On a Mission To Make it to the Black Country.

  We returned to Marple on Wednesday, 20th Oct, after spending two nights on the Upper Peak Forest Canal. We had to cruise for over a mile before we could turn the boat, then cruise back again – it was a horrible, rainy day and we got very wet, so we were pleased when we made it back to Marple to get moored, fire lit and warm and dry.

On Thursday morning, after a quick trip to Adsa to get a few bits for Jim and Livv’s visit (mainly alcohol!!), we cruised the short distance to Poynton, where the Airbnb caravan that Jim and Livv were staying in was situated. It was in a great location and very close to the canal – ideal for their visit. We had a lovely time with them, even though the weather was a little unkind at times! Sal wasn’t too sure about her very lively doggie niece, but they got along without too many troubles. We did leave Sal on the boat when it came to all being together in the caravan, though, she is happier with that than being forced to interact with another doggo in a confined space!

Once Jim and Livv had left on Sunday morning, 24th Oct,  we cruised a short distance as we needed to get a few miles under our belt – we needed to get past a lock near Stoke which was closing for winter maintenance, so set off and moored up for lunch as it was raining, then set off again and moored at Bollington Aqueduct – and got wet again!  

On Monday morning, we pulled into Bollington Wharf, just round the corner from the Aqueduct, to refuel with diesel and coal, then cruised quite a distance for us – 8 miles. We moored near to the top of the Bosley Flight of locks. We managed to, mostly, dodge the rain, it came on just as we were mooring up.

On Tuesday, we set off early doing a walk-and-go, arriving at the top of Bosley Locks just as a boat was coming up. There was a handy water point there, so we decided to top up whilst waiting for the boat to come up through the last two locks. There were two volunteer lockies, which was lovely, as there are 12 locks in the Bosley Flight, so their help was much appreciated. It was actually quite busy – we were the only boat going down, but we passed 5 coming up – one in the last pound, which is tricky in itself, without meeting another boat there! As you exit the lock, you have to do a hard right hand turn, under a bridge and into the last lock – there is little room for manoeuvre so to pass another boat is “exciting”!! We both managed, with a bit of jiggery-pokery to get out of the locks we were in, into the locks that we needed to be in, without bashing each other or anything else – result! We moored below the flight and had a bit of a rest and some lunch, then continued on as it wasn’t raining – YAY! We moored in a nice spot just a couple of miles north of the junction of the Macclesfield Canal with the Trent and Mersey Canal. I had forgotten just how lovely the Macclesfield Canal is – even though we cruised it fairly quickly this time, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit. I hope that next time we’re here, we can take a bit more time and stop in more of the beautiful mooring locations!

On Wednesday, 27th, we did another walk-and-go, Tony and Sal walking to near the junction, just getting on the boat for the last half-mile stretch. We arrived at the entrance to Harecastle tunnel and moored up in order to take the top box off the roof. We were one of four boats going through the tunnel and were just waiting for the two boats coming through from the other direction to exit. Once in the tunnel and reaching the other end, we moored up for lunch and to reinstate the top box. Sal, once again, was a star – Tony needs the back deck clear for easy steering through the tunnel so she just laid inside on the back with me sitting beside her – she just settled down and waited until we came out in daylight again.  There was a CRT event for Halloween and half-term – free boat trips through the “Scarecastle” Tunnel! I bet the kids love it, but it’s really quite boring – just 40 minutes in a straight line in the dark!! I think that, perhaps, a few skeletons and ghosts are hung from the roof to make it a bit more exciting? After lunch, we set off again and cruised for just over a mile and moored at Westport Lake. Sal and I had a quick jaunt round the lake and treated ourselves to an ice cream from the Van in the car park – Sal only had a cornet, though, with a tiny bit of my ice cream on it!!

On Thursday, 28th Oct, we took delivery of a Tesco shop to the car park at the Lake, then set off for another longish day, travelling for 7 ½ miles and working 6 locks, mooring in Barleston. This meant that we were now past the lock which was due to be closed for winter maintenance. We had a choice to make here. We could either slow down a bit and take our time to get to our winter cruising destination, (the canals on the south side of Birmingham and through to Stratford, on a route we have previously completed,) or we could power on for another few days, which would take us onto pastures new but get us past another lock closure. 

So, we left Barleston on Friday, 29th October, in weather which chucked a bit of everything at us! We cruised for nearly 4 miles, working 7 locks on the way, and moored in Stone – and it felt like going home! We had spent such a long time in Stone during lockdown; it was lovely to be back – we even got the same mooring spot! We had fish and chips, too – it was Chippy Friday, after all! We had forgotten how big the portions were though – we had enough chips for at least four people!! They didn’t go to waste, though – we warmed them up in the oven to go with Saturday’s dinner!! 😂

On Saturday, with not needing anything from the town, we did a walk-and-go and cruised down through Stone, passing Aston Marina beyond, again with fond memories. Once past the Marina, we were on pastures new – and it was a delightful stretch of canal! Not much other than fields of curious cows, steadily chewing their way through their days, but a lovely, gentle, peaceful cruise! We stopped for lunch then continued on, turning at Great Haywood Junction from the Trent and Mersey Canal onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. I made a bit of a hash of turning as a boat was moored right up to the entrance of the bridge, so couldn’t see exactly where, or how wide, the bridge ‘ole was until we turned in towards it.  A few forwards and reverse manoeuvres (it was a bit windy, too!) and I finally got lined up – only to see a family in a canoe lazily paddling towards us through the bridge hole. They didn’t seem to think that they should make any attempt to hurry up at all, so we sat there hanging about waiting for them to amble through – and no “thank you” from them for waiting for them in our a-lot-harder-to-control-than-a-canoe narrowboat! Once through the bridge hole, there were a couple of narrow sections and we came face to face with a tiny cruiser, again pulling in to give way to them and struggling to hold position in the wind whilst they chugged through. I personally think that the rules/etiquette should be changed to “whatever is easier to steer out of the way, should”! 🤣😂 We passed Tixall Wide, where we would have stopped had we not been on a mission – it’s supposed to be a lovely mooring location but we didn’t think it was any nicer than a lot of other beautiful moorings we’ve come across – and the towpath was very narrow and VERY muddy! We will stop there on our next visit, though. We finally pulled up in Milford (not -on-Sea! For those that don’t know, Milford-on-Sea was the next village along from where we lived in Hordle), having cruised for 11 ½ miles and 6 locks.

On Sunday, 31st Oct, we did another walk-and-go; it was raining so we figured we might as well all get wet as Tony and Sal were going to get wet anyway! Thankfully, it did brighten up and turned into quite a nice day. We  moored for the day having only cruised for 6 ½ miles and three locks,  and near a boat called “Elementary” which we both noticed as we have recently been enjoying watching a series by the same name on Amazon (thanks Dave and Mel for the recommendation!) We wanted to stop there, at Br 90, as there was a chandlery that had recently been taken over from Midland Chandlers and we had seen good reports. Tony needed some more servicing supplies and we also needed another couple of spare fuses for the bow thruster, having used our spare recently. (It had blown when I used it a bit too much in a tight and tricky winding hole – we think it overheats a bit more than it should because it’s in the small enclosed space under our bed.) Unfortunately, they sold nothing of what we needed when Tony visited with Sal on Monday morning, but he had a lovely long chat with the new owners and Sal came away happy having been fed lots of dog biscuits!! 

On Monday, after the visit to the Chandlery, we set off on another wet and windy day, working 8 locks over 6 miles. A boat coming the other way, though, had left the gates open on the last four locks, so although it was against every good boating practice, it actually helped us quite a bit! Had we been going the other way and were following them through the locks, we would’ve been heartily cursing them! Sal had a close call, she dived into a bush after a squirrel and came out with a huge splinter of wood, about 5cm X 2cm, stuck in her eye but up under her eyelid! It was so lucky that it didn’t go into her eye itself! I gently removed it and she showed no ill effects whatsoever, no redness or soreness at all – very lucky!! We passed a big chemical works late in the day; a sign warning boaters to not stop or moor – the sign was a little odd as it states to not stop, “even if you hear an alarm” – surely it should say “especially if you hear an alarm”? I was reminded of two films going through this section, (there was a definite chemical odour in the air and the water was a funny bluish colour) firstly of Erin Brockovich – I thought that she’d probably start a lawsuit if she saw the colour of the water there, and also of Dante’s Peak – I hoped the hull of the boat didn’t melt as it went through!! 🤣😂 We moored up just far enough along the canal to be out of the way of the Works, in a lovely spot, actually, overlooking a farmhouse and its land. Just as we were cooking dinner, we heard a familiar chugging sound and looked out to see the fuel boat, Bargus, coming, from whom we had ordered a gas bottle. It was pitch dark but he pulled alongside and swapped our bottle for us! 

On Tuesday morning, 2nd November, we got Jason from the fuel boat, who’d moored up just behind us for the night, to top up the diesel tank before we all set off for the day. We were now only 6 miles away from Autherley Junction – and no locks – yay! – so we had an easy day and a pleasant cruise, navigating the last of the northern section of the new-to-us Staffs and Worcs Canal. We moored at the junction, then I walked to the supermarket in the afternoon whilst Tony walked Sal. 

It was here that we had to make the decision as to our route – redo the section up the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks and into the Birmingham area, or power on, on a canal we’d not cruised, to get through another winter lock closure. So, on Wednesday, 3rd, having finally, once-and-for-all, decided to motor on and not go up the Wolverhampton 21, we set off, cruising the half mile section we’d previously navigated between Aldersley Junction (with the Birmingham Main Line and the Wolverhampton 21) and Autherley Junction (with the Shropshire Union Canal), onto the other, southern section of the Staffs and Worcs Canal. This, unfortunately, had a wild, unkempt feel to it, for the first few miles, at least. We had a wash and dry cycle going, so said that we’d just carry on until the washing machine finished! Consequently, we ended up cruising for 7 miles, working 9 locks on the way. We paused at the top of Bratch Locks as another boat was just going down through them ahead of us. Bratch Locks are a bit unusual in that they are so close together that they could be staircase locks, but are actually three individual locks. You have to operate the paddles in a certain order so as not to flood the surrounding area. As we waited, the poor lady steering the boat in front got into a bit of trouble – she approached the lock before the man had opened the gate and the boat was pulled towards the bywash as she waited. She couldn’t get away from the side and just kept going forwards diagonally and ramming the lock gate. Her husband was of no use whatsoever, just shouting and gesticulating, and there was a bit of argy bargy going on! Eventually the boat got into the lock – another boater shuffled the gunnels and helped her to steer away from the bywash by giving it a good bit of welly, whilst her husband (rather feebly) was pulling on the front rope and Tony was pushing the bow round! Whilst I waited with our boat, a couple of chaps sitting on a bench got talking to me (let’s just say that they enjoyed their beer!!) – one asked where we were going and proceeded to tell me, in great detail, about every pub on our route, what beer they served and what their menu was like! As one who rarely frequents pubs, I didn’t find it a particularly interesting conversation, but it was kind of him to impart his local knowledge! When the boat in front did eventually get through the top lock, we followed in behind and started our descent. From my point of view, as the steerer, there was little difference from any other lock, but there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on Tony’s part. Washing machine having finished by this time, we moored just at the bottom of the locks. This meant that we were already half way along this section, so good going!

Thursday, then, saw us within sight of our goal – the junction of the Staffs and Worcs with the Stourbridge Canal at Stourton, where we were turning. We set off and cruised through the now very pleasant section of canal, working 9 locks as we went. We stopped for water and there were some dredging works going on in that area, so we had a short delay whilst we waited for a work boat to come up through the lock just beyond the water point. We stopped soon after to hang out a load of washing as it was bright and breezy (a long overdue load of dog blankets, coats and towels!), then set off again, Tony steering whilst I walked Sal. The workers had finished for the day (3.00. pm! 😳) but had moored the workboats in a really awkward place very near to a bridge, which made it really tricky for Tony to steer through the bridge and past them! Sometimes you wonder if they do it on purpose, you really do!! Lock landings, water points, bridge holes and Visitor Moorings, we’ve seen it all – and it’s annoying every time! We eventually moored about half a mile away from the junction in a really quiet spot, the only thing you could hear was a horse whinnying from a distance away.

On Friday, 5th November, we had a relaxed start to the day – we were within easy reach of our goal. We set off after lunch and cruised to the junction. This has to be the prettiest junction we have yet encountered! We went up through the four locks at Stourton and moored as soon as we could. We had arrived in our winter cruising grounds! We had, over the previous 13 days, cruised for 150 lock miles (the number of actual miles and locks combined) which is far more than we usually do. We intended to stay there for a couple of days and catch up with things that had slipped over the previous couple of weeks AND we needed to just relax for a couple of days, too!  On our afternoon walk, though, Sal and I spotted a lovely mooring just over a mile further along, so I phoned Tony and he brought the boat round. There were a couple of sweet chestnut trees there, so we had “Chestnuts Roasted On An Open Fire” 🎶🎵(singing Christmas carols – too early??). (Roasted in the stove, though! 😂) 

 We stayed on our mooring there for three nights, moving along from our original mooring there to a couple of hundred metres up, as the internet signal was a bit rubbish where we were. We caught up with some of our jobs and enjoyed the walks with Sal in the area – it was a lovely area for walks and a scenic mooring spot, too. I thought that I could hear parakeets but didn’t ever spot them, despite peering into the trees a la David Attenborough!  There were lots of fireworks going off every night but, fortunately, Sal isn’t too bothered by them, just a little unsettled. We weren’t even very near to the town, either! 

We moved the short distance on Monday, 8th Nov into the Stourbridge Town Arm, a one mile section of the canal that goes right into Stourbridge itself. On Tuesday, we moved round a little bit further (technically on to the Winter Mooring section) so as to be as near to the road as possible, as we had organised a Tesco delivery. After the delivery had arrived, I went into town as we had an Amazon parcel to collect plus I needed to post Zula’s coats that I had altered. (I collected a new coat and some other bits – I had bought a new “waterproof” coat last Feb which wasn’t 🙄 and I had finally given up and emailed the company to complain. They had asked me to return it for checking and had confirmed that it was faulty and had given me a full refund, kudos to them! Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size in the colour I wanted on Amazon, so I had to buy a different brand as a replacement, which, so far, I’m very happy with!) We had also booked a pump out from the Stourbridge Navigation Trust, so we cruised down into the basin at the very end of the Arm, turned and tied up for the pump out. Tony was charming the lady with his witty repartee 🤣 so we had a really good pump and rinse!! We moved up to the water point and, whilst I stayed with the boat, Tony popped to Screwfix to buy a new shower faucet – the old one was dripping quite badly by now. We then decided to cruise back up the Arm to the junction – the dog walks weren’t very varied or particularly good in the Town Arm, so we thought more dog walking options were available further up. We moored just at the junction and stayed there for Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Tony swapping the shower faucets over on Wednesday – as usual, not as easy a job as you would hope for but, hey-ho, all done and dusted – and non-drippy!! We finally saw the parakeets – a pair of them – as they flew over us, squawking and playing as they flew!

On Thursday, 11th November, we faced a flight of 16 locks and as they were very close together, and we were going up in the locks,  we adopted the system of me going ahead to prepare the next lock whilst Tony shut the top gate and paddles of the lock he was in. It does work well but is a little slower, but saves a lot of walking backwards and forwards, which works for me! Two of the locks on this flight are nearly staircase locks as they are so close together, similar to the Bratch Locks, so you have to manage the water between the two locks carefully. We stopped half way up for lunch, then continued on and cruised up into the Fens Branch, a short stretch of about half a mile at the end of the Stourbridge Canal above the flight of locks. The Fens Branch is another Silver Propeller Challenge location, so another ticked off! We moored in the Stourbridge Extension Canal, just off the Fens Branch, on an absolute gem of a mooring! It is right next to a nature reserve and a disused railway and you’d never know that you were just a stone’s throw away from the very urban area that surrounds it! As I was washing up on Friday morning, I looked up to see a CRT employee taking a photo of our boat from the opposite bank. I popped my head out of a porthole and asked him if he was photographing us because it was unusual to see a boat there, or were we moored in the wrong place? (We are on the offside but there are rings so we thought we were fine). He confirmed that it was for the former reason and that it was lovely to see a boat up here! 👍