Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Coventry Canal. Ashby Canal. Huddlesford to Snarestone

At Huddlesford, just before August Bank Holiday and in order to position Legend closer to the car park, there was a very short move from one end of the moorings to the other. This meant that when the Keys turned up - that’s Andrew, Karen, James and Emily - getting them aboard was simplicity itself. In our little boat, accommodating six people, while possible, is pushing it a bit. Accommodating six people and a beagle is clearly impossible so, after a perfect evening with a towpath barbecue, music and lots of laughter,
and with our visitors tucked up snuggly on board, we spent the night just as snuggly in our little tent beside our boat.
In the morning we pulled the pins and set forth up the Coventry canal towards Polesworth.
The first thing we passed was Whittington Wharf where, the day before, the Lichfield Canal Society had held an open day and had various baked goods and cake left over. In true boater style, we pulled alongside their vessel and there followed a spot of banter, after which we came to an accord and took on provisions. In discussions later it turned out that with one of us at either end of our boat, we’d managed to hand over the agreed price twice, which negated the pirate simile we had going there but it was all in a good cause.

Over the previous couple of weeks we’d been aware of a fair number of historic boats going past us in the same direction. We eventually heard that their destination was Alvecote Marina where, it just so happened, we were heading. We got there right in the middle of the boat handling competition and spent a memorable hour and a half surrounded by the sight and sound of some of the most beautiful boats on the waterways as they queued up. It was fabulous. When we finally got out of the other side we had to run the gauntlet of the commentator taking the micky out of our roof garden and hanging basket and asking if Andrew was ballast! How rude.

At Polesworth we moored up on the 48s, put the tent up again and then Andrew and Karen treated us to a meal in the Indian next door. The perfect end to a perfect boating day.

The following day, before the Keys left for home, Chloe came to see us so there were seven people and a dog on board for a while, and it was raining. In the afternoon Chloe chose to tip a bucket of cold water over herself in the name of charity. She did it in the pouring rain which somewhat defeated the object, but it was funny enough. If you were on Facebook in 2014 you’ll understand. It was lovely to see her and it won’t be long before she’s living and working permanently in Ireland so every moment we get to spend with her is precious.

Our ascent of Atherstone locks was not done in our usual solitary slick style; instead we found ourselves queueing up with lots of other boats and subject to the varying abilities and questionable techniques of lots of other people. And of course, as is usually the case, after helping several of the crews ahead of us up the locks, Ann-Marie found herself on her own, while the people behind us stood around their boats yacking to each other. Smile and wave guys, smile and wave.

Turning onto the Ashby canal was like entering a different world. A shallower world with frillier edges, but lovely all the same and a lot quieter than the Coventry. After Hinkley it got quieter still and by the time we got to Stoke Golding, where we stopped for the night, boat spotting had become a rare and exciting event. The next day we carried on to Shackerstone. We wouldn’t normally make progress in such a speedy way but events had conspired against us. We’d volunteered to help with the set up for the Shackerstone Festival, and booked Legend in for the duration. While we were at Polesworth we got a phone call from the organisers advising us to get up there as soon as possible in order to get moored near the site. This was because there were a lot of rumours circulating on the towpath telegraph resulting from an agreement between Nature England and CRT to restrict double mooring during the festival to try to limit damage to plant life.  After a nasty case of Chinese whispers with, we suspect, a fair smattering of personal axe-grinding thrown in, this was turned into local fishermen trying to permanently ban boats from the canal. Numerous flyers, demanding a call to arms, were posted on lock gates and bridges pleading for as many boats as possible to join the cause and come along to “Save the Ashby Canal from Closure”. The last thing the event organisers wanted was their volunteer workforce turning up to find nowhere to put their boat, hence the phone call and hence the rush. When we arrived the moorings alongside the festival field were all full and we tied up two bridges away, but that turned out to be a better place to be anyway, and it meant we were perfectly placed to see all this lot arrive.




The protest, for what it was worth, amounted to a lot of tutting and mumbling, a few floating sheds moored in the reeds and not much else really.

For three days before kick-off, as part of Cath & Glyn’s festival set up team, we were employed shifting chairs, tables, traffic cones and gazebos wherever they required, and during the event we manned one of the main gates each day for two hours. It was good to feel useful and we felt we’d earned our free tickets.

The festival was, as usual, fabulous. Each year it gets bigger with more exhibits and traders and covers more fields. The weather on the Sunday was amazing and there were record crowds. When we weren’t trying to stop people wandering in without paying we had a wonderful time. Kim and Luke joined us for the day on the Saturday afternoon, which was lovely. Ann-Marie got lots of George cuddles and Dave got a buddy to go round the junk stalls with.

In an amazing set of coincidences, the chap on the boat moored next to us looked familiar and it turned out he used to be our local coal merchant when we lived in a house. Over a period of three years, while we were still trying to figure out how we could get out of the rat race, we jealously watched as he built a narrowboat in a big shed in the coal yard. One day it disappeared, then low and behold, five years later it was moored next to us. Alan and Joy were the nicest neighbours we could have hoped for; they have a permanent mooring at Bill Fen marina on the Middle Level and made us promise to get in touch when we’re over there. Which we will. In a final twist it turned out that Ann-Marie used to work with Allan’s brother. This boating world is positively tiny at times.


After the festival was over we had one day helping with the clear up, then waited a couple more while everyone else left before moving the boat on to the head of navigation just beyond Snarestone tunnel. The Ashby Canal used to go on for another eight miles to a terminus above Moira, the top mile and a half have been restored and re-watered and it is possible to follow some of the original line between the two parts.



Of course there is an ambitious plan for the missing five miles, some of it along the original line, some new cut, and a bit through Measham that follows a disused railway line and goes through the station. Using a map provided by the very friendly Ashby Canal Association, we had a lovely day walking as close to the original line as possible up to the restored blast furnace at Moira, then on to Conkers, the National Forest activity centre, where eventually the restored canal will terminate.

 While we were moored at the present navigation limit the contractors were re-watering the next quarter of a mile or so and there was a lot of activity beyond there.
They’re not standing still, that’s for sure. After visiting the basic but very clean sanitary station we winded and weaved our way back under the tunnel to moor up just beyond the pub. Lovely spot; lots of solar and a short walk to the car. With everything we’ve got going on in the next month that’s going to be quite important.  

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all. The Stourton and ...