Sliding into Staffordshire
From Atherstone to Stone
The Coventry Canal tumbles down the 11 locks at Atherstone, weaves its way past open fields and under the West Coast railway line towards Polesworth.
This is a pleasantly kept, large ex-coal mining village in North Warwickshire. When passing this way a few years ago church bells were ringing out across the Anker Valley. Where had the lovely sound come from? Only if you strain your eyes to the north east of the canal might you make out the squat church tower of Polesworth Abbey.
Since that occasion Boatwif has developed an abbey habit. A few minutes’ stroll across a neat and expansive park brings you to the abbey which has been here a long time…
Inside the church this time was an addition – an enormous figure of St Editha, a representation of Princess Editha, daughter of King Egbert who founded the abbey in 827. She became the abbess and is commemorated in various parishes in the Midlands and in Louth, Lincolnshire.
The area’s coal-mining past is not forgotten: there’s a plaque beside the towpath, a small museum along the canal at Pooley Hall and a symbolic pillar on top of a spoil heap. (Energy from sunlight is absorbed by the layers of decayed leaves which are compressed over millennia to form seams of coal).The underside of a modern bridge nearby gives recognition to both the physical and human support structures for the mines and the miners. Though the area may have been blighted by open cast mining, trees and country parks now provide pleasant leisure space for the local population.
Not far after Polesworth the canal slips into Staffordshire. The canal passes through Alvecote, once a loading basin for Alvecote Colliery, its wharfs and businesses now aimed at leisure boating. It was hereabouts that a text arrived: Think you must be in Staffs now. Could join you tomorrow at Hopwas. So, four months after a day of windlass-winding on the Staffs and Worcs Canal Tim and Jan were volunteering for crew duties again!
Near Tamworth sharp-eyed boaters and towpath walkers may soon wonder if they are indeed in Staffordshire – or in central Europe… There it still is, a career souvenir perhaps, a border post for the old GDR (East Germany).
On towards Tamworth, past gardens packed with ornaments. As you float by you find yourself according a letter to each one: K or T or D. (Kitsch or Twee or Droll…)
Transition up or down the two Glascote Locks is never fast. The locks fill slowly and empty quickly – but always there is a delay here. But when the Autumn colours were as fine as they were above the locks what did it matter?
It mattered not at all – until a fierce and sudden rainstorm drenched the crew. What good are gaiters and over-trousers and long jackets if they are on the boat and the would-be wearer is lock-side…?
For an age it seemed Boatwif sloshed and paddled about until at last the boat was safely below the locks – and she in turn could go below decks to strip off soaking wet trousers, socks, boots and coat and replace them with drier, more weather resistant items!
Wednesday dawned less wet – but pretty breezy. Round the first corner at Hopwas there was an astonishing sight of a boater doing a good deed. Out of the water he was hooking a broken pub sun umbrella, one less hazard to catch on a boat propeller. As Cleddau cruised past woodland kingfishers (one? two? more?) tantalisingly teased, darting ahead, diving into undergrowth, then reappearing – no photo evidence, sadly!
Whittington (more Kitsch/Twee /Droll garden items) – Huddlesford – Streethay Wharf… Places were passed – a sharp wind blew and the crew shivered! There were dense carpets of leaves clogging the prop – and new houses on the approach to Fradley Junction.
Here from the Coventry Canal, it’s a sharp right down the Trent and Mersey Canal to Burton and Nottingham and a sharp left to climb up the Trent and Mersey, ultimately to Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester and the far north…
The Stafford crew jumped off at King’s Bromley just before Bridge 55. “There’s our car; it’s still there…!” one exclaimed.
How glorious to be moving northwards over the next couple of days, along the Trent and Mersey in wonderfully sunny conditions. There were familiar views of course, the line of hills to the south indicating the Trent Valley, first sighting of Rugeley Power Station, the strange figure by the Armitage Tunnel, the mock speed camera and the blue light boat at Rugeley… Though potatoes were being harvested near Taft Bridge and a farm nearby seems to have diversified into boat construction the eye is constantly distracted by Autumn. She is a star performer this year; trees ablaze in sizzling colour, branches laden with berries, hedges forming walls of vibrant hues.
Moored at Great Haywood Junction on Thursday night there was an offer of a Get Out of Jail Free Card. “We’ll pick you up after bell-ringing practice,” said Tim, “and take you to the pub* for a drink”. There was no talk of quarter peals among the campanologists but experiences shared with boater /ringers of the Huddersfield Narrow, there was talk of passage to Leeds and Skipton – and a mutual acquaintance discovered!
This county (now the rain has stopped!) is presenting itself well: friendly folk, delightful waterways scenery and stunning seasonal colour!
Staffordshire towns next: through Stone on Saturday, Stoke-on-Trent on Sunday…
*The Greyhound at Burston
Stats since last post: 41¾ miles, 11 locks
Monkton Moments* to date: 22
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)