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Roger and Lynne Lainé
Shropshire Union Canal: June 2006
TAKU, Viking 23 n/b 1991, 15hp Honda

This year's holiday cruise for TAKU was a trip up the Shropshire Union canal, 'The Shroppie'. We are moored at Sawley marina, which is about 60 miles from the start of the Shroppie, so we did not know how far we would get, but set off aiming for Market Drayton.

The first part of the cruise was along the Trent and Mersey canal to Fradley. The first few locks are broad locks, changing to narrow locks at Burton-on-Trent. The A38 with its heavy traffic is a fairly constant companion along this route.

We stopped at Willington the first Sunday night: this is a small village with all of the required boater facilities: small shops, 3 pubs and a sanitary station. The railway line alongside the canal can surprise you when you are woken at night by high-speed trains which seem to charge straight through the cockpit.

We passed through Fradley on the Monday evening: it is always best to go through this busy junction off-peak. The presence of long-term moorings on the approaches to the locks in this flight seems crazy, as it turns this junction into a nightmare for inexperienced hire boaters, who cannot moor next to the locks and who do not have the experience to hold their boats steady in the channel on the rudder, especially as some of the long-term moorers run their props to load their diesels.

On Tuesday we cruised up to Rugeley and shopped for food and petrol. We were then assailed by the Taku's enemy on the narrow canals, WIND, accompanied by showers. I was determined not to moor in Rugeley overnight, so when there was an apparent break in the weather we set off towards Great Haywood, but after a hairy crossing of the first aqueduct and a near miss at the next bridge we found a hedge to moor against, and spent the night next to a noisy flock of sheep, with the wind howling over the boat.

On Wednesday we entered the Stafford and Worcester canal, and crossed beautiful Tixall Wide lake,: this lake was created because the owner of Tixall Hall would only allow construction of the canal across the prospect from the Hall if the canal was made to look like an ornamental lake. It has extensive lily-covered shallows, and is home to many wildfowl including great crested grebes: see the picture of where a grebe and her chick had been only half a moment before!

When we reached the Sow valley the wind was up to full force again, and we baulked at crossing the aqueduct at Milford, so we moored under the trees and watched other boats banging their way off the sides as they attempted to cross. We helped to push two narrow boats across after they became stuck against the concrete edge by the force of the wind.

The following day we cruised through Penkridge and Gailey, and passed through Autherley Junction and on to the Shropshire Union late in the evening, mooring past Wolverhampton Boat Club, just before the start of the famous 'Shroppie Shelf'. This shelf consists of a rough ledge of concrete just below the waterline, often covered by slabs, as in the picture. Boaters avoid mooring against it, and many boats carry car wheels on their roof, so that these can be floated on a leash when mooring, to keep the boat off the shelf. We did see one hire boat defiantly moored tight into the bank, but it was grounded on the shelf at an angle of 20 degrees!

We moved up to the shelfless section between bridges 7 and 8 for breakfast on Friday: this lower section of the Shroppie has both wide and narrow sections, some almost as wide as Tixall Wide, and others as narrow as a narrow lock, with the added excitement of the Shelf to watch out for. We really did not know what to expect on the rest of the canal. What we found is that because the canal runs like a Roman road, straight for its destination, it consists of cuttings and embankments, mainly cuttings it seems, and now that these are fully forested, the effect is of a tunnel through the trees, with high bridges spanning the cutting at ground level above. There were some quite magical effects of light and shadow.

The canal also crosses the A5 on the Stretton aqueduct: we had often seen the aqueduct from the A5 and wondered what it would be like to see the road from the aqueduct: the reality is surprisingly undramatic, especially as the towering weeds provide a very different aspect from the one depicted on the picture postcards of the aqueduct. (pics 21,22).

We reached our final mooring at Goldstone Wharf on Friday evening, and decided against going up to Market Drayton through the Tyrley flight of locks, giving ourselves the Saturday 'off' and playing host to Lynne's parents, who visited us from their home near Mold about an hour's drive away. (pic 036)

Our cruise back went smoothly, with no high winds this time, and we were joined on our last day, the second Thursday, by our son, who had just finished his term at Leicester University, and who drove out to meet us at Willington for the cruise back to Sawley.


12 days, 169 miles and 72 locks.

General Points
We did not encounter any 'dangerous drivers' on this trip, although there was one impatient boater who amused us with his racing starts from the bank in his narrowboat, sending up fountains of spray.

Many hireboat narrowboaters adopt a mooring strategy which consists of somehow getting some part of the boat with a metre of the shore, whereupon the crew, sometimes including the 'captain' all leap for the shore with ropes and haul the boat in sideways by main force: this left us speechless with laughter on several occasions.

There has been some discussion of fenders on the site recently, so this is our contribution: it 'works for us' as they say:

We were able to travel through all of the locks and narrows with all fenders down, and the broad locks were wide enough for us to share the locks with narrowboats with fenders down.

We found that the best setting of fenders in the narrow locks is to have them trailing in the water, as the biggest danger is from the low edges when going down the locks.

We had some big and bouncy fenders around the bows, looped onto, or kept in against the boat by, a rope strung from the forward fender cleats and threaded through the bow mooring ring. These fenders protect the bows on an angled approach to a lock, and the rope strung low down prevents them from riding up over the low lock edges. It is best not to have big and bouncy fenders on the sides of the boat as not only do they get in the way, but the 'fender-bounce' from one side of the lock to the other can be unpredictable and dangerous to the boat.

With this setup the only minor scrapes that we picked up were just below the rubbing-strip, and there is no easy way to prevent these scrapes when there are brick and iron projections from all angles in the old narrow locks.

I hope this is helpful.

Roger and Lynne Lainé