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Introduction

After the success and enjoyment of our walk along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal last year Richard and myself thought we would like to experience travel by narrowboat on a canal. Our wives were in agreement and after a short discussion it was decided that the four of us embark on a holiday with a difference. We turned to the Internet to find information about the numerous canals in our immediate area and which one we thought would suit our needs.

We rejected the Trent and Mersey Canal on our doorstep only because we spend a considerable time walking within the vicinity of this canal, and we wanted a different landscape for our holiday. We eventually decided after looking at this map and that map that the Shropshire Union Canal would be the most suitable for our needs. Richard’s wife Wendy took on the responsibility of sorting out a narrowboat that would meet our requirements.

We eventually booked with Hoseasons Holidays and to leave with Napton Narrowboats Autherley Junction on 7th May 2010. Prior to making final arrangements we visited Napton Marina at Stockton, Southam, Warwickshire to view the type of boat we were considering hiring to see if it would be suitable for our needs. The hiring completed, the next thing was to look forward to the holiday and then to decide on what food etc to take, although we did not intend for our wives to spend time cooking food whilst on holiday with all the canal side pubs [shown on all the maps] keen to serve the weary traveller.

Novices on a Narrowboat

Day 1

Having loaded the car with food, drink and suitable clothing for all conditions we set off south from our home about 11.45am and made our way to Autherley Junction. As we could not take charge of the boat until 2.30pm we decided to stop somewhere on the way and have a meal at lunchtime because we could not be sure how far we would travel on our first day. We had a very enjoyable meal at the Toby Carvery Norton Canes, Watling Street, Cannock.

We arrived at Napton Narrowboats Autherley Junction around 2pm and after checking “IN” we unloaded the car and handed everything over to Wendy and Glenis who were now on board and finding spaces for all our items. [The boat was Water Explorer 4 and named Pegasus.] Whilst our wives were stowing everything, Pete from Napton Narrowboats explained entire Do’s and Don’ts and all the checks etc necessary for a reliable and safe journey. In the meantime I was busy taking a few photographs and keeping out of the way.

Just before 2.30pm we were ready for the “OFF” but first of all we had to turn the boat around as it was pointing the wrong way. Richard took over the tiller and I operated the Stop Lock to allow Richard to take the boat through the Lock and onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal where he was able to complete a three-point turn back through the Stop Lock onto the Shropshire Union Canal. [The lock only has a fall of 6inches.] We were now on our way to what we hoped would be a very leisurely holiday. [The maximum speed is 4mph but if a breaking wash is created then a much slower speed is recommended to avoid erosion of the bank sides.]

Before long we were passing through beautiful countryside and the absence of motor vehicles in the surrounding area was very noticeable. Within the first mile we had passed under three bridges all of which were of completely different design. After studying the map [Shropshire Union Canal, 2nd Edition issued by GEO projects.] we decide to make our overnight stop at the village of Brewood a distance of 5miles from our start. Once the boat was moored securely at an approved Visitor mooring we all went for a walk around the village before we had our evening meal back on the boat. Before long we were all ready for bed after a very tiring first day.

Day 2

With a Full English Breakfast cooked on board and all the necessary checks carried out we left our mooring and continued on our way about 9.15am. The weather was not good this morning but we had all the correct clothing to keep us dry especially the person on the tiller. Before long we were crossing the Stretton Aqueduct [built in 1832] that carries the canal over the A5 road that was the old roman road of Watling Street. Before long we arrived at our first lock [Wheaton Aston] and it was now a chance to see if we had the knowledge to get us from one side of the lock to the other. Fortunately we had the knowledge.

Once through the lock we moored-up and took on fresh water at a water point clearly identified on our map. We had now been travelling for about 1 hour 45 mins and covered 3 miles approximately, and the weather was now really miserable. Leaving our mooring we were once more passing between open countryside and passing under bridges of all shapes and sizes. Today we were also seeing more fellow boaters either moored alongside the towpath or travelling in the opposite direction, all giving a wave or a cheerful comment.

Another 5 miles[approx] and we were entering Cowley Tunnel. [This tunnel is only 81 yards long and includes a towpath on one side. The tunnel should have been longer but problems with the rock caused it to be opened up to form a deep cutting.] What a fantastic cutting it is!!! After the tunnel and under Bridge 34 at Gnosall Heath we moored up about 12.45pm for lunch on board. [Still raining.]

Lunch over we were on the move once more and still facing the rain and cold biting wind. Before long we were back enjoying the peaceful countryside with the sound of the birds and the ducks with their ducklings moving close to the boat and then dashing away at the last minute. It was not long before we reached Norbury Junction and the now derelict Shrewsbury and Newport Canal going off to the left [or should I say “Port” side.]

All boating amenities are also available at this Junction. Within a mile [approx.] of the Junction we reached High Bridge. This bridge [no39] carries the A519 road over the canal and is unusual that it has a double arch and supports a telegraph pole on the lower arch. This telegraph pole is all that remains of the telephone line that followed the line of the canal. Once clear of the bridge we were soon entering Grub Street Cutting which was very impressive with trees towering way above the canal on the steep slopes of the cutting. Whilst travelling through this cutting we spotted a Mink moving along the bank close to the waters edge.

The next point of interest was the former Cadbury’s Wharf that was opened in 1911 and continued to operate until 1961 as a centre for milk processing. After processing with other ingredients this formed “Crumb” and was transported by canal to Bournville. A factory still occupies the site. It was still raining as we reached Goldstone Bridge [No55] and our mooring for the night on the other side of the bridge. [5.30pm]. Our enjoyable evening meal was spent in the lovely surroundings of The Wharf Tavern adjacent to the canal. [Tel. 01630 661226] More information relating to The Wharf Tavern at Goldstone can be found on the Internet.

Day 3

We woke to glorious sunshine this morning so as soon as breakfast was over and daily checks completed we were once more on our way. Glenis was having trouble walking this morning as she was suffering with a painful foot that would not allow her to put any pressure on it, so she was confined to chief tea and coffee maker. Before long we entered Woodseaves Cutting which was an absolutely wonderful experience. It was so peaceful, the sun casting weird shadows on the water from the trees lining the sides of the cutting and the only sounds being the throb of the engine and all the different bird calls but with no birds in sight. All good things come to an end and that was the feeling as we left the Cutting, but we soon had to forget the past and prepare for the job ahead [a set of 5 locks] Tyrley Locks.

We soon devised an efficient plan for negotiating a flight of locks between us so we were soon clear, and after another mile we were mooring up between Bridges 62 & 63 at Market Drayton. Before lunch that we were going to have on the boat we made our way into the town centre that has beautiful architecture that contains half timbered and red brick buildings. In the town centre is the Buttercross that is a stone built portico to protect the market trader’s from the rain. More information on Market Drayton can be found on the Internet. www.shropshiretourism.co.uk

Lunch over we moved on and cruised slowly through more beautiful countryside which gave us time to relax before the next set of 5 locks at Adderley. Five locks and two bridges and we were cruising again but heading for a more serious flight of locks. After around 20 minutes we reached the first of 15 locks [Audlem Locks]. Whilst we were busy negotiating these locks a family of 2 adults and 2 children [boys about 8/9 years old] stood watching us. When Wendy was starting to open the lock the man suggested to the boys that they give the lady a hand, which they duly did. When it was time to close the lock they also helped once more. Wendy asked the boys if they would like to have a ride on board the boat through some of the locks [after first asking permission from the adults] to which they said yes. Richard moved over to the towpath to allow them to board where they sat at the rear of the boat. After passing through the next lock Wendy asked if they could stay on board as far as Audlem but the adults explained that they could not spare the time but thanked us very much. [The adults eventually explained to us that the boys were Foster children and had only been with them for a very short time.] It was great to see their faces both on board and when they got back onto the towpath. What would they tell their friends at school?

We hope they enjoyed the experience. Our job however was to continue opening and closing the locks to eventually get us to Audlem Mill and our mooring for the night. Our evening meal was taken at the Bridge Inn [virtually on the towpath], and very enjoyable it was too. www.thebridgeinnataudlem.co.uk

Day 4

A dull cold morning as we left the boat but the atmosphere soon changed as we walked across the towpath and through the door of the Audlem Mill. This old corn and fodder mill is now a delightful Canalside Gift and Needlework Shop. After an interesting look around and a few purchases in the bag we made our way back to the boat. More information about the Mill can be found at www.audlemmill.co.uk

Leaving the mooring we were straight back to lock duty to clear the final three locks that make up the Audlem flight of 15 locks. The next place of interest was the newly constructed Overwater Marina. Although landscape work was still being carried out the Marina was open for business. More information at www.overwatermarina.co.uk. Once passed the Marina we were cruising slowly admiring the beautiful Shropshire countryside before eventually reaching the 2 locks at Hack Green. The locks clear we continued to make our way to Nantwich. After passing over the Nantwich Aqueduct we moored up just past Nantwich Junction Bridge [No92], and opposite Nantwich Basin. This was to be our destination for today and the last port of call before retracing our route tomorrow.

After lunch on board we headed off into the town on a sightseeing tour, where there are many shops and very interesting looking Tudor buildings. Back at the boat we prepared ourselves for our evening meal at “The Cheshire Cat”. Yet again we were not disappointed with our meal or the surroundings. The building has been refurbished to a very high standard with extensions of a modern style all very attractive. More information at www.thecatat.com

Day 5

A sunny morning but a few spit & spots of rain to follow later in the day. Leaving the mooring we continued west for about 30 minutes to a Winding Hole [Turning Point] where we were able to complete a 360 degree turn that put us on our way home. At this point we had covered approximately 40 miles,through 28 locks in about 18 hours 45 minutes, this equates to 2.13mph. [Calculating the cruising time as per the information on the map 40 miles + 28 locks and dividing by 4 = 17 hours so we were about right.]

We were now retracing our journey in an easterly direction but the scenery surprisingly looks so different and we are seeing things that we missed on the outward journey. Before long we reached the locks at Hack Green but as we arrived at Bridge 86 in between the two locks surveyors were busy checking to see what work was needed to refurbish the deteriorating brickwork of the bridge. Clear of the Hack Green locks we continued to cruise steadily to the three locks we had to negotiate to arrive at Audlem. Our stop in Audlem today was the ideal mooring for us to enjoy lunch on board and prepare us for the 12 locks we had to navigate to get us away from Audlem.

Twelve locks down [or up in the case of height above sea level] and then about 30 minutes cruising before we reached the 5 lock flight of the Adderley Locks. Once through the last lock it was an hour cruising and continuing to enjoy the countryside close by and the landscape to the horizon on each side of the canal. We soon arrived at Market Drayton where we moored for the night and enjoyed a well-prepared meal on board. The meal was prepared by our wives while the “Skipper” and myself walked to “The Talbot” pub and downed a couple of pints of “Real Ale”.

Day 6

We are woken with another sunny morning, but unfortunately it is not to last and the clouds begin to form and then we had the spits and spots of rain and we are still beleaguered with the cold wind. Just over 30 minutes after leaving our overnight mooring we were back on Lock duty as we once more tackling the 5 Tyrley Locks. Clear of the locks we were cruising steadily once more into the calm and majestic Woodseaves Cutting. Once through the Cutting we continued to enjoy the tranquillity of the journey and the most interesting scenery on both sides of the canal. After about an hours cruising we moored up in a very idyllic spot and isolated from all the trappings of everyday life to enjoy lunch on board.

Lunch over it was time to move on and after about 10 minutes we were once again passing the Former Cadbury’s Wharf. Another two hours cruising that included travelling through the picturesque Grub Street Cutting we arrived at Norbury Junction and our mooring for the night. We had a most enjoyable meal at “The Junction Inn“ situated adjacent to the towpath. More information at www.norburyjunction.com

Day 7

A sunny morning as our wives went shopping for provisions while the “Skipper” and myself moved the boat to a mooring to enable us to fill-up with water. Once we were all back on board we cleared the mooring and made steady progress eventually passing Gnosall Heath before entering the Cowley Tunnel. The sun continued to shine that made the whole experience of cruising at such a sedatory speed all the more enjoyable. As lunchtime approached we moored up at a lovely spot between bridges 20 & 19 and enjoyed yet another lunch on board. Lunch over we set off once more and almost immediately had to negotiate the last of the locks of our journey [Wheaton Aston Lock].

We were now on the last leg of the journey that would take us over the Stretton Aqueduct and shortly after we passed the village of Brewood. As we approached Bridge No8 we had to slow right down to allow a boat to come through the bridge, as it is too narrow for boats to pass. Bridges 6 & 5 are also very narrow so care was needed as we approached both of them. Before long we were passing Wolverhampton Boat Club and our mooring at Autherley Junction. Tonight we had our evening meal on board, as unfortunately there is no canal side Inn close by. The “Skipper” and myself had quite a walk to find a glass of Real Ale but we enjoyed both, the walk and the drink.

Day 8

Another lovely morning as we moved the boat along the mooring to be checked over by Pete and the cruise is all over. After removing our personal belongings from the boat and packing them into the car it was time to get back on the road amongst the speeding traffic. We intended to take breakfast at the Toby Carvery but unfortunately they didn’t start serving until much later in the morning. Continuing on our journey home we eventually decided to stop at the Little Chef on the A38 at Barton-under-Needwood. This restaurant is situated alongside the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. After a very enjoyable breakfast we continued our journey and finally arrived home after a most interesting holiday.

Conclusion

This was a wonderful holiday and enjoyed by all of us. The weather could have been better but we were in England in early May, so we were prepared for any type of weather. The service at Napton Marina was excellent and the boat was well equipped with all the necessary facilities. The map that we used was absolutely superb and possibly the most used item on the boat. Every day as soon as we moved from the mooring someone had the map open to see what to expect during the days cruising. All the eating and drinking establishments were top quality and made everyone welcome. This being our first time on a narrowboat we found other boaters very helpful and always ready for a chat, even if it is only to pass the time of day as we made our separate ways.

So! Would we do it again? The answer is YES.

Words by Eric Harlow
Copyright © Eric Harlow 2010