Sunday 31 December 2017

Stats for 2017, and a Happy New Year to all

We had no grand cruising plans this season as we had several important family occasions occurring throughout the year. The most joyous was the safe arrival of grandson Finn and of course our routes had to take visiting into account!  I think he’s still a bit young to enjoy boating.

4 dont think much of this boating lark

So we stayed mostly in the south and west Midlands, with Great Haywood Junction our most northerly point.

We also had to stick around for getting measured up for a new cratch cover and then having it fitted.

3 cratch measuring

Tim Garland did the cratch cover for us, and while we were based at Calcutt we also had the bottom blacked.

Our mileage was a little higher than last year, though still within the 500 – 600 miles which seems to be our range.

Miles about 521¼; 292 on narrow canals, 152 on broad canals, and 77¼ on rivers.

Locks 550; Narrow locks 368, broad locks 177, large locks 5. 

Moveable bridges: 15.

Major aqueducts: 3 (the Grand Trunk aqueduct near Cosgrove twice, Edstone).

Tunnels; 31, the longest being Blisworth (3057 yards).

Days on board: 98

19 from north

Grand Trunk aqueduct near Cosgrove

Marinas and waterways

We stayed in 4 marinas this year; Droitwich Spa, Calcutt, and Springwood Haven were familiar to us but we had not stayed at Alvechurch Marina before. We revisited old haunts for most of the time and our only new waters were on the BCN (in italic below).

Canals;  Grand Union, North Oxford, North and South Stratford, Worcester and Birmingham, BCN main line with Soho and Icknield loops, Droitwich Junction, Droitwich Barge, Staffs and Worcester, Trent & Mersey, Coventry, Birmingham & Fazeley, Grand Union (Warwick Junction canal), Digbeth Branch, BCN Old Main Line, Engine Arm, Titford Canal, Gower branch, Netherton Tunnel branch, Dudley no 2, Stourbridge main line, Staffs & Worcester.

Rivers; Severn, Avon

Places visited included Birmingham, Stratford, Tewkesbury, Worcester, Marsworth reservoirs, Tixall Wide, Dudley tunnel, Titford pool.

18 turning away from titford pool

Turning away from Titford Pool

Best bits?  Well, we couldn’t beat grandson Finn’s first visit and then first cruise, though he wasn’t that impressed.

1 finn watches his first boat

ignoring a boat going by in Birmingham

And of course we had the fascinating trip into Dudley tunnel.

11 castle mill basin  13 calcite curtains

Other lovely bits of cruising included revisiting the Avon and the lower Staffs and Worcester after a gap of several years.  It was interesting to see electro-fishing for zander at Soulbury Locks and near Cosgrove in April.  Zander are removed as they are an introduced species and predate our native fish. 

23 electro 

However, later in the year I met a man spinning for pike who was involved with running a fishing club and he reckoned that the stocks of native fish in his area were good – local fishermen had stopped removing zander when they caught them.  He said that zander are cannibalistic and predate smaller fish of their own species, which helps to protect the native small fry and the populations seemed to have stabilised.  Of course we moored in many lovely spots.  This one is near Hockley Heath on the North Stratford.

14 coming back from the pub

Returning from the pub at Hockley Heath

Worst bits?   Losing the tiller pin was annoying.

1 oh no tiller pin is not magnetic

and the stonking great vet’s bill at Stratford on Avon wasn’t exactly a high point, though necessary.    There was some dreadful weather but somehow we managed to be tucked up inside for almost all of it.   Meg’s looking a bit greyer but then aren’t we all?

13 chillin

A pretty good year’s boating on the whole.  And for next year – who knows?  Nothing planned as yet, apart from getting a new tiller pin!

Best wishes to all for a good year to come – boating and otherwise.

Friday 3 November 2017

That’s probably it for this year

Monday 30th October 2017; Vines Park to Droitwich Spa marina

The first frost of the season – at least the first we’ve seen.

1 first frost of the season

The sun was coming up but I always prefer not to work locks if it is frosty - far too slippery and dangerous for my liking.  So the packing up and cleaning out of cupboards began.  After a while the frost had gone so off we went, and the sun was shining as we came through Vines Park.  I had hoped to take a few photos, but a local couple was taking their grandson to the playground and the Grandad helped with the swing bridges – very useful too, as the padlock on the middle one is an absolute bugger nuisance to get locked again, as the bridge wants to swing back.  So we were through the park like a dose of salts with no time for photos.  Next time I do that swingbridge I’m going to try leaning on its end to hold it closed (rather than pulling it shut from below) and reaching over to deal with the padlock.  It might be easier to do it that way round.

The gates at both ends of Barge lock were ajar – the Severn might be running fast but the Salwarpe, whose bed the canal shares at this point, was quite low.  As of course is the bridge under the M5.

2 motorway bridge

In the wait for Chuffed to come up the staircase pair, I had plenty of time to watch the goldfinches searching for seeds in the teasels.  There were quite a few but only one remained by the time I got focused.  The feathers on their faces protect them from the prickles as they probe the teasel heads.  Pretty little things, and I love their tinkling fairy bells call as they flit about.

3 goldfinch on teasel

And time also to take in the view back down towards Droitwich.

4 view back towards droitwich

Eventually we were up the last lock and Dave opened what will probably be the last gate of the season.

5 last lock of season probably

We topped up the fuel tank before reversing onto our pontoon and after a quick lunch cracked on with the packing and cleaning.  All the contents of the food cupboards, apart from some tea bags and a few tins, had to come home, along with all the bedding.  The fiddliest job was to sweep out the well deck.  Foolishly we hadn’t got around to doing this on the good towpath at Hawford Junction – we have two wooden lockers which need to be emptied and removed, along with the folding bike, before the matting can be lifted to get to the grit and bits underneath.  Extra mess was caused by breaking up and bagging the collection of ash twigs we had amassed for kindling, which had been drying in the cratch.

We hadn’t planned to spend so long out this time as we both had commitments on Tuesday morning, and really needed to get going before dark.  So it meant we didn’t have time to meet up with Jennie and Chris (NB Tentatrice) as we had hoped.  Neither have we done all the outstanding jobs, nor winterised fully; we (or more likely just Dave) will be up again before Christmas to check everything is OK, and there is unlikely to be a big freeze before then.

1 mile, 5 locks, 3 swing bridges and the M5 tunnel.

Trip stats; Worcester and Birmingham, River Severn, River Salwarpe, Droitwich Barge canal, Droitwich Junction canal

Narrow canals: 20 miles, 7¼ furlongs, 33 locks

Broad canals: 5m 7½f, 11 locks

Rivers: 4m 3¼f, 1 lock

3 swing bridges, Dunhampstead and M5 tunnels.


Thursday 2 November 2017

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Sunday 29th October; Hawford junction to Vines Park

The clocks went back last night so there was no excuse to lie abed this morning – besides which we wanted to get to Droitwich in time for Sunday lunch somewhere!  It was cloudy and breezy to start with, though not particularly cold.  We could see this attractive brick arch carrying the road over the river Salwarpe from our mooring

1 old bridge over salwarpe

but the modern one over the canal was so ugly it was not worth a picture, though I took one of the towpath under it which was surfaced with metal panels.  Meg took one look on her walk yesterday, turned round and went back to the boat!  probably because it looks too much like a dodgy pontoon.

2 new canal road bridge no go for meg

According to CanalplanAC the canal passes under the A449 in a tunnel but it’s really just a big bridge.  Nicholson’s informs us that bridge 3, Linacre bridge, is ‘worthy of close examination’.  It is a ‘rare surviving example of one of Brindley’s original structures’.  So we slowed down and admired its graceful lines.  3 lovely linacre bridge

The marks left by the tow-ropes are clearly visible.

4 stone supports with rope marks

It’s elegant from the other side too.

6 elegant brindley bridge

We were joined on the mooring late yesterday afternoon by a hire boat, so the locks were in our favour.  As I crossed the road over the bridge at Ladywood bottom lock I spotted a box containing water and a box of jelly babies.  Ah-ha, I thought, jelly babies, essential fuel for a long run.  One of the runners confirmed it was a local training run of 10 miles.  A cyclist was enjoying his elevenses as he watched them go by.  In terms of spectacle our ascent of the lock was a poor second.

7 ladywood bottom lock

There was a flurry of hire boats coming down this morning so we found every lock empty and waiting.  We found out later that the canal had been closed yesterday at Vines Park as unfortunately a body had been found in the canal, so this probably explains the number of boats – if they had been delayed on their trip they would no doubt catch up some time on the river.  At one of the locks a spindle tree had a good crop of fruit.  The berries are very poisonous to us, but the birds will enjoy them.  They are bright pink and will split to show orange seeds inside.

9 spindle tree

One of the bywashes of Ladywood locks has been cleared of vegetation, clearly showing its circular shape.  One set of bottom gates has had metal extensions added, and the extra length makes the gates much easier to open.

10 circular bywash ladywood locks  11 handy beam extension ladyood locks

Now there were nearly three lock-free but leafy miles to Vines Park.  We had to go into neutral several times to allow accumulated leaves to drop off the propeller.  And kingfishers too – Dave spotted SEVEN, though I only managed two. This blog post by Adam (NB Briar Rose) explains why there seem to be so many about this autumn.

By midday we were tying up on a pontoon at Netherwich basin.   Last time we were here Meg took fright at the scary pontoon and had to be bodily hauled off the boat so she could be taken for a walk.  This time she hopped off with no problem – she obviously recognised where she was and was impatient to get Dave to the park for a game of ball.  The sun was out by now and it was a very pleasant walk through the park to get the paper from Waitrose.

We had an excellent Sunday lunch in the Gardener’s Arms, after which we relaxed with the papers as the sun streamed through the windows.  But the clocks have gone back so it wasn’t that long before it was time to light the fire.

5 miles 6 locks

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Slow going on the Severn

Saturday 28th October; Diglis Basin to Hawford Locks

Considering we were only a few steps from the pub, it was remarkably quiet overnight.  After a clear night it was chilly first thing and overcast with a cutting wind.  I set off at 8.30 to trot along to Pitchcroft Park, aka Worcester racecourse, where I joined the Saturday Parkrun.  A carthorse performance today rather than racehorse but never mind.

After a lovely hot shower and a cup of tea we got the anchor and lifejackets ready.  Before we left the marina we hadn’t anticipated coming all the way down into Worcester but with the weather set fair we decided to extend our trip to encompass the Droitwich Ring.  Before we set off down the Diglis locks to the Severn, Dave checked the weed hatch.  He had to pull a load of cut reeds off the day before, so thought it wise to check again.  In the pic below I had the bottom lock all ready but Dave was otherwise engaged with members of  Meg’s worldwide fan club.  They were on holiday from somewhere in Europe. 1 megs fan club diglis locks

We were warned when we first got her (she is a rescue from Blue Cross) that she was obsessive about balls and sticks.  If there is no ball she will find a stick and pester people to throw it for her (we never do, but it doesn’t stop her trying other people).  When there are no sticks she tries bits of reed instead and today she found a bit of dried-up leaf, which the children happily ‘threw’ for her.  She brought it back on the boat with her.

2 with her silly bit of leaf

At the bottom lock the river level indicator was just above the green. 

3 just in the green

In the summer the volunteers tell crew to get back on the boat and then they look after the the bottom gates.  This is very useful as if no volunteer is on duty, crew must be picked up from the pontoon which is a way downstream from the lock.  It would be a real nuisance for a single-hander.  With normal river flow Dave would have headed downstream before turning back to collect me.  With the stronger flow at the moment he would have been carried a long way down towards the weir and river lock, as had happened to a boat yesterday, so he turned upstream straight away and the current brought him downstream as he made the turn.  He was thus able to get to the pontoon relatively quickly.

It was just after midday as we passed under the main road bridge, and we stopped for lunch on the racecourse moorings a bit further on and for Meg to have a comfort break before the long slog against the current up to Hawford junction.  The scullers were out for our lunchtime entertainment.

4 scullers

It is less than two miles to Bevere lock from the racecourse but the flow held us back to canal speed.  The current was noticeably faster on the outside of the bends so Dave had to keep his wits about him to select the slowest flow while ensuring he kept to the channel.  We saw several kingfishers and some posh properties.

5 posh property

About half a mile from the lock an enormous cruiser swept by, followed quite a while later by a narrowboat, much slower but still zooming long with the flow.

6 big cruiser

The lockie saw us in good time and we didn’t have long to wait.  Above the lock was a narrowboat waiting against the wall on the west side and another who hadn’t realised there was a boat coming out, and he was all over the place trying to pull in on the east side.  But that was a mistake as the flows towards the weir made it very difficult for him to get off again.  But I was happy as Hawford junction was in sight and we could get back to the calm of the canal.  And the sun was shining too.

The Droitwich Barge canal (from the Severn to Droitwich) has broad locks and those gates are very heavy.  I had to get Dave to help close the bottom gate of the first lock.  Here he is on the way to the second.

8 back on canal betweem hawford locks

I had help at the second lock too; a family was out for a walk, all dressed up in Halloween costume and make-up.  So I had three chatty little ghouls helping with the gates and their witchy Mum nattering away.  It was three o’clock by now and we decided to stop on the good moorings here; there is virtually no other mooring all the way to Vines Park which is about 3 hours away.

9 mooring above hawford locks

There is some sort of holiday place on the other side with a large tepee, but we didn’t see anybody about.  It soon got cold once the sun started to go down so we lit the fire.  It was however a beautiful clear evening.  My sunset picture isn’t too impressive – it was much pinker than this - but I was quite pleased with the one of the moon I took a couple of hours later.

10 pink sky

11 half moon

Quite a nice one for Halloween, though it is dead leaves in the tree rather than bats.

3½ miles, 4 canal locks, 1 river lock.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Reed cutting in Worcester

Friday 27th October; Blackpole to Diglis Basin

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but no sun for us until we got away from the shade of the trees.  Even at ten o’clock it was pretty chilly in spite of the sun and we needed woolly hats for a while.  As we got nearer to the city centre we were cruising directly into the sun and it was difficult to see what was up ahead.  Bridge 12 has artwork commemorating Worcester City FC’s famous victory over Liverpool, two goals to one, in the third round of the FA Cup – in 1959.  As they have spent most of their history playing non-league football, this appears to be the pinnacle of their achievement (so far anyway).  They moved from the St George's Lane ground in 2013.

1 fa cup win

Half-obscured in the vegetation was this strange figure.  Waving, or signalling his intention to leap into the water?

2 taking a dip maybe

As we approached the high railway bridge we espied the first of the reed-cutters in the dazzle ahead.  It was difficult to see what was happening as the low sun was reflecting off his little boat as it moved in and out of the reeds on the offside.  it was impossible to get a picture until we had passed him, because of the sun, and of course he didn’t start working again until we were well past.

3 reed cutter

He didn’t seem to have anywhere to put the cut reeds, and neither did the second boat.  This one was bigger and was driven by paddles on either side.  Judging by his grin he gets photographed a lot.

5 reed cutter

The paddles seem to be involved with steering too.

6 reed cutter

If they have been merrily chopping reeds up but not collecting them, that would explain the floating debris we have been picking up.  At Blockhouse Lock we met a chap who had been reading up on the history of the canal.  When the Act of Parliament was passed to enable the building of the canal, the whole of the first year after that was spent sourcing the pick-axes, barrows, shovels, horses and carts before any digging could start.

The Commandery moorings were empty so we stopped for lunch before moving down to stop for water just before the basin.  Dave got a gas bottle at the little shop next to the Elsan point and discovered we were allowed to moor just in the basin against the towpath.  So we did, right in the sun and it was lovely.

Dave had to go up into town for some shopping so I took Meg for her walk along beside the river as far as the racecourse.  According to the electronic indicator board at Hanbury Junction the day before yesterday, the Severn was on amber but the level was decreasing.  The racecourse moorings weren’t flooded but the river seemed to be flowing quite fast.

We had a good meal in the Anchor this evening.  The sky is clear and it is getting very cold so we were glad it was only a short walk back!

6 locks 4 miles

Friday 27 October 2017


Thursday 26th October; Dunhampstead to Blackpole

We weren’t intending to go very far so didn’t slip our moorings till nearly 10.  The morning was very dull and overcast with damp in the air, though for a little while the sun almost managed to get through the cloud.  Some of the bridges along here have netting covering some kind of rough-cast over the brickwork, we assume to stop bits dropping on boats and walkers.  The white spots are the attachment points.

1 misty morning

We stopped in Tibberton to get the paper from the little shop.  It takes me about 15 minutes there and back, so Dave started cleaning the brasses.  But the cloud had thickened and it started to drizzle so that didn’t last long! but by the time the tea was made it was dry once more, so we carried on towards Offerton locks. 

At the top lock a boat was just leaving but the elderly gentleman we assumed was waiting to come up was just there to help!  I think he must live in the cottage by the second lock.  He said when the volunteers aren’t there he liked to help with the top two locks and had seen four or five boats already this morning.  We met a hire boat near the bottom of the flight who confirmed there are lots of boats about - they had arrived in Worcester from the river after 5 o’clock yesterday and been unable to moor until they got to Asda at bridge 5.

We stopped for lunch below Offerton bottom lock.  There are some bits of cut reed floating around, not apparently very much but every time we stopped there was a clump of the stuff on the bow. Yesterday Dave had to pull a load off the prop when we stopped for the day.  The chap at Offerton locks said a gang had been clearing reeds and were currently down nearer to Worcester.  But we didn’t see many places that showed signs of work.

2 lots of cut reeds

We moored for the night a couple of locks further on at Blackpole (bridge 17) at about 2.30.  We went through Blackpole lock, which is being prepared for work; the stoppage isn’t till 6th November but they have already removed most of the coping stones on the towpath side.

3 blackpole lock preparing for work

It seems a bit premature as the earth is exposed; wouldn’t lock operation cause erosion?  There is bound to be some turbulence when the lock fills, and then some earth would doubtless be carried away as the level falls when it is emptied.

5 coping stones removed

They are also repairing the bits where your feet go when you are opening or closing gates.  I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of a lock but I don’t know it.  The bricks are laid, and cut to shape where necessary, but not yet mortared into place.

4 work in progress

We are moored by the access point to the lovely Perdiswell Park.  By the time we had got onto the bridge Meg was waiting in the park entrance for us to catch up.  She remembers all the good walking places even though she’s only been there once or twice.  It’s a beautiful park especially with the autumn colours.

6 autumn colours perdiswell park

Then it was back to the boat to finish the brasses and have a cosy evening in.

7 mooring bridge17

Just over 4 miles, 8 locks.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Summer’s last gasp?

Wednesday 25th October; Droitwich Spa marina to Dunhampstead

After perusing the medium range forecast for the Midlands we decided to grab a few days away while the weather looked reasonable.  We even had sunshine as we unpacked the car and set off up Hanbury locks to join the Worcester and Birmingham towards Worcester.  Someone had just come out of the bottom lock, and by the time I was closing the bottom gates again the volunteer had arrived.  We were up shortly before 4, when he clocks off, so it was good timing!  The paddles for the side ponds are nicely set in sandstone with a firm non-slip surface to stand on.

1 paddles for side ponds

We left the flight munching some flapjack – as was the volunteer, as he waited for his last boat of the day to approach.

2 lovely volunteer

The tea was brewed as we passed the permanent moorings and we enjoyed the last of the sunshine, accompanied by a kingfisher shooting along just ahead of us.  Along the way to Dunhampstead is a little boathouse – the tarp is kind of cruiser-shaped but it doesn’t look as though whatever it is has been out for a while!3 hasnt cruised for a while

It would seem to be owned by the big house in the distance.

4 owned by posh place

The sun had gone as we moored at Dunhampstead and it started to get cold.  Dave fitted the new controller for the heating – on our last trip the Mikuni failed and he found that the batteries had split and damaged the terminals.  Thank goodness that’s all that needed doing and it is working again!

2 miles, 3 locks, Dunhampstead tunnel