Tuesday, 30 June 2015


Today's Canals - Staffs and Worcs, Stourbridge

The weather forecast for today is that it will be very sunny and as hot as it has been this year so far (it was correct!). As we have quite a few locks ahead of us we planned on having a longer lunch break than usual so set off in good time, with a clear blue sky all around. Not a cloud to be seen.

Whilst it was a very pleasant day and scenery to match, it was 'just' a day of dropping down one lock after another. None of them were especially difficult but most were set against us.

Thought we would try a panorama shot of the bottom gates - makes the balance beams look quite strange!

Awbridge lock has an unusual bridge parapet as seen from below.

Just above the lock is a solid fuel supply centre and one fuel boat was busy loading up sacks of coal. Another was waiting to be loaded.

After three locks we arrived at the famous Bratch set of three. Although they have to be worked as a staircase, there is actually a gap of a few feet in between each of them. A side pond balances the water levels but it is important that the lower lock is filled before the upper one is emptied. However, a full time lock keeper is employed here, helped by a volunteer. In busier times he has to regulate the traffic and historically the 'three up, three down' is the rule applied. No big queues this year so far and just one arrived whilst we were descending and so ha d a short wait. We followed a boat down so had no delay at all.

Presumably this bridge below Bumblehole Lock was intended to allow access across to the lock cottage but today it is blocked off.

After Bumblehole we arrived at Botterham Two Locks (Oh look - there's some cloud!) - a real staircase this time. Just for once, having a boat just ahead was actually a help. If, what is normally hoped for, a boat had just come up, then we would have had to empty the lower lock first.

We also noticed that the intermediate paddles are clearly from the BCN - wonder what the history to this was.

At Swindon Lock there is an unusual version of the traditional kissing gate for the pedestrian access.

Not all of the overflow weirs are circular - this one at Hinksford looks especially impressive. Nothing purely functional about these designs although it is worth taking a look at how the weir channels the water around so that it can overtop all the way around, not just at the entrance.

We stopped a little before Greensforge Lock for an extended lunch break/siesta, setting off again some two hours later, only to take another pause above the lock for the sani station and water point.

The afternoon was just as bright and blue.

At Gothersley Lock, the last before Stourton Junction, a CRT person was painting the balance beams. Fortunately his paint dries fast! he also explained that the damaged parapet was the result of a car finding an alternative route with satnav when the nearby main road was closed. The driver took the bend too quickly and this was the result. Local youngsters have since made off with spare bricks - or are they in the canal?

The next section, up to the junction, is very green and rather pretty.

At Stourton Junction we left the Staff and Worcs and entered the Stourbridge Canal. Immediately we ascended the Four Locks - fortunately this time they were all set ready for us.

At the top we did not go far before findung a rural mooring, slightly later than usual but still with time to enjoy the summer sunshine.

9.5 miles - 19 locks

Monday, 29 June 2015

Oxley Marine and Wightwick

Today's Canal - Staffs and Worcs

We were off in reasonable time this morning as we had a date with Oxley Marine to pump out our bilges, about 90 minutes away. The weather was really summer-y all day, quite hot at times, even when we were not doing locks.

Part of the section just before Autherley Junction goes through a very narrow rock cutting. Although we have been through this way several times before, this is the first time we can recall having to pass a boat coming the other way. Fortunately there are a few passing places - but what would have happened to loaded pairs as the laybys are only one boat's length.

By 10:15 we had passed the junction and were able to pull in to the short space available outside Oxley. They seemed to be expecting us - at least that was a good start and Dave immediately set about assembling the necessary pump and piping to remove the diesel and water from all of the engine room bilges. There was a lot! We must have lost around 25 litres of fuel at some stage.

Things then started to take an unexpected turn. Phil, the well-known engine expert who features in many of Orph's Tales on Narrowboatworld arrived back from a breakdown call. He was put on stand by to replace stern gland packing to reduce the amount of water that comes in - the design of the trays under the engine and the location of the bilge pump take this into account.

However, we also asked a couple of questions about why there seemed to be oil or grease on the underside of the deck board and, on starting the engine, he noticed the quantity of smoke that we have been experiencing of late - which stays in the engine bay, not out through the exhaust.

The main reason - and we have heard this before but not about Take Five - is 'glazing' which is a common consequence of not running the engine has hard as it is designed (for trucks rather than boats!) A rattle at slow speed was also diagnosed.

As a result we quizzed Phil about the medium term future - were we likely to have an immediate breakdown, which would not have been good if it happened next trip when the one or more of the grand children may be with us. The cost of fixing the immediate problem was around 40% of the cost of a new engine so we asked Orph (the boss) for a quote and further advice.

The upshot, after lengthy debate, is that we are now booked in at the end of this trip for a new Beta complete engine replacement. Canaline were seriously considered but since they are the same price but with unknowns about mounting, we returned to the make that we know.

Before leaving we also replaced our gas bottle and, having decided that we will not, after all, go up the Shropshire Union, only to have to come back and perhaps go up again in August, but rather go south aqnd back around some of the parts of the BCN we have not visited recently. This meant that we also needed to fill with fuel - we had been intending to fill at the famous Turner's garage later in the afternoon a little way up the SU.

So it was almost 3 o'clock when we eventually left Oxley and headed south. The shorter route into Birmingham starts at Aldersley Junction just a mile south of Autherley and is via Wolverhampton but this involves a flight of 21 locks almost as soon as we set off, with some uncertainty about save mooring above the flight. This left us with the only other option: further south to Stourton and back through Stourbridge - the way we came back last year. However, it is likely that we will return via Wolverhampton at the end of the week.

We were a bit surprised at this Mobil sign as we cannot recall seeing any recently but it turned out to be part of a former boatyard in a shirt arm that seems to be all but deserted at present. Checking the internet, it does seem that the brand name (now part of the huge ExxonMobil empire) is generally used for oil rather than petrol in the UK. At least we could only find Esso branded station in this area.

An interesting building at the road bridge below Compton Lock - but so far we have note discovered anything about its history.

We dropped down through three locks on an afternoon's cruise that was very pleasant in the warm sunshine and occasional shade from trees alongside the canal.

We mentioned in an earlier blog that there are some distinctive features about this canal - it is surprising how many variations there are from one to another across the network - but the southern half of the Staffs and Worcs has something not seen on the northern half: circular weirs over the by-wash at some, but not all, of the locks.

If you know what to look for in this picture of the engine bay, you should notice that the spaces under and to the sides of the engine are totally free of water and diesel - a little has come into the part below the stern tube, under the feet (!). The stern gland is the part where a tube delivers grease which is pumped down every morning |(so long as we remember). By the left foot is the automatic bilge pump - which also stopped on Saturday until Mike cleaned out its filter.

8.5 Miles - 3 Locks

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Slade Heath

Today's Canal : Staffs & Worcs

To complete last night's story: we gave in and phoned RCR who said that an engineer would be with us around 7:30 which we thought was rather impressive as it was almost 6.30 by this stage. However, dinner was well on its way so we opted to start on it - of course as soon as we sat6 down, the phone rang to say that the engineer was at the lock and was just checking our exact location.

He had already selected the most likely problem from the information and brought with him a couple of spares. As he has suspected, the o-ring which seals the tap at the bottom of the filter had failed and he took very little time in sorting out a suitable replacement from the dozens in his box! However, there was far too much liquid (of whatever composition!) in the bilges for him to do much about and as we were now unlikely to get much into the pumped out tray, he advised us to stop at the next boatyard which could tackle this for us. His best suggestion was Oxley Marine - we have used them a couple of times in the past.

We had planned to moor overnight at Penkridge anyway as this seemed like the best bet for a church service - we had some difficulty working out what was what in the preceding set of parishes! At least we knew when and where for this morning.

As we made our way into the village we could hear a loudspeaker and then lots of people dressed for a run. We later learnt that over 800 adults and children took part, almost all from the local community. They 'only' had to complete a two and half mile circuit of the village but the organisation looked quite substantial with plenty of marshals on hand. Later we chatted to one or two after they had completed it and they all seemed to have enjoyed taking part.

St Michael's Church is an imposing structure (we could not find a position for a better overall view) and internally they have done well to make the best of it. In fact the large chancel, obscured by an equally dominating screen, was not used at all. The service was projected onto screens and the music was supported by a small music group - keyboard, guitar and rhythm.

We were welcomed when we arrived and several people chatted to us before the start. There were around 100 people, including a number of young children, although the teenage and young adult range was hardly represented.

Today was a special occasion for them as their curate, who had been ordained here Saturday a week ago, was presiding at the communion service for the first time. His vicar kept a close eye on his protege to make sure he kept on track. (Actually, the curate looked a lot more organised than his vicar!)

They had a supply of cakes for the event as well as the usual tea and coffee but we opted to take our leave as we wanted to get away reasonably soon, knowing that tomorrow we have to sort out the bilges.

Before leaving, we phoned Oxley Marine and they seemed only too willing to help and that this was a task they are able to do - tomorrow we shall see.

The morning had been almost all dry, with just a short drizzle, but the afternoon turned very warm, almost hot one might say. Certainly, we had to turn out the sun screen for the first time in real need.

Above Penkridge Lock we stopped for a short while to use the services - during this time we were overtaken by at least one boat and only managed to get away before a further one came up. All afternoon we saw a steady stream of boats in each direction but sufficiently spaced out not to result in the build up of queues.

Both this lock and that at Gailey have a separate towpath tunnel. Just as we were leaving the lock, the same RCR engineer from last night came past on his way to another call out just before the next lock!

We gradually left Penkridge behind us and, as the photo shows, the afternoon became very pleasant indeed. Canal experts will be able to tell immediately which canal we are on (even without the clue at the top of the blog) as the bridge name plates on the Staffs and Worcs are quite distinctive.

None of the locks are immediately adjacent but equally there was never very much between them until we reached Gailey. Christine walked between a couple.

Here at Bogg's Lock can be seen another distinctive design characteristic: the shape of the balance beams with a rounded end that is larger than the gate end.

Not all have been replaced like-for-like as the next lock shows. This one is much more conventional.

There is no mistaking our imminent arrival at Gailey Lock - the castellated house beside the lock cannot be ignored!

The A5 road bridge has been much widened since the older days when, again, a separate tunnel would have been used by the horses to pass from one level to the other.

OK, so we know that you, dear reader, really wanted a fuller picture of the lock house so not to disappoint, here it is! Sadly, a momentary lapse in the sunshine left a greyer sky in the background.

From here there are no more locks until Autherley Junction, just level cruising. Many moons ago, our first few experiences of passing through Gravelly Way were not especially enjoyable. A large, dirty chemical works stood on both sides of the canal and water we passed through could not support any form of life - probably not even aliens! One side has now been levelled and the works on the other have been brought into line with modern regulations and hardly intrude on the greenness of the canal (other than a ban on mooring alongside the works)

Close by by is another large industrial unit of of unusual shape - complete with several grass sections on the roofs. (not yet found out what it houses)

We then passed through Hatherton Junction where the Hatherton Branch once carried traffic through to Cannock. The first lock can just be seen through the junction bridge. There is a restoration trust with plans to open up much more of this canal, even coping with the M6 which runs over the line of the canal a short distance from the junction.

We continued to cruise for another couple of miles in the pleasant sunshine by did not want to get as far as Coven Heath as mooring is less possible from there to the junction. In the end we spotted a place just after Slade Heath where we could have hopes of trying out the new satellite tv equipment (a better sat finder and a new freesat box to replace the one which had started to malfunction) Indeed we have a picture for the first time this trip, although the controller is doing some peculiar things. Let's hope there is something worth watching! Still, roast lamb awaits!

7.7 Miles - 7 Locks

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Today's Canals : Trent and Mersey, Staffs and Worcs

Today was generally sunny with plenty of blue sky and fluffy clouds. Despite a breeze at sometimes usefully cooling, it was definitely a 'warm' day. By the middle of the day, a protective hat was deemed appropriate.

We set off really quite early after Mike had walked the short distance to Tesco for the weekend newspaper.

Just after the edge of the town we came to a sharp bend at what is known as Brindley's Bank - a sign recalls a piece of grisly history.

Immediately after the bend is an aqueduct over the River Trent.

A couple of bridges later we came across a traffic jam. Both of these boats had decided to use the winding hole immediately after the bridge - we had to wait whilst they sorted themselves out.

It is not easy to get a clear view of Wolseley Bridge, over a line of moored boats and through the trees. The bridge was named after the nearby Wolseley Hall which was home to the family from the Norman Conquest until it was eventually demolished, after a disastrous fire, in the middle of the 20th century.

More fortunate has been Shugborough Hall, close to Great Haywood Junction. The first view is the Tower of the Winds, one of several decorative structures around the main house.

Although the estate is much older, earlier buildings were demolished in 1693 to make way for grand Georgian Mansion. Later the house belonged to Lord Anson, famous for circumnavigating the globe and capturing one of the largest prizes by an English sea captain. A descendant became the first Earl of Lichfield but he led such an extravagant lifestyle that he almost bankrupted the estate. Death duties led to the house being handed to the national Trust by the fourth earl although the fifth earl, Lord Patrick Lichfield, gained the concession that he could live in an apartment.

The estate now belongs to the national trust although the house itself is managed by the county council and is a popular visitor attraction. What we could see, and hear, was the start of the Shugborough Country Show, taking place this weekend.

At Haywood Lock we had assistance in opening gates from two quite small helpers - much to the delight of both sets of grand parents!

At Haywood Junction we turned left on the Staffs and Worcs canal. Just before we had been disappointed that there was nobody around to serve us diesel and gas from a supply boat moored at a farm and so we looked for some at the boatyard. Although there was a sign the wharf was full of hire boats being turned around and we could not get anywhere near the pump.

Tixall Farm is a long, splendid structure - at one time even larger and now a Grade II listed building. It was built around the turn of the start of the 19th century as a model farm although sold for development (ie conversion to residential use) in 1980's.

We soon entered Tixall Wide where the canal opens out for a while almost into a lake. The imposing gatehouse looks across the fields to the water. The main hall was demolished in 1927 - it was for a couple weeks one of the places at which Mary Queen of Scots was held captive. The gatehouse now belongs to the Landmark Trust and used for holiday lets.

The locks are well spaced out on this section but are almost twice the depth of those on the Trent and Mersey for the past couple of days.

After Tixall Lock, we crossed over the River Sow on yet another sturdy aqueduct.

A rather splendid turnover bridge.

Just before Baswich we passed the place where an arm once joined the main line, linking with the centre of Stafford which today is a little distance from the canal.

South of the town we spotted a sign outside Stafford Boat Club Marina claiming that they sold both diesel and gas. We could not easily see where the service point was so pulled into the entrance whilst Christine went to investigate. she eventually found someone on one of the boats and concluded that whilst they might stock these supplies they do not really expect to sell them! Fortunately we are not into an emergency situation yet.

At Acton Trussell we almost thought we were going the wrong way when we first glimpsed this chap at a distance. It looks as if the village has been having a scarecrow competition as we saw several.

Acton Hall is an expensive looking hotel and not much seems to have been spared for the wedding we could see in progress.

Just before we reached Penkridge a Vulcan Bomber flew overhead. The Sentinel, Stoke's local newspaper, reported earlier today, "Vulcan bomber farewell tour to pass over Staffordshire and Cheshire:

Families will get a chance to see the last remaining Vulcan Bomber in flight today as it passes over Staffordshire and Cheshire on its farewell tour.

The former RAF bomber, registered as XH558, is flying over every site in the UK that houses a complete Vulcan, Victor and Valiant.

It forms part of the "Salute to the V-Force" farewell tour, after which XH558 will retire.

The iconic plane is expected to fly over Staffordshire as it makes its way from the Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire to RAF Cosford in Shropshire."

We moored just before Penkridge Lock - we have plans to go to the local church in the morning, just so long as their normal schedule is in place!

A knock on the cabin side heralded an enquiry from a passer-by whether we had a fuel leak as he spotted some on the surface of the water just behind our boat. Since the daily check on fuel level over the past three days was quite normal, we were rather surprised. So, Mike took a look under the engine cover and indeed did discover that fuel was leaking from the filter into one of the bays. However, this bay does not normally get emptied by the bilge pump, which only empties the space under the stern tube which normally drips much of the time.

Christine was dispatched into town to see if we could purchase some nappies - said to be the best emergency aid in this situation.

She returned with two packs but the quantity now seemed too great for them to cope so we will have to try and summon more expert assistance.

15.2 miles - 7 locks