Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Cruising the Staffs and Worcester Canal

Our cruise of The Four Counties Ring is nearing its end. We have cruised the Four Counties Ring several times now, not to mention parts of it countless times over the last five years. This slow trip has been most enjoyable.
Particularly for the Aussies reading, a little bit of background information: The Four Counties Ring consists of several canals; The Trent and Mersey, The Staffs and Worcester, The Shropshire Union (SUC) and The Middlewich Branch of the SUC (Currently closed because of a breach). Die-hards will tell you the Ring also includes The Wardle Canal, the shortest canal on the 'system' at 154 feet in length but generally it is accepted as part of the Middlewich Branch. Around 200 year ago it would have mattered much more because a boat company would have paid to use it.
Rachael snapped some shots of the permanent moorings near Hatherton Junction as we passed. The moorings are interesting because of the wall ruins and lovely park which seems to form part of the moorings.

Saw this boat along the way, with four ducks penned. We got to Gailey and after pumping out the holding tank at the hire boat base we pushed across the canal on to the water point for a fill. A guy arrived on a quad bike with a trailer full of 25 litre water bottles who turned out to be the owner of the boat with the duck pen. Turns out they are domestic ducks and he is still waiting for his first eggs after three months. Didn't ask how he transports them when he has to move, could be interesting, visions of Noah's Ark come to mind!

Serafina heading through Gailey Lock next to the distinctive round house, our mooring was just below the lock.

Gailey is the start of a run of locks so our trip to Penkridge took us just over two hours and included five locks. It was a two day stay in Penkridge, giving me time for some filling and sanding as well as a trip to Cannock. Rachael was after a DVD and the nearest Amazon Locker was at Morrison's Supermarket at Cannock which was only a twenty minute bus ride from Penkridge. We've found ourselves using Amazon Lockers a lot during this trip, it's worked out great for spares, dvds and books. An interesting feature of the old centre of Cannock was the bowling Green, there since at least 1753.

Moored just down from us was The Candy Boat with plenty of wares, it was hard to pass with stopping for a bite to eat.

We had to show quite a bit of restraint!

A very short run after our two days in Penkridge saw us mooring across from Midland Chandlers in around an hour and one lock later. It was time to redo the bow and stern fenders and having the chandler right across from our mooring for parts was invaluable. Most of the metal parts of the bow fender required replacing and the whole thing needed re-centreing. The bow fender also needed most of the metal parts replacing and lifting up around 20cm higher. This is the finished job.

We have kept most of our cruising to two hours a day and using a lot of moorings we had previously passed but never used, mooring outside The Radford Bank Inn was another of those moorings. It is right on the outskirts of Stafford around half an hour walk to the Waterside Retail Park near the town centre, we passed two other retail parks along the way. The one below was handy, less than 10 minutes from our mooring. The moorings here were quiet and the pub had a good carvery.

Our last stop on the Staffs and Worcester Canal, Tixall Wides, one of our favourites. Lots of bird life, lots of water and short walk into Great Haywood for the essentials. As soon as we moored we took a walk to the farm shop, we bought lamb although it was expensive it was nice, the strawberries tasted beautiful.

Serafina moored at Tixall Wides
It is said that when Thomas Clifford, the owner of Tixall Manor, gave permission for the canal to pass through his land it was a provision that it be made to look like a lake in front of the manor so as not to spoil his view.

Heron at Tixall Wides
Tixall Gatehouse, built around 1580 is an Grade 1 listed building and visible from the stern of the boat at our mooring, we took a walk over to take a closer look. Quite a substantial building and yet, only the gatehouse, the manor was demolished in 1927. Interestingly, Mary Queen of Scots was held captive here for two weeks in 1586.

Tixall Gatehouse

It's only a 10 minute cruise now to Great Haywood where we turn on to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Southern Shropie (SUC) and Staffs and Worcester Canals to Cross Green

Leaving Tyrley we spotted this little boat in the permanent moorings, I guess around 15ft long X 4ft wide, it would be interesting to see how she handles!

There are quite a few narrow sections on the SUC, usually in deep cuttings where the canal has been carved out of the solid rock.

Once you break out of the cuttings it's back into farmland, mainly crops in this area.

Stacking them high!
 Passing the Premier Foods Wharf again with a close-up of the sign on the overhanging verandah.

Another of the tall bridges on the Shropie, this one with a disused telegraph pole in the centre.

We moored at Norbury Junction for the night, it had only been another 2 hour (or so) cruise, we finished just after lunch after a relatively late start. Plenty of moorings at this time but they did fill up as the afternoon drifted on.

Norbury Junction
Took a shot from the junction bridge of the old Newport Branch (now disused). You can see there is a covered dock built over the canal in the distance.

After picking up fuel in Norbury Junction we headed off to Gnosall Heath, another short run of a couple of hours. No problems with moorings here either although there is always plenty of good moorings to be had most of the time anyway. Time for a stroll into Gnosall to find a tea room which, strangely enough, was closed on a Wednesday, so we picked up a few things from the supermarket and it was back to the boat.

A little further on and an overnight stop at Wheaton Aston in heavily wooded moorings. First time we have stopped here so we went for a wander and Wheaton Aston seems a very quiet place with a pub and an off licence, a Co-op Supermarket but that's about it. All this on a very long High Street. Nearly back at the canal we passed this lovely Tudor style home in great condition.

Didn't need fuel here but diesel was under 70p domestic, but we did need water, there are three water points here, all seemed very fast filling.

First time we had stopped at Brewood for a few years as well so it was off to have a look around with a short five minute walk into the square to find a lovely little town centre. Speedwell Castle was the first thing that caught our eye when we got to the town centre, built in the eighteenth century apparently from the winnings off a race horse.

There are a few bistros and other assorted shops that kept Rachael's interest for an hour or so. I was particularly interested in the butcher where we bought some great local pork sausages, quiche and I haven't tried the pasties yet. We needed to pick up some extra groceries for our visitor due in a few days. We are starting to see more and more rain and overnight here it poured but the next morning was fine again for our three hour cruise to The Anchor Inn where we would meet our visitor for a few days stay on the boat. 

This is the last leg of our trip on the Shropshire Union Canal. We cruised away from Brewood in bright sunshine but it soon became overcast. We made our way passed the Wolverhampton Boat Club with its old crane out the front and passed through the stop gate. Less than half an hour and we were going through the stop lock at Autherley Junction after climbing across a hire boat moored on the lock landing by the owners (there's a hire boat depot here).

We turned right on to the Staffs and Worcester Canal and all was going well until the last half
hour of our cruise when the heavens opened. After a few minutes a nice wide road bridge came up where I stopped until the rain had passed. We managed to finish our days cruising mooring up 50m from the front door of The Anchor Inn.

We had a few days stay in the moorings here where we ate too much and were chauffeured across to Stafford for a shopping day and a full day at Shugborough Estate (read more about the estate here) near Great Haywood.

The Anchor Inn, Cross Green
The Anchor is a lovely pub inside, typically English, the food was pretty good. It was a Sunday of the Bank Holiday Weekend so we made a dinner booking and when we got there at 6pm it was humming, lucky we did. It turned out to be a great weekend despite the inclement weather but at least we're getting more rain now and Serafina gets a regular wash, which leaves me to do a touch up here and there instead of the whole boat.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Cruising the Shroppie - Heading Back the Way We Came (Tattenhall to Tyrley)

It's not too long before the luxury of marina life is substituted for the feeling of being crammed in! It was back out on to 'the cut' and heading south, back the way we came. We headed for a mooring just under Beeston Castle, where we had stayed overnight on the way down, not a long cruise from the marina, about 2 hours.

Screenshot taken from Open Canal Map

I'm trying out an application I found; Open Canal Map. This is a screenshot from my mobile phone giving you a better idea of the area around the mooring. Hope it helps!

The remains of Beeston Castle

This time we moored above the locks to take advantage of the picnic tables, time to give the cratch cover a good clean and a spray with a waterproofing agent.

We saw this fellow along the way, unusually he was up for a few shots, normally herons fly ahead a few hundred metres every time you get close. They do this a few times and then seem to circle back to their original hunting spot.

After a night in nice moorings we continued on through picturesque Tilstone Lock where we picked up a locking partner to halve the workload. We continued on together through the two chambered Bunbury Staircase Lock, stopping briefly a little further on at Calveley moorings to avoid a passing heavy shower. We finished the day by cruising on to Barbridge Junction where there were plenty of moorings available. We're well into the summer school break now and moorings here would normally be tight but again the Middlewich Breach seems to have turned many boaters away.

Nantwich is less than an hour on and there too we had little problem finding moorings near the marina for the second time on this cruise. We took the chance to stock the refrigerator and cupboards and then cruised on passed goose heaven, or so it seemed, to moorings halfway to Audlem just doing the two narrow locks at Hack Green.

'Goose Heaven'
Our moorings just after Bridge 84, SUC
As is now the 'norm' the 15 lock Audlem Flight had very few boats moving either way so we had plenty of time to snap some photos of us doing some lock work with Serafina.

Rachael bringing Serafina into a lock on the Audlem Flight
Entry and exit to some of the locks on the Audlem Flight and the Adderley Flight further on can be a little challenging at times. Some of the by-wash channels point directly across the lock entrance necessitating steering into the wash. (see below)

The prize at the Audlem top lock, a market stall with plenty of goodies.

We stopped in Market Drayton again for a few days and took the opportunity to take the bus into Shrewsbury. We had stopped here in a hotel once before but Rachael longed for a larger shopping centre.(smile) There's a beautiful big market hall in the market square that was worth a photo, built in 1596 replacing the previous market hall built in the 1260s.

When we headed off from Market Drayton we had planned to go a little further than the moorings at the Tyrley top lock. However, after an American hire boat team managed to empty a couple of the pounds between the locks on the five lock Tyrley Flight, restoring the equilibrium necessitated a wait and the subsequent queuing. We started at boat five in the queue and when we went into the lock we left four boats still back in the queue.

Queuing at Tyrley Bottom Lock
We started a water fill at the services at the top lock and found another very slow tap. The fellow from the permanent mooring here was filling a couple of 25 litre containers said it was beautiful spring water but terribly slow. We gave it half an hour before mooring up with less than half a tank of water. Apart from the CRT Services and some beautiful old buildings (see this earlier blog) there is nothing here at Tyrley, just peace and quiet, making for good sleep.

Monday, 13 August 2018

A Scotish Interlude

We left our mooring in front of the marina around 9am and 200m along the canal entered Tattenhall Marina. I had already called ahead to make sure there would be a mooring in the marina available for us. I had also picked up a hire car and left it in the marina (with their permission) the evening before. Once we had tied up and paid the mooring fee we were off to the Chester Station to drop off our friends who were heading to London then on to Scotland for five days.

Tattenhall Marina


Heading along the M6 Motorway we have passed the exit to Lockerbie many times and said we must go there one day, well we finally took a look. Our second day in Scotland we buzzed down the M6, about a one hour drive, we went along the main street looking for the memorial to the people that lost their lives in the terrorist bombing. The memorial sits in a large area set aside in the beautifully kept  town cemetery.

Particularly interesting is a small museum in the front corner of the cemetery, run by locals and free entry. The museum gives a good insight into the bombing and the aftermath. Afterwards it was lunch and a stroll on the high street before heading home.

We filled another day with a visit to Linlithgow Palace, principle residence of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries and of note because it is the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots on 8 December 1542, to King James V and his French second wife, Mary of Guise. A building here dates back to the 12th century.

The Front Door

The Court Yard
Fountain close-up
Part of the Royal Apartments now

Artist's impression of the Royal Apartments

View across the palace to St Michaels Church

The Great Hall now

Artist's impression of the Great Hall

The kitchen fireplace

View of the inland loch surrounding the palace

St Michael's Church in the forecourt of the palace
We had booked Serafina into the marina for a week and had left her connected to shore power to charge the batteries and keep the refrigerator running. We don't do a lot of long cruising days these days so it was good to get back and see the batteries finally get to float level. The batteries normally get to around 90 - 95% because it would take several more hours of cruising to get to 100% (float). We returned mid-afternoon on the sixth day and straight away made the most of the marina facilities by doing a couple of loads of washing and then filling the water tank afterwards. It was good not having to run the engine for a couple of days to heat water, charge batteries or run large appliances, just for a change.