Friday, 5 April 2019

We made it! But there’s work to be done.

Monday 25th to Wednesday 27th March; Long Itchington to Calcutt marina

We have a couple of days’ breathing space before we must be on our way home. So we stayed put for the day and Dave took advantage of the conveniently close bus stop to get to Leamington station and travel back to Droitwich Spa marina for the car.  So I did the really hard stuff of taking Meg for a walk along the disused railway line in the glorious sunshine!  Bridge 26A used to carry the old branch line from Weedon to Leamington, passing through Braunston, Flecknoe, Napton & Stockton, and Southam & Long Itchington stations.  The map here shows how very useful it would be to boaters if it were still operating.  

National Cycle route 41, known as the Lias Line, follows this part of the old route.  If you turn left from the bridge you will see that the path narrows and is in a direct line towards Southam cement works, which was also served by the railway.  The name ‘Lias’ refers to the geological strata in this area, which also gives its name to the Blue Lias pub further along the canal.

Comma butterfly
The section we walked along is managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust which is hoping to re-create the limestone grassland which would have been here originally. At the moment there are banks of nettles which are the food plant for the caterpillars of the brilliantly coloured Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies (so we shouldn’t complain too much about nettles!).  This comma had been scrapping with another – like several other species, the males hold territories and will see off interlopers as they wait for a female to come along.

Dave returned mid-afternoon, having walked back along the canal from Calcutt.

Before we left our mooring on Tuesday, we followed the old railway line and the lane into Long Itchington village for some supplies – the Co-op here has a much wider range than the little shop near the second lock.

We ascended Stockton locks quite easily – there were several boats on their way down and in the end we saw more boats in three hours than on any other day of this trip.  One of them was the widebeam hotel boat Kailani which looked rather more luxurious than Chuffed!  It is based at Wigram’s Turn marina and was off to the Saltisford Arm to collect passengers for its first trip of the season.

The Willow Wren training base is having more construction work carried out.

A little further on a pair of swans had chosen an elevated site where reeds have been cleared, taking full advantage of the floating bits nearby.

We moored for lunch on the stretch between the entrance to Ventnor and Calcutt marinas, before Dave walked up to the office to find out where we would be mooring.  The sunshine has brought the coltsfoot into full open bloom.

We are moored on the Calcutt visitor area.  In the past we have been on one of the permanent pontoons but there are so many more boats around now that they are all full.  This will make our preferred cruising pattern of marina-hopping without a fixed plan more difficult than it has been up to now.  The outlook is not so pretty now, but a working boatyard is better than a derelict factory. 

10 locks, 3½ miles in 2 days

We packed up and went home on the Wednesday.  The boat needs to come out of the water for the rudder to be fixed, and we will have the hull blacked too.  Dave discovered a leak from the gearbox the other day so that needs to be fixed, but he will fit a new battery condition meter himself.  We are still waiting to hear from RCR about the thermostat housing.

It’s not been quite the trip we hoped for!  But nobody got hurt, the boat didn’t sink and although there is money to be shelled out we were pleased to be out on the water again and enjoyed our trip in spite of the frustrating bits.

Trip stats
We travelled 43 miles, 1½ furlongs of narrow canals and 20 miles, 5¼ furlongs of broad canals, about 64 miles in total.  We travelled on the Worcester and Birmingham, BCN Main Line and Icknield Port loop, North Stratford and the Grand Union canals.

There were 108 locks – 65 narrow and 43 broad.  On the North Stratford there were 2 manually operated draw bridges and the electric Shirley Drawbridge.  We passed through 7 tunnels; Tardebigge, Shortwood, Wast Hills, Edgbaston (twice), all on the W&B, Brandwood on the North Stratford and Shrewley on the Grand Union.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

A beautiful spring day!

Sunday 24th March; Cape to Long Itchington

It was very cold in the deep shade of the flats opposite the visitor moorings at Cape, so we set off earlier than we would normally have done to get out of it.  At the top lock the sun was shining in a glorious blue sky.

The paddle gear seemed very heavy to our tired and aching arms after yesterday’s descent of Hatton.  We used the two-windlass method to make life a little easier.

At least the locks today are not all together, so we can recover between them.  At the bottom Cape lock is the short cut to the main road on which Warwick Hospital stands; just follow the path and turn left at the end – it’s less than a mile.  It looks even closer to the moorings opposite Kate Boats.

It was still cold enough to need our thermals as we cruised towards Leamington.  A visit to Tesco was needed.  There was a lot of yellow jacketed activity on the approach to bridge 46;   it was the local IWA group on one of their regular clear-ups.

The organiser helped us moor on the end of the Tesco mooring.  We needed Tesco rather than Lidl because Lidl doesn’t do papers!  When we came back a couple of young lads were negotiating with the volunteers for a bike they had just hauled out.

As we went through Leamington we passed the recently completed student flats alongside the moorings for the town.  The artwork on the hoardings was all long gone, of course, but a splendid cat now glares down from a wall, pretending to ignore the mouse at its feet.

We had a pleasant stop at Offchurch for lunch in the sunshine before pottering off again, having shed our thermals at last.  Cruising was just glorious in warm(ish) weather without too much wind.  I took this snap of nowhere in particular, just to illustrate the general loveliness of it all.

We pottered on through the remaining locks to Long Itchington, passing just one other boat.  We knew there was a hire boat ahead, because we found their windlass at Radford lock top gate.  Soon afterwards a chap puffed up having run all the way back from Fosse bottom lock to retrieve it.  Of course, with them ahead we had to turn all the locks, but easily made Long Itchington where we moored a couple of bridges before the pubs, out in the peace and quiet.

9½ miles, 11 locks

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Not the best end to a day (2)

Saturday 23rd March; the Boot moorings to Cape Locks

We started at 8, dropping down to the water point opposite the lake by the road to Kingswood village.  I left Dave bringing Chuffed down lock 18 while I nipped across to the shop for some essentials.

Dave had started the water filling as I returned with the paper and a nice-looking loaf of bread.  This tap seems to have much better pressure than the one at the junction and we were soon on our way again.  The swans have built their nest and Mrs Swan is sitting on her eggs.

I noticed what looks like some fishing line across the picture when I cropped it for the blog, so I’ve contacted CRT to tell them about it.  It looks as though it would be out of the swans’ way, but stray fishing line is not a good thing.

We paused briefly at the junction to empty 2 cassettes – we were getting perilously close to having no cassette space left!  Violets were blooming along the path where we moored.

We turned south towards Warwick and made tracks towards the Hatton flight.  The pair of derelict boats is still looking very neglected, but two new license plates have appeared – red, does that denote something in particular? – and the mooring lines look strong and fairly new.  Very much a project for someone.

We got the brolly out in preparation for Shrewley tunnel.  It’s usually wet, at least in part, and today was no exception.

Fortified with cookies we started our descent of Hatton locks.  The canal was very quiet and we had seen no other moving boat all morning.  We really need to get these locks under our belt today, so down we went, though keeping a wary eye out behind us, so we could wait if someone else arrived at the top.  They didn’t.

The CRT depot is above lock 42

We had to turn every single lock, but we could lock ahead, slowly but efficiently.  The sun was out, and there were plenty of gongoozlers, but none were interested enough to ‘have a go’ so it was hard work.  We only raised paddles on one side – Dave timed us last time we came this way, and you gain a mere 45 seconds a lock by opening both paddles.  The lock fills and empties more quickly, but the extra labour involved is not worth 45 seconds!  From the top of lock 40 I could just see, in the far distance at Middle Lock Bridge, the boat in front of us.  They must have been moored at the top of the locks last night and were 7 locks ahead.

We had a lunch stop on the long pound above lock 29, and were comfortably moored at Cape locks before teatime. 

Oh yes, the less-than-perfect end to the day.  When you are having chemotherapy, you are at higher risk of infection than normal.  In order to destroy any remaining cancer the drugs have to target cells that are actively dividing.  This unfortunately includes the production of new blood cells, so your white cells, the ones that fight infection, get a hammering.  Symptoms such as the sore throat and low temperature that I have had for a couple of days need to be checked out pronto, in case you have a bacterial infection instead of just a virus.  So, with me feeling a terrible fraud, we crossed the top lock and walked to the conveniently close Warwick hospital.  After having my wrist metaphorically slapped for not having gone to a hospital two days earlier I had the full works – multiple takings of temperature, blood pressure, blood tests, ECG, chest x-ray, then intravenous antibiotics. They give you ‘just-in-case’ antibiotics before the bloods come back, as without your normal white blood cell level you are at high risk of any bacterial infection turning to sepsis, which can quickly be fatal.  While I knew all this, after a lifetime of ‘not bothering the doctor’ and dealing with minor ailments myself, I just didn’t take my symptoms seriously.  I know better now.  Luckily it turned out to be ‘just’ a virus so I was discharged, with another gentle wrist-slap to make sure I will be a good girl if there is a next time.

By the way, we can highly recommend Warwick A&E.  They were calm and efficient, and lovely with it.  We were in and out within 2 hours, even on a Saturday night.

8 miles, 6 narrow locks, 21 broad locks, Kingswood Junction, Shrewley tunnel.

Monday, 1 April 2019

A running repair and on to the Boot

Friday 22nd March; Lyons’ Boatyard to Kingswood, below lock 14

We pushed across to Lyons’ boatyard this morning, still having heard nothing from RCR.  We needed to know whether we could cruise without risking damage to the engine, and as Lyons’ is a Barrus specialist (we have a Barrus Shire engine) we reckoned we could trust their advice.  The engineer confirmed the leak was coming from the cap on the thermostat housing, and as the unit was probably the original, and therefore 18 or so years old, RCR would be expecting to replace the whole unit.  So, with Sikaflex to seal the leak, and as long as we kept a close eye on the engine temperature, we would be good to go.

Just one issue, though – he noticed a lot of play on the tiller.  We had thought it was feeling a little looser than normal, but these things creep up on you and we hadn’t realised how bad it had got.  Dave went down the weed hatch to check the bolts  holding the rudder on, and ascertained that the one he could reach was tight so the rudder wasn’t going to just drop off.  What happens, apparently, is that gradually the holes the bolts go through enlarge slightly, and then the boat needs to come out of the water to have everything checked and things replaced as necessary.  We hope it will just be the bolts.  So as we are not cruising rivers, and will be going gently anyway, we decided to move on and get the work done at Calcutt.

So off we went, carefully.  After such a late start – getting on for 12 – we had lunch on the move.  The sun was out, and even though the wind was cold, it was lovely cruising weather.  The engine temperature remained normal and by 4 o’clock we had passed through the two manually operated draw bridges, having come through Shirley drawbridge, with its new control panel without incident (and only holding up 5 or 6 cars).  We started off down the Lapworth flight, gradually shedding layers of clothing as we went. 

Most of the locks were in our favour so it was easy work.  In the photo above, the approach to lock 7, you can see a yellow-jacketed figure leaning agaist the bridge.  I hoped it was a boat coming up, or just a gongoozler happy to help - but no such luck!  He just stood there as I heaved the gates open, and totally ignored us.  Oh well.  

The overflows were running strongly, which would have made it difficult for boats going up.

But we met no boats today, other than letting a share boat through one of the bridges.  We haven’t seen more than 3 or 4 boats in a day so far.  The light was beginning to go as we dropped down to lock 14, the one above the long curving pound where there is room to moor.

The picture doesn’t really show how much the light was fading.  (Sorry about the camera shake.)  We decided it wouldn’t be safe to do the rest of the locks to the junction, so moored up.  We tried to book a table at the Boot, which does excellent food, but there was nothing available till 9 so we walked down to the Navigation instead.  It was excellent, and cheaper too!

RCR called during the day to request a photo of the plate which shows the engine number, and confirmed they would be replacing the thermostat housing if we chose to accept their estimate.

13 locks, 10½ miles, 3 lift bridges (including the electric Shirley drawbridge).  

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Not the best end to a day (1)

Wednesday 20th March; Birmingham to King’s Heath Swingbridge (derelict)
Thursday 21st March; just a little further on

It all started so well today!  Meg had her walk, the rubbish got disposed of (via a stroll to Cambrian Wharf), the paper was bought along with milk at the little Cambrian Stores.  Soon after 10 we left our moorings opposite the Round House, which is being restored and it looks as though it will be let out to commercial enterprises. 

We set off towards the Icknield Port Loop, deciding it would be more interesting to cruise a loop to turn the boat round rather than just winding in the entrance.  We turned into the second entrance to the loop, at the ‘crossroads’ with the start of the Hockley Port Loop and were delighted to see that the side of the bridge away from the towpath had escaped the attentions of graffiti vandals.

CRT-type work was going on at Icknield Port, where a workboat had two end-of-first-life lock gates waiting for disposal

At the city end of the loop, the area of derelict factories we had seen being flattened last year is now a building site.  This is what the widebeam we saw yesterday in Brindley Place had been advertising.
It all used to look like this ....

but now -

We couldn’t decide if the white building on the left was offices or examples of the starter homes on offer.   It looks as though they are constructing some sort of small arm or basin here, where the dam is still in place.

Back through the city centre, pausing at Holliday Wharf to empty the cassettes and get some water, and out of the city we went.  At Selly Oak we had another look for the old Selly Oak Junction with the Lapal Canal – was this it?  It looks as though the towpath may have risen over a bridge.  The route looks a bit blocked …

We wondered if these steps would eventually be the towpath access to the new Sainsbury’s.  If so, some mooring rings would be nice!  There doesn’t look to be a great deal of room for the Lapal canal to run though.

The plan was to stop for lunch at King’s Norton Junction, and go on to Hockley Heath.  The engine had been overheating a little, and a blast of reverse threw some plastic off, but when we moored just round the junction at lunchtime it was obvious Dave would need to go down the weed hatch.

There wasn’t a great deal of rubbish, but I had pulled a black plastic sack out of the water as we moored, so there was a ready container for it.  There was some surgery happening to a large tree at the Guillotine Lock – they weren’t taking it down, just cutting it back a bit.  It’s very skilled work - I caught it just as the piece of tree was descending with perfect control.

We set off about 3, only to pull in almost immediately as the engine overheated.  There was quite a bit of water in the bilge, but we couldn’t see where it had come from.  After it had cooled a bit, Dave checked and  topped up the coolant header tank – it took a couple of pints – and we tried again, managing just a couple of hundred yards.  We coasted in to the bollards by the derelict swing bridge and called RCR.  The engineer reached us at 5.30, diagnosed a problem with the thermostat housing and said he’d have to call Barras in the morning to see if we need a complete new unit or just gaskets.  

We were a little anxious about stopping overnight along this stretch – just a few hundred yards away the self-pumpout equipment at the junction was removed after constant vandalism – but it seemed to be quite quiet with just families and dog walkers enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

It was a very quiet night and we awoke to birdsong.  The next morning Dave topped up the water and we crept carefully along to Lyons’ Boatyard where we moored on the towpath side.  The engine hadn’t overheated and there was no water in the bilge, as we had been going barely above tickover, so we were able to leave the engine running to charge the batteries.  A message came from RCR to say they would be in touch ‘soon’, and another a little later to say they would be emailing an ‘estimate’ for the work, but are we safe to continue cruising or not?  We don’t know.  Mid-afternoon we had a ‘how did we do’ phone call and the lady was surprised to hear we had no idea what was going on.  She passed me on to someone else who promised there would be an email by 5pm….. but no.  Lyons’ engineer is working away today but will be in tomorrow so we will at least be able to find out if we can safely cruise.

8 miles in 2 days, Brandwood tunnel, a lot of thumb-twiddling.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Into Birmingham

Tuesday 19th March
On an overcast but dry morning Dave fitted the new starter battery.  The old one is now serving as temporary ballast on the starboard side!  At least we can now start the engine even if we can’t tell how full the batteries are!  By 10 we were in Wast Hills tunnel – a swift transit but rather wet, as usual. At King’s Norton Junction was the sad sight of the canal house, which has been burnt out.  There is no road access, so the fire engines had trouble getting to it (as reported in Canal Boat in the new issue).

Now it was the fast stretch into Birmingham – not particularly interesting when you have done it many times, but hey.  The area between one of the walls and the works buildings behind it has been planted up with Forsythia and Chaenomeles and looked stunning.

The little cafĂ© in a portacabin on the offside has been done up and re-opened, with the mooring cleared, but we didn’t stop.  We pulled in at the Selly Oak moorings for a trip to Sainsbury’s but it was closed!!  It has moved to the new premises where the Lapal canal should be running, and there has been a lot of planning-related argument as they have (allegedly I expect I must say) attempted to get out of making space for the restoration.  We got directions to the new store from the lovely girl in Pets At Home and found an enormous megastore in a new retail park, which includes a Go Outdoors and M&S food among other shops which I forget, shopping not being a favourite activity of mine.  We wondered if this (below) was destined to become the line of the Lapal canal, but couldn’t see quite how it would join the main line.  The signal on my phone has been dodgy to say the least on this trip, and I haven’t had the laptop battery life to research the current position.

It looks like a towpath running along what could be a canal under restoration.  It ends at the road bridge in the distance and is on the very edge of the Sainsbury site.  By now Meg had realised where we were headed.  We are pretty sure she remembered there was a park up ahead!

The moorings on the windy stretch between the Mailbox and Gas street were deserted, and there was just one at Brindley Place – a widebeam! What??

It is a sales office for ‘Port Loop’ – we guess that is the development on the land we saw being cleared at the Icknield Port loop last year.  We had the pick of the moorings on the Main Line, and as soon as we had moored got going to the Museum and Art Gallery to see the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.  The Royal Collection has a large number of his drawings, and to mark his 500th anniversary various locations around the country are displaying – free – twelve of them.  They are small of course, not much bigger than A4, but protected by a plain sheet of glass so you could get up close and really have a good look.  It wasn’t busy, everyone could have a good look and people were talking to each other about them. 

After a burger apiece at the Handmade Burger Co – mine was a Veg-Mex with pickled jalapenos, my that brought tears to my eyes! – we had an evening on the boat.

8½ miles, Wast Hills tunnel, and Leonardo drawings that are rarely seen, at least by the hoi polloi.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Not just the Tardebigge flight

Monday 18th March; Tardebigge (above lock 33) to Hopwood

Oops, only 10 days late …..

Up early, and with a cooked breakfast in our tummies for a long day’s locking we left our mooring at 8.40.  It was very cold when we started, but it wasn’t long before we were plenty warm enough! We used the system we developed yesterday.  I closed up as Dave cruised to the next lock, which I’d already set as luckily they were almost all ready for us.

Then I closed the gate on the towpath side and left him to carry on while I went on to set the next lock, then came back to close up.  Chiffchaffs and larks were singing as we cracked along, super-efficient at about 7 minutes a lock.  At the Noisy Dog House the dogs just watched me go by, as with no dog by my side at the time I wasn’t of much interest.  But as I came back I thought I’d grab a snap of Sink Dog (the Alsatian sits in an old stone sink).  But the instant I lifted the camera it leapt out of the sink, snarling.

I wonder if they are trained to be so aggressive?  I feel sorry for them, but I’m just glad they are chained up.  Though if that’s how they spend their days, then hassling passers-by must be their only entertainment.

At one point we met a boat on its way down. Stray Not Far, built by Ortomarine, is an electric/diesel hybrid, 16 months old and was silent and fume-free in the locks.  Attractive too.  We were making good time and it didn’t seem too long before we were passing the reservoir.

But we were getting tired and we were heartily glad when a CRT chap showed up and gave a hand.  He had been running water down – lock 44 leaks like a sieve and yesterday the pound above was apparently nearly empty.  We had noticed that the bywashes were mostly not running but had had no trouble ourselves.

Instead of stopping on the long pound below the top of the flight (and because the lockie was prepping the top lock for us) we carried on through Tardebigge and Shortwood tunnels (the first dry, the other a bit drippy).  The south portal of Tardebigge is attractive stone and brick

and the northern one sits in a cathedral of trees.

We moored before Alvechurch for lunch, then continued to the marina and chandlery so Dave could try and get a new starter battery.  Luckily they had the right model in stock, and at a good price.  Then on we went again, past the new Withybed Moorings where there is still a lot of space.

There were a few Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe on Lower Bittell reservoir and a smart male Mandarin pottering about on the canal nearby.

Dave caught a glimpse of a kingfisher as we approached Hopwood, but I missed it.  We eventually tied up at Hopwood at about 5.  A hire-cruiser sort of day today – 8 hours’ cruising, but we need to make up time so we can get back home in time for my next medical appointment.
25 locks, 7½ miles