Branston Pickle

Hunt’s Lock, Fradley to 1 mile east of Willington, 13 miles and 9 locks

Eastwards this morning – all previous destinations on this cruise have been generally south (Marsworth), west (Aylesbury, Coventry), north (Stoke Bruerne, Nuneaton) – so today’s beautiful calm and sunny morning, travelling into the rising sun, was both novelty and delight. Every mile or so there is a lock – and at each one there was a wait for boats ahead of us. But no matter, cooperation levels were high, and during the course of the day a rapport developed between ourselves, the boaters behind and the boaters ahead.

  First place of note was Alrewas, a wonderful village which in a fairly understated way suggests affluence: a thatched cottage or two, gardens with one (sometimes more!) summerhouses, a school converted into a house, church, bowling green, cricket ground, church notices, welcoming and well kept moorings and a lock at each end of the village. Once below Alrewas Lock the waterway joins the River Trent for a couple of miles.  How delightful it was to meander again on river water, green weed just below the surface, memories of last year’s Nene trip stirred.

On Cleddau cruised, towards Branston, a village where apparently the pickle of that name was invented. This is the area of the National Forest. To the north of the Trent Valley low hills are very apparent; sandy gulleys seem to mark the hillsides. Is this evidence of Ice Age activity…? To the right and left of the canal sand and gravel pits have been worked and towering machinery was busy sorting aggregate materials.

The galley currently is on shorter than usual rations; once the boat is moored at Sawley a train journey home won’t allow for carrying surplus food so fresh stocks are being run down.  For lunch today Boatwif pulled out the loaf of bread, a packet of “plastic ham”, dug into the store cupboard and found, yes, Branston pickle!  

In time the canal reaches the outskirts of Burton upon Trent. Noses twitched to smell the Burton brew, but that old hop smell seems to have disappeared now. Burton has long been a place of ale and beer brewing (since monks in the 13th century discovered a high gypsum content  in the Burton waters). Signs showed a Coors brewery, the Captain remembering (from his seventies days) expeditions from Louisiana to the Texas border to acquire the stuff, it being the most palatable of American beers. The canal wanders on through the town past suburban housing with neat gardens, past Shobnall Fields, eventually reaching Burton’s Dallow Lock. There a pause to the cruise: under the railway bridge lurked a very pickled gentleman, well known in these parts, a constant helper at the lock, but far from able to keep himself more than 45 degrees upright. For all the boaters it was an anxious ordeal; towpath telegraph later reported that the man collapsed and PCSO’s arrived.

Noise characterises the next section of the canal, the A38 Derby-Burton road and the railway line. Close scrutiny of the maps identified the mooring area least likely to be affected by road and / or rail noise. About a mile before Willington a continual cruiser familiar with this stretch helped  Cleddau moor, he of “sturdy Yorkshire stock, iced in on the Leeds and Liverpool last year, on the Lancaster the year before.” In fact it was he who supplied the second Monkton Moment*  today.

Motif of the day: not huts, not hens, not even the pigeon lofts spotted early on (sorry, no pictures), but the frequent dovecotes!

Tomorrow: to journey’s end (of this leg), Sawley back on the River Trent, to moor there so the crew can take a Bedfordshire week.


*Monkton Moments

1. At Tatenhill Lock, a walker, female: “Oh, I know where that is, I was born in Tenby!”

2. Near Willington, helpful boater: “Ah, Milford Haven, love St David’s, my wife and I walked the Coast Path…”

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