Thursday, February 27, 2014

Back to Hawkesbury and meeting friends.

It’s been mixed weather while we’ve been in Coventry, sunny one minute with showers blowing over the next.

Coventry BasinDSC_0187

The east arm of the Y-shaped basin is now occupied by Valley Cruisers hire fleet.

James Brindley is looking puzzled about something…SAM_8420

Yesterday was “me time”, a morning in the transport museum.

A fantastic way to spend a couple of hours…. DSC_0138


I had one of these…DSC_0145

…one of these….

…and the 3½ litre version of this.
Sorry about the flash.

Apart from examples of cars, cycles and motorcycles produced in Coventry, the museum also houses the last two British land speed record cars, Thrust 2 and Thrust SSC.

Thrust 2 broke the world record in October 1983, 633 MPH.DSC_0150
The picture top left is from a video display charting the development of Thrust 2. I caught it as it showed a prototype looping the loop…

Thrust SSC broke it again on 15th October 1997, breaking the sound barrier to reach 763 MPH.

Oh yummy, Jaguars!DSC_0153
I was a bit disappointed not to see any examples of Riley Motors, apart from an early tricar. Riley were producing cars at Alderman’s Green until 1949, when it was moved to Abingdon with MG. It had been part of Lord Nuffield’s Morris Motors since 1938.

Here’s an interesting aside; Percy Riley set up an engine plant at Alderman’s Green, which later specialised in transmissions. It stayed independent of the Morris/BMC/BL takeover, and is still there, trading as PRM Newage.
Any boaters out there recognise the name? You’ve probably got one of their gearboxes bolted to the end of your engine…

Today was the turn of a more spiritual excursion. A visit to Coventry Cathedral, although in the end I didn’t go into the new building, at £8 I thought the entrance fee a little steep.
Talking of steep, I did climb the 180 steps inside the tower of St Michael’s, which survived the Coventry Blitz of November 1940, when most of the rest of the church was destroyed.

Heading up the cobbled Hill Top, the lane which leads to the Cathedral. Steeples of St. Michaels on the left, Holy Trinity on the right.DSC_0155

Engravings of angels adorn the glazed front of the new cathedralDSC_0156

St. Michael triumphs over Satan…DSC_0183

Old and new….DSC_0184

Inside the body of the ruined church, looking towards the surviving tower.DSC_0157

The entrance to the new cathedral lies opposite the old north wall

The Altar.
The cross is made from burned roof timbers…

St. Michaels Tower

Up the spiral staircase

I was lucky in that there were a couple of guys working on the bell platform. They kindly stood aside for me to get a picture.DSC_0165
There is a viewing platform higher up, but for safety it’s enclosed in glass, pretty grimy glass.

At the top, views across the city.DSC_0167




It was a bit blowy up there, but I wouldn’t have missed it!

Back to the boat, and we were ready to go when the first of the afternoon showers blew over. We waited for that to pass, so it was nearly 12:30 when we said cheerio to James.

Still puzzled…SAM_8424

SAM_8426The entrance to the basin is through a low, narrow bridge.

It was designed this way so the basin could be closed off at night. No boats were allowed to stay overnight; if they hadn’t finished loading or unloading they had to pull out and return in the morning.

Contrary to what we’d heard, the basin was peaceful and quiet. TV on the aerial wasn’t brilliant so I put the dish up. There is traffic noise, but you are in the middle of a city!

The return trip was uneventful, taking about 2 hours in sunshine and showers. We arrived back at Hawkesbury to be met by Sue and Vic, Meg and Penny off NB No Problem. They joined us for dinner and we’ve had a good old catch-up. We’ll be travelling in company for a bit, on up the Ashby Canal.

Stopping here tomorrow though, more persistent rain forecast.

Locks 0, miles 5¾

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Down “The 5½” to Coventry

That’s how the last stretch of the Coventry Canal to the city centre is known, apparently.

We’ve had a steady sort of weekend, short walks with Meg because she’s pulled a muscle in her right rear leg, so she’s a bit stiff till she gets going. It’s slowly getting better, though.

With wood getting harder and harder to find, we topped off the solid fuel stocks yesterday, taking half a dozen bags of Excel off fuel boat Auriga.

Ex GUCC and BW maintenance fleet NB AurigaSAM_8389

Most of the walking around Hawkesbury involves some sort of post-industrial landscape. Alongside the towpath there’s a wilderness of stunted bushes, briar and mossy, boggy areas, probably spoil from the several collieries around the junction. Across the canal, near where a new apartment development has sprung up, the site of one of the shafts of the Coventry Colliery is marked by a large depression.

SAM_8393Alongside the junction the old engine house used to contain a Newcomen atmospheric steam engine, installed for the dual purpose of pumping water from the mines and supplying the same to the canal. The engine, named Lady Godiva, had already pumped water from the Griff Colliery for a century before being moved to Hawkesbury. Although disused since 1913, the engine wasn’t removed until 1963. It’s now in a museum in Dartmouth, Thomas Newcomen’s birthplace.

The classic shot from the top of the cast-iron junction bridge, the Coventry Canal on the left, the Oxford Canal through the stop lock on the right.SAM_8396

We moved away from our mooring at around half-past nine, filled with water then pulled onto the service wharf just south of the junction. Loos and rubbish emptied, we had 30 minutes or so to wait for our Tesco delivery.

Groceries stowed, we got moving again at 11:30.

Bridge 11a carries metal sculptures entitled “Wings Over Water”SAM_8397
The current footbridge replaces a mineral railway line carrying coal from Wyken Colliery to the main line.

Under the M6, supporting pillars stretch into the distance

The canal does a sharp right hander at Longford Wharf.

Longford WharfSAM_8400
The wide section here marks the original junction of the Oxford and Coventry Canals. Both routes were built within a ten year period, but disagreements over toll charges for various cargoes led to the junction being sited here, at Longford. The canals ran parallel to each other, a few yards apart, for about a mile. This peculiar state of affairs continued for 25 years, until a compromise was reached and the junction at Hawkesbury constructed. The old line of the Oxford to Longford has been infilled.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been down here. Some time ago we came part way to shop at the large Tesco near Bridge 8. Then we carried on a little further to wind at Bridge 6a and return.

Bridge 6a, the limit of our earlier exploration.SAM_8402

Stoke Heath Basin is a compact residential mooring, but I can’t find out what it’s original function was.


The canal winds extravagantly for the next mile, clinging onto the contour to avoid the need for locks. It passes through a mostly Asian settled area….


…before it leaves the residential fringe and moves into an area of newer development on old factory sites.SAM_8408

Coventry is known as the home of the British motor industry, but it also had a thriving textile industry in the 19th century.
Quaker brother John and Joseph Cash wanted to give weavers a degree of independence, so planned a square of one hundred three storey  terraced houses, the top floor of which housed looms. These were driven by a central steam plant for each row. In the end only two sides of the square were built, in the late 1850’s, just 48 of the planned hundred.
When the industry went into decline the rows were converted into a factory, with the accommodation closed. The houses were bought and refurbished by a housing association in 1984.

Cash’s Hundred Houses.SAM_8410 
The large windows on the top floor gave good light by which to work. There’s only 37 houses left now, after the depredations of the Luftwaffe in 1940.

There’s a fancy new footbridge spanning the canal at Electric Wharf, the site of the former Victorian power station.

Electric Wharf FootbridgeSAM_8413
The power station buildings have been converted into eco-friendly apartments and offices.

See the grey cloud starting to build? I thought we might make the last 10 minutes into the basin, but it was not to be…

Under Bridge 1 in a heavy shower.

Into the basin….SAM_8416

…and moored up just in time for the sun to come out again!

Tomorrow I’ll satisfy my hankering after old machinery with a trip to the transport museum, maybe followed by something a little more spiritual at the cathedral.

Locks 0, miles 5¾

Friday, February 21, 2014

Conflict, quarries and coal

Meg and I walked up onto the ridge of Hartshill on this bright morning.SAM_8352
Below on the plain stretching off to the north-east one of the defining events of the Roman Occupation took place, according to local belief.

The Romans had arrived in force in AD 43, although Julius Caesar had been here nearly 100 years before, during campaigns in Gaul. Rather than conquest by the sword (although they didn’t mess about when they had to…) the policy was that of treaty with the local kings and tribal leaders. If they didn’t give trouble they were left alone, so long as certain conditions were met.

One such was King Presutagus of the Iceni, who ruled in what is now Norfolk. His agreement with the Governor was that on his death half his kingdom would revert to Rome. When the old guy finally shuffled off his mortal coil in around AD59, he left his wife Boudica and daughters, in principal, with still a sizeable territory. But the wily Romans decided they could do better, and ignored the agreement, annexing the whole kingdom. The wife was flogged, the daughters raped as a final humiliation.

Following this outrage Boudica raised a sizeable force of Briton tribes, chiefly her own Iceni with support from the Trinovantes. With the Roman Governor, Suetonius, off quelling the Welsh in Anglesey, she marched her army on Colchester, destroying the town and killing all who remained. She then turned her attention on Londinium, a wholly Roman commercial settlement at that time on the banks of the Thames. This was also sacked and burned and the 9th Spanish Legion almost destroyed when they tried to stop Boudica’s forces, now numbering anything from 100,000 to 230,000 strong according to various sources.
Suetonius considered meeting her before she got to the town, but decided he didn’t have the strength to prevail, so sacrificed the settlement. Instead he headed into Mercia, now the West Midlands, gathering troops as he went. Boudica meanwhile vented her anger on St. Albans before heading north to meet the Roman forces.

Statue of Boudica and her daughters by Thomas Thorneycroft, next to Westminster Bridge
Boudica and daughters
Although heavily outnumbered, Suetonius chose terrain which suited Roman military tactics. The undisciplined horde of poorly-armed Britons threw themselves against the Roman formations but couldn’t break them. Instead they were steadily and systematically wiped out as the Legionaries advanced. The battle turned into a rout.
Contemporary sources (Roman, of course) claim 80,000 Britons killed, for the loss of only 400 Roman soldiers.

Boudica escaped the slaughter, but sickened and died soon after, probably from self-inflicted poisoning.

The Battle of Watling Street put an end to major revolt against the invaders, and a sometimes uneasy “Pax Romana” prevailed across Britannia for the next 360-odd years until the occupation forces and officials were withdrawn and the country left to it’s own devices.

There are several other contenders for the actual site of the battle, as the chroniclers of the time didn’t make it’s location clear. The only common feature is that it occurred near Watling Street, the Roman Road stretching from Dover to Wroxeter in Shropshire, then south into Herefordshire through the Welsh Marches. Here the road, now the modern A5, runs just a mile from the ridge.

Yesterday was a mixture of sunshine and blustery showers. Not too bad, but I’m glad we stayed put.

Hartshill Yard from across the canalPanorama

I’d walked past Bridge Cottage a couple of times, wondering about the reason for the rounded corner.

Bridge Cottage
It dawned on me this morning. The bridge crossing the canal on the right would have been carrying the lane up to Hartshill village until the construction of the new road and bridge 100 yards away. Access to the maintenance yard would have had to have been alongside the cottage, hence the rounded corner to make it easier to turn in. The cottage is on the extreme left of the panorama above, the new bridge on the right. It must make for interesting decorating….

We were away at about 11:00, by the time Mags had finished messaging her friends on Facebook. She’s really getting to grips with the iPad now.

Our mooring for yesterday, “Mount Jud” rising behind the trees.SAM_8357

Although it looks fairly bucolic along the canal, the wooded banks hide a busy industrial past.


Old quarries abound in this area, extracting the granite which is excellent for road building. Abandoned wharves hint at what lies behind the trees…

A wooded corner hides the extensive Judkins Quarry, up till recently still producing high grade stone. It’s now being used as a waste tip.SAM_8363
Mount Judd, visible from near our last mooring, is a huge heap of quarry waste.

The canal passes through Nuneaton, know throughout the boating community for the amount of rubbish encountered in the canal. But today I take my hat off to the town, apart from a small raft of plastic bottles on the outskirts, there were none of the usual discarded items of furniture, TVs and computer monitors.
Actually, thinking about the last two, I bet there aren’t many CRT TVs and monitors left to throw out. LED/LCD ones probably sink…

Boot Wharf is a long established boatyard in the middle of the town, now home to Starline Boats.SAM_8370
It’s pleasant to see a boatyard fuel wharf you can actually get onto in the winter!

Signs of the expired coal industry now start to appear as the canal leaves Nuneaton.

The Griff Arm serviced the Griff Colliery, running nearly a mile to a loading basin.SAM_8373
The Warwickshire Coalfield is oval in shape, north to south from Tamworth to below Coventry, west to east from almost Solihull to Nuneaton. The Coventry Canal was built to carry the production of nearly twenty collieries working the measures.
Daw Mill, to the west of Nuneaton, was the highest producing pit in the country in 2008, knocking out 3¼ million tons of coal that year. A destructive fire in 2013 forced the closure of the mine, 650 people losing their jobs. It was the last surviving coal mine in the West Midlands.
More info here

The Ashby Canal branches off to the left, east, at Marston Junction, just on the outskirts of Bedworth.

Marston Junction.SAM_8379
It got a little fraught here for a moment. The boat on the right, just coming out of the bridge, wanted to go under the junction bridge and onto the Ashby. But as we passed the bridge I spotted a boat heading off the Ashby into the narrows which once held a stop-lock. So I advised the oncoming boat to hold off till the junction was clear. Unfortunately another boat was following the one on the right, and he had to stop short of the bridge to let us through and to wait for the boat in front to get out of the way. You had to be there….
Not seen so many boats moving at one time for ages!

You don’t see much of Bedworth from the canal, a high bank on the right hides the view.

It’s good to see that some things don’t change much, Charity Dock is still more of a junkyard than a boatyard.

Charity Dock
I bet there’s some treasures lurking amongst that lot. Industrial archaeologists will be queuing up when it’s finally closed and cleared.

The Navigation, a large pub alongside Bulkington Bridge, was boarded up when we last came this way. It’s got a new lease of life now as a des-res.

Was The Navigation, now someone’s attractive home

There’s another colliery arm on the right this one going to the Newdigate Pit

Newdigate Colliery Arm

This arm was only short, connecting to a rail spur which ran from the colliery about 1½ miles away.

One of these days we’ll moor near here and I’ll walk the footpath which follows the arm and railway.

From here it’s about a mile to Hawkesbury Junction, where we stopped. I was glad to; the day started sunny but breezy, later the sun had disappeared behind grey clouds and the wind picked up bringing a touch of rain, making it feel quite cold. I think it’s the coldest I’ve been this winter so far!

We’ll stay here for the weekend now.

Locks 0, miles 8½