Saturday 29 December 2018

Where not to moor, B.O.A.T. and stats for 2018

We've had another lovely year’s boating, revisiting favourite areas as well as exploring new waters.  We’ve had to spend a bit of money, as you can tell from the title, but I’m starting with a different grumble!

When we came up Offerton locks in October, CRT workboats were occupying both lock landings in one of the pounds.  Not all that unusual you might say, but I was particularly annoyed this time because a friend of ours, an experienced hirer, had a bruising fall this summer while trying to get across a workboat which was occupying the only possible space for him to get off and operate the lock.  So I wrote to CRT.

I sent them this photo and suggested the workers should use piling hooks and moor away from the lock landing.

3 crt bad practice

I pointed out the plentiful mooring away from the lock landing, the irritation factor for single-handers and the potential safety issues of not being able to use the official lock landing.  I finished by mentioning ‘…. the bad example it sets to hirers and other new boaters.  If it's not OK to use a lock mooring for us, even just to have breakfast, why does CRT feel it can do so?’

I had naively assumed the recipient would be a boater and would know what I was talking about, but it would seem not!   The customer service assistant replied, on behalf of her supervisor, telling me it was all to do with the work going on and that the men would be asked to moor one of their boats on the offside – totally unnecessary, of course, at this location.  The supervisor, having missed the point completely, assured me that they ‘make every effort to assist the boaters through whilst we are working on the locks.’

6 crt on lock landing

Look, here’s another one – this time at Astwood locks in April.

So I wrote back describing the correct use of lock landings, risks to crew if they can’t get off their boat safely, and pointing out that boaters do not confine their cruising to CRT working hours.  I gave a link to a well-known chandlery selling piling hooks and mooring chains, and suggested that CRT could conceivably be sued if a boater had an accident because a CRT craft prevented crew safely getting on or off at a lock. I probably should have looked out a photo of a lock landing with a badly overgrown towpath so they could see what I meant, but anyway … well, this is what the assistant replied.  What does this mean, precisely?

Thanks for your reply. My colleague has confirmed that in future he will take all the issues raised by the customer and put in place measures to ensure all parties are aware of the working area. This will ensure the safe working environment for customers and staff alike.

I hope this means they won’t use those handy bollards any more, unless they are actually using or working on the lock, but I’m not holding my breath!  And I wish they couldn’t call us customers, even if we do pay them lots of money.

23 brasses at perdiswell park

Doing the brasses at Perdiswell Park, Worcester and Birmingham canal

Anyway, on to more shelling out – B.O.A.T, or ‘Bring Out Another Thousand’ in case you need reminding, though it was actually not quite that much.  Dave had detected a vibration from the engine at certain revs; it had been going on for some months and was getting a bit concerning.  He couldn’t find anything wrong himself, and when he asked Calcutt to look at it when they did the last service they suggested the fuel injectors might need replacing.  We know from the car that this is a very expensive business!  and as they weren't 100% sure that was the cause we didn’t follow up their suggestion.  When we came into Droitwich Spa marina for the winter, Dave asked the engineer carrying out a service for a neighbouring boat to have a look at it, which he did before we left – and he diagnosed a worn engine mounting.  Dave hadn’t been standing in quite the right place when he tested for it and clearly neither had the Calcutt mechanic.  So Gordon came and replaced the mountings, which were very worn indeed, before Christmas. 

And now for the stats.

We had seven trips this year, totalling 76 nights on board, travelling about 560 miles and passing through 450 locks.  Nights on board and mileage are less than we are used to, but somehow our time aboard felt close to normal. Perhaps it was to do with travelling new waters, or maybe the fabulous weather we had with long days spent outside!

It was a slow start for us this year – after the snow and ice of March, our plans for river cruising had to be put on hold as the Severn (and even the little Salwarpe) were in flood for some time.  Then as the weeks of sunshine began we were off to new waters –  onto the Severn south of Tewkesbury for the first time and down to the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.  We visited the Purton hulks, Slimbridge wetland reserve and Gloucester cathedral, and were amazed by the Severn Bore (even though it wasn’t the height to bring droves of sightseers or surfers, we were impressed!) 

4c bore

After a delightful trip up the Avon to Stratford, we left Chuffed at the new Hill Farm marina on the South Stratford for a few weeks, before taking the long way round to Calcutt and heading off towards Birmingham.  There we went to see Dippy the Diplodocus, on holiday from London’s Natural History Museum. 

1 dippy

Our 50th trip aboard Chuffed took us to Oxford and back, just before the beginning of the navigation restrictions caused by the drought.  As well as new and some very familiar waters, we returned to the Welford Arm on the Leicester line, which we remembered fairly well, and the Staffs and Worcester from Alderley junction to Stourport, which we didn’t.  We haven’t travelled the section between Alderley and Stourton junctions for many years and parts of it we didn’t remember at all.

15 leaving bottom lockLooking back along Bratch locks, which we did, just, remember.

We cruised 314½ miles on narrow canals with 331 narrow locks, and 62½ miles on broad canals.  There were 111 broad locks, including those on the Avon, and over 183½ miles of rivers with 8 large locks, including Gloucester lock.  The 30¾ miles on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal is classed as commercial waterway. All distances are approximate.

We travelled the following canals; Droitwich Junction, Droitwich Barge, Worcester and Birmingham, North and South Stratford, Staffs and Worcester, parts of the BCN, Birmingham and Fazeley, Coventry, North and South Oxford,  Grand Union and the Grand Union Leicester line.  We also cruised the rivers Severn and Avon, and the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.

Over the years I have been reading boating blogs, I have made notes on places we haven’t been to before.  You do get brilliant stuff from other blogs don’t you?  We might not have considered the Gloucester and Sharpness otherwise and may never have heard of the Purton Hulks, or realised you could walk to Slimbridge, without them. 

22 caribbean flamingos

Not seen on the canals!

For various reasons we haven’t been able to get up to the boat since October, but are hoping to very soon.  And the coming year?  Well, Dave has long hankered after visiting the Nene, and there are some good up-to-date blogs about what happens when you turn off the Grand Union at Gayton junction!  We’ll wait and see.

We hope everyone had a joyful and peaceful Christmas, both here and in foreign parts, and wish you all a happy and healthy year to come, whether boating or not!

Thursday 25 October 2018

Is it really time to go home?

Monday October 22nd; into the marina

No oversleeping this morning!  On the move at 9 sharp, Dave brought Chuffed round Hanbury Junction to join the Droitwich Junction canal where I was ready to prepare the locks.

2 round the junction

It was far too early to expect volunteers to be around of course.  This shot of the ground paddle in operation at the top lock shows why it’s important to take care at locks.

3 fierce ground paddle

The Hanbury locks have side ponds, used to save water.  Whether you are filling or emptying a lock, you should always use the side paddles to either take water from the side pond if you are filling the lock, or to top it up if you are emptying the lock, before closing the side paddles and switching to the lock paddles as normal.  Either the last boat down last night didn’t do this, or the side pond leaks.

4 empty side pond

But it soon looked like this, all ready for the next boat.

5 full side pond

The fence alongside the top lock has been adorned with jolly CRT bunting and a suitably decorated car tyre.  Am I being a touch cynical in hoping it’s all well secured?

6 crt tyre

The bottom gates on these locks don’t like staying open, so props have been supplied to stop them closing on your boat as it goes through.

7 gate prop

It was another glorious morning, and it seemed a shame to be putting Chuffed to bed for the winter.  But even if we’d changed our minds and decided to go round the Droitwich ring again, we couldn’t have done it - the staircase lock is closed from today for cill repairs.  A walking group kindly made sure we were aware that it was closed off this morning, but we had a stoppage notice a while ago, which is why we went round the ring the way we did.  But it was tempting to turn round and go back up the locks …..

8 dog pram

The gentleman on the towpath is a regular along here.  His little dog is unwell and has little energy, but still loves her walkies, even though she doesn’t do much actual walking.  She sits in her dog buggy, alert and paying attention.  We wonder if she will still be here in the spring.

We were tied up by 10 and getting on with cleaning.  Sadly there wasn’t enough time to walk down to the staircase lock to have a look.  It was straight up on the roof for me, to sweep off the accumulated leaves and twigs from the cruise, followed by Dave with a bucket and brush to clean off the sticky spots and bird poo.  Between us we emptied the kitchen cupboards, cleaned the stove and set the fire, did the engine checks and all the other bits and pieces and removed the batteries from the fire and carbon monoxide alarms.  The CO alarm reaches its expiry date soon so a new one will be obtained for next season.

A neighbour was having his engine serviced by an independent mechanic who does a lot of work in the marina.  Dave asked him to look at our engine before we went – there is a vibration he is concerned about.  One of the engine mountings is failing, so Dave has booked him to do the replacement next month.

So we left an hour later than we had planned, as the air became chilly in the late afternoon. We haven’t fully winterised yet, the water tank still having water in it, so Dave will come up again when Gordon has been to do the engine mountings to finish off.

½ mile, 3 locks

Trip stats;

20 miles, 7¼ furlongs and 33 locks on the Droitwich Junction, Droitwich Barge and Worcester & Birmingham canals, and the river Severn.

10 miles, 4½ furlongs of narrow canals; 21 narrow locks.

5 miles, 7½ furlongs of broad canals; 11 broad locks.

4 miles, 3¼ furlongs of large rivers; 1 large lock.

3 swing bridges to open, and 4 tunnels to go through (Dunhampstead, A449, Impney Way and M5 Motorway Tunnels).

Tuesday 23 October 2018

The park to the junction

Sunday October 21st October; Perdiswell Park to Hanbury Junction

I blame it on these dark mornings and that the sun takes a while to get above the houses and hedges.  Anyway, we didn’t wake until a boat went by at 9.30!  I strode out to get the Sunday paper, walking back to Bilford top lock and turning left to the convenience store a few hundred yards up the road. By the time I was back Dave was about to cast off for the short cruise to the first lock.

To start with everything was quiet, apart from a few fishermen and walkers.  The sun was out and as long as we weren’t shaded by trees it was very pleasant cruising.  As we approached the bottom of Offerton locks there was a lot of high-pitched yelling coming from the rugby club there – mini rugby, by the looks of things.  A class had just finished so as we entered the lock there was a cacophonous trail of excited small children crossing the bridge, their adults laden with coats and jumpers.  Gongoozler heaven?  No, they didn’t hang about – perhaps they are used to seeing boats, or the parents were desperate for a coffee!  But a large extended family were on hand so I had lots of help with the gates!  Unfortunately they weren’t going our way.

1 little helpers offerton bottom lock

At the next lock, we thought we’d have a wait as a hire boater was above the lock – but no, the lock was nearly empty and the lovely man raised a paddle and opened up for us.  He seemed to be an experienced hirer, but this time had only booked a short break in case it didn’t work out with a toddler in the family!

2 superstar hire boater

The locks were all empty, or nearly so, and we had an easy time of it.  There was a striking example of bad practice in the pound second from the top;  CRT work boats were occupying BOTH lock landings.  I understand they won’t want to leave them moored on pins over the weekend, but surely they can be supplied with piling hooks!  It doesn’t affect boats with crew, as the locks are close enough to walk between, but it must be irritating for single-handers.  I might email CRT and have a moan – how can they expect hirers not to use lock landings as a mooring spot if they see this?

3 crt bad practice

Soon we were leaving the top lock, just by the M5 crossing.  The barn conversion doesn’t seem to be progressing very quickly.  It’s terribly noisy here as they are so close to the motorway embankment; we certainly wouldn’t be interested in living there, despite its proximity to the canal (even if we could afford such a big place!)

5 slow progress barn conversion by m5

We stopped at Tibberton visitor moorings for lunch, where we realised that Meg must have abandoned her lovely blue ball somewhere down the flight.  I got the bike out and buzzed down to see if I could spot it, but I suspect it now belongs to another dog.  You win some, you lose some - we only picked it up yesterday at Gregory’s Mill locks!

There were several boats coming up the flight, and they were beginning to have depth problems.  The lead boaters were running water down, but of course that caused worse problems further up.

6 low pound

I left them to it – without a windlass I couldn’t help.  We didn’t stay at Tibberton but cruised on in lovely sunshine.  At Oddingley we found ourselves being photographed by someone with some very expensive-looking equipment.  I returned the favour with my little pocket Nikon.

7 snapped

The cloud was beginning to come over as we neared Dunhampstead tunnel, which was clear.  This little boathouse on the way to Hanbury Junction gets reedier every time we pass – will the boat inside ever cruise again?

8 will it ever cruise again

At the junction we winded and tied up on the visitor moorings.  Although it was only mid-afternoon, light levels were very poor with heavy cloud and there were even a few drops of gentle rain.  We went for a carvery at the Eagle and Sun and lit the fire when we got back.  We bought some heatlogs at Aldi yesterday, but they are different from ones we have had before in spite of having the same name.  The picture is a bit fuzzy but clearly shows the difference; the old sort is on the left, the new on the right.  The weights are very similar.


The new one was put on the fire which was started with newspaper and kindling, and had been burning nicely with a few smallish logs.  The heatlog caught ok, but didn’t burn well, after a while just charring and smouldering.  Dave prodded it with the poker and it fell apart.  Not impressed. 

6½ miles, 8 locks, Dunhampstead tunnel

Sunday 21 October 2018

From the racecourse to the park

Saturday October 20th;  Worcester Riverside to Perdiswell Park

Last night the Oktoberfest beer festival and its entertainment ceased promptly at 11pm, and apart from the occasional noisy clubbers chattering their way across the footbridge it was very quiet.  I know about the clubbers as I woke up at about 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours.  I tried tiring my brain by thinking of waterways-related alphabetical lists – ‘canal towns and villages’ was too easy, apart from some of the high-score Scrabble letters, but ‘lock flights’ was hard enough to do the trick.  In the morning I wanted to be up promptly to join the parkrun at 9am, but with my wakeful night I overslept, so it was a bit of a rush even though I only had to trot across the racecourse to the start!  It was too foggy to see right across to the start point, though visibility was improving by the end; the finish line is in the far distance of the picture (taken by Dave). 

1 parkrun

After a nice hot shower it was time to make tracks for the canal.  Moored as we were by the Worcester Canoe Club on a Saturday morning, we had a bit of a wait for some clear water to push off and turn to go downstream.  It was still misty but the sun was coming through as we let the current take us slowly through the assorted sculls, launches and canoes from the two clubs.  The big flock of swans (all likely to be too young to have paired up yet) was hanging about on the east bank.

3 rower and swans

The river was clear as Dave started the turn to the floating pontoon where you tie up before the crew goes to set the lock.  The bottom two locks of the Worcester and Birmingham are 18’ wide and can take large sea-going craft up to the basin.  The bridge can be swung, though we have never seen it opened.

4 diglis bottom lock

The lock was empty, but by the time I had opened a gate and we were ready to cast off, a scull had arrived and was in the way, hanging around having a bit of a natter debrief.  Dave called out that he would need to make a wide turn to get into the lock, but they didn’t seem to understand that 55’ of steel is not as manoeuvrable as their little boat!

5 scull in the way

So Dave couldn’t go as wide as he wanted, but was able to use the current to bring the bow round for a clean entry.

6 but all ok

A local boater was waiting for a friend at the top lock and helped us up that one, then we stopped on the facilities mooring to dispose of rubbish and empty a cassette.  While Dave dealt with that I went to NB Northern Light, the cafĂ© boat in the basin, for some well-filled bacon sandwiches.

8 bacon sarnie

They were delicious.  We were a bit naughty in staying on the water-point while we ate them, but with no other boats moving we didn’t care. 

Two sections of the towpath edge here have collapsed, reducing the available mooring space; I hope it is on the list for winter work.

10 collapsed edging

The first two locks were against us, and we were slightly held up too by the need to leave Blockhouse Lock empty; but while I looked after that Dave moved up to the next bridge to moor for the shops.

11 blockhouse lock notice

I arrived in time to help him tie up.  We went over to Aldi as they have Heatlogs for £3.99 at the moment.  The logs, which are made of compressed sawdust, looked rather different from what we are used to, so we only bought one pack till we know if they are as good as the old ones.

Then it was off out of the city.  At bridge 11 there is a little park with play equipment and a long mural.  We have been past several times in the last few years and have never seen it vandalised with graffiti tags.

12 mural at bridge 11

And under the bridge …

13 under bridge 11

Now it was just two pairs of locks in the sunshine, and a potter past Perdiswell Sports Centre and the football pitches to moor at bridge 17, opposite Perdiswell Park.  First things first -

15 happy meg in the park

16 happy meg

Now we’ve had some rain the autumn fungi are looking good.

17 fungi21 toadstool

Here is a big one – Meg’s tennis ball gives the scale!  I haven’t got my book with me, but I think it could be a parasol mushroom (edible), but maybe a panther cap (poisonous).  So we left it where it was.

20 large toadstool

The park is opposite our mooring, just over the bridge, and a housing estate is behind the towpath hedge.  It feels almost rural.  But beyond the bridge are factory units on both sides of the canal for a considerable distance.  Dynasystems is on the edge of the park and has a tower near the boundary.  Their website says

‘Dynasystems is dedicated to improving perimeter security to ensure that personnel, assets and operations are protected against blast, ballistic and hostile vehicle effects. Dynasystems products include blast-resistant watchtowers, protective walling systems, ballistic windows, blast-resistant structures and universal construction systems.’

Is this a blast-resistant watchtower?  What do they expect from the good folk of Worcester?  Or maybe it’s those dodgy boaters they are bothered about.

22 factory at bridge 17

Dave polished the brasses in the last of the sunshine.  It was warm enough to have the side hatch open; a couple of hours later we needed to light the fire.

23 brasses at perdiswell park

4½ miles, 2 large locks, 6 narrow locks.

Friday 19 October 2018

Cold fog and hot air

Friday 19th October; Vines Park to Worcester Riverside

We needed an early start this morning – not because we were planning a long day, but we thought we might end up with one.  You see, our preferred mooring by the racecourse in Worcester might be too wet and muddy following the recent high water levels.  As there isn’t a massive amount of mooring in Diglis basin we may have had to go further up the canal than we wanted to if the basin was full of returning hire craft!

We were off by 8.30, in light mist and still, chilly, air. There were five boats on the visitor pontoons in Netherwich Basin, and a little further on we passed the work and trip boats run by the Droitwich Waterways Trust.

2 restoration sign

3 volunteer boats

As we moved away from the centre and along past the acres of sports pitches the ragged patches of blue sky disappeared and the fog came down.  We both went below to add an extra layer of clothing.  I bet this chap’s knees were cold.

5 shorts in the chilly fog

The fog got thicker as we left Droitwich.  Apart from people going to work or school, and a few dog walkers, there was no-one about.6 fog

As we approached the bridge at Salwarpe, which has a sharp right bend after it, we thought we saw a cyclist in high-vis gear coming along the towpath.  But then another, and another - as they turned towards the bridge-hole it was obviously a work boat, with a load of cut branches….

7 work boat in the fog

and three rather glum workmen aboard.

8 not happy

The first Ladywood lock was in our favour, but not the others.  I walked between them to try and warm up a bit, expecting to get quite warm as the gates are heavy and some are difficult to get moving.  It didn’t work though.  I’ve got a good pair of Sealskinz gloves for winter lock work, so it wasn’t too bad.

10 fog

We could see the watery sun struggling to get through up above, but it didn’t raise the temperature.  It did manage to highlight the cobwebs decorating some of the locks.

9 cobweb12 more cobweb

The startling pink fruit of the native spindle tree shone out in the gloom near the bottom of the Ladywood flight.  Some of them were beginning to split to show the poisonous orange berries inside.

13 spindle trees

Gradually the fog lifted and we moored above Hawford locks in strengthening sunshine not long after 11.30.  Without any extra heating since last night the boat had been very cold, but with the sun streaming in the windows we could soon discard our extra layers. 

By the time we started down Hawford locks, at nearly 2pm, it was lovely with no need for hats, gloves or coats.  There is a heavy chain and padlock ready for use on the top gates to prevent boats reaching the Severn in flood conditions, but the electronic board was flashing green today.

16 chain on hawford top lock17 sunny afternoon

On with the lifejackets, a quick call to the lockie at Bevere, and we were off down the Severn.  The lock gates were open ready for us, and a boat was ready to come in below as we left.  The weather by now was glorious and there was no time to get bored with the scenery on the short hop down towards Worcester.  Just one other narrowboat and a cruiser on the move this afternoon.  The riverside moorings by the racecourse were empty and pretty clear of mud so we pulled in just short of Sabrina footbridge.

20 sunny severn

21 moored at racecourse

We thought the river looked to have risen by about a metre – the mud on the steps, still damp, bore this out.

22 steps were flodded

At least the towpath was clear of mud or we would have had to have gone up onto the canal.

Dave and Meg set off for the racecourse – Meg remembered the way and was out of the picture before I could take it.  Moments later Dave was back – a hot-air balloon was being inflated on the racecourse!

23 balloon24 nearly ready

The crew kept the paying passengers out of the way while they made sure it was fully inflated ….

25 just a bit more burn

Then it was all aboard and up, up and away!

26 lift-off27 up up and away

It drifted off across Worcester.  The husband of one of the passengers wanted to know where they were going so he could follow in his car – ‘that way’ apparently, though he was given a road number to take!

Near the grandstand was a fancy blue and white structure, a cross between a marquee and a circus Big Top.  A little Googling later on told us that we have hit the Worcester Oktoberfest weekend.  Hmmm.  If it hadn’t been nearly £20 each to get in – and that’s standing, it was more if you wanted a seat - we might have gone along as there would be live music as well as beer.  Well, we can hear the music (bass only unfortunately) as we sit by our cosy fire for free.  It goes on till 11.

8½ miles, 8 broad locks, 1 river lock.