Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Soaked In Stone

The more you get to know Britain’s inland waterways, the more you realise that you are still scratching the surface. Canals take you, often in a roundabout route, from town, to country, to town. Now I know that rivers do this too, but they are essentially natural phenomena, even if we have tinkered with them over the centuries. I like the idea of travelling on an artificial creation, entirely man-made. For these human creations bring a sense of personality to individual waterways.
Pat and I are still waterways novices, but you do hear experienced boaters comment, “This is a good example of a Brindley canal,” (James Brindley being the architect of many of the very early canals). Whereas you never hear comments such as “ahhh, the M4, one of John Smith’s finer motorways!”

James Brindley's statue at Etruia, Stoke, at the junction with Caldon Canal. Took this two years ago
The other essential element of  canal life is that none of them were built for pleasure so canal travel brings with it all manner of associations, sometimes powerful, sometimes subtle, reflecting the working life that thrived on them until recent times.
I am not suggesting that day after day, as I stand attached to the tiller, I constantly peer around looking for historical references, but the feeling of being part of an old working environment is never far away. It’s that extra dimension that makes canal travel different and special.
So endeth this week’s rambling. I don’t need to tell most of you how wet it’s been over the past week and if you have been cruising you would have encountered some very heavy showers, and some bright sunshine as well. I have absolutely no problem in cruising in the rain. Fifteen years commuting into London on a motorcycle cured me of that. The wind is another matter, and there have been some huge gusts, though thankfully, I have not lost control of the boat, this time around.
Our journey north-west has taken us across Staffordshire, from Alrewas on to Fradley, where we overnighted, to Rugeley, which we quite liked, then to Great Haywood, which lies beside Shugborough Hall, and then on Saturday we cruised the seven miles or so into Stone, straight into a major missing person investigation. A helicopter seemed to be following us as we approached the town and as we moored, gangs of policemen, were prodding the bushes and poking about in the water, looking for a young local man, who went missing last Thursday. That carried on through much of the afternoon. This morning it started again, with them searching the canal again.
Fradley Junction on a rare sunny afternoon
Searching the canal for a missing person at our moorings in Stone
Both of us like Stone. It’s where we celebrated Pat’s 60th birthday last spring. It’s very much a canal town, and all the facilities you need as a boater are close at hand. It also has a fair smattering of very good pubs and a heritage of brewing. If you see any of the Lymestone beers around, give them a try.
And blow me down, while we were mooring at Great Haywood, another “Cat’s Whiskers” passed us and is now three or four boats in front of us. The owners name is “Cat”, so, I guess, that’s her connection with the name.

Another Cat's Whiskers

And it was good to see that Psycho, the swan, who featured in our spring blog last year, is still terrorising passing boats, as he protects his mate’s nest on the far bank. He liked the taste of my shoes last spring, and, judging from the picture, not much has changed.
Psycho in attack mode
Now May is here, there is an abundance of new life everywhere. Families of ducklings abound and there are also plenty of those pesky Canada Geese and their little ones. We have only seen one family of baby cygnets so far though. One bird that is very common on this stretch is the heron. No shortage of those in Staffordshire. One followed us for a mile or two and I kept snapping and finally got a slightly fuzzy picture of it with a fish in its beak.
A "more by luck than judgement" snap of a heron off to have his lunch
One of the first things we did on arriving back in the UK was to purchase an external aerial to improve our wi-fi signal. Like a lot of boaters we use a “3” Mi-Fi dongle, which has been a faithful servant since we moved on to TCW, but you have to press it against the window to get a decent signal and that can fluctuate immensely. The unit didn’t have an output for an aerial either. So we have signed up and got a new 4G one, and with the aerial on the roof, we are now getting a much better, stable, signal, and we can now Skype New Zealand on a weekly basis, and not have to continually re-connect.
Our rather wet, but "super douper" wif-fit aerial

We push off tomorrow (Wednesday), depending on the weather, which is set to improve as the week continues. We aim to be on the Caldon canal by next weekend, around Stoke-On-Trent, so will blog from there.

Toodaloo chums

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