Thursday, 31 August 2017

Post Bank Holiday Calm

We have been a rather poor in blogging, but the Bank Holiday Monday plan worked a treat. We stayed put and had an easy morning, a mid afternoon barbeque. This gave us a good vanatge point to quiz the boaters coming down as to the length of the lock queues. We eventually set of a bit after half four.

The queues had gone and we had a very pleasant evening cruise to somewhere near Acton Trussel. (No I had never heard of it either.)

We assumed that at the end of the Bank Holiday all this nonsense would disappear, but the Tuesday morning proved our assumptions wrong and we queued too much, eventually arriving at the somewhat uninspiring Penkridge and the seriously underwhelming Boat Inn.

Yesterday (Wednesday) seemed calmer, and we are now tied up at Coven Heath. Where that is we do not know, and where we are in relation to the real world is a slight mystery. We keep getting a bit (too) close to the M6, the M54 and electrified railway lines.

Today we will leave the Staffs and Worcester Canal and start heading North on the Shropshire Union. Well that's what the spreadsheet says.

Perhaps like the Spall's I should carry a decent road atlas too.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Bank Holiday Congestion

Colwich Lock Bank Holiday Monday
Sunday and bank holiday Monday have been the busiest days we have ever seen on the canals. Busy with boats that is. On Sunday there were rumours of 11, 13, 18 and even 30 boats queuing to go North at Colwich lock. Whatever the number we avoided counting them by slipping through after they had gone - under cover of dusk, and tied up above it just before dark.

On the Monday Captain explained his theory that queues should be a function of the distance between the locks. He argued that in a flight, after the first lock there can be no queue, and the same argument applies when the locks are fairly close together. On Monday we needed to go just 25 minutes between Colwich lock and Great Haywood lock, and so apart from the odd boat setting off from overnight moorings between the locks, he said his theory should apply reasonably well and there would be no queues.

Not so. On Monday morning boats coming down reported boats queuing to go north at Great Haywood. The numbers we heard were 8, 12, 14. Ah well: it was only a theory.

The latest theory is that most boats will be tied up by late afternoon. So we are aiming to leave about 4pm. We need to do 3 hours today, so that might work. Maybe.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Hit up the Bum.... TWICE

On our last jaunt we spent a few days in Bancroft Basin at Stratford. When we came to leave there, we found our rudder had been knocked off and we said that in future, whenever possible, we would park the boat 'pointy end out.'

Fast forward from that conversation two weeks and we arrived back at our home marina: Kings Orchard (no apostrophe), where in the rush and mindful of a neighbour watering our bow positioned plant pots, we went in 'pointy end in.'

Big mistake.

The picture here shows what happened. Presumably a gusty marina day and someone's bow pretty much knocked off one of the rear dollys. Not only that it is the one with the diesel tank breather in it.

The only solution I can see is to run with the remaining dolly and bolt a new breather pipe over this mess. This will still mean drilling and tapping into the top of the diesel tank which I am not too keen on, but probably better than getting the welding kit on it. (any other suggestions gratefully received.)

We have now left Kings Orchard and we are headed to Swanley Bridge where we will spend the next year. Today in the heat, we should end up somewhere north of Rugeley.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Multitudinous Locks Equals a Mutinous Crew

Tolson's Mill, Fazeley
We have just tied up in a sun streaked Fazeley and it feels much closer to home. Just a few lock free hours tomorrow and we can be back in Kings Orchard Marina. We will drive back to the Peak District and by this time tomorrow, we should be home with our dishwasher, washing machine, constant hot water and Wi-fi. So this is officially the last evening of this epic sojourn. As we are notoriously bad at writing anything by this stage, this brief blog must break the pattern and mark its closure.

Careful calculations suggest that in the last 23 days we have negotiated the passage of 143 locks. Our previous holiday record was 118 locks - but that time we had an extra week to do it. We feel each one of these 143 in our bruised, cut, scarred and aching bodies. We are not quite broken but there has been an indecent amount of swearing (at each other and the inanimate lock gates that is). Everyone is a twat sometimes. Everyone is a hero sometimes.

The galley staff are on the point of mutiny. A skivvy that must cook, clean, steer, tie up, and wind locks is notoriously volatile after such a stint. Toughened and roughened by the experience too. So wisely, the Captain has decided to take advantage of fish and chips from across the road.

All in all, we have learned a lot from this trip and will take time to reflect on its highs and lows - none of which we would have missed. It's all part of the rich tapestry of life on the cut. The demands of locks have certain advantages. No expensive gym membership is required with all the weight bearing and balance exercises you can manage as part of a daily routine. On the plus side, we must be fitter and stronger but on the minus side, we have drank a cargo ship of wine and eaten a hell of a lot of crisps.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Starless Night

Yesterday was grim for several reasons. We made our way towards Camp Hill water stop and tackled the first of eleven locks in pouring rain. And it was cold. When we saw another boater pass in a winter coat and gloves, we knew it wasn't just us feeling the chill. The locks were on sharp bends. We swerved to avoid the railings which barely separated us from lorries roaring towards us on a dual carriageway.

Bordesley Junction is designed to catch you out. It is an abrupt turn which gives you the slip as you steer out of the lock trying to miss the mountain of rubbish just waiting to grab the tiller.  We thought we couldn't be any wetter or more miserable as we tried negotiate the slippery double lock beams of the Garrision flight. Jones was barking the whole time to be let out but he didn't realise that he was safe, warm and dry whilst we were far from it. In the midst of all this struggle, we mulled over horror stories about cruising through this part of Birmingham and being stoned or worse. There are warnings to press on without stopping. After 11 locks in the rain, there was no way that were going to heed that one.

So, what about the promised hooligans and scalliwags? We met none. Everyone spoke to us politely, asked about the boat and in spite of the horrible weather even managed a smile. The kids larking about under graffiti covered bridges were only sheltering from the rain and were bettered humoured than we were.
Star City

As we reached our mooring at Star City, we were determined not to be further demoralised by stories about its dangers. As usual, we resolved to make up our own minds about people and places until experience persuades us otherwise. Keeping an open mind may seem naive but it works out more often than not. As it happens, Star City was tidy and civilised. It must of been part of the deal with the planners that it was tastefully landscaped,  with floating pontoons to attract passing boaters to use its considerable facilities. As you need a BW key to access the jetty, it is only available to boaters and there was a security guard on or near this gate.  It's a wide canal and we were opposite the near deserted tow path.  It felt quite safe especially as two other groups of exhausted and soaked boaters joined us so we weren't alone.

Star City itself is an impressive entertainment centre which seems to attract families with small children looking for fun out of the rain. It has a multiplex cinema, a climbing wall, bowling alley, gaming centre and Nandos, KFC, Macdonalds, a Diner, Pizza Hut, a Turkish restaurant, Indian street food. In short, something for everyone. We explored on Jones' evening walk whilst we fathomed how to get onto the tow path opposite. We walked the canal towards the next junction (Salford Junction) which lies below the thundering Aston Express Way, We have driven on it into Birmingham and cruised past it but we have never actually stood under the beast. The heavens opened again and we were soaked yet again. It was one of those days when boating looks about as much fun as fishing out all the crap that gets dumped into the cut. We cheered ourselves with a log fire and good dinner. The rain thrashed down all night.

Today, a different story unfolded with a lovely cruise to a Curdworth countryside mooring in bright sunshine. But that's how it goes. Glen Campbell passed away yesterday and we do well to remember the wisdom of his song: 'I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there has to be a little rain sometimes.'

Monday, 7 August 2017

Pointing at Planes

Yesterday saw us leave the very pretty Stratford canal. After smashing our way through the mysterious basins and canals and channels of Lapworth, we tied up opposite the Navigation Inn. It was there that Leigh, Alison and Princess Lucy came to visit us. And not only did they bring our Ocado delivery, but a large tin of cakes, baked by Princess Lucy.

Our '10:30-11:30' Ocado delivery had arrived on time at Leigh's house that morning, and a few minutes later Leigh's own '10:30-11:30' Ocado delivery arrived in a different van! That made me smile. I worked for BT for many years and their electronic work distribution system introduced in the 80s was still hopeless when I left in 2007.

Today was relatively unadventurous. We took on just 5 locks (the broad locks of the Knowle flight). This time we were on our own in the locks and no volunteer lockies were to be seen. After the hen party day boat had finally vacated the bottom lock - slightly assisted by Captain who advised them that having paddles up on top and bottom gates was not the quickest way to drain a lock - we began our ascent. Theses locks are fairly heavy to wind and open, so first mate took to the tiller whilst Captain ran between the locks. We took our time and were soon up.

We are now approaching Birmingham and many of the villages have 'Oak' in their titles. Sadly I remember that the TV series Crossroads was set in the fictional village of Kings Oak, so perhaps we are close by? But what we are getting closer to is Birmingham Airport. Our route takes us right around it and we will be spotting planes for the next few days.

This evening we tied up in the village of Catherine de Barnes (or Catney as the locals have it), with a hefty days cruising planned for tomorrow. Horror stories of where we should or shouldn't tie up in the metropolis are mythering us a little. We thought about moving under the cover of darkness, but decided on a ridiculously early start of 10:00am as a compromise.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Egg or Pineapple?

When your biggest problem in life is whether to have egg or pineapple with your gammon, then it would seem that it is all going OK. The Specials board did say 'gammon or pineapple' but Captain is still smouldering because he distinctly saw someone on another table with both.

Apart from a shortage in chocolate, hopefully rectified when Leigh comes tomorrow with our Ocado order, the journey home goes well so far. Tonight we are moored in Lowsonford by a gorgeous stretch of locks and a canal dotted with the intriguing barrel houses. Why build houses with barrel shaped roofs when pitch roofs normally suffice? This we can't answer but must find out.

Neither do we understand the fierce competitiveness of the village show. When we went for dinner tonight at the The Fleur de Lys, the archetypal flower decked village pub, they were just clearing up after a monumental collection of stalls and marquees. There were people going on their way armed with cakes in boxes, guarded more preciously than their first born. A woman staggered into the pub demanding food and carrying a garland of tomatoes on the vine and a small pepper. Presumably, she dare not put these down anywhere whilst she had dinner. We are sure it all meant something to the people it meant something to, but what?

The strange weather continues with a sun hat and sunscreen one moment followed by storm-wear the next. Tomorrow we continue on our journey home and will tie up at Lapworth where we look forward to a visit from Princess Lucy and her mum and dad - and of course - a chocolate delivery.

[note from Captain: I did get two eggs with the Gammon, so the chef and staff are now safe in their beds.]

Friday, 4 August 2017

Keep Them Doggies Moving.

Boating is all about keeping moving but pausing long enough to find something interesting. We definitely stayed too long in Stratford and the excitement of being in the epicentre of this tourist town soon turned sour.

Our boat top right
The nearest example I can find to Stratford's Bancroft Basin, and this is quite a stretch, is Bodrum Harbour in Southern Turkey where we moored on a traditional wooden Gullet holiday once. Bodrum was disco heaven until four in the morning when they closed down the drum and bass just in time for the dawn call for prayers. Intoxicating at first, but impossible to stomach after a few nights of sleep deprivation.  For noise, chaos, tourist traps, loud music, trip boats, giant bubble machines and Shakespeare fakery, Stratford comes close to that experience.

Therefore, what a relief to leave Stratford yesterday (even the manual labour of 16 locks was satisfying) and get back out onto the cut. We have had two nights in gorgeous rural moorings, lovely isolated spaces that feed the soul and make for great cruising and dog walking. We are no longer dodging camera lenses or multipeds. Dinner in a pub has lost its charm and it's a pleasure to cook with splendid views on both sides. Candles are flickering, there is wine on the table and all is good with the world.