It's been a day of two halves weatherwise, almost exactly mirrored by the two canals we've travelled on. Admittedly it was brighter than expected when we set off from Gnosall at just after 8, almost straight into Cowley Tunnel, which is hewn through the rock.
Unfortunately, a hire boat had set off just in front of us, and prceeded at what we'll call a leisurely pace. It slowed to a speed barely above stop at each bridge hole; it was half an hour before we persuaded them to let us pass.
It started raining a little later than forecast, and also became rather blustery. It seemed particularly bad as we worked through the lock at Wheaton Aston. I was quite grateful for the Shroppie's cuttings, which offered protection from the wind and rain. The cuttings along this stretch aren't as dramatically deep as the ones further north, but I really like them: they're enchantingly wooded, and often the home of kingfishers (just one seen today).
Sarah's Chertsey was moored at Stretton Wharf, and I spotted the butty, Bakewell on the hard standing, with work apparently happening on the cabin. I looked for Montgomery, but couldn't see it.
Immediately afterwards we crossed the A5 on the Stretton Aqueduct. The camera (which not surprisingly had rain drops on the lens by then) tells me it was 10.43am.
The rain absolutely hammered down as we went through Brewood, where moored boats, a hire base, and visitor moorings, mean very slow progress. At the frequent narrow sections which follow, we seemed to be very fortunate, meeting boats after them, rather than in them.
We stopped at the water point just before Autherley Junction, and started a wash load. By now the rain had stopped, but the towpath was very muddy. We continued through the stop lock, which raises the canal just a few inches to the level of the Staffs and Worcs Canal. We turned left towards Great Haywood, and almost immediately entered the narrows of the 'Pendeford Rockin'. Again, we didn't have to make use of the occasional passing places.
As we emerged from the Rockin, the sun came out, and after a brief excusion into the West Mindlands, we were back in the Staffordshire countryside.
The differences between the Shroppie and the Staffs and Worcs soon became clear. The Shroppie requires very little steering, as it has long straight sections through cuttings and across embankments; the Staffs and Worcs winds all over the place, and has numerous blind bridges on sharp bends.
Our aim for the night was Gailey, and as the moorings above the lock are a bit gloomy we went down the lock. Alongside is the Roundhouse, which used to be the toll clerk's office.
Immediately below the lock the A5 crosses the road on a bridge. The camera tells me it was 4.13pm. By road, this is exactly three miles from Stretton Aqueduct; by canal, you travel a big V-shape of 14 miles.
Shortly after mooring up, the Narrowboat Trust pair, Nuneaton and Brighton came past. We walked back to the shop in the Roundhouse, where we added to our collection of canal plaques, having added quite a few new canals on this trip. We had a ice cream while we watched the slightly chaotic crew bring the pair up the lock.
21 miles, 3 locks. (296 miles, 167 locks)