Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Chasewater

29th September

On a bright sunny morning we started by completing the section of the Tame Valley Canal up to Rushall Junction where we turned onto the Rushall Canal and shortly afterwards the bottom lock.



The first two locks went well but then a bottom gate refused to shut with something solid behind it. After limited efforts to shift the blockage it was onto the BW help line yet again! Before long the control centre rang back to say that someone was on the way, just as a truck pulled up feet away! They were able to assemble a very long pole with a fork lifting end. First attempts retreived a brick but that was not the main problem. A few minutes later and a large water-logged log was pulled out and we were on our way once more! We were most impressed by the service that BW provided.



At the top lock we stopped for a 'full service' before continuing on to the Daw End Branch. After the long, straight sections of the Rushall Canal, this was quite the opposite: a classic contour canal which meanders around. However, the scenery remained pleasant, despite the proximity of various developments. Only short sections were industrial and none of it obtrusive. The water was extremely clear and it was possible to see plenty of fish - at one time we spotted on at least two feet long.

At Catshill Junction we turned onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal towards Anglesey Basin. The main route of the W & E continued from Ogley Junction but this part has long been closed, followingn the failure of a long tunnel. There are plans to restore the link across to the Coventry Canal. This would transform usage of the northern BCN by creating several 'rings' - routes that would compete with the very popular Warwickshire Ring.



The canal ends below the dam that forms Chasewater reservoir. We moored up and walked up to see the view and took a look at the so-called Innovation Centre (starter workshops and a cafe for visitors to the lake)



Back down the way we had come to Catshill where we took the other turning - another part of the Wyrley and Essington. As the day neared sunset the temperature fell quickly and so, when we arrived at Pelsall Junction (the turning for the Cannock Extension Canal) we spotted a mooring alongside an open public grassed area and quickly decided to make an early stop tonight!
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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Engineering Day

It was less misty than the previous couple of mornings and soon became quite pleasant. Despite being so close to Birmingham, thew landscape was distinctly rural as we cruised up towards the Curdworth flight. Across the fields we could see a large number of cars arriving and being parked in rows. The first people we asked said that it was a car boot sale but a later suggestion, which seemed better, was that it was people arriving to watch the golf at The Belfry course. The nearby motorway was hardly audible until we reached the top lock as it is buried in a cutting.



The steady pace through this flight was deceptive for what was to follow. At the middle lock of the Minworth flight of three, we could not close the bottom gate after the boat had entered the lock. We then spent the next two hours clearing assorted rubbish, including a large ball of old rope but still the gate subbornly refused to shut. Then we discovered that the rubber seal along the bottom of the gate had become cdetached and was hanging down over the sill. After hooking it up and tying a rope around the end, eventually the gate was persuaded to close. Although leaking quite badly, we were able to fill the lock and proceed.



After filling up with water and dealing with rubbish below the top lock, we continued on our way (Two BW men arrived to deal with the lock problem as we arrived). The canal was now very much in the midst of light industrial areas, although sadly many are now abandoned, awaiting demolition and replacement by retail distribution warehouses. At one point, a large factory had been built right over the canal but now is redundant. Will someone remove the eyesore?

Spaghetti Junction is simply amazing from underneath! At some point the stilts are all around and the traffic roars overhead. Salford Junction, where two other canals brach off into the centre of Birmingham, is right in the middle.



.We continued onto the Tame Valley Canal and ascended the Perry Bar flight of thirteen locks. Although the first few locks are spread out - one pound is over a mile in length - the last 7 are close together, looking like a 'proper' flight! However, the short pounds were already very low and filling the locks made them even lower. At one lock we had to bow haul the boat into the lock to bring it over the bottom sill



By now the boat was making very slow progress and it was apparent that something was wrapped around the prop. The stretch immediately above the top lock was quite a good mooring where Andrew was able to cut a plastic bag or two, mixed with thin twigs - bracken? - that almost felt like wire. Still, a canal trip without dealing with issue like today it not a 'real' trip!
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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Atherstone and Fazeley

We set off in good time this morning (extra crew and no immediate locks!) and continued along the Coventry Canal towards Fazeley Junction. Mid morning we arrived at Atherstone Top Lock where we stopped for water and to deal with rubbish.

As we arrived, the lock keeper was running water through the top paddles whilst waiting for a boat to enter the lock from below. It turned out that last night a boat had gone through in the dark at 10 o'clock and had left a paddle up. The resuilt was that one of the longer pounds had emptied leaving some boats at a strange angle on the mud. The lock keeper was not pleased at being woken up at half past one in the morning.

We continued down the flight until bridge 43 where we moored to walk into the town to do some shopping. The long main street has quite a collection of small shops, together with a couple of supermarkets (Co-op and Aldi). Whilst most of the shops were fairly down-market, the people shopping indicated quite a mixture - several sandwich and lunch shops suggested that there must be a number of office workers close by.

After returning to the boat we had lunch before tackling the remainder of the flight. There were quite a few boats around, many of which were crewed by people out for the first time so progress was rather slow. However, the splendid sunny day was comfortably warm, - even hot at times, so no-one was particularly distressed.

A long pound to the Glascote locks then followed. Two boats recently started from the hire base at Alvecote, one of which was a couple on their honeymoon! Along the next stretch we crossed a short aqueduct over the River Tame.



At Fazeley Junction we turned south onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Unlike most major canal junctions, this was not as impressive as some, although what appeared to be a former lock or toll house was once a splendid residence, although currently not finding a much of a use, it seemed.



We passed the exit from Drayton Manor Park where a long line of cars were slowly making their way home after taking advantage of the good weather for a Saturday family day out. A bridal couple arrived at Drayton Foot and Swivel Bridges for a photo opportunity.


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Friday, 26 September 2008

Coventry

It was quite spooky as we set off in rather thick mist to complete the final mile of the Oxford Canal to Hawkesbury Junction. Where this canal joins the Coventry Canal there is a stop lock - known as Sutton Stop after the first lock keeper - which falls only a few inches to control the direction of flow of water. This is a reminder of how important the supply of water was to the canal companies when carrying large amounts of freight traffic.



We turned south along the Coventry Canal, heading into the city centre. Not far from the end of the canal are the famous Cash's Hundred Houses, built to house workers, although not all of the hundred were ever completed. Along with the Electric Wharf a little closer to the terminus, these have all been converted into apparently smart apartments. The mist cleared and the rest of the day was sunny and pleasantly warm.



Once we were moored in the canal basin - again a modern development of mostly ofices - and dealt with rubbish etc, we walked the short distance into the centre to visit the cathedral. It is a very long time since either of us was here last, with only dim and distant memories. Christine recalled coming to the adjacent college (now Coventry University) for a meeting when we lived in Milton Keynes.

The ruined cathedral is still most spectacular with many monuments to the efforts after the war with Germany to build peaceful relationships, both between these two countries and elsewhere in the world. Mike tackled the climb up the tower - 180 steps - whilst Christine visited the modern building that replaced the bombed ruins. Much of it, especially the stained glass windows, remains beautiful but the overall design has very much a Sixties feel and one wonders how well the concrete will survive in a hundred years.



After a quick top up of supplies in Sainsburys, it was back to the canal basin to make a speedy return along the arm for our rendezvous with Andrew, travelling up from Worcester. On the way down we noticed a large Tesco Extra close to the canal and Christine made a quick foray, principally to replace the cafetiere which was broken yesterday. Also, having noticed, belatedly, that there is no water point at Marston Junction where the meet was planned, we were forced to stop at Hawkesbury Junction to fill up.

On then to Marston where we met Andrew, who had been dropped of from his lift, along with suitable liquid supplies! We held a quick conference about route planning - the upshot of which was to miss out on the Ashby Canal (which turns off at Marston) and head on up the Coventry. The main aim seems to be to make for Kinver where there is a canal boat furniture suppiler which has been recommended to us.

With clear skies as the sun set and with Andrew now at the tiller, we decided to press on through Nuneaton to find a quiet rural mooring for the night.
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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Rugby

The day started with a run to the top of Hilmorton locks, on the outskirts of Rugby. This flight of three locks is unusual on this canal because each lock is paired to allow more traffic and was the result of the Thomas Telford improvements. The locks are also well maintained and easy to operate.



As we continued cruising the battery alarm on the main engine control panel started to sound. Although it began as an intermittent fault, by the time we arrived at Clifton Wharf it had been sounding continuously for some while. We needed to fill with diesel so Christine enquired if there was an engineer who could check it out. "OK, but he wants to have a cup of coffee first!" she was told - so we did likewise whilst filling with water.

When he arrived, he checked the batteries first and, although there may be an issue with the cabin services batteries (perhaps we should add another now we have the inverter) he confirmed that the main engine starter battery was charging OK and holding its charge. He took a look at the back of the control panel but nothing seemed wrong until he replaced it whereupon the fault we found last night re-appeared. It soon became clear that the problem was the small circuit board which had lost one of its monting screws and was loose enough to make occasional contact with the metal bulkhead. As soon as this was fixed the problem went away! We filled with fuel, taking exactly 100l so that we could calibrate our dipstick!

A little further around the edge of Rugby and we moored close to a large Tesco supermarket, only a few minutes walk, where we topped up our supplies.



The northern canal was straigthened by Thomas Telford and a number of the old arms left behind from the meandering route can still be seen and some are used for moorings or marinas. Most are marked by the splendid cast iron bridges from Horsley Iron Works.



Stretton Stop, now home to Rose hire boats, was once the place where tolls were collected, but now is only just visible as a narrow section the size of a lock.

We had planned to moor in Coventry but out maintenance stop put paid to that and Plan B was to find a mooring at Hawkesbury Junction. However, about a mile before there we spotted a reasonable quiet mooring (the M6 is not far away) and a good bankside and made a snap decision to stop here for the night.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Napton Flight

We set off in good time, with about an hour to go before we arrived at Napton Top Lock (Marston Doles). There was no delay going down, but a steady stream of boats coming up.



The remains of an old concrete pill box is a reminder that during the last war, canals were still considered a strategic resource and had to be defended just in case an invasion should try to use them for transport!



The pound where the repairs are being done is quite short at the best of times but the works - new piling at one of the lock landings - mean that two boats cannot pass easily and the workmen had been regulating traffic. Some boat crews told us that they had waited one and a half hours just to come up two locks. However, by the time we reached the bottom lock the queue had disappeared and we even had to refill the lock after another boat had gone down ahead of us.

We dealt with rubbish and then filled up with water before going just around the corner to moor up for lunch.



In the afternoon we continued along the Oxford canal to Napton Junction, after which it shares the route with the Grand Union Canal, constructed at a later date. However, the wider guage meant that we progressed rather faster! Before long we arrived at Braunston Junction with its splendid three-way set of cast iron bridges where we turned left to continue onto the northern part of the Oxford.



In order to be more competitive, this part of the Oxford was improved by straightening out many of the bends which are so characteristic of the southern section. It was also widened in places with some of the bridges allowing boats in boats directions without having to wait. By now rain had returned and we moored shortly after passing under the M45.



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Upto the Summit

Tuesday 23rd September

Last night: after calling Tesco and organising to return the television to the nearby store, found that the laptop plug was not fully inserted. Then the TV started to work! We soon though that we were back on track but then the inverter sounded an alarm - possibly the result of insufficient battery charge?

Off in good time - just before 9 - but this was partly the result of the inverter not working from the batteries overnight and Christine was unable to use her new hairdryer!

After leaving Banbury well behind us, we soon began the long climb up to the summit pound. Many of the locks here had interesting houses for the keepers but they are often quite isolated, making them less attractive for development. The one at Little Bourton Lock was for sale when we came here a few weeks ago but now has a 'sold' sign. Certainly will be a challenging DIY job for the new owners and it was diificult to see how they will find vehicle access!



Christine went to the Bridge Store at Cropredy for eggs and bread, leaving Mike to proceed on up throug the lock. However, when she returned she failed to notice that he had not even passed under the bridge because a boat coming down was in the narrow section! She was eventually re-united with Take Five at Broadmoor Lock!

The day began with a pleasant if somewhat overcast morning, initially rather cool but soon much warmer. However, by midday the rain had returned and through the Clattercote locks and the Clayton Flight it was definitely wet. However, by the time we arrived at the top lock and the summit pound the sun was breaking through. Christine insisted that Mike moor the boat precisely in a sunny patch whilst we had a late lunch break. In fact, it was so pleasant we hardly noticed an hour an a half pass by!



Soon after seeting off once more we arrived at Fenny Compton 'tunnel'. This stretch was originally built as a tunnel but later opened out. However, the two end sections remain very narrow. In the centre there is a pretty turnover bridge (that takes the towpath from one side of the cut to the other) but which is now somewhat over-awed by the modern A423 road bridge.





Many canal bridges are interting in their variety of shapes and sizes, some more impressive than others. One footbridge does little to inspire confidence in its abilities to hold up under the lighest of loads!



Later in the afternoon we made a short stop to pick blackberries to have with our dinner tonight. The canal wanders around, changing direction every few minutes, so much that the large radio mast is sometimes to one side of the boat and then, confusingly, can be seen on the other direction! It was a clear, sunny evening although the temperature fell quite quickly as we approached sundown. We moored, as planned, at 6.30 although still about an hour short of Napton top lock.




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Monday, 22 September 2008

Banbury

Up at 8:30 to meet up with Peter who fitted the inverter. After a further look at the wiring instructions, he concluded that two wires were interchanged. Once he had rectified this problem the power sockets worked OK. We also met Nigel the carpenter and agreed with him about making some doors and shelves for us to fit next time we are at Lower Heyford (they will make the doors and we will fit them!)






Eventually, we were ready to set off just before 11 - the weather was sunny and pleasantly warm. We cruised northwards, passing through or close by various small villages, such as Upper Heyford (once associated with a large USAF base but now a giant car park - look at Google maps to see ) Somerton and Kings Sutton. Somerton Lock, a rise of 12 feet, is about the deepest narrow lock in the system.




After a short break for lunch, we entered Aynho Lock, above which the River Cherwell cross the canal. This lock is very shallow but made of a strange lozenge shape to pass more water with each boat in order to feed the much deeper locks further down.


As we arrived at Nells Bridge Lock, the promised showers materialised, with a viscious downpour which quickly cleared. The rest of the day was either overcast or equally wet. Back to normal. Above Twyford Wharf, work was in progress with piling and dredging but we were not significantly delayed.




Eventually we reached Banbury where we filled up with water and dealt with the rubbish. The centre of Banbury almost overwhelms the canal - certainly Tooleys Dock almost disappears below the modern shopping centre. (It was here that Tom Rolt began his famous canal journey that is said to have been the beginning of leisure cruising, which eventually completely replaced the commercial traffic) The lift bridge, just above Banbury Lock, has a hyraulic windlass device to raise it - this bridge is well-used by pedestrians to and from the shops of bus station.



After passing through the long section of moorings, we decided to moor before meeting the next lock. Not ideal as we are close to a main road, but shielded by trees and any further would have also brought us close to the motorway and its non-stop roar.The television was taken out of its box and sullenly refused to work. Perhaps we shall take a trip in the morning to the large Tesco nearby - it was originally ordered on-line from Tesco.The heater certainly warms the cabin well.









Just Arrived

Sun 21st September



We drove up from Cornwall after morning worship at the Betjeman Centre, eventually escaping from Wadebridge just before noon. The drive went well until Michaelwood service station where we heard that there was a long delay between junctions 12 and 11A. After consulting the road map, we took a diversion which did not add too much to the journey time. Alas, this good luck could not continue and there was a much longer delay on the way into Stow-on-the-Wold, resulting from a car-caravan breakdown. By the time we arrived at Lower Heyford we concluded that we would have to stay put until the morning - there was rather a lot to unload! The picture only shows about half of it! In addition, the workmen had left us with some clearing up to do and then we found there was no-one on duty who knew how to turn on the inverter! At least we could make the water heater work and we have hot water without having the engine on. The radiators also work well, although it was such a sunny day that we quickly turned them off.



Sorting and cleaning took some time and our roast was as late as if we had been for our usual long Sunday walk! The lack of 240v power meant that we could sit back aqnd watch a DVD - we expect that TV reception will not be very good at the mooring, judging by the high aeriels which the nearby village houses sport. We are promised a visit at 8:30 tomorrow morning from Peter
who installed the inverter and hopefully we shall then be off.



The roast is even later than planned as I have now discovered that using a non-fan oven requires more planning!
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Monday, 15 September 2008

Update on installations

Heard today that the main items of work are either complete, or will be the end of today. It is possible that the solar panel will be left to a later date but that is not important as its main use is for when we are not using the boat when it will maintain the charge in the cabin services batteries.

Also, David Dare reported that the Aynho Cherwell crossing remains navigable (despite what the Waterscape site says) although they have been having considerable problems with their hire boats and the water levels further down the canal and onto the River Thames.

We can also expect someone to be available at the boatyard on Sunday when we plan to arrive for our holiday who can show us how the new equipment works.

The next few days will see us making the last few arrangements and collecting all the items together to be packed ready for a swift departure after church on Sunday. One of the last items on the list was a lower-powered hairdrier which has now been ordered this afternoon on the internet (Babyliss Eco). Also updating the boaters guides and other information to be stored on the laptop.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Introduction

In the middle of July we bought a 60' narrow boat called Take Five. We had spent a few days a month earlier, ably assisted by Andrew, and some of the time by Ellie and Alice - separately - looking at a large number of boats. Take Five was the last to be seen and the advertising details led us all to believe that it was the most likely, which it proved to be.



Built six years ago as a family boat (the parents had three children, hence the name!) it has not had a large amount of usage and appears in very good condition. After a survey and other discussion, we eventually became its new proud owners. In the process of making our decision we were invited to talk to the owner of the boatyard at Lower Heyford who had done quite a bit of the maintenance work in recent times, including a 'blacking' realier in the year. This had the very positive pay-off of finding us a mooring as well. Moorings in this area were proving to be quite hard - we were looking on the south Oxford canal so that it could be convenient for the Oxford family and not too far for Andrew from his new base in Devizes.

We have not yet taken any really good photos - setting up the boat to 'work' for us has taken all our efforts! However, here is one photo taken when were looking at boats before making the purchase.



The boat, as bought, lacked some features that we consider important - if not essential (at least for oldsters looking for some degree of creature comforts!) So, after a few short trips (and the Oxford family used it last weekend) we have commissioned the boatyard to install a water heating system, some radiators, solar panel trickle charger, inverter to power the mains sockets (previously only usable from a landline) and to fix a safety point on the wiring which the boat surveyor requires before re-issuing the boat safety certificate. We hope that this will all be ready for our next planned trip towards the end of the month when we will have time for a much further exploration.