Right at the Junction

Aston Marina – Stafford – Tixall Wide: 18 miles, 5 locks

After a night at Aston Marina Cleddau crawled out of the marina, turned sharp left and headed south. This was to be her third southbound exit from the marina this year… The Trent and Mersey Canal in the Burston and Sandon area provides pleasing views and many sociable bank side onlookers 

Often before there have been hold ups on this stretch and Sandon Lock was no exception. There an ascending boat took an age, raising the boat inch by inch, controlled by its helmsman standing on the roof.  (What is it about men this season who are determined to – or foolhardy enough – to stand on the roof and play with ropes…?! Remember Wharton’s Lock here )

On through Weston (ooh, honey for sale here, a point worth remembering), past Weston Wharf where it always looks as if there is purposeful activity   and straight, no queuing, into Weston Lock.

The young River Trent is never far away, just beyond the towpath hedge. To walk along here would not only be pleasant but informative: the zoom lens suggests a board about the medicinal qualities of salt  and there are several other information boards too.

There is a regular segment on Radio 4’s Sunday morning Broadcasting House programme in which a sound sequence called Slow Radio is aired. Sliding past the reeds, a breeze and water movement causes gentle rustling as reeds sway and moorhens and coots rush to escape: sweet sounds indeed. Creep by such a section on foot and visual rewards can be yours…

8 miles south of Aston Marina, just before Great Heywood Junction is the Canal Side Farm Shop. Once upon a time it was just a Pick Your Own strawberries place – now the terraced canal-side café is hugely popular and the Farm Shop (closed for refurbishment in early April) has reopened. A recce revealed tempting displays of fruit and veg, a long butchery counter, a larger delicatessen display than previously and naughty treats like super-size meringues…

“Posh now, aren’t we?” said an assistant.

“No,” was Boatwif’s response, “ posher than before…!”

Right at Great Heywood Junction, onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal, passing an unusually and beautifully decorated boat. Australian owners, presumably… Who would miss an opportunity for a couple of nights moored on Tixall Wide, a very special watery place.

Great Heywood village is a twenty minute walk back from Tixall Wide: think Pride and Prettiness, roadside floral displays arranged with military precision and a bus stop lovingly adorned with real and with knitted flowers…   The village SPAR shop is magnificent, well-stocked and open until 2100 each and every evening,

Back at Tixall Wide (on Tuesday evening) breaths were held – would this, could this be the night of an outdoor meal, the final chance for a Cleddau and Tentatrice  2019 Towpath Dinner?

Two courses were managed before a chill set in, and then a retreat was made back on board Tentatrice for farm-fresh strawberries and cream, cheeses and coffee.

Onward on Wednesday (7th); fond farewell (twice) to Tentatrice, up through Tixall Lock and a cruise on towards Stafford.

Now what is the history behind this boat?

There are sights to look out for, of course, such as this wonderful play train, beside which is a three storey tree house.    And a mile further on is a signpost heralding the efforts to connect the Staffs and Worcs Canal with the River Sow. There are two work party weekends planned and progress is evident…

Cleddau was duly moored at Stafford Boat Club for four nights. Here is an amazing boating facility: what fifty years ago had been a short derelict arm into Hazelstrine Brickworks is now an immaculate space for boats and boaters,  for moorers and those requiring workshop, dry dock and wet dock space. Cleddau was moored neatly outside the arm with easy access to electricity and a water supply. (What was not to like?!)

Committed boat club members have turned an unpromising watery space into permanent moorings for about 20 boats (piling done by themselves), and via club contacts have recycled garages, built the wet dock and a slip way,    built – and extended – the clubhouse, bought the adjacent field and positioned a pair of recycled lock gates and acquired machinery. Club members offer a wonderful welcome and a thoroughly enjoyable evening was spent in the clubhouse hearing the site’s history and swapping boating yarns.

An Enterprise car hire booking allowed for 30 brief hours at home. Back at the boat (Friday) there was time for a good catch up (on land, not water this time) with the Stafford Campanologists. How to transfer one set of bells from a deconsecrated church in one area to a different tower in another area proved a most fascinating topic.

Stafford was a previously unvisited county town – so what is it like? Amid a jumble of building styles and periods Stafford has some architectural gems: there’s the Ancient High House, built around 1595 and recognised as the largest timber framed town house from the Tudor period in England. Now it contains a free museum.

Among Tudor artefacts found locally is a copper alloy Tudor Rose pendant. There are rooms presented in different periods: in one King Charles 1 is seen during his September 1642 visit. (Civil War enthusiasts might register that date as only weeks after the King raised his standard in Nottingham…) Is this triple portrait of Charles I a copy of the Sir Anthony van Dyck original? In another Stuart room is a wonderful four poster bed, dressed with Stuart design fabrics and held by a Stafford knot.

Just across the street is St Chad’s Church, Stafford’s oldest building. It’s nearly 900 years old.  A throng of people emerging from the church indicated a Saturday wedding, perhaps – but no, it had been a christening.

Enormous stone columns support the roof of the 12th century nave and the zigzag patterning of the stone archways is distinctly early Norman. A number of faces on the stonework intrigue: here is what is thought of as The Green Man. The church fabric had been plastered over in the Reformation and it had undergone a nineteenth century restoration and extension into the north and south aisles. Keen parishioners were on hand to help identify the different architectural periods.

Post lunch a peek into the larger collegiate St Mary’s Church was on the cards: it was 2.40pm. “Wedding at 3 o’clock,” the church warden announced, looking at his watch…

“I’ll play some music then,” the organist announced. It was indeed a quick look at an interior that was a riot of colour due to the hundreds of bright tapestry kneelers positioned on the hymn book shelves of the pews.  Another splash of colour shone through a modern window in the north aisle – oh, so Stafford had a shoe trade…

Scuttling out of the church as the wedding guests gathered outside, the Captain began talking to a work colleague of the bride. “She was always late for work,” said the friend.

But this bride was NOT late for her wedding. She and her attendants approached along the path. “Is he here?” shouted the bride. “Is he here…?”

The wind was increasing. A bridesmaid fought the veil under control and the bridal party arrived at the door plenty of minutes before 3pm…

Time at Stafford Boat Club ran out on Sunday morning. In breeze, showers and a squall Cleddau retraced her Wednesday route, to moor up again at Tixall Wide.

Next time it’ll be LEFT at the Junction to head northwards back to the Macclesfield Canal.

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