19 May 2018
Long Walk – Carol Anny Duffy’s poem for the day, published for the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan. Tender and kind, with its strong image of Harry walking behind the funeral entourage of Diana; and now finding love.
No TV for us, today. Jenny’s really not sure what all the fuss is about anyway. Perhaps we’ll stream it later.
Friday saw us through 13 locks, and travelling for nine hours, broken only by a stop for breakfast at Polesworth, where we had eggs and bacon at a little café, before exploring the Abbey Church of St Editha.
I picked up the Annual Report 2017, and there was mention of Ben, who ‘has now left St Albans, and is at Mirfield’. Ben is there, training with Peter, now good friends. I had no idea that this was Ben’s sending parish – but the vicar Fr Philip confirmed that, yes, Ben was born and brought up here.
It was lovely, Polesworth Abbey, with its 14C abbey gateway and gardens. The tower houses eight bells dating from 1664 to 2004 with this verse on the ringing chamber wall:
Who will divert themselves with ringing here Must nicely mind to ring with Hand and Ear. And if he gives his bell an overthrow Pay sixpence, a forfeit for doing so. He who in ringing wears Spurs, Gloves or Hat Pay sixpence as a forfeit for that. All persons that disturbance here create Forfeit one shilling towards the Ringers treat Those that to our easy laws consent May join and ring with us, we are content. Now in love and unity join a pleasant peal to ring Heaven bless the church And George our gracious King. Amen.
Polesworth has, also, an antiquarian bookshop. I came away with two volumes of Richard Hooker, a book on canal boat painting, and a series of Nicholson guides from the 1970s – which will serve us better than the canal companions we’re using currently. We need to buy a proper guide for the Trent and Mersey – which we enter on Saturday, heading for Stone and Stoke on Trent.
In Stone, I’ve arranged to meet up with the parents of a dear friend Penny. They were keen narrow boaters, but no longer have a boat. Peggy and Martin know Bishop Tim well from the time they lived in Leicester and he was Bishop there, so no doubt we’ll have a good catch-up. And lift a glass to Viv Faull, who was Dean of Leicester before she went to York Minster, and has now been appointed to be Bishop of Bristol. Wonderful news. See link to Bristol Diocese.
Also we’ll meet Keith and Faith in Stoke on Trent on Monday or Tuesday next week – old friends from the East End days in the 1980s.
So Saturday began at Fradley Junction, with the hope of a current Nicholson guide. We need books 4 and 5. But no luck. People obviously don’t tend to go north from here.
We caught sight of Nick Wolfe’s boat, turned towards Burton on Trent, moored up, ready to go.
Fradley Junction was a village created because of the canals – as the Trent and Mersey was joined to the Coventry in the 1790s.
The canal companies built workshops, wharves and warehouses for the boats that carried coal, clay and finished products from the Potteries, and beer from Burton-on-Trent. The three key figures were the Duke of Bridgewater, who was a major shareholder in the Trent and Mersey, Josiah Wedgwood who needed to get clay to his factory at Etruria in Stoke on Trent and James Brindley who was the imaginative engineer who built the infrastructure required.
The Trent and Mersey was completed in 1777 and the Coventry Canal joined it in 1789.
There’s a reservoir at Fradley too – an ingenious method to prevent water escaping into the Coventry Canal by taking the flow from above Middle Lock, around the Junction, under the Swan pub to Fradley pool where it was stored until needed on the Trent and Mersey.
There are five locks, raising boats 10 metres along a half mile stretch of the Trent and Mersey. It’s possible to do the lot in 75 minutes, but can take over 3 hours if there’s lots of traffic. We turned left out of the Coventry, and were immediately into the top two, which went smoothly, without too much queuing.
Fradley today is for the tourists; I wasn’t sorry to leave. Particularly as they didn’t have the guide book we needed. So we continued, using the 1975 Nicholson number 2, for the North West which cost 75p.
Onwards towards Great Haywood, our destination for the night, through the most beautiful scenery, in glorious sunshine. Wood End Lock, and then Handsacre and Armitage, and into Rugeley.
There’s a real contrast between Rugeley of the 1970s and today.
Another lock at Little Haywood where there was a queue of four boats already, taking almost an hour to get through, and then on into Great Haywood where we moored for the night.
Great Haywood is at the junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
We wandered to the pub, The Clifford Arms, had a pint and a meal, and then Jenny and I explored towards Shugborough over a pack horse bridge, the Essex bridge, which is an Ancient Monument.
Shugborough is an incredible pile we’d been able to see for miles from the canal. The present house dates from 1693, with the house and park was improved by Thomas and George Anson in the 1720-40s, then by ‘Athenian’ James Stuart in 1762 who built stone monuments called the Tower of the Winds, the Lanthorn of Demothenes. The park farm was designed by Samuel Wyatt around the turn of the 18th Century, when the old village of Shugborough was bought up and demolished by the Anson family to give them more privacy and space. The Ansons, the Earl of Lichfield’s family, faced crippling death duties in the 1960s and the National Trust bought it, leasing it to Staffordshire County Council who then managed the whole estate. Today it’s back in NT hands. Worth a visit, we thought, for Sunday morning.
For the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the Ingersley – a boat driven by Mike and Bev.
They were there, moored in front of as we waited for the tree to be cleared; but further back than that, we first met them in Northampton, as Jenny and I set out.
They overtook us at Fradley; we over took them as they stopped to watch the Royal Wedding, and Saturday evening they moored behind us at Great Haywood.
This boat is borrowed from a friend; Mike is fitting out his own boat. I ask where, and he says ‘Mirfield’. Small world. He’s a Huddersfield man, and knows the Leeds Liverpool like the back of his hand. We meet his dog Skipper – a poodle/Jack Russell cross – and chat away.
Mike advises continuing up the Trent and Mersey (rather than taking the Macclesfield) and coming into Manchester from the West to pick up the Leigh branch of the Leeds Liverpool. Two reasons – there’s a lock down at Marple, and also the Rochdale nine are really tricky in the middle of Manchester. They have no holding pools, so the water flow is difficult to manage, and they are often underneath office blocks so can be claustrophobic. Unlike others who have expressed opinion about Manchester, he’s not prejudiced against Canal Street, or concerned about security. Instead he commends the Bridgewater canal as stunning, and with less locks. So that’s what we’ll do. Pink instead of yellow.
Sunday morning plan: the farmer’s shop and garden centre (for more lavenders for my roof garden) and church at St Stephen’s. I phoned the number from the AChurchNearYou website and the vicar said of course there’s a service. At 10 am.
Then Jenny and I will visit Shugborough, and onwards to Stone where we will moor (hopefully) outside Peggy and Martin’s home, near the Star lock, opposite the boat builders.