Saturday 29th August; Willeymoor to Prees Branch junction
A boat went past at first light heading towards Hurleston Junction. We were ready to start before 9 as the Grindley Brook locks are only a mile or so further on, but not early enough! Boats were already on the move and we had a wait even at Povey’s Lock which we could see from our mooring. Not a problem though. We heard from the crew we met at the lock that the crack-of-dawn boat was ‘wanted’ – the owner had attacked another boater and court proceedings were going ahead. His kids had produced knives, his boat was found to be unlicensed and he had been instructed not to move, presumably by the police. Of course we have no idea quite how much of this was true and how much the tale has grown in the telling!
We had to wait at the first of the Grindley Brook locks, so I went up to the staircase to see how busy it was. There was a boat going up each of the first three locks, but the lockies said it was fairly quiet and to come on up. The bywashes here are ferocious. Here is Dave making the correct adjustment to his course at the bottom lock;
and a boat only just avoiding a collision at the second. Dave’s holding our centre rope and looking a bit concerned.
Between the third lock and the staircase, the boat in front had pulled in so I went up to see the lockies – two boats were coming down, maybe three so we passed the message back to the two boats following us to stay where they were. The pound below the staircase is on a bend and if too many boats are waiting to go up it makes manoeuvring difficult for the boat coming down. The first boat came down and went straight into the lock which we had left open for them. But the hirers below decided to come up after all, and so when the second boat came down, expecting to go straight into the lock they were rather inconvenienced and looked a bit cross.
Anyway we soon went up, though the lockie was so chatty I quite forgot to take any pictures. He used to run the hotel boats Victoria and Albert in the 1970s. After that he operated a working boat carrying ‘coal in the winter and kids in the summer’. At the top, we pulled in to empty a cassette, topped up the water and got rid of rubbish and recycling. Now this is what a rubbish point should look like – clean and tidy with the recycling (at the front) and rubbish (up the steps at the back) clearly differentiated!
We moved up to the moorings for lunch – which was a bit delayed. The stern swung out as we were mooring just as Meg decided to jump to the bank. She sank completely for a couple of seconds and was clearly panicking when she resurfaced – Dave had to haul her out while making sure the boat didn’t swing back in again and crush her. She was fine, though said she needed cuddles and biscuits to help her recover.
After lunch we cruised on to moor just past the Prees Branch, on Whixall Moss. The second little rescue happened just before we moored. A group of people on the towpath started to shout and wave; a young pigeon was slowly sinking in the water. We hooked it out with Dave's landing net and thought it was pretty far gone, but they took it off to their car to dry it with their dog towel to at least give it a chace of survival. After mooring, we walked down the Prees branch as far as the marina, which is in the old claypit which supplied puddle clay for local canal repairs.
This is one of the two lift bridges on the branch, looking in good repair unlike the one not far away on the main line at Tilstock Park (no 42) which has been strapped up and taken out of operation.
The canal is not navigable past the marina, though still in water with water lilies and rather a lot of other vegetation.
Further on we came to the next bridge, which is no longer in use as a bridge, the farmer having decided it was easier to fill in the canal and drive the tractor straight across.
We didn’t go to the very end – time was getting on and we were getting hungry. As we ate, long skeins of geese flew over with their wild cries. Then the moon came up. It was very peaceful.
6 locks, 5 lift bridges (1 open), nearly 8 miles.