Monday, 30 March 2009

Watching hire boats wind

Well, the weekend was interesting in the floating world past Blue Haven. Let's just start by saying that the Marina entrance is not a winding hole. That means it is not a designated place to wind, or to turn, a boat. If we've not said before, a winding hole, pronounced wind like air blowing gustily, not wind, like turning thread on a spool, is a place to turn a boat around. The odd pronunciation, especially when we are talking about actual turning, is left over from when it would have been the wind, literally, which caught just in the right way by an experienced helmsperson, would turn the boat. A designated winding hole is a V shaped sort of watery alcove off the main line of the canal. The bow is positioned in the small point of the V, after which the boat stern is moved across the widest part of the V, and finally the boat gently reverses back into the main section of the canal, all allowing the boat to turn. This is winding in a designated winding hole. Blue Haven Marina entrance is not V shaped. It is an odd oppening with lots of odd corners, moored up boats belonging to Rugby Boat Sales and Roy's Day Boat for hire.

So, on Saturday a rather long boat decided to turn. It got caught on one side of the entrance, then the other, then was utterly diagonal across the canal, the stern stuck in the marina entrance, the bow sitting on the tow path edge on the opposite side. Finally, with the tugging of bow lines from the towpath and the profligate use of the barge pole, the boat moved. Sunday, a much smaller boat, hired from Canaltime, decided to use the same non-winding hole. It hit both banks a number of times, nearly clipped all the moored boats, had help in the shape of two pub customers who were not quite steady enought to remain upright whilst trying to help move something close to 10 tonnes. One boat dweller swung the barge pole from side to side in and out of the water at the stern where the helmsperson was anxioulsy thrusting the boat from high speed forward to high speed reverse, pushing the tiller from one side to the other. Younger boat dwellers stood on the towpath opposite the marine entrance variously pulling the bow line one way or the other. Finally, with great grins, all dwellers were happy on their now south facing boat! We had quite a show.

We think a sign at the marina entrance, pointing out that it is not a winding hole might save a lot of agony!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

a visit to Foxton

Today we did 10 locks and just over 30 miles. But as the wind was so strong and because it was our Wedding Anniversary, we travelled by car and foot :-) We travelled first to Foxton locks ( on the Grand Union Canal Leicester section, a flight of 10 staircase locks with fascinating side ponds to manage the water of the locks. It is the site of the old Foxton inclined plane, which for only 11 years, carried boats in a casson up the side of a hill and to the canal on the top. A trust has been set up to raise the £15m needed to restore them, but not many hold out much hope!

From there we travelled to Market Harborough for a wonderful lunch then a visit to Union Wharf, just touching the northern end of this magnificent town. It is the end of the Market Harborough arm of the Grand Union Leicester Section.

Welford was the final stop of the day, a tiny wharf at the end of the Welford arm of the Grand Union Leicester section, a few miles south of Market Harborough. Its buildings are the original wharf buildings when the wharf was used to offload stone from nearby quarries.

So we had a lovely Anniversary. That's why the day out! 14 years ago today, who would have known we'd be living on the water...

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Blue Haven welcomes us again + stats

We caught the good weather today. We had some idea that we would be out for ages after Warwick and before we sat a spell in Blue Haven. But we realised we needed to do some serious work stuff which needed us to feel settled, so getting to Blue Haven earlier, then setting out for a serious trek later made sense. Then Pete went on to the Met Office website and realised that today was IT for this week and travelling. The rest of the week is to be windy with gusts up to 40+ mph, making steering more than difficult. And it is due to rain and wind and rain makes for dismal travel. So we set out for Blue Haven and travelled the 28 clicks (13 locks + 15 miles), mooring up in our slip at 3pm.

Along the way, we saw Calcutt Marina (HUGE) just east of Ventor Farm Marina (HUGE huge), mooring up perhaps nearly a thousand boats between them. The picture shows just a bit, from Elizabeth's viewpoint at Calcutt top lock. By this picture, we had already done 10 locks, including the Stockton Flight. Just after this picture, we rounded the corner from the Grand Union Canal main line turning north onto the Oxford Canal and Grand Union Canal shared section. North a little, we saw one of those grass covered bridges used to move livestock from one side of the canal to the other. And what fun! Sheep and lambs were travelling across! In a car, we'd have to stop and wait while a flock or herd moved across a road; here, we just travelled under them. You have to enlarge what looks like just a landscape to see them, but its worth it :-).

We stopped at Braunston, where the Oxford and Grand divide and pulled across to use the British Waterways Services. The pics show Bella moored up with the Bridge to the South Oxford/Grand just behind and then Pete happily walking away from the Elsan point with our waste cassettes.

Along the next stretch of the Oxford, BW are doing some towpath repair. The next picture shows one of the methods of strengthening the edge. Posts are pushed deep into the edge, then string bags of straw are wedged next to them. Over time, this rots down and becomes very firm. This photo shows last year's layer and this year's layer.

We pulled so neatly into Blue Haven, you'd have thought we'd done it before. It helped that the pound was very full, an unusual occurance for this stretch! The bank near our mooring is blooming blue and in no time at all, we had the bench unfolded from the roof, pot plants out on the grass, electric and water hose connected and Josie bounding along the bank. We feel settled enough now to do the work we need to do.

And now for some stats. For this last trip, the March journey round the Warwickshire Ring counterclockwise, we have travelled 196 clicks, breaking down into 104 miles and 92 locks. Doing this at just over 54 travelling hours, we averaged 3.61 clicks per hour, which means that with all the moorings we passed having to travel at 2mph, we are certainly managing locks at more than 4 'mph'. Add those stats to our January travelling back from Oxford for Christmas and New Years, we have travelled 241.5 clicks so far in 2009, working110 locks and travelling 131.5 miles.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Moored up baking

We decided to stay in Long Itchington for a day in order to get some work done while not on the move. The washing machine came on just after breakfast, the office was opened and work started. When finished, we treated ourselves with some baking. Here are, from right to left, scones, Garibaldi 'cakes' (our first attempt at dead fly biccies - next time, no self rising flour) and oatmeal biscuits. The scones are for breakfast when we don't use the toaster and the biscuits, well, they're just because we like them.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Staircase locks and Long Itchington

We had a lovely slow start to a beautiful sunny day, taking a walk to Radford Semele for the newspaper. As often in the countryside, it was difficult to find the Observer, but we succeeded.

We set out just past 12 to wonderful sunshine, a slight chill and a little wind, but lovely. We travelled 5.5 miles and 10 locks, and other than a few in a flight, all the locks were relatively evenly spaced in the journey. At one, a family of mum, dad and two little girls were having a picnic on the green. They took much delight in working the gates. Wonderful for us! One of the pictures is the approach to Wood Lock, showing the stupendous views of today.

The really interesting bit was Bascote Locks, including a staircase lock, where the top gate of one lock is the bottom gate of the other. The one picture shows this daunting small flight, and the other, looks at the very deep gates from the bottom lock to the upper lock. We enjoyed that a pair of ducks travelled through the staircase with us. Elizabeth, at the helm while Pete worked the lock, was worried that the ducks would get stuck in between the gates, so gave them a little of the morning's bread. Needless to say, they did not get stuck!

Josie braved the elements and her own fear today and spent a little time travelling out on deck. You can see that she's not exactly relaxed, but making it outside to travel is a real achievement.

We moored at at Long Itchington just after 3:30 and went to have a drink and read our Sunday paper at the Two Boats pub. As we sat outside, Lady Lydia moored up. As we were preparing to leave Saltisford yesterday, she had moored up opposite Bella. It is fun to meet travelling neighbours!

As this is written, Pete is steaming the Sunday ham on Squirrel, we're both feeling a little warmth on our faces from some sunburn and Josie is asleep, highly relieved that the engine is off and we're moored for the night.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Radford Semele is home for a night

We left Saltisford Canal Centre today to smiles, farewells, good wishes and glorious sunshine. We had a lazy morning, including Elizabeth taking Blossom for one last visit to Warwick Sainsbury's while Pete did final engine checks, water filling and Squirrel/coal sorting. Before we left Saltisford, we were delighted to watch the Hotel boats set out for their working season. In the pictures, you can see the butty (the one without the engine) being pulled by the boat. One boat has the lounge, kitchen and staff cabins and the other boat has the guest bedrooms. They double up in locks, but otherwise travel as if car and trailer. These boats are wonderful examples, decorated in traditional canal livery, even up to the blooming daffodils in the roof boxes.

At Bridge 46 in between Leamington Spa and Warwick, we pulled over to be met by our friend Helen and her and Dom's dogs, Defa and Trio. In the photos, you can see the idyl - Helen and Elizabeth sat on the bench (the one which used to be our sofa, now travels on the roof), with Trio standing behind and Josie sat in front. If you enlarge the picture, you can see Defa curled up just behind the bollard on the bottom left. The other side of the idyl is the next shot - the Tesco sign! We had a lovely visit and are grateful for this postal delivery from Blue Haven!

We set out to cooler temperatures but still sunshine and travelled over two aqueducts: one over the Avon and the other over the main rail line. Fun. We moored up in Radford Semele around 4:30. The photo shows Pete 'cheesing down' the centre line on the roof - creating a flat circle of rope with the end in the middle and the rest of the rope circling close around it until there is a flat spiral of centre line. Neat, tidy.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Final day at Saltisford

Well, we're off tomorrow morning. Today holds lots of going away tasks of shopping, putting off the recycling, taking Reg back to Blue Haven and much more. We have decided to finish the Warwickshire ring counter clockwise and slowly make our way back to Blue Haven for a spell as we think of where else we want to go while adjusting schedules to our work lives and need for train connections.

We have decided to wait for our visit to Stratford on Avon until the works are finished at the Basin. And, though we had thoughts of going there then on south-west onto the river Avon, south on the Severn to Bristol and then east on the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, then back up north on the Thames then Oxford Canal, we have decided that we're not quite ready for such a long trip whilst we still have such a need to tie up to train stations . We're also very cautious, in light of the floods of the last two years, of being on the rivers in June. So, we'll go back to Blue Haven, rethink, then probably set out north to the Trent and Mersey Canal from the Coventry Canal. But, this could all change! Just keeps you reading the blog...

As this was being written, the Geese woke from their post breakfast nap and are VERY loud!!! - you can see them in this quieter moment of breakfast.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Planning the next stop

Well, Elizabeth just finished her second trial of Jury Duty. And last. Whew. Now we're planning where to go next. We may do Stratford Upon Avon, but have heard that the canal basin is going through regeneration and we may want to wait for another year. So - watch this space!

The notable things of our mooring in Saltisford have been:

1) The electricity we can plug into has only been 8amp. So we've had to run Levi to do the laundry. At least we've had water 'on tap.'

2) Wedged as we are between the train line and the A425 to Warwick Centre, there is some noise. Nothing like Paddington (!), but enough to put off our Josie. She only hesitantly walks off Bella, and until this morning (morning 5) she has not managed to perform both functions outside in one visit. She holds either bladder or bowel until there is no choice, runs out, puts her ears flat back and nervously looks around at cars, trains, boats and walkers who use the path through the canal centre (we're even sure she sees the airplanes on the Birmingham International flightpath) then quickly does whichever is most urgent. Then she sniffs a little to make sure she's proud of herself, then rushes back to Bella. What a mutt!

3) Geese are loud. Very. There are two beautiful Geese here who can be so still and elegant. Then they HONK. ouch.

4) Swans in love are beautiful to behold. Just beautiful. The pair here have been engaged in a breathtaking symetrical dance, bowing head to head, curling their necks to and fro in what looks like utterly stunning choreography. It is no joke that sometimes they make a heart shape with their heads low to the centre, necks high and their bodies close together at the base of their necks. It is amazing.

5) Pete has been taking some beautiful photographs.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Levi is set to work

Here we are in Saltisford on a Monday. Elizabeth has finished one trial and is home waiting the next to start tomorrow. Levi is up and running with the washing machine taking a load of sheets. The sun is shining, the hatch is open, the geese are noisy, the local swan pair has been pairing elegantly and much is well. We'll be here another few days, but by this time next week, should be motoring off again. In the meantime, we'll take advantage of this taster for Spring!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Back in Saltisford

We're back in Saltisford Canal Centre in Warwick. Wonderful.

We set out this morning from Lapworth at 8am. Pete was bright and breezy, excited about the day and up just after 6:30am (!!!!!). Elizabeth was less enthusiastic and though should have been pleased with the cup of tea in bed at 7:15, felt it was a little early for a SATURDAY. By the time she'd surfaced and washed, she was watching the scenery go past as she put on make-up on (yes, even on a boat). Pete had untied and set out by 8. He was looking forward to the Hatton flight of 21 locks!

We made it to the top lock by 9:45 and moored up for breakfast at the 1080 cafe. We last had brekkie there with James when he came to visit before his USA trip. It was good to fill up with bacon butties in prep. On the way to Hatton from Lapworth, we went throught the Shrewley tunnel (Pete seen just outside it, then a look back to its eastern entrance) and enjoyed seeing the sheep with their lambs.

Finished breakfast, we set to the locks at 10:30. A number of them down, we caught up with Andy, the boat engineer, taking Betty Blue to Wilton Marina for a new owner. As a single hander, he was delighted to find our double team working at speed. Blossom was out for the day as well, and as we cycled back and forth from upper locks to lower ones to set the lower lock, back to upper to open and close gates then down again, we ended up being quite an efficient team of three. Excellent. It turns out that Andy knows Blue Haven, has a boat of his own moored up at the Barby straight and knows an engineer who can help us with our Levi and potential replacement. Elizabeth picked some daffodils from the towpath and got a little periwinkle from a resident cutting back hers. So, all in all, 21 locks down and it was a happy team! Tired, it has to be said, but happy.

We are very pleased to enjoy Saltisford again. The welcome on the signage is true indeed and this time we are moored across the winding hole instead of alongside the canal centre. That means we are right out in the water, have a lovely view each side and are mostly out in the open. Which also means we have FAT band!!! And the Satellite dish contact! Last time, we had no TV and slow band. Just shows what a few metres and open siting can do. We completed the arrival by Elizabeth and Blossom catching the train back to Lapworth to collect Reg. As ever, Blossom was folded into the boot for the return journey. Now we're all in one place again.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Lapworth Daisy

We've got to know the local wildlife here in Lapworth. This is Daisy, partner to Duster, both of whom visit in the mornings and the evenings. As soon as they see us start to move, they sit very patiently just outside of the hatch near the kitchen. They are very polite, compared to our swans, Nora and Batty. Nora particularly knocks on any window in which she sees us, following us from the water as we move through the boat. This morning, she could tell Pete was shaving and started knocking on the bathroom window!

We are due to be here just one more night. Though we could travel away when Elizabeth is finished in Court today, we decided to wait as we have good TV coverage and we want to see Comic Relief. Tomorrow we set out to Hatton, travel down the flight and make our way to Saltisford Canal Centre where we were moored up last October. From there, Elizabeth can walk up the hill to the Courts rather than taking the train. However, she likes both!!!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Still in Lapworth

We're still in Lapworth, staying until Friday for Elizabeth to travel to Warwick for Jury duty. Yesterday, Pete took the train to Birmingham Moor Street (which he highly recommends that Elizabeth visits - she who so enjoys trains...), walked to New Street, then took a train to Rugby - all to collect Reg. So we are all together again, with this week's local, the Navigation Inn, being willing for Reg to use their car park.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Moored in Lapworth

Today was a short motoring day, cold, blustery and often wet. We had a lie in and set out just before 11, mooring up 5 minutes later at the BW services at the top of the Knowle flitght of 5 locks; numbers 51 to 47. Hatton flight descends from lock 46, for our readers who have a sense of where we are. The Knowle flight is a beast of a flight, with beasts of locks. It used to be a flight of 6 narrow locks, but in the 1930s was changed to five wide ones. This is the same as with Hatton - wide locks replacing narrow ones. But Hatton is a bit more laid back, slightly stately and the older locks are nestled just next to the new ones. Knowle is a beast. Huge locks, accessed by concrete bridges over the old narrow locks and gates wider and heavier than many on wide locks we've used. The weather didn't help, and Pete says this was his most stressful driving. The wind was howling and even though the rain was gentle, having wet pavements for footholds to push open gates was not easy. The pictures show the weather as well as the size of the locks. One picture shows Bella on the upper level in a lock a bit like a promentory into the lower level. Odd but fascinating. Pete found he was moving Bella furiously on an angle just to keep going straight. Think shopping trolleys x 20 tonnes and add water. Hmmmm. Anyway, we got through in an hour, making this 5 clicks an hour, not four. So we managed! On the lower pound, the wind had died down, the sun made the odd appearance and we enjoyed the scenery. We moored up at Lapworth around half past one; an excellent time to go to the Navigation, the pub just opposite the mooring. We dried out, had a Sunday roast, then walked to Lapworth station to check the timetable for Elizabeth to board a train for Warwick in the morning. Tomorrow starts her Jury Duty, the whole reason why we did this particular journey just now!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Through Birmingham and out southeast

We set out bright and early this morning, anxious to make our way out of industrial Birmingham and into the countryside. Much of Birmingham is beautiful, but the canal network makes its way through the old heartlands of an old era; now much defunct, moved to the periphery of the city or indeed, moved to another country. Some of the network has been improved (regenerated, gentrified) and this better network is what we travelled through last Autumn, mooring up at Gas Street Basin and travelling north through the Aston flight of locks.

This trip, we decided to take the speedier route, hence our journey down the Birmingham and Warwick Junction canal. This took us through much more dismal scenery with warehousing old and new, repaired and not, much of everything covered in grafitti. The rubbish piled up everywhere and part of lock working was removing planks of wood, footballs, a gas cylinder, etc. We have decided that rather than witches knickers (plastic bags in trees, for our non UK readers), plastic bags in the canal are ducks' drawers. And yet, we had a priviledged view of the old buildings. One had a foundation of old mill stones. Fascinating.

The first few pictures are of the run of bridges (you have to expand the pic to see them all), a typical grafitti clad section, an old Horsely Iron Works bridge surrounded by a few centuries of industry and then Pete working one of the locks at Bordesley Junction, where the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal meets the Grand Union Main Line. We finally made our way out of the 10 locks and 3 industrial miles to some trees! The next shot is of Sparkbrook cutting, theoretically beautiful, but every flat surface was covered with some kind of scribbled paint and any corner of the canal was filled with rubbish, even a pram and a garden bench.

The day became more grey as we travelled, but we were still enjoying the variety of sights in and out of the canal. Until we realised that we were slowing down. It transpired that much of the rubbish was unseen at the bottom of the canal, yet really just under our hull, and our propeller had managed to catch not only some ducks' drawers, but some human's zipped gillet. Hmm. The pictures show that Pete opens the hatch, pulls out yuk, then proudly displays his find! One of the pictures is worth expanding right out - it is the embossing on the top of the weed hatch handle, warning us that if it is not put on tightly, we'll sink...

We then stopped in Catherine de Barnes, a village just east of Solihul, for a well earned pub lunch. Pulling out again just after 3:00, we passed by a sunken cruiser and a herd of cows (we like these better than grafitti, even though they do have yellow labels in their ears). We moored up just east of Knowle, West Midlands on the Grand Union at 5pm.

Friday, 6 March 2009

A day in Tamworth, now in Birmingham

We spent yesterday in Tamworth, as Elizabeth needed to take a train to London for a meeting. Pete did much domestic stuff and this morning, we set off just before 8:30 to a bright clear cool day. Two quick locks in Tamworth took us south to cross the river Tame. You can see it from the aqueduct piccy.

We then travelled a few miles to Fazely Junction, the junction of the Coventry Canal, which we left, and the Birmingham and Fazely Canal which we joined. You can just see the junction and the sign posts in on of the pics. At the junction, there is a factory which makes cloth tapes which has been in continuous operation since the 1850s. The very fuzzy photograph is a shot through the window where you can just make out the machines.

After then, we passed Drayton Manor and the very very odd bridge with towers at each end. Why, no one seems to know! Just after, we entered the Curdworth flight of 11 locks, taking us uphill going south towards Birmingham. We do like uphill locks! The gates go in our direction - into the lock on the way in and into the canal on the way out. And the rise is wonderfully gentle on single locks, unlike the rush of water in double locks. And Elizabeth loves watching the world come gently in to view. One of the pics is Bella rising up lock 8; you can see Blossom waiting to take Pete up to the next lock. This was a lock-wheeling day, helping us to race through the flight. Just after the flight was Curdworth tunnel, short but fun. There is a picture of us leaving it, and a pic of Pete just after it.

A few miles later, we made the flight of 3 locks in the Minworth flight, stopping in the top lock to clear the weed hatch. Closer in to Birmingham and the canal is more and more full of rubbish... Oh well. After that, we made our way under the M6, just a moment east of Spaghetti junction in Brum. We did this last year and there is a post in October about it. But here's another pic! Then we moved into another new canal, the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal. This is parallel and to the east of the Birmingham and Fazely Canal's move into the centre of Brum. That is the route we took last year on the clockwise journey round the Warwickshire ring. We're doing the counter clockwise route this time and decided to take the canal with fewer locks. One of the pictures shows the Birmingham and Warwick Junction's acqueduct over the Tame again and under the M6.

We came to a stop, 14 miles and 16 locks from Tamworth, at Star City Mooring. It is a pontoon near an amusement area with a Casino. We can see us going there.... Anyway, the sun was too nice not to put out the bench on the pontoon. What fun!