Welcome to the story of Hale and Hearty travelling the canals of Great Britian

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Ashby Canal and Coventry

This week has been less adventurous but no less interesting. We have had a couple of beautiful, sunny days, when we have cruised to move us on south. One day we did the 11 locks up into Atherstone and then spent a happy afternoon at the market and looking at a most interesting exhibition of the history of the town, which grew very quickly due to the hat making industry and so development of housing was in ‘yards’ behind the houses – very cramped and poor quality. The interest particularly was in interviews with people who could remember living there before the programme of demolition took place. We have travelled to the current end of the Ashby canal; there are great plans for restoration of another 8 miles, about to start. On the way we spent some time beside the Battle of Bosworth site, where recent research has shown that Richard III wasn’t killed on the spot previously identified but 2 miles away – some changes to the location of commemorative stones needed there then! Lots to see and do with a steam railway, a glass artist, and on Sunday a dog show and bird of prey flying as well. The glass artist, Richard Golding, is astonishing. I watched breathless for 2 hours as he created a vase, layer upon layer of glass and flowers, and was able to see the finished item when it came out of the annealer the next day. We flew a Harris hawk and a barn owl, only 4 in the group so we were able to get up very close to the birds. Further along the canal we also walked the mile up to Market Bosworth, a lovely little town, beautiful architecture and where Henry VII, the victor at Bosworth, was crowned. The Ashby canal is beautiful, gentle, rural and hardly touching the small communities along the way. And so to Coventry, another city full of interest. The canal basin is just to the north of the ring road and a little haven of peace. Like excited children we have raced from museum to cathedral to art gallery. We have been moved by the spirit of reconciliation that embodies the new cathedral. We attended an evening service. The transport museum has us both enthralled for different reasons; we both especially liked the land speed record experience – sitting in the cockpit for the seven minutes of the drive in 1997 that went to over 700 mph! We have seen another Bollywood movie, just as much fun as the last one, we may be hooked.
The weather has been mixed and is starting to feel quite chilly in the mornings. One evening we had a thunderstorm, interesting experience from inside a metal box. We have lit our little stove and find the boat nice and warm in the evenings.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Curry and Cathedrals

The mronings are chilly and the days are noticable cooler, autumn is on its way.
We enjoyed Leek market, what a bustling little town it is, we notice that there seem to be fewer empty shops and more independent retailers in the towns we have visited recently than in Devon. We walked to a huge Victorian mental hospital, a community in its own right at its peak, now converted to prestigious housing, even the water tower making a family home. The return trip to Stoke was uneventful, stopping at Etruria to visit the museum and bone mill, once a very busy place grinding bone, flint and stone for the pottery industry, now a similar business is still functioning on the site and run by the same family but no longer using the canal for transport. Whilst going down the Stoke locks I was able to pop to the shops and return with curry, burfi and samosas for a special tea. This week all the locks have taken us down, away from the high land of the Peaks and on to the flatter land of the Midlands.
We cruised to Burslem, stopping to pay a brief visit to the Wedgwood factory – it is sad to hear that much of the china is now manufactured in the east (china from China?) with only some of the more prestigious and special items still produced on site as part of the tourist experience. The weather started to deteriorate and we found ourselves trying to ensure sheltered moorings and the canal surface agitated and rocking the boat – exciting stuff. We stopped overnight in Stone, again a bustling little town, attending Sunday service there before continuing. Steering the boat in these high winds is quite tiring so we travelled relatively short distances for a few days. At Great Haywood we almost crossed our own tracks and took another walk around the grounds of Shugborough and visited the museum of country life there, lots to see and enjoy. From there to Armitage was probably the hardest day weather-wise, the wind was very strong and we found it hard to moor due to the high wind. We spent the night overlooked by the Armitage Shanks factory!
So here we are at Whittington. We caught a bus into Lichfield, and found ourselves in a beautiful, historic town with a splendid cathedral, where we attended evening service, and lots of history, lovely architecture and civic pride – well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Sunday, after a surprising service at the little church in Higher Poynton, saw us retrace our steps towards Macclesfield where we collected the forgotten boat key and continued to an overnight stay near the top of Bosley Locks. We set of early on bank holiday Monday and were through the locks by 09.30 – helped along by a nice gentleman from the Macclesfield Canal Society who were doing a lock wind to raise funds for the excellent work they do in helping to maintain and restore the canal. Lunch in Congleton and on to an overnight stay back near Little Moreton Hall. The weather has been less than kind to us all week and we have had a couple of fires to warm up and dry out. After the excitement of using the launderette in Kidsgrove we had the even greater treat of the Harecastle Tunnel. This is 2950 yards long and you are booked in by an official who informs the other end that you are on your way. The tunnel has no ventilation so doors close the southern end and fans suck air through the tunnel. It is quite an adventure - no light at the end of the tunnel to follow, the arc of light from the entrance gradually diminishes behind you and darkness descends. It took us 38 minutes, we know because we were timed through, and as we reached the doors they swung open and admitted the light and warmth of the day. We never cease to be amazed by the feats of engineering achieved with no technology, just manpower. We stopped overnight at Hanley and took the opportunity to visit the museum which is excellent with lots of ceramic history and a Spitfire aeroplane. In the covered market we found a little cafĂ© serving a Hungarian/Slovakian speciality, langos, a kind of flat deep fried bread served with sour cream, onions and cheese which was delicious. We turned at Etruria onto the Caldon canal and after a very urban bit, still interesting as there are bottle kilns still in evidence where potteries used to be, we were again out in the country. We joined the 21st century by hiring a car and driving to Kent for a wonderful wedding, sunshine all the way, and returned to re enter the 19th century by travelling to Froghall and through the tunnel at the end of the canal. To achieve this Martin had to remove the chimneys, tunnel light and all the plants from the roof. Because the tunnel is so low we had the lovely basin to ourselves. Briefly the sun shone and it was delightful. We left in the morning and are currently at the end of the other branch of the canal in Leek, again moored in a wonderfully rural and lovely setting.