Saturday, 21 October 2017

Churnet

As planned, Brother Nº 3 and Wife met us at the Holly Bush Inn for a day's excitement. As hoped, the overnight rain died away at more or less the same time and, after introductions were made with Erin Mae and we'd all had a nice cup of coffee, it was time to go boating.


I think the last time we'd shared a tiller was in the summer of 1968, when we went sailing and camping along the south coast with our friend Barry, who owned a catamaran that was just big enough for three. Now that was an interesting trip – but I will not digress. Just a point of note – a razor has not touched my face since. And my best beloved has never seen it shaven (but she's seen pictures of it without the beard, from the time before this holiday, and she's quite happy for me to keep it!).

The Caldon Canal is a great deal shallower than the waters we navigated on that occasion, and our pace was positively snail-like. Brother tackled tiller duty with appropriate accuracy, especially the bits that didn't involve serried ranks of moored boats around bends on the off-side and unseeable underwater obstructions on the on-side. Sister-in-law declined the opportunity to ground Erin Mae, and instead wielded her camera with great skill.


Meanwhile my best beloved offered instruction in all aspects of managing locks and other hazards. She also offered delicious portions of coconut crunch and gingerbread.


All proceeded well until we got down to Oak Meadow Ford lock, which is where the canal joins the River Churnet for a while.


Just above Erin Mae, on the right of this photo, can be seen a notice, whose purpose was to alert us to possible danger ahead. Out of sight (so you'll have to take my word for it), under the bridge at the bottom of the lock, is a depth gauge, to show the level of the river. It was very definitely in the red! It was also plain that the river was running fast. So instead of going down the lock onto the river, we stopped and had a very nice lunch of Staffordshire oatcakes, hoping that no other boats were following us down, since the only sensible mooring place served as both the lock landing and one side of a winding hole.

Lunch eaten, no harm having been done, and the gauge still in the red, we winded and retraced our steps. Down this stretch of the valley you're never far from the Churnet Valley Railway and, to our surprise (since this was a Friday in October) several trains ran up and down, announcing their presence with that characteristic steam train whistle which, for some reason or other, is extraordinarily pleasing.


Sister-in-law asked me if I had a favourite stretch of canal. It's hard to answer – we've been in so many fabulous spots. But the Churnet valley must be one of the best. It would just have been nice to have had the conditions and time to take them down to Consall Forge and on to Froghall.

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