Without wishing to be indelicate, we were beginning to be in urgent need of a pump-out: the last one had been at Upton Marina, and there are no facilities on the Staffs and Worcester between Stourport and the Wolverhampton. Even the offshoot of Stourport’s chandlery and wharf at Compton was now defunct: 90% of the way to being occupied “luxury flats”. So (having been caught out before) we’d checked with Oxley Marine near Wolverhampton to ensure that they could help us out.
Compton Wharf did however provide a suitable lunch stop: handy shops right on the bridge, pub, cafe and so on (and frequent buses to Wolverhampton, if that’s what floats your narrowboat). And while pipe bridges are common, we can’t ever recall having seen one quite like this peculiar inverted V one at Compton.
Oxley Marine is located between Aldersley Junction (where the “Wolverhampton 21” locks finally drop down to the Staffs & Worcester), and Autherley Junction half a mile further on, where the Shropshire Union Canal heads off for the salt fields of Cheshire, while the Staffs and Worcester keeps on heading for Stafford and Stoke. Approaching Aldersley, it’s hard to believe you’re only a mile or so from the centre of Wolverhampton: those 21 locks are quite a steep flight and end right in the middle of town.
Oxley Marine is an “old fashioned” boat yard with a busy bar cum social club attached; there are about fifteen boats there, and they had kindly made room for us to stay overnight with an electric hook-up so we could catch up on some washing. The boat’s pump-out orifice was on the wrong side for ease of access, so we went past the boatyard, turned at Autherley Junction, came back, did the business, then carried on retracing our steps to Aldersley Junction so we could turn around again and moor up properly. We were beginning to know the stretch of canal between the two junctions quite well…
… even if the “his and her” boats opposite seemed a bit bemused at our comings and goings.
We’d been told by the boatyard chappie that the local take-away Chinese and Indian restaurants were both worth a punt, so perusing the proffered menus, we rang the Indian and ordered a Chicken Tikka & Mushroom Biryani with Veggie Curry, a Chicken Peshwar with Pulao Rice and a Peshwari Nan. The bill came to just under £16 including delivery. The food arrived when they said it would despite the Friday night rush, had complimentary poppadums and other bits included, was extremely tasty, and the portions so large that we could only eat half – we kept the rest for a complete second meal! This sure ain’t Berkshire, Toto.
We knew the boatyard had two resident black and white sister cats and seen them wandering around – there had been an awkward moment when Biggles introduced himself. While waiting for our food, sitting in the rare warm evening sunshine with a beer, we were chatting to a couple who said they had seen our cat go aboard at the back, and jump out the front sometime later; they asked how we managed with a walkabout cat. While saying it wasn’t really a problem these days, it became clear that the cat they thought was ours was black and white. The interloper had clearly explored Song & Dance while Sir had remained fast asleep somewhere inside. Words will be had in due course.
Meanwhile, across the canal and down a bit was a canoe/kayak club. During the afternoon a number of floral tributes had been pinned to their railings, and later a gathering of smartly dressed people stood around for a while with drinks in hand: some kind of memorial gathering it seemed. As we were leaving Stourport a few days ago, we’d noticed the Union Flag flying at half-mast next to the Clock Tower for no immediately obvious reason. Let’s hope we’re not indirectly responsible for a sudden increase in the death rate as we head North…