Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Off the main road and into a country lane

Harry winds through the rural Staff & Worcs
The Trent&Mersey is what you might call a main road among canals; wide, deep (apart from a few black spots) and running right up through the country. By contrast, the Staffs & Worcs which we turned onto at Great Haywood junction is a country B-road, twisting and winding a much shorter route around the countryside of the two counties that give it its name, never that far from greater Birmingham but largely rural. It's narrow, often shallow - too shallow in places - and can't be rushed.
It took us much of the day to weave our way along its route as it follows the sinuous river valleys past Stafford and beyond. On the way it rewarded us with some delightful scenery but some frustrating times too.
The first stretch past the famous Tixall wide and along the valley of the River Sow is stunning. The morning was bright and brilliantly sunny: it could have been midsummer apart from the chilly breeze. But too soon we were reminded of the silty shallowness of so much of the canal as we trickled slowly along, churning silt and leaf mulch as we went. The bridges are narrower than on the T&M, too, and a couple of times we were dragged close to the side of an arch by the thick silt. Anxious moments as I whipped the chimney off before the bridge did it for me!
There's no town to speak of on this part of the canal – Stafford is nearby but from the nearest bridge it is still over a mile away. Nor is it a busy canal - at least not today - we saw just three moving craft in the whole day.
The dredging team at Great Haywood
And the results: offside re-edged and infilled with dredged material
Apart, that is, from the dredging team on the Trent & Mersey. Back at Great Haywood they have been re-edging a long stretch of the eaten away offside and infilling the gaps with material dredged out from the canal. Full and empty dumb barges pushed by their powerful little tugs had passed us while we were moored there. Dredging is not as easy as it once was; the dredged out material is classed as 'contaminated' so it can't be dumped just anywhere - the easiest solution is to do what's been done here, build a new semi-permanent edge along the canal as you dredges and dump the waste behind it. That's not quick. The work's been going on for 16 weeks now here and probably done half a mile of canal bed. And there's more to come, below Colwich Lock. Harry could certainly feel the extra depth beneath us as we passed along the newly stretch patch. Hopefully the S&W will be on the list soon. Boy, does it need it.
Evidence of more work: neatly trimmed hedge on the S&W
But quiet country lane of the waterways the canal may be, the busy contrast of modern life is never far away. The streamlined Virgin Pendelino trains run close to the canal in some of its early miles but much worse is the roar of the M6 which shadows it for several miles. Occupants of the amusingly named village of Acton Trussell must feel they are living next to a bellowing Premier League football crowd such is the 24 hour a day traffic roar.
Tonight we are moored at the little market town of Penkridge and thankfully hidden from its noise, though we still haven't shaken off its presence on the canal. It's market day at Penkridge tomorrow and there's an auction sale too. Maybe we'll find some badly needed armchairs for the boat.

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