Where did the time go? I’ve been meaning to put up some posts for ages but whenever I have time I’ve no reliable internet access – grrrr – it’s very frustrating.
We’ve been pretty busy over the late summer. We did have a spell off the boat towards the end of August, family weddings to attend in Essex and Sussex, visits to aging parents and attending folk festivals were all part of this.
We lent the boat to some family fiends for a week, they met us at Penkridge and we duly handed Grey Wagtail into their care. They covered the same route that we’d taken up to Stoke and back via Great Haywood. It seems they had a great time despite rain as we met up with them in Stone in order to collect the tickets for Shrewsbury Folk Festival, which I’d stupidly left on the shelf in the boat.
On our return to Penkridge to pick up the boat again we took the opportunity to gather wild plums from the mooring site and I had a great jam making session. We then decided to go back down the Staffs and Worcs so that we could visit things we’d missed on our mad dash to Willington in the spring. First attraction was Wightwick Manor, an arts and craft house operated by the National Trust. It was built by the Mander family (paint manufacturers in Wolverhampton) and houses a fantastic collection of Arts and crafts furniture, objet D’art and Pre-Raphealite drawings and paintings. The interiors are glorious and I’d have loved to have more time to study the individual contents. The garden was disappointing though, badly labelled, poorly maintained looking rather sad and uncared for.
On the way down the cut we called in at a pub in Swindon, the Green Man, to take advantage of their amazing lunch deals. 2 courses for £5.50. We had Faggots and veg, unfortunately for me it came with a sea of gravy, followed by Bakewell tart and custard for me and home made rice pudding with jam for Greg. The beer there is really good too and the landlords and clientele very welcoming. Definitely worth the short walk off the towpath.
One of our main aims for returning along the Staffs and Worcs was to take a trip up the Stourbridge Arm. It’s lovely, much more rural than you might expect, but that is in part due to the fact that so much of the old dirty industries have gone, to be replaced by the ubiquitous anonymous big sheds. We did pass a couple of old glass works on our way up to the basin looking a bit grimy but mostly looking derelict. Along the towpath there are some excellent information boards showing what had disappeared and giving some of the history of the area however it seems they are not appreciated by the locals and many have been defaced. We moored below the junction with the short arm that goes into the town and walked up to the Red Cone. This is the remains of a glass works now turned into a museum and a variety of craft outlets but with a focus on Glass. The museum is a bit odd, it has huge potential but this is not fully exploited. For a start the entry point to the museum is at the end of the process of glass production, essentially the packing area and your are taken backwards to the glass blowing area. To be fair there was an excellent demonstration of glass blowing showing the major techniques and the woman demonstrator explained very clearly what she was doing. The other thing that was odd was that there were rather random information boards and posters around the place and glass cases with samples of glass ware just sort of stacked up on top of some of the equipment. A rather bizarre way to display these things, I enquired whether things had been temporarily moved from another museum that had closed down but apparently not.
We left the area feeling that Stourbridge isn’t doing justice to to its heritage, which is really sad. glass making in Stourbridge was as important and industry as pottery making in Stoke on Trent was yet the quality of the interaction possible with this heritage doesn’t match the importance of this industrial gem. Stoke is doing a much better job with the Hanley museum, the Wedgwood Centre, Etruria Flint and Bone Mill and the Middleport Pottery.
After our visit to Stourbridge we returned to the mainline and headed north back up to Autherly Junction where we joined the Shropshire Union canal. We were looking for a good spot to moor up for a few days so that Greg could make a start on the gunwale painting. I know the scars of our travels along the miles and locks could be worn as badges of our achievements but we’re a bit nerdy about trying to keep the boat looking nice and shiny so we have to polish and paint every now and again. We found a lovely spot half way between 2 bridges and got to know the locals who walked the towpath daily. One older lady was a real sweetheart. She spent a good half hour chatting to us about her life as a sheep farmer and living in her caravan, I think she quite fancied a boat herself. She walked a changing group of dogs each day, some belonging to her and her family and others owned by less able neighbours. On the second day she brought us a box of strawberries that she’d picked from her garden, so kind. We hoped to see her the next day to find out how things had gone when she took her sheep to market but something must’ve happened as we didn’t see her again.
I must admit mooring on the Shroppie (as it’s known in boating circles) isn’t the most comfortable nights sleep we’ve had. There seems to be a ridge about 30cm under the water, it’s not visible, it keeps the boat away from the edge of the towpath by another 30 cm and it’s impossible to stop the boat from banging against it with the fenders we have available. We’ve been informed that local boaters use wheelbarrow wheels between the bank and the hull but we haven’t been anywhere that we could get some to try out.
Audlem has been our favourite mooring of the year. We found a spot at the base of the Audlem flight which had beautiful views across a small valley with a pair of small lakes in the bottom. It was brilliant for bird watching, we saw heron, lapwing and most special – little grebe. The cats were very happy there too, basking in the sun and pouncing on small creatures rustling in the long grass. ( in fact we liked it so much that we returned a couple of weeks later to chill Kat again when we were in the middle of our most horrible colds of the year and to meet up with our friends Paul and Kate. There is a great craft and Canal memorabilia shop in on old warehouse beside Lock 14 and the Shroppie Fly pub. I was able to buy traditional crochet lace patterns and the right yarn to make it , Greg picked up some Canal books he’d been after and we found a ribbon plate with “A Present from Eastbourne” on it – a very appropriate family connection for me.
About 10 days ago we picked up our pal Gil from Nantwich railway station and took a trip up the Llangollen Canal. We knew we wouldn’t have enough time to get all the way to the end but we called into Whitchurch where we Discoverd a great deli come tea room in which we were able to buy local Cheshire cheeses – just great to be able to get the genuine article from named farms- we had red, white and blue versions (haha how patriotic). They were delicious and we’re looking forward to returning for further purchases when we do the whole length of the Canal in the coming months. We also bought some extraordinarily large veg from a tiny greengrocers, the carrots and parsnips generally weigh about 8-10 ounces each! These too proved to be pretty good eating, so far we’ve had then roast, stir fried and made into soup. There are still 2 parsnips and 1 carrot left.
We do wonder whether our boat will feature in a TV or film production, on our way back to Hurleston Junction, coming down the staircase locks at Grindley Brook we came across a film crew. The celebs were in the cafe, Simon Callow – not really dressed for Canal boating, Nigel Havers – who looked just like my mate Tim from Coventry Uni days, Lorraine Chase of ‘Luton Airport’ fame and Debbie MaGee Paul Daniels widow. Greg was asked what the painted cans were on our roof as one of the film crew had asked the lock keeper what they were. We were amazed that he didn’t know himself but Greg educated him politely telling him they were Buckby Cans and that we’d got them from Buckby! No I didn’t get any selfies or autographs from the stars though a picture of Simon Callow with Barney draped round his neck and leaving orange hair on the impeccable black wool coat would have made an excellent souvenir.
We dropped Gill back at Nantwich and were then joined by Pete who’d been walking up the the Roaches and fancied catching up with us. The last time we’d seen him was when he’d cycled off down the towpath after coming up the Driotwich Canal with us in May. We hadn’t tried any of the pubs in Nantwich by then so consulted the Good Beer Guide and plumped for the Black Lion on Welsh Row, a short walk from our mooring near the Telford Viaduct. It was a good pub, the beer was interesting and Greg and I each had a beer bat – 3 x 1/3 pint glasses of different beers. There was also a quiz though we didn’t join in, the questions and quiz style were too esoteric for us.
On the Tuesday we stayed put. For several reasons really; so I could go to the hairsdresser, so that we could meet with a stained glass maker who is going to make us a little window insert for the porthole in the boatmans cabin and so that we could go to an Eddi .Reader concert being held in the local church as part of the Nantwich Words and Music Festival. A superb venue with amazing acoustics and a wonderful performance.
On Wednesday we stayed so that we could pick up mail Post Restante and to look round more of the town and visit the small museum housed in the old library building. It was a really good local museum, there were carefully put together section on major industries, cheese, salt, and ready to wear clothing. There was also a collection of interesting town maps, some to do with a devastating cholera outbreak and more showinghistorically significant buildings of the town and also of the civil war battle in 1644.
You can take it that we really liked Nantwich, we tried several cafes, the best being in the bookshop and were able to shop in the market and use other local traders.
We eventually left on the Wednesday afternoon (12 th October) and moved up into the Northwich branch mooring just above Cholmondeston lock for the night. We moved again, up to Northwich itself to meet up with Sarah who had kindly brought us a supply of cat food and litter as she was working in Crewe for the day. On her recommendation we went to eat at the Kings Lock Inn, doesn’t look much from the outside, not fancy inside but serves a good range of local beers and an unexpectedly well presented food, the starters menu was particularly good and we have a definite plan to return there when we make our way across to the winter mooring.
Now we’re back on the Trent and Mersey making for Macclesfield to meet with an old college friend before having another land based break as it’s time for the annual Lundy Gang get together, this time ‘oop norf’ in Weardale.