Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Stafford Riverway Link Restoration

Tuesday 27th September, 2016 in Tixall Wide.
The day started overcast but dry, in contrast to the heavy rain of yesterday.

Gailey lock is in a very attractive setting beside the Round House.
The next four locks come in quick succession. They are all in a pretty rural setting; however, the M6 motorway makes its presence increasingly felt through the rising assault on the ears until one arrives at Rodbaston lock, which is less than 50 yards from the M6.  At this point the noise is ear splitting and conversation only possible if you are standing right next to each other.
At Otherton lock, R noticed that the bywash, which lets surplus water bypass the lock, was almost completely blocked and the water level behind the lock was rising.
Using MM's boat hook, he managed to clear the debris, mostly branches and reeds, and it was soon flowing freely again.
Penkridge lock has a lovely old horse tunnel under the bridge. While the lock was emptying, M managed to nip to the nearby convenience shop for much needed milk.
There are many developments of "Park Homes" on this section of canal. In general they look very well kept and comfortable. Most are quite modest in size, but this one looked almost palatial!
Oh no! We had to pass right underneath the M6 as the lorries roared overhead. Ghastly!
There was once an aqueduct and a lock branching off the main line of the canal that took boats down on to the River Sow and from there they could cruise the mile up the Sow into the centre of Stafford. This arm of the canal ceased to be used in 1927. In 1930, the basin in Stafford was filled in and in 1970 the aqueduct and lock were demolished along with the lock keeper's cottage. Now the "Stafford Riverway Link" group is trying to restore the arm. We knew of the existence of the restoration group but, as we approached the old junction, we were surprised and delighted to see a work party actually in progress.
We moored up and went to see what was going on. A lady named Veronica (or Vee for short) explained that they had excavated the foundations of the lock keeper's cottage. They would love to have rebuilt it but there was no way to get electricity or water to it so they will just leave the brick outline of the house and garden.
They have also excavated the basin that used to sit before the aqueduct - the brick walls in the distance behind the notice were the entrance to the aqueduct.
It was wonderful to see the project finally getting off the ground. Stafford city centre would benefit greatly from visiting boats and a basin in the centre would be a major source of regeneration, as it has been in other places that have redeveloped canal basins. As the restoration "only" needs one aqueduct and one lock, it is a much better proposition than, for instance, the Lichfield Canal restoration that requires the rebuilding of 47 locks!
M loved this classic "turnover" bridge that enabled a horse, where the towpath changes sides, to change from one side to the other without having to unhitch the towing line. The towpath changes sides quite frequently so that the horse is not always pulling at the same angle but is sometimes pulling from the right and sometimes pulling from the left, thus easing the strain on his shoulders.
We chose to moor up in Tixall Wide on account of its lovely open setting. In the distance was the old gatehouse to Tixall House - sadly, the house was demolished long ago. Opinion is divided as to whether the "Wide" was created to placate the owners of Tixall House, by making the canal look like a lake, or whether the lake was there before the canal and just used by Brindley as a convenient stretch of water.
As the sun went down, we were treated to one of the more spectacular sunsets of the year, enhanced by the reflection in the water.
Today, MM clocked up her 2,000th hour cruising. She has done us proud and has hardly missed a beat in all that time.
Today: 13 miles, 11 locks and 7.2 hours.
Trip: 467 miles, 320 locks and 322.4 hours.

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