A Travellerspoint blog

Wren's wanderings come to an end

Wren is now back on her berth at Blackwater Meadow in Ellesmere and its back to life on land for the crew. Over the last 9 weeks the boat and crew have travelled over 650 miles along 11 canals and 5 rivers and also ascended and descended through at least 520 locks.The journey has been fascinating in many different ways and the help of friends has been invaluable and a great deal of fun. Sharing an experience definitely makes it more memorable (as does writing about it, I hope).

The final two days of the journey from Church Minshull to Wrenbury and then onto Ellesmere were very straightforward. The canal was quite busy as the school holidays had began so there was a bit of waiting at some of the locks. But nothing like waiting for a cross channel ferry!

On Sunday Alex canoed out to Wrenbury to accompany Wren on the last leg so on Monday morning the mini convoy proceeded up the Llangollen Canal to the first lock at Marbury where, unfortunately Alex and the canoe capsized just as Peter started filling it up. Luckily both Alex and the canoe were unscathed so after the lock there was a short break so Alex could change his clothes and warm up with a coffee. Needless to say that at all the subsequent locks he portaged the canoe along the towpath while his wet togs dripped dry on Wren.

After the final locks at Grindley Brook were completed and the 6 lifting bridges had been raised and lowered it was time to pause at Whixall (where else?) for a celebratory cream tea. At Colemere there was just time to greet Bill and Julie as we chugged along before continuing past Blakemere and through the tunnel. Then just before Wren approached the entrance to the marina there was a sighting of a vaguely familiar boat called Penny - we had met at Stoke Bruerne on the second day of the trip down the Grand Union and the chap had accompanied Peter on the Jews Harp when he played Ace of Spades on his ukelele. Isn't it a small world, especially on the canals.

Posted by peterandclaire 01:59 Comments (1)

Homeward bound

It's now Saturday 23 July - exactly two months since Wren left Ellesmere on her epic birthday voyage and she's back on familiar water near Middlewich heading towards Barbridge and the junction with the Shropshire Union.

The trip back down the Caldon Canal was completed on Thursday morning with just one notable wildlife sighting to report - 4 young mink playing on the towpath - Peter got quite a good photograph of one of them swimming across the canal. I hope Wren can explore this little canal a bit more sometime in the future.

Back on the Trent and Mersey there were more familiar places for Peter to spot. We made a short lunchtime visit to Middleport Pottery which still produces pots and also has a good cafe, serving the famous Staffordshire Oatcakes, and runs factory tours - worth another visit sometime. It was just a short journey from there, past Westport Lake, where Peter used to sail, before the entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel was reached and where there was a delay of more than hour while boats from the other end travelled south. Wren's journey northwards was completed by about 4pm and once back in the warm sunshine what was most noticeable was the strange colour of the water in this part of the canal - a deep shade of orange which is apparently caused by run off from the nearby mine workings.

After the tunnel there was just one more lock to negotiate before a mooring was found for the night and where our friends Alex, Roger, Mirjana and Biggles joined us for some refreshment and later for the pre-arranged music session in the Blue Bell which is located very close to the canal.

On Friday morning Alex took on his First Mate duties once more and provided much valued assistance down the next 25 locks before unfolding his trusty Brompton bike somewhere near Crewe to travel back to Ellesmere. He later sent a text to say that he'd arrived home in about 3 hours - it will take Wren another 3 days to do the same!

The last time Wren was on this stretch of the canal she ran out of diesel due to the incompetence of the crew. Luckily this won't happen today as we filled up yesterday after leaving the Harecastle tunnel. We've just moored in a very picturesque and popular spot overlooking the village of Church Minshull - it was somewhere very near here that the famous canal activist, historian and writer L. T. C. (Tom) Rolt moored his narrow boat Cressy in the 1940s. The book Narrow Boat tells the story very well.

Posted by peterandclaire 12:15 Comments (1)

Back to his roots

Cruising the Caldon

Wren is now exploring the Caldon Canal - a little detour before rejoining the Trent and Mersey through Stoke and up to Middlewich - we're getting closer to Shropshire every day. This part of the journey is a trip of reminiscence for Peter as he was born and brought up in the Potteries so he's been busy taking photographs of places he remembers - his old college which was actually being demolished as we cruised by! Tomorrow we'll carry on up the Caldon either by boat or bike before turning round and heading back to Etruria. Wren has to be through the Harecastle Tunnel (2926 yards long) by Thursday evening so that Peter can keep his musical date with Roger and Mirjana at the Blue Bell in Kidsgrove.

Over the last few days we've started seeing familiar names and places - boats from Ruyton X1 Towns, Market Drayton and Audlem, some Salopian beer at the Old Peculiar in Rugeley and the original Joules Brewery building in Stone (a very handsome canal side structure). From Fradley Junction to Stoke the Trent and Mersey Canal runs alongside the River Trent for much of the way and Peter has taken advantage of this by having a couple of swims near Shugborough where we spent a pleasantly hot Sunday afternoon and evening.

On Monday we took a lunch time break from the blazing sun in Stone before finally reaching our mooring at about 7pm in Barlaston, a village Peter knows quite well from his days of playing hockey for Michelin. After a good meal at the Plume of Feathers we took a walk uphill into the village to search out the village cricket club where the hockey matches were played, traditionally on a succession of freezing cold Boxing Days. There's still a cricket club but no longer any sign of hockey. We were then directed by a friendly local to take a circular route back to the canal via Barlaston Hall, the home of Josiah Wedgwood, another wonderful architectural gem which was made even better by being illuminated by the full moon (see the photo).

The trip from Barlaston into Stoke was fascinating moving from the rural to the urban and back to rural with distant views of the Staffordshire Moorlands - it all looked delightful in the morning sunshine! I'm really glad we decided to take this little trip up the Caldon even though we've encountered a couple of extremely low bridges (everything off the roof again) and one malfunctioning electric lifting bridge which had expanded in the heat - Peter and a passing cyclist jumped up and down on it a few times and that seemed to release the mechanism. Let's hope it works properly on the return journey.

As soon as a suitable mooring was agreed Peter began preparing the necessary equipment for a BBQ - something that's only happened once so far on this voyage. However, there was no cold beer on board so I had to go off in search of a shop which took a little time so the cook was a little thirsty by the time I returned. After that we spent a very peaceful evening reading and chatting to passing walkers and cyclists.

This morning Wren has continued as planned to Cheddleton where the winding hole was navigated and a mooring secured for the return journey. This really is a delightful canal - it meanders through farmland which rises slowly on each side. It's now lunchtime and the crew are now sitting in the Black Lion at Consall Forge - an archetypal riverside pub with beer, food and wifi!

Just one more thing, there's another Kingfisher sighting to mention - we saw one sitting on top of a No Fishing sign - he obviously couldn't read! Unfortunately the camera wasn't handy.

Posted by peterandclaire 04:46 Comments (0)

Star City Kingfisher

There haven't been many Kingfisher sightings on this trip but the most unlikely and definitely the best was yesterday as Wren travelled north through Birmingham. In an area of derelict factories, wire fences and walls of graffiti there was a rapid flash of iridescent blue between a couple of straggly bushes. What a wonderful surprise!
The journey from rural Warwickshire through a deep wooded cutting near Solihull and into the south of the city at Bordesley Green was pretty quiet apart from the occasional roar of traffic (M42) and trains. The canal guidebook warned that moorings were few and far between although it did mention that there were some available at Star City in Nechells - anyone who has driven, or, more likely queued on the M6 will have seen Star City - described as a massive "pleasure dome of Kubla Khan proportions" in the guidebook. The said moorings were safe and secure and shared with some very friendly boaters. They were also surprisingly pleasant considering how close they were to the famous Spaghetti Junction. The crew did a quick tour around Star City and can report that it is filled with restaurants, fast food outlets and a 29 screen cinema and everyone, apart from the boaters, travels there by car. A bit surreal to say the least particularly for someone who has been travelling at 4mph for the last six weeks!
After a peaceful night Wren chugged just a couple of hundred yards to Salford Junction where the Saltley Cut meets the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and where the massive concrete pillars that support the motorway mark out the route. The canal then moved relatively quickly from the industrial to residential before becoming pleasantly rural once again with ripening corn and real cows. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal was surprisingly good in every way and it carried Wren and her crew to the junction at Fazeley, a suburb of Tamworth, to meet the Coventry Canal which would,in turn, take Wren to meet the Trent and Mersey at Fradley Junction.
Wren passed through Fazeley and Fradley on her southbound journey about six weeks ago with Steve, Debbie, Doug and Jenny on board so tomorrow she'll be retracing that journey although it will all be new territory for the present crew.

Posted by peterandclaire 12:50 Comments (0)

Low and narrow

Entering the Stratford Canal from the Avon is a bit of a surprise - most of the bridges are extremely low (everything has to be taken off the boat roof, chimneys, bikes etc) and the helmsman, or woman in this instance, has to crouch down even if they're only 5' 2"! And, as well as that, it's a narrow canal rather like the Llangollen and Wren hasn't been on one of those for about 6 weeks. A bit of adjustment was required.
Peter's plumbing work was unfinished but it was agreed to move off the river in order to try and find the necessary spare parts at a nearby boat yard. However, just as the decision to move was made the rain started to fall, at first in spits and spots but then gradually turning into a steady downpour. As the outskirts of Stratford were left behind the canal started climbing north through the Wilmcote locks and over two small cast iron aqueducts (not quite Pontcyllsylte).
Once the night's mooring was secured at Wootton Wawen (a funny name) and it had finally stopped raining Handyman Peter climbed into his overalls and got down and dirty in the engine bay trying to fix the little plumbing problem. After a short break for tea it was back to work (for Peter) until about 10pm. By then Wren's waterworks were functioning again if not absolutely perfect - she is 30 years old after all and she's had a busy couple of months.
On Wednesday morning the crew awoke to glorious sunshine but it didn't last although it wasn't as bad as Tuesday with just one heavy shower at lunchtime. There are a number of unusual lock cottages with barrel shaped roofs on this canal and most of them are located in very attractive surroundings - it really is a lovely canal and one it's been really nice to revisit.
At Kingswood Junction there is a choice of routes; straight on up the Lapworth flight of locks or turn right to meet the Grand Union. Both head towards Birmingham and each link up with other canals. The crew held a strategic planning meeting and it was agreed to leave the narrow but beautiful Stratford to explore the wide and unfamiliar Grand Union but not before finding a suitable mooring for the night with a good pub nearby as recommended by a man Peter got chatting to on the final lock.

Posted by peterandclaire 10:32 Comments (0)

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