Right – or left?

A Friday night mooring in an urban or semi-urban area is not generally a good idea – but it was a case of needs must… A mooring stretch (on the southern end of the Shropshire Union) after the M56 proved hard to identify, an attempt at bringing the boat alongside some metal piling failed as there was insufficient water depth – and with the Captain protesting loudly into the constant downpour “I WANT TO GO HOME!” a mooring spot was eventually secured opposite Wolverhampton Cruising Club. “Well, it must be OK,” summarised the Captain. “See, the boats opposite haven’t got shutters over their windows…”

Quietly Boatwif thought that the torrential rain may after all be a benefit – a deterrent to any Friday night towpath miscreants!

Early on Saturday morning Cleddau was untied. Not far ahead was the single stop lock at Autherley Junction, the lock installed to separate the waters of rival canal companies.

“Right – or left?” shouted the Captain. “Your call!”

“Right!”

 

There was one blast of the horn (indicating boat turning Right) onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal. The junction meets the canal roughly half way along its summit level. The canal crawls around the northern reaches of Wolverhampton. There are bridges,   boatyards and plenty of dog walkers. It seems as if much vegetation clearance had gone on as frequently there were piles of fresh-looking woodchip.

From Compton on it’s downhill to Stourport-on-Severn, and to the river which eventually gets to the sea…

Soon there were reminders of the special nature of this canal – the circular or rounded weirs for draining off excess water , the curious names (Bumblehole, Dimmingsdale, Giggetty ), the curves and corners… Then there was Awbridge Lock, the one with the curious bridge across the tail, built as if with stone railings…

7 locks and 7½ miles on is The Bratch,  a flight of three single locks so close together that it’s impossible for boats to pass each other.  Above them is a good mooring stretch – and a good liaison point for visitors. Along from their land base at Audlem now came Carol and George, previously of nb Rock ’n’ Roll and Still Rockin’ . What a great afternoon was spent on boat yarns and past adventures. It didn’t rain (well, hardly) and from across the canal could be heard the summer sounds of a cricket match in progress.

Down the Bratch Locks on Sunday morning, aided by a lock keeper, concentration needed to get the red and blue paddles wound in the correct order…

Wombourne is a growth village, modern housing spreading across the valley and up the hillsides. Usefully for boaters there’s a very large Sainsbury’s very close to easy mooring (likewise further west at Kidderminster).

Then the canal weaves and winds through countryside (this notice at a footpath stile being a reminder of the rural nature of the area).

Traditionally a Red Ensign is flown at the stern of a British registered vessel. Occasionally boat owners fly the flag of their home country, such as Australia or New Zealand (or  ). Hereabouts though this flag is sometimes seen, the chains of the Black Country.

Also seen quite frequently are anglers, some with elaborate umbrella-cum-tent shelters.

There’s a challenge at Botterham (a staircase pair of locks) and steering skills are tested after that as the canal twists and turns round corkscrew bends. In places it is obvious that the canal (constructed in the 1770s) was hewn through red sandstone rock.

Meandering close by is the River Stour, running fast after days of rain. At Stourton Junction a lock flight climbs up towards Stourbridge and the Dudley No 1 Canal. At the junction there was a fourth Monkton Moment* (see below) and a clutter of boats ahead, boats on private moorings and boats queuing for a water point,   which made the creep towards Stewponey Lock a slow one. Stewponey Wharf is an attractive spot, notice the colourful painted arch above the Toll House building.

There’s a church perched high on a knoll at Kinver (and rock houses on Kinver Edge) . 1½ miles west of Kinver is a fairly recent curiosity – the Boundary Stone. The stone pillar, positioned by the towpath in 1999, marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

Onward, through a short tunnel at Cookley, houses perched above it.

Debdale Lock presents a unique challenge: the approach from above the lock is on a sudden and fairly sharp bend; the space between the offside lock edge and the wall is narrow, apart from the hollowed out cave part way along the lock   – and access to and from the offside bottom gate is via a stile, a slippery bridge and some stone steps. Enjoy!

At a holiday park further on is the bizarre sight of a double railway signal. It’s more concerning though to cruise past the site of a recent landslip  – and to view the precarious edging of the road that parallels the canal about twenty feet above it.

Wolverley became a night stop. It’s a spot that attracts the crowds, to a canal side pub on one side of Wolverley Lock and to a tearoom on the other. On rainy, squelchy Monday a mooring below the lock provided an escape from the road noise and a little more daylight than the tree lined moorings above the lock. The village is dominated by the Italianate church on raised ground – the church was locked so it was impossible to see if the striking hangings created by the nuns of Turvey Abbey were still in place. From the churchyard the view is over the roof tops of the older part of the village, accessed via a steep rock-lined lane.

The last stretch of the Staffs and Worcs Canal (Wolverley to Stourport, 4½ miles) passes through frequently changing views – a park-like approach to Kidderminster, the fine old church above Kidderminster Lock, the traditional carpet making factory re-designated as a department store (Debenhams, now closed) Caldwall Lock carved out of rock, a low, old canal bridge overshadowed by a (younger) railway viaduct, peaceful tree-lined stretches, then the houses (and pubs) of Stourport before one final deep lock, down into Stourport Basins.

The basins at Stourport-on-Severn are fascinating and impressive: two levels of an inland port connect the narrow canals of the Midlands and the north with the broad River Severn. To appreciate the 1770s design of the place ignore the modern yachts of the ‘Birmingham navy’, ignore the permanent funfair     – but admire the Georgian buildings around the basins and listen out for the chiming of the Clockhouse clock. (Boatwif can confirm that it chimes throughout the night, chimes counted at 12 midnight and at 4am…)

There’d been few other boats moving westward to Stourport, since the Severn was “in the red”, too full of fast-flowing water for navigation to be allowed. Cleddau and crew had no intention of going down the Severn on this trip – but every intention of wallowing in the Stourport and Severn-side scenery before cruising back along the entire 46½ mile length of this canal.

Autherley Junction to Stourport-on-Severn : 26½ miles, 30  locks, 2 tunnels

 2021 Monkton Moments*- 4

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

  1. Passing boaters on Audlem Lock flight: “I’m from Hav’fodwest…”
  2. Nb Serena crew at Market Drayton: spent winter lockdown with family in Narbeth
  3. Towpath walker above the Bratch Locks: “I’ve got a house in Freshwater East – the best beach in the world…”
  4. Towpath walker at Stourton Junction: “Ah, Pembrokeshire…”
  5. Not really /strictly  a Monkton Moment* – a boater at Kidderminster Lock said: “If you put ‘Aber’ in front of your boat name it would be Milford Haven…”

 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

 

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1 Response

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Perfect timing! I was just this morning wondering where you had fetched up, and here is a post telling all. How wonderful to pass an afternoon with Carol and George. I can well imagine the air thick with good boaty stories. Les and I never made it down the lower end of the Staff & Worcs to Stourport; Tixall Wide or going the opposite direction, Audlem and Nantwich always called out to us so it was fun to read about your latest journey to the right!
    Love and Biggs big hugs,
    Jaq xxx

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