Monday, 29 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Ten

Not so much of a cruise, really; just winter.  Last night was no less cold than the previous one, so all the water we'd cleared had frozen over again.  Also, the forecast for the rest of the week was getting worse rather than better, so we came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn't be able to move at all, let along get back to Norbury Junction by Thursday evening.

So we started preparations to return home.  Adrian rang Norbury Wharf to find out what we'd have to do to winterise the boat, and then rang the next owners, due on board next weekend.  Then he phoned Great Haywood Marina to get the name of a local taxi firm, to take him to Norbury to pick up the car.

We both walked along to Haywood Junction to dump rubbish, and to meet the taxi.  We happened to bump into Sarah from Chertsey there, so while Adrian set off, I was able to go and have a look at Chertsey.

Then it was back to Debdale to pack, and drain down the water tank.  It took the best part of an hour and a half!

Tixall Wide isn't the easiest of places to get to, but once Adrian had returned, he found the way to Swivel Bridge, so at least we didn't have to carry all our stuff right the way back to the junction.  He'd also borrowed a hydrometer from Anglo-Welsh, and bought some anti-freeze.  Norbury had said they protect the boats up to -15 Celsius, but it would be a good idea to up the protection to -20C.  We checked the central heating system and the engine, and topped up the anti-freeze as necessary.  Once the water system was drained, we also disconnected the water pump, and tried to make sure there was no water left inside.

Then we took all our stuff to the car.  It took three trips along the snowy tow path.  When we were loaded up, we headed back to Great Haywood, went for lunch in a pub in the village, and headed for home.  Adrian said the Shroppie at Norbury Junction is frozen solid, and every canal we passed or crossed on the way home was frozen, even the K&A as it goes under the A34 near Newbury.  The temperature on the way home never got higher than 1.5C

It's not the way we envisioned the trip ending -- and it had been very enjoyable up until the weather intervened -- and we'll also have to sort out getting Debdale back to Norbury Wharf, once the ice has gone.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Nine

It was an exceptionally cold night.  The Met Office said it was -7 in these parts; I wouldn't be surprised if it was colder here on Tixall Wide.  By the morning, even though the fire stayed in (it's been alight constantly since we lit it on the first day), we had ice on the inside of the windows and the window frames.

We had a cooked breakfast, then at about 8.45am decided to see whether we could move.  It took about 20 minutes to move the boat at all.  We were frozen solid.  Once we were free, we tried to get back out to the channel cut by boats yesterday; even though it was frozen, the ice didn't look as thick.  However, getting there proved impossible, so after the best part of an hour we gave up and decided to walk to Great Haywood to get a paper.  The junction was frozen, but the moving water had kept the canal clear just below the lock.

Having been to the shop, we walked to the farm shop, but nothing caught our fancy (not at those prices, anyway).  We then carried on to the marina, where we knew Bruce and Sheila are moored on Sanity Again.  The office gave us directions to their pontoon, but they weren't at home.  We met them shortly afterwards, just outside the farm shop, and spent quite some time talking.  While we were there, a boat came down the Trent and Mersey from the north, but went straight past the junction.

This afternoon, we've made another couple of attempts to get away -- we'd like to be off the wide, as this seems to be where the ice is thickest and the weather the coldest.  But, although we got slightly further each time, the ice is just too think -- up to two inches in places.  So we've given up.  The sun appears to be having some effect on the ice, so we'll hope for a less cold night and a warmer day tomorrow.  We also live in hope that another boat will come by (Chertsey, are you stuck too?).  In the meantime, we have food, water, diesel, coal, internet, tv, and reading material.

0 miles, 0 locks.  (73 miles, 69 locks)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Eight

I looked out the window when I got up to go to the loo at 5am, to find it snowing, and the canal both frozen and covered in white.  By the time we got up properly, there was a good covering of snow everywhere.

We set off at 8.20am, and took quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get away from the mooring.  I swung the bridge, and Adrian made the left turn onto the Trent and Mersey -- not easy with the ice.  The noise going through the ice is incredible.

 People were just emerging from their boats, and the snow seemed to have made everyone cheerful.  The first two locks were for us (a first on this trip).

Above Shade House Lock was a magical scene of snowy trees and a frozen canal.

At Kings Bromley, we passed a small basin filled with former OwnerShips boats.  The other side of the bridge, at the Wharf, I'd been looking out for Chertsey.  Sarah was on board, and said they were busy trying to get the engine started.  I didn't dare stop for a longer chat, as getting going again through the ice is difficult.

We were breaking ice for the best part of three hours.  I'd been worried that the narrows at Armitage might have been well frozen, but in fact they were clear.  The whole way, the ice was very variable: at some points, the canal was clear; a few yards away, the ice could be nearly half an inch thick.  We finally met another boat coming the other way by the Ash Tree boat club.  They said they'd come from Great Haywood, so we knew things would be a lot easier for the rest of the day.

We stopped at Rugeley and went to the nearby Morrisons for shopping.  It was packed; the whole of the town appeared to have seen the snow and thought it necessary to stock up.  Then we had lunch, and set off again at 1.30pm.  Boats arrived at Rugeley while we were there, and we passed several more during the afternoon.  In fact, I think we've seen more moving boats today than any other day so far -- not difficult as some days we haven't seen any.

There was excitement at Colwich Lock.  I went to set the lock, and a group of walkers arrived at the lock.  A cow in the neighbouring field jumped over the stile onto the bridge, apparently wanting to say hello to all the people.  One of the walkers went to make sure it didn't get through the gate onto the towpath, and the cow headed back -- but rather than recrossing the stile, it went over the corner of the bridge parapet into a bit of scrub land, then into the canal.  Adrian wondered if the cow was going to land on the bow.  A couple of minutes later, the cow swam across the canal, got out, and was last seen heading off down the towpath followed by the farmer.

There was much more snow at Colwich Lock and northwards than we'd had at Fradley.  At Great Haywood, we should really have stopped below the lock where there were plenty of excellent moorings.  But we decided to carry on through the lock, onto to find no space at all.  It meant we had no choice but to turn onto the Staffs and Worcs, and head for Tixall Wide.

We've never seen the wide so deserted -- there appears to be just one other boat hear (apart for a sunken one).  Getting in to the side was quite tricky: we had to crash through the ice to get to the bank.  Whether we'll get out again in the morning remains to be seen.  It was 4pm by the time we moored up.

13 miles, 5 locks.  (73 miles, 69 locks)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Seven

Another very cold night, and there was plenty of ice on the canal.  It was thick enough to hold ducks (although several of them did fall through a bit further along).

We walked down to Streethay and caught the bus to the National Memorial Arboretum.  The journey was only ten minutes, most of it thundering along the A38.  It's an amazing place, dominated by the armed forces memorial, but with dozens of other smaller memorials, to everything from Northern Ireland, the Merchant Navy, prisoners of war, and those who've been killed on the roads.  We spent several hours looking round, even though it was very cold, and it's often very moving.

We had a good lunch in the cafe, then caught the bus back.  It takes a bit longer as it goes through Alrewas.  But we were back at the boat and on the move shortly after 2pm.  As is becoming normal for us, we had the unambitious target of Fradley Junction, and we were mooring around an hour later.  We walked down to the BW office to dump some rubbish.  The moorings below junction lock were the emptiest we've ever seen them.

3 miles, 0 locks.  (60 miles, 64 locks)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Six

Another clear moonlit night, and another frosty morning.  We set off at 8.20, and I walked down to set our only lock of the day.  Having completed the last Curdworth lock, we're now at the lowest point of our trip, having dropped nearly 250 feet since Wolverhampton.

The main landmark before Fazeley Junction is the Drayton Footbridge.

At Fazeley Junction, we were pleased to see that the Junction House is being lived in; it was boarded up the last time we were here.

We stopped at the water point to fill the tank, and while it was filling I went to the nearby Tesco Express to top up on shopping.  We set off again in lovely sunshine, although it was bitterly cold.  The only other time we've done this stretch from Fazeley to Fradley was in August 2007, on our first trip on Debdale.  Today, the canal looked loveley.

We spotted a couple of bloggers today.  Guelrose was moored at Hopwas, and just north of Huddlesford Junction was Derwent6.  We moored up shortly afterwards, opposite the moorings at Streethay Wharf.  We had lunch, then walked over the bridge to the wharf to see Kevin Blick, who's refitting narrowboat Harry.

11 miles, 1 lock.  (57 miles, 64 locks)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Five

We woke to a lovely morning -- frosty, sunny, and with the moon still high in the sky.  We'd slept reasonably well, in spite of the noise of the M6.  It's a constant hum, so relatively easy to tune out.  As it was cold, we treated ourselves to bacon and eggs, before setting off at 8.20.  We were quickly at Salford Junction, under Spaghetti Junction, and making the very tight right turn back onto the Birmingham and Fazeley.

There's lots of industry along the canal, but there are still kingfishers flashing across the water.  At Minworth, the canal really is a stripe of nature through the industry.  The top lock is very attractive with its collection of cottages.

I don't know what used to be made at the Cincinnati works, but it's not made there any more.  The site has been bought by Urban Splash (the company which owns the land next to the Walsall Town Arm, and hasn't yet built anything there).  I hope that when they get round to doing something at Cincinnati, they convert the rather elegant building rather than knocking it down.

We had to make an unscheduled stop just below Minworth Bottom Lock, to remove a piece of rope from around the prop.  Then it was out into the country towards Curdworth with its short tunnel.

The Curdworth flight of locks begins shortly afterwards.  The sunshine meant there were great scenes everywhere, in spite of the M42 running alongside.  We had to turn every lock (I don't think we've had a single lock in our favour all trip), and a few locks down caught up with a single hander.  Fortunately (for us, not him), he had to stop to clear his prop, so let us go past.

We decided to carry on until after the tenth lock, and then stay put for the night.  We are becoming part time boaters!  So we moored at 1.30pm next to Kingsbury Water Park.  After lunch, we made good use of the sunny weather by taking a walk round some of the lakes.  As we set off, a boat came up the lock below us, and another, Aldridge, came down the lock above us.  We haven't seen that many boats for a long time.

The water park is a huge place, covering a vast area both sides of the M42.  We saw only a very small part of it, but it looked beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine.

9 miles, 13 locks.  (46 miles, 63 locks)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Four

We had a great evening last night.  Lesley and Joe, and Jill and Graham came round for a drink, and we were even joined by Paul from Waterway Routes, but he had to go and get a train home.  Then we all went for a meal.  We chose the Slug and Lettuce at Brindleyplace (fifty per cent off all food on Mondays).

This morning, we were looking forward to a fast run down the Farmer's Bridge Locks, as we'd roped in Lesley and Joe as lock crew!  We were off before 8, but it turned out we weren't quite early enough.  As we arrived at the top lock, another boat, Avington, was just going into the second one (they'd also been in front of us when we came up the Wolverhampton flight).  It didn't really matter, because the extra pairs of hands meant we could turn each lock as soon as Avington left it.  We got into a good rhythm of going ahead to set the locks, so we probably wouldn't have been any quicker even without a boat in front.  Halfway down the flight, Joe too over the helm.

Farmer's Bridge is probably my favourite flight of urban locks.  There are great views everywhere, and always something to look at.

We got to the bottom in an hour and ten minutes, and stopped to put the kettle on and make tea for our crew, before saying goodbye to Lesley and Joe (and Fletcher and Floyd).  It's been great spending time with them, and we really appreciated the help this morning.

With a boat in front of us (even though they'd be well ahead because of our tea stop), we decided on a change of plan.  We'd been going to head down the Aston flight and as far along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal as we could.  But we decided to turn right as Aston Juntion and go down the Ashted Locks instead, followed by the Garrison Locks, which we'd never done before.

Ashed Tunnel is narrow and uneven, and starts directly after the top Ashted Lock.  There was plenty of water in the flight.  Halfway down the flight, there's a great view of the Bullring.

At the end of the Digbeth Branch, we turned left left through Warwick Bar.  Then it was just a short distance to Bordesley Junction, where we went under the elegant bridge onto the Saltley Cut.

It starts straight and wide, with lots of bridges into the distance.  The Garrison Locks turned out to be much nicer than we'd been expecting (although the sunny day may have helped).

As we're not short of time on this trip, we decided to stop at the pontoon moorings at Star City.  Lesley and Joe have stayed here, and said it was fine.  It was about 12.30 when we arrived, and I knew we had something round the prop.  Opening the weed hatch, I was surprised to see how clear the water was; it was probably the best view I've had of the prop, and I could clearly see the plastic bag causing the problem.

As we were moored next to a cinema, it seemed the idea time to go and see a film.  So we checked the times, and after a quick lunch went and saw The Social Network.  We were the only people in the cinema.  The moorings here are much better than we were expecting; there's access to Star City via a gate locked with a BW key, and I'm sure the vast majority of people who go to Star City don't even know the moorings are here.  Spaghetti Junction isn't far away, so there's a certain amount of traffic noise, but even that isn't as bad as we thought it might be.  All in all, it's been a thoroughly enjoyable day.

5 miles, 24 locks (37 miles, 50 locks)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Three

The moorings at the Black Country Museum are both noisy (being next to a busy road), and bright (as the BW service block is very well illuminated).  However, it was extremely heavy rain which woke us up during the night.

We left at 8 o'clock, and turned right onto the Old Main Line.  Our route to Birmingham had been the subject of some discussion, as we've done the journey between Wolverhampton and Birmingham several times over the years.  On one occasion we used the Factory Locks at Tipton to move between the levels of the New and Old main lines, and most recently we used the Smethwick Locks.  So this time, we decided to take a left turn at Brades Hall Junction and use the Brades Locks to take us down onto the Gower Branch and onto the New Main Line.  The Brades Locks include the BCN's only staircase pair.

At the bottom, Brades Hall Bridge has very low headroom, and we had to stop and take off the chimney and the internet antenna.

After completing the third (single) lock and the rest of the Gower Branch, we turned right onto the New Main Line, wide, deep, and straight.  We went under the M5 on its huge concrete pillars, and under the Old Main Line on the Stewart Aqueduct.

As we approached the city centre, we turned off round the Oozells Stree Loop, and spotted that Sherborne Wharf must be one of the few marinas in the country with two electric boats: Waterway Routes, and Felonious Mongoose.

We moored at the end of the Oozells Loop, had a shower and lunch, then went to find Lesley on Caxton, moored just round the corner.  Later in the afternoon, we went along to have a look at The Cube, as it was just a huge hole in the ground when we were last here.  Then we walked into town through the Frankfurt Christmas Market, which has taken over virtually all the centre of town.

This evening, Lesley and Joe, and Jill and Graham from Matilda Rose are coming round for a drink before we all go out for something to eat.  Tomorrow, lots of locks.

9 miles, 3 locks (32 miles, 26 locks)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day Two

The fire stayed in all night, so the boat was nice and warm in this morning.  It was a promising looking day, although it was still cold.  We left our moorings at 8am, and an hour later reached the stop lock at Autherley Junction.  We turned right onto the Staffs and Worcs, and then left to go up the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks. 

 We last did these locks on a hire boat in 2006.  The bottom lock was against us, indicating a boat going up ahead.  At about the third lock up, a passer by with a windlass in a bag helped set the lock, and told us there was a problem ahead, with the pound between locks 4 and 5 about 2 feet down.  He said he'd knocked on the lock keeper's front door, but he was still in bed.

There's plenty of interest up the Wolverhampton flight, including the racecourse at the bottom, lugubrious blue brick railway viaducts, and various factories.  By one lock (16 I think), there's a cage on the offside containing a family of marmosets.

We reached the top lock at 1pm -- not bad going seeing as we'd had to turn every lock.  We pulled into the Broad Street Basin to fill up with water and have lunch.

Afterwards we set off again heading for Dudley.  Both the previous times we've tried to moor at the Black Country Museum, there's been no room and we've had to moor outside; this time there were plenty of spaces, so we turned and moored at abour 3.45pm.  A few minutes later, it started to rain.

Add caption

11 miles, 22 locks (23 miles, 23 locks)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Winter Cruise - Day One

It was past midnight when I got home from work last night, but even so we got up at 5am, and were on the road at 6 heading for Norbury Wharf.  A trouble-free journey meant we were there just after 9, and quickly unloaded the car and stocked up with coal.  Just after 9.30 we were heading south, having spun the boat in the basin.  It was a cold and misty day, so we lit the fire and hope to keep it in for the whole of our fortnight!  I steered while Adrian unpacked and put everything away.

There were only a handful of boats on the move, but typically we met both northbound ones at bridges.  We made our way through Gnosall Heath, through the diminutive Cowley tunnel, and on to Wheaton Aston, where we moored up for a lunch stop and a warm.

Setting off again, we went up the lock, much to the delight of a family who'd been hoping to see a boat.  The stretch through Brewood was exceptionally slow, with a couple of miles of moored boats.  We moored on the Shropshire Union Canal Society moorings just south of Bridge 8, at around 3.30.  It's another spot we've passed lots of times and liked the look of, but never stopped before.  It's lovely and quiet (even though the M54 is only a mile away), and very dark.

12 miles, 1 lock.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Crunch time

This month's contribution to Canal Boat is a piece about a boat which had a tree fall on it, and was repaired by the guys at the Nantwich Canal Centre.
Also in this month's magazine is a piece by Amy from Luck Duck, about their trip up the Cambridge backs.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Winter Cruise countdown

Our two-week winter cruise starts on Saturday.  We're planning an early start, so we can get to Norbury Wharf in good time and set off.  Norbury does quite well in the pre-Christmas winter stoppages this year: the route north is blocked at Hack Green Locks, but we have plenty of options going south.

We're planning to do the Black Country (or Staffordshire) Ring.  We've done every part of the route at some time or another, but never all together in the ring.  It's a route that in the summer would be a fairly easy week, so even with the short November days, we'll be able to take things fairly easy.  Still, we'll have a few busy days, particularly near the start of the trip, as we need to get up the Wolverhampton 21, and then a couple of days later there'll be plenty of locks as we descend out of Birmingham.  We're also hoping to meet up with a couple of fellow bloggers, and we'll keep an eye out for other familiar boats who might be lurking en route.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hampstead Lock, River Medway

Yesterday, I was at Hampstead Lock on the River Medway in Kent.  It's only a few miles from where I grew up, yet I don't ever remember coming here before.  There are a couple of marinas nearby, filled with plastic boats, and the lock itself is very large -- large enough to make even double locks look small.