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Great Haywood

Goodbye Staffs & Worcs, hello Trent & Mersey

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.

Tixall Wide.

Great Haywood Junction.

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.

The Sow meets the Trent

Splashing in the river.

Essex Bridge.

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.

Shugborough Hall.

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.

The old market building in Rugeley.

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.

Planes, trains, automobiles and of course the small matter of a boat!

In January we planned to have the mayday bank holiday weekend in Paris, we didn’t plan on buying another narrowboat in March and we certainly didn’t plan for Sue to have a pacemaker fitted!
Anyway, all of those things happened and came together to give us a pretty busy few days, hence the title of this post. We flew back from Paris on Monday evening and thought about tuesday’s logistical puzzle. Prior to our trip to Paris, Sue had gathered together the few items that we would need for our boating adventure so we didn’t need to do too much preparation.
Tuesday dawned and we were in the car for half past eight heading for Braunston where we planned to catch the bus into Rugby, leaving the car in the marina car park. There were only a handful of passengers on the 9.25 when we got on it outside the Boathouse pub on the A45. The bus collected another thirty bus pass toting passengers as it meandered its way into Rugby and by the time it reached its destination it was full. It was fairly clear that the youngest passenger was about four years old and I was the second youngest, quite a feat given that I am now 52!
We walked to the local Wetherspoons where we stuffed ourselves with a big breakfast each to see us through the day. “Breakfast at Wetherspoons”, the modern day version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” but starring miss Stella Artois instead of Audrey Hepburn. Fortified by our mid morning repast, we walked the three quarters of a mile to the station and waited for the 1142 to Stone. The train was a few minutes late, well ten to be exact but we got on and found seats beside an elderly lady who was returning to Liverpool from London via Stafford, maybe a football fan returning from the Crystal Palace match last night? Probably not. We had a bit of banter with two other ladies, sisters we presumed, who were also going to Liverpool to then catch the Isle of Man ferry (not to be confused with the Manly Ferry which is something entirely different!).
The train eventually arrived in Stone and we were pleased to see a solitary taxi in the car park, we were beaten to it by another passenger – bugger! We were a bit surprised by the taxi driver’s reaction when we asked him about the possibility of another cab. We had expected him to radio or phone the office but the miserable old sod just mumbled something about there might be another one in twenty minutes. We walked into town instead, made our way into Wetherspoons and asked if they had a number of a local taxi firm and got a shake of the head, we asked where the local taxi rank is, another negative answer, most frustrating!
We found our way to the canal, got on the towpath and struck out in a southerly direction, heading for Aston Marina a mile and a half away. Despite the warm sunshine, the backpack, the shoulder bag and the shopping trolley, we reached the marina in just over thirty minutes.
Once there, we made our way to our new pride and joy, nb Caxton where we emptied the trolley before Sue retraced her steps and bought some food at the marina farm shop. In her absence, I made the final preparations for our departure. When Sue returned, the engine was running and only a slip knot held us in place on the pontoon so within two minutes, we were off. The bow thruster (girlie button) was pressed into service immediately and we exited the marina smoothly and without incident. It took an hour before we reached Sandon lock and that was plenty of time to adjust to the handling characteristics of Caxton. Broadly speaking everything is the same, the difference is in the response time from the tiller. Pushing the tiller in either direction does not have the same immediate effect that we were used to with Phoenix III but then when things do start to happen, they keep on happening, just the extra length I guess.
It started raining as soon as we reached the lock and stopped as soon as we left it, maybe the lock has its own permanently moored raincloud?
Another feature of our new boating adventures is that Sue is not allowed to work the locks, her pacemaker op has seen to that so now she has to drive and I am the lock wheeler. We carried on to Weston lock where we found an Ashby hire boat just about to leave it giving us easy passage in. The third lock, Hoo mill, was empty when we reached it and had to be filled but like the two before it, its gates and paddles were well maintained and were therefore a breeze to work. Once through Hoo mill, we started looking for a mooring but at this time of day, the best are usually taken so it was no surprise that we found ourselves descending through Haywood lock too. We found a mooring between the villages of the Haywoods, Great and Little and settled for the night. We had travelled just over four hours and as a result it was almost half past seven when we sat down to dinner, amazingly those breakfasts in Rugby had seen us right through the day.
We ate our dinner in the cratch and at a generous 9′ x 6′, a bit like eating in a conservatory, especially when the rain came on.
We were totally off-grid at our mooring, no mobile phone reception, no internet and no tv, no big deal – we listened to some music from the ipad played through my birthday present from Sue, a bluetooth amplifier speaker by Edifier. We eventually retreated inside and listened to Radio 2 with “Whispering” Bob Harris for a while as we reflected on our first day out on the cut with Caxton and then contemplated day two of our voyage.