These final downhill miles of the Staffs and Worcs Canal have been completed in two hops, first from Penkridge to Stafford and then from Stafford to Tixall Wide, from where it is a 20 minute stroll beside a last watery mile to Great Haywood Junction.
It was still half term week and there were many hire boats about. With the sunshine the holiday mode had set in; at Penkridge Lock two crew members (mother and teenage daughter) worked their locking duties in bare feet…
Down Penkridge Lock, past houses and park homes, gardens now in full summer colour. The locks down to Stafford, (5 of them, spread out across 4¾ miles) have tough bottom gate paddles, often requiring a bit of muscle power to shift them… Again the M6 is nearby – and for a while it seemed that Cleddau was moving faster than the cars and lorries…
“Where are you heading?” Boatwif asked at one of the locks. It’s a usual question, addressed across the chamber from one boater to another.
The windlass holder looked confused, vague even. “Three … loops…?” he ventured in reply.
Was the number a clue? “Do you mean Four Counties…?”
“Yeah, that’s it, that’s it!” said the windlass holder, relieved, if none the wiser…!
What is going on now at Park Gate Lock? The branch of Midland Chandlers has closed permanently now but what else is happening here? The Captain elicited information that Bourne Boat Builders are still operating from here. (Ten years ago Bourne Boat Builders, then based at Kerridge on the Macclesfield Canal, had completed the first stage of Cleddau’s internal refit.) Remember that?
Onwards, through pristine Acton Trussell, a village only just in earshot of the M6, on towards the final lock of the day. This is Deptmore Lock, often passed on previous occasions. Indeed, back in September 2011 Extra Lock Keepers had been on board and it was Recent Bride (aka Forensic Niece , now Senior Bristol Niece) who had commented on the development possibilities of this property. See it 10 years ago here, fifth photo, and see it now, much extended:
Two nights were spent then tied up as members at Stafford Boat Club. This is five star accommodation – easy access to a water tap, gas, diesel, laundry facilities, a clubhouse with bar and socially distanced drinks served on an outdoor terrace, cheery company with boaters ready and willing to share their boaty anecdotes … For Boatwif, though, the mooring alongside a good edge on the starboard side meant it was easy to heave mats and floor clutter out of the side hatch to rid the floor of dirt and mop clean the grime; the Captain, meanwhile, was able to wipe down the starboard cabin side and the roof and get rid of sticky sap and ingrained dust. Sometimes the accomplishment of simple domestic duties can provide great satisfaction…!
Off on Sunday morning, in rain, accompanied by the Stafford Campanologists, who were not deterred at all by the very heavy drizzle. There was a pause at Baswich to investigate the ongoing work to link the Staffs and Worcs Canal with the town of Stafford. A marina basin shape is definitely emerging and the beginnings of a new lock is apparent. It’s the River Sow (rhymes with “cow”) that runs through the valley. Some drone footage here shows just how much construction work has been achieved in the last few years…
The Campanologists jumped off after a couple of hours, breezily maintaining that they’d find their way home in no time. Thanks for your company, folks, and for holding the boat while the regular crew went off exploring…
By early afternoon Cleddau was installed at a favourite mooring spot. Who could not like the watery outlook, the view of Tixall Gatehouse (available for hire through the Landmark Trust) , the ducks (a Gang of Four), the swans and cygnets, the Canada geese and their goslings,
a buzzard being mobbed by ? (what is the other bird?) and mid-evening the sound of the Shugborough cattle. Then a swashbuckling antennae-waving pirate boarded the front deck one evening. Identification sought…
Cleddau reached Great Haywood Junction at 1007 on Tuesday morning, completing the 46½ miles and 43 locks from Stourport-on-Severn. Under the Junction Bridge she cruised, her horn sounded twice to indicate a left turn, then to head north up the Trent and Mersey Canal, toward The Potteries. Perhaps only the sharp-eyed spot this plaque on the back of the Junction signpost:
Where then are the other four signposts? Why, from the west one is at Stourport-on-Severn, one’s at Stourton Junction (to Stourbridge and the Black Country), one’s at Aldersley (to Wolverhampton) and one at Autherley (to Chester).
As for signposts of a different sort – they’ll feature next time…
Staffs and Worcs Canal, Penkridge to Great Haywood Junction: 9½ miles, 6 locks.
2021 Monkton Moments*- 5
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)
- Passing boaters on Audlem Lock flight: “I’m from Hav’fodwest…”
- Nb Serena crew at Market Drayton: spent winter lockdown with family in Narbeth
- Towpath walker above the Bratch Locks: “I’ve got a house in Freshwater East – the best beach in the world…”
- Towpath walker at Stourton Junction: “Ah, Pembrokeshire…”
- 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…”