I would have to get one myself. (If they’re even taking them away from railway stations……)
For the benefit of younger readers, its no coincidence that the kiosk and the post box are both painted the same shade of red. It’s known as “Post Office Red” and, once upon a time, the Post Office ran the telephone system as well as the postal service. The telephones were hived off many years ago, before being privatised in the 1980s but one of the quirks of deregulation and privatisation since that time is that hopeless nostalgics (like me) can now, once again, get their home telephone service from the Post Office, which I do just because its publicly-owned and allows me to put two fingers up to the privateers that have run this country (and continue to do so) for the last 25 years. Political rant over: although the way things are going with the Post Office I wonder how long it will be before that post box joins its larger neighbour as a non-functional monument to a past age at Preston upon the Weald Moors.

Mid-May on the Shroppie

Norbury Junction to High Onn
Dates 15th – 17th May 2009
Crew: Jim
This was another of those all-too-brief weekends on the cut, when I really just wish I could untie and cruise off into the sunset – instead of having to be back at work on Monday morning. As it was, I drove up after work on Friday afternoon, bringing the rain with me. Now that Starcross’ mooring is only about five boat lengths north of the wharf I had been wondering whether I dare reverse to the winding point when I need to turn. Until now the presence of two lines of moored boats (one either side of the cut) and having to negotiate the bridge had put me off, but as it was quiet and there was no one about I decided to risk it. I have to say I managed it perfectly and didn’t hit a thing! I emptied the cassette and got water at the saniary station and then winded at the wharf before tying up on the visitor moorings at the start of Shelmore embankment. As usual, there was no one about to witness this display of skill!
Saturday 16th May
It was a dull and showery morning, so although, as usual, the brasses were in desperate need of a polish there was nothing I could do about it. Instead, I took the empty gas bottle over to Norbury Wharf and exchanged it for a new one at a cost of £21.25. It was the first time I’d had to buy a gas bottle for nearly a year when the price had been £20. By 10.30 I was ready for the off – down to High Onn and then back to Gnosall for tie up. I was surprised to see hardly any boats moored at the popular moorings at Gnosall as I passed through and even more surprised to see so few at High Onn – even the regulars who moor in the winding hole were absent. I was, therefore, back at Gnosall, between the bridges, by 13.00 for lunch and a snooze before setting off on a bus tour to Telford, Coalport, Ironbridge Gorge and Wellington calling in for a few pints along the way and ending up in Oakengates from where service 481 took me safely home to Starcross.

Sunday 17th May
Sunday morning was cool and showery, so I did the “inside” jobs until it fined up a bit, setting off at 11.30 back to Norbury Junction. The sun came out on the way so, reluctant as ever to stop, I carried on up to Grub Street to wind before returning to the mooring at 13.35.

To Wheaton Aston

5th – 7th June 2009
Crew: Jim and Hil
Friday, 5th June
Gnosall is a popular destination for our weekend trips and occasionally we get as far as Brewood, but we had never stopped at Wheaton Aston overnight before. I came up to the boat by train and bus after work, cycling from Newport on the folder and arriving at 19.10. After tea, I cycled up to Woodseaves village to visit a couple of pubs. The Cock Inn is an old-fashioned Victorian local with two separate rooms, one dominated by a television set and one a bit quieter. It sells Banks’s beer. The Plough is now more of a restaurant than a pub, although it does sell three rather unpleasant beers from a micro-brewery called “Grumpy Chef” (more of a “grumpy customer” is my case). At about 22.20 I wondered whether to bother with a second pint but the decision was made for me as the barmaid locked the front door and the “pub” was almost empty. I cycled back to the Junction Inn for a last pint on what had by now become an unpleasant wintry evening.
Saturday 6th June
I was woken by heavy rain in the night which continued for most of the day! I untied at 09.00 and set off southwards past the wharf but was brought to a stop at Plardiwick bridge due to a fallen tree. BW were already on the scene and within an hour had cleared enough room for boats to pass. I went on only as far as Gnosall as I needed to stop and do a bit of shopping for the rest of the weekend. I set off again after lunch and was able to help two BW (or contractors’?) workmen who needed rescuing from their mudhopper which was stationary in mid-channel. I took one across to the offside bank where his mate threw him a rope so that they could tie up. I’m afraid I didn’t wait to see how they got back to the towpath! It was 15.00 and still raining by the time I got to Wheaton Aston and tied up opposite Turner’s Garage where I lit the fire, showered and had a cop of cocoa and crumpets – Glorious June!
Turner’s is famous for selling some of the cheapest diesel on the canals although as it closes on Saturday afternoons I couldn’t take advantage. At 18.00 Hil arrived by car having spent the day on a field course the other side of Shrewsbury. The weather had been just as bad there and she was very cold and very wet and glad that we were eating in that evening. By about 21.15 it had stopped raining and we just had time for a walk around the lanes surrounding the village before dark.
Turner's Wharf at Wheaton Aston
The garage from the road. Road diesel is a bit more expensive due to the different tax situation

Sunday, 7th June
It was still raining on Sunday morning. Hil felt I needed a break from the rain so she steered as far as Gnosall while I sheltered inside.
                                             A shot that sums up the weekend well!
By the time I took over at Gnosall the weather had improved and we stopped at Norbury Wharf to fill up with diesel at only a penny a litre more than Turner’s putting in 80.6 litres for £61.59 (which I make 76.4p per litre at a 60/40 tax split).

Summer Trip Part 1

Norbury Junction to Middlewich
16th – 22nd June 2009
Crew: Jim, Hugh, Hil
Tuesday, 16th June: Norbury to Knighton

Set off after work by train, bus and folding bike and arrived Norbury Jc at 18.55. Hugh arrived from Huddersfield 15 minutes later having walked up the towpath from the bus stop at Gnosall. We’d already decided to make a start that evening and so were away by 19.45 on a warm and sunny evening. Passing the Anchor at High Offley and the Wharf Tavern at Shebdon we carried on to the visitor moorings just past Knighton, from where we could walk to the Haberdashers Arms. The Haberdashers is almost as “unspoilt” as the Anchor but less well known as it is a couple of kilometres off the cut. It also has a better choice of beer and we enjoyed a few pints of Banks’s Mild and Three Tuns “Solstice” from Bishops Castle.

Wednesday, 17 June: Knighton to Audlem

We made an early start as Hugh wanted to be sure of getting to Audlem in time for a  bus to Nantwich station. Leaving at 07.45 we reached Tyrley at 09.20 and had an easy passage through the flight exiting the bottom lock (of 5) at 09.55. The early start had been at the expense of breakfast so we stopped at Market Drayton for half-an-hour for a bite to eat. We were going to take water here but both taps were in use so we carried on. By now, yesterday’s sunshine had become heavy rain. The five locks at Adderley were next and these took us 40 minutes to descend with a few other boats around. By this stage we were both getting very wet.
Tyrley Locks

A wet but cheerful Hugh at Adderley bottom lock
Less cheerfully, at Adderley I felt a sudden change in my heart rate, which was later confirmed as a recurrence of the condition that had been “cured” earlier in the year and which would make the rest of the trip rather harder for me and my crew.
From Adderley it's only a short run to the top of the fifteen locks at Audlem, which we reached at 13.00, dropping down the first two before our lunch stop. During lunch the rain showed signs of easing so we delayed the restart to 14.30. Hugh now had to do all the gate and paddle work as all I could manage was the steering. We were able to take water at Audlem wharf but whilst we were doing so the rain re-started and we got wet again passing through the remaining three locks to the bottom of the flight. After tying up I walked back into the village with Hugh and after we’d worked out (correctly as it happened) at which unmarked point the Nantwich bus would stop we repaired to the Lord Combermere pub to wait for it. After he’d gone I went back to the boat for a bite to eat and although I did manage a walk round the village afterwards I really needed an early night and was in bed by 22.00.
                                                       The Bridge Inn at Audlem
                                              The Shroppie Fly at Audlem

Thursday, 18th June: Audlem to Middlewich

At least last night’s early bedtime meant that I was up and about in time for an 07.15 getaway this morning. There were now only six locks between me and my destination at Middlewich and I decided to try and get there today. Obviously being single-handed I knew the locks would be slower to negotiate even without having to take it easy but the two at Hack Green took me half an hour, although this was partly due to following another boat. Unusually, there was space on the embankment at Nantwich so I stopped for breakfast and to pick up some drinking water at the sanitary station. (We don’t drink the water from the water tank on board having read too many articles in waterways magazines about how to keep them clean. There was a queue of boats at Hurleston Junction, but they were all waiting to go up the Llangollen canal and I was able to overtake and carry on towards Barbridge.
                     The queue for Llangollen at HurlestonBarbridge Junction

I wasn’t so lucky at the next lock, Cholmondeston on the Middlewich branch, where I joined a queue of four boats waiting to go through.
                                                  Joining the queue at Cholmondeston
At least it meant that there were plenty of other boaters around to work the lock for me, although as I left I noted that it had taken 75 minutes to get through. There was a similar queue for Minshull lock, although here I was able to have lunch whilst waiting. Oncoming boaters were reporting that Middlewich was very busy and it was suggested that the embankment on the approach to the town would be the best bet for mooring.  Before I got there I noticed good visitor moorings a bit further out at Bridge 26 but a short trial period showed up a flaw – Bridge 26 itself, which carries a busy road across the canal on which drivers feel the need to announce their presence by blowing their horn. In the end I decided to move down through Spelthorne lock and onto the embankment, even though it meant knocking in mooring pins.  Canal Boat columnist and author, Steve Haywood was moored nearby on “Justice” but I didn’t get the chance to speak. After tea I walked down into the town for some pre-festival atmosphere, which I found in the Boar’s Head where an impromptu folk music session was underway.
Friday 19th June: At Middlewich
First thing in the morning I walked over to Tesco to use their toilet and then bought a paper at a newsagent in the High Street before returning to the boat for breakfast. I gave Starcross a good wash and brush up, polished the brasses and varnished the cratch frame. This tired me out somewhat so I spent a lazy afternoon dozing on board, disturbed only by passing boats that kept pulling the mooring pins out. as the ground was too hard to drive them in far enough to hold. I spent the evening at the Folk Festival but with mixed results. The outdoor venues were a bit cold for the time of year and the indoor ones a bit crowded. It was also obvious that many Middlewich drinkers have no interest in the music and just want to carry on as normal, drinking and chatting through the performances.
Saturday 20th June
I had a bit of a lie in but made sure I was down in the town centre for the opening parade of the festival, which consists of Morris dancers and other performers marching through the town to the festival site.

                                                           Folk Festival Parade
Returning to the boat I found yet an another mooring pin had been pulled out so decided to move Starcross down the canal a bit where there was some piling to tie up to, although the lack of depth at the towpath edge left her about six inches out into the channel. Hilary arrived about seven o’clock, but as we were eating our evening meal some children jumped onto the counter, stole the brass chain off the chimney and for good measure threw our mop into the cut! Maybe the embankment would have been the better place  to tie up after all. We had another variable night at the folk festival. “Shake the Barley” and the “Jug Band” at the Big Lock were good but some bands, such as “Look North” were playing music that was only “folk” by the widest possible definition – one that includes jazz and even rock! The highlight on the evening however in the Kinderton Arms at nearly midnight when the Newcastle Kingsmen Morris side gave an amazing performance of their sword dance, despite having been dancing at various venues throughout the day and without a break.

Sunday 21st June: At Middlewich
There was nothing much happening at the folk festival first thing on Sunday morning so we took Starcross down to the junction to turn round, after which we were able to tie up nearer to the town. Later we went to listen to a string quartet performing in the church but the performance was spoilt by people who had been attending the previous service who stood around and chatted throughout. Then there was more morris dancing at the Bull Ring in the town centre after which we paid a visit to the “Boat” part of the festival, finishing at Kings Lock after which we returned to Starcross for tea.
Narrow Boat "Sweden" at the Festival

                                             Starcross in Aqueduct Marina
Monday 22nd June: Middlewich to Aqueduct Marina
I had arranged to leave Starcross at Aqueduct Marina near Church Minshull for a fortnight because I had to return to work, so this morning I worked her up through Spelthorne lock and back along the Middlewich branch, arriving at about 11.45. I then had to walk about two miles back into the village to catch the bus to Crewe for a train back to Hereford.

Summer Trip Part 2

Middlewich – Marple – Penkridge
Saturday 4th July: Aqueduct Marina to Near Wheelock
Drove to Kidsgrove and met our guest crew for the weekend, Annette and daughter, Robina. Leaving their car safely, we hoped, at Kidsgrove railway station we drove back to Aqueduct Marina at Church Minshull, where Starcross had been left for a fortnight after the Middlewich Boat and Folk Festival
By the time we had unpacked and had lunch it was 13.30 before we could get away back along the branch towards Middlewich. We got to Wardle lock and the junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at 16.00. Maureen Ward, unofficial lockeeper here asked me “Who made your chimney?” I think it was her idea of a joke and that her follow-up line was going to be “You’d better get him ready to make you another!” as the bridges on the T&M have very limited headroom, but I’d spoiled her little joke by taking it down, as I remembered the bridges from previous trips.

No sooner were we through the lock and waiting for the next, King’s Lock, than it started to rain and a combination of this and the heavy paddles on the T&M locks made it somewhat unpleasant for Hil and Annette, who were on lock working duty. The locks out of Middlewich were quite busy and we were part of a procession of eastbound boats, although it didn’t really cause much of a delay.
Leaving Middlewich on the Trent & Mersey
The weather improved later and we tied up in a quiet spot just east of the Manchester – Crewe railway line and before Wheelock where we enjoyed a superb sunset .
                                Overgrown towpath edge at our overnight mooring.
                                                              Sunset near Bridge 158
Shortly before dark a two-man canoe came past in a hurry, then another. The third one carried a small headlight and soon they were coming past at regular intervals. A passing cyclist stopped and introduced himself as a marshall for the “Cheshire Ring Race” an annual 96 mile run which starts on the Macclesfield Canal and ends, at least 18 hours later at the same place having completed the Cheshire Ring!
Sunday 5th July: Near Wheelock to Kidsgrove
We untied at 08.45 and trundled into Wheelock to take on water and have breakfast. The latter took rather longer than the former and I felt guilty about hogging the water point although as there are two taps and space for two boats here we didn’t inconvenience anyone.  We were away by 10.15 to start the climb up the Cheshire Locks. Once again the locks were busy and we were in a queue. We didn’t feel that we were being held up – or holding anyone else up – but eventually the boat behind us, who was arriving at the bottom gates of each lock as we left the top, asked us how far we were going. Presumably he didn’t like the answer he got and we didn’t see him again for the rest of the day.
                                  Time for lunch on the way up the Cheshire Locks
We stopped for a towpath lunch above Pierpoint locks and took an extended stop of nearly an hour and a half! The canal seemed quieter in the afternoon but eventually we caught up with an Andersen Fleet hire boat on the last few locks up to Red Bull. It was here we met a cruiser, being worked single handed by someone who seemed very new to the game. We had to remind him to close the top gate behind him after he’d entered the lock and he spent an age tying and untying his boat before working through. He asked us how far it was to Wheelock and seemed surprised to hear that although it was only six miles there were over 20 locks to negotiate. It was his plan to get there for the night, but as it had taken us eight hours and it was now 17.30 I doubt that he made it. We continued up to Harding’s Wood Junction, but not before passing under this very low bridge just before the top lock.

Low Bridge at Kidsgrove
Just after turning on to the Macclesfield Canal we stopped to allow Annette and Robina to leave us and they were promptly offered a lift by a motorist they asked for directions who took them back to their car at the station car park. We carried on the short distance to the moorings just over Poole Aqueduct where we stopped for the night and recovered.

Monday, 6th July: Kidsgrove to Ramsdell
Today was planned as a non-boating day so, after a lie in we walked into Kidsgrove and took a bus up to Mow Cop. The weather had deteriorated and the rain had started again forcing us to take shelter in the churchyard. Eventually it eased and we walked up to the top of the hill on which the village sits, crossing the county boundary between Cheshire and Staffordshire as we did so. My last visit here was over 30 years ago during a New Year boating holiday on which we eventually got frozen in at Congleton. I remembered the folly on the hill top and the fantastic views in all directions – that on the Cheshire side in particular extending to the Welsh mountains, Fiddlers Ferry power station on the Mersey and Liverpool (Anglican) cathedral.

At the top of the hill is a folly built by local bigwig Randle Wilbraham in 1754. During its history the village has been home to many and varied industries including coal mining, quarrying, brick making and the manufacturing of fustian. It was also a centre of primitive methodism, which thrived here in the 19th Century.
The View from Mow Cop

The Cheshire View

My other memory was of a pub called the “Cheshire View” situated on an extremely steep hill. It was still there and I was surprised to find it was very much as I remembered it from all those years ago. After a lunchtime pint, during which a crack of thunder and lightning put all the pub’s lights out, the weather improved again and we were able to walk off the hill and back to the boat.

Hil offered to go to the shops but first I had to change the damaged tyre on the folding bike. This I did on the towpath but as the rear wheel has a hub gear it was more complicated than normal and took a bit longer. then, as I was climbing back onto the counter with it I slipped and banged my leg against the counter. I didn’t fall in and I didn’t drop the bike, but I was in agony for a while until the pain wore off. Hil abandoned plans to go shopping and as it was still only late afternoon we decided to move on a little, eventually stopping at Bridge 86. The visitor moorings here were full but there was space beyond the bridge. Unfortunately we were then opposite a liveaboard boat whose occupants had settled down for a night in front of their widescreen telly which involved them running their engine well after the 20.00 cut-off time. Fortunately, by now there was space on the visitor moorings so we pulled Starcross back through the bridge and found a quieter spot.
                                                              Quiet moorings at Bridge 86
We decided to move on for our overnight stop and got as far as bridge 86. The visitor moorings were full when we arrived but there was space just through the bridge. Unfortunately a residential boat moored opposite continued to run its engine well past the 8pm deadline, presumably so its occupants could watch their wide screen telly, but by 9.15 we realised that there was now space on the moorings and pulled Starcross back through the bridge to a quieter spot before walking over the fields to take a look at Little Moreton Hall, inadvertently giving their security staff an awareness test when we happened to stray from the public footpath.
                                                           Little Moreton Hall at dusk
Tuesday, 7th July
We woke up to heavy rain but as it hadn’t stopped by 10.30 we made a start anyway. Fortunately, the rain gradually eased and by the time we reached Congleton at lunch time it had stopped. The moorings near the railway station at bridge 75 are very convenient for the small parade of shops that, for once, contain some very useful establishments. (greengrocer, baker, chemist, food store etc). The sun even made an appearance in the afternoon and Hil continued to steer as she had done all morning and until we reached Bosley locks.
Waiting for an oncoming boat at locks 11/12, Bosley
We started at the bottom at 14.05 almost immediately meeting “bow thruster man” between locks 12 and 11 on the sharp bend underneath the railway bridge. Despite the rain starting again and the awkwardness of having two top gates without even handrails or footboards to make crossing easy (or even possible) we reached the top at 15.55  -an average of 9 minutes per lock – not bad for two people and with most of the flight “against” us.
Lock 3 at Bosley in the rain

Bosley Top Lock
Hil had a well-deserved shower in the services block at the top and then we pushed on through Macclesfield to Bollington arriving at 19.40 and just finding space on the visitor moorings at Adelphi Mill. A whole section of towpath here has had its mooring rings removed, despite still being designated as visitor moorings and we wondered if this was another case of BW kow-towing to developers – this time of the said mill which had been converted into empty offices.
Wednesday 8th July
We left Bollington at 09.40 and had a pleasant run up to Marple arriving at 12.00 with no rain. On the way, we did see this boat, which told us how Starcross might have looked had we decided to put both our names on the cabin side:

The Smith, Davies Boat
The afternoon was spent looking round Marple, walking down the locks into the town and then through Brabyns Park to Compton, returning via the aqueduct on the Peak Forest Canal. On the way back up the locks we met a single-handed boater who hadn’t had his boat very long and, amongst other things, didn’t realise you could close the bottom gates of a lock without raising the paddles! We showed him how to do this and gave him a few more tips before leaving him to it as we had to get back to get ready for going out for a meal, which was very good although we were the only customers in the restaurant.
Thursday, 9th July
By now, my digital camera had packed in completely, probably due to my trying to use it in the excessive rain of the last few days. Photographs of the next part of the trip are therefore in short supply. Starcross was still facing north, so the first task was to motor up to the junction with the Peak Forest Canal and wind. then it was back to Macclesfield where we tied up whilst Hil got ready to leave -cycling to town to get the bus to Sandbach and then cycling again to pick up the car at Aqueduct Marina. Meanwhile, Martin was making his way on the same bus route from Crewe to join me. All the coming and going had been completed by 13.10 after which Martin and I set off, our passage back down Bosley locks being delayed by a noddy boat crew who were leaving the bottom gates open. We got to the bottom lock at 16.48 after spending exactly 98 minutes descending the flight (just over 8 minutes per lock, not bad given the rain, the noddy boat and the double top gates). We carried on through Congleton passing this wonderful example of a roving, or “snake” bridge, where the towpath changes sides at Congleton.

Our stop for the night was at Scholar Green, where we tied up at the bottom of someone’s back garden only for them to come out and “remind” us we weren’t allowed to run our engine after eight o’clock.  As it had been running since nine that morning it hardly mattered. We ate in, but afterwards walked over to the Rising Sun, an excellent Marston’s pub in the village. Bridge 77 at Congleton

Waiting to go through Harecastle Tunnel

Friday, 10th July

Untied at 07.40 and got to Harecastle Tunnel 55 minutes later. A one-way system operates through the tunnel, controlled by tunnel keepers and we had to wait for a northbound convoy of four boats to emerge before we could go through. We were the first of two boats heading south, but the keeper had been expecting more and had asked me to tie up as closely as possible to the tunnel entrance. This made negotiating the turn into the tunnel entrance a bit tricky, but I got a “ten-out-of-ten” for my entrance! Passage of the tunnel took 33 minutes. Although narrow, its easy enough to get through. The height drops sharply in the middle section necessitating the steerer of a traditional stern boat to stoop for a few hundred metres but apart from that its no trouble. Due to the forced air ventilation system, the southern end of the tunnel has a door, which is kept shut until just before you reach it – a bit disconcerting if you are used to seeing the far end of a tunnel gradually increase from a pinprick of distant light.
After Harecastle the canal passes through the city of Stoke-on-Trent.  At one time this stretch was very industrial and even passed through the inside of a steelworks. the canal hereabouts went through a period of post-industrial semi-dereliction after the steelworks and a lot of other canalside industry closed but now “re-generation” is taking place, which makes it look better – if less interesting. We had a quick stop at the bottom of Stoke locks, where the canal was once moved to accommodate a new road and then moved back to its original course when the road was re-built and then followed another boat all the way through Trentham and Meathod locks and on to Stone where, after a very slow passage through the locks here we tied up well past the town which was very busy with moored boats.
That evening there was a beer festival in the Swan, but it was very busy and had a complicated system of tokens to pay for your beer so after one pint we moved on to the “Royal Exchange” – an excellent Titanic Brewery pub at the north end of town.
Saturday 11th July
Despite last night’s pub crawl we were away not too late at 09.00. Our original plan had been to get as far as Penkridge on Sunday afternoon but once we realised we could get there today we decided to press on. Unfortuantely, this meant that when, at Weston on Trent, we passed “Caxton” and “Matilda Rose” we were unable to stop and say “Hello”. We were third in a queue of three boats for Weston lock which delayed us for half an hour and Martin made a mess of the exit when another boat came round the corner unexpectedly – he recovered well though! We stopped at Great Haywood for lunch then carried on through Deptmore Lock and all the way to Penkridge where we tied up below the bottom lock at 18.15.
One reason for heading to Penkridge was that we now had to leave Starcross unattended for a week whilst I went back to work. The moorings below Penkridge lock are ideal for this: They are unrestricted as far as stopping time is concerned; have piling to tie up to; are overlooked on both sides and even have a couple of permanently moored boats to stop next to. I was quite confident that leaving Starcross here would be fine and as the town also has a railway station with frequent trains to Birmingham it couldn’t really be better.
Saturday 18th July
After a week back at work, Hil and I drove up to Penkridge arriving at 10.20 to find Starcross safe and well on the mooring. We were quickly on board and away through the locks towards Gailey, where we arrived at 13.20.

Climbing from Pankridge towards Otherton
 From time to time people on the towpath ask us why “Starcross” is called “Starcross” and tell us that its their home town (in Devon) or ask us if that’s where we are from. We aren’t, of course, and neither do we have any idea why she bears that particular name. She was “Starcross” when we bought her and we don’t see any reason to change it.
After lunch Hil cycled back to move the car to Brewood (our intended destination for the night) whist I carried on single-handed down the Staffs & Worcester. The Shroppie and Staffs & Worcester run parallel to each other hereabouts only a few miles apart until they converge at Autherley Junction and Hil was able to cycle to Penkridge, drive to Brewood and cycle back to bridge 72 near Coven in the time that it took me to get there by boat.
We were at Autherley Junction for 16.30 and making such good progress that we decided to carry on past Brewood to Wheaton Aston where we arrived at 19.20 and found a mooring spot just big enough to fit Starcross into (its a good job I get plenty of practice fitting a 50ft boat into a 51ft space at Norbury Wharf!) At the lock we met a local couple who had some New Zealander friends staying with them. they had taken them to Farmers’ Bridge in Birmingham that day “top see the boats going through the locks” but hadn’t seen a single one. We were pleased therefore to give them a free demonstration as to how it was done.
We ate out in the Hartley Arms on the canalside that evening although we were a bit disappointed with the quality of our food.

                                              Disappointing food in the Hartley Arms
Sunday 19th July
Hil cycled back to Brewood first thing to take the car to Norbury Junction (aren’t these cars a blessed nuisance?) whilst I carried on alone. By the time I got to High Onn it had started to rain and I met four oncoming boats in the narrows through Cowley tunnel, where there is “just” room to pass. At Gnosall I came up behind a very slow Countrywide Cruisers’ hire boat and followed him until he panicked and went left, right, bang! into the offside bank – where he stuck. I did ask if he was alright and he said he was – probably not realising he was now stuck in the mud. He came through Norbury Junction an hour or so after I arrived there though so I assumed he was OK.
Hil was waiting for me at Norbury Wharf and, after lunch, we left Starcross and drove home. We had been away from Norbury for just over a month (although on the move for less than a fortnight).

Norbury to High Onn and Back

7th – 9th August
Friday 7th August
I took the afternoon off work and drove up via Much Wenlock arriving about 16.00 and immediately set about washing and polishing one side of the boat. I also restored the brasses, using “Shiny Sinks” for the first time after seeing it recommended on the Canal World forum. It worked a treat and after a final polishing with Brasso the brasses were respectable again.
I wasn’t so pleased when the “hippie boat” on the visitor moorings started its engine at 20.00 – the time when engines are supposed to be shut down for the night! I walked over to the Junction Inn and had a drink with Bea from “Poppy” and Norbury Wharf’s manager, David until 22.30.

Saturday 8th August
I began the day by reversing the hundred metres or so back through bridge 38 and to the wharf, where I winded Starcross and set off towards Gnosall at about 10.00. It was a very slow journey due to moored boats, a national angling competition that had brought out the fishermen and then a very slow boat in front at Cowley apparently being steered by a committee!

I had planned to stop at High onn wharf but it was occupied by the fishermen so I winded and rerturned to tie up between bridges 26 and 27 to have lunch and give the other side of the boat a wash and polish. This turned out to be a far from satisfactory place to moor as the ground was very soft for about six inches and then rock hard underneath, which made it difficult to get the mooring pins in far enough. I’d finished by 15.00 so took Starcross back to Gnosall where I had a doze then later, made tea and after that took the bus into Stafford for the evening
Sunday 9th August
I was away by 09.20 with the trip back to Norbury taking just an hour, after which I tied up, tidied up and drove back to Hereford.

Trip to See the Leak

31st August 2009
In mid-August the Shropshire Union Canal was unexpectedly closed north of Norbury Junction when a leak developed on Shebdon embankment. I drove up on August bank Holiday Monday to see what all the fuss was about. My first call was at Knighton, where I parked the car near the Cadbury’s factory and walked down the towpath to see what could be seen. There wasn’t a lot to see. British Waterways had fenced off the towpath so that no one couild get near but they had thoughtfully posted photographs of the hole in the bed of the canal on the barrier fence. I returned to the car and drove back to Norbury Wharf where I met Gill and David who arrived on their boat “Endeavour”, which I hardly recognised as they’d repainted it – a job they’d done themselves. After lunch, I took Starcross back to the southern end of the closed section at Shebdon wharf, passing Endeavour which was teid up outside the Anchor at High Offley. Understandably the canal was very quiet and I only saw five moving boats all afternoon which for a bank holiday on the Shroppie was amazing. I rounded off the afternoon with a pint in the Junction Inn and then picked a few blackberries, getting stung by a wasp in the process.

Autumn Weekend

Norbury to High Onn and Grub Street
18th – 20th September
Friday 18th September
Four times a year I attend a meeting in Birmingham, which is always held late on a Friday morning and means that I can go straight up to Norbury Junction afterwards on the train, bus from Stafford and walk from Gnosall which today took me until about 16.00. There was nothing much needing doing on the boat, so after tea I took a walk over to the Junction Inn for a couple of pints, calling it a night at 22.30.
Saturday 19th September
I reversed Starcross down to the wharf and winded before buying a new gas bottle and setting off south along the Shroppie. It was slow going due to a national angling competition being held on the canal which meant an angler every few yards most of the way to Gnosall.  I had to change my plans to stop at High Onn because the usual mooring spot was occupied by anglers so winded and returned to bridge 26, where I eventually found a space to stop. I spent the afternoon washing and polishing one side of the boat, but it wasn’t ideal as the ground was too soft to hold the mooring pins in and passing boats kept pulling them out even when not travelling at excessive speed.

                                                       Mooring at Bridge 26 near High Onn
By 15.00 I’d had enough so upped sticks and returned to the visitor moorings at Gnosall from where, after a meal, I caught the bus into Newport for the evening.

Sunday 20th September
I made an early start back to Norbury, but was enjoying myself so much I carried on past the mooring and on to Grub Street where I winded and then returned. After a quick lunch I walked back to Gnosall and then caught the bus into Stafford for a train home.

The Stourport Trip

Norbury Junction – Stourbridge Canal – Stourport – Norbury Junction
17th – 31st October
Crew (at various times) Jim, Hil, Duncan, Kris.
Saturday 17th October
We drove up from Hereford arriving at 11.45. Before setting off I suddenly remembered that it had been a while since I’d put any diesel in the tank and as Norbury Wharf is one of the cheapest places to do I took Starcross over to the wharf and put in 100 litres at a cost of £86. Then we pulled over to the visitor moorings and had lunch sitting in the front well before eventually getting away at 13.45. It was another slow trip down to Gnosall, with a long line of moored boats on the approach to the embankment then fishermen and more boats again at Gnosall. I didn’t mind as it was a lovely sunny afternoon and, as a bonus, we passed steam narrowboat Emily Anne at Cowley. It was after five o’clock by the time we got to Brewood so despite our original intention being to go further we decided to call it a day here. Today was my birthday so we wandered over to the Bridge Inn for a drink before returning to the boat where Hil cooked a splendid birthday meal.
Sunday 18th October
It was another lovely day and we were away by 09.30. The seasonal phenomenon of “leaves on the line”, whereby fallen leaves in the canal collect around the boat’s prop eventually bringing it to almost a complete stop until you give a quick blast in reverse to clear them, slowed us down quite a bit so it was mid-day before we got to Autherley Junction. Here we turned right onto the Staffs & Worcester and carried on down to the winding hole above Wightwick Lock before winding and returning to Compton where Starcross was to be left on the visitor moorings for a few days whilst I returned to work.
Of course, we now had to get back to our car, which was at Norbury Junction and this we did by a very enjoyable cycle ride through the minor roads and lanes of the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. Due to my heart condition the 20 mile trip turned out to be a little more than I could managed comfortably and when Hil suggested I waited in the Boat Inn at Gnosall while she went on to get the car I didn’t complain!
Wednesday, 21st October
I returned to Compton by train to Wolverhampton and then the local bus, which stops just over the bridge on the canal below Compton lock. Duncan was coming from Mossley by train and I’d agreed to meet him at Aldersley Junction at three o’clock. After spending the morning on the boat I set off just before two and arrived at Aldersley just as Duncan appeared on the towpath, having walked down from the station. We immediately set off up the flight.

                                               Wolverhampton bottom lock - note the rope!
Working two-handed our method was that Duncan would work the lock  up to and including opening the top paddles to start it filling. He would then walk on ahead to get the next one ready (there are 21 locks at Wolverhampton). When the lock was full I would open the top gate, take Starcross out, bring her to a stop just outside and then close the gate and paddles behind me, always being careful to take the stern rope off with me to stop her drifting away.
In this way we sped through the flight in two-and-a-half hours, arriving well before dark to tie up just above the top lock on moorings that are very convenient for the city centre; a fact that we availed ourselves of later by walking into town for a pint or two.

Thursday 22nd October
First task this morning was to visit the sanitary station to empty our toilet and make a contribution towards filling theirs! The more often you can use off-boat facilities in this way the less often you have to undertake one of the less pleasant domestic tasks associated with boating.
At Wolverhampton the sanitary station is located inside the old British Waterways depot and I’d been waiting for the opportunity to take Starcross in for some time.

                                                         In the depot at Wolverhampton
The depot is no longer in use, in fact the main buildings have been converted into a night club, but much of the atmosphere of its working days remains – such as these restored signs that refer to its previous owners before nationalisation in 1948.

                                               Broad Street Depot, Wolverhampton
We left the depot at 10.05 and were at the top of Tipton Factory locks at 11.50. Passage of the three locks here took exactly 21 minutes, or 7 per lock. On the way down we were hailed by a towpath walker who said she had just moved to Tipton from Norbury – and was finding it rather different!
We headed off along the New Main Line, but only as far as Dudley Port Junction, where a sharp right turn took us on to the Netherton Tunnel line. Duncan steered through the tunnel and his no-nonsense approach had us through its 3,027 yards in just 32 minutes (you can work out the mph for yourself!). On the other side of the tunnel we joined the Dudley Canal at Windmill End and tied up for an hour for a lunch break.

                                                               Windmill End Junction
With time to spare, we considered the relative merits of the three possible side trips from here. Hawne Basin was too far, particularly with the return passage of the low and narrow Gosty Hill Tunnel to contend with. The Boshboil Arm was too short and had to winding hole, so the Bumblehole Branch it was. This branch, together with the Boshboil Arm was once a loop on the old Dudley Canal before the direct Netherton Tunnel line opened in 1858. The loop itself was later cut in two to form the two short arms we know today. Entrance to the Bumblehole branch involves passing under the ultra-low Dunn’s Bridge, which we did with inches to spare.

                                                              Squeezing under Dunns Bridge
The branch itself is boringly suburban but terminates in an attractive basin now used as permanent moorings where there was just room to turn. The moorings are protected from floating debris by a bright yellow plastic boom – at least it was bright yellow until I ran over it on the way out and it emerged from underneath the hull a lovely shade of muddy brown!

          Approaching Bumblehole Moorings - note the yellow boom across the cut.
After that we returned to the main line as fast as possible and headed off down the Dudley Canal in the direction of Merry Hill. Merry Hill was our destination for the night, but before that we had one further excursion in mind. At Park Head Junction, Blower’s Green the top three locks of the Park Head flight take you up to Dudley Tunnel.  Boats are not allowed through the tunnel under their own power – they have to be towed by the Dudley Canal Trust’s electric tug – and Starcross is too big to fit anyway and I wasn’t sure if you could go up the locks if you weren’t going through the tunnel. But there were no signs to say so and no one around to ask, so up we went. The locks, which can’t see much use, were in very good condition and we were soon up at the top lock, despite the now heavy rain.
At the top of the locks I winded Starcross and reversed the few hundred metres to the southern portal of Dudley Tunnel, where I took this improbable photograph!

                                                      Starcross "leaving" Dudley Tunnel
Then it was down the locks to the junction, where we surprised a BW employee who, jokingly, asked if we “had come through the wrong tunnel” and on to Merry Hill, where we tied up on the embankment overlooking the supermarket as the moorings at the Waterfront can be noisy.
That evening we walked down the Delph “nine” and along to the Bull and Bladder pub, the brewery tap for Batham’s excellent brewery.

Friday, 23rd October: Merry Hill to Cookley
We saw the sun rise over Merry Hill at exactly 7.55 and were away from the mooring by 8.20. The nine original locks at the Delph were replaced by eight new and deeper ones in 1858 but the flight is still known to boaters as the “nine”. At the bottom we passed on to the Stourbridge Canal and reached the top of the 16 locks that fall towards the town of that name at 10.10.
A view down the Stourbridge 16 at Wordsley
Parts of the flight are very scenic, with the middle section around Wordsley being particularly interesting. The large cone shaped tower in the above photograph is one of the last remnants of Stourbridge’s traditional glass-making industry and now forms part of a small museum. In front of it is “Dadford’s Shed” a boatyard where traditional ex-working boats are usually to be seen.
Some of the canalside housing here is also of interest, although the off-licence and shop appeared to be closed when we passed through on a Friday lunchtime.
Looking back up the flight
At the bottom of the flight the Stourbridge Town arm beckoned, so we took the short diversion to the basin at the far end where we stopped for water and a bite to eat. Before doing so we had to wind, and to do that we had to negotiate the moorings, where boats were tied up three abreast, leaving just enough room for visiting boats to pass.
Only just room to pass at Stourbridge
At 13.40 we set off back to Wordsley Junction and along the Stourbridge Canal to Stourton Junction, where we turned left onto the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at exactly 15.07. It was too early to stop when we passed Kinver, so we decided to save that for the way back and carried on to Cookley, where we tied up near the tunnel. Cookley has two pubs but neither are particularly attractive, although the beer was OK.
Saturday, 24th October: Cookley to Kinver, via Stourport
We untied, in the rain, at 8.40 and set off towards Kidderminster. There is almost a convention that any boat passing through Kidderminster for the first time has to have its photo taken in front of the church and Starcross was no esxception.

                                              Starcross in front of Kidderminster Parish Church
Given that the purpose of the trip was to visit Stourport it was somewhat ironic that we only had an hour to spare to have a look round. At Stourport, the Staffs & Worcs Canal joins the River Severn, passing through a series of locks and basins to do so. At one time the complex of basins was even larger than it is today and, more recently, part of one of the disused basins has been re-opened as part of a housing development, although there appears to be no access for boats just yet.

                                                                  The Clock Warehouse

                           The narrow staircase locks leading up from the river at     Stourport. There is a parallel flight of broad locks for larger river-going craft
Previously, a feature of the basins was the “Tontine” an impressive hotel and bar that is as old as the canal itself. I remember visiting it in the 1970′s, during its period of “faded glory” and even then it was impressive. Now, sadly, its closed and undergoing conversion into the inevitable waterside apartments that increasingly line the canals.

                                                                   The Tontine, Stourport
After our look around the basin complex it was time to set off back towards Kinver. We needed some shopping so stopped briefly at Kidderminster and while Duncan popped into the supermarket I chatted to passers-by, including the supermarket security guard about boats and boating.
We were back past Cookley at 16.15 and continued as far as Kinver, where we tied up for the night. In the 1970s Kinver was famous for its collection of real ale pubs selling beers from small, local breweries – a rarity in those days. So popular did it become that the village’s landlords asked the Campaign for Real Ale NOT to publicise the existance of so many good pubs. Well those days have gone and several of the pubs have closed but we did find an excellent Batham’s pub in the village centre, where we spent most of the evening.
Sunday 25th October: Kinver to Wombourne
The clocks went back this morning, but – in a plot hatched up late last night in the pub – we had decided to ignore this fact so as to get an early start! (Well, it seemed a good idea at the time). One of the problems of Autumn boating is “leaves on the line”, whereby fallen leaves in the canal collect around the boat’s propeller and eventually bring it almost to a stop. The only way to clear them is to throw the engine into reverse from time to time, but this slows things down as well. The problem is at its worse in the locks, where the reversing tactic doesn’t work as there is nowhere for the displaced leaves to go.

                                                                     Leaf Soup in a lock
I had to back in work the following week, so we needed somewhere to leave Starcross in the meantime. This proved to be Wombourne, where just under Bridge 43 a short stretch of 5-day limit visitor moorings opposite the Waggon and Horses pub proved ideal.

                                                Safe mooring for a week at Wombourne
Friday, 30th October
Drove up to Norbury Junction in the afternoon to meet Kris and leave a car ready for our arrival on Starcross. We were a bit early so went into the tea room for tea and cakes, where we met Sue from narrowboat “No Problem”. No Problem was having a partial refit at Norbury Wharf and Sue was catching up on her website on her laptop.
Kris arrived shortly after and we left our car behind to set off in hers to Wombourne. Kris was on her own because Bernard had a bad leg and was confined to the house. We were back in Wombourne just before six to find Starcross safe and sound on the 5-day moorings. That evening we ate out in the Wagon and Horses – a large pub with a very slick food operation that kept everybody fed despite being very busy. Kris negotiated permission from the manager to leave her car there over the weekend before we left.
Saturday 31st October: Wombourne to Norbury Junction
normally we would have taken two days to do a journey of this length, particularly in winter, but Norbury Wharf was holding its “end-of-season” party tonight and we rather fancied being there. So, we made an early start at 07.45 on a misty morning that turned into a fine and sunny day.  I had factored in some delay at the Bratch – where three locks are so close together they have to be operated as a staircase, meaning that if there is a boat heading in the opposite direction you have to wait until it has passed through all three before you can proceed. As we reached the bottom lock at 8.15 we were able to go straight through and were out of the top at twenty-three minutes later.

                                                                     Going up the Bratch

There then followed an uneventful run to Compton, where we stopped briefly to top up on shopping. Autherely Junction can be quite tricky. There is a bridge over the entrance to the Shroppie and underneath it, a lock. Boats approaching from the Staffs & Worcester can’t see what’s happening under the bridge until they have committed themselves to the turn and it can help to send someone on ahead to check the situation. Kris did just this and reported back that it was OK, there was just a boat in the lock heading up the Shroppie and we could turn in and wait for the lock. We sat and looked at the lock – and the boat – for quite a while until someone aboard thought to tell us that they were actually reversing out of the lock and that we were in their way! It was a hire boat from Napton Narrowboats’ base, which is just past the lock and I suppose that for boats heading off up or down the Staffs & Worcester, reversing in this way saves them the trouble of going up to the winding hole, which is some distance away. To be fair, once we had got out of their way and they had completed the manoeuvre and we were back in the lock, someone from the boatyard did come over and apologise!
Despite all this, it was still only just after 12 and it was beginning to look as if we would make it back to Norbury before dark (or at least not too long after). This, however, didn’t take account of the 20 minute stop that became necessary under the M54 overbridge to remove a length of fishing line from the propshaft! Even so, we were at Gnosall just as dusk was falling, but its a simple run from there and I know the way, so we carried on enjoying the full moon lighting our way and being “buzzed” by bats along Shelmore embankment – well, it was Hallowe’en!
We were back at Norbury not too long after dark and – most importantly – in time for the party. There was proper beer, from the Junction Inn, good music – and dancing – from the Boat Band and, to top it all, an atmospheric ollection of working boats tied up on the wharf to complete the evening.

Working Boats at Norbury Wharf
                     Working Boats at Norbury Wharf (Photo from Sue on No Problem)


14/15th November 2009 Crew: Jim
Saturday 14th November
The Shroppie had been closed since mid-August due to a leak appearing on Shebdon embankment and this was therefore Starcross’ first opportunity to head north from Norbury for several months. I drove up via the Much Wenlock route after heavy overnight rain to arrive at 10.15. After a bit of sorting out and a cup of tea I was away by 11.15, just as it started to rain. Norbury Junction is fairly sheltered, as is Grub Street cutting, so it was not until we were past High Offley and on to the open stretch just beyond the Anchor that it became obvious how strong the crosswinds were.

Dirty weather ahead on the approach to Shebdon
                                        Dirty weather ahead on the approach to Shebdon
There is a long line of moored boats along here and a boat coming the other way was not coping very well with the wind – necessitating some last minute avoidance tactics to prevent a collision. I had to abandon an attempt to tie up on the wharf at Shebdon as the wind was so strong I couldn’t pull the boat in to the side using the centre rope. It got to the stage where I could hold Starcross enough to prevent her being blown across the cut but couldn’t get her in to tie up. Fortunately the stern was within reach of the bank so I was able to jump on and use the engine to keep her off the far bank – without getting the now trailing rope caught on the prop. Luckily it was a lot more sheltered a bit further on at Knighton, so I stopped there for lunch instead, just as another heavy shower came in.
After lunch I headed on to Goldstone wharf, being delayed for a while by a very slow boat in front. After he had taken ages to wind at the wharf I turned Starcross round and reversed onto the visitor moorings to end the trip.
The village of Cheswardine lies about a mile from the canal here and I just had time for a walk around before dark, taking these photographs of the village’s two pubs.

Red Lion, Cheswardine
The Red Lion, Cheswardine

The Fox and Hounds
The two pubs, although outwardly of the same era are very different inside. The Fox and Hounds has been completely refurbished recently, although in quite a traditional style. Its owned by Joules Brewery – of Market Drayton – a new company using a old and well respected name more usually associated with Stone in Staffordshire. It doesn’t, however, sell any Joules Beer, although it does have a decent pint of Bass – ironic in that it was Bass that bought out and closed down Joules’ Stone brewery in 1974.
The Red Lion is probably everything the Fox and Hounds would like to be. Its managed to retain its old-fashioned interior layout and was very popular when I re-visited the village that evening. It has its own brewery – and brews some very nice beer although its still very much a village local rather than a “real ale” emporium.
Sunday 15th November
The wind had dropped and the rain kept off, so it was an uneventful trip back to Norbury in the morning.

Last visit of the Year

11th – 12th December At Norbury Junction
Friday 11th December
I spent the morning at a meeting in Birmingham and then came on to Norbury by train to Stafford. In theory there was a good route by bus on to Norbury Junction but it involved a change of bus in Eccleshall and I spoilt it by waiting at the wrong stop! The route and timetable of the 350 Hanley to Newport service had changed since I last used it and I hadn’t checked carefully enough. There was nothing for it but to repair to the “George Hotel” for a couple of pints of Slater’s beer until it was time to get the 432 to Woodseaves, from where its a mile and a half’s walk to the boat.

Saturday 12th December
I was in two minds whether or not to drain the water system as part of the preparations for winter. Normally we don’t do this until after Christmas as its a bit inconvenient having no running water on board. Draining involves leaving all the taps open which means that the water pump runs constantly. This in turn means having to run the engine to avoid draining the batteries at the same time as the tank. In the bathroom we have a shower and a sit-in bath (which we never use) but the pipes to the taps for this have to drained as well. On a boat, where the outfall for the bath is above the water level this water has to pumped out by means of a separate pump but to avoid having two pumps running simultaneously I usually bale the bath out by hand – a rather lengthy and tedious job.
Then there is the water heater. This needs draining as well and last year, being unable to remove the drain plug, I didn’t complete the job with the result that frost damage occurred and I had to replace the heater at some considerable expense. There was no trouble in removing the drain plug on the new heater but what I couldn’t find (but thought I had) was the inlet tap so that when I removed the plug a stream of water came out all over the kitchen floor! Eventually I managed to drain the heater, but only after the water tank was empty and no more water was coming through the inlet pipe: something to remember for next time! The whole process took two hours but I was glad I did it as the next few weeks saw temperatures fall below zero for weeks at a time in one of the harshest winters for years.
Afterwards I made my way home by the 350 bus (this time from Norbury) to Eccleshall where there was chance to revisit the George before getting the connection to Stafford for a train home. There are advantages to travelling by bus!

No comments: