Narrowboat Adventure #17: Secret bunkers and gingerbread dunkers

Narrowboat Adventure #17: XX

Tuesday 5th to Thursday 7th April 2022 

Having waved Gill and Derek off to catch their single carriage train at the start of their journey home, we set off from Whitchurch planning to complete our journey on the Llangollen Canal and rejoin the Shropshire Union Canal, heading south into fresh new waters.

Matilda was particularly pleased to see the young lock manager on duty at the Grindley Brook Staircase Locks. Robert, who was on the boat and therefore in the lock as the water level sank, noticed that a thick white line had been painted around the middle lock to indicate the required depth, so perhaps Matilda might have coped without flooding the whole area.

After the triple staircase lock, we met several narrowboats heading in the other direction and so at Grindley Brook Lock 4 and Lock 6 we were able to glide straight past each other and into the next lock. This always makes it seem as though the system is running seamlessly, making best use of the precious water.

We passed a narrowboat delivering coal before . . .

. . . Matilda enjoyed another traffic-stopping moment at the Wrenbury Lift Bridge.

She still failed to find the wrought iron memorials in the churchyard but it is possible that she was expecting something on a far grander scale than was actually there. Whilst on a mission to stock up on milk she strolled down an attractive mews. . .

. . . and admired Stanley House.

As well as milk she found the appropriately named dish of the day [see below] but she was slightly disappointed that we would not be in the area for the forthcoming vintage ploughathon.

Mooring in the same place, we were once again opposite what seemed to be the cows’ favourite drinking place.

Arriving at the Dusty Miller, Wrenbury – hostelry for day 49

05/04/2022 – Miles: 7.44 – Locks: 10 – 4h0m

The route for day 49 – Whitchurch to Wrenbury

On Wednesday morning, Matilda tried out some different camera angles as The Duke passed through the lift bridge just outside Wrenbury and we started our final descent back to the Shropshire Union Canal.

Despite all those locks and miles travelled, it seemed were were still not far from home.

There was some congestion at the Hurleston Locks which rise or fall 34 feet 3 inches to Hurleston Junction where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal.

Once on the Shropshire Union, the sign showed where we had been and where we would be going.

There is a sculpture trail along the towpath between bridges 91 and 92 commemorating the restoration of the half mile long Nantwich embankment. This handsome horse sculpture is the largest and is made from recycled lock gates and metal.

The Weaver Way is a walking route along the Trent and Mersey and Shropshire Union Canals as well as the River Weaver. Signposts along the towpath provide information about the rich heritage along the route, much of it associated with Cheshire’s industrial legacy.

After Nantwich, we passed through Hack Green Locks, built between 1827 and 1835 by Thomas Telford, rising 12 feet in the process. Here we read one of the Weaver Way signposts. The locks and surrounding farmland were bought by the Ministry of Defence at the start of WWII when a radar station was installed to help to protect the strategic ports of Liverpool and Manchester. RAF Hack Green was established in 1940 and service personnel made their way from Nantwich by road or canal. After the war was over, the site became a radar station monitoring air traffic. The radar station closed in 1966 but in 1983 the site was totally rebuilt as the Regional Seat of Government to be used in time of Nuclear War at a cost of over £32 million. This secret facility was closed just nine years later due to the thawing of international relations and the end of the Cold War.

Hack Green Secret Bunker is obviously no longer a state secret and you can now visit the museum. Robert had previously told Matilda about its existence and as they passed she wished she had insisted that time be allowed on the spreadsheet schedule for a visit.

Audlem, at southern one end of The Weaver Way, is another charming little stopping place with independent shops and historic buildings. Unfortunately both the Lord Cumbria pub and the Crown Hotel seem to be up for sale so maybe trade has been hit hard by the pandemic.

The Butter Market was built to the south of St James’ Church.

St James’ Church, Audlem with the Butter Market in the foreground

King Edward I granted Sir Thomas Aldelyn a market charter in 1295 and a market has been held every week since then until at least the outbreak of WWI.

The Butter Market was erected in 1733 and was restored in 1992. It features eight Tuscan pillars and is open on all sides.

The development of the canal side area is sympathetic, preserving many of the historical buildings.

The Shroppie Fly is a well known pub in an old warehouse with a bar built like a narrowboat. What is not to love?

A “fly” boat was one which travelled day and night with urgent or perishable cargo.

The Shroppie Fly, Audlem – hostelry for day 50

06/04/2022 – Miles: 14.03 – Locks: 14 – 7h0m

The route for day 50 – Wrenbury to Audlem

The Shroppie Fly lies between Lock 14 and Lock 13 on the Audlem flight. We had therefore already gone through the bottom two locks the day before, but this left the remaining 13 out of 15 to complete the 93 feet rise on Day 51.

A notice on one of the lock gates warned against mooring in the pound above as boats were likely to ground.

The locks are close together and looking back down the flight gives a real sense of achievement.

We chose to continue on through the Adderley Locks to Market Drayton to find a mooring near bridge 63. Occasionally a narrowboat name makes you cringe and wonder if the owners still think it was a good idea. Very rarely, a name seems inspired. Matilda was particularly taken with the name of a boat moored at the Market Drayton private moorings: Slimline Tonic works on many levels. Robert also spotted the Hard Rock Café logo on a narrowboat but on closer inspection this read “Hard Lock Café”.

Market Drayton unsurprisingly has a historical market building but it also claims to be the home of gingerbread for dunking in tea – so we assume crunchy biscuits rather than moist cake. The first recorded mention is of Roland Lateward, maltster, who was baking gingerbread in 1793. The recipe was, of course, a closely guarded secret passed down through a succession of local bakers. Sadly, Matilda could not detect the smell of spices in the air.

The Sandbrook Vaults in the Tudor House Hotel is home to the Joules Brewery.

Vaults, Market Drayton – hostelry for day 51

07/04/2022 – Miles: 6.03 – Locks: 18 – 4h15m

The route for day 51 – Wrenbury to Market Drayton

Route Map:

Days: 51 – Miles: 389 – Locks: 406

Dish of the day:

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