South and east to Alrewas
Great Haywood to Alrewas: 14¼ miles, 10 locks
Wednesday. So Tixall Wide was “full” and “boats were double parked” according to the boaters who had just cruised along the stretch of wide water. (See previous post). It was time for Cleddau to stop for the day so an overnight mooring place had to be found.
The Captain reversed the boat backwards along the 100 metres or so of the Staffs and Worcs Canal, out under the Junction Bridge and swung her to continue south along the Trent and Mersey Canal. A mooring slot on the bend above Great Haywood Lock was vacant – relief! There was no stunning view across the water or scores of water birds swimming nearby or glorious sunset views but it was a safe mooring in what was proving to be a popular location.
Late afternoon Boatwif strolled the mile or so past the broad lake-like stretch towards Tixall Lock, to glimpse again the impressive gatehouse across the water – and to see how popular a place the Wide had become. There was a summer festival feel along the towpath. Groups of boaters were sharing talk and food. The towpath isn’t wide and three separate BBQ or cook-in gatherings were under way. To walk past sizzling sausages, potatoes wrapped in foil, lashings of salads and one enormous platter of stir fry rice and veg (and to walk back through it again) served only to increase one’s own hunger pangs!
So Tixall Wide sighted – Tick.
The Trent and Mersey from Great Haywood Lock to Rugeley is stunningly beautiful. Shugborough Hall and buildings of the Shugborough Estate are glimpsed through the trees, the River Trent wends its way along the valley bottom and to the west Cannock Chase rises serenely. There are sombre memorials up there, a cemetery for Commonwealth members and also a cemetery for German armed forces (see a visit here in March 2019).
After five miles or so of attractive rural views, Rugeley’s back gardens make a sharp contrast. There’s a speeding camera (!) a canal side swimming pool and mannequins, some dressed as dancing sheep! Rugeley seems to have gained more housing – and lost its power station since Cleddau last passed through.
Onwards – at Spode House the strange lamplighter / Jacob Marley figure is still there. The canal weaves on, round corners and bends, past the Armitage Shanks factory , on towards King’s Bromley. A mooring on a sunny bend beckoned – how good that was.
The route south was to veer east on Thursday. The Trent and Mersey Canal continues on towards and through Fradley Junction. There had been word and publicity about the HS2 works at Fradley – but this was the first sighting. There has been compulsory purchase of lock cottages and much land clearance is under way.
Fradley is a canal “honeypot”, busy with both boats and with gongoozlers. There’s a junction to join the Coventry Canal and a straight route on down the Trent and Mersey. Several of the locks are manned with volunteer lock keepers. Progress slowed at Junction Lock with two boats intending to go straight down while one was waiting to ascend and turn left onto the Coventry Canal. There was nothing for it but for the Captain to haul the boat back round the corner onto the Coventry Canal and wait it out until all other boats had moved on…
“Yes,” said the other, “my arm isn’t long enough to move the tiller AND reach the throttle!”
Down through Junction Lock and Keepers Lock.
Luck ran out after Keepers Lock, with no other boater or lock keeper assistance. The wind, a steady moderate breeze earlier, began to gust. All manoeuvring became very difficult – and after several aborted attempts to get back on the boat after Common Lock Boatwif battled on foot along the towpath for nearly a mile, almost to Bagnall Lock. Boating in such wild conditions seemed insane, but where to stop?
Bagnall Lock marks the start of Alrewas village. Grab the first mooring place after the lock was the mutual decision, but first the fiendishly heavy lower lock gates needed to be shifted… After 5 miles, 8 locks and the ferocious easterly wind a safe place just beyond the winding hole was a great relief. The wind swirled dust from the towpath into the ropes and onto the decks and windows, but who cared? Surely two nights here would restore strength, stamina… and hopefully sanity!
Two mornings later another disadvantage of that mooring place was discovered – greedy birds must have sheltered in nearby trees, leaving many stubborn splatters on the offside rear of the boat…
Boaters passing through Alrewas usually head for the butcher’s shop on Main Street. That temptation was resisted. Meanwhile the Captain came up with an alternative Alrewas Plan. Twice before the crew has walked up to the National Memorial Arboretum. from the canal. Aging legs and aching bones now prefer an alternative means of transport – a taxi.
Prominent on a high mound, guarded by sentinel evergreen oak trees, is the Armed Forces Memorial. Engraved on the walls inside are the names of over 16,000 servicemen and women killed on duty or because of terrorism since the end of the second world war. Here is the stunning memorial to the work of the Royal Navy. While many of the 300 plus memorials are linked to the military others reflect the efforts and experience of civilians.
A visit to the Arboretum, whether to seek solace, to remember and pay respects, to investigate the display galleries or to walk in the maturing woodlands, will always be rewarding and enlightening
Onward on Sunday towards Branston (of Branston Pickle fame!)
Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 64½ miles, 41 locks, 2 swing bridges,1 tunnel and 1 cow
Queries about the Tudor rose: 2