Back in The Canal…

It’s been quite a while since writing as I have been doing an entirely different project inspired by The Staffordshire Hoard as part of The Hoard Festival at The New Vic in Stoke.  I focused on Gold, what it meant to us in Anglo Saxon times, what it has always meant to us, and what it means to us now. So a similar treatment to how I’m looking at The Shroppie but with a precious metal instead of a waterway. I’ll be drinking from a gold mug that I procured as part of that project as I write this (not solid Gold). 

In the past two weeks I’ve been getting my head back into The Canals, not literally, as much as I have wanted to in the two days we did have a summer. This is when I remember what I’m doing; walking just under 90 miles, in 7 days, in a months time. I’ve planned my route, my stopping points, looking at places to stay, to stop and started tracing stories of The Shroppie through archive items in the museum. Bridges marking the The Shropshire Union from No 1, to No 147, that bridge at the museum is my starting point the opening to the canal, but will be my final bridge on the last day of the walk.  195 bridges in total including the Birmingham ones,  I pass 68 locks, some in collections of 15 steps,  6 tunnels (5 of them before reaching The Shroppie) 88 miles, 6 overnight stays (one on a boat) , a new pair of boots and a £17 pair of socks. I will potentially need more than one pair of £17 socks.

I’ll be walking through the industrial, graffitied paths of Birmingham and Wolverhampton out into Staffordshire, following chocolate crumb and dairy to the old Cadbury’s Wharf in Knighton. Peaceful as it reaches the country hiding its histories of busy waterways built for purpose.  Pubs still standing, almost un changed, others and old mills long gone,  confined to photos taken years after their heyday finery. Tales of Lords and pheasants, slipping pathways, panthers, scars in the landscape through the training of water trade. Tunnels made from branches, old ghosts and ales. Engineer arguments and companies accusations of aqua theft.

I’m tracing the route virtually at first with the help of an old guide book, a canal route planner, the archives and the internet. Other people tales who have already travelled where I’m walking. Its strange to see things virtually or see them how they were 30, 40, 50, 100, 200 years before I will see them in life. Or read their words before I write down what I see now.  Trying to imagine the quiet that I might hear while also seeing the past, gruff words, heavy shouts and work on these pathways we take for pleasure.

Here is my itinerary as it stands (and calling it that makes it real, this trip that seems unreal as I collect photo’s and snippets of old to keep me company along the way):

Itinerary: 
Saturday 12th: Birmingham-Dudley Port Junction (15 miles)
Sunday 13th: Dudley Port Junction-Brewood Wharf. (14 miles)
Monday 14th: Brewood Wharf-Knighton Wharf (Old Cadbury wharf-15 miles)
Tuesday 15th: Knighton-Audlem (Lovely locks -12 miles)
Wednesday 16th: Audlem-Beeston (13 miles)
Thursday 17th: Beeston to Chester (11 miles)
Friday 18th: Chester-Ellesmere Port-The Museum! (8 miles) THE END! (Drinks, fireworks, bunting etc..)

I am still looking for possible places to stay along the way, along or on the canal, or if you have a want to walk for a mile or two with me please get in touch franms@mac.com . We are organising a schedule with some parts more popular to walk than others. If you have a story of a place, or journey along these parts please also do get in touch.

I am being told of fallen toe nails, blisters and lack of mobile reception. An average of about 13 miles a day. I am strong, I am hardy. I tell myself- I am a walker. City walker mainly, always will prefer to tread the tarmac than public transport. Download an app to map my walk to my phone. That will help. I’d probably rather swim it. Find that easier, apart from Weils disease. And the boats. Dead dogs and dead eels.  But walking was a way of transportation, we worked with our feet. And walking is quicker than boat. Mostly. And at least I can’t get lost, it’s up north but down hill all the way to Ellesmere Port. And as one friend said ‘Walking is just putting one foot in front of the other’.

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