Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Village England 21st century fashion

Harry nears the top of the Audlem flight
Audlem is English village life 're-imagined', as they say in Hollywood, for the 21st century.
Once upon a time, country folk lived in pretty villages like Audlem, bought their meat at the local butchers, shopped in the local grocer, nattered with the village postmaster and make sure their dog doesn't bite the newspaper delivery boy on his bicycle. A trip to the local town was a once a week treat on the bus.
These days villages are places that middle class people go to get away from the hubbub of the towns to which they drive in and out for work and for shopping. If it's lucky the village might retain a pub, a primary school and a small Spar shop but that's it.
Except at Audlem where there's an astonishing assembly of shops still thriving, from a food store to an undertaker, a newsagent to a Boots pharmacy. But, as I said at the start, this is a 21st century village – you can also find a cycle-sport shop, a deli, a couple of coffee shops and a posh butcher called Oxtail & Trotter which sounds like it should be in trendy Notting Hill. Oh, and there's even a village charity shop.
One can't help but wonder how much of Audlem would be the way it is today if Dr Beeching hadn't axed the local railway service back in the 1960s and enabled it to live in snug isolation from the outside world until its inherent prettiness and attractive location saw it evolve into the affluent country spot it is today.
Of course for the boater the 15 locks, the big Audlem Mill craft and bookshop and three friendly village pubs, two of them canalside, are what makes Audlem special. If you like locks – and shouldn't every narrowboater – the Audlem flight is perfection. The locks are closely spaced so the lockwheeler can walk between them setting and closing as his boat goes up or down. They all work perfectly and leak only slightly – CaRT knows a honeyspot location and looks after it well. And the views as you near the top are sublime with the open country stretching away to the distant Welsh hills.
Harry passes our old boat Star at Market Drayton
Five more locks and as many miles we came to only the second town on the Shroppie. And, like Nantwich, Market Drayton is just clipped along its edge by the canal. It's a much smaller and much less affluent place than that footballers' wives spot but manages some fine 17th century timber framed buildings in a shopping centre that also includes a Lidl. Hurray!
At Market Drayton we also ran into (well not literally) our old boat, Star, and shared a brew with its owner who was on his way up to Chester on a winter cruise. It was nice to see the old girl still being enjoyed out on the system. We overnighted near it and woke to the familiar sound of its Petter engine as Star made an early start next morning.

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