Friday 8 December 2017

Jescka on test

The January edition of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test on Jescka, a short and not very wide widebeam.

Monday 13 November 2017


A quick trip up to Shardlow today for the second boat test in two days. The M1 was uncannily quiet, and we were uncharacteristically efficient in getting the test done, so we seemed to be finished quite early. The local swan came to say hello through the side hatch.

I went back to Briar Rose to pick up a few things, then headed home.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Kings Bromley

A long day today. I finished my night shifts this morning, and drove up the M40 for a rendezvous with Andy the photographer at the Bicester Park and Ride. We then went in his car to Kings Bromley for a boat test. The weather was sunny, but with a bitterly cold wind. The marine is much bigger than it looks from the canal, and part of it is through a very tiny bridge.

We were done by about one o’clock, so headed back to my car. I’ve come to Briar Rose for the night, as I’m much too tired to drive home, and we have another boat test tomorrow.

Briar Rose was pretty cold, so I have the Eberspacher on and the fire alight, and i’ve also run the engine a bit to make sure the starter battery gets some charge, and (as I’ve got a couple of radiators on) to help heat the water.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Sonoma on Test

The December issue of Canal Boat is out and includes my boat test on the Finesse boat, Sonoma.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Dredging on the Mac

This morning I left in the dark, and it was dark again by the time I got back. In between was a drive up to Cheshire for a boat test. The weather wasn’t as dull as forcast, and the prodicted showers never arrived. We’d planned to trun the boat at the winding hole by Bridge 20, but it was being dredged; fortunately there’s another one a mile further on. Just beyond Bridge 20 is where the dredgings were being dumped. As we came back, the process was in full swing, with a full pan being emptied.

A digger was getting the silt out, and putting it in a machine just over the hedge which sifts out all the debris. Then the silt was beimg sprayed all over the field. The whole area looked a complete mess! Still, the Macc badly needs dredging, so you can’t really complain. Apparently all the dredging gear got stuck in a bridge hole on the way up, rather making the point.

Ian was doing the photos today, and we went to the nearby Miners’ Arms for lunch afterwards. The food was pretty good, but there seemed to be a bit of a staff shortage, with things taking quite a long time.

Tomorrow morning, another early alarm as I’m due at work at 6.30.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Kingfishers and other things

I mentioned during our September trip that I’d seen far more kingfishers than ever before — some days so many that I stopped counting them. So when the wildlife expert Chris Packham was in at work a few days ago, I took the opportunity while he was waiting to go on air to ask him why there appear to be so many this year.

He said the main thing that dents their numbers is a harsh winter — sixty per cent can be lost in a really bad one — but the past few years have been very mild, so their numbers will have been maintained. In addition, they breed very quickly, with pairs having two or even three clutches of eggs a year. They lay eight to ten eggs, and if all goes well, they’ll get six or eight chicks to fledge. That makes September prime kingfisher spotting month.  Chris also said that it’s very difficult to tell a mature adult kingfisher from a young one because they grow to full size quickly (they’re smaller than you think) and they get their adult feathers quickly too.  He said wrens follow a similar pattern, with their population taking a big hit in a hard winter, but numbers bouncing back rapidly over the next couple of years. Interesting stuff.

I’ve driven up to Briar Rose this afternoon, as I have a boat test tomorrow. It’s been much sunnier than forecast all the way up — and we could do with the same tomorrow, which isn’t forecast to have much sun at all.

I thought I’d better put aome water in the tank, as the last time we filled was in Braunston a couple of days before the end of the trip. It was really very pleasant out on the well deck, looking across the marina.

Monday 9 October 2017

Lancaster Canal

A first today — a bit of boating on the Lancaster Canal. Andy the photographer picked me up at Towcester at 7am and after a journey that was rather slow in places we got to our destination at 10.30. The weather was better than expected, at least at first, so we set off on the test boat to get the shots of it on the water. The section of the Lancaster we covered (only a couple of miles) was very pretty, with some lovely views — none of which I took a photo of. We were all done by about 1.30,and the journey back was a bit quicker. I’m staying on board tonight, and will go back home tomorrow morning.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Kaleidoscope IX

When we had a visit at Kingswood Junction from my father’s cousin, Horace, (which makes him my first cousin once removed), he brought us a piece of art. Horace is a photographer, and Kaleidoscope IX from 2013 uses some of his photos cut up and rearranged.

The red parts are from photos of narrowboats — you can see occasional recognisable bits, like a dolly or a bit of sign writing. We’re keeping this lovely present on the boat, and it will remind us of that visit.

I came up to the boat this afternoon, as I have a boat test much further north tomorrow. Sunday lunchtime seems to be a good time as there was very little traffic. The boat was fine and the solar panel has apparently still be doing its thing as we’ve used nothing off the electric meter. I had a look at the loo, and as the contents looked very dry and crumbly (even after only a week away) I emptied it. Tomorrow will be a pretty early start.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Jenny Rose on test

The November issue of Canal Boat is out, and includes my boat test of Jenny Rose by Braidbar Boats.

Monday 2 October 2017

North West Passage: Stats

Here's the route we've covered over the past five weeks.

We covered 411 miles and 294 locks, and the engine was on for 184.4 hours.

Waterways travelled:

  • Grand Union Canal
  • North Oxford Canal
  • Coventry Canal
  • Birmingham and Fazeley Canal
  • Trent and Mersey Canal
  • Staffs and Worcs Canal
  • Caldon Canal and Leek Arm
  • Bridgewater Canal
  • River Irwell
  • Manchester Ship Canal
  • River Weaver
  • Middlewich Branch
  • Shropshire Union Canal
  • Birmingham Canal Navigations New and Old Main Lines
  • Digbeth Branch
Bold indicates waters we hadn't been on before.

We turned round at:
  • Leek
  • Froghall
  • Castlefield
  • Salford Quays
  • Black Country Museum
  • Smethwick Top Lock (unplanned)
We travelled through fifteen different tunnels, and did seven of them twice (in bold).
  • Blisworth
  • Braunston
  • Newbold
  • Leek
  • Harecastle
  • Barnton
  • Saltersford
  • Preston Brook
  • Cowley
  • Coseley
  • Summit
  • Galton
  • Ashted
  • Curzon Street
  • Shrewley
In total, we spent just over eleven miles under ground.

Sunday 1 October 2017

North West Passage: Day 37

Just five miles to return to the marina, and we set off at 8 in rather dank and dark conditions. At times it rained a bit. Just past Grafton Regis bridge, a kingfisher was sitting on the tiller of a moored boat, and stayed as we went past. I still didn't manage to get a completely in focus picture.

A bit further on, a squirrel was feasting on fallen apples.

We made the turn into the marina after the usual hour and a half, and reversed easily enough into our berth. Adrian had spent the travelling time sorting stuff out, so it was just a matter of getting bags from the car, packing things, and loading up. Adrian left first but got home second, making the mistake of choosing the M40 rather than driving through the middle of Bicester.

5 miles, 0 locks. (411 miles, 294 locks)

Saturday 30 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 36

We woke to a nice sunny morning. Before we set off there was a comotion outside on the water. About seven adolescent cygnets were running along the water trying unsuccessfully to take off. Their parents seemed to be showing them what to do. A bit later the adults seemed to be chasing off a third.

We set off about 9am along this very familiar route home. We waved at Del and Al on Derwent6 as we went by. It was sunny enough for shadows, but the breeze had a cold edge to it.

We did a touch and go at Gayton Junction so Adrian could get off with a bag of rubbish and recycling. When we got to Blisworth we moored up in the village to wait for visitors to arrive. Adrian made lunch while we waited, then at about 1pm, Catherine, Nigel, Grace, and Matthew arrived for their trip through the tunnel and down the locks. We set off after lunch and saw no other boats apart from the trip boat, Charlie, in the tunnel. As we got to the top of the locks an Alvechurch hire boat with a big crew of enthusiatic children also set off, so we went down together.

It was an efficient decent, and at the bottom we moored up for tea and some of Catherine's lovely lemon cake. By the time they were leaving there were spots of rain, so we decided to stay where we were.

11 miles, 7 locks. (406 miles, 294 locks)

Friday 29 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 35

With rain forecast this morning and only a few miles to do, we decided we'd wait for the rain to pass before setting off. Adrian had some work to do anyway, so it allowed him to get on with that. The rain was never that heavy, but kept coming and going. By about 11 it appeared to have passed, so we got ready to set off. A few boats had been down, and as we prepared, two more appeared round the corner, followed by a third. I asked the third boat if they were on their own and if so could we join them. They'd actually come down the top lock with the first boat, and the second had only just got in between them. Once we'd sorted that out, a boat moored in front of use also decided to set off, and two more came along from the top lock, so by the time we were on our way down there was still a queue of three.

Things continued very slowly. A couple of locks further down, one of the boats from the pair in front was left behind, as another single boat had appeared from somewhere, so we all swapped locking partners. Boats began to appear in the opposite direction, including two separate single handers. Among the others was a boat we knew well.

Finally we got to the bottom of the locks. It was 1.45 so had taken more than two hours to do six locks. We carried on, having lunch on the move. Just before Weedon, the earthworks where the new bypass bridge will cross the canal and the railway line together are now huge. We also spotted concrete bridge footings; the bridge is due to go in over the winter, with all the work which would normally need a stoppage carried out at night, presumably because they can't stop the West Coast Main Line.

We stopped for some shopping to top up lunch supplies for tomorrow, then stopped again at Rugby Boats for diesel. We had to moor outside two other boats and have the hose passed across to us, as a little 1860 ice breaker was being brought out of water. It had been put in the water yesterday after a three year restoration project, but was today found to be taking on water.

We continued round the corner to the moorings opposite the caravan club field. The M1 and the railway are both a fair distance away here.

6 miles, 6 locks. (395 miles, 287 locks)

Thursday 28 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 34

There was more heavy rain last night, but it had stopped by this morning -- although the day took a while to make up its mind to be sunny. With another day of few miles to do, we started The washing machine and set off when the wash part of the cycle had finished, at about 9am. The canal towards Braunston is quite slow, because of the number of moored boats. One boater asked if the oil around his boat was on the 'river' further along; it wasn't -- and I wondered if the Jerry can next to his boat had anything to do with it. Eventually we reached Braunston Turn and went right, onto the Grand Union proper.

We stopped at the water point by the Stop House and filled the tank. As we did so, Willow from yesterday came and waited their turn behind us. When we were full we moved alomg and moored outside the marina, and walked up to the shop at the bottom lock -- who didn't have the brass plaques I wanted. As we walked back, Willow was heading for the locks, so we called out to them and said we'd come with them. The bottom lock was prepared by a volunteer lock keeper, and above it Mike from the trip boat in Stoke Bruerne was preparing to take his other boat, Jubilee into the paint dock. The second lock needed turning, but after that each lock had a couple of boats coming down.

Not only were there lots of boats going down the flight, there were another six waiting at the top. We continued through the tunnel, passing two more boats. The passage took 22 minutes.

We had lunch on the move after the tunnel, and considered our mooring options at Norton Junction. We thought about reversing onto the Leicester section if there was a mooring close to the junction, but there wasn't. The cottage overlooking the junction looked particularly nice in the sunshine.

There was plenty of room on the approach to Buckby locks, but we're not particularly keen on those moorings, because of the track alongside. The top lock was full, so we went straight in and went down to the long pound below. There were quite a few boats at the far end near the lock, so we moored up before the bend. A little while later, a couple of boats had gone down the locks, so we moved around the corner to where it's more open, near the little canal shop. We went there for ice creams, and found they had the plaques for the Caldon and the Trent and Mersey to add to the panel in the engine room. The local ducks have been washing themselves quite dramatically.

We've also had a brief post-school visit from Catherine, Grace, Matthew, and Matthew's friend, Daniel.

7 miles, 7 locks. (389 miles, 281 locks)

Wednesday 27 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 33

We had a fairly unambitious target today, as Adrian needed to make a work call at 1pm. We just needed to get up the locks and round the corner in time to be moored up by them. We were just finishing breakfast at about 8am when a boat went past, so we quickly got ourselves ready to go, hoping to catch them up and share the locks. We didn't quite get there in time to share the first lock, Itchington Bottom Lock, but they said they'd wait for us at the next one, which they did. The Blue Lias pub, before the main part of the Stockton flight, always looks pretty, even on a fairly murky morning.
It appeared someone had started up the flight before us, as every lock was full. I did quite a lot of back and forth setting ahead to help things along. Our lock companions, a couple on a Kate hire boat, were good company. We were nearly at the top before we saw a boat coming down, another Kate boat, as it happened.
Our lock companions were planning to stop for breakfast before the Calcut locks. This section has quite a few moored boats, so is fairly slow going. The Willow Wren training centre at Nelson's Wharf appears to have restored more of the old arm for moorings. Approaching Calcutt, we caught up with a boat in front, Willow, and shared the locks with them. The bottom one was empty for us, two boats were coming down the middle one (which meant quite a lot of boats in a small pound), and the top one was also empty so we could go in side by side.
At Napton Junction, there seemed to be quite a lot going on. A boat was turning right onto the South Oxford Canal, I saw a couple of boats going past the junction, and as we approached a boat winded there. I slowly made the turn left onto the section that's shared between the Oxford and Grand Union canals, and was able to warn Willow that another boat was coming along. Here's Willow having made the turn.
There were immediately a lot of boats on the move, some of them met at awkward bridge holes. We moored a bit before Bridge 102 at only a little past 11.30. We've seldom stopped after such a short day. After lunch, Adrian had his call and has been working; I've written a feature article. There have been dozens of boats going by -- compared with most of the places we've been on this trip it's extremely busy here. The hire business appears to be doing quite well. Among the boats we've seen have been the motor boat, Bascote, towing the butty, Gosport.
It's felt a bit like being back home travelling these waters again. We hired twice from Kate Boats years ago, and Debdale was moored at Stockton Top when we first had our share, so we know this area quite well. It's been a little while since we were last here though, and the familiarity has been very pleasant.
7 miles, 13 locks. (382 miles, 274 locks)

Tuesday 26 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 32

It was another misty morning. With not a great many miles to do today we didn't leave until quarter to nine. A dog walker who passed as we set off for the two Cape Locks said they were at the bottom to come up, so we could leave the gates open. In Warwick, a CRT crew were constructing a coffer dam around a weir. Each metal support was floated across the canal by a guy using a big blue floating box, and it was then pushed into the canal bed by two guys jumping up and down on it.

We stopped at the Tesco moorings in Warwick and went to do a decent sized shop that should see us home. We then did another short hop to Bridge 40 in Leamington Spa, where there's a new water point. The whole area has changed beyond all recognition, with new student accommodation alongside the canal, and a small landscaped area with the water point in it. I'd already set the washing machine going when we found the tap was the wrong size, and wouldn't take the standard connector.

We set off again through the outskirts of Leamington and then Radford Semele. At the bottom lock, a lady had brought some American friends to see a lock; they were delighted to see our demonstration of how a lock worked. We went up two more then stopped on the water point at Fosse Wharf, where the tap is the correct size, and had lunch while the tank filled. A couple of boats passed so we followed them up the next lock; one then stopped for lunch while the other waited for us at Wood Lock. This whole section is very pretty.

We got on with our locking partners very well. The last locks we did together were the four at Bascote. The top two are a staircase.

The other boat was planning to continue on to Napton, but we stopped in a pleasant spot at Long Itchington, on the embankment over the aqueduct. The sun has been out for most of the afternoon, and it's even been fairly warm.

9 miles, 12 locks. (375 miles, 261 locks)

Monday 25 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 31

A day of changing plans and good company today. We'd arranged to meet people at about midday at the top of the Hatton Flight; but there was rain overnight and this morning was very drizzly.

We nearly changed plans at that point, but decided to set off at about 8.15 as the rain wasn't heavy at all. We got the five Knowle Locks done in just a light drizzle.

At the bottom of the locks we continued for a few miles and the rain became heavier and heavier -- not good weather for the Hatton flight. When we got to Kingswood Junction we decided to stop, and contacted our visitors to ask them to divert to our new location. My father's cousin, Horace, arrived first, then an hour or so later Bob and June who used to have Autumn Myst arrived; they'd been planning to lend a hand down the Hatton Locks. We had lunch together, by which time the weather had brightened up considerably, so a new plan was hatched. Bob and June would pop hoke to get their dog, then go to Hatton; we'd go by boat. Horace came for a bit of boating, then jumped ship to walk back to his car to go home.

En route to Hatton we passed another Braidbar boat, Burnt Oak, who were just about to moor up. However, the news that we were going down the locks with extra hands convinced them to change their minds and come with us. We got to the top of the locks just after 3pm, and a good rhythm was set up. Bob and June were setting ahead, the helmsmen closed the top gates, and the lock crew worked the bottom paddles and gates. With every lock set, there wasn't a moment when the boats weren't either going forward or down. Martina and John from Burnt Oak were excellent locking companions.

We got to the bottom in almost exactly two hours -- remarkable for 21 big locks. We stopped at the bottom for much needed tea and cake. It had been a great to see Bob and June, and their help was incredible. When they had set off back to their car, we moved around the corner away from the road to the Cape, where there was a suitable space. As it was gone 6.30pm we couldn't be bothered to cook, and went to the Cape of Good Hope pub for dinner.

12 miles, 26 locks. (366 miles, 249 locks)

Sunday 24 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 30

It was bright as we left at around 8am, with the sun reflecting off the front of the Arena Birmingham.

We got to the top of the Farmer's Bridge locks, and found a boat going down in front of us. We'd expected that all the locks would be empty anyway, so it didn't make much difference. This flight is one of my favourites. There's a lot going on, they're nice and close together so you can set ahead easily, and they just fly by.

We did the thirteen locks in under an hour and a half. As expected, the boat in front of us, a hire boat probably doing the Warwickshire Ring, turned left at Aston Junction to go down the Aston locks. We turned right onto the Digbeth Branch. The six locks here were in our favour. Ashted Tunnel comes immediately after the first lock, and is tiny. We know from experience that the roof curves in so much that boat hand rails are at severe risk of getting a scrape, so Adrian took the centre line to hold the boat against the towpath.

The next couple of locks run through the new campus of Birmingham City University. When I did my postgrad there, it was based up at Perry Barr. The new buildings look like a big improvement.

We took a sharp left at Warwick Bar to join the Grand Union Canal. The next locks, six of them, are uphill -- undoing some of the downhill work we'd already done!

We reached the top of the Camp Hill Locks at about 12, so all 25 locks had been completed in under four hours. The top lock was our last narrow one of the trip; they're all wide from now on. We turned onto the service point to fill the water tank, start the washing machine, and get rid of rubbish. We knew the water would take a while, so we had lunch too.

The next stretch is lock free, starting in industry, going through Solihull, and passing the Land Rover factory. However, much of the length is in tree lined cuttings, and the number of leaves in the canal shows that autumn really is here.

13 miles, 25 locks. (354 miles, 223 locks)

Saturday 23 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 29

Last night's concert in the car park was excellent. The first part of the evening comsisted of what they call living programme notes, where there are small groups of musicians dotted around the space explaining elements of the music. Then the whole orchestra came together to play the whole of Beethoven's Fifth.

This morning, I spotted Paul Balmer from Waterway Routes on the towpath and we spent some time talking in the drizzle. Paul also kindly furnished me with the latest update to his excellent map. Later, as we started to head out for a walk, the boat in front was just leaving so we paused for a moment and pulled Briar Rose forward so we were no longer right under the bridge. Then we walked along to the Mail Box to see the Archers exhibition at BBC Birmingham. After lunch, we had a visit from Diane Kemp, who was one of my tutors when I did my post grad in Broadcast Journalism at what was then UCE (and is now BCU) way back in 1994. Neither of us has changed a bit, obviously.

We ended her visit out by Old Turn Junction where another of the Birmingham Weekender events was taking place -- the Canal Serenade, with musicians on three boats plus choir members on the towpath. The music was, frankly, a bit avant garde, but the spectacle of the boats moving around was enough to keep the interest.

Once Diane had gone off to Opera at the Mail Box, we had a look at the floating market and bought some smoked Lancashire cheese. As the sun had come out, we walked along to Gas Street Basin. The moorings here look much more organised, and the James Brindley pub has been transformed into the Canal House. It was really busy, and we stopped for a drink in the sunshine.

Birmingham really is a favourite city and always worth a stop. It's also great to see the whole canal area busy with people. Tomorrow, we start moving again.