|The Swan Pub Fradley Junction|
As the birds started to sing, morning got underway in our little floating home with a filter coffee to kickstart the brain which was still feeling a little exhausted from the previous days of activity, thinking, planning and concentration.
As the caffeine started to take effect so did Lola's breakfast, a small bowl of unappealing dried food with a little bit of warm water to bring out some flavour and make it more appetising. I don't think she really cares as she seems to enjoy her food in whatever form it takes.
After catching up on any important messages or emails and allowing her food to settle it was off around the Fradley Junction nature reserve for a gentle stroll and to breath in that refreshing, clean and crisp morning air.
We took a walk up to the canal junction just to make a mental note of what we had to do as we changed from the Trent and Mersey to the Coventry canal which involved a rather deep lock and then an immediate left turn and through a single boaters nightmare - the dreaded swing bridge.
Fortunately all looked reasonably straight forward and I was hoping the volunteer lock keepers would have started their shifts to coincide with my passing through the locks to save me any embarrassment of making a mistake in front of any spectators.
|Fradley Junction intersection where the Coventry and Trent & Mersey canals meet|
After our walk it was off to the Laughing Duck cafe for a coffee and cake and to have a look at the Nicholson guide for what we were likely to encounter during todays journey.
There are several types of guides for the canals but I prefer the Nicholson guides as this is what I am familiar with and have always used. I find the maps are detailed and accurate and they're certainly helpful for knowing what hazards you may be approaching rather than being caught off guard or unprepared. This is especially useful when there are powerful weirs with strong currents which can pose a serious danger to boats in difficult and dangerous conditions.
|Coffee and cake as well as my trusted Nicholson canal guide|
With cake and coffee safely in the belly it was time for another wander around, exploring this beautiful place and watching as the early morning boaters start their movements onto their next destinations. I also visited the Canal & River Trust information centre next to the Laughing Duck as they are always very helpful and can provide some useful information about the local area and the canal network.
By this time Lola was getting a little restless as I hadn't given her any of my cake and she was making her disgust at this selfish act known through her impatient behaviour, repeatedly prodding my waist with her nose and using her paw to tell me to get a move on, leaving the inevitable scratch marks down my leg.
|Sign post pointing to Coventry canal at Fradley Junction|
To keep her happy we took another gentle stroll around the beautiful nature reserve before getting back on the boat and starting up the engine preparing for the next stage of our journey onto the Coventry canal.
I started to regret my slow start to the morning as a sudden influx of boaters suddenly brought the canal to life with various people jumping on and off boats, preparing locks and generally creating a hype of activity around the lock I was about to travel through. Not wanting to get caught up in all this rushing around, I switched off the engine, put of the kettle and made another coffee until things hopefully quietened down.
|Fradley Junction Nature Reserve|
An hour or so later, completely overdosed on caffeine an opportunity presented itself and I untied the lines and motored towards the lock as a boat was exiting which allowed me straight passage in through the open gates making things a lot easier. To my delight, the volunteer lock keepers were still assisting so all that was required of me was to stand there and and use forward and reverse throttle to prevent the boat from banging into the gates as they filled the lock with water.
Sometimes I'm never quite sure whether lock keepers prefer you to be up helping them with the gates or to remain in the boat while they do all the work so I always ask as I'm more than happy to help but the usual answer is to stay on the boat. I think this may be because I am a single boater and getting in and out of the boat is sometimes more of a hinderance than a help to them.
|Fradley Junction information centre and facilities|
Exiting the lock it was an immediate left turn onto the Coventry canal and through the dreaded swing bridge. Fortunately a passing walker had already noticed I was turning onto the canal and kindly opened and closed the gate for me making my passage through this busy little section a stressless experience.
|Fradley Junction coming to life with boaters and walkers|
By now I could see boats coming in from all angles but I was clear of anything that could cause me any delays and I was now leisurely cruising down towards my next destination of Hopwas as Fradley was starting to get really busy.
After travelling a few miles we passed through a very dark shaded area of woodland with warning signs of "Danger" due to the canal running alongside a Ministry of Defence firing range. Due to the dense canopy of leaves from the old trees, this area is in constant shade and it creates an eerie atmosphere, the kind of place as a child you would tell ghost stories and scare your friends half to death and all end up running for your lives spooked by the slightest of noises.
On this occasion we were going to stop just beyond in the small village of Hopwas and then take a walk back into the eerie woodland and go for a walk through the grounds of the firing range which is open to the public when not in use for training. The walk through this woodland is very peaceful although not the kind of place I would like to find myself lost as darkness was closing in.
After a little leg stretch it was back to the boat and onward with our journey. I know from previous visits to this village that The Red Lion was the only pub that allowed dogs inside as the other two pubs both turned us away. A real shame because I liked the look of the food menu in a pub called The Tame Otter but it wasn't to be. The Red Lion was friendly and served a good beer and was very welcoming giving Lola several dog biscuits from a jar behind the bar much to her delight.
Hopwas to Tamworth
As we continued our journey, the next section was open countryside before coming into Fazeley Junction where there were some undesirables hanging around looking like they were up to no good so I just stopped for a quick top up of my water tank at the service point and then continued on my way rather than leave the boat to venture into town.
|Approach to Fazeley Junction|
I always go with my gut feeling on these types of situations and if something doesn't feel right then i'll just move on. I actually prefer being in the open countryside well away from towns and people as these days I'd rather deal with a disgruntled duck or angry swan than drunk and hostile groups of youths out to cause trouble.
Looking on my map and seeing Tamworth was the next town on my route with no countryside stops in between and getting towards the end of the day I started to have a bit of a panic setting in.
The last place I wanted to be of a weekend was moored up in the middle of a town and with limited light left I had to get a move on.
To my relief as I entered the urban section of Tamworth I was pleasantly surprised at how pretty and well kept this section of canal was. I also noticed there was plenty of nice houses overlooking the canal and straight away I realised this would actually be quite a nice and safe place to moor for the evening and would give me the opportunity to take a walk into the town in the morning for a coffee.
After mooring up, we went for a walk along the canal and came across The Gate Inn pub which was dog friendly with a pleasant atmosphere so we had a quick pint of beer and packet of crisps before deciding it was getting too busy for us and headed back to the boat for a film and early night.
As we were brought out of our slumber by the birds morning chorus and the increasing light as the sun rose above the surrounding houses, it was breakfast and coffee and the usual morning activities followed by a mid morning walk into Tamworth town.
We walked along a stretch of river and then came to the site of Tamworth castle and took a walk up and around the exterior of this impressive and dominant land mark. Then having worked up a bit of a thirst I had an ice scream and sat down watching the people pass by getting on with their daily lives.
|Ice cream shop near the entrance to Tamworth Castle|
Happy we'd seen enough of the castle and grounds we wandered into Tamworth town centre, a pleasant little town with a mix of shops and friendly people. We stopped for coffee and some people watching before heading back to the boat as the temperature was getting a bit too warm for the dog. I also wanted to get to our next destination with plenty of time and light to spare, especially with it being the weekend.
|A view From Tamworth Castle of the surrounding grounds|
Untying the lines, we bid farewell to Tamworth and motored on, not quite sure where we would get to but definitely wanting a pleasant and safe mooring for a Saturday night.
Generally, most boaters tend to moor up where there are other boats as this provides an element of security in numbers but for many people who have opted for this lifestyle, including me, I prefer isolation, quiet locations and to be left well alone to meditate and work on my photography. I enjoy complete silence interrupted by nothing more than the singing of the birds and the sound of the wind in the trees.
When I travel on the canals or walk, I have been surprised at how difficult it is to find a place with nothing more than the sound of nature. It seems wherever you stop, there will nearly always be the sound of aeroplanes, cars, people and motorways which can actually be heard from miles away.
There are very few places I have visited in the heart of England where I have managed to find complete tranquility.
|A pretty section of the canal in Tamworth|
Join us in Part 4 for the next leg of the journey.....
For high quality black and white images of our journey around the Leicester Circuit, please see the link below: