Friday 25 December 2015

Christmas Cruise: Day 3

Christmas Day dawned much calmer. We had breakfast and presents, and a very relaxed start to the day. We decided about 10am that we'd set off -- which was when we had a repeat of the engine starting problem from earlier in the year. The symptoms weren't quite the same, and will need further investigation at so,e point. We got the engine going by hotwiring it from the domestic batteries.

It wasn't as rainy as forecast, but it was predicted to get much windier during the day and even more so tomorrow. So we decided we'd head back to the marina so we could get back to our berth without having too much of a battle. We arrived back about 12.30 -- and then started cooking our Christmas dinner. It was ready a couple of hours later.

The weather has really taken a turn for the worse over the past couple of hours. There are waves on the marina, and the ducks are bobbing up and down like nobody's business! We'll have a quiet time for the rest of the day, and then tomorrow morning we're heading for home, via Kent.

5 miles, 0 locks. (17 miles, 2 locks)


Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas Cruise: Day 2

It was exceptionally windy overnight and this morning -- the forecast was gusts of over 40mph. The tall buildings at Wolverton make things worse, and we were being rocked about quite a lot. Consequently, we delayed our departure until things had quietened down a bit. I wasn't idle in the mean time, though, making a dozen mince pies (with pastry I made last night) and a couple of jars of cranberry sauce.

We finally set off at 10.30; it was still quite blustery, and as soon as Adrian let the rope go at the bow, the boat headed off to the far side of the canal. We winded at New Bradwell. The wind was from behind us, so I made an early turn into the winding hole and the back end shot round like nobody's business. I then had to use quite a bit of power to get the nose to turn back into the wind.

Shortly after we'd turned there was a brief torrential downpour. We carried on back towards Cosgrove, wondering how far we'd go. We decided to go up the lock, and as we did so we could see breaks appearing in the clouds. As we knew we'd have to run the engine a bit longer to charge the batteries, we decided to carry on with our original plan -- to go along to the bottom of the locks at Stoke Bruerne. In just a few minutes, there was blue sky and sunshine although it was still quite chilly and breezy. We had lunch of soup and toast on the move.

We moored up at the bottom of the locks, then in the afternoon walked up to the village to see Kathryn, who arrived home yesterday nearly eight weeks after tripping over and breaking her hip. We took her some mince pies and a jar of cranberry, and spent an hour or so hearing about her operation and treatment.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a lot calmer, so we'll head back the other way.

9 miles, 1 lock. (12 miles, 2 locks)


Wednesday 23 December 2015

Christmas Cruise: Day 1

Adrian came up to the boat first thing this morning, arriving around 9.30. He got the boat ready for cruising, and did a few other jobs such as buying an electric card for the meter. He set off just before 12 bound for Wolverton. The main point of interest along the way was giving a tow to a boat which could only go forwards but wanted to go backwards! It sounds as though it wasn't an entirely successful enterprise.

I've been to work, and then got the train up to Wolverton Station. It's just a very short walk round to the moorings.

3 miles, 1 lock.


Tuesday 8 December 2015

Thrupp Wharf and Northwich

I came up to the boat yesterday afternoon. It was much chillier inside than outside. I did a few jobs, like making sure the new shower mixer bar fitted and worked, and put some water in the tank. I lit the fire, and within a short while the boat was much warmer.

This morning was an early start, heading up the M1 and M6 to Northwich for a boat test. It was a nice enough day, and we did well to miss the sharp showers that blew through. In the afternoon, I went to visit my sister and family -- including going to cut their chosen Christmas tree, which my nieces, Rachel and Emily, then decorated back at home.


Thursday 3 December 2015

Suzie 2 on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is in the shops, and includes my boat test of Suzie 2, by Aintree Boats.

Friday 6 November 2015

Krystina on test

My boat test of Krystina by Bourne Boat Builders is in the December issue of Canal Boat.


Monday 2 November 2015

Night on board

I came up to the boat this afternoon. I have a funeral to go to tomorrow morning in Leighton Buzzard, and concluded that driving up here today would be preferable to tackling the M25 at rush hour tomorrow. The weather was extraordinary, with periods of warm sunshine, and other places where there was thick fog; the temperature en route ranged from 10 Celsius to 17.

Highlight of the afternoon was meeting our next door neighbours on Hector for the first time. It may also be the last time, as they've reluctantly taken the decision to sell the boat. It's a very good looking Roger Farrington tug, and will soon be on with Rugby Boats.

It was pretty chilly in the murk here at the marina, so I've got the fire going well, and have had the Eberspacher going to give me some hot water. I've spent the afternoon cracking on with writing the latest boat test.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Ventnor again

For the third time this year, a trip to Ventnor marina near Calcutt for a boat test. It was pretty murky in the morning, but by midday the sun had come out and it was pleasantly warm. The only photo I took shows the lengths Andy, the photographer, goes to to get the right shot. Here he is lying across the back counter looking along the gunwale as we go along.

He'll be really disappointed if the shot doesn't make it into the magazine!


Wednesday 14 October 2015

The alpacas of Barby

To Barby Moorings today for a boat test. And the most unusual thing about this marina is the alpacas grazing on the island in the middle.

The weather was even better than forecast, really quite warm if you could get in the sun and out of the breeze. The only annoyance during the day was that the journeys there and back were both pretty slow.


Wednesday 7 October 2015

Sheffield Keel on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of the Tyler Wilson widebeam Sheffield Keel.


Sunday 4 October 2015

Going West: The Stats

For the purposes of this, I've included the weekend in August, when we took Briar Rose from our marina to Calcutt.  That means that in total the trip was 30 days, 372 miles, and 292 locks.

Waterways covered were:

  • Grand Union Canal
  • Stratford Canal
  • Birmingham and Worcester Canal
  • Droitwich Junction Canal
  • Droitwich Barge Canal
  • River Severn
  • Gloucester and Sharpness Canal
  • Staffs and Worcs Canal
  • Stourbridge Canal
  • Dudley No2 Canal
  • BCN New Main Line
  • Wyrley and Essington Canal (including Anglesey and Daw End Branches)
  • Rushall Canal
  • Tame Valley Canal
  • Walsall Canal
  • Wednesbury Old Canal
  • Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
  • Coventry Canal
  • Oxford Canal
We turned round in five places:
  • Sharpness
  • Hawne Basin
  • Black Country Museum
  • Anglesey Basin
  • Coventry Basin
  • Blisworth (3056 yards) (twice)
  • Braunston (2042 yards) (twice)
  • Shrewley (433 yards)
  • Brandwood (352 yards)
  • Wast Hill (2726 yards)
  • Shortwood (614 yards)
  • Tardebigge (580 yards)
  • Cookley (65 yards)
  • Dunsley (25 yards)
  • Gosty Hill (563 yards)
  • Netherton (3027 yards)
  • Coseley (360 yards)
  • Summit/Galton (122 yards)
  • Curdworth (57 yards)
  • Newbold (250 yards)
That means we spent 11 miles underground!

Saturday 3 October 2015


To Newbury this morning for a boat test. While it wasn't as sunny as the rest of the week, it was still fine enough -- and the tearoom at Newbury Wharf was doing a roaring trade.


Sunday 27 September 2015

Going West: Day 27

Maybe we were subconsciously trying to delay the end of our trip, but we seemed a bit slow to get going this morning. However, it was another bright sunny day, and we actually still got under way before 9.

The five miles back to our marina usually take an hour and a half, and they did today -- we were slowed only by two large fishing matches. I seem to have taken only two photos.

At the marina, Briar Rise seemed very reluctant to slip into her berth -- I like to think she would rather have kept going! But once we were moored up, we quickly sorted things out, packed up the car, and hit the road. We had to go first to Calcutt to collect Adrian's car, then we headed home. We've spent the afternoon putting the house back together, as the decorator has been in while we've been away, painting a couple of rooms.

5 miles, 0 locks. (340 miles, 269 locks)


Saturday 26 September 2015

Going West: Day 26

Another beautiful start to the day, particularly the view from the galley window. We set off at 8.30, to make the short journey to Rugby Boats for diesel, and where we were meeting my second cousin Catherine and family. We spent a great morning plodding along the lock free pound, catching up. It was great hearing about their recent trip on their shared boat round the Four Counties Ring, and plenty of other news. We stopped at Blisworth for pasta cooked by Adrian, and cake cooked by Catherine.

In Blisworth Tunnel we passed three or four boats going the other way, and Grace and Matthew could be heard singing 'There's light at the end of the tunnel' -- particularly loudly when they could see people at the Stoke Bruerne end peering round the entrance.

We shared the locks with a boat called Kelly Louise, which had just been bought from Wilton Marina. It looked suspiciously like the one which used to be owned by a couple, Peter and Margaret, and which was loaned to Tom and Jan while they waited for Waiouru to be built. This post has a photo (at the end) for comparison.

Anyway, thanks to the crew working hard, we made good time down the hill.

We moored up at the bottom of the locks and said goodbye to our visitors. We then walked up to Stoke Bruerne, as we'd spotted Cleddau moored there. We introduced ourselves to Ken, then a little later Sue returned; we had a great chat, which ended up with us having bubbles on board Cleddau, and staying until gone 7pm. On the way back we knocked on Kathryn's door and dragged her to The Navigation for a drink. It was dark by the time we walked back down the locks to the boat.

13 miles, 7 locks. (335 miles, 269 locks)

Friday 25 September 2015

Going West: Day 25

It was a beautiful clear sunny morning when we woke up, although rathe chilly outside. With the sun low in the sky, the shadows across the fields were amazing as we set off just before 8.

We had a clear run until just before Braunston, when suddenly there seemed to be boats everywhere. Among those coming through bridge holes towards us was Armadillo. Once we'd picked our way through the crowds, we stopped at the water point at the junction to fill the tank and start a wash load. All that was done by 10.30, so we made our way up to the locks. A boat was almost up as we arrived, and as I walked up to the lock I realised it was a Braidbar Boat, Mister E, with Mike and a couple of friends on board. We've previously met Mike at Higher Poynton and at the Crick Show. They said they'd wait for us at the next lock, and I quickly dashed into the shop by the lock to add to Briar Rose's collection of brass canal plaques.

It was great fun sharing the locks with Mike and his friends. We met boats coming down, so progress was pretty quick.

Both boats went through the tunnel, and we stopped just before Norton Junction for lunch. Mister E went to the junction to turn around before also mooring up for lunch.

We headed for Buckby locks after lunch. A boat was going down the top lock, and the volunteer lock keeper asked the, to wait at the next lock. It turned out to be a couple on a Diamond Resorts boat from Gayton who knew what they were doing. There was even a bit of synchronised boating between locks.

Lock 12 is the one that had a stoppage a few weeks ago when one of the gates fell apart, having completely rotted through. The temporary fix is a significant metal collar to hold the gate together. I gather it was due for replacement this winter anyway.

As it was such a lovely afternoon, we decided to continue a little way, to get away from the M1. I was pleased to find a nice spot just beyond Bridge 23 was free. We've stopped here a couple of times before; the trains are fairly close, but that's usual round here, but there are nice views across farmland, and the neighbours across the towpath seem friendly enough.

15 miles, 13 locks. (322 miles, 262 locks)


Thursday 24 September 2015

Going West: Day 24

The Coventry Basin moorings are surprisingly quiet. We slipped away this morning at 8am in sunny but chilly conditions. By Bridge 2 are the Cash's Hundreds weavers' cottages. They used to have accommodation on the lower two floors, and looms on the top floor. A hundred were planned, but they actually built only around half that number.

Just beyond Bridge 8 we made a brief stop, so Adrian could go to the nearby Tesco, which is huge. I got the boat tied up and started some washing, and then Marilyn, David, and Lesley went by on Waka Huia so I had a brief chat to them. Before long we were approaching Hawkesbury Junction, which is much easier from this direction as you don't have to double back on yourself.

Adrian worked the lock, which has a rise of less than a foot, and we were then on the North Oxford. Thanks to improvements in the 1830s, this canal has long straight sections which combined with the fact that we used to moor round here and travelled it frequently, makes it rather dull. There were some moments of interest, though, provided by wildlife. I saw what I'm pretty sure was a water vole; it set off from the offside, swam right into the side of the boat, looked confused, and then went round us as we went past. Later some sort of bird of prey flew overhead and settled in a tree. I had very bad photos of each of them.

At Stretton Stop, Adrian jumped off to open the little swing bridge, which is used by staff at Rose Narrowboats.

We passed the entrance to Brinklow Marina, where we moored when we first bought Briar Rose. Not a single one of the coloured lights in Newbold Tunnel is working any more. At Rugby, building work is well advanced on the new retail park near Tesco; and there's also a lot of building work going on a Clifton Cruisers.

It was still relatively early, so we decided to go up the locks at Hillmorton. A big change since we last came this way is that all the masts from the Rugby Radio Station have gone. A volunteer lock keeper emptied one of the pair of bottom locks for us. At the middle pair, Hillmorton Church looked rather nice in the sunshine.

There was a space on the piling at the top of the locks, so we pulled in and moored up. As we were reasonably close, I phoned the Canal Shop, which supplied our composting loo, to see whether they had any cocoa shell in stock. This is one of the best things to use as a base in the loo, but we've never been able to find any. They had some, so I walked along to buy a couple of kilos -- I had no idea what a kilo would look like, and it turns out to be quite a volume; 2kg should do us for about six empties of the loo.

Later, just before 6pm, Brian and Diana on Harnser went past. I went to chat to them as they went down the top lock.

21 miles, 4 locks. (307 miles, 249 locks)


Wednesday 23 September 2015

Going West: Day 23

It was a fantastically bright sunny morning when we woke up, but it was also chilly. At 8 we moved the couple of hundred yards to the water point at the CRT Hartshill wharf, to top up the tank and start the washing machine. The buildings are lovely, but look as though they could do with a bit of care and attention.

The canal through Nuneaton didn't seem so full of rubbish as it has been in the past. There's not much of interest through the town, save for an apparent time lord, and a tree at the bottom of someone's garden decorated with dozens of glass ornaments, which were sparkling in the sunshine.

In fact the sun was dazzling me for quite a lot of this morning's journey, making it difficult to see where we were going. However, it seemed churlish to complain about it. Just before Bedworth we passed Marston Junction, the start of the Ashby Canal. A boat had apparently just come out of the junction -- I hadn't seen it emerge, and it was lingering on the far side of the wide. A little further on, Charity Dock is looking even more bizarre than ever, if such a thing is possible. It's known for it's piles of, well, scrap, I suppose, and vignettes posed with mannequins. They seem to have outdone themselves at the moment.

As we approached Hawkesbury Junction we moored in the first available space we saw, although it turned out there was masses of space available. About an hour later Marilyn and David arrived on Waka Huia for a lunch date. It was the first time we'd met, but having read each other's blogs it felt as though we already knew each other. We went down to The Greyhound for a very good lunch, and we joined by Marilyn's friend, Lesley. It was really great to meet the, and spend some time with them.

By the time we'd had a look at each other's boats it was getting on for 3.30. It was still a decent afternoon, so we decided we'd carry on down to Coventry. It's five and a half miles, and takes almost two hours. It's quite a few years since we were last here in 2009, so we're interested to see what had changed. One of the main things was lots of new housing. On many of the fences along the canal are collections of plastic bags, seemingly filled with rubbish. I assume they're makeshift bins, which is better than all the rubbish ending up in the water; or there could be some cultural or social significance which has passed me by.

The bridge into the basin is pretty small. Once inside, the former moorings are now used as a hire base, so the other arm of the basin has been opened up for mooring. We winded and reversed up to the far end of the arm. Holderness is also here, on the mooring between the two arms.

14 miles, 0 locks. (286 miles, 245 locks)


Tuesday 22 September 2015

Going West: Day 22

Yesterday evening, Barry on AreAndAre arrived. Having filled up with water and moored up, he came on board for a couple of hours of chat; it's the first time we've had more than a conversation in passing, so it was great to get to know him better and hear all about the Home Brew Boat business.

There was lots of rain in the night and this morning was very dank and murky. We set off at 8, towards Glascote Locks. One of the boats moored at the club below the locks had come adrift and was almost across the cut; if floated back in when we went past, but I phoned the club to let them know. At the locks, we crossed with a boat between the two. At the top, the former SM Hudson yard is now run by Sarah Edgson as an expansion of Norton Canes, and will soon be offering all boatyard services.

It rained as we passed the back gardens of Tamworth, but as we moved out into the countryside things improved. Lots of harvesting has been done around here, with fields full of bales of straw.

The Atherstone Locks always seem to take an age, and today was no exception. We were following a couple of boats up, so we were all having to turn locks. After four of the eleven, we decided to stop for lunch to let the others get ahead a bit. They must have had a similar idea a little further ahead though, because when we set off again the same two boats were still just in front. At lock 5 Adrian dashed into town to buy some soap, while I single-handed the lock. Even though I'm not really very keen on this flight, it's still pretty.

We eventually got to the top and carried on to Hartshill, just short of the CRT yard, in a place where we've stopped a couple of times before. The sun has come out, but there are very tall clouds, some of which are black. It's been a day where coats and jumpers have been on and off every few minutes!

13 miles, 13 locks. (272 miles, 245 locks)


Monday 21 September 2015

Going West: Day 21

Today is the first day this trip that I put long trousers on for boating -- in fact I even had my waterproof trousers over the top. There was rain in the night, and although it wasn't actually raining when we set off around 8.30, it was clearly theatening. We went through the short and cobwebby Curdworth Tunnel, to the top of Curdworth Locks. I had to turn the top couple of locks, then we met boats coming up at the next seven. Dove was returning from the Huddleford Boat Gathering, and then there were the Birmingham camping boats, Yeoford and Collingwood (which we saw last week on the W&E).

It didn't rain all the time while we were going down the flight, but there were times when it came down quite heavily. Still, it's just about the first proper rain we've had this trip so we can't complain.

We completed the eleven locks in a little over two hours. At the bottom of the flight we found Lois Jane moored up, and had an all too brief chat with Debbie and James as we drifted past. We continued on towards Fazely Junction, so here's the obligatory photo of Drayton footbridge.

At the junction there were boats going in several directions. I gingerly came under the junction bridge, winded, and reversed onto the moorings, so we're on the Coventry Canal, facing the junction. It was around 12 when we stopped for the day. The new buildings at the junction have now been finished and are inhabited, after several years of lying incomplete.

I made a trip to the small but well stocked Tesco in Fazeley, then went back later to the post box. On that trip I bumped into Dan from Mr Jingles, the candle boat; we'd seem him and his partner, Keri, at Gloucester and again at Sharpness, collecting their new butty. Later, Tacet arrived and Clinton and Sharon came on board for tea and coffe and a couple of hours of very entertaining conversation.

During the afternoon the skies cleared and the sun came out. Having lit the fire earlier, we suddenly found ourselves much too warm.

7 miles, 11 locks. (259 miles, 232 locks)


Sunday 20 September 2015

Going West: Day 20

The CBSO concert last night was excellent. The programme wasn't perhaps one we would have chosen, consisting of a presenter going through an A to Z, with short works or excerpts. But the players were brilliant, and Symphony Hall itself is a superb venue.

This morning a boat headed off to the locks at around 7am, just as we were getting up. It was the Drayton hire boat who'd been on the BCNS explorer cruise, and whom we followed up the Ryder's Green flight on Friday. We set off just before 8, slipping past Chance.

I had to fill the top lock, and all the others in the Farmer's Bridge flight. This is one of my favourite flights of urban locks, as there's so much of interest -- including locks under road bridges and buildings.

In spite of having to turn all 13 locks, we completed the flight in an hour and a quarter. I was setting the locks two ahead, so while the lock we were in was emptying, I'd walk down two locks and open a paddle, then on the way back up open the top gate of the next lock. With Adrian working the offside paddles, we had a good system going.

At Aston Junction, we headed off down Aston Locks. We think it must be ten years since we did this flight, when we did the Warwickshire ring on a hire boat. The last time we came down Farmer's Bridge we took the alternative route via the Ashted and Garrison locks, and the last time we went up Farmer's Bridge we'd come via Knowle, Camp Hill and Ashted. Anyway, we remembered very little -- but to be honest, there's not much that's very memorable. We caught up with the boat ahead at the bottom lock of the eleven.

Salford Junction is under the M6 at Spaghetti Junction -- although it's not nearly as dramatic arriving from this direction as it is when you come down the Tame Valley. Right under the motorway, where the Grand Union joins, there's a junction bridge and a finger post. A little while later, the canal passes underneath a warehouse.

The next section is fairly uninspiring, but there are lots of new car dealerships on the offside, which I'm sure weren't there when we last came this way. Below the first Minworth Lock we stopped on the water point to fill the tank, start a wash load, and have lunch. We then completed the other two locks and carried on to Wiggins Hill Bridge, where what used to be a restaurant has expanded into a hotel and pub. We're right on the end of the moorings, with the back half on piling, and the front half not. It was about 2.30 when we got here, so we could have carried on, but thought we'd probably done enough locks today.

9 miles, 27 locks. (252 miles, 221 locks)


Saturday 19 September 2015

Going West: Day 19

We had an excellent evening last night with Doug and James from Chance, which is also moored in central Birmingham. We started with bubbles and nibbles on Chance, followed by a meal at Wagamama in Brindley Place, and then a few drinks in town.

This morning we had a relaxed start to the day. There have been a few changes since we were her a few years ago. The National Indoor Arena has become the Barclaycard Arena, and it's had a facelift, with a new facade facing the canal, complete with cafes and restaurants.

First visit of the day was to the Library of Birmingham -- a fantastic new building inside and out, and with high level gardens with great views.

After lunch in a pub we went on a tour of the Coffin Works, a new museum in the former workshops of Newman Brothers, who made metal fittings and cloth linings and shrouds for coffins. It was a fascinating hour.

There was even an exhibition of contemporary quirky coffins, including one for narrowboaters.

Then we walked to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, which is a similar idea, in the workshops of Smith and Perrin. Again, it was well worth the visit.

Returning to the canal, we found restaurants were fully booked, so we got jerk pork and chicken from a food stall in Brimdley Place. Then we'll be going to a CBSO concert in Symphony Hall.

0 miles, 0 locks. (243 miles, 194 locks)