|We had booked the boat into Great Haywood Marina for a family weekend away for Tony’s 60th and Rhys’s 30th birthdays in February, so our objective for the new year and the next few weeks was to while away the time until mid Feb. We planned to cruise to Great Haywood, then on to Stone, then back to Great Haywood and into the marina.
So, after we left Hawne Basin, on Monday 10th January, we cruised back to Bumblehole, intending to stay for only a day or two. The weather had different ideas, though! We stayed there for 6 nights, in the end, as the ice was covering the canal, albeit fairly thinly, but we didn’t want to damage our newly-applied blacking! We whiled away the days doing various little jobs, and I had a trip on the bus one day to collect some parcels which we had ordered from various pick up points, which we had planned to collect on another day, stopping en route. (New dog bed for Sal, being quite large, wasn’t available from all pick up locations).
We moved from Bumblehole on Sunday, 16th Jan, heading for the Black Country Living Museum again as we knew it was a good place to accept a Tesco delivery. I had made something of a late New Year’s resolution to use the drone more frequently to aerially photograph more of our everyday mooring spots, when the weather and mooring was conducive to doing so, so before we left, I put it up to record some of the area around Bumblehole. The canal was ice free at Bumblehole, but we did come across patches of ice along the way, but it was very thin so thankfully did no damage to our paint. We pulled in for half an hour and I popped to Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory to buy a selection of frozen pies, two of which we intended having for dinner that evening. It is also a restaurant (specialising in pies, obviously!) and was certainly a very popular place!!
Our scheduled Tesco delivery arrived on Monday, and on Tuesday, I had another bus trip to Merry Hill Retail Park to get a few bits and bobs before we moved off into more rural areas again. The buses in that area were frequent and cheap, so it seemed sensible to take advantage of being in such an area!
On Wednesday, 19th January, we set off, after putting the drone up again, and cruised for just over 6 miles, arriving and mooring at the top of the Wolverhampton flight. We moored on the towpath side but on returning from our afternoon walk, we pushed the boat over to the offside, where the moorings were inaccessible to anyone not on a boat, so more secure. However, it was only a tiled strip with no grass and Sal WOULD NOT pee when Tony took her out last thing!!! 🙄 We had to leave the front of the boat tied on, push the back over, Tony and Sal jumped off in search of a patch of grass whilst I held it, then, mission accomplished, they both jumped on again, we pushed the boat back over, tied it up again – and were finally able to go to bed!!
On Thursday, 20th we moved round early onto the mooring at the very top of the flight and Tony and Sal walked down the first few locks to fill them ready for our descent. It had been cold overnight again and there was a bit of thin ice, but we decided that it was preferable to brave the thin ice rather than staying in central – noisy – Wolverhampton for another night, with the risk of more cold weather potentially keeping us there even longer. We set off…. We stopped in lock 10 as there was a chuck wagon in the car park adjacent to the lock, so a bacon bap and a coffee set us up for the other 11 locks. (21 locks in the flight) However, as we got further down the locks, the ice started to get thicker and did present a paint-damaging hazard. A passing walker told us that there was a work boat coming down behind us, so we pulled onto a lock landing, with four locks left to go, to let the work boat go through, with the thought that they could break the ice for us, allowing us a clearer passage. Tony filled the lock for them and they returned the favour and refilled the locks for us as they left them, which was very kind of them!! We got to the bottom of the locks, turned right at the junction and cruised for another ½ mile, stopping and mooring at Autherley Junction. We stayed there for another day to stock up the cupboards again before we ventured into a more rural area.
We left Autherley Junction on Saturday, 22nd Jan and cruised for a leisurely 3 miles, mooring in a lovely quiet and rural spot. This pattern was repeated over the next few days – we only travelled for a few miles at most each day, stopping when we came across a nice spot, and enjoyed the tranquility of being out in the country again. The walks along the canal with Sal were lovely, too, with it being so rural. She enjoyed lots of snuffling in the undergrowth looking for wee furry beasties!! She even caught a mouse (and ate it!!) much to my distaste! The M6 does run quite close to the canal for a short stretch just north of Penkridge, so we did have a bit of road noise there, but it wasn’t that intrusive and it was still a lovely area. We moved most days, but did stay for two nights on a particularly pleasant spot just north of Acton Trussel, the motorway having curved away from the canal there, making it a quieter spot. We avoided stopping in the towns and villages, other than on the outskirts of Stafford, where there is a nearby Aldi. Our last stop on this section of the Staffs and Worcs was at Tixall Wide. It is a picturesque location – it is said that the landed gentry occupying Tixall Hall, now gone, wanted a nicer outlook than “just” a canal, so it was built more lake-like and is wide and sweeping. The towpath wasn’t great, though – but much better than when we came through at the end of October – it was a quagmire then! As we hadn’t had much rain over the previous couple of weeks, it had had a chance to dry out a bit, but during the night of 30th January, we were caught out by rain and wind – and, boy, was it windy! It had been a beautiful evening – the sky was just gorgeous and gave no indication of what was to come. The photos below are without filters, just focusing on different areas of the scene, which has caused some amazing colour differences in the pictures. The water was lapping on the sides of the boat and the boat was rocking and rolling – none of which normally bother me, (as long as the trees stay upright!) but there were a few scary moments when the wind gusted – we were fearful for our solar panels! Sal was also unsettled with the strange noises, so it was three-in-the-bed all night, and not much sleep for any of us!
On Monday, 31st Jan, we decided to move away from Tixall Wide as the towpath was, after the rain, very slippy and difficult to walk on. We moved back to Great Haywood Junction – only ½ mile away- and, not having moored there previously, decided to stay for one night.
We left Great Haywood on Tuesday, 1st February, heading northwards towards Stone, and cruised for only 2 miles, stopping as it was getting quite windy. However, it wasn’t the best mooring as we were bumping so Sal was doing her crouching-and-hiding thing, so we moved later in the afternoon to a more sheltered spot from the wind and where there was an Armco mooring, at Weston Lock.
The towpath was very muddy, so, rather than Tony walking the same stretch twice, there and back, we decided to do a walk-and-go on Wednesday 2nd. They walked the whole way, 3 miles, and worked two locks en route, and we moored just above Sandon Lock. Sal and I, on our afternoon walk, met Bramble and Damson, both very effusive black labs, over which their owner had zero control! You couldn’t fail to be well acquainted with their names, as their owner was shouting at them with varying degrees of volume and urgency; they also ignored his frantic whistles. 🙄 Fortunately, Sal put up with them with good grace, but out of control loose dogs is my pet hate, as she sometimes isn’t quite so accommodating!!
On Thursday, 3rd Feb, we cruised the last stretch up to Stone, a journey of 4 miles and 2 locks. We moored right in the town centre, as we had before during the second lockdown. We spent four nights in Stone in total, just leaving enough time for the return trip to Great Haywood. I had a go at making choux pastry for eclairs – they are Rhys’s absolute favourite so I thought I’d have a crack at making them – our oven isn’t the best as far as temperature regulation goes, but I had an inkling that it would be good for eclairs – I was right as they turned out really well!!
On Monday, 7th Feb, we started our return trip to Great Haywood. We met the fuel boat, Bargus, en route – we were going to pull over to the side but he indicated to just come alongside – in-flight refuelling!? After he’d topped us up with fuel and coal, we continued on and moored in the village of Burston – we had identified different moorings on the way up for on the way back down. This was a lovely mooring and a lovely village. There appeared to be a dog walking field right opposite the boat as we saw several different people and their dogs in there (none of which had picked up after their dogs, incidentally 😳) but, on taking Sal there the next morning, Tony was informed, rather robustly, that it was private land. Tony said “Oh, I didn’t see any signs and it is open from the public footpath so I thought it was common ground”. “Well, it’s not!” was the curt reply. Thanks for the warm welcome, Burston! At least, we would have had the common decency to pick up her poop!! 💩😠 It was in Burston that we met Bramble again, still out of control and still being called and whistled to! 🤣
We cruised for 4 ½ miles and 2 locks on Tuesday 8th, stopping in another rural location (although the whole stretch is rural) identified earlier as a nice spot. Having seen hardly any boats moving for days, if not weeks, it was surprising to see a queue of three boats waiting to go up through Weston Lock. It seems they had all left the marina close together to go north, so they had consequently all arrived at the lock together, too.
On Wednesday, 9th Feb, we cruised the last little stretch and arrived at the marina. We were fortunate that it wasn’t as windy as it had been of late – getting into a marina and into your mooring spot in the wind is often tricky! We booked in, moored up and hooked up to the electric point. 👍
We spent Thursday getting ready for our weekend – I made some fudge and we packed ready for Rhys and Ash picking us up on Friday. Our weekend accommodation – Alton Station, a Landmark Trust property, was only 40 minutes away, with limited parking, so we had arranged for lifts both ways. On Friday, Tony’s birthday, we went to the Canalside Café for a very lovely full English/Eggs Benedict to start off the birthday day, then I made the eclairs. Rhys and Ash duly arrived and off we went!
We had an absolutely lovely family weekend to celebrate Tony’s 60th and Rhys’s 30th birthdays! The weather could’ve been kinder but the property was quirky, very well equipped, memorable and in such a great location!
After our fabulous weekend, we returned to the boat yesterday, 14th Feb. We are booked in to stay here tonight, too, and will wend our way again on Wednesday, although the forecast is for strong winds so we won’t be going far! We still have winter stoppages to contend with, so we need to finalise our short term cruising plans for the next 6 weeks, then it will be on to pastures new and more adventures!!