Oh yeah! This is a whopper of a post. I could have tried to break it down into individual parts but that would end up being quite repetitive so I’ve combined it all into one humungous post 🙂
We’ve been on a cruise. Granted, it’s not the sort of cruise I imagined when I wrote my 101 things but it was pretty good. We hired a boat from ABC Boat Hire from their Gailey Marina in Staffordshire (http://www.abcboathire.com/Boating-Holiday/england/gailey-base/7.aspx). I’ve never been to Staffs before and thought it was much further away than it actually was (only 2 hrs drive – bonus). We picked up our boat Ivarr last Saturday and have been out for the week. Our first day was short as we didn’t leave the marina until gone 3pm and we made it as far as Coven. Here we moored up and watched Ireland thrash Scotland and England beat France to win the Grand Slam. Good start to the week!
Sunday dawned clear and sunny and we had a lovely cruise along the Staffs & Worcs as far as Napton Junction where we did the world’s shallowest lock “down” on to the Shropshire Union. This was literally to accommodate an inch difference in water levels! According to a helpful local – the reason for the lock was because the two canals were owned by different canal companies who each didn’t want the other nicking their water!
Onwards from Napton we stopped at Brewood for a lunch break.
We moored up for the night at Norbury Junction. Other than a pub, a cafe and a Hire Boat Yard there wasn’t a huge amount here. A few houses scattered about – one of which had a flock of birds in the front garden that wandered out onto the main road. Mark though they were very small turkeys or quails- I wasn’t so sure. Following a quick google we discovered they were Guinea Fowl!
Day 3 was very cold and grey. No break in the cloud at all which made it hard going. Our next stop was Market Drayton (#32 5 New Places). The wharf reminded me very much of Hungerford wharf so it was looking promising. There was a footpath leading from the canal to the town centre so off we went. It wasn’t like Hungerford. I think that once upon a time MD would have been very nice indeed. However, it’s a bit run-down and sad looking now. Within a hundred yards of eachother you had an Iceland, 2 bookies and a Greggs. That kind of summed it up for me. Undaunted, we went in search of liquid refreshment… The first pub we came across had a couple of unfriendly looking men smoking outside the front door, barring the entrance and glaring at us – so we gave that one a miss. The next had a sign out saying Dogs Not Welcome, so we skipped that one too. We then found The Tudor House Hotel. Which looked nice from the outside. So in we went and found lots of old ladies drinking tea and Escape to the Country on the TV! Not what you’d expect in a normal bar. Little did we know, this was no normal bar! The conversation went like this:
Mark: Can I have 2 pints of Guinness please?
Landlady: We don’t Guinness I’m afraid. We don’t have much beer. We’ve got lager?
M (slightly stunned): Ok, can I have a pint of lager and a gin and slimline tonic then please?
L: We don’t have any slimline is normal ok?
M: Yes fine. (getting fed up)
L: Oh, we don’t have any lager either. I have some bottles.
M: Seriously?! Ok, I’ll have bottle of Peroni.
L: Ok, here you are. That’s £8.05. Do you have the 5p I don’t have any change!
Complete and utter farce. The Dubliners summed it up perfectly – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJW19nlzb3Q
We decided to go back to the canal and visit the Talbot which is on the cut. Only to find that they don’t open on a Monday! Honestly, you couldn’t make it up. So we left and set off once more. We spent the night moored up just above Adderley locks ready for the descent into Audlem.
Day 4 dawned. Still cloudy but nowhere near as cold as the wind had dropped. We made good time through 20 locks and several miles to bring us to the visitor moorings at Audlem. The Shropshire Union Canal is quite different from other canals we’ve been on. It’s like a motorway canal – huge cuttings and built up banks to make it as flat as possible. Even after descending the locks into Audlem, the canal towered above the housing and surround fields. It was very odd. Audlem itself was lovely (#32 5 New Places). It had a very pretty church, several pubs (more of which in a moment!) and some useful and more unusual shops. It was lunchtime and locking is apetite inducing so we went in search of food.
#29 Go for 12 Meals – The first pub we found was The Bridge Inn which welcomed dogs with open arms! It even had a carpet for Pedro. Perfect. We ordered some drinks and a packet of crisps for the dogs. I chose the lasagne and Mark went for the Cowboy burger. It was massive! It was a big, fat beef burger topped with bacon, cheese AND onion rings. My lasagne was lovely – just the right size portion and plenty of meat. We left feeling totally contented and carried on along the canal where I deposited Mark and the dogs in the Shroppie Fly pub (bar actually made from an old Shropshire Fly boat – http://www.shroppiefly.com/photo-gallery-5866.html) while I went next door to Audlem Mill.
You can see the mill in this pic – it’s the red brick building just past the Shroppie Fly. It’s a converted mill which houses a fantastic canal shop and a huge range of craft supplies.In addition to this, it had an art exhibition which is what I wanted to see (#23 Visit an Art Exhibition). The exhibition was in association with the Guild of Canal Artists and was pictures of the canal in various different forms and media. It was fabulous. You had a whole range of images depciting the very different moods from the canal. Some were bright, sunny, chocolate-boxy water colours and others capture the murk and mist of a cold morning beautifully. There were even some more abstract/pop-art style pictures which weren’t to my taste but made a good contrast to the other works on show. See here for more info about Audlem Mill – http://www.audlemmill.co.uk/index.html
Audlem marked the turning point in our week and so having gone down and back up the final 4 locks we were ready to set off on the return journey. On the way back we stopped in different locations (mooring at Goldstone Wharf one night, Gnosall for lunch and Wheaton Aston the next day) and then got back to the marina late on Friday afternoon.
We had a brilliant trip out – boating holidays are very restful pastimes (if you don’t try to do a cruising ring!) and for most of the time we didn’t have any phone or TV signal. Luckily we were prepared for that and took appropriate ways to pass the time. Books, DVD boxset, puzzle books, playing cards and….. a colouring book!
#43 Complete 3 Boat Scenes – This is my “Cool Canals” colouring book. A book with loads and loads of canal images to colour in. Some are abstract – just patterns. Others such as these are actual scenes. I had great fun doing these two and will look forward to completing more of them. Get a colouring book – they rock!
Along the way we saw lots of wildlife – ducks, moorhens, storks and even lots of kingfishers. It’s not easy to take photos of wildlife when you are moving along on a boat but here are a selection of photos that I took: