Indigo Dreaming

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 21

Posted by indigodream on 9 July, 2011

Branston to Sawley Marina

Sunday 4th July

View from the side hatch in Branston..

We were up early for the day’s cruising – but not as early as Catherine and greyhound Beren who had to leave Banbury at an unearthly hour to get to the boat in time! Luckily Beren is a sensible old boy so we weren’t worried about him leaping off the front of the boat (though we did keep a close eye on him)!

The canal was stunning at 8am – the perfect reflections, the stillness and the silence – fantastic. We had time to make coffees beforethe car shuffle today – we rather cruelly deprived Sarah of coffee yesterday until after she’d done her duty! With mugs in hand, Catherine and I set off down the towpath, leaving Beren comfortably ensconced on the sofa – he’s a very relaxed hound and settled onto the boat as if he’d been born there.

Our destination for the day was Sawley Marina – we were gobsmacked by the size of the place – it’s enormous, with moorings stretching as far as the eye can see – we were told that it was the biggest inland marina in England – it used to be the biggest in Europe but they weren’t sure who had overtaken them. I was tempted to leave Catherine there – there’s a large brokerage with lots of enticing boats for her to peruse, but she was on a mission to renew her locking skills and maybe have a go at the tiller. The folk at the marina office were particularly helpful and I sorted out a gate key and found out where we needed to moor overnight to access the slipway the next day. The gate key deposit was £20 (unlike the £5 at Fazeley Mill) – better take good care of that then!

With all the arrangements made, we headed back to meet Richard and the boat at the Mill House pub in Stretton – we just had time to collect a welcome iced drink from the bar when Indigo Dream appeared. We quickly decanted our drinks into the boat’s glasses and got on with the day’s cruise. I was a bit preoccupied for the first part of the cruise, having noticed that our taps were stuttering a bit – a quick inventory suggested that we might be short of water – oops! The hunt was on for a water point…..

There are some fine views over the river valley...

The first that we came to was offside by Bridge 24 but that seemed to be solely for the use of the moorers there. Just as well we were going very slowly at this point – there was a small narrowboat adrift across the canal – their stern mooring pin had come loose. We passed gently then pulled in so that Richard could pull the boat in and hammer the pin back into the ground – fortunately it was still well-attached to the stern ropes. With our good deed done, we moved onto the Willington service point – on the offside after Bridge 23. There’s a very tidy wharf here with a useful rubbish point and excellent water pressure. Encouraged by this I decided to try the conveniences – oh dear, they are quite horrible – smelly, grubby and with a broken tap which made hand-washing impossible. In its favour though was the supply of loo roll and abundant reading material in the form of the complete works (abridged) of Henry James and John Steinbeck – excellent! What a shame they didn’t provide a loo seat so that one could read in comfort…… 🙂

The water tank filled in no time and we set off again – I always feel a bit guilty about doing such mundane tasks when we have guests on board, but Catherine is keen to learn about every aspect of life on the water so it was ok. It also gave Beren an opportunity for a little bobble, but the unfenced road is very close so it  wouldn’t be suitable for most of our hounds.

We approached the massive Stenson Lock with interest – we’re no strangers to big locks so we were surprised at how many people warned us about Stenson lock – opinions varied from “tricky to “downright dangerous”. We were locking down so we weren’t so concerned about turbulence but Richard helped a few boats up the broad locks (including Stenson) and was interested to find that our usual locking procedure of opening the ground paddle on the same side as the boat needed to be reversed here. Apparently the ground paddles come out through the cill and push the boat to the other side.  That’s worth remembering for when we come back, though we’ll have turned off onto the Soar before this point. We locked down without any drama and though we descended Stenson lock by ourselves, we had locking partners at the next few locks, which made it a bit easier.

Beren taking to boating life....

The canal past Stenson Lock just gets better and better – the canal is, at one and the same time, in a cutting and on an embankment! To the left the bank rose steeply and below the ground dropped away to reveal a tremendous view across the valley. This area is a typical canal enigma – this waterway was hugely industrial and, at one time, this area was famed for its coal industry. It’s impossible to envision it now, with the canal surrounded by vast rolling acres of farmland, fecund with the year’s food crop. The only industrial remnant is the railway, largely disused and converted to foot and cycle paths – once again the graceful railway bridges belie their once serious purpose. This end of the Trent and Mersey is quite amazing – I kept thinking that “it’s like the K & A no, more like the Shroppie” – I couldn’t put my finger on which the canal it resembles, then I realised that the Trent and Mersey is entirely itself with uniquely interesting and beautiful scenery.

We were amazed by Shardlow – one set of owners had taken our share boat there many years ago and said that ‘there’s nothing there, there’s nothing to see apart from a milepost” – but there’s plenty to see! Far from being a featureless canal terminus it’s a lively junction with the river Trent full of interesting old buildings, pubs and moored boats. We were passing one boat, nb North Star when I suddenly recognised our friend Steve sitting on the back deck – we’d no idea that he and his wife Margaret were up this way (their home mooring is on the Oxford Canal) so it was a joyful meeting. We had a quick chat, admired nb North Star’s smart new paintwork and made arrangements to meet up in the pub later.

Past Shardlow we had our first encounter with the River Trent – it was literally a breath of fresh air as the waterway widened impressively at Derwent Mouth. Watch out for traffic here as many of the oncoming boats were turning into the southbound ‘tributary’ leading to Cavendish Bridge. I really enjoyed the river section – today it was nicely balanced between the unfettered freedom of the wild banks and the gentle flow of a river at rest – like most rivers I’m sure the Trent is mercurially moody. We didn’t enjoy the river for long though – in no time at all we were through the open flood gates and there was the entrance to Sawley Marina, almost buried amongst the mooring pontoons, slipways and service points.

There at last - we've now cruised the Trent and Mersey from end to end....

We had a good map though and were soon approaching the mooring pontoon leading to the boatyard slipway. The resident welcoming committee greeted us with a “can I help you” laden with doubt and mistrust. We explained that we’d been told to moor there and that the boat was being lifted out in the morning. The locals recommended that we brested up to another boat rather than going too far forward on the pontoon – we were reluctant as it would be an awkward offload for Beren, but as we were being glared at so suspiciously we didn’t make an issue of it. In the end we had to lift Beren up to the pontoon but at least we only had to do it once!

With boat in place, Catherine generously agreed to drive us both back to my car in Stretton so that Richard and I could just drive straight back to Shardlow to meet Steve and Margaret. What a sight – three plump humans and a greyhound stuffed into Catherine’s mini convertible! Actually, with the top down it was very refreshing! We eventually got back to the car (via some misdirection from Richard!) and bid Catherine and Beren a fond farewell – Catherine’s plans for life aboard are gathering pace and we’re almost as excited about it as she is! She now knows that Beren is a boating hound and that she herself can manage the tiller – she did well on the helm today.

We wended our way back to Shardlow where some research revealed that none of the canalside pubs did food on a Sunday evening – no problem, we piled int0 the car and went to the Clock Warehouse where we had a merry evening of food and chatter. How incongruous it was – Steve and Margaret live five minutes away from us in Surrey – and here we were having a gathering 150 miles away. Funnily enough they’d bumped in to another village neighbour on the water the day before! I can’t tell you what a great pleasure it was to see them – Margaret has been very unwell and they had to give the 2010 boating season a complete miss – they looked ecstatic to be back on the water – it’s obviously a real tonic. When we got back to the boat we ignored our list of chores and just went to bed – we were so glad we hadn’t brought the hounds – offloading three of them across a moored boat and up to a high pontoon and back again would have been a nightmare. There was a surprising amount of traffic noise from the nearby M1 but we soon tuned it out and had a quiet night’s sleep.

Photoblog:

Another view from the side hatch at the Branston mooring...

Burton on Trent - known for its brewing - shame we had to pass through without exploring the brewery!

Canalside features like this are very welcoming - it shows that the town cares about its canal..

The canal is still quite high here, offering great views of the river valley below....

This made me laugh...

Evocative scene....

Hunting....

Why you should never open the gate paddles until the boat is well up in the lock (we're just filling this lock - we haven't sunk anyone - honest!)

Reflections....

Almost there - we've followed these mileposts along the Trent and Mersey many times but we've never been to Shardlow...

Deep locks are quite imposing - and this one's not empty yet!

This canalside pub had superb moorings - with shore power!

The road is very close to the canal in places....

The bridge has seen better days too - I guess the damage was done by a passing car - glad I wasn't at the wheel!

What a rich landscape....

The top gates look strangely truncated against the depth of the cill - worth a bit of concentration - cilling your boat has a whole new meaning in these deep locks....

Graceful railway bridge - can you imagine this landscape in the time of steam?

Ah, the photo can't do justice to the magic valley vista which flashes tantalisingly through the towpath trees..

And there's the view - there was a boat moored on the towpath here - what a spot....

Imposing building - it looked institution, like an old workhouse, but the map suggests it's a farmhouse..

It's such a wonderful thing to be cruising through such a productive landscape - whatever you think of farming methods, it's great to see food being grown...

An optical illusion? We though this blue boat was sinking but I think it's fine - it's just the way the eye follows the line of the rubbing strake....

Views of Shardlow (1)

Views of Shardlow (2)

Steve and Margaret - happy to be on the water.....

Views of Shardlow (3)

A working railway....

A reminder that crusiing rivers is a serious business....

A change of scenery - Derwent Mouth...

This huge structure is a pipe bridge....

The M1 - we can put that off until tomorrow though....

Sawley Marina is enormous - the photo doesn't show the half of it!

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