Saturday 28th September was quite a fine morning and despite a few short showers it was a good run up the five Alderley Locks into Market Drayton and we arrived about noon. It was sunnier still that afternoon and we went up into the town for a look around.
The town seemed to be very busy. There were lots of stalls everywhere and every shop was holding some sort of tasting or event. It turned out that we had arrived on the day of the Ginger & Spice festival. There were no ginger wigs available to help us fit in, but we were allowed to wander around the displays of street food, ginger ale, sweets and bakery. We tried a few of the samples and bought one or two items as we went around. The excuse for all this is a long tradition of gingerbread production in Market Drayton and the Billington’s Gingerbread brand, whose secret recipe has been guarded there for 200 years. Apparently the local practice is to eat a finger of gingerbread after dunking it in port or tea.
Having explored the festival we headed up to the Morrisons supermarket at the top of the town for supplies before heading back to the boat. On the way we approached a very substantial industrial looking building among the shops in Cheshire Street and wondered what it could be. It turned out to be Equity Will Writers. Such premises imply a factory setting, with row on row of paralegals and lawyers churning out the last wishes of the good people of Market Drayton and surrounding area 24/7. Perhaps the local citizens are particularly jealous of their legacies and given to frequent and capricious changes of heart, requiring constant re-writes? We were curious too about the doors on the first floor level. Sacks of wills being winched down into waiting carts? or a short cut out of the building for staff who can’t take the pressure?
Around The Town
The tourist information office is in the Library, so that was closed, but we did find a rudimentary town trail online that we could download. We had had a night of torrential rain, which showed no sign of having entered the boat so, hopefully, the diagnosis was correct and the temporary fix effective. Having established that, we ventured out into a wet Sunday atmosphere to take the tour. Regular periods of fine drizzle weren’t helpful but it was mild enough and we were able to get round it.
First we took Bracken for a run in a field just down from the canal. We couldn’t find any sign of a recreation space in Market Drayton. Although we were right beside both a sports club and large playing field both forbade any form of dog walking. What we did find was an open gate into a field that was devoid of livestock, was neither planted nor ploughed and bore no signs of any crop except, perhaps, set-aside. She had a good romp in there and worked off some energy so that she was happy to just follow us around for the next hour or so.
Having followed the trail we had to conclude that not too much of note had happened in Market Drayton, although it had had its own great fire along the way, in 1651. The Buttercross, standing in the Market Square, looked like an ancient building but had actually only been built in 1824, to allow the farmers’ wives to display and sell their wares under cover. It was not clear what they had been doing until then, since the market first started in the 13th Century – getting wet presumably.
In common with many traditional market towns Market Drayton has more than its fair share of pubs, many with quite a history and some of which still are actually pubs. Most sat over the town’s aquifer which provided the water source for the ales. The Red Lion has been restored to encompass the new Joules brewery, resurrected from a period of being subsumed into Bass Charrington. It is a very smart and tidy operation that even runs tours for the public, but not on a Sunday, sadly.
We were pointed to quite a few fine old buildings around the town as well as some plaques where others had stood and there was a great view over the Tern Valley from St. Mary’s church. Struggling for some other claim to fame the leaflet highlighted the Clive Steps which lead to the old Grammar School, where Robert Clive was once, briefly, a pupil. Of course, there are now mixed views on the once proud public reputation of Clive of India.
Revisiting Visiting Plans
Our daughter Jen has plans to come up and see us on 18th October and as a rough guess, a few days ago, we had decided that Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin would be a good place to meet. It was long past time to look at that in more detail. Having done so we realised that, if we went straight there, we could be about a week too early.
By Saturday we expected to reach Autherley Junction and the end of the Shropshire Union Canal. Once there, we would turn down the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Shortly after that, at the Stourton Junction, we had planned to turn left up the Stourbridge Canal towards Birmingham. It seemed to us that we could use the extra time by carrying on past Stourton to the end of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, where it meets the River Severn at Stourport-On-Severn. There is an option to go out on the Severn and work our way up to Birmingham another way but, given the issues with water levels and flooding at the moment, we felt it would be better to save that for another time, so we would turn at Stourport and go back up to Stourton Junction and continue from there as planned.
We left Market Drayton on Monday morning for the first of a series of hops down to the junction. We had another five locks to go through, which wasn’t expected to be much of a challenge. When we arrived at the bottom of the Tyrley flight we found that, with so much rain in September, the by-wash of excess water being channelled from above the locks was very strong. As we tried to leave the landing and move into the open lock the boat was just swept across the canal and pinned against the side of the deep cutting that formed the approach. Bow thrusters proved ineffective in this situation but, with some difficulty, Sue managed to pass me a line that I could use to try and haul her back to the towpath side. I then got hold of the mooring line attached to the bow. By hauling on that as Sue made the next attempt we were able to keep the nose pointing in the right direction while the engine kept the stern in line until we were past the spillway.
Similar problems were evident at the next four locks but weren’t quite so severe. With a bit more room to manoeuvre there we didn’t have any more issues. Warned of another very wet afternoon ahead we soon moored up at Goldstone Bridge opposite the Wharf Inn in good time before it started. Not a very welcoming place it turned out. No Dogs, very limited opening hours and a big focus on fields of motor homes and static moorings, so we didn’t bother.
Our short cruise for the day took us through the famous High Bridge, with a telegraph pole mounted on the strengthening span below the upper arch, as far as Norbury Junction, which is no longer a junction. The Newport Canal, which once led off from here has long since disappeared, leaving just a very short arm with some mooring for a few boats and a dry dock at the end.
On the other side of the canal, opposite the defunct junction, is Norbury Wharf a very busy place offering all manner of marine services, a café, diesel fuel, a chandlery, a hire fleet and boat trips on the Shropshire Star. With a CRT yard beside the wharf and with the CRT service point one side of the arm and the Junction Inn on the other it was a hive of industry. The rain arrived on cue and we settled down for the rest of the day to wait it out and tried to firm up our plans.
For some days now we had been promised that, of all the days this week, Wednesday would be fine, dry and bright. Disappointing, then, to hear the first raindrops landing on the roof at about seven fifteen in the morning. Two hours or so of gentle, intermittent rainfall followed. We moved up for fuel and services at about 11:30, as it seemed to be drying up and by noon we were starting to see signs of brightness. We had the washing machine going and stopped in Gnosall (pronounced ‘knows all’ apparently) Heath to fill the water tank again in brilliant, warm sunshine. We were right by the Navigation Inn and clearly not in a hurry so we decided to have lunch on the terrace in the sunshine and moor up here for the night. It turned into a lovely afternoon as we walked over to Gnosall proper for a ‘nose’ around.
Bracken had been very good on our walk along the towpath and over to Gnosall, coming when called and walking to heel very nicely. We were a few yards from the boat, congratulating ourselves on a very pleasant afternoon, well spent when she spotted a gap in the otherwise very secure hedging and fence and disappeared into a field. To our utter horror we realised that she was now chasing a horse! Suddenly cast into the role of that poor hapless fellow filmed in Richmond Park trying to stop Fenton from chasing the deer I scrambled over the fence and started trying to recall her. For what seemed forever she was oblivious of any shouts, entreaties or bribes. The poor beast must have been terrified, while Bracken clearly thought they were having a great game.
Just as the owner emerged from the house nearby and came over to see what was happening the horse landed a kick which stopped Bracken in her tracks and allowed me to secure her. The owner was surprisingly relaxed, having steadied the horse he assured me that it was unharmed and would calm down soon and brushed off my profuse apologies. I scooped up Bracken and beat a hasty retreat.
When the hoof landed she had yelped and had dropped down on her side. Naturally, I feared the worst, whatever that might be, so I carried her back to the fence she had come through and got her back onto the towpath. She was clearly limping when I put her down but managing to walk and to hop onto the boat so we concluded that she had got away without any serious damage, although certainly shocked and bruised. For the next couple of days she looked a bit sorry for herself and took it easy. She could still put weight on it when she wanted to, though, and steadily got back to her old self. I wish I believed that she has learned a lesson from this but the way she behaves when we pass a field with cows or horses suggests not. We will need to be even more stringent about where we let her off in the future.
No Room For Denial
Tuesday had been the first of October and it was no longer possible to deny that Autumn had arrived. Lately we have seen huge gaggles of the horrible Canada Geese, usually for some reason with a Greylag or two mixed in, grazing in the fields, presumably storing up for a long migration. Suddenly, conkers seemed to be everywhere underfoot and a gust of wind would bring down a little fusillade of acorns. Whether there is any connection to the season I don’t know but where, for the whole summer we had seen one kingfisher. This week we had seen four or five at least, but they weren’t as easy to photograph as the geese.
Despite a sunny afternoon, temperatures were dropping and it seemed we would have to light the stove for the first time since we left. Accordingly, while it was still fine, I fished out all the paraphernalia: the axe, ash bucket, chopping block, logs and kindling. It went surprisingly well. The fire caught easily, stayed alight without difficulty and began to warm the space quickly. It worked so well that, once Sue had started the oven to cook dinner as well, we were sweltering and had to throw open the hatches to cool things down.
On a dull, still Thursday we headed down to Wheaton Aston. It stayed dry and we were able to have a walk around the village in the afternoon. It really doesn’t look as if there is anything there at first but turning off the busy road that runs across the Tavern Bridge you can find quite a nice village centre with the Church and local Co-op.
We also found one furry creature waiting to greet us on a garden wall. I’m sure someone will know what it is.
Moving on the next day we planned to spend Friday night moored at Pendleford Bridge, the last visitor mooring some way before the junction itself. Beyond there, it looked quite built up and we expected it to be busy with Napton Narrowboats based right by the stop lock.
On the way we would pass a village called Brewood. Somewhere we read that this was pronounced “Brood” but they could have been having us on. However you say it, the village has a tremendous write-up in our Pearson’s guide, in particular the filled baps provided by the Village Bakery. On the strength of that we had determined to moor there to have a look round and as it would be lunchtime were looking forward to sampling the baps. Sadly, we could find no trace of the bakery or of Coopers’ food store. The High Street was full of beauty parlours, tanning salons and the other useless businesses that only flourish with enough idle affluence to support them. The village itself was as pretty as we had been told and was very busy with a constant stream of cars, heavily laden with wedding guests, all looking for space to park and discharge their passengers as close as possible to the church to try and preserve their fascinators and stilettos in what had become persistent, driving drizzle. We did manage to get some quite nice flatbread sandwiches to take away from a bistro called The Mess but the weather didn’t encourage us to linger much longer and we headed back to eat them on the boat.
Pendleford Bridge was not a disappointment, but only because we weren’t expecting much in the first place. We didn’t find any signs to designate it as mooring, or any rings to tie up to. There was a busy road in the distance and a large industrial site just around the corner through a modern bridge. Nonetheless, where we were was quiet and we managed to moor up there despite a large, broken stone shelf sitting under the water. We even saw some sun in the late afternoon and it dried up a bit, which is more than I can say for our small oil leak, which had reappeared under the gearbox in the last couple of days.
What About The Snagging?
Since he had failed to appear last Wednesday, 25th September, we had been waiting to get a new date for Dave to come and carry on snagging for the boat. He had been supposed to ring me later that day but we heard nothing. I left it until the Monday and rang him, to be offered 28th October. When I mildly complained that this was four weeks away he insisted that it wasn’t, as it was October already. I initially forbore to point out that it was actually 30th September. When he told me it was 14th October, however, I could see I would have to give him more time to get his head together and look at a calendar.
After many promises to ring back over the next few days, plus an apology that he was at yet another funeral, we finally got a text on Wednesday night confirming he would be with us on Monday 7th October. So now we needed to work out where we could moor up on Sunday with road access and stay for two nights so we could be there all day on Monday.