No great expectations

Tixall Wide to Little Stoke, 9.5 miles and 4 locks

Another blue, hot day with meteorologists and broadcasters on the radio excitedly anticipating and quoting record temperatures for a September day… Boats behind and in front of Cleddau left early from Tixall Wide, but Boatwif clung on, eager for one last photo opportunity, which was helpfully provided first, by a contractor’s workboat and dumb barge motoring by and secondly, by a couple of hire boats whose steerers’ signals proved more confusing than helpful!

Back at Great Haywood Junction there was time to top up the water tank and point out the new Canal Side Farm Shop building to the Captain. Time was when farm shops were trestle tables displaying bent carrots with a flapping awning overhead; now, and Boatwif can be emphatic about this, since she entered a second grand farm shop today, they are spacious, air-conditioned, refrigerated, spotless emporiums with automated doors, delicatessen counters, exotic preserves, birthday cards and flawless cauliflowers. There must be profit to be made in these places…?

Soon there was evidence of Work Being Done: at a lock two space-suited guys were spraying weedkiller, followed by another (lifejacket wearing) operator languidly carrying a lifeline. At Weston builders were hard at work on the housing development and just further along two chaps were fishing leaves from a swimming pool, readying it, presumably, for a splashy weekend. In the fields behind the hedges unseen tractors and machinery worked on the soil. But for some there is reward in the outdoor life: yesterday two guys lunched at a picnic bench at an idyllic spot. Work, rest – and play…

Near Weston nb Seyella passed by: Boatwif waved and proffered congratulations. Their boating blog describes their travels and Geoff’s recent Great North Run success. To another boating name: as Cleddau approached Stone the Captain became concerned for her thirst. Diesel would soon be needed. Just below Aston Lock is the recently opened large Aston Marina so here was an opportunity to refuel. The helpful marina staff supplied fuel, gas and pointed out the jetty where Terry Darlington’s boat (nb Phyllis May 2) is usually moored (this reference should be significant to Penvro Pals). Then later, while mooring up near Little Stoke, there was a “Monkton Moment”: an elderly well-spoken lady correctly pronounced and identified Cleddau, told the Captain how well she knew Pembrokeshire, having helped with harvest when a wartime university student, had sailed at Solva – and that a local man (Terry Darlington) had taken his narrow boat on sea-going voyages. Such exchanges emphasise how inter-connected are these isles.


In that second grand Farm Shop this afternoon (at Aston Marina, while two coach loads of visitors were feasting at the Bistro) Boatwif was faced with a surprise item: past the onions and the butchery, behind the birthday cards were a few books – and in pride of place was a twentieth anniversary hardback edition (in slipcase) of Michael Rosen’s We’re going on a bear hunt! (see blog dated Wednesday 28th Sept.) You just never know what you will find where! Then, with no great expectations, Boatwif took a short local stroll late in the afternoon. The infant River Trent crawls under a bridge about twenty yards away. Further up the lane is a chained and firmly locked gateway to a property hidden by trees. The heart missed a beat: surely this couldn’t have been the home of Miss Haversham? Are the rat-nibbled wedding cake remains still there…?


            Tonight Cleddau is moored close to the milestone indicating 46 miles each way to Shardlow (south and east) and Preston Brook (north) so she is at the midpoint of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Tomorrow, through Stone to Barlaston, south of Stoke-on-Trent.

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