It rained yesterday – but it rained without wind. Breezes were not us. Gales were having a rest (although more are forecast for the weekend). I have coats, I can do rain. It also dawned without the deep-freeze effect of the day before (this is England, if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes…) and my mooring ropes were pliable! It was though one of those days that never actually achieved daylight as we know it. Still, there was enough light to see by. We – the Cardinal and I – moved again.
Two more locks, four more miles – sufficient for us to bid a farewell to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and move instead onto a new-to-me canal, the Trent & Mersey. This stretch that I am on was completed in 1771, but the whole canal proper was officially opened in 1777. Josiah Wedgwood was among the chief protagonists, apparently, and the canal is held in place by a 12″ layer of clay over gravel, and the banks are held in place by bundles of faggots.
The lead photograph shows the Cardinal turning north out of the junction, we popped out of the bridge-hole below (after a couple of warning blasts on the horn).
The junction is at a place known as Great Haywood.
Getting to the vicinity of the junction was a matter of a couple of miles and one civilised lock with only a 4′ 3″ drop in level, making a total descent over the past two days of 47′ 3″. This was accomplished without extra oxygen or sherpas.
Getting actually to the junction itself was, courtesy of the local hire company and its total disregard for other boaters, a matter of squeezing past the bows of millions of hire-boats stored for the winter.
Other, more respectable, just better hire companies manage to avoid half-blocking the canal, so why can’t this lot manage it? It’s just plain rude!
Getting away from the junction was a matter of a couple of miles and one interestingly leaky lock presenting a rise of 7′ 9″. We’re going up in the world again. The top gates really ought to see a urologist, there’s a world of difference between a dribble and a ruddy waterfall. I managed to keep the Cardinal’s bow, and his well deck and bow doors back from the flow as the lock filled.
En route during the morning we passed through a stretch of canal so wide that it would have brought tears of emotion to my eyes during our recent passage through the The Gobsmacking Narrows. This place is Tixall Wide – and wide it is, more like a lake than a canal. Apparently it is filthy with kingfishers. Nestled in the woodlands on view opposite is the National Trust property Shugborough Hall, a stately pad originally owned by the Bishops of Lichfield (such pious, church-mouse chaps they were) until the dissolution of the monasteries (and looking at Shugborough one might begin to see the reasons). It was then flogged by the Exchequer to a local lawyer, William Anson. Any familiar Establishment pattern emerging for you here yet? He, over the next three centuries, became the Earls of Lichfield (same old same old) and only fell foul in nineteen-sixty, after the government (a democracy run on benevolent lines for the people, apparently) invented Death Duties and promptly grabbed back the whole estate, lock, stock and barrel. Robber ruddy barons, all, from that day to this.
Anyway, I digress (again). Tixall Wide.
There’s something slightly disconcerting about suddenly being offered so much space for manoeuvre, so much room for independent decision. Where’s the middle? Am I far enough over? Am I far enough out? Also, considering that this is a stretch of canal it is most, most, most unusual in being navigable from bank to bank, from one side to the other. Ordinarily with canals the offside is a place of shallows and sea-monsters. If you can’t turn a boat around in Tixall Wide then you really ought not to be in the business of turning boats around.
I didn’t want to turn around. Ruddy typical – best chance ever for a full-throttle spin and I don’t need it. I wanted to cruise on through. It would be a very nice place to moor up for a while, but it didn’t get me far enough on my itinerary, and certainly not far enough for a day when I was boating with cold rain running down my neck… If I was going to bother then I was going to bother! The end ought to be sufficient to justify the rivulets of water making my long-johns soggy.
We trolled on, and Tixall Wide gradually, gradually became Tixall Normal-Width. It was pretty though, and there were swans and everything, no expared had been spenced.
We got to go over the mighty River Trent. It may be the third-longest river in the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, but here it’s a tiddler at no more than twenty or thirty feet across. Rotten photograph, but in my defence while the aqueduct may be wide the canal within it is narrow, and both before and after were lines of moored boats.
After this morning in the rain I was royally rewarded (not with Shugborough Hall & Estate but) with chancing upon some most splendid moorings – room for two short boats here or one long one, simple, easy, neat, pre-formed mooring rings, quick and easy to tie up to, no overhanging trees – and, wonder of wonders, an interwebnets signal from somewhere (probably Shugborough Hall’s servants’ quarters). I thought for a second, a few quick blips of reverse thrust to slow us, a smidgen of forward to edge us in to the side and we were done for the day. Just had to put the chimney back on, remove that which ought not to be left outside to the inside, slip out a couple of fenders, tickle the stove back into life (after his enforced morning of neglect as we cruised) and job done, Bob’s yer aunty.
I have let yonder The Fuel Boat, Halsall, know of my change of whereabouts, and if the breezes are to pick up for another day or three then I have the perfect excuse to stay here a while.
Mind you, it’s not perfect. As I moored up there were tweed-and-waxed-jacket clad Hooray Henry types bravely, selflessly, noisily blasting the bejabers out of the savage, wild, thronging masses of killer pheasant in a small copse to the left of frame in the photo above. How silly they looked, how very unecessary they all are. How few chins they had between them.
Oh Tarquin! You are a silly cove! You shot a seagull! Tar-quin shot a sea-gull! Tar-quin shot a sea-gull! Tar-quin shot a sea-gull! (other dances and jigs are available, does not imply endorsement or approval, E&OE, terms and conditions apply).
Giles, may one borrow your dawg? Mine seems to have stopped working after I accidentally shot it. Ruddy thing farted and I panicked.
Rupert – I can’t get the cartidges into the end of my gun-thingy. They won’t fit. I’ve looked down the barrel and there’s no blockages until you get to the trigger, and I can see that moving when I pull the little watchermacallit, the make-go big bang-bang hand-lever.
Henry, that’s because they don’t go in the barrel, you have to break the gun first and then insert them into the… NO! When I said “break the gun” I didn’t mean… oh, and it was Mummy’s best Purdey too!
[You get the idea, and possibly some hint of my opinion of “sportsmen” who shoot birds and animals for “fun”.]
So, anyway, splendid move, splendid new moorings for a while, and I have largely dried out and warmed up again!
I’ll end this log entry with a spot of a brain-teaser. Why on earth might this bridge be called “Swivel Bridge”, when it is plainly nothing of the sort?
Right. Chin-chin for the mo (unless you’re a “sportsman” murderer of pheasant).
Stay a lert, folks (we have enough loofs).