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Week 2 - Shropshire Union - Norbury Junction

3.30am we awoke with a start! Muffled voices and gentle rocking of the boat gave us reasonable cause to think we were being invaded! Richard jumped out of the engine hatch (grazed all his leg - we found out later) and gave chase to 3 lads carrying syphoning equipment. The theiving b******* (very likely gypsies, as there was a site nearby) ran out of Richard's reach laughing as they got into a waiting van.
We called the police, who helpfully never arrived, reasssuringly calling at 10am the next morning to say that they had been busy that night! Now that's what we pay out Council Tax for! Full marks to Cheshire Police, we can rely on you 100%!!!
The local chandlery said it was common! We set off up the Shropshire Union canal when we soon encountered a strange scene of cows passing above us. Ryan thought it was hilarious.

Yes OK, a boat with my name on, how remarkable.

The boys waiting for a lock, looking rather bored again.
We stayed overnight in a secluded area after the junction of the Llangollen canal. That would be tour to do another day.
Next day we moored in Nantwich Marina to plug into their electric and wash some clothes. The alternator was not putting the power back into the batteries at the rate it should so I had not been using my washing machine, hoover etc. A plug in overnight would hopefully bring the batteries back from the brink until we could get a bigger pulley for the alternator.
Nantwich is a picturesque and historic town, with the canal going over an aquaduct on the outskirts from it's high embankment. We all went for a walk around, bought some goodies and explored the area, before returning to the boat moored in the basin.
As we turned the boat around in the morning in order to carry on up the Shropshire canal, predictably, there was a dramatic moment when I nearly walked on the water and failed. To give you an idea of the humiliation, Ryan plucked me from the depths as the sides were too deep to jump out. Fortunately, I only went in up to my waist, and it wasn't as unpleasant as everyone made out. Could have had a swim!
 At Hack Green, a Second World War radar station had been secretly designated to play a role as Regional Government HQ in the event of a nuclear war. Now a tourist attraction, of course we had to go and have a look! Very interesting, if not unnerving, but the signs were quite ironic, don't you think?
15 locks run through a cutting taking the canal across the Shropshire/ Cheshire border.  Some designed like assault courses for the boater, like this one - on a bend before, under a bridge, strong bywash and then a staggered lock entrance. Nobody died, but hard work!
The next day we entered the narrow Betton cutting, before Market Drayton. Very pretty but meeting a boat coming the other way can get a bit hairy if the boat grounds, as happened quite a lot. The channels were fine in the middle but stray out of them and you take your chances!
We slowed down past Knighton Wharf where a sign tells of Cadbury collecting milk from local farms and transporting it here for processing by canal.
Woodseeves Cutting is in some places cut through solid rock. There is a speed limit of 2 miles per hour because of the fallen sandstone rocks, making passing other boats nearly impossible. 2 huge great bridges span the canal like entrances to other worlds - very Lord of the Rings!
 This picture (not that clear) shows the double arched bridge carrying the A519 and a tiny telegraph pole below. This was a survivor from the line which marched beside the 'Shroppie' for much of it's length. 
Grub Street Cutting is 80feet deep taking the canal to Norbury Junction, where we intended to stay for a while to get a pulley ordered. 
 Martin painted the bucket for something to do, and predictably I caught up with the washing etc.
We ended up staying for 3 days, whilst Richard wrestled with the charging issues, ordering various belts and a bigger pulley. But at last he was happy and there was only one way to find out, a good chug up the canal!

Week 2 - Stone - Middlewich

We left Stone after stocking up and spending some money in the chandlery, ready to tackle the locks ascending out of the town.
Martin set the lock up for us to steer straight in.

Approaching the incinerator at Stoke.

Coming through the other side. Stoke was not a very pretty town, my apologies to any locals, but compared to the gorgeous scenery previously, things could only get worse.

Coming into a lock in the heart of the town.

These are bottle kilns, a potent symbol as the area is known as The Potteries.

Etruscan Bone Mill Industrial Museum lies at the summit of the 5 locks from Stoke. We stayed on the Trent still rather than turning onto the Caldon canal, as per the 4 Counties ring.
Middleport Pottery is one of the Potteries few surviving buildings .
We would moor overnight at the entrance to Harecastle Tunnel. 

Taking a boat through this tunnel is one of the great inland waterway adventures. There is a tunnel keeper at either end responsible for controlling passage through the narrow bore, one way only! The original tunnel (1 and 3/4 miles long) lies next to it designed by Brindley taking 11 years to build, completed 5 years after his death. A curious feature of the seepage of underground springs to the summit level is that the water either side of the tunnel is tinted orange by minute particles of ironstone rock.
For 50years, teams of leggers had propelled their boats through this tunnel, (it had no towpath), and so not surprisingly Harecastle became a serious bottleneck.  A second bore was commissioned with Telford as consultant engineer, taking 3 years to build and having a towpath. It opened in 1827.
Brindley's tunnel was abandoned early in the 20th century as it was riddled with subsidence.
When you enter the tunnel, the doors close behind the boat and the extractor fans kick in. Apart from the tunnel light on the front of the boat, there is no light, as you can see from the picture. I stayed inside with Ryan and the dog. It takes about 3/4 hour to travel the distance with strict instructions from the keeper as to what to do in an emergency. Very reassuring!
Lots of reasons to clean the roof now!
The boys got their coats back on as it predictably had begun to throw it down and raced ahead to set the locks up on the top of 'Heartbreak Hill.'
This stretch of canal is so called as there are 26 locks to negotiate in 250 feet!

A lot of the locks were in pairs (added by Telford) to ease congestion, not that we met many people today,no one else wanted to get soaked.

We decided to moor at Middlewich (junction of the Trent and Shropshire Union canals) overnight, as we were properly shattered and wet!

The Four Counties Ring - week 1

Leaving Newark, the flow was really strong and we fought it all the way up. This is Newark bridge with The Barge restaurant on the left.
 We passed the haunting spectacle which are the remains of the castle and carried on into the lock.
Coming out of the lock we began our journey to Nottingham for our first night.
My boys eating their breakfast as we took it in turns on the tiller.
Martin always the comedian!
Richard and his brother Ian who met us at Swarkstone lock (South Derby) with an update on the generator repairs. He took Richard and Ryan for some much needed munchies buying! These boys take some filling up!

Martin managed to average a book every 3 days, and they weren't thin books either. The fishing was slow though!
This was the narrowest bridge we had come across being about 8feet wide and so shallow it was slow to get through, just after Burton on Trent, Tatenhill lock.
Alrewas is a popular, pretty, quiet stopover for us and a chance for a bit of shopping and fish and chips!

Martin looking like it's all getting a bit boring and wishing I would leave him alone. He was more chilled than Ryan though, who calls it the prison ship - charming!

If anyone has seen Toy Story, you will recognise my childest remarks about these gates being 'angry eyes' gates! They are so cute being shortened and bent to fit in with the close proximity to the bridge. Bloody hard work opening and shutting them.
Richard steers the boat out of the Alrewas lock.
"It always rains when we come here" says Ryan.

It continued to rain as we carried on through the locks at Fradley Junction, so much so that a complete change was called for when we stopped at the shop there! Instead of going down towards Coventry we carried on on the Trent and Mersey canal in order to get to Rugeley for the night. This was the Armitage Shanks factory, a huge site with Spode pottery further along inviting you to visit their museums etc.
The road is well below the canal at Armitage, which feels quits strange! I always wonder if the canal had ever breached and the beautiful properties flooded. Doom, gloom, but it could happen.

Sweeping around the corner, there is a blind bend with a bridge over it and a narrow 'open' tunnel the other side where only one boat can pass. I jumped off and ran through to check if anything was coming. It was so dark, Richard couldn't see me gesturing to him to come in, so I had to run all the way back!

I jumped back on once Richard was past the railings. This was originally the 'Plum Pudding' tunnel, a dramatic unlined bore through the rock face. Subsidence induced by coal mining necessitated the opening out of the tunnel and concrete lining of the canal banks.

Hawkesyard Priory and Spode House - day spa and golf course - very grand! I imagine the enrolment fees are as impressive!

Bridges passing over the canal on the approach to Rugeley.
 Weaving through Rugeley the aquaduct goes over a very tranquil Trent.

Martin pulls the boat in with all his strength.
Talk about ornamental. A landowner didn't want just any old bridge over to his land!

Aston-by- Stone marks the halfway point of the Trent and Mersey's route from Preston Brook to Shardlow, so we thought it warranted a photo. Getting the dog in as well was easier said than done!
nearly! We stayed in Stone overnight just a few locks further and that would mark the first week of the Four Counties tour.