Sunday, 27 July 2014

Bad beer, good beer

Penkridge to Tixall Wide

I omitted to mention yesterday that I sampled the Banks's Mild in the Star pub in Penkridge. Unfortunately it had a nasty metallic taste, and the replacement from the new barrel didn't taste much better. Perhaps the old stuff hadn't been properly pulled through.

The Star redeemed itself today, though, with an excellent Sunday roast lunch and a pint of Jumping Jack. The lunch was exceptionally good value at £5.50. If we'd had room for pudding that would have been an extra £3.00. I can't remember ever having been anywhere where the service was so quick. After ordering and sitting down with our drinks we barely had time to wonder whether we should have brought the crossword when the food came.

Before lunch we went to the Methodist church in the village, where a few people remembered our son-in-law Ben and his parents. His dad used to be the minister there.

We left our mooring shortly before 2.00 and moved slowly along a pound which had gone down several inches in the night. (At 0600 we'd been awoken by the boat banging against the side. I looked out and saw that the mooring lines had gone loose - I tightened them and went back to bed.)

The low water level revealed how the bank had been strengthened in the past with old tyres.

Later we found ourselves negotiating a narrow channel in the reeds.

Slightly more hazardous was the sunken boat, the second of our trip so far.

Never a pretty sight.

Speaking of sinking, one little job I did while we were going along was to clear out the waste hose from the bathroom sink.

I undid the Jubilee clip and pulled the hose off the white plastic bit, then blew through the hose to eject the gunk. Testing it after putting it back together revealed that the sink still wouldn't drain properly. Undid again, removed plug device, cleaned with old toothbrush, blew more gunk out of hose, reassembled - now drains properly.

Reach for the skies ...

... and give me your logs.

And so to Tixall Wide where we have moored for the night. After a light tea we walked to Great Haywood and visited the Clifford Arms. This is the "good beer" of the title: Okell's Porter. This was the best beer of the trip so far. And the barlady (landlady?) gave me a taster glass before I committed to the pint, and she removed the sparkler on my request. Perfect.

A small note on the weather: It has been a bit cooler today after some rain yesterday evening and overnight. There's still been a good amount of sunshine though, but it has been more comfortable. Not that I didn't like the heat...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

More than 21 locks in Wolverhampton

Somehow the boat we overtook yesterday beat us to the locks this morning, despite our prime mooring at the top. By the time Jan had been for a paper and I had hunted for O-rings Jura Reve (there should be a circumflex over the first "e") was about five locks down. Not to worry, there were plenty of boats coming up the flight so I didn't have to turn many.

Do you see the large building behind Jan? I noticed it yesterday.

The question was, WHAT was founded in 1818?

The other side of the building provided the answer.

Chubb's lock works.

Back to the other type of lock. Exiting the top lock Jan steers Jubilee under Littles Lane Bridge.

There are several interesting bridges over this flight, including one railway bridge over another one over the canal. I saw a freight train pass over the lower bridge - unfortunately I wasn't in a position to photograph it. Here's the high skew bridge instead.

It took us three hours and five minutes to clear the flight; here Jan does a rare bit of gate work.

Shortly after turning right onto the Staffs and Worcs we topped up with diesel at Oxley Marine. At 86p/litre they claim to be the cheapest in the area.

Approaching Penkridge we were buzzed by a couple of microlights.


As soon as we were on the S&W we noticed the difference in the amount of boating traffic. We even had mini queues at locks, with plenty of novice boaters.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The clear waters of Wolverhampton

Day 10 of our Big Summer Cruise of 2014. Here are some stats for the five hours of cruising we did today:

Locks: three.
Trips down weed hatch: two.
Moving boats seen: two. No - three, there was one on an aqueduct overhead.
Barbecues had: one.

We made a leisurely start from Gas Street at 1015 and were soon out of the central Birmingham area on the wide and deep Birmingham Canal (new main line). We saw there was a boat in front of us, and were catching it up over a distance of two miles, until just past Bromford junction he waved us past. It was a curious place for the overtake as it was quite bendy and there were trees overhanging on the right. As I opened the throttle and moved to the left I was aware that the canal was quite shallow near the bank. This had the effect of giving me minimal speed advantage over the boat we were overtaking (Jura Reve). I got there in the end, just feet before a bridge hole.

Before this excitement we had the bonus of seeing a boat pass overhead on the Old Main Line or Wolverhampton Level on Stewart (or is it Steward or Steward's) Aqueduct.

Here's a graffito for Adam.

It was another hot day, and the grass cutters were doing their thing on the north towpath. Except they weren't, they had abandoned their strimmers and were taking a break in the shade of a tree.

It's great that the towpath vegetation is being cut back, especially on the lesser-used northern one, but it's a pity so much of it lands in the water. Shortly after passing through all the floating grass cuttings we stopped on the Ryland Aqueduct where I removed a quantity of freshly cut stalks from the prop.

Perhaps I should have waited until we'd cleared Factory Locks.

After the three locks progress was again slow. I couldn't be sure whether it was the relative narrowness and possible shallowness of the Wolverhampton Level we'd joined, or something else round the prop.

We got through Coseley Tunnel and then stopped. A visit down the weed hatch produced a large thick plastic bag from the prop. I'm always surprised by how well the boat copes with so much rubbish round the prop.

Immediately after Deepfields Footbridge is a large pipe bridge. These youngsters found the challenge of beating the anti-climb spikes too much to resist.

Nothing of great significance happened until we tied up in Wolverhampton just above the top lock. (Nothing of great significance happened then, either.)

We walked into town to look round. It was our first time there, despite having passed on the canal at least twice before. I continued my search for a supplier of large O-rings for a project on the boat and, again, drew a blank. Where are all the hardware/ironmonger's shops? There's an excellent one in Norwich (Thorn's) but that's no good to me here.

When we got back we had a towpath barbecue, then pushed the boat across to the other side to be slightly "safer" from night-time revellers. The police and ambulance sirens are slightly closer, but the trains are slightly further away. Not that you'd notice. There's a curve just to the north of the station, right opposite us. The train wheels squeal as they negotiate this curve, and the track sounds like (proper) jointed rails (not the continuous welded stuff which doesn't sound right!) I can feel the vibrations in the boat. I don't suppose all this noise will keep us awake, though. If it wakes us early in the morning we'll make a reasonably early start down the locks to beat the heat. (This summer weather is fantastic, isn't it? Long may it last!)

Oh - the clear waters of the title: here in Wulfrun* the canal bed is very weedy. This seems to filter out the sediment from the water, with the result that you can see the bottom, and loads of fish.

After we had moved across to the 24 hour mooring the other side I noticed a floating island of rubbish. This was gradually moving to our original mooring, so I went round and fished out the bottles, cans and expanded polystyrene, put them in a discarded carrier bag, and deposited it all in a bin.

Maffi would be proud of me.

*Wulfrun is apparently the old name for Wolverhampton. A case of the modern name being an embellishment of the original rather than a contraction?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Evolving language at King's Norton

We moved on from Bridge 5 on the Stratford Canal today and tied up for the night in central Brum, just round the corner from Holliday Wharf. On the way there were several interesting sights.

First, by the water points at Bridge 5, this house has been in renovation mode for several years.

It's looking almost finished ... apart from an extension (a garage?) being added at the back. It now sports a name: Canal Cottage.

Just past Bridge 3 lie the sorry remains of a fibreglass cruiser. It looks as though it had been set on fire. CRT notices warned of the hazard.

After Brandwood Tunnel, in which we passed a boat which entered as we had almost exited, we came to the old guillotine lock at King's Norton. This has recently been "restored", but not to operation. There's no need, as the Stratford Canal now meets the Worcester and Birmingham on the level.

On the western gate someone, presumably Gary or Gareth, has left his mark.

"Gaz waz ea". In former times this would have been "Gaz woz ere" (I don't suppose there would ever have been an apostrophe). Now we have "ea" for "here"! It's logical. If, in a few hundred years' time, the accepted spelling of the word meaning "at this place" becomes "ea" you read it ea first.

Not that I condone in any way the daubing of graffiti on anything, let alone historic canal structures.

And so to Gas Street Basin (almost). We attended to the loo cassette at Holliday Wharf then, as I have said, moved round the corner. I'm now regretting moving as it's quite noisy with all the revellers walking past. There was plenty of space at Holliday Wharf.

Oh well, it's only for one night. Tomorrow we have the delights of Wolverhampton to look forward to.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Towpath grass cutting, and a visit to our favourite Birmingham curry house

We had another day of light cruising, moving from Warings Green Wharf on the north Stratford Canal to Bridge 5 on the same canal, two-and-a-bit hours later.

On the way we saw something to delight many towpath moorers: the vegetation being cut back.

The team of three were being careful not to cut where there were already boats moored; the strimmer operator even paused while we cruised by. This will be of especial interest to Nev on Percy, who suffered a couple of nasty cases of inconsiderate grass cutting a while back.

This stretch of canal brings you by imperceptible degrees into built-up Birmingham; in fact, it's not really until you're on the Worcester and Birmingham very close to the city centre that you're suddenly aware that you're in a truly urban environment.

The section of Stratford Canal we did today is tree-lined most of the way. The sun penetrates with difficulty but, where it does, the light bounces back into the foliage and creates a magical effect.

One place where the trees give way is Shirley, where the electric drawbridge operates silently and quickly to allow canal traffic through with the minimum delay to road users. And it's a lot easier than Lift Bridge 28!

The still, bright conditions were great for reflections.

After tying up at Bridge 5 (Yardley Wood Road) we went to Kings Heath for shopping. I cycled, while Jan took the bus. Kings Heath has a long and amazingly busy high street. Busy, that is, with shoppers, not just traffic. We've been there many times before, so we knew our way around.

The first thing we did was go to a small cafĂ© I knew for lunch. I slightly overdid it, considering what was to come later, with a fabulous full English breakfast (2 egg, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, 2 hash brown, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, 4 pieces of toast and a mug of tea - all for £4.99). I donated one rasher of bacon to Jan to go with her jacket potato, but I left a clean plate.

And then, in the evening, we went to our favourite curry house: The Sweet Chillies. Despite only going when we're in Brum, which isn't really all that often, the owner recognises us and welcomes us warmly. Their Peshwari naan is simply the best. (No, that isn't all I ate!)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Buzzards over Birmingham

Today was effectively a rest day. The engine hours meter shows just one hour of running, which got us from Hockley Heath to Warings Green. We even split this into two shorter cruises, stopping under a huge oak tree by Bridge 24 for shade. Here I washed the roof. I had intended to do the towpath side as well, but I was just too hot. After the usual salad lunch we moved on to just past the Blue Bell cider house to tie up opposite the Warings Green private moorings.

We'd been hearing a lot of calls from birds of prey overhead, and I managed to get a shot of three of them circling over the fields.

Yes, I know this isn't really Birmingham, not quite, but you can't beat an alliterative title.

If these are not buzzards then I'm wrong on both counts.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Wheezy hydraulic gear at Lift Bridge 28 on the Stratford Canal

Day 6 of the Big Summer Cruise saw us leave our lovely peaceful mooring on the Grand Union at Rowington and travel to Kingswood Junction. Here we emptied the loo cassette and had lunch.

Sagitta went up through Lock 20 as we sat on the mooring.

After we left enough time for Sagitta to move up the flight a bit we started up the Lapworth Locks ourselves. Just below Lock 19 is a water point; as we cleared Lock 20 the crew of a Valley Cruises hire boat in front of us frantically stopped taking on water and headed into the lock. No problem; we'd top up with water and let the hire boat get away too.

As we'd last filled up only two days ago this didn't take long, and we started up the locks. They are bunched together here, and are quick to use. After a while a volunteer lockie came along and started to help. He asked if we'd just watered up at the Lock 20/19 water point. I said we had, and he told us that CRT had just closed the water points in the vicinity on advice from the Severn Trent water authority. Something about a contaminated main. Oops! We'd just been drinking water to keep ourselves hydrated in the heat. I don't suppose any harm will come, though.

We needed a tea break, so stopped just above Lock 6. Jan checked her messages, did something on Facebook, and, as I was on my way to set the next lock, met former colleague (and top sports presenter on Midlands Today) Ian Winter walking towards me.

Ian joined Jan at the helm while I did the donkey work.

We were pleased to be invited for a cup of tea in Ian's garden, and met his parents-in-law Ron and Mary.

It was good to see you all; a pity Ruth wasn't there too.

This is a great bit of canal, with good narrow locks.

At the top lock we waited while a hire boat came down. It was their first lock, and they'd made sure their 68' boat wasn't going anywhere it shouldn't: it was being held with bow rope, centre rope and stern rope. I suggested to them that they didn't really need any ropes in a narrow lock, and using ropes was more likely to cause problems. They were grateful for our help (there seemed to be hundreds of them!)

After that we came to the first lift bridge of the trip: Bridge 28. This had hydraulic gear to raise the bridge deck, and it was very stiff to operate. It didn't sound at all well, making a ghastly screeching/wheezing noise as the spindle was turned. It was actually harder to wind down than up.

The next bridge, by comparison, was a dream. Smooth and light. A doddle.

A sign fixed to the bridge seemed to relate to a canoeing (kayaking?) event, encouraging Carl and team with the message "only 121.5 miles to go"!

Anything you know about, Ian?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Hatton heaven

After breakfast we moved off the Saltisford Arm so as not to overstay our free mooring period, tying up immediately on the main line. Then we went to the Saltisford Church (the coffee-and-walnut-cake and coffee were very good) and returned to have lunch on board Jubilee.

We couldn't ignore the lure of Hatton Locks any longer, so we set off. No boats had passed us in our direction while we were eating, but one had come the other way so we were blessed with locks in our favour. This made a welcome change from the last two days.

There was no boat behind us, so we cracked on by ourselves. We are actually very quick: I lockwheeling on my folding bike and Jan steering in and out of the locks. There's no need for ropes as the locks are superbly engineered. Raising the paddle the same side as the boat sends water to sluices the full length of the lock, pinning the boat gently to the side as it fills.

As we entered the third lock a boat which had been tied up in the pound above suddenly set off in front of us. I cycled ahead to ask if they'd mind waiting for us, and they said, oh yes please, we were dreading doing them without a locking partner.

So that worked out well, especially as the two non-steering crew were efficient paddle winders and gate movers. The boat we shared with was Mrs Noah, a cruiser with a date on it indicating 1968 vintage.

A standard Hatton view. The locks are sometimes referred to as the "stairway to heaven", but seem to be regarded almost as the work of the devil by some boaters. I like them as they are fast fillers and emptiers, and the gates, though heavy, are well balanced and not hard to move.

Jan took a rare photo of me in action.

We had originally intended to get to Kingswood Junction, but decided to stop on the embankment at Rowington so we could get the barbecue going. Here's another of Jan's photos.

Afterwards I cycled down the road parallel to the canal. From here the embankment looks impressive.

My Nicholson's marks a pub, "The Case is Altered" down this road. There are some fabulous buildings down there, but this is what's left of the pub.

(edited to correct name of boat)