Friday 25th to Sunday 27th of February 2022
We realise that there is a limit to the number of photos of locks, The Duke and The Duke at locks that we should include so we are aiming for pictorial diversification. Even though the pace of canal life is slow, with phones zipped in pockets to keep them safe and dry it is easy to miss some of the things we notice as we pass by: the long-haired cat yawning widely as it sunned itself in the front of a moored narrowboat; the three small dogs locked in a house looking out and two dogs, one small and one large locked out and looking in. Often what we miss is more engaging than the photos we do manage to take.
As we moored up the day before, we heard shots and knew there would be no places to stop up ahead. Leaving Hopwas we passed the military firing range responsible and were proved right.
Passing trade for crochet and lace must surely be limited at this time of year?
We had noticed that several of the bridges had what looked like small windows on the side. Speculation about their use ranged from incarceration to toll collection but our research told us that they are actually for storing the stop planks which slide into the grooves in the bridge or towpath wall for closing and draining the canal.
The swing bridge entering Fradley was easy to move but there were no moorings and we had to go through two further locks before finding a spot for the night.
The locks are narrow and deep with about a ten foot rise.
There is no photo for the most dramatic event of the day, and in fact of the whole trip so far. The current was strong as we tried to moor up after the second lock and Matilda was struggling to get The Duke to the bank. Ralf was barking excitedly and wanted to follow Matilda onto dry land. Eventually the excitement was too much for him so, with The Duke drifting sideways across the canal he launched himself off the gunwale. Fortunately, the Ruffwear life jacket floated, the magnet and bungee attaching him to the boat by his collar held and kept his head above water and Robert was able to hoist him out of the canal by the handles on the jacket. Matilda was really pleased she had discovered the day before that if the lead was attached directly to the life jacket, it could come off with a good tug.
At this point two kind gentlemen walking past offered to help Matilda to pull The Duke to the bank.
Despite being a Lakeland terrier Ralf is not normally keen on water but surprisingly seemed quite jaunty and pleased with himself after this escapade. It was only Robert and Matilda who were traumatised by the canine canal caper.
Today was also the day that David Dare, the owner of The Duke [Long Term Narrowboat Hire] was due to visit us for a health check on The Duke. He had a terrible journey including tyre trouble and eventually caught up with us just as we were strolling to The Swan around 17:30. All was well and he showed Robert how to clean a particular filter to stop sludge appearing in the shower tray/bath.
The Swan at Fradley Junction is a popular pub and rightly so. Split across several levels it is warm and welcoming. While we were there, a family arrived who had been in at lunch time and decided on which pies they wanted to eat that evening. They had booked a table but unfortunately had not reserved their preferred pies, which were sold out by the time they came in and they left disappointed.
25/02/2022 – Miles: 8.53 – Locks: 2 – 3h30m
We woke to the first frost of the trip and . . .
. . . the steam was rising from the coffee as we left the scene of Ralf’s momentous leap into the canal.
A sign warned us to check ahead before entering a very narrow tunnel section.
We disturbed a gaggle of Canada geese which had gathered on the bank.
Between Armitage and Brereton we passed Hawkesyard Hall, once home to a community of the Dominican Order and now a wedding and conference venue.
There were more artistic creations to be seen on the banks and we crossed the Brindley Bank Aqueduct, named for the renowned canal engineer.
Shugborough Hall is visible from the canal but when we checked only the gardens and grounds were open.
A stroll to the shop for milk provided the information that we were 131 miles from London.
Although Matilda tried to get Ralf to walk over the Essex Bridge, a packhorse bridge across the River Trent, to explore the gardens on the Shugborough Estate, he refused to go in that direction and seemed to be more intent on joining Robert in the Clifford Arms [where he was not enjoying the England v Wales game].
26/02/2022 – Miles: 11.63 – Locks: 2 – 4h30m
The locks on the Trent and Mersey Canal are deep yet compact, and some have a step to allow more leverage on the balance beams in a confined space.
Ralf sometimes demands a comfort break but we have not yet managed to teach him about convenient stopping points on the canal and several times we have run aground at the pick up point he has chosen.
Matilda has been pleased to see that each lock on the Trent and Mersey Canal seems to have its own bridge so there is no need to traverse the lock gates which always seems rather a precarious activity to her. However, it is possible to find yourself trapped by the balance beams.
We had been trying to arrange to meet our friends Duncan and Phil in Stone and the day had changed a number of times. When the date was eventually agreed it coincided with a Six Nations rugby match and rather than watch in a pub Duncan kindly offered to pick us up, take us back home and cook us a meal. Ralf was included in the invitation as was the offer for Matilda to take a long relaxing soak in their tub. The added luxury of the jets and the bath bomb they provided made the experience complete.
The Star Inn may have been designated the hostelry of the day as Robert did pop in for a swift half with Ralf, prior to Duncan arriving to collect us, but the hospitality and kindness award definitely goes to Duncan and Phil.
27/02/2022 – Miles: 10.06 – Locks: 5 – 5h00m
12 Days – Miles: 119.99 – Locks: 97