Shropshire Union Canal: Nantwich – Autherley Junction
It’s hard to know when the Shropshire Union Canal is actually in Shropshire. It is in Market Drayton (15¼ miles south of the Barbridge Junction where Cleddau had joined the SU Canal) but back at Nantwich the canal is in Cheshire and so is Audlem. Right now, in rainy Gnosall (south of Market Drayton), the canal is in Staffordshire and a local road sign has Stafford as only 7 miles away.
Cleddau and crew had cruised along Nantwich Embankment, (Saturday) heading for the next settlement at Audlem (about 5½ miles further south). This flag was noticeable: it’s the flag of the Celtic nations, being flown by the Cheese Boat.
Rain set in, serious rain, so the camera was consigned to the cabin. 3 miles south of Nantwich there is a pair of locks at Hack Green, which needed careful negotiation in slippery and sodden conditions. Very close by is the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker , its aerials visible from the towpath above the locks.
Onward Cleddau cruised to moor at Coole Pilate, a glorious stretch of well kept bank, with plenty of picnic tables and barbecue frames. Was there an evening BBQ? No, not in the rain! A dry morning though allowed for an outdoor breakfast and a short onward cruise.
How was this for the next mooring view? The River Weaver rises in the hills of West Cheshire and flows in a south easterly direction, crossing under the canal here at Moss Hall Aqueduct. (From here the river threads through Nantwich to Winsford to become the Weaver Navigation that meets the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey). Again Cheshire cows are much in evidence.
Audlem is an attractive canal side village. Who would not be charmed by the sight of the sandstone church above street level (access for those with mobility issues seems difficult) or the Bear Stone (think bear baiting) down by the Butter Market.
Two weeks into the “summer cruise” the Captain and Boatwif were becoming used to assessing the chance of outrunning the weather: typically, pause for an extended shower to pass, move a bit, fill up with water – and study the skies.
A chance was taken on Monday and Cleddau climbed Audlem’s 15 locks without getting a drenching – a triumph! Up the locks, past a lock befrienders’ garden, past the Shroppie Fly and the Audlem Mill, past the old stables.
A mile or so further are the Adderley Locks, a flight of five locks and as is typical on the Shropshire Union a by-wash delivers excess water to the pound below each lock. Getting close to the lock too soon to hover outside the lock gates can end with a tussle of steel against a fierce force of water and unforgiving stone work…
The Adderley Locks were ascended – that’s 22 locks now since Nantwich. Some of the locks have additional gate paddles: see the two vertical ground paddles here and the additional horizontal winding mechanism. Gate paddles speed up the business of filling a lock but can cause extra turbulence within the chamber.
From the canal It’s quite a walk into Market Drayton – and each time it’s been visited the town gives the impression of being faded and tired, yet having an eclectic mix of period features.
It was as Cleddau pulled away from the water tap that a downpour started – and that phrase, heard so often in the last few days, was spoken: “Luvely day…!” When it’s raining hard, in an attempt to stay sane and cheerful, boaters tend to nod sagely and say “Luvely day…”
Less than a mile from Market Drayton the canal goes into a cutting and arrives at the five Tyrley Locks. If the previous locks at Audlem and Adderley have fierce by-washes, here at Tyrley they need to be treated with even greater respect.
Judge the way the cross rush of water will push the boat, adjust the throttle, keep the power on, keep fine-tuning the boat’s forward motion to the chamber – and hope!
Just as Cleddau surged through the by-wash at the bottom lock there was a flash, a crack of thunder and increased intensity of rain. Why, one begins to ask oneself, is one out here in a thunderstorm…? Is holding a metal windlass a good idea – or not? Between locks 1 and 2 Cleddau held back and waited while a down coming boat fought the surge…
What follows Tyreley is Woodseaves Cutting – it’s deep, blasted through rock, densely wooded, prone to landslips. The towpath is closed currently as at the southern end trees have slid and blocked the path.
Onwards on Thursday, onwards past moored boats, through High Offley, past the Anchor Inn, on through the woodland past the (almost hidden) classic car (can anyone identify it?), past a hideout, then under the iconic double bridge, still with the telegraph pole on its mid-support, to Norbury Junction (canal arm here used to link to the Newport and Shrewsbury Canal). This place holds a certain charm (not just nostalgia for last year’s planned and chance Meet and Greet but also because of the back-to-the-fifties feel as displayed by old advertising panels…
On to stop overnight at Gnosall (Thursday), A walk to the village revealed road signs to Stafford 7 miles (really?) and a church that was open for visitors. This was a Grade 1 listed church, praised by John Betjeman, its origins in the Norman period but whose Baptistry Window was distinctly more modern.
Onwards, through the canal’s only tunnel at Cowley (hewn out of rock), onwards under high bridges and a turnover bridge to climb one last lock at Wheaton Aston, the last one – 28 locks since joining the Shroppie at Barbridge Junction.
What remained of the Shroppie was 7 miles of cuttings and embankments in relentless rain. A pause at Brewood (Staffordshire, pronounced Brood) was a reminder of the astonishing building in the middle of the village (Speedwell Castle, 18th century, said to have been built on the profits from a bet on a horse) and an opportunity to buy some ice-cream (though not from this passing boat).
In rain and full waterproofs the crew continued southwards towards Wolverhampton – fervently hoping that no other boater would dare to nod and say “Luvely day…” !
Nantwich to Autherley Junction: 39 miles, 29 locks, 1 tunnel
2021 Monkton Moments*- 2 (1. Passing boaters on Audlem Lock flight 2. Crew of nb Serena at Market Drayton)
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)