Friday, October 31, 2014

From Colliers to Quarrymen.

Climbing up the Atherstone Locks brings the Coventry Canal through a short but intense area of stone quarries, before the pits of the Nuneaton and Bedworth coalfields take over.

We left our overnight mooring at 10:00, with just a few hundred yards to Lock 5. We fairly flew up, a volunteer helped us at Lock 5 before continuing downhill with a single-hander, and we met oncoming boats at all but one of the other four.

Mags heading for Lock 4IMG_2123

Top Lock, just 45 minutes later

Mags cruises past Rothen’s old coal wharf. There was coal here the first time we passed…IMG_2125

Visitor moorings above Top Lock, absolutely jammed!IMG_2126

Moored on the edge of Mancetter are a couple of boats. IMG_2129

A&R Rothen had branched out into canal transport and maintenance and were under contract to British Waterways for a while. The narrowboat beyond has been here a good while. It’s unusual in having rigid but removable hold covers.IMG_2130
As far as I can find out these boats were built in the 1950’s for the British Transport Commission, the body at that time responsible for waterways transport. (And also for letting it decay into almost non-existence, but that’s another story…) These were built to carry loose cargos, but were also able to take ten 2 ton fibreglass containers, in an attempt to integrate different transport strategies.  Ugly and unpopular with the boatmen, they soon earned the unflattering nickname of “dustbin boats”.

This one doesn’t appear to have done much work at all…IMG_2131

Large roadstone quarries are still in production, but there were several smaller ones alongside the canal.
The stone here is Diorite, a hard granite ideal for roadbuilding. Canal transport was used to a degree, small wharfs of brick adjacent to worked-out quarries point to this. But nothing like to the same degree as coal.  IMG_2132

Just before noon we pulled in between Bridge 33 and the Hartshill maintenance yard, our intended destination.

It’s been duller than yesterday but still very mild. I worked up quite a “glow” chopping up some firewood this afternoon.

Tomorrow we’ll pass deeper into quarrying country, then through Nuneaton and Bedworth to Hawkesbury Junction.

Locks 5, miles 3

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A fine day for a bit of windlass work.

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday’s wind and rain were replaced by bright skies and just a breath of a breeze. It was warm enough outside for just a T shirt and shorts.

We had a better start today, leaving Polesworth at around 10. A couple of boats had passed by this time, probably from the moorings at the other side of the village, so once again we expected to queue below Atherstone Locks.

It’s around 2½ miles from Polesworth to the bottom lock, through flat farmland bottoming the Anker valley, and with the Trent Valley section of the West Coast Main Line always within earshot.IMG_2105

Grendon Dock, near Bridge 49, is home to several old working boats. We had a close encounter with motor boat Jaguar earlier, usually paired with butty Northolt.

Empty Jaguar swinging around the bends near Hoo Hill.IMG_2106

Butty Northolt at GrendonIMG_2111

We passed Ling nearer Polesworth, in British Waterways livery.IMG_2103

Both motors spotted were built on the River Weaver at Yarwood’s in Northwich, Jaguar in 1927, and Ling 7 years later. And both were commissioned for Fellows, Morton and Clayton’s fleet, based in Birmingham.

We were surprised to see only one boat ahead when we arrived at the bottom of Atherstone, and he was already in the lock. I had to empty this one, but most of the other five were set ready for us by descending boats.

Atherstone LocksIMG_2114


The flight is due to be closed for maintenance on Monday, hence the number of boats about. Major works include replacement of the rather rickety bottom gates of Lock 10.IMG_2117
These were fitted in 1993, so they’ve given 21 years of service.

Baddeley Basin was another of those combined rail and canal loading basin for Baddesley Colliery. Coal was brought to the basin by a 1½ mile long mineral line.
In May 1882 32 men lost their lives in a fire and explosion in the mine, caused by misuse of an underground steam pumping engine. Nine of the dead were shiftworkers, the other 23 comprised the rescue party caught in the explosion.

Baddesley Basin
The wharf and basin are now a marina and yard of Barry Hawkins Ltd. Once a respected boatbuilder, the business went to the wall in 2009. Now their business activity is listed as “repair of personal and household goods”. Quite a wide definition.  There is some boat-shaped activity in the dock, so I guess that’s “personal goods” under repair.

We moored above Lock 6, six of the eleven locks done.

Lock 6, seen through the widened Kings Head BridgeIMG_2120

It’s handy for shopping here, not that we needed any. I had to collect an alternator from Cox Auto Electrical, just 10 minutes away. They’d repaired two for me, but I wasn’t happy with the performance of one of them so they collected it at Mountsorrel to check it out.

Tomorrow we’ll head up the last five locks, then probably end up somewhere near Hartshill for the weekend.

Locks 6, miles 3½

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poetry, prose and Polesworth in the rain.

We had a last brew with Pam and Terry off NB The Roosters’ Rest this morning before we pushed off. At least, the Roosters did, we had a wait to get onto the services opposite. All morning there was a constant stream of boats wanting water and disposal facilities.

Terry and Pam head off for a few days down on the Birmingham and Fazeley.IMG_2069

They took away a copy of this missive that Mags had acquired somewhere along the way. (You’ll have to click to enlarge, I reckon)
Pam was quite amused by it…

They’d headed off right at Fazeley Junction, we went straight on rejoining the Coventry Canal

Fazeley JunctionIMG_2071
In the background is Tolson Mill, built towards the end of the 19th century to produce legal tape. The stuff we often get tied up in that secures legal documents. You wouldn’t have thought that that would be a sustainable business, but it’s still operating! Modern production techniques mean that the core business takes up less space, so offices, workshops and stores are let to various companies.

Crossing the River Tame, still protected by a WWII blockhouseIMG_2073

Below Glascote Locks, at Kettlebrook Wharf, is the headquarters of the Tamworth Cruising Club. Which brings us to the first bit of poetry -IMG_2076
- on the bridge adjacent to the wharf. We were hailed from the wharf by a chap who wanted to know if we’d heard about the threat to Hopwas Hayes Wood. Local feeling is running high…

Glascote Locks are always slow to fill, especially the bottom one. So we expected a bit of a queue and weren’t disappointed.

Queue below Glascote LocksIMG_2078

Meg took advantage of the break to find some grass. The boat in front was single-handed, so I went up and closed the bottom gates, then trotted up and drew the paddles on the top lock so it would be ready for him when he got there. It helped him to get on, which in turn helped us. Odd though, no-one off the two following boats stirred their butts to help either me or each other.

Which brings us nicely to the second bit of rhyme for today - IMG_2079
- fixed to the rail around the disused side pond. Very good.

Going up Glascote LocksIMG_2080

All up and down the Coventry Canal factories and wharfs sprang up, to take advantage of water transport. Steve Hudson boatbuilders occupy what was an interchange basin between the canal and the old Midland Railway. The connecting branch lines have all disappeared beneath the burgeoning suburban sprawl.

Glascote Basin

Another brick wharf, now surrounded by modern housing, was the terminus of the Glascote Works Railway, connecting the canal to the colliery and clay pits of Gibbs and Canning, a large terracotta works.

The area looks rather different now than on the OS map of 1924!

Heading out of Tamworth, just before Alvecote there’s an almost indistinguishable short arm off the canal, only recognisable by the dip beyond the towpath hedge and the exposed brickwork of the dock wall.IMG_2084
This was a wharf that served Amington Colliery via a branch line that also connected to the LNWR. The main basin, a little further on, now used by Narrowcraft, served Tamworth Colliery.

Alvecote Basin

As it was…
Alvecote Colliery Basin
Borrowed from

It had started to rain in earnest by now, as we swung around the bends near the site of Pooley Hall Colliery. Boat loading was done here in a lay-by off the main line.

Pooley Hall Colliery loading wharfIMG_2096

This footbridge, Bridge 55, would once have rang with the clamour of hob-nailed boots at shift change, as the miners crossed to and from Polesworth village.IMG_2098

There’s moorings either end of the village but those at the north have poor TV coverage. so we cruised through and tied up alongside the playing fields just past Bridge 52.

We’d intended being at the bottom of Atherstone Locks but the late start and inclement weather put the mockers on that.

Locks 2, miles 6

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Just a quickie…

A cruise and a post! Terry and Pam changed their plans for today; instead of staying at Hopwas they joined us as we cruised south to Fazeley. We arrived about noon, had a lazy afternoon then visited the chippy for tea.

Leaving Hopwas
On the rising ground is Hopwas Hayes Wood, recorded in the Domesday Book and one of very few areas of ancient woodland still existing in the UK. Owned jointly by the MOD and LaFarge Aggregates, it’s now under threat of quarrying for sand and gravel. 123 acres of the woodland will be destroyed if plans, outlined in the new Minerals Local Plan for Staffordshire, go ahead.

It was a pleasant day, warm out the breeze, and we had a short but enjoyable trip to Fazeley. Quite a few boats about too, most met at awkward bridge holes!

Moored at Fradley, the girls acting up as usual when they get together…IMG_2067

This was definitely our last get-together. We’re parting company tomorrow. Shame, we’ve enjoyed their company. It’ll be next year before we see them again.

Locks 0, miles 3

Monday, October 27, 2014

Heading South…

On Sunday morning we left the main moorings at Fradley Junction, made a quick visit to the services, then went up Junction Lock, through the swing bridge and moored in front of NB Rooster’s Rest.

Terry and a volunteer brought us up the lock…IMG_2030

…and Terry opened up the swing bridge in the narrows at junction.IMG_2032

I’m not sure but it’s likely that the narrows would have held a stop lock at one time, between the Trent and Mersey and the Coventry Canals.

Escorting Mags for a brew with Terry and PamIMG-20141026-WA0000
No, Terry hasn’t just booted Meg up the backside!

We had a coffee morning aboard Seyella this morning, Kevin and Ann on NB Rock’n’Roll arrived yesterday, and they joined us for an hour or so before we all got going.IMG_2037

The “Rooster’s”, just before they set off.IMG_2038

It was close to 11:00 by the time we pulled pins and headed off down the Coventry Canal.

Streathay Wharf was busy as usual. I counted half a dozen boats on the wharf or under cover, including this wooden hull.

Opposite are moored Ex Cowburn and Cowpar boats Starling and EthelIMG_2043


The open stretches towards Huddlesford allowed the brisk wind to clear the roof of an accumulation of leaves over the weekend.IMG_2052

Huddlesford Junction, leading to Ogley Junction and the Birmingham Canal Navigations

IMG_2051Or at least it did, until closure in 1954. A lot of the channel has been filled, but there’s an active restoration attempt going on. It’ll not be easy, 30 locks over 7 miles will take some work. Once opened, though, I’m sure it would be a popular route to Birmingham.

I don’t think even Snow White would be able to cope with this lot, in a garden in Whittington!


In Whittington, where the canal crosses Whittington Brook, it actually becomes the Birmingham and Fazeley. When the Coventry Canal was under construction, funding ran out at Atherstone (and, if truth be told probably enthusiasm, too. The canal had achieved it’s primary goal, connecting the Bedforth and Nuneaton coalfields to the south). The Birmingham and Fazeley Company were keen to see the canal up to Fazeley and the connection with their own canal, and the Trent and Mersey owners wanted to make the connection to the north at Fradley. So they put pressure on the CC shareholders to finish the canal to Fazeley, on the understanding that the B&F would continue from there to Whittington and the T&M would build a connection south to meet it. This T&M connection was later bought by the Coventry Canal Company, but the Fazeley to Whittington section remained part of the B&F until nationalistion. And still is, strictly speaking.

The B&F named their bridges, rather than the institutionalised numbering used on the Coventry.

Two and a half miles south of Willington we pulled in, in the village of Hopwas, in front of “The Rooster’s”

Through Hopwas Hays WoodIMG_2062

The original plan was to push through to Fazeley, but with a late start and that chilly breeze we decided to call it a day here. Anyway, it meant we were able to enjoy Terry and Pam’s company for another couple of hours this afternoon. They’ll be staying here tomorrow while we push on to Fazeley and beyond.

Hi Marilyn. We’re always pleased to see (and feed) Ed. He helped us out of a considerable hole when we were up on the Leeds and Liverpool.

Hi Brian. Thanks for the compliment. You should have given us a knock, the kettle’s always on… Next time, eh.

Hey up Carol. As you can see, we met up with Kevin and Ann. It was good to see them again.

Locks 1, miles 8½

Friday, October 24, 2014

Short run up to Fradley, and a new pair of legs…

A half-ten start today saw us heading up through Alrewas village following another boat. I was just setting up, ready to untie when they appeared, rising up Alrewas Lock behind us, so we waited till they’d gone past before moving out ourselves.
I don’t think there’s anything more annoying than seeing frantic activity on a moored boat ahead as they suddenly realise that they’ll be beaten to the next lock. Pins or mooring hooks hastily retrieved and thrown onto the deck, then the boat pushed out into the channel, accompanied by the odd furtive glance over the steerer’s shoulder to see how close the oncoming boat is. Needless to say, such a crew would get no help from me at the next lock!

Alrewas is an old village, not spoiled by the canal running through it. Several thatched cottages still survive in the older part near the church, and there are also some “Chocolate Box” houses near the canal.

I wonder what the occupants of these houses thought when the navigation was being cut on their thresholds? At least the canal wasn’t as intrusive as the HS2 is likely to be!

We had to turn Bagnall Lock, following the other boat. The bottom gates on this lock are notorious for swinging open when the chamber is empty, making for a frustrating time when trying to fill it. The solution used to be to draw half a paddle on the upstream end before shutting the bottom gates, the water flowing in keeping the gates shut. Remember us coming up Aston Lock a few days ago?

Now there’s an elegant and effective solution to the problem… IMG_2022


You wouldn’t have thought that instructions would be necessary though, would you?

The skipper...

We pulled over below Common Lock to collect a bit of wood I spotted while out on my morning run, then caught the lock just nicely as a boat was coming out. This set the pattern for the next two as well, boats coming down leaving gates open for us, and me able to do the same.

Approaching Hunts Lock, effectively “Fradley Bottom”IMG_2027

Nosing into Keeper’s Lock
The top of the cratch cover has faded after 8 years of exposure to sunlight. It used to be Royal Blue. Anyone know of a product to recolour it?

I’d already spotted that the moorings up here were quiet when I came up first thing on foot, they were even quieter when we arrived, just one boat in residence.

Moored at Fradley JunctionIMG_2029

We’ll stay here tonight, maybe tomorrow too. Just around the corner are friends Pam and Terry on NB Rooster’s Rest, and we’ll be getting together at some point.

We got all the way here under lowering skies, and since we’ve tied up the forecasted rain has been on and off. I’ve knocked up a batch of “melting moments” biscuits and a sponge pudding for afters tonight, in between reading David Blagrove’s The Quiet Waters By. 
Andy Bayley, who visited while we were in Loughborough, lent me his collection of the “Working Waterways” series, published by M&M Baldwin. A fascinating look into a lost way of life on the cut, and of the women volunteers who manned the boats during WWII.

Locks 4, miles 2