Wednesday 2nd September
We started our day with a visit to Penkridge Market to buy some provisions, veg, pies and blackpudding. Joy bought herself a new jigsaw puzzle at a stall where she was able to trade in one she had recently done, what a good idea!!
After walking back to the boat we made a quick getaway as rain was predicted for the afternoon. Our contingency plan was to moor up at Radford Bridge about 2 pm near the Radford Bank Inn near Stafford, in the event the rain never came to much which was just as well as there were no moorings available.
We decided to press on and the sun came out for us too as we passed through the beautiful Tixall Wide.
At Great Haywood Junction where we refilled the water tank and again there was no room at the visitor moorings so as it was still fine we cruised another hour to Wolseley Bridge where we slotted in nicely.
Thursday 3rd September
Since Great Heywood there seems to have been many more boats on the move, perhaps people returning from an extended Bank Holiday break or maybe they’ve noticed the weather is turning cooler too.
This morning was no exception with quite a few boats on the move before we were up, and just as we untied a boat appeared through the bridge, I pulled back in and he called out that he wouldn’t hold us up for long as he was stopping for fuel. That was a coincidence as that was our plan too, the fuel boat Dexta was about 10 minutes away on it’s mooring at Taft Wharf Farm and there was a queue, but it was worth it at their base price of 60p/litre.
Lunchtime found us in Rugeley where we saw nb Jubilee but the Halfies were not aboard, we stopped for a quick shop at Morrison’s and then we were underway again eating lunch at the tiller. Eventually we were past Rugeley Power Station and out into the countryside before reaching the Former Armitage Tunnel where Joy walked ahead to check the single width section was clear. Fortuitously she met someone walking the other way and they agreed that we should go through first.
We needed to turn right at the junction, before the last Fradley lock and the lock keeper had a simple method of letting his colleague know so he didn’t prepare the next lock unnecessarily; just hang a big sign on the handrail.
A kind boater opened the swing bridge for us and there on the other side was a mooring waiting for us. Ten miles today in 6 hours including the stops, so we treated ourselves to a burger and a pint at the Swan Inn (aka The Mucky Duck) right on the junction.
We were soon wriggling our way northward past Hatherton Junction where we spotted icebreaker Tycho with it’s huge ram on the bow. See here for more of Tycho’s story.
Then it was Calf Heath and a straight run of canal through the Schenectady Chemical Works, warning signs urge you not to moor up or stop for 200 meters [sic] even if you hear an alarm. Maybe it’s something to do with the tanks marked phosphorus!
I would say especially if you hear an alarm. Incidentally their signs are far more than 200 metres apart.
By 11 am we were at Gailey and 3rd in the queue for the lock but as the Black Prince hire boat ahead of us needed water they kindly let us go ahead of us, they may have regretted it later as they needed to turn most of the following five locks, mind you we did little better, as most boats seemed to be headed the same way as us.
We reached Penkridge, our destination for today, at quarter past one and settled onto the Visitor Moorings above the lock. After our evening meal we were surprised by a shower of rain which although short, delighted us with the sight of a double rainbow. Joy managed to photograph three, two in the sky and a reflection in the water too.
Tomorrow is one of Penkridge’s market days so we might have to pay that a visit before we leave.
Sunday 30th August
After our walk around Wheaton Aston Saturday night we thought we might attend the parish church this morning but checking on the internet we found there was only a shared service at the neighbouring village. I guess it’s because August had five Sundays which seem to play havoc with the ecclesiastical rotas, so instead we listened to a podcast sermon from our friend Trevor from Cityview Church in Vancouver!
So we continued to retrace our journey up the one lock at Wheaton Aston and then it was an easy 3 hour cruise to our next lock at Junction.
Joy was fancying a Sunday Roast and although the Bridge Inn at Brewood had looked promising it was only 11am as we passed and a bit early for lunch even by my standards. Passing through the Brewood Cutting we passed nb Esther on which we have spent many a happy hour when it belonged to our friends Barry & Sue.
We could have turned right and returned through Birmingham but we chose the longer, though arguably easier route through Great Haywood.
Anyway rain was forecasted for the afternoon so we opted to do as much boating in the dry as we could and in just over an hour we were in the Fox and Anchor at Coven [that seems to be pronounced Co-ven, like Co-op] in time for that roast dinner. I can’t say that the meal was anything special but the service was prompt and the staff were pleasant and helpful in directing us to the local Co-op for provisions.
After our shopping expedition the rain started in earnest so we battened down the hatches and watched TV.
Monday 31st August
As forecast it rained all night and showed no signs of abating this morning, well it is Bank Holiday Monday! In any case Joy woke up feeling really out of sorts so we lit the fire and spent the day snuggled up in front of it with more TV in the evening not even being tempted by the bar which was but a few steps away.
It should have been an easy day today, and so it was, through the greenery of Grub Street Cutting, where I admired the classic cars at this remote mooring (the 50s Daimler is just out of shot). We made a stop at Norbury Junction for water and rubbish disposal. Joy exchanged some books and jigsaws at the swap shop in the facilities block while I replaced a lost fender at the chandlery at Norbury Wharf. [certainly not the cheapest on the cut at 25% more than my last purchase]
Just a mile or so further on, however, it started to rain and I got soaked in the course of just a few minutes so we decided to stop for lunch at Gnosall although it had stopped by then I needed to change my trousers. We made a salad with bacon & black pudding bits and Joy topped hers with a poached egg, very cheffy!
Dryer and fuller we set off again, through Cowley Tunnel, the only one on the Shroppie, hewn through rock so solid it needed no brick lining and we took the obligatory photo of the bridge with a telephone pole mounted under it.
At 3:30 pm we were mooring up at Wheaton Aston and took a walk down to the village shop and a swift half at The Hartley Arms on the way back.
Now! Where wuz I now? (Older Archers aficionados will understand)
Wednesday 26th August
Wednesday morning was spent at the launderette at the Canal Centre so it was just a short journey as far as The Shroppie Fly at Audlem, with just the first three Audlem locks before mooring up. We bought Steve Heywood’s new book at the canal side shop, and some burgers at the Co-op as the mince we were going to make chilli with turned out to be still in the freezer! (doh!) Oh and the Co-op’s British runner beans were so stringy we couldn’t eat them.
Thursday 27th August
We had 17 locks to look forward to today so while I filled the water tank, Joy visited the Co-op again for bread and to complain about the beans. The serving lad’s only reply was that he didn’t like runner beans?? Whilst waiting I chatted to a lady on a little boat called Kitty who told me she had been boating all her life as her parents had been boatpeople working out of Gloucester on Severners Oak & Ash during the years of WW2.
At the first lock there is a stall at the garden gate of the adjacent house and yes there were fresh runner beans for sale, another lock and another stall procured us a bag of plums for 50p.
Apart from by-washes, Audlem locks are quite easy and apart from meeting one crew who closed lock gates on us as we were approaching (Oh, we didn’t know which way you were going, but we left the previous set open… What? ) we made good time.
I even spotted a kingfisher today, but the attempt to photograph it is just a bright blue blur.
So it was cottage pie, fresh runner beans and mash for tea at Market Drayton.
Friday 28th August
We departed Market Drayton in sunshine before 9 as there was rain forecast for this afternoon and in less than half an hour were were at Tyrley Locks.
The first two were empty ready for us and I felt a bit sorry for the hire boat who arrived shortly after us as they would have to re-fill each one, by the third lock we met another boat so that was good for us and the hire boat, at the fourth a volunteer lock keeper walked past, down the flight, without offering assistance (not that we needed it) then at the fifth and last lock another boat was waiting to come in with an older crew who could have done with some help. Hey Ho, now we can look forward to 17 lock free miles.
From the last lock it was just two hours cruising to our target for the day, the quaint Anchor Inn which we mentioned here on our journey north. I started cooking lunch while Joy popped into the gift shop at the pub returning not only with gifts but beer to go with our bacon, eggs, the black pudding bought yesterday and fried leftover mashed potato. Bliss.. unhealthy.. but very nice!
Joy did the painting her art teacher had set her from this week’s class, now to settle in to watch TV maybe if we can get a signal, or it might have to be down the pub again after tea.
It was before 9 when we cast off this morning, we thought that a boat might come by to share the locks with but as the second lock (Beeston Iron) has to be done solo we set off and did Wharton Lock on our own. As we approached the locks we had views of Beeston Castle to the south and just before the Iron Lock, across the railway line there is a hill with what appear to be bunkers in it. It transpires that this was a WW2 fuel storage depot. See here for more details.
C&RT’s Calveley Service Station follows soon after Bunbury but we didn’t need their facilities but we did visit The Calveley Mill Shop Café (which has only been open since Easter) well recommended for a nice lunch and a browse around their shop, no surprise that we came away with cheese, as they part of the J.S. Bailey cheese company.
From there on it was an easy cruise towards Nantwich, passing The Olde Barbridge Inn we spotted Dave & Lillian on nb Calm Down who we know from pub quizzes at The Boat Inn at Thrupp (Oxon).
By which time we were approaching Nantwich it had started to drizzle and were glad to slip into a mooring near Nantwich Canal Centre and call it a day.
So it was up at the crack of dawn on Sunday, well hardly, but I was setting Whitby narrow locks before 8 am. Now before you think I slipped into a wormhole and mysteriously reappeared in the North East instead of the North West, these are the locks within the Ellesmere Port site and we crept out trying to disturb neither the other moorers nor fishermen who seem to be there from dawn to dusk.
Once up the locks & out of the museum complex the crew disappeared below decks to have breakfast and have a Facetime call with their cousins in Australia, about an hour later I enquired if I might have my breakfast only to be told the call was still in progress. So I just enjoyed the scenery and sculpture en route. The 2½ hour journey back to Chester is lock free as we progress back from the industrial areas through the countryside back to the city.
Not a long break as we had have five more locks to tackle before rendezvousing with our son to re-unite his children to him. We were only at the first lock however when Jeremy rang to say he had arrived so he started walking down to meet us.
Unfortunately it started to rain but undeterred Dad and Lad pressed on in the company of a hire boat crew and we arrived at The Old Trooper thoroughly soaked.
This morning we decided to have breakfast at the pub but it was a disappointing experience, let’s just say the best part was the tea and toast. Afterwards we said goodbye to our family as they set of by car on their way back to Gloucestershire.
So it was back to just Joy and myself and it seemed quiet as we cruised onwards and debated whether to do the last of the wide locks today or tomorrow. Tomorrow won the day and we are moored near the Shady Oak again and have been able to top up with diesel from Fuel-Boat Halsall who happened to stop by.
On Saturday I though I better pay our mooring fees as yesterday we were out before the office was open, I thought the charges reasonable as it is just the museum admission charge for each person plus £4 per additional night, the weather was still changeable but we managed to spend our day dodging the showers by alternating between the indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Looking at some photos of our 1988 visit, some things haven’t changed a bit…
but it was sad to see other exhibits had deteriorated …
The good news is that some funding has been secured to assess and restore where viable..
For an old R.A. Lister apprentice there was plenty to show the grandkids and say Grandpa used to help make those!
We had a good day, the kids enjoyed themselves turning handles, building a ‘narrowboat’ and operating a real HIAB. I enjoyed seeing Jo & Rose Skinner’s narrowboat Friendship knowing that they and their nephew Jack and his wife, (also Rose) had worked the Oxford Canal, our home waterway. In retirement Jack & Rose lived in their canalside cottage in Thrupp until their deaths in 2008 & 2012 respectively both in their late eighties.
It was also great to be able to retreat to the boat for lunch and take a break.
We had intended to catch the X8 bus into Liverpool, but local advice prevailed and advised us to take the train. We purchased Saveaway tickets which gave us travel on Bus, Train and Ferry. (2 seniors & 2 kids for around £15) The train took us under the Mersey directly into Liverpool Lime Street, albeit stopping at every station, and from there we walked down through the shopping district to The Pierhead. We stopped at Poundcafe to fortify ourselves with a late cooked breakfast, good value I thought at 30p per item.
When we reached The Pierhead we showed our Saveaway tickets and were given ferry tickets for the 20 minute trip over to Seacombe on board the Dazzle Ferry, Snowdrop. The design was created by Sir Peter Blake in honour of the patterns that were first used on vessels in World War One to confuse the enemy.
When we arrived at Seacombe we visited Spaceport, I think as much for Grandma’s benefit as the grandchildren. The exhibition was very good with lots of interactive things to entertain us. After spending a couple of hours there we grabbed a quick snack in the Café Cross the Mersey before hopping back aboard the ferry down to Woodside to revisit the U-Boat exhibition.
As we returned back to The Pierhead we thought we might round off the day with an open-top bus tour, but the weather, which had been drizzly all day, took a turn for the worse and turned into torrential rain and put paid to that idea. We tried to dodge the rain drops all the way back to Albert Dock where this group of drowned rats took refuge in a providential recess where there was a hot air outlet to dry us off.
Our dry state didn’t last long as we got drenched again as we went back to Christakis Greek Taverna to give the grandkids their first experience of Greek Cuisine. Morley demolished a full adult portion of Afelia, a pork casserole, and Iona had Chicken Souvlaki with Greek Salad and rice which she declared to be much nicer than what she usually has (better than Grandma’s or Mummy’s she whispered) Flatbread and Pitta was also a hit not to mention my Mousaka and Joy’s Chicken Casserole, cooked in tomato sauce with herbs, carrots, celery & onions.
Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we left and the short walk to Liverpool Central took us to our train back to Ellesmere Port and we called a taxi to take us back to our mooring which was well worth the £3 fare to save four sets of tired legs.
It was a 9 o’clock start this morning and a fill up with water at the tap just through the lock, we were almost full when nb Stolen Time approached so we joined them in Christleton Lock and shared all the five locks with them with them down into Chester city centre, where they were turning around and we stopped for a top-up shop at Tescos. The ‘chimney’ in the centre of the picture is a shot tower used for producing lead shot right up until the 1980s.
After a quick lunch courtesy of Pound Bakery we tackled the Northgate Staircase Locks with the assistance of a volunteer lock keeper. By 2 pm we were out into the countryside and my crew could put their feet up and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the countryside was. Our last trip to these parts was in 1988 so can I be excused if my memory is a bit hazy?
We checked in and were given some paperwork to return in the morning then dropped down the two narrow locks and found ourselves a mooring in a corner of the Lower Basin.