Monday 31 July 2017

Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Saul Junction to Splatt Bridge Via Sharpness.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that after three weeks of driving around the country visiting a sizable proportion of our friends and relations we’d have given ourselves a rest, but no. As soon as we’d unpacked and managed to find somewhere to put the leftover food that we’d brought home from the wedding, we were out for a walk round the Arlingham Horseshoe.
Our intention was to follow the loop in the river, walking along the flood bank.

This is a Big River.

Fishing the incoming tide.

It was a bit windy.

Really tall pylons span the river.

There's another lightship.

About half way round it became apparent that if we didn’t re-arrange our plans, by the time we got back to Legend we’d be either walking in the dark or hungry. Neither option was desirable, and the thought of both together was completely unacceptable, so instead we cut across the loop, through Arlingham, Milton End and along the end bit of the Stroudwater Canal, and were home just in time for tea.

Dave’s sister Kate had been one of Cat and Ben’s wedding guests and after the weekend, she’d gone to see a cousin of ours in Leicester. After that she came to stay with us for a week. Dave picked her up from Worcester Train Station and we had a very pleasant evening catching up. In the morning we cast off and with a quick stop at Saul Junction sanitary station made our way to Splat Bridge near Frampton on Severn.
Passing through Saul Junction Bridge.

Kate at the tiller.

As far as we’re concerned, this is the G&S at its best – beautiful views over the river on one side and a glorious village on the other.

We moored up and had a sumptuous picnic lunch on the towpath before going for a walk through Frampton. A tithe barn, endless picturesque cottages with equally picturesque gardens, a large village green dotted with ponds and a cricket pitch, two good-looking pubs and a community shop all await the visitor to this quintessentially English village.

We bought some blackcurrants from a garden gate table and, after a game of Cluedo (which Ann-Marie won), and good helping of delicious Moroccan Chicken, had them for pudding.

Our next move was down to Purton. On the way, Kate opted for a berth in third class in the tender.
Third class accommodation. 
Just messing about in the river.
Next morning we left Kate in charge and walked back for the car, passing the Slimbridge Bird Sanctuary and helping the Shepherds Patch bridge keeper rescue a swimming hedgehog.
Back at Purton we all had a walk around the ships’ graveyard. We came here with John and Cam a couple of years ago when we were staying with them – on that morning it was cold, misty and a bit spooky – today we could see right across the river.

The next day we had another look at low tide.

In thick fog on the night of the 25th of October 1960, two oil tankers travelling up the river from Bristol missed the dock entrance at Sharpness. Not realising their mistake, they continued upstream until they hit one of the Severn & Wye railway bridge supports and burst into flames. Three of the crew were rescued from the river but sadly five were lost.  The wreckage of the two oil tankers can be clearly seen embedded in the mud along with pieces of the bridge which was subsequently demolished; a reminder of just how much respect this big river demands.
From there it was a short move down to the moorings just before Sharpness.

According to our Nicholson Guide there are services at Sharpness but, apart from a tap, there aren’t, so we went for a walk instead.
After crossing the high-level bridge and following the Severn Way round to the dock we came to the picnic site overlooking the piers protecting the sea lock.

We munched through our sandwiches then carried on down the flood-bank for a bit, but it was too hot and humid to go far.

Because of the lack of an Elsan at Sharpness and in order to avoid a cassette crisis, instead of staying the night there we turned round (which, in a channel 80’ wide, we can do almost anywhere) and went back to Purton where the car was. With both cassettes, the rubbish bag and all our re-cycling in the boot and armed with a washing kit each we drove back up to Saul Junction, returning an hour later, showered, clean and fresh. When we got back Edward Elgar was moored behind us, making Legend look very tiny in comparison.
Next morning, with the heatwave still continuing, we drove over to Dursley for a look round. There was a well and some lovely buildings to look at, and we found out that Mr Lister had his factory here. Which means that our engine had come home! On the shelf in a café we noticed a Cluedo box so we had another game and Ann-Marie won again. From there we went to Wotton under Edge where we found a café with outside tables in a lovely little cottage garden. Despite intending to just have a light lunch, we were tempted by the Full English, and then felt compelled to work off the calories and guilt by climbing up to the Tyndale Monument.

This time when we got back T.S. John Jerwood was moored up behind us, again making us look tiny. After tea we had an evening cruise back down to Sharpness. First thing in the morning T.S. John Jerwood came past us heading for the lock and the morning tide. Dave was immediately up and out with the camera.

He got to the high level bridge just in time to see the bridge keepers shutting it...
No push buttons for these guys!
...and managed to get round to the lock in time to catch the John Jerwood as it set off down the river towards Bristol.

After Kate went home we boated back up to Splatt Bridge where we moored up with the solar panels in the sun and set up the latest of our (hopefully) Good Ideas; an automatic watering system for the plants on the roof.
For £6 we bought a 12 volt timer switch…
...which is attached to a small bilge pump…

 …which hangs in the water and goes into a micro irrigation system…
…which, via several T junctions ends up at one of these drippers in each plant pot.
With a bit of experimenting we found that 45 minutes each day was enough to keep the saucers full and, if we also emptied the fridge and turned it off, wouldn’t put too much strain on the batteries. We set it to come on each morning, giving the solar panels plenty of time to recharge the batteries even on dull days.

Having that set up and taking care of things means that we can go away from the boat in the summer for as long as we like knowing that a) the plants won’t die, and b) it will look as if it is continuously occupied. Also, in the winter, we can plug a couple of lights into the timer which we can set for different times each day on a weekly cycle. Very handy.

A problem has raised its head over the past few months. If you were paying attention Dear Reader, you will remember that we blacked Legend at Easter using a relatively new product called Keelblack. Thinking that he was doing the right thing, Dave put a coat of rust converter on before the blacking, but over the last couple of months it has become apparent that this was not a good idea. The rust converter and the Keelblack are incompatible; something Dave would have known if he’d read the rust converter tech sheet properly, and all the blacking is coming off.
We’ve written to Keelblack who, without admitting responsibility, have offered to give us another 10 litres, which is as good as we could hope for.
So, because there is a year-long waiting list at Hawne Basin, we’ve booked into the dry dock at Stourport. The first booking they had was in October which means that we’ll be kicking our heels down here for a little while longer than we first thought, and then going up to Stourport and onto the Staffs and Worcestershire canal rather than the River Avon to Stratford. The end result remains the same though; down the Oxford canal to the Thames in the spring, then the Wey, Basingstoke and the Kennet and Avon over the next two years.

One canal that Legend can’t get to (without the help of a lorry) is the Mon and Brec, so when we found out there was going to be a Waterways Recovery Group canal camp there we signed up for it. WRG is something we’ve only recently got involved with; so far we’ve been to two weekends so a week-long camp will be a step into the dark. This afternoon (July 15th) we packed up our steel toe-capped boots, every sock we own, a bag full of scruffs each and as many waterproofs as we could find and piled it all into the boot. As well as us newbies there are going to be 15 volunteers camping in a church hall for a week and we’ll let you know how it all went next time.

Friday 14 July 2017

Gloucester and Sharpness Ship Canal. Gloucester Docks to Saul Junction.

All the bridges on the G&S either swing or lift, effectively removing any height restriction which would otherwise prevent shipping from the Bristol Channel reaching the docks at Gloucester. This, combined with a deep, wide and mostly straight channel can result in the masts and bridges of all manner of craft drifting past the window of your very small looking narrowboat.
There is a gathering of tall ships each year in the docks. All the bridges are manned and controlled by traffic lights, which makes it very easy to navigate, you just approach the bridge slowly, the red light starts to flash which means that the bridge is opening, either by electric power of more traditional methods...

...then once it is fully open you get a green light and away you go. A few of the bridges are high enough for narrowboats to get under them, but you still need to wait for a green light.

Gloucester is a terrific city. We went into the tourist information office; here are some of the things that they told us to go and look at.

This is the timbered house in Maverdine Lane. It was closed off to the public until recently and it is very hard to photograph because it is only a couple of feet from the building next to it but, for the same reason, it is in fantastic condition. we wouldn't have known it was there if the TIO hadn't told us.
Waking up after a night spent mostly wobbling about on a pontoon in the docks convinced us that, although mooring in the city was exciting and vibrant and fun, we really needed to go somewhere a little more solid. Llanthony Bridge, which separates the docks from the canal proper, was only about two hundred yards away, so we gave the bridge keeper a ring to let him know we were coming before we cast off. (Most of the bridge phone numbers are in the Nicholson guide and most of them are right).
We didn’t go far, just to the fourteen day moorings on the quay near Sainsbury’s. There we found some mooring rings that were so big that it took both of us to lift them up, and it gave us some idea of the size of the ships that used to trade here.
Moorings don’t come much more solid than that.

While other boats came and went, Legend remained tied to the Big Rings for eleven days. During that time the Astra took a bit of a beating. First we drove down to Bude to stay with Jacqui and Al for a couple of days. We stopped at Dunster Castle and Water Mill on the way, which was rather splendid...

...then drove over some lovely roads across Exmoor towards Cornwall.
At one point we went through a ford which produced a worrying cloud of steam from one of the front wheels. Closer inspection revealed a sticking brake calliper which, when we got to J&A’s, was very hot and very smelly. Dave and Al had a trip out to Euro Car Parts in Barnstaple the following morning and by lunch time we had a shiny new calliper fitted. And so, our long-standing tradition of turning up at the Allen’s house just in time to use their tools to mend our means of transport was successfully upheld.

On Sunday we all went for a walk on Dartmoor…

…then on Monday morning drove back up the M5 to Gloucester.

Two days later we were off again in the opposite direction; this time to Sheringham to stay with Diane and Richard in their lovely caravan looking out over the North Sea.

Our somewhat crooked trip back to the boat took us to Karen’s for post and tablets, Mum and Dad’s for a Father’s Day lunch, and an overnight stop in Hungerford on Large Marge with the lovely Laura and Alison.

By the time we got back to Gloucester for the second time the trip meter was heading for seven hundred miles. Poor old car.

Despite watering them before we left, after five days away we half expected all the plants on our roof to have shrivelled up and gone crispy, but happily we were wrong; they were all still green and verdant. On the table we found a note.
Jim and Jenn are a couple with whom we had had a brief chat as they passed our boat on the previous Wednesday. While we were away, they’d moored next to Legend and looked after our plants for us. How kind is that? We really wanted to say thank you, but after such a brief meeting we really weren’t sure we’d recognise them again. However, when we moved down to the moorings at Rea Bridge we spotted Nb Dire Straits tied up ahead of us and it struck a chord. It was a fabulously hot afternoon and we all sat in the shade by the towpath comparing waterway notes.
Lovely, genuine people. Now we know Jim & Jenn, Jim & Den, John & Jac and Jon & Jo.

Over the next week we emptied the bedroom and sealed it off from the rest of the boat before sanding down the roof and wall panels and re-varnishing.
This was the last room to be done and now, apart from a little bit in the corridor, matches the rest of the boat. We’ve used Dark Oak Satin on the frames and Clear Satin on the panels to give it more depth and we’re really pleased with the result.

According to the Severn Bore timetable there was going to be a series of two and three star bores coming up the river on successive spring tides at the weekend. We’d never seen this natural phenomenon before and were really excited about the prospect of it being right on our doorstep. Bores on the Severn travel at about ten miles an hour and the river is very twisty so the sport of Bore Chasing is a relatively easy and relaxed affair. We phoned John & Cam and asked if they’d like to come over for the weekend which they did. Over the two days we managed to cram in six sightings at five different locations. On Saturday morning before they arrived, we walked the half mile or so from Rea Bridge to the Severn Way on Elmore lane and watched it come past. In the evening with John and Cam in the back seat, and armed with a rather decadent picnic and our OS map, we set off with a spotting plan. We drove up to Gloucester, over the bridge and down the other side of the river to the pub at Newnham on Severn where, beer in hand, we watched it push a little gang of surfers and canoeists up stream.
After a further ten minutes in the car we arrived at Minsterworth Church where we devoured our picnic while waiting for it to appear round the corner.
Following that there was another ten minute drive to Telford’s Bridge at Over where we watched it for the third time as it churned its way through the bridge supports in the approaching dusk.
If we had been expecting a towering tidal wave charging up the river, destroying everything in its path and flooding the countryside for miles around we would have been somewhat disappointed, on the face of it it appears a rather mild affair, often there isn’t even a wave, just a bulge in the river travelling upstream, however if you watch the edges where it crashes along the bank you see a different story; there is power there, and lots of it. Once it has passed by, you find you are looking out over a much bigger river than you were a moment ago. A bigger, more angry river with large trees bobbing about on it like corks, going hell for leather in the wrong direction. It really is quite spectacular. And that was only a three star; it can go up to six.

The Malvern Hills had been tempting us from behind Gloucester ever since we arrived. On a sunny Monday we finally put our boots on and went for a walk up there.

From Rea Bridge we moved on to Saul Junction where the Stroudwater crosses the G&S at a canal crossroads. The Stroudwater Navigation was built in 1779 to take boats from a tidal lock on the River Severn to Stroud and pre-dates the G&S Canal by nearly 50 years. It was extended to Lechlade on the River Thames by the building of the Thames and Severn Canal and, until the K&A was completed in 1810, provided the only viable inland cargo route from Bristol to London.
These two canals were abandoned in 1954 and, under the new name of The Cotswold Canals, have been the subject of a succession of dedicated restoration societies almost ever since.  The G&S was built with a slightly higher water level than the Stroudwater, meaning that a new lock had to be built at the junction to bring the Stroudwater up to the new level. This lock was recently restored and had new gates and paddle gear fitted.
We’ve only seen horizontal sliding paddles like this on the Rufford Branch of the L&L and they didn’t have the rack and pinion arrangement, so we think they are unique. Towards the river, beyond this lock, the navigation has been in-filled for half a mile or so, but after that it is in water almost to the end.

The last bit however, where the tidal lock used to be, is now the garden of Lock House.

As we were walking through the little village of Saul we noticed a poster for a performance of As You Like It performed by TheHandlebards in the open, at a farm about three miles from the boat. We had a free evening and the weather forecast wasn’t disastrous, so we bought a couple of tickets and went along. Luckily we took the car, because the forecast was as wrong as wrong can be and the heatwave finally broke. It started raining as we left the boat and got steadily worse as the evening progressed. There were thick grey clouds hanging over us with hardly a breath of wind and it just rained and rained. We took waterproofs, so we didn’t get too wet...
...but the four girls who made up the cast couldn’t have been wetter if they’d performed in a swimming pool.
Look who got roped in!

They carried on regardless, bless ‘em, and got a very soggy standing ovation at the end of it.

The next day we were packing for a weekend away. Our niece – Cat - had hired a huge house near Kidderminster and invited about 120 friends and family to help her and Ben celebrate their marriage.
It was a fantastic weekend; endless food and drink, games, music, a really beautiful wedding ceremony and reunions of cousins that haven’t been in one place for years.

We did our bit to help with the cooking of the pizza on Friday night and the full English on the Saturday morning, but as soon as Chloe and Shandy turned up with Caleb we abandoned the kitchen and had baby cuddles instead.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...