Friday, 25 September 2015

Home at last

Apologies for the delay.  We arrived home on Tuesday lunchtime.  Since then we been a little busy sorting out the house, the dirty clothing, the empty fridge, 3 month's post etc etc.

Some overall data on our journey:

100 days away from home
574 miles travelled
291 locks
3 swing/lift bridges
On average each day we traveled for 2.69 hours/day achieving 3.23 locks+miles per hour.

We will be out again sometime in 2016.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Delayed but not defeated

Descending Tixall Lock
As forecast it rained heavily this morning so we didnt move.  But, as also forecast, the rain stopped at around 1:30pm and we set off shortly afterwards.   There was another shower of rain but it didnt last long.  We made good progress through the attractive countryside beyond Stafford passing through Tixall Lock and turning right onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Great Haywood.  After a couple of locks and a few more miles we moored at Wolseley Bridge where there is a convenient pub, a total journey of 3 locks and 8.5 miles.

We are now in a good position to reach our home mooring tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Continuing our journey home - Penkridge and beyond

Gailey Lock overlooked by the unusual round toll-keeper's watch tower
No  blog yesterday as we both spent the whole day away from the boat on Inland Waterways Association business.  Denise worked on the IWA stand at the Huddlesford Heritage Gathering with many old boats and classic cars attending and various trader's stalls.  I went to a committee meeting to discuss next year's IWA Festival of Water following the success of the Northampton Festival.

Waiting for two boats to leave the water point in Penkridge - a narrowboat is leaving the lock just in front of Densie
This morning we set off in rather cold and misty weather northwards on the Staffs & Worcestershire Canal through isloated locks to reach the small town of Penkridge where we stopped around lunchtime to fill up with water.  This delayed us for some time as the waterway was busy and we were third in the queue for the tap. Then a few more miles and a few more isolated locks to where we moored below Deptmore Lock just outside Stafford at 15:30..

We had hoped to go further but we were both tired.  Our plans to get home on Tuesday are now  in doubt as tomorrow's weather is forecast to be very wet.

Friday, 18 September 2015

A long journey to Gailey

Last nights mooring spot at Coseley proved to be very good in an attractive and quiet location with no disturbance during the night.  The only down side was provided by the digger that started work around 6:30am at a site across the canal.  Finding mooring places in a big city is always a problem as in some areas local youths or drunks can make a stay unpleasant.  So it is useful to find new safe moorings.

Our journey today was one of our longest ever.  The reason was that I have a meeting tomorrow which required us to be in Gailey on the Staffs & Worcester Canal this evening so I could be picked up by car first thing in the morning.  And Gailey was some 15 miles and 21 locks from last night's mooring spot.   We looked at the practicalities last night, and from our previous experience the journey seemed reasonable.
Leaving Coseley Tunnel between Dudley and Wolverhamptoin

Wolverhampton Top Lock

Leaving Wolverhampton Bottom Lock
So we set off at 8:30 and in just under 2 hours we were at Wolverhampton top lock.   A surprisingly peaceful and old-world sight close to the busy modern city centre with a row of  terraced cottages and an original bridge.  Just over 3 hours later we were leaving the bottom lock, our passage through the flight being helped considerably by most of the locks being set in our favout (there was no need to fill a lock before we could enter) and our well practised procedure whereby Denise walked ahead to open the next lock's gates whilst I took the boat down and out of the previous lock..  After the bottom lock we turned right to travel north on the Staffs & Worcestershire Canal.

From then on we were back on a canal we have previously travelled many times, so it was simply a matter of taking the boat up to the maximum speed it could maintain on this fairly shallow canal (about 3 mph at most) and keep on going.  We arrived in Gailey and moored up at 16:30 tired but satisfied.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

On the move again - through greater Birmingham

We enjoyed our 2 days in Birmingham centre.  An Indian fusion meal in a restaurant that appeared in the Telegraph top 100 restaurants in the country and has featured in Gordon Ramsay's F-word programme was a little disappointing.  However the concert of Shoenberg and Carl Nielsen performed by Royal Danish Orchestra was excellent.

I discovered that the domestic water pump had developed a slight leak. which had dampened some of the woodwork.  Fortunately there was a boatyard nearby who were able to provide and install a new one.  We also have a slight leak in thw stern where the prop shaft passes through the hull.  The boatyard engineer was able to calm my fears that this was a major problem requiring taking the boat out of the water.  It merely requires the replacement of an O-ring and can be safely delayed until our boating is finished for the year.
The Engine Arm canal passes over the Main Line  near Smethwick

Typical view of the Main Line.
This morning I travelled by train to Leicester to take my elderly father to the dentist but we were on the move by 2:30PM.  We travelled along Telford's impressive New Main Line built in the 1820's which passes through some of the more deprived areas of Birmingham.  However for much of the journey one could, almost be out in the countryside  as the canal runs in a grassy cutting.  After ascending the 3 lock Factory Flight at Tipton we moored in a tree surrounded area in the suburb of Coseley.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Into central Birmingham

We set off early at 8:30am for the 10 mile lock-free trip into central Birmingham, travelling all the way within the built-up area of the city.  The weather was dry and we were making reasonable progress.  On the way we stopped at a water point to fill up the tank and a boatyard for a  pump-out.
Rubbish from around the prop
 The boat was moving very slowly with some vibration.  I had ascribed this to the canal being very shallow, but after a while decided to check the prop.  It was one of the worst prop foulings we have ever had on Densie - a curtain and black plastic bag were wrapped tightly around the blades.  It was surprising the engine hadnt stalled.  With 10 minutes pulling the rubbish was removed and we went on our way, travelling very much faster and more smoothly.
On the Worcester & Birmingham Canal about 1 mile from Central Birmingham

Approaching Gas Street Basin

The flowery bridge links Symphony Hall and Brindley Place
At Kings Norton Junction we turned right onto the Worcester & Birmingham Canal going through the University area and Edgbaston in the occasional heavy shower of rain... Soon after 1 pm we cruised through Gas Street Basin and past Symphony Hall and Brindley Place, mooring up at our normal spot below the Sealife Centre and opposite the National Indoor Arena.

We are going out tonight to a recommended Indian Restaurant and tomorrow we will be at  Symphony Hall to hear a classical concert.  No more news until we leave on Thursday.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Staying near Shirley Draw Bridge

We havent moved today.  It was a choice between a night in Birmingham, with the possible implication that we stayed for 3 days on a 2 day mooring.  Remaining here tonight avoids the question and the area is much quieter with less chance of disturbance during the night.

The weather has been damp all day and it is now raining fairly heavily.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

On the Stratford Canal to Shirley

Lapworth top lock
We left our moorings in cool but sunny weather at 9:45 and quickly ascended the remaining 4 Lapworth locks helped by the crew of the boat in front of us setting the lock paddles ready for us before they left.  After Lapworth Top Lock there are no further locks to work until the other side of Birmingham.
On the Stratford Canal 

In a cutting on the Stratford Canal
The canal then took us past two manual footpath lift bridges neither of which required any work from us as they were being operated by other boaters.  Going on to the west, the canal frequently passed through very attractive heavily wooded cuttings and  under the not so attractive M42 to take us to our planned moorings on the edge of Birmingham just beyond Shirley Draw Bridge.
Passing under Shirley Draw Bridge
Unlike the other two this bridge is on a busy road.  Fortunately it is highly automated - just press on the "Open" button to turn the traffic lights red, close the barriers and raise the bridge.  After the boat has passed through through press on the "Close" button to lower the bridge, open the barriers and turn the traffic lights green.  Finally one gives a cheery wave to the long queue of cars who have been patiently waiting and carries on one's way.

The statistics show 7.27 miles, 4 locks and 1 bridge in 3 hours 50 minutes.  At an average of over 3 "things" an hour this is reasonably good going.  However it hides the fact that although lock and bridge operation was quick, cruising was very slow.  Most of the journey was made at a speed of around 2 mph because of the shallowness of the canal and the need to drive slowly past the numerous moored boats.  With a normal cruising speed of 3 mph, 2 mph seems extremely slow.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Just half a mile

Ascending the Lapworth flight

Moored on our own above Lock 6 at Lapworth
We are ahead of schedule and dont want to be in central Birmingham until Monday at the very earliest.  It had rained heavily overnight and was still damp when we got up so so we didnt set off until 11:30 and then only moved 0.5 miles and 9 locks up the canal helped by a CRT volunteer.  Densie is moored 4 locks below the top of the flight at a point whee there is a significant distance between locks.  Total journey time 1.5 hours.

During our journey many runners passed by.  A member of a team taking part who has unable to run because of injury was walking on the towpath and provided some information. The run was from the other side of Stratford on Avon to Bournville in Birmingham, a total of 30 miles.  Some people were undertaking the whole distance, others as a 3-person relay, 10 miles each.  The person out in front was a member of Birchfield Harriers and of "elite" ranking.  I was told a runner of this standard could expect to run 10 miles in 1 hour 5 minutes.  We will be passing Bounville in two day's time - plenty fast enough!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Back on the narrow canals - up the Stratford Canal

On the Grand Union above Hatton

Shrewley Tunnel with towpath tunnel
 After yesterday's exertions today was quieter.  We left the Hatton flight moorngs at 8:40 and cruised towards Birmingham in unexpectedly (to us) nice scenery and sunny weather.  Early on we passed through Shrewley Tunnel with its unique (as far as I can recollect) separate tunnel for the towpath.  The canal tunnel was fairly wet, I suspect the towpath tunnel wouldnt be any better.
Densie entering Lock 19 on the Lapworth Flight
At Kingswood Junction we left the wide Grand Union and returned to the narrow canals joining the Stratford Canal which links Birmingham and Stratford on Avon..  The journey into Birmingham starts with 19 locks of the Lapworth flight.  These, being narrow locks, are much easier and quicker to operate than the wide locks on the Grand Union.  We moored up after ascending 6 locks where a gap between locks leaves space for visitor moorings.  In total a journey of 5.5 miles and 6 locks in 3.5 hours.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Hatton Flight

Densie and Boojum wait for the lock gates to be opened on the Hatton Flight
A change of pace today as we ascended the daunting 21 lock Hatton Flight that takes the Grand Union Canal up 146 foot in 1.5 miles out of Warwick and into the countryside.  As before these locks are double width with heavy gates.  Luckily we were able to pair up with narrowboat Boojum and its experienced crew of 2.  For much of the journey the two boats travelled next to each other out of one lock and into the next speeding up lock entry and impressing the groups of sight-seers. At some locks further time was saved by "lock wheeling" -  one person going ahead to ready the next look whilst the previous one was filling.  3.5 hours after leaving last night's mooring we were able to moor again at the top of the flight and enjoy a shared bottle of beer.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Shopping in Leamington and then to Warwick

Yesterday Denise had noticed a shop selling Tilley hats so after breakfast we walked into Leamington centre to buy me a new one as my old hat is starting to disintegrate.    Going into the shop, a "Gentlemens Oufitter, established over 100 years" was like stepping back 30 years or more.  Rails full of tweed jackets and corduroy trousers, a wide range of shirts and smart ties, many other hats including boaters and countryman flat caps - great stuff!.  Having made my purchase the shopkeeper carefully wrote out a receipt by hand.

Just beyond the "gentlemen's outfitters" was a real fishmonger's and further on a butcher's.  Perhaps worth mentioning that yesterday we had lunch at a "Tea Rooms and Piano Bar".  Very good burger and chips accompanied by the uninterrupted light music of the resident pianist.  I am beginning to warm to Leamington!
On the Grand Union n Leamington

AT the bottom Cape Lock, Warwick

But we had to move on.  Finding a supermarket was urgent as there is little opportunity for major food shopping after Leamington until the other side of Birmngham.  For many years the standard place for boaters to stop was the Tescos  between Leamington and Warwick where there are a few moorings. However just a mile after leaving and still well within Leamington we passed near a Morrisons situated across the road that runs alongside the canal.   We got  everything we needed there and then carried on westwards.

After crossing the aqueduct over the River Avon we enter Warwick,   Up the two Cape Locks with narrowboat "Rusty Nail" and then we moored near the well known canalside "Cape of Good Hope" pub.  Overall  a total of 3 miles and two locks in 2 hours cruising.  An easy day, but tomorrow will be very, very different.  More news later.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Royal Leamington Spa

As we travel north west on the Grand Union Canal the isolated rural Eastern countryside is being replaced by the industrial Midlands towns and villages that surround Birmingham.   After a journey of 4.5 miles and 6 locks accompanied by a hire boat from the Ashby Canal with a crew of 6 out for a week we moored in Leamington just before noon.
Moored in Leamington looking west

Moored in Leamington looking east
The canal passes through the southern part of the town perhaps half a mile from the town centre.  To be honest it is fairly grim in places with graffiti, industrial buildings and old housing.  We saw our first dumped shopping trolley of the trip, half out of the canal water.  .With some misgivings we left the boat and walked into the town centre.  Completely different!  A large and interesting area with wide streets lined by buildings dating from the relatively short period in the 19th century when Leamington was a successful spa destination.  As well as the national chains there are many small shops.  Well worth a visit.  But it's a shame that the town doesnt make more of its canal.

Monday, 7 September 2015

A feast of locks

Passing The Two Boats Inn near Long Itchington - we didnt stop!

Densie and Niarbyl Bay entering the 2nd staircase lock

Denise drives Densie into the 3rd Bascote Lock
A lock filled day as we descended the 10 Stockton Locks and the 4 Bascote Locks, the latter includes the only staircase lock on the Grand Union main line where one lock's bottom gates form the top gates of the next lock.  As with many of the other Grand Union double width locks working these are hard work with heavy gates to open and close and stiff paddle gear.  Fortunately we were able to share the whole journey with narrowboat  Niarbyl Bay owned by a couple from Wigan.  Sharing makes everything much easier as there is of course twice the labour but also two boats keep each other in place whilst the lock is emptying or filling reducing the need to tie the boat into the side.  It also enables one crew member to go ahead to set up the next lock whilst the other looked after the boats in the current lock speeding up the passage considerably.

The journey itself was very enjoyable in sunny weather with attractive scenery and many other boats on the move or moored up.  We arrived at out moorings out in the countryside at 12:50 after 3 hours 40 mins on the move covering 5 miles and 14 locks.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ventnor Marina

So far our return trip from the Fens has simply reversed our trip out.  Today however we diverted from our outgoing route at Braunston Junction by continuing on the Grand Union Canal towards Birmingham so that we can attend our booked concert there on 16th September.  

From Braunston the canal takes one along the Braunston Puddle Banks, a long embankment created over 200 years ago as an improvement to Brindley's original  meandering route.   It is a few years since we made this journey and were impressed by the attractive rural scenery enhanced by the sunny weather.    On reaching Napton junction where the Oxford Canal goes south to meet the Thames we turned north passing down the 3 Calcutt locks.  Despite being of double width like those at Buckby and Braunston they are much easier to operate and accompanied by another narrowboat made the descent in about 30 minutes.  Soon after leaving the locks we turned into Ventnor Marina where we will spend the night.  A total journey of 6.8 miles and 3 locks in 3hr 20 mins.

Ventnor is owned by the same company who own our home marina and so we get access to the facilities and free moorings.  We had a pump-out, filled up with diesel and plugged the boat into the mains electricity supply to fully charge the batteries.  The marina has a washing machine and tumble drier so Denise was able to do the final laundry we will need before we get home.

Saturday, 5 September 2015


Approaching Braunston Tunnel
We left at 8:30 and paired up with narrowboat Cookley for the 7 Buckby locks.  The repaired gate worked perfectly and we had an easy journey helped by the steady flow of boats coming down the locks - each lock was set ready for us when we arrived.  After filling up with water at the top of the flight at Norton Junction we continued on through Braunston tunnel where we met (from memory) 4 boats travelling in the opposite direction - much busier than we normally experience.  After stopping for a short time for lunch we carried on down the 6 Braunston Locks paired with another narrowboat to arrive at the canal centre of Braunston at 15:15.

In the afternoon we walked into the village to buy a new chimney for the boat, the previous one having been bent by a low bridge, some groceries, and a decent beer in the Old Plough.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Waiting for a lock repair

Grand Union Lock 12 on the Buckby flight has been a bottleneck for about 10 days as one of the two top gate heel post had been damaged preventing the gate opening and CRT were pulling boats one at a time through the lock by hand.  A repair was planned for today which would require complete closure of the lock.  We understood it would be complete by midday so we set off early to secure a good place on the queue of boats awaiting the reopening.
CRT working on the lock gate

Attaching the balance beam to replacement metal bracket

Balance beam in place 

Rotted bits from the  heel post
We arrived at the bottom lock at 9:00am - the first boat there.  CRT staff were already hard at work dismantling the top of the faulty lock gate removing the balance beam and the damaged section of heel post.  It turned out that the latter had rotted badly and so the failure wasnt due to careless use.  Work was not completed until about 16:30 so we decided to stay at the bottom of the flight until tomorrow morning - passage would take about 2 hours and we didnt fancy cruising til 6:30pm.  Several other boats who mostly had also attended the Northampton festival also made the same decision but others, hireboats and shared ownership boats, were due to be back at base on Saturday.

The day wasnt all wasted as we took the opportunity to visit the adjacent farm shop and buy meat, veg and sauces for another 3 days meals.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

North on the Grand Union

A routine day's cruising in familiar waters - 8.5 miles with no locks.

Densie moored on the Grand Union near Weedon
It was raining when we awoke but this had stopped by the time we left our moorings at 9:45.  Then a steady cruise northwards with lunch on the move until we stopped soon after 1pm because of further rain.   The place is attractive but the pleasure is reduced as we are within earshot of both the M1 and the West Coast Main Line.

We were feeling rather cold and so we thought about lighting our stove.  However the chimney hadn't been swept for some time (years?) , what better way to spend a late summer afternoon!  Its a messy job with a large shower of flakes of what looks like dirty rust being dislodged from the flue by our special-purpose chimney brush into the grate below.  It would have been worrying if I didnt know that the thickness of rust is about 10 times the thickness of metal lost.  So the flue should be OK for a few decades yet.  Having done the job and scrubbed our hands and arms we decided not to light the fire until later.

The next obstacle to our travels is the 7 lock Buckby flight about 2 miles from our mooring.  There have been major delays here as one of the lock gates has been damaged.  C&RT are pulling boats into and out of the lock by hand and are only permitting one boat at a time to ascend the double width lock  to avoid any chance of a boat hitting the gate causing catastrophic failure.  He have now heard from C&RT that the lock will be closed tomorrow morning so that they can carry our some repairs.  We will move up to the locks first thing in the morning but it is far from clear when we will be able to use them.  Fortunately we still have more than enough time to get to Birmingham in time for a booked classical music concert in Symphony Hall on the 15th.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The festival is over - back on the Grand Union

We have had  a very enjoyable week at the Northampton Festival of Water.  The first couple of days was spent helping with the set-up with Denise working on the IWA stand.  Mike's job was to manage the boats arriving at one of the mooring sites.
Timothy West and Prunella Scales open the Northampton Festival of Water

Some of the boats attending the Festival

Fully laden working boat
 The festival was officially opened on Saturday morning by Timothy West and Prunella Scales to loud cheers from an enthusiastic crowd,  The warm weather encouraged a very large number of people to attend, both boaters and local residents who all seemed to enjoy the spectacle of about 100 boats, including a number of historic ex-working boats, and the broad range of stalls selling food, boating services, ropes, fudge, sausages etc.

Sadly Sunday was wet and Monday wetter with much reduced attendance.  However overall it was a success with the opportunities it gave for publicising the waterways,  gaining new IWA members and enabling boaters from all over the country to meet each other.

After the Festival closed on Monday we helped clear the IWA stand - a very slick operation with everything being packed onto vans in 2 hours.
On the Northampton Arm

We left Northampton at 9am today and traveled 5.5 miles and 17 locks to moor on the Grand Union Canal some 5.5 hours later.  Despite our wonderful experiences on the fen rivers we are happy to be on the canal system again.