Thursday 30 April 2015

Wheelock to Church Lawton - and missing out on Sandbach

Got a bit carried away today and cracked on with the locks when we should have walked into Sandbach and explored. Last night's mooring at Wheelock would have been ideal. Oh well, next time.

entering Lock 66 on the T&M
Most of the locks between Wheelock and Kidsgrove are paired, like the three at Hillmorton on the Oxford Canal, which can speed things up considerably if there's a lot of traffic. We encountered hardly any moving boats today, though, and nearly every lock was in our favour.

entering Lock 65
After some rain in the night we had mostly dry conditions with a fair amount of sunshine. I don't know what the yellow flowers in this field are, but I do know that it's not oilseed rape. Is that a crow or a raven on the post?

As we climbed the locks we could see over to Mow Cop with its distinctive folly.

Here it is a bit bigger.

Jan's friend from college days came to visit us where we had tied up for the day at Church Lawton. It was good to see you, Jane, and we trust you enjoyed your birthday tea.

To round off the day there was a nice sunset.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Salt of the earth; poste restante successful

David Cameron, Ed Miliband et al can stop their electioneering now - we've cast our votes. We had our postal ballots forwarded to Middlewich Post Office; they arrived this morning, so we voted straight away and posted the ballot papers back. It's the first time we've cast a postal vote - and the first time we've used poste restante. It lacked the excitement of going to the polling station, running the gauntlet of the party activists hanging around by the door, then marking your cross with a blunt pencil, but we're happy we have been able to take part in the democratic process.

This is the first general election for some time that I haven't had to film at a count or edit packages through the night - hooray!

On our way to collect our post we witnessed nature at work. A magpie had taken a young blackbird and was proceeding to peck it to death by the towpath. The magpie was being mobbed by adult blackbirds but it didn't seem too bothered. I watched until it picked up its prey in its beak and flew with it over the bridge parapet. I'd never before seen such a thing at such close quarters.

After lunch we went down Wardle Lock, paying our respects to Maureen Shaw (whom we saw the last time we were here) and turned right onto the Trent and Mersey to start heading south.

Above Kings Lock we passed fuel boat Alton.

I always marvel at the huge pile of brilliant white salt out in the open at Middlewich.

We tied up in Wheelock at the foot of the Cheshire Locks, or Heartbreak Hill as some call it. No heartbreak for me; I'm looking forward to more lock action!

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Nantwich to Middlewich; a canalside pub in all but location

I was expecting the knock on the side hatch. It was Graham, come for the hat he'd left behind last night. Before setting off I had a look round the chandlers at Nantwich Basin. It seems very well stocked, but all I bought was an April issue of Waterways World for an article about Edwin Fasham and his narrowboat Ferrous.

The sun shone for most of the day, but there was a fierce cold wind. We and most other boaters were in winter gear.

Between Hurleston Junction and Barbridge Junction we saw what looked like a scrapyard to the west.

But, on closer inspection, the cars seem to be arranged deliberately in a line. Is this an artwork? It's in the same area as previous constructions of straw. I remember seeing the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster there a few years ago.

The views across to the Weaver valley from the Middlewich Branch were very good.

Is this the radio telescope dish of Jodrell Bank?

Also in the photo was this bird of prey.

From Bridge 14 we walked into Church Minshull. There's a church, a pub next door, a village hall and the rest is houses. These include some very fine dwellings indeed.

We got talking to a local who invited us to look at his house, a former watermill complete with all the workings. I will have to do a separate post about this some time.

Meanwhile, here's one way to get out of having to repaint your boat...

... cover it with shiplap timber.

We tied up in Middlewich just before Wardle Lock, and have eaten at the Narrowboat pub. This has plenty of canal ware, including a cratch board, but is curiously located away from the canals. We had good rump steaks, it was a real shame the plates they were on were cold.

Tomorrow we're hoping that our postal votes will arrive at the post office after being forwarded from Wolverton.

Monday 27 April 2015

Barbecue stands by Shroppie; an evening with Armadillo

We moved on to Nantwich today, still enjoying the sunny weather. We haven't had any proper rain for more than two weeks now, although some is forecast for tomorrow. The wind has been cool recently, but even that eased off today.

You see all that white smoke coming out of the chimney?

It's actually the blossom on the trees (blackthorn?)!

I'm impressed by the barbecue stands by the picnic tables along this stretch. Perfect for the warmer weather ... but we won't be here then.

As we headed north towards Nantwich we were enjoying these idyllic conditions.

We tied up on the embankment just before the aqueduct in Nantwich and went into the town for provisions. After tea on board we moved onto the service point for water and Elsan; then, having spotted Armadillo, we invited them over for drinks. We tied up by the entrance to Nantwich Basin.

It was good to see Graham and Jill again, and we had a good natter about all sorts of things. A decent quantity of wine was drunk as well!

During the evening I noticed that the sky was doing interesting things.

Oh, Graham, you left your hat behind.

Sunday 26 April 2015

This could have been bad timing

After a lively service at St. Mary's Church in Market Drayton this morning we got ready to untie our ropes. Before pushing the boat out I checked, as I always do, to see if there were any boats coming. Approaching from behind was a pair of hotel boats, one towing the other. They were going slowly, but I judged that it would be rude of me to pull out, so I waited. I was able to set off as soon as they had passed, and I was catching up in tickover.

Fortunately they pulled in to the services, so we were hardly delayed at all. Not that we're in a rush, of course!

Market Drayton has plenty of black-and-white timbered buildings. These seem to be common in this part of the world. We'll see more in Nantwich tomorrow.

I managed to get a snap of a common sandpiper this afternoon. It was being obligingly still ...

... unlike this kingfisher. Yes, it is a kingfisher, although its bright colours are not evident.

I must have seen four or five kingfishers today, always a thrill.

We're now tied up above Lock 12 at Audlem. Despite the "bonglers" the boat occasionally nudges the Shroppie Shelf, but I daresay it won't disturb us tonight.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Market Drayton

We didn't travel far today, just down the Tyrley Locks to Market Drayton. We tied up at the aqueducts over the road and river; then walked down the steps and along the country lane into the town.

After yesterday's debacle over car identification I think I'll stick to safer ground; canals, boats and Volvos. There was a Volvo Amazon (B-reg) parked in Gnosall.

Here is Cheswardine Bridge in the steep-sided Woodseaves cutting.

And here is High Bridge, also in Woodseaves Cutting.

The lockie helpfully set all the locks for us as we descended the Tyrley flight.

We saw another posing kingfisher today. This time I had my camera ready, but the light in the cutting wasn't enough for my poor camera, and the photos are all blurred. Grr.

We ate in Oruna Indian restaurant this evening after a recommendation from Malcolm and Stephanie, who came aboard for a cup of tea this afternoon.

Audlem tomorrow. That's the plan, anyway.

Friday 24 April 2015

Two old Rollers in one day? Oh, and two kingfishers.

Yes, I know this is supposed to be a canal blog, but we saw two ancient cars today. One was in Gnosall, where we'd gone for a walk before lunch; the other was canalside in the Shebdon area.

Here's the Gnosall one, just after filling up at the Texaco garage.

Despite the lack of Pegasus the Spirit of Ecstasy (thanks KevinTOO) on the radiator filler cap I believe it's a Rolls Royce as there was an RR symbol was above the grille.

To start the car the driver (chauffeur?) fetched his starting handle and gave the engine the merest hint of a turn before getting back into the car. I don't know how he knew it had started; true to reputation it didn't make a sound.

We stopped at Norbury Junction to have a look round. Some of the boats in the wharf had intriguing markings on their hulls.

I have no idea what they are for. Anyone?

Everyone seems to take a photo of High Bridge with its old telegraph pole on a brick strut, so I'm not going to show you mine. Instead, here is the next bridge, Double Culvert Bridge. This carries a stream as well as a footpath.

I got Jan to drop me off in the bridge hole so I could nip up and take a look.

The stream was dry and overgrown where I could see it before it disappears under concrete covers as it crosses the bridge.

I saw two kingfishers today - the first since leaving Milton Keynes a month ago. One was the usual brilliant flash of electric blue streaking ahead of the boat before disappearing into the bushes.

Jan spotted the other. It was perching on a branch as we went by, just a few feet away. Amazingly it didn't fly off. I fumbled to get my camera out of its case; by the time I could take a photo it was becoming partially hidden.

Still, it's the best shot I've managed to get. Actually, I think it's the only shot.

And the other Roller? This was, incongruously, next to a fairly unkempt mooring among trees on the offside. This one does appear to have Pegasus the Sprit of Ecstasy flying from the filler cap.

Kingfishers and Rolls Royces are evidently not like buses. I'm still waiting for the third of each to come along.

This post was written and published using the free wi-fi of the Wharf Tavern, Goldstone. (Password provided at the bar - no "registering" needed.) Cost: a pint of Atlantic, which I enjoyed.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Onto the Shroppie

From our overnight mooring we turned left under the towpath bridge and entered the Shropshire Union Canal. We were last here for the IWA Festival at Autherley a number of years ago; it's even longer ago than that that we cruised this southern section.

After the stop lock we were into very fine surroundings, with the trees (and us) basking in the sunshine.

Jan was steering while I made my coffee, leaving me free at the bow to get this shot of a heron by Bridge 8. I was preparing to take another photo when the camera told me that the memory card was full. By the time I'd deleted a few pics the moment had passed, along with the bridge and heron.

At Stretton Aqueduct I nipped down to snap Jan steering Jubilee over Watling Street.

The tree-lined cuttings looked magnificent.

We stopped at Brewood to have a look round; tying up for the day at Wheaton Aston. Not many hours cruised today, but the weather has been perfect.

Now the sky is turning pink - perhaps I'll take another photo ...

Must control our data usage though. Somehow we managed to get through more than 400Mb yesterday. Eek. We have only 650Mb to last us the next fortnight. If I post fewer photos you'll know why.

Wednesday 22 April 2015


I had an e-mail yesterday from someone at CRT telling me that a photo I'd entered in their "Lost Wonders of the Waterway World" competition had been shortlisted, and was now in the first (sic) 15. (I hope she means the last 15!) I was astounded; I'd forgotten about it and certainly wasn't expecting to get any further. The shortlisted photos will be displayed at The Bond in Birmingham (we went past there just four days ago) to be voted on by participants at a restoration workshop. The seven photos which get the most votes go forward to stage three where the winner and two runners-up will be selected.

I submitted my five photos from home and I don't have copies here on the boat; I can't even bring to mind the photo that CRT says is the shortlisted one.

On to today's boating. We moved from the mooring by Titford Pump House and tied up at the top of the Crow (aka Oldbury Locks). Here we were met by Phil, who said he was running a bit more water down for us.

We were able to set off down straight away, though, with Phil helping us all the way.

The elevated road is the M5.

Thanks to Phil we made a speedy descent. Every lock was waiting for us to go straight in. At the bottom we were surprised to have to wait for a boat to pass on the Old Main Line. Boats seem to be rare things in these parts, especially moving ones.

Back on the Old Main Line heading for Wolverhampton we passed a couple of houses flying this flag, which neither of us had seen before.

Jan looked it up this evening; it's a Black Country flag, designed in 2012, showing how the area used to be "black by day and red by night". The central white portion is in the shape of a glassworks cone; such buildings were common in the past. The chain exemplifies another thing which was made here.

We turned left at Tipton Junction so we could make a return visit to the Black Country Living Museum. We topped up with water and tied up on the museum mooring, but when we discovered that it would cost £33 for us to go in, with half the day gone, we decided to leave it for another time. After a salad lunch on board we carried on to Wolverhampton. A boat had just come up the locks so we thought it would be a good idea to do the 21 immediately rather than in the morning. I was looking forward to some "proper" locking!

We got down the flight in 2 hours 15 minutes, rather quicker than the boat which had come up the locks. They said it had taken them four hours.

The bottom lock has a tree stump for paddle gear on the offside.

We tied up at Autherley Junction ready to turn onto the Shroppie tomorrow. After tea we walked to Morrison's for supplies, then had another short walk as the sun was setting.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Splat! Direct hit on my camera. And Titford Canal explored.

There we were, cruising gently along the Oozels Street Loop when, out of nowhere (OK, the sky), SPLAT!

My camera, lying screen down on the slide, was suddenly covered with the unmistakeable disgusting white and yellow slime of seagull poo. The camera is a compact type, where the lens retracts and two metal semicircles close over it. The dropping was fully over this. Aargh! I called down to Jan, who was just emerging from the shower, for some paper towel. I managed to wipe away most of the revolting stuff but, when I switched on the camera and the lens extended, there was more of the goo on the telescopic bit. I have no photo, for obvious reasons. (Although I suppose I could have got Jan to take one with her phone camera, but I had other things on my mind.)

The camera seems to work still. I need a new one anyway, but it would be inconvenient to be without one for long.

The main objective for today was the Titford Canal, which leaves the Birmingham Old Main Line at Oldbury Junction. First, though, as I hadn't done them for a while, we cruised all the loops: Oozels Street, Icknield Port and Soho, including the Hockley Port arm with both "fingers". We also did the Engine Arm.

After turning left onto the Titford Canal we naughtily tied up for lunch on the lock landing. Having seen only one moving boat up to that point, and given that we were on a little-used dead-end canal, we reckoned we'd be fairly safe. And, of course, we were.

After lunch I got my bike out and started investigating the state of the locks. The first pound looked a little low; the next pound was decidedly empty. We were going to have to let water down from the top. Just as I started preparing the first lock and subsequent pound a local beer can-clutching young man with his girlfriend approached and offered to help if I lent him a windlass. I was a bit wary at first, but Martin said he knew what he was doing as he'd had many boating holidays as a child, and his brother had a 70' boat on the Severn. He struck me as being genuine, so I got a windlass from the boat for him. Full of enthusiasm he went up and started running water down, exactly what was required. His girlfriend helped with opening and closing gates, and we worked slowly up the flight.

As we neared the top he shouted to me that he needed a key for the top lock. I took the "water conservation key" out of my pocket and gave it to him. A minute later he was suddenly at my side apologising profusely. He'd managed to drop it in the lock. I said it didn't matter as I had another one, but he was devastated. While I was getting another one from the boat - the one I tie with string to my belt - Martin was calling out to one of the moorers in the Tat Bank Branch what he'd done, and asking him if he had a magnet. The moorer got his Sea Searcher and fished out the key with his first dip. Martin was very relieved, but still apologetic.

With all this going on I neglected to take any photos of our ascent of the locks, so here is my first photo on the Titford Canal. This is, I believe, what remains of Holt's Brewery.

About 3/4 mile from the top of the locks the canal forks. We tried the left fork first, the Causeway Green Branch, but it started to feel a bit shallow so we reversed back and went up the right fork.

left fork
This seemed better, but we couldn't get through a narrow bridge hole under the M5 owing to an underwater obstruction.

approaching narrows under M5
Just before this, to the left, was an entrance to Titford Pools itself (themselves? There seems to be only one pool.) Gingerly, we crept into the wide expanse of water. The M5 runs on stilts on the right.

Again, it had that shallow feeling, and so we reversed back the way we came after not much more than a couple of boat lengths in. Talking to Phil, the moorer mentioned above, I learnt that it is possible to cruise into the pool, but that it is safer to do it in the company of other boats who can rescue you if you get stuck.

A large amount of demolition has taken place around here. This is just west of the half-demolished brewery.

A few minutes later we had got back to the Titford Pump House where the Tat Bank Branch goes off to the right. Not much of this is now navigable; there is a long floating pontoon with long term moorings.

Phil said we could tie up to this pontoon in the space left by a boat which wouldn't be back until Saturday, so this is our salubrious mooring for the night!

The moorings are secure, accessible via gates locked with a BW key, and sort of peaceful. There's a constant low rumble from the works nearby, but it won't disturb our sleep.

When we went for a walk this evening we saw that the pound below the top lock was drained. We could also see that a few paddles were up. It transpired that a local oik had raised every paddle all the way down the flight. Phil and another were already on the case, about to lower the paddles and refill the pounds ready for us in the morning. We said that we could do it ourselves when the time came, but they didn't think that the vandal would come back the same day. We'll see.

drained pound revealing mound of rubbish ...

... and a safe