Friday, November 30, 2007

Walked back towards Fradley with Meg this morning, past NB TIMEWARP. We’ve chatted to Tony and Jacquie before, when we’ve been moored near them. While the dogs played (they have a German Shepherd called Cally), we caught up, and J gave me the number of a coal merchant who is prepared to deliver to boats in Fradley. Convenient, and cheaper than the boatyard. We’ll give him a call when we get back there next week. It was Tony who recommended the Chinese Takeaway in Alrewas, and I wasn’t disappointed.

We got away from Alrewas at around 11, through the lock and onto the river section. The warning boards on the upstream end said “Proceed With Caution”, while those on the downstream end said “Open As Usual”. It’s safer going upstream I guess?

Alrewas Lock
Through Wychnor Lock and back onto non-flowing canal, where we picked up a load of rubbish on the prop, flicked off with a quick burst in reverse, then on to Barton Turns where the new restaurant and shop complex called The Waterside is now open. The marina is packed with boats as well.

A half hour later saw us at Tattenhill Lock, arriving just as a boat was leaving the chamber, so we went straight in, then another 10 minutes to Branston Water Park, our stop for the weekend. The moorings right next to the park were nearly empty, but we prefer to moor the other side of the bridge where there’s not so many walkers passing by and the towpath is wider. It looks like everyone else had the same idea, but we managed to slot in between 2 boats with 6 inches to spare.

It’s been dry but breezy today, but judging by the forecast, we’ll be battening down the hatches this weekend.

Locks 4, miles 5

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We’ve had an uneventful week or so around Fradley Junction. The weather has been OK, mostly fine with a few rainy spells. Shade House itself is still for sale, a nice property, but at 700k a nice price too!

Moored at Shade House.
We stayed up at Shade House Lock till Tuesday, then moved on down 3 locks to the sanitary station near the junction, pausing en route to get 4 bags of smokeless from Swan Line. Then another 50 yards or so, across the cut and moored alongside the nature reserve. Also picked up Mags’ prescription which we’d had sent to the Information Centre (thanks Yvonne)

Organised a Tesco grocery delivery which arrived yesterday just after lunch, but, by the time we’d packed everything away, it was a bit late to move off, so we stayed another night.

A fine bright day today, and we were off at around 11:30, after a final visit to the water point. Just 4 locks and 1½ miles took us to Alrewas, were we’ll stay tonight. I need to go to the Chemist to get Mags’ prescription filled, and the Chinese Takeaway comes highly recommended!

Moored just against the bowling green, near the church.

While we were at Fradley, we met Dave with his dog Simba, who we’d come across last Spring. The dogs remembered each other, and enjoyed each other’s company.

For the week, locks 7, miles 2 and a bit.

Friday, November 23, 2007

We had a cold, frosty night, but today is sunny and dry. A typical late autumn, early winter day. Beautiful.

Handsacre Mooring
We had a very slow cruise down to Shadehouse Lock, with just Woodend Lock to pass. It’s enjoyable running at just over tick-over, listening to the birds and watching the squirrels.

We arrived here a bit before 1 o’clock. We’ll stay here for the weekend now. It’s a pleasant spot, a wide towpath and good walks for Meg, good TV reception, and about ½ an hours walk to Fradley village for a paper.

Shadehouse Lock and Moorings
Locks 1, miles 4

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Today dawned overcast and drizzly, but improved as it went on. We moved off around 10:30, and by 11:30 were on the visitor moorings in the middle of Rugeley. When we came down the T&M last July, there was a continuous mile of boats here, today we were the only one when we arrived. It’s so handy for the town centre, and there’s a Morrisons only 5 minutes away.

By the time we’d filled the larder, then gone back up into town for some Christmas shopping, it was half past 2, so instead of aiming to get to Shadehouse lock at the top of the Fradley locks, we decided to just go to Handsacre instead. It was nearly 4 by the time we got here, so Shadehouse, another 3 miles, would have been out of the question before dark.

Not far from bridge 68 there’s a family of Mute Swans. Nothing unusual in that, but latched onto them is a Bewick’s Swan. At least I think it’s a Bewick’s, I reckon the beak is wrong for a Whooper. Either way, it’s the first I’ve see on a canal.

Bewick’s Swan on the bank.
Oh, and I stand corrected. Yesterdays photo of a working narrowboat used for mobile pump-out is NOT the first we've seen. I'd forgotten about the boat at Anderton Marina. It's called, would you believe, "Two Loos Lautrec"! I've not been able to get a descent picture, this is the best I've got, from last May.

Two Loos Lautrec at Anderton
Locks none, miles 5

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The “couple of days” we were staying at Tixall Wide has stretched into a week. We’re in no hurry, and it’s a pleasant spot. The weather has been variable, with bright days followed by sharp frosts at night, then SNOW overnight on Saturday, leading into wet and windy weather Sunday and Monday. It’s settled down again now, with typical November temperatures and the odd light shower.

I took advantage of the fine weather at the end of the week to fit brass runners onto the underside of the rear slide. As built, it has hardwood strips running on brass on the cabin top, adequate but could be improved. With the brass/brass runners, the hatch is much easier to slide.

Here’s the hatch upside down on the cabin top, ready to go back on.
On Saturday morning, before the weather turned, we made a trip down to the junction for water and rubbish disposal. Also picked up half a dozen bags of smokeless from Anglo-Welsh, before turning around and returning the mile back to where we were moored. A-W haven’t many boats out at this time of year.

Great Haywood is a handy spot, with a PO, and a Spar shop, incorporating a butcher. Got a nice piece of topside for Sunday lunch. His pork pies are good as well. There’s also a pet shop, and I picked up a new bed for Meg. Bruno’s old one was too big for her, taking up unnecessary floor space. She fits the new one beautifully!

Meg’s new bed.
So we set off today, down to the junction and the services again, before dropping down through Haywood Lock and mooring just below for a last trip to the shops. This lock is scheduled for gate replacement in January.

Haywood Lock

After shopping we carried on to Colwich lock, then another mile or so before mooring near bridge 69. We’ve stayed here before. Tomorrow we’re going to stop in Rugeley for a visit to Morrisons and some Christmas shopping before carrying on towards Fadley. That’s why we’ve stopped here. We’re about an hour from the moorings in the middle of the town.
We had a bit of drizzle first thing, but it faired up and stayed dry for the rest of the day.

Saw my first Tufted Duck in Great Haywood

And another first – mobile loo tank emptying!

Locks 2, miles 3.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Today started out overcast after a chilly night, but dry. The forecast is for sunny spells later, so we’ll look forward to that. We woke up surrounded by fishermen. I guess this is a popular spot for them.

Got away around 10:15, and 1½ miles took us to Deptmore Lock. We followed the valley of the River Penk from Penkridge, and the water meadows attract a lot of wildlife. We spotted several robins, a lot of squirrels (greys, though) and a couple of buzzards. A least I think they were buzzards.

Almost from the off, and all the way to Deptmore Lock, we were escorted by this young swan. He turned and headed back as soon as we reached the lock. I think he was making sure we didn’t get up to any mischief!

Swan Escort

Deptmore Lock
It’s attractive on this stretch, but it gets better as the canal swings eastward on it’s last leg to the Trent and Mersey. This section winds along the Sow valley, crossing the river on a squat aqueduct, before reaching the idyllic setting of Tixall Lock.

River Sow Aqueduct
Tixall Lock
We stopped at around 14:00 on Tixall Wide, about ½ a mile before Great Haywood Junction. We plan on staying here a couple of days.

Tixall Wide
We had a call from Carol on NB Corbiere who we spent some time with last winter on the Soar and the Leicester Section down to Market Harborough. We’re going to try to meet up, but at the moment we’re on opposite sides of the Trent and Mersey winter stoppages. I’m sure we’ll work something out, though.

Locks 2, miles 7.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Another short trip today. The morning started gloomy, and, although I managed to walk Meg without getting wet, steady drizzle soon set in. We waited till about noon, when a touch of brightness in the sky implied an improvement. A stop at the water point, then down Penkridge Lock.

The respite proved to be short-lived, however. Inside an hour the rain was back, not continuous but in heavy showers. We carried on for a bit, then pulled over just below Park Gate Lock.

Longford Lock
Under the M6 for the last time, I reckon. Spot the calf on the left?
Here's his mates.. The one on the right isn’t blowing bubbles…
It’s just a drop of water on the lens. Or maybe ectoplasm?
I made a quick trip into Midland Chandlers, conveniently beside the lock, for some brass strip and a replacement cabin hook for the back doors. The strip is for the back hatch, to improve it's “slideability”.

Then we pushed on another ½ mile or so, and moored just below Shutt Hill Lock. We could have stayed at Park Gate, but it was alongside the road (handy for a grocery delivery though, must make a note of that…) and too close to the temptation of the chandlery. That under cupboard freezer looks useful…. Maybe for next year.

PS. It's bad news for those on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. A breach in October has led to a major assessment by BW, the results of which indicate that the canal may be closed for all of next year. See this. Evidence of the impact of funding cuts, maybe.

Locks 4, miles 2.

Monday, November 12, 2007

We stopped at Gailey for the weekend. The weather was iffy, drizzly on Saturday, and showery yesterday. I got a few odd jobs done, and had an explore of the area with Meg.
I gave Meg’s fringe a trim, so she could see where she is going. Here she is posing.

Last night was a hard frost, the coldest it’s been so far. But this morning was one of those crystal clear ones, cold and bright.

We moved off at 10:20, straight into Brick Kiln Lock as it was vacated by a boat coming up.
The next lock is the unfortunately named Bogg’s Lock, followed shortly by Rodbaston Lock, only a stone’s throw from the M6.

Bogg’s Lock

Otherton Lock and the Boat Haven saw us turn our backs on the hurrying traffic, and we were shortly in Penkridge. Through Filance Lock, and we moored just above Penkridge Lock, in the centre of the town. I made a couple of shopping excursions, one for groceries which was successful, and another to the DIY shop, which was a waste of time.
Meg has an appointment to see the local Vet for her annual MOT and boosters this evening, it’s only 5 minutes walk from here, and I don’t know when we’ll have a better opportunity.
We’re stopping here tonight, I’ll make another shopping run tomorrow, then we’ll be on our way.

Penkridge has an interesting history, it has a dubious claim to having been the capital of England under Saxon King Edgar in 958. Have a look at the excellent website .

Locks 5, miles 2½

Friday, November 09, 2007

What a night last night! Luckily we were partly sheltered by a hedge, but even so we were rocked to sleep and jolted awake several times.
But the wind blew the rain clouds away, and we woke up to blue skies and no more than a breeze. It wasn’t to last, however, and today’s quota of grey clouds started to build up around 10:00.

We moved off just after 10:00, describing a loop to the east as the canal rounded a low hill. On the extremity of the loop the Hatherton Branch leads off. Now derelict, it used to connect to the northern section of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Hatherton Branch
Heading west again, we passed through an industrial area, before once again resuming the mostly northerly course towards Great Haywood. We arrived at Gailey Wharf a little before 12:00, took on water etc. then dropped down through the lock.

A lot of Viking Afloat boats tied up at Gailey Wharf

Gailey Lock and round Toll-Keepers house.

By this time the threatening clouds had started to leak, so we pulled up just before the next lock. We decided to call it a day, and move on to Penkridge tomorrow.

The “leaf soup” collecting in sheltered stretches can be a nuisance, you wouldn’t believe it, but it actually slows and finally clogs the prop. A quick burst in reverse soon clears it though.

Leaf Soup
Locks 1, miles 4

Thursday, November 08, 2007

We were in two minds whether to move or not today. The forecast predicted strong winds and rain, but although windy it was dry this morning so we decided to go on.

We got away a little earlier than normal, and arrived at Autherley Junction at just after 11:00. The last leg of the Shroppie is pretty much like the rest, only moving from a rural to a suburban area.

It was busy with moored boats at the junction, Water Travel have a hire base here, and there were a few Napton Narrowboats craft about, too. I wonder if they have a reciprocal agreement (like Silsden Boats and Black Prince at Acton Bridge) or if they’re the same company.
It must be interesting on change-over days in the summer, with everyone queuing for the stop lock!

Autherley Junction

We turned sharp left onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, heading almost due north, now.

This canal is rather different in character to the Shropshire Union. It is an earlier construction, completed in 1772 and linking the River Severn at Stourport with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Haywood, and thus giving access to the Potteries and finally to Manchester and Liverpool. As was the practice at that time, it follows the local contours as much as possible, and therefore meanders around the various hills and valleys it’s course encounters. This is in contrast to Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (the southern section of the Shropshire Union), which strikes boldly northwards, with cuttings through the ridges and high embankments over the valleys, barely deviating from it’s course.
This later approach to canal construction, although not as aesthetically pleasing as the contour canal, made for far more efficient transport, and enabled the canal to remain economically viable well into the 20C.

Nicholson’s guide warns that the bridges, although wide, can be low. They’re not wrong!

Bridge 67
Just past this bridge, the navvies encountered a hard ridge of rock, and only cut the channel for one boat width, leaving the odd passing place. This must have led to some disputes during commercial carrying days! In fact, it probably still does!

Narrows near Bridge 68
We passed under the M54 for the second time today, then moored about ½ an hour later, opposite the village of Coven. Pity it’s not Hallowe’en…..

Just got tied up as the rain started in earnest.
Locks 1 miles 7

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We said goodbye to Sue and Vic and the dogs this morning.

No Problem Leaving, Sue on the bank with the dogs.
It’s been really good to meet them, it’s no wonder they’ve so many boating friends around the country. We’ll look for them again in the Spring on the South Oxford. Just now though, they’re heading back up towards Norbury, while we head South towards Autherley Junction and the Staffs and Worcester Canal.

Pups playing, Lucy being aloof.

So we set off ourselves a little later, with a first stop at Brewood. On the way we passed over Telford’s Stretton Aqueduct, which carries the canal over Watling Street. (Doesn’t that sound so much better than “the A5”….)
We moored on the VM at Brewood and had a stroll round the village. An attractive place, with lots of interesting buildings.

Speedwell Castle, in the middle of the village, built around 1740

Unfortunately the moorings are once again in a cutting, so, rather than stop overnight here, we pressed on down towards Chillington Park.

Avenue Bridge, leading to the park.
We stopped for the night not much further on, just past bridge 9.

Another dry day, but a sneaky wind has arrived, and will be bringing some rain tomorrow.

Locks none, miles 4

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Before we left Wheaton Aston this morning I made a quick trip to the shops, then we dieseled up and got some smokeless fuel at Turner’s Garage on the bridge. The next stop was the Sanitary Station for water, but the elsan disposal was out of order, so that will have to wait till Autherly.

Up through the lock (the last proper one on the Shroppie), and, ten minutes further on, we pulled in near to NB NO PROBLEM.

They’d moored for a couple of days above the lock, and had invited us for coffee as we passed today.

The coffee stop stretched through the whole afternoon, the four of us chatting first on one boat, then the other. The dogs, especially Meg and Meg, were happy playing on the towpath.

Sue and I finished the afternoon taking all 3 dogs for a circular walk around the local footpaths. They really enjoyed themselves, our Meg is shattered and is fast asleep on my feet as I type, but it was upsetting to spot a dead calf on our walk.

We’re staying here tonight, and will move on down to Brewood tomorrow.

Will post some pictures tomorrow.

Locks 1, miles 1.

Monday, November 05, 2007

We stayed at the edge of Gnosall for the weekend. Had a free firework display on Saturday night from across the fields, we would have seen more but Cowley Hill interrupted the view back to the village. Luckily, the bangs and whistles don’t bother Meg at all. Poor old Bruno used to be a nervous wreck at this time of year.

I’ve had a concern about the domestic battery bank these last few days. We didn’t seem to have as much power available as we should, so I made a thorough investigation on Sunday. Each battery was isolated in turn, and the voltage of the disconnected unit, and that of the rest of the bank, was checked. This would have indicating a failing battery, but nothing was found. The engine is fitted with two alternators, one for the domestic batteries and the other for the starter. They are both identical 80 amp units, so I decided to swap them over, on the assumption that the domestic unit, having to work considerably harder, was no longer providing it’s full capacity.
Today’s run has shown this to be true, after 3 hours the batteries are almost fully charged, whereas before they were nowhere near this level. I’ll monitor the performance of the starter alternator, and change it if it looks likely to fail. You can’t “bump start” a boat!

Had some good long walks with the hairy one, then on Sunday afternoon, had a surprise visit from Sue from NB NO PROBLEM. I’ve been keeping an eye on their website (see links) and knew they were in the area, but didn’t know they were that close. We had a short chat, then Sue had to get on to catch up with the boat. She was walking the dogs, Meg and Lucy, along the towpath.

This is the folding stool I made last week, modelled by Meg.
Today dawned a bit damp and murky, but started to brighten by lunchtime, so we moved off around noon. The scenery remains much the same, rolling grazing land visible from the embankments, alternating with wooded cuttings full of shed leaves. The breeze had got up today, and we were sometimes engulfed in a blizzard of dead leaves, blown from the trees.

Falling Leaves
Bridge 25 is interesting, apart from being a turnover or roving bridge where the towpath changes sides, it is spilt by a stone wall to separate traffic on the road from traffic on the canal.

Bridge 25
I’ve decided on a new award today. This is the SBDA or “Seen Better Days Award”. It was a toss up between a sunken fibreglass cruiser, or this narrowboat. But I found I had more sympathy for the narrowboat.

Todays SBDA winner near High Onn
Stopped after 2½ hours in Wheaton Aston. We’re staying here tonight, then moving down to Brewood (apparently pronounced “Brood”) tomorrow. It started to rain as soon as we’d tied up, so it was good timing. Cleared up later though, for me to take Meg out.

Locks none, miles 4

Friday, November 02, 2007

Well here we are in November, and still the weather stays fine and dry! We stayed near The Anchor yesterday as planned, I had a couple of long walks with Meg, and made a folding stool for use at the stern. That’s what I went to Focus for the other day!

Off this morning with just a short day planned. Down to Norbury Junction for the services, then stop at Gnosall for the weekend.

Straight into Grub Street Cutting, the colours in the sunlight are fantastic!

Autumn Colours in Grub Street

High Bridge, near the South end of the cutting. An iconic image of the Shroppie.
We reached Norbury after just over an hour, and found it a very attractive spot. We considered staying here, but, after doing the “necessaries” at the services, pushed on to Gnosall.

Norbury Junction
At this junction, the now lost branch ran to Newport, Shrewsbury and Trench. Only the section to the first lock remains, now used for moorings.

Newport Branch
Out of Norbury we crossed the impressive Sheldon Embankment, a major engineering headache and the last section of the canal to be completed, in 1835.
Shopped in Gnosall, but decided not to stay in the village as the visitor moorings are in cuttings, making the towpaths damp and muddy.

So we carried on through Cowley Tunnel. At 81 yards long it’s more of a long bridge, but it should have been much longer. During construction, dangerous faults in the rock led to opening out, leaving a long sheer sided cutting on the South side.

Cowley Cutting and Tunnel, South end
The remaining tunnel is unlined, looking more like a natural cave than a man-made excavation.

Cowley Tunnel, North Portal
We moored in the open a little further on, near bridge 31.
I took Meg for a walk this afternoon, on down the canal and through Castle Cutting. She loves running up the vegetation clad slopes, sending squirrels up trees, and pheasant up on whirring wings, with their “smokers cough” alarm calls ringing out.

Locks none, miles 5½