From Nantwich we headed south on the Shroppie, with a short day to Audlem. We chose a lovely mooring on the aqueduct over the river Weaver instead of the moorings in the village, which are a bit busy and dark.
Next day, we made a slightly early start in a devious attempt to be first boat up the locks. This failed at the first lock as we could see someone in front had just beaten us up it. No matter, there were a few boats heading down already so we didn't have to reset a single lock all the way up to the ever-popular Shroppie Fly pub.
Beyond the pub the locks come thick and fast but we had a great run up the 15 lock flight, with just enough boats going in each direction. You can see in the photo below that the locks are all quite close together, which makes life easier.
The Shropshire Union is a relatively modern canal so uses a lot of 'high tech' cuttings and embankments to minimise the number of locks. The cuttings begin with a vengeance south of Audlem and some of them are impressively deep, meaning huge bridges are needed to allow roads to cross them. This is High Bridge in Grub Street cutting, complete with mini-telegraph pole!
We moored just after Brewood for our final night on the Shroppie so as to have a pleasant mooring whilst minimising the distance we had to travel the following day, which was to be our longest day of the trip this year at around 32 lock miles. Typically, it rained. A lot. This was the view as we set off heading for Autherley Junction.
Turning right at the junction we were briefly on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, before we turned left at Aldersley Junction to begin the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks. Sights of the Wolverhampton flight are few and far between so here's the bottom:
... and 21 locks later, here's the top - phew!
After some slow, weedy miles we stopped for the night at Tipton Green - there are decent, safe moorings on the offside here. The following day we followed the Birmingham Old Main Line which darts in and out of the shadow of the M5.
This is a fascinating stretch of canal with the contrast between the roaring, modern motorway overhead and the tranquil, old canal lying secretly underneath.
Birmingham famously has more miles of canal than Venice and this seems to be causing David some confusion as we cross the New Main Line at the point where road, railway and two canals fly over one another.
The Birmingham Canal Navigations, or BCN, must be the only part of the system where you could actually get lost. But maybe it wasn't just the map-reading that was causing David concern - Victoria's birthday was fast approaching so the annual one-man Great British Bake Off began as soon as we got to Birmingham. Here David can be seen surgically adjusting his bake by trimming off the burnt bits. Classy.
And here's the finished result - not the best cake in the world but, more importantly, baking done for another year!
Victoria's dad had obviously heard about the delicious baked goods on offer in Birmingham (or perhaps smelt the burning....) and came to visit the birthday girl for the day.
After a day of sightseeing and some dreaded but necessary shopping at the Bull Ring we set off, detouring through Gas Street Basin to turn round at the Mailbox before heading back the way we'd come along the New Main Line.
We've been to Birmingham several times now but never ventured down any of the BCN's wiggly bits. We don't plan to do any of the 'wilder' parts of the BCN but we did explore the Icknield Port loop, which runs past the bottom of Rotton Park Reservoir - actually nicer than it sounds.
The Icknield Port loop is very short and soon rejoins the Main Line, which we headed straight across to explore the Soho loop the other side.
Detours over, we headed back west but this time took the newer, more direct New Main Line. Here we are passing another boat at one of the BCN's many former toll islands. These are narrow parts of the canal which are a pain to us leisure boaters but were essential to collecting tolls in the canals' working days.
Soon we were back at the site of David's confused face above, although this time on the lower level of the New Main Line. The Old Line crosses on the arched bridge just infront of the motorway.
Visiting Birmingham by boat inevitably involves a lot of locks up and a lot more back down again. Our first flight the following day was the Delph flight which looks like you're falling off a cliff from the top as it drops 85' in 8 tightly spaced locks.
Before the next flight of locks you get a short break, which is enlivened by a very low bridge...
... and in our case the prop-foul of the year so far (famous last words) when we picked up a large and very fluffy cushion which almost stalled the engine. David spent some time wrestling the cushion off the prop then hauling it out onto the bank, which wasn't made any easier by some nosy swans (his favourite) interfering. He then threw it back in the cut for the next unsuspecting boat to catch. Just kidding.
Minutes later we surfed over some large obstructions under the water - shopping trollies at a guess but who knows. It's a strange feeling when nearly 20 tons of narrowboat rises up out of the water as you grind over an unseen obstruction. Rubbish in the canal is clearly a bit of a problem on the Stourbridge! After that it was smooth-going down the 16 locks of the Stourbridge flight....
...to reach an amazingly rural mooring on the edge of Stourbridge, with only horses for company in the field opposite.
Today we've come down the remaining four locks of the Stourbridge canal to join the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal (again), heading south through to a lovely mooring at Kinver today.