Friday, 26 December 2008

Possible boating next week - but is it icy?

We have an extra week on Shadow coming up in a few days, but the forecast is for night-time temperatures below freezing, and daytime temps not much above. The big question is: Will the cut be frozen? (Grand Union in Warwickshire) If the boat is iced in there won't really be much point going. Hmmm.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

I'm just off to the midnight service, but before I go I wish you all a


Is it a lifeboat?

No, it's a piling boat. Spotted on the Grand Union just east of Leamington Spa last month. I looked up the company's website, trying various options before hitting on the right one: (well, it looks like flale or feale before the hyphen, doesn't it? Ah - I see it now: a monogram combining the letters "A L E" presumably depicting the operation of piling.

According to the website:

"ALE Piling is the country's leading installer of steel sheet piling using side grip technology."

And what, you might ask, is "side grip technology"? The company explains:

"Surprisingly, side grip technology is not a new idea, it has been in this country for about 10 years with varying levels of success. As opposed to traditional installation techniques, where all installation and extraction is carried out from the top, side grip technology is as it says, gripping from the side."

So that's clear, then.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

And so to Oxfordshire...

... to meet up with Maffi and Bones. First, though, I woke up on Shadow, moored, you recall, outside Stockton Top Marina on the Grand Union. The fire had gone out overnight, and it was cold on board. Got dressed, had breakfast. No toast (why did you take all the bread, David?) Carried on with cleaning, including emptying the stove and ash pan etc. When I tried to slide the slide open it was stuck fast. I didn't immediately realise why this was so; then I noticed that all the puddles of water were solid. No wonder I'd woken up cold: the whole place was frozen up (apart from the canal). I was so keen to finish cleaning and packing and get going that I neglected to take any photos.

At last (1030) I'd finished loading up and I could drive away. Only I couldn't: the car was iced up. It took so many attempts to start the engine that I thought the battery would surely die and I'd have to get assistance. Finally it fired, and kept going. Good. Now all I have to do is navigate my way south through the thick fog.

Which I did, with the bicycle hanging out of the boot as on the way here. A sat nav would have been handy as I found that there's probably been a new road built bypassing Southam since my map was printed. Never mind: Southam wasn't busy, and there were some nice old buildings.

In an hour or so I was driving alongside the Oxford Canal. Yes - there was Millie M... and NB Bones. And there, too, was Maffi himself. I unloaded one or two things, then drove Maffi to the shop for some doughnuts which we ate on his boat with a couple of cups of very welcome coffee. Takes it out of one, driving through fog! While we waited for Bones to be let out of work Maffi and I walked down to their new moorings, complete with private car park - very nice! We found a kayak in the undergrowth with Maffi's name on it (metaphorically speaking). We walked back to the pub, and had just sat down with our drinks, when the leather-clad Bones arrived (fresh from her motorbike, that is.) We had lunch (ham, egg and chips for me, very good) and then repaired to NB Bones for coffee. Actually, I should be careful about saying the word "repaired" in relation to Bones: we did a little "unrepairing" (tearing away some lining in the bedroom) in readiness for her rebuilding of it.

I was fortunate not to be embarrased with the discovery that it was Bones's birthday as I had brought a few small gifts, Just no birthday wrapping paper.

While it was still light Bones suggested a trip on her dinghy. Of course, we all agreed it would be a splendid thing to do, especially with the outboard engine. To prepare the outboard it had to be given a drink of gearbox oil. It's very thirsty, apparently.

Maffi with outboard engine and funnel for feeding it

And then we wobbled away from the bank and motored past huge narrowboats, their blackened steel hulls towering above us. And I took a few piccies.

sunset over Millie M and Bones

the Yellow Peril powering along the Oxford Canal

Dusty trying to swamp us with wash (or should that be trying to wash us with swamp?)

more sunset pictures over Maffi's and Bones's moorings

We managed not to fall in, even when disembarking. I thought we were safe, but then Bones wanted to try one of her birthday presents: a lethal-looking device for making fire! This was a sort of everlasting match which produced enormous sparks. The idea was to try to ignite some special tinder and thence paper etc.

After much persistence Bones got this to work. This was thankfully on the bow and not inside (where are the gas bottles?)

I had promised Jan I wouldn't be too late, so, after a most enjoyable few hours, I dragged myself away and drove home via Milton Keynes. Thanks Maffi and Bones, I look forward to our next encounter. One of these days it really will be by boat!

Monday, 15 December 2008

November cruise - day 7

Thursday 27th November 2008

Cape Locks to Stockton Top Marina

10 miles 4 furlongs 22 locks

Cumulative: 72 miles 7.25 furlongs 135 locks

early sun on Cape Lock Cottage

Kate Boats in Warwick have a marvellous canalside building

I set the Cape Locks and we got under way at 0800. At Leamington Spa we stopped by bridge 39 for David to have a look at the art deco-style concrete building on the offside. We made slow progress up the locks today as they were all against us (again).

three swans' necks

entering Bascote staircase with leaky intermediate gates

Today felt very much like the chore of getting back to the marina and end of holiday which it was. At least it didn't rain!

a good collection of historic boats around Kaye's Arm

As the light began to fade at about 1515 we got to Stockton Top Lock where we started cleaning the boat. Then, before it got too dark, we moved to a mooring just outside the marina to have a tea of liver and bacon, and continued with the boat clean.

David left to drive home at 1815, meanwhile I loaded some stuff into my car, and went to bed at 2000!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

November cruise - day 6

Wednesday 26th November 2008

Black Boy to Cape Locks

10 miles 3 furlongs 21 locks

Cumulative: 62 miles 3.25 furlongs 113 locks

Follow which path? The one for toes?

[Apologies for the lateness of this post. The cold referred to here went away, and then returned at double strength. Unlike Andrew Denny, who has also been suffering, I couldn't even face blogging.]

Got under way at 0815. Weather was dry and cloudy, with five minutes of slight drizzle later on, as we passed today's other moving boat, Nomad, at Tom o' the Wood. At 1025 we stopped by Shrewley Tunnel north portal to have an explore.

David at the north end of Shrewley horse tunnel

Shrewley Tunnel north portal

bank protection works just north of Hatton Locks

We started down the Hatton flight at 1145 and got to the bottom at 1530, not our fastest passage. Most of the locks were against us. We stopped at the BW yard for a closer look: the tax has run out on the van, which looks in poor condition inside.

On the way up Will was very disappointed at having missed Ugly Bridge 52, so, Will, here it is.

The Saltisford Arm looked to offer us a warm welcome.

As we were going down the arm we heard someone whistling for his dog. It was only when he called out that we realised he had been whistling at US! "You'll have to turn round and go - there's no space." So we winded and went. Turned right onto the main line and tied up opposite the Cape of Good Hope pub at 1615.

David and I cycled into Warwick for a look round before it got too dark. The castle was just closing so we cycled round it for a bit, then went to St. Mary's church for choral evensong. Back on the boat we had gammon with potatoes and veg, followed by chocolate pud. My cold started in earnest during evensong.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

November cruise - day 5

Tuesday 25th November 2008

Holliday Wharf, Birmingham to Black Boy Bridge 69

15 miles 5.5 furlongs 30 locks

Cumulative: 52 miles 0.25 furlongs 92 locks

on the Farmers Bridge flight

I got up at 0650 to buy milk and a paper from Tesco. Only partially successful: no Times. Should have got something for my sore throat, but forgot. Lit stove. Under way at 0730. It had been cold overnight, as evidenced by thin crusts of ice on some puddles. From Holliday Wharf we passed through Worcester Bar and Gas Street Basin; then turned right at Old Turn (Deep Cuttings) Junction to start down the Farmers Bridge locks. At the top we saw that the old toll office, still used by BW, was open. We stopped and chatted to the lock keeper, who was just about to start a litter pick of the flight. As we worked down the locks, we found that he'd set every lock for us, including opening the top gates! What service! And he'd done a great job with his litter picker.

Many of the overflow weirs are circular or semicircular, some underneath buildings.

At one point there were signs of an old arm leading off to the left. This warehouse is directly in line and looks as though the arm went right into the building.

passing the BT tower and neighbouring buildings

Towards the bottom of the flight there's a marvellous mural, depicting European countries and their contributions to society: the leaning tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, Stephenson's Rocket etc. Not that you can see much from this shot!

At Aston Junction we continued right on the Digbeth Branch and down another six locks. Here we encountered Ashted Tunnel. This has a towpath with railing, and a gradual bend. It also has a roof which comes down to say "hello" on the offside. Adam had warned us about this, but we still ground to a halt against the roof. There was a surplus of water in the pound, not helped when the following boat - yes, another boat on the move - let another lockful of water into the pound. We had to let some out through the next lock before we could continue.

Ashted Tunnel south portal

From here we whizzed round Typhoo Basin, photographing this, er, interesting house.

Then on past Bordesley Junction, and up Camp Hill locks. Now we're on the Grand Union again, and on the homeward run. At the top of Camp Hill is a BW service area: loos, showers, washing machines etc. All behind security fencing and all looking seldom used. With the locks out of the way for a bit, David disappeared into the galley ... and emerged with this:

the famous Pasta Bake (always pronounced in a cod Northern accent). We ate this in shifts so as to keep on the move.

sunset at Knowle

We tied up outside the Black Boy pub at 1615, where I tried my hand at some more night photography.

The menu at the pub was surely too extensive, but we chose, and ate well. I started reading a book (Prey, by Michael Crichton) from the "library" but returned it when we retired to the boat.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

November cruise - day 4

Monday November 24th 2008

Hockley Heath to Holliday Wharf, Birmingham

15 miles 0.5 furlongs 0 locks 1 lift bridge

Cumulative: 36 miles 2.75 furlongs 62 locks

on the Stratford Canal

Another lie-in. Up at 0815 and under way at 0845, after Will had been down the weed hatch (clean) and done the engine checks. We stopped at Waring's Heath between 1000 and 1030 for an on-board fry-up, an almost essential part of winter (all right, late autumn) boating.

At 1355 we passed through the picturesque King's Norton Stop Lock. The canal's all on the level these days, so I don't count it as a lock in the stats.

entering King's Norton Stop Lock

Half an hour later we drifted to a halt outside Bournville Station, having caught something round the prop. David insisted that it was his turn to dive down the hatch, so, reluctantly, we stood aside for the Great Advocate of the Bargee Bill Prop Cleaner. Or Barnacle Bill as he calls it. Or waste of space as I call it. He shoved and heaved, prodded and sawed, but even the GABBPC eventually had to roll up his sleeve and plunge his arm into the icy water. And out came a pathetically small amount of shoelace and fabric. Perhaps the rest had been Bargee Billed off, to attach itself round the next boat's prop.

"Bargee Bill" doesn't stop David getting his hands wet (note the kettle to pour hot water into the weed hatch)

At 1450 we were under way again. We tied up at Holliday Wharf at 1630 in the gloom: in another half hour it would be dark. Watered up. Said goodbye to Will, who lugged his heavy rucksack off to New Street Station. Showered in the BW services. Had a go at some night time photography, but will never come close to Andrew Denny's standard. Perhaps someone could tell me which of the following pair of photos is the better (or least bad), as I can't decide.

Shadow at Holliday Wharf

As the maximum exposure duration my compact digital camera will give is eight seconds I need all the artificial light there is, unlike Mr. Denny, who likes to do it by moonlight.

opposite The Mailbox

Ian, whom we'd visited the previous day, gave us his promised tour of BBC Birmingham in The Mailbox, after which David and I ate at a Wetherspoon's pub. And I tried a few more long(ish) exposure shots.

The Mailbox

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

November cruise - day 3

Sunday 23rd November 2008

Hatton Top Lock to Hockley Heath

7 miles 7.75 furlongs 19 locks

Cumulative: 21 miles 2.25 furlongs 62 locks

ascending the Lapworth Flight, Stratford Canal

Today was the shortest cruising day of our week, so we had a lie-in, getting under way at 0830. I was up much earlier, of course, lighting the fire at 0730. We entered Shrewley Tunnel at just after 0900. This was probably not the best time to add another load of coal: when we emerged great billows of smoke came out with us, and you could hardly see the other end! It rained gently in the morning, but this cleared up during the day.

We reached Kingswood Junction at 1030, from where I phoned former colleagues Ruth and Ian. They moved from Norwich to Lapworth about three years ago, and had made us promise to call in when we passed their way. Ruth said she'd made a chocolate cake to welcome us with. Excellent! She would meet us on the Lapworth flight.

So now we were on the Stratford Canal working our way up the narrow locks. Here we encountered "leaf soup", a suspension of leaves in the water which somehow reduces the drive from the prop. There was so much in the locks that the usual remedy of blasting in reverse had little effect. The original horse-boats wouldn't have had this problem!

leaves on the line

leaf soup

Ruth met us with just a short way to go before their house, near Lock 4. With her were her dog Celtie, her friend Janet, and former colleague Ewan. Ewan steered enthusiastically, explaining that he used to be a cox.

OK, that's David steering, not Ewan, but that was the better picture. While we ate cake and drank tea chez Ruth and Ian, Ian arrived with the children. Then, after a quick tour of Ruth's art studio, we were back on board for the final push to Hockley Heath. This time Ian and his daughter came with us, all posing for a team photo at the end of a most enjoyable day's cruise (well, I wasn't the one breathing in smoke through Shrewley Tunnel!)

adults, left to right: David, me, Ewan, Ian, Will, Ruth

At 1500 we tied up by the Wharf Tavern where we enjoyed a really good carvery. Here the waitress served everything - meat, veg and gravy - herself. We said we were hungry, and got plates heaped with food. When we'd finished we were complimented on our "nice clean plates"! For £5.75 this was the best value meal of the week (puddings at £3.25 were good too). Back on board we decided against another marathon Trivial Pursuit and played cribbage and read instead.