Taking another look
Tixall Wide to Wedgewood: 14½ miles, 12 locks
It’s a familiar route now, Tixall Wide northbound to the Macc…Time was when summer cruising was done at a belt, eight hour cruising days, “getting back to base on time” – and all that. Though there are still liaisons agreed and appointments to keep, generally cruise days now are of much shorter duration and, when days off from cruising occur, some local sight-seeing may be permitted.
So what’s caught the eye in recent days? First, there was an item in Stafford’s Ancient High House that deserved a second look. After descending from an exhibition featuring the Staffordshire Yeomanry on the top floor, the Stuart Bedroom was revisited. Here, near the door, was a Stumpwork Box, a beautiful object on which stitched padded pictures were created against a plain background to form a three dimensional effect. (See further detail here: )
At one point in Stafford directions had been given to walk to the town centre. “Keep on going,” was the local advice. “Pass the prison and keep going towards the shops…” Other towns will have prisons regarded as landmarks (think Lincoln, Bedford, Cardiff) but is there another street name like this?
When moored at Tixall Wide (Staffs and Worcs Canal) it’s easy to pop round the corner (turn right at the Junction to meet the Trent & Mersey Canal) into Shugborough Estate (easy, that is if you can happily plod the mile each way along a rather pitted towpath – access is easy too if the visitor remembers to take the current National Trust card with her…!) Shugborough has been visited several times but a wander amid the classically inspired landscaped gardens near the mansion had felt overdue.
This is the Shepherd’s Monument, its meaning not clear. What should one make of the letters (initials?) at the base of the relief engraving? Great minds apparently have struggled over it (see here) but here is a claim that the 200 year old mystery has been solved…
When close to this monument it’s worth a look, though not by any stretch of the imagination for its beauty. It’s the Cat’s Monument. One theory is that it commemorates a particular cat that travelled round the world with Shugborough owner, Admiral Anson (during the 1740s). Another is that it is a memorial to the last of a breed of Persian cats kept by Thomas Anson.
Shape, texture and colour define the gardens behind the Mansion. Just how are bushes so uniformly cut? What dedication there is to keeping the undersides so neat. Gorgeous shades delight the eye; a living alcove provides green shade over a garden seat and in summer mood families were picnicking beside the Doric Temple, playing ball games on the lawns and at the Essex Bridge, amidst much giggling, two youngsters had sourced a heavy log to compete with a twig for a game of pooh sticks… After the count of three down into the Trent the wood was hurled… the twig making the faster passage under the bridge!
There was an early start on Tuesday morning and a chance to appreciate the reflections on the glass-like TIxall waters… En route to Great Haywood Marina (LEFT at the Junction this time) Cleddau passed this boat, not for the first time. Ben Cruachan, a mountain yes, but also a hollow mountain…Decades ago, for Cal Son’s sake, there was a camper van expedition to that very place so as to visit yet another power station, this one underground…
Just before 9am Cleddau swung round into Great Haywood Marina – and there ahead was What A Lark, returned there by Carol and George, usually of Still Rockin’ Having anticipated crossing bow to bow somewhere south of Stoke it was a surprise to see the boat tucked up on a secure pontoon…
While the boat’s engine was being serviced there was time to revisit the Canalside Farm Shop and Café. Strawberry-picking isn’t the back-breaking business it used to be, not when the fruits are grown at waist height…
Cleddau left Great Haywood, the Farm Shop and the Marina, early in the afternoon, heading north, crew each with an eye on the skies. With dire warnings of a thoroughly wet Wednesday it seemed best to get to Stone to sit the rains out there. Could en route Boatwif get a second look at the Medicinal Qualities of Salt board, spotted on the outward journey?
The Captain exercised patience, pulling in so that a closer look could be gained: not the first board, that was to do with Hixon parish walks; not the second board either – this was to do with the history of the Trent and Mersey Canal. And then, Eureka! This was the one, The Salt Industry and Medicinal Baths. The information is not easy to read but it seems a brine pool had been created which led to salt pans and later a small spa hotel. There is reference too to barrels of salt beef being supplied to the navy from here via the canal.
Into Stone, to squeeze, nose into reeds, into the last possible space. And, true to the forecast, Wednesday was stair-rod wet and best forgotten…
Thursday: Stone to Wedgewood. (4⅓ miles, 8 locks)
Decision: At 0930 both the water point and Star Lock were empty and available for use. Filling the water tank won – and boat traffic began to build up.
As water spluttered and overflowed at the tank filler Pieces of Eight operated by a boater on his own proceeded into the lock.
“Go up and help,” said the Captain. A huddle of people on a lock side can easily lead to confusion: who belongs to which boat and are there other boats waiting to move up – or down. Pieces of Eight left the full lock and another boat approached, its lock side crew member puzzled.
“Aren’t you getting on your boat?” he enquired. No, Boatwif is Mrs Cleddau, not Mrs Pieces of Eight…
It was a blustery morning; at two of the four Stone locks volunteer lock keepers were on hand to help. At Lock 2 an evil north westerly wind made life difficult, at Lock 3 a protracted discussion with a boater whose Mastermind special subject must be windlasses became tedious, there were bridge inspectors below Lock 4 and lock keepers lock side.
Onwards for another mile, passing Lynden, kangaroo on the port side (seen at Tixall Wide) a koala bear seen here on the starboard side.
There at the first of the four Meaford Locks was Pieces of Eight, rising, painfully slowly. When following a slow or single-handed boat it’s best to pitch in and help. The flight was busy, down coming boats at each lock. Waiting above the top lock was pretty Rosé and Gin. “Aren’t you getting on your boat?” said the chap on the opposite side of the lock. Again an explanation was needed – this windlass wielder is NOT Mrs Pieces of Eight…
It’s a couple of miles further to Barlaston, (compulsory photo of Barlaston Boatyard here). Barlaston is a popular mooring place with easy access to a One Stop Shop and to this well-known pub. Push a bit further on and there are views over open fields with Virgin and CrossCountry trains providing regular company along the nearby West Coast line…
Finally here’s a resurrection of the Monkton Moments* stats. The 2019 score had been stuck at 5 since June but then there were 2 separate recognitions while coming through Stone on Thursday.
MM*1: “Come from Haverfordwest?” enquired a helmswoman at Star Lock. “My husband was at Brawdy – Fleet Air Arm.”
MM*2: A boater emerging from Newcastle Road Lock spotted the name Cleddau and asked the Captain: “Do you come from Pembroke Dock? … I used to live there but not now…”
After another day at anchor due to heavy rain the trip will resume on Saturday, up through Stoke-on-Trent, heading back to the Macc…
2019 Monkton Moments*- 7
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)