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Canaling in England

Author: Lucille T
Date of Trip: September 2004

Out of Chicago we flew an arm of British Airways called British Midlands, (highly recommend!) to Manchester. Our pre-arranged taxi did not arrive, so Christine bargained with one of the airport taxi drivers and we were off for Stoke-on-Trent!! Never did follow up on the driver who was to pick us up, but, never mind, there is always someone to step in!

Our plane arrived early on in the morning, and our B&B rooms were not available until 11:00. We put our baggage into the parlor, hired a taxi and were off to spend time at Shugborough, the ancestral home of Lord Patrick Lichfield, a renowned British photographer. The home was built in the 17th C. and is steeped in history of the Staffordshire area and his ancestors, the Ansons.

Shugborough is a National Trust property, and unique in its display of the working side of a manor home, the brewery, the laundry area, the working kitchens, the stables, etc. We topped off our visit with a meal in the bright, sunny tearoom.

Our B&B hosts, Julie and Bill, sent us on our way the next morning and we taxied to the Black Prince base. The narrow boat set for us was named Goldeneye, a comfortable lounge and kitchen is the front half the boat, and the back half has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a lot of storage making our two week trip much like living at home.

Goldeneye was ready mid-afternoon. In the meantime, Jenny, Christine and I went to Morrison’s supermarket, around the corner from the base, to purchase our first groceries. During our planning sessions before leaving the States we decided that we would have breakfasts aboard. With that set, we could make our first purchases around that meal, and looked for lunch and snack foods. Our plan was to eat one meal, lunch or supper, at a pub or restaurant along the way. Early on, Christine made a wonderful supper meal of veggies and browned pork chops, baked in the oven.

Our first full day took us through Harecastle Tunnel, a jostling trip with the bows picking up sludge and iron from hitting the sides of the tunnel!! It is an historic tunnel from the early days of the canals, interesting but not a pleasant experience. Once past the tunnel we were out in the bright English blue sky.

We had an all-day mist the next day. Christine slipped on a wet canal door plank and severely scraped her shin on one leg. It was most unfortunate and kept her in a painful state for almost the whole trip. However, she took the stiff upper lip approach and skipped only a few beats for the rest of the time aboard!

The next two days were delightful, filled with some locks and a lot of scenery. The pubs were delightful and varied: new and ancient ones.

At Nantwich, Christine and Jenny took the bus into Chester for the day. Chester is a lovely old town dating back to Roman times. Once near there, a trip is worth the time. When the ladies returned they treated us to an evening of show and tell for us. They were enchanted!

While they were off sightseeing, Lucille washed clothes at the Nantwich Basin and Orly deep-checked the engine and weed hatch.

We took a bus into Nantwich the next morning to see the town and do grocery shopping. Half a day well spent, as Nantwich is an historic town with quaint shops and ATMs! Upon returning to the boat we decided there was enough time to head to Audlem and the Shroppie Fly for supper. It was a good decision!

The Shroppie Fly, is a pub on the Shropshire Union canal, converted from an old canal warehouse. Goods were stored and shipped out of this warehouse in the heyday of commercial shipping of the 18th and 19th centuries on the canals. The area is a landmark and treasured by those who now use the canals for pleasure.

The run to Audlem took us through only four locks and six miles and we arrived at the pub at 18:00. The meal was super, ending with one of the Shroppie Fly’s specialty desserts: double chocolate cake with hot chocolate pudding sauce. It was necessary to eat like that as we had many locks the next day!! We fell asleep to bell practice at the Audlem church, a treat!

Before we left Audlem the next morning, we spent an hour in one of the best canal side memorabilia shops. Lots of small items to share with State-side friends, with lots of stories.

We had some overcast in the morning, had lunch aboard, then bright sun; by the time we went through the Tyrley locks in the rain we had done 20 locks and seven water miles, mooring at 16:40 for supper aboard. During the day we stopped and had a pump out of the holding tanks and picked up diesel for the balance of the trip. This was shocking to us as in all our years with hire boats we had never had to fill diesel, which the base was responsible for.

Jenny did supper that night, with sausage rolls, boiled new potatoes, carrots and cake with fresh raspberries. We were warm and cozy as it rained outside, and were happy to head for a good night s sleep.

Saturday was linen changeover. While I made breakfast, Jenny and Christine changed bed linen and collected the week s kitchen and bath towels. The base accommodated our request for fresh linen all round the second week. It was cold and windy outside and as we loosed our mooring at 9:30, the weather did not bode well for us.

At 14:00 we had traveled in the wet weather long enough and found a lovely pub at Norbury Junction. AND, the sun came out!! It was a lovely stop. Finishing our meal, we felt energized and headed on until 16:15 when we moored alongside the village of Gnosall. We had traveled eleven water miles WITHOUT a single lock. Supper was aboard with lots of tea and McVities digestibles.

Sunday was a wonderful day; the weather was overcast and wet, but we stopped for a truly English Sunday dinner at t the Bridge Inn, alongside the canal! We had four courses of well-prepared food, served family style, delightful people who served and pub owners who looked after our every need. It was a treat. Also, the owners gave us the name of the taxi company they use who would meet us tomorrow and take us to the Black Country Museum in Birmingham. All in all, it was a wonderful day. Weather is at the bottom of the list of considerations when canaling; it will be cold or warm, wet or dry. Any way, on we travel.

Monday morning we met our taxi and took an hour’s drive into the Black Country Museum. The day was warm and sunny. Christine was picked out of the tourists to be a pupil in the schoolroom because of her red fingernails the teacher dubbed her Jezebel! It was a highlight in the trip. We lunched at The Stables; one of the converted old stables used to house the horses in the canalling days before engines, then headed back to the gift shop to wait for our taxi. Orly had the boat to himself while we were away, to take a shower and just do nothing!

We are on our way back to the base in Stoke-on-Trent, and expect to arrive there early Friday evening. Christine is still nursing her bad shin, not a pleasant injury.

The next two days we made good time, with reasonable weather and only ten locks in eighteen miles. Outside Stafford, on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, we moored and went into town to do washing. A pleasant launderette and The Prince of Wales pub next door, so we were well looked after. We moored that night at Great Haywood, the junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canals.
Thursday we pushed through eleven miles and twelve locks, stopping for supper in Stone and mooring above four locks in our favor (boats had come through the locks going in the opposite direction) so our locking work was half done! Tomorrow is our day to tour the Wedgwood Factory!

Jenny and I spent four hours at the Factory and had a smashing lunch. Picking up our purchases at the Gift Shop, we headed back to the boat. Loosed our mooring around 14:00 and arrived at the base shortly after 17:00. We all were sad the trip was behind us, but had such good memories, soggy and sunny!

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