Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Oops ....bit of a technology problem!

Rather a gap since our last blog .... I'm writing this in Castlefield Basin on Wednesday.  After we came down Heartbreak Hill last Friday there was a bit of a disagreement between my laptop and a glass of wine.  My laptop is now sulking - it seems to work except for the keyboard and mouse, which is a bit of a stopper!  We know now, having used Dave's laptop to find out, that we should have turned the laptop upside down straight away to minimise the damage.  But we didn't. We'll have a go at cleaning it when we get home and have more space.

I'm using Dave's laptop to do this one short blog directly in blogger, which is not as convenient as livewriter.  He's got Windows 8 and his whole setup is different from mine so it takes me ages to do anything.  I'm downloading my photos to get them labelled while I remember what they are, but that's all. 

Here's a photo anyway of our Castlefield mooring -

We're just sorting out a marina for a few weeks then we'll be off home and - fingers crossed - I can get my laptop sorted and catch up with the blog.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Disappointment at Stone but a glorious day after that!

We wanted to get an early start for the trip up to Stoke and anticipated that the trains would stop us sleeping in. Oops!  Despite a wake-up blast at 7.10 we somehow managed to go back to sleep till after 8.  Dave went off down to the chandlery while I zoomed off to town.  First disappointment – the hardware store at the bottom of the high street closed last November.  Still empty unfortunately.  Then I couldn’t find the butcher – a nail bar seemed to be there instead.  The chap in the greengrocer told me I’d missed him by only three weeks and had a minor rant, blaming it all on the high business rates.  The greengrocer is only a few doors down from the Conservative party office which has posters for Bill Cash all over the place.  Naturally, the candidates only seem to visit the local shops at election time!

Anyway, Dave was successful at the chandlery and we finally got away at about 11.  The bridge below Lime Kiln lock has towline rollers – they don’t seem to move though.  I wonder if they ever did?

1 towline roller top bridge at stone

Above the lock were several boats ready for the floating market tomorrow, many with bunting and flags.  This pussycat was enjoying the view.

2 pussycat in window

There were several traders on their way down, including Areandare (the brewing kit suppliers) who were moored between two of the Meaford locks.

4 areandare going down to floating market

We had an easy locking day today, with most of the locks in our favour or only a short wait while a boat came down.  The Meaford flight has split footbridges (for the towrope to pass through so the horse did not have to be unhitched).

3 slpit bridge meaford locks

We saw our first ducklings today.  By the time I had switched the camera on I had missed them, but managed to snap the second lot – 12 little bumblebees in this brood, though not all in the frame.

4 little bumblebees

No sign of the daddy mallard.  This swan was taking his parental responsibilities seriously though, menacing the Canada geese to keep them well away from his lady.

5 swan menacing goose  6 becasue of this

As we left the built-up area of Trentham there was a rash of banners and signs.  It looks as though there is a new estate threatening the peace of their meadow.

8 building protest 1  9 building protest 2

That meadow would seem to be this one, right next to their (fairly new?) estate ….

10 possible building site

You can see their reasoning though as it’s not far to the edge of Stoke from here and most villages don’t want to be swallowed up by the encroaching town.  We were amused by this bit of graffiti – it’s been their for years but is amusing at election time!

11 apposite at election time

We had a brief stop for lunch on the rings at Hem Heath Bridge then cracked on for Stoke.  There is a large repository of railway bogies as you approach Stoke -  hundreds lined up on rails but mostly hidden behind the foliage.

13 bogie repository

At Stoke bottom lock there was a chap taking his ease in a deckchair.  He was actually doing a census of towpath users!  or so he said ….

15 taking towpath census stoke bottom lock

There are a few bottle kilns still standing among the blocks of flats and general redevelopment.  On such a beautiful day it was hard to visualise what it must have been like when industry lined both sides of the canal.

16 bottle kilns surrounded by flats

The Stoke locks were mostly in our favour too, with a steady procession of boats descending.  We moored at Westport Lake soon after 5.  It was quite busy – lots of families enjoying the sun and most of the mooring rings in use!  We found a space though.

We’d forgotten that the dog would want to scavenge what the ducks and geese hadn’t eaten so she had her walk on the lead.  A beautiful warm evening and a lovely sunset.  Making the most of it before the weather changes!

11 miles, 11 locks

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Off again in lovely sunshine

At last we’re able to get back on the water.  We had a surprisingly easy journey with no hold-ups, not even at the M5/M6 junction.  We arrived at the marina soon after 2 and after unpacking, returning the pontoon gate fob and filling up the water tank we were on our way at about 4.  The sun was bright and the breeze stiff across the marina, but luckily we were moored stern first so had no trouble getting away (unlike the boat coming in to moor which got caught by the wind). To get to the exit we had to cruise right through the marina before we could turn towards Aston Lock and pass our berth once again!

1 leaving berth at aston marina  2 aston marina entrance

Aston Lock was in our favour, and a hire boat was coming down as we left it.  Star lock was also ready for us, as was Yard lock, so we made good time although we were too late for the chandlery.  So we went up Newcastle Road lock and moored just before the railway bridge, so we can visit the chandlery before we start in the morning.  There is a horse tunnel under the road at this lock and it’s a long walk round to operate the lower gates. The lock was nearly full so I had to turn it as well.

3 horse tunnel newcastle road lock stone

We tied up just before 6, and Dave set to on the brasses.  He has cut a template (to protect the roof paintwork) out of an old plastic ring-binder (I knew those resources from courses would come in useful one day …).  It made the whole process much quicker and easier.

4 mushroom template

The trains are quite noisy as they screech and trumpet their way into Stone station but we don’t really mind.  Rather trains than a busy road.  We’ve not seen any ducklings yet – just a lot of males lazing around and a swan on her nest.  But we’ve not gone very far today.

2 miles and 4 locks

I am impressed by the bloggers who have running totals as well as the day’s stats.  I shall have to try and keep up!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

We find a little lost zebra and beat the gales to Aston

Sunday 29th March

Well it was pretty wet from the word go.  We left Salt at 9.30, later than we’d hoped as we’d missed an hour’s sleep with the clocks going forward. The aim was to to get to Aston Marina before the forecast strong winds arrived.  I took this photo just before we left – you can see it’s raining from the surface of the water – not especially heavy but very steady.


Luckily there was no wind and we had the complete raingear on so we just got on with it.  The Anglo-Welsh that had moored the other side of the bridge had long gone.   As we approached Sandon Lock we could see activity in the lock tail, but had to get quite close before we could see what was going on in the gloom.  It was Spey, re-attaching the towline to Betelgeuse which had just come down.  There were several crew, not all suitably dressed for the weather – those jeans must have been getting pretty uncomfortable.


They were using a long towline.  Dave had been tucked in to the side but Spey pulled him out as it passed, then Betelgeuse was suddenly caught by the strong bywash.  The steerer worked hard but couldn’t prevent a collision, though fortunately it was only a gentle biff.  I took this photo after they had straightened up.


Above Sandon Lock, CRT has placed a notice on the shelter for the stop planks.  Maybe they are being just a little over-cautious?  You’d have to be very unlucky to trip over!

7-odd-notice_thumb9   7-odd-notice_thumb8

Propped up at one end against a pile of debris was this lonely little zebra.  A child somewhere must be missing it.  I hope it gets reunited with its small owner.


We were just a few hundred yards from the marina when the wind started to tease us, but luckily not enough to make mooring difficult.  It didn’t take Dave long to get the paperwork done in the office, but the weather was worsening all the time and the wind was quite strong as we moved to our designated mooring.  We expected that we’d have to go in bow first but as Dave lined Chuffed up the wind caught us and blew the bow so far round he changed his mind, and though needing plenty of revs got Chuffed lined up for a silky smooth mooring without touching either the pontoon or the boat next to us.  Class.  And five minutes later there was a violent hailstorm and we were  rocked about by the wind in spite of being sheltered between two boats.


We dashed to the bistro for Sunday lunch, luckily close by, trying not to get too wet.  But by the middle of the afternoon, though we were still buffeted by the wind, the rain had gone so we walked towards Stone to gauge how long it would take Dave to get to the station tomorrow.

4 miles and 1 lock

Monday 31st March

Dave was off to the station by 8.30, in sunshine, to travel back to Calcutt and pick up the car.  In between cleaning and packing I took Meg off for a walk, and as we walked back down the pontoon I chatted for a while to another couple of moorers about the Bridgwater canal, which we hope to visit before the summer. Then Terry and Monica Darlington, whose boat Phyllis May II is moored a few boats along, walked up.  We got chatting about dogs, as you do – anyway Meg was treating Terry to a full frontal cuddle, preventing him getting past.  Not many people get that (though we do discourage it generally).  They didn’t have Jess (their whippet) with them, so no playing for Meg. Dave was back soon after lunch and we managed to pack up the car before the rain started again.  I got pretty wet securing the pram cover though, and then we had a tedious journey home in the rain.  This time we spotted the aqueduct over the M5, which someone blogged about recently, though no boats were crossing at the time.

I got rather behind with the blog this trip.  Yesterday was Good Friday and Dave made a yummy batch of Hot Cross Buns.


We are at home now for a few weeks for various appointments, and to get the garden sorted out (I hope).

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Wind, rain, wind, wind, Salt …….

Saturday 28th March

We set off around 9.30, hoping to get to Shugborough and finish some jobs during the forecast rainy spell.  The wind assisted us off our mooring but we were soon in the shelter of the hills, and though we had miscalculated on the rain at least we weren't bothered by the wind for most of the trip.  I wonder if the hills are part of the Shugborough estate – this lonely urn sits in its field apparently randomly.  We heard frequent gunshots from the woods, and a dog walker told us there is a shooting range up there and each pop costs the punter £1.  I can think of better ways to waste money.

At Colwich Lock we had a bit of a wait behind another boat ‘running for shelter at Great Haywood’. As I turned the lock the farmer brought his cattle over the bridge.  I love the soft sound of their feet as they walk.  They didn’t oblige me by looking at the camera though.

2 cattle at  lockcolwich

These are being reared for beef.  Did you know that the little Jersey cow is known for easy calving so can give birth to a large beef breed cross without trouble?  I didn’t.  He said that they have crossed them with Limousin or Charolais for a good beef animal and then milk the Jerseys.  I’m not sure what these ones are though.

As we approached the moorings at Shugborough where the hills are further away we were again exposed to the strong winds and had a deal of trouble getting the boat secured.  Even during lulls in the wind we couldn’t get the ropes tight enough to stop us moving when a boat passed and ended up going out again a couple of times to adjust them. We could of course have gone up to the more sheltered wooded area below Haywood Lock but we didn’t want to risk there being no room.  Anyway we prefer this open section and soon got cracking with some jobs.  Dave cleaned out the shower pump which yet again had clumps of dog hair in it.  Meg won’t go in the bathroom so it must float in on the draughts breeze!

3 cleaning shower pump

The pump is in the bottom of my wardrobe so all my shoes (mostly trainers, nothing fancy) must come out along with everything on the bottom shelf.  Then I have to tie one of the doors open as otherwise the slight tilt on the boat causes it to keep closing.  After that Dave checked the radiator leak he had repaired earlier and replaced the woodwork.

4 completing mend of radiator

Unfortunately the leak has stained the carpet slightly, so we’ll have a go at removing that next time.  Meanwhile, I was playing with our latest acquisition, an excellent cordless Dyson Animal, as recommended by friends who sadly had to sell their boat last year – thanks Jo!

5 excellent dyson

It is much more efficient than our old cleaner and ten times easier to use, so cleaning was quick and easy.  So quick and easy that it might actually get done more often!  Perhaps that will solve the dog hair in the shower pump problem too …  The rain had stopped so we took Meg over Essex Bridge for a walk along the other side of the river. She couldn’t quite see over the parapet and ran into all the passing places to see where they went.  Eventually she looked over to the river.

11 essex bridge  12 whats over here

In her mouth is a piece of tennis ball.  She has a knack of finding other dogs’ lost balls and we have a huge collection at home.  The path goes through the woods, which are fenced because they contain yew trees, which are poisonous to stock.  They have some striking patterns in the trunks.

7 twisted yew

It was still blustery out by the river.  We could see Chuffed across the way.

8 chuffed fromover the trent

As we came back through the wood we saw this glowing in the gloom; the bark is very thick and soft so it may be a giant redwood (aka Wellingtonia or sequoia). Many were planted in the second half of the 19th century after William Lobb brought the seed back from California.

10 redwood

After lunch we set off for Salt, the wind making leaving the mooring easy.  The bottom gates of Haywood lock were remarkably heavy for such a shallow lock.  The canalside shop at Haywood Junction has been greatly changed since we were last this way – 2012 - when we bought Chuffed from the marina.

13 new canalside at great haywood

This is where we first saw her – out on the hard standing having her bottom blacked before sale.

15 where we first saw chuffed

In the exposed sections of canal we were still battling with the wind, though the rain largely held off.  Weston Lock has a handy lowered section for operating the towpath side bottom gate.

16 entering weston lock

Weston church was caught by a brief gleam of sun.  Shame I can’t seem to hold the camera level.  I blame the wind.

18 weston church

We slid gently in to moor at Salt bridge, one of our favourite spots, where the canal is in a shallow cutting and was delightfully protected from the wind.  I took Meg off for a quick run, meeting a couple of first-time hirers on their way to the Hollybush.  We walked up there at 7, not expecting to be able to get a table, and met them on their way back.  They had thoroughly enjoyed their meal, but even though they arrived well before 6 had had to wait for an hour to be served.  We enjoyed our pints and resolved to go much earlier next time we are here!  and went back to the boat to eat.

7 and a half miles 4 locks

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Weather forecast forces a change of plan – Hopwas to Rugeley and beyond

Friday 27th March

We left Hopwas Woods at 9.15, with chiffchaffs singing and the Tame visible down through the trees below the towpath.

1 tame from hopwas towpath

Last time we were this way (some years ago) a huge area around the Tamhorn bridges was covered with polytunnels.  Now that land has been returned to arable, and the polytunnels re-sited further north near the Hademore bridges. They cover hundreds of yards along the canal and each one seems to be around a hundred yards long.  We couldn’t see what was inside but it was in wide ridges and we guessed it might be asparagus, as we saw that growing in the open here last time.  As asparagus is a perennial crop (ie isn’t replanted every year, like potatoes) it would seem likely.  You wouldn’t want to shift all those tunnels to cultivate the ground every year.

2 polytunnels hademore

  3 polytunnels hademore

At Whittington we came to the last of the Birmingham and Fazeley bridges (which have names, rather than numbers).  Here it is, Whittington Bridge, and soon after passing that we rejoined the Coventry Canal.

4 whittington bridge last on the b&F  5 boundary stone

The canal here is on an embankment and you can see right down into the gardens of the executive-style houses below.  No-one was around (it is still rather cold for using their expensive garden furniture after all) but they left this fetching young lady to keep an eye on passers-by.  She seems happy in spite of the cold!

6 scarecrow whittington

A little later we passed Gnome Corner.. I wonder what shenanigans have been going on for Police Tape to be deployed?

7 police tape on gnomes whittington

At Lichfield Boat Club Mrs Swan was busy with a little light housekeeping.

8 nest lichfield boat club

Our original plan was to stop at Fradley tonight and maybe eat in the Swan, before tootling off to Tixall for Saturday night before finishing on Sunday afternoon at Aston Marina, where we will be leaving the boat for a few weeks.  But we were getting concerned about the weather forecast.  The wind was manageable at Friday lunchtime, though there were some strong gusts, but we didn’t fancy mooring at (or indeed leaving) Tixall Wide in the wind and certainly didn’t want to start faffing around trying to moor in a marina once it got really bad on Sunday.  So we pushed on round Fradley junction, up Shade House Lock (where there was plenty of space to moor had we stayed) and on to Woods Lock.

10 woods lock T&M

I got pretty warm working the locks but had to put all my layers on again after this.  It was quite difficult to take the obligatory photo at Armitage Shanks today – the toilets were largely obscured by piles of pallets.

11 toilets hidden at armitage shanks

Luckily for us, the boat that had been some way in front had stopped to check for oncoming craft before Armitage Tunnel, so we could just follow it through. (Armitage is an ex-tunnel really – the roof was removed in 1971 because of mining subsidence, so it’s just a narrow cutting now).

12 armitage tunnel

The creepy figure at the moorings just past here seems to be getting tanked up for a karaoke night – that is a microphone in his left hand!  He already seems a little the worse for wear, but I think that is more to do with my not holding the camera level….

13 weird figure armitage

Rugeley power station soon started rearing its ugly head on the skyline as we pressed on towards the new Tesco at bridge 66, where we had a quick stop for provisions, before crossing the Trent aqueduct at Brindley Bank, following which the new 48 hour mooring has just opened.  We didn’t stop here, as the earth hasn’t all grassed over yet and we’ve got enough mud on the boat already thanks to our four-legged friend.

16 trent aqueduct  17 new 48hr moorings br 67a

We carried on towards Taft Bridge.  The wind was strong but in the right direction to help us moor, and there was enough light left for Dave to polish the port side.

A long day today; 16 miles, 3 locks, the Fradley swing bridge (opened for us by a walker) and more than 7 hours cruising in the cold.