Saturday, November 29, 2014

Where did all the boats go?

It’s been really quiet up here. We saw two boats pass on Thursday after we’d moored near Knowle, then nothing. No-one at all yesterday, and nothing so far today.

We didn’t move yesterday, we hadn’t planned to anyway, and it was just as well. I wasn’t feeling 100% when I got ready for my run first thing; by the time I returned I was feeling considerably under par. Meg had a walk, I went up into the village for some essential supplies, then returned to bed for a couple of hours. I feel a lot better today, the aches in my joints have mostly subsided and my head is no longer full of cotton wool. A fleeting, minor dose of the ‘flu, maybe.

With only a short lock-free cruise today we weren’t in any hurry to get going. It was gone 11:00 by the time I started the “donk” and untied.

Footbridge no. 73aIMG_2564

It was an uneventful trip, a handful of towpath walkers to say hello to, a couple of anglers to be ignored by, and that was about it.

An indication of how uninteresting it was is that the highlight was passing under the M42!IMG_2565

Just about an hour after getting away we were tied up again, this time on the visitor moorings at Catherine de Barnes.

Moored at CdBIMG_2566

We’ll be stopping here tomorrow, then getting an early start (by our standards!) on Monday. Plan is to reach Star City, near Salford Junction.

Incidentally, there isn’t, and never has been, a “Catherine de Barnes” . It appears that the name is a corruption of Ketelberne, the name of the lord of the manor in the 12th Century. The locals know it as Catney Barnes, or even more concisely, Catney.
Ketelberne de Langdon was granted the estate after the Norman Conquest, and seems to have been one of the more benevolent of the Norman Barons, his descendants building a Benedictine Priory near present-day Copt Heath in 1159. It was dissolved and demolished in 1536, during Henry VIII’s reign. 

Locks 0, miles 2½

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Up the last of the broad locks…

…probably till early next May! From here until we drop back down the Trent and Mersey to meet up with the rest of the Wash convoy we’ll be on narrow canals.
But Knowle Locks are a good way to end our sojourn on the broad Grand Union. It’s a pretty, well kept short flight of five locks that climbs 42 feet to the 10 mile long level that runs through Solihull to Small Heath.

Moving off on another damp November morning.IMG_2552
The flight climbs the rising ground ahead.

Each season seems to have it’s own attendant background noise. The skylark and cuckoo in the spring, combined harvesters in the early autumn, and now as we head into winter, drifting across the misty meadows can be heard the sound of chainsaws as boaters stock up on winter fuel.

Knowle Bottom LockIMG_2554

An audience as we work up the flight.

Looking back over Warwickshire from the middle of the flightIMG_2556

I was wrong, it wasn’t a boaters chainsaw I could hear this morning. A C&RT work-crew were cutting back the trees, working up the flight.IMG_2557
It turns out that it’s these guys who’ve left all those piles of logs between here and Leamington. They’ll be no more ahead of us, then.

We shared the top lock with them, then cruised on, past Stephen Goldsborough’s yard, to moor just before Bridge 72. It was only 11:30!

Stephen Goldsborough BoatsIMG_2560
Several of these high quality boat builders seem to work from very limited facilities.

Moored up looking out over the River Blythe valley.IMG_2561

Plan is, we’ll stay here till Saturday, then move up to Catherine de Barnes for Sunday, before kicking off through the built up area first thing Monday. It could be quite a long day, that.

The day has improved, we even had a brief spell of sunshine this afternoon. The forecast isn’t looking too bad for the next few days.

Locks 5, miles 1

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A brief visit to the Stratford Canal.

After saying our farewells to the crew of NB No Problem we moved through the narrow bit of the Lapworth Link and into the basin beyond, before manoeuvring onto the service wharf.

Bye, bye to Sue and Vic
Have a good winter you two, see you in the Spring.

Heading for the cut through.IMG_2542
When the connection between the Grand Union and Stratford Canals was made the only route was to the right. Fine for those boats going uphill towards Birmingham, but boats heading for Stratford had to make a tight left turn above the lock there, then drop down another to get back to the same level. This short cut was an afterthought.

After filling and emptying, heading back the way we came.IMG_2545
The barrel-roofed cottage is typical of those on the Stratford. The story has it that the buildings were constructed by the same teams who’d built the bridges, and they re-used the formers made for the bridge arches for the cottage roofs.

Out onto the Main Line. IMG_2546
You may notice we’ve a bit more cargo. There was a large stack of logs just by the junction. It’s slightly smaller now…


A parting gift from Vic was some vegetable soup he’d made for lunch. I had a mug full while we cruised, and very good it was too.

It was a typically dreary, damp autumnal day, not really raining but drizzly. So I was glad we weren’t going so far. At Bridge 69 sits the Black Boy pub, opposite is the Black Buoy Cruising Club.IMG_2549

See what they did there? Boy, Buoy? It wouldn’t work in the States though, they’re pronounced differently.

We pulled in just beyond Bridge 70, Kings Arms Bridge. From here we’re 15 minutes to the bottom of the five Knowle Locks, the last of the broad locks we’ll encounter this year. That’s for tomorrow, the forecast is looking a bit fairer.

Locks 0, miles 3

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Decisions made for us…

We moved on to Kingswood Junction today. Here a short link connects the Grand Union with the Stratford Canal, and here we had a choice of route. More of that later…

It was another crisp night, down to –3.3°. Our view from the galley window was a bit  obscured this morning.

Frosty cobwebs…

…and smoky chimneysIMG_2530

Unlike yesterday when the fog and frost was burned off by early sunshine, today stayed grey and overcast, feeling very raw.

While we were out walking the hounds yesterday, Sue mentioned that this section of canal could easily be mistaken for the Shropshire Union. It has the same cuttings and embankments used to maintain the level between groups of locks.

Cutting near RowingtonIMG_2532

These cuttings also have the same problems as those on the Shroppie. Very muddy towpaths and slippage from the steep sides.

Just over a mile further on and a bridge on the nearside marked the entrance to the Lapworth Link, connecting the two canals. At this point they’re only a couple of hundred yards apart.

I bet those roofs could tell some tales…IMG_2534

Towpath bridge over the linkIMG_2537


Heading towards the Stratford CanalIMG_2539

No Problem had headed through onto the narrow canal to drop recycling off and to turn around. I caught them coming back under the bridge. You could hardly miss them!IMG_2540

Now then, from here we would normally have a choice of routes to get to the north and west. There are several across Birmingham, and one around the fringes through Solihull and back up to Fazeley. Unfortunately we’re into the Winter Stoppage Season, during which C&RT close sections of canal for repair and maintenance. Closures have effectively barred us from the most direct route, repairs to cuttings, locks and bridges have closed off the city centre from this side.
So we’re going the long way round. Solihull, Fazeley, Fradley, Great Haywood, Autherley Junction and back up the Shropshire Union. With further stoppages on the Llangollen until just before Christmas there’s no point in getting up there too early…

So tomorrow we’ll use the facilities just ahead of us, turn around and head back out onto the Grand Union, turning left towards Knowle.

We’ll be parting company with the No Problem crew as well. Shame, we’ve had a good time over the last few days, and Meg has enjoyed the canine company too.

Oh, and a couple of corrections for yesterday’s post… It’s St Laurence’s church in Rowington, not St. Lawrence. And that moon in the sunset picture should rightly have been called a waxing crescent, not a new moon. If you’re interested there’s a good explanation of the celestial mechanics involved here.

Thanks for the comments recently…

Adam, yes you’re right, technically the boats weren’t breasted up coming up Hatton. I was allowing myself a little poetic licence…
Steve, Angela. Needs must, as they say. It could be a long cold winter!
Hi Malcolm. I reckon he was doing it for a bet…Black Sheep

Locks 0, miles 2

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wet tunnel, busy afternoon, fine sunset.

We had a good weekend after coming up Hatton Locks on Friday. We didn’t move, Saturday we made a start on the logs we’d collected around Leamington, and Sunday it was too wet to do much of anything. But Sunday also marked Vic’s birthday, so they came to us for lunch and a bit of a celebration with a drink or two…

The day finished with a flourish, too!

An overnight low of -2½°C left us with a frosty morning, just the kind that Meg likes…IMG_2484


We were on the move today, not too far though. It seemed a shame not to move on such a beautiful day.We pulled in for a quick visit to the Village Stores in Shrewley on the 48 hour moorings just before Shrewley Tunnel. The towpath here is  running with muddy water after the rain.
The tunnel itself is fairly short, only 433 yards, but what it lacks in length it move than makes up for in dampness!
I couldn’t see so well either. I’d scrubbed my running shoes this morning after getting them full of mud on Sunday morning. It seemed a good idea to hang them from the aerial to drip as we cruised today…
IMG_2508…right in front of the tunnel light!

We tied up on at a fine spot, open views both ways looking out over the village of Rowington.IMG_2509

A quick bite to eat then it was back out with the chainsaws and axes to tackle the remainder of the logs on both boat roofs.

My stack…

A couple of hours later and it was sliced, diced and stacked back onto the boats. That should last us a while.

Sue and I took the dogs out for an hour in the late afternoon, a short walk out around the village and back.

Rowington’s Church of St. Lawrence is a fine building, parts dating back to the 12th century.IMG_2512

Sue, Meg and setting sun.

Another fine sunset finished the day off
The new moon is in the middle of the shot.

Our time cruising with Sue and Vic is drawing to a close. We’ll be parting company in the next couple of days, as we head west then north for the Llangollen Canal. We’ll probably meet up again in the spring, over on the Fens.

Locks 0, miles 2½

Friday, November 21, 2014

Two and three-quarter miles, 146½ feet up, three hours.

That was today’s trip up Hatton Locks. It would have been a bit quicker but for an enforced pause up near the waterways depot.

Of all the days for me to sleep in, it had to be today when we wanted an early-ish start. It was a bit of a rush, but I managed to cram in a 5 mile run, breakfast and a quick toilet walk for Meg before we pulled pins.

Lock 26, the bottom of the 21, lies just up from the main A46 road bridge.IMG_2462
No Problem has just gone in.

In Lock 26

We soon got into a routine. Vic and I drew the top paddles when the ladies were in the lock, then Vic stayed with the occupied lock to close up after the boats were out while I went ahead to set the next one up. What also made it easier was the ladies breasting (!!) up in the pound so they came in each chamber together. This saves having to haul the first in over to the side, but needs a couple of very competent steerers. We had those…IMG_2465

Mason’s marks on stone steps

The height of ovine fashion. Odd-coloured eartags and an orange Mohican!IMG_2468
I think the farmer has a sense of humour…

Ugly Bridge (that’s what it’s called, not a personal observation) is about a third of the way up and marks the point where the locks come closer together as the gradient steepens.IMG_2471
To be fair, it’s not the prettiest span on the waterways. But it’s not that bad! The thoroughfare that crosses it is called Ugly Bridge Road. How’s about that for an address!

Looking up from Lock 36IMG_2474

We had a bit of a wait in Lock 41; C&RT were unloading a work boat full of scrap out of the side pounds in Lock 42.

Any old iron…IMG_2475
The vast majority of the detritus was push bikes, some that looked in good nick. Then came the ubiquitous shopping trollies…

We took advantage of the short wait while they cleared the lock to have a brew, then carried on up the last 5 locks.

The end is nigh. The ladies pass the café and gift shop below the top lock.IMG_2480

Hatton Top Lock.

Sue and Vic pulled in for water while we stayed in the lock and I emptied a loo cassette. Then we set off again to find a mooring suitable for a couple of well-earned rest days. There are moorings in the cutting below St. John’s Bridge, but they’re gloomy and damp. We finished up mooring just past the winding hole, about half a mile above the flight.

Sue’s suggestion of a good start to catch that fine weather window very nearly worked. In fact if we hadn’t been held up we’d have just about made it without getting wet. But the last 10 minutes brought a heavy shower. Still, apart from that we only had a few drops about half way up.

A couple of days off now. There’s wood to cut if the weather allows, and the last Formula 1 Grand Prix of the season to watch.

Locks 21, miles 2¾