Sunday, 30 September 2012

Grumpy fishermen

Today was the day Briar Rose would be delivered to the painter, so I had quite a lot to do this morning.  I didn't want to disturb the peace of the marina too early, so before I left my mooring I started putting away anything I could -- moving everything from shelves to cupboards and drawers.  I then took all the curtains down as I'm taking them home for cleaning, and rolled up the rugs and tucked them under the armchairs.

It was about 9.30 when I set off, and it took the usual half hour to get to the marina.  The final couple of hundred yards consisted of a fishing match.  The first angler thanked me for slowing down and responded quite cheerfully when I asked him if he'd caught anything;  the rest were of the 'look away and don't acknowledge the boaters' school.  Except, of course, the ones sitting right opposite the marina entrance (which is also a designated winding hole): they couldn't help by look up as I made the turn into the marina.  There was a strong wind blowing in an awkward direction, meaning I had to use quite a lot of power to get round, much the the dismay of the angers.

In spite of the wind, I got into our berth without touching the sides, and quickly loaded everything into the car.  Once as much as possible was out of the way, I started covering things in plastic dust sheets.  The prep work for the painting will be messy, so I wanted to protect the chairs, dinette cushions, and the matress.  I also put everything from the well deck inside, along with the plank and pole from the roof.  By the time I'd finished, it looked like a scene from Dexter.

The boat looked and felt strange, stripped bare and shrouded in plastic.  But in just a month she'll look shiny and new again.

About an hour after I'd arrived, I set off again, slightly nervous because the wind was still in the wrong direction and the fishermen were still there.  An illustration of how windy it was was playing out in front of me.  A moorer from further up the marina was taking his grand-daughter (I assume) for a little trip up and down.  However, he'd got himself pinned to the far bank, and seemed unable to get off.  I knew that if I had any chance of making the turn towards Stoke Bruerne I'd have to use quite a lot of power, and so it proved.  Still, I got round without touching the towpath side.

The wind was still strong though, so I crabbed my way slowly down the line of fishermen.  The ones with very long rods didn't mind that I was being blown towards the towpath, because they were fishing on the far side of the canal; but one with a little tiny rod mutter something as I went past.  I asked him what he'd said.  "Couldn't you have come any closer?" he asked sarcastically.  Well, I could have taken my prop quite a lot closer, but instead explained that if I went slowly, there was a chance I'd be blown over his side a bit.  He carried on muttering, clearly enjoying his day's entertainment.

Close to my destination, there was another, smaller, fishing match.  These fishermen must belong to a different club, as they nearly all nodded or said hello as I passed.

When I arrived at Baxter's at Kingfisher Marina, where Briar Rose is being painted, the most convenient mooring spot was already occupied (as it happens, by the other boat being painted this month).  So I turned the boat in the marina entrance and moored on the towpath just beyond.

I dropped the keys off at the office, and had a chat to the painter's wife.  Then it was back over the bridge, a final look at Briar Rose in her rather tired colours, and a two mile walk back to Thrupp Wharf.

I encountered the smaller group of anglers almost immediately, and they either moved their rods from across the towpath, or asked if I was OK to duck underneath.  Then I reached the fishermen near Thrupp Wharf.  Not one made any attempt to move their rods; this meant they had little to complain about when I accidentally gave them a clonk as I stepped over or ducked under.

The angers opposite the marina entrance were in a right state.  I'm not sure what the boat was trying to do (it may have been attempting to wind).  Either way, it was blown into the bank right where this particular fisherman had his keep net.  As I left, the boat had decided to moor (on the designated moorings) between two fishermen.  Neither looked happy -- but that's nothing new.

I was quite glad to get in the car and drive home.

3.5 miles, 0 locks.  (29 miles, 2 locks)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Village at War

It was a glorious morning, with blue skies and bright sunshine.  Stoke Bruerne's Village at War festival was due to get under way at 10am, so at about that time I started walking up the locks to the village.  On the way, I met a few people I knew, so it took a while to get to the top.  Getting there relatively early meant I could have a look around before the crowds arrived.  As well as the boats, there's a field of vintage vehicles, an army camp, and a field of traders.  Lots of people had dressed in period costume.  At lunchtime, there was a display by two Spitfires.

I had a bacon roll for lunch,bought some fire lighters from Hadar, some fudge from the fudge boat, and walked back down to Briar Rose.  I'd seen Allan Jones and his newly repainted boat Keeping Up at the top lock, and they were at the water point at the bottom lock when I arrived, so we were able to have a longer chat.

I needed to run the engine to charge the batteries, so thought I might as well combine that with giving myself a change of scenery.  I set off at about quarter to three, and moored an hour later in my usual spot just before Bridge sixty two.

3.5 miles, 0 locks.  (25.5 miles, 2 locks)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dusk locking

Second post of the day, because at about a quarter to six, I noticed that Sickle had moved off the lock mooring.  I grabbed a windlass and went to help.  Cath was just arriving from work as the boat rose in the first lock.

Ahead of us, three coal boats were loading and offloading stock at the next lock.  In the end, Towcester and its butty went up first, and Sickle paired up with Southern Cross, steered by its owner Ryan, for the rest of the flight.  The sun was catching the tower of Grafton Regis church on the horizon.

There were still hire boats from Gayton coming down.  Of course there was nowhere for them to moor as the place is chocca block; they'd have been better off stopping at Blisworth.

By the time we got to the top lock it was pretty much dark, and Stoke Bruerne looked very atmospheric with the large number of boats and the smoke rising from their chimneys.

Like a bloggers convention

I set off at 8.30 this morning; it was fairly bright although some showers were forecast.  It's a slow chug back through the outskirts of Milton Keynes, because of all the moored boats.  About three quarters of an hour later, I stopped at the services at Giffard Park to top up the water tank.  The tap is in a little building, and is so far up the wall I had to take the ash bin over to stand the hosepipe reel on!  I used the time to put the kettle on and do some emails.

Soon after setting off again, I passed a couple of fishermen, one of whom landed a reasonably big fish as I went past.  You can see it in his net.

They're doing a lot of towpath improvement work along this stretch.  Yesterday, I passed a little push tug and a flat, and today I passed its mooring.  A Travis Perkins lorry was just arriving with the next load of stones.

The showers arrived as predicted, but they only lasted between New Bradwell and Cosgrove Lock, and even then only drizzle and not all the time.

I had to turn Cosgrove Lock, and went up on my own.  While the boat was sitting safely in the lock, I got another drink.  Above the lock, the sun was out but it was also quite windy.  I stuggled to get the boat off the lock landing, until a passer helped by giving a push.  I carried on to Stoke Bruerne.  I was expecting the moorings at the bottom lock to be busy, because of the Village at War festival this weekend, and they were.  As I approached, I identified a possible mooring place in the rough, although I hoped I wouldn't have to resort to it.  There wasn't enough space, so I turned before the lock.  As I did so, the people in the last boat returned with their dogs, and kindly offered to move up a bit so I could get on the end.  The space in front of them had been left by a short C&RT tug.  It meant there was just enough room for Briar Rose.  I'm across a bend, and have had to deploy unusual fenders, including a tyre tied to the cabin step, to keep the boat away from the concrete edge, but it's steady enough.

After having some lunch, I walked back along the moorings to say hello to Stein and Jacqui from Like Ducks 2 Water.  Then I walked up to the village to see what was going on ahead of the festival.  No Direction is moored at the top, and Jo and Keith from Hadar provided me with a welcome cup of tea.  When I got down to the bottom of the locks, Alan was arriving with Sickle.  He's waiting for Cath to arrive before heading up the locks; I've offered a hand if they need one.

13 miles, 1 lock.  (22 miles, 2 locks)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Winding hole mystery

It absolutely hammered it down with rain last night.  At one point, it was so loud on the roof that I couldn't hear the tv.  However, this morning was far sunnier than forecast.

A couple of boats went past early (while I was still in bed), and another couple, both Wyvern hire boats, went by while I had my breakfast.  It was 9.30 by the time I was ready to leave, and as I let go of the bow rope, another Wyvern boat came round the corner.  I was glad, because it's easier if there's another boat to share the lock with; of course they pulled in at the water point.  When I got to Cosgrove Lock, another boat was arriving to come up and as the lock was in their favour we worked them through first.  By the time that was done, a crew member from the hire boat arrived and asked if they could come in the lock with me.  I put Briar Rose in and we waited just a couple of minutes for the boat to arrive.  It was driven by a woman who was trying a lock entry for the first time, while the man of the party was planning to work his first lock.  She was delighted when I scored her helmsmanship as ten out of ten.  The hire boaters let me get back on board while they worked the lock.

I stopped at Wolverton to go to Tesco, then carried on in the sunshine.  The park side moorings at Great Linford were empty, so I decided to stop there for lunch and a walk.  The park is very well kept; there's a huge manor house, alms houses dating back 400 years, and a church.  There's also a collection of art workshops.

As it was so sunny, it seemed a shame not to boat on for a bit.  The problem was where I was going to turn around:  the next winding hole was just a couple of hundred yards further on; according to Pearson, the one after that is beyond Fenny Stratford Lock.  But the Nicholson guide shows a couple of winding holes in Milton Keynes.  CanalPlanAC agreed with Pearson, claiming there was nowhere to turn before Fenny Stratford.  I decided that I'd carry on through Milton Keynes, turn if there was a winding hole, but if I had to carry on to Fenny, then so be it.

The canal through Milton Keynes is rather attractive, especially on a sunny day.  It's not really what you'd expect (apart from going under the dual carriageways).

The first possible winding hole was just after Bridge 82, so I approached slowly in order to check it out.  It turned out to be a fully formed, full size turning point.  I'll add it to our map.  I retraced my steps just a short distance and moored opposite Campbell Park.  It was very warm, right up until a rain shower came over.  A couple of boats arrived and moored on the park side while it was raining.

8 miles, 1 lock.  (9 miles, 1 lock)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Cosgrove in the gloom

I've spent the past couple of days visiting family, but as I'm still technically on holiday I've decided to have a few days on board Briar Rose before going back to work.

I didn't leave home until 4pm, so it was beginning to get dark by the time I arrived at the marina more than two hours later.  Still, it was dry (unlike much of my drive), and calm, so I quickly unloaded the car, put it in the car park, and prepared the boat for the off.  Cosgrove is only 20 minutes away, but by the time I got there the gloom was gathering.  The moorings are bsuier than I've seen them for a while, but I fitted into a space close to my favoured spot.  I got the chimney out of the locker and lit the fire, set up the satellite dish, and cooked a risotto.

1 mile, 0 locks.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

30 locks and 4 tunnels

We'd decided on an early start, so as to be first up the Tardebigge flight, the longest in the country at 30 locks.  So it was 7.20 when we set off, me driving Chance, Doug doing the locks, and James in the shower!  It wasn't long before James was back at the usual place on the tiller.  The locks were all in our favour, and Doug and I got a good rhythm going, always setting a lock ahead.  The only time we were delayed (but even then only very slightly) was when we met a boat coming down -- the only one in the whole flight.  It's a very pretty area, and it was dry if a little chilly.

The top lock is very deep.  We completed it at 10.05 -- so we'd taken two and three quarter hours to do the flight, which means we averaged five and a half minutes a lock.

Immediately following the lock is Tardebigge Tunnel, which is hewn out of the rock.

Shortwood Tunnel is next, and then we were at Alvechurch.  This has been our original target for the day (as that's where my car is), but there was no way we were stopping now.  The forecast for tomorrow is terrible, so Doug and James were keen to get to Birmingham.  Wast Hill Tunnel is very long, and we met a couple of boats.  Doug noticed that the tunnel must once have had telephone wires running through it, as there are the remains of the carriers on the ceiling.  I failed to get a decent picture of them, but I did get one that's no too bad of one of the air shafts.

At King's Norton Junction, there was one day boat trying to wind, and another coming through the bridge.  We also came across two Anglo Welsh boats: one had stopped to clear its prop, but decided that as we approached was the perfect time to push the bow across the canal;  the second mis-steered, and veered across the cut in front of us.  By then we'd also got something round the prop, and had to get into the side.

It had started raining as we left Wast Hill Tunnel, and times it was quite heavy.  Still, the view from the new aqueduct of Birmingham University still looked good.

The fourth tunnel of the day was at Edgbaston, but it's only 100 yards long, and even has lights.  We arrived in the centre of Birmingham and moored on the main line, opposite the NIA.  We were moored up by 3pm, so we'd made decent progress all day.  I think we'll make us of Birmingham's choice of restaurants later, and then I'll be heading back to my car tomorrow.

17 miles, 30 locks.  (41 miles, 67 locks)

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Droitwich and beyond

Last night seven of us went to The Gardener's Arms, by the park in Droitwich, for dinner.  The food was pretty good (although not as good as in Stourport the night before), but the atmosphere was great, and we had a lovely time.

This morning, we had a very relaxed start, with a cooked breakfast and then coffee and June from Autumn Myst's lemon cake on the pontoon in the sunshine.  We set off at about 11, and while James drove Chance, Doug and I walked to the swing bridges in the park.  Two bridges need swinging, then there's a wide lock onto the river section of the canal (although today the levels were the same at both ends), which also has a bridge across it.

The next lock is new, and leaves no doubt about where you have to go.

Then comes the rather low and narrow tunnel under the M5.

Later comes a rather dramatic staircase pair.

We passed Droitwich Spa Marina, which has lots of space, and then there are the final three locks up to the junction.  At the first lock we made use of the side pond; at the second, the side pond paddles are locked shut; at the top lock there was a volunteer lock keeker.  For the boat in front of us, he accidentally left a bottom paddle up while filling the lock (which explained why it took so long to fill); he then made no effort to help us with any paddles at all.  We used the side pond to save water.  It's then just a couple of hundred yards to Hanbury Junction.

The six Astwood Locks followed.

Then there were the six Stoke Locks (with the Black Prince base above the bottom  lock).

We reached the top at mid-afternoon, and moored just beyond the Queen's Head pub, just before the bottom lock of the Tardebigge flight.  It was lovely and sunny, and the chilly wind had dropped, so we sat out on the back deck with drinks and snacks, talking to people on the towpath.

There are just three boats here (I guess there'll be a race in the morning to set off first), and one boat has arrived heading south.  Tomorrow, the Tardebigge flight.

6 miles, 20 locks.  (24 miles, 37 locks)

Friday, 21 September 2012

Two boats to Droitwich

Our choice of eating place for last night turned out to be excellent.  The Steps House is a pub with a restaurant, and the food was very good, as well as being good value: £10 for two courses.  Phoenix, the guide dog puppy being walked by Bob and June from Autumn Myst was well behaved, but chewed through her lead!

This morning, we went down York Road Lock, and both Autumn Myst and Chance filled with water.  The clock on the Clock Warehouse was striking 9am as Chance entered the top lock of the two staircases, and we quickly worked both boats down.  The two sets of staircase locks are well out of alignment, making the transition from one to the other quite tricky.

 We made rapid progress down the Severn, going through two of the big Severn Locks.

Soon we were at the start of the Droitwich Barge Canal, which has double locks.

There are eight locks, in total, but the pounds in between are very reedy and narrow.

Once the locks are out of the way, there are several miles into Drotiwich itself.  Bob invited me to take the tiller of Autumn Myst, and it would have been rude to refuse.  The canal has some very dramatic turns, and some narrow sections.  Soon we arrived at the basin in Drotwich, and I spun the boat to reverse onto a pontoon, alongside Chance.

Sue from No Problem was there to meet us, and provided us with very welcome cups of tea.  Later, we walked into town, where many of the buildings are very wonky, thanks to subsidence due to the salt extraction.

In the park, there's a statue of St Richard of Droitwich, who apparently made the brine run again after the stream had dried up.  It turns out he's a familiar figure to us, as he was also Bishop of Chichester.

We've identified a pub for dinner tonight; Sue and Vic are joining us, so there will be seven of us and Phoenix, who needs to get used to pubs, restaurants, and shops.

14 miles, 15 locks.  (18 miles, 17 locks)