Sunday, June 30, 2013

Oak tree falls in lock -elderly couple not dismayed

We've been in the best bits of the Staffs and Worcs canal these last two days, and I suppose the weather has helped too. This is the bit of the canal where they had to cut through red sandstone hillsides to make a level for the canal, so you get all the lovely rocky outcrops, and the rather ridiculous little Cookley tunnel which passes deep below the houses on top. You would have to be hard hearted indeed not to be wooed by the prettiness of the S&W at this end.

Last night we moored at Caunsall Bridge and walked up to the Anchor which was so amazing that I shall make it the subject of a special post all of its own when I have fewer other things to tell you.

While we were getting ready to walk to the pub, a couple came by on bicycles and said that the lock below, Debdale lock (the one with the rock cave along side) had a large oak tree in it and would be impassable. We assured them that if was that bad then someone will have informed CRT and they will send out the lads to clear it. They didn't seem to believe us, but we have faith.

Sure enough this morning we approached the lock to the sound of the buzzing of chainsaws, and the lads from Fountains who do this work under contract were hard at it. The man in the adjacent cottage said he saw the big chunk of oak tree fall as if in slow motion after hearing a very loud crack.

We all had a jolly time milling round the lock while the lads did the final bit of clearing up, then they bow hauled us through the lock in case the prop got fouled and we were on our way. About half an hour lost I suppose.

There is now a big Sainsbury's nearly opposite the church almost adjacent to Kidderminster lock, so we stopped for provisions and decided to set up the aerial and watch the Grand Prix. The posh boat behind us at Kidderminster chugged off to the gorgeous sound of its Gardner 2L2. I want one.

All please note this is not a good spot for TV reception. In the end we gave up and continued on our way with the race on the radio. We are not sorry that Vettel suffered a breakdown, or at least his car did. He is getting a bit too big for his boots.

So here we are at last in Stourport, ready to tackle the mighty river Severn in the morning. However I note that we have a single lock and two staircases to negotiate first. Such fun.

Now the photos which as Eric Morecambe might say are not necessarily in the right order.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A narrow escape

I nearly got into deep trouble today. We arrived at Bratch locks in plenty of time to watch the Andy Murray tennis match. as we had a bit of time to spare I persuaded Kath that we should go down the locks and moor up at the bottom. It was only when we arrived at the moorings below the locks that I looked up into the gardens of the nearby houses and realised that all of their TV aerials were on 20 ft poles, Probably 30 ft above Herbie. I was, I feared, in deep doo doo. Perhaps I should have realised that when you descend through a 30ft depth of locks, you might end up behind a bit of a hill.

As you might expect, the Tv signal was inadequate when I erected our log periodic aerial. Then I remembered an extra length of aluminium pole we carry and managed to extend the aerial enough to save my skin. Phew.

Today we started to get into some of the bits that make this canal a bit special. The first was Pendeford Rockin where we squeezed through a narrow rocky gorge for a few hundred yards, then of course the unique Bratch locks. Unlike staircase locks like Foxton where the paddles are colour coded red and white, "red before white and you'll be alright", here you have red paddles on bottom gates and blue ones on the top gates. The Lockie said they like to be different, and at Bratch they have "blue before red, nothing said."

I love all the brickwork around these locks, curves and alcoves all over the place. A work of art.

The middle of my three Bratch photos today shows the outflow from the middle lock smashing into the gate of the bottom lock only a few feet away. The bottom lock of the three is thirteen feet deep which makes it one of the deepest narrow locks on the system.

We're now watching the weather reports in mid Wales to see what water the Severn will be bringing down when we hope to go out on it on Monday.

Now to the (not very good, must try harder) photos, first Pendeford Rockin and then Bratch.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

More Penkridge food

Sarah was right. The little bakery in Penkridge is a cracker and well worth the walk into the village. All kind of cakes, buns, scones baked fresh that morning and all looking magnificent. We of course weakened and bought several naughty items.

Across the road the butcher was just as good. A proper traditional butcher using locally sourced meat and making his own pies and dry curing his own bacon. We bought quite a lot of fresh meat, sausages, old spot bacon, and pies. Someone else had tipped us off that he will vacuum pack the fresh meat on request, so that it will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks. Ideal for the travelling boater. Not only did he round our bill down to the nearest pound, but he gave us an extra half a large pork pie for free. We have one of his steak pies in the oven as I write.

We managed to do all our locks before the rain set in today, the last being Gailey lock where we popped into the little round toll house, for many years a shop selling canal ware, books, pictures, gifts and all that stuff. The last time we were there was in 1991 but I don't think it has changed. Neither has the lady behind the till. Alright, like us she is 22 years older but it is the same lady.

Right now we are out in the sticks about three miles above Wolverhampton. Tomorrow we hope to get ourselves past the amazing Bratch locks and we are on course to get to Stourport by Sunday evening. We're watching the Internet reports on river levels on the Severn and the Avon. As long as we don't get a lot more rain, it's all systems go for our river adventure.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ignore what I said earlier

Despite several emails between us and Sarah concerning the better pubs in Penkridge ( see my previous post of a few hours ago) we have totally ignored her advice and found ourselves a treat. We were heading off for the delights of downtown Penkridge when we had to pass the window of the Boat inn next to the canal. Glancing through the window I noticed a hand pump bearing the Timothy Taylor logo so we thought it churlish not to go in. Then we noticed that Roger Federer was playing tennis on the telly. Then we noticed that the pub had a special offer on steaks with a peppercorn sauce.

So in the event, we had a pint or three of excellent beer, a very tasty meal, and watched a great tennis match. Boat Inn 1, rest of Penkridge 0.

Fear not though, we have strict instructions from Sarah not to miss the bakers in town who apparently do great buns, so in the morning we will venture down there and acquire a sample of same.

Fame at Last

Three times today a passing boater has called that they were readers of this blog. Thank you folks. I shall not let it go to my head. Peel me a grape Kath.

Last night at our splendid overnight mooring at the beautiful Tixall Wide we met a man who claimed to have had a drinking session with Keith Moon and Oliver Reed. Whether you believe him or not it's a good tale and miraculously he is alive to tell it which is more than you can say for his claimed drinking companions. Actually this fellow was a passably good guitar player. He heard me and Kath playing music on the bank and we of course got chatting about music. He brought along his acoustic bass guitar and a battery powered electric solid guitar (with built in speaker!). So we all had a good look at and a go at each other's instruments. I think we should stick to our own, we were all rubbish at each other's.

We dined exceptionally well on fare bought from the farm shop at Gt Haywood, recommended to us by a number of other bloggers. Thanks folks, you were right.

Tonight we rest at Penkridge and may well follow Sarah Chertsey's advice and try the Cross Keys.

As to the canal, thus far the Staffs and Worcester(Tixall Wide excepted) is less pretty than the Trent and Mersey, although the heron count is extraordinarily high, but we know there are a lot of very good bits to come.

And so to some photos from the last two days.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A few surprises on the T&M

A last we're on unfamiliar water. The stretch of the Trent and Mersey canal betwixt Fradley and Gt Heywood is something we have never done before. I suppose people who don't know canals might imagine that the T&M is an industrial waterway. Well it ain't that down here, it's just about as lush and green as anywhere in the country. Yellow flags and rhododendrons line the banks virtually all the way and there are loads of places where you could pull over and stop for a picnic.

I always think that the maps in Nicholson's guides, accurate though they are, can't show what a place is really like. Take Rugeley for example which as Nicholson's shows is an urban area. On the canal though it doesn't feel it at all except that you do get to peek into a number of well kept domestic gardens.

One thing Nicholson's didn't warn us about was the rocky narrows just south of Rugeley. I spotted a yellow sign advising boaters to send a crew member ahead through the 'narrow tunnel' to stop anyone coming the other way. Kath was duly sent ahead and I took Herbie forward and I was really taken by surprise the the narrow rocky cutting we had to pass through. The boat only just fitted the gap for quite a long distance. Take a look at the photos below.

One bit of industry we did see was a large factory in Armitage. We were trying to guess what it was. Kath thought it might be making plasterboard. Certainly the windows were clouded with some sort of white dust. The we got to the other end of the building and saw the hundreds and hundreds of pallets carrying toilet seats and wash basins. Aah, Armitage Shanks!

Tonight we're moored near a country bridge with a pub just down the road. A few yards to our left and some fifteen feet below is the river Trent, already about 30 yards wide although only a couple of feet deep.

One last thing I want to put down for the record. Last night, June 23rd we needed to light the coal stove to keep warm!!

Now for today's photos.

First the flags are out for us
Then the rhododendrons

Then that rocky cutting

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky,

Stormy weather. Blimey, it's breezy.

Last night we cruised up to Hopwas where we had a meal at the frantically busy Tame Otter pub. No that's not an otter that is tame, Tame is the river nearby.

I'm a bit peed off be.cause after a week of not moving , I forgot to tighten the stern greaser and no,w we have 20mm of water in my previously dry bilges. Not enough for the bilge pump to get at. Must tighten up the gland .

Today the forecast was for strong winds and heavy showers, so we whimped out of cruising and instead we took the bus into Lichfield, mainly to see the famous three spired cathedral. And very good it was too.

The building itself is pretty unique and the contents even more so. They have the St Chad Gospel which is the oldest book in England still in regular use. About AD 670 if memory serves me right, and in pretty good nick too. The pages are of course vellum and we were told that a very large number of animals did the decent thing and donated their skins for the purpose.

Then there is a sample of bits from the Staffordshire Hoard which I am sure you know all about, and some very old wall paintings and loads and loads of wood and stone carvings and filigree metalwork to marvel at. What made it even better was that the organist was having a practice and really giving it some welly. I think the lady said that the organ had over 2000 pipes. Anyway it sounded fab.

Lichfield is only a short bus ride from the moorings at Hopwas and worth the trip, even on a cold wet day like today. Lots of nice old buildings.

The forecast for tomorrow is better so we'll be on our way, and when we turn left at Fradley, we'll be on water new to us for the first time on this trip.

And so to the photos, starting with one of Kath pointing to the weather report.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moorer's guide to Fazeley

Having now been at Fazeley junction for six days, I thought it might be useful to report on what the mooring here is like. At first glance you might hesitate to choose this spot to moor up overnight. Would it be inhabited by chavs? Would my boat get broken into or otherwise assaulted?

Herbie nestles underneath the huge old mill building with its broken and boarded up windows, on the other bank houses and gardens. From the front of the boat I look through the road bridge and see the junction pool, Fradley to the right, Coventry to the left. The bank here has been newly restored with brick paviours and mooring rings.

Fazeley has a strong flavour of industrial decline. During the canal age it was of course an important and thriving place. Despite its appearance the mill is actually a busy small business centre with a wide variety of firms working away. Apparently one small part of the old mill business still survives on the top floor now making cloth tape for labels for Doc Marten boots. Over the road from that is a sawmill where if you look through the gates, you can see huge trees being sawn into planks. Next door to the mill is a garage selling 'Part Worn Tyres'! No one would call it a pretty spot, but it is in fact safe and quiet. The only people using the towpath are the daily procession of mum's taking kids to and from the Nursery School down the canal and the occasional dog walker or jogger.

Next to the bridge on the other bank there is a splendid old Methodist Church, which now appears to be inhabited by a plumbing company.

One minute's walk away is the only little row of shops. A Tesco Express, a chip shop, and a number of Indian and Chinese restaurants and takeaways. There are three pubs, the largest one of which I feared to enter. The Three Horsehoes is the one I would recommend, being quiet, well kept, friendly staff and locals, and well kept ales. Just down the canal towards Fradley is the Three Tuns claiming 'exceptional cask ales'. When I popped in they had only one ale and that was OK but certainly not exceptional. It does however have a small canal side garden.

Just round the corner, near the shops is the bus stop from where you can take the ten minute ride into Tamworth or the large Ventura shopping centre with ASDA,M&S, Boots, WHS, Homebase, etc etc

So all in all a lot better mooring that first appearances would imply. Fazeley junction is not a pretty place, but if you are looking for somewhere to rest your weary boat and crew, it's fine. No chavs, no break ins, cheery passers by. If like me you need to stop for longer (up to 7 days in my spot) it's also fine as long as the little Tesco can meet you needs or you don't mind a short bus ride. For painting the gunnels and other bits and pieces it has been ideal.

This afternoon Kath arrives back at Tamworth Station and we resume our travels.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Having fun wasting time (and doing some work)

Did a bit more painting today, then wasted time playing digital /analogue electronics, making a ridiculously over complicated thermometer. Fun though.

This little gadget called an Arduino is programmable from a laptop computer via USB. You can wire in all sorts of electronic sensors, and drive switches, motors, etc with it. Once I get the hang , it opens all manner of possibilities based on sensing sound, light, heat, time or whatever, and then making something happen such as switching something on, or sending a message, or as you see here, giving a readout. Good innit?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A history lesson and more painting.

Last night I wandered out to explore local pubs and found myself in the Three Horseshoes just round the corner from Tesco in Fazeley. A quiet little pub but well looked after, as was the beer.

I got chatting to the lady behind the bar about Tamworth, which she remembers from the 1950s onwards. She was lamenting the decisions of the planners in the 1960s knocking down many wonderful old buildings to put in 'modern' replacements. She showed me a book of old photos, and I have to say I fully agree with her. Most notable was the beautiful old Victorian railway station, now replaced by an anonymous brick lump. How sad. Gone is the large outdoor swimming pool, gone are the half timbered buildings. Such a shame. Tamworth it must be said is not a specially attractive place today, but it obviously was.

An old feller came into the bar and joined in the conversation. What a character. Now 75 years old and still training apprentice bricklayers AND still doing the odd bit of stand up comedy! He had been a soldier in the days of strife in Cyprus, and a fairly senior football referee. All in all a very entertaining hour and a nice pint of Bass.

I have not rested on my laurels today and now the front deck cants and gas locker have a fresh coat of paint, and I have started to put together a design for the bow flashes, too long plain white.

You can see phase one in the photo below. Panels of light and drag grey will eventually find their way fore and aft of the red diamond. Tomorrow we expect the rain to set in, so I don't expect to make any further progress.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fazeley painting

Here I am at Fazeley, up to me neck in abrasive paper and paint. Kath has abandoned me to go and look after Grace this week while her mum is busy working all hours providing champagne breakfasts for the hooray Henrys at Ascot.

I've got a nice mooring with a low bank edge and a clean paved surface to get the gunnels painted, and in just over twenty four hours I've done it. Hooray, they'll look good until they get scratched in the next lock.

Right now I'm praying that it won't rain as the paint is still wet, but it's getting gloomier by the minute. I also repainted the cants on the back deck and the white flash on the starboard bow. What a good boy am I. However I fear that might be my lot as the forecast doesn't look too good for the next couple of days.

On Sunday night we found a beautiful spot in the sticks just a few minutes from Alvecote. The birds were singing and banks were bursting with new growth. Actually the amount of bird song as been notable on this trip, especially blackbirds and thrushes. Thrushes are getting a bit rare these days but on this we've seen quite a few. I wonder if they are making a come back.

As we were about to set off on Monday morning we heard the Pop Pop of a Russell Newbery coming down the canal, and who should it be but our old friend Leon on the Old Bovine. Leon has transformed his good but nothing outstanding boat into a work of wonder. He has had it stretched twice, so now it it 70ft long, totally repainted it inside and out in traditional fashion, replace the engine etc. it's a modernist boat but every time we see it it looks more like an old working boat. His latest trick has been to cut a groove along the hull just a couple of inches below the gunnel top , so the gunnels look like they have wooden planks on top. It works!

Now just to show I haven't been fibbing, some photos of lush countryside and gleaming paintwork.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Atherstone explored

No Boots, no Currys, no Next, no WHS, no card shops, no phone shops, how lovely. Atherstone's aptly named Long Street has dozens of little independent stores selling the essentials of life.

We spent a couple of hours browsing Long Street yesterday and came away with a new carpet runner for the galley, a real chamois leather for washing the boat, a new cabin hook for the back door and numerous other things we had been looking for. Sure, there are the usual glut of charity shops, but we like browsing in them. For £2 we bought a dvd of Apollo13 which we enjoyed watching last night. Perhaps the best shop, for me at any rate, was the rather wonderful Atherstone Toolbox, one of a number of hardware stores in the street. This one was the biz. Packed to the gunnels with all manner of tools, brassware, nuts and bolts and the like.

A big Co-op supermarket handy for the canal too. What's not to like?

Normally we pass down the locks at the pleasant little town, but this time we stayed the whole day as we are ahead of schedule and the forecast was for heavy showers. There's a good stretch of mooring below the fifth lock down if you don't mind the noise of the frequent trains nearby.

This morning the sun is shining and we're off again down the rest of the locks and then on towards Fazeley where Kath will abandon me for five days to go home on baby sitting duties.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Multiple sinkings on the Coventry

I told you there was a submarine about. Today we saw two sunken boats in the canal. Maybe it's a u boat that doesn't know the war has ended. Pictures below. (Sadly with blogger on the iPad, the pictures all come in at the end and not in the text.)

Today we passed charity dock near Nuneaton. Always a pleasure. Never in a million years would I have my boat worked on there, but you have to admire the inventiveness and sense of humour of who ever owns it. See pics 3 and 4

I like the Coventry canal above Nuneaton. The countryside views to the north are lovely. The only lock flight in this part is the one at Atherstone and is very pretty. We got lucky and had all of the first five in our favour. Now we're moored for the night just below the fifth and in the morning we'll explore on foot.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Submarines and samphire

It's choc a bloc at Hawkesbury today. We're moored in the little park just down towards Coventry opposite the rather attractive Exhall Basin residential moorings. No room further up. Outside, there are thrushes pulling up worms from the grass after a shower. It would be lovely were it not for the constant roar of the motorway a few hundred yards away. I feel I ought to be writing this in capital letters so you can hear me.

We had a quiet night in Coventry basin, not a chav in sight, and the run back up to here was very pleasant. I'm still surprised that some boaters avoid this stretch. I do have to admit though that just by the footbridge about a quarter of a mile from the junction, Herbie was nearly lifted out of the water by a large submerged metallic sounding object. Is suspect it is a nuclear sub on terrorist patrol. They never tell you where they are do they? Kath thinks it's a supermarket trolley. She has no imagination.

While we were taking on water this morning a man on the towpath asked if narrowboats ever had water makers like they do on sea going boats, presumably to convert salt water into fresh. I pointed at the canal water and observed that I would take some convincing before I would drink anything made from that. I think he took the point.

Continuing our run of good luck, the weather stayed fine until we got here when the heavens opened, giving Herbie a good wash to get off the dust. We bought new wide brimmed rain hats at the Crick show recently. Maybe that's why it hasn't rained on us while we're steering.

Tonight we dined at the fab Greyhound. Very good indeed as usual, and I had my first ever taste of samphire along with monkfish tail thermidor and saffron spuds. Ooh that sounds posh doesn't it. I suppose it is, but it cost £11.95. Not too bad for posh nosh and it was delish. For those like me who have never tried samphire I can report that it is nicely crisp and crunchy and tastes much like broccoli stalks, although I might have tasted other elements had it not been in a fairly rich sauce. The beer was good too. We had a nice pint called Liberation Ale from the Channel Islands.

Now you know why the Greyhound keeps winning prizes and why we couldn't just cruise past.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How not to hit things when going into Coventry

John Humphrys did his usual three second weather forecast on the R4 Today programme this morning, "It's going to be horrible. Wet and Windy". What with that and having Rainman on board we weren't too optimistic when we left All Oaks Wood this morning. As it turned out, both Humphrys and Rainman failed in their purpose, and the weather was ok if a little breezy.

The North Oxford Canal is quite unlike the South Oxford, but still rural and bucolic for the most part. Not without excitement though as there are a fair share of inexperienced hire boaters who don't know what to do when they meet you in tight spaces. I don't mind as long as they don't clout us at speed. We all have to start somewhere. I think the hire companies should give them a tiny bit of steering advice. One of the best phrases I heard years ago is "point the tiller at the thing you don't want to hit and put a bit of power on". It works!

Actually I'm a fine one to talk. I very nearly hit a bridge today. It's all the fault of a sculptor. We were coming into Coventry and passed a sculpture of a rope wrapped round a bollard, many times life size. So intent were we at lamenting the graffiti thereupon, that I failed to notice that we were heading for the bridge arch at some speed. I'm sure that had I not had a few years experience at the tiller, I would have slammed the boat into reverse. This of course would have failed to stop the boat and we would have hit the bridge. What actually happened was that Kath and Rainman covered their eyes I pushed the tiller over and piled on a few revs. I don't know what all the fuss was about. We missed the bridge with millimetres to spare. Two or three at least.

So here we are in Coventry basin for the night. Strange to say, Rainman departed to find his way home and it immediately started raining quite hard. I suppose he felt he could go home now that he had fulfilled his purpose in life.

Actually, at this precise moment, we are not in the basin, but in the Gatehouse pub. This rather fine establishment is not one you would find unless someone told you where it was but it does have a good choice of ales and good cheap food. Look it up. It has a web site.

Tomorrow we plan a very short cruise, well you can't pass the Greyhound twice without stopping can you?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sticky stuff, a meeting and some pies

Rainman is doing his best, and it does look pretty black over Will's mother's, but as yet we have not been properly rained upon. However, worse than rain was the sticky goo that settled all over Herbie last night from the tree we were moored beneath in Braunston. As soon as I've finished typing this I'll get the mop out and attempt to remove it.

Yesterday, our first day of the cruise, was uneventful unless you call having to wait at the top of Watford locks for over an hour an event. We just arrived as the last boat was going down before seven others came up. Bad timing.

Today, the North Oxford which we still haven't done often enough to be over familiar with. I particularly like the stretch between Braunston and Hillmorton. Perfect pastoral scenery. I could show you some lovely photos if I hadn't been too lazy to get the camera out.

Now we're moored up just before All Oaks wood. A popular spot. And quite pretty. Just as we were tying up, who should come past but fellow bloggers Paul and Elaine on NB Caxton. We hadn't met before but they obligingly stopped for a chat and now we know them. Good innit?

Having eventually bothered to get the camera out I walked through a gap in the hedge to find a lovely scattering of moon daisies. When we tell non boaty people we are travelling between Rugby and Coventry they can have no idea of how pretty the countryside is round here.

Braunston butcher's pies for dinner tonight. Yumm.

Tonight's pics: