Written April 29, 2023, at Market Drayton on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Before I address the title to this post I wish to pay tribute to the six days that we have enjoyed on the canal with our Kansas City neighbors, Mary and Charlie Murphy. It was a delightful time with improving weather and a remarkable variety of experiences along the canal.

We do not wish to rush the conclusion of this adventure, but we really look forward to a future evening of sharing in Kansas City with Wendy and Pat, Charlie and Mary, and perhaps some English ale.

Today I felt like the biblical camel trying to pass through the eye of a needle. After dropping Charlie and Mary off at a canal bridge for their bus connection in Gnosall Heath we proceeded two miles with hopes of securing a much needed “pump out“ of our “black-water” tank at Norbury Junction. At a narrow curve in the canal we hit an unexpected shallow and briefly ran aground. Christine and I jointly polled the bow back into deeper water and were free in about 10 minutes, but not before we had provided entertainment to passing pedestrians on the towpath.

We had been warned that there was a festival at Norbury Junction. We had not been warned that the canal would be choked with moored canal boats, often “double parked“and leaving barely enough room for our craft to proceed. I “threaded that needle“ for nearly 2 miles.

Fortunately, the marina wharf was open and available to us. For £25 we emptied our “black-water“ tank. That should be the last time the unpleasant task is needed before we reach our final destination in Middlewich.

Along the canal we enjoyed views of a variety of wildlife. Favorable lighting enhanced the opportunity to capture images.

There were also other sights worth sharing.

To those familiar with walking the Camino the word and symbol on the side of this narrow boat will be familiar.
Here is a narrow boat out of the water and undergoing repairs.
Spring has arrived! This is a field of blossoming rapeseed, also known as canola.
During World War II Great Britain feared invasion by Nazi Germany. Not only were the canals important transportation routes, but they were also considered defensive positions. Seen here is a concrete machine gun position.

There were other moments when we “threaded the needle“, including navigating “cuttings“ which are very narrow valleys cut for the canal. Under the best of conditions two boats can pass with perhaps a foot of free play on each shore and a foot between the vessels. Today was not the best of conditions.

We had barely 6 inches to work with on the occasions that we passed narrowboats In the course of nearly 4 miles of “narrows”.

The odd structure silhouetted in the upper chamber of this bridge is an abandoned telephone/electrical line.

I’ve grown accustomed to passing through single width bridge arches but this was taken to another level where the bridges were located in the “narrows“.

In spite of the frequent moments of “excitement“ Christine and I managed 14 miles made good and five locks. We are ahead of schedule and will use the luxury of that banked time to linger in some of the ancient canal-side villages.

One such hamlet is Market Drayton where we are moored tonight. We enjoyed an excellent dinner in the Joule’s Brewery (brewing excellent ales since the 1500s), and sauntered through town which features a pub that dates to 1653, two years after the village was decimated by fire.

Tomorrow will be short on miles but long on locks. In a stretch of the waterway not 4 miles long we will “climb” 20 locks.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written April 28, 2023, near Brewood, England, on the Shropshire Union Canal.

I thought that for a change that I might post just pictures, roughly in chronological order, of our day on the canal.

To give some context: Yesterday (Thursday) dawned cold and overcast with a lingering threat of rain throughout the 5 1/2 hours we were underway.

It was a long day, but not as long as Wednesday when we managed seven straight hours of cruising. These two long days were intentional for two reasons, one to achieve evening destinations where there would be good services (aka pubs!), and also to end this week at a location convenient for Charlie and Mary‘s departure and transport onto Chester and then home.

We continue making progress on the Four Counties Canal Ring which actually consists of 5 separate, but connected, canals.

Our 109 mile route covers the Trent & Mersey, the Stafford & Worcestershire, and the Shropshire Union.

I begin writing this piece at 6 AM while my narrowboat mates slept on. Charlie is now up and at the table with me. Hot water for coffee has started, the stove taking the chill off of the cabin. It has been a joy traveling with these two dear friends.

Charlie and Mary depart tomorrow morning.

The best visits always end tinged with sadness. As with Pat and Wendy‘s exit, this will be a sad moment for me and Christine.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written April 26, 2023, on the Stafford and Worcestershire Canal near Stafford, England.

For the last two days we have enjoyed the favor of (mostly) dry weather. The sun occasionally peeks through the clouds, and when it does it brings immediate warmth to those navigating the canal. The clear weather has brought colder temperatures. Nighttime temps have dipped below freezing. Last week we were in an industrial and semi-urban area with occasional glimpses of farm and field. This week the vistas have reversed. Towns are now separated by expanses of green pastures populated with grazing livestock.

The views that we enjoy are often surreal. There are occasional glimpses of magnificent manor houses that predate the canal by decades, if not centuries.

Yesterday, we opted for a relatively short cruising day so that we could walk for 45 minutes each way into the old market town of Stafford. It was a jarring experience as the quiet of the canal was immediately replaced by the thunder of speeding vehicles on the busy raodway we trekked beside.

The hike was worth it.

Stafford is an ancient market town that is believed to date to the 8th century CE. It is clear that Stafford has seen better days, but seems to now be discovering its potential as a tourist destination.

In addition to an excellent pub lunch we took in two marvelous sites, the Ancient High House and The Collegiate Church of St. Mary.

The Ancient High House dates to 1595 and is the largest timber framed building in England.

Over the centuries it has seen a number of different uses. It underwent renovation in the 1980s, returning it (as much as possible) to its original configuration.Today it is a museum with a number of rooms recreating scenes that would have been familiar during various eras of the building’s history.

The Collegiate Church of Saint Mary dates to the 1100s.

A “collegiate church” is secondary in importance only to a Cathedral. The building was originally separated into two parts, the current nave was a parish church while the other end, separated by a wall, was reserved to the college.

The cushions you see are called hassocks and are hand-stitched needlepoint used as kneelers in the pews.

At the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries (around 1540) the collegiate portion was abandoned to the elements. The parish church remained in service to the needs of the community. Fortunately, the “bones” of the Collegiate Church were sound enough for later restoration. There is no longer a physical divider between the two portions of the church.

We continue today on our slow journey along the 110 mile-long Four Counties Canal Ring. At times physically challenging, our speed across country is usually that of a brisk walk. We find that people are friendlier, and tourists are fewer (or entirely absent) than in the typical visitor meccas. On the canals one cannot help but “smell the roses“ and contemplate the good fortune of being in “real England“.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written April 24, 2023, at Great Haywood, England.

Our Kansas City neighbors, Mary and Charlie Murphy, arrived yesterday afternoon to our open arms.

At the same time we were relieved to learn that Pat and Wendy had arrived safely home in Kansas City.

Both couples had been brutalized by 24 hours of travel, much in cramped airline seats. The Murphys were beat but took decidedly different approaches to resolving their fatigue. Charlie took a nap while Mary was determined to hike the countryside. Christine remained at the boat with Charlie and I joined Mary on what turned into a muddy 4+ mile slog through farm fields and along soaked canal paths. Luckily, rain held off until we were dining at the marina restaurant. During dinner the rain came in a deluge. Again, luck prevailed. The skies broke for our return to Fjord Empress.

For a few minutes we were treated to the spectacle of a remarkable rainbow in one direction and an equally remarkable sunset in the other.

We departed the marina early this morning, resuming our journey south on the Trent and Mersey Canal. There was no shortage of scenery.

A canal boat café.

What was lacking were locks. Unlike the last week, today featured only three locks, not the double digit numbers encountered during Pat and Wendy‘s tenure.

This still provided an opportunity for Charlie and Mary to develop “lock sense“, while the long uninterrupted passages gave Charlie a significant chance to learn navigation at the tiller, even “hazarding“ the challenges of entering and exiting a lock.

Our progress was such that we even had the luxury of stopping at a canal-side pub for lunch before soldiering on to Great Haywood for the evening.

We moored too early for dinner. A short walk down the canal brought us to the National Trust managed property of the historic Shugborough Estate.

This massive parklike expanse was owned by the Bishops of Lichfield prior to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII around 1540. It passed through several hands until purchased in 1624 by William Anson. He and his subsequent heirs developed the estate into a huge farming operation that was state of the art for its time. The mansion and most of the buildings and grounds seen today were the work of the famed architect, Samual Wyatt at the start of the 19th century.

We walked only a small portion of the estate which covers thousands of acres. I regret we did not have time to take in the interior of the huge mansion. We did, however, see a number of the classic structures which were built to mimic those of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Tomorrow morning, continuing on the “Four Counties Ring” route we take a hard right turn off of the Trent & Mersey Canal onto the Staffs & Worcs Canal. Adapting the words of legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra to this journey, “When you come to a fork in the canal, take it”.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written April 22, 2023, at the Aston Marina, Stone, England.

As they say, all good things must come to an end. However, sometimes the end of one good thing is really the beginning of another. Such is the case for us this weekend.

Pat and Wendy.

We bid farewell to Pat and Wendy this morning. They have been marvelous cruising companions, enduring rain, cold, and the challenges of scores of locks.

They developed real expertise at the locks and Pat acquired skill at the tiller.

Tomorrow, we greet our Kansas City neighbors, Charlie and Mary, who will share this experience with us for the next six days.

All canal cruising is not just canal cruising.

Oftentimes these ancient lock gates do not all seal well. It can get a little damp at the rear of the boat.

Yesterday we took in a lengthy tour of the Wedgwood factory which was located a short walk from the canal.

Josiah Wedgwood founded his legendary pottery and porcelain facility in 1759. Since then the factory has been significantly modernized yet retains Josiah‘s secrets which are shared with only a few of the company’s employees.

Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed within the factory. I did capture one fun picture outside the entrance.

It was only the four of us on the tour which took over an hour and a half. We were each struck with the incredible skill of every worker. One gentleman is currently tasked with making four tea sets. Each set will take him a full month to complete. Each set will sell for over $12,500. Of course, he has other projects that he is concurrently working on.

Another gentleman we met is working on a large “Black Jasper“ vase that mirrors an ancient Roman original. It will sell for over $60,000.

This is a Wikipedia image of Josiah Wedgwood’s original that he created in 1790.

As the result of this experience we have developed a real appreciation for the work and talent behind each Wedgwood piece. I predict that each of us will be keeping eyes open at future flea markets, garage sales, and charity shops.

I received a message from a dear friend this morning, asking if I would share pictures of the interior of Fjord Empress. That wish is my command:

The forward sleeping compartment. The sofas make into a double berth or two single berths.
The forward compartment, looking aft.
Narrow boat, narrow hallway!
The bathroom.
The shower.
The center sleeping berth.
The kitchen area looking toward the stern. The interior is not quite 6 feet wide.
Dinette and kitchen area looking toward the bow.
Christine seated at the four person dinette which also makes into a bed.
This is Fjord Empress in our berth at the Aston Marina. The boat measures 62 feet long and it is a real challenge to navigate in tight spaces.

Christine and I solo cruised today, managing five locks on our way to a very nice marina where we are spending the night waiting for the Murphys. We also accomplished some much needed work today which included sweeping out the boat, filling the freshwater tank, emptying the “black water“ tank, buying groceries, doing laundry, and enjoying the luxury of real shore-side showers at the marina.

The Aston Marina.

The marina also features a top-notch gourmet restaurant and bar.

The Marina’s “No. 26” restaurant, named after the nearby number 26 lock.

Now, if only the weather will smile upon us and the Murphys over the course of the days to come.

Peace Everyone. Pete