Sunday 28 August

After yesterday’s torrential downpours it was a relief to wake to a blue sky and to be able to open the windows to dry out some of the condensation which always looks worse after its been raining.

We planned to head to Tixall Wide today and knew we’d need to make an early start if we stood any chance of mooring in this popular place on a Bank Holiday weekend.  From Stone to the junction at Great Heywood is a distance of 9.5 miles and 4 locks.

While Storm steered, I cooked breakfast and this was ready by the time we arrived at the first lock.  There was a boat in front of us preparing to go down the lock, another waiting to come up so we pulled in just before the lock landing and moored up to try to make it clear we weren’t queuing for the lock.  While we were having breakfast another boat passed us heading to the lock.

By the time we’d eaten our breakfast and washed up, the last boat to pass us was just leaving the lock, and there was another boat waiting to come up and so we neatly moved onto the lock landing to wait our turn – almost perfect timing.

The same could not be said of our second lock though.  As we came out from under Bridge 84, where Storm and Max leapt ashore to go and prepare the lock, I couldn’t quite work out what was happening ahead as there seemed to be boats all over the place.  It turned out there was a boat winding, and a hire boat between me and the winding boat, and then another boat ahead of them moving into a gap between moored boats.

The winding boat pulled in and moored up and the hire boat followed their example and so I moved forward and by this time Storm was waving to me to pull in to the side.   I pulled in behind a long line of boats and here the towpath telegraph kicked into action as word came back that most of the boats were long term moorers and only five of us were queuing for the lock.  Other boats arrived behind us and word soon reached them about where they were in the queue.

(Can I just say here that I didn’t queue jump, the winding boat and the hire boat as they were heading to the pub for Sunday lunch!)

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As each waiting boat pulled out from gaps between the long term moorers to move nearer the lock, the rest of the queue moved forward too to fill the space left by the boat in front, and to stand on the towpath holding a centre rope.

I followed a boat with four crew and they needed all four to move their boat forward.  One to steer, one to catch the centre line, one to push the bow out and one to hang on to the dog.  The one catching the centre line was very keen to make sure his ropes were tidy, so much so that by the time it was their turn to enter the lock, and the lock had been standing ready for a few minutes with the gates open, it took them a good while to untie and move their boat into the lock and another few minutes to locate the windlass so they could help with the front gate paddles.

By now there were no boats coming up through the locks and so it was just a case of boat in, empty and lower boat, refill lock quickly opening all paddles, ready for the next boat.   To speed things up even more, I’d been keeping an eye on the filling lock, and by the time the gate was opened, the boat was untied and hovering in the middle of the canal ready to go straight in.

I picked Storm and Max up at the bottom of the lock landing steps and we continued on our way.  Storm had had a good lock work out helping five boats down and three boats up through the locks.

We expected to rejoin the queue at the next two locks but surprisingly there wasn’t one and we went straight in and down.

We made it to Tixall Wide mid afternoon and although we could see boats moored ahead, we moored up on the first available length of Armco where there was a nice wide stretch of grass for our deckchairs.   Half an hour later, there weren’t any spaces left, so it was a good job we hadn’t had to queue at each lock.

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Our window through the hedge looking towards Shugborough Park.

We’re going to stay here for two nights as we now only have five miles and two locks to do before we pick up our crew on Wednesday.

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