Our mooring in Penkridge allowed us to take advantage of the fact that it has a railway station as much as anything else. Our first journey took us in to Birmingham, a city that we have visited many times before. We had no particular reason to go, it was just a day out for us. We didn’t do much, a short walk from the station took us to The Mailbox where we walked through to the canal – as if we haven’t seen enough of the cut! A wander along past Gas Street basin and back again in time for lunch overlooking the water. After lunch we took a stroll around the Bullring before heading back to New Street station where we caught the train back to Penkridge.
The next day we spent in and around the village doing no more than just mooching about. En-route to Penkridge we had contemplated taking a diversion into Wolverhampton but with 21 locks in less than two miles to negotiate, we didn’t ponder the question too long! Instead, we used the train again and went to visit Wolverhampton on our final day in Penkridge. If I had to sum up my impression of Wolverhampton in one word, it would be “scruffy”. It’s a pity really because there is building work going on and its clear that money has been spent on improving parts of the City centre. The railway station is close to the bus station and a tram station is being built in between the two so there will be a good integrated transport system in place soon enough. Unfortunately, the streets are scruffy with litter – even the newer ones. It doesn’t help that the area nearest to the bus station is populated with fast food outlets of the kebab and fried chicken type and they are interspersed with phone repair shops and those selling supplies to the vaping community. We had an uninspiring walk around the central area before catching the train back just before two o’clock. So we weren’t impressed by Wolverhampton but it could have worse, we could have travelled there by boat!
Thursday morning dawned bright and blue again so we got up and set off early again, dropping down through Filance lock and on to the service point. With the chores complete, we moved on and arrived at Midland Chandlers just as they opened at 9am. Our destination was hopefully going to be Radford Bank, the nearest point that the canal gets to Stafford. We had a few locks to do but there was plenty of traffic heading in the opposite direction and that made life easier for us. Most of the moorings at Radford bank can be quite busy so we took the first available space that we saw before the bridge and the start of the stretch that can get crowded. My priority was to collect a phone from Argos that I had bought on eBay a few days earlier so after getting showered and changed we set off on the half mile walk to the retail park on the way into town. Back at the boat, I spent my time setting up the new phone or as Sue described it, messing about with it. In any case, it works well and I am happy with it.
Friday morning saw us catching the bus to Stafford railway station, this time to catch a train to Nuneaton. After ten weeks away from home, we thought that we should go and check that all was well and to pick up the post that had accumulated. The train journey only takes 40 minutes and everything went to plan and we were back at Radford bank at half past three. We hadn’t eaten all day so we decided to make use of the Radford Bank pub / restaurant which is adjacent to the canal bridge.
On Saturday, we walked into Stafford itself and spent a few hours in the town centre. In common with the previous times that we have visited, we found Stafford to be very pleasant. There were a few food stalls in the market place and we had a wander around the shopping streets for a while. In the middle of the town centre is the Ancient High House , the largest Elizabethan timber framed house left in England.
The building is now a museum and each of the rooms on the three floors is set out to reflect how they might have looked through the ages. The house dates back to 1595 so that’s over four hundred years of history.
Once back at the boat, we decided that rather than wait until the morning to set off, we would break with tradition and have an early evening cruise. It was a nice change too, we only encountered a slack handful of boats on the move, we didn’t have any locks to do and after an hour we reached Milford wharf where we tied up for the night.
We had no real plan for today but our travel was shaped by others. We were woken at five thirty when the boat which had been tied in front of us set off in the direction of Great Haywood. We tried to get back to sleep but when twenty minutes later, the boat behind us set off in the opposite direction, we decided to get up and get going ourselves and we were underway by six thirty. We had the locks to ourselves until we reached Penkridge just after nine o’clock and although it was extremely windy and quite cool, we had a good time anyway. We made use of the services above the village lock before moving on a few yards and mooring on the towpath side. We then took a walk into the village and had breakfast in a café as well as paying a visit to the bakers and the butchers.
On our walk back to the canalside we caught up with a couple who were also walking back to their boat. We recognised them as the crew of “Stormin’ Norman”, a small cruiser that we have been leapfrogging since Saturday morning near Atherstone. We carried on the banter that we have been having with them along the lines of , “Oh no! Not you again!”
Once back on board, we prepared for the second part of our day’s cruise and then set off again. There were now enough boats on the move to make the lockwork easier, we even had crew members hang back and help close the bottom gates – much appreciated. Stormin Norman caught up with us a few times and by the time we had cleared Gailey top lock, we knew that the next time they passed us would be last time we would see them as they were planning to turn on to the Shroppie at Autherley junction. We said our goodbyes about an hour later as they passed us on a straight section of the summit.
We reached Autherley at four o’clock and made a brief stop to buy a couple of Pearson’s guides to help us with the rest of our trip. The last time we passed this way, we turned on to the Shroppie so from here on we are travelling on new waters. We carried on for another hour before taking the last mooring spot below the lock at Compton, our descent to the Severn had begun.
We did a little exploring, visiting the Oddfellows pub, the supermarket and the chip shop where we picked up some chips to go with the pasties from Penkridge which were warming in the oven, just the sort of food needed at the end of a long day when we covered 19 miles and worked 10 locks.
The wind had dropped and the sun was shining when we awoke on Easter monday, a complete and welcome contrast to yesterday’s weather. Sue had seen a laundry box on the Argos website so after reserving it online, we got ready and drove into Stafford to collect it.
We took a walk down Gaolgate street in the sunshine and stopped to listen to new boyband, The Secrets who were playing in the Market Place. They were very good and Sue has tipped them to make the big time!
We had lunch in The Butler’s Bell, a Wetherspoons pub which was very stylish and a credit to the company. After lunch we wandered to Argos and picked up the laundry bin before returning to the car. My phone rang and it was Libby at Braunston marina telling me that she had shown Phoenix III to a couple who wanted to make an offer on the boat. Libby told us that they were in a position to buy immediately, weren’t bothered about a survey and had gone for a cup of tea. We had a short discussion about what we were prepared to do with the price and within an hour, the deal was done! The couple had been back to Phoenix III with a marina engineer who started the engine for them and apparently they were full of beaming smiles when they returned to the shop. Everything should be complete by the end of the week which is great because it is one less thing to have to think about.
By the time all of that had been concluded we were back on board Caxton doing the laundry. A mundane task maybe but significant in our boating life since we will no longer be dragging clothes to the boat every time and then carting bags of dirty laundry home afterwards.
We were in no hurry to leave Caxton but we had to go home at some time so we picked up the two small carrier bags of bits that we had, secured the boat and left at 4.30pm.
We’ll return on Friday with some more of our belongings and stay for the weekend. That should set us up nicely for the following weekend when we will leave Stone and move Caxton to Braunston.