There was no escaping the fact it was summer on The Four Counties Ring today. Can’t really blame the traffic when you are the traffic etc etc etc. It was constant, from start to finish. Most boats moving in the same direction as us are heading to either the Chester rally or the one at Ellesmere Port or both. You need a ‘Russell Newbery’ engine to qualify for one or the other so there are a lot of those chugging about. A pretty happy crowd, unlike people from the opposite direction, fed up and reporting tales of historic work boats moving through Audlem – towing, crawling in tandem and generally taking forever. Thankfully the mass of general traffic stopped us getting anywhere near close.
It was a bit of a long day in then end as after negotiating the busy Tyrley Locks we had a food and water stop in Market Drayton…a few miles of straight and narrow before plunging into the mayhem of Adderley Locks and then deciding to continue on.
Audlem never disappoints. Fairly sure the stalls set out amongst the grasses and hedgerows are the genuine thing but if not then they’re a genius bit of marketing made all the better for a drenching of evening rain. Soggy bunting, cakes under umbrellas, scones hidden away at the back of wooden huts and empty jars of sweet peas – an impossibly perfect step back in time.
Very happy to find a mooring below lock 13 as there was barely an inch to spare along the way.
A Victorian scrapbook, the tweeness of Audlem Locks fanned out as we climbed: lace, blackbirds, holly, butterflies, violets, ribbon, feathers, roses – it’s probably all there. A little curtain twitching from the long-term moorers, not sure they’re used to many boats passing at this time of year, certainly not the bin dipping variety anyhow. Hose on the waterpoint, Nick disappeared with a couple of rubbish bags, re-appearing moments later with an unbelievable bin dip and a show stopping performance… a whole world of alfresco dining possibilities stored in the size of a suitcase. Cousin Jack’s offcast has joined our travelling show.
A lucky run of locks, the all important glint of light shone through the gates for all but one of many locks over the last two days. The gates are small, the paddles easy and the pull very gentle. A sunny journey down through Betton Cutting, glided on past where we limped to moor last year with our first chocked fuel filter.
A quick lunch at Market Drayton, then an Asda assault on our senses with dazzling lights and disturbing musac. We watched our basket load shuffling along the conveyor feeling pretty proud to have collected a pile of almost healthy looking stuff, a battle against mid-winter scurvyness.
Tyrley locks were a hub for Saturday afternoon walkers. Very pretty around here but with days dark so early what’s on the outside matters far less than it does in the summer months – a dry towpath and it’s basically a winner.
Freezing fog had disappeared this morning, dashed into Market Drayton on a quick, shameful 10am alcohol run before we headed out into the wilderness. Back onboard we ducked under the bridge and stuck the hose in. Market Drayton soon gave way to countryside and it wasn’t long before we began a flight of five locks. Rock had been gouged out to allow a narrow canal with gushing water rushing back form beside each lock. Stopped for lunch at the top, then walked Murk in an attempt to warm up.
So muddy even the Murkster held his paws up and looked to get back on the boat. Trudged on and became surround by towering walls of sandstone, Everglade type plants and spectacularly long, straight stretches of water. It’s said that the stunning Woodseave Giants are mysterious chasms of another world where time has lost it’s power. Landslides and fallen branches made the path tricky. Out the other end with legs covered in mud, I met a guy walking his dog who looked as though we’d lost out minds walking through the cutting.
The canal opened up again, for a while we chugged along the top of an embankment looking down on rolling hills. Passed Cadbury Wharf where up until the 1960’s boats collected milk from local dairies and chocolate crumb was produced, before transporting it back to Bournville where the process was completed. On Bradbury’s Birmingham and Worcester canal walk she reckoned she could taste chocolate in the air…no such luck here, the crumb has long gone and a sewage plant gurgles relentlessly just below.
Late afternoon got pretty chilly, which looking at the forecast is a sign of things to come. Murk’s so tired he could barely lift his head for dinner, little does he know he has 13 miles of the same tomorrow (engine willing).
No ghostly happenings during the night, although we did have a mysterious un-named blue boat pass early this morning with a spooky bearded tiller man staring straight ahead, into the distance. Oooh eee.
Turned the key, the engine fired up so we pushed on from Sleepy Hollow, past a sunken cruiser that we hadn’t even noticed in the dark and tentatively made our way to Market Drayton. Found a mooring by a bridge, and as we weren’t technically broken down, decided to book a service that Canal and River Rescue (like RAC/AA) are promoting for memebers at the moment. ‘Hello I’d like to a book a service please’, ‘Everyone is in a meeting today’…. ”So what would happen if I’d broken down? ‘Bit of a pause… ‘We’d send someone out to you today.’ ‘Ok well we’ve broken down then.’ Bobs your uncle, quick trip to Morrisons and an engineer was with us by 2pm.
Engineer figured a fuel problem when we explained what had been happening. Apparently our fuel filter was quite a spectacle, he’d never seen one so full of gunk. Lucky us. Replaced the part with something more like a pure white coffee/bagless vacuum filter than the gungey mess we had. Secondary filter probably needs changing but hopefully that’ll hold out until the service. The guy was lovely and gave us a quick lesson on engine maintenance.