Friday, October 24, 2014

Short run up to Fradley, and a new pair of legs…

A half-ten start today saw us heading up through Alrewas village following another boat. I was just setting up, ready to untie when they appeared, rising up Alrewas Lock behind us, so we waited till they’d gone past before moving out ourselves.
I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than seeing frantic activity on a moored boat ahead as they suddenly realise that they’ll be beaten to the next lock. Pins or mooring hooks hastily retrieved and thrown onto the deck, then the boat pushed out into the channel, accompanied by the odd furtive glance over the steerer’s shoulder to see how close the oncoming boat is. Needless to say, such a crew would get no help from me at the next lock!

Alrewas is an old village, not spoiled by the canal running through it. Several thatched cottages still survive in the older part near the church, and there are also some “Chocolate Box” houses near the canal.

I wonder what the occupants of these houses thought when the navigation was being cut on their thresholds? At least the canal wasn’t as intrusive as the HS2 is likely to be!

We had to turn Bagnall Lock, following the other boat. The bottom gates on this lock are notorious for swinging open when the chamber is empty, making for a frustrating time when trying to fill it. The solution used to be to draw half a paddle on the upstream end before shutting the bottom gates, the water flowing in keeping the gates shut. Remember us coming up Aston Lock a few days ago?

Now there’s an elegant and effective solution to the problem… IMG_2022


You wouldn’t have thought that instructions would be necessary though, would you?

The skipper...

We pulled over below Common Lock to collect a bit of wood I spotted while out on my morning run, then caught the lock just nicely as a boat was coming out. This set the pattern for the next two as well, boats coming down leaving gates open for us, and me able to do the same.

Approaching Hunts Lock, effectively “Fradley Bottom”IMG_2027

Nosing into Keeper’s Lock
The top of the cratch cover has faded after 8 years of exposure to sunlight. It used to be Royal Blue. Anyone know of a product to recolour it?

I’d already spotted that the moorings up here were quiet when I came up first thing on foot, they were even quieter when we arrived, just one boat in residence.

Moored at Fradley JunctionIMG_2029

We’ll stay here tonight, maybe tomorrow too. Just around the corner are friends Pam and Terry on NB Rooster’s Rest, and we’ll be getting together at some point.

We got all the way here under lowering skies, and since we’ve tied up the forecasted rain has been on and off. I’ve knocked up a batch of “melting moments” biscuits and a sponge pudding for afters tonight, in between reading David Blagrove’s The Quiet Waters By. 
Andy Bayley, who visited while we were in Loughborough, lent me his collection of the “Working Waterways” series, published by M&M Baldwin. A fascinating look into a lost way of life on the cut, and of the women volunteers who manned the boats during WWII.

Locks 4, miles 2

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A bit of canal, a bit of river.

There’s only one place that Mr Brindley allowed his navigation to get involved with moving water, and that is at Alrewas, our destination for today. He was quoted as comparing a flowing river to “a furious giant, running along and overturning everything; whereas if you lay the giant flat on his back, he loses all his force, and becomes completely passive, whatever his size may be.”
It seems that here, but no-where else, he was forced by the local topography to follow the river bed, but only for a mile.

Meg and I had a pleasant walk around Branston Water Park this morning. It was a warmer start to the day than of late, with glimpses of early sun through the trees. That done, dinner for tonight prepared, we set off, following a Shakespeare Line hire boat towards Tattenhill Lock.

There are good moorings either side of Branston Bridge, but some of those above the bridge are overshadowed by trees, which is why we prefer those below. At this time of year you don’t want to be moored beneath a crab-apple tree! 
We learned our lesson a couple of autumns ago, when moored beneath the spreading branches of a well laden oak on a breezy night…

Approaching Tattenhill Lock, where we had a spot of bother…IMG_2000

I saw the preceding hire boat out of the lock, then Mags came up to the bottom gates before I drew the lower paddles. Or tried to. She ran aground on something in the bridge hole. With a flush of water out of the lock, judicious tiller-waggling and a squirt of power she came in alright.

I don’t know why she’s smiling, she’s stuck!IMG_2001

Leaving the lock the canal runs between the access road to the gravel quarry on the right and the busy A38 on the left. And through what is believed to be the narrowest bridge on the network.

Lining up for Bridge 36
It’s probably no narrower than normal, but with no towpath it just appears so. The towpath changes over to the left here, but this isn’t a turnover bridge, so either the towpath has been moved or the bridge built since horse-boats plied their trade along the Trent and Mersey.

We overtook the hirer below Barton Lock while they were taking on water, and had an easy run up with a boat just leaving the empty lock and two more waiting to come down.

Out of Barton Lock.IMG_2006

A noisy straight pound alongside the main road ends at Wychnor Lock and the rise up to the river level.

Under Wychnor BridgesIMG_2009

The navigation above the lock takes the smaller of the two main river channels crossing the flat wash lands below Alrewas.

Looking back at the squat tower of Wychnor churchIMG_2013

Passing a large weir which takes most of the Trent water Alrewas Lock comes into sight.

A shame, no boat coming down!IMG_2015

Up the lock, and our planned overnight mooring was almost empty, just one boat on the length of piling.

I fitted counter-fenders in the spring to protect the stern paintwork when moving off from the bank. On the picture below Tattenhill Lock (above) the left one is still attached, but there was a bang as the mounting rope parted against the piling at Barton.
I can tidy it up but can’t refit it till we get around the corner at Fradley onto the Coventry Canal, where the towpath is back on the left. It’s odd, we must have spent most of the summer moored left side to. The mounting rope on the right is almost untouched, yet this one was badly frayed, just waiting for that final straw.

Locks 4, miles 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bye, bye, Mercia

We’re out! Hurray! Open-mouthed smile
Not keen on marinas…

I’ve been using the camera on my phone while out and about, it saves me carrying both devices. Imagine my surprise then when I downloaded today’s pictures and found these dramatic images of Saturday’s sunset. I’d forgotten I’d taken them…IMG_1978 


We were reversing off our pontoon at around half-ten this morning. I’d had a run, taken Meg for her constitutional, topped up the water tank and emptied the rubbish and a loo tank. You have to take advantage of the facilities when they’re to hand…

Off we jolly well go…
A lot easier than it would have been yesterday morning! The waterways notifications of stoppages and restrictions were full of reports of blown-down trees blocking the navigation and/or towpaths on several canals. None near us though. We could do with some more firewood!

We pulled across to Midland Chandlers bit of wharf for a few minutes. I took the electronic gate key back to the office, redeeming the £20 deposit, which was earmarked for 2x4L containers of loo blue. MC have a special offer on – the normal price is £13.99 but they’ll sell you two for £20. Not to be sniffed at. But they were out of stock.

Out under the road bridge and a right turn onto the T&M took us down past the scattering of moored boats to Willington.IMG_1980

We caught up with a boat as the canal swung in to join the noisy A38. He was going really slowly. Really. As we got nearer I could see that his prop wash was confused, going out sideways instead of a clean “tunnel” backwards. I gave him a toot and gestured that  wanted to pass. He obligingly pulled over, so I told him that he’d picked up something on the blades. We left him behind as he pulled into the bank to investigate, just before the River Dove Aqueduct.

The Dove, normally crystal clear as it runs from it’s source on Axe Edge, is muddy with sediment after the heavy rain.IMG_1982

A snatched shot of a glimpse of electric blue in the hedge…IMG_1983
I know, out of focus. Just squint a bit…

There’s not a lot to say about the approach to Burton Upon Trent. The distinct aroma of cooking hops was in the air as we approached Horninglow, so either Coors or Marston’s was making a batch of mash.

Horninglow Basin used to be bigger till they widened the A38. Nice “Muriel” though.IMG_1985
This was the western terminus for broad-beam boats up from the Trent. From here the locks and (original) bridge-holes are narrow. Brindley built this section down to Shardlow in direct competition with the Trent Navigation, so it had to take Trent barges. But he went one better. Locks on the Trent downstream to Wilden Ferry were built to take shorter boats than the standard 72 foot long canal boat. Brindley built his broad locks so that they were long enough, so from here “downhill”, pairs of narrowboats and shorter, fatter Trent barges could both use the navigation.

The first narrow lock heading north-west is under Dallow Lane, only a few hundred yards above Horninglow.

Dallow LockIMG_1988

With the construction of the Bond End Canal from wharfs on the river, up through the town to join the Trent and Mersey, it was proposed that this lock should be widened, thus allowing barge traffic from the later canal access to Shardlow via the “cut”. But the T&M canal company wouldn’t go for it. I think they missed a trick. They were already stealing cargo from the Burton Boat Company, but it all had to be transhipped at the Shobnall end of the Bond End Canal onto narrowboats to go through Dallow. If this lock had been improved the canal down through Burton, and the wharfs it serviced, would have had a longer, more successful existence.

The Shobnall end of the canal still survives, although filled in beyond the first lock. The remaining basin is home to Shobnall Marina, tucked under the narrow towpath bridge.IMG_1992
We reversed in here to take on diesel and a couple of bags of solid fuel.

Looking across the basin, the top lock is now used as a dry dock, covered over as part of the workshop.
The lift bridge across the top of the lock carries the original number… although I doubt it’s the original bridge!

In the picture of Mags entering Dallow Lock there’s a boat in the background, just off the lock landing. This is the Apollo, built in the 1920’s as a horse boat carrying coal from Cannock Chase into Birmingham. She had a counter fitted and a motor installed, got shortened and was used as a tug, and more recently ended up in Yorkshire as a trip boat.
The new owner is moving it up the T&M, but unfortunately it’s not seen a narrow lock for a number of years, and has put on a bit of girth. Dallow Lock was impassable, so a ratchet strap was borrowed from Shobnall, the sides pulled in and chained to hold them. This reduced the width enough to allow passage. This is not as barbaric as it sounds. All the boats had chains across the holds, adjusted with a bottle screw to pull in the sides when loaded with loose material like coal.

Apollo moored outside Shobnall after squeezing through Dallow.IMG_1994The new owner is going to return her to her tug form, with a longer cabin and tug deck.

We wound our way out of the town, ascended Branston Lock, and tied up just before Branston Bridge.
The lock was against us but we adopted our winter technique to go up. The bow is nudged up to the lower gates and left in gear on tick-over while I nip up and lift the lower paddles. As a level is made the boat eases forward, opening the gates while  I drop the paddles. With the boat in I close the lower gates and draw the upper ground paddles, balancing the flow till the bow button is on the gate. Lock filled, Mags gives me a hand by giving the gate a shove, then pauses just clear of the gate so I can shut it and hop back aboard after I’ve dropped the paddles.
It all takes less than five minutes, and there’s no fannying about on the lock landings. Of course, it only works if there’s no-one else around.

Moored at Branston, Meg waits patiently to play ball.IMG_1998

Alrewas tomorrow, all being well. It’s so good to be moving again…

Thanks for the comment, Alf. Yes, it wouldn't have been much fun yesterday.
Hi Carol. The all clear for another year. Great.

Locks 2, miles 7½

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bottled It!

We were due out of Mercia Marina today, but one look at the wind-whipped water across the stern made me toddle across to the office and pay for another night. Certainly not “Jolly Boating Weather”, but there were some hardy souls out on the water.DSC_0295

Before the storm, sunrise as we set off for Yorkshire first thing yesterdayDSC_0293

Mags appointment with the nurse went OK, BP a little high but that’s hardly surprising after a 2¾ hour journey. And then there’s the white coat factor…

The drive up was fine, just a bit of traffic as we got to Stoke, but the run south was very busy on the M6. On three separate occasions we were stop-start for no apparent reason, just volume of traffic. And this was at 13:30. God knows what it was like by half past four!

I took the car back this morning, glad to see the back of it. It was a Dacia Duster, a bit of a camel, designed by committee. The six-speed gearbox could have done with one less cog and a higher ratio diff. I rarely used first gear, and even second was unnecessary if the wheels were turning. It was fairly good on mpg though, returning 45 at motorway speeds. I suppose that made up for the road and wind noise at anything above 50 mph.

While I was in the office the door opened and in came Ed Shiers of Four Counties Marine Services. He was here to service someone’s heating, he’s done the same for us in the past, as well as helping out when we were stuck in the wilds on the Leeds and Liverpool with a cooked starter motor. After he’d finished he came round to us for a brew and a bacon butty. A thoroughly nice man, highly recommended if you need anything doing.

The weather looks to be improving tomorrow, so we’ll be off and away aiming to get to Branston Water Park. With a pause at Midland Chandlers on the way out, and a visit to Shobnall Wharf for diesel and solid fuel as we toddle through Burton. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Windy Willington

It’s been a blowy across the marina today. Unfortunately it's a fact of life with large expanses of open water, but it doesn’t make manouevering any easier. We’re not due out of here till Tuesday, but by then it’s forecast to be worse than today as Hurricane Gonzalo zips by. I don’t think we’ll be going very far…
A couple of views of the marina…

From the top of the dog exercise field

Panorama from above Nuthatch pontoon Panorama
Dominating the horizon are the five cooling towers of Willington A and B power stations. Commissioned in the 1950’s, de-commissioned in the 1990’s. The towers are the only structures left on the site.

With plenty of time to prepare we had roast beef with Yorkshire puds, roast and mash spuds and veg for a late lunch. Lovely, even though I say so myself. Bit full now...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mercia Marina

After KevinToo’s visit on Wednesday we moved a bit further away from Willington, to a quieter bit of towpath. It’s a very pleasant canalside village but is spoilt by the busy railway lines running close by.

Today we upped sticks again and moved into Mercia Marina.

The access channel to the marina

The marina is based on a disused gravel pit, with peninsulas added to break the moorings up into smaller, isolated areas.

Purloined from the website -

The buildings now to be seen above the road bridge is the new development called the boardwalk, which had it’s official opening just last weekend. It’s not shown on the aerial shot, above.

The BoardwalkIMG_1972

We pulled onto the visitor moorings on the Boardwalk “island” and I went to book in at the office and to find out where they were putting us for the next few days.IMG_1974

We finished up on Avocet, pretty much where we were last time we were here. You always get a good welcome here…

I had a quick visit with Bruce and Sheila, NB Sanity Again, this afternoon when I took Meg up to the exercise field for her lunchtime constitutional, then later we met the famous blogging dog Sally with Elanor and Sheila.
Tomorrow I’ll have a toddle round to the other side of the pond to see Mike and Mags on Rose of Arden.

Although we’re not going up to God’s Country (Yorkshire, of course!) until Monday I’ve got a car from Enterprise today. A bit different, a Dacia Duster. Hmm. It’s 4WD. I did explain that we were going up the M6 rather than across country…
Still, it seems to drive nicely, and I do like a higher driving position. It’ll get a bit of use before it goes back. Now then, where’s the nearest off-road course? Only joking, Mr Enterprise!  

Locks 0, miles ½

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An easy day and a VERY welcome visitor!

It’s been a bit damp on and off today, but no heavy rain until this evening. Our trip today was split in two by Stenson Lock, the last and deepest of the broad locks at this end of the canal.

Toll house at Swarkestone, alongside the gauging narrows.IMG_1958

Nb Dessie tows a duck house, complete with solar power!IMG_1959

We spent the morning dodging Canaltime boats heading back to Sawley for Friday and Saturday. Over half of the oncoming boats today had the distinctive front cabin panel.IMG_1962

A boat was just entering the top of Stenson Lock as we arrived, and by the time they were down and out we were joined by another to go up. It’s much better to share these deep, wide locks, a single boat moves around too much with the flow of the water.

Stenson Lock, the cafe alongside is favourite spot for boat watching.IMG_1966

He’s a fine looking chap!

We headed in to Willington, needing to empty a loo tank. It was a quick visit as I’d already watered and rubbish-ed at Swarkestone. I was hoping we’d be able to moor between the winding hole and the road bridge, but we were just pipped to the last slot, so we turned around and moored a little further back.
We need to be this way around anyway, we’re booked into Mercia Marina for the weekend. Mags has her annual MOT on Monday, so we will be off up north. And we were expecting a visitor.

KevinToo, regular blog reader and contributor to this and many other blogs was coming to see us. Unfortunately his Mum, Sylia, is not so good, so couldn’t come, but he brought goodies instead.

Doughnuts for Mags…
…pork pie for me, and hide chews for Meg!

Meg looks interested too, but she’s not likely to get any of those!

We had a pleasant couple of hours chatting before he had to get away. Good to see you Kevin, anytime, especially if you bring treats! See you again soon, hopefully with Sylvia next time.

Mick off NB Rose of Arden said Hi as he passed as well, they’re in Mercia so we’ll look them up this weekend.

Locks 1, miles 5