Licence support advisor Debbi Figueiredo recently went on her longest cruise for 15 years. In the third instalment her boating holiday blog, she’s finally within reach of a stretch of waterway that she’s not cruised before.
We set off early through wooded seclusion just north of Hopwas on the Coventry Canal. Sun filtered through the leaves and we could hear bird song over the steady chatter of our boat’s engine. Unfortunately, I had also detected a less welcome noise, a high-pitched whining, particularly at low revs. A quick glance at the instrument panel didn’t reveal anything untoward in terms of warning lights and battery charging, except possibly a slight flicker in the amp metre. I had a nagging doubt that maybe the fan belt was slipping, but I was soon distracted by the scenery.
Onwards we went with pleasant views of farmland punctuated by classic brick canal bridges, although the railway starts to come ever closer. We stopped briefly at Whittington to stock up on milk and bread at the handy local store just a short walk from the canal. On again past Huddlesford Junction where the easternmost stub of the Wyrley & Essington Canal is the home for Lichfield Cruising Club situated so conveniently close to the Plough Inn.
Just past Kings Orchard marina the alternator warning light came on. Engine off, drift into the bank, moor up and delve into the engine bay to diagnose the problem. The fan belt had snapped, my earlier niggling doubt had been justified. “No problem” we thought, "we’ve got a spare and we know how to fit it”.
Hah! If only ...
We tried to fit the spare belt, only to discover that it was frustratingly a fraction too small having misread the part number when stocking up. Fortunately, we were only around the corner from Streethay Wharf and their very handy chandlery, the only challenge was reaching them from the towpath side of the canal but we managed in the end.
Repairs completed we carried on to Fradley Junction passing through what must be the easiest to operate swing bridge in the country. Leaving the Coventry Canal behhind, we turned west onto the Trent & Mersy Canal and were sped through Middle Lock by a friendly volunteer lock-keeper. On clearing Shadehouse Lock you enter another heavily wooded stretch before cruising through farmer’s fields on the approach to Handsacre and Armitage.
The Narrowboat Trust's boats Nuneaton and Brighton on the Trent & Mersey canal
At Armitage you get a reminder of the original industrial purpose of the canal as the Armitage Shanks porcelain factory looms over you. Beyond the narrow channel that used to be the Armitage tunnel you pass long term moorings in the shadow of Spode House and Hawkesyard Priory whilst in the distance the cooling towers of the Rugeley Power Station draw ever nearer.
On the approach to Brindley’s aqueduct over the River Trent we met the Narrowboat Trust's boats Nuneaton and Brighton, heavily laden with the butty on a very long tow. Always a good idea to give them plenty of space and the deeper water.
We called it a day at Great Haywood and moored up with a wonderful view of Shugborough Hall. It’s worth taking detour from the canal to view the very old packhorse bridge where the River Sow joins the River Trent before walking up into the village for refreshments or supplies.
Next time the journey continues north along the Trent & Mersey Canal.
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