Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Wandering along

Tixall Wide in the mist with the Gatehouse in the distance
 A few years ago our Canadian friends Gordon and Gerry came over for a boating holiday with us. Gerry was desperate to see a kingfisher so we headed for Tixall 'famous for its kingfishers' according to Nicholson's Guide.
Did she see one? Did she heck!
Well, I'm sorry Gerry but yesterday at Tixall we saw FOUR! One on the canal and three zapping line astern through the River Sow aqueduct like an electric blue squadron of jets. And we even saw another later in the day – as well as one of those dinner plate sized terrapins that have escaped from captivity and made a home in our canals.
Our friends from last night chug into the mist
Tixall Wide was simply delightful yesterday morning. It was one of those perfect autumn mornings; bright, crisply cold and with the mist hovering like a blanket over the water. We waved off into the mist our friends on 'Chug' who'd spent the night tied alongside and meandered our own way along the wandering, contour clinging route of the Staffs & Worcs.
Kingfishers wouldn't pose but this buzzard obliged
This, I am happy to say, is a canal transformed. This time last year I wrote:
"It was a day of almost incessant struggle as we dragged a reluctant Harry from Great Haywood to Gailey. I say dragged because the canal was more a silt filled ditch than a waterway for us in a three foot deep boat."
Not any more; the whole length of it has been dredged and the difference is astonishing. Harry chuffed happily through stretches that had been a torment. And without the agonies of getting stuck in locks, beached on mud banks and ploughing through reeds it was possible to enjoy the wander through gentle countryside, marred only by the gradual encroaching of the noisy M6.
Acton Trussell, weed-free home of the buzz-cut lawn
Before long the slow old road and the fast modern one follow each other relentlessly, the canal even ducking under the M-way at one point. Quirky placenames abound: Acton Trussell, a village that sounds like it should be Miss Marple's homeland but is actually a convention of executive homes competing for closest shaved lawn and whitest Evoque, Penkridge, its unspoiled streets squeezed in between motorway and A-road and Gailey, where the top lock of the canal is celebrated by a curious round tower at the lockside.
Harry gets the bubble bath treatment in a lock
Things aren't so gay in Gailey right now – there's a plan to build a huge road-rail freight interchange within the huge loop of canal between there and Calf Heath. Even before plans are passed, giant earthmovers were clearing part of the site. So much for consultation, eh.
Maybe this boater stayed in the sun too long
The canal wanders round for a few miles here, like a drunk trying to find his way home before settling down to head for urban Wolverhampton. Wise boaters like us moor up for the night in the final mile of pre-Wolves country.

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