What a beautiful place!? Come and see it for yourself…
One of the amazing aspects of living afloat is that home can move. It’s the chance to get to know new parts of the country and explore yet unseen places. It’s the comforts of home but the freedom to be wherever you fancy being next – well, as long as there’s a canal, that is. It’s an opportunity to colour in your mental map. So, on hearing so much from other boaters about how beautiful the Shropshire Union canal is, we decided to start the 2014 boating season there.
Through the winter, we’d formed a small community of 3 boats, moving every 2 weeks along a route that Kev devised last year to avoid lock closures. March sees them fully open again and marks the start of a new season. With it, my winter boat-mate, Robin, moved back home to Cambridge and we parted company from ‘Marty Party’, our Lancaster PhD student friend, on board Aurora.
It came to a conclusion in Birmingham city centre, which was quite a culture shock for us rural bumpkins. We could catch buses at practically any time day or night, work from the swanky new library, pick up groceries at a moment’s notice and catch up with city-based chums. There were people everywhere! As the 2 weeks there drew on, I grew increasingly fond of the city, its friendliness and diversity. The canal area is well-kept these days and there are so many facilities on the doorstep.
Despite the novelty and convenience, it was a relief to be on our merry way once again, bound for the Shropshire Union and spring-time countryside. The first step was to head 13 miles along the Birmingham Canal Navigations to Wolverhampton. The historical significance and backyard view of modern industry made the journey far more enjoyable than either of us had expected. Neither of us would swap it for the peace and beauty of the countryside, but we were grateful for the experience and sights.
After overnighting at the Black Country Museum, we headed through the 21 lock Wolverhampton flight to find the ‘Shroppie’, as the Shropshire Union is affectionately known, waiting for us on the other side. We had barely covered a mile before the urban feel had started to fall away, leaving a wash of green in its wake. After passing under the M54, we carried on a few more miles to moor near a beautiful town called Brewood. First impressions are excellent.
Rather than building lots of locks to accommodate the rise and fall of the land, the Shropshire Union was created by moving earth to make cuttings and ridges. It means that, not only can we chug along without working lots of locks, we’re treated to cuttings that feel like lavishly green dens filled with dappled light and high ridges with expansive views all around. At the moment we’re moored in a cutting and yesterday, stood looking out the window across the canal, I noticed a kingfisher, no bigger than my palm, sitting opposite. A quick dart in the water and it had a slither of a fish in its beak. It sat for a time, letting me really see it, before doing a wavey flight away just above the water. It reminded me what this is all about, what I’m doing here.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring this canal and running a few meditative canal breaks here as we build familiarity. It does look perfect for Float by Boat; stunningly beautiful and set well away from busy transport links. Though we can’t stay here long this year, my prediction is that the Shropshire Union will be a much bigger feature on next year’s schedule.