Monday, January 31, 2011

More Flippin’ Ice…..

Well, January wasn’t going to go out without making a statement! Ice across the canal as we set off this morning, only a couple of millimetres above Bratch Locks, but almost an inch as we left Wombourne behind.

Still, it’s been another bright sunny day, but pretty cold.

We pulled pins at around 11:00, and motored the short distance to Bratch Locks.

Seyella into the middle lock, George winding a blue paddle down.

It looks a long way down to the lower canal level. Carol on R’n’R just leaving the bottom lock.

The locks have come regularly today as we drop down to the Stour valley. Bumblehole was next, followed by a shop-stop near Bridge 43. Then out of Wombourne’s built up area to the staircase locks at Botterham.

Leaving Wombourne

Rock’n’Roll breaks ice arriving at Botterham Locks

Dropping down the double staircase.

Just a little further on there are 2 locks taking the canal down past the village of Swindon. We’d got into the routine of the first arrival setting the lock up, ready for second boat to go straight in and down. This way we leapfrogged down to Greensforge, taking turns on ice-breaking duty.

R’n’R arrives at Swindon Lock, set up by yours truly.

The very low temperatures made some interesting ice sculptures last night.

“Ice Diver” formed by a frozen spout through a lock gate.

Icicles on the by-wash weir at Greensforge Lock

We’d intended to stop above Hinksford Lock, it’s a pleasant open mooring with good TV reception. But with the temperature forecast to drop to -4º tonight, and both boats needing water, we chose to push on to the sani-station at Greensforge.

We filled and emptied, but there was no space to moor above the lock. We dropped down and moored on the VM below, a splendid place if you like trees….

With a bit of perseverance I managed to get an analogue!! signal for the TV, so Mags can get her soap fix. George and Carol’s super-duper self-seeking satellite gizmo picked up a signal straight away!

Thanks to Paul, and Brian and Diana for their comments on The Bratch post. That’s what I find so fascinating about the canals, there’s always something interesting to find out.

Locks 10, miles 4.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Bratch

The name apparently is derived from the Old English “brec”, meaning a clearing in forest or waste ground, so in this case applies to this area on the western fringe of Wombourne.

As is common, the locks here take their name from the closest geographical feature, whether natural or man-made.

Lock Keeper’s cottage and Toll Office

When James Brindley was planning the canal from Great Haywood to Stourport, he came across a bit of a problem here. The 30 foot high slope was too steep for a conventional flight of 3 locks with in-line pounds in between. For some reason he shunned building a staircase where each chamber drops into the next, although he did use this solution further south at Botterham.

Refections in the top lock

The ingenious compromise was to have intermediate pounds, but to move them off to one side rather than between the locks. Effectively they do the same job of holding sufficient water to fill the next lock down, without taking up space between the chambers. There’s only about 6 feet between the bottom gates of one lock and the top gates of the next. The paddles have to be opened in sequence to avoiding overflowing the very short pool, the channel to the lock below MUST be opened first, so the water from the lock above has somewhere to go. Any surplus flows off to the side pound.

Open the BLUE paddle first!

Looking up from the middle lock.

An unfortunate outcome of this construction is that boats cannot pass in the flight, although 3 can be moving either up or down at one time. It must have caused some bottlenecks in commercial carrying days, and a resident lock-keeper is still on duty here during the busy summer months to sort out right-of-way disputes.

Looking down from the top bridge.

The gap in the parapet was for the tow-rope, as the towpath changes sides.

Looking down to the right at the middle side pound.

Steps lead down to the water under the bottom bridge for the boatman to re-board.

A lot of feet have passed this way!

In 1895 a water works was constructed near the canal to lift domestic water over 300 feet to a reservoir on Goldthorn Hill 3½ miles to the east near Wolverhampton. Two steam pumps were housed in a typically flamboyant late Victorian building, with ornate brickwork and fairy-tale castle pinnacles.

The Bratch Pumping Station

The works became redundant in 1960, but the building and one of the pumping engines have been restored.

It’s been a beautiful sunny day here today. We’ll be moving on tomorrow, though how far remains to be seen…

Locks 0, miles 0.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On to The Bratch

Just a short day today, 1½ miles down to The Bratch. It’s stayed fine over the last couple of days, but it has also been cold. We had a thin skim of ice on the canal again this morning.

We were away just before 11:00, straight into Dimmingsdale Lock.

Down Dimmingsdale

Just around the corner is Ebstree Lock, near a large electrical substation. Although we appear to be in open countryside, we’re less than 4 miles from Wolverhampton city centre.

Signs of civilisation

Above Awbridge Lock is the coalman John Jackson’s base of operations. His working narrowboat Roach was lying almost empty at the wharf.

NB Roach, a Northwich boat built at Yarwoods on the Weaver in 1935.

The next lock, Awbridge, has all the features that typify this canal.

Circular by-wash weir

Cast iron footbridge with decorative pierced supports

(No Safety Elves in the 18C....)

And an attractive bridge at the lower end.

Just less than a mile further on we pulled in on the moorings above The Bratch. After a welcome lunch of soup and rolls on Rock’n’Roll, we took the canines for a walk down the 3 locks that take the canal down the steep slope, to Bridge 45 and back again.

At the Round Oak pub, they’ve a new head chef.

I wonder what the old one tasted like?

Here’s something to put in the diary. Don’t forget, a week tomorrow at 19:00.

Locks 3, miles 1½

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A cold day going south.

A brisk north-easterly has chased us down from the Shroppie onto the Staffs and Worcs, keeping the temperature around zero.

The trouble with wind from astern is that it blows into the cabin through the back doors. I’ve tried to keep the internal door shut, but Meg likes to oscillate between me on the tiller and Mags in the cabin, so that doesn’t work. And Mags says that she likes the door open so I get some benefit from the cabin heat. One thing I can (and do) do is close the exterior doors and pull the hatch closed as far as it will go against me. Stops the draught and encourages the heat to rise around me on the way out.

An early lunch at Upper Hattons.

The Guard Goose at the Wolverhampton Boat Club has shifted boats! Now keeping a beady eye on strangers from the counter of NB Fourjays.

On Bridge 3A, a comment on the state of the towpath, or the economy?

We filled with water after Rock’n’Roll just above Autherley Junction, before dropping down the stop lock and turning right.

Approaching Autherley, R’n’R filling up.

Right to Stourport

Oh, and for those like us still using the 2006 edition of Nicholsons Guide 2 (is there a later one?) there is NO elsan disposal at the junction. Water and rubbish only. The 'bucket and chuck it' was removed?? about 4 years ago. So cross out the little bucket symbol.

The chap at Oxley Wharf obligingly let me empty a cassette down a convenient sewer manhole. Not the most elegant of solutions, but a solution nonetheless.

Even though the canal runs around the western fringes of Wolverhampton, the town doesn’t make much of an impression on the canal.

George and Carol had a bit of a run-in with some of the junior denizens of the suburbs near Bridge 63. They’d disappeared back under their stones by the time we came past.

The BCN Main Line branches off at Aldersley Junction, climbing up the ‘Wolverhampton 21’ to Horsley Fields Junction in the middle of the town.

Old stables (maybe) next to Aldersley Junction.

The canal breaks out of the built up area around the two locks at Wightwick, before meandering almost due south to Dimmingsdale, where we pulled in on the quiet offside moorings above the lock.

R’n’R leaving Wightwick Lock.

Dimmingsdale Lock moorings

We’ll be stopping here tomorrow, as the next but one lock down is closed until Saturday morning. Or at least it’s supposed to be. We had a walk there this afternoon, and there is no sign of activity and the lock appears open for navigation. I guess they must have finished early.

This has been the first proper days cruising we’ve done for a while, and it’s good to be moving with a destination in mind.

Locks 4, miles 8½

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And then there were two….

That’s it, the caravan has split. Moore2Life was the first to move out this morning…..

Followed by No Problem.

They should have been away a little earlier, but we had a bit of a do last night aboard NP, drink taken, so the start was a bit sluggish. Photo on NP’s blog.

Me, I was up just before 8:00 for a 5 mile run. (Smug smirk Smiley). It was a little difficult to get motivated, though!

M2L and NP are turning left at Autherley Junction and heading north initially. We’ll be moving out tomorrow, in company with Rock’n’Roll, going the opposite way at the junction, south towards Stourport.

George and I took the dogs for a walk this afternoon, but it was quiet without the pack! I think our Meg and Carol and George’s Molly miss Sue and Vic’s Lucy and Meg, and Chas and Ann’s Molly. Still, it’ll be less confusing for them now when they’re being called…

Locks 0, miles 0

Monday, January 24, 2011

A stop and start sort of day….

Well, we’re finally moving purposefully south, after dithering around on the Shroppie. Decision made, the Rockers and us are heading down to Stourport, and making another choice when we get there, the Lifers and the Problems are heading north up the Staffs and Worcs, then south again by way of the Trent and Mersey, Coventry and North Oxford canals.

So the caravan will be breaking up this week.

We’ve been a bit fragmented this weekend. Sue and Vic moved down to Wheaton Aston on Saturday, leaving the remaining three of us at Little Onn.

It’s been dull but dry over the weekend, today saw our first drop of rain for a while, but it’s the harbinger (what a good word!) of more unsettled weather for this week.

Long-Tailed Tits share a fat ball.

We set off last from Little Onn; the Lifers had left around 9, the Rockers pulled pins soon after 10, we toddled along in their wake nearer 11.

Looking back through Bridge 22 to Rye Hill Cutting.

The embankment approaching Wheaton Aston has stop gates at either end in case of a leak. I’m not sure how effective this one would be, though.

A bit rotten….

First stop was Wheaton Aston where we caught up with George and Carol filling with diesel at Turner’s.


We pulled in and I went shopping, then we moved across onto the garage wharf to fill up and reclaim my repaired alternator.

Next stop was at the water point, catching up with the Rockers again.

We’d passed M2L, Chas and Ann had caught the bus to shop in Stafford.

After filling and emptying as required we followed R‘n’R up the lock, overtaking them when they pulled in for a loo pump-out at Countrywide Cruisers just north of Brewood.

These 2 guys were interested in making Meg’s acquaintance.

Hello Boys…

Good job they hadn’t spotted this chap on the embankment….


We had to stop again in Brewood (I’d forgotten the eggs), but then pushed on without further interruptions, arriving at the good moorings between bridges 7 and 8 at just before 4.

Brewood Church dominates the village from the south.

Reflections on the ornate Avenue Bridge.

No Problem was already there but empty, Sue, Vic and the K9s were out for a walk.

NP moored.

Rock’n’Roll arrived shortly after, so 3 of the gang are here. M2L should arrive tomorrow, so we can spend a day or so together before heading our separate ways.

Locks 1, miles 7

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fine day, beautiful sunset.

As predicted it was cold last night, but the sunny day we’ve had more than made up for it. It was almost warm in the sun, but still cool in the shade.

Two bits of good news, my spare alternator has been repaired and is waiting at Turners at Wheaton Aston. And the facilities in the village have been re-opened after repair, needed because some pillock used the pump out unit not for his loo, but for his polluted engine bilge. The oil damaged the pump and contaminated the soil pipes, which had to be sorted out before the facilities could be used again.

We’re here, probably till Monday now. The Problems moved down to Wheaton Aston earlier, and we’ll catch up with them in the week.

Still not decided which way we’re going from here, probably south down to Stourport initially.

Tonight’s sunset was impressive, promising another good day tomorrow.

Red Sky at Night…

Locks 0, miles 0.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Grey and Misty

Although it’s been cold for the last couple of days, at least we’ve seen some sunshine. No chance today though, the fog stayed all day, making it feel damp and gloomy.

Atmospheric entrance to Cowley Tunnel

And the cutting on the other side.

We caught up with a few odd jobs while we were in Gnosall for the day yesterday, then, after shopping and watering up we pushed off, heading for Little Onn.

The sun made a feeble attempt to show it’s face at around 2, but soon gave up.

The overnight frost stayed on the trees all day.

Near High Onn the towpath switches over to the left (east), and stays on that side all the way to Autherley Junction. Bridge 26 is where the towpath crosses over, and was designed so that the tow-rope between the horse and the boat didn’t have to be detached.

Bridge 26

Heading south, the horse would be led up the ramp on the right, over the bridge and down the ramp on the left before continuing under the bridge, now on the left side of the canal.

A conventional bridge would not allow this. These are variously known as turnover, changeline or roving bridges, depending on the area of the country you’re in.

We chugged slowly past the line of moored boats at High Onn, avoiding a slightly directionally challenged tug with 3 hoppers coming the other way. They'll be heading up to Woodseaves to start clearing the rockfall there.

Canal and River Services tug, 1 hopper in front, 2 behind.

Note the truck tyre being trailed by the last hopper, in an attempt to stop it wagging it’s rear end from side to side. Not very successfully, I might add.

Approaching Little Onn Bridge we spotted a row of heads looking over the parapet. As we got closer we could see they looked familiar. Charles, Vic, Ann and Sue were still here with NP and M2L, so the gang’s all together again.

Familiar Gongoozlers.

We pulled in just past the bridge and I got a load of wood split and stacked in the cratch ready for the stove. It’s going to be cold tonight…..

Locks 0, miles 3