We’ve been this way before. In April. Today we are retracing our steps slightly along the Trent & Mersey, in order to get onto the (new to us) Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction. And as we do, we see the same sights from a slightly different angle and, perhaps, through slightly different eyes.
We wrote about both Rugeley and Shugborough at the time (follow links for details of loos, bulls and other highlights of this stretch of the cut). But when I look back on the posts now, I realise they are missing something. We didn’t really touch on the most memorable moments; the ones that have stayed with us and caused us to screech in excited recognition as we pass the same spots five months later.
The first of the two moments which, I hope, will never leave me is the memory of an epic spanner. A megaspanneropolis. I was at the tiller and we were hungry. It was long past time for lunch. Not all that far from Rugeley, we tried to moor up – but the wind thought otherwise, blowing us across the canal at nearly 90 degrees. By the time we’d got Felucca back under control a queue of boats had formed behind us so, sheepish, we decided to head on to the next spot. Or rather I think I might have said something like “No way am I going to try to park this bloody thing again with all those people watching me”. We sped on and tried to moor up ten minutes or so later, only to run aground. Blasted canal! Tom had to get the pole out while I tried to remember what you’re supposed to do when the boat gets stuck in the shallows. The same boats were still behind us, waiting and watching as we fumbled. Of course everything was fine in the end – we got free and carried on in search of a more suitable stopping place – but by this time I was furious with myself, desperate for lunch, embarrassed and nearly in tears. Finally, in Rugeley proper, we drew into a mooring. I leapt off, keen to tie the boat up as quickly as possible so I could hide away in Felucca before the boats behind caught up. Fat chance. They sailed past as I was finishing, shouting genuinely cheerful and well-intentioned comments such as “third time lucky” and “never mind, it happens to everyone” etc. It was all too much for me; I really wasn’t in the mood to listen. I tried and failed to fight back tears of pathetic frustration.
My mood didn’t really lift until well after lunch, just before our second incident. As we came under a bridge, two cyclists flagged us down. They were trying to fix their punctures but their pump had broken: did we have a spare one they could borrow? Of course we did! I pulled in; we promptly ran aground again. Blasted canal! So I hovered in the middle of the water while Tom ungrounded us with the pole (again), jumped onto the roof, got the pump out of the top box and lobbed it at them. Then we pootled off in search of somewhere less shallow to pull over. Half an hour, a cup of tea and a biscuit later, the cyclists still hadn’t emerged. We started to fret that it had all been an elaborate hustle to separate us from our beloved pump. (Even as we voiced this suspicion we realised how ridiculous that sounded.) They did of course turn up in the end and we felt exceptionally proud of our Good Samaritaning.
So far, touch wood, nothing extravagant has happened today. We haven’t run aground yet; there is no wind; and I haven’t seen a single cyclist all day. We have just passed a boat we recognise from the Pennines (hello Celtic Eagle!). And I saw the fattest moorhen ever an hour ago. But none of that’s quite in the same league, is it?
As we approached Shugborough yesterday, I thought oh god, the same stretch of canal, bleurgh. But actually I’ve loved it. It’s partly the same feeling I got when we’ve done out-and-backs (along the Caldon, along the Llangollen): a familiarity which fills you with confidence and affection. But it’s more than that. It’s also the recognition that I am a more confident boater than I was in April. I think I might just be able to laugh off those fouled attempts at mooring today. Or even if I couldn’t laugh, I’d know that it wasn’t my inexperience/fault that the canal was shallow. And it’s also a bit of excitement: the Coventry is just around the corner. What we could see of it as we passed the junction last time looked very tempting. How exciting!