Sunday 16 October 2016

Calcutt again

Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th October; Fosse locks to Calcutt marina

It was a misty start on our quiet little mooring.  Meg and I walked up to set Wood lock.

2 misty morning on the way to Wood lock

We started off on our own at Wood Lock but a boat appeared behind us as we rose, so we waited for them at Welsh Road lock then shared with them all the way to the top of Stockton locks.

NB Ruby was crewed by Jo and Stuart, professional boat movers  They are liveaboards on Nb Norma Jeane.  We made a fine team.  We heard some interesting tales of the boats they had moved – or not, such as the widebeam in Manchester whose new owner was most aggrieved when they told him they couldn’t move it down to the marina he wanted in the south!  (For non-boaty types – narrow locks get in the way!)  As you would expect, they have moved some lovely boats and some which are not so good.

A boat had started preparing to come down the staircase at Bascote locks, so we waited for it in the lock below before proceeding.

4 approaching staircase

If we hadn’t had company we would have had an early lunch before tackling the bulk of Stockton locks but we made such an efficient team that it would have been foolish to stop.  Just as well really as there were a few low pounds near the top and no boats coming down. 

5 low pound in stockton flight

The paddles (which let the water into or out of the lock) are normally well below the waterline.  Bottom paddle on the left, top on the right – you can see in the water the mud which has been pulled off the mud banks in the pound above.

6 rarely seen bottom paddle  7 and top with mud in water

When I opened one top gate of this lock the boats’ roofs were still level with the top of the lock wall.  This pic was taken as Jo had started letting water down from the next lock.

8 the top gates opened but couldnt get out

I spotted a chap on a bike clearly lock-wheeling behind us so went back down to warn him what was happening.  Then Jo spotted a boat coming down and very quickly the water levels were resolved.   The boat behind us is waiting further back for the boat above us to come down, which is why the top gate behind Chuffed and Ruby is still open.

9 coming into stockton top lock

In spite of the water level problems we made cracking time and were in the top lock by 1.  We said farewell to Jo and Stuart and stopped for lunch.  The ‘stealth boat’, which people got so excited about a few years ago, is moored at Stockton Top marina.

11 stealth boat at stockton top

We moored briefly a short way before the entrance to Calcutt marina, and Dave went to do the admin in the Calcutt office above the locks.  I took Meg for a short but long-awaited walk – she had chosen to stay on board up Stockton locks, possibly because cake and biscuits were being handed around….  The birds have a feast this autumn.  Folklore says it will be a hard winter!

14 more berries

We were moored up by 4 and getting on with a few jobs.  The basin tap in the bathroom has been dripping, meaning that the water pump keeps cutting in and we have had to turn it off at bedtime for the last couple of nights.  Dave couldn’t get the tap undone to reach the washer, as the tap started to turn against the basin top as soon as it came under strain.  It needed a ‘bit of wood or something’ to hold it steady …..

18 spike came in useful

The Calder and Hebble spike was perfect, braced between the tap and the shower wall.  Job soon done!

16 locks, 6 miles

On Wednesday Dave walked up to Napton for the bus to Leamington and the train to Fazeley to fetch the car, and we were away home before evening.  We haven’t winterised Chuffed yet; just left the water tank unfilled and the taps open.

This is why Meg likes Calcutt so much.  She jumps across to the grass from the pontoon where we are moored.

16 calcutt

Trip stats;

Just under 110 miles; 75 on narrow canals and 34¾ on broad.

85 narrow locks, 48 broad, 5 tunnels; Curdworth, Factory Tunnel (the covered area below the works on the Birmingham and Fazeley), Galton (twice) and Shrewley. 

New waters this trip; Tame Valley canal, Wyrley and Essington from Birchills Junction eastwards, the Cannock extension, Anglesey and Daw End branches, Rushall canal, Grand Union from Salford junction to Bordesley junction.  We think we have been from Kingswood junction to Bordesley junction on a hire boat or our share boat Padworth, but we can’t really remember.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Clean roof at last

Monday 10th October; Cape locks to above Fosse locks

Another chilly start, though once we left the deep shade of our mooring it was much warmer.  We dropped down Cape locks with Khayamanzi then waved them goodbye as we were in dire need of a water top-up.  As the water filled, Dave took the opportunity to refill the stern tube, I did a bit of washing then between us we gave the roof a sweep then a good scrub in warm sunshine.  It had dirt and grit from the centre ropes, tree debris and unidentifiable grot over most of it.

Back to fleeces and hats when we started cruising down to the big Tesco though, and again after our shop.  We pulled in for lunch in Leamington Spa, then walked up to Jephson Gardens which we have never got around to visiting.  Unfortunately for Meg dogs have to be kept on leads but at least we could take her into the Glasshouse, which is a modern-design greenhouse planted up with exotics such as banana, loquat and bougainvillea, the pink climber in this photo.  Free too.  It was warmer out of the wind and it’s a nice place for a little wander.  Only one picture though as my camera is playing up and neither of us had our phone. 

2 glasshouse leamington spa

It was a bit chilly to enjoy the gardens and the beds had all been cleared of their summer flowers.  It must be a wonderful place to linger on a hot summer’s day.  The team of gardeners was busy planting out the bedding for spring, with trays and trays of plants on tall wheely trolleys like the ones you see in B&Q and garden centres.  It should look fantastic in spring, though it is very bare now.  This should look good when the autumn colours kick in.

3 jephson gardens

There is a building project going on at the mooring but whether it is offices or flats or a residential home we couldn’t tell.  The hoardings have been decorated by local college students.

4 artwork on builders hoardings

It was after 3 before we set off again, but as we hope to be in Calcutt marina by tomorrow night we wanted to get closer to the Stockton flight before we stop for the day.  It’s not pretty here and not good for the dog either.

We were on our own up the locks, though as we left Radford Bottom there was time for a quick hello to Trish and Dave on Traveller’s Joy, who were approaching – they used to live in our village.  Fosse locks were in our favour.  We collected plenty of kindling from fallen ash twigs around the locks, and I also managed to pick another little bowlful of blackberries.

We moored on a nice patch of piling in a sheltered spot halfway to Wood lock.  We had our second roast in two days – an excellent bit of beef from the butcher in Knowle and Yorkshire pud made with a recipe from one of the boating magazines which worked better than the recipe I use at home.  Yum.

6 locks, 6 and a half miles

Friday 14 October 2016

Heavy Hatton

Sunday 9th October; Kingswood to Cape Locks

Golly it was cold this morning.  The sun was up though there was still mist over the canal and fields.

1 misty morning

These boats on the way to Shrewley tunnel are getting more and more like a nature reserve with a young alder tree now growing on the closer one.  I thought the car on the bank meant someone might be looking after them but Dave said there was a fishing lake behind.

2 rotting boats

Shrewley tunnel was extremely wet which was unfortunate for our cups of tea.  At Hatton locks a boat was waiting for a companion, so rather than taking on water we joined Jenny and Michael on Khayamanzi.  Nearly every lock was against us but we were a good team with Jenny locking ahead and me closing up.  Gongoozler central though!  Groups of cyclists and walkers were already at the cafĂ©, and strolling, but people were not hanging about to chat as the top three locks were still in chilly shade.  But the sun was breaking through so gradually all our warm layers came off and the shorts came out again.

3 hatton locks

There was a boat in front of us who had refused Jenny’s offers to close up for them so we kept catching them up even though we were only opening one paddle and gate at a time.  Before long the towpath was busy and we had a family with two little boys to help with the gates.  The parents were interested in hiring a boat now the boys seemed to be old enough to be sensible.  They worked so hard that Dave offered them a ride between locks and of course they had a little look inside too.  They were thrilled!

4 little helpers have a ride

There were only two volunteers today but they were helping a hire boat which was finding the flight difficult.  So as the weather was hot, and the paddles seemed stiffer than earlier this year, both crews decided we would have a lunch break on the long pound near the bottom. 

We finished the flight together, then moored above Cape locks at about 3.  We were in full sun till nearly 5 and just sat about drinking tea and reading the paper which I’d bought at the handy garage by Ugly Bridge.  We had Sunday dinner in the pub later on as we felt disinclined to cook after the day’s locking – and we like this pub so didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.

21 locks, 8 miles.

Thursday 13 October 2016

The last of the blackberries?

Saturday 9th October; Catherine de Barnes towards Kingswood Junction

It was a quiet and sheltered spot last night and as it was Saturday there was little traffic on the nearby road, so we overslept till 9.  Well we did have a very long day yesterday….

We didn’t leave till 10.30, not planning a long cruise.  We stopped at Copt Hill Wharf for diesel, and Dave checked the weed hatch which turned out to have some souvenirs of Birmingham still wrapped around it.  Convenient for the bins!  The BW wharf round the corner seems to be their equivalent of a council recycling centre.  The skip in the foreground is full of trolleys.

1 CRT recycling tip nr Copt Heath

We moored at Kixley bridge and walked up to Knowle, which we have never visited before.  We were pleased to find a good butcher, but no greengrocer though of course there was a Tesco Metro so we could get everything we needed.  On the lane from the bridge someone had put out a box not of apples for people to take but of conkers!  So I took a couple as I love conkers, and as they are reputed to deter spiders from your boat I had a good excuse.

We had lunch, and then I spent ten minutes picking blackberries – we had moored right next to a little patch with enough for a bowlful.  I had thought we had seen the last of them for this year.  On we went to Knowle locks.  After a very chilly morning, the sun suddenly came out and after hauling a plank out of the water above the top lock, and then a fabric growing bag complete with its compost and the finished crop – rather heavy that one – I changed into shorts.  While the lock filled I emptied the compost from the bag into the rubbish and kept the bag.  I rather think someone may have lost it overboard rather than thrown it away as they can be re-used many times.

3 knowle locks

Look at that lovely sunshine!  Knowle locks are well-known for being windy even on an otherwise still day, so you need to get the gate open before the boat arrives as it makes life much easier for the steerer.  The paddle gear was extremely heavy on these locks and I started to worry about Hatton which we shall do tomorrow.

We could see a widebeam coming into the bottom lock so Dave sat tight in the lock till they were ready to come out.

4 knowle locks with widebeam

Although these locks are pretty and it was a sunny Saturday afternoon there were very few people about.  The towpath is a long way from the locks as the overflow weirs are between the towpath and the locks.  But the two families who were walking up were interested enough to come over and both lent a hand.

We had been very lucky with the weather.  As we left the bottom lock the cloud had started to build up again.

5 knowle bottom lock and cottage

Before long we were back in fleeces and hats and by the time we moored near Kingswood Bridge it was cold.  Dave was pleased to find a good strong TV signal … all except for ITV, which is the channel the England match was being broadcast on. Ah well, it’s on the radio.

5 locks, 6 miles

Monday 10 October 2016

A very long day indeed and our 10th canal in two weeks!

if you count the Cannock Extension, Anglesey Branch and the Daw End Branch as separate canals.

Friday 7th October; Perry Barr to Catherine de Barnes

Grey and chilly all day.  Well wrapped up, we were in Perry Barr top lock before 9.  We were hoping to see the CRT guy who is based here, to tell him about the dodgy bottom gates we encountered yesterday, but he wasn’t around so I sent the details by email later on.  Unfortunately the first 10 locks were against us but we got a good system of shared work going.

1 perry barr locks

We eventually met a boat coming up and the bottom two locks were set for us.  A rather phallic lone chimney stands preserved amidst the new industrial units.

2 chimney preserved amidst modern units

Spaghetti Junction seen from the north looked little different than from the south, but the planning and logistics involved is still impressive.

3 spaghetti junction from north

Beside the railway bridge that crosses under the roads is this dignified memorial, which you can see is kept clean and tidy and there is no graffiti unlike the rest of this area.

4 memorial to policeman

Detective Constable Michael Swindells was killed in the line of duty in 2004 just here, below Gravelly Hill interchange (as Spaghetti Junction is more correctly known).  He and his colleagues had been pursuing a mentally ill man who had been threatening people with a knife and DC Swindells was stabbed.  He was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.  The enquiry established that the murderer had not been taking his medication, though the police had been told when they enquired before the tragedy that he was not considered a cause for concern.  You may wonder how much has been learned from this.

We rounded Salford junction onto the Grand Union and moored at Star City.  We have not been on this little stretch before and hadn’t believed other bloggers’ description of it as a reasonable mooring.  But there is grass for the dog, and the Star City complex effectively blocks the noise of the M6.  This is a bit of an ‘estate agent’ photo though – it makes it look quite rural although a road, Star City and a car park are directly behind the hedge!

7 star city moorings

We had an early lunch and then dithered over what to do next – stay amid the wafting odours of MacDonald's, or crack on to get out of the city?  It was only 1 o’clock so we went on.

Garrison locks were all against us, but we made steady progress.  It was quite chilly and very grey but not unpleasant, and Meg pottered about happily.

7a garrison locks

Soon we were at Bordesley Junction.  Dave dropped me off before the bridge so that I could go ahead and prepare the first of the Camp Hill locks.  Someone's got their eyes on you!

8a approaching bordesley jct

I started to empty the lock then noticed something large and white roiling around just below the surface.  So it was a hasty rush to the junction to warn Dave of a builder’s dumpy bag in the cut.  It was too far out for me to reach it, and as Dave crept carefully round the junction it crept ever closer to Chuffed before sliding gently underneath.  You can just see it to the right of the boat in the picture below.  Not so much an urban jellyfish (plastic bag to the uninitiated), more a giant squid!

8 bordesley jct with dumpy bag

With a judicious mixture of neutral and slow ahead he managed to get past and into the lock, then handed me the boat hook so I could retrieve it.  By now it was drizzling so we had a fun time going up Camp Hill with our little extra.

11 camp hill locks dragging dumpy bag

Luckily there is a facilities block at the top lock so we could dispose of it, along with a large ‘bag for life’ that was lurking at one lock.

Then it was get a brew on, crack out the cake and get going on the long haul out through the Birmingham suburbs.  Small Heath, Sparkbrook and Tyseley were not so lovely, Yardley rather more salubrious.  The drizzle had stopped but the cloud cover was still low.  In spite of this the autumn colours, just starting, stood out in the gloom.

10 autumn colour

From Yardley, the canal runs in a deep wooded cutting.  The leaves are (mostly) still on the trees, so the housing and industry is pretty much hidden.  But enough leaves were in the water to regularly foul the prop, so although the canal is deep and wide, allowing a decent rate of progress, we had to go into neutral every now and then for the leaves to drop off.  There was a lot of other tree debris too to avoid, ranging from long thick twigs which caught on the bow to short chunky bits of branch.  We only saw three boats on the move today – one going up Perry Barr locks, one coming from the Farmers’ Bridge direction at Salford junction, and finally a hire boat just as we were shaking off the suburbs.

We moored at Catherine de Barnes at about 6.  We haven’t had such a long day for ages and were heartily relieved to stop.

24 locks, 13 miles, 8 and a half hours cruising.  Quite enough for one day.

What about those 10 canals?  Birmingham and Fazeley, Tame Valley, Walsall, Birmingham Main Line, Wyrley and Essington, Cannock Extension, Anglesey branch, Daw End branch, Rushall Canal, Grand Union. And quite a lot of it for the first time.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Back to Perry Barr and not a moving boat to be seen

Thursday 6th October; Anglesea basin to Perry Barr top lock 

It’s getting chillier in the mornings but I suppose that’s autumn for you.  ‘Sunny spells’ the met office would have called today, and it was lovely when that happened; if you were in the shade though, or the cloud came over, it was woolly hat time and no mistake.

On our way to Catshill junction we passed this boat which is used by a school and featured in the canal press this summer.

1 school boat anglesey branch

Once on the Daw End branch we wound our way around to Longwood Junction and the top of Rushall locks.  There must be millions of these engineering bricks along the canals in this area – how long must it have taken to lay them all?  And how long will it take to repair all the damaged bits?

2 millions of bricks

At Longwood junction we saw two well-known boats – Wand’ring Bark and the Jam Butty.

4 wandrin bark and jam butty

There were two boards displayed by the facilities block with interesting distance info on them.

5 distances  6 distances

The top two locks were the ones having new gates fitted during the recent stoppage.

7 new gates

We tried to moor near Sutton Road bridge for lunch, as we needed some milk, but the edges were either clogged with weed like this

9 very weedy

or too shallow, so Dave hovered in the bridge hole while I went up to the shop.  Then we were very naughty and stopped on the next lock landing while we had lunch, in the near-certainty that we would not be disturbed.  There was just a little boy with his Nan, wanting to know how locks worked.  He was so pleased to be able to help with the gates that he gave me a present – a lovely shiny conker from the bagful they had collected.  I love conkers so I was very pleased.

Meg enjoyed running between the locks in the sunshine carrying a silly bit of twig.  Picture by Dave.

11a meg helps between locks

This flight had a kind of pawl catch I had not seen before.  (For non-boaty readers, this is the catch that holds the paddle open so that the lock can fill or empty).  I was nonplussed to start with as the catch did not align with the vertical toothed rack.  Instead it engages with the cog that turns when you wind the windlass.  It only took me one (whole) lock to work it out …..

10 different kind of pawl catch

On one of the locks I had a bit of a problem with the bottom gates.  They just would not stay open!  There was no point in Dave climbing up to help, as then there would be no-one to bring the boat out.  So he passed me up the long boat pole, and I held one gate open with my legs and pushed and held the other one open with the pole.  It must have looked rather strange, as I got a very odd look from a lady in a floaty dress walking her dog.  She looked far too delicate to ask for assistance.  Nearer the bottom some of the water levels were pretty low too, as you can see from the marks on the lock wall.

11 water levels very low

We reached Rushall junction, passing under the M6 which had some workmen on the hard shoulder.

12 worker on the M6

Then we were back on the Tame Valley canal with its deep cuttings and high embankments.  Chimney bridge was presumably named after its chimney-like pillars.

14 chimney bridge

From the embankments we could see right across to Birmingham and the Post Office tower.

15 post office tower in distance

We moored for the night above the top of Perry Barr locks, where we were some time last week.  Shortly before we stopped we passed a designated CRT Winter Mooring.  There is a path all along the offside, but it is completely overshadowed by trees and much more gloomy than the photo makes it appear.  The path is muddy too.  Not a place I would really want to spend the night, let alone five months.

16 winter mooring here - no thanks

Dave took Meg for a good long walk and I made a pie for tea.

11and a half miles, 9 locks

Saturday 8 October 2016

More new waters in lovely sunshine

Wednesday 5th October; Pelsall Common to Anglesey Basin

We weren’t planning a long cruise today but we did want to visit the Cannock Extension so we were soon rounding Pelsall Junction.  As you can see the extension is very straight.

 1 joining cannock extension Pelsall Common was on our left.

3 pelsall common

This area used to be a massive iron works; a dog walker I was chatting to remembered it, and said there used to be a railway crossing the canal nearer to Pelsall Works bridge, though that had gone by the time he was around.  The huge grassy area where we moored used to look more like the common does now.

6 the lovely moorings from pelsall jctWe went as far as the old colliery basins where we turned and moored so we could walk to the end, just to say we’d been there; we didn’t take the boat that far in case there wasn’t room to turn, but it would have been fine.  While we were mooring Meg went for a nose about and jumped back on the boat with muddy paws before we noticed.  I left it – it’ll be easier to clean up when it’s dry!

2 oh muddy paws

We bought some veg in the farm shop on the main road then retraced our steps back to Pelsall junction.  Don't the moorings look fabulous in the sunshine? Photo by Dave.

7 moorings from pelsall junction

We stopped at Brownhills to use the facilities; while the water tank filled, Dave cleaned the brasses and I did the port-side windows and removed the cobwebs from the little drain holes.  Then we moved up a little bit to the visitor moorings and went to the extremely convenient Tesco before we had lunch.  There can’t be many supermarkets quite so close to a good mooring.  Two older ladies arrived to feed the geese – the flotilla was already swimming over as they walked up.

8 the geese knew these ladies at brownhills

Tesco had packs of those Heatlogs (compressed wood waste) at only £5 per pack.  We are using those in preference to coal as it’s not cold enough to need to keep the fire in overnight.  We find two of them are good for the whole evening.

We continued to the Anglesey branch and went up to the end expecting to find some moorings.  But the three boats which appear in the photos you see appear to live there, so we turned in the massive winding hole – easy you would think but there was a mean wind which made it very difficult.  We moored on a pleasant stretch which was a bit noisy from the motorway but otherwise fine.

9 mooring near anglesey basin

I went off for a short run but Dave and Meg walked right round the reservoir, passing the station at Brownhills West on the little steam line.

10 signal box and engine at brownhills west station chasewater resr

We haven’t had much trouble with rubbish on the propeller for a few days, but we have to keep putting the engine into neutral to drop the leaves off.

7 and a half miles.