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Monday, 16 July 2018

For Peace and Quiet

We go back just as the England game was finishing and caught the end on the radio before heading off. We decided to head back for the Weston Branch as it was so peaceful, as against the road noise here at Queens Head.

The main visitor moorings are by the Shropshire Paddlesport Canoe Club, but there is another set of bollards through the two bridges. Mind you it is no quieter. I was perplexed that by a canoe club the height of the bank was raised, as it would make it difficult to get in and out of them. I then noticed that the address of the club house was actually the 'Old Barge House', so it had obviously been a wharf in the past.

Over the road from the boat house is a building that looks suspiciously like a warehouse. It also seems that despite the new corrugated iron on the Canoe Club building it has actually been a Grade II Listed building since 1987.

At Heath Houses, as well as the Packet House building, is the only turn-over bridge on the Montgomery Canal. From here to Newport the tow path does not change sides again. Unlike in most other places where the track is ccobbled for giving the horses grip, this one seems to be grassed. I suppose that may well be a later thing though.

The canal passes over the little River Perry on a small aqueduct. It was between here, and the new winding hole a little to the north, that the breech in the canal occurred in 1936 that brought about the closure of the canal. They didn't want to waste any money on a repairs that had no boats using it! Looking at the pictures of the canal restoration it is amazing that there are no trees or bushes about.

The canal is definitely a place full of wildlife in the form of plants and insects. There is plenty of bird life but I didn't see any other mammals. 

We were very pleased to see that we were the only ones at the moorings at the Weston Branch. It was a lovely evening and Macy took full advantage of their being no people or dog walkers and loved being out and about.

After a good exploration Macy is pleased to sit on the sun warmed concrete to take in the cooling air.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

More Shrewsbury

We continued our wander on a Darwin Theme.

The Quantum Leap was designed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809. The Sutton Coldfield Architects Pearce and Lal designed it and it is 12m high and 17.5m long and weighs 113 tonnes as it is made out of concrete. It is said to be dinosaur bones, DNA or a backbone. Locals however call it the 'Slinky'!

The Lion on Wyle Cop is an old coaching Inn, part of which was late 15th Century. Its claim to fame is that this is where Charles Darwin caught the coach to join the Beagle, and the rest is history. When Fitzroy asked if he wanted to accompany the trip Darwin's father refused as he wanted him to settle down. Charles asked his uncle Josiah Wedgewood to intercede on his behalf, and he did so. His place had been offered to another person, but luckily Fitzroy had received his apologies. When he came back from the round the world trip he came here on his first night before returning home early in the morning.

St Alkmund's Church was founded about 900 so is over 1100 years old.

Inside the east window is a marvel It was inserted in 1795 and is one of the few works by Francis Eginton of Birmingham. He was commissioned to paint a window for £150. He told the church wardens that he could provide nothing of note for that sum, but if they increased it to £200 he would be able to supply a great piece. In the end he was over budget at £220 10s. The Church Wardens were so impressed that they gladly paid. It is really beautiful

Not far away is St. Mary's that is no longer used for worship but is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The main stained glass is this depiction of the Jesse Tree. It was supposed to have been installed in the Franciscan Church Greyfrairs in the town. At the dissolution by Henry VIII about 1536/1541 it was moved to the old St. Chad's church. When that buildings tower collapsed it was saved and installed here in 1792. It was much restored in 1858 but much of the original glass from 1327 and 1353 remains.

Been of a nautical bent I do love a maritime memorial and this one to Admiral Benbow, so far from the sea was impressive.

The oak carved ceiling in the nave is stunning and was created in the 15th Century. There are birds, animals and angels depicted.

I loved this aspect of Windsor House. It was built in the late 18th Century as three stories as a house, but is now offices.

The Bronze sculpture was designed by Henry Mountford and is raised on a polish granite plinth with two steps it was cast by Board and Son. It has always been in this position. Darwin lived 1809 to 1882 and the statue was erected in 1897. Public subscription did not cover the full amount of the fees so the Shreswbury Horticultural Society paid the remainder, at least £1000.

The statue of Darwin is outside the old Shrewsbury School. The school was founded in 1552 but these buildings at Castel Gates were constructed in 1630. They include a chapel, dormitories, library and classroom. The school stayed here until moving to Kingsland in 1882.

Saturday, 14 July 2018


After our walk around the locale we had a quiet night that included a couple of pints at the Navigation. They were very busy with only two staff, and I think that included the chef!

We had decided to retrace our steps to Queens Head and catch the bus in the opposite direction to Oswestry, to Shrewsbury, or is it 'Shrowsbury'? I think even those that live their can't make up their minds! There are one or two places on the canal that the reeds are doing their best to reclaim. I suppose, as on the Droitwich Canal, being a SSSI the paperwork to reduce a reed habitat must be a lot worse than the ire of passing boaters. The bus took about 35 minutes and on a day rover ticket was £6-20 each.

We made our way to the museum/Art gallery and Tourist Information. They wanted £4-50 to go in the museum. We are from the land of free culture so declined, but went for a cup of coffee in the place. We didn't see anybody enter the museum in the 30 mins we were there. In Hull 400 or 500 are passing through the doors on a normal week day. Outside was the Old Market Hall. It was built in 1596 following the demolition of one built on the site in 1260's. The upper floor house the Guild of Drapers and below was the corn market for farmers. In the 1800's it fell into disrepair and many were for knocking it down and building another, but they refurbished it. The Drapers moved out and their space was used as a warehouse, a dance hall, drill hall, auctions, lectures etc. In the 1870's two courtrooms and offices were created, and hangings took place right outside! In WWII the undercroft was bricked in and made into an air raid shelter. By 1995 it became unused and fell into disrepair, but as by then it was Grade 1 listed it has been saved.

There had been a St. Chad's in Shrewsbury since 7th Century. St. Chad was the first Christian Bishop of Mercia. The Church had developed over the years but by 1788 Thomas Telford himself had warned the vicar that it was in danger of falling down, and it did in 1788. All that is left is the S wall of the Chancel, the S transept E wall and the Lady Chapel. The former were both from the 12th Century and the later from late 15th Century.

We walked down to the river Severn and as we passed under Kingsland Bridge, that was built in 1883 as a toll bridge and it still costs 20p for a car to cross, we could see that there were dragon boat racing from the Shrewsbury School Boat house to the Pengwern Boathouse. The School Rowing Club was founded in 1866 and the boathouse was built around this time. It was shared with the Pengwern Rowing Club for a short time until they went their own way in 1876 when they built their own club house a little further down the bank.

On the heights above the river at Kingsland stands the 'new' Shrewsbury School. The school was started by Royal Charter of Edward VI in 1552. It moved here from the centre of the city in 1882. The main part of the building had been built in 1765 as a Foundling Hospital and then a workhouse. The School is one of the original seven Public Schools as defined in the 1868 Act of Parliament.

Shresbury is built in the middle of a huge loop of the River Severn and today, to the south west is a vast park called the Quarry, running down to the river. There are also parts of it set out as formal gardens in the Dingle. In the Dingle, among the beds, is the bust of Percy Thrower, whose name is well known to those of my generation from gardening programmes on TV and Radio. Between 1946 and 1974 he was the Parks Superintendent in Shrewsbury and remodeled the park after the war and replanted the avenues of trees by the river.

The new St. Chads Church is built looking down across the Quarry park to the river. After the old St. Chad's fell down a new site was found here and designs were commissioned from a Scottish architect. By some 'misunderstanding the one with the circular nave was built. It is unique and the pews are arranged in a maze pattern to fit in. The church is normally open but there was a wedding on. However the thirteen bells were ringing out making a lovely atmosphere outside. Charles Darwin was baptised in the church in 1809.

The park gates near St. Chads were presented to the Council in 1881 by the Shrewsbury Horticultural Society. The park is the site of the annual Shrewsbury Flower Show.

We were loosely following a trail of places associated with the town's most famous son, Charles Darwin. In the background is Morris Hall, but the object of interest is in the foreground and is the greenish rock called the Bellstone. When Darwin was at school his master had told him that 'the world would come to an end before anyone would be able to explain how it had come to be here' as the nearest point where this type of rock can be found was north of Cumbria! This piqued Darwin's interest in geology. He had already taken to collecting bugs and beetles in Quarry Park and the river. Ofcourse we know now that it was likely to have been left here following the retreat of the ice.

On the Mardol, a road whose name means 'The Devil's Boundary', stand the Kings Head. It is a late15th Century Inn that has three floors and is timber framed and is jettied, ie each floor sticks out beyond the one below. There is also the remains of a 15th Cntury mural that depicts the last supper.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Maesbury Walk.

Once we had winded at the head of navigation and returned to the moorings at Maesbury Marsh we decided to go for a walk round the local sites.

St. John The Babtist Church is situated right on the border between Maesbury Marsh and Maesbury and is  on of a diminishing number of tin tabernacles remaining. Corrugated iron was first used  for roofing about 1829, after the method of making it was found, plus a little later the galvanising was carried out to make it last. The first portable buildings were for sale in 1832, mainly for export at that time. This particular church was bought from Harrod's for £120 around 1906. It arrived on the back of a lorry as a flat pack and two men erected it. There was no Anglican Church close by at the time, however it wasn't until 1996 that it became a parish in its own right.

It is a lovely building that is open for viewing. The interior is almost the same as when it was built, other than the 14 pews that were made by the carpenters at the local Gobowen College in the 1950's and 60's. A few years ago there was a great need for a repair of the building, not the iron but the window frames, doors etc etc. They have managed to have this done so the building will last another 100 years.

From this angle Sycamore House does look very similar to the Beech House that is opposite the Ellesmere Junction. That was used by Thomas Telford when working on the and became the Canal head quarters. Strange that they are both named after trees. It was originally called the Wharfingers House and was built about 1830. It Gade II Listed now.

The Navigation Inn is an unusual building. As was seen in yesterday's blog the end of the building nearest the canal was definitely a warehouse. From the road it looks line the entrance near the pub sign may well have been the entrance to the pub and the porch entrance looks like it could have been a shop.

It was a hot day for a walk and the sheep were keen to find some shade in the hedge bottoms. 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' and all that.

We had seen a name on the map, not too far from the canal so we decided to go and see what it was. The path was over fields and then into the shade of a small wood.

We were looking for St. Winifred's Well. We thought that it would be just a bubbling up out of the ground. St. Winifred was a 7th Century Welsh Princess who had sworn to a life of chastity. The story goes that after refusing a suitor she was running to seek refuge in the church when the angry suitor chopped her head off! Her Uncle was St Beuno and he was said to have brought her back to life. She was well loved in the area that it is no surprise that a well was named after her. The building has been dated as from about 1485 by tree ring dating. The spring was more than likely a place of pilgrimage before that and the taking of the water was likely thought to be a curative and a restorative.

There are three pools, the oldest being the smallest. You can see a niche above the spring that probably held a statue to the saint.

The second oldest pool has been used as a plunge pool with steps built for access. Large modifications were undertaken in 17th Century and maybe this happened then. It was used as a court house until 1824 when it was converted to a residence and the wattle and daub walls infilled with bricks.

It is such a cute building about 100 mtrs down a path from the road. The pigsty that was built when it became a residence is now the bathroom and is just out of shot to the left. In 1928 it was bought by the West Felton Vicar from the farmer and it has been passed down in his family until 1987 when it was sold to the Landmark Trust who preserve old and interesting buildings, and many of which are rented out for holiday lets. This one can be had for around £230 for three nights, but what an unusual place and beautifully furnished.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Making way to Maesbury.

There is a road that runs parallel to the canal and for some reason vehicles seemed to use it right through the night. We are so used to really quiet moorings that I woke up a fair bit through the night.

We were soon away on another very fine morning with hardly a cloud in the shy, again! very quickly we were at the three Aston Locks that drop the canal down a little over 18'.

Running along on the off side of the Aston Locks is a new nature reserve that has been 'built' by C&RT with a £2.4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is to take run off from the locks to create a 2 acre pond to encourage the very special plant life along with the damsel and dragon flies and hopefully water voles and otters along with birds. It also looks like part is a fishing lake too. I think that as the canal, before restoration, was a Site of Special Scientific  Importance so part of the price to open the canal was have a 'stand by' environment. The whole scheme is costing £4 million as it included opening of 1.5 miles of canal near Welshpool.

We were soon down the three locks and hardly anybody passing at all. there are certainly plenty of damsel and dragon flies at the moment and it is great to watch them. I wish they would sit a bit longer so I could identify them.

This is the 'fishing lake' with the run off link to the canal.

As we passed down the canal there were three helicopters in the air doing circuits in loose formation. It seems that the main helicopter initial training base is at RAF Shawbury not far away. In April this year they had just won a £1.1 Billion award for training helicopter pilots until 2030. RAF Shawbury opened in 1917 but after WWI finished it returned to agriculture in 1920. The threat of war in 1938 meant it reopened as a basic training school. It then became an advanced training base, a school for navigation, a school for Air Traffic Controllers in 1950 and finally helicopters in 1976.

On the outskirts of Maesbury Marsh is this little old factory that started life in the early 1800's as a smelting works using locally sourced lead and coal. It became a bone and artificial fertilizer factory in 1860's. A good supply of cow and horse hooves were boiled up. The geletine going to make glue and the rest been ground up to make fertilizer. There was an even bigger chimney that was demolished in 1892. Maybe it is then that this factory closed and the business moved up the canal to Rednal Basin which we passed yesterday.

A little further down the cut is Maesbury Marsh Navigation Inn. It certainly looks like it may well have been a warehouse at one time but in 1896 it had ten rooms and seven stables for boat horses. Just the other side of the bridge, where the modern services house is now, was the warehouse that had a crane. Maesbury was a busy little port with the bone factory, warehouse, grain store and flour mill.

There is no winding hole at Maesbury so you have to proceed  a little further and beyond the lift bridge. The winding hole is far enough away that you aren't really comfortable in leaving the bridge up waiting for the boat to turn. It was a bit stiff too.

The actual winding hole is at Gronwen Wharf which was actually the terminus of a plateway that brought coal from a mine at Morda and Coed y Go. Some of the rails have been found as well as some wheels. There are several boats moored in the winding hole but there is plenty of room to turn.

We returned to Maesbury, under the bridge once again and had lunch.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


We moored up at Queens Head and after lunch went 'above ground' to the road to find the bus stop as we had decided to catch the bus to Oswestry. The buses are every 30 mins here so as we had never been there before we thought we may as well.

The trip was about 20 minutes and it was quite nice to be dashing along as with the windows open there was a nice cooling breeze.  The Guild Hall in Bailey Head in Oswestry is an unusual building as it remains me of a French Town Hall. It was actually opened in 1893 after the previous building had been knocked down. It cost £11000 and was built in the style known as '17th Century Renaissance fairly treated'! It housed the council offices a court and a library. By 2012, and after close to half a million pounds being spent on refurbishment in 1995, the court was replaced by a museum, but it is only open a couple of times a week.

On the Guild Hall is this sculpture of St. Oswald. He had the Christian Bishop Aidan sent from Ireland to help him convert his people. One day Aidan was eating with the King on Easter when a servant entered to tell him that there were crowds of poor begging for alms from the King. Immediately he sent food from his table and even broke up the silver dish to give to the poor. Aidan lent over and touching his right hand stating that this hand will never perish. Apparently through many travails it is is still whole and was stolen by the monks of Peterborough from Bamburgh Castle. I think it is still supposed to be there!

The main church in Oswestry is St. Oswald's and is the same bloke after whom the town is named. Oswald was the Christian King of Northumberland who was killed at the Battle of Oswestry. His body was said to have been nailed to a tree as a sort of crucifixion and hence the name 'Oswald's Tree'. The church had some nice memorials including this one to John and Margret Yale erected in the 1760's by their son.

I really liked the the war memorial that had St. George above, and the sculpture of the helmet and arms were really nice too. I also liked the fact that the main tilt of the message was to give thanks for the safe return of those that fought but were not called on to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Ivor Roberts-Jones was a sculptor who was born in the town and became well known. This piece is called the 'Borderland Farmer'. He had been commissioned for many pieces as well as lecturing in sculpture at Goldsmith's London. Perhaps his most famous piece is of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.

There are some impressive buildings in the town and this Grade 1 building of the Llwyd Mansion is one of the best. On the first floor it says that it was built in 1604 but in actual fact it originated in the mid 1400's when it was probably built pretty much for what it is now, shops below and accommodation above. It was actually remodelled in 1604.

The Castle mound in Oswestry is what remains of the Mott and Bailey that appears to have been built about 1086. In the mid 1100's the local Lord backed Empress Matilda instead of the winner of the Anarchy, Stephen. However when he died and Matilda's son became Henry II all was reinstated. It's use declined and after it was taken from the Royalist in the Civil War in 1644 the Roundheads partially demolished to deny its use again.

The views across the roof tops are good.

The large building in the distance is the Cambrian Railway Company Railway Works. When the Company was formed by amalgamation of several companies the headquarters were moved to Oswestry and they needed a works too. It was built between 1865 and 1866. It built many carriages and wagons but only two engines, although it fully rebuilt many of them. Once again following amalgamations etc it was closed in 1965 and is nos a series of small business units, but still and impressive building.

The entrance to the castle mound states it is still owned by the Council and had been refurbished in the early 2000's. It is a nice spot to have away from the bustle of the town.

We got the bus back after about three hours having had a good look round and a visit to the the little museum that is open near the church in a very old building. Well worth a visit if you are wanting something to do when down the Montgomery canal.