Up – along – and down

The Bratch – Laches Bridge – Penkridge – Tixall Wide: 26 miles, 18 locks

From The Bratch moorings at Wombourne to the Great Haywood Junction at the northern end of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal is about 27 miles.

Back on board on Thursday after a night away the cruise resumed: there was a lock queue at Awbridge Lock,    distinctive for the vertical slots on the bridge brickwork over the lock tail.

Then there were five further locks spread over about three miles before the canal’s summit level was reached. On a hot afternoon a locking rhythm developed, doing turn and turn about on locks and helm. After Compton Lock it’s ten miles of summit level before the descent begins at Gailey.

Sometimes interesting-looking notices get photographed (as here at Compton Lock) though time can be too short to properly read and digest all the text…

Now it was the summit pound. Aldersley Junction came and went.

  

From here rise the 21 locks to Wolverhampton.

A mile further on, after high level bridges  and a canoe club,  there was Autherley Junction,

  

 from where starts the northbound Shropshire Union Canal that heads for Chester and ends at Ellesmere Port .

The canal narrows, a lookout was needed, there was a tight squeeze past an approaching boat    and near encounters with rock walls  and wild blooms. 

Passed before,  this boat name always raises a cheer…

Would these mangles still work, one wonders?

Is this seat as comfortable as it looks? 

As the Wolverhampton suburbs receded a peaceful wild mooring was found.  Though the grass was high the view from the galley window was full of colour! 

Onward on Friday, happily, quietly – until the roar of reverse power brought Boatwif to the bow deck. There, at a blind  bend in the canal, through a bridge hole was ploughing not one, but two boats, the first towing the second, the Duke and Duchess hotel boats on the move…

  

Another ‘oh, seen that boat name before…’ moment. 

It’s not all rural idyll – it comes as a bit of a shock to read these notices.

 

What goes on here?

  

What is the work on the other side of the canal?

The downhill route starts at Gailey Lock. It’s always a curious sight, Gailey Tower, constructed as the lock keeper’s watch tower.

It’s seven locks down to Penkridge, near the M6 at one point, over a small aqueduct at another, squeezing under small brick bridges, to be joined on Saturday by extra crew. They’re dab hands now at locating a parking spot, jumping aboard, grabbing a windlass   or a tiller   – and finding their own way home.  At the second lock a nervous single-hander was glad of the help and mindful of his own recent unplanned immersion in canal water.    Onward – through the pretty village of Acton Trussell,    onwards to Deptmore Lock where the once abandoned lock cottage has been brought back to life,    past the Stafford Boat Club, to the jumping off point for the Stafford campanologists at Radford Bank.

The canal weaves further on round Stafford, past the site of an old lock down into the town,    just opposite the RCR headquarters,    that saviour of distraught boaters.

There are park homes    and a wonderful play train in a garden,    quiet countryside, Virgin mainline trains nearby and an aqueduct over the River Sow.    The canal creeps on, Shugborough Estate close by, creeping onwards to pretty Tixall Lock.  But – cranes…?! Serious construction – of what? “Gas pipes,” said a local walker, “and tunnelling equipment.” It looked a Very Important Project…

  

Down through Tixall Lock, the final one (or the first) on the Staffs and Worcs Canal,  The sign gives distances in miles and furlongs: can anybody visualise a furlong’s length…?

Then Cleddau cruised round the long curve to Tixall Wide    and a mooring right opposite the Elizabethan Gatehouse .

 

A mile further on is the footbridge at Great Haywood Junction, a good place to watch the Anglo-Welsh hire base on one side  and boats at the water point on the other.

Nightfall at Tixall is special, magical, as the swans, ducks and geese retreat into the reeds and the sun throws vibrant colours across the water.

    

Such views sustain the soul – and draw these boaters back time and time again…

 

Stats since Higher Poynton: 384 miles, 6 tunnels and 204 locks

Monkton Moments*: 15

Number 13: at Tixall Wide, passers-by reported just returning from a holiday in Tenby, with visits to Freshwater West and Bosherston lily ponds

Number 14: hailed by a boater on a permanent mooring above Weston Lock with “Bore da – St Dogmael’s…”

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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