Thursday, January 29, 2009

Onto unfamiliar waters….

Pulled away at 10:30 this morning, retracing our route back to Autherley. It was a bit drizzly first thing, but this cleared up, leaving a grey but dry day. We even had a glimpse of the sun later in the afternoon.

We filled with water and dumped the rubbish at the junction, before turning right onto the Staffs and Worcs.

Back through Autherley Stop Lock.

Autherley Junction
Although there’s evidence of the Wolverhampton conurbation, it’s surprisingly rural past the town, with the canal hiding in a wooded cutting.

Paired blue brick railway arches

Aldersley Junction takes the Birmingham Main Line up the 21 lock Wolverhamton Flight on it’s way to Horseley Fields Junction in the centre of the city.

Aldersley Junction. The bottom lock of the “Wolverhampton 21” can just be seen through the bridge arch.

Compton Lock has the distinction of being the first lock completed on the navigation, in the late 1760’s.

Compton Lock
It’s accompanied by a circular bywash weir, a feature of several of these locks. Meg seems to find it fascinating.

After Compton, we caught up with NB POLAR STAR, who was, in turn, trailing 3 BW workboats. But there wasn’t much of a hold-up, and we were through Wightwick Lock by soon after 14:00.

Waiting to go into Wightwick Lock.
We moored shortly after, near Pool Hall. Alongside is a feeder reservoir, popular with local anglers.
First impressions of this stretch of the Staffs and Worcs.? I like it. The canal is a lot cleaner than I expected, and the towpath is in good condition. So are the locks, at least those we’ve descended today.

I'm glad to see that someone's found a use for the newly installed square bollards...

Locks 4, miles 7

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back through Brewood…

The rain came down with a vengeance last night, but it had moved on by this morning. The footpaths, and even the roads, were well awash, though.

We had a late start, mainly because I took longer than anticipated on my morning run. 5 miles stretched to over 6, as I got lost on the narrow lanes north of Brewood.

We got off finally, and just ¾ of an hour later pulled in at Brewood visitor moorings. We stopped here for shopping and lunch.
But first I got a couple of pictures of Stretton Aqueduct from near the road.
The legend reads -

The mail line was built as the Birmingham and Liverpool (Junction) Canal, and was the basis of the new Shropshire Union Canal, incorporating the B&LJ, Ellesmere Branch (Llangollen Canal), Middlewich Branch, Montgomery Canal, Chester Canal and Shrewsbury and Newport Canal. The new company was formed in 1845.

Countrywide Cruisers at Brewood Wharf. The hire boats look pretty good, unusually with a choice of trad, semi-trad and cruiser sterns.BW and the local council really ought to get together to make the moorings more attractive. There is a hard surface under all the mud, but the edge is supposed to be grassed! Putting an all weather surface right across would make a big difference.

Brewood VM. Mud pack, anyone?

After lunch we motored the last 1½ miles to the mooring spot we’d used on Monday. This is one of the moorings with rings that have been installed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society. There are several sites, along the main line, the Middlewich Branch and even on the Llangollen. They are listed in a pamphlet available from the Society, although we got ours from the lockie at Hurleston last year.

Open views from the mooring

I chopped up a couple of logs into fire sized pieces when Meg and I got back from our walk.

Woodcutting, with Meg supervisingOur evening exercise took in part of the Monarchs Way. This is a 615 mile footpath, from Worcester to Shoreham, near Brighton, tracing Charles II escape route following his final defeat at the hands of Cromwell’s New Modern Army in 1651.
Locks 0, miles 3

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A short cruise to fill the tanks

We had an early frost last night, but the cloud thickened by morning, giving us a grey, murky start to the day. Still, the predicted rain took longer to arrive than expected.

Today was just a gentle motor to Wheaton Aston to get diesel and solid fuel (that wood’s nearly all gone). The red stuff was good value at 51.9p/lt, but the price of the bagged smokeless has gone through the roof. At £10.95 a bag, I guess I’ll have to find some more wood!

A mile or so from our overnight, we passed under Avenue Bridge, an elaborate structure with balustrades. This carries the now overgrown carriage road to Chillington Hall, over to the west.
With parking at both ends of the “avenue”, the woods either side are a popular dog walking spot.

Avenue Bridge, no 10

Then on into Brewood, always a popular stop for provisions. The trouble is, the moorings are in one of the cuttings that the canal is noted for. We’ve stopped here for shopping, but never overnight.

Brewood Bridge and visitor moorings
The A5 scuttles under the canal bit further on. The waterway is carried on a superb example of Telford ‘s solid, unpretentious design.

Stretton Aqueduct over Watling Street

I’ll post a picture from the bottom tomorrow.

We dropped down Wheaton Aston Lock, and pulled over onto Turners wharf at Bridge 19. No argument over diesel splits here, and we took on 145 litres. 7 bags of smokeless filled up the roof, then we reversed back 200 yards to the winding hole and, with a bit of a struggle against the freshening breeze, turned around and stopped at the sanitary station to fill the water tank.

Wheaton Aston sanitary station.
So, with the boat probably an inch lower in the water, we went back up the lock, heading back the way we’d come. The rain had started by this time, so we cut the return journey short and pulled over next to Telford’s aqueduct.
We’re in good company here; there are several ex working boats at Stretton Wharf.

Stretton Wharf

We’re supposed to get a good dousing tonight, with more than an inch of rain expected. The already boggy towpaths in the cuttings will be awash, I guess.

Locks 2 (same one twice), miles 6½

Monday, January 26, 2009

Interesting conversations and a short trip up the Shroppie

We stayed put as planned yesterday. I had a long run, took Meg for a decent walk, and had a long chat with Den “The Blacksmith” on NB ASTRA. Very interesting, talking about boats and boat people, and generally putting the world to rights. He’s full of knowledge, especially of the Black Country canals. But his knowledge stretches a bit further afield. Some years ago, Dad worked with an ex boatman called Ralph Mole. He (Ralph, not Dad!) has since passed away, but Den knows the family, and gave me a potted history of his background. He even knows a chap called Fred, who used to work the gravel boats on the Soar with Ralph, and who still lives on his boat at the bottom of Atherstone Locks!

NB Astra
He also advised me to go to Turners at Wheaton Aston for the best priced diesel around. So we’ll have a short excursion up the Shroppie for a couple of days, before turning around to head back to Stourport.

I’ve had concerns about condensation in the hull for a while. It is inevitable in a steel hull, where the air inside is warm and the steel shell is cold. In the engine bay quite a bit of water collects at this time of year. In the summer it’s bone dry down there.

So I decided I needed to have a look in the bilge below the accomodation. But there’s no access through the floor. Solution – get out the jigsaw, and make one!

Bilge Hatch

With the back step in place, you can’t even see it.

As it turns out, I needn’t have bothered; it’s dry as snuff down there. But, what price peace of mind, eh?

This morning we were off at 11:30, following a restored working boat down to Autherley. The narrow section, know as Pendeford Rockin’, where the navvies encountered a tough ridge of rock, was passed without meeting a boat coming in the other direction, luckily. There are passing places, but it’s still a squeeze.

Pendeford Rockin’
The narrow bit finishes at Marsh Lane Bridge.

A little further along we met the working boat again, it having winded at the junction.

Cloned sheds on an allotment. Someone got a deal at the local ShedsRUs...

An unusually bold heron watched us going past….

But his nerve broke finally!
Autherley Junction
At the junction we turned sharp right, and into the stop lock, built to separate the waters of the Staffs and Worcs in the event of a breach on the Shropshire Union. It had the added advantage of stopping the boats so that appropriate tolls could be extracted!

Autherley Stop Lock
The Shroppie shows it’s nature pretty well straight away. Gone is the method of following the contours of the terrain as the earlier canals did. The modern method (in 1835!) was cut and fill, slicing through the hills and using the spoil to form embankments over the valleys. This gives a wide, straight waterway, alternating good views with mossy cuttings.

Wide water on the Shropshire Union.

Security Goose keeps a close eye on us at Wolverhampton Boat Club
It makes it a bit boring, though, sometimes.

3 miles from the junction we pulled over, on one of the mooring spots provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society. These are welcome, as most of the bank is concrete edged with a shelf sticking out under the water, preventing getting the boat close enough to use ordinary fenders.

Where are we? - Moored between Bridge 7 and 8.
Locks 1 (6” fall!), miles 7, although only about 1¼ as the crow flies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A fine day’s cruise and a change of plan….

The weather wasn’t as dire over the last couple of days as predicted; but it was still damp and miserable first thing, although brighter later.

I wouldn’t want to be on the M6 in these conditions. This was 9 o’clock in the morning!
BW have 2 large reservoirs at Gailey, Meg and I had a walk around them on a dryish day.

Gailey Upper Reservoir
There’re the remains of a pump house between the two.

The weather changed last evening, with a gap in the fronts allowing an overnight frost and a fine bright day to follow. Mags’ shoulder was feeling better, so we pulled pins and got away about 10:30.

Just 3 locks today, all within the first mile, the last one being Gailey. This is where the A5 (Watling Street) crosses the canal on its way to Wales.

Approaching Gailey
Gailey Lock has awkward angled balance beams on the top gates, modified when the road bridge was widened.

Unusual round Toll House at the lock.
At the wharf we filled the water tank, and emptied rubbish and loos, before plodding on south towards Wolverhampton.

Gailey Marine is based at the wharf, with a Viking Afloat hire fleet also running from here.
I was going to fill with diesel here, so rang to check on their policy regarding splits for domestic and cruising. They only have two rates – 60/40 as proposed by the BMF, and 100% for houseboats only. They would not accept a self declaration which differed from these, so didn’t get our custom. At 60/40, the average litre price was 94p. This breaks down to 111p cruising, 68p domestic. At the rate I want to declare, (20/80) 100 Lt would cost me 20x1.11+ 80x0.68, =£76.60. A 100 Lt fill at an arbitrary 60/40 would be £93.80. So it’s worth asking first….
We’re OK for another week or so, so we can look for another supplier who is prepared to accept our own declaration.

This is an attractive stretch, wooded banks alternating with open views across the fields.

There’re a couple of tight turns near Calf Heath.
After Calf Heath we passed the western stub of the Hatherton Branch, which used to connect to the northern reaches of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. This is another restoration project, and, when both this and the Wryley and Essington Canal are open, will enable a through route back to the Birmingham and Fazeley just south of Fradley Junction. The stub is currently used for moorings.

The Hatherton Branch of the Staffs and Worcs.

Not wanting to go too far into Wolverhampton before stopping, we pulled over near Bridge 71 at Cross Green. Half a mile across the fields (and a dual carriageway!) is Coven, a handy spot for supplies, with butcher, baker, Post Office and a Co-op.

The weather is supposed to be wet and windy again tomorrow, back to normal, so we’ll probably hang on to see what it’s like on Monday. We’ve plenty of time; we don’t need to be up at Chester till the end of March.

Talking of which…..We’ve decided on a diversion for a couple of weeks. Instead of turning right at Autherly Junction onto the Shropshire Union, we’re going to stay on the Staffs and Worcs, and run down to Stourport on the Severn. Should be fun.

Locks 3, miles 6

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pottering Past Penkridge…

Another frosty night gave us another fine, sunny morning. But it wasn’t to last, by lunchtime the breeze had got up and cloud had started to build. This is the herald to a couple of days of wet and windy weather.

A bright morning over the Penk Valley
Acton Trussell is a posh spot, with lots of high class new houses sprouting up. It’s proximity to the motorway makes it handy for commuting into the cities.

Acton Trussell. You need a few bob to live here.

Oddly, the church sits in splendid isolation to the south of the village.
The first lock today was Shutt Hill, about 40 minutes away. Last time we were here we moored for the night just below the lock, and woke up in the morning surrounded by scowling anglers! Not a frown in sight today, though.

Shutt Hill Lock, fisherman’s friend.
Fishing Can
We stopped for a ½ hour at Park Gate Lock for me to satisfy the urge to visit Midland Chandlers. Come on, I’ve not had a look at “boaty bits” since Sawley!

I came out with 30m of 16mm mooring rope. And a Canal Boat magazine. If (when) we get onto the Thames, we’ll need long lines in some of the locks.

Into Penkridge and filled with water just above the lock, while I nipped to the handy convenience store just around the corner. There’s a Co-op further away, but this shop is “convenient”.

Into Penkridge Lock

We were tempted to stop in the village, there are good moorings above the lock, but overlooked by houses. And as we may finish up tied up for a couple of days waiting for the weather to clear, we decided to move out into the country.

So it was through Filance, Otherton and Rodbaston Locks, before mooring below the unfortunately named Boggs Lock.

The M6 runs close to this stretch, in fact we ducked under it earlier in the day.

Otherton Lock. If this had a sound clip attached, all you’d hear is the snarl of traffic from the motorway.

You can hear the traffic from where we’re moored, but it’s not intrusive.

A couple of days not moving will help Mags. She’s suffering a bit from sore shoulders. And Meg has been off colour as well today. Me? I’m fine. Although now you come to mention it….

Locks 7, miles 6