Trent and Mersey Canal

20 to 23 October 2006

On a Friday which started pleasantly but turned to rain, we travelled from London to Great Haywood near Stafford, home to one of the Anglo Welsh narrowboat bases, for our weekend canal holiday.  We were met politely and efficiently, and after discharging our cargo onto the boat, were quickly shown around, and were soon under way. We headed south along the Trent and Mersey Canal from Haywood Junction.

Ellie, George and Lucy on the back of our boat, Silver Swallow. We passed through Haywood and Colwich Locks, and, with the rain falling, stopped for the night at Wolseley.

Next morning dawned dry and reasonably bright, and we make our way along the Trent and Mersey.

Here the canal crosses the River Trent by Brindley Bank Aqueduct.

Ellie and George wait on the aqueduct while we wait for Lucy and Silver Swallow

Passing through Rugeley, we go under the railway as a slow-moving agregates train passes overhead.

We then pass through a narrow rocky cutting, only wide enough for single-way working. This was the site of Armitage Tunnel, opened out as a result of mining subsidence, and very impressive to travel through - and presumably problematic at busier times of the year, as it is not possible to see right through to check the way is clear, since it curves at the eastern end.

Along the canal towpath were lots of wood chippings; here workers are turning trees into chippings. Presumably this is easier than having to remove trees that are felled or fall down.

At the railway bridge at Armitage, Network Rail contractors are working to widen the Trent Valley line to four tracks throughout. As a result, we see this somewhat bizarre sight for a canal - temporary traffic lights. This was doubly frustrating and, frankly stupid, since first, the green light showed for about ten seconds (completely inadequate for a boat, which takes much longer than that to get up speed and pass the light) and, second, the only reason for these automated lights was to enforce single-line working on the canal, whereas we had just been through a much longer section of single-line working at Armitage Tunnel, and that didn't have through visibility, which this site did.

We pass Banstead, a former Grand Union Canal Carrying Company coal boat, No. 107

Lucy steers Silver Swallow out of Woodend Lock

Looking back through Bridge 53 into Woodend Lock

George runs back to the boat as we wait to pass through Shade House Lock after a good lunch at the Swan Inn

Lucy brings Silver Swallow to Fradley Junction: the Coventry Canal and our route lies to the left, with the Trent and Mersey continuing to the right. The Swan Inn is centre picture.

As rain continues to threaten, a rainbow shows it is not far away. We decide not to press on to Fazeley Junction, our original plan, since rain is likely later today, and a lot of rain is forecast for tomorrow. We decide to wind at Huddlesford Junction and start the return journey today so that there is less to do tomorrow.

Looking up the stub of the Wryley & Essington Canal from Huddlesford Junction, now used as private moorings, but perhaps one day restored as a through route to Oggley Junction and the Birmingham Canal Navigations. Watch out for the "Lichfield Canal" (a modern name) aqueduct over the M6 Toll, currently going from nowhere to nowhere.

The junction sign post and the temporary bridge over the canal, constructed to help with the four-tracking of the Trent Valley railway line which is underway here too. There were more temporary traffic lights here (fortunately not in use), but absurdly there were "no turning" signs scattered around. The people planning these operations clearly have no appreciation at all of how canals work. Having already commented on the ridiculous traffic lights at the previous railway bridge, we now have these "no turning" signs, which are not justified, but more importantly show no understanding of canals - that sort of instruction is easily achievable in a car, when one can simply go elsewhere, but in a canal boat, places for winding are very limited - it might well have taken us 3 or 4 hours to travel to Fazeley Junction and back, the nearest alternative winding spot marked on our map. To insist on that is ridiculous, and so we just winded the boat here anyway, ignoring the signs, and watched by the railway workers who made no comment.

We got back to Fradley Junction before the thunderstorm started, and moored up for a cosy evening. Ellie certainly looks cosy in the chair in the cabin of our boat.

On Sunday morning, Lucy, closely followed by George and Ellie, works Middle Lock

Ellie decided she didn't want to follow George across the top lock gate, and instead stepped into the canal and swam across, and here is looking rather damp!

Working through Woodend Lock, George watches Lucy hard at work. "That looks easy," he says.

And so helps out.

One of the many attractive mileposts erected by the Trent and Mersey Canal Society. They are genuinely mileposts, not direction markers, so though it is 28 miles to the Trent at Shardlow, in fact the Trent lies to the right, and the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook lies to the left.

After lunch at the Ash Tree pub in Rugeley, it started to rain, increasingly heavily, and we were glad that we'd made today's cruising shorter than it might have been by turning round short of Fazeley yesterday. Two boats moored up at the end of Brindley Bank with their wood-burning stoves keeping their occupants comfortably warm.

Stephen and George taking the boat through the heavy rain

Lucy, George and Ellie now with her lifejacket see us through Colwich Lock, the last of Sunday, and we moored soon after Bridge 72.

Monday morning, and the holiday is almost over. Sunrise over Little Haywood

The River Trent from the canal as we return to Great Haywood.

George, Lucy and Ellie in Haywood Lock

As we prepare to turn at Haywood Junction, narrowboat Rosemary from Canal Cruising Company passes us. Rosemary was the first narrowboat we hired, in 1998, taking us round the Four Counties Ring from Stone. We will be repeating that journey (from Etruria) next year.

Our efficient Anglowelsh man waits for us to pull into the boatyard under the elegant towpath bridge at Haywood Junction, with just one minute to spare before the 9 o'clock deadline to return the boat. Perfect timing, and a great holiday despite the rain.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson