Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Taking it easy in the country

Something old; something new
Boating here on the Trent and Mersey is rather like swimming in the shallow end of the local pool compared with the freezing cold North Sea waves of boating back up in the Pennines.
The water is deeper, the locks few and far between; they call four of them a 'flight'. Hah; I remember doing 21 wide ones up at Wigan – now that's what you call a flight.
The countryside is the key, of course. There are no hills to weave through; the canal follows the wide, flat valley of the River Trent. Lucky for Brindley – he had an easy line to follow for his first great canal; his successors had a much tougher job fighting there way through the Pennines.
After a day wandering round the compact and appealing little town of Stone we headed on south into largely empty countryside. Only a couple of villages nudge the canal and you won't find a shop, though you will find a pint or two.
I do miss the grandeur of the big hills, though I'm not sure how much Seadog Brian misses the walks up them. There's little opportunity for more than a towpath stroll here.
A glorious morning in the quiet Trent valley
It's pretty, though, and this morning we woke to glorious sunshine and the cheerful chorus of birds. (Less cheerfully we spotted several poor things, including a goose and a young swan, with severe Angel Wing that has rendered them incapable of flight. It's a vitamin deficiency usually caused by eating too much white bread when young so take note you bread throwers.)
An unfortunate victim of being fed too much white bread
A couple more locks eased us towards Great Haywood, the junction with the Staffs & Worcs. As we neared it the railway drew closer: the lineside trees have been cleared along a sizeable stretch to bring the howling Virgin trains dramatically into view at times – I wonder how many passengers glimpse us pottering along?
After Haywood a second line sweeps in from the west to cross the canal and merge with the other and a Virgin train turned up just in time to have its photo taken above Harry.
There are always interesting boats around this area, one of them 'Maid of Oak' the first all-wood new narrowboat in many years when it was launched ten years ago. I remember talking to its elderly but enthusiastic owners back then for Canal Boat mag. To commission a wooden boat was their passion and it was a fine thing, an intriguing mix of old and new, with its oak planked hull and its hydraulic drive. Sadly, Maid of Oak is up for sale, age and health having taken its toll on the owners. At £65,000 it ain't cheap but it's a lot cheaper than it was back then!
Maid of Oak, the unique new build wooden narrowboat
Tonight we are moored in Rugeley, another town that won't be on anyone's bucket list for a visit. It's a modest little place, a stop-over for boaters because of its three canalside supermarkets and ample moorings and we did our bit to boost the takings of, you've guessed, the local Aldi.
Rugeley's landmark feature is its power station cooling towers which can be seen for miles. Not for much longer. The coal fired power station which can power 500,000 homes, has recently shut down with the loss of 120 jobs and the site will be demolished. This only seven years after it installed a state-of-the-art flue gas desulphurisation system to clean the exhaust gases. Tougher rules on carbon emissions are to blame.
Nuclear power will eventually fill the predicted power generation gap. The words 'frying pan' and 'fire' come to mind.

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