Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Three Days of Autumn Cruising.


While we were staying at Fradley Junction over the weekend we had an unexpected guest. A rather tired racing pigeon took refuge on the rear deck for about an hour on Saturday afternoon. That was, until one of our ‘expected’ guests – Jasper the Border Terrier - trotted to the back of boat and spotted it. At that point the pigeon decided it had enough energy to continue it’s journey!


Jasper, of course, belongs to friends John and Louise on nb “Ploddin Along” who we had arranged to meet on Saturday. The fun with these two lovely people started with coffee, and fantastic home made coffee cake, onboard “Ploddin Along”. This was followed by a glass of wine / beer as the afternoon wore on! In the evening Louise and John came aboard “Chance” for a reciprocal glass or two before we headed up to the ‘Mucky Duck’ for a meal together. The picture says it all really – great fun, lots of laughs and thanks so much both of you for the meet-up and for your lovely company. See you next year – wink, wink!


And this is cute little Jasper who we also had great fun with. Especially Doug who, given a four-legged friend for a few hours, is in his element! There were lots of sticks and balls being thrown resulting in a tired little doggy (and a tired little Doug!)


On Sunday morning, after James successfully risked the threat of rain showers and painted the sanded areas on the roof (that’s another winter preparation job done) we set forth, going forwards this time, through the lock we’d reversed through on Friday!, and turning immediately left onto the Coventry canal. We only had a bit of drizzle to contend with during the day – luckily the roof paint had dried before we left Fradley. Not long after we’d moored up for the night (in one of our favourite spots just before the military firing area at Hopwas!) we were hailed by the sound of American accents from a passing ‘Aqua’ hire boat! Some lovely people, all the way from “south of San Francisco”, told us they enjoy regularly reading our blog. Goodness! – what a chance that you should pass us! Thank you for saying hello and we hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday.


Monday was a very wet day with James steering the boat under the protection of an umbrella for four hours. Luckily the rain stopped as we got to the bottom of the Atherstone flight of 11 locks. At the ‘town’ bridge 44 they’d done a good job of prettifying the area with a good autumnal display of flowers.


We reached the top lock, 80 feet higher than we started, in just less than two hours. Not too bad really!


The weather improved in the afternoon and, at about 5’ish, we moored in one of our middle-of-nowhere locations (just before Hartshill) and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine.


Tuesday was very drear but at least it was dry. We were pleased to see that the very pretty maintenance yard at Hartshill was looking more ‘loved’ than the last time we passed.


There is a very stout and dignified original manager’s house at the far end of the yard but the most interesting building is the arched dock building constructed of blue brick and topped by an elegant clock tower.


If it was on the roadside this marvellous left-over from the past would have been felled for one reason or another but here, on the canal side near Boon’s Wharf, it survives intact.


After we travelled through Nuneaton and passed the start of the Ashby Canal at Marston Junction we arrived at Hawkesbury Junction – known historically as “Sutton Stop” by the old working boat crews.


Our need to get onto the Oxford Canal at this point required a very tight 180 deg turn through the beautiful cast iron bridge built in 1837. “Chance” handles very well and managed the turn with ease (and without bow thrusters!).


Doug had hopped off the boat before the tight turn and nipped across to prepare the stop lock (just a 6 inch rise – and not 6 inches deep as we’d described the last stop lock!) Occasionally a stop lock is required at junctions to cope with the change in water level between two canals.


For the second time on the day’s journey the canal came up with something you don’t get to see on the roads – this amazing view of a pylon taken from the boat as we passed by!


And another middle-of-nowhere mooring on Tuesday evening next to the Crewe to Rugby railway line …….


……. and also at the end of one of the Ansty golf course fairways. We hope we’re far enough away not to be hit by any stray golf balls!

The lovely autumn feel on the canal has been heightened by the marvellous sunny evenings we’ve had on all three days.  How very lucky!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Three Canals in Five Days


It could only have been a matter of minutes after leaving our mooring at Market Drayton on Monday morning when a man in a red top, who had run along the towpath to get to us, hailed us with the question “Are you friends of Paul and CJ?” Well we do happen to be friends with Paul and CJ so we stopped the boat and had a great ‘friends-of-friends’ meeting with two charming guys – Tim and Chris. Thanks so much for spotting us Tim and Chris. It was a great chat (hope we didn’t delay you too much!) and we look forward to a longer meet next time.


Soon after Market Drayton the wide Shropshire Union Canal suddenly narrows into a deep rock cutting at the base of the very picturesque Tyrley lock flight.


After rising 33 feet up the five locks we arrived in the pretty setting at the top lock.


Hot on the heels of the Tyrley locks is the equally narrow “Woodseaves Cutting”. The cutting is so deep that some bridges are approaching 80 feet high and there’s a 2mph speed limit on boats to stop erosion of the bank as this stretch is very prone to landslides. It’s certainly not a place to hang around!


At Knighton we passed the old Cadbury wharf with it’s lovely Art Deco buildings. Cadburys used to blend raw chocolate here which was then returned to Bournville for further processing. The final cargo from these original buildings was carried in 1961 but Cadbury still process in the modern building behind.


We moored for the night on Monday at Lord Talbot’s Wharf, between bridges 26 and 25. In the morning fortune was on our side as John Jackson came along with his coal boat and butty. We only had a third of a bag of coal left and with the evenings getting chillier we decided to hail him down for a couple of bags. After delivering a load opposite he swung across to us ……..


…… and got his boat stuck in the mud on both sides of the canal! A laden working boat is very deep in the water and can easily get grounded.


Interestingly, to save time and effort, before stopping his ‘motie’ (motor boat) he unhitched the butty (no engine) and let it sail on down the canal under it’s own momentum, intending to catch it up later, rehitch and continue his journey. Very clever – there’s always something to learn on the canals!


On Tuesday morning we stopped at Wheaton Aston to fuel up (at 51.9p/litre it was the cheapest we’ve ever paid for fuel in five years!) And it was a good job too as we got 200 litres in! Motoring on we crossed the old Roman road of Watling Street on a superbly elegant aqueduct constructed of cast iron, brick with the most glorious stone pillars.


Not stopping this time, we passed the lovely village of Brewood (pronounced ‘Brood’) which, from the canal, presents the quintessentially English picture. 


At the end of the “Shroppie” is the junction to the Staffs and Worcs Canal and the stop lock. The lock protects the water supplies between the two canals and is only 6 inches deep!


Now on the Staffs and Worcs canal we were soon into another cutting. This one goes by the old boatman’s name of “Pendeford Rockin” and, going on for 1/2 mile, it’s damned narrow in places! These things keep James on his toes which is a good thing really!


Getting tired by now, and then being “ambushed” by an army of young canoeists (who, incidentally, all saluted as we went past!) we chose to moor up for the night in a quiet spot and settle our nerves. (only joking!)


Off again on Wednesday morning and, as we’ve said so many time before, the canals have a surprise round most corners. This one was the very unusual, and rather lovely narrow boat “Elizabeth” which we’ve seen a few times now but it’s always a pleasure.


The old Roman road of Watling Street crossed our path again, over the bridge at the far end of the lock, at Gailey Wharf. The most interesting thing here though is the Round House. Originally a toll clerks office it’s now a canal shop and always worth a visit (even if it’s only an ice cream!)


Soon after Gailey we were deafened by the roar of the M6 which follows the course of the canal for far too long.


Penkridge, and Wednesday nights mooring, came next and we knew we were getting close as we approached the delightful setting of the Cross Keys and bridge 84.


After a quiet night in Penkridge, where the M6 moves far enough away to allow for a good night’s sleep, we were on our way again on Thursday morning with one last encounter with the motorway monster. The day was very slow with about four boats queueing at each lock (much to the surprise of everyone as the previous day was so quiet!). However, we had a lot of fun and ribald banter with each other and, at one lock (can’t remember which), we were so pleased that Pam and Terry on nb “Rooster’s Rest” spotted us ahead of them in the queue and came to say ‘hello’. We met them in Alrewas last year.


After journeying through the perfectly manicured village of Acton Trussell we arrived at the penultimate lock of the day – Tixall Lock is shallow at 4ft 3in and has a pretty little lock cottage to enhance our enjoyment.


The extraordinary Elizabethan gatehouse of Tixall Hall overlooks the wide expanse of canal known as Tixall Wide and it wasn’t long then before we arrived at Great Haywood and our last lock of the day. After that it was a few hundred yards to find a lovely mooring overlooking the Shugborough Hall estate.


Friday’s journey took us from Great Haywood (stopping briefly at Rugely for groceries -as every boater does of course!) and ended in dear old Fradley in the early afternoon. We winded at the junction with the Coventry and backed down through the lock to arrive at our favourite mooring spot as we want to be facing the right way to go down the Coventry canal when we leave on Sunday. We were amazed at how deserted these Fradley moorings were on a Friday.

Well, it’s not often we travel three different canals in such a short time but each one has offered it’s own delights and surprises. How very lucky!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Three Aqueducts and a Last Blast

We left the the Llangollen basin on Tuesday morning at the ungodly hour of 6am! The reason being that there were so many hire boats around that we really did need to beat the rush. Having a dozen or so unskilled hirers ahead of us was not to be encouraged!


When we arrived at Trevor after a clear run, and an hour and half later, the Pontyscillyte aqueduct was ours and ours alone!


Of course, Doug had to steer across – at nearly 130 feet in the air it’s not for the faint hearted (or James!).


A clear, calm trough of water all the way across.


However, the next aqueduct at Chirk is gentler on the senses and James was quite able to take “Chance” across this one.


We couldn’t help but notice that CART seem to have contracted a new form of grass cutting! It didn’t take us long to get down, and off, the Llangollen canal – stopping only at Prees Junction for one night (the day of the great thunder storms!) ……….


………. and one night at Wrenbury to meet up with fellow boaters Sharon and Richard on nb “Oakapple”.



We had a lovely afternoon and evening with them – ending with a nice meal in the Cotton Arms. Really good to meet you both at last!

We left the Llangollen canal on Thursday and, returning to the Shropshire Union canal (the “Shroppy”), we moored up again in Nantwich. It had been a while since we’d cruised the Llangollen – the canal banks and towpath are still well kept with a lot of good quality moorings but the section after Ellesmere is plagued by far too many hire boats. While it was a sort of frustrating entertainment watching the antics of the hire boats, the fun soon wore off. Sadly, and worryingly, the hire companies are woefully lacking in their efforts to impart even the most rudimentary training for their customers. The canal is also generally pretty shallow – “Chance” draws 30 inches and we were scraping the bottom and hitting rock and stones far too often. Three feet of clear water isn’t a lot to ask for.

Anyway, we caught the train from Nantwich to Manchester on Friday morning. Partly to meet up with friends who we hadn’t been able to see during our last two visits and partly to enjoy our favourite city (outside London) one last time before going south.


We stayed at the Britannia Hotel which we’d used many years ago. While many old hotels need some TLC the 5th floor room we had was very smart indeed.


The staircase in the Britannia is a magnificent cast and wrought iron engineering masterpiece. The view from floor 5 is very special with the reception chandelier hanging from the 5th floor ceiling like an enormous plumb-bob.


Returning to Nantwich on Saturday afternoon we headed off again, crossing the town’s own rather splendid aqueduct.


We passed by the popular sojourn point of CoolĂ© PilatĂ© which, unless someone has cleverly doctored the CART sign, seems it’s now pronounced as written!


Further on towards Audlem we found a lovely sunny spot with no one around. Not only did we have time to top up our tans during the very hot and sunny afternoon but James also got on with some much needed maintenance and winter preparations.


The evening cooled off quite quickly but the sunset was marvellous and the evening drew to a wonderful close.



Our mooring spot needed no new-fangled satellite positioning systems – on our mooring outside the window was all we needed to know (well, to within 1/2 mile or so anyway!)


On Sunday we set off along a rather deserted canal. Even when we got to the pretty canal side setting of Audlem at 11:30 there wasn’t a sole around! There were, however, three boats scaling the 11 locks out of Audlem and it was here that we met fellow boaters and blog readers on nb “Serena” coming down the flight. Unusually James was working the locks so he was able to enjoy the ‘chin-wagging’ this time! 


Well, hot on the heels of the Audlem 15 lock flight came the Adderley flight of five and after that  we were soon in Market Drayton. Safely secured on the marvellous moorings opposite Victoria Wharf James set about some more preparations for winter. Doug went off shopping for groceries and came back staggering like a pack mule! Thinking that there were very few mooring possibilities in the next 5 miles we decided Market Drayton was the spot to stay for the night.