Sunday 26 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Sixteen

With only a couple of miles to do this morning, we had a relaxed start to the day and set off at 9am.  The sun was coming out, and it was already warm.  As we approached Brinklow Marina, there appeared to be a boat coming towards us, so I held back to let it through.  However, it was a Napton hire boat trying to wind in the marina entrance.  They failed, and ended up going right through the bridge.  I followed them in, and Adrian shouted some advice about keeping the tiller over, so they didn't just end up facing the same way.  We were on our pontoon before they'd managed to turn around.

We had a quick cup of tea, then walked round to the car and set off for Braunston, to visit the working boats rally.  We parked and walked down the canal to the junction, buying an ice cream on the way.  We were fortunate that Sarah Edgson's boat Ling was there, and we were invited on board.  Already there were Amy and James from Lucky Duck, Dan from the Canal World Forum, and Lesley from Caxton.  We had a great time going through the junction and back through the marina.  When James took the tiller he made the turn out of the marina onto the main line look easy -- many hadn't.

We also bumped into Sarah from Chertsey, then sat chatting to Kath and Neil from Herbie.  Then I collected a pair of plank and pole stands which Peter Milburn from Milburn Boats made for us, and had left at the marina office.

Then it was back to the boat to pack and clean.  We'll have an early dinner, then I'm off to London on the train from Rugby as I have an early shift tomorrow, and Adrian will head home in the car.

It's been a great trip, with a good mix of new territory and familiar places.  We've done plenty of entertaining on board, and Briar Rose has been everything we hoped.  In our 206 miles and 209 locks, we clocked up 99.9 engine hours.

2 miles, 0 locks.  (206 miles, 209 locks)

Saturday 25 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Fifteen

While the rain was coming down yesterday evening and last night, the water level in the pound where we were moored was also dropping.  It was down by around eight inches by this morning.  We were awake when a boat went past at 6am, and decided that as the Atherstone flight can be slow at the best of times, we'd beat the crowds by getting up and going early.  We set off just before 7 -- noticing that the boat which had been moored behind us (and going the same way) had gone.  This meant all the locks were full and had to be emptied before we could go up.

The Atherstone locks fill painfully slowly.  But halfway up the flight there's a lock with a working paddle on the side pond (all the rest have been taken away).  I used it to speed up the filling process, but of course you have to lower the paddle when the lock is half full, or you start losing water to the side pond.

We met a boat coming down at lock five, so the next few were in our favour.  But the top lock was full -- not just of water, but of the result of someone's gardening.  I managed to fish out quite a lot of the rubbish, but we still ended up with yards of rose cuttings trailing behind us, which had to be extracted from around the rudder.

We passed Bendigedig moored at Bridge 34 just before Hartshill (and noted the mooring for future reference!).  The Hartshill yard is looking a bit unloved, although the buildings are still impressive.

 At Nuneaton it rained, although even this couldn't make this stretch of canal look any worse.  There's rubbish in the water, graffiti on every bridge, and the towpath (which looks as though money was spent on it at one point) is overgrown along the edges.  I like the description of Nuneaton in the Pearson's Guide, where it's given a whole two lines:  "Oddly nebulous town of some size which holds itself at arms length from the canal.  Nice fountain in the middle of a roundabout on the ring road."

As we passed Marston Junction, where the Ashby Canal starts, a woman was arriving by car to the little car park there, apparently to walk her dog.  She was paying so much attention to us going past that she drove straight into on of the wooden posts on the waters edge, cracking he bumper and grille.  The noise gave the ducks a fright, too.

Charity Dock looked, to my eyes, much tidier than usual.  The mannequins appear to be arranged in proper vignettes now.  Here's the obligatory photo of today's entertainment.

We stopped for lunch at Hawkesbury Juntion, then set off again round onto the Oxford.  A boat was just coming through the stop lock, so it was ready for us, and Adrian did a great 180 degree turn through the bridge.  I thought, yet again, though, that I really don't get the appeal of Hawkesbury.  The junction itself is fine, with the bridge and the engine house; but the noise from the M6 is loud, the moorings are next to a bit of scrub land, and there's a huge electricity sub station right there.

The northern Oxford canal was straightened in the 1830s, so there are several long straight sections without much interest.  We went through the recently demolished bridge at Ansty, then onto the embankment where Vigin trains fly by right next to the canal.

At Stretton Stop, lots of Rose Narrowboats were waiting for their hirers to arrive.  Adrian got off to swing the little bridge which connects the shop to the sheds on the other side.  We moored up for the night in a lovely and popular spot past Bridge 34, just before All Oaks Wood, less than two miles from the marina.

20 miles, 10 locks.  (204 miles, 209 locks)

Friday 24 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Fourteen

Last night we went for a walk round the junction after dinner, taking in the rubbish point which includes useful recycling bins.  Just as we got back to Briar Rose the rain started, and it was quite heavy for the rest of the evening.  It also rained overnight, I'm told, although I didn't hear it myself.

This morning boats started leaving Fradley Junction early.  We set off at 8.10, which proved to be not quite early enough.  We thought the boat in front was going slowly, but it turned out to be the one in front of him.  Fortunately, he pulled in at Huddlesford to let the two of us pass.  But it seemed we were still in a long procession -- a boat was passed going the other way at Whittington said we were the seventh boat he'd passed in five minutes.

Because of this, we were expecting to be in a long queue when we finally reached Glascote Locks.  But three boats stopped at Hopwas, more appeared to be tying up at the Fazeley moorings, and boats were also on the two water points there.  It meant that as we went through the junction bridge at Fazeley there was no-one in front of us.

At Glascote, the bottom lock was empty so we went straight in, and someone was just coming down the top lock so that was ready for us too.  We stopped just above the locks for lunch.

We haven't done the section between Fazeley Junction and Marston Junction (which we'll reach tomorrow), for four or five years, and I'm quickly realising why we haven't rushed back.  The suburban gardens of Tamworth (many with little boats moored up) lose their appeal fairly quickly; Alvecote marina looks very tired, if not a little delapidated; Polesworth by canal is nothing to write home about; and the next section's main features are a ramshackle smallholding, a sewage works, and the Trent Valley railway line.  Perhaps the only bright spot is the Pooley mining heritage centre, with a brightly coloured pit wheel outside.

We got to the bottom of the Atherstone Locks to find no queue, but lots of boats coming down.  Two further boats then arrived to follow us up.  The people coming down said the flight had taken them hours, as everyone seemed to be going in the same direction, and they'd all tried to set off at the same time.  These locks also fill painfully slowly.  I helped an eccentric single hander who was broadcasting Steve Wright in the Afternoon to the whole of Warwickshire come down the final lock, then it was our turn.  We'd already idintified the long pound above the second lock (lock 10) as a potential overnight mooring, but did consider carrying on up, if all the locks were likely to be in our favour.  But the pound looked very inviting -- in the country, decent piling, a few other boats moored, and a hill to protect us a bit from the train noise -- so we moored up.

We then walked into town, mainly to buy a cork screw, as the bottles of wine I bought on special offer at the Tesco in Fazeley yesterday have old fashioned corks in them.  On the way we spotted Elsie and Eric from Bendigedig, and stopped for a chat, mostly about the problems they've had with their Travel Power.  We got back from the Co-op just in time, as the rain started and looks set to go on for a while.

20 miles, 4 locks.  (194 miles, 199 locks)

Thursday 23 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Thirteen

Wigginshill Bridge proved to be a very good mooring - neither of us heard the road at all.  The boat moored in front of us left before we were up; we set off at 8.15, which wasn't exactly late.  There had been rain in the night, and the forecast was for showers.  The sky certainly looked threatening as we reached Curdworth TopLock, which was relocated when the M6 Toll was built.  We got wet a couple of times during the morning.

We like the Curdworth flight.  It's pretty and very well kept, with number markers set in flower beds; only the sound of the M42, which runs alongside, spoils things a bit.

Once the locks were out of the way, we carried on to Fazeley Junction, where we saw more boats in a few minutes than we'd seen for days.  As we approached the junction, two boats crossed in front of us; another did the same as we poked our bow through the junction bridge, and once we were on the waterpoint opposite, boats came from all three directions.

There's a new building site right at the junction, which wasn't there when we came this way on Debdale in November.  We can't remember what was there before; we just hope that whoever moves in doesn't complain about all the boats!  While Adrian filled the water tank, I went to the nearby little Tesco to top up supplies.

As there's still a danger that we'll arrive back at Brinklow early, we decided on a small diversion.  Instead of turning right towards home, we went left, planning a night at Fradley.  We stopped for lunch at Hopwas, pulling in just in front of Piston Broke, although there didn't appear to be anyone at home.  The next section always seems to take much longer than it should.  There were lots of boats coming the other way.  Unusually, we didn't meet them at bridge holes, but many of them were at narrow places with people moored up, or on sharp bends.  I felt like suggesting to one helmsman that they stand up to steer, in order to see over the roof.  Another might have been able to see better without the pram cover.

At Streethay Wharf, the canal was temporarily blocked while they slipped a boat.  This involves moving a pontoon out of the way, so that it drifts across the canal.  The wind was strong just here, so we ended up being blown into the side of an open flat moored on the towpath.

With so many boats coming the other way, we hoped there would be space at Fradley.  There wasn't, however.  Adrian checked below the lock as well (we would have reversed down the lock if necessary), but that was full too.  So we decided to wind in the junction, and head back.  Fortunately, with quite a few people sitting outside The Swan, the turn went very well, in spite of the wind.  Unusually, Adrian had the camera.

We decided to stop just off the end of the official visitor moorings.  We're using mooring pins and there's plenty of vegetation up against the windows, but it's fine.  The side hatch is on the water side, and Adrian has had great fun feeding a clutch of large-ish ducklings which came visiting.

18 miles, 11 locks.  (174 miles, 195 locks)

Wednesday 22 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Twelve

The quickest way to get to where we're going would have been to go down the lock flights at Farmer's Bridge and Aston.  But we like going to places we haven't been to before, and we're not short of time, so we decided to go the long way round, taking in the Tame Valley Canal.

We set off at 8am, following the trip boat out of the Oozells Street Loop.  It would be the only moving boat we saw all day.  We headed off up the New Main Line in the direction of Wolverhampton, travelling about five miles to Pudding Green Junction, where we turned right onto the Wednesbury Old Canal.  At the top of the Ryders Green Locks, this becomes the Walsall Canal.  Most of the lock were in our favour, and just like the time we came up them in 2008, there were BW guys out cutting the grass.  We were down the eight locks in good time, then made the short journey to the junction with the Tame Valley Canal, where we turned right.  This canal consists of long straight sections -- the Nicholson Guide calls it the dreariest section of the BCN, which I think is unfair.  It also says the the approach to Rushall Junction is awsome, but you can't have one without the other.  Awesome is a good word, though, as the location is where the M5 meets the M6.  So there's an aqueduct over one of the link motorways, and then the M6 elevated section is right alongside.  It's quite an experience, and well worth the three and a half miles of straighness to get there.

Past Rushall Junction (where the Rushall Canal goes off to the left), the Tame Valley alternates between cuttings and embankments.  Some of the bridges over the cuttings are extremely high, like Chimney Bridge, a footbridge held up by huge pillars which do look like chimneys.

The embankments incorporate several aqueducts, and there are great views of the Birmingham city skyline.  It was a familar view -- when I did my postgrad in Birmingham I lived in Great Barr and had that same view from my bedroom window.

When we got to Perry Barr Top Lock, the heavens opened and there was a very heavy shower which lasted a couple of locks.  The flight is very green and pleasant, and passes the Alexander Stadium where some athletics were in progress; we could hear the tannoy announcements of the winners.

At one of the locks, I spotted a frog (or toad?) which didn't seem to be enjoying the swirling waters as the lock filled.  He was grasping at the lock walls, but was no match for the force of the water.  Once I could reach, I fished him out on my windlass, where he sat and had a breather.  Then got off, turned around, and jumped straight back into the lock again.  By now the lock was ready to open, but I made sure Adrian didn't bring in Briar Rose until the frog was well out of the way.

We had a slight problem at Lock 11, where neither of the bottom gates would open properly.  One would only go to half way, and we tried all sorts of things: opening and closing it, poking around with the boat hook, pushing it with the boat.  Finally, after using our new shaft (which actually wasn't long enough to reach the bottom), it opened and we were free.

There's about a mile's gap before the final two locks, where there's a nice little lock cottage with warehouses looming over it.  Then the Tame Valley Canal comes to an end at Salford Junction, where the Birmingham and Fazeley and the Grand Union Canals come in.  The approach to the junction is underneath Spaghetti Junction, and is quite spectacular, in a brutalist concrete type of way.  If you've done the B&F route and enjoyed slipping quietly underneath the thundering traffic, then the Tame Valley version is like that to the power of ten.

Now we had a decision to make: turn onto the GU and spend the night on the Star City moorings (then have to reverse out in the morning), or carry on for at least two hours.  As it was 3.30, we decided to carry on.  The next section, through Bromford, Castle Vale, and Minworth is full of rubbish, a situation which wasn't helped by the water being at least four or five inches lower.  At times it was like a roller coaster, as we scraped over submerged horrors.  They were probably shopping trolleys or fridges, but the water was too black to see them.  At Minworth Top Lock, a police officer and a communtity support officer, both on bikes, were making inquiries about an attempted rape in the area last night.

We knew we needed to be beyond Minworth before finding a mooring for the night, but didn't really want to have to go down any of the Curdworth Locks.  So when we saw a collection of boats after Wiggingshill Road Bridge we joined them.  There's a fairly busy A road alongside, but it's a lovely sunny evening and we've found the satellite, so we have TV.

All in all, a great day.  We're really glad we went well out of our way to do the Tame Valley -- it's clearly an unfairly maligned canal, which we both enjoyed, with plenty of interest along the way.

20 miles, 24 locks.  (156 miles, 184 locks)

Tuesday 21 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Eleven

We didn't have far to go today, but we were still under way by 8am.  We last did the Worcs and Birmingham Canal  about ten years ago on a hire boat, and this was another stretch that neither of us remembered.  Outside Alvechurch we passed the Bittell reservoirs, then Hopwood, then entered the Wast Hill Tunnel.

It took around half an hour to get through.  Even before entering I could see the headlight on an oncoming boat (rather confusingly they had two lights, one above the other) so was a bit surprised that I was two thirds of the way through before passing them.  They must have been going very very slowly.  During the time underground, we could hear some haunting music.  We assumed it came from the tug boat, Hector, which was following us -- confirmed later when I spoke to the owner, as they were moored in front of us.

King's Norton Junction was the next landmark, but we were going straight across towards Birmingham.

At Selly Oak, the work on the new aqueduct has really opened up the views towards the university.  Underneath the aqueduct, they were laying the first tarmac of the new road.

Once in Birmingham we stopped at Holliday Wharf for water, and while the tank filled I went to the little Tesco at the Mailbox to stock up.  There was a slight delay as I'd forgotten my wallet, and only remembered when it was time to pay.  We then completed the W&B Canal by going through Worcester Bar, and on to Old Turn Junction.  A spot was free at out favourite mooring at the end of the Oozells Street Loop was free, so I reversed in, so we had a view from the bow.

After lunch we walked into town and looked round the shops (but didn't buy anything).

In the evening, we ate at the Slug and Lettuce at Brindley Place.  Then not long before we would normally start thinking about going to bed, we heard a couple walking along the towpath comment on our Lord Vernon's Wharf paintwork, and then that Briar Rose is a Braidbar boat.  When they returned a few minutes later we looked out the side hatch to say hello.  It turned out that they also own a Braidbar, which we'd seen moored round the corner.  They ended up coming in for a drink, so we could compare boating stories.  It was great to meet Nigel and Elizabeth, and we hope we'll bump into them again.

The mobile internet signal isn't stable enoughs for photos.  I'll add them at another time.

12 miles, 0 locks.  (136 miles, 160 locks)

Monday 20 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Ten

Today has been a fantastic day of boating.  We woke up early and found the sun splitting the sky, without a cloud to be seen.  So, knowing we had a lot of work to do, we got up and were under way at 7.10, straight into the six Astwood Locks.  A boat had gone up at 8 o'clock last night, but most of them had drained overnight.  We completed the flight in about 50 minutes.

There's then a gap of a mile or so until the six Stoke Locks.  Halfway up this flight we were joined by the cavalry, in the shape of Lesley and Joe from Caxton who'd come to give us a hand.

Their help was extremely welcome, as the next flight, Tardebigge, is the longest in the country, with thirty locks.  We got into an excellent routine so that someone always went ahead to set the next lock, yet still managed to catch up with all Lesley and Joe's news.  About a third of the way up we started meeting boats coming down, which also helped us.

With great company and glorious sunny weather, it was a joy to work the flight and we got to the moorings below the top lock at 12.15 -- a fantastic time for so many locks.  We had lunch on the well deck before Lesley and Joe left to walk back down the flight to their car.

As it was still early and it seemed a waste not to make the most of the weather, we carried on up the top lock -- at 14 feet the deepest narrow lock on the system.

We stopped for water, then carried on through the Tardebigge Tunnel and the Shortwood Tunnel, mooring up for the night at Alvechurch.  The moorings here are on a bend, so the bow is sticking out a bit, but it's a very pleasant spot.  What's more, Adrian had his most successful attempt yet at lining up the satellite dish: it worked on his very first effort!

9 miles, 42 locks.  (124 miles, 160 locks)

Sunday 19 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Nine

Last night we ate at the King's Head, right by the canal.  We went early enough for the two courses for £11 offer, and the food was very good.  Afterwards we had a walk round the marina, and tried to ascertain how many more flats had been built since we visited by car a couple of years ago.  We also noted with some dismay that an ex-OwnerShips boat was moored on the pump out point, right in front of at least two signs saying 30 mins only, and no overnight mooring.

This morning we had a rather disjoined and unsatisfactory start to the day.  I reversed past the boat behind us to the next gap, opened the pump out point and established that the pipe wouldn't reach.  We really needed a pump out, because although the descaler we used has worked wonders on the loo, it hasn't agreed at all with our tank!  So, at 8.15 on a Sunday morning, I was knocking on the roof of the ex-OwnerShips, asking if they wouldn't mind moving.  I think they were almost expecting it; they moved round the corner onto the disabled mooring!

Having moved back so we could connect the pump out pipe, we discovered that we couldn't get the machine to work.  Whether it was a power problem or whether the card bought yesterday was duff we don't know.  They guys at the chandlery round the corner, who sell the cards, said it a new pump had been installed last week as the last one was unreliable, but they weren't responsible.  Of course there's no lock keeper around these days, so we gave up.  Instead, we rang Viking at Worcester Marina to see if they were open, which they were.

So we set off up the locks.  The first is Sidbury Lock, next to the Commandery, complete with bridge art of pikes and helmets.  The canal was full of rubbish: lots of plastic bottles here, and further up we fished out a cushion and then a big piece of wood, which looked like a fishing platform.

To get into Worcester Marina you have to wind, as the entrance is angled backwards.  The staff were very friendly and helpful, even though there were turning around several hire boats, and we took the opportunity of filling up with diesel and replacing a gas bottle too.  There's a great sign on the exit from the basin; we particularly liked the use of the word 'yet'.

Continuing up the locks, we hit a problem above Lock 7, with a very low pound.  I had to run some water down so we could get out of the lock, then a bit more so Adrian could get Briar Rose over some obstruction in the water.  Adrian phoned the mobile number given for the lock keeper and left a message.  He phoned back a few minutes later, and said they'd send someone to sort it out.

At the six Offerton Locks, most were in our favour; we had to turn just two.  We did all six in fifty minutes.  We had help from a grandmother with her grandson and granddaughter, who followed our progress and got quite excited when they were allowed to help open and close gates.  At the top, we stopped for lunch at the moorings at Tibberton.

This afternoon, we had no locks at all, just a short tunnel at Dunhampstead.  There are some great houses by the canal, including this one near Bridge 31.

We're a bit disappointed that the Droitwich Canals aren't quite open yet.  If they had been, we'd have gone down.  Instead, we had to go past the junction, although we noticed that the chain which had been slung across the Droitwich Junction Canal was no longer there.

We stopped for the night just short of Astwood Bottom Lock.  I'd thought all afternoon that the steering was a bit off, so we went down the weedhatch once we'd stopped, and pulled out a couple of plastic bags and a load of foliage.  This mooring appears to be out in the country, but there's a background roar from the M5, the railway like isn't far away, and the trees are full of squawking birds; in short, this one one of the noisiest moorings of the trip!

10 miles, 14 locks.  (115 miles, 118 locks)

Saturday 18 June 2011

June Cruise - Day Eight

We knew we couldn't go anywhere very early this morning as Avon Lock doesn't open until 9am, so perhaps that's why it was almost 8 before we woke up.  The lock keeper had told us yesterday to wait on the water point just behind our mooring when we were ready to use the lock, so after breakfast we turned the boat -- me standing on the bank with a bow rope, and Adrian powering the stern around.  As we were on the water point, we took the opportunity to fill the tank.

At 9 the lock keeper filled the lock, and told us the best way to get in (as the lock is at right angles to the river).  He took a bow rope and wrapped it round a bollard, and on his signal I pushed the tiller over and put some power on to swing the stern around.  The lock keeper was very apologetic that he'd opened only one gate -- a real no-no on his watch, apparently!  Once down the lock, we went the short distance to the junction with the River Severn keeping well to the southern bank in order to avoid a sandbar, and making sure we could see all of Mythe Bridge before making the right turn up the river.

On the Severn, we were going against the flow and had a few more revs on than usual, so I was keeping a watch on the engine temperature.  But the needle stayed exactly where it usually is.  Adrian downloaded a cycling GPS app on his iPhone, so we could see how fast we were going.  It reckoned we were doing 4.6mph.  There aren't many landmarks on the Severn -- even bridges are in short supply.  But we did pass an aggregates wharf with four big barges moored up.

Upton-on-Severn is about the only place along here which has a proper waterfront.  A trip boat was being loaded with passengers.

The weather was very changeable, with warm sunshine followed by short showers.  Wildlife highlights included two swans flying past the boat at head height (I had no idea their wings made such a noise), a group of seven herons which followed the boat for a bit, and a couple of fish which jumped right out of the water (one just yards in front of a fisherman).

On the approach to Worcester there's a footbridge which isn't shown on any of our maps, then immediately behind is Diglis River Lock.

We had to wait for what seemed like ages.  It turned out that a boat was coming down.  In the lock, it looks huge.

Once out of the lock, the views of Worcester are spectacular as we approached the pontoon landing for the locks up to the canal.

I went and opened the gate of the bottom lock and Adrian made the turn off the river, watched by a number of gongoozlers.

The top lock has a very stiff paddle on the towpath side.  It took me and a passerby together to get it moving.  While rising in the lock the heavens opened, so we were relieved to moor up just before Bridge 2 and have a late lunch.  In the afternoon, we popped down to the chandlery at the basin to get a card for the pump out machine, which is just a couple of boat lengths behind us.  Then we walked into town (where Adrian had another unsuccessful conversation with yet another 3 Store), and we went to the National Trust property, Greyfriars.

We were sweltering when the sun was out, but got soaked again on the way back to the boat.  With a long river run and only four locks today, our miles total for the trip now exceeds our locks total for the first time since day one.  That will change again tomorrow!

16 miles, 4 locks.  (105, 104)