Of Shoes – And Ships- And Sealing-Wax – Of Cabbages – And Kings …

Captain Edwards putting the bunting up for the Coronation

With apologies to Lewis Carroll, and aware that there are no cabbages, sealing wax, or shoes in this blog – and strictly speaking no ships either – I am playing catch up, or I’ll get progressively further behind. There’s a lot of travelling to recount but there’s nothing new here as we cruised all these same canals last summer.

Some ladies by the canal in Rugeley

From Tixall Wide we turned right back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal and cruised down to Rugeley, an excellent place to stop because there’s a Tesco right next to the canal. We like places like that. We had met Gareth and Lou from Cruising Crafts at Great Haywood Junction and I asked Gareth to make a pouch for my walkie-talkie to add to my utility harness, so now I have Windlass, CRT key, handcuff key and walkie-talkie all to hand when we’re going through locks. Since I’ve had it I don’t lose handcuff keys with gay abandon either. We don’t use the walkie-talkie much when there’s just the two of us, but they are very handy when we are cruising with another boat and we were putting the hammer down a bit to meet up with Andrew and Penny again.

Great Haywood Junction in a bit of rare sunshine

From Rugeley we quickly carried on through Armitage, where toilets (Armitage Shanks) are still made and the site of the Armitage Tunnel, which isn’t as it was opened out due to subsidence, so it’s just a very deep narrow cutting now. This year no one hit the side on the way through. Once again we didn’t stop at Fradley Junction, so I still haven’t been to The Swan pub, or the Mucky Duck as boaters call it.

Making the turn at Fradley

Then it was down the Coventry Canal, past Kings Orchard Marina where we stayed last year and through the village of Hopwas, where you have the choice of two pubs facing each other across the canal, the Tame Otter and the Red Lion. We missed out on them both. From Fazeley Junction we headed for the extremely slow Glascote Locks and on to Atherstone.

Found by the side of one of the Glascote Locks – very true!

There we had a day off for the Coronation, huddled up in front of the fire listening to the rain and watching the TV. What a shame. All sorts of events were going on in Atherstone and the rain was a disappointment. It was a fabulous day all the same. Martyn wishes we hadn’t bedecked the boat with bunting though, I’m never buying the cheap stuff again. When we took it down it had left dye all over the boat which was the devil’s own job to remove.

Atherstone Top Lock, and friendly lockies. It will always be known as Rat Lock since a rat used the stern of our boat as a bridge here last summer!

Once we’d made our way through Nuneaton, which has seemingly endless allotments and was the home of Larry Grayson (who my Auntie and Uncle took me to see years ago in Bournemouth Pavillion), we reached Hawkesbury Junction with its daunting 180 degree turn. Martyn made it in one with aplomb, in front of a garden full of gongoozlers enjoying a pint in The Greyhound. We had a lovely reunion Sunday dinner there later with Penny and Andrew, which will take some beating.

I had a couple of pints of this in The Greyhound, and very nice they were too

From then it was down through Rugby (on the Oxford Canal by then) and through the three locks at Hillmorton, apparently the busiest in the country. I rather like them, but they were very full, and crossing the middle lock was like wading through a stream.

I wonder how many feet have stopped onto the lock gate here at Hillmorton

Braunston is the centre of the canal system, and it was surprisingly empty this year. We were a bit shocked that the marina was selling diesel at £1.65 per litre. We didn’t fill up there!

Approaching Braunston

We had a couple of days in Weedon on the Grand Union which meant I got to visit The Bramble Patch, one of my favourite patchwork and quilting shops. And I think this is quite enough for one blog, even though I’m not completely caught up yet.

Ready to repel pirates on the Buckby Flight

Legal Aliens

Four happy boaters

Back on the boat and in a marina it was rather frustrating that a Sainsbury’s delivery driver couldn’t find us. With all the activity around Lichfield due to building HS2 I’m not surprised. We haven’t seen any track being laid yet, just enormous construction depots and road works. Thankfully – and eventually – a taxi driver could find his way from Lichfield station with our guests for a week, Bailey and Anna, all the way from Washington DC and Jackson City Tennessee respectively. I’m amazed that a solid week of rain last October apparently hasn’t put Bailey off the English canals, and that she not only came back, but brought her sister with her.

Bailey and Yours Truly, lock keeping

it did make us laugh in the middle of this exceptionally hot and dry summer, that the girls, along with the Sainsbury’s delivery (eventually!) arrived in the middle of a rainstorm. The lack of rain is starting to cause us some problems. So far the Leeds and Liverpool, Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals are closed, the Trent and Mersey just as well may be, and there are restrictions on many others. I’m sure we will get back to our home mooring in Rufford at some stage this winter, but it wouldn’t be looking good if we turned north now.

Patiently waiting on the Atherstone Flight

Water levels are so low that somewhere on the Coventry Canal we came across a party of scouts who had got their boat thoroughly stuck. Martyn and I weren’t on the boat at the time, the girls were doing a great job in charge. The scouts didn’t have a boat pole (that they could find!) so Bailey and Anna attached a line and gave them a tug to get them going. Of course we grounded ourselves in the process, but we know how to get free!

Beau Romer to the rescue

We’d planned to journey with Bailey and Anna from Lichfield to Rugby, and had a lot of fun on the way. They bought cheese and sweets from a couple of tradingboats, we found a fabulous deli in Brinklow and we enjoyed several pub visits.

It’s a tight turn at Hawkesbury Junction

There was a lot of wildlife in evidence, mainly rats. We were in one of the Atherstone locks when one decided to use the stern of the boat as a bridge from one side of the lock to the other. The next day as well as a dead one in the canal there was a live one swimming alongside the boat. I also spotted a cheeky squirrel using a telegraph wire as a tightrope. The wildlife highlight of the week was a water vole on the towpath practically running over Bailey’s foot!

Concentrating in Braunston Tunnel

Because none of us can help overachieving, we went far beyond Rugby and ended up at Long Buckby on the Grand Union Canal, where the girls had to leave to fly home. That gave us a couple of days to cruise down as far as Stowe Hill, the first place where many years ago I ever got involved in winding a narrowboat. And a right mess up that was! I think we do a bit better these days.

Another day, another pub lunch. The Tame Otter at Hopwas

Catching Up

Mooove along there ladies!

I like keeping a blog, really I do. It augments the diary I keep every day and refer back to frequently. Off and on I’ve been a diarist since childhood. Some of my most cherished possessions are a couple of my childhood diaries, from when I was 11 or 12. Through those old pages I’ve met myself at that age and it’s amusing, sobering and surprising all at the same time. But I digress. I like keeping a blog, so why is it so hard to find the time to write it?

I don’t think there’s room for any more flowers on that boat

When last I wrote we had just come through the Harecastle Tunnel, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself for helming the boat through. I didn’t mention it then that emerging into the daylight I made a complete Horlicks of the exit. Better luck next time!

Armitage Cutting, which used to be a tunnel.

That night we moored the boat at Etruria Junction in Stoke on Trent. I’d been dreading Stoke. It gets mentioned a lot on canal Facebook pages and blogs as a place that isn’t really safe to stop overnight, where the youth is feral and the inhabitants snack on their young. That wasn’t our experience at all. We moored opposite some houses with well-tended gardens and had a very peaceful night, except for the towpath being more of an urban clearway with people zipping up and down on bicycles and scooters, both electric and human-powered. We arrived early afternoon, and from then until the evening one of the inhabitants of the houses sat at the end of his garden stoically fishing, catching nothing. As soon as he’d packed up for the night one of his neighbours came out to feed the fish, the water was boiling as they hoovered up the food they’d brought. We did laugh.

The daily heron at Barlaston. A couple of PCSOs on bicycles held back so I could get that shot

On the way down Heartbreak Hill a fellow boater at a lock told me we’d be fine staying overnight at Etruria, but she also said she’d come across a boater who’d been the victim of an opportunistic thief at Barlaston, where we moored up the following night. He’d been asked for a drink of water and while he went into the boat to get it his boat was burgled. So there we were, in the very nice village of Barlaston, post-lunch in the Plume of Feathers (Neil Morrissey’s pub) and a guy wanders by and asked us to fill his water bottle. Mindful of what I’d been told I stammered out an excuse as to why we couldn’t and spent the rest of the evening feeling guilty that the poor chap was dying of dehydration on the towpath. And I’m normally quite a trusting soul …

Penny in Stone. Yet another lock.

From Barleston we cruised through Stone, where we really would have liked to have stopped if only to go and fill our boots in the canalside M&S food hall. Instead we kept going and moored in the pretty hamlet of Burston. Martyn and I went to explore and found a smattering of houses around a duck pond and a rather unremarkable church on the site of a much older one.

Zombie ducks in Burston. They wouldn’t stop following us no matter how many times I told them we had no food.

Food is something of a theme. At Great Haywood Junction we found a fabulous farm shop, highly recommended if you’re ever in the area. We left the Trent and Mersey there and very briefly moored up at Tixall Wide, a mooring I’ve heard lots about because it’s so picturesque. I wish we’d been able to stay there for more than one night. Penny and Andrew chose to wait out the worst of the extreme heatwave there, very sensible, because the breeze across the wide was lovely, but we had to wave goodbye to them there as we were heading for different destinations at this point.

Mooring up at Tixall Wide

We left the boat in Kings Orchard Marina in Lichfield for a few days to travel down to Dorset. We had a funeral and a wedding to attend. Kings Orchard was lovely. I just wish I’d known earlier what we found out on our last day – that they offered a boat valeting service! Never mind, Williams Waterless Wash and Wax is a miracle when your vehicle is 57′ long.

Onto the Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction