Saturday, 25 November 2017

Only a Short Visit

It was only a short visit and we have done almost none of the things we had thought about doing! Yesterday saw an even slower start - about the only reason for leaving the warmth of the boat was for Mike to empty the elsan and that is quite close.

After lunch we went out to look for a few items - Christine thought we were headed for Worcester but Mike went first to the Homebase out the other side of Droitwich. One of the items we were thinking about was a small electric free standing radiator to put in the font bedroom. Although there is an under-bed radiator fed from the main boiler (which keeps the main cabin really cosy, helped by massive output from the solid fuel stove) the bedroom is still rather chilly and it is not even frosty yet. Our weather station did indicate about 1C outside and only around 10C inside at times.

When the sun came out - which was really bright today - this bedroom was actually much warmer than the main cabin - we have not been keeping the stove in all day.

Christine had looked around on the internet and we had seen what might be useful on the Homebase web site - just a low power item as we were not sure about the effect that a 1.5 kW one would have on our electrics. The commonest seem to be 2 kW which is really pushing the limits of our shoreline when taking into account everything else.

The Homebase in Droitwich had a selection but not the low power ones. A very helpful sales assistant checked with Worcester. Even though their stock level showed six, the person at the other site offered to do a physical check and eventually returned to say that she could not find any at all! As result we at least saved ourselves another wasted journey.

After picking up a couple of items from Aldi next door (including a ready made pizza for the evening meal) we then went across the road to the B&M shed but no luck there with a radiator although we did find a thin floor mat which we are thinking about trying as alternative insulating layer above the freezer. Although it is fully enclosed we have found that it encourages condensation which makes the dinette cushion that lies on top sometimes a bit damp. We have been using newspaper but that has a tendency to go everywhere.

Back into town as nowhere out here sold newspapers so we had to brace ourselves to pay another 50p for car parking outside Morrisons. However, we first went into Wilko and this was fortunate as they did have a small 750w oil filled radiator that is small enough to fit under the bed when it is pulled out.

Shopping over we returned to the marina and back onto the boat where we stayed until morning! The pizza was quite OK - at £1.76 we could not really have lost much! At least Christine was impressed - more so than with Mike's mixed salad accompaniment! The cheesecake from Morrisons was a great but quite heavy so most of it was put back into the fridge to go home!

Another bright and sunny morning today but probably quite cold - not yet ventured further than looking through the windows! We are leaving this morning - must not linger too much as Mike has a meeting at 4.30 to help set up Egloshayle Church projector ready for tomorrow morning and the team have asked for a sight variation on our norm so it needs checking out.

It has only been a short visit but we have enjoyed the chance (excuse) to do very little! But we have finished the books we were reading!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Late November Short Break

We drove up from home yesterday. We left in good time and as this is about the nearest marina we arrived by 1 o'clock. The boat was in good shape and it did not take too long to restore everything to habitable status, with the water tank filled.

Apart from Mike making a short trip to Morrisons in town for a few supplies, we were happy to stay cocooned in the warmth - it was blowing a strong wind and not too pleasant to be outdoors. Although Mike tried to put up the satellite dish, a strange sound some minutes later signalled that it had fallen over in the wind. Fortunately we had restrained it with a mooring rope so at least it did not not go into the water!

Today we enjoyed a slow start but mid morning drove into Droitwich for a few items from Morrisons. We did pay for an hour so that we could walk around the town centre to remind ourselves of the layout. It is a little while since we were last here. On the last few times (including last month) we have come along the canal we have only made quick forays to the nearest shops.

We took a brief look at the salt museum in the tourist information centre - we may come back next month when  Alice and Jess are with us. It is fairly compact but does set out the way in which the town was shaped by the large amounts of good quality salt laid down deep under the surface in this area.

A statue is a reminder pf the men who worked in the salt production.

Looking at older maps we have discovered just how much of the centre of the town is very recent with the older, more industrial areas having been replaced. Sadly, much of that replacement is unimaginative and unlikely to last as long as any predecessors!

High Street is the only part with older shops buildings - it is easy to see why there have been problems as many of the buildings are at odd angles as a result of subsidence.

In a gap between various buildings we could see across to the old church on the top of the hill opposite. If you look carefully you can see that a rainbow spanned across the picture. The weather was generally favourable but a brief light shower (which just missed us) lasted just a couple of minutes after which the bright blue sky returned.

We returned to the boat for lunch - which did include part of a fresh pork pie from a small independent butcher on High Street.

Although we had discussed driving to either Worcester or Great Malvern, in the end the bright weather persuaded us to talk a walk from the marina. Once across the Rugby Club access bridge we turned onto the towpath towards the junction. The first part was rather muddy but soon we discovered that there was a better surfaced alternative!

We walked up, passing the three locks to the junction.

Here we took a look at Hanbury Wharf Centre, a collection of a few small businesses including a boat sales operation and others unrelated to the canal - including one selling garden shelters.

Back at the towpath we retraced our steps but at the access bridge we continued on to the new locks just before the motorway. Crossing the M5 was one of the major obstacles that the restoration engineers had to solve. The original route had been completely obliterated by the embankment for the motorway but fortunately they established that a tunnel could just - only just - be made through  a culvert for Body Brook which is much smaller than the River Salwarpe which it joins just the other side.

We were tempted by realising that the next lock was only a short way further one and continued. Here, the new alignment joins the river but leaves it again at the start of Vines Park with the almost-level Barge Lock.

Of course, once at the lock it was only a short extra walk to Waitrose - we missed that we needed some red kidney beans and this would avoid having to drive back in a second time!

Eventually it was time to retrace our steps back to the boat - arriving as the sun was just going down below the horizon!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Into Marina for Winter

Today's Canal - Droitwich

We made a good start, although Andrew insisted on first going to the supermarket for a newspaper. Again, with a clear sky, the autumn sun was only just shining over the trees.

Vines Park was looking good as we set off with Andrew walking ahead to set the first swing bridge.

The river lock as level and gates at both ends could be opened at the same time - not that we did so intentionally, but then life does have its little surprises!

It did not take us long to cover the rest of the distance, and four more locks including the final two-lock staircase, to arrive at the entrance to Droitwich Spa Marina where we had booked a space some time ago for the winter. We paused at the service wharf whilst Christine sorted out arrangements and was shown our pontoon by, we believe, the marina owner. We have only been here once before when we called in for fuel but we certainly found them very helpful back then and this arrival was equally so. We were in urgent need of elsan disposal so did that before moving to what turned out to be a near pontoon - it is quite some distance to the furthest ones.

Sadly we failed to take any photos of the marina so that will have to wait until we next visit.

Next, Mike and Andrew cleaned the roof, the fore deck and the rear deck - the cab sides will have to wait as it was time to change and prepare to do the two car shuffles. As Mike, with Andrew's assistance, found such a good deal on train tickets that we felt we could blow the saving on a taxi to the station.

Andrew caught a train  first, into Birmingham and then out to Wolverhampton before finally a train to Chirk. He had to walk across the aqueduct to collect his car but he had a smooth journey back to the boat.

Mike, on the other had, had some wait before his train at 2 o'clock which took him to Smethwick Galton Bridge where he changed for a connection to Crewe. Finally there was a very short hop, on a very packed train, to Nantwich. A taxi which had booked whilst waiting at the first station was ready and waiting which efficiently took him to Swanley Bridge Marina - much easier than the almost an hour walk otherwise!

Christine took the opportunity of an otherwise empty boat to do a through clean - at this time of the year, especially in places where the contractors have just done their final grass cut of the season, the floor can easily look a bit in need of a clean. When the other two returned, it looked a different boat!

After handing back the gate access card, Mike set off. His journey was the more tedious - the A500 to the M6 had queues at almost all the road junctions and the satnav told him that around Birmingham was not going to be quick.

He was amused to note that the last part of traffic queues was above the repair work that we had seen a few days earlier when we navigated underneath. Eventually he arrived back, almost a hour later than Andrew. At least Christine had already prepared the evening meal. Afterwards, Andrew returned home - he has less than two hours to do.

1.4 Miles - 5 Locks

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Droitwich (again)

Today's Navigations - Droitwich Canal, River Severn (just)

After much debate we eventually set off towards Hawford Junction to complete the length of the Droitwich Canal. What was still uncertain was whether we might turn around earlier and where we would moor for the night. Much hinges on the optimum location (or the least effortful) from which to collect both cars. We know that we will go by train from Droitwich to Nantwich (in Mike's case) or Chirk (in Andrew's case) but there is still some detail to agree in order to minimise extra journeys beyond that!

It was a very dull day, not cold, with almost no movement in the air, certainly nothing to call a breeze. Both Andrew and Christine went for a wander from the boat after breakfast so it was well after 10 before we set off. Most of the other overnight boats had already left.

Originally the wide, barge canal, went as far as the lock at the other end of Vines Park but the reconstruction through the railway viaduct just beyond Netherwich Mooring reduced the usable width by using a poorly designed corrugated lining that curves around under the waterline, but also by adding a towpath. The result is that now there are distinctive warning signs that mean that only narrow boats an proceed from here.

A team of contractors  to reduce overhanging branches - not from the canal so much as the towpath. It certainly looked a job needing to be done.

When the canal was first re-opened it was well-known for the narrow channel between the reeds that quickly developed. Since then a better plan for maintaining the balance is in place and we could see clearly where the reeds have been cut back, although the new season's growth has sprung up. But at least it stops the spread towards the middle.

A couple of swing bridges fell into disuse some time ago and did not form part of the restoration. At the first the old swing deck is still in place, albeit very overgrown and decayed. However, aficionados can at least still and have their picnic whilst contemplating the design!

At the second, the deck is now abandoned in a nearby hedge although the underwater structure is a potential hazard to deep-drafted boats.

After about an hour cruising we arrived at the top of the five Ladywood locks. At both top and bottom lock there is a former lock keeper's cottage.

At the second lock there is a very different style of overflow weir - quite an impressive design.

We shared the last few locks with a friendly hire boat that was on its way back to Worcester. At Lock 2 there is a new high tech warning display that should show the water conditions in the River Severn just above and below the junction. Alas, it was not working (the one we saw yesterday at Hanbury was operational) so we wold have to resort to tried and tested methods to judge the safety of proceeding out of Lock 1.

There are some very new warning signs concerning a pinch point below Lock 1, where the canal joins the river.

The problem seems to be that the tail of the lock, along with the lock landing, is at  a slight angle to the alignment of the lock itself. Why do we get the feeling that the signs are a response to one incident where boats got into difficulty? Still it is not too much of an inconvenience gto go out separately - it is the only sensible option really gto maintain adequate control when joining into a river stream which here is on a bend and running across the line of the canal.

We let the other boat go ahead as all that we were doing was going out onto the river and turning around to come back in and start making the ascent back to Droitwich. Mike stayed at the lock to close it once the boat was safely back inside whilst Andrew made the turn. A photo cannot show that at this point it looked as if the boat was going fast sideways without making much forward progress but eventually the boat and lock were lined up for a safe entrance.

New houses have been built alongside the lock but the ground is much higher so a retaining wall was put in place. Either initially, or perhaps later, serious retaining bolts have had to be provided although the wall does seem to have a slight bulge. However, we did not feel that this prop would make a lot of difference!

A boat came up the river just as we were about to ascend so we waited - it turned out to be a single hander. Both of us moored just above Lock 2 for lunch but he was still there when we left later - after enjoying good potions of Christine's latest soup (we had the first portions yesterday so it had had another day to mature)

The return journey did not yield any surprises and this time we saw no moving boats. However Mike did manage to capture the moment at which water starts to come into the lock chamber from a top paddle. In these locks the entry culvert is well below the normal water level and so shows for a couple of seconds as a large bubble stream before bursting to the surface with the usual turbulence which means that boaters need to take care to operate the paddles in the correct sequence to minimise the effect on a single boat - not so much of an issue when there are two boats in the lock.

Just before 5 we arrived back at the moorings with plenty of space - signs indicate that the whole of the visitor mooring is to be designated a Winter Mooring but that does not start until the first of November.

11.2 Miles - 16 Locks

Wednesday, 25 October 2017


Today's Canals - Worcs and Birmingham, Droitwich

It was a wonderfully bright and clear sky as we awoke and took the boat across from one side of the canal to the service point at the CaRT maintenance base opposite. It was also unseasonably warm - a passer-by at one stage remarked that it felt as good as summer!

The sun was still not showing over the horizon, down at canal-level but was catching the church steeple at the village on the hill above.

The view across the plain to Welsh hills was marvellous - pity about the telephone pole and wire across the middle but our journalistic principles (aka insufficient commitment to effort!) prevent us from PaintShopping it out!

As we waited for the water to fill we looked around, seeing this preserved boat that once operated from Tardebigge to pull unpowered boats through the tunnels between here and Birmingham Worcester Bar.

The dry dock is again in use with what appears to be a new tenant (their main base is where we later stopped for lunch). They were already at work jet washing a narrowboat ready for blacking - it made an incredible noise, let's hope he was wearing ear defenders!

There is really one one word to describe today: locks! (and plenty of them, 50 in all). So we began at the beginning with Tardebigge Top Lock.

A waterside garden had not only Flowerpot Men but also this welded metal hippo (catch it at the right angle and honestly it does look like a hippo ought to look)

A few locks down and we passed Tardebigge Reservoir.

We had help from several lock keepers as we passed down the flight but they usually only stayed with us for a few locks at a time.

One of the lock keepers was accompanying a three person film crew making a video for CaRT about holidays on the canals. They were using a 360 camera so had to hide when filming. Mind you, they never asked our permission!

At a couple of locks, a local volunteer work party was clearing undergrowth from around the bypass weirs.

By mid morning a lot of high level cloud arrived with a slightly fresher breeze but it still felt balmy.

There was plenty of water coming down the flight and at a few locks it ran over the top of the gates. This made it difficult to cross the top foot boards as they were under water!

And here we are, just tree minutes under three hours and out the other end of the 29 lock flight.

However, no respite as immediately (it does not really feel like a different flight) comes the six locks of the Stoke Flight.

Christine noticed that some of the blue bricks used to edge the lock chambers have their makers details imprinted into them Here are three. The last one is dated 1893 so they do last well!

By now the cloud largely passed on and we were back to really warm, almost hot, weather.

Just above the last lock is a large Black Prince hire base. Several new boats were being fitted out ready no doubt for next season. We saw one with a later registration number than ours which had obviously had quite a few trips already, comparing our well-worn blacking (was it only just before Middlewich that we re-painted?) with this one.

We pulled in for lunch below the final Stoke lock and debated our options. At the rate of progress so far today we could possible get as far as Hawford, via Droitwich which would leave us with a feasible trip via Worcester tomorrow.

After a short rural run we arrived at the next flight, the six locks at Astwood.

A dead tree makes a beautiful if stark image against the blue sky.

After our earlier debate we turned right at Hanbury Junction, joining the Droitwich Canal. The upper part of this canal is narrow whilst the lower part is a broad beamed barge canal from the town to the Severn.

The top three locks, where a volunteer was assisting boats through and actually asked if we would like his help (of course!), all have working side ponds.

After passing the marina where we will return shortly for our winter berth, we passed through the two lock staircase that was a completely new construction when  the canal was restored.

One of the challenges for the restorers was than whilst the canal was closed the M6 was built leaving only a culvert for the River Salwarpe. As a result there is a very low headroom at this point but (even through we had failed to check our official air draft!) we made it easily although the radio aerial did just tickle the underneath of the tunnel roof.

We continued the short distance to the town where the canal leaves the river via the Barge Lock, At normal river levels there is barely any change in level but the catch is that the swing bridge across the middle still has to be opened. Leaving the lock was a but trickier than usual as neither gate wanted to open fully so we had to use both.

The canal runs for a short distance through the well used Vines Park - but it does have several swing bridges just when you might think about having a rest!

The locks down the Droitwich all took very much longer to negotiate than those earlier so by the time we arrived at the moorings in the town there was no time left to go any further, This canal offers few places to moor as the edges are mostly kept as reed beds for environmental reasons. (One of the issues when restoring a canal is that in the period of disuse all sorts of wildlife and flora take up residence with groups wanting to protect them). The upshot was that we ended up staying here for the night with yet another debate to be had about what next!

8.4 Miles - 50 Locks