Saturday, 11 November 2017

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  Stourbridge flights were mostly in our favour, despite one set of gates refusing to open and another refusing to stay shut, then we were round the wiggly bit and up the beautiful Delph flight. We moored pretty much where we’d been before overlooking the shopping centre. In the morning the forecast rain hadn’t arrived so we cast off straight away. After the previous day’s exertions, working Legend through the one lock at Blower’s Green onto the Dudley No2 was breeze.
After that it was a simple cruise to Windmill End, a right turn to follow the canal to Gosty Hill tunnel and then on to its current terminus at Hawne Basin. We pulled onto the service wharf in the increasing drizzle, got diesel, a gas bottle and two bags of coal on board then did a very professional looking reverse onto one of the pontoons just before it really started to rain.
The following morning we were off again at the crack of dawn, back through Gosty and Windmill End then into the grand Netherton Tunnel while all the local kids were still asleep. There seems to have been a spate of trophy hunting going on in Netherton since we last went through; all the reflective distance markers have disappeared, no doubt they now adorn some teenager’s bedroom wall.

At the end of the Netherton Tunnel Branch we turned right onto Thomas Telford's big straight Main Line and were moored up just round the corner from Gas Street by lunch time, giving us plenty of time to visit the markets in the afternoon. Without trying very hard, we appear to have got into a habit of coming back from Birmingham’s exciting-but-slightly-scary bazaar-like street market weighed down with cheese and fruit. Today was no exception, however stopping off at the library on the way home with two very ripe Camemberts in our shopping bag was probably not the best idea we’ve ever had.

Over the next two days we stayed put and let Storm Brian do its worst.

While the boat was being rocked about, Dave spent the time doing a few little jobs on the boat. In order to save a bit of our precious electricity, we now have a 80mm hole in the floor behind the fridge, into which is fitted a 12 volt computer fan wired into the fridge controller. When the fridge motor is running, the fan sucks cooler air from the bilge and blows it over the back and sides of the fridge so that it cools down quicker and the motor runs for a shorter time. The motor takes about 2 amps and the fan about 0.2 amps so if it reduces running time by more than 1/10th then it’s a win.
Of course we didn’t time the fridge before we installed the fan, and we haven’t got the patience to time it afterwards, but we have a plan. At some stage we’re going to get an engine hours meter so that we can tell more accurately when to do an oil change. Before we fit it to the engine we’re going to wire it up to the fridge for a couple of weeks; one week with the fan on and one with it off. That should tell us if we’ve done the right thing and we’ll let you know the result.

He also fitted a plug on our mag-mount tunnel light and a corresponding socket just inside the engine room, making lighting up the bit of tunnel between the headlight and the tiller a much simpler operation.

After Brian had blown itself out we were off again, down Farmers Bridge locks under the skyscrapers...
...with a right turn at the bottom onto the Digbeth Branch; new water for us, but not a canal we would recommend. Halfway down the Digbeth branch are the Ashted locks. Half way down the Ashted locks is the Ashted tunnel. The locks are lovely,...
...but the Ashted tunnel is a nasty thing.
There is a towpath through it with a safety rail which severely restricts the headroom on the off side. We’d heard it was low, so we’d emptied the big box and folded it flat, and moved all the plants into the well deck. However, it’s not the height that gets you, it’s the curvature of the roof, especially as said roof bulges in places. No doubt, when the tunnel was built the roof wouldn’t have had bulges, and the towpath wouldn’t have had railings, making navigation a whole lot easier. Dave knew he’d been close;  the solar box was a hair’s breadth away from scraping the bricks, but he thought he’d got away with it. However in the next lock we discovered this.
We’ve since heard that the best way to get through is to bow haul the boat, sliding it along the towpath coping stones. It also helps if you empty the pound a bit, or at least make sure the by-wash for the lock below isn’t bunged up with debris. We're a bit gutted, because after nearly seven years of doing this we should have worked that out for ourselves. And we should have undone the front corners of the cratch cover. 

We’d planned to stop at Camp Hill, but there wasn’t any room and the weather was still ok, so we filled up with water, emptied the loo, put the roof box back together and carried on. Camp Hill is a useful, secure off-side mooring, but it’s not a particularly pretty place to be, so we weren’t that disappointed.
Through the afternoon we gradually shook off the graffiti covered urban sprawl of the West Midlands and sank back into the countryside...

...mooring up at Kixley Wharf near Knowle just as dusk arrived.

If you’ve been paying attention, Dear Reader, you might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned moving the car of late. That’s because we’d left it at Stourport and come all the way through Birmingham without it. Getting it back was simply a matter of Dave getting the train from Widney Manor, (just outside Knowle) straight to Kidderminster, and then walking down the towpath to Stourport.

Understandably, we stayed at Kixley Wharf for the full 14 days.

While we were there Dave did a few wood wombles, we thinned out a couple of cupboards to the local charity shops and painted some non-slip pads on the roof either side of the rear hatch, making it easier to get on and off the boat when it's in the bottom of a lock.

At the weekend we drove down to Bristol to stay with Anne for a couple of days in her new flat. She took us for lunch in a cafe in a cemetery, which sounds strange, but was really brilliant. If you’re ever in Bristol with a spare afternoon, Arnos Vale Cemetery is well worth a visit. After lunch we went for a walk around the “Southern Skyline”; a route that takes you around the edge of Bristol with some fantastic views over the city

The next Friday we were booked to go to the WRG Bonfire Bash on the Uttoxeter canal, so it was a bit of an inconvenience when the Astra had a catastrophic MOT fail on Thursday afternoon. By Thursday tea-time we’d got a short-list of local cars that fitted our criteria and appointments to see two of them on Friday morning. The first one was a Kia Rio, and the second one was a Citroen C3. We never got to see the C3 because the Rio ticked all our boxes so we bought it there and then. By lunch time we’d taxed and insured it on line and taken the Astra to a scrap yard.
By tea time on Friday we were in a pub in Upper Tean drinking Doombar with a bunch of other WRGies, and by seven o’clock we were in the accommodation eating fish and chips. Quite an exciting day.

Over the next two days we helped transform about a quarter of a mile of jungle into recognisable canal bed and towpath. We had at least five bonfires along the line of the canal, with about half a dozen WRGies feeding each one. Ash, holly, ivy, alder, ferns, brambles and masses of rhododendrons were pulled, slashed, sawn or hacked and unceremoniously heaped on the fires all day long, apart from when we were all under the gazebo eating cake.
 Saturday morning. Jungle.
 The first fires getting going
 Ann-Marie tackles another Rhododendron.
 Dave starts fire number five.
 An hour later.
 Sunday morning and they're still alight.
 Ann-Marie and Malcom wishing they'd brought marsh mallows
Just add water.

After two nights on an airbed in a hall full of snoring WRGies it was lovely to be back in our cozy quiet boat, but despite our aches and pains we had to move the next morning. 

We stopped just before Knowle services to pick up some firewood that Dave had stashed before the weekend, but someone had already taken half of it. The cheek of it! Never mind, there’s always plenty more.
We were over half way down Knowle locks before we realised that working them from the off side required about half the walking back and forth that Ann-Marie had been doing.That’s something we’ll have to remember next time.

We stopped at Kingswood Junction at the end of our new bit of water. Our previous visits to Birmingham have always been via the Stratford canal, but we quite like the GU way and now we know how to get through Ashted without wrecking our boat we’ll certainly use that way again.         

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourport to Stourbridge.

After our unexpectedly quick trip up the river, we arrived in Stourport a month before our dry dock booking. Our continuous cruising license lets us stay anywhere we like for a fortnight, but then we have to move on, so after the weekend we left the river pontoons and moored up for one night in the town before moving on to Wolverly Court. While the boat was there we drove up to Keighley to spend the weekend with Dave & Kate. We hadn’t seen them for ages so it was lovely to catch up. Lots of good food, a walk over Kildwick with Dillan the Dog...

...and a visit to the extraordinary Cliffe Castle Museum.

We had a great time and we promise we won’t leave it so long before the next visit.

Back at the boat we did a few niggley little jobs; a hoop support for the big box made from tent poles we found in a skip, this will stop rainwater pooling on top and turning it green, plus an upgrade to the anchor bracket to make it more secure.

When we first had the idea of stowing the anchor on the rudder it was a temporary affair to see how we got on with it and if it would get in the way. It doesn’t, so it now has a new home.

We also had a drive over to Bewdley for a look round and a reminiscent visit to the Horse and Jockey pub where we first got together many moons ago. Bewdley is a terrific little proper riverside market town, but sadly the pub is no more; where it stood there are now four very posh houses. So instead of an romantic meal in the pub where we met, we parked outside the very substantial gates and had a bag of Cheddars and a swig of coffee from the flask.

We left the lovely mooring at Wolverley and, as Legend rose up the lock, much to the amusement of the crew of a boat waiting to come down, we did a quick tranship of two suitcases and a bag of washing into the car which we’d strategically placed in the pub car park. Very slick. For the first time since we moved aboard, we’d planned a whole fortnight away from the boat - a week in France followed by a week in Northern Ireland with four hours of boredom in Gatwick between. The whole thing made us slightly nervous, we’d never left Legend for that long before so we had to make sure that the place we picked was the most secure we could find. We’d originally thought that Caunsall Bridge would be perfect; we’d left it there before and it had been fine, but when we got there, there were no other boats in sight, and there were three little piles of broken glass in the lay-by. It didn’t fill us with confidence, so we carried on up to Kinver where we found a much better spot; moored behind another boat and opposite some nice looking houses. We accept that leaving our boat on the tow-path for any length of time involves some risk, but the reality is that if we had to pay for a marina every time we wanted to go away, we’d never go away. So we pick our moorings carefully - not too remote, not too urban, not too close to a pub. We also like to be overlooked by a few houses and/or near other occupied boats. We try to think like a thief; “Would I take the risk of breaking in here?” “Is there an easy getaway route/street lighting/CCTV?” If we don’t do our best to reduce the risks we’ll not enjoy our time away.

Sadly, Chloe and Frankie’s Granddad passed away a little while before we went, and the funeral was on the day we were flying to Bordeaux. That meant that everyone was going to be in the UK when we were on our way out. We looked at changing flights but it would have been a lot of money and would have meant cutting our holiday in half so after talking to Frankie we decided to go as planned. They left their car in Bordeaux airport car park on the Wednesday, we flew in on the Thursday, collected their car up and drove home to Jussas. The idea was that we’d go back to the airport on the Friday and pick them up, but it was September ‘17 - they got embroiled in the Ryanair debacle and their flight was cancelled. So we had two days amusing ourselves in southern France (not difficult)...

...and looking after their dogs before eventually going to collect them, along with Paul & Jan, on Sunday afternoon.

Frankie was back at work on Monday morning and we flew back to the UK on Wednesday so we didn’t have long with them, but we managed a visit to Saintes with Paul & Jan...

...and we had a couple of good evenings. And it was good to know that we’d been on hand to look after Iggy and Zac.

Although we flew back to the UK with Easyjet, our flights to NI were with Ryanair. We’d been hearing all week about cancellations but, by some miracle, they went ahead as planned and we got to Chloe’s just in time for tea. Obviously Caleb was the star of the week, cruising around the furniture and constantly looking like he was about to take his first step.

On Sunday we had a trip to Bangor and a walk round the harbour before taking Caleb to the play-park where he did a lot of swinging.

Mondays are Daddy Daycare days so Shandy took us all out to Cave Hill and we walked Paddy up to the top.

Half way up he found a greyhound to play chase with and fell headlong into a muddy puddle. It wouldn't have been half as funny if he hadn't just been clipped.

Tuesday was another travelling day. Chloe dropped us off at the Belfast International on her way to work, Dad picked us up from Gatwick, there was steak in Wetherspoon’s, a visit to Karen and we were home with a load of clean washing and Karen’s panel radiator by bed time.

Happily Legend was in exactly the same place and condition as when we left it, apart from the courgettes which were a lot bigger. Our automatic plant watering system had done a sterling job and nothing had dried out. The next morning our fortnight was up so we cast off and did another suitcase and washing tranship, this time from car to boat in Kinver lock. The next windy hole was at Stourton Junction so we carried on up through beautiful Hyde lock...
 ...and the fabulously named Stewpony lock...
...before turning at the junction and coming back down to what we call Hyde Corner; a smashing mooring on a bend just above Hyde lock. On the way back through Stewpony lock we met John on Borderline who we first met on the G&S and had moored next to for a week or so. It was good to catch up and find out where he’d been all summer. Which was a lot further than us!

We had five days at Hyde Corner during which we had another walk up the Clent Hills, last time they were covered in bluebells, this time it was the beginning of autumn and although it was still green everywhere there were patches of yellow and red bursting out.

As it is now officially autumn, we did our seasonal change over in the boat; all the summer clothes packed away in vacuum bags under the bed and the winter ones out and the lightweight duvet swapped for the big downy one.

We also went off to Nottinghamshire for the IWA AGM. As well as all the usual AGM stuff there was an interesting presentation of IWA’s new logo and vision for the future.
Plus tea and bickies of course and a very nice lunch. We met a lovely couple called Lisa & Peter who have a boat called Diamond 3 and are planning on moving aboard next year. We’ll see you on the cut sometime guys!
In the afternoon we were treated to a trip on Birdswood; the beautiful elecrto-hydraulicly propelled converted butty on the Cromford Canal.

On the way home we stopped off at Kim and Luke’s for the night. George has finished with the terrible twos and is now well into the terrible threes which is rather entertaining, if a little exasperating when he tells you that black is most definitely white and then has a meltdown when you suggest that it might not be.
In the morning, after being woken up by a panda puppet and watching The Cat in The Hat before breakfast, we had the usual compulsory visit to the tip shop, but unusually for us, apart from two small wine glasses, we failed to find that perfect item that up till that moment we hadn’t realised we desperately needed.

Back at the boat that evening it felt a tad chilly, so we lit a fire and of course within minutes we had all the windows and the side hatch open.

Rather than walking back for the car along the tow path like we usually do, we decided to go back over Kinver Edge and say goodbye to one of our favourite places in this part of the world. We're glad we did.

On the way back down to Stourport for our week in dry dock, Dave misjudged a bridge hole and the log box cover support took a hit which pretty much wrecked it. Two of the chrysanthemums got a bit mangled as well. It’s the risk we take with a load of tat on our roof, and it’s not often Dave gets it wrong. A new cover support will be constructed, and it will be lower and more flexible than the old one.

In preparation for the chillier nights we have bought an electric blanket. At first glance that might seem like an illogical thing to get for a 12 volt boat, but it does make sense. On its high setting it has a rating of 70 watts and we plan to have it, and our inverter, switched on for 15 minutes before we go to bed. That works out at about 7 amp-hours out of our 285 amp-hour batteries, and is probably cheaper than the gas it would take to boil a kettle for hot water bottles. Even if it isn’t, it worth it for the extra comfort.
Friday was the start of our week out of the water.
We were down the first staircase in the lovely Stourport basins and, along with a little 35’ boat called Elsinor, into the big dry dock by ten o’clock. It’s the first time we’ve been in a dry dock, previously we’ve gone up a slipway and we have to say that dry docking is much nicer. As the water slowly empties out through the plughole the boat gently comes to rest on the trestles with the windows just above the bank so from inside you have a nice view of the basin.

You then get a gangplank onto whichever end you like so there’s no ladders or steps to climb every time you get in or out. It’s all very civilised.
The hull was pressure washed for us by midday...
...and by dinner time Dave had it wire brushed and washed in a bleach solution. The reason for that is because we think we may have Microbial Induced Corrosion on the hull which may be why the Keelblack that we put on at Easter has all come off below the waterline. (It may also be why we’ve had problems with blacking before) Anyway, if we do have it, bleaching the hull should sort it out.
We were going to re-coat using Keelblack again - they had been good enough to give us another 10 litres as a goodwill gesture after the first lot came off - but the courier prevented that from happening. First they failed to deliver it in time, then they burst one of the containers, so by the time it finally got to us it was Tuesday and we’d already put three coats of traditional bitumen on. Dave also sanded down and put three coats of black gloss on the tumble-homes (the bit between the top rubbing strake and the gunnels) a lot of boats are blacked right up to the gunnels, but we like them shiny and as ours have a traditional lean inwards they don’t get wrecked quite as easily as the more vertical ones on modern boats.
A few other little jobs got done while the boat was out of the water. On Wednesday we got the resident welder to run a line of weld on a couple of places under the back lower rubbing strake. This sits along the bottom of the counter and is at, or just below, the water-line, depending on whether we have full water and diesel tanks or not. We’d noticed when we came out that two small places along it had taken a lot longer to dry out than the rest, leading us to believe that water had been getting in behind it. Dave the welder said that when he did the job he felt the stick ‘give’ in a couple of places, which apparently is a good thing and means the seam is now good.
While he had access to a step ladder the front end, Dave touched up the name on the bow. It looks a lot smarter now. While he was busy doing that Ann-Marie replanted all our bulbs and put some new pansies in the planters.

On the Thursday we left everything to harden off a bit and went to see the Margees for the last time before they sell their boat and move back on dry land. We had planned to help them up the Buckby flight, but the M5 was shut due to an accident. It wasn’t difficult to avoid the M5 but we still had to cross it and all the roads to it were bunged up. After sitting in stop start traffic for an hour and a half we finally got across and then got snarled up in the diversion on the other side. We arrived just in time to open and shut the gates on the top lock, but luckily they’d had another boat to share with so it wasn’t too bad. Once they were moored up we all went for a walk up the Leicester line before they kindly treated us to dinner in the New Inn. And then it was farewell to Large Marge - she goes into brokerage in Crick next week - but not to Laura and Alison, they don’t get rid of us that easily. We’ll definitely be regular visitors to their lovely new house in Shropshire, and its annex!

Friday morning saw us quickly hoovering before we unhooked from the mains, then by 12 o’clock we we’d been re-floated...

...we'd worked our way back up through the staircase into the top basin, filled the water tank and were snugly moored up in the corner. We settled up with Limekiln then jumped in the car and shot off to Mum and Dad’s to help with some tree pruning.

That turned out to be a much bigger job than we’d expected, but we were amazed how quickly we got it done and even more amazed how quickly it all got devoured by the bonfire.
Don’t show these pictures to WRG; they’re a H&S nightmare.

When we left Stourport we went straight back up to Hyde Corner - a fitting place for our last night on the lovely Staffs and Worcester. We’ve had a ball this summer, the River Severn, the G&S, the Droitwich canals, and the bottom end of this one have all been new water for us and we’ve loved every minute. From here we’ll have a dash through Brum, then back down the GU to the Oxford and south to the Thames.

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 ...