Our overnight mooring at Milford Wharf was quiet despite the proximity of the West Coast Mainline. We set off reasonably early, working through the final lock on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire before passing Tixall wide on the way to the junction with the Trent and Mersey canal at Great Haywood.
We made use of the services at the Anglo Welsh hire base before finding a mooring just above Haywood lock. We’ve passed through these parts a few times before and even stopped overnight but never had the time to explore but this year we have plenty of time. It was another warm sunny day and being a Sunday there were lots of people out and about. The confluence of the rivers Sow and Trent are nearby and we could hear the sounds of people playing in the shallow water.
In fact, later in the day when we took an evening walk near Shugborough Hall, there were still families sitting on the river banks and youngsters splashing about near Essex bridge. Earlier in the day, we had crossed the canal, walked under the railway bridge and into Great Haywood. There’s not a lot to see there, just a pub and a Spar shop but it is still a nice looking village. Our walk took us back to the canal junction where we made a diversion into the Canalside Farm Shop. The shop carries a fabulous selection of fresh produce, much of which is local and some of it is grown on the farm. There is a butcher and a fishmonger on site and they also sell home made pies and pastries. All in all a great range of produce. The adjacent café was quite busy so we didn’t partake of anything but we did look at the menu and that seemed to cater for most tastes. We bought a few bits to take back to the boat and have for lunch which we did while sitting on the front deck. In terms of boat traffic, it turned out to be one of the busiest days that we have experienced for a while so there was plenty of entertainment to keep us amused throughout the afternoon.
We were uncertain as to what we might do but it all hinged on whether we would visit Shugborough Hall the following day. After giving it a bit of consideration we decided that we would give it a miss and just carry on the following morning, Monday.
Another peaceful night on a mooring close to the railway! It was just before eight when we untied and moved the few yards on to the lock landing. As we worked down, two boats arrived below, effectively halving the work involved. Twenty minutes later at Colwich lock, the same thing happened and after that it was an easy lock free cruise to Rugeley.
Rugeley is another town that we have never taken the time to look around when we have stopped in the past for some supermarket shopping. As we approached the visitor moorings we could see that a boat was stuck on the offside so before attempting to moor up, we attached a rope and pulled him back into the middle of the channel. The canal was shallow on the towpath side too and it took us about ten minutes or so before we managed to get Caxton secured with a gap between the boat and the bank which varied between 18″ and 24″. Once done, we set off to explore the town centre.
It was alright, nothing too exciting but enough in the way of shops to keep the locals satisfied. After a good wander around, we toddled back to the Tesco superstore which is sited next to the canal. After carrying the shopping back to the boat, we had a sandwich and then carried on our merry way again. Another couple of lock free hours saw us passing by Armitage and Handsacre before finding a mooring near Kings Bromley marina, itself just a couple of miles and three locks from Fradley junction where we will have to decide which way to go next.
The title of course refers to Caxton’s bow thruster.
We awoke at seven after a peaceful night near Little Haywood, got up and dressed and set off by half past. It didn’t take long before we reached Colwich lock and although we had to fill it first, we were soon down and through it. Sue then made some tea and toast for us to eat on the go. It was breezy but there was enough sunshine to keep us warm as we made our way south on the Trent and Mersey. We cruised past the pig farm at Taft Wharf before using the Brindley aqueduct which took us over the Trent and then into Rugeley. It is almost six years since we passed this way on our miserable four counties ring trip but strangely enough we moored in exactly the same spot as we did then. In 2008 we went shopping in Morrisons, today there is a newish Tesco on the towpath side of the canal so we took the opportunity to visit it and fill up the larder. However, despite filling the shopping trolley, the larder on Caxton is so big that it would take several trips like this to fill it!
We untied at half past ten and left our mooring, heading in the direction of Armitage. The weather, which had been benevolent, took a turn for the worse as we reached Spode Hall. We braved through the rain and by the time we had cleared Armitage “tunnel”, the rain had eased off so everything seemed alright again.
When we passed by the marina at King’s Bromley, the wind blew so fiercely across the canal that we were driving at 45 degrees to the bank! At the wharf, we met another boat near the bridge and as a result, the bow thruster, aka “Girlie Button” was pressed into service. What a marvellous device, for years I have sneered at boaters who have these but in less than 24 hours I have been converted!
Eventually we reached the first of the three locks that would take us down to Fradley and the junction with the Coventry canal. We were assisted at Wood End lock by a boater ready to ascend and experienced our first moment of “cratch envy”, Paul & Elaine had warned us of this when we bought the boat with its nine foot long well deck. I had to turn the next lock and then opened Middle lock for another ascending boat while Sue lingered in the shelter of Shade House lock. The wind by this time was ferocious but our passage downhill and the subsequent turn on to the Coventry canal was an absolute breeze, pun intended, thanks to Caxton’s bow thruster or girlie button for those without one.
After securing our mooring beyond the swing bridge we took a walk back to the junction, dumped our rubbish and headed for the famous pub, The Swan. The heavens opened just as we reached the old drinking hole so we took refuge and I managed a couple of pints of Stella to well behaved Sue’s glass of lime and soda.
The rain had stopped by the time we were ready to return to Caxton so we made the short trip and then settled down in the much envied cratch to eat dinner and then catch up on emails and internet stuff.
Sue tells me that tomorrow’s weather forecast is terrible as is the following three days but who can believe the Met Office and the BBC? Let’s face it, when it comes to weather forecasting, history is definitely not on their side!!!