On the ‘Shroppie’

After the trauma of contemplating nuclear devastation and the drug infused, drunken debauchery of Audlem music festival we finally cast off our bow line on Tuesday morning and continued our progress south. The most pressing thing on our mind was water, which we were running short of and something less pleasant that we had an over abundance of after five days in the same spot. The weather Gods thought it would be highly amusing to try and drown us as we pulled into the service point where other boaters were already filling up and emptying out. Standing by the boat holding a rope in torrential rain whilst queuing for water holds a certain irony I suppose but it’s not amusing.

Heading south to, errr, the toilet

What we really needed after several days of over indulgence and late nights was a nice gentle plod along an uncomplicated stretch of peaceful water but Audlum isn’t like that. From our mooring we had two locks to negotiate to the water point followed by a third one before the toilet facilities and then twelve more in quick succession. Five bright and breezy hours later we closed the last lock gate with a weary sigh and pulled into a beautiful spot surrounded by trees and heralded by glorious bird song. The peace and solitude were in stark contrast to all the frantic activity and noise of the festival but it was just the antidote we needed and much more typical of what we expect when travelling this stretch of water.

It was a short easy hop to Market Drayton the next day and a two night stop to catch up on shopping and a few chores and to rendezvous with friends that we met when we were travelling last summer. It just so happened that Alan and Jacky were heading north and expected to be in Market Drayton the next day so the six of us arranged to meet up and have a catch up over dinner in the Red Lion. Good food and beer shared with great company is an evening well spent in my book and another cherished memory to deposit in the bank. Like all members of a similar tribe we love swapping stories and the more outrageous the better. Canal life is a rich seam to be tapped and the evening passed with an endless stream of laughter as the bonds of friendship were gently tightened before warm goodbyes in anticipation of future encounters.

Random strange sight

The Shropshire Union canal in this part of the county comprises sets of locks separated by long stretches of peaceful flat water passing through a succession of cuttings and embankments. The cuttings are sometimes deep and dark, almost jungle like with a cacophony of bird song and rich earthy smells. The tree tops often meet over the water forming a leafy emerald tunnel and where it was necessary to cut through tough unforgiving rock the channel narrows to little more than one boat’s width. Some of these narrow channels are straight whilst others meander left and right providing a little exciting anticipation at the prospect of meeting a boat coming the other way. Then suddenly the land and foliage fall away to each side as the cutting transforms to high embankment and darkness is replaced with brilliant light and expansive views in all directions. This landscape was typical of the next day’s travel as we left Market Drayton with Bob and Marie in our wake and entered the first narrows. Once clear of the challenging set of five Tyrley locks we were back in open countryside and The Longmynd and Stretton hills were clearly visible in the distance to the west. Gill and I remembered that there were good moorings not far ahead and as luck would have it we managed to grab the two best spots with panoramic views and good solid rings to tie up to.

Fingers crossed

Ten minutes later we have claimed our patch on the tow path and with chairs set out and mugs of tea in hand we can relax and admire the scenery whilst reflecting on the day’s sights and sounds. Later it’s Bob and Marie’s turn to meet up with their boating friends Paul and Jackie and whilst there is no pub involved this time it makes little difference and soon their friends are our friends and so it continues. Despite our widely differing backgrounds and experience there is common ground in abundance and a whole morning is lost to yet more stories and belly aching laughter amongst the inevitable discussion of the less glamorous, more basic side of narrow boat living. You know what I mean.

It feels as if we are gradually being absorbed into a lovely welcoming community of water travellers that come together and drift apart but always with an assumption that paths will cross again and friendships will be rekindled.

A near Glastonbury experience

Don’t you just love it when all the stars and planets align and everything just falls perfectly into place at just the right time. We spent a frustrating five months last year arriving in places on the boat where some spectacular talent filled entertainment bonanza had either just taken place or was about to happen in two weeks time. We hadn’t quite got the idea of just chilling and hanging around back then so we ended up missing every musical and cultural delight that we nearly came upon all summer. But not this year!

It might not be Glastonbury but it is buzzing
It’s the 19th Audlem festival and we are here!!

This year it’s different. We have landed in the beautiful little canal village of Audlem in perfect time for their four day extravaganza of poetry, music and beer. Arts, ale and sunshine; what more could a weary traveller ask for? Well how about pizza and a hair cut on the tow path. Yes we finally caught up with ‘Baked on Board’ the wood fire pizza boat that we have been chasing all over the canal network since last summer and as if that wasn’t enough, as I tripped over my untidy locks strolling along the canal I stumbled upon a hair dressing narrow boat. I’m not making this up honestly, and I have a nice smart hair cut to prove it. I can thoroughly recommend sitting in the sunshine on the tow path and having your hair cut by the lovely Ann, whilst bemused dog walkers stroll by. It’s so much more rewarding to discuss life on the water and the various pros and cons of a variety of canal side pubs rather than making small talk about Brylcream with a bored barber from Birmingham.

Haircut sir?

The festival itself is a buzzing cauldron of eclectic talent and friendly crowds. Just think Glastonbury without the mud and queues and about 99,000 less people. We have already sampled cool jazz, folk, poetry about Kermit the frog and head banging rock (for about thirty seconds) and there are still two days to go.

Cool jazz from Kevin Hassett and Redux
Inside the Shroppie Fly pub

The pizzas were divine, as predicted by so many boaters we have talked to along the way and I even managed to buy a length of anchor rope from a dignitary.

Pizza worth travelling for.
Rope boat

There is a lovely laid back atmosphere about this festival as the well heeled locals mingle with the slightly more down to earth boaters in a Blackpool meets Knightsbridge kind of way. It was particularly heart warming to look around the crowd whilst watching the Barsteward Son of Val Doonican (seriously, look him up on YouTube), and seeing immaculately dressed fashionistas wiping away the tears of laughter, in just the same way as the denim clad ageing hippies and would be rockers were. I love the fact that below the surface we are all pretty much the same model.

Speaking of models, we are now travelling with friends Bob and Marie on their very recently re-painted boat Rebecca. Rebecca looks stunning, perfect in every detail, while our Golden Girl is starting to show her age a little. She still looks good from a distance but up close she’s ready for a bit of beauty therapy. There is a very definite difference between our two craft on the outside but just like the crowds at the festival it’s only skin deep. Same as people really.

Rebecca, fresh from the beauty parlour
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