It’s holiday time, so naturally I’m relaxing. No, of course I’m not. I’ve been off on a quick tour of locations that will be used in the next-but-one novel project (Project: TFL, acronym fans), walking the towpaths of the Shropshire Union Canal, camera swinging, mud flying everywhere.
Project: TFL takes place – or at least, the real world portions of it take place – between Market Drayton and Norbury Junction. I’ve done that route before, but that was probably around ten years ago, and I remember being exhausted and ill for at least part of the journey up the Shroppie. I could blag it all, and crib my descriptions from the Pearson’s Guide, but it seemed much more fun to go walk the route myself. After all, part of the fun is going to the pubs along the way…
I had three major aims: to scout the Tyrley Locks, to scramble through the tangles of Woodseaves Cutting, and to work out exactly where the mysterious “TFL” of the working title would be located. I managed two out of the three; that’s not a bad score.
The Tyrley Locks rise from a deep cutting, with sandstone walls on both sides. The Tyrley Cutting is typical of many Shroppie cuttings – deep, dark, grown over in the summer so that rays of sunlight battle through the leaves overhead. Many are associated with tales of hauntings. The canal is quite wide here, but you can still see that the foliage reaches over from the top of the sandstone. As you walk uphill, past the five locks, you reach rolling fields and bright sunlight instead. Peculiarly, people have left small toys in clefts and cracks in the sandstone just below the bottom lock – out-of-place meerkats, wedding cake decorations, and even a tiny house. Gifts to the fae, perhaps?
Woodseaves Cutting was inaccessible: the towpath was being repaired, and the entire path between bridges 59 & 56 was closed off. I was tempted to squeeze through the cordon, but I was mindful of the fact that my Pearson’s Guide reckoned walking the route was certifiable lunacy at the best of times and hopping over on my own was probably not a good idea. Instead I navigated overland to Bridge 56 and took a few photos from there. Even from these you can see how narrow the canal becomes, hidden deep inside the cutting, and how muddy and treacherous the towpath is. I missed Woodseaves’s pair of high bridges, described in the Guide as “portals to the mysterious chasms of another world”, but they’ll wait for another day.
It was time to move on to Norbury Junction, for a two mile walk back along the canal into Grub Street Cutting. Bridge 39 is a very odd feature – one arch atop the other, to shield the old telegraph pole. Rumour has it that the bridge is haunted by a “black, monkey-like creature”. A book called Shadows on the Water, by Allan Scott-Davies (The History Press, ISBN: 9780750952774) elaborates:
I didn’t see anything. I did find a steak & kidney pie the size of a small island at the Junction Inn, however. 🙂 And I also manged to sort out the first third of this book. Now I just have to put that darned thing on paper….