Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Back to Calcutt

Friday 12th September
1 lovely mooring all oaks wood
At All Oaks Wood it was a cool and grey start again, with several boats on the move.  We have been surprised by how quiet the canals have been this trip, until we reached the North Oxford.  From a distance, this bridge looks as though a big chunk is missing from the parapet.
2 has the bridge parapet got a gap
We knew the green ‘gap’ would be ivy but got quite close before we could be sure!  We made our way to Rugby through the Newbold tunnel – now only one feeble light left illuminated at the Rugby end – and picked our way through the Rugby moorings, which were busy as usual and made more tricky by a boat that stopped mid-channel for a conversation with one of the moorers.  Hillmorton was busy too, and there was plenty of time to empty a cassette and dispose of rubbish while we waited for locks. 
5 hillmorton
We’ve always been intrigued by the lines of poetry, trying to work out the order they should be read in.   Well here it is -
6 locklines explanation
So the words on the Hillmorton gates aren’t consecutive or even completely accurate (not to mention ‘doors’ which we’ve all grumbled about).  The words on the Farmer’s Bridge lock, which we passed last week, are quite indistinct now.  We stopped a little way further on for lunch in a spot with no radio reception and very poor internet signal.  We keep telling ourselves to record these places (and the good spots too, of course) but so far haven’t remembered to do it.  We had a slow time of it after lunch.  The first hold-up was as we approached the Barby moorings, where we waited for this ‘sandwich’ to come through – a CRT work boat with butty both before and behind!
9 butty motor and butty
This is what was in the first butty – new gates for the Hillmorton top locks, which will be done one at a time in the next couple of weeks.
8 new lock gates for hillmorton
After them, we passed Spey towing Betelgeuse.  You can read more about them here which I spotted via another blog.
10 spey and betelgeuse
Then we gradually found ourselves catching up a real slow-coach.  The canal winds about, and there were quite a few moored boats, but the only boat we have ever seen going that slow was a first-timer who pulled over to let other boats past.  We thought he’d be bound to be stopping at Braunston, but no – though there was plenty of room he clearly didn’t want company and eventually pulled in out in the country.  So I had plenty of time to get the camera level for a snap of Braunston Turn.
12 braunston turn
We carried on to a favourite spot near Flecknoe Bridge.  Lots of others had the same idea – there were boats every 50 yards for a long way, in fact the next morning we saw they went all the way to Lower Shuckburgh.  Anyway, we had a relaxing early evening watching the hire boats going back to base, and out as well towards Braunston, from Napton, Calcutt and Wigrams Turn, before we tried, and failed once again, to get a signal to catch up with blog posting!
15 miles 3 locks
Saturday 13th September
The final couple of Calcutt hire boats went by very early, clearly aiming for the 10am handover deadline.  We waited till later before tootling down there ourselves, where we were able to book our winter berth on the mooring we left nearly 3 weeks ago.  Apart from a long trek to the showers and Elsan point it is an excellent mooring spot, with water and power, quiet yet close to the car parking, and good for dogs.  We have a few things to be done at home now but hope to be out in early October for a while.
3 miles 3 locks

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Atherstone, Hartshill and more new things at Charity Dock

Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th September

A misty start on Wednesday but the sun was up by the time we started up the locks around 9.  As we rose in the bottom lock the first of many boats was coming down the next – a single-hander who had started at first light.  We knew that the last boat up last night had left some top gates open but it turned out that they had done it on every lock, which was great for the single-hander except where the bottom long pound had been draining overnight!  Two men were cleaning out one of the lower side ponds.

1 clearing silt from side pond  2 side pond

Apart from the low pound, which was fine if you kept to the centre, we had a smooth passage until we reached the outskirts of the village.  There were three volunteer lockies pottering up and down, which was helpful if you got them!  One even used the side pond at one of the locks, though he didn’t think there was any restoration likely to happen on the others.  We reported the low pound to the first one we met.

3 coming up atherstone

As we were rising up the lock at the Kings Head a boat pulled out ahead of us, which was a pity as he was very slow.  But never mind, the sun was shining and we soon reached the top, where there was this island des res in the side pond;

5 little moorhen island We snaffled the last empty mooring and went off shopping, passing this dog poo bin on the way – hurray for Maffi!

4 maffi fixed thisWe came back well laden, as we’d run down the fridge when we thought we’d be driving home today.  We bought some Atherstone Bangers to try, and the veg shop had some local French beans which looked good.

After lunch, we set off on the short journey to the Anchor at Hartshill, topping up with water at the old BW yard on the way.  All the good moorings were taken, but we managed to fit in on the bend.  We took Meg on the walk that goes down away from the canal, over the railway bridge, across to the Anker, round and back under the railway to come out on the towpath near Springwood Haven.  Then it was our turn for a nice walk – up to the pub for a meal and an excellent pint of Everard’s.

11 locks 4 miles

On Thursday we set the alarm, as we’d planned a longish day, and were away by 8.15.  It was a perfect September morning, with a few wisps of mist fading away as we set off.  This was taken about 8.30, just past Springwood Haven.

1 lovely septmeber morning near springwood haven

Even Nuneaton looked fine and was almost free of litter!  By the time we reached it, the kids were in school, the workers at work and the first few allotmenteers were enjoying the sunshine.  We were still glad to see the back of it though.

2 nuneaton all gone

The Ashby looked tempting but we kept going towards Hawkesbury Junction, keen to see what delights awaited at Charity Wharf.  First there were two figureheads, then ZZ Top;

3 charity wharf  4 charity wharf

followed by a happy couple, with the upside-down legs, and finally a bronzed lovely and friend enjoying the sunshine.

5 charity wharf  6 charity wharf

Round Hawkesbury Junction, quite quiet, and on to Ansty where we hoped to stop for lunch.  But the towpath was muddy, and I’d just cleaned through, so we went on and found an excellent spot near Hopsford Aqueduct, where there are several boat-length stretches of mown grass with a good edge.  Apart from the railway it was peaceful, with loads of blackberries - Dave picked a couple of pounds in about twenty minutes.

10 blackberries

After a relaxed lunch we carried on towards Brinklow where we got the last mooring on the popular stretch before All Oaks Wood.  I made a couple of pounds of blackberry and apple jam – a good thing we followed the wrong directions to the pub the other night! 

16 miles, 1 lock

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A change of plan and a long trek to a pub

Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th September

After yesterday’s exertions we got up late then walked into Curdworth for a few bits and pieces from the shop before setting off down the locks at about 11.  On flights like this Dave does half the work while I lock ahead or go back to close up, so we made good progress especially as we crossed several boats on their way up.  Once we’d gone under the main road bridge it was peaceful again.

2 curdworth locks  4 curdworth locks

A boat pulled out in front of us as we passed the pub over half way down so we were slowed down a bit, and we moored below the locks for a late lunch.  We took Meg for a walk hoping to be able to go round the water park, but the path we would have taken was closed for flood defence works (the River Tame runs through the park) and she would have had to be kept on the lead anyway as it’s a nature reserve, so we mostly stuck to the towpath.

7 a water park lake

A mile further on at Fishers Mill Bridge we found a much better mooring spot – nicely mown and deep enough, past a long stretch of reeds.  So we went back to Chuffed – now in shadow – and moved down to a beautiful spot, sunny and quiet (apart from a busy road bridge a few hundred yards away) for the rest of the day.  We did various cleaning and maintenance jobs while Meg pottered about with only the occasional bike to look out for.

4 miles and 11 locks on Monday.

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny once more.  Here’s our lovely mooring with Fisher’s Mill bridge in the distance.

2 fishers mill bridge mooring

We made our way to Fazeley Junction past the intriguing Drayton Manor footbridge.  There is a curving flight of steps in each tower.

4 drayton manor footbridge

We moored at the junction as I needed to post a birthday card.  Dave popped out of the cafe as I came back, having been seduced by the Bakewell tart, so I was forced to join him for coffee and excellent carrot cake before a little browse round the wool shop which shares the building.  I didn’t buy anything this time but it’s now marked on Nicholson’s.  We have seen the boat before though – at the moment it’s moored up opposite.

5 maidoffibre at fazely junction

We can recommend the cafe – excellent baking, friendly staff and free treats for dogs!  We turned towards Atherstone at the junction, and crossed the Tame aqueduct on our way to Glascote Locks.

7 crossing the Tame

There was a short queue at Glascote – there always has been as far as we can remember, and it’s always blamed on the leaky lock;  you’ll probably have to enlarge the picture to read the ditty though.

9 tale of leaky lock glascote

We stopped at the far end of Tamworth for a light lunch (the cake having been very sustaining!) and did some more cleaning and touching up blacking as we were planning to leave the boat at Alvecote marina for a few weeks.  We hadn’t made a firm booking though and as we worked in the sunshine we thought the weather’s just too good to go home – why don’t we complete the ring and go back to Calcutt?  It would save Dave a complicated trip by public transport to retrieve the car, after all! 

We considered stopping at Polesworth but it was very crowded so we went on to Bradley Green, where we took advantage of the Elsan point before mooring a little further on.  As the evening was so lovely we thought we’d walk up to Grendon and have a pint at the Black Swan and check out the menu, as we haven’t got much in the fridge.  The trouble was that we had forgotten to bring our new Nicholson’s and were using the old version that came with the boat – which had both the village and the pub  to the north-east, near the church – in the opposite direction from the real location, a mile to the south-west, as the latest guide has.  We got the right directions from a local boater.  So we trekked off again (only 2 locks today, so we needed the exercise) to Grendon.  We knew the Black Swan was closed, but the Boot was opposite.  We wouldn’t recommend it – a mile walk, then across the A5, to find yourself in a half-empty roadhouse with the kitchen closed!  We did enjoy the beer though.  We walked back in the dark, as the moon rose – reddish and large, quite striking, apparently a so-called supermoon  – for late bacon and eggs on the boat.

One bright spot from this evening – a house on the wrong route had a basket of good windfalls outside the gate so we’ll look for some blackberries tomorrow to go with the half-dozen apples Dave carried for 2 miles in his rucksack.

10 miles, 2 locks, 4 miles walk in search of a drink

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Jim Shead and the Sea Searcher save the day

Sunday 7th September

We left at 9, stopping opposite Cambrian Wharf in the sunshine to empty the cassettes and take on water.  We started down the Farmer’s Bridge locks around 9.30.  The crane which had been working near the top of the flight yesterday had the jib lowered and seemed to be being dismantled.

1 crane dismantling

That BT tower again!

2 bt tower from farmers bridge flight

Soon a gentleman with windlass hove into view.  Not a CRT volunteer but the famous Jim Shead, who lives locally and likes to keep his hand in by helping boaters down the flight.  A delightful and modest man whose name we only found out when he mentioned he had a website and I asked the address.

4 jim shead

As we neared the bottom of the flight, Nb Armadillo appeared.  We managed a quick ‘Hello’ as Jill sped by to open the lock above before the leaky top gates started filling it, and Graham warned us of a problem on the Ashted flight.  We had decided to go the other way luckily – the Aston flight.  In the top Aston lock was a young seagull which clearly hadn’t got the waterproofing in its feathers just yet – it looked very tired, and was swimming, but very low in the water.  I managed to get it out, easily avoiding the feeble passes of its beak, and put it in the warm sun by some bushes.  By the time we got down the lock it was standing rather than crouching and looking much better.

In one of the upper locks I was careless enough to lose my windlass – I thought I’d balanced it on one of the square-but-not-quite-flat-topped bollards, but I hadn’t and off it pinged down the side of the boat and into the lock.  We moved the boat to the next lock and spent 10 minutes trying to find the Sea Searcher before taking less than 5 minutes to recover the windlass.  We cracked on down in lovely weather before stopping at Cuckoo Wharf for lunch.

6 cuckoo wharf

We had understood it had secure public moorings but the signage appeared to indicate private or water-point only.  As there was only one boat there we stopped for lunch anyway.  It was totally unsuitable for the dog so we wouldn’t have wanted to stop overnight, and the motorway noise was terrible.  We had thought we might overnight at Star City till we realised it was on the ‘lower’ route (Garrison and Ashted locks) so as it was still before 2 we decided to go on and get out of the city.  Thanks to Jim we still had plenty of energy!  We rounded Salford Junction – this view is up towards Spaghetti junction -

7 salford junction north

and this is down the Digbeth Branch, the way Armadillo went. All very concretey and metally.

8 view down digbeth branch

We passed a huge electricity sub-station – enormous. This shows half of it.

9 massive elctricity station thng

At Troutpool Bridge there is a big works or warehouse over the canal for a hundred or more yards though it isn’t marked as a tunnel.  There was a lot of floating plastic rubbish which we luckily managed to avoid as the canal is wide under there!

11 warehouse over canal

Gradually we left the industrial back end of Birmingham behind and by Minworth grass had replaced concrete, strollers were out on the towpath and houses were replacing the industry, though the noisy roads remained.  We went through Curdworth tunnel and moored above the locks, where we recreated the Great Windlass Rescue – it’s got a nice whizzy handle so I didn’t want to abandon it. 

12 sea searcher to the rescue

We were glad to relax in the sunshine after what we thought had been a long, hard day – till Voyager, which we’d seen at Stratford, passed by having left Alvechurch – at least 8 miles the other side of Birmingham - while we were still in bed.  They were bound for the pub nearer the bottom of the Curdworth flight – we found out next day they had been travelling for 11 hours 40 minutes, as well as doing another 8 locks, so we felt rather upstaged!

9 miles 27 locks

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Looping the loop and a stack of cake boxes

Saturday 6th September

We planned to stay in Birmingham, but were pointing the wrong way for tomorrow, so we thought we’d turn by exploring the Icknield Port and Soho loops (and charge the batteries into the bargain).  We went up the Main Line to the far end of the Soho loop and turned into it, expecting unremitting dereliction and abandoned industry.  But no!  We passed the prison (which was close to the junction)

1 winson green prison wall

and an equally high wall on the other bank, behind which is the Birmingham hospital.  There is an Asylum Bridge, so it must have had some kind of hospital for many years.  Then it opened up and there was lovely parkland on the towpath side

2 soho loop

then residential areas.  The BT tower is visible from many parts of the city.

3 soho loop with bt tower

Hockley Port inlet (private moorings and Sherborne Wharf dry dock) is at the furthest point of the loop, after which it gets more scruffy.  We approached the ‘cross-roads’ across the Main Line to the Icknield Port loop and the striking bridge at its entrance. 

4 to icknield port loop from soho loop

We had to go very carefully – there was a novice group of canoeists on their way out.  The Icknield Port loop is quite grim – the towpath is closed (where it actually exists), derelict industry abounds and there are several sunken (and unmarked) barges.

6 sunken barge icknield loop

We did see a kingfisher though, and then at the furthest point of the loop is the old BW wharf with two restored BW boats Scorpio and Nansen II (I think). The grass bank and fence on the skyline mark the edge of the Edgbaston Reservoir (marked as Rotton Park on Nicholson’s).

8 scorpio at icknieldport

After lunch we went to investigate the new City Library which has just celebrated its first birthday.  It looks like a stack of cake tins or hat boxes and is as amazing inside as out.  I took this from the plaza below and couldn’t get the lower storeys in unless I crossed the busy dual carriageway – which I didn’t.

18 cake tins or hat boxes

If you thought libraries were boring and dry as dust, think again!  It’s being marketed as a leisure destination and has blue-lit escalators, a travelator and a glass lift to the upper levels.  There are two amazing rooftop gardens with views to match.  (I was cross to realise later I’d taken no pictures of the gardens themselves).  It was heaving with visitors, it being a Saturday afternoon.  Here is the square below, which also has the Symphony Hall (where the National Brass Band Championships were taking place), the International Conference Centre (Conservative Party Conference in a few weeks, with associated restrictions on the towpath) and the theatre.  A Science Festival was in full swing, with several eye-catching experiments for the kids – enormous bubbles for one.  The patterned paving is wonderful.

 10 science fest from library garden

11 custard powder experiment from library garden

To the right of the yellow bus you can just see an aircraft-shaped outline on the ground.  It is the shape and size of a US drone (the sort that carries weapons) and is advertising a play at the theatre.  We had no idea they were that big – we thought they were more like radio-controlled model gliders.

Looking further afield we were delighted to see Chuffed in the distance – bottom half of the picture, fourth boat on the left!

15 chuffed 4th on left

and there’s that BT tower again.  As you can see, the sun was very bright.

13 dave dazzled and bt

I whizzed back up the down travelator so Dave could get a picture!  The queue for the glass lift is in the background.

17 deb on travelator in library

We spent far longer than we intended there, and recommend it highly for a visit.  Oh yes, there are squillions of books too, and old maps.

We thought we’d reward Meg for her patience by a walk out to Edgbaston Reservoir.  The towpath would have been better – she had to be on the lead the whole time.  You go through Ladywood (bins overflowing, though it’s only 10 minutes walk from the centre, where the bins are emptied daily), and part of Edgbaston though not the posh bit, then you are at the reservoir.  It’s OK but we won’t bother again – a mile walk each way just to stay on the lead isn’t what a lively dog expects!

19 edgbaston reservoirWe finished the evening with another stroll round Brindleyplace and the Mailbox, buzzing again! Hen and stag parties in abundance and all the restaurants were heaving.  We ate in Cafe Rouge which seemed to have a slightly more mature clientele – and hence a few free tables!

Only 4 miles today, ending up where we started just pointing the other way.