Saturday 25 July 2020

Back to the marina

This gang came visiting this morning.  I had a few jobs to do, as my cousin and family are borrowing the boat for a couple of weeks next month as they can’t go to Canada.  Top of the list was re-setting the loo, which was the reason I moored near the Elsan.  I also put loads of stuff away.  Before long I set off back to the marina.  Here are the new houses being built by the bridge.

I did a perfect spin and reverse into our berth, and even our neighbour commented on it!  I was soon in the car and heading home.

1 mile.  (2 miles)

Friday 24 July 2020

Higher Poynton

I came up to the boat after work yesterday evening, arriving at 7.45.  This morning it was a fairly early start to go to Higher Poynton for a boat test.  Google maps took me right up the M6 to Manchester Airport, and then on to Poynton; apparently new link roads have made the journey quicker.  On the way back I went cross country to the M1.  I was back at the boat at 4.30, so headed out of the marina down to Cosgrove, where I turned above the lock and moored up.

1 mile.

Monday 20 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 10

It was a beautiful morning — so it was a shame we had only five miles to cover back to the marina.  We set off at 8.15 under blue skies.

By Bridge 57 at Grafton Regis there has been a sunken cruiser for some time.  Now it is marked with an improvised floating buoy.

It took the usual hour and a half to get to the marina, and we were soon back in our home berth.  I took Adrian to Milton Keynes station to get a train to Crewe and then Nantwich to get his car, while I headed home as I have early shifts starting tomorrow.  Adrian is back on board for the night, to break the journey home.

5 miles, 0 locks.  (153 miles, 83 locks)

Sunday 19 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 9

It appears that the mooring on the bollards at Buckby bottom lock has less noise from the M1 than further along where we normally stop.  Or maybe the wind was just in the other direction.  Anyway we had a quiet night, apart from the noise of the rain, which was quite heavy at times.  By this morning though it was dry and brightening up.  We were in no rush to leave, as we wanted a top up of diesel at Rugby Boats, and their website said they didn’t open until 10 — so I set off at 8.40.  Sure enough, we arrived just after 10, and had to wait for a few moments while another boat paid.  The diesel price was good today, at 69.9 basic per litre.  By the time we set off again, the sun was properly out.

At Heyford Fields we passed a Buckingham Canal Society crane being pushed by a tug.  There had been an early morning closure of Blisworth tunnel today to let it through.  It was followed by a procession of three boats — the lead one said he’d been behind it since Blisworth.  He wasn’t impressed.

Past Bugbrooke there was what would normally have seemed like a long fishing match — but it was nothing compared with last Sunday on the Shroppie.  There were lots of boats moored before Blisworth but only one in the village itself.  The tunnel was very foggy, and we were more than two thirds of the way through before I could see the far end.  We passed two boats inside.  The Stoke Bruerne end was buzzing with people, including to kayakers and a paddle boarder.  The towpaths were busy, and among a couple of trading boats was an off licence.  There were two boats ahead of us to go down the locks, so while we waited, Adrian went to find Kathryn, and we had a quick catch up.  It was also good to see Mike and Stuart on the trip boat, Charlie, and all the Covid precautions they are taking.

We went down the top two locks on our own, and had boats coming up at each.  One of the boats going down ahead had moored in the long pound, so we teamed up with the other one for the remaining five locks.

We moored at the bottom at about 3.30.  A bit later, Adrian’s former colleague Thelma and her partner Martyn dropped by, and we had Prosecco and crisps on the towpath in the sunshine.  As I opened the bottle, the cork flew out the side hatch, and certainly gave the local ducks something to think about.

15 miles, 7 locks.  (148 miles, 83 locks)

Saturday 18 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 8

We left at before 8 this morning, covering the familiar miles between Hillmorton and Braunston.  Before long the landmarks of Braunston showed themselves — the knobbly church spire, and the windmill with no sails.

There was chaos at Bridge 90, with a boat moored off the end of the moorings, rather too close to the bridge, and boats in both directions.  Then there were two boats on the water points before the junction making it very narrow.  But once past the junction there was plenty of mooring space, had we needed it.  We stopped at the next water point and filled the tank, which might have been a tactical error, as plenty of boats went pas heading for the locks.  When we made it to the locks, there were two pairs of boats ahead, so it would be a while before we got going.  In fact, it was a good half an hour before we could enter the lock; with the number of boats around, I thought we’d definitely have gained a looking partner during the waiting time, but none materialised.

We met boats coming down at every lock, though, so it was a fairly good run up the six locks, completing them in a little over an hour.  At the top we moored up, as Catherine, Nigel, and the kids were coming to see us.  They arrived at pretty much the same time we did, so was had lunch on the moorings there.

Setting off again, we completed Braunston Tunnel without seeing another boat.

At the top of the locks there were also no boats going our way, so we set off down the flight.  The top lock needed topping up, but thanks to meeting a couple of uphill boats the rest were full — apart from the last one.  We had child labour to aid our passage too.

And this is Grace being a gnome.

We moored at the bottom of the locks, and sat around chatting for an hour or so, before Nigel headed off to the chippy in Norton to bring back a selection of fish, battered sausage, and chicken, and loads of chips.  It’s been great catching up with the family, whom we haven’t seen since we came this way heading north in March.

13 miles, 13 locks.  (133 miles, 76 locks)

Friday 17 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 7

Finally another sunny and warm day — which was just as well because we have travelled some very familiar and rather dull waters today.  We set off just before 8, and were soon passing the back gardens and allotments of Nuneaton.  We passed Marston Junction and Charity Dock, then arrived at Hawkesbury Junction.  Adrian jumped off to work the lock while I took the boat round the 180 degree turn under the junction bridge.

A boat was coming down the lock, but as the fall is under a foot it didn’t take long.  We then had ahead of us the long straight sections of the North Oxford Canal; we treated ourselves to a mid morning crumpet.

We plodded on through Ansty, Stretton Stop, and past Brinklow.  As we went into Newbold Tunnel, a boat at the other end panicked and was soon right across the canal.  It was a Willow Wren hire boat, and by the time we passed them the couple were having a discussion about really needing a map.  I pointed out that the tunnel can fit two boats inside.  At Rugby there were plenty of moored boats and plenty of traffic.

When we got to Hillmorton Locks, there was a boat in front of us waiting to go up, and one already coming down.  Then another downhill boat arrived, so it was a while before we could start ascending.

Only one lock of each pair was being used; it turned out the others were closed for social distancing reasons.  The volunteer lock keepers thought this was ridiculous, and so did we when we found three boats waiting in front of us, with very little movement at all.  Adrian made use of the waiting time by going across to the cafe to buy Magnums.  Then he went up to the second lock to help out, as did the teenage boys from the boat behind us.  More and more boats were coming up the bottom lock, so eventually one of the volunteer lock keepers came and opened the other locks to get things moving.  All in all, the three locks took longer than some much lengthier flights we’ve done.  We moored at the top of the locks at about 4.30, and immediately got out the bucket, the sponge, and the polish, and did the other side of the boat, so we no longer look like a disgrace.  Adrian had made a moussaka as we’d been coming along this afternoon, and after that I have a union meeting by Zoom.

23 miles, 4 locks.  (120 miles, 63 locks)

Thursday 16 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 6

Another cloudy day but a bit warmer, and the sun did make efforts to break through a couple of times.  We set off at just before 8.  As I got ready to leave, a towpath walker stopped for a chat; she also spoke to the angler just down the towpath, some boaters coming the other way, and other boaters still moored up.  We were very soon at Fazeley Junction.

It’s always further from the junction to Glascote Locks than we remember.  Once there, both locks needed turning, but we were soon up.  We stopped on the water point at the top to fill the tank and start a wash load.  While there, Adrian popped along to the Co-op at the next bridge to stock up on veg.  A couple more boats came up the locks while we were there.  It’s not the fastest tap so filling the tank took a while, but we were eventually on our way.  Through Amington the piling is being replaced along quite a stretch.  Near Grendon Dock we passed Harnser, with Brian and Diana getting ready to set off.  At Atherstone Locks, a boat was coming down the bottom lock so we could go straight in.  Another arrived as we left.  Both said the flight had been very busy.  It was 12.30 so we tied up in the pound above for lunch — the first time we’ve actually stopped for lunch on this trip.  After half an hour we were on our way again.

There were a few boats coming down, including one who put the length of our days to shame.  The father was helping his son move a boat he’d bought at Devizes on the K&A to Pillings Lock Marina; they’d set off last Friday, and said they didn’t usually stop until it was almost dark at 10pm.  The traffic meant some locks were ready for us but others we had to turn.  They take an age to fill, but empty very quickly — it’s a rather pretty flight. (Fortunately both of these photos show the clean side of the boat!)

Things came to a bit of a halt below the penultimate lock, as we caught up with the boat ahead, who’d caught up with the boat ahead of them.  It was a former Norbury Wharf hire boat, just bought as they are reducing the size of their fleet.  The family on board seemed to be enjoying themselves.  We got to the top at about 3, so not bad going.  The new marina by Bridge 35 has progressed a lot since March.

We’d been aiming for Hartshill, but it was only a little past 3.30 when we got there so we decided to go on for a couple more miles, and moored through the bridge past Springwood Haven, with one of the nicest outlooks we’ve had all trip.

15 miles, 13 locks. (97 miles, 59 locks)

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 5

We needed an early start this morning, and that knowledge meant we were awake early.  I got up and showered, during while Adrian went to sleep again, so I had breakfast and got the boat ready to go.  There are many aspects of the departure procedure which can be done quietly, but starting the engine is not one of them — so he was woken up at just a few minutes past 7.  I crept past the boats moored in Rugeley, noted that they are building a ramp up from the towpath at the Tesco bridge, and put my coat on as it started drizzling.  We were soon at the start of the former Armitage Tunnel, which is very narrow.  Signs say to send a crew member ahead to check the way is clear and stop boats entering the other end.  But my crew (having provided me with a cup of tea) was about to shower, it was still before 8am, and you can see 80 per cent of the way through heading in this direction, so I just went for it — and it was fine.

At Handsacre, another Braidbar boat was moored, Autumn Years, and Graham said hello.  His boat is exceptionally shiny, and really put us to shame!  We carried on to Woodend Lock, where a boat was coming up and more were waiting below.  Adrian went to help the boat in the lock, and a crew member from one of the other boats arrived to check that we were going down.  She then went back to stand by her boat, while Adrian worked us down on his own.  By the time we were ready to leave the lock a third boat had arrived, meaning it was a bit busy down there.

At the Fradley Locks, a volunteer saw us coming and set the lock.  A boat was also coming up the lock below, so you’d have thought we could have just swapped locks, but the volunteer at the second lock turned it for another uphill boat.  When it was our turn, he checked which way we were going at the junction, and displayed a sign to the volunteer at the lock below the junction.

Adrian walked down to swing the bridge at the start of the Coventry Canal.  A boat was coming out of Junction Lock, and I though he might also be going our way, because the volunteer at the lock we’d just left insisted that Adrian shut the gates.  As it happened, he was going on up — which makes you wonder why the Junction Lock volunteer doesn’t also have signs so the one above knows what’s going on.  Anyway, I made the turn.

Our initial target for the day was beyond Bridge 91 — because Adrian needed to do a video call, and the coverage maps suggested that 4G returned there.  This is where a feature of Paul Balmer’s Waterway Routes maps comes in very handy: the fact that many good, yet unofficial, mooring places are noted.  There was one after Bridge 90.  I couldn’t remember what was there, but sure enough, a long stretch of piling presented itself.  With two boats coming the other way, we ended up towards the far end of it, where our stern wouldn’t come right in to the side, but it would do.  We were moored up soon after 11, in good time for Adrian to check that the signal was strong enough and everything worked ok.  While he had his call, I washed the towpath side of the boat, and got some polish on it.  It’s a big improvement (although not up to Autumn Years standard!

With the call done by 1pm we set off again, having lunch on the move.  There had been masses of boats on the move, and we continued to meet more.  It also rained on and off.  At 3pm I joined a virtual staff meeting as I steered, to hear about the latest BBC cuts.

We called it a day on the approach towards Fazeley Junction, stopping a bit sooner than normal where the canal is wide and before both sides are built up; it was around 4.30.  Once moored, Adrian took everything off the well deck and gave the area a good clean — so we are gradually getting there.

18 miles, 3 locks.  (82 miles, 46 locks)

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 4

We left at 8, straight into Brick Kiln lock, which a boat had not long come up.  The third lock of the day was Rodbaston Lock, which is right next to the M6.

As we got towards Penkridge we began meeting boats coming the other way.  This meant that for the next several locks, we could either go straight in, or just had to wait a few moments for someone to come up.  The traffic coming the other way also meant that care was needed at the many blind bridge holes.

Through Acton Trussell, several houses had scarecrows outside, one dressed as a nurse, another as a sinister Little Bo Peep.  It seems there’s some kind of scarecrow festival on.  Eventually we got to Tixall Lock, the last on the Staffs and Worcs.  It is the prettiest on this half of the canal.

After Tixall Lock is Tixall Wide, with the Gatehouse on the far side of the water.

Had we been on a normal trip we might well have moored here for the night, as it’s a lovely mooring.  But we are on a mission and it was barely 2pm so we kept going.  Before Haywood Junction, I got off to go up to the junction bridge to make sure the way was clear.  Adrian brought the boat past the boats at Anglo Welsh, then right onto the Trent and Mersey.

In coming through the junction bridge, we had completed the Four Counties Ring (with extensions) that we started on 13 March!  I walked down to Haywood Lock, and the moorings below we’re fairly busy.  At Colwich Lock, we joined our first queue of the day — albeit only one boat.  This is one of my favourite locks, because of the very attractive cottage alongside.

Once the boat had gone down, there was nothing to come up, so Adrian turned the lock.  Shortly afterwards a lady came up to help from a boat which had arrived below.  By the time we were leaving the lock there were three boats there — with another two close behind.

We had planned on stopping at the moorings opposite the pig farm (although there’s no evidence of any pigs any more) but they were very busy.  The next option was Brindley Bank, and there was a space there, but it seemed very noisy with the road and the railway nearby, so we carried on over the Trent and round the corner and moored on the edge of Rugeley.  It was almost 4pm, so a slightly shorter day today.

The outside of the boat is filthy, the result of having sat for three months, so I made a start by washing the roof.  Adrian walked up to the Tesco further along the canal for a top up shop.

17 miles, 13 locks.  (64 miles, 43 locks)

Monday 13 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 3

Today is another that replicates a day of our trip in 2013.  Then it rained all the way down the Shroppie but then the sun cam out when we’d turned onto the Staffs and Worcs; today it was cloudy all day, with several showers.  We set off at 8am, with the first landmark being Cowley Tunnel, the only one on the Shroppie, only 81 yards long, and blasted out of the rock.

A couple of hours later we got to Wheaton Aston, and pulled onto the diesel point at Turner’s Garage.  Surprisingly, it’s the first time we’ve filled up here, even though they are known as one of the cheapest places on the whole network.  It’s self service, so I filled it to the brim.  Meanwhile, Adrian walked into the village for eye drops and onions (no connection between the two), and found not only a village store but a pharmacy, which we don’t remember being there.  Once I was finished at Turner’s I moved onto the water point, where we filled the tank and started a wash load.  A motor and butty was there when I arrived, but they soon moved off up the lock.  Once the water was full I walked up to the lock, where a hire boat was coming down, and Adrian brought the boat.

There was work under way to various boats at Stretton Wharf, then we crossed the A5 on the Stretton Aqueduct.

At Brewood, Countrywide Cruisers had quite a lot of boats in and being moved around.  We carried on, meeting boats at bridges and narrows. By the time we got to Autherley Stop Lock, we had caught up with the motor and butty, which turned out to be a candy shop.  They needed to get both boats through, and one was coming the other way, so Adrian went to help while I held alongside a couple of Napton hire boats.

Eventually it was our turn; the shallowest locks had taken longer than any other so far!  We turned left onto the Staffs and Worcs, a stretch we haven’t done since 2013.

At the narrows known as Pendeford Rockin’, where the canal goes through rock, I was about to enter the first narrow section when I spotted a boat coming, so pulled back into a passing place.  The steerer told me there was no-one behind him, but by the time I was in position to go again, I saw another one coming.

‘There’s no-one behind us’, they said.  ‘That’s what the previous guy said’, I replied.  Anyway, we got through without meeting anyone else.

While the Shroppie has long straight sections, the Staffs and Worcs has twists and turns, with bridges on blind bends.  We carried on past Calf Heath Marina, and through the chemical works where no mooring is allowed.  At Gailey Lock, a boat was coming up, so we could go straight in.

There was additional help from a chap from a boat waiting below the lock to come up.  In fact, there were five boats waiting.  We moored below the lock at 5.30, having now come under the A5, and with so many waiting boats we ended up within sight of the next one.

21 miles, 3 locks.  (47 miles, 30 locks)

Sunday 12 July 2020

Repatriation: Day 2

We travelled the Shropshire Union lots when Debdale was based at Norbury Junction, but this is the third time we’ve done it on this boat — always in this direction.  In both 2013 and 2017 we did exactly this day’s journey, from Coxbank to Gnosall.  In 2017 it was a misty start, but today we had sunshine from the word go.  We left at 8 and did the top two Audlem locks.

Above the locks we crossed into Shropshire, (only for a few miles, before Staffordshire cropped up) with a scene that could hardly be more English.

At Adderly Locks, what usually happens is that we have to turn every lock then at least two boats arrive to come down as we get to the top.  Today we had to turn every lock, and we passed three boats heading towards the locks within half a mile of leaving the top lock.  It’s another pretty flight, and all five took us just under 45 minutes.

We went through Market Drayton.  Below Tyrley Locks, a tree trunk that just used to have a face on it, has had lots of additions.

We had better luck at Tyrley Locks, where all five were in our favour, thanks to boats coming down.  The cottages at the top lock had an interesting plaque.

The house at the top lock is for sale for £385,000.  The garden looks huge, and there’s a mooring.

Woodseaves was our first cutting of the day.  You are asked to go slowly through here because of the instability of the banks.  Sure enough, shortly after the high bridge there has been a rock fall onto the towpath, with lots more big rocks looking rather precarious higher up.

Having crawled through the cutting, we came across a fishing match.  It lasted two miles, so progress was slow — although there are also long lines of moored boats on the offside, so it would always be fairly slow. The former Cadbury loading dock at Knighton used to have quite a nice selection of old boats under its canopy; now there’s a wet dock there.

An unusual boat passed us at High Offley, then we were into Grub Street Cutting, where we took the obligatory photo of the double arched bridge with the telegraph pole.

As we passed the line moored boats before Norbury Junction, one of the permanent moorers said we were the slowest of the many boats that had been past during the day.  We took that a a compliment!  Norbury Junction was its usual cheerful self, although most of the hire boats were still in.

We carried on to Gnosall, arriving at 5pm.  One of the houses opposite has a rather interesting display on its mooring.

19 miles, 12 locks.  (26 miles, 27 locks)