Sunday 25 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 25

There was very heavy rain early this morning, making a tremendous noise on the roof. But it had pretty much dried up by breakfast time. I noted on the last day of last year's trip that we seemed to take a while to get going, and it was the same this year. We were probably trying to delay the end of the holiday. However, we were off at about 8.20; I walked down to set the top lock and Adrian brought the boat. Kathryn came out to see us.

We met a single hander coming up the second lock, then at the third lock I could see a boat going down ahead of us. She said she'd wait for us in the next lock, and while she did that she also set the one ahead. It turned out to be a boat called Etherdolidoo-too, which we used to see moored at the Wolverhampton boat club at the bottom of the Shroppie. The current owner has done a great job painting it, and she's also doing up the inside.

When we got to the lock she'd set ahead, we were greeted by the angry boater of the day, who thought it should have been his. He did nothing by scowl and moan the whole time. Even when I asked if he wanted me to shut one of the bottom gates after we left, he could still only growl; I came close to leaving it open anyway.

We got to the bottom in an hour and a half, which was pretty good. Then it was just another hour and a half back to the marina. The sun was out, but there were also a couple of showers. The wind made the turn into the marina quite hard work, but helped with the reverse into our berth. We have mostly packed up, and are just having lunch before getting in the car and heading home.

6 miles, 7 locks. (399 miles, 181 locks)


Saturday 24 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 24

Last night, when it was getting dark, two boats came up the top lock. One of them told us a top gate had come off at the next lock down; the other boat had broken chains on its bow fender, which was dangling in the water. It seemed logical that he'd caught it on the gate, lifted the gate out, and then his fender chains had failed. I went down to have a look, and sure enough, the gate was at a strange angle. A boat which had been moored in the long pound had decided to come back up, so reversed all the way to the lock, and came up backwards. I helped open some gates and wind some paddles.

So this morning we knew we weren't going anywhere until CRT had put the gate's pin back in the cup. Fortunately they did that fairly easily by jacking up the gate. Then it was a matter of tightening the collar so the gate sealed.

We finally got under way at about 11.15 -- by which time there were quite a few boats waiting. We started sharing with an Alvechurch hire boat; the couple had been out for three weeks, doing the Leicester Ring.

By the third lock, we caught up with a lone boat which had been moored in the long pound, so we went with them. There were plenty of boats coming down behind us, so there would be a shuffling of partners. There were also lots of boats coming up -- and a couple of crews were a bit enthusiastic with turning locks, which didn't exactly help. It was also very windy, making waves on the canal. Added to that, there was an enormous amount of water coming down, making it difficult to make a level -- either full or empty -- in the locks.

The couple we were sharing with were a delight. We completed the flight in an hour and a half, which isn't bad at all. At the bottom our partners turned into Whilton Marina, where they're based.

During the morning, we'd seen two contrasting hoverers. At the top of the locks, a bird of prey of some sort; and down the locks, the police helicopter.

We carried on along the long Stowe Hill pound. Before Weedon, the earthworks for the new bypass have progressed in the past few weeks.

We stopped for diesel and a gas bottle at Rugby Boats. While I was in the office paying, a kingfisher perched on the tiller for a few seconds. We then just got the miles under our belts. It was pretty breezy at times, which made steering a bit of a challenge. There are now signs not just of Autumn, but of advancing Autumn: tractors ploughing and tilling.

As we approached Gayton Junction we'd almost caught up with the widebeam disabled trip boat, Mountbatten. At one bridge, Dolcie Blue was coming the other way, and said they'd had a bit of a close encounter with them! Mountbatten stopped at Gayton to offload passengers, who included a group of Chelsea pensioners.

It was about 4pm by then, so we decided to go through Blisworth Tunnel to Stoke Bruerne. In the tunnel we passed the Indian Chief restaurant boat, which had a couple of customers sitting on the roof -- which seemed a little unwise to me. At Stoke Bruerne there was no shortage of moorings. We stopped as far along as we could, which is fortunately out beyond the trees. It was about 5.30, so it's seemed like a bit of a long day.

16 miles, 7 locks. (393 miles, 174 locks)


Friday 23 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 23

It was very sunny this morning, and it was shining straight into my eyes when we set off at about 8am. It was a job to see where we were going, but it did make some nice reflections.

We made our way through Rugby. Clifton Cruisers seems to be having a lot of work done. When we got close to Hillmorton Locks a boat which had just come down told us the left hand of the pair would be empty. However, there were two boats going up, so the middle one had to be turned. At the top lock a boat was coming down the right hand lock, so we could go straight in.

At the top of the locks we were soon behind the two boats which had come up ahead of us. We made a brief stop at the Canal Shop, as we planned to by a kilo of cocoa shells; the reason the stop was brief was that the shop isn't open on Fridays.

As we set off again, the second boat in our three was overtaking the first one. We were then stuck behind him for some considerable time. He was going at tickover, and made steering look like very hard work -- darting from one side of his cruiser stern deck to the other, and weaving back and forth across the canal. He let us past at Barby Marina.

A little further on we spotted Muleless coming the other way. Unfortunately we met on one of the sharp turns, and the combination of that and trying to slow down for a few words meant that we failed to get round the corner, and ended up embarrassingly in the bushes on the far side!

Dunchurch Pools Marina looks to be progressing with its construction. Through the hedge we spotted the uprights of mooring jetties in one hole in the ground. There's not much to see, though, apart from a sign on the tow path.

As we approached Braunston, there was a field of geese -- but not Canada geese, but Greylags. Many of them were sitting down and looked at bit startled.

As always when approaching Braunston, the first thing you see is the church spire.

Braunston was really busy. We inched our way past full moorings, and eventually stopped just beyond the first entrance to the marina, where there's something sticking out into the water so the stern was a couple of feet away from the bank. We went for lunch of toasted sandwiches at the Gonzoozlers Rest floating cafe, which has had new tables and chairs since we were last there. After lunch, while I was still in the cafe paying, Adrian watched a boat coming out of the marina, thought the people on board looked familiar, and then thought they called my name when they saw Briar Rose. It turned out to the Amy and James of Willow, who were moving a friend's boat towards Cambridge.

We walked up to the first lock chatting to them, then diverted into the village where we made a fruitful visit to the butcher. Back at the boat we set off for the locks, sharing them with a single-hander on a small boat. Even though we had a boat going up ahead of us, we met a couple coming down, and made good time.

Braunston tunnel seemed shorter than usual, and it was also very dry in there, with almost no drips at all. We'd planned to moor just before Norton Junction, but the whole length of moorings (which are in pretty poor repair) is covered in Defra rash (that's orange netting, for the uninitiated). So we went through the junction -- in the process completing the Leicester Ring -- and found plenty of space before Buckby top lock, where we've moored for the night.

16 miles, 9 locks. (377 miles, 167 locks)


Thursday 22 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 22

It was raining when we woke up, and still damp and drizzly when we left at 8am. There wasn't much else moving -- in fact we were at Hinckley before we passed a boat going the other way. Not meeting boats at every other bridge hole did wonders for our progress: we were at the water point at the Lime Kilns in an hour and a half -- that's just over four miles travelled. We filled the tank and started a wash load. The Lime Kilns pub has guinea fowl and Cayuga ducks, one of which came to see us.

The weather cleared up a lot as we carried on. One of the bridges had a horse standing guard.

I sounded my horn as we approached Marston Junction, and then went into the narrows, a former stop lock, which lead up to the bridge. An Ashby hire boat then appeared, trying to make the turn into the Ashby. Adrian was at the bow being lookout, and got off to point out to them that we were right there. Fortunately the helmsman knew what he was doing, just pulled back slightly to give me room to get out, then went through into the narrows.

Charity Dock appeared to have more boats than in the recent past, but also just as much junk and as many manikins.

As we approached Hawkesbury Junction an Viking Afloat boat pulled off the water point right in front of us. I paused in the narrows while he made his 180 degree turn through the junction, and Adrian got off with the rubbish. I then followed the yellow peril through the bridge, and waited outside The Greyhound.

Having made a point of getting to the junction ahead of us, you'd have thought the hire boat would have sent someone the few yards to the lock, to make sure it was ready. But no. Even though Adrian had been over the junction bridge to the bins and then walked back round by the pub, he got to the lock before any of the Viking Afloat crew. He saw them through the lock up onto the North Oxford Canal, and then we went through. The rise seemed even less than usual today, at just a few inches. We caught up the Viking Afloat fairly soon, and after a while on tickover, they let us pass.

The section with the railway line running alongside, after Ansty and before Stretton Stop, has really black, oily water, which had stuck to the plants at the edges and smelled terrible. I tweeted CRT to ask if there had been some sort of pollution incident; they replied saying they knew about it and were investigating with the Environment Agency.

Approaching Stretton Stop, we weaved our way past a boat which was trying to moor -- a process which left the couple on board having a domestic. Rose Narrowboats seem to have updated their polytunnel since we last passed: it now has sides which look like one of their boats.

At All Oaks Wood I spotted Inca moored up, and gave Gary and Carolyn a toot. They came out to say hello -- it was good to finally speak to them, if only briefly, having not seem them the other day when we passed.

There's a lot of work going on in the cutting between Lyme Farm Marina and Bridge 44. A channel has been dug out of the far side of the towpath, presumably to take rain water from the cutting and stop the path being a quagmire. I wonder if it has always been there, as it appeared to be lined with cobblestones.

We moored up at a little past 4pm at Newbold, and went down to the Co-op, as we seem to have less food on board than we'd thought. While this avoided having to stop in Rugby tomorrow, it wasn't entirely successful as some of their fridges are out of action, so supplies are a bit limited.

24 miles, 1 lock. (361 miles, 158 locks)


Wednesday 21 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 21

Today would have been mother's birthday, so I've been thinking about her quite a lot, and trying to remember all the places on previous trips from where I phoned her on her birthday. Banbury, back in our Debdale days, and Runnymede stick in the memory for some reason.

We set off at around 8am. Through the first bridge is the Hartshill yard; it could really do with a bit of work to tidy it up, because it deserves it.

It was an occasionally sunny morning, and some of the Warwickshire countryside looked lovely.

Nuneaton, on the other hand, you just have to stand at the tiller and get through it. Last time I thought it had cleaned up its act a bit, but today there were sofa cushions floating in the canal, and the towpath was littered with not just litter, but piles of carpet, which I suspect several boaters had had to remove from their props.

As we're slightly ahead of a not very ambitious schedule to get back to base, when we arrived at Marston Junction, we turned left onto the Ashby Canal.

Over the next couple of hours, we saw more boats going the other way than we have at any other stage of the trip. The canal is pretty shallow anyway, and any deviation from the centre means the boat leans over and you worry about going aground. You certainly can't rush -- we were averaging 22 minute miles. There are nice metal mile posts, showing the distance from Marston and the original terminus at Moira.

As we passed under the A5 at Hinckley, we moved back into Leicestershire, and can again legitimately claim to be exploring the East Midlands. A major feature of Hinckley is the Triumph motorbike factory.

We gradually caught up with an Ashby hire boat. It wasn't that he was going slowly, but that he was panicking a good 300 yards before every bridge hole. At one, he got so far over to the right that his counter was actually out of the water. Fortunately, he pulled in at the Ashby hire base at Stoke Golding.

We unfortunately don't have time to go to the end of the canal. It's a shame; we were last up here on Debdale in March 2009, and a bit more canal has been opened since then. We had to turn around at Sutton Cheney Wharf. The permanent moorings leading up to it have a very specific speed limit in mind.

Winding went fine, which was just as well as the cafe was busy with people sitting outside.

We returned to the offside moorings at Stoke Golding, and went for a walk up the hill to the village. There's an impressive church at the top of the hill, and we saw the converted hosiery factory. We also went to find the former station building.

We walked back along the canal. The bridge we needed to cross to get back to the boat was also being used by a herd of cows going to the farm to be milked.

The hedge next to the boat was full of blackberries, so we've picked a load and will make something with them later.

19 miles, 0 locks. (337 miles, 157 locks)


Tuesday 20 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 20

We set off from Hopwas at about 8 this morning. It was pretty chilly to start, but the dramatic sky over Tamworth had just a hint that we might be in for a nice day.

When we got to Fazeley Junction, we stopped on the water point and while I dealt with filling the tank, Adrian went to the nearby Tesco to get some veg. Neither job took very long. As we approached Glascote locks, some ducks got a bit spooked, in the way they do. One of them took off alongside the boat, realised he was in trouble, took a couple of steps on the roof, and went down the other side. It reminded me of a triple jump.

A boat was just coming out of the bottom Glascote Lock when we got there. At the top lock, once the boat was rising, Adrian left me to it and walked up to the Co-op in what used to be The Anchor pub at the next bridge, to get the things Tesco didn't have. He reports that the Co-op is about four times the size of Tesco, and better stocked. At Glascote Basin, it looked to me as though Dave Moore was in attendance doing some sign writing.

The next stretch is through the back gardens of Amington, although it didn't seem quite so tedious today, perhaps because the sun came out. At Alvecote Marina, Chertsey looked very shiny. A little while later Bath passed us.

We went round Polesworth, then out into the country again, which looked very attractive in the sunshine.

When we got to the bottom of the Atherstone Locks, there was a boat going up, one to come down, and another waiting to go up. As it was 12.15 we decided to have lunch rather than following straight up. Of course while we were doing that, a single hander came past and started going up the locks, so when we were ready to go there were quite a few in front of use.

The single hander was very efficient, and kept catching up the couple ahead. We also helped each other out. Then two of the boats in front stopped in the long pound below Lock 5, while we carried on. It is a very attractive flight, even if the locks do take a long time to fill.

At Lock 3, we experienced rudeness without a word being spoken. We were just going into the lock when a downhill boat appeared round the corner, accompanied by three crew on the towpath. One of them walked straight past to the next lock without saying anything; the two women stood next to their boat, rather than coming up to the lock. I worked us through, opened the gate, wound the paddles down, and left the gate open for them. As I approached the women I smiled, and they looked at their feet, while the helmsman turned his back. He turned away from Adrian as he passed on the boat too. I don't think we'd done anything to upset them -- but they certainly weren't a good advert for the BCF, whose flags and stickers adorned their boat.

We cleared the flight in two and a half hours, not a record by any means, but not too bad considering we were following people up. We continued to a mooring we've used before, at Hartshill.

15 miles, 13 locks. (318 miles, 157 locks)


Monday 19 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 19

Today was a complete contrast to yesterday, weatherwise. This morning was miserable and wet; the rain was never particularly heavy, but it was still capable of making you quite wet. Tatenhill Lock is still pretty, even in the rain.

We stopped at the water point below Barton Lock and started a wash load. When we were ready to go up, a boat from the moorings above was almost ready to come down, so we waited for them. At Wychnor Lock, the lock landing is set back, as there's a road bridge in front of the lock.

Before Alrewas, we had our last encounter with the River Trent, as it crosses the canal here, meaning this section can sometimes be closed when the river is high. As I've said before, the weir is better protected today than it was in the 1960s, when my parents and uncle and aunt apparently almost went over it.

There are some nice houses in Alrewas, and there were also lots of spare mooring places; previously when we've been through it's been pretty packed.

Above Bagnall Lock we, as expected, found Bruce and Sheila on Sanity Again. We gave them a toot, and they came out for a chat as we hovered alongside. We had enough time to catch up on the big news from the Braidbar owners' weekend.

At the locks up to Fradley there was plenty of traffic, so we found boats coming out of locks so that we could go straight in, and boats then arriving to go down. It meant the locks passed pretty quickly. We spotted Nev's boat, Percy, on its mooring at Hunt's Lock. We moored above Keeper's Lock, where the moorings were almost empty, and walked up to the junction. There we found James and Donna, lately of Boating Leisure Services, and now joining the Braidbar team. They're moving their boat up to Higher Poynton, so it was great that we bumped into them and could have a chat. They then headed up to the next lock, while we went to the Kingfisher Cafe for lunch.

As we walked back past the junction a boat was just going down Junction Lock, so Adrian stayed to help while I walked down to bring Briar Rose up.

Once up the lock we turned left onto the Coventry Canal (although the bit from there to Whittington was actually built by the Trent and Mersey Company, and the bit from Whittington to Fazely was built by the Birmingham and Fazeley Company). Adrian walked round and swung the little bridge out of the way.

Then comes the long lock-free section -- although it didn't seem short of excitement. A boat pulled out of King's Orchard Marina in front of us, and we followed it through the moorings before Huddlesford Junction. At the junction, there was a bit of a squeeze with a boat coming the other way, which took a bit of time to sort out. The canal through Whittington always seems to be problematic. Some of the bridges are close together, there are moored boats on both sides, and you always seem to meet boats at the most inopportune moments. It certainly happened today, and that half mile or so felt as though it took an age.

Between Whittington and Hopwas I was rather taken by a field of yellow and purple flowers. It would have looked even better in sunshine.

We carried on to Hopwas, and moored just south of Dixon's Bridge, at nearly 5pm.

16 miles, 9 locks. (303 miles, 144 locks)


Sunday 18 September 2016

East Mids Exploration: Day 18

Last night we had a lovely sunset -- just about the only time we'd seen the sun all day.

Today we've had a really nice relaxing day. It was pretty chilly this morning, and when we set off at 8am there was a bit of mist rising off the water.

We timed our arrival at the first lock of the day just wrong. When we got to Stenson, a boat was just going up (it was the Kate Boat we'd seen several times yesterday). It's a huge lock, wide and more than 12 feet deep; there were a couple of volunteer lock keepers on duty, and they were properly taking the filling of the lock steadily. Then it had to be emptied before we could go in. Once in, one of the lock keepers lowered a rope with a loop in the end, so I could pass up our centre line, which he kept hold of the whole time.

The significant amount of time we'd spent at Stenson Lock meant it was very nearly 10am when we arrived at Mercia Marina. We turned in, found the visitor moorings, reversed in, and then had some debate about how to moor on such a short pontoon. We were at Mercia to meet regular blog commenter KevinTOO, who lives just a few miles away, and friends Jayne and Stephen who live on a boat in the marina. We went to the Willow Tea Rooms and had just about the most complicated coffee and tea order it was possible to get, with all five of us having something different. We sat outside, the sun came out, and we had a good couple of hours chatting. It was a really enjoyable morning.

The other reason for going to Mercia was to get diesel. In the end, Jayne came with me on the boat round to the diesel point, which is by the entrance, while Adrian went to have a quick look in the Boardwalk shops with Stephen. We managed to get 150 litres of fuel in. Mercia has a clever little credit card reader which links to the phone of the staff member, and also emails a receipt.

It was about 12.30 when we finally left. The entrance to the marina has a fairly tight bridge, particularly for pedestrians using the path through, who get an amusing bit of advice.

We turned right out onto the canal and went through Willington on tickover because of the number of boats. At Bridge 24, which is at a funny angle, I sounded my horn in good time, and heard nothing back. Then when I was nearly at the bridge hole a boat was coming the other way, and was already half way through the bridge -- at which point they sounded their horn. I managed to come to a halt and get out of their way, but it took quite a lot of doing.

Just before Burton-on-Trent we crossed the border into Staffordshire, which I guess also means we're now in the West Midlands rather than the East Midlands. At Dallow Lane Lock, the first of the narrow shallow ones, there was a queue in both directions. The boat waiting above was Hang Loose, which was the subject of a boat test. Further on, I always like the little bridge over the entrance to Shobnall Basin.

Branston Lock is in a nice countrified setting, as the busy A38 moves away from the canal temporarily. Again, there were boats going up and down.

After the lock there's a huge construction site on the offside, with another one before Bridge 34. We continued through the bridge and moored up at the Branston Water Park moorings. We went for a walk around the lake, having an ice cream on the way.

We haven't gone very far or tackled many locks today, but it was really nice to see new and old friends, and have a very laid back sunny day.

12 miles, 3 locks. (287 miles, 135 locks)