Monday, 24 August 2009

Soulbury to Cowroast

Monday 16th August 2009
A long way to go today. It's a bit strange, I feel quite sad that it is nearly over, but also comfortable to be on home territory.

Setting off from the mooring past Kingfisher

We shared the three locks at Soulbury with another boat, the pounds were quite low, but we went through quite quickly. However as we pulled away at the top of the locks I noticed that the engine, always a bit smoky, seemed to be producing a bit more smoke than usual. I was just commenting on that point when the smoke alarm in our engine room went off. Within a second there was white 'smoke' pouring from the boards around the engine. Alan took the helm and steered for the bank, I ran through the boat to the front to try and get a rope off, while David gathered fire extinguishers and ran to the back.

The canal was very shallow here, and we ran aground a couple of feet from the bank, but I jumped off and held the rope while smoke poured from the engine room, and the other fire alarm - in the kitchen - started up as well. The boat we had come up the locks with passed us, calling to ask if there was anything they could do to help. A woman came from a boat moored further along the canal with another fire extinguisher. Alan had the problem that he couldn't see whether there was a fire in the engine space because of the boards around it, but removing the boards might give oxygen to any fire in there. However, he opened up the space and found that there was no fire, so David and I started to try to get the smoke out of the boat.

We tried to pull the boat into the bank so that we could moor it, and start to try to identify the problem. This proved impossible, as the canal was so shallow, so we tried towing it through the bridge to the next section of canal which looked slightly deeper. This was not easy, and when we'd got there we found that the canal was, if anything, even more shallow.

However, while we were trying to sort out what to do the owner of the widebeam 'Muddy Waters' suggested that we tied up next to him, so that we had a bit more depth. He was very helpful, spending time discussing the problem with Alan, and making suggestions. Our thanks to him.

Moored up next to 'Muddy Waters'.

We found that the engine was boiled dry, despite the fact that Alan had checked the water level before we set of in the morning. So, having waited for the engine to cool down, we filled it again, and tried starting the engine. After some debate we decided that the 'smoke' was largely steam from the engine boiling.

The engine sounded fine, there was no smoke, so we decided to progress carefully, keeping an eye on the temperature as we went. This meant that Alan was stuck with steering all day, as I didn't want to have to deal with another incident.

We worked from Church Lock as far as Cook's Wharf with another boat with an efficient crew, with me lockwheeling ahead.

Grove Lock

Passing the Swing Bridge near Cooks Wharf

Speckled Wood Butterfly, which somehow found itself trapped inside the boat. David helped me to remove a toplight from the window to let it out. I've just discovered that they don't sip nectar, but feed from the 'honeydew' secreted by aphids - yuck!

Heading for Marsworth 2, bottom lock. Ivinghoe Beacon and the hilltop Bronze Age Fort in the background.

Marsworth Reservoir.

Sunlight across the reservoir

Below lock 42.

The penultimate lock

We arrived back at the marina at about 7:45, with no more incidents - very relieved.
Miles: 15.8 , Locks: 22
Total miles:388.8 , Total locks: 383

Stoke Bruerne to Soulbury

Sunday 15th August 2009
Off fairly early, as we could see that there were a lot of boats pointing in the same direction as us, we wanted to be away before the rush. At the first lock, there was a man who was looking at how it all worked. As I filled the lock he was asking advice about the whole process. It turned out that he had come out of Gayton Marina the previous day, and this was the first lock that he had really looked at. He was working out what he would need to do when he brought his boat down to the lock later. I gave him some advice, showed him how to wind the paddles, and told him to take it easy and not get rushed by anyone. A sensible move on his part I think, the Stoke Bruerne flight is quite daunting for a complete beginner.

In the second lock we met "Keeping Up" with the CHESHIRE Jones'. They knew a bit about the 'other' "Keeping Up", and said that they had met Allan and Debbie briefly.

We fairly quickly caught up another boat, which waited for us in the next lock. The pounds were very full, so that when the paddles were drawn at the bottom of one lock, the water was flooding around beside the top gates of the next lock down. A BW lengthman appeared and ran what seemed like vast quantities of water down through the locks. He told me that he had done the same only two hours before, and that the pound had been OK then. When I asked why it had happened he said that there must have been a lot of boats going down - however, we were the first boat down the whole flight that morning, the other one having come from the long pound below the second lock down.

We carried on through the long pound below Stoke Bruerne, spotting both the Cheese Boat, and the Fudge Boat.
The Fudge Boat

The Cheese Boat

Long lock-free miles through Milton Keynes, with a brief stop at the Mega-Tesco at Wolverton. We stopped at Yardley Gobion for fuel, and saw the inspection launch Kingfisher, being prepared.


We were hoping to meet up with Sue1946 from the Canal World Forum, and were waiting on a phone call from her as we approached Soulbury three locks. We came under a bridge and saw her waiting on the towpath, she had mislaid our phone numbers and had come out on the off-chance, knowing that we would be passing through that way.

We had planned to stop below the locks anyway, so we moored up and spent a very pleasant evening chatting, eating cake, and trying on the 'boatman's bowler'. Kingfisher came and moored up next to us. We talked until well after dark, then walked Sue up the towpath to her car with our lantern.
Miles: 22.0, Locks: 10
Total miles: 373.0, Total locks: 361

Braunston to Stoke Bruerne

Saturday 15th August 2009
We dropped into the chandlery just below the locks at Braunston, to see what they made of the windlass that I broke the end off in Middlewich. The lady was apologetic, and replaced it, saying that she would pass the broken one back to the manufacturer. The core of the windlass looks different to the rest of the metal, and it looks like there is some kind of fault.

We then worked up the locks with a very pleasant couple, who were on their way up towards Leicester. It so often happens that you get chatting to some really nice boaters, and then never see them again.

David and I decided to play music in Braunston tunnel, to enhance the already surreal experience. One steerer coming the other way complemented us on our choice. If you thought that you were hearing snatches of "Dark Side of the Moon" while going through Braunston Tunnel, you can blame us.

Whilton flight

There is a very long pound after Whilton Locks, so, despite the fact that we would be home in a day or so, I decided to do some washing. Then, when we got to Gayton Junction, we took on water, and I did some much needed polishing of the brasswork.
Notice the 'authentic' headgear.

There were a lot of hire boats coming out of Gayton Marina, and heading in the direction of Stoke Bruerne, so we waited as long as we dared before another one appeared, and set off for the tunnel. We prefer not to travel through tunnels at a crawl - steering becomes harder for a start - and also don't want to hassle inexperienced boaters, so we try to give them a head start.

On this occasion the hirer in front of us was extremely nervous, and despite the fact that we had left quite a long time before we set off following them, we quickly caught them up in the tunnel. As our choice of music for Blisworth tunnel came to the end of the first track David and I decided that it probably wasn't a good idea to play any more, as it might distract the steerer immediately in front of us. We thought that he/she might not find "Tunnel of Love", quite as amusing as we did. (Perhaps one day I'll grow up - 'though, I do hope not)

We moored just past the tunnel mouth in Stoke Bruerne, and Alan and I went to check out the pubs for food. Despite having had a very indifferent meal in the Boat in the past we come to the conclusion that it would best suit our peculiar tastes, and decided to give it another go. It was excellent.

Miles: 20.0, Locks: 13
Total miles: 351.0, Total locks: 351

Radford Semele to Braunston

Friday 14th August 2009
A pleasant warm day to start, greying over later. We started the day quite tired, but by taking it in turns to work the locks we weren't really aware of doing much work.
Passing steam boat Emily Anne.

Passing narrowboat George, we also passed the hotel boats Snipe and Taurus.

Into Bascote Staircase lock

At one of the locks at Fosse we had one of the most scary incidents of the trip. We arrived below the lock, as two boats were leaving, one a hire boat, the other private - I jumped off at the lock landing to go up to work the lock. A woman from the private boat decided to cross the upper gates of the empty lock, while leading a young dog. I'm a bit surprised that I can't be sure of the breed, but it was something like a labrador. What happened next sort of distracted me from remembering some of the details.

The dog became frightened, and froze, feet slipping, near the middle of the two gates - just before the gap between the gates. The woman was holding a both windlass and the dog's lead, so couldn't even hold on to the lock railing. I walked across behind the dog and took the woman's windlass (which I stuck into a belt loop) to give her a free hand. I started to pat the dog, and speak reassuringly to it, and it began to wag its tail a bit, although I could see that it was still terrified by the drop to our left. It became clear that the dog was in danger of falling if it tried to move, as the surface was impressed metal, not even wood, or non-slip paint. By this point Alan had got Chalice into the lock, and I could see that the woman's boat was being moored below the lock.

I got my knees on either side of the dog's haunches, and one hand under it's belly, while I held on to the railing with the other hand. The woman and I were talking reassuringly to the dog the whole time. There was another boat waiting to come down in the lock, so I started to organise the boaters from that to shut the bottom gate behind Alan, and begin to fill the lock, so that if the dog fell it would fall into water.

At this point the woman's husband appeared, stopped anyone doing anything to the lock, and began to pull on the dog's lead, past his wife. The dog's feet shot around on the slippery surface, but the man managed to get it's front legs onto the other gate, and made a grab for the dog. At which point the back legs slid out to one side. Fortunately away from the empty lock, but unfortunately down behind the lock railing. The dog was being held at the front end by Mr Dog-Owner, while both the back legs were trapped. Mr Dog-Owner told me to, "just lift the leg up", which I managed to do, only by getting one arm under the dog's belly, and freeing the legs with my other arm.

I was terrified that I would see the dog fall 8 feet onto the concrete sill, and annoyed at the owner's attitude. Writing this, I now realise that I was moved from a position of relative safety, which was under control, and where there was unlikely to be any harm to anyone, to a position where I was standing above an 8 feet drop, lifting a fairly large terrified dog, while not actually holding onto anything myself.

Fortunately the dog was safe, no-one fell, but it could have been a tragedy. I know that Mrs Dog-Owner shouldn't have tried to take the dog over the gates, but plenty of dogs cross lock gates, I don't really blame her. I am cross about Mr Dog-Owner, who not only put the dog at risk - the legs could just as easily have gone the other way - but also me, and his wife.

Mrs Dog-Owner came and got her windlass back, she seemed relieved, but also a bit embarrassed. Mr Dog-Owner went and played with the dog. I know which boat it is - I'll avoid them in future.

I spotted a towpath apple tree overhanging the canal with apples much larger than the usual 'crabs'. I am attracted by the idea of using 'wild food', and these looked like they would make good jelly. Alan reversed the boat and within a couple of minutes we had pulled a carrier bag of apples off. I knew that I wouldn't be able to do anything with them until we got home, but they would still be much fresher than most shop bought apples. The carrier bag was tied, and put in a cool part at the front of the boat.

Near Napton Junction we passed narrowboat Helvetia's mooring, and saw that David Schweizer was on board. We pulled into a vacant mooring, and stopped for coffee and cake, and a very long chat. At one point David S ducked inside and produced a bowler hat. This is because of the Internet debate between Alan and David S about whether working boatmen ever wore bowler hats. The hat was so that Alan could have a 'working boatman's bowler'. The problem was that the bowler was small, and Alan has a very large hat size.

Trying the bowler on for size.

Fortunately, it fits me fine, so I was wearing it as we arrived in Braunston, and later, when we went to the pub. It certainly provoked a lot of comment.

Wearing the 'boatman's bowler'

Miles: 15.1, Locks: 23
Total miles: 331.0, Total locks: 338

Lapworth to Radford Semele

Thursday 13th August 2009

Off down the rest of the Lapworth flight, we passed a Canal World forum member's boat at the marina at the end of the flight, but the marina is through a locked gate - so we couldn't go to introduce ourselves.

Leaving the Northern Stratford Canal at the bottom of the Lapworth flight

One of the strange barrel roofed cottages on the Stratford Canal

When we got to the top of the Hatton flight, at about 11:30, we had the opportunity to admire the attractive new brass nuts on the throttle of Canal World Forum's "Tawny Owl".

At the lock there was a single hander waiting for another boat to go down with him. At his suggestion we lashed the boats together to 'breast them up', so that they could be driven down together. Chalice is 50 foot, and when we've 'breasted up' before, it's been with similar sized boats. This boat was 70 foot, and the owner wanted the bows together, although it became clear that it would have worked much better if the sterns were together. It's also quite difficult to get the two boats to stay close enough when you can't lash both ends together. No problem, he steered the two boats down, while I lockwheeled on 'Margaret', and Alan and David worked the locks. There were a lot of boats moving, including several breasted up. We did the flight in about 3:00 hours - not very fast.

Travelling down Hatton.

The weather was completely different to the last time we did Hatton, the sun shone, and there were loads of gongoozlers out.

At the bottom of the flight we stopped to take on water, where I took this picture of a painted lady butterfly on a late buddleia bloom.

On through the Cape locks, and a stop at the big Tesco near bridge 46. We decided to have a barbecue if we could find somewhere suitable to moor.

We stopped near Radford Semele, where there were a lot of other boats moored, and set up our little portable barbecue near the hedgerow. Because we like to do baked potatoes in the barbecue it tends to take a bit longer than traditional barbecues, but we had a good meal ready in about an hour. I like barbecues, but they take quite a lot of care, and because of the constant traffic of walkers and cyclists along the towpath here you need to be careful where you put it.
Miles: 12.8, Locks: 29
Total miles: 315.9, Total locks: 315

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Birmingham to Lapworth

Wednesday 12th August 2009
We were woken up by the clatter of stillettos on the towpath as the good citizens of Birmingham went to work. It seems hard to think of people working while we are on holiday.

Alan wanted to do an engine oil change, and I needed to get supplies while they were easily available, so I trotted off to the Sainsbury's Local in Broad Street. When I got back I was complaining that I couldn't get everything I wanted, so David asked,
"Why did you go to Sainsbury's? The Tesco Express is only just around the corner at the Mailbox."
Argggghhh!!! Because we usually moor nearer to the Sainsbury's I'd gone there out of habit - despite the fact that it is a much further walk. So off to the Tesco to get the things they didn't have at the Sainsbury's.

I love Birmingham, the people are friendly, and it is cosmopolitan and multi-cultural, and it is much more laid-back than London, where I was born. There is something strange, yet very appealing about walking around the middle of a city, watching the boats go past, and doing your general shopping.

As a complete aside - what the hell is the Mailbox shopping centre about? It's all expensive restaurants and extremely expensive art galleries and shops. Who is it designed to attract? It always seems virtually empty when I go in there. Quite unlike the shopping centre a mile or so away, which is packed.

Eventually we set off - sometime late morning. This time we went via Edgbaston, Kings Norton and towards Lapworth - the Northern Stratford. Out through the suburbs of Birmingham and towards open country.

The hydrogen powered boat at the University of Birmingham.

'Nuff said - someone with a sense of humour - I always thought it was a very strange song.

The key operated lift bridge at Hockley Heath.
The road crossing here seems quite busy, so you have to grab a gap in the traffic, and hope you don't upset too many drivers.

At the next lift bridge the mechanism was slipping, so David had to go and sit on the balance beam while Alan wound the bridge up with a windlass.

We worked down the Lapworth flight as far as the longer pound between locks 14 and 15. After lock 6 the locks are very close together and you can't moor in the pounds, but when we got through lock 14 we saw the pound was very full of boats. We got the last mooring, and a boat arriving later had to moor on the lock moorings for lock 15.

Miles: 17.6, Locks: 14 (including the stop lock at Kings Norton - which is left permanently open)
Total Miles: 303.1 , Total Locks 286

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Wheaton Aston to Birmingham

Tuesday 12th August 2009
Canal Plan AC (route planning software) said that to get to Birmingham would be a very long day, however, we didn't want to hole up in Wolverhampton, so we got up early, and got going at about 7:30. I walked up to set the lock, and was somewhat surprised to see the solar powered 'obelisk' by the lock, which seems to be for monitoring lock fills.

Fortunately the weather was much nicer than the previous day, and it got quite warm later on.

Chalice crossing the Stretton Aqueduct.

At Autherley Junction there is a stop lock between the Shropshire Union Canal and the Staffs and Worcs. It has a level difference of only a few inches of water. I leapt off the boat to do the work, only to be told by two boys that they would do it. They told me that they do 'all the boats coming through'. I don't know how much they do help, but they were pleasant and polite and I was pleased to see them doing something helpful.

Through the bridge I could see a heron standing on the direction sign.

In the bottom lock of the Wolverhampton 21.

We were following several boats up the Wolverhampton 21, so that most of the locks were 'against us'. The sun was shining by now, and we got 'Margaret', the bicycle, off the boat and took it in turns to work the locks.

During one of my stints of doing the lock wheeling I cycled under a bridge and saw a man coming in the other direction. "That bloke looks just like 'Hairy Neil'," I thought. However, only a day or so earlier I'd seen Neil heading in the other direction on the back of a boat.

"It really does look like Hairy Neil," I thought. At which point Neil said "Hi".

He was walking back to his car having completed his boating, and caught the train back. He does seem to get around.

Hairy Neil talks to Alan.

We decided to stay on the 'old main line' through Birmingham, as we'd come on the 'new main line' in the other direction. The 'old main line' is a Brindley canal, and winds a lot, while the 'new main line', which is the canal equivalent of a motorway, was built by Telford. The 'old' canal is about 20 feet higher up than the 'new' canal, and has a very different feel. One of it's peculiarities is that it passes under the motorway for some distance.

Smethwick pumping station, mosque on the horizon.

Descending from the 'Wolverhampton Level' of the 'old main line'.

Typical Birmingham iron canal bridges - rejoining the 'new main line'

We arrived in Birmingham at about 6:30, by which time all the usual moorings that we have used near the NIA were full. After some messing about we were told about a mooring up near the Mailbox. We were a bit wary that it might be noisy, but it was absolutely fine.

Out for a pizza.

Miles: 25.0, Locks: 26
Total Miles: 285.5 , Total Locks 272

Betton Wood (nr Adderley) to Wheaton Aston

Monday 10th August 2009
Grey to start the day, then drizzly and wet.

We headed south on the Shropshire Union Canal - stopping to try to get supplies in Market Drayton. This wasn't particularly successful. After a fairly long walk I found an Aldi supermarket, and was told by a young Eastern European woman that the other supermarket was a Lidl. Sorry, I don't need mega packs of Haribo or bargain garden solar lights.

Tyrley Locks start in a cutting, and have strong bye-washes at each lock, causing boats to head off in all directions. There were long queues and people began to get quite short tempered. The scenery is however, like the rest of this stretch, beautiful.

Bottom lock, Tyrley.

A short distance after the locks, Woodseaves cutting is extremely narrow, through solid rock. Trees overhang on both sides. It's also very damp, with ferns and mosses growing on the slopes of the cutting. In places the towpath is so damp that there is duckweed growing on it, and it looks more like a pond.

Green, and damp


We were part of a convoy travelling through the cutting, and fortunately didn't come across many coming the other way.

Approaching Cadbury Wharf, Knighton in the rain.

The wharf formerly had deliveries of chocolate crumb, but there is no longer a chocolate factory here. There were several working boats moored.

Alan looks back at the working boats as we pass Cadbury Wharf.

After this is Shebdon embankment, which was closed only a couple of days after we passed through, due to a leak in the embankment. We were fairly close to finding that we had to go back in the other direction around the Four Counties ring.

We were getting low on diesel, and Alan was getting worried that we might run out, so we started standing on one side of the boat, to tip the tank. However, we safely made it to Norbury Junction, and refilled there.

Then on through Gnosall, which I've often wondered how to pronounce - we were told by someone that it's "knows all".

Many miles without locks, after the five we tackled early in the day. We eventually moored up in Wheaton Aston, and off to the pub for a drink before dinner.

Miles: 21, Locks: 5
Total Miles: 260.5, Total Locks: 245

Sorry about the delays to the blog

Apologies about the gap in posting.

It takes time to choose and then resize the pictures, then I have to write the text. This can be done in Word, and saved as a text file, and finally uploaded to Blogger but I have had technical difficulties in doing this in the past. Wherever possible I try to enter directly into Blogger.

This of course can be impossible where mobile connections are weak, which happened several times as we travelled around.

Additionally, if we do anything else in the evening, then I just don't have the time required to do the blog. So, going for a meal, organising a barbecue, meeting friends, etc, interrupts the writing, and I rarely get the time to finish it off the following day, as we tend towards 'extreme boating'.

I had hoped to get all the posts completed as soon as I got back, but somehow, restocking the shopping, mounds of washing, visiting elderly MIL, etc. took over. Also, having regained a bit of fitness over the last three weeks of boating I'm keen to continue, and get back some of the levels of fitness that I used to think was normal - so I've been walking and cycling.

Hopefully I should get all the posts completed over the next few days.


Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Barbridge to Betton Wood

Sunday 9th August 2009
Another bright day, we set off heading southwards on the Shropshire Union Canal, and within a mile or so passed the junction with the Llangollen Canal. I desperately want to go down this canal, but time doesn't allow it, so we passed it with a strong sense of regret.
Hurleston Junction - the road to Wales

Bare tree - there seemed to be a lot of these

This sign was on the waste bins at a boatyard at Nantwich - has all responsibility for thinking been removed from the individual?

There are a couple of locks at Hack Green (where there is a 'secret nuclear bunker'), but the main flight is at Audlem, and we worked through with many gongoozlers watching. A short way up the flight is the famous canal pub "the Shroppie Fly", and many people were enjoying the sunshine and the beer. By the pub is a canal and craft shop, with many books on canal topics, where Alan and I spent too much time, and too much money.

The Shroppie Fly

Chalice waiting for a lock - there is an extremely strong by-wash below many of the locks, providing a hazard for the unwary, and entertainment for the 'gongoozlers'.

By one of the locks up the Audlem flight was an 'honesty box' with fruit and vegetables. I bought some cooking apples for apple crumble.

Chalice passes some young cattle drinking in the canal.

Worn bridge post - as I cycle up to the next flight of locks.

After the Audlem flight of 15, there are another 5 locks at Adderley, then soon after, we moored up near Betton Wood Bridge. As Alan and David were pulling the boat into the side to moor it, I looked out of the window to the other bank of the canal and saw what I thought was an unusually large cow - a closer inspection showed that it was a prime bull, and the field was full of heifers. I went outside to explain to Alan that we might have something of a disturbed night if we stayed where we were, when a boat came past. A voice came from the back, "I know that man!". It was 'Hairy Neil', who we know from the Canal World Forum. Alan was still thinking about what we were going to do about the amorous bovines, and so just stood looking stunned. "Hairy Neil," shouted 'Hairy Neil'. "I know," called Alan - as 'Hairy Neil' disappeared into the distance.

We moved the boat up a bit, but found that the bellows of Roger the Bull carried for hundreds of yards, and there was also a bull in the field behind where we had finally moored - I thought that all of that kind of thing was now dealt with by a man with a pair of latex gloves and a test tube. However, we crossed our fingers, and hoped that as darkness fell, so would the bullish bellows.
Cow country - the view from our mooring

We dug down into the lockers and found a table and folding chairs, and ate on the towpath.

In fact, Roger and his harem were remarkably quiet, it was an extremely peaceful location, and we slept very well.

Miles: 13.2 , Locks: 22

Total Miles: 239.5 , Total Locks: 241