Wednesday 20 April 2016

Back to Calcutt

Thursday 14th and Friday 15th April; Long Itchington to Calcutt marina

Although the rain had stopped by the time we pulled pins, it was still much colder than yesterday.  As luck would have it, our companions from yesterday had moored closer to the locks and were just pulling out as we came round the bend.  So rather than take on water opposite the Blue Lias pub, as planned, we opted to go straight up the locks with them. 

1 up stockton locks with hireboat

The Stockton gates are heavy, and one bottom set in particular, which looked new, needed two people to close them.  The primroses were carpeting the area where lime kilns and wharves once were.

2 primroses on old limekiln area

One of the old chimneys is still standing.

4 limekiln chimney

We waved goodbye to our lovely hirer companions, who had to make Gayton marina for handover day, and moored in a lovely sunny spot past the long-term moorings near Gibraltar bridge.  On the way we passed steam narrowboat Adamant moored at Willow Wren.  At first glance the tree behind makes it look as though it is in steam!

5 adamant

After lunch – chicken soup, made with the last of the chicken from the weekend! – we got on with cleaning the boat.  Dave did the brasses using a tip from a neighbour at Droitwich Spa Marina – Toilet Duck.  It cleaned off the tarnish much better than Brasso with just a little on a cloth, then I rinsed the tiny bit of residue off when I swept and washed the roof. They looked pretty good I think – this is before Dave Brassso’d them (actually with Waitrose equivalent, which doesn’t smell as strongly).

7 gleaming brass

The sun came out and it got warm again.  It was a relief to have some dry towpath – I think this has been the muddiest trip we have had for a long time.  The towpaths have been so wet and muddy that the dog’s towels have needed drying every day.  The little cordless Dyson has been doing sterling service too.

6 nr gibraltar bridge

After an hour or two we moved to moor closer to Calcutt locks so Dave could walk over the lock gates to the office to find out our pontoon number for the next few weeks.  By 4.30 we were moored up and drinking tea before taking advantage of the dry weather for touching up a little bit of paintwork and cleaning out the well-deck.

4 miles and 10 locks today.

Friday was wet.  Dave left early to walk to Napton to catch the bus to Leamington and the train back to Droitwich Spa to collect the car.  I started cleaning and replaced a gas bottle (well I got the chap to do the lifting in and out of the bow locker as I can’t quite manage it alone).  Then when the rain stopped it was time for Meg’s walk.  Rather than getting her across the lock gates (which she doesn’t like) onto the towpath (which would have been muddy again) we went up to the Napton Reservoirs, as the access road is by the marina gates.  I had to be a bit careful where we went as swans were patrolling, but saw plenty of coots displaying -

coot displaying

a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing the heart shape display with their necks, though no picture – and best of all, a large flock of swallows.  I thought I had seen one bird yesterday but wasn’t sure.  They were feeding above the water, chattering nineteen to the dozen in a tree and generally zooming around.  I think they may have just arrived.

swallows in tree

I only had my phone with me unfortunately so the pictures are really not up to much.

Luckily Dave had got a lift into Leamington so caught the fast train to Birmingham and had time for a look at the new New Street station concourse from the inside.  We decided to pack up and go home rather than wait for the morning.  Half past five is not a good time to be on the M40 in the Warwick area – but even so we were home by 9.  It’ll be a few weeks now before we are able to get back on board.

Trip totals;  Just under 76 miles in 15 days out; 176 locks (133 narrow, 43 broad); 3 moveable bridges were opened, 5 tunnels traversed (Tardebigge, Shortwood, Wast Hills, Brandwood, Shrewley), and we crossed 12 small aqueducts and 2 major aqueducts (Edstone and Wootton Wawen, both crossed twice).

Tuesday 19 April 2016

A new bow fender and shorts at last!

Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th April – Kingswood Junction to near Long Itchington.

We didn’t hang about on Tuesday morning for fear of another wet afternoon, though in the end it didn’t rain at all.  We turned on to the Grand Union and enjoyed a cuppa over the few miles to the top of Hatton locks and caught a brief glimpse of a kingfisher.  There were stretches of moored boats along the way so we didn’t hurry – we went particularly slowly past these …..

1 slowly past these

We were on our way down the flight before 11.  Unfortunately the locks were mostly against us and it was slow going to start with.  I paced myself in case there were no volunteers on duty so we only used the paddles on one side to save work.  I also used the trick of a lockie we met a few years ago – four for the lock, then four for you, meaning do four turns of the windlass then take a breather for the count of four before the next four turns.  It is a good system on this heavy gear.  Near the top of the flight is the Hatton Arms.  I had a grumble to myself about their board – allday is NOT a word (and neither is alright, even if the spell checker says it is, so there).

2 illiterate

It was correct though on the board by the entrance further along.  The volunteer at the CRT hut helped with the gates at the fourth lock, then we spotted a volunteer lockie helping another boat up beyond the crossover bridge.  He had helped them for most of the flight so came to help us instead.  It was getting quite warm, so our jumpers soon came off.  Bob used to go to the gym every week, and got fed up with paying to get fit when he wasn’t achieving anything other than muscle, so signed up to be a CRT volunteer instead.

5 bob the volunteer

Fuelled by the flapjack I made yesterday we worked well together till lunchtime, when Bob went off to his base and we pulled in on a short stretch of piling between locks 30 and 31.  Remembering the unfortunate hirer we met the other day, who broke his shoulder falling off a lock wall, I took a picture (and took care too ….)  It’s a long way down if you miss your footing!

6 long way to fall

Bob spotted us as we approached the last few locks and helped us down the rest, and by 2.30 we were moored above Cape Locks.

Dave took the opportunity to visit Get Knotted next to the pub and we are now the proud possessors of a new bow fender made by Will, the son of Neil who runs the business.  Will came and fitted it and made a lovely job too, so it looks very smart.  What do you think of Dave’s new pointy hairdo?

9 will fits new fender

Quite by chance he was standing directly in line with the chimney and the chinaman’s hat, reflecting the sun, was perfectly positioned …..  The old fender was thoroughly squished and distorted and never really sat straight at all.

5 old squished fender

Will invited us to come and see what a properly made fender core looks like, so we went over for a look – very interesting it was too.

10 get knotted

In the evening we had a nice meal in the pub – pie and mash for me, fish and chips for Dave.  At £25 for 2 meals and 2 pints, not a bad price either. 

On Wednesday we carried on through Warwick on our way to Calcutt.  The sun was bright though the air was still cold, but once we had started work on the first lock we soon warmed up.  We managed to squeeze in on the end of the Tesco mooring to do some shopping and dispose of the recycling.  On the way out towards Radford Semele, where we stopped for lunch, we noticed the moorings for Leamington town and Jephson Gardens.  We've never visited either, so maybe we’ll do that next time we are this way.   We saw our first ducklings today – unfortunately scattering in panic so I couldn’t get many in the picture.

2 first ducklings

There is a swan’s nest on the way to Radford bottom lock.  Unfortunately they have chosen to nest right beside the towpath, so CRT have pinned warning signs to the trees on the approaches and placed a traffic cone and branches near the nest to try and give them a bit of protection.  Rather a shame if you’ve planned a circular walk with a couple of dogs.

3 swan nest towpath radfor  area

I disposed of our rubbish at the lock, along with an empty 5-gallon plastic drum which had been chucked in the hedge near our lunchtime mooring.  The celandines in a huge patch near the lock were turning their little faces to the sun.

4 celandines at Radford bottom lockWe stopped at Fosse Wharf to empty a cassette, then waited for a hire boat coming up behind us to share the next few locks with.  There were three crew, at least one being very experienced so we made short work of the remaining locks.  It was finally warm enough for me to shed my winter clothes – including vest - and finish the locks in shorts and T-shirt!  The warm sun brought out the butterflies too, and we saw several Brimstones (the bright yellow ones you see in spring).  This is the best my little camera can do.

7 brimstone on bluebells

There were cowslips too, quite a large patch above Fosse Locks.  6 cowslips fosse locks area

I was so busy chatting to the lovely hire boat crew I completely forgot to take any photos of the two steerers coming expertly up Bascote locks.  We moored for the night a few hundred yards short of the bridge at Long Itchington.  We had the side hatch open with the sun streaming in for a while, but although it was a beautiful sunny evening the temperature soon dropped.  Dave has started touching up the red coachlining where it has faded rather badly.

Tuesday; seven and a half miles, 21 locks and one tunnel (Shrewley, which was rather wet).  Wednesday; 9 miles and 12 locks, including Bascote staircase.

Monday 18 April 2016

Land’s End to John o’Groats

Monday 11th April; Lowsonford to Kingswood Junction

It rained for most of the night.  The very end of the cabin roof was unfortunately just underneath the drip-line of a tree so it took us a while to get off to sleep.  Before we left this morning I took some rubbish down to the bins below the lock, and said goodbye to Antony Gormley.  He will be gone in a few weeks.  I wonder where he’s going.  He looks slightly forlorn when there’s no-one around.

2 is there a boat coming

On the way back to the boat I realised NB Tentatrice was moored not that far from us.  I’ve seen them on other people’s blog lists but not read their blog.  Anyway, I knocked on the window and we had a chat – lovely to meet you both Jenny and Chris and you are now on our blog list!

The rain kept off as we left, and it even warmed up a bit.  At the first lock there was a large area of kingcups in a damp patch below the towpath.

3 kingcups at lock 30

The farm shop wasn’t open today, though they are happy for boaters to ring them when they are closed – if they are available they will open up for you.  The meat we got last time was excellent, but we still have a fair bit of chicken left over from the roast on Saturday so we won’t be buying more for a while.

4 finwood details

The towpath is very muddy in places.  There were large puddles around the lock gates, and instead of using the bricks to brace my feet against I had to use them as stepping stones.  Luckily the gates weren't too heavy!

5 had to balance on the bracing bricks as flooded

While we were ascending lock 28 a walker came up and we fell into conversation.  She is walking alone from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and though she is staying in hostels and B&Bs rather than camping, she still has a large pack to carry.  7 land's end to john o groats walker

She knew little about the canals and was interested in our journey too, and ‘had a go’ with a gate and paddle.  At the next lock we all had tea and cake before she had to get on – at 15 miles a day she hopes to arrive at journey’s end in early June.  Off she goes, striding away at a good pace.  I could barely keep up with her as we walked between locks!  She is raising money for Parkinson’s UK.

8 off she goes

At Dick’s Lane lock there is an ‘unclassified county road’ crossing the bridge.  You could only get a motorbike to it from the lane because of the bollards but it doesn’t look wide enough for a car anyway.  It was very muddy so I didn’t investigate.

9 unclassified county road

Dick’s Lane is one of the locks with the pretty split bridges, as is number 23.

11 lock 23

We made Kingswood Junction soon after 12 and topped up the water before mooring round the corner by the picnic area. We watched a nuthatch while we had lunch – I saw a tree creeper last time we were here too.  We both took advantage of the excellent shower facilities here.  Such luxury having a heater in the room – it’s more than we have on Chuffed.  I hauled the bike out to wash off the mud so we Dave can mend the puncture.  But it soon started to rain, so although the bike got cleaned it went back in the well deck pretty smartish.  It rained all afternoon, and we hoped our walking friend had done most of her walk before it started.   Of course we had wet towels to dry – ours and the dog’s – so the fire was lit early and we got on with inside jobs.

Tea was a lovely chicken pie.  This is the third main meal from that chicken and there is still plenty left.  It rained for the whole evening so Meg had a very quick walk this evening.

9 locks, 2 miles

Sunday 17 April 2016

Robin in the tree – still there after all these years!

Sunday 10th April; Wilmcote to Lowsonford

We woke up late to bright sunshine showing above the trees, but there was still frost on the shed roof of the wall by our mooring.  Before we left I went up to the village for a few bits in the shop – the towpath is a quagmire in places after yesterday’s rain, especially the narrow bit where the collapsing edge is fenced off nearer the bridge.  The sun on our backs was lovely but the air is still pretty nippy so no casting off the thermals yet.  Edstone aqueduct was a lot easier to cross than a few days ago, though it still makes me uneasy with the towpath so far below the boat.

3 calmer edstone

There is still plenty of blackthorn blossom frothing along the cut and below the aqueduct too.

4 blackthorn from above

We thought we had problems with moles at home, but this invasion below the aqueduct is something else!

5 trouble with moles below edstone

We stopped for lunch near bridge 50, where we spent the night last week.  The cloud had come across by now and it was grey and cold for the rest of the day.  Between the bottom and middle Preston Bagot locks is a house with a sheep on the balcony peering down;

6 sheep at preston bagot

and the Reliant Robin is still there in its tree.  I didn’t spot it on the way down to Stratford, as the hedge has grown up and it’s difficult to see now except from the gate.  It could do with a bit of a clean.  Even my car isn’t that dirty!  I wonder if any birds have made a nest in one of its various cavities?

7 robin in a tree

At the middle lock we crossed with a hire boat on the way back to Wootton Wawen.  The chap was on light steering duties only – they had started down Hatton locks only for him to fall off one of the lock walls and injure his shoulder.  The staff in the CRT base there were wonderful – ferried them to Warwick hospital, looked after the dog etc.  Now the couple was creeping back to base.  The woman has been living on a widebeam near Lincoln, but they want to get a narrowboat instead so they could explore the rest of the network; I hope this hasn’t put them off.

The house at the lock – the one with the mirrored windows - has just changed hands.  Apparently it takes a bit of getting used to seeing the passers-by staring in, although they can’t see anything except reflections.  But at night it’s a different matter, as the reflective effect disappears when the lights are on inside.  The new owner’s little nephews were visiting with their Dad, and the boys were thrilled to help with the next lock, though they had to pick their way through the mud to get to it.  The sunny morning had brought out the weekend walkers and cyclists but they all had to contend with the soggy squelchy ground underfoot.  At least the boggy conditions keep most of the speed merchants away.  We moored at Lowsonford for the night.  It was cold and grey so the fire was soon lit.

9 locks, 3 aqueducts, 7 and a half miles

Saturday 16 April 2016

Back to Wilmcote and a drained pound

Friday 8th April

A beautifully sunny morning to get up to and I joined the Saturday morning Parkrun.  Parkruns are runs 5k long, take place in parks all over the world and are free – at the moment - for anyone to take part in – and they love having runners who are not local.  As a Parkrun ‘tourist’ I have run at Marple and Aylesbury as well, though only once at my ‘home’ one in Exeter – somehow running at 9 in the morning is easier when we are on the boat!  Stratford parkrun is in the park opposite the theatre.  It was so warm that I wished I’d worn shorts.

me and chatty friend lap 2

By 11 we were leaving Stratford.  The first four locks were all against us, but with a constant supply of walkers and gongoozlers there was plenty of help available at the dreaded Manchester Road lock.  We needed quite urgently to empty a couple of cassettes.  The Elsan point is at Valley Cruisers, and as two of their boats had just come in and were being cleaned, refuelled etc we had to breast up.  But they had moored in such a way that we could get a cassette fairly easily across the cruiser stern of the outer one and the well deck of the inner.  I had a good nose inside the 4-berth while we waited – it didn’t look too bad, with a better cooker than ours and nicer coloured wood, but rather bare inside as hire boats tend to be.

2 double breasted at the elsan point

We moored at Chaly Beate again for water, arriving in time to avoid a heavy shower, then went a little further to moor on the long stretch below Wilmcote locks for lunch.  The heavy rain looked as though it had set in for the afternoon, but we didn’t want to stop there for the day as the motorbikes on the scrambling course over the way were extremely loud.  In the end they were rained off, but we decided to go up the locks anyway when the rain eased off a bit later.  A hire boat had come out of the bottom lock as we were pulling in, and we assumed they had left the bottom gate open thinking we were about to go up.  But no!  Every single bottom gate was open, with the paddle still up, except for the lock in the middle where the householder had gone out and closed up.  It was all ok till we got to the third from top, when Dave spotted the water level in the pound above.

4 running water through to drained pound

We had already let one lock of water down by the time I took this.  A cruiser was in the middle lock; they had also had three drained pounds in the Wolverhampton flight a couple of weeks before, though that was due to vandalism rather than stupidity/ignorance/laziness as here.  It’s a shame there were no volunteers on duty today – they would have prevented the problem in the first place.  Three locks’ worth saw us able to pass each other in the pound, and as the top pound was ok and the bywash was still running we left it at that.  Rather than lions or something grand on their gateposts, the house in the middle of the flight had a tortoise on one and what looked like a walrus on the other …..3 lovely gatepost wilmcote locks

We moored again at Wilmcote above the winding hole.  Four or five boat lengths of mooring have been fenced off because of a collapsing wall.  Luckily there is a fair bit of room further along, but it’s bound to cause problems when it gets busier in a few weeks’ time.

6 collapsing wall at wilmcote moorings

We just managed to get tied up before another downpour.  But fire lit, chicken in the oven for tea and we were set for the evening.  It’s the first time I have cooked a roast on the boat – it was lovely and I don’t think it will be the last.

16 locks 3 and a half miles

Wednesday 13 April 2016

A couple of days in Stratford

Thursday 7th and Friday 8th April

Thursday started wet and we set off in full wet weathers and gentle rain.  It wasn’t too cold, especially once we started working down the Wilmcote flight.  I got the bike out to lock-wheel only to discover a puncture, but it didn’t matter because once we got to the central group of five locks the volunteers arrived.  These locks are quite slow to fill and empty and some of the gates are very heavy so I was glad of the help.  We have noticed that volunteers are now very careful to ask if boaters want any help; it seems that ‘help’ is a loaded word and some people object to the implication they might need it.  One of the volunteers told me that last summer he was roundly and foully abused by a boater on Hatton locks for ‘wrecking his schedule’ because he had got him up the flight ‘too quickly’.  What?  Anyway, as ever, we welcomed their help.

Leaving Wilmcote bottom lock1 volunteer bottom wilmcote flight

We stopped to take on water at Chaly Beate bridge.  Dave looked after all that while I chopped up a few veg and got some soup on the go as it had been so cold.  The rain finally eased off and the sun came out as we started the final descent into Stratford.  There was only one hitch; we had left the chimney in place, though we knew we would have to take it down to get into Bancroft basin.  But the bridge at lock 52 is lower at the far end than when you enter it ….  Dave had to reverse back into the lock so I could lift the chimney off and rescue the poor chinaman’s hat which had got a bit squashed!

5 crunched chinamans hatWe did manage to unbend it and luckily the chimney, which has a hole in one side anyway, wasn’t damaged any further.

The worst gate on this canal is at Maidenhead Road bridge.  The bridge was widened before the canal was restored, and the bottom gate now has an angled lock beam.  This would be ok except that it is made of tubular steel so it is very painful to push it with your back, and I have never managed to close it unaided before.  Luckily for me a delightful American family was watching and helped me out.  Thanks folks!

2 lovely americans at maidenhead rd lock

Although the surroundings aren’t particularly lovely as you approach the end of the canal, there are lovely things to see such as this magnolia in full bloom.

3 on last few locks

We moored in the basin above the river shortly after one.  We had the pick of the pontoons, which was lucky in the circumstances as the wind was strong and blowing us sideways.

4 only boat moored in bancroft basin

Apart from the CRT information boat and the trip boats opposite, we were the only boat there.  We had our soup, then I went over to the theatre and got a couple of standby tickets for Hamlet tonight.  The rain started as I came out, rapidly turning into a violent hailstorm and I dashed into the CRT boat which gave sanctuary to a group of us – the lady on duty had to turn several away as the limit is 12 people!   Anyway I was able to pick up the papers including the Crick one as we hope to go the the show this year.  The storm quickly finished and the CRT boat emptied again.  Passing storms continued all afternoon and every now and then a hailstone pinged through the mushroom vent above the table.

6 hailstone through themushroom vent

It was beginning to dry up by early evening, when we went to the theatre.  The production was amazing, set in a modern African setting with African music and modern dress (apart from the ghost in an African robe), and with only a few token white actors.  I was pleased to see that several parts normally played by men – Guildenstern, some courtiers and a soldier – were played by women.  The differences from a traditional Shakespeare production didn’t take long to get used to. All the actors were fantastic and Hamlet was brilliant, played by Paapa Essiedu who we hadn’t heard of before.  It’s a long play and our seats weren’t terribly comfortable but we were gripped throughout.

Friday was another day of sunshine and showers.  Dave took Meg for a long walk first thing and I cleaned through the boat while she was out of the way.  They got back before the storms started again.  The weather cleared up in the afternoon and we went to do some shopping.  Friday is market day so we could stock up on veg, as we haven’t found a proper greengrocer yet this trip.  Stratford of course has some wonderful old buildings, none of which we visited though I did take a couple of snaps.  This is a row of almshouses, though at the far end by the church it appears to be part of a school.

1 almshouses and school

A little further down on the other side is the Falcon Inn.

2 falcon pub

We wandered back down with our booty, including a book and DVD from the Oxfam shop, and I got a casserole in the oven for the evening.  It’s nice not having to go anywhere now and then and just chill.

A couple of narrowboats arrived during the afternoon but it’s still not crowded.  The trip boats were going back and forth and the tourists came and went but it was nothing like as busy as it will be later in the year.

16 locks, 3 miles (Thursday)

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Hailstorms and a scary Aqueduct

Wednesday 6th April; on to Wilmcote

Not exactly a dry day today.  It stopped raining before we wanted to move, but was cold and windy.  We moored at Wootton Wawen to get some provisions.  Dave walked under the aqueduct to the Anglo-Welsh base to see if they had an engineer with Mikuni skills and I went into the farm shop and then on up into the village.  The farm shop is ok, but the vegetables looked very tired – you could almost have tied the rhubarb into knots – though I did get some bread and a delicious sausage roll and veggie roll.  Then I went up to the village shop, walking past the mill race.  Off to the left (out of the picture) is the manor house, looking grand but apparently home to a caravan sales business.

2 w wawen mill race

The village shop has a good selection of pet treats and I got Meg a pig’s ear.  I anticipated Dave might be some time, so I went into St Peter’s church.  Part of it is Saxon, and there are later additions from the 14th and 15th centuries.  I could hear some feminine chatter from further in, and a group of very friendly ladies emerged from the far end where they had just finished a mid-week communion service.  They were keen to tell me all about the church.  There is some beautiful modern stained glass which had unfortunately been vandalised.  The woman who created it also did some of the stained glass in the Chapel of Reconciliation in Coventry Cathedral. The ladies gave me their forthright views on last week’s Tim (West) ‘n Pru (Scales) programme which had been about the Stratford canal.  We haven’t seen it yet.  One lady had been interviewed for the programme about local history and some restoration in the village but had been disgusted to see that Wootton Wawen was represented only by a fleeting shot of the top of the Anglo-Welsh office.  She was particularly cross that T & P didn’t talk about the restoration of the canal – she remembered it when there were trees growing along the canal bed – and was not impressed by their quoting Shakespeare to shots of water and trees.  Anyway, the church is interesting and well worth a visit.  For any bell-ringers reading this – practice night is Monday!

1 wootton wawen saxon church

I got back as the weather broke.  We had lunch while a hailstorm raged about us.  Dave had found the hire base deserted, though everything was open, so we will still have to do without any central heating. 

The afternoon started dry but cold and the wind was very strong.  Bearley lock was ok, but the Edstone aqueduct was frankly frightening.  The wind was blowing directly from the starboard side, and with the towpath on this aqueduct at the same level as the bottom of the channel, ie way below the boat on the left of us,  it felt extremely unsafe.  I shut the dog inside, and although I knew perfectly well there was no risk to us I held on tight all the way.  Dave had the tiller hard over all the time or we would have scraped the sides but even so there was quite a lot of banging as we crossed.  The picture doesn’t show the wind, but you can see how far down the towpath is.  I took this snap as we left it – I didn’t feel like slackening my white-knuckle grip just to take a photo any earlier.

3 windswept edstone aqueduct

At this time of year with the leaves all gone you can see the bare bones of the hedges and appreciate where they have been laid in the past.

5 bare bones of laid hedges

At 2.30 we pulled in before the winding hole at Wilmcote and Dave went on to check the moorings further up.  It turned out that our spot was the most sheltered so we stayed put.  Dave had a short window of dry weather to get some touching-up done of the paintwork before the next hailstorm swept in.  We could see the tree-tops tossing in the wind but it was calm at ground level.  It was a little noisy this evening, but we don’t mind sheep and lambs.

6 evening view at wilmcote

4 and a half miles, 1 lock, 2 aqueducts (Wootton Wawen and Edstone).