Monday 31 May 2021

Cows and cow parsley

We followed a boat up Itchington and Stockton Locks this morning. At the point when they might have waited for us to join them in a lock boats started to meet us coming down, so we stayed separated. At the top I made myself a coffee (Jan doesn't drink the stuff) and we continued to outside Ventnor Marina, where we stopped for lunch. The sun had come out to burn away the chilly early morning air and it got sunburningly hot.

At Wigram's Turn we turned left onto the shared GU/Oxford Canal towards Braunston.  It was perfect boating weather.
I thought cows were supposed to lie down when rain was on its way - these obviously hadn't heard of that.
At last, Braunston Church came into view.
Today has been the busiest so far, and by a long way. There were boats queueing to come down Calcutt Locks, and there was a seemingly never-ending procession of boats coming towards us between Wigram's and Braunston.

At Braunston we turned right to stay on the Grand Union, and tied up just before Butcher's Bridge, nabbing the last spot before the locks.  Our friends John and Gill, with their daughter Stacey, joined us on our boat for drinks in the evening.  (I think that was allowed!)

When they had gone we walked into the village to post a couple of letters.  It was a very fine evening, and a delightful walk through the cow parsley to get to the High Street. If I remember I'll try to get a photo of the cow parsley path in the morning.

Sunday 30 May 2021

Rats, rats, rats.

This is the third day in a row that we have seen rats. The most disgusting sight was round the back of Hatton Top Lock Café, where two rats scurried away from a ground-level electric fan unit as we approached. Today I saw a rat in the undergrowth at Long Itchington. Has anyone else noticed more rats about? I have no photos of the furry rodents ... but here's another example of broad daylight nefarious goings on:
This graffiti painter's work to me seemed pure vandalism, certainly not up to the standard immediately to his left. This was in Leamington Spa.

[Update from Pip and Mick: The chap in Leamington was working on a piece for Leamington Mural Festival, the artists name is Lune. All above board.]
As we emerged into the countryside there was a field with broad stripes of buttercups. Why? How?

And then, the other side of Bridge 31, as indicated on Waterway Routes, the dreaded HS2 crossing point. To the north the earth movers were lined up, all big wheels and yellow paint and looking like they mean business.
To the south a new silver city and a huge heap of earth which will form the basis of the railway bridge over the canal.
We shared many of today's locks.  Here we are going up the Bascote Staircase, our last locks before we tied up at Long Itchington.
After tea on board we went for a walk, discovering first that we had moored on the aqueduct over the River Itchen.
In the village itself a spoof blue plaque caught my eye.
There was nothing fake about this song thrush singing loudly and clearly in a tree by the canal.

Saturday 29 May 2021

Birmingham to London runners saved from dysentery?

First thing this morning I cycled back to Shrewley to buy a newspaper. I went by road as the towpath was rather muddy. By towpath it would have been slightly more than a mile; by road, although reasonably direct, it seemed to be about three miles each way.

And then it was off down the Hatton flight - but first, an appointment with the Elsan disposal point.  Here I was astonished to find two large (40 litre?) drinking water containers being filled from the rinsing hose for the portable poo tanks.  Two white vans were parked there, with three people in hi-viz vests filling the containers.  I asked what they were doing, and they said that the café had said that it was the same water that went to the canalside water point.  Well, yes, but was it to be used as drinking water?  Yes, they said brightly, it was for the Birmingham to London runners.  I pointed out that the hose they were putting in their nice new water containers had previously been down the neck of a loo cassette, just like the one I was holding.  They then - rather reluctantly - poured the water away and started talking about getting some disinfecting tablets from Boots as they drove away.  I hate to think how many runners might have been doing rather more running than they bargained for had I not just happened to come across this.  There were no signs indicating that "This is not drinking water" as there usually are by Elsan points.

Until that point I hadn't noticed the dribs and drabs of runners with numbers jogging down the towpath.  As we made our way down the locks they came past, but they seemed to be more the tail-end Charlies than the elite super-marathoners.  There was a semi-official-looking photographer and a smattering of watchers near the CRT "Welcome Station".
Once we had passed here, i.e. having done four locks, a volunteer lockie started going ahead and setting the locks for us. That was very handy for the next six locks, but then he walked back up the flight leaving us on our own again. But that was fine, I had my bike and we worked efficiently. We did the whole flight of 21 locks in 2 hours 45 minutes.

Some of the paddle gear sported shiny new stainless steel bolts.
We stopped for lunch just above Cape Locks; then moved on to Leamington Spa, where we have tied up outside Lidl.

One thing I forgot to mention a couple of days ago is that we saw many bats in Brandwood Tunnel.  They were flying around, buzzing the boat, clearly picked out by our tunnel light.

Friday 28 May 2021

How often does a canal flood?

Ah - that's better. Photos have uploaded, so now I can write about yesterday and today.

The newish flats at Dickens Heath have been furnished with flood boards, which would seem to me to be an unnecessary and expensive precaution.  Canals rarely flood as they have overspill weirs to deal with excess water.
I suppose in an extreme case of a huge downpour the overspill weirs might not cope immediately, but would the canal really rise above the edge?  Perhaps there's another watercourse nearby which I haven't considered ...
Well, summer seemed to arrive suddenly yesterday. I did quite a bit of cycling around King's Heath, Stirchley and Yardley Wood and got quite warm. Back on the boat we enjoyed the rural Stratford Canal away from the Birmingham connurbation.
We stopped at Hockley Heath where we joined fellow BCFers Ingrid and Kit for drinks in the Wharf Tavern.
Today we continued down the Stratford Canal. We met up with my former colleague Ian, who has recently joined the ranks of the retired. We gave him a lift from Hockley Heath down to Lapworth Top Lock and enjoyed a chat in his garden.
This is the only photo I took on the Lapworth Flight.
At Bridge 35, two locks above the Lapworth Link, the fierce bywash pushed the boat into the brick arch. Some paint was removed from the top left corner. A boat was following us down the locks; I reckon the extra water coming down with it was what caused the problem.

We turned right onto the Grand Union and passed this pair of gently rotting hulks. 
I think I photograph them every time we pass - it would be interesting to juxtapose the images to see the decline.
One more photo for you: Shrewley Tunnel north west portal with horse tunnel.
We tied up half a mile before Hatton Locks: we have that joy tomorrow. In dry conditions! (We had some light rain on the GU.)

Thursday 27 May 2021

Blogger not uploading photos

Hmm. Here I am trying to write my blog, but computer says "no". I usually upload photos first and write to them, but tonight I just get this message every time I try.

Sorry! An unexpected error occurred while processing your selection. Please try again later.

Is it because my data signal here at Hockley Heath isn't strong enough? Or is there a more general Blogger problem? Either way, I shall have to try again tomorrow.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Box on top keeps my tea hot

We had an uneventful journey from Birmingham to, er, Birmingham today (all right, it was from Cambrian Wharf in the city centre to Bridge 5 on the Stratford Canal at Yardley Wood) so I'll write about something else.

Two years ago I found some bits of scrap MDF by the bins at the bottom of the Napton Locks.  Using panel pins and PVA I knocked up a rough and ready box to take useful things and keep them out of the rain.  It sits on the cabin slide and works a treat.
In the box are the device on which I display Waterway Routes; a clock; a pair of clip-on sunglasses. There is space for a mug: the wind protection helps to keep my tea/coffee hot. Despite the MDF sitting on a sometimes wet surface it has lasted remarkably well.

As we approached Birmingham yesterday I saw a seagull walking along the towpath with a dead-looking gosling in its beak.
On the opposite towpath, having given up any fight, were Mr and Mrs Goose and one remaining gosling.
It seems a shame, but I suppose it's the way of the natural world.

Back to today ... and we enjoyed the second dry day in a row.  It was still cold, though - the stove is on as I write.  This was a peaceful part of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
From a distance the guillotine lock at King's Norton looked pleasingly free of graffiti.
Some became visible as we got closer, and the other side was sadly marred by the vandal's spray can.

So, as I say, we are at Bridge 5 (Yardley Wood Road).  We had a fabulous curry at our favourite Sweet Chillies restaurant.

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Stop, gate! Don't close!

We were still in bed this morning when the boat we tied up in front of last night set off. We got under way at about 0915 and headed for the Wolverhampton 21 locks which were all* against us. We guessed that the early starter had gone up the flight in front of us - this was confirmed by the volunteer lockies (and when we saw it moored at the top).

Speaking of volunteers, as we set the bottom lock two hi-viz'd and life jacketed members of that clan appeared and offered to help us up the locks.  We couldn't very well refuse, so one went to assist the hire boat which was following us, leaving Brian who stayed with us all the way to the top.

There was just one faulty paddle in the 84.
The wooden structure around the rack is missing. No need for black-and-yellow tape here. (I think that's Stewart, not Brian, posing with it.)
We had the luxury of no fewer than three volunteers for the last half dozen locks. The other two had been helping the early starter; that job done, they came down to us. We emerged from the top lock at 1200 having completed the flight in about two and a half hours (and shaving a full hour off the time estimated on Waterway Routes, but Paul doesn't assume that a generous helping of volunteer lockies will always be available!)
Jubilee's prop stayed clean all the way up the locks but, on the weedy Wolverhampton Level, we had to stop a couple of time so I could disappear down the weed hatch. I did one more clearance after we'd descended Factory Locks onto the Birmingham Level.

Approaching the aqueducts just west of Dudley Port I could see that a stop gate was partially closed in front of us.  (Sorry the photo is poor quality.)
I wondered if I should nudge it back into its fully open position but that rare thing in these parts - a boat - was approaching. There was plenty of room to get past.
A lot of redevelopment is going on in the Icknield Port Loop area. I'm fairly sure this graffiti "artist" is not part of the official scheme.
I'd always assumed they did their paint spraying under cover of darkness, but this was in as broad a daylight as you could get (without the sun actually shining).

After a dry day (hooray!) we tied up in our favourite Cambrian Wharf spot as the sun did, indeed, come out.

 *One of the locks near the top of the flight was empty - the water had presumably leaked out.

(Updated to correct typo)

Monday 24 May 2021

A question of transhipment

We're boating again, in this autumnal late May. I lit the stove yesterday, when we set off from Market Drayton, and it's been going all today too. (We had no data signal last night at Norbury Junction, hence the two-day post today. As it were.
We've been in full winter gear of hats, scarves and gloves to keep out the winter cold. At least it hardly rained yesterday. It was a different story today.

We stopped at Tyrley Wharf so we could go to church (via Zoom).  Then we ran the gauntlet of the cuttings, wondering how long before a major collapse blocks the canal for a considerable length of time.

This is a recent fall.
Having negotiated the narrow Woodseaves Cutting we passed what seemed like miles of anglers. I asked one of them how many there were; he thought there were 86. As we went by their long poles swung back across the cut.
Almost as soon as we tied up just before Norbury Junction it started to rain heavily. It was still raining when we went to bed.

This morning started dry and sunny, seemingly defying the forecast.   At Gnosall (I think it was) a Caraboat was moored, complete with number plate for road use.  I can't remember ever seeing one out of the water - have you seen one on the road?
We filled up with diesel at Turner's, Wheaton Aston, and stopped for lunch. Again, we timed it well as the light rain turned heavy as we ate. Tench went past, the steerer appearing to be a signed up member of the NPBC (former OwnerShips boaters might know what this is!)
We tied up just round the corner at Autherley Junction and had tea. Wolverhampton 21 tomorrow - whoopee! 

Meanwhile ... a friend is researching her ancestors, some of whom lived by the Grand Surrey Canal in Deptford.  Her great great grandfather worked with iron and zinc at Ida Wharf (later called Ocean Wharf).  Deliveries were received from Birmingham by canal.  My friend assumes that what is now the Grand Union Canal was used between Brum and London, but - and here is her question - would the same boat have been taken along and across the Thames to Surrey Dock and thence the Grand Surrey Canal?  The date is 1859 so horses would have been the predominant means of towing.  Would the materials have been transhipped when they reached the Thames?

Monday 10 May 2021

Winding paddles the right way first time

Yesterday we were the last in a procession of boats ascending the Audlem flight: I had to turn nearly every lock. Today we somehow found ourselves following a boat up the last two Audlem locks and the Adderley flight. We did, at least, meet three or four boats.

At one of the locks the top gate foot board had a piece of super-grippy pontoon-type covering rather than the usual strip of sandpaper.
How many locks have I worked in my life so far? Hundreds. How many paddles have I raised? Probably thousands. But it is only today, 10th May 2021, that I have realised that I can turn the paddle spindle the right way first time. How, you ask? By turning towards the pivot point of the pawl. It works on this type of paddle gear, at least, and I venture to suggest that it must work on every type with a pawl and ratchet.

In the case of the paddle gear below, winding anticlockwise raises the paddle.
We came through two or three heavy showers as we made our way back to Market Drayton and the end of this four-week trip. This rain cloud had just passed over.
Back at the mooring I changed the engine oil and filter. I also topped up the Webasto heating header tank and bled the radiators. The header tank took about three pints of antifreeze mixture. Where has all the water gone? (We hardly ever use the Webasto, the prime reason being that it doesn't fire up unless the engine is running to supply the heavy initial load.)

Sunday 9 May 2021

Strong bywash sucks boat off course

After Zoom church this morning we set off towards the Audlem locks. On the way we passed this boat with three large green barrels at the back.  The barrels have what looks like tyres on top; there are loo roll fenders and no visible sign of propulsion.  Unless that's the front - unfortunately I didn't take any more photos.
Another distinctive boat is Whitefield, which we passed near the bottom of the flight.
Our modus operandi here is that Jan (unusually) sets the lock ahead while I steer, closing the top gate as I leave.
As I positioned Jubilee in the head of one of the locks so I could lower paddles and close the gate, the strong bywash weir pulled the boat into the (off)side. I had to pull it away with the centre line before I could steer into the next lock. When single handing going upstream I always take the precaution of taking a few turns of the stern line round a bollard in case the boat drifts out of reach.
I don't know why so much water comes down this canal from above Tyrley Locks. Especially as it presumably ends up joining the water that comes down the Llangollen Canal from the River Dee. Then I suppose it's downhill all the way through Chester to Ellesmere Port, also down the Middlewich Branch and on down the T&M to Runcorn and Manchester. Perhaps that's why. There's a lot of canal to feed. We tied up with just the top two of the flight to go; we'll do these plus the Adderley five tomorrow and then we'll be back at Market Drayton.

Saturday 8 May 2021

New lock gate; turning round diesel

Coming down the Lawton Treble Locks on Wednesday there was a new gate loaded into a boat ready to be installed somewhere.
In the background I could see two steel balance beams with what looks like hydraulic lock gear on them.
And next to this, a large rack of stop planks.
We stayed in Nantwich today, having a "day off". I topped up the fuel tank from our spare 20 litre jerry can. This means that we can get back to Market Drayton without the possibility of running out of diesel; also, this ensures that we don't have old diesel lying around. The can will be refilled at the same time as the tank.