Tuesday, December 05, 2017

First Trip from Hatherton

Having moved Zindagi to Hatherton Marina in early October, we knew that we would need to get up there again soon to prepare the boat for the colder months.  We also wanted to replace the old carpet, which had been down on the floor since the boat was built in early 2007!
As we came towards the end of November, it looked like there might be a few days of dry and sunny (if cold!) weather coming in the West Midlands, so perhaps there might be the chance of snatching a few days travelling . . .

First things first!  Taking up the old carpet was very easy.  Fitting the new one was a bit more tricky!

But the end result is not too bad!  Still a little tidying up and re-tensioning to be done on a subsequent visit, but a definite improvement on the old carpet.

So, what was the weather forecast like?  Could we manage a few days' cruising?  No rain in the West Midlands for about 4 days, pretty cold but bright and sunny.  We decided to have a go!

12 locks and about 15 miles in a generally northward direction would take us to Great Haywood, where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal.  We went through Great Haywood Junction several times during our canal travelling years, and it was in fact the place we started from on our first-ever canal holiday back in 1976.

So, Tuesday 28th November saw us getting back into our old travelling routine:  Do the engine checks, take down the TV aerial and wind turbine, start the engine and cast off the moorings.  Oh yes, and don't forget to disconnect the mains power hook-up – one of the little luxuries of marina mooring! 

Then a couple of miles of chugging to reach Gailey, with its lock-keeper's lookout tower right next to the A5, where the lock allows the canal to dive 8ft 6in under Watling Street.  I know we went through one lock when we were taking Zindagi to Hatherton Marina, but that was Autherley Stop Lock, with a fall of only 6 inches.  Gailey Lock was a real lock at last!  We were beginning to feel more at home on the canals again.

Here we are again, in what looks like (and really is) a remote rural lock.  What you can't see or hear is the roar of the M6 just a few yards away!  Not to worry; the canal and motorway soon parted company, leaving us in peace again.  The contrast of old and new transport systems struck us when we first came this way 41 years ago.  

We still enjoy the 'slow lane'!

Amazing to think that these peaceful canals were the 'motorways' of their time, always bustling with working boats carrying payloads of all descriptions, and yet the simple architecture of the locks and bridges has been there all the time, with a beauty of their own.

Wednesday afternoon, and we reached Tixall Lock, the last on this short run, but the first lock we ever went through.  One of the staff from the hire company at Great Haywood had been there to help all the newcomers to boating and explain how to work a lock.  We have been through a few since then!

And so to the end of the outward journey, Tixall Wide.  A lovely lake west of Great Haywood Junction and the canal just opens out into it.  Was it widened to 'gentrify' the appearance of the working canal for the landed gentry in their nearby stately homes, or was it a natural lake which just happened to lie in the path of the canal?  Nobody seems to know for sure.

The light was fading in late afternoon, so we just took a broad sweep round in the Wide (no 3-point turns needed here!) and moored up for the night, pointing back the way we had come.

Thursday morning was crisp – and icy!  The Wide itself was pretty clear, but an approaching boat had to cut a path through the thin ice.  Very useful for us as we started on our return journey.

Still no rain and bright sun, but it was cold!  We had to do a little ice-breaking in some places but most of the work had been done for us.  More of a problem was steering into the brightness of the very low sun, especially as it was also reflecting off the water!  Val needed to approach the locks with even more care than usual, at times almost driving 'blind'!

And so back to Zindagi's new home at Hatherton by Friday lunchtime.  The gamble on the weather had paid off, we had had 4 very enjoyable days together, back on the canals again and feeling very much like old times.  Now we are looking forward to some more – and longer – explorations in 2018.  We already have an 'Explorer Cruise' booked with the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) in June and hopefully we shall be out on Zindagi  a few times before then.

If you want to follow our route, you can click on 'Where Zindagi Is Now' and then zoom out to see the map of the whole area.  Just follow the thin blue line of the canal as it snakes west and then vaguely northwards from Hatherton towards Great Haywood.