Thursday, 21 September 2017

Walking in the Shoes of the Barefooted

A short 3 hour, 5 mile and 6 lock cruise yesterday to Kinver, we passed excellent mooring just south of bridge 35 and again just before Kinver north of bridge 30, the S&W just keeps getting better.

Kinver is well worth a stop, there are ample visitor moorings once you get past  Stewpony lock, but they're only 24 hours, last night there were very few takers, with only three of us here and space for twenty or more. Kinver is set amongst high wooded hills and a local told me that it was once known as Little Switzerland because of its setting and because of the clean air compared to the industrial towns of the black country, whose workers came by tram for a brief weekend escape.

I think the government should really step in and stop greedy supermarkets from opening on Wednesday afternoons when local artisan butchers and greengrocers want to close for half a day to watch escape to the country. It hardly seems fair that the local co-op should continue to serve people so disorganised that they must buy meat and vegetables on a Wednesday afternoon, taking the very living from our shopkeepers as they settle down to watch a couple from a council flat in Brixton looking to buy a mansion in Powys. There's a full range of shops, pubs and restaurants in Kinver, about a five minute walk from the canal.

Millie and I visited two pubs last night, the Cross Inn had a large selection of "craft" ales with silly names, I had a pint of "Pig's Head", it was OK especially at £2.40. If you are selling a large range of beers you must have some indication of what they are that does not involve the customer wandering round the bar sticking his head between bar flies to peer at the pumps, this pub had a large board detailing the Name, brewery, strength, type and price of the range. We only stopped for the one because there was only one other bloke in there and he told me he'd been drinking for five hours, so I thought conversation might be difficult. We then trotted off to the Plough and Harrow which was recommended by a boater who I had a long chat with at a lock, he was an unconventional sort of man so I was slightly hesitant to take up his recommendation. This is a very traditional pub, serves ales from  Bathams, an old local brewery, they sell one bitter and one mild so no need for a board, the bitter was excellent at £2.70. Millie was straining at her lead and I discovered that she was trying to get to the feet of an elderly hippy looking chap who was barefoot with painted nails, he left soon afterwards and a man at the bar told me that it was quite common for the guy to come in without his shoes and casually remarked that his feet were cleaner than usual, the remaining locals all enthusiastically agreed that there was indeed a great improvement.

I walked home wondering what it must be like to wander barefoot through Kinver, and found to my surprise that it is remarkably barefoot friendly. Come to Kinver, it's a nice place, and no need to dress up.

Lockside Cottage





Plough and Harrow


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

New Territory

We started the third week of this trip on Monday by making our way through Penkridge, where we've moored before, but we both suffered from amnesia and it all seemed very new to us and the mooring not as good as we remembered, we abandoned plans to get some shopping and carried on. The S&W continued to delight and we found a superb rural mooring just North of bridge 74, if coming south there is a long stretch on concrete bank after bridge 75 hold your nerve and it is eventually replaced by Armco.

Tuesday we were delayed by thick fog, but got off about nine, heading for the junction with the Shropshire Union canal on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, first we had to pass through the very barrow section south of bridge 68, Elaine jogged ahead to see that all was clear. Our plan was to keep heading south on the S&W. We were expecting a bit of urban grime on the early part of this new territory, not so, we were cosseted by a corridor of rural bliss while the city went about its business on a different level, literally and metaphorically, and the kingfishers and the herons carried on as normal. It was a bit shallow though, and some care was needed while passing other boats, which were few. Dog walkers and other canal users were very friendly, we were in desperate need of a shop, and we were directed to Compton, excellent moorings south of the lock, poor footpath though, but all facilities within a couple of minutes' walk. The southern S&W is nothing short of spectacular, must be one of the finest canals in the country, more fishermen than we normally encounter but even they were friendly.

We encountered 15 locks during the day, all going down, a welcome change after days and days of ascent, it's easier going down, the Bratch locks are very unusual, its not a staircase because each lock has its own set of gates but they are just a few feet apart, lock keepers help you through, excellent moorings immediately north of the locks. The sun was shining so we decided to continue through a few more locks, when it came time to moor up the choice was poor, although there is a massive Sainsbury's right by bridge 43 and some moorings that would be OK while shopping. In the end we found a quiet spot just before bridge 37. We had an eight hour day 14 miles and 15 locks.

A foggy Start
Very narrow section
Entrance to the Shropshire union heading north
Entrance to Birmingham Canal
Typical south S&W
Bratch Locks

First one we've seen

Monday, 18 September 2017

Great Great Heywood

After a nice journey to Great Heywood we got settled in the marina for a couple of nights, it makes a nice change to have unlimited water and electricity. It's a very clean, quiet and well run place, short walk to the excellent farm shop and to the very excellent Clifford Arms (four bitters one blonde!), and to a newly refurbished, and massively improved village shop. We took the bus to Stafford on Saturday morning,£5 return each, the bus was packed but we were the only ones that paid. Stafford is a decent place, some nice architecture, excellent park with aviary, riverwalk along the Sow, and a large new retail park right in the town, it looks like the local authority is trying hard to make something of Stafford, but it wasn't very busy.

It cost us £15 per night to stay at the marina including electricity, it's worth it occasionally just to catch up on things that need a lot of water and electricity such as washing Melissa and using the washing machine. We filled up with diesel, we used 76 liters in two weeks, which works out at 1.6l per engine hour, not entirely accurate because we've been using the diesel central heating as well. 

Yesterday we set off mid morning and turned on to the Staffordshire and Worcester canal, we've been once before and were impressed, and we feel the same this time. The weather forecast was for a dry day, it rained very heavily all afternoon and evening, after getting soaked we stopped in a rural mooring near Acton Trussel, a few miles short short of our intended destination of Penkridge. It's been fairly quiet on the canal since we left the crazy Llangollen, I think we passed three moving boats yesterday.
Today we are heading for bridge 75, about 8 miles and 9 locks, we might make a quick stop at Penkridge.

After a lifetime of disappointment with weather forecasts we continue to believe them, I'm beginning to think that meteorology is akin to dream interpretation or dog psychology, today is supposed to be dry until this evening, let's hope so because we have a boat full of damp washing and soaked waterproofs, drying stuff is the biggest domestic challenge on a boat, tumble dryers take two much power, electric clothes airers take too much space, you can't really put stuff outside while you're moving so it's a bit of a challenge. Elaine likes to peg her underwear to trees when we're moored, they say necessity is the mother of invention.







Clifford Arms

Melissa this morning


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Now Paul has issued a C-Sticker to Neil Morrissey

We jumped out of bed and set off from Wheelock to do the section to Church Lawton, it's only four miles but twenty locks get in the way, it is glorious all the way, even the urban bits are pleasant, although it's mainly  rural. We passed the double-boat Americans who must be getting on well because they have covered quite a distance and we spoke to dozens of other boaters as we helped each other at the locks. It took us four hours, pretty good going, and we found a muddy spot to moor at Church Lawton. On Tuesday we set off for the not so pleasant journey through the Harecastle Tunnel and on through Stoke, we got soaked in several very heavy showers, after seven hours, twelve locks and twelve miles we found a nice mooring outside the Plume of Feathers pub in Barlaston (a lot of train noise), Millie and I went in for a couple of pints, it is owned by Neil Morrissey who has made it a shrine to himself, but this didn't stop them having a good selection of beer, Pedigree was £3.50. I did have to give Neil Morrissey a C-Sticker though, as well as calling the pub "The Plume of Feathers - with Neil Morrissey", that's alright for things like hiking boots with Goretex but it makes no sense for a pub with an actor. Not only this but he had written a glowing third person account of his career and stuck it up on the wall, I don't know why people write about themselves in the third person, a bit like "now mummy's going to brush your hair".

Today we stayed dry all day, and continued through the Meaford Locks, very nice flight, and then stopped at Stone for a bit of shopping. It seems an affluent sort of place, good range of facilties, nice mooring right in the centre of town, close enough to carry a case of beer, but we didn't. After a quick sandwich on Melissa we set off for the short journey to our mooring for the night at Burston, it's very rural here, but a fellow boater recommended a dog friendly pub a short walk away and Millie wants to go.

We had to hand out two C-stickers today at the same lock, one to a bloke who, without the customary formalities, opened all the lock paddles as fast as possible sending Melissa bouncing around the lock, and one was shared by a couple who were too impatient to wait for us to clear two locks with no pound between them , then found themselves with nowhere to wait for the second lock, which had the paddle happy geezer in it. We left them bobbing around in the wind twatishly.

A short journey to Great Haywood tomorrow and we are booked into a marina for a couple of nights to get a bit of rest and do some chores while we have water and power supplied, everything is getting pretty dirty.

Neil Morrissey won't be happy

Their feet are quite dirty

Plume of Feathers - last pub in both directions with  Neil Morrissey

Fruit and Veg shop in Stone


Wheelock Flight
When is it pub time?

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fighting Back

We're tired of being victims of inconsiderate, stupid and dangerous behavior on the canals and we are fighting back by issuing virtual stickers to the offenders, the stickers contain a single, short word, let's just call them C-stickers. It makes us feel better and saves us from being throttled with a boat hook which might be invoked by real direct action.

Since our last post we went from Grindley Brook to Wrenbury on Saturday, Wrenbury is a nice place, we had a pint in The Cotton Arms, I can't really moan about the beer because they did have one real bitter hidden amongst the blondes, ambers and IPAs, a bit steep at £3.50 though, but not as steep as £4.27 for a pack of butter that we didn't buy from the village shop. Still, it was a nice pub, food looked good, dogs welcome. We didn't try the other pub, in fact we issued it a C-sticker (or maybe a twee sticker) for calling itself The Dusty Miller. The best, and most abundant moorings are to the east of the lift bridge, there are a few the other side but they are close to a small, but surprisingly busy road.

On Sunday we headed for Church Minshull, to a place that I had marked in the book as being "excellent moorings close to pub", quickly passing the place that Elaine had marked as "scruffy". We met two American couples who had hired a very large boat per couple, I  think they thought it was a junior suite, they hadn't got much of a clue and when I asked why the first boat had tied up after going through the lock I was told that they were waiting for the second boat, I told them that it doesn't work like that and they should carry on to the next lock which was in sight, I issued them a C-Stickers each, they'll probably put it on their very large fridge. The place I'd marked in the book didn't look worthy of the notation, so I thought it must be further on, it wasn't and the only suitable mooring was occupied by two fishermen, they got a C-Sticker each. We found a nice quiet mooring in the end, a bit of a walk away from the Badger Inn where I'd promised to take Millie, we went anyway, but it's a dangerous walk along a busy road with no path, it was worth it though with a nice pint of Old Dog for £3.20. I got chatting to some locals who told me of a path, which I took to avoid the road, it would have been extremely convenient if I'd moored at the place marked in the book, It's between bridge 13/14 and very easy to follow if you take the middle of the three marked paths.

Today we took the not so nice journey to Wheelock which passes though urban and industrial areas, flanked by roads and railways with scrubby corridors of greenbelt and some narrow twisting sections, we got a good soaking and handed out double C-Stickers to two boats moored on lock landings. This afternoon we walked the mile and a half into Sandbach, a nice town with loads of pubs and restaurants, it was school getting out time and the kids were remarkably polite, no stickers were dispensed. It's well worth a visit with a very good Aldi, you can catch the bus within a two minute walk from the canal if you don't fancy the walk.


Wind-up merchants

Audacious one upmanship/boat

Two 99's please

Wrenbury Mill and a dejected Elaine about to stop the traffic

Friday, 8 September 2017

Mere today gone tomorrow

First a few words in support of Ellesmere, it does a lot for boaters and recognises the impact that the canal has on the local economy,  you will find everyone very welcoming with traders going out of their way to cater for boaters. There are many shops, restaurants and takeaways, banks, launderette, marina with chandlery and a very large Tesco right alongside the canal. There are some moorings online west of the short Ellesmere branch, which itself has quite a few moorings very close to Tesco but with a bit of an awkward turn at the end. East of the branch there is an abundance of moorings, still with a very short walk to town. So come to Ellesmere, stop a couple of days and catch the bus to Shrewsbury, Oswestry, or to Gobowen train station which is just a couple of miles away, or take a busman's holiday and hire a rowing boat on the mere.

Today we left Ellesmere in mixed weather conditions, and made good progress toward Whitchurch until we came across some idiot hire boaters who were old enough to know better, they seemed to find it difficult to understand that a lift bridge has been lifting high enough to let boats through for a couple of hundred years, they lifted it a bit and then crashed into it, they were very slow. We next saw them after we had moored up and while walking the dog, one barefoot moron was looking gormlessly at a lock while his companions started letting water out of a lock that needed filling, I told him they were opening the wrong paddles because he needed to fill the lock not empty it, he grunted. We saw him again half an hour later wading along the muddy towpath, still barefoot. There was quite a bit of dog shit on that path, so it's not all bad.

It turned out to be a very sunny afternoon and we are moored just before the Grindley Brook services, which are excellent. We covered 13 miles, no locks and were out for 4.5 hours.

Ellesmere Town 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Oh no, against the flow

On Tuesday we set off from the repaired Marton bottom lock and headed west with a plan to get to Llangollen, let's talk about the destination first. It's a lovely quaint, clean, friendly and well served town, excellent butcher's and greengrocer's shops, all sorts of other shops, restaurants and takeaways, wonderful river and hill walks. Everyone should visit Llangollen, by any means other than narrow boat.

The Llangollen canal, and no one can say I've not been singing its praises so far, deteriorates rapidly after Chirk, there are a couple of tunnels which are very slow going when heading west, I know this is because of the 12 million gallons of water flowing daily at 2mph east from the river Dee along the canal to Hurleston Reservoir, but that doesn't make it any better. There are also some deep, dank cuttings with terrible muddy tow paths, I got my shoes quite dirty at one point waiting for a one-way tunnel. There are bright spots, the Chirk aquaduct and viaduct, and the Pontcysyllte aquaduct (pronounced long, high fucker in Welsh), it cannot be denied that these are great, but very slow because of the flow. After all this the worst is yet to come, very long, shallow, narrow sections where only single file boats can travel, Elaine had to go jogging down the tow path warning hire boaters, there are hundreds of hire boats, ranging from the reckless to the oblivious to stop, making several phone calls to warn me of hazards, normally when I was negotiating the hazard she had previously reported. It took seven hours to travel 13 miles, plus the two hour journey and overnight wait on day one! Maybe going to Llangollen by boat is like childbirth, nature makes you forget the pain and do it again, I hope not.

The mooring in Llangollen is excellent, £6 per night with free electricity and water, very quiet and close to the town, top marks for the mooring. On the way back, downstream, it was much faster and after spending two nights in Llangollen we are back at Ellesmere on the visitor moorings, it only took us 8 hours to get back, a significant improvement on the outward journey.

Tomorrow we start to retrace our tracks for a few days, heading back along the magnificent part of the Llangollen canal on our way to the Trent & Mersey Canal and then heading south.

Llangollen Marina, excellent

Leaving Llangollen, early morning