Thursday 29 September 2016

An interesting day …..

Wednesday 28th September; Curdworth to Perry Barr top lock

I let Meg out first thing this morning (well, before 8) and there was the sun gloriously illuminating a great flock of swallows feeding over the stubble.  Such a shame they don’t show up on the picture!

1 view from mooring with swallows

I haven’t seen a swallow for days.  This must have been a northern group making their way down to Africa.

There was a bit of a pong from the sewage works this morning but nothing too dreadful.  Even so we were on our way before 9.  We stopped at Dickens’ Bridge to make a trolley trip to the big Asda.   The roundabout you have to negotiate to get there is truly horrible; as well as us with a laden trolley there was a young mum with a buggy trying to get across the traffic.  Not good.

We were behind a boat at the bottom of the Minworth locks, then a couple of CRT men were working at the second and kindly did most of the work for us.

2 lovely crt men at minworth 2

We had anticipated being able to empty cassettes and get rid of rubbish at Minworth top lock, but the Elsan was out of order and the rubbish skip was gone.  The boat we crossed with here was the last one we saw all day.  We moored on the bollards at Butler’s Bridge for some lunch; we wouldn’t want to spend the night here though.  On our way to Salford Junction we went through what appears to be a tunnel at first glance …

4 not a tunnel as such

but the canal actually runs underneath a factory and is open on one side.  But you don’t want to get too close to either side where strange things stick out of the water in the darkness.

5 factory at erdington bridge

Straight after this is the romantically named Troutpool bridge.  Not romantic in the slightest, though as the river Tame runs not far away there must once have been some trout somewhere.

6 romantic name

Soon we were on the delightful approach to Salford Junction.  Beyond the electrical whatnots is the M6, and behind that is Star City which is on the Grand Union Canal which starts here, on its way up to Bordesley Junction.

7 lovely approach to salford junction

You can’t see much at the junction apart from a load of concrete and this signpost.  Oh, and some water.

8 salford junction

We didn’t go to Bordesley or take the next turn towards the Aston locks (which I think is still the Birmingham and Fazeley, though I am not sure about that). Instead we continued onto the Tame Valley canal, new waters for us.  Exciting - especially when all of a sudden, under the M6, a tropical vision appeared!

9 unexpected under the m6

It was just under one of the openings in the M6 structure so had light streaming onto it, yet also managed to appear backlit.  A stroke of genius by whoever painted it.

Back to reality and Spaghetti Junction.  I do admire the folk who design these complicated motorway interchanges.  As Dave said, you can’t just pick up those massive pillars and move them if you discover you’ve put one in the wrong place.

10 spaghetti junction

You can’t appreciate the complexity of the structure in a photo.  We just gaped at it.  Then suddenly we realised that Perry Barr bottom lock was beckoning, away in the green and sunny distance.

11 long view of perry barr bottom lock

The sun had come out while we were in the canyons of the M6.  To start with the locks were empty so we made speedy progress.  We half expected that as we had met a boat at one of the Minworth locks who had come down this morning.  We even had gongoozlers at the first three and some help with the gates too.  There is a fair bit of industry and the M6 crosses the canal twice, but after a while it gets quieter.  At lock 7 the rest of the locks are close together and are very attractive.

13 perry barr locks 7 upward

The towpath runs on both sides which is convenient for the crew.  So when I realised that the pound between locks 6 and 5 was rather low – in fact empty – I didn’t have to cross lock gates to go back and forth letting water down.

14 drained pound

The picture doesn't show it too well, but the main channel on the left is only about 3 inches deep, and the weeds on the right of the picture were sitting proud of the mud.  It only took 2 lockfuls of water for Dave to get going again, but that meant the next pound was low ….  I called CRT, even though we were getting up ok, as there was nothing to indicate why the pound had drained.

We made it to the top in about 3 hours, about half an hour longer than it should have taken.  We stopped at the facilities block for the full works.  While the water was filling I snapped this heron at the top lock. 

16 heron at top lock

There was a building with a strange sign on – ‘Caucing Weir House’.  It was only later I realised it was actually the Gauging Weir House which would have been to do with assessing the laden weight of boats carrying cargo to calculate the toll due.  But I don’t know where the ‘weir’ bit comes in.

15 gauging weirHouse at perry barr top lock

We moored on the offside a little way past the top lock.  The main Walsall road runs over the bridge but the mooring was very quiet, and being on the offside we could let Meg wander about without endangering her or indeed the cyclists and runners.  We have some new mooring pin markers; one is a lurid yellow drinks bottle, which I retrieved from the Erewash canal on our last trip.  I cut a slot in the side, as I had seen done by another boater a while ago.  As well as that, I had an old reflective armband which I cut into two (one for each end of the boat) and sewed on press studs for easy fitting.

17 new mooring pin markers

Later Dave took Meg off for a walk to hunt for the ball she had lost earlier this afternoon.  He found it, but in her eagerness to get back to playing with it Meg missed her footing while crossing the top lock and made a spectacular back-flip dive into the canal.  It didn’t seem to upset her though.

We had to spend a bit of time this evening adjusting our planned route; somehow I had missed the stoppage alert regarding the closure of the Rushall canal, where new gates are being fitted to some of the locks.  So it looks like Birmingham tomorrow rather than Anglesea basin!  Lets hope the doom-monger we met yesterday who decided to avoid the city centre was wrong – she reckoned there was ‘no mooring’ because of the Tory conference.  The CRT alert says only 6 mooring spots are affected.

8 miles, 16 locks

Wednesday 28 September 2016

A day for some jobs

Tuesday 27th September; Curdworth, one end to the other

Dave went out after breakfast to finish fitting the throttle cable in gloomy and overcast weather.  I cleared and relaid the fire, then spent some time re-organising our fuel stores.  We don’t have enough space to store a full bag of coal conveniently, so I moved our spare ropes out of one of the bow lockers to make room for a carrier bag of coal and another of wood, with room to lay mooring stakes, chain, hammer and piling hook on top.  The ropes went into one of the dinette lockers inside.  The rest of the coal went under the well deck on the starboard side, where we need an extra bit of ballast anyway.  Then Meg and I went for a walk, finding a footpath on the other side of the canal running back down to the top lock.

1 chuffed from footpath opposite

Meanwhile Dave was having trouble getting the correct revs and had also discovered a broken clip at the Morse control end of the throttle cable.  He got it working well enough to enable us to get through the tunnel to the village moorings, from where we called RCR.  I made a quick visit to the shop, noticing a most unusual oak tree at the bridge.  Its trunk is the thin brown upright just right of centre.  I have never seen topiary done on an oak before.

2 unusual oak curdworth bridge

RCR arrived very quickly, and managed to fashion a new clip from materials they had in the van.  They sorted out the revs and Dave gleaned a lot of extra info at the same time.  If it was up to me I am afraid I would have called them out yesterday, but Dave always wants to have a go at these things otherwise you never learn stuff and improve your skills do you?  He’s right, of course.  Besides which he enjoys these fiddly jobs. 

3 rcr in attendance

Meg and I left the three of them to it and went to investigate mooring spots further along.  We didn’t have enough time to get to a decent spot past the built-up bits of the canal before nightfall, but we needed to run the engine for the battery and hot water and it would have been a bit antisocial with a boat close behind us.  We went just a few hundred yards further on, out into an open spot which was in full sun when it finally came out properly a bit later in the afternoon. 

We got on with some jobs for the rest of the afternoon.  Dave painted the stove with some extremely smelly paint, so bad he had to use a face mask.

5 painting the stove

But the weather is now so mild that we could have all the doors and windows open and the pong soon dissipated.  He also washed and waxed the port side of the boat.  I failed to clean the fly screens under the mushrooms as we haven’t got the right size screwdriver on the boat.

We have noticed a lot of large chunks of floating vegetation today, and wondered if they had been dislodged by the boats visiting the festival at Pelsall Common, and been brought down by the flow there seems to be on this canal.

6 lots of floating vegetation

We walked back to the village for a meal in the White Horse.  OK, nothing special, but good beer.

It was a beautiful evening.  There were no nasty niffs from the enormous sewage works which isn’t far away – but we are prepared for an early start tomorrow just in case!

Just half a mile today.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

A wet day and a broken throttle cable

Monday 26th September; Fisher’s Mill bridge to Curdworth Top Lock

It’s nice and quiet at this spot, the road being too far away to be a nuisance – so quiet that we didn’t wake up till well after 8, though Dave noted at some point during the night that it was raining.  It was still raining at 10.30, though not terribly hard, but we thought we may as well get going.  So, fully togged up in our wet weather gear, we started the Curdworth flight.  As I emptied the lock I noticed an unusually parked vehicle; I have never seen a no parking sign on a lock gate before.

1 curdworth bottom lock

The car was handily placed, as if I’d had trouble opening the gate I could have put my feet on the bumper to push.  But it was closing the gate that was the trouble – I had to get Dave up to help me close it, which was unfortunate as he has badly bruised ribs (from playing football) and though the gate wasn’t a problem for him, getting back onto the boat was a very uncomfortable business!  Luckily the rest of the flight was fine and I was fine on my own.  There is another non-functioning swivel bridge here – long past its operational best, and even it was in working condition there was nowhere to go.

2 swinging no longer

We had wondered about stopping at the Dog and Doublet to wait for the rain to stop (having no idea of the forecast) but opted to complete the flight as we were wet already and dressed for the weather.  At the lock above the pub we met coal boat Emu and used the opportunity to get a bag of Supertherm.

3 coal boat Emu at lock 8At the next lock the boat coming down had had a man overboard.  Now showered and dry, he was delighted that his cap, which he thought had sunk, had found its way into the lock where I hooked it out with my windlass.  All fine and dandy, till he left the lock – he opened the throttle right up and roared past Chuffed without a backward glance.  Dave had tied up with the centre rope, as you do, but the passing boat caused such violent rocking that a basket was knocked off a shelf inside.  We didn’t think they had had their boat long – apart from bad manners they didn’t know which canal they were on or where Fazeley Junction was which seemed a bit strange as it was only a couple of hours away.

Several interesting old boats were coming down the flight; many had been at the Pelsall Common festival, and one at Park Head.  Very nice to see.  At one lock is this sign;

4 boo hiss somewhere round lock7

It’s not as peaceful as it looks as the M42 isn’t far away, but with the view through the trees you get the point.  You can just see the remains of someone’s tub of petunias which had been carefully placed at the base of the sign – RIP peace and quiet, or RIP HS2?

The Curdworth locks suffer from the proximity of the M42 and M6 Toll bridge, but efforts have been made to keep them looking pretty with a painted lock number and a flower bed at each lock.

5 well kept shame about the M6

At the top lock, as it was still raining, we decided to go on the short distance through Curdworth Tunnel to the village.  Then Dave put the boat into gear but it wouldn’t move at more than snail’s pace….  Dave quickly diagnosed a broken throttle cable, so we crept out and moored on the handy piling past the lock moorings as the rain got even heavier.

We had a belated lunch – beans on toast as we were rather hungry by now – and watched the rain.  A quick check of the forecast revealed that it wasn’t going to stop for at least a couple of hours, so Dave mended the broken firebrick and fitted a new blanking plate to the back of the fire.  The old one had fallen off last winter and though Dave replaced it, a bit had come off when I cleaned the flue.  When the rain finally stopped, he went out to replace the throttle cable - following the recommendation of the RCR man who replaced our broken gear cable a couple of years ago, we have always carried a spare.  Meanwhile I rubbed down the rusty bits on the outside of the stove, including the back of the flue which felt a bit rough; I am pretty sure there are no holes.

6 replacing throttle cable

Dave had done a bit of online research, as he had not done this before, but it is a fiddly job, especially the bit that attaches to the engine, and the light faded before he could complete the job.

We lit the fire tonight, partly to cure the fire cement but also to dry out a bit as everything felt damp after the wet day.  It draws much better than it did last winter, possibly due to the lovely clean flue but more likely because the new chimney is a couple of inches taller than the old one and doesn't have any rust holes. 

3 and a half miles, 11 locks

Monday 26 September 2016

September sun (and rain)

Sunday September 25th;  Fazeley Mill Marina to Middleton Lakes nature reserve

We had an unremarkable journey north, though with heavy traffic at times it was a bit tedious.  There was a lot of sunshine, broken up with showers, which became increasingly hefty as we neared the midlands.  We made the marina in a dry interval and managed to unload the car before the next shower.  As the sun was shining most of the time there were some pretty good rainbows, including this double one I snapped from the side hatch.

1 rainbows at fazeley mill marina

By 4.30 the rain had gone and we were cautiously reversing between moored boats to leave the marina and start our journey south towards Birmingham.  It was still warm in the sunshine as we passed under the fancy Drayton footbridge, with the Drayton Swivel bridge beside it.  I imagine it is only used when the farmer wants to take a vehicle across from the road to the fields.

2 drayton swivel bridge

But looking at it now, I am not sure how you would close it for use.  There seems to be hard-standing where the bridge would be swung.

We were aiming for a mooring at the Middleton Lakes nature reserve.  We have only been this way once before and my Nicholson’s annotations are a bit thin.  To our delight there was a stretch of piling just past Fisher’s Mill bridge, right in the sunshine.

3 moored at fishers mill bridge

We went straight off for a walk round the lakes before the sun went down.  Unfortunately, some of the footpaths are off limits for dogs, and they have to be on a lead for the rest of them, but Meg seemed happy enough with the extending lead and we enjoyed the sunshine after our long drive this morning.

The river Tame flows through the reserve between the lakes which are formed from old gravel pits.  The river was flowing very fast, and must have been a good source of power for Fisher’s Mill, Fazeley Mill and doubtless many others.  The setting sun caught these rose-hips making them gleam and shine.

4 rosehips in nature reserve

After tea we spent a bit of time planning our stopping points for the next few days.  We are planning to visit Birmingham via Anglesea Basin and Pelsall Common.

Just a mile and a half today in glorious September sunshine.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The end of an excellent trip

Sunday 4th and Monday 5th September; Hopwas Woods to Fazeley Mill Marina, and home

Rather cooler this morning, but at least it wasn’t raining. In fact the sun was out to start with, but we could only see it through the trees as we had chosen to moor in the woods rather than the village.

1 hopwas wood moorings_thumb[1]

As we weren’t going far today Dave took Meg off for a walk in the woods before we left.  In the village is one of those confusing mooring restriction signs.  Is there a difference? and what happens if your boat is by this sign and moored in both sections?

3 hopwas vm - what do they mean_thumb[6]

Our first stop was at Sutton Road bridge by Ventura retail park so I could whizz up to Sainsbury’s with the trolley and restock the store cupboard.  Then we hoped to stop at the Fazeley Junction facilities but someone was already there, so we went on to the junction and after a mis-communication nearly went on down the Coventry!  So we had to pull back and then wait for a couple of boats to go by, and chatted to a hire boat taking on water while we waited.  They were visiting Birmingham for the first time, and were keen to pick our brains about mooring.  The bird murals were still there as we rounded the junction,

4 at fazeley junction_thumb[3]

but the wool shop and little cafĂ© in the mill had gone; what a shame.  Instead there is a gym.  That’s one thing we didn’t need on this trip!

5 wool shop no longer_thumb[2]

We passed nb Jubilee on the visitor moorings but no-one was home.  We were soon getting a warm welcome from Jackie at Fazeley Mill marina, where Chuffed will stay for a few weeks before we move on again.  We had some lunch and then took Meg for a walk along the Birmingham and Fazeley for a while, passing the unusual Drayton footbridge.  The Drayton swivel bridge can be seen beyond it. 

7 drayton swivel and footbridge_thumb[1]

Meg didn’t notice Dave slipping into the tower and up the steps, and was utterly baffled at first when she tried to reach him. 

We didn’t take her when we walked up to Tamworth as we didn’t know how busy it would be, and she doesn’t enjoy crowds much. It was a couple of miles from the marina, and once you leave the canal you have to follow a busy road, but after a while you can pick up a cycle track by a lake and eventually, after passing the other side of Ventura Park on your left you come to the river Tame, which we last saw in Hopwas this morning.

9 river tame at  tamworth_thumb[1]

The path (and river) go under a major road bridge which has official art on some of the walls, and graffiti on the others but fortunately not together.  The Reliant factory was situated in Tamworth and they are clearly proud of it!

10 underpass reliant had factory here_thumb[5]

As they are of Able Seaman Colin Grazier, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross.  He was one of three sailors who recovered the Enigma codebooks from U-boat U-559 during WWII.  He and First Lieutenant Tony Fasson swam into the sinking submarine to find the codebooks, and passed them to Canteen Assistant Tommy Brown, but the submarine went down before Grazier and Fasson could get to safety.  If you need reminding of the significance of Enigma, look here, where there is more information about their courageous act and the many thousands of lives they must have saved.  The reason for their sacrifice was not made public till 1974!  There is a memorial to him in town but we didn't see it.

Also linked to Tamworth is Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister from 1834–1835 and 1841–1846. He was born in Lancashire but his father built a factory in Tamworth and subsequently became its MP.  Peel senior was one of the industrialists who pressed for reform of the Factory Act to improve working conditions for children.   The family home was Drayton Manor, which no longer exists, but its location is now that of the theme park of the same name.

11 sir robert peel_thumb[6]

We took a footbridge over the Tame and the parkland became municipal, with mown grass, picnicking families, a children’s fun park and a bowling green with a match in progress.

12 bowling green_thumb[7]

And there was the castle, up on its motte and surrounded nowadays by brilliantly coloured flower-beds.

13 tamworth castle and gardens_thumb[1]

The water in the foreground is the river Anker on its way to the confluence with the Tame which it joins a little further along.

17 anker tame confluence at tamworth_thumb[1]

It was too late in the day to visit the castle, which looked very interesting in the booklet I picked up in Sainsbury’s this morning.  Instead we had a short stroll round the town, which was quiet on a Sunday afternoon.  R Peel was here again, looking inscrutable outside the Town Hall.

16 robert peel and town hall_thumb[14]

I do like those bike racks.  We also saw the impressive St Editha’s church and a branch of Coates, the Alrewas butcher.

Time was getting on, so we went back through the castle grounds.  The bedding plants below the castle looked impressive from a distance but close to the colours are glaring and in-yer-face.  I much preferred the Norman soldier and running figure which were covered with sempervivums of various colours, very clever.

14 sempervivum soldier_thumb[7]  15 sempervivum runner_thumb[6]

Sempervivums are also called Hens-and-Chickens, or houseleeks, and you more often see them in rockeries and on green roofs.

We thought we’d like to come back to Tamworth one day for another visit, as it looked like an interesting town.  But we’d moor at the junction or back at Ventura Park which is a much shorter walk.

3 miles

On Monday Dave did the trip back to Calcutt to pick up the car, while Meg and I enjoyed a lovely walk along the canal.  Oh, and did the cleaning and packing.  Shame it was drizzling most of the morning.  We have to book our winter mooring before we can plan our next trip, but we hope to take in some more of the lesser-used canals round Birmingham.


Trip stats:  151 miles 2 furlongs, nearly 56 miles of that on narrow canals, nearly 66 on broad, 29 and half on rivers.  29 narrow locks, 89 broad locks and 5 moveable bridges (though I can only remember the little one at Foxton).

Two new waters; the Market Harborough Arm and the Erewash Canal.

Monday 12 September 2016

Wet and some dreadful driving

Saturday 3rd September; Fradley junction to Hopwas Woods

First thing today I walked back to the facilities block to dispose of rubbish and recycling.  I noticed yesterday that the recycling bins at Fradley are placed behind and a little away from the general rubbish skips – this has meant that there is no rubbish dumped in the recycling bin by people who can’t be bothered to read the signs!  Excellent. 

We wanted to be away promptly this morning as the forecast said it would be raining from about midday.  Huh!  It started as we pulled out.

1 leaving fradley jct in the rain

Our neighbours last night have had their boat for years and truly thought they were the only boat called Chance on the canals …. how can they have missed our bloggers?

We were in full waterproofs well before we got to Streethay Wharf, where we filled up with diesel at 59p.    I had to shelter under the bows of a boat on the hardstanding to take this picture!

2 refuelling at streethay wharf in the rain

We also visited the chandlery to pick up Towpath Talk etc and get a new floating key ring.  That’s it for photos today, far too wet to keep the camera out.  At Huddlesford we saw a paramedic on his way to a narrowboat – we hope everything turned out ok.  The rain got heavier as we went through Whittington and we started to get rather cold, so although only an hour or so from our destination we gave in and moored at Hademore House bridge for an early lunch – something hot, the first time since spring.   As we travelled we had heard occasional bursts from a public address system and guessed there was some kind of event taking place in Whittington, and while we sat inside in the dry a tractor crossed the bridge with a trailer full of passengers, luckily for them with an awning giving them some protection from the weather.  What a rotten day for an outdoor function!  But by about 3 the rain had stopped so we continued on to Hopwas Woods, our planned mooring for the night.  As soon as we had moored we cleared off into the woods to give our patient doggy a good walk, but it was too gloomy for photos – the flash on my camera is broken and I didn’t have my phone.

On our return we had just put the kettle on when a boat going far too fast roared by, rocking us a fair bit but pulling the next boat along off its moorings, so we went straight out to help.  It was deserted, unlocked, untidy and smelling damp, though the license was up to date.  The bow was still attached with a bit of blue rope tied directly to the piling, but the nappy pin hook at the stern had been bent out of shape at some point and had pulled out.  There was no rope long enough to pull the stern back in and Dave had to go and get our boat hook.  While we did our best to secure the stern, the offending boat had crashed into the trees on the bend further along and got stuck, serve the inconsiderate so-and-sos right – a young man with a female companion.  The boat was bright blue and called something like Adventurer or Voyager; watch out if you see them!

Tea was delicious sausages from the Alrewas butcher.

7 and a half miles

Sunday 11 September 2016

Through Alrewas to Fradley Junction

Friday 2nd September; Tatenhall lock to Fradley junction

We were expecting to hear an early start on the building site over the way but there was no activity, at least nothing noisy, when we left at our usual time around 9.  As you can see, the trees on the offside are doing a reasonable concealment job.  Dave is in the process of removing our mega-stake; the ground turned out to be plenty firm enough for normal pins fore and aft.

1 mooring above tatenhall lock

It was damp and drizzly when we left. We could hear industrial type noise as we pulled pins in the drizzle and it got louder and louder as we neared a working gravel pit near Barton.  The young willow growth is obscuring it rather, but the elevator, one of two, had a stream of gravel pouring from it onto that great heap.

2 gravel pit in operation

From here the racket from the A38 was with us all the way to Wychnor lock, where it finally roared away, though at the lock the conversation with the crew of the boat coming down still had to be shouted.  Relieved to be once more in the peace and quiet we entered the river section, still the Trent although rather smaller than downstream beyond Shardlow!  The towpath has several long raised boardwalks like this one.

3 trent river section near alrewas

There is a bridge on a bend part way along the river bit where the navigable arch is close by the right bank.  Ok, we may not have been in the perfect position, but we were already part way through when a canoeist suddenly decided to come through at the same time as us, and in avoiding making a sandwich of him with the bridge stanchion we ended up hard against the bank.  No chance of a photo, far too stressful!

We moored in Alrewas with no trouble as it was only 11 o’clock.  We went straight up to the excellent butcher and the Co-op before coming back to the boat for some lunch.  This week is Alrewas Art festival and there were jolly painted boards all over the place.

4 alrewas art festival 5 art

6 art  7 art

And on the cut-through back to the canal were some boaty ones too.

8 art  9 art

We had wondered about visiting the National Memorial Arboretum, but in the end decided to leave it for a future trip.  As we were preparing to leave, an oncoming boat indicated they would like our space – lucky for them we were going as there were no more spots available.

The road bridge as you leave Alrewas has artwork too.  We have seen the Olympic one before …. this is my favourite bit.  The words to the right of ‘The Queen’ and ‘Daniel Craig’ say ‘we’ve Bonded’!  Look closely and you’ll see he is riding in her handbag!

10 under bridge

This is on the towpath side – shame about the fence.

12 under bridge

Boats were at all the locks on the way to Fradley junction, but all were coming down so only short delays and half the work for us.  As we waited for Keeper’s lock at Alrewas I could see that there was a lot of mooring available on the way to the junction, but with roads on both sides we opted to go round onto the Coventry canal where it is much better for the dog.  Junction lock was our last one for the day.

14 junction lock fradley

We had our pick of the mooring and went to the far end of the piling, although by the time we walked up to the Swan for a drink it was rammed all the way back to the water point and in front of us too.

6 and a half miles, 8 locks, 1 teeny tiny swing bridge