It’s sunny but cold when I move the boat to Turner’s Garage. We fuel up with the cheapest diesel we’ve seen so far (thanks, Ann and Mick, for the tip).
After that we move to the other side of the bridge and the canal, to Wheaton Aston Services. To top up the water, and get all the bird’s shite off the boat.
While doing this I spot a heap of smoke, somewhere around the lock in the distance. I soon realize: that’s not ordinary smoke, coming from someone who just topped up the fire. It’s too white, and way too much.
It’s steam! To confirm this I hear the sound of a steam whistle, which always melts my heart. I know of only one surviving steam narrowboat, but what would a famous boat like President do on an average day on an average canal? But it is indeed President, with butty Kildare. I manage to take good pictures of the pair, and it makes my day. I don’t care what else the day brings…
Topped up, and kind of clean we make our way through the lock, and down south.
It’s still sunny, and quite warm (when one is out of the wind) but I decide to keep my jacket on, for now. Right enough, because when, at noon, I leave the tiller to Lawrance to have my lunch, the weather suddenly realizes that it is me on the tiller. It gets pitch dark, and we’re in a big hail storm. I quickly finish my lunch, because Lawrance doesn’t even have his jacket on.
Rain, hail and wind will be our travel companions for a while. We meander through the countryside, again through cuttings and some narrow parts of the canal. And just before Autherley Junction we come to a stop lock. Lawrance jumps off, opens the lock and I steer WRT into the lock. I always go slowly, entering locks, but when WRT is halfways into the lock I realize: I’m going awful slow. No, rephrase that, I’m not going at all. But I am on tick-over…
Long story short: WRT (always doing as she’s told) must think: it’s a stop lock, so I better stop. And here we are, stuck in a stop lock. After Lawrance impatiently waving and shouting, and me throwing my hands in the air, him and a bypasser find out what the problem is: the lock door doesn’t open fully and WRT is stuck. It takes two men to force the door to open just a little bit more and finally I manage to squeeze WRT into the lock.
Immediately after the lock there is a T-junction, with a very sharp left turn for us. In fact, the turn is so close to the lock that the bow of WRT is almost at the other end of the canal while the stern is still in the lock. Luckily there is no other traffic, and the wind is from the right direction.
That’s us on a new canal, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, or Staffs & Worcs for short. A nice, wide canal to start off with, but after about a mile that changes completely. It narrows for half a mile. It’s like a single lane road, with (two) passing places. While Lawrance walks the towpath on the look-out for oncoming traffic, I try to steer a 6 ft 10 inch wide narrowboat through a 6 ft 12 inch crooked gap in the rocks, while trying to have some paint left when the canal widens again. Luckily there is no oncoming traffic, and we’re soon back on cruising speed.
But not for long. A sign on the towpath tells us: Canalworks. Maximum delays of 30 minutes. And just as we’re coming around a bend we see a dredger.
Luckily we don’t have to wait long. He sees us, and makes room for us to pass. On tick-over I move the boat towards the dredger and the barge, and when I’m next to him WRT stops (again). Lawrance assures me that we have bags of room on portside, but whatever I do, we’re not moving… We’re grounded! WRT isn’t going forward, nor wants to reverse. In the end the old trick works: Lawrance on the front tilts the boat just enough for the stern to get off the ground. Yes, it is certainly time to dredge this part of the canal!
After that it’s a piece of cake to get to Coven for our daily break. The rain stops, out comes the sun. We decide to go to the Fox & Anchor for a (half) pint and a meal.
P.S. No, we didn’t teleport ourselves from Norbury Junction to Wheaton Aston. It was just an uneventful day (Lawrance on the tiller, nice weather). So no pictures and no text. But a picture, taken the next day. No, this is not Photoshoped. It’s the real stuff: SNOW.