Calf Heath to Market Drayton
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals
Due to family commitments, this year's solo journey started with two passengers! Tilly and Jeff joined the Captain for the first two days with a scheduled pick up at lunchtime on day two.
We had an uneventful run out to Gnosall on the Saturday, stopping next to the Navigation Inn and sampling their fare during the evening.
Sunday saw us pass through the impressive Grub Street cutting, reaching Goldstone Wharf and the adjoining Wharf Tavern before two pm - just in time to order a Sunday lunch. Belle drove over after church and after a bit of too'ing and fro'ing she found us.
We completed our rather late lunch at 3.30 and, with the autumn sun setting beneath the horizon, the Captain set off for Market Drayton at a boating equivalent of warp speed. With 5 miles and 5 locks between me and my destination there was no time to lose. I completed the last of the Tyrley flight in pitch darkness illuminated only by my tunnel light. Whilst Tyrley can be picturesque in the daytime, its a gloomy and lonely spot at night and I couldn't help but reflect that the final lock / cutting would be a grim place to take a fatal misstep....
I turned the boat at Drayton Wharf, home of the Challenger fleet and moored up out on the embankment overlooking the school playing fields.
A particularly good day. By prior arrangement my brother came to join me, having cycled from his home in Newport - about 15 miles away. He arrived at 9.30 and we chatted our way back to bridge 26, just before Lord Talbots Wharf, drinking copious amounts of tea and sampling an interesting array of "little somethings".
With my brother gone in the 5.00 pm twilight, I decided to press on a bit longer with the aim of mooring near the old WW2 aerodrome, north of Wheaton Aston. With this being Halloween, the journey through the oppressive Rye Hill Cutting was particularly spooky. The tunnel light cast a narrow beam of light along the cut in front of me, but this only served to intensify the gloom pressing in on either side. I am not naturally nervous about ghouls and ghosties but this stretch did test my inner confidence. I finally moored on the embankment before Wheaton Aston but made the mistake of overshooting bridge 21, leaving me bumping on the underwater paving slabs, laid to protect the leak prone canal bed.
For future reference, if a mooring is needed in this area, stop either between bridges 22 and 21 or, or a much better option, between bridge 24 and the start of Rye Hill Cutting. This more northerly mooring is quiet and sheltered but be warned, the nearby farm is very active and you can expect a lot of activity from 6.00am onwards.
A storm blew up overnight, effectively bringing all the leaves down into the cut in a single day. The result was a carpet of detritus on the surface, which hampered progress but didn't necessitate any trips down the weed hatch. With winter approaching I topped off the diesel tank at Wheaton Aston garage and continued to make steady progress back home, dodging frequent squally showers.