Leaky skies in Middle England

Sunday 5th June, above the Bratch Locks to Kinver (9 miles, 14 locks)

                “Wot yer dun to our weather then?” shouted a passing cyclist this afternoon.  Boatwif did not know; neither did the Captain, and certainly the weather forecasts consulted did not accurately predict what happened!

                  Cleddau had started about a mile above the Bratch.  Just along from her overnight mooring on the opposite side was a cricket pitch. The nearest village was Trysull and yesterday afternoon faint sounds of leather on willow could be heard drifting across the canal. As we prowled past this morning, camera unfortunately not at the ready, a notice caught the eye, warning would-be moorers of the danger of flying cricket balls! Further along today, at Marsh Lock, another cricket match was in progress. A Sunday cricket match – but any far-hit balls were likely to be retained on pitch by high wire fencing.   And yesterday, late on, we’d passed private fishing lakes: this stretch, with its trees, horses grazing in the fields, hilltop (Lakey Hill?), cricket matches and angling aficionados might well be inspiration for scriptwriters of Middle England’s radio soap, The Archers

                    The boat had arrived at the top of the Bratch Locks just before 9am. The tower-shaped building at the top was vaguely familiar, from a long ago photograph of ours (1994) as well as its frequent appearance in canal literature. These locks (3) need to be taken seriously. A notice declares in which order the red, the blue and the black-tipped paddles need to be wound. A helpful relief lock keeper appeared so the transit was untroubled by any mishap. Not much further on come the Botterham (Staircase) Locks, easier to work out the procedure on these but the chamber depths are hugely impressive. Subsequent locks continued to charm: more circular weirs, some attractive ironwork on a footbridge and a tollhouse dated 1772 at Stewponey Wharf. Three waterworks buildings  were spotted, designed to pump water from a vast underground lake that lies below the sandstone ridge to the surrounding towns and cities. 

                    It occurs that the towpath of this canal is not particularly popular with dog walkers, but cyclists, runners and casual walkers are frequent users.  We’ve seen two puncture repairs carried out canal-side, runners solo and in packs, picnickers huddled under umbrellas and exercise walkers on the verge of jogging. Of course the anglers are frequent users too, all with poles that stretch the breadth of the canal. As the boat approaches the steerer wonders first will the angler recognise a boat’s approach – and then, guess, will he (and it has always on this trip so far been “he”) raise the rod solemnly to allow the boat to pass underneath or will he demonstrate some nifty handwork which backs the pole into the hedge behind…

                      As for other sights which today caught the eye: two boat names, the first Dancer to the Drum (with Noddy sitting on the front deck) and secondly Daddy’s Girl 2. In the garden ornament stakes one small plot did well with 2 otters, 1 duck, 4 lions and 1 heron. Most glorious garden seemed to belong to a relatively small bungalow, but it stretched on and on beside the canal, trees, bushes, flowering shrubs, beautiful splashes of varied planting, smooth lawn areas – and just two ornaments that could be seen, a small boy gazing into a pond and a large classical urn. But at the very end of this extensive garden, comfortably at home, stood… a real live heron!  

                    The last stretch of the canal, past Stourton Junction, was largely tree-lined. In places it is apparent that the canal’s route was cut through the red sandstone but mainly the heavy foliage dominates, except where in places pink blousy rhododendron light up the greenery. In increasingly heavy rain Cleddau sallied on, down and down again into Kinver, where permanent moorings are lined with boats. A little look at Kinver tomorrow is on the agenda, before heading to Kidderminster and on to Stourport-on-Severn.

Culinary footnote: the Captain, in his Catering Officer capacity, has harvested some basil from the front deck, to add to tonight’s seafood pasta…

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