Sunday, 21 August 2011

Probably my favourite canal - The Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Locking through Autherley Stop on to the Staffs and Worcs

After our overnight stop just before the Autherley Stop lock, at the end of the Shropshire Union, we were ready to turn onto the Staffs and Worcs canal.

Gate paddles make for quickly filled locks.

We were particularly looking forward to this, because we had very fond memories of our only other trip on the S&W with Chalice, and also ecause we were about to explore part of it we had never done before, including the famous locks at The Bratch.

These faces are a regular feature - I don't know the story, though!

Towcester usually operates on our home canal - very surprised to see it here!

Cath crosses one of the more minimal foot bridges.

The Staffs and Worcs is a canal very, very different in character to the "Shroppie" - not surprising as it is a very early build, whereas the "Shroppie" came towards the end of serious canal building.  The "Shroppie" is very straight, as it freely switches from long wooded cuttings, to open embankments.  The S&W is winding - often adventurously so, and if you only visit it occasionally, you could seldom guess what it will look like around the next of it's many bends.

The design of The Bratch results in this between gates turbulence.

Also, unlike the "Shroppie"  that clusters it's locks together in flights, the S&W can often be guaranteed to give you one or two locks every mile or so, or sometimes even closer than that, but never more than three together.  I like my boating broken up y locks, and the S&W does this to perfection.

Both sets of gates need to open to move between chambers at The Bratch

Also the locks are some of the prettiest, with round ended balance beams, and have exceptionally easy to operate geared paddles on most locks.  Add to that Brindley's circular overflow weirs at many locks, and all kinds of variants of bridges across the foot of locks, and it really is a gem for canal enthusiasts.

Classic view of The Bratch.

The Bratch locks are fairly unique, as far as I know. Often referred to as a staircase, this isn't strictly accurate, as each lock chamber has it's own dedicated pair of gates, with no sharing of a gate between adjacent chambers, as in a true staircase.  However, because there is effectively no canal to speak of between the gates of one lock and the next, the small area of water you can see the turbulence in above, where the paddles empty to and fill from, is actually extended to large ponds beside the locks that act as the otherwise "missing" canal.

Curious tunnel back to the boat at The Bratch.

The locks have to be worked in a certain way - hence the paddle gear that these days has been given colour coding, but actually effecient lock-keepers are on hand to help the uninitiated do things in the right order, and to control how many boats pass in one direction, before no more are allowed for a bit, so boats can pass the other way, (as boats clearly cannot pass in the lock flight).  We had possibly expected queuing, but in reality there was none.

Emptying the lower lock at Botterham staircase.

Not content with the oddities of The Bratch the S&W also sports a number of true staircase locks where the same very large gates act as the bottom gate of a top lock chamber and the top gate of a lock chamber.  These staircases can catch out novice crews, particularly if a footbridge blocks the view of one lock from the other. and it is not obvious you are dealing with an unusual lock type.  None-the-less such locks generally have no keepers, and you are left to work it out for yourselves.

Bellatrix is an immaculate "Small Northwich" "Star Class".

We passed some really interesting old boats on this stretch, some I was unfamiliar with, some immaculately presented. and sometimes both together!

Cath approaches yet another of the regularly occurring locks.

I't is hard to remember all we saw this day - the canal is so varied, and offers so much.  It is also remarkably under-used, considering it's beauty - you simply do not get a fraction of the boat numbers that we experienced on canals in Cheshire.  It's really not that easy to understand why, other than ultimately it is a through route in its lower reaches only if you then venture out on to the River Severn - perhaps that is what deters some narrow boaters from the S&W ?

Alan's turn to cross a narrow foot-way.

The thing I like least about this canal, is that there is simply not enough of it!  In just one day we had already covered the majority of the part south of Autherley, where we had joined.  We had left ourselvesthe prospect of a short day the following day, as we had other plans.

Autherley Junction (Shropshire Union) to Cookley (Staffs and Worcs)
Miles: 18.4, Locks: 23

Total Miles: 272.0, Total Locks: 204


  1. I agree, it's a great canal, and one of my favourites too (although the bottom half from Autherley to Stourport is much nicer that the other end). So many great places -- Bratch, Greensforge, Kinver.

    The pedant in me, though, is bound to point out that something (even Bratch) can't be fairly unique -- something is either unique or it isn't!

  2. Fair comment.

    I did originally just say "unique", and suppose I knew I was committing a bit of a faux pas in changing it.

    I think it IS unique as a three lock rise, but was suddenly reminded that I think there is something in the middle of a flight on the Stourbridge where just 2 locks share a similar arrangement to The Bratch.

  3. As 4 total novices, from 3 different countries, we did the Stourport Ring in "07. We came across this oddity, and it definitely made us think for a while!Coming back next year to do the Llangollen, Canal and Railway.


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