Sunday 27 September 2020

Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Stratford to Draper's Bridge.

 We spent a glorious weekend under Shakespeare’s watchful gaze in Bancroft Basin.

While the Bard was keeping an eye on Legend we went for a walk up to the Welcombe Hills country park. There’s a very pointy monument up there surrounded by some very pleasing views.

We also had a stroll down the Tramway for our weekend Waitrose fix.

On the Sunday morning Kim and Luke phoned and asked if we were about, so there was a flurry of scone making and child proofing then a fabulous afternoon in the park with a boomerang that wouldn’t come back and pink ice-creams.

Dave was up early on Monday morning flattening our roof-tat before we reversed off our pontoon and exited the basin under the rather low bridge.

Our smooth departure came to an abrupt halt above the first lock where the pound was virtually empty.

Dave carefully edged Legend out of the lock; it cleared the cill, but it wasn’t going any further... Ann-Marie ran some water down from the pound above until we got floating again. Half way across the pound Dave ran aground again, so Ann-Marie had to do some more winding. While all this was going on a hire boat appeared in the pound we were stealing water from. Thankfully they were an experienced crew so they weren’t phased by what was going on, and before long we were all on our way.
The bottom 5 locks on the Stratford are hard work; gates that are really stiff and heavy, gates that won’t open all the way or won’t stay closed, difficult paddles and leaky pounds and, where a bridge has been widened, there’s a horrible truncated gate beam with a 90° angle that looks like it’s made out of a kid’s Mechano set, and feels about as sturdy.
On the plus side we got a bucket full of crab apples from a tree on the off side and had a shower while we filled with water. We moored up at the bottom of Wilmcote locks where there was a nice wide towpath and a bit of a verge that we could work on.

First job was getting our freebie washing machine out onto the towpath to see if it worked. Once there, we switched our big inverter on and plugged it in.

The lights came on (Hurrah!), then everything flickered and the lights went off again.(Boo) It clearly didn’t like the quasi sinewave output from our big inverter, so we switched to the small pure sinewave one. This time the lights stayed on (Hurrah!). We poured a bucket of water through the drawer, put it on a program, turned the temperature to cold and off it went. (Hurrah, hurrah!) And it span and it drained and it didn’t leak.

That was enough fun for one day, so Ann-Marie set too cleaning it, while Dave finished off the shelf that it’s going to sit on, put a spur across the boat from the hot pipe and made a temporary platform to go on top of the engine covers so it would be easier to slide the machine into position. He also fixed a couple of hooks at the back of the recess so we can strap it in position; we really don’t want a washing machine walking out of its hole on its final spin while we’re under way.

The next day we put it back in the engine room, not in it’s hole, but close enough to the plumbing so we could test it. We hooked it all up, put some expendable clothes and cloths in and switched it on. It started filling, but we noticed that some water was dribbling out from under the detergent drawer. We cured that simply by pulling the drawer out a fraction, and put it on the list of things to investigate. Sadly, with the drum full of heavy washing, when it got to the rotating part of the cycle it was too much for little 350w inverter which tripped out, so we went to plan B and put the gennie on. It was perfectly happy with that and finished the wash with no problems. While that load was on the line in the breeze we put another load through with the gas boiler switched on. That came out rather scuzzy, so we did another load as hot as our boiler would go with old towels and soda crystals in it. The rinsing water told the story, lots of scale and crud came out so we gave it a good clean inside with white vinegar. A good clean up of the detergent drawer cured the dribble and cleaning out the holes at the bottom of the door seal has made it rinse a lot better. It’s done several washes since then and it’s all fine.

Why then was it abandoned by the side of the road? Obviously someone couldn’t be bothered to dispose of it properly, but why get rid of a working machine? Well it might be that the heating element doesn’t work, we’ll never know because we’ll never use it. Or it could be that they moved in with a bigger, newer one, or any number of other reasons. But we really don’t care, we’ve got a working washing machine on our boat and we’re immensely happy about that, (Ann-Marie especially, because washing is a Pink Job). We’ve also done Evesham Town Council and the world a favour by keeping it out of landfill.

We’ll obviously need a bigger PSW inverter if we want to run it off solar or while we’re under way, and we still need to put a drain hole and skin fitting through the side of the boat - that will have to wait until the towpath is on the other side though, it’s getting a bit cold for waders. 

During the day, CRT had been doing emergency repairs on one of the locks further up the flight.

That evening, while we we were sitting at the table engrossed in our weekly on-line quiz, we suddenly realised that the boat had begun to lean over quite dramatically. While Ann-Marie went through the boat carrying out damage limitation...

...Dave leapt out, grabbed a head torch and a windlass and shot off down the towpath, expecting to find a breach or some other catastrophe.

About half a mile away, what he found was the next lock, with the top gate wide open and the bottom paddle fully up; a situation that can’t happen by accident. By the time he’d shut everything and got back, all the other boaters at the bottom of the locks, (which numbered quite a few hire boats, due to the temporary lock closure) were out of their boats and doing headless chicken impressions. Dave and Chris from the boat next to us went up to the flight and opened up all three bottom locks to try and refill our pound. It took nearly all the water from the big pound above them to get everyone floating again, which was fortunate, because the works team had got the lock above that drained, so there wasn’t any more to be had. It was just as well that Dave had stopped what was left of our water disappearing when he did. Anyway, drama over, we closed everything down again and all went to bed, hoping that whoever did it wasn’t going to come back and have another go.

Next morning we were still floating and Dave was off to go and retrieve our car from Stourport where it had been for the last three weeks. Through a Facebook group called Car Moves on the Cut, he’d found a chap called Paul who was boating from the Stratford canal to Stourport. He was going to give Dave a lift there in his car, and Dave was going to give him a lift back in ours. How neat. Dave was also going to drop into Limekiln Chandlers and pick up a skin fitting. Paul and Dave got on like a house on fire, it turned out they’re both the same age, both have the same ailments, both used to drive trucks, and both have a fairly similar easygoing live-and-let-live attitude to life. A very enjoyable trip and a new firm friendship.

Having got our car back we made good use of it with a trip over to Mum & Dad’s and Karen’s. Over the last goodness knows how many years, a bump has been very gradually growing in the hallway floor in Mum & Dad’s bungalow, and we’d put that weekend aside to go over and investigate what was going on. Sulphation and subsidence had been suggested, but as there was no collateral damage, we thought that was unlikely. It didn’t take long to take up the floor tiles, chisel the screed out and chop down through the concrete to find out what had happened.

There was a foundation wall that had been built half way across the hallway and the concrete had been poured around it, but not at a sufficient depth to be stable over the long term. Over the years the concrete had settled slightly around the wall which had caused the bump. 

We put some bolts into the wall and some re-enforcing bars along the hole and tamped some new concrete into the hole up to about 25mm below the top.

Next day after it had set, we mixed some mortar and put a new screed topping on. Quite an easy job, and nice to be able to help out. Dave used the left-over mortar to re-point some of the crazy paving round the fish pond and Ann-Marie gave Mum a hand in the garden, sorting out plant pots, putting a new greenhouse up and generally moving things that Mum can’t manage.

Dave went for a blood test while we were over there and had a chat with the pharmacist about collecting his repeat prescriptions. That was a very informative conversation; she told him about the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS), a paper-free system for sending prescriptions to pharmacies electronically. What makes it good for us is that if you don’t nominate a pharmacy, it will hold a prescription virtually, until you go into any pharmacy with your NHS number and request it. So now, although it’s always nice to go down every now and then to see the folks, we don’t have to go every month to pick up Dave’s meds. We’re planning to take Legend back up north next year; we still haven’t done the Trent or anything off it, and the Standedge tunnel on the Huddersfield canal is still beckoning, so being able to collect a prescription from anywhere on our route is a Godsend.

When we got back to Legend we found that Paul and Maxine had moored Nb Rosemary behind us so, inevitably, that evening turned into an impromptu towpath party, and the next couple of days were really good fun.

After they left, Dave finally got round to making a new bracket for Legend’s alternator. A bit of technical detail might be useful here. On Lister engines, the engine pulley is on the camshaft, which means that it runs at half speed, and as it’s a slow revving engine anyway that often results in the alternator generating very little power - if any - at tick over. At some point in it’s history, someone added a bigger belt pulley to the engine to make the alternator run faster; a sensible idea if you need to charge the batteries without moving. It’s not something we do because we use the genny to run a mains battery charger, but it’s still handy to have that option. Anyway, they had to move the alternator to get it to line up with the new pulley, which meant using a different method to support the belt tensioner. Whoever did it chose a very bodge method and it’s been on our list of things to sort out ever since we moved in. However, so far it hasn’t broken, the pulleys are still aligned, and the belt hasn’t been slipping. Recently though things have changed. As we already had an electric kettle to use excess solar in the summer, in and effort to save even more gas we though it would be a good idea to use it for making brews when we were under way. That put quite a load on the alternator, but nothing beyond it’s design capabilities. It was however beyond the capabilities of the bodge job tensioning bracket which flexed and allowed the belt to slip. As we’re now planning on using the washing machine while we’re going along, fixing the bracket suddenly became high priority.

This is what Dave made out of an old roller support off a boat trailer.

He was quite proud of his achievement, and posted it on a narrowboat technical forum with some pictures. One keen eyed forum member pointed out that the pulleys, although nicely aligned, are different widths; something Dave hadn’t even considered, let alone noticed. It turns out that the engine pulley is 13mm and the alternator is 10mm. So now we need to find a replacement alternator pulley, a task which is proving to be trickier that we first thought, and the list hasn’t got any shorter.

On the Friday,we took the car into Stratford for an MOT. While we were waiting we bought a pack of stubbies and wandered across to Bancroft Basin where Paul and Maxine were moored. They were going off down the Avon the next day so it was nice to be able to say goodbye. We’ll keep in touch and no doubt our paths will cross again sometime. We’re happy to report that our faithful little Kia passed another MOT. No mention was made of Dave’s brake pipes, which is a good thing, and we already knew about the couple of advisories that cropped up, so it was all good.

With the car moved forward to Edstone Aqueduct, we finally climbed Wilmcote locks and found a beautiful sun trap mooring at Draper Bridge.

Climbing the flight was fabulous, wall to wall sunshine, lots of boats going both ways and a couple of CRT volunteers helping out as well. Perfect boating to a perfect Indian summer mooring.

After this week the weather is going to start getting colder, soon there’ll be stews on the fire and muddy boots in the welldeck, but we don’t mind. The summer of 2020 will be talked about for a long time, and it’s now looking like the winter probably will be as well, but as we snuggle into our toasty little boat, we’ll look back on the good stuff; the unprecedented bounty of wild fruit, the new solid friendships, the fabulous sunny days and the adventures we’ve had.

Thursday 17 September 2020

Stourport to Stratford. Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. River Severn. River Avon.

After Legend came out of dry dock we had another week in and around Stourport. We found a lovely quiet spot about a mile up the Staffs and Worcester at Wilden and tied up for three nights while we did some re-arranging.

The reason we need to re-arrange stuff is because, after literally years of discussion and agonising, we’ve decided to install a washing machine. Anyone who’s ever visited Legend will know that there really isn’t anywhere to put any more of anything in this boat, so getting a full size front-loader in is going to present something of a challenge.

So, Dear Reader, no doubt the question foremost in your mind is “Where on earth is it going to go?”.

Well… The conventional place would be the bathroom.

We could take out the bath, put a shower in, and free up enough room. However to actually get a machine into the middle of the boat, down the corridor and into the bathroom would mean demolishing, rebuilding and re-tiling at least one bathroom wall. Which is not the the end of the world for a one-off event, but machines go wrong and wear out, so at some point we’d need to do it all over again, so it really isn’t practical.

A while ago we passed a boat with a washer in the well deck. We could do that, it's big enough....

...easy to get in and right by the water tank - but we really like our well deck to be the least cluttered place on the boat where we can sit and relax on a sunny afternoon and we’re loathe to compromise that.

So where does that leave? Well it’s obvious, that 5’ by 5’ cupboard at the back of the boat where we keep all the tools, spare parts, ironmongery, ropes, windlasses and all our other boating stuff. And a bloomin’ great Lister. Yes, the overstuffed engine room/shed. We’d dismissed it previously because it’s already full, but it actually makes the most sense. Compared to anywhere else it's relatively easy to get a machine in and out, there’s power and water there, (the water pipes go all the way to the back, presumably from the days when the boat had a water cooled engine and there was a calorifier back there) and it’s right by the tiller, where the whirly washing line goes.

So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past week - thinning out all the ‘that’ll-come-in-handy-one-day’ stuff, collating everything else to leave a big square hole and re-designing all the cupboards and shelving so that we can fit a washing machine in there and still get to the engine.

Of course there’s still the plumbing to sort out, and the waste pipe, which means another hole in the side of the boat, but it’ll be next to the bilge pump outlet, so it should be tidy enough.

Have we got enough power? Well, if the machine were to heat the water, then frankly, no. Our big inverter is only 1kw and it wouldn’t stand a chance. However, were going to get a machine that will do a cold wash and fill it from our Morco gas boiler. This is a tried and tested method among boaters with gas boilers - you have the washer directly connected to the boiler, switch the boiler on to fill the machine, then turn the gas off so that it just runs cold water through for rinsing. That way you only need enough power for the motors (500-700w) rather than the heater (2kw). To ease the strain on the batteries, we’ll do wash loads when were cruising, or if we’re desperate, run the generator.

It’ll be a month or two till we’re ready to buy, but it’s an exiting project to be doing.

Dave’s been going out most mornings picking blackberries, so there’s a constant supply, and Ann-Marie’s been turning a fair few of them into pies and crumbles. On his morning forage before we left Wilden, Dave discovered a big oak tree across the canal between us and the next winding hole.

He rang CRT who said it had been reported the previous evening and that there’d be a team out to deal with it later on that day. True to their word, by 11am the towpath was clear...

...and at 3pm a convoy of 5 boats came past our window heading for Stourport, indicating that the navigation was open again.

We were up and off early the next morning. Past the tree,

...up to the winding hole at Pratts Wharf, (there used to be a short branch from here to a pair of locks that went down to the river, allowing boats to load up at a mill.)...

...then back down the Stourport basin. We left Legend safely tied up and drove over to Wenlock Edge to see Laura and Alison. We had a really lovely day with them and their latest avian acquisitions, they’ve got a jackdaw and a jay which were rescued and they’re looking after them until they’re ready to go back to the wild (the birds, not Laura and Alison.)

Our plans for the next day had been to set off down the river, but it was horribly wet and windy so we stayed put instead and binged Netflix.

The following morning was much better; still a bit blustery but bright and sunny so we followed Nb La Suvera down the staircases and out onto the Severn.

 They turned into the Droitwich canal, and we carried on downstream to Worcester. We turned and moored at the racecourse, but after a cup of tea decided to go down a bit further and check out the pontoon moorings at Diglis. Unfortunately, when we got there the last space had just been taken, so it was a toss-up between going back up to the racecourse, or continuing down the river to Upton-on-Severn. The weather was good and we had plenty of time so we carried on through Diglis lock and snuck in on the inside of the Upton pontoon.

Two days later we turned off the Severn onto the River Avon.

New water for us and we were quite excited about it. Like the Basingstoke Canal and the River Wey, the Avon Navigation isn’t in the hands of CRT or the Environment Agency, so a visitor licence is required. Although it used to be in two separate parts, in 2010 the upper and lower Avon trusts joined forces to become the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) and they do a fine job of keeping their waterway in good nick.

Everyone had told us how lovely the Avon is so we were looking forward to our two weeks. As we rose up Avon lock into beautiful Tewkesbury it really felt like the start of a holiday.

Until the Covid restrictions you could buy an ANT licence from the lock keeper, but now it needs to be done on line. We’d tried on the way down the Severn without success, the website just kept chucking us out, so the locky let us moor up above the lock while we sorted it out over the phone instead.

We stayed in Tewkesbury for 2 nights on the mill stream moorings and loved every minute.

We walked round the town and the gardens, round the Abbey and the Ham, where we got some lovely apples.

Paul, who did our survey in the dry dock, lives in Tewkesbury, and he and his partner Hannah popped round for a cuppa while we were there. It was nice to see them in an unofficial setting.

On the second afternoon we walked up the riverbank to Twining where two of our WRG mates - Nigel on Nb Elgin, and Karen on Nb Stella, were moored for the night on their way round the Avon Ring. We had a catch-up in the Fleet Inn; the first time we’d been in a pub since lock-down started, followed by a rather wobbly walk home as dusk fell.

In the morning Stella and Elgin came down to the lock and we waved them off on their way to the Severn before turning round and heading up to Eckington.

Boating on the Avon was just as beautiful as everyone had told us it would be.

The banks are low, so you can see for miles and the views are spectacular. The towns and villages are lovely and full of gorgeous houses with some spectacular gardens leading down to the water’s edge. The locks are more functional than pretty, with lots of concrete and big steel gates, but surrounded by willows and reeds they still manage to portray a sense of tranquillity.

You can really only moor up at the recognised mooring sites; this isn’t exactly a rule, there just isn’t anywhere else you can get into the bank. It’s not a problem though, there are numerous moorings provided by the the trust, the town councils and the many riverside pubs along the way. We had no trouble finding a spot each night, and we were very impressed with the facilities. Most of the moorings are “floodsafe” with sliding rings on 8’ high poles to secure your boat which, along with the occasional bit of flotsam high up in a tree, remind the navigator that this river can, and does, bite back; 2007 saw some of the highest water levels on record.

From Tewkesbury up to Pershore, the landscape is dominated by Bredon Hill, a prominent lump of Basalt in the middle of the Vale of Evesham. After two nights at Eckington picnic site while we waited for the wind to die down we moved on to Great Comberton where we donned our walking boots and took a packed lunch up to the summit.

Compared to the soaring peaks of the Pennines, Bredon hill, at a mere 299m is a rather paltry affair, but the 360° views it commands over the Vales of Evesham and Gloucester are up there with the best of them. We ate our lunch at the top of a ridge, while a Kestrel hovered in the updraught just above our heads.

We had a lovely morning boating from Great Comberton to Pershore and we almost got there in the dry, but the heavens opened just as the moorings came into view and by the time we’d tied up we were soaked. We really liked Pershore and had two days there wandering around.

There’s an Adam’s Axe of an Abbey to look at, lots of little independent shops and an indoor market, where we got some new Cyclamen plants and, in our usual serendipidous style, the Pershore Plum Festival was on while we were there. Of course in 2020 it wasn’t the usual annual extravaganza of the genus
 prunus, but they’d set up “Plum Alley” outside Asda, and the Plum Princess was there along with a couple of stalls selling big punnets of various local plum varieties. We bought some Victorias which were perfectly ripe and gorgeous.

On the way up between Pershore and Evesham, we found the going getting harder as we pushed our way against the flow below Fladbury lock, so much so that on the final stretch it felt like we were barely making headway. As we rounded the bend to the lock channel and the huge, terrifying looking Fladbury weir came into view it felt like we’d been transported back in time from the gentle little Avon to the flooded and fearsome Thames.

 The flood marker on the lock wall was well into the red and we wondered if there’d been some catastrophic weather event in the catchment area above us. But no, above the lock the Avon was back to it’s lovely calm, serene self...

...and when we mentioned it to another boater, they said it was always like that.

At Evesham we had a very social weekend. First Karen and Andrew came to see us and we had a proper summer holiday day with them.

There was the customary Nb Legend cream tea to start with, then a short boating hop from the ANT moorings to the more picturesque ones just before Workmans Bridge.

Then it was Pasties in the Abbey gardens overlooking the river, a wander round the town with a tea shop stop, and finally a game of Mexican Train and Ann-Marie’s wonderful Lasagne for dinner. Fantastic, and really good to be able to have visitors on board again.

The next day we had a lovely walk up the riverbank and up Greenhill, before spending far too long in Herbie’s Coffee Shop eating lunch and watching the world go by.

On the way back to the boat we passed an abandoned washing machine that was on the street in Evesham, presumably left there by person or person’s unknown when they’d bought a new one. Coincidentally it was pretty much the exact slimline model that we’d been considering for the boat, but we decided that it was too far to carry it and it almost certainly wasn’t working anyway.

Later on John and Cam came over for the evening. We had a stroll along the river and stopped in for a couple of pints in the garden of Ye Old Red Horse, a very nice pub that John delivers beer to. We’d booked a table at in Indian restaurant and found we had half an hour to kill. One of us, and we’re not saying who, said “That’s just enough time to pick up a washing machine!” Twenty minutes later, with the help of both John’s cavernous Fiat Doblo and his impressive muscle power, the abandoned washing machine was in our engine room. Hopefully there won’t be too much wrong with it.

The Indian was delicious by the way.

We’d planned to go to Bidford for a couple of days, but when we got to Offenham lock it looked so lovely we stopped there instead and went to Bidford the next morning. There isn’t a huge amount of mooring at Bidford-on-Avon and we ended up doing a big figure-of-eight just before the bridge to get onto the pub moorings at the Frog.

There was rain forecast for the afternoon, but we really needed to get out and do something active, so we donned the waterproofs and went off down the Avon River Walk to Cleeve Prior and had a picnic under a brolly at a quiet bend in the river.

Nowadays it’s a pleasant fishing spot with a little canoe landing stage and a couple of picnic tables, but peer a bit further through the undergrowth and look a bit closer at the map and a different story is revealed. There used to be a big mill and weir on this site with a lock on the other side of the river. It also boasted a ford across the weir, giving the local cattle farmers access to summer grazing in the Vale of Gloucester. The history of all the mills on the Avon can be found in a fascinating archive called the Cleeve Prior Chroniclers.

We dodged the rain again the next day, pulling over for coffee and Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz at Bidford Grange lock while it piddled down, before pushing on to Welford lock. The mooring there was very quiet and peaceful, with a good supply of blackberries and even a nice big chunk of ash just waiting for a handy bloke with a bow saw. There was just the slight down side of being on the lock island with no access to the footpath on the other side of the river and the phone signal wasn’t brilliant, but we managed.

We followed the last winding stretch of the Avon up to Stratford the next morning, our last on the river, and moored up on the park directly opposite the RSC.

It was fabulous being there but tinged with sadness as it was the last day of our river holiday.

We celebrated by having fish and chips for tea, and only found out later that it was National Chippy Day. Result!

In the morning we hopped up the lock into Bancroft basin. It’s the second time we’ve been there, the first time was eight and a half years ago on Mother’s day when we came down the canal and the town was thronging with foreign tourists. Click Here to go back in time This time it was still quite busy, but the coach loads of Japanese and American visitors were very conspicuous by their absence. We can only hope the tourist industries in places like Stratford can weather this storm and still be there when it’s over.

With a bit of jiggery pokery we got ourselves onto the same pontoon we were on last time, right under the Shakespeare monument, with Hamlet looking sternly at Yorick’s skull just outside our front door. 


New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...