It would be quicker to walk, but not as dry

We know that Firecrest is no Ferrari when it comes to playing the speed game, but honestly it would be far quicker to walk sometimes. It’s 6 miles from the Rugby visitor moorings to the Skew bridge at Yelvetoft. But 21 miles by canal, and it took us a week. We were still playing dodge the rainclouds but had enough time to beat the planned winter stoppages so our first stretch of this section was just “around the corner” to the top of the 3 Hillmorton locks.

Top Lock, Hillmorton(yes there is a rainbow there)

It’s a picturesque place and there’s usually a willing crew of volockies to help you through. They take great pride in these twin locks, and are quite sad to know that the surrounding fields are already being turned into a housing development.

Poetry at the Middle lock, Hillmorton

I have mixed feelings, people need homes as well as pretty canals. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I love being in the countryside, with its freedom, it’s wildlife and it’s farm animals.

Cows sheep swans and the Barby Alpaca


Still, we meandered onwards towards Braunston for a night on the outskirts.

We should have known red sky in the morning didn’t bode well for a dry day

Despite it being a Sunday we didn’t join the service at the church, even though we have been made so welcome there in the past. Thankfully the butchers was open and I stocked up on a plentiful supply of Braunston Bangers for our boaters breakfasts.

Braunston is such a busy place, mooring is at a premium and TV reception is poor. So we chose not to linger this time….

Cruising through Braunston in the rain

….and snatched the opportunity to share the Braunston flight with two lovely young couples on their first ever narrowboat holiday. Having never done a lock before I don’t think they realised they were doing me as big a favour as our guidance was doing them. We transitted the tunnel without meeting oncoming traffic and as the storm clouds were brewing again

That looks ominous, time to moor up

We waved goodbye to our new friends, they were heading to the New Inn pub at Long Buckley

If you keep straight on, the pub is on the next corner

We settled for the night just “around the corner” past the gorgeous toll cottage at Norton Junction on the Leicester line.

we’re turning left onto the Leicester line.

Appreciation

We emerged from a very wet few days to complete our journey down the Coventry. Eric began his career working for the GPO, so it was with great excitement when he shouted out , quick look at that, after a bit of investigation it turns out to be one of the very few remaining traditional telegraph poles at Hartshill. Unfortunately although it’s mentioned in several boaty blogs there’s not much information about this particular pole. However I did discover there is a telegraph appreciation society

The Hartshill telegraph pole

But what most boaters look out for as they cruise along the Coventry is the Stig at charity dock, I was inside making a cuppa at the time, so only just got to wave as we cruised by.

And then onto Hawkesbury junction or Sutton Stop, as the little lock here only has a rise of 6 inches to accommodate the toll house, and water rights of both the Coventry and Oxford Canal

Looking towards Sutton Stop

Yet again we haven’t continued into Coventry basin but took the sharp turn under the bridge and onto the Oxford canal.

Under the bridge at Hawkesbury Junction

We made our way onto Rugby along this lovely rural section through some woodland, not quite in its full autumn regalia.

Cathiron woods

Arriving for a night at the hotspot, with maybe 15 other boaters making the most of the close proximity to the retail park. We would have stayed longer at Rugby’s convenient visitor mooring, except that it annoys us disproportionately. It’s on quite a narrow section, with 14 day mooring on one side and a couple of 48 hour spaces oposite surrounding the water point and Elsan. Now I don’t mind walking along the Towpath to empty the “necessary” but I hate the thought of carrying my waste over a busy public road bridge. Also much of the 14 day mooring is on a curve which makes it that much harder to moor securely, and that makes a difference when too many boats don’t understand how to pass at tick-over. And worst of all, unless you are a Flanders and Swan hippopotamus, the Towpath is in an appalling state. In my non hippo opinion, there is absolutely nothing glorious about Mud, I loathe the stuff. Rant over, when we woke to red skies in the morning we set off down to Hillmorton

Red sky in the morning at Rugby

We’ve been here before

We’ve cruised this way before, and yet again it’s been a case of getting from A to B with little time to properly explore. This time we were playing beat the weather, the goal being to do the Atherstone flight when it wasn’t raining. Although it was a grey start

Looking over the fields at the bottom of the Atherstone flight

But at least the day dawned dryish.

Firecrest at Lock 11 in the autumn

October 2020 didn’t make for quite such a pretty picture as I snapped in May 2018 when we helped our friend Jo up the same flight

Blue Pearl at lock 11 in the spring, 2018

I was happy to spot something new to me near the start of the flight, another style of mile marker. This one pointing out 9-18 miles presumably to Tamworth and Coventry

9 miles from Tamworth and 18 to Coventry

Atherstone itself is home to the headquarters of Aldi, so with it being close to the canal, I popped in to stock up. I wish I’d thought to take a photo, because its the first time I’ve seen entry into an actual superparket controlled by traffic lights above the door. I’m guessing there must be an automated counting system to control the numbers inside the store. What a good idea. If nothing else it made us smile. And it was nice to break the flight of 11 locks into 2 with a bit of retail therapy. And what’s more we emerged at the top of the flight with blue skies.

Emerging, almost at the top

We moored up in Mancetter, just below Apple Pie Lane, where thankfully peace had been restored, for this is the site of Boudicia’s last battle. Sadly it’s also where she died.

Cherrytree lane bridge, (apple pie lane is the next)

I’m glad I had a fully stocked galley because the next few days were definitely not cruising days

I guess you have to expect rain in October

Tamely down the Coventry

Tamely down the Coventry

Tamhorn farm mooring

The next section of our journey took us south on the Coventry canal, leaving the rural farmland to travel through Tamworth. We find it’s always an interesting section of canal with plenty to see. Someone has decorated their boat fantastical creatures made out of old tyres.

Trespassers beware

Although I really prefer seeing the alpaca farms along the cut.

A pity they don’t want to watch the boats as much as I want to watch them

It’s 2 years since we came this way and I’m always pleased that I see things that I’d not noticed before. This time it was a boundary stone, placed to mark the end of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal. We debated whether it indicated an abandoned junction or whether the cut we were on had historically changed company and despite the CRT map clearly and logically labelling Fradley Junction into Coventry as the the Coventry canal other maps suggest we are now on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Easy to miss, the boundary stone.

We didn’t reach an agreement although shortly after as we cruised through Tamworth, we did reach the junction that CRT recognise as the start of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal.

Giant wildlife murals painted on the junction

We didn’t stop to explore Tamworth this time as we were playing dodge the rain showers and wanted to moor closer to Atherstone. One day I’d quite like to walk over the Tame Aqueduct, it’s not quite in the same league as the famous ones but never the less still quite high above the river.

The Tame Aqueduct

There’s an interesting feature on the Coventry bridges south of here, my imagination thought it could be a toll booth but Eric’s more sensible suggestion is a storage space for the stop planks.

Could it be an ancient prison for speeding boaters

After a bit of a damp cruise we were rewarded with a rural treat to moor overnight

Looking towards Whittington Barracks.

Ticking off the Trent and Mersey Canal

We had planned to take things at a more leisurely pace once we passed through Stoke but the lure of cruising in the sunshine is proving hard to resist. And we know “winter is coming”. This section of the canal is new to us. The last time we reached Great Haywood, was June 2017 on our very first major outing. We had turned right under the bridge onto the Staffs and Worcester canal heading southwest to meet friends.

Leaving the Great Haywood mooring

Now we are heading towards the Midlands. Undeterred by the chill in the air, a couple of bacon butties sorted that out, off we set.

Warm clothes and bacon butties

I’m not sure if its just the blue sky, but this does feel a very pretty canal and we both agree we’d like to cruise it more leisurely in the future.

Looking down from Bridge 57, Handsacre

Some people like collecting garden gnomes, it seems that people with canal side properties prefer pirates and vagabonds

Oo arrr me hearties, who’s got the rum

These guys also had a boat moored called the Dancing Sheep with a pink tailed mermaid taking the pose.

Boaters come in all shapes and sizes

Which of course appealed to me, both loving pink and being a fibre fanatic. Back in the spring I treated myself to a new spinning wheel. This one being a tiny wee electric wheel. It is perfect to use whilst we are cruising,

My tiny Electric spinning wheel

It’s manufactured by a small start up company in America called dreaming robots and during September, Maurice (the designer), ran a photo competition called Spin Anywhere. Winner was chosen by a viewers poll, and guess what… a photo I’d taken while in Northwich won.

Winning entry of the “electric Eel wheel” spin anywhere competion

My next spinning challenge is a fun fundraiser spinning marathon called Britspin. I’ve taken part in this event for several years now and this year I am the captain of an “elite team” called the Towpath Twizzlers. Our co captain is Martina from NB Burnt Oak, who is a roving trader selling her own hand dyed yarn and fibre. There’s a link to the virgin money page if you would like to support us raising money for the RNLI. And if you want to join in you can find us on Ravelry.
Of course spinning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we were very impressed that the overseers of this lock had left a teapot for us

Wood End Lock just before Fradley Junction

We were now approaching Fradley Junction where the Trent and Mersey Canal continues for another 25 miles to Shardlow and the great River Trent just south of Nottingham

The start of the Coventry Canal at Fradley junction

But we were turning right onto the Coventry canal, back onto familiar territory.

Misty mornings and sunny days

We love cruising in the autumn, especially when the day starts clouded in mist, but you just know that the sun is waiting to throw off it’s duvet and shine.

Another perfect day

Shortly after leaving Stone we reached Aston Lock and saw the half way milepost for the Trent and Mersey. Exactly 46 miles between Preston Brook and Shardlow.

Half way

The T&M mileposts were originally made of stone, but were replaced in 1819 by a striking cast iron design.

Spot the difference


But we realised they weren’t all the same. Some carry the date 1977.

I had assumed the originals had been melted down to reclaim the metal, but actually most were removed during WWII to make it harder for any potential enemy paratroopers to find their way. The T&M canal society have a very interesting page about where they found the originals and how they reinstated these attractive. posts. I frequently kick myself for not looking up this sort of information before we cruise past, because apparently there is still one original stone marker left at Weston Cutting. https://trentandmerseycanalsociety.org.uk/mileposts/campaign/


We continued our cruise towards Great Hayward Junction and we lucky enough to find a sunny space opposite the aptly named Canalside farm shop and cafe.

Farm shop moorings at Great Haywood junction


We’d timed our arrival to meet up with our friend Jo, Under normal circumstances we would have spent the afternoon in the cafe enjoying tea and cake, but instead we all sat outside in the sunshine catching up on the past few months lack of cruising. We both made early starts the next morning, in opposite directions

Nice to have seen you Jo

And the sun came out

Set in Stone

The Staffordshire town of Stone has several claims to fame, most notably to us boaters is that it is where James Brindley set up his offices to devise and oversee the building of the Trent and Mersey canal, which was completed in 1771, He has a statue in Etruria, but it was too cold wet and miserable to go and pay homage as we passed by. Although the sun had returned by the time we passed through beautiful Meaford Locks and entered the town.

Meaford top lock

We always enjoy passing through Stone, its an attractive town with lots of history. Although we could stop closer to town, we seem drawn by sun radiating colour off the houses opposite and the reflections at the Whitebridge lane visitor moorings. I’m not actually sure where the white bridge is cause the nearest bridge is now a modern concrete necessity and not worthy of a photo. We set off along the towpath to walk the mile into town. As you approach the town centre, its history is proudly displayed on railings telling the tale of pagan King Wulfere who murdered his his sons here for their Christian Faith. He then converted to Christianity himself and allowed his wife to build a priory at the site where they fell, as it grew in importance, the market town grew up around it and prospered.

The history of Stone in steel

The priory was seized and the land sold to the Crompton family during the dissolution of the monasteries, so nothing other than the tomb of William II Crompton and his wife Jane, remain.

I doubt they were legless when they were buried

The modern church was built on its site in 1758. But it was all locked up so I couldn’t see any more about the fate of the poor princes.

St Wulfan and St Michael’s, Stone

It seems that Stone likes a grisly tale, because as we cruised out of the town we saw a small carving dedicated to Christina Collins

Christina’s sculpture at bridge 94

It’s not surprising most boaters miss her, as she’s hidden by ivy, which poignantly reflects her sad story of insignicfinance. In 1839 she paid 1 shilling and sixpence to travel from Preston Brook to London. Whilst passing through Stone, she complained to the toll office that the boatmen were drunk and behaving badly, she feared she would be “meddled” with. Sadly she was right, the next day her body was found in the canal, she had been raped and thrown overboard. Two men were hanged and the third transported. CRT do mark the spot and Brindley Bank

But to end on a happier note everyone should smile when they pass under a bridge 100. (Above Meaford locks )

Bridge 100

Haring through the Harecastle tunnel

Isn’t it just typical when we have an obligation to travel, the weather is poor. We set off in murky drizzle to do the last half a mile. No wonder the water had turned rusty red with the iron deposits. We always chuckle as we pass under the motorway bridges, this time we were passing underneath the Macclesfield Canal just before the junction. It would have been fun to see a narrowboat above us, but at 7am only the foolhardy were on the move.

Passing under the Macclesfield Canal aqueduct

It was June 2017 that we emerged from the Macclesfield Canal onto the T&M, and I have a feeling it was raining that day as well

The start, or end of the Macclesfield Canal

We carry a spare life jacket so Tim was able to comply with the safety guidelines and as it was raining heavily by now, we didn’t waste much time outside chatting to the CRT crew. We were the third of five to go through on the 8am passage.

Looks like we’ll fit

It’s the second longest tunnel on the network, 2657m long (1.6miles) traffic is one way, and although it is always manned, it doesn’t usually need to be booked in advance, but they want to avoid the potential log jam of boaters awaiting their turn. They let several boats through in a convoy, and count them in and out. It’s not unheard of for boats to break down in the tunnel, and not very easy for them to be rescued. Not everyone makes it out……

The resident skeleton who lives inside the tunnel

But thankfully we did, it took us exactly 40 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the first time.

Almost through

Tim was to catch the train home from Stoke so because the rain was now torrential we moored up and enjoyed a cooked breakfast, but by the time we had washed up, the weather had improved, so the next 5 locks were ok. This section of canal is going downhill so the locks are a bit easier to work.

It turned out to be a good day after all

Heartbreak Hill


Now that we are happily cruising again, our plan is to head south and east, to be closer to Suffolk. Our planned destination is affected by the start of the winter stoppages, and I hate to say it but they are only 5 and a bit weeks away. Looking at the map is a bit nerve wracking. I haven’t got enough fingers and toes to count the number of locks before the Harecastle tunnel. I am reliably informed this section is known as Heartbreak Hill. Although as we awoke all was peaceful and calm so we could never have guessed what was ahead of us.

Early morning opposite Bramble cutting

After leaving the Anderton lift, we’d aimed for Bramble cuttings, a picnic area just for boaters, but apparently you stand more chance of winning the lottery that getting a mooring here, hence we knocked in the pins opposite, and just enjoyed the aroma of BBQ drifting our way. We were 15 miles from the tunnel and there were 35 locks to pass through. Having languished in a marina for 6 weeks, our beautifully toned bodies were showing signs of neglect so we decided to spilt the journey over a few days. From here we went through Middlewich.

Middlewich

I would have liked to stop to explore this area dominated by its canal trade and the junction of the Shropshire union. But we wanted to get on before the weather broke.

The junction of the Shropshire union canal on the left


We had an enjoyable days cruise, just 9 locks pleasantly spaced out, until we reached Rookery moorings just south of Ettiley Heath, out in the middle of nowhere, perfect.

Early morning at Rookery mooring


It’s just a short distance from the real start to Heartbreak Hill at Wheelock, 26 single locks over 6 miles. To help the old working boats a twin lock was added to most of the locks meaning two boats could travel up or down at the same time. Harder work for the navvies that built the canal but much easier for the boater, and also potentially saves on water.

Wheelock bottom lock, the start of Heartbreak Hill

Sadly in this day and age only half of the twins have been maintained, but it wasn’t a problem because there wasn’t too much canal traffic and although most of the locks were set against us, all the traffic going up hill had naturally spaced out so no queues, or feeling the need to rush because someone was waiting. And of course we’d been blessed with glorious weather.

Guess who’s doing all the hard work

And as always we take great pleasure when we cruise underneath a motorway, the M6 this time.

Under the M6

And an overnight stop at Hassall Green. It was a treat to find ourselves moored up with fellow bloggers on Cleddau, always nice to put faces to names.

Plenty of mooring for an overnight stop at Hassall Green

Another morning and another promising day,

And another promising day, that’s Cleddau infront of us

I’d miscalculated last night at thought we’d done 12 locks but I think it was only 10, leaving 16 left, but hey this has to beat commuting into the office.

It’s a hard life

Not surprisingly we were fit to drop as we neared Kidsgrove, But looking back we would do it all again, it’s a beautiful section of the canal.

But the views are worth it

Then to put the icing on the cake, our son Tim arrived by train to help us through the last few locks. I emailed CRT to book our passage through the tunnel, (an extra necessity thanks to Covid) but to our horror although I asked for a slot after 10am the only spaces left were at 8am. Poor Tim, he didn’t get much scintillating conversation after tea, cause we both fell asleep.

Up up and away


Who’d have thought a few days trip to explore the River Weaver would have turned into a several weeks staycation in a marina. Much as we have been grateful for the friendship and sanctuary, and not to mention convenience of Northwich Quay, we are confirmed continuous cruisers, and we’ve been desperate to be on the move again. With Firecrest restored to being a fully self sufficient boat again, we crept silently away this morning. Well it would have been silent if we hadn’t had farewell waves from our neighbours, perhaps they were glad to see the back of us.

Leaving Northwich Quay Marina mooring

Despite the early cloud it soon looked like a promising day as we approached the Anderton boat lift

Approaching the lift

And at 11:30 It was our turn to be swallowed up by the cavenous structure

We were to share our passage up with Leo, whom we hadn’t met before but they immediately recognised us from having read our blog, thankyou Leo, it’s always nice to meet our readers (And again we apologise for not having comments or contact enabled, that’s one step beyond my technical comprehension).

Nestled in with Leo

Strangely we found going up more exciting than coming down, I think it’s because we were much more aware of the opposite caisson descending.

I hope it doesn’t collapse

But it’s always fun to see your counterbalance midway

One up one down

And to wish them well for the river 50 foot below

Looking down onto the weaver

But we had had our fill of rivers for this year. Back to Canal life. Our plan is to head south. It doesn’t feel right on such a balmy day like this but we only have 6 weeks before the planned winter closures start in November, and we don’t want a last minute rush or to get caught by any other imposed lockdown. So we turned right as we left the lift and manoeuvred though all the boats enjoying this very pretty area and past the Lion Salt works that we’d walked up to.

The Lion Salt works from the canal

And from the 19th century salt chemical works onto the 21st century salt chemical works, as we cruised through the TATA plant at Lostock

21st century industry

One of the pipe bridges had been enhanced by some fancy iron cut outs recognising the regions salty chemical heritage.

It didnt take Eric long to translate the formula.

Sodium Chloride + Water = Sodium Hydroxide + chlorine + hydrogen

The canal continued to be dominated by its mining heritage with boat yards, historic wharfs and flashes but after a few miles we were in truely beautiful rural England,

The Trent and Mersey Canal at its best

And we were happy again.

Eric and Cheryl at our best