Slowly to Sawley…

Alrewas to Sawley: 25½ miles, 13 locks

Boating was resumed on Sunday after the previous day’s visit to the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”  Ratty.

These words are prominently displayed on a house that sides on to the canal in Alrewas. “Messing about” might be too casual an approach for the initial part of the onward journey. The Trent and Mersey Canal at Alrewas joins the River Trent for about a mile. Occasionally the river flow is running too fast for navigation; luckily the flow on Sunday was “in the green” although the wind was still blustery.

Down through Alrewas Lock onto the river. The towpath continues on raised platforms over a series of weirs. On a nest of reeds a swan was tightly curled up, probably incubating her eggs. The river stretch is lovely, the Trent diverting away over boom-marked weirs to the right.  After about half a mile there’s a bridge where boats have to pass under the narrow space close to the towpath bank.

As Cleddau approached the bridge another boat appeared heading downstream. The Captain hovered to allow the oncoming boat to pass through first. “In 30 years on this river I’ve never met a boat here before…!” exclaimed the boater as he continued on downstream.

Yes, boating is never entirely predictable!

The river section ends at Wychnor Lock. Soon Barton Turns Marina was passed, the first of several large marinas on this eastern section of the canal.

At the third lock of the day the ascending boat had a prominent yellow duck on the front of the roof – and a whole line of other ducks behind it. Just how many ducks were sitting on that roof…?

43, apparently, “… and we put magnets under the smaller ones to stop them blowing off,” said the boat’s owner.

Further on the first fluffy goslings of the season were spotted…

A feature of this stretch of the canal is the close proximity of the A38: traffic noise so close to the canal does not make for a gentle peaceful cruise… There are quarries and warehouses under construction, new housing   – and, right opposite Branston Water Park, a splendid new rugby pitch (since 2020 the home of Burton Rugby Club).

Branston Water Park is formed from a worked-out quarry. There’s a delightful tarmacked walk around it, well, it would be truly delightful if the intrusive roar of the A38 traffic weren’t there…

After an overnight mooring at Branston Cleddau cruised on through Burton upon Trent. Beer fans could visit the Bass Museum in one area of the town or the Marston’s Brewery at another. The canal wends past spacious green playing pitches at Shobnall Fields and industry-related murals under the bridge at Dallow Lane Lock.

En route to Willington a swan lifted herself off her nest and began to carefully repack the reeds. There were glimpses of two white eggs…! Two days later, near Shardlow, two proud swan parents were seen shepherding their flock of seven fluffy grey cygnets.

The original canal bridges are red brick and low. Nearer Willington there are several aqueducts as the canal crosses the River Dove, as well as several brooks and mill streams.  An early mode of transporting freight came by at one point, a motor boat towing an engineless butty.

The railway line becomes a close companion – there’s a station at Willington and lengthy freight trains are seen moving towards the huge new freight terminal at East Midlands Gateway.

Railways require maintenance – on Tuesday morning a Meccano-like project was under way as a floating pontoon was assembled and then pushed by an inflatable RIB along the canal to Bridge 22A.

There are glimpses of the Willington Power Station’s five cooling towers (closed since 1999). Then as the canal quietly creeps past Findern Woods you realise that the Trent and Mersey is wider now, wide enough for broad beam boats.

The first of six broad locks (going downstream) is at Stenson. These are serious beasts. The ground paddles are encased in pillars, similar to those on the Stockton and Hatton lock flights.  Two locks were shared with a boater operating on his own; he had bought the boat in Slough two weeks ago and was aiming to move it to the Erewash Canal. He proved a good lock partner through Stenson and Swarkestone Locks.

There was a view of the intriguing Pavilion at Swarkestone Hall, (available for holiday breaks now via the Landmark Trust)

A day later an upcoming single hander at Weston Lock explained that he had had his boat for five weeks. The force of water filling the lock alarmed him, especially as his little dog was inside the boat.

Despite Cleddau lurking at Weston and at Aston Locks no lock companions appeared, although at Aston a team of grass cutters arrived…

The colours of spring are glorious, the startling yellow of a rapeseed field, shy forget-me-nots in a wooded copse,     white blossom in the hedges, the pale pink of clambering clematis…

There are black and white mile posts alongside the Trent and Mersey towpath. Just south of Stone at Aston Lock is the midpoint of the canal. 42 miles (and 8 Cleddau days later) Shardlow had been reached. It’s a canal village built in the late 1700s for the transhipment of goods between the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey Canal. Many of the buildings have been carefully updated for modern use. And as it was a Wednesday, here was a Wednesday walking group heading into a pub for a post-walk coffee!

At Derwent Mouth Lock not one, not two, but three boats streamed out of the chamber, leaving space for Cleddau to make her last descent on this leg of her southbound journey.

Out of the lock, along the remaining stretch of canal cut, feeling the judder as the waters of the canal, the Derwent and the Trent merged…

It’s briefly wide open, swans gliding serenely at the mouth of the Derwent, then pushing on a bit further, under the pipe bridge, under the M1, through the open flood lock, Cleddau arrived at Sawley Marina.

It’s a labyrinthine place to find your allotted mooring slot   – but there she is now for a little while, right back in the very place where the Captain and Salty first clapped eyes on her, way back in 1994…!


Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 90¼ miles, 54 locks, 2 swing bridges, 1 tunnel and 1 cow

 Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 387 feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: 3 (Latest comment at Shardlow: “You’ve got some red missing in the middle of yer rose…”)

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2 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    I really do wish we had been able to cruise down the Trent to Shardlow. Your pictures are lovely and I can smell the spring air! What an amazing transformation of NB CLeddau lo all these years gone!
    Love Jaq xxx

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Hi Jaq,
    Great to hear from you. Yes, it’s a shame you didn’t get down to Shardlow as the buildings there are fascinating. Unfortunately I was too busy steering out of Shardlow Lock and avoiding three oncoming boats and a bridge to take any photos of them!
    May is a glorious month to cruise in as Spring changes the hedgerows and fields at a rapid rate. To see swans on their nests (and then later sweet tiny grey cygnets on the water) is a real thrill, however often it’s been seen before.
    See the latest blog post for the Cleddau transformations over the years…!
    Sue /Boatwif

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