Friday, November 30, 2012

Looking good.

It’s been cold today, although it started bright a mist rose from the fields so we saw very little sunshine.

Last night was clear with just a few clouds dotted about, leading to a hard frost. I tried, with limited success, to get a decent photo of the full moon.

I did say limited success…

Not much to report today, apart from the river on the way down now.

The Trent has almost returned to it’s proper channel.SAM_4407 Trent where it should be
And the level marker at the lock is now visible and in the amber zone.SAM_4408 Alrewas Lock
SAM_4410 Alrewas Lock

Although the chains have been removed from the lower gates, the advice is “Proceed With Caution”.
SAM_4411 Alrewas Lock

We’re planning on heading down on Sunday, aiming to moor outside Barton Marina overnight then taking up a berth inside on Monday till Barton and Tattenhill Locks reopen. Only then can we complete our trip to our winter berth at Mercia.

I’m going to have to find things to do. It’ll be the first time we’ve been stationary for anything like that long, but it will give Mags a chance to fully recuperate.

We’ve been playing dominoes this afternoon, games like this improve dexterity in her left hand (so long as she doesn’t cheat and use her right!). Scrabble tomorrow…

On the trip down from Stone a week ago, Simon took some pictures and he’s emailed them across. Here’s a selection….

Who’s the stranger, Dad?

Sunrise in Stone

Weston Lock

Thanks Simon, it was good to have you along.

Locks 0, miles 0.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

All together again, surprise visit and a short cruise.

I drove across to Wales on Tuesday to collect Mags from our good friends Val and John’s house where she been staying since her discharge from Macclesfield Hospital. She’s been well pampered while she’s been there, but they’ve also kept up her physio regime.

John and Val, with Meg and Harry looking out of the window

This was taken after Meg had finally got off Mag’s knee!

The hens have kept Mags amused (and fed) during her stay…
Left to right (put me right Val if I’m wrong…) Maggie (nearest) Emily, Yen, Abby. Maggie lays tasty double-yolkers.

We arrived back at the boat at around 17:00, Mags tired but happy to be home.

In her usual spot

You can see she’s been well looked after.

We had a visitor yesterday. Late morning there was a knock on the roof and there was Maffi and Molly. He was moored just around the corner on the Coventry Canal, having come up from Hopwas the previous day.
We had a good natter over a cup of tea, then he joined me in a visit to Tesco on the way to dropping off the hire car.

Today, with the weather being dry and bright after a frosty night, we decided to head back to Alrewas. With a few days of dry weather in the offing I hope that the river will be passable by Monday.
We went up Junction Lock, winded and came back down again.

Back down Junction LockSAM_4391 Back Down Junction Lock

We were filling with water when Maffi turned up again, and borrowed a windlass to kindly lock us down through Keepers and Hunt’s Lock.

Maffi and Molly at Keepers LockSAM_4392 Maffi and Molly at Keepers Lock

Neville off NB Waterlily came up to say hi as we dropped down Hunts, then we pulled over to lay alongside NB Callisto for some bags of solid fuel.SAM_4393 Coal loading from Callisto  

With Mags now back aboard we’ll be using a lot more of the burnable stuff!

I sorted out the fuel as we dropped down Common Lock, then moved on to moor just above the road bridge near Bagnall Lock. We’re a bit nearer to the road than I’d like but it’s busy here today. Never mind, the traffic quietens down later.

Mags was under strict orders to stay in her chair while we moved, and, although she was chafing to help, she did as she was told. Good girl.

Locks 5, miles 1¾

Monday, November 26, 2012

Re-mustering of the crew….

It looks like it’ll be a while before the river at Alrewas is back to normal, it rose another 6” on Sunday night.

The Trent is in there somewhere…pano
Looking downstream…DSC_0024

Being as we’ll be here for a few days, I decided to return to Fradley. There’s good parking for the hire car there, and access to all sanitary facilities. Thanks, Ray, for the offer of a lift for me and my poo tanks, but I couldn’t put on you again.

I dropped down Bagnall Lock yesterday, winded and came back up again to moor in the same spot but facing the other way. Then this morning I returned up the three locks to the Fradley moorings.

Olympic themed graffiti under  the bridge near Bagnall Lock, taken yesterdayDSC_0017

Coming up Hunts and Keeper’s Locks this morningDSC_0026

Yesterday was bright and sunny, but turned to rain later. Today has been gloomy, with leaden skies. The rain held off till lunchtime, and we’ve had intermittent showers since.
I toddled off to collect an Enterprise car from Lichfield this afternoon, doing a bit of shopping on the way back. Meg seems to sense something is in the wind, she’s not left my side since I returned. I wonder how she’ll react when she sees Mags tomorrow…

Locks 5, miles 1¾

Saturday, November 24, 2012

So near, yet so far

All of the hard work by myself and my locking companions has been to no avail. The River Trent is in flood after all the rain, and there’s a mile section of the Trent and Mersey that uses the river. It’s very high and running fast, too fast for safe navigation.

Why, Mr Brindley, knowing your aversion to river navigations, did you incorporate this natural bit into your brilliant canal? Was there no other way?

By the time the water drops to navigable levels once again, work will have started on those two locks further on, effectively barring me from reaching Mercia Marina till mid-December. 

Time to put Plan B into operation. B is for Barton Turns Marina, a fairly new marina just this side of the first lock to be closed. As soon as the river section is passable we’ll head into there for a couple of weeks until the locks are re-opened and we can resume the trip to Mercia. I’m saying “we” at this point. I intend to go and fetch Margaret from Wales on Tuesday. That will be a joyful reunion.

She’s feeling a lot better now, starting to shake off the cold that’s been pulling her down for the last few days. I’ve got one as well, but that should be clear by Tuesday. Val and John have been brilliant looking after her, making sure she eats and drinks (water!), and carrying on with the physio exercises to restore full use of her left hand and arm. But it’s my turn to take over now.

To expand on my somewhat truncated post yesterday -
It was a fine morning in Stone when I pulled pins and set off to Limekiln Lock, the sun just showing on the horizon, mist on the water and ice the cabin top.

Waiting for Limekiln Lock to fillSAM_4330

I was just motoring out of the empty lock when a face appeared around the lock wall – “Hello, I’m Simon”. This was my volunteer lock partner for the day. We’d not met before, but he'd kindly offered his services for the day, a good excuse to get out of the office. The amazing thing is, he’d travelled up from London, by train, to join me!
We made brief introductions, then I put him to work!

Simon raising the paddles on Newcastle Road LockSAM_4332

After clearing the Stone Locks we had time for a cup of coffee and a chance to get to know each other better. He lives on a boat in London, on the River Lea, but doesn’t get out on it often enough.
As he’d never cruised any of the northern canals, he thought a day with me on the T&M would be a good experience. Narrow locks were a revelation!

As it turned out he couldn’t have chosen a better day. Dry, sunny, but a bit chilly (it is November) as we wended our way down the Trent valley.

Weston Upon Trent church spire above the trees.SAM_4337

Unusual view for me – inside a lock chamber!SAM_4340

We stopped for lunch just below Weston Lock, then pushed on, down through Hoo Mill Lock and into Great Haywood. Just past the junction with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal I spotted a familiar boat, NB Timewarp. We keep coming across Tony and Jacquie here and there, and it’s good to have a catch up.

Tony and Simon on the lockside at Great HaywoodSAM_4361
The sun was starting to set as we motored past Shugborough Hall, making the tops of the trees glow.SAM_4362

We met George and Carol on NB Rock’n’Roll here and joined them in a cup of tea, then, after supper, went back for something a little stronger… Thanks both, it was good to see you again.

We didn’t stay late; frankly we were both knackered. The long days are starting to take their toll.

Simon had chosen to take up my offer of a bed for the night instead of getting a taxi to Stafford and a train south that night. It was the least I could do, after all.

We were up early again, and on the move soon after half-past eight.

Bye George and CarolSAM_4364

It was an entirely different day. Yesterday’s bright sunshine was replaced with damp mist and cold that seemed to penetrate several layers of clothing.

Colwich LockSAM_4365
Someone’s fitting out a new working boat shell at the pig farm moorings…SAM_4366
No propeller yet and no engine either, judging by the trim.

I dropped Simon off in Rugeley so he could catch a train south, but that didn’t go according to plan. The train he’d planned was cancelled, so he finished up having to go back to Stafford and travel from there. Thanks, mate. I’ve enjoyed your company, and your help.

On my tod again I pushed on out of the town, past Hawkesyard Priory and through the mainly opened out Armitage “tunnel”.

Hawkesyard Hall, now a “venue”SAM_4368

I was talking the other day about unusual boat names….SAM_4367
‘Nuff said….

Armitage “tunnel”SAM_4370
BW C&RT recommend you send a crew member ahead to check for approaching boats. Meg didn’t seem to understand what I wanted of her…

Ravenshaw Wood is certainly looking wintry, nowSAM_4373

At the end of the wood is Woodend Lock. Not a lot of imagination used in naming that one….
Here I met my second helper for the day, Ray off NB No Direction. He and Jayne moor at Kings Bromley Marina and Ray offered his services for the Fradley Locks.

Ray at WoodendSAM_4375
He’s a tough dude, cycling in shorts in this weather! Unfortunately my arrival here coincided with the arrival of the rain, and it was a damp trip down through Fradley.

Part of the repair work in Junction Lock, re-opened yesterdaySAM_4377

Coming down through Fradley LocksSAM_4378
The short, cruiser-length moorings on the left have been removed. More narrowboat moorings, perhaps?

Ray heading off to set Common Lock, the last for todaySAM_4379
I pulled in on the piling above Bagnall Lock at the edge of Alrewas village, and Ray cycled down to check on the river level. He said he’d be happy to help me down through the next three locks back onto the canal at Wychnor, if the river was passable. A bit of a forlorn hope, though. No change from yesterday; still well in the red zone.

Of my kind assistants, Ray certainly drew the short straw. He put up with the cold and rain to help me down these seven locks, and didn’t even want a cup of tea for his services. Thanks Ray, anytime I can help you with anything, you only have to ask. That applies to Margaret and Nigel, and Simon too, of course.

Locks 8, miles 13

Friday, November 23, 2012

Great day to Great Haywood

Just a quickie, no time for a full post today. Come back tomorrow. Please.

Just a taster – one of five, yes, FIVE kingfishers spotted today!
Simon, my volunteer crew for today, has had a really good trip. He couldn’t have chosen a better day.

Simon hard at itSAM_4360
And Meg looking on.SAM_4359

George and Carol (NB Rock'n'Roll) were here at Great Haywood when we arrived, and we've been invited around this evening for a drink. That's why it's a quick post!

Locks 11, miles 11

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stoke to Stone

One letter different, but a world apart. Stoke is a place to pass through, Stone is a spot to linger. Unfortunately, not for me this time.

Mags didn’t have a very good night last night. Plagued by her cough and worried about how I’m coping, she was very unsettled. I’ve spoken to her several times today, assuring her that I’m OK, and the cough seems to have eased a little with liberal doses of buttercup syrup (thanks Val). She’s been dozing most of the day, trying to catch up.

I was up before the sun again this morning, and Meg and I were suited and booted and in Stoke Top Lock by just after eight o’clock.

Stoke Top Lock….SAM_4307 Stoke Top Lock (1)

….is very deep!SAM_4308 Stoke Top Lock

The top two locks are close together, so I was able to set both filling before I brought the boat up.

Between the two sits the grandly named Etruscan Bone and Flint Mill.  Crushed bone and flint were essential ingredients of tough ceramics (bone china) and the mill was built to provide the raw material.

Etruscan Bone and Flint Mill, Etruria
SAM_4310 Flint Mill
SAM_4311 Flint Mill
The J.S. refers to Jesse Shirley, builder and owner.
The mill is part of the Etruria Industrial Museum complex, which stands at the junction of the Trent and Mersey and Caldon canals.

 The five Stoke Locks cover a distance of about a mile, all with their own unique characters.

Twyford Lock has a very low bridge directly belowSAM_4312 Twyford Lock We lost our “coolie hat” off the top of the stove chimney here once…. And that’s why John Sage is hiding inside again today.

Cockshutts Lock is a Mecca for trainspotters (and graffiti “artists”) SAM_4313 Cockshutts lock

The bottom lock was rebuilt during a road widening scheme (along with a few hundred yards of canal) and is a concrete chamber that is maddeningly slow to fill and empty.

Stoke Bottom LockSAM_4314 Stoke Bottom Lock
I’d pulled out and was struggling to tie up again to go back and close the gates when a woman up on the lockside shouted that she would shut them for me. I expected her to be off a following boat, but she was from the house alongside the lock and had noticed I was single-handed. What a nice person!

After this lock you slowly start to leave the Five Towns behind, until the new Bridge 109 is reached, with the wonderfully gothic Municipal Incinerator sited alongside. I wonder if the architect realised how much it would look like an open-mouthed horned monster?

Stoke Municipal IncineratorSAM_4318 Incinerator

From here it’s a rural run to Trentham, through Trentham Lock and to the Wedgwood factory, where we stopped for an early lunch. Although the rain held off, the wind was cold and brisk, making mooring up difficult, so we decided to have a half-hour break.
We would normally call it a day just below Bridge 104, but, as this trip is far from normal, we pushed on.

Just outside the next village, Barlaston, there’s a splendid row of cottages facing the canal.

Canal CottagesSAM_4320 Barlaston
I guess they must have canal-related origins.

The old power station at Meaford has long gone, beyond the fence is a substation and a mass of brambles. Opened in 1948, upgraded in 1957, it closed in 1991. Although built alongside the canal, it was never supplied with coal by boat. An extensive network of rail spurs and sidings serviced the boilers for the turbines. I reckon this would have been the furthest upstream of all the power stations built along the Trent Valley.

Meaford Locks is a short flight of four, the top one being just above a road. Unfortunately this means that you have to cross the road to get back on the towpath. I’m normally quite happy for Meg to mooch about on the lockside, but here it’s too risky with the traffic. So she had to stay aboard alone while I dropped the boat down the lock.

Not a happy bunny, our Meg!SAM_4322 Meaford Top
You can just see her head poking up out of the hatch. “Where’ve you gone, Dad?”

Last one for today, Meaford Bottom LockSAM_4323 Meaford Bottom

It’s less than a mile to the first moorings in Stone, and we were tied up before the heavy rain showers broke.

Ta lotsSAM_4324

Lots of fine boats in Stone….SAM_4326

Although all the locks have been against me today, we’ve made reasonably good progress. Should be better over the next couple of days. Simon off NB Le Grand Bleu is coming up to Stone in the morning to help me on to Great Haywood, and then Ray off NB No Direction will meet me at Woodend Lock on Saturday to help me down Fradley Locks. Isn’t the boating community fabulous. I’ll have some favours to repay at the end of this trip….

All’s going well with the schedule, I’ll have no problem getting through Barton and Tattenhill Locks before they close for maintenance on Monday.
If…. I can get through the river section just below Alrewas. If that’s closed due to the Trent being in flood, then all bets are off. It’ll be Plan B, then.
Does anyone out there know the current state of the river there?

Locks 10, miles 8½