Posts Tagged ‘Staffordshire and Worcestershire’

Bratch

May 2, 2014

Today I take you back to a canal holiday in 1988. I find it scary that this was more than a quarter of a century ago for it feels a bit like yesterday. But back then I was still in my thirties which I’d now call young. Young enough to take the challenges of one of the most quirky bits of the canal system – the Bratch locks.

Bratch is on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. This canal, opened in 1772 – one of the earliest in the country and it was engineered by James Brindley. He originally built the locks as a three lock staircase. That means the top gate of one lock is the bottom one of the next. Staircases are always slightly bad news on ‘narrow’ canals for once a boat has started in one direction, no boats can pass in the opposite direction until it is through them all.

Bratch was re-engineered, but it didn’t help that problem. Short gaps, a few feet long, were added between locks.

This leads to all sorts of operational difficulties. When one lock is emptied, the little pound below rapidly overfills and overflows. Without care, water can pour over the next lock gate down and if there happens to be a boat in that lock it can flood it and at worst sink it.

It was this that we tackled all those years ago and, I have to say, we had no particular difficulty and could enjoy the delightful architecture at the locks.

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Our boat enters a lock by the delightful toll cottage. It looks as though I had the easy job, for I am on the tiller but of course, in such a narrow space there is really no steering to be done.

We swapped jobs frequently and at one point when I was working locks I stepped over a low wall onto a platform like the one next to the bridge which as one of the youngsters on it. For some reason, I stepped off it. I could see I was in no danger for it wasn’t far and I made a good landing and just carried on. But I had suddenly vanished out of sight of friends and family who didn’t know what had become of me. I gather they were concerned.

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This is our boat leaving that lock. Our life jacketed children (we had more than one family on the boat) are scrabbling for finds on the tow path.

For canallers, doing Bratch is one of those ‘must do’ sections. It really was an enjoyable challenge.

Acton Moat Bridge

November 21, 2013

Back in 1974 I was by no means a canal ‘virgin’. My wife and I crewed a trip boat on our local Kennet and Avon Canal and we knew parts of that quite well. But the K and A was derelict at the time. The locks were out of use so I really only had theoretical knowledge of how to manage them as we set off for our first canal holiday. Five of us had hired a 47 foot long boat from Penkridge in Staffordshire. There was a lock nearby so we were helped through that and then we were on our own. I don’t think we experienced any particular problems as we made our way northwards (roughly) up the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. I was straight away taken by the way the bridges on this canal had names as well as numbers, and within a couple of miles I had a photo of the bridge name plate at Acton Moat.

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The photo was taken with my little Canon Demi camera using Agfachrome film.

Back in 1974 people didn’t paint these signs but there it was in all its glory, just above the arch and on the rather battered brickwork of the parapet.

The bridge is what I call an accommodation bridge. It takes a track or footpath over the canal. It leads from the village of Acton Trussell, over the canal, then over the River Penk and under the M6 motorway before dumping walkers on the A449 road.

You can find pictures of the bridge by searching on the web. They show a scene which looks very rural – but with a neatly painted black and white bridge sign.

It was a great week – still fondly remembered.

Joule’s Brewery

March 6, 2013

I’m returning, today, to that canal trip in 1975. Back then it was still possible to see how industry had grown up by the canal because in the early nineteenth century, canals had been the main transport arteries.

Joule’s Brewery, at Stone in Staffordshire, was certainly canal-side. The canal in question was the one that linked the east and west coasts of England – the Trent and Mersey Canal.

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There is the brewery, or more correctly a warehouse, forming one bank of the canal. We can see pleasure craft lined up in the distance on the left bank.

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And there’s the sign telling us that this was where Joule’s Stone Ales were produced and stored. Not everyone likes industrial buildings but some are wonderful. I particularly like the gentle curve, to fit the canal, that this building has.

The business opened on this site in the 1780s. The canal had opened in 1777 so clearly Francis Joule was quick to see the benefits of a canal-side business. The brewery was bought out by a large company in the 1970s. They promptly closed it and demolished much of Joule’s old brewery. That canal-side warehouse survived, however.

As an aside, another member of the same Joule family was James Prescott Joule. He became a leading physicist and the standard unit of energy, the joule, is named after him because of the time he spent researching heat and mechanical energy.

As a second aside, most of the English canal network is far from industrial. Canals wind their way through gentle rolling countryside, for the most part and are attractive scenically.

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There’s a gentle, reflective scene on the same trip near Tixall Broad where the canal widens out into a lake. This was done, probably, to keep a landowner happy. This is actually on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal but is only about ten miles from Stone.