Monday, 3 November 2014

Twisting and turning

Oh, the delights of bus travel. We waited at the bus stop in Brewood. And we waited. And we waited. The bus to Wolverhampton was due at 10.40. At 11.15 we finally gave up and walked back into the centre of the village where we came upon a hardy group of pensioners waiting at the main bus stop. (Us pensioners and our Freedom Passes are the only people who use buses outside of the rush hour.)
"Oh, it's probably broken down again," they smiled. I liked the 'again'!
Finally the next hourly bus arrived at 11.45 – the dirtiest bus I've ever seen. The windows were so filthy we might as well have been travelling in a prison van. And so, half an hour later, we arrived at the edge-of-Wolves Aldi, spent half an hour and just forty quid filling two rucksacks and big big bags with shopping and caught the bus back, which fortunately arrived on time after we'd munched our Aldi sandwiches at the bus stop. Boy, we know how to live!
The bus delays meant we cast off a bit later than planned for the last five miles of the Shroppie. The canal, all long wide straights and impressive cuttings rather fizzles out as it nears its end. It gets narrower, shallow in places and is generally uninspiring.
The sun was already low in the sky as we exited the stop-lock at Autherley junction and turned left onto the 'Staffs & Worcs'. It was Halloween and the grubby edge of greater Wolverhampton didn't seem the best place to stop so we carried on – and on, to a pub-side mooring I knew. And reached it in pitch darkness, mooring by head torch – ironically just a hundred yards from the road we went along on the bus earlier that day.
Those first few miles of the S&W have a couple of startlingly narrow sections cut through rock and with passing places carved into the stone for the inevitable meeting with another boat. But it was only the next that it really got going on its sometimes tortuous passage that's a complete contrast to the Shroppie.
The old toll-keeper's tower at Gailey Lock
The route passes through some well known canal villages – sadly mostly to the accompaniment of traffic noise from the nearby M6. There's Gailey with its delightfully eccentric circular former toll-keeper's watch tower by the lock, Penkridge has rather a disappointing sprawl of housing around its two locks and – as the guide so accurately puts it "overwhelmed by modern housing" – the village of Acton Trussell. What a wonderful name: sounds more like the manufacturers of surgical appliances 'Acton Trussell – supporting men for over 50 years'.
The M6 is rarely far away but never close than here at Otherton Lock
The canal may be twisty but it was deep enough – at least until we started looping around Stafford where deep silt and the usual autumn mulch of fallen leaves created a gluey slurry in every bridge hole that clung determinedly to the prop. It was a slow, depressing plod that finally ended when we reached the glorious Tixall Wide where the afternoon sunlight glinted across the expanse of water. And over in the distance stodd the impressive towers of the gatehouse to Tixall House. The house itself was demolished back in 1927 leaving the huge Tudor gatehouse as a tantalising glimpse of what a monumental place the house itself must have been. (As boaters know, Tixall Wide was devised when the canal was built so that the view from the house would not be spoiled by the new waterway.) Incidentally you can stay at the gatehouse which is owned by the Landmark Trust. Details here.
Now we have reached Great Haywood Junction and left the S&W to head south on the Trent & Mersey for a a visit to our old base at Streethay Wharf.