IT WAS seven years ago when we last did the Four Counties and the Shropshire Union, but what a difference.
Taking over our boat at Brewood we decided to head north but what a difference indeed with the offside vegetation having taken over, meaning that time after time we had to hold back to allow other boats to pass with often even having to stop the boat and hold it into the bank to give enough room for the other to pass as others did for us.
All who have cruised the Shroppie know how narrow are the bridges, but now made harder to navigate with vegetation allowed to grow, hiding the actual edges.
And the moored boats! The waterways seems to have become a major mooring place, exacerbated by the lack of marinas. But more of this at a later date.
It was when we arrived at the top of Adderley Flight that we realised there was no winding hole above Audlem Flight meaning we would have to go right down before we could turn.
It was then I remembered the photograph of Lock 5 on the Audlem that Brian Jarrett had sent, (pictured) showing a gate near to collapse, and could easily close the flight with then the new CaRT excuse of 'sustained damage'—passing the failure onto a third party—us boaters!
Regular readers may have read the excuse used at Benham Lock on the Kennet & Avon with the gate failure being told the quoin, collar and anchor all having 'sustained damage'! All at once or separately?
We are getting this excuse rather regularly nowadays, as obviously the 'boater damage' of the past is wearing a bit thin...
Anyway. we decided not to risk Audlem so back we came.
An extra 32 locks
I had sympathy for the boater coming up the flights as he went down with the intention of winding at the top of the 16 locks Audlem Flight but found there was no such facility, meaning he had an extra 32 locks to complete to get back that made somewhat of a mess of his schedule.
Mind you, as a new hirer, he would hardly realise the mark for a winding hole on his guide and the phrase 'winding hole' wouldn't mean a lot either
With such turning at the top of the flights he had already encountered it would be only natural for an hirer, to believe there was the facility at all flights.
A strong man indeed
Met a pair with a somewhat strong man in a hire boat a couple of times, who did not seem to have mastered it, he 'loosing it' whilst mooring for water and actually pulling the bow in by the stern rail as can be seen in the above photograph.
Then two days later met them again across the cut, with the woman saying she panicked, though gave no reason, it being a straight waterway!
But there was the fellow doing his stuff again, but this time pulling the boat, named Planet, but with a rope this time, so had gleaned a bit of knowledge.
I don't believe the Shroppie is too safe these days, as during our short 'there and back' we have seen two fallen trees that have been cut-off to allow passage and many more leaning rather precariously.
But what is worse is landslips that fill the canal with debris so closing the navigation for months, our passing two of these even in the short distance we travelled. The two things are connected, as the roots of the trees hold the embankments, but as these die off or fall, the rain then washes away the embankment, causing the landslip.
Few walkers and cyclists
A great part of the Shropshire Union has little in the way of decent towpaths, with a dearth of both walkers and cyclists using them, for the first five days seeing just nine cyclists, and one day where the cuttings abound. the whole day with not a single one.
The problem, as most of you will be aware, is that this was one of the later waterways to be surveyed and engineered by Thomas Telford, having steam power at his disposal, so did away with the winding 'lock heavy' canals of the past.
Enabling him to construct long straight lengths using embankments and cuttings, the latter not too good for towpaths as often covered in water and debris from the embankments.
Coupled with the long distances between villages and towns they have little use with many well overgrown as shown. And most certainly not the thousands a day that we are led to believe.
As users of Nicholson's guides, I was most taken by its photograph of Cowley Cutting, shown with no vegetation of any merit, yet our own photograph now shows it as absolutely overgrown, with obviously no attempt made to clear any of it to make it better for boaters.
Should you have a copy containing the guide to the Shropshire Union, take a look, and you will be amazed at the difference.
The trouble is that cutting back vegetation has little priority these days I'm afraid
Cutting towpath vegetation
But there was some towpath side vegetation cutting taking place, with two men busy cutting back by the water side anything that protruded.
But this they told was for a children's fishing match that was taking place next Saturday, and it was being done to make sure that the bank was safe with no obstructions.
If only such care was taken for making it safe for boaters eh?
I see the good old trust is still confusing us with its stoppage notices, as Keith advises. It tells it 'has been in correspondence with the third-party owner of the wall (that was damaged by floods at Worksop) but at this point it has not been possible to confirm ownership of the wall'.
But how did it manage to be 'in correspondence' with an owner if it could not find one? Something for its six lawyers to sort out, eh?