Friday, 16 September 2011
Thursday 15th September
What a day!! 11 hours, 22½ miles and 23 locks (I did them all!) We were both awake about 7am so decided to get up and get under way. We are heading to the Caldon Canal where Robert and Laura are joining us for a couple of days. They had planned on arriving on Tuesday but yesterday I got a call from Robert saying that they are arriving on Monday! Panic stations set in as we had planned on 5 days to get there are then suddenly we only have 4! However it was a beautiful autumn morning and really it was no hardship! We got underway at 8am, Jim would be so proud of us – as while we were with Cecilia he always wanted to leave at 8am but we declined that early a start! After a couple of hours we passed Stourton Junction where we came down onto the Staffs and Worcs from the Stourbridge back in July. At Kingswinford we came across a mass of poly tunnels which took my interest but just around the corner there were some beautiful gardens with a large group of people looking around. It was an unusual thing to see so I looked it up on the internet and discovered it was Ashwood Nurseries. They do escorted tours of the private garden which is tucked behind the nursery. A three acre garden has been created by nursery owner John Massey and includes informal borders, island beds and woodland dells and is planted with an abundance of rare plants as well as many familiar favourites. East of Swindon (no not Wiltshire!) there are a pair of staircase locks which take you up 20 feet 3 inches – the top one looked really deep from where I was standing! We passed Giggetty Wharf – I often wonder where on earth some of these names came from! Bratch locks came next, now these really are interesting. They look like staircase locks but in fact are quite separate locks but only have about 4 feet between each so it is impossible to pass oncoming boats. They are also deep and took us up 30 feet 2 inches. There is a lock keeper on duty who directs traffic and did open and close the bottom gates but sat and watch me winding paddles and opening and closing the heavy top gates! At the top is an interesting octagonal toll house where the lock keeper is based. The locks were planned by James Brindley, and opened in 1772 as a three lock staircase. They were later re-engineered as three separate locks. We had planned to stop shortly after Bratch but, as it was a lovely afternoon, we decided to press on and get as many miles under our belts are we could as the forecast for the next few days wasn’t good. We passed two junctions, the Aldersrley where the Birmingham Main Line comes in and shortly afterwards the Autherley where the Shropshire Union joins. Shortly after this we came across the “Pendeford Rockin” - this is about half a mile of very narrow canal. “Rockin” was the old boatman’s name for a shallow but in this case is a narrow! When the canal was built the Navvies had to hew through a solid belt of sandstone which breaks into the clay strata at this point. There are a couple of passing places but, to be honest, I would hate to meet a hire boat coming the other way! Our goal was the Fox and Anchor at Coven where there is a lot of mooring but in fact we went a little further on and moored up with a lovely view over a field and watched the sunset :-) During the afternoon I had made a chilli from new recipe – it took ages to prepare but I’ve given up on jars of sauce now as they really are quite bland. I think I need to cut down on the chillies next time though – thank goodness I had some sour cream to cool it down with!!