Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The land of the lost

Silhouetted against the setting sun, the distance domes of the summer house
It was a beautiful evening as we approached Swarkestone Lock, the golds and reds of the setting sun silhouetting some elegantly curvaceous Jacobean domed rooftops in the distance. This is the Summer House, all that remains of a Tudor mansion demolished way back in the mid 18th century.
By a curious piece of architectural trickery it looks like a square building with a domed roof at each corner so when we walked there the following morning it was a surprise to find an almost two dimensional structure; two domed corners buttressing the shallow building between and all surrounded by a stone wall which apparently marked out ye olde bowling alley.
The house is a quarter mile or so from the village with just a solid old church and a smattering of small properties nearby. Yet the spot reeks of the past; crumbled stone walls all about that must have marked out the boundaries of maybe the kitchen garden, a field or two, even some of the hall itself. A bit like wandering amid Roman ruins. Only the drone from the busy main road 50 yards away spoiled the atmosphere. The church was sadly locked but the graveyard still worth a visit, with its many elegantly worked slate gravestones that appear impermeable to the ravages of time and weather.
We followed the footpath into the main village, notable for its handsome 18th century stone bridge over the Trent and the long multiple arches that carry on from it to take the road over the flood plain.

In daylight, the handsome yet oddly proportion building sits in isolation
 Slate gravestones have lost none of their delicate tracery in 200 years

By Swarkestone lock is the remains of the old Derby Canal
It wasn't far from Shardlow to Swarkestone; about five miles – but it was a hard five miles. The canal was built with wide locks between the Trent and Burton, presumably so barges could carry cargoes to and from the thriving brewing town. We've done lots of wide locks in our time but these had some of the nastiest I've encountered at Aston and Weston. Ferociously difficult to open and, when you've got them open, prone to swinging closed when you want them to stay open or open when you want them to stay closed. The two bottom gates at Aston simply refused to stay shut to let me start filling the lock. And if I cracked a top paddle to start a flow of water to push them closed; well they simply refused to open against the force of water. In the end Mrs B had to come and help. How does a solo boater manage? I think they are verging on the dangerous – the ferocity with which a gate swings open could easily side-swipe someone into the lock.
At Swarkestone itself the Derby & Sandiacre Canal once joined the T&M but it's long gone and only a stub used for mooring remains. There's a restoration plan but it looks like a tough haul.
From Swarkestone we had an easier run; just one more wide lock at Stenson (where we saw – and hard – a white (white! yuk) Lamorghini leave the pub car park) and then mooring at Willington ready for a bus trip to Derby next day.

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