Monday, 9 April 2018

A day of bits and pieces, then a VERY early start

Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th April; in the marina and home

What joy, we awoke to pouring rain and a cold boat.  What would we be doing today?  As soon as the VW garages were open Dave made some phone calls to see if a local one could fix the car on Monday, but of course they are always booked up.  We could get Green Flag to take us all the way home today in a tow truck, but Dave’s done that before - it’s not very comfortable and they aren’t always happy to take dogs in the cab. Anyway on a wet Saturday they will probably be very busy and we could be hanging around in a cold boat for hours waiting for them.  So, quickly deciding that whatever we do it’ll be tomorrow, we lit the fire and had a think in comfort.

We had more tea, looked at the map and thought about where we will go on our next cruise.  The only conclusion we came to was that we wouldn’t be going to the north this year.  Back to the matter in hand eventually, we finally decided that we’d aim to leave the boat at 6am tomorrow as the motorways shouldn’t be too busy at that time.  We wouldn’t be doing our normal speed but if we can get beyond Bristol by the time the Sunday morning drivers are out and about we should be ok, though the Exeter outskirts might not be much fun.  At least we know the roads round there.  If we do need to call for assistance we should at least be able to get as far as a service station.

The rain eventually eased off and Dave took Meg out for her walk while I got on with some work I needed to do.  It was dry after lunch so he went down the weed hatch to recover the rubbish that fouled our prop yesterday – a length of very tough plastic netting.

what was round propeller

I remembered seeing quite a lot of something similar tangled in a hedge yesterday, quite a way the other side of Hanbury junction.  I wonder how many more bits are lurking ready to entrap unwary boaters?  Dave also reset the Mikuni after doing more checks but it still didn’t work, so he removed it and put it in the car to look at when we get home.  I went for a run later and saw a boat coming up the locks from Droitwich, so the Salwarpe must be down to reasonable levels again.

Now we are in the marina we can take advantage of the excellent shower facilities.  (Underfloor heating! warmer than our bathroom at home!)  In the Ladies there is a good hairdryer, with loads of fancy attachments if you feel so inclined, and hair straighteners into the bargain!  Not quite my thing though.

Up before 5 on Sunday and on the road before 6 with the first greying of the sky and the blackbirds in full dawn chorus.  The roads were fairly quiet and with most shops closed till 10, it being Sunday, stayed that way. 

When we came up last Wednesday the Stratford Avon at Bredon had burst its banks and it was impossible to see where its proper course was.  Today the flood plain to the north of the river is still under water though now the river bank is visible again.  The first photo shows the extent of the flooding.

avon flood plain at bredon

The blue colour is how it came out – it was still before 7 and very overcast.  The second photo shows that the levels are beginning to drop and the bank is beginning to reappear.  The river itself is on the right and Bredon church is visible on the hill if you look carefully.  It was hard to get a sharp picture as we were moving so fast – all of 50mph!

avon plus floods at bredon

Every time we cross the Bristol Avon I look for narrowboats making the crossing to or from Sharpness.  Never seen anything moving at all!  Tide’s out today.

bristol avon

As it’s Sunday, all the shops at Cribb’s Causeway, the huge retail park near Bristol, were still closed so traffic was light and it stayed like that all the way home – in the end it took no longer than if there had been a delay on the motorway, and we were indoors before 9.  It had been a fairly easy journey, though we do now appreciate the difficulty lorry drivers face on hills, having had to change down to third gear on one gentle but long incline.  No wonder they want to maintain their speed uphill by moving out to overtake slower lorries even if it means they do it painfully slowly!  The hardest bit of the whole journey was the undulating last few miles where the road climbs about 300’.

Now there is the expensive business of getting the car fixed.

Trip stats: Droitwich Junction canal, Worcester and Birmingham canal.

7 miles narrow canals, 10 locks, Dunhampstead tunnel (twice).


Friday, 6 April 2018

It was all going so well …..

Friday 6th April; into the marina

It was cloudy but dry as we set off for the marina, meeting no-one till we approached the locks where we met a boat that had just come out of the marina.  Here is Dave rounding the junction, with the CRT boats behind him on the visitor moorings.

rounding hanbury junction

The indicator board at the top lock showed the Salwarpe in the orange and going down, but the Severn was still on red.  We were soon down the locks where we picked something up on the prop, making getting into our marina a bit of a challenge and berthing even more so.  But with the aid of a fortunate wind direction (for once) Dave reversed us in smoothly.

Going down the weed hatch had to wait, as we drove off straight away to spend the day with daughter Jen and family down the M40.  We had a lovely time with young Finn who, true to his age, found the box more interesting than the contents! 

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But best of all was Grandad.

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Halfway back to the boat a warning came up on the car dashboard – a failed fuel injector.  It’s happened before so we knew we’d be limited to 2000 revs till it’s fixed!  So it was a tense drive back along the M42. Luckily for us there were no hold-ups on the motorways (you can’t pull away easily from standing) and a lot more downhill than up (where the car handles like an overloaded lorry trying to overtake in front of you on a hill).  What to do about getting home?  We’ll have to think about that.  Dave had the scary experience of coping with the previous failed injector on the busy M5 and doesn’t want to repeat it; driving down the motorway on a busy Saturday is probably not the safest option.  So we lit the fire and considered the alternatives over a glass of wine.

3 locks, ½ boat mile, lots more road miles, some very fraught.


Thursday, 5 April 2018

Uphill now then back again

Thursday 5th April; Dunhampstead to Hanbury junction via Astwood locks

What a glorious sunny day!  We were lingering over a cuppa in the sunshine and watching the hire boats making for Worcester; six in about ten minutes.  They would have been queueing for the locks all the way down to Worcester.  Never mind, we were going the other way!  We set off soon after 10, meeting nobody – they had already gone by.  Meg found plenty to keep an eye on this morning.

1 meg keeping watch

Every time we pass the New and Used Boat Co at Hanbury junction we marvel at the presence of widebeams on a narrow canal.  Does someone live in them or are they actually for sale?

2 widebeams on a narrow canal

As we passed the visitor moorings at the junction we saw a boat which passed us twice yesterday and then again this morning.  We wondered if they were hanging about waiting for water levels to go down so they could get to Droitwich.  We weren’t sure if we liked the name though – Adventure before Dementia.  Witty, but rather implies we are all headed that way …..

It was at last feeling like spring.  The chiffchaffs have returned and are staking out their patches with their characteristic calls.  And I got some decent pictures of lambs.  We saw our first ones yesterday but it was raining, and they were inconsiderately all behind the hedge.  These were watching us approach till one decided we were a bit scary

3 a bold lamb and a scaredy one

and trotted off to hide behind Mum.

4 hiding behind mum

There is a long straight before Astwood bottom lock and in the distance we could see a boat coming out.  As we got closer we could see it was CRT – they moored and walked back up to the lock.  Oh good, we thought, they’ll work us through.  Not a chance – off they walked, though they did leave the gates open.  They had moored their push tug and pan (or is it a flat?  I get confused with the terminology) on the lock moorings, and left a full length one on the top moorings.  Why do they do this?  Can’t they afford piling hooks and moor in the proper place like normal boaters?  You can hardly blame hire boats if they do the same when they see this as an example.

5 crt on lock landing  6 crt on lock landing

We rose up the second lock and I could see a boat just about to come down the third.  Their hopes of getting a lock all ready for them were quickly dashed - Dave was only winding and we were going back down again!  It doesn’t look to be a difficult turn, but the local hire boaters are warned that a 57’ boat can’t turn there.  We have winded there before but it’s not easy, and this time the water from the lock above arrived just in time to catch the stern and push it back the way he had come.

8 winding 

He made it though and while I waited I admired the lovely cockerel and his hens from the lock cottage.

7 beautiful fowl at astwood lane bridge lock

The owners have installed a couple of guards for the veg patch.  I love this one with his glasses and knitted waistcoat.

9 new gnomes in the lock cottage garden

We moored a couple of hundred yards below the lock for an early lunch.  This is one of our favourite things about boating – sitting at our table (we have a Pullman dinette) in the sunshine, with a nice cup of tea and a lovely view.

10 lovely mooring below astwood lane bridge

After lunch we got our walking boots on, picked up the footpath at the bottom lock and went off round the National Trust parkland of Hanbury Hall, hoping to get back to the canal further along the flight.  It’s popular with families and walkers and there are so many paths we got ourselves on the wrong one and found ourselves off the map.  That’s the trouble with Nicholson’s, if you go too far from the canal you get lost.  In such lovely weather it didn’t matter too much.  We found our way back and Meg had a great time.  The parkland is well cared for, with young trees protected from sheep and deer, and dead trees are left for the benefit of wildlife rather than being cleared away making for a striking sight.

13 lovely dead tree

This gate is on the path to the church so it’s a bit fancier than the others.

12 ornate NT gate

Every now and then we came across a patch of white violets on the roadside or by the towpath.

11 white violets

On a more prosaic note, Dave decided it was time the brasses had a bit of attention.

15 brasses need doing  17 thats better

Before ….                                                        and after.

We moved down closer to the junction so we could go to the pub for a meal.  The CRT workboats had been moved from the lock down to the visitor moorings – work is planned on a bit of collapsed towpath according to the notices.  We were rather glad we’d moored a few hundred yards out as the moorings both sides of the bridge and above the Hanbury locks were full.

4 locks, 5 miles

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

It felt good to be out in the rain ……

Wednesday 4th April; Droitwich Spa Marina to Dunhampstead

Isn’t that what the song says?  Well maybe not, but it was good to be out on the water again!  Five months is too long to be away.  Dave did come up to check things during the winter, but he didn’t take the boat out.  And it’s only a very short break this time, but better than nothing.

We had a very wet journey up from Devon and were relieved to have a short dry spell to unload the car.  Then the rain started again so we quickly connected the shoreline, drank tea, unpacked and restocked the galley cupboards for the season, had more tea …. then the rain eased off and we were out of the marina.  We could only turn left – the Salwarpe is in flood, and the two locks between the M5 tunnel and Droitwich town are closed.  I can’t think there’s much headroom under the M5 either.  The road to the marina follows the canal out of the town and it was obvious the Salwarpe was not the little stream we are used to seeing!  Anyway, up Hanbury locks we went. 

2 yay out again

I had to cudgel the old grey cells to remember how to use the side ponds, but got there in the end.  I also got wet.  I had my waterproof jacket on as there was still light rain now and then, but when it suddenly got heavier I was busy setting the second lock.  So by the time I’d got back to the boat to fetch the trousers I was a bit damp.  There were no volunteers on the flight unfortunately, hardly surprising as you’d think only boats from the marina would be using the locks – but no, there was a hire boat just in front of us!  They must have come down, turned, and gone straight back up again.

The Severn is in flood too; there have been notices coming through for a few days now.  The electronic warning board’s red lights were flashing. 

1 severn in the red

We passed the hire boat, sitting out the rain on the lock moorings, and turned under the junction bridge onto the Worcester and Birmingham.  The right turn towards Worcester is the awkward one, as the junction is at an angle, and there was plenty of time as we manoeuvred to admire the banks of primroses.

3 primroses at the junction

There were several boats on the visitor moorings but we only saw one other boat on the move as we pottered down to Dunhampstead.   The trees are still mostly bare and the old reeds are still standing in the biscuit colour of winter though some parts have been cut down, and the dumped bits are going black.  Our brass mushrooms don’t look too good, do they?

4 reeds all sere

The rain held off for us to drink our tea but by the time we got to the tunnel it had started again.  We had considered going beyond Oddingley before we turned but the rain looked as though it had set in for a while so we turned at the winding hole just past the Dunhampstead visitor moorings instead and tied up on the rings which for once were the perfect distance apart for a 55’ boat.

The fire was soon lit, the dog walked (lucky Dave…) and then in a dry interval Dave spent a happy hour in the engine hole cleaning it up and checking the fuel line to the Makuni heater which wasn’t working when he came up in the winter.  He bled the radiators, topped up the header tank, checked for leaks and now there’s just the glowplug to be checked.  If it still doesn’t work after that it’ll have to come out and he’ll have a look at it at home.

Meg is delighted to be back on the boat.  We mostly aren’t busy doing other stuff so she gets lots of attention and can sit on the locker to keep an eye on things, help at the locks or go to sleep inside as she wishes.  She also sits expectantly at the side of the dinette when we eat.  Tonight she struck lucky – the last bit of Dave’s sausage made a bid for freedom only to find itself snapped up in an instant.  Unfortunately for Meg it was covered in mustard, but it didn’t deter her – she was a bit surprised but not at all put off.

About a mile and a half, 3 locks, rain and a lucky dog.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Exeter canal was frozen too ….

Saturday 3rd March

Wasn’t it supposed to be the first day of spring on Thursday? 

Down here in the soft south we have been keeping in touch with life on the canals via blogs full of tales about getting frozen in, or escaping therefrom, and the hardy souls such as the fuel boats struggling through.  We were just wondering whether it was time to pop up to the boat again when the snow came.  Dave went up to Droitwich a few weeks ago to check things, but on Thursday the decision was taken out of our hands.  The ‘Beast from the East’ was bitterly cold but dry, then Storm Emma dumped her stuff all over us and unsalted roads quickly became icy and dangerous.

The lowest outside temperature we have recorded was –6.1, though the strong winds have made it feel much colder.  We are not on mains water and the pipe leading from the pump (which raises water from the well) froze over Wednesday night, leaving us with only half a tank of water.  It took Dave nearly an hour to unfreeze it on Thursday morning and then repair the insulation which had become damaged over winter.

Meanwhile I was looking after the birds.  I had been planning a lovely apple crumble using our stored apples from last autumn, a bit wrinkled but perfectly good for cooking and a full tray still remained.  I put a few out for for the blackbirds then it all got a bit Hitchcockian……

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Fieldfares are shy birds and don’t normally come so close to habitation.  At a rough count of 40 it was quite threatening when the flock descended all at once on the two apples on the patio!  The poor blackbirds retreated hastily.  Fieldfares are much bigger than them – the apple in the first photo is a large Newton Pippin if you are into apples, a bit bigger than the standard Bramley you get in the shops.

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There was a bit of squabbling as they waited for their turn for a peck or two.

kerfuffle

But mostly they just hung about, waiting.  By now I’d put out half the tray – the rest I’ll keep for Friday.

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Then a couple of them discovered the last of the berries still hanging on to the frozen cotoneaster outside the kitchen window.

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The overnight temperatures were not so low – it was about minus 2 when we got up on Friday – but there had been freezing rain overnight.  There seem to be conflicting accounts of why that occurs rather than snow, but the gist is that rain becomes super-cooled (still liquid but with a temperature below zero) as it falls through the cold atmosphere.  Then it freezes onto whatever it hits.  Trees, cars, brickwork, snow; when I let Meg out first thing her thin little legs broke through a brittle crust of ice 2mm thick.  She was NOT amused. Mum! I’m up to my armpits and it hurts! What's going on? No photo – that would have been unkind - and we had to clear a patch of grass so she could have a wee.

The ice has formed a glaze on the trees – very pretty but I just hope it didn’t freeze birds to their roosts as happened in 1947 (so our teacher told us at school during the big freeze of 1962/63).  I saw a pheasant with a clump of ice stuck to its tail, though it could still fly, just.  But there might be a lucky fox later today ….

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Any surface without snow – there are quite a few because the strong wind drifted the snow away – has a glaze and we have icicles – I don’t remember that happening before!  I hope you liveaboards escape this, it could freeze your doors shut! 

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Oh yes, the Ship Canal.  Our son Tom sent us this photo of the Exeter Ship canal, which he took looking across the canal to the river. Correction – the ice in the foreground is actually part of the flood relief channel, and the canal is some way behind the camera.  But the canal was still frozen.

canal across to river

and a panoramic view

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The river itself, pretty wide in Exeter, is a bit sluggish ….

frozen exe

The thaw set in with a vengeance this morning. Six inches of snow and hours of rain is causing local flooding, including of our garden and garage.

thaw

The temperature is above zero but I’ve still got my thermals on.  Keep warm!