To the Trent
Willington – Trent Lock: 14 Miles, 7 locks (over 2 days)
From the Staffordshire moorlands the River Trent wends its way south and east towards Nottingham. A charming babbling affair in Staffordshire, by the time it has swung east into Nottinghamshire it has become navigable.
The canal, the Trent and Mersey, follows the course of the river fairly closely. The changing views across the broad sweeping valley show signs of industry, both past and present: agriculture, gravel extraction, brewing, materials reclamation, power stations. Occasional glimpses of curious properties (the Claymills Pumping Station, in steam on a Bank Holiday weekend) and the Swarkestone Pavilion are reminders of long gone eras.
Not far from the end of the canal near Aston Lock sight and sound became thoroughly modern: a vast shape behind the hedge, it was explaimed by another boater, is the largest M&S warehouse in the world. Simultaneously across the otherwise tranquil countryside came the roar of high octane engines, motorbikes the other side of the valley at Donington Park Speedway.
Bridges are noteworthy on the Trent and Mersey Canal: very narrow at Wychnor, a very new one at Branston, an old one overshadowed by a new one, a near derelict one. For those who drive in these parts certain roads are well known but from the tarmac who would know that there is a canal under the A50 near Shardlow or a busy waterway under the M1 near Long Eaton.
The first canal lock after Willington can come as a rude shock, not that it is unexpected since it is clearly marked on canal maps. It is its size that catches the breath. Stenson Lock,
the first (or sixth) of the six broad locks on the eastern end of the canal is a colossal depth (12’ 4”) and the force of the water filling the chamber from both ground and gate paddles is awe-inspiring. The lock is overlooked by a café so on a sunny bank holiday weekend there were plenty of spectators. Crews for river cruisers and narrow boats helped each other out, conversations as usual being of the “Where are you heading? Where’s best to moor? How long are you out for?” variety. But there are other topics of interest too: an elderly lady, patrolling the towpath, notebook and pencil in hand, jotted down boat names and boat histories. “I’ll look for your blog,” she said. “And if it’s in Welsh there’s a Google translator!” Bird and butterfly spotters would have been having a very fine day too. And it was at Stenson that a blog reader divulged a passion for crocheting mooring pin covers from Sainsbury’s bags.
Boat hooks and barge poles can seem to lie unused, almost unloved, on the cabin roof for weeks without call to service. On Sunday though both were used. A stubborn tree branch wedged in a gate paddle opening required two boat hooks to try to shift it (with limited success). Later the end of a barge pole was worked into the silty canal bottom to try to keep the boat in deep enough water to keep it level: again success was minimal. That night heads were laid down where feet normally are – and surprisingly a good night’s sleep was had!
Onwards, in stunning (entirely untypical for a bank holiday) sunny weather. Through Shardlow, through the flood lock, onwards to the last (or first) T and M broad lock. This was Derwent Mouth Lock. Serious water lies ahead. River Derwent from the left, Trent Navigation to the right, Sawley Cut straight ahead.
There was a while to wait at the Sawley paired locks; a green light there was, but no sign of movement beyond the lock gates. Eventually in a flurry of activity two cruisers swung into the right hand chamber and Cleddau was called into the left. Down, down again onto the river level. As the gates opened a view of a high wall appeared: a long horizontal wire for crews to attach their ropes seemed an improvement on single metal rings or vertical wires. Have horizontal wires been installed on other Trent locks – and are they easier to use?
About two decades ago, on a trip northbound from the Grand Union to Lincoln, Cleddau had emerged from the River Soar to join the wide expanse of water at Trent Lock. The thrill – and the fear – of cruising into the midst of a sailing regatta remains a strong memory. On Bank Holiday Monday, (approaching this time from the west rather than the south) the yachts weren’t out but the raft jumpers and the canoeists and the swimmers were…
The sun and good fortune both shone on Cleddau. The junction (Erewash Canal, Cranfleet Cut to Nottingham, the Trent, the mouth of the Soar) heaved with boating activity watched by hundreds (many hundreds) of people. And as Cleddau approached the Trent Lock visitor pontoons a cruiser swung off the outer pontoon leaving a perfect 60 foot mooring space. Perfect, absolutely perfect – a grandstand view over this magnificent watery space from the bow, a front row view from the side hatch. What more could one want?
It’s thirsty work of course, navigating through 4 locks on a very hot morning. The Tentatrice crew (tied up above Trent Lock) suggested a refreshing beer – read here to discover how part of that sunny afternoon was spent locked inside a pub…
The next stage of the cruise? The small two boat flotilla set off on Tuesday morning heading for Nottingham. There’s more river cruising ahead…