Sunday, 30 November 2008

November cruise - day 2

Saturday 22nd November 2008

Itchington Bottom Lock to Hatton Top Lock

Today: 12 miles 2.5 furlongs 33 locks

Cumulative: 13 miles 2.5 furlongs 43 locks

sunrise behind Bascote Locks

Was awoken at 0333 by a bird singing very loudly. David heard it too. No complaints: much preferable to the constant roar of traffic at some locations. According to Canalplan, which supplied the distance and lockage stats, today's cruise would take 10 hours. In the event it turned out to be two hours less, as the three of us worked the locks as a well-oiled team (and that's before stopping at the pub!)

We got under way at 0710, a full half-hour before sunrise. Pre-dawn stillness, and plenty of daylight. Stopped off at Royal Leamington Spa for a paper. I wonder how many other towns wish their shoppers a Happy Diwali?

Just after Leamington Spa the canal passes over a railway line and the River Avon on two aqueducts. A swan took off and landed in front of us as we were on the first of these, and I managed to capture its second take off as we approached the second.

At Kate Boats in Warwick, just a bit further on, we bought gas (£21.90) and a bag of Taybrite coal (£12) - this seemed expensive. And then, after the two Cape Locks, it was onto the Hatton flight. Nearly every lock was in our favour, which helped our ascent in 2 hours 40 minutes. David took lock wheeling to an extreme.

Actually he was helpfully recovering my bike which I'd left at a lower lock...

There was a surplus of water gushing down every overflow weir. This surplus was to give us a problem later in the week.

We were watering up at the top lock by 1515, after which we ate on board again: chicken pie followed by syrup sponge and custard. Yum! Meals seem to be getting earlier: this was at five o'clock! Then we tramped across a field to the "canalside" Waterman pub - gastro feel and gastro prices (crew had checked earlier) for some pleasant Arkwright's ale. Back on Shadow Will got out his newly acquired 20th Anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit, which we pursued trivially for four hours, packing it in at a quarter past midnight! (No winner, but Will had gained a full set of cheeses, with David and I each needing one more).

Will photographing the "Stairway to Heaven"

edited to correct number of locks

November cruise - day 1

21st November 2008

Stockton Top Marina to Itchington Bottom Lock

1 mile 0 furlongs 10 locks

David preparing to steer Shadow out of the marina (Will helpfully pointing the way to go)

After a long drive from Norwich at speeds rarely exceeding 50 mph, and getting a bit lost around Northampton - the signs to Daventry disappeared; roads were re-numbered; and a new road built from a new junction (15A) on the M1 missing from my map - I made it to Stockton Top Marina. This is where many OwnerShips boats are moored: at the top of the Stockton flight on the Grand Union in Warwickshire. Our boat, Shadow, will be based here until the new marina at Tattenhall on the Shroppie opens next year.

David and Will arrived from London a few minutes after me. We quickly loaded, then got under way at 1400. We descended the Stockton flight efficiently, and, at 1600, moored by the Two Boats Inn below Itchington Bottom Lock. I'm sure there used to be a sign here with those three words on it: no longer. Shame! Over a pint of Adnams Broadside (not between us, you understand) we perused the menu. Then we crossed the bridge and checked out The Castle. This was in the middle of being refurbished, and had no food. So we returned to the boat for oven-heated lasagne, followed by apple crumble and custard. Thankfully there was some coal on board, so we stayed cosy.

On subsequent days I took rather more photos!

edited to amend number of locks - thanks Adam!

edited again to correct method of heating the lasagne - thanks David!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Packed and ready to go...

... well, mostly. I'll be driving my Amazon to the boat tomorrow, with my bike in the boot.

The easiest way I can do it is to remove the front wheel and put the rest of the bike in with the handlebars and front mudguard hanging out over the bumper. I've road tested it like this with no real problems, as long as I keep the windows closed to stop exhaust fumes coming in. Every other time I've gone boating recently it's been via the 240 with its bicycle-swallowing boot.

The box waiting on the kitchen floor has the essentials: maps; insulated mug; multimeter; muesli, log book; headlight and so on. There's also a pile of waterproofs and warm clothing: according to the weather forecast we're in for some arctic conditions. All part of the fun!

The road test earlier today was to Amazonia to get the brakes fixed: the handbrake lever had suddenly gained lots of extra travel. It turned out that one set of brake shoes (example above) had completely disintegrated. Had it been binding and overheated? I would surely have smelled it, but I didn't. Or was it poor manufacture? Don't know. I just paid for a new set, plus new brake cables as the old ones had deteriorated.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Stoppages. Don't you just love 'em?

November Cruise: three days and counting...

Plan no. 1: Down the south Oxford, wind at Thrupp, and return. No good, as we wouldn't have got past the stoppage at Marston Doles.

Plan no. 2: Brilliant, I thought. One of our crew has to get a train home on Monday afternoon, so I came up with the brainwave of slipping down the Northampton Arm that day. Again, no. Northampton locks closed.

Plan no. 3: On the GU down to Warwick, up to Kingswood Junction; on the Stratford up to King's Norton Junction; on the Worcester and Birmingham to Birmingham (dropping Will off for his train); down the Birmingham and Fazeley to Aston Junction; down the Digbeth Branch to Bordesley Junction; up the GU to Knowle; down to Warwick; and up to the start (Stockton Top Marina).
As far as I can tell there are no planned stoppages on this route. It does have a few locks (136, gulp!), but with our parameters put in Canalpan AC it comes out at 52 hours' cruising. Yes, it'll be dawn to dusk, but there'll be plenty of "downtime" from 4.00 pm each day.

As Will points out the locks will keep us warm - that's everyone except the helmsman!

Monday, 17 November 2008

How did I miss that stoppage?

Oops. When planning our cruise on the south Oxford Canal (only four days to go) I somehow missed the stoppage at Marston Doles Lock 16. Grrr. The carefully structured scheme to visit Bones and Maffi by water goes down the plug-hole.

So it looks like it'll be the north Oxford, then. Now, where's that Canalplan AC link?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Here's a man who's not afraid of getting his hands dirty

Edwin Fasham on the right, with MV Logos Hope

We've just got back from the annual general meeting, in Nottingham, of the Boaters' Christian Fellowship. Three hours' drive there, and three hours' back; but it was worth it. One highlight was a talk by Edwin Fasham, illustrated with photos, on how he singlehandedly rebuilt a 12,000 tonne former North Sea ferry as a mission ship. OK, he didn't do it quite singlehandedly, but he described in his delightful Brummie accent his intimate involvement with much of the heavy engineering work. While he was working on the ship, the Logos Hope, an auxiliary engine seized, filling the engine room with smoke. This engine had nine cylinders, each of 11 litres capacity, and was HUGE! It took Edwin three days to free it off: a main bearing had broken, and shell bearings were twisted up (something like that, anyway). One of his photos was of the crankshaft, some 12 feet long and weighing in at 14 tonnes! (Some of my figures may be wrong - I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the project). After filing smooth the crankshaft, and straightening it (!) Edwin got the engine going again. That was just one of the many examples he gave of the mind-boggling tasks he undertook. And for no pay!

sewage pump which Edwin was working on

The presentation was a masterpiece of coupling a talk with photos. No picture outstayed its welcome; no words were wasted. As soon as Edwin had finished with one image it was "Next", and straight into the next part of the story.

(edited to add links and another pic)

Monday, 10 November 2008

Planning for November on the Oxford

Well, a week in November, on part of the South Oxford canal. I'm in the middle of a reasonably detailed plan for our cruise: suggested departure and arrival times; places to visit. I'm up to Thrupp, which is where we'll have to wind to start heading back to Stockton Top marina.

I've noticed that Bruce has just posted on NBSanity - a fine piece on a fishing competition in dreadful weather. To quote:

By a quarter past two the anglers were giving up, and by three had disappeared from the scene. I asked the last one as he slogged past if it had been worth it.

"Not really", he said, "I got covered in dog muck, broke my glasses and had to fish one-eyed all day."

It's a strange way to enjoy yourself.

I'm off to bed now; the rest of the plan will have to wait.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

All's wheel that ends wheel

As an update to yesterday's post I can report that Ewan's P1800 now has a replacement steering wheel, thanks to Brian of Amazonia. He cycled 30 miles in to Norwich this morning with the steering wheel in his rucksack. I met him and Ewan in the car park, and we quickly swopped the steering wheels. While Brian was there he had a very quick look at the handbrake on my Amazon. It seems the cable has broken one side, so I'll have to take the car down to Eye to get it fixed.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

"It came off in my (friend's) hands, guv"

My friend and colleague, Ewan, fellow owner of an aged Volvo, asserted yesterday morning that I'd never be able to guess what had happened to him earlier that day. He was wrong. I guessed that his car had broken (but it would have taken me a while to come up with the precise fault). As he was entering the car park the steering wheel came apart in his hands.


At lunchtime we manoeuvred the car into a space and had a closer look.

One of the two spokes had broken. The metal is aluminium, and virtually impossible to repair (I'm told). So Brian, who runs Amazonia in Suffolk, and who repairs our cars, is going to bring a steering wheel for a P1800 with him when he cycles in to Norwich tomorrow. I'll be there to assist, and to get him to have a quick look at my Amazon's handbrake (he doesn't know about that yet).

Must remember my mallet. I'll just go and get it...

Thursday, 6 November 2008


While battling against the wind, and trying not to sink into the peat bog on Holme Moss recently, we stumbled across the site of a fatal air crash from the second world war.

According to this website the wreckage is of a Fairey Swordfish P4223. Further web searching revealed that the pilot was Sub Lt. Gerald Williamson of the Naval Air Branch (hence the White Ensign) who was killed when his aircraft crashed on 25th January 1940.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Shadow owners' meeting

On Saturday I went to our owners' meeting in Birmingham. David, my brother, came along too, for his first meeting as an owner. We had a few minutes to spare at lunchtime, so we walked up the hill to Scott Bridge over the Tame Valley Canal. David took the direct way down to the towpath!

This section, between Rushall Junction and Salford Junction, is on the "to do list" as it's one of the bits of the BCN I haven't cruised. Last time I was here the canal had lots of floating rubbish; this time, thankfully, that was gone.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A windy walk on Holme Moss

Thursday 23rd October 2008 was the last full day of our recent Yorkshire break, and we undertook another walk in the hills around Holme. During the night the wind had been rattling the sash window of our bedroom, and strong winds had been forecast for the day. (The 2500 runners taking part in the Original Mountain Marathon in Cumbria were preparing for their event: the weather worsened for them over the next couple of days.)

We set off up the road, the same route initially as our walk two days previously. We joined the Pennine Way for a while, this section being clearly defined by flagstones. At the trig point on Black Hill the wind was very strong indeed: the light rain driven horizontally, and stinging the face. It was difficult to walk without being blown off course, so I suppose it must have been at least Force 7.

Between the triangulation pillar and Jan in the photo above you can just see the Holme Moss transmitter mast. That was our next objective. To get there ought to have been simple: after all, you can't exactly get lost with something that big to aim for. The trouble was the terrain. It was boggy. And there was no defined path, so I followed the instructions for this part of the walk and set a bearing of 100 degrees. This pointed us to the left of the mast. My orienteering can't have been too bad, as we eventually found why we weren't heading in the obvious direction: we skirted a deep clough (valley). The going was slow, as we had to be very careful where we placed our feet in order not to get a bootful of water. The wind didn't help, either.

At last we reached the transmitter station, now run by something called "Arqiva".

From the nearby car park there was a superb view to the north.

At this point we decided to walk down the road back to the village, and get the woodburner going in the cottage.