I was privileged recently to be at a brand new pumping station in the Fens for its official opening. I was there to make a report for BBC Look East.
A pumping station was built at Wiggenhall St. Germans in 1934 for pumping water from the Middle Level Main Drain into the River Great Ouse, and thence to the sea at King's Lynn. Prior to that time discharge by gravity to low tides was possible, but peat shrinkage was making the land sink, and modern building methods were leading to faster rainwater runoff into the drains which fed the Middle Level. Now, if it were not for the pumps at St. Germans, the Middle Level and its tributaries would flood, inundating 170,000 acres of land including the towns of Whittlesey, Chatteris, March and Ramsey. The land has sunk to the extent that even a low tide is higher than the normal Middle Level level. On the day I went, the difference in levels was about 3.4 metres - but the pumps were not on as there had been little rain for several weeks.
Now the time had come to replace the original pumping station, and work started on the new one in December 2006. In April 2010, over a four day period, the old pumps were switched off, and the new station became operational.
I was told why the official opening was a year later, but I can't remember the reason now. Possibly something to do with tidying the site.
Lord James Russell revealed the plaque and pressed a symbolic big green button. His ancestor, William Russell, was the Earl of Bedford. It was he who instigated the draining of the Fens in the 17th century - employing Cornelius Vermuyden - and thus created Britain's "breadbasket", the large area of highly productive arable land.
The tour of the pumping station was fascinating. There are six pumps, each driven by a 1.5 MW electric motor - yes, that's one and a half megawatts! Three pumps can run from the mains electricity, but if four or more pumps are required, diesel generators are used. Each pump has its own 1.7 MW generator, each with a 40,000 litre fuel tank. The engines are V12 units made by Finning. The pumps' impellers are 2.6 metres in diameter and weigh 5 tonnes, and rotate only about one and a half times a second.
When all six pumps are running the station can shift 100 tonnes of water every second - it could empty an Olympic size swimming pool in 25 seconds!
Just as the engineering is awesome, so the building itself is striking. In black, with a glass front, it is beautiful as well as being functional. In a remarkable way it seems to fit in to the surroundings.
Loath 'em or loath 'em, pylons seem to be an essential part of our infrastructure. I seem to recall reading that overhead power lines are about ten times cheaper than buried cables. I suppose that's because buried cables have to be at a lower voltage than overhead ones, therefore they need to be thicker to cope with the increased current: thicker cables = more copper = more expense. So we're stuck with pylons.
These are near Sutton Stop on the north Oxford; they were nicely lit by the evening sun on 3rd April.
Can't complain really. After all, one of the main uses of canals was the transport of coal, which every early power station burnt.
We didn't get much rain on our fortnight, which was good. I will boat whatever the weather, but it was nice for once to be warm and dry. There was some drizzly stuff near the beginning, though, and as a reminder of what it looks like - it's been so long! - here are a couple of photos from the North Oxford Canal of the clouds releasing their rain. (3rd April 2011)
Yes, I know you've all published your ducklings photos, but here are mine. Better late than never.
Our first sighting of ducklings was on the Stratford Canal on 12th or 13th April. Mummy duck came out of the undergrowth and waddled off the bank into the canal with a splosh. Then two tiny ducklings followed - they must have only just been hatched - and dropped into the water with two tiny sploshes. It all happened much too quickly for me to photograph.
So here are a few more ducklings, this time on the Grand Union by the Boat Inn, Stockton, on 16th April. I counted eleven ducklings scattered on the water, but only four in the photo above (mere specks).
Just below Hillmorton Locks three weeks ago was this boat. I didn't record its name, sorry. Its roof is almost completely covered by a huge solar panel, which seems to be fixed permanently in the horizontal position. Perhaps the owner didn't want to be bothered with tilting it to face the sun, so has just gone for maximum area to make up for the loss in efficiency.
Only after seeing this photo back did I notice some more peculiarities: the boat has rather a lot of side fenders of various types; the cabin sides appear to be vertical; there appears to be a luggage rack on top of the "wheelhouse".
Or just put them on the towpath for someone else to try the float/sink test.
I lost count of all the abandoned TVs I saw either in or by the cut. Presumably they were seen as inferior to the owners' new, expensive, LCD, "HD ready" digital models and therefore surplus to requirements. Didn't they know that they could simply have added a £20 freeview box to give them digital reception? And the picture on a CRT set is vastly superior to that on most LCD televisions I've seen.
Forget your ratchet windlass ... or your extending-arm windlass - if you want an all-in-one long-throw and short-throw windlass just do as Michael has done and weld your own.
We met Michael and Kate (?) at Lock 26 on the Stratford Canal where I spotted their unusual windlasses.
It's such a brilliantly simple idea: take a long armed windlass and weld the sockets from a donor windlass onto the arm at about the conventional distance for a short armed windlass. This will now work in all situations: if extra effort is needed on a stiff ground paddle or a heavy lift bridge then use the appropriate socket at the end; if it's a heavy gate paddle, where a long-throw windlass wouldn't get round - or would graze your knuckles on the balance beam - start it off with the end socket, then use the inner socket. The entire arm will now clear any obstruction.
The windlass is, of course, heavier than usual, but if you find you often need a long-throw windlass then perhaps this might be for you.
On the subject of windlasses, my hands are pleasantly hardened from working the 233 locks of our recent trip. (Make that 232 locks worked: one was the King's Norton Stop Lock, where both guillotine gates are permanently raised.) I wonder how long it will be before they become softie Southerner's hands again. And, for that matter, how long before my boater's tan wears off.
King's Norton Stop Lock looking towards King's Norton Junction
More about Michael and Kate (if I have recorded her name correctly): they were moving a boat down to Wootton Wawen for Anglo Welsh. They do a lot of boat moving for them - as well as frequently hiring from them.
After the effort of publishing a post every day of our recent trip I have been taking a few days off. Now I'm back, and here's where Shadow is based until we vote to move again.
Wigram's Turn Marina was recently built at Napton Junction. Coming from the Grand Union (Birmingham direction) you pass under the junction bridge and go straight into the marina entrance. In the above photo you can see both the junction bridge and Shadow (in the centre, just this side of Moonshine) (click on photo to enlarge).
Our mooring is at the end of a finger pontoon right by a services pillar with electricity and water. The pontoon is just wide enough for the useful trollies onto which you can load your baggage - but you have to watch out for the mooring cleats and service pillars! Unfortunately the thread on the water point has been damaged, and I couldn't find a lead to connect to the electric socket!
Shadow's roses and castles boards -usually on the back doors - have been removed for repainting.
A very quick post to say we're back home after a most enjoyable fortnight on Shadow. We had amazingly good weather for nearly all of it, and we did lots of new stuff and revisited some canals we hadn't been on for many years.
When I've calculated exactly how many miles and locks we did you can be sure that I'll put the information on here. I can tell you that we put 108 hours on the engine's clock, that's about 7 hours and 45 minutes per day on average.
Bridge 29 on the Grand Union Canal below Bascote Locks
This is a brief update - much tidying and cleaning of the boat to be done - more to follow.
We got going reasonably early from last night's mooring at Wood Lock on the Grand Union. After yesterday's lock sharing on the whole of the Hatton flight, we had today's wide locks to ourselves.
I have decided that I actually quite like the "modern" GU locks. The gates operate smoothly and are well balanced. The locks fill quickly - and empty even more quickly - and they are consistent. There's little turbulence when filling, provided, of course, that the first paddle you open is on the same side as the boat. All right, the paddle gear itself can be hard work, but not as hard as, say, some windlass operated lift bridges. Yes, I do prefer narrow locks, but I have seen the wide locks of the Grand Union in a new light. It wasn't windy. In wind, manoeuvring into them can be tricky.
approaching Wigram's Turn Marina under Napton Junction bridge
We are now back at Wigram's Turn Marina. Our last night on board (until the next time) is tonight: home tomorrow will seem unnecessarily big.
We were moored just above Hatton Top Lock last night. This morning I walked down to have a look at the locks and the café, and saw a large collection of River Canal Rescue vehicles. Aha! An ideal opportunity to ask about the oil round the rocker cover. Well, Shadow has gold cover, so it would have been foolish not to. Just about every RCR engineer in the country peered into our engine 'ole!
One of them jumped in and removed the rocker cover bolts, had a look at the gasket, and pronounced it overcompressed. He put it back with a couple of extra washers under the bolts to give even more squeeze to the gasket, and told me to take it down the top lock and see if that had fixed it. I took it down, and lo, the oil leak was fixed. I also asked about the plastic compression joint in the cooling system, and, yes, hand-tightening is sufficient. So that's two faults sorted (although it obviously needs a new rocker cover gasket).
RCR were having a jolly - sorry, meeting - involving staff from all regions. The boss man has a rather distinctive hat, don't you think?
We went down the flight with a boat with no visible name. I was so busy lockwheeling that I didn't think to look at the name on the licence or, more simply, ask. They stopped at the bottom and we carried on to the Cape of Good Hope for lunch. Then a leisurely cruise to where we are now: Wood Lock, before Bascote.
last night's mooring above Preston Bagot bottom lock
Our journey up the Stratford Canal to Kingswood Junction was busy with boats. Much more so than our downward trip only a couple of days ago. I lockwheeled most of the way from Preston Bagot to Kingswood Junction: only four miles, but with 16 locks. Then we crossed to the Grand Union, and went down to Hatton.
Jan making the turn at Kingswood Junction
Shrewley Tunnel must be one of the wettest tunnels on the network. When we emerged it looked as if it had been raining (and I can't remember the last time we had proper rain!)
At Hatton Ben met us with a barbecue and food, so we had a good towpath BBQ.
There seem to be a few boats heading our way, so I expect we'll team up with one for the descent to Warwick.
Instead of going all the way down to Stratford-upon-Avon by boat, we decided that we'd cruise down to Wilmcote, tie up by a winding hole, and walk into town from there. So we had just three and a half miles to go, and only one lock. But it did include two rather splendid aqueducts: Wootton Wawen and Edstone (or Brearley).
Wootton Wawen Aqueduct
Shadow on Edstone Aqueduct
Like Pontcysyllte, Edstone Aqueduct is a most impressive iron trunk with just the lip of the ironwork on one side, and the towpath with railing on the other. Unlike the Welsh aqueduct, though, Edstone's towpath is sunken to the level of the base of the iron trunk, meaning that there is no "extra" width of water under the towpath. The Ponty's towpath is cantilevered over the canal.
On the return over Edstone a train passed underneath. I waved to the driver, and s/he responded in the hoped-for fashion with a friendly hoot.
Sitting by the river Avon in Stratford we ate our sandwiches, and then went for a cream tea at Bensons Tea Room. Back on board, we winded and cruised back upstream past Wootton Wawen to tie up at Preston Bagot, where we had tea on board. As a bonus, Ally came to join us in the evening. We all walked to the Crabmill Inn where the females had hot chocolate and I had a pint of UBU.
On the overheating front, it did it again this afternoon. I noticed that the temperature had risen to 90 (where it's usually just below 80), so stopped and topped up. While doing so I spotted water dripping from a plastic hose connector where it joined a copper pipe. When it was cool enough I started tightening the connector by hand, and then realised that it was almost off the copper pipe. I pushed it home and tightened it the best I could (does it need just hand tightening or should I use a stilson?). After some more running the joint was dry, so I hope that's the end of the overheating issues.
We are now a little behind schedule. Not that it matters, as I built in some extra time towards the end of our trip. Today we were supposed to have got to Stratford-upon-Avon, but we actually stopped at Wootton Wawen, with Stratford about five hours distant. As this is a there-and-back "spur" we could turn round at any point if we need to save time.
extended lock cottage on the Stratford Canal
We set off from Bridge 5 on the Stratford Canal a little before 0800, and didn't stop until Lock 28. Some of the paddle gear is quite heavy and low down, so it was harder work than I anticipated. After half an hour or so we got going again, and tied up for the night at 2000 - still in daylight (just!), having done 36 locks and 16 miles.
Most of today's travelling has been though peaceful countryside.
At Preston Bagot (I believe it was) we saw a strange object in a tree.
In front of us this evening is nb Harnser, but I don't think it's Brian's boat (there are at least three similarly sized narrowboats with that name). No-one seemed to be in, anyway, despite the smoke emanating from the chimney. Perhaps they were in the pub, the Navigation Inn, where there was a quiz in progress when we went for some food.
Now Stratford is seven miles and 17 locks away. I'll keep you posted as to what we do.
Hmm. We moored last night rather too close to The Cube. There's a coffer dam around part of its base, and a pump started up at about 0630. At least, that's when I looked at the clock. It was noisy.
We knew we were stopping at Bridge 5 on the Stratford Canal today, as that's the closest point to Ally and Ben's house. A mere five minute walk. It was originally intended to be a brief stop, to say goodbye to them, but, in the end, we stayed to do jobs and to go to The Sweet Chillies restaurant with them this evening.
So we made a leisurely start, enjoying a fry-up on board as we started along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towards King's Norton Junction. There was a lot of work going on on the route: towpath repairs in two or three places ...
... and a posse of people serving the community by repainting railings outside the Bournville chocolate factory.
Before that, at Selly Oak, we went on the new aqueduct over a road still being built.
It runs next to Birmingham University.
At Lyon's Boatyard (Frank) I bought a coolie hat to replace the one which blew into the Coventry Canal what seems like a month ago, but which was less than a week ago.
And then we arrived at Bridge 5.
Today must be the only day we did no locks (and only eight miles)! We'll make up for that tomorrow with something like 54 locks and a few swing/lift bridges. Stratford, here we come. Unless we stop on the way ...
I realise I haven't done my usual Sunday waterways website ranking snapshot - it will have to be a couple of days late.
As I woke up early this morning I cycled back to see and photograph something I'd seen the previous evening while searching for a newspaper. I'd come across what I assume is the centre of - or gateway to - Netherton. That's Netherton as in the tunnel.
There are references in the sign to things in Netherton's history: an anchor and chain; and a narrowboat are two for starters. The letters themselves appear to be made of brick - brickmaking was a local industry.
But I've jumped ahead. Last night we tied up at Windmill End, at the junction of the Dudley No. 1 and No. 2 Canals and the Boshboil Branch.
The chimney is that of Cobb's Engine House.
Before anyone else on Shadow was up, I'd cruised to the end of the Boshboil Branch and reversed back to the junction. On the way to the Bumblehole Branch I realised that the engine temperature was high again, so I stopped to let things cool. I had noticed that the coolant level was a little low when I did the engine checks before setting off, but I'd assumed that it had just found its own correct level. Wrong! It really was low. I managed to remove the cap this time with no dramatics, topped up with hot water, and all was well again.
The entrance to the Bumblehole Branch passes under the lowest bridge I think I've encountered anywhere on the system. I even had to whip out the tiller pin before it could become modified by Dunn's Bridge. Thanks to Jim's comment the other day about the boom at Walsall Basin, I wasn't too worried by the presence of a yellow boom across the canal just before the fork at the end. Winding here was interesting: the prop seems much better able at pushing water than mud, and the latter was the order of the day here. Well, it was my choice!
There is much more to write about, especially in relation to the trip to Hawne Basin down the Dudley No. 2 Canal, but, again, I've run out of waking hours. How do other people find the time to write extensive cruising blogs? To end with, here's a shot from the bow of our boat this evening. We're by Gas Street Basin with nothing between us and The Mailbox.
Oh - we didn't make it up the Titford Canal - ran out of time.