Archive for April, 2017

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Easter Cruise – Part 5

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2017 by netmanianick


After all her day time sleeping, Anne was very late to bed last night, and was still in deep slumber at 8.00 this morning. By this time I was up, coffee’d, abluted, and had taken Poppy for a walk. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I wanted to be down at the water point before the hire boats started arriving for their change-over. I contemplated various options for waking her, including single handing down to the water point, but instead settled for blasting Radio WM (Stop in the name of love) over the boats internal speakers. This had the desired effect of getting Anne out of bed, but it didn’t look as though she would be ready any time soon! In the end I did single hand to the water point, and the tank was well on its way to being full before Anne emerged from the cabin – thankfully bearing fresh coffees.

The hire base was a hive of activity with boats being fueled, reversed down the canal, and generally being shuffled around in preparation for the next batch of holiday makers. The first returnee arrived as we were still filling our water tank. A man appeared at the lock, coming up, and Anne said it would be great if we finished filling up as he reached the top. As if by magic the overflow started to erm.. overflow, so we quickly reeled in the hose, and untied ready to swap places in the lock.

The canal drops down to Penkridge through 5 locks in quick succession: Gailey, Brick Kiln, Boggs, Rodbaston and Otherton. Anne was clearly in a bad mood at having to do all these before breakfast – she kept spitting at me! We pulled over at the Cross Keys Bridge, and I finally relented and stopped for breakfast. This was followed by a quick visit to the local shop, and then we were on our way again. I had no fixed destination in mind for today, but as the weather was so glorious we decided to keep cruising for as long as we could. At Penkridge lock we waited for a boat to come up. The lady who was on board was not happy with her husband, who was operating the lock, because reverse gear had failed. Consequently we had to fill the lock very slowly indeed so that the boat wasn’t buffeted around too much. They pulled over on to the service wharf to look at the gearbox, and we were finally able to descend the lock. Another boat was waiting to come up, so their crew helped with the gates and we were quickly on our way. At the next lock though, there was a queue of 3 boats waiting to go down. It took about half an hour before it was our turn. Once through, we had a gentle run to Park Lane, figuring that there would be no point rushing with so many boats ahead, and when we arrived at the lock the last boat was just going in. Right next to the lock is a large chandlery, and the boat ahead lost some crew who went in to browse while the boat was worked through the lock. There was some panic at the bottom when they still hadn’t returned, and a messenger was despatched to round them up.

As we came out the bottom of the lock they were only just leaving the lock landing so we expected to catch them up once again at Shutt Hill Lock. Once more we took it gently, and they were just exiting as we arrived. After Shutt Hill there is about a half hour gap before the next lock, so Anne went inside to make sandwiches for a lunch on the go. We soon passed our usual mooring spot at Acton Trussell and then came to the aptly named Deptmore Lock. We descended with no problems, but Anne couldn’t disengage the ratchet on one of the bottom gate paddles, so I pulled over on to the lock landing with the intention of going up to help. By the time I had tied up a following boat had arrived, and managed to help free the offending paddle so we were on our way again. From Deptmore Lock the canal passes the Stafford Boat Club, and curves around Baswich hill, giving shelter from the breeze. It actually felt quite hot in the sun here. All went well until we reached the Soar Aqueduct, which is just around a blind bend. As we rounded the corner I saw a boat already crossing towards us, so had to engage hard reverse to get out of the way.

We then wound through Tixall until we arrived at the very picturesque lock – our final one for this trip. With the afternoon sun beating down, we pulled in just before Tixall Wide, and set up the garden chairs on the back deck. What a pleasant way to spend our last evening as you can see from the picture above.

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Easter Cruise – Part 4

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2017 by netmanianick

With no TV signal last night we sat down to watch a DVD that Anne had spotted in Sainsbury’s. This meant that we were later to bed than normal, and consequently slept really well.

We were up early though, and had set off by 8.30 am with the famous litany of locks ahead of us: Awbridge, Ebstree, Dimmingsdale, Whitwick, Whitwick Mill and Compton. Today we took it in turns to steer. Anne let me off well before the first lock so that I could trot ahead and have it ready for when she arrived with the boat. I had to show her one more time by doing the same at the next one, and then Anne took charge of the windlass until we pulled in at Compton Visitor Moorings for some shopping and breakfast. I took the opportunity to grab a shower as we now had plenty of hot water.

The final lock for the day was Compton, and we were soon on the 10 mile summit pound which lasts all the way to Gailey. As we passed Oxley Marine I called over to Phil to see if we could get a pump out and some diesel, which received an affirmative reply. We winded at Autherley Junction and pulled in to the wharf which had been cleared for our arrival. We took on 80 litres of fuel, which is less than half a tank, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Last time we did Stourport we ran out of diesel at Tixall Wide on the last day. Admittedly this was due to the problems we had with the fuel pipes which are now fixed, but I remember thinking as we waited for the RCR engineer that I should have topped up at Oxley while we were stopped anyway for a pump out. So belt and braces this time! The pump out at Oxley is much better than the one at Stourport. Firstly the suction is better, and it managed to get far more out of the tank. Secondly Oxley is not on a timer, so he does a good rinse as well, and all very good value for £13 including blue. 

With the servicing finished we then had to retrace our path to Aldersley Junction to turn around again. This meant that we had to pass the fishermen opposite the Wharf on three occasions. By the third time we were chatting like old friends!

Back on course we were soon passing through Pendeford Rockin’ where we were lucky not to meet any oncoming boats. Anne was feeling cold by now, so she retired to the cabin and put the heating on. A while later and she went to bed for a sleep. Although the day was not unpleasant, the wind had a distinct chill about it, and after about 3 hours on the tiller I was feeling very cold. As we neared Gailey we started to meet the Viking fleet who were beginning their holidays from the local hire base. I counted four, who must be on a Friday change-over day. 

With Anne still asleep I decided to stop at the end of the visitor moorings at Gailey. This meant mooring up single handed which wasn’t a problem, but it is so much quicker and easier with two! I gave Poppy a short walk, and then retreated into the warm boat to defrost.

We have covered more distance than I originally intended today, but that just means that we can have an easier final two days of the trip.

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Easter Cruise – Part 3

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 by netmanianick

Usually we have one day on each trip where we never really seem to get going, and spend the day tired from the uncustomary exercise that boating gives us. Today was such a day.

Two coffees failed to get me going this morning, and as there was a little rain outside, we stayed inside and had a third cup, and a bacon and egg sandwich. This was enough for us to get the hatch slid back, the ropes untied and us on our way by 10.00 am.  Unlike yesterday there had been no other boats past us this morning, and the canal ahead was as still as glass. We were still in the sheltered stretch of wooded cutting alongside the Stour, and the smell of the wild garlic and the rain freshened foiliage gave the morning a clean feel. We rounded the bend to the aqueduct and continued our northward journey, soon encountering our first lock for the day. This was Gothersley Lock, which we soon passed through, shortly to be followed by Rocky Lock. The kettle went on for the fourth time, as we made our way past Ashwood Marina, and through Greensforge Lock where we stopped at the service point for water. 

After the necessary duties were performed we set off again, crawling past the long line of boats that are moored on this stretch. Sometimes the boats have the owners names painted on them, and I like to think that this gives some kind of clue as to their ages. It is true that narrow boat ownership is mostly the province of older couples, and a sobering thought that Anne and I are actually in this category!

 At Hinksford we began the series of three locks that are within walking distance of each other. Anne elected to lock, so once again I was on steering duty. We made good progress, but by the time we had completed Marsh Lock Anne was ready for a rest. Just around the corner, though is the Botterham Staircase, and I persuaded Anne to steer for this. We pulled up onto the lock landing and I went ahead to see what was happening. A boat was in the top chamber and descending, and I arrived in time to help with the middle gates. Once they were in the lower chamber, we shut the middle gates, and I went up to fill the top chamber while the boat was dropped down in the lower. This meant that by the time they left the lock the staircase would be properly set our ascent – top chamber full, bottom empty. Anne waited until they had past and then cast off for the lock. I did my usual trick of looking away as she entered, but there was no need, she was straight in without touching the sides. I closed the bottom gates, went to the very top to close the paddles that had been opened to fill the top chamber, and then returned to the middle to empty the top lock into the bottom one. Anne kept perfect control of the boat as it rose up.  With the levels balanced, the middle gates could then be opened and Anne drove forwards into the top chamber. I closed the middle gates, then went back to the top to fill the lock for the last time. Part of the process involves crossing the top gate, and I managed to get oil from the gate paddle all over my fleece. 

By the time we left the staircase Anne was quite rested, and I awarded her 9.5 out of 10 for her efforts. To be honest she is perfectly able to  take City of Durham through the locks, she just prefers not to.

We pulled in after Wombourne Bridge for a quick visit to Sainsbury’s, to give Poppy a quick comfort break, and to feed the many ducks that inhabit this stretch. While Anne was in the shop I was to discover why. After a few minutes a lady with an elderly German Shepherd dog came down the path, pulling a shopping trolley. The moment she appeared the ducks were out of the water and hurriedly waddling towards her. She reached into her trolley and pulled out a loaf of bread which she had already cut into cubes. Clearly this was a regular ritual, and the ducks gorged themselves on her offerings. Now for the first time I have met someone other than Anne who spends their time preparing food for the wildlife!

It would have been very easy to call it a day and stay here overnight, but our holiday time is running out, so we forced ourselves to continue through Rocky Lock and up the Bratch, finally mooring opposite the cricket pitch. Only 6 hours cruising today, but it felt enough to warrant a nap once we were all secured!

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Easter Cruise Part 2

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2017 by netmanianick

Another bright, sunny morning dawned and I was awake early. The heating fired up, and I came to gradually with a couple of cups of coffee. By the time that Anne stirred an hour later we had a tank of hot water, so I was able to luxuriate in the shower.

Around 9.00 am the first boat went past, so we decided that it was about time that we made a move, and set off for Kinver. This whole part of the Staffs and Worcester Canal is delightful. I don’t think I have ever seen so many vivid displays of tulips, and the woodland was carpeted with bluebells. It wasn’t long before the coats came off, and we enjoyed the warmth of the morning as we crept through the countryside. Even the locks here are stunning. Not only are the lock cottages a delight to behold, they are accompanied by some fine houses that nestle between the canal and the river Stour. We made steady progress through three locks, and pulled over at Kinver to visit the shops. Anne set off first with the shopping trolley, but while she was gone Lindsay called to say that she and Rob would come over tonight for dinner. I set off in pursuit as we would need to adjust the shopping list! I met Anne as she was on her way back to the boat, so I continued into the town to buy some more steak from the excellent butchers. This is the first time that I have actually been to the centre of Kinver, despite mooring on the outskirts a couple of times in the past. It is a wonderful place, and everyone seemed very friendly, with each person offering a polite ‘good morning’ as I walked to the shops. With us both back aboard, we had a coffee before setting off, and were passed by a couple of the hire boats that had left Stourport with us in our convoy yesterday.

Anne was on form with Kinver lock and we were soon through, and tied up at the service point a short way further on. We topped off the water tank and disposed of the day’s rubbish before continuing on. The canal becomes very narrow in parts where a huge sandstone outcrop obstructed the canal builders progress. With the river down in a valley alongside there was little room to squeeze in the canal, and the rock was just too difficult to remove. So the canal twists around the rocky cliff in a narrow channel, and we were lucky not to meet anyone coming the other way at these points.

We reached Debdale lock, which is probably the most awkward one on this canal. There is no bridge at the tail of the lock, instead a footpath crosses the canal at a footbridge slightly to the south. If you use this you end up in a field and have to climb over a stile to get back on the towpath. The alternative is to cross the top gate of the lock, but the footboard is a little loose, and hanging at a precarious angle over the water. Today however our luck was in. The previous boater had left the bottom gates open, so I was able to drop Anne off in the lock entrance, and she was saved one complete round trip. Going up is easier that going down of course, as there is only one gate to contend with at the top of the lock. This lock also has the added interest of the rock room that has been carved into the sandstone alongside the lock. I am not sure what it was originally for. If it were for the horses (as I have heard suggested) then they would have had a problem crossing the lock to get in or out. 

Shortly after the lock comes the Cookley Tunnel. It is fairly short, but on a bend so you are never sure if something is coming the other way until the last second. Our way was clear today, and we were soon through. Around the bend there there is a mobile home park, in beautiful surroundings and with well tended gardens. A railway signal stands proudly in the grounds, and boats are moored along the canal side. A large sign offers the park homes as holiday homes. 

Back out in the country and we had a couple more locks to do before reaching Stewpony Wharf, and our agreed rendezvous point just beyond Stourton Junction. I really love this spot. The canal is tucked in below a hill on the offside, and just the other side of the towpath is the River Stour. The whole area is clothed in woodland and feels very rural and remote.

Rob and Lindsay arrived in the early evening for dinner, and Anne prepared the steaks with garlic, pepper and shallots. They were delicious!

I am not sure where we will end up tomorrow, but for tonight I am sure that we will sleep well, being full, warm and content!

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Easter Cruise – Part One

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2017 by netmanianick

At long last it was time for a proper trip, so in the run-up to our two week holiday we prepared City of Durham for our first long trip of the season. Unfortunately Anne was taken ill just before we were due to depart, and ended up in hospital with pneumonia. When she was discharged it was clear that we would not be making a long trip until she had fully recovered. We did have an overnight stay at Tixall Wide, and I think that the change of scenery and fresh air helped with the recovery.

A week later Anne was feeling well enough to cruise, and Lindsay joined us for the first part of the trip so that Anne wouldn’t have to work too hard. We left Great Haywood on Good Friday morning and we were on a mission! We had decided to go down to Stourport, as Lindsay had never been there before. But as she had to be back at work on the Tuesday, it meant some long days!

The target for day one was to get to Gailey which we managed in seven and a half hours. It was great to be aboard, and the three of us worked well as team, sharing the steering, locking and catering! The run to Gailey is very familiar to us now, and we were quite tired (being out of practice) by the time we moored below Gailey lock, so had an early night. We didn’t sleep well, however –  I had a reaction to something I had eaten so spent a very uncomfortable night getting up for the loo every so often, and somehow making sure that everyone else was awake in the process. By around 4 am the crisis had passed, and I managed about four hours sleep. In the morning I walked up to the garage on the A5 for the papers, and we then made our way up through the lock to fill with water. It was busy at the water point with hire boats arriving and leaving from the base opposite. Eventually we were on our way, to cover the 10 mile summit pound from Gailey to Compton, which meant about four hours without any locks. The canal was busy, and we encountered boats travelling in the opposite direction every few minutes. Once past Autherley Junction things quietened down as we were no longer on the popular Four Counties Ring. At Compton we paused for some shopping and then continued down to moor at the top of the Bratch for the night. It had been a beautiful sunny day, and there was a cricket match going on in the field opposite our mooring, so it really felt like summer!

After breakfast the next morning we descended the Bratch, ably assisted by Mark the Lock Keeper, and his cheerful team of volunteers. The next stretch of canal is regularly punctuated with locks, set in magnificent scenery. We worked well together making short work of each lock including the staircase at Botterham. We paused at Greensforge to top up the water tank, and dispose of the rubbish. We passed through the two tunnels at Dunsley and Cookley, the first giving us our initial incident of the day: Anne was steering, and becoming more confident when we rounded the bend at cruising speed and she saw the tunnel entrance. Then she saw a boat emerging from the tunnel, and then she panicked, and ran away from the tiller! I had to grab the tiller and throttle to bring the boat under control, and at the same time get out of the way of the approaching boat! Lindsay missed the drama as she was inside having a sleep. The second incident came below one of the locks, where we encountered a hire boat that was firmly aground, and no amount of rocking or pushing with pole would free her. As we passed I took their stern rope, and with a lot of effort from our engine, managed to tow them free. Still Lindsay slept! Without good deed done, we continued to just below Wolverley lock where we moored for the third night.

We had just a few hours to go to get to Stourport, so we set off early to give Lindsay the chance to look around. Our passage through Kidderminster was without incident, and we were fortunate to meet boats coming out of each of the next two locks, and with further boats waiting to ascend. This meant that we were quickly through, not having to open the top gates, nor close the bottom ones as we left. At 11 o’clock we tied up on the York Street moorings at Stourport, and took Lindsay for a stroll around the basins. It had been yet another stunning sunny day, despite it being a bank holiday and the weather forecast being for rain!

In the evening Rob arrived to collect Lindsay, and suddenly the boat felt very empty. We have really enjoyed Lindsay’s company over the past few days and will miss her on the return trip!

With our mission accomplished we can take a much more gentle return trip, having six days to complete what we did in three on the way down. Tuesday morning was spent descending the last lock into the basin where we used the services and did a pump out of the toilet tank. We were behind Nb Sanity Again, crewed by Bruce and Sheila, who have an entertaining blog which I read regularly. We had a good chat, before moving off to climb up York Street lock once more to begin the homeward journey.

Again the sun shone, despite the odds, and we had a pleasant run up to Kidderminster, although we were part of a convoy of hire  boats that had all left Stourport in the morning. We were assisted at the locks by a chap who seemed to just enjoy being around the canal. We pulled in at Sainsbury’s mooring above Kidderminster lock, where Anne bought ice cream (yes really!!!) and we had a short lunch break. We were still part of the convoy at the next lock, where we had to assist the hire boaters ahead of us, who were struggling to open the top gate. I opened the paddles to let the lock finish filling and we soon had them on their way.

We met up again at the next lock, Wolverley, where there was the usual audience in the pub garden alongside the lock. We decided to moor just beyond the lock and have a lovely view down to the river below.   A great spot to spend the evening!

To be continued…

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Catching Up

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2017 by netmanianick

Wow, I really have been lax in keeping this log since the summer cruise last year! Note to self – must do better.

Once we had returned home from the summer trip, we planned to go out again for the August Bank Holiday weekend. In retrospect this might have been a mistake! The journey started well enough –  we left our mooring on the Friday afternoon and made our way south through Great Haywood and down to Rugeley. Onwards via Handsacre to Wood End lock, where there was a long line of boats waiting to descend. One of the ground paddles, which is used to fill the lock, was out of action. A CaRT volunteer was stationed at the lock and was logging all the boat movements and times. Because there was only one ‘tap’ to fill the lock instead of two it was taking longer for each boat to pass through. The volunteer insisting that it wasn’t much longer than normal to everyone who passed by!

After an age we cleared the lock and had a good run down to the junction at Fradley, where we turned right on to the Coventry Canal. We passed through the busy Streethay Wharf, and the quiet Huddlesford Junction, and made our way to Tamhorn winding hole where we planned to turn around. There was a boat following us, so I indicated that I would be turning, but somehow managed to miss the wide part and we became wedged across the canal. How embarrassing! With much heaving of ropes we managed to pull out of the way, to allow the bemused boat to pass by. Of course, as soon as no-one was around I managed to perform a perfect turn around!

We moored for the night just beyond the next bridge and were soon joined by a couple of other boats. A pleasant evening was spent in the sunshine. The next morning we set off back towards Fradley, with the intention of mooring just before the water point and swing bridge. No such luck, every inch of mooring space was taken. We decided to carry on up the first two locks and see how the land lay at the Shade House moorings. Again these were full, so we carried on towards home. We were fortunate that no-one was waiting to ascend Wood End lock, so we were quickly through, but there was still a long and chaotic queue of boats waiting to descend. The piling just beyond Kings Bromley Marina was full, as was every other likely spot between there and Rugeley. Eventually we pulled up on the concrete outside the Plum Pudding, and felt obliged to visit for a meal – which was superb! Feeling very full and sleepy we fell back on to City of Durham for a good night’s sleep.

The plan for the following day was to make our way to Rugeley Aqueduct, but this too was full, so we managed to get a spot just above Colwich Lock. We intended to get some shopping in Great Haywood but were again frustrated by the lack of places to moor. In the end, I dropped Anne off at the Junction and headed down to Tixall Wide where there was sure to be space. But of course the Bank Holiday had brought everyone out in droves. I turned in the Wide, and met Anne coming down the towpath with the shopping at Swivel Bridge. It was still far to early to go home, so we decided to have one last try for a favourite spot, near Hixon above Hoo Mill Lock. The spot which overlooks Ingestre Hall has become know to us as ‘Teapot Turn’ because we once witnessed Nb Teapot from our Marina turning round in the winding hole! Finally some luck! The mooring spot was empty so we tied up for some lunch and a general laze until it was time to go home.

The return to the Marina was marred by an impatient boater who followed us down from Weetman’s bridge past the long line of moored boats above Hoo Mill Lock. As is our normal practice we had slowed down to tick-over (there is a large sticker on the back of our boat instructing this – a hang over from Durham’s hire boat days). The boat behind was not happy, but ther was nowhere suitable to let them pass. We pulled onto the lock landing, and a very aggressive woman came storming down the towpath towards us. I had been about to offer them the use of the lock first if they were in a hurry, but she was so abusive, that I am afraid that the red mist descended and I responded with a torrent of abuse. Not my finest hour. There are tow schools of thought about slowing down past moored boats. Some people think that it is the responsibility of the moored boat to tie up properly so that passing boats can do so at normal cruising speed. This is not what the boater’s handbook says, nor the myriad of signs that can be seen asking for passing boats to slow down. In the end, with much shouting and hand waving I sent them through the lock first, leaving Anne to explain to the crowd that had gathered what had been going on!

I vowed never to cruise on August Bank Holiday again, and for the first time since we had owned the boat I was glad to tie up and go home.

This was to be the last major trip of the year. We did have a couple of weekends where we went up to Stone, and one trip to Acton Trussell and back for the day with two Bulgarian visitors (where I lost my hat in the strong wind). This winter we were trapped by lock closures all around so in the thick of winter we were only able to go as far as Wide and back on the rare occasions where the weather was reasonable.

The end of March saw the maintenance works completed and the locks re-opened, so we had a warm up trip to Stone, where we dined in the fabulous Italian restaurant near the canal, and then began to prepare for the new cruising season in earnest.