Do you want … Paradise?

Slowly onward, Hopwas to Tixall Wide, 21¼ miles, 5 locks

During the recent crop of warm September days there have been lengthening afternoon shadows and stunning evening sunsets.   The most frequent sign of the season has been grey squirrels, spotted in numerous locations, scrabbling for booty to haul away to secret places. Along the Coventry Canal, beside the Trent and Mersey and on the Shugborough Estate grey squirrels have been seen, always focused and always fast!

 

On sunny Thursday morning garden after garden after garden revealed lines of freshly washed laundry.   Fishermen were poised with their rods, gardeners worked on borders, coffee drinkers supped in surprise at yet another balmy outdoorsy sort of day. While squirrels were stockpiling winter food caches,     were humans stockpiling sunshine hours…?

Hopwas (Wednesday) to Fradley Junction was the penultimate stretch of untravelled waterway during the 2018 cruise.  First there was a check on the date of the Hopwas School building    and then a look at the School House.    Solid looking, both of them.

The canal (for regular readers this was still the Birmingham and Fazeley) proceeds through Hopwas Wood passing Military Firing Range warnings.   2½ miles further on at Whittington the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal reverts to being the Coventry Canal. Here sheds and summer houses again adorn back gardens      and new houses, as in so many waterside locations, imitate warehouse style.  

Eventually after Streethay   the roar of the A38 was left behind. A surveyor not far from Fradley Junction was engrossed in his efforts   (the memory of it recalled two days later by a more youthful surveying operation in the shallow River Trent at Great Haywood).  

  It was a left turn at Fradley Junction      and a climb up three locks within a couple of miles.   Here Cleddau was back on the Trent and Mersey and on waters cruised in early May   Boaters’ conversation regularly covers batteries and toilets – but how a boat toilet might be decorated is rarely the focus of discussion…  (This specimen was seen at Woodend Lock).

Onward towards Rugeley, a windmill in the distance,   the strange Jacob Marley-like figure near Spode House re-positioned from here   to here,   the power station cooling towers being older structures   than Towers.   Then at the far end of the town there are the Bloody Steps, so called after a nineteenth century murder.. 

After diesel refuelling at Dexta1, the fuel boat at Taft Bridge,   there was a couple of unexpected exchanges.

    “Do you want a horse?” a riding instructor called out to the Captain on Friday morning. Small children were being led on the rein in a parkland corner.

“No thanks,” the Captain replied. “I’ve got 43.”

43?!” There was incredulity in the girl’s response.

“43 in my engine – 43 horse power,” the Captain explained and the boat proceeded through the woodland near Wolseley Bridge.

Fifty yards further on a couple of people were walking along the towpath, a small black dog nearby. “Do you want a dog?” the woman called. Why such generosity from folk wanting to give away their animals…?

There’s a real thrill about the scenery along here. The Trent and Mersey Canal shadows the juvenile River Trent   and the gentle hills of Cannock Chase run parallel across the valley.  

Not long after Colwich Lock   (always remembered fondly from 2008 as the Physicist’s lock – and there was a Monkton Moment* here) the canal runs alongside Shugborough Estate (the Mansion and grounds now a National Trust site).

Here the boat was pulled in, optimising a grand view over the Trent and across Shugborough Park.  It’s but a few minutes’ walk along the towpath onto the Estate.   The Mansion had been inspected earlier this year  so this was an opportunity to investigate Shugborough’s other assets2 .

There is a spectacular walled garden,                      an impressive farmhouse and purpose-built farm buildings,      longhorn cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry – and a number of neo-classical monuments. At the highest point is Hadrian’s Arch,     based on the design of the Arch of Hadrian in Greece.       

Very near the farm buildings is a particularly surprising structure, the octagonal Tower of the Winds.   Thomas Anson, who had inherited the Shugborough Estate in 1720, wanted to create his own vision of paradise at Shugborough based on the Grecian ideal of Arcadia. Peep inside the Tower of the Winds   – and you’ll find an astonishingly beautiful room,   marble-lined with beautiful windows,   its purpose the ornamental dairy where Lady Anson could “play” dairy maid, while in the basement was a working dairy.

Now eight monuments remain, several close to the Mansion.   Thomas Anson’s Paradise didn’t prove eternal.     In 1795 a great flood washed away several of the monuments and others deteriorated beyond repair.  

A short afternoon cruise (2 miles, 1 lock) brought Cleddau round the corner   onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal.     A mooring at Tixall Wide right opposite the Elizabethan Gatehouse   is Paradise indeed, especially when there is a fine sunset. 

And on Sunday morning at the Great Haywood Canalside Café  what should be on offer but this, a Paradise Slice!   (If only the noise level in this modern café hadn’t been raised by the dozen MAMIL-clad cyclists…)

There remain now just 9 miles, 3 locks and 0 county borders to winter moorings at Aston Marina…

  1. Dexta is now open for fuel  only in the mornings
  2. … and to meet Techno Son-in-Law, at Shugborough on a working visit

 

Travel stats since April: 781 miles, 227 locks

Height loss Braunston Summit to Tixall Wide: 114 feet

* Monkton Moment at Colwich Lock (“I used to have holidays in Pembrokeshire, at Saundersfoot and at a cottage in Jeffreyston…”)

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