Thursday, 25 May 2017

Phew …… no locks today

Thursday 25th May; Hockley Heath to Birmingham

It was HOT.  We didn’t leave till nearly ten; rather than get going straight after breakfast we swept the roof of the accumulated oak catkins and other assorted bits of tree, before washing off the aphid honeydew. 

1 washing the roof

It was pleasant working in the shade but very warm.  Before we really got going on the long trip into Birmingham, we stopped for a quick visit to Wedge's bakery for some bread and treats (though later we were disappointed with the cakes, sausage roll and non-spicy veg samosa, the bread was nice).

Then it was cracking on, sun cream and hats deployed, appreciating the fabulous weather and the lovely dappled shade.

2 dappled shade on a hot morning

At Dickens Heath, where there seem to be more houses every time we pass, the water feature was working for once.  It’s a strange thing – I wonder if anyone actually appreciates it?

3 water feature dickens heath with water

A little while later we were enjoying the quiet morning and approaching a bridge when suddenly the bow rode up out of the water and over some object as though we were on a (slow) rollercoaster!  Dave took the engine out of gear and we waited to see what would happen …..

4 the bow rode up over this

it was still rolling over in the water and we were lucky not to have a problem with it.  In fact we were to see a lot of floating bits of tree along the rest of the North Stratford.  At Shirley drawbridge everything went smoothly – a few years ago it failed before it was properly closed and of course it makes you a little bit anxious when that happens.  On the towpath side, what used to be a ‘wasteland’ (as I’m sure the developers would have described it) is now a sea of roofs with no trees or open green spaces for children to play in; the greenery in the picture is on the edge of the towpath.

5 sea of rooves at shirley

We stopped to take on water at bridge 5.  The water flow was so good that the tank was filled before we had eaten our snacks from Wedge’s, so we finished our lunch with ears cocked for approaching boats in case we had to make a smart exit.  But we didn’t have to.  The cottage nearby is still being restored, but is in a much better condition that last time we passed.

6 restored cottage by water point bridge 5

A boat pulled out in front of us as we approached the guillotine lock – I think they had been having a look at the mechanism.  Anyway I took the two obligatory photos at the junction, the first of the guillotine gates of the old stop lock.

9 obligatory photo 1

And then for once the sun was not entirely in the wrong place for a picture of the toll house at the junction.

10 obligatory photo 2

Once on the Worcester and Birmingham there was much less shade and as well as swigging pints of water we had to deploy pretty scarves (well I did, Dave had one of the dog’s towels) to protect the backs of our necks from the blistering heat.

Although it is not the prettiest stretch of canal, there were flowers to be seen; the yellow flags would have been wild but the poppies were doubles so probably had been sown deliberately.

13 yellow flag by factories  12 poppies in industrial W & B

It is quite a long drag up this bit in the heat, but eventually the BT tower hove into view.

15 bt tower

Because of the security situation following the appalling suicide bomb in Manchester armed police were in evidence as we came round Old Turn junction.  They looked relaxed and were smiling at people and passing boats, which was reassuring.

16 on patrol

We moored on the Sea Life centre side of the canal, which we find to be quieter than the other side and it is better for the dog as there is more shade in the summer.

A long hot day.

14½ miles, Shirley drawbridge, Brandwood, Edgbaston and Broad Street tunnels

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Hot work up the Lapworth flight

Wednesday 24th May; Kingswood Junction to Hockley Heath bridge 24

Yesterday as the sun went down a cloud of willow fluff was illuminated as it floated through the air.  Unfortunately the little golden fragments don’t show up well but I could probably have convinced a small child they were fairies.

10 sun catches willow fluff kingswood jct

We were on our way by about half past eight.  Dave came up the first lock which brought Chuffed onto the North Stratford, while I disposed of the rubbish and set the first of the Lapworth flight;

1 Dave closing up at the link

and then came round to join me.  The weather was glorious and quickly getting very hot.

2 joining the north stratford

The swans which nest at the small fishing lake had hatched 8 chicks a few days before.  The chap fishing there told me that one had got swept down the overflow into the moorings below and he had retrieved it with his landing net.  The family had now gone off down the canal somewhere and we didn’t see them.  At the next lock was a smartly dressed gentleman wielding a windlass; as soon as he spoke I realised he was the American who lived in the cottage at the top lock and used to help out on an unofficial basis.  He is now an official CRT volunteer but today was on his way to a doctor’s appointment – but had his windlass with him in case he met a boat.  He brought the unwelcome news that several boats were ahead of us, but we did have his help for a couple of locks.

Lock 15 has been rebuilt and is now more than 2 feet shorter than it was.  You can see this by the position of the ground paddles and the shape of the towpath edge.

3 this lock was longer once

At lock 16 I had a bit of a problem; first the top gate would not open properly, then I couldn’t close it.  It was sticking half way, was difficult to get moving again and just didn’t feel right.  I thought I’d report it, what with half-term coming up, but couldn’t get a signal this low down the flight.

I had to turn every lock until finally, In the thick of the flight, we met our first boat coming down.  It was NB African Queen, owned by a couple who had retired from a forestry business in Tavistock and moved on board.  It is one of the last boats built by Steve Hudson.

4 passing african queen from tavistock

Also in the picture is a gentleman who was cycling up and down the flight with an expensive-looking camera.  He lived not far from the Huddersfield Narrow canal and was down for a conference in Birmingham that afternoon so was taking the morning off. 

As we rose up lock 8 a boat was descending the one above.  The pound between the two is on a bend and very short.  It’s not the way Dave would have done it, but the owner insisted he should bring Chuffed out of the lock so his boat could go straight in.  Easier said than done; the steerer was not able to do it without nudging Chuffed.  But only gently.

7 curved pound 3

Then Jeremy, the American volunteer, returned from his appointment and helped us up the next one before going off home.  He is no longer in the top lock cottage, but still lives locally.

9 jeremy the american volunteer

We decided to complete the flight before stopping for lunch and went through the first of the lift bridges as well before stopping for lunch opposite the moorings at Swallow Cruisers.  I opened the side hatch to the sweet scent of red clover.

11 sweet-smelling clover opposite swallow cruisers moorings

How long before the contractors come along and chop their heads off I wonder?  I finally managed to get through to CRT to tell them about the potential problem at lock 16.  We went on to find a quieter and shadier mooring for the night, which we did a few hundred yards past Hockley Heath at bridge 24.  It was a lovely spot, far enough away from roads and houses to be fairly quiet.

13 pretty mooring at bridge 24

There wasn’t much boat traffic, though a CRT workboat went by pulling floating debris out of the water.

12 workboat collecting floating debris

Dave spent the afternoon doing some rubbing-down and painting type jobs.  I cooked a curry so it would only need heating up again when we came back from a welcome beer in the Wharf garden back at Hockley Heath.  Meg enjoyed the walk in the cool of the evening too though it was still warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.

14 coming back from the pub

19 locks, 2 manual lift bridges, 3½ miles


Tuesday 23rd May; the Hatton flight and on to Kingswood junction

We had thought an early start in the cool would be nice, but got up later than intended and were still having breakfast when a boat started coming up the lock below.  But they weren’t hurrying and we joined them for the rest of the flight.  NB Time Out 3 is owned by Robert, a Tasmanian who lives on the boat when he is in the country.  His crew at the moment is Kevin and together we soon got into a rhythm where I locked ahead and he closed up.  The flight was very quiet apart from a few walkers and this solitary fisherman just below the thickest group of locks.

1 the thick bit of hatton

We only used one paddle and one gate at a time to reduce the workload, so our progress was steady but not fast.  Eventually we met another boat coming down.

3 and another one coming down

A few locks from the top, Time Out’s engine, a 1929 Gardner, stopped. Luckily he was close enough to the side to throw a rope and we bow-hauled him into the lock, where he was able to restart the engine.  We were at the top just before 11, where we said goodbye and stopped to take on water (and have an ice-cream from the cafĂ©).

As I was running water through the hose for a clean start to the fill a brood of ducklings came and asked for bread.  They weren’t at all fazed by the spray from the hose!

5 water off a ducks back

On our way to Shrewley Tunnel we saw the Anglo-Welsh hirers who had been so horrified at the heavy Hatton locks yesterday.  They had turned and were moored at Hatton station, and looked very happy about it too.  Shrewley tunnel was wet, especially at the far end where a curtain of moss has developed over the years.  You can just see the start of the horse tunnel above it, and the light of the boat behind us in the tunnel.

6 shrewley tunnel moss curtain

We moored at Rowington for lunch.  The cloud was thick but after a brief shower the sun came out and it soon warmed up.  The field on the other side was full of buttercups.

8 buttercups at rowington

We stopped for the day at Kingswood Junction by the picnic area.  A previous boater had had a barbecue (the box it came in was sticking out of the bin) and left the rubbish neatly bagged by the bin, rather than taking it to the skips which are not far away.  A dog or fox had ripped it open and scattered the contents.

9 ripped rubbish at kingswood junction

So my first job was to collect it up and take to the skips, which didn’t take long.  Unfortunately people are still putting their rubbish in the bins marked for for recycling.  Are they lazy, ignorant or just don’t care?  It would help if the recycling bins were a different colour from the refuse bins of course.

Dave did some varnishing on a repair to the water-damaged woodwork by the back step, and then replaced the water filter under the sink. 

17 locks, 6½ miles

Monday, 22 May 2017

Summer’s here …

and the time is right for another load of locks!

Monday 22nd May; Longhole Bridge to the Hatton flight

The day dawned bright and warm not cold and the sun was coming out as we got going before 8 – rather early for us.  The morning was lovely and it soon warmed up.  At Wood lock we met Trafalgar, one of the Royal Navy's holiday boats which are based at Calcutt.  They said they were stopping for breakfast on the lock mooring when I asked innocently if they were going down; but one of the crew knew they shouldn’t moor there and so they had their bacon sarnies on the move and we shared all the way to Radford Bottom lock. We paused there to dump rubbish and get the dog back on board – she hates these broad locks with metal walkways and won’t cross them if she can avoid it, and as we were on the offside it was easier to move across for her.

At one of the bridges in Leamington Spa are a couple of holiday flats – this one is right by a main road and opposite a take-away.  It might be by the canal but I’m not sure I’d fancy it.

1 holiday flat in L spa opp takeaway

Soon after that we saw a good boat name (though I’m sure it would upset traditionalists).

2 good name

Then, just past the aqueduct over the river Leam we saw our first cygnets.  Mum and Dad were looking on fondly at the time …..

4 first cygnets

but then they felt threatened by a couple of cyclists coming from one direction and two walkers from the other. 

5 protective parents

The cob gave the bike wheels a severe pecking but the walker seemed to escape.  The one following had her shopping bag attacked, but the cyclists were protected by their bikes.  As we pulled away another cyclist arrived – who would be the first to back down?

6 who will blink first

Swan 1, cyclist 0.

There was a space at the Tesco mooring so we pulled in for some shopping, and I was glad to see that you can still dispose of most of your recycling here – unlike the one at Leighton Buzzard which now only takes glass.

We had lunch before moving on and changed into shorts for the first time this year.  As we went through the bridge, a couple laden with shopping hailed us – Trish and Dave of NB Traveller’s Joy who used to live in our village.  They were pointing in the opposite direction so just time for a quick hello.

7 travellers joy been to Tesco

At Cape locks we had to wait for two boats ahead of us.  Above the lock the fender-makers were working in the sunshine.

9 getting knotted

It was very hot but we wanted to move on a bit before stopping.  We started up the Hatton flight on our own, but with only four locks to do that wasn’t an issue. 

12 lower hatton

It was hot work but we were soon moored up above the fourth lock, with just one other boat at the far end of the pound.  By 5.30 it had cooled a little, enough for Meg to sit outside.

13 chillin

I went for a run to the top of the flight.  I passed two boats which had gone by while we were having lunch – what a hot afternoon to do the whole of Hatton! On the way back I stopped to talk to a couple on an Anglo-Welsh who were just starting down, under the impression they only had to do 5 locks before they could moor.  Along with another boater we explained there were another 8 before there was a chance of mooring and 21 in the flight.  They wanted to visit Warwick and we left them discussing whether to turn in the little arm by the bridge.

We were still in T-shirts at 7.30.  Apart from the road and railway, neither very close, and an occasional plane, it was a peaceful spot.  There was ‘red sky at night’ as the sun set though the photo doesn’t really show it.

13 lovely mooring at 2120

11 locks 8 miles

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Another change of plan

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st May

We had a showery drive up to Calcutt, but got the car unloaded in the dry.  We were on our way out of the marina soon after 4 o’clock.  Easier said than done though, as a stiff breeze made it difficult to get out onto the canal in one go.  We turned left towards Warwick instead of right to the Oxford; for various reasons to do with appointments at home and the availability of marina berths when we need one, we are on our way to Droitwich Spa marina instead of the Thames.  We pootled along towards Stockton locks, though we made sure to stop for the night before we got there – just past the Willow Wren training place.  It was a short but chilly cruise in a stiff breeze.

chilly stop near willow wren

Several Napton hire boats and some from Braunston went by into the evening.  The chicken stew we’d brought from home was still frozen, so  we went to the Boat at Gibraltar bridge and had a very nice meal there instead.

On Sunday a few boats went by before we were ready to go, which was about 9.30, so we were anticipating a queue at Stockton top lock.  But when we got there the boat ahead of us was already at the second lock, and as I turned the top lock NB Orchid II arrived. We shared the whole flight with them.

The cottage at the top lock has a rather amusing name – Club Toplockicana.

1 stockton top lock cottage 2 stockton top lock cottage

Apart from 2 locks where we waited for boats coming up, we had to turn the other 8.  Stockton locks have heavy gates and stiff paddles, and we were very glad of the company.

3 with orchid II stockton flight

Dave picked up a rib injury playing football last week, so couldn’t do the heavy paddles on his own – but we were able to do a double-hander on the toughest one which was taking me far too long on my own!  Dave was making jolly sure the paddle didn’t slip while I took the photo – you do have to be careful to co-ordinate the changeover of handles when you do this!

4 2-hander to raise paddle

Our companions were quite a bit older than us, so we paced ourselves, but even so, because we were locking ahead, we soon caught up with the boat in front.  We were down in under 2 hours. 

We left our companions, who stopped at the Two Boats, and moored just beyond Long Itchington for a bit of a rest and had lunch before moving on again.  Soon after setting off, we were surprised to see a pedalo weaving its way towards us.  Weaving, because only one person was pedalling.  Two chaps are travelling the whole of the Grand Union between Birmingham and London and one was having a bit of a walk.  There was no time to find out why they were doing it.

5 pedalo-ing all the way to London

We shared the Bascote locks with a hire-boat of Australians.  Once again all the locks were against us but with their 3 crew we were quickly down.  Here we are coming down the staircase.

6 bascote staircase with hire boat

We stopped between Welsh Road and Wood locks before 3 and had a cup of tea.  Then we Dave got on with some jobs and I sat in the sun and read the paper.  Well I had done 15 locks.  Chocolate may have featured as well as cake and copious amounts of tea!

Apart from some motor-cyclists enjoying their Sunday-afternoon zoom along the Welsh Road straights, it was very peaceful in the sunshine and birdsong was the main sound.  Only a few boats passed by, and some runners, walkers and a few reasonable cyclists on the towpath.  Lovely.

7 lovely mooring between welsh rd and wood locks

The plastic carrier pegged to the side of the cratch cover in the picture above is the one that holds the brass-polishing kit.  In one of the few puffs of wind this afternoon it sailed gently off the roof and into the cut, just too far away to reach with the hook.  I released the front rope to let the front drift out so I could retrieve it.  After tea, Dave and Meg went for a lovely stroll in the evening sunshine while I chilled with a glass of something red.

8 Dave and meg off for a walk

15 locks, 4 miles

Monday, 8 May 2017

Sea Searcher fails

Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th May; Calcutt and home

Boats were moving early and by the time we were ready to leave there was only one other on the moorings, with two about to go down.  Another approached so we thought we’d join them …. and disaster struck!  Well no, not a disaster of course but an annoyance just the same.  Somehow the tiller pin dived into the canal.  So a spot of magnetic fishing was called for.

1 oh no tiller pin is not magnetic

Except that there seems to be no steel in tiller pins – we checked with our spare, and the Sea Searcher couldn’t detect the one we lost.  We even tried fishing with Dave’s landing net but only caught mud.  We did establish what we already knew, from our mishap on the Erewash last year, that a floating key fob is no match for a padlock when you drop your keys.  I do hope the owner of this set that we fished out had a spare.  The padlock and keys were eaten away by rust and even the key fob was beginning to disintegrate so into the rubbish they went.

2 cork floats will not float a padlock

After a while we admitted defeat.  I seem to remember the first owners of Chuffed telling us they had the original tiller pin made for them when they were in the Far East.  It is a scarecrow-like figure which I have always found a bit creepy as it has no face but Dave was rather fond of it.  In this last picture with him it in it – taken  last night – has it looking into the darkness of Braunston tunnel.  Did he it have a premonition of doom?

The spare certainly lacks character in comparison.

16 the lost scarecrow   15 boring tiller pin

We started locking down with one of the many boats named Festina Lente

4 locking down wiht festina lente

I was accosted by a blog reader as we came down – it was Julia (NB Rune) who we had met on the K&A a few years ago.  Hi! I do hope I’ve remembered your name correctly.

6 rune we met on K and A                                     NB Rune

Some boats do have the oddest names.  I’m not sure I’d want to be on a boat called Creeping Death!

5 creeping death

At the moorings below the Admiral Nelson we had a chance for a short chat with Tom and Jan on Waiouru.  Sadly this looks as though it will be the last time we see them so we wish them all the best for their next adventure.

7 Tom and Jan

As we were approaching Braunston Junction NB No Problem passed us.  The new owners (not so new now) Clive and Liz are still loving it and it looked great.

9 no problem owner still happy

I haven’t snapped the pretty junction bridges for a while, so I rectified that.

10 pretty braunston bridge

We had lunch on the move and there was just space to moor above the locks so Dave could check in at the Calcutt office and confirm our pontoon number.  We locked down with a couple of chaps on their way to the Worcester and Birmingham.  The steerer had just bought the boat and they had left Whilton marina that morning, expecting to finish by tomorrow evening to go home to Bromsgrove.  I don’t know about the steerer but the crew was on his first trip.  He thought they might have been going to Stoke Prior, which, according to Canalplan should take 5 days at 8 hours a day – it’s over 50 miles and has 113 locks.  He had no idea what lay ahead.  I hope they had a Plan B.

Once more the wind was strong enough across the marina to persuade us to go in bow first. 

We drove home on Sunday, having booked in for the bottom to be blacked in the next couple of weeks.  We put books and ornaments away in cupboards as they take boats out of the water up the slipway, and the boat will be at a tilt as they do.  We secured the cupboard doors too and stowed things like cooking oil securely.

17 cupboards tied up for blacking

Protruding knobs tend to be a nuisance as they can catch in your clothing, but they do make it easier to  stop the doors swinging open.

7 miles, 9 locks.

I started this trip’s blog with the intention of keeping a running total of miles, locks and so on, but when I checked with there was a difference in our figures of 10 miles and 9 locks.   The difficulty of precise measuring using Nicholson’s, plus the errors in distance introduced by not being able to choose exact stopping places on Canalplan, accounts for the mileage difference, but the locks – well I counted wrong and also made an error in my sums.  So I have corrected the running total on this trip’s posts, but from now on it’s back to posting daily stats, then getting the trip totals from Canalplan.

Total this trip; 121 miles, 88 broad locks, 4 tunnels, 2 large aqueducts, 4 swing bridges.