Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Here Come the Girls!

The blog has been quiet for the past few days for a couple of reasons. First, our mobile broadband dongle is away at the menders, hopefully getting fixed or replaced.

Secondly, I spent the weekend with four of my very good friends from university, Priscilla, Yun, Rhianna and Hanne. Yun lives in Cambridge now, but the other three have travelled from London, Yorkshire and Holland. We have not all spent time together since Rhianna's wedding in 2008, so it was wonderful to catch up and just enjoy each others' company in the city where we spent three years as overworked Architecture students!

Yun, Pris, Me, Hanne, Rhianna





















We managed to fit a lot into the weekend. On Friday night we went for a meal and then out dancing until late. Saturday, we went shopping and punting, then went to a performance of Twelfth Night at Robinson College in the evening, followed by more drinking and dancing, and a late night stop at Gardies for chips.





















On Sunday, the girls all came over to the Duck. Hanne had not seen it before, so I was pleased to be able to finally show her round. Sadly, she had to leave for Holland pretty soon after arriving, but James and I took the other three cruising on the Duck up to the Plough at Fen Ditton. We had a delicious Sunday lunch there, and then cruised back into town. Thankfully, after a grey rainy morning, the afternoon was brilliantly sunny!

Mooring up at the Plough



























































We were all tired after the weekend's excesses, but still managed to fit in game of Settlers (which we used to play all the time at university) before bedtime. The girls were staying in a B&B not far from the boat, as I simply couldn't put them all up!






















We said bye on Monday morning, all agreeing that we should not leave it as long before meeting up next time!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On the Level

Due to all the recent rain, the river level is slightly up at the moment. Nothing too serious, its just a couple of inches. The EA have a flood warning system which works by text, although there was some kind of malfunction last time and it didn't work so I don't have much trust in it. So I had a look on the EA website to see if there was any way of keeping an eye on the river levels. And it turns out that they have a new system of publishing river levels at various locks and sluices in the area, including one for our nearest lock, Jesus Green.



















The current data is a few hours out of date, but the level at 03:45am was just on the cusp between what's normal and what is considered a flood risk. But there is no EA Flood Warning on the Cam at the moment.

To be honest, if you're on the river, looking out the window would be far more useful, but if not, it may be helpful to see what the river is doing. Even when at home, this level monitor is probably most handy for seeing any trends in level change. It is also interesting to see how current levels compare to recent floods and highest recorded levels. But it could do with being updated far more often (river levels can change very rapidly here), and with incorporating some sort of prediction.

In the Bag

Living on a boat named Lucky Duck, it is perhaps unsurprising that we are often given duck related paraphernalia. At first, it was exciting and novel, then it started to become a bit tedious, and now, we have come to accept and embrace it, to the extent that I end up noticing and being attracted to duck related ornaments and patterns.

So, when I saw this lovely brocade duck patterned handbag on sale for £8 in one of my favourite shops, Ark, I simply couldn't resist. I have been vaguely looking for a smartish handbag for a while, as I often end up using old supermarket carrierbags or whatever comes to hand when I go into town. A nice canvas bag which I got from the library ( with the slightly odd slogan: 'You'll be surprised what you'll find in your library!') is useful but its open at the top and so not waterproof. This one, despite looking open, has a concealed zip inside to seal it up, as well as a little detatchable purse, and various useful pockets. And I just love the pattern.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I can see clearly now!

One of the things I was looking forward to when we got back from our cruise was picking up my new glasses which had arrived by post at work while I was away. My old pair had been stood on at a party this time last year, and I had been wearing a combination of my spare pair and the contact lenses I had left from when I used to have them delivered.

Eventually the contact lenses ran out. I tried the new type of extended wear lenses that you only change once a month but they didn't suit my eyes, and the optician advised that I shouldn't carry on with them. So I was back to wearing my spare pair, and decided that I really ought to get a new pair and relegate the boring black pair back to being spares.

My spares had been bought online, so I decided to look at the various online glasses shops, and spent a long time deliberating over what to buy. I was looking for a dark brown/ burgundy pair with a small narrow-shaped frames, but couldn't find anything that I really liked until I came across Select Specs. There, I found exactly what I was looking for. And they were only £5, including prescription lenses, UV and scratch-proof coating and ultra-thin lenses. A similar pair in Specsavers would be over £100. I'd have been prepared to pay more, and the typical price for glasses online is about £30





















So I sent off for them, not entirely convinced that they'd be any good for that price, and while I was away they arrived. (They had to come from Hong Kong, which is part of the reason that they cost so little). And they're actually really lovely. A deep burgundy-brown, they are comfortable, the lenses are thin despite my strong prescription and I think they look nice.

Sorry, this post is completely un boat-related, but I just wanted to help dispel some myths about buying glasses online. Firstly, several companies eg Glasses Direct let you chose up to 6 frames to try on at home, to see if they fit, and if you like them. Most others let you upload a photo and try them on 'virtually'. My method involved going into various glasses shops to try similar colours and styles, and then picking something without trying it on. Several people I've spoken to also assume that their prescription would be too complicated to produce cheaply, but most companies do bi- and vari-focal lenses for only £20 extra, still totalling at far less than what you'd pay in the shops. Most companies also produce prescription lenses to -15 and +15.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Totals, and Thoughts on the Grand Summer Cruise



So, in the 31 days we were out, we travelled 485 miles, and passed through 316 locks and eight tunnels. Only the route out of the Fens to Northampton was duplicated. And once we were on the canals, the very vast majority of the route was bits we'd not done before.

We averaged at 26 lock-miles per day, with a few very long days meaning that we could also do some very short days, although we did move some distance every day.

Not a single thing went wrong with the engine, the starter sequence, the drive chain or anything else. The oil leak meant that we were continually topping up and emptying the bilge, but it didn't stop us. Once, the lights all went out, because a fuse blew, but that was easily fixed as we have lots of spares.

We met a few bloggers, and readers, for which I was glad to have the boat's name painted visibly, although not as many as on our 2008 trip. I suspect this is mainly because we simply didn't need to ask for help like we did last time!

It was also wonderful to visit all the places we'd heard so much about, whose names conjure up evocative scenes of canal history: Tixall Wide, Penkridge, Atherstone, Sutton Stop, Foxton, Shardlow.

Favourite places included the new pontoon mooring at Wansford, next to the Nene Valley Railway, the city of Leicester, the wonderful Art Deco cinema at Loughborough, the pretty village of Shardlow, the vast spaces and almost classical columns under the M5 in Brum, the BCLM as a whole and the pie shop in Atherstone.

Personally I feel much more confident with boat handling than I did before we left. I am now quite happy to moor up on my own, take the boat into any type of lock, and generally feel like my steering has improved.

But despite the fact that we loved being out on the canals, we're glad to be back. Lots of things to look forwards to, including a weekend with my best friends from uni, James starting his new job, lots of rowing (including the Boston Marathon), and catching up with friends.

Monday, 23 August 2010

New Blog Look

Admittedly its not very different, I just wanted to update the photo mainly, since it was taken over two years ago and looks nothing like the Duck does now. The current one was taken in Wellingborough. I was just nipping off to the Tesco when I looked back and saw the way the boat lined up with the warehouse beyond, and I've been trying to get photos with the signwriting in for a while. SHame its slightly distorted by the camera. Maybe I can fix that.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Day Thirty-One: Home

Old Mooring - Cambridge

Today dawned beautifully hot and sunny, despite gloomy predictions. We were delighted, since we had two friends joining us for the trip into town.

We enjoyed the final run into Cambridge, passing all the old familiar sights and the ever increasing quantities of rowers. It remained sunny and so we felt glad to be back as we cruised past our old mooring (now occupied by someone else, as is the way with our mooring scheme) and over to the waterpoint.

Now we are moored in an old spot which we used for a bit before we all moved for the fair and everyone shuffled around. It is in a gap between two trees so gets sun, and Lyra likes it because she can explore the yard behind Midsummer House. Its also very close to the Fort and the boathouses. Lyra is playing outside, enjoying her newfound freedom!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Day Thirty: Back To The Parish

Littleport - The Parish

Quite a few miles

We had been hoping to have a friend join us in Ely, but she couldn't make it so we had no obligations except to get to our old mooring aka The Parish sometime during the day and see everyone there.

The wind didn't let up, but it was a pleasant enough cruise with only a couple of short showers. The only low point was when we were approaching Bottisham Lock, we saw the gates were open, only to close dishearteningly as we came closer, despite sounding the horn. "We were there first" the woman said, when James went up to the lock to help. Pah! That's hardly the point. If there's someone who can come up as you fill it, it doesn't matter who got there first. Ah well, we weren't in a hurry. There aren't enough asterisks to describe what John had to say about the matter!

We spent a lovely afternoon on our old mooring, and have had a delicious dinner with John and Jackie. Jackie and I made Portugese custard tarts and frangipani jam tarts from Jamie Oliver's recipe book. The meal was delicious, and we are still on board. Tom Kitten has just come in, but he has been unwell all day poor thing. It will be the vets for him tomorrow if he carries on looking so under the weather.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Day Twenty-Nine: Against Wind and Tide

EDIT: the camera was the right way up when I took the photo, don't know why it turned upside down when I uploaded it!

March - Littleport

23 miles, 3 locks

Middle Level, River Ouse

We are feeling somewhat windswept after a very blowy cruise through the fens. We began in March where the navigation is sheltered but once out into the Fens with no buildings to shelter behind, the going became much tougher.

Mostly we took turns at the tiller except through the villages of Upwell and Outwell where it was again sheltered. In Outwell, we passed nb Caxton and exchanged a few words (nice to finally meet them!) before heading to Salters Lode to catch the tide. We arrived a little early and had a bit of a chat with Paul the lockkeeper and his wife- they've just bought themselves a narrowboat and we helped them move it. While the other boats were coming and going through the lock we stayed and watched. The strong wind made the passage between Denver and Salters Lode even more exciting!

When it was our turn we said our farewells to Paul and headed for Denver. This is always fun, involving lots of throttle to get headway against the tide. We shared the lock with nb Sarah B whom we'd seen at Ashline.

By the time we were through, it was 5.30. We made it to Littleport in 2.5 hours, even against the wind and the current. Just before the town I was at the helm and passed nb Pas M├Ęche who called that they read the blog! Always fun to meet readers.

Mooring up in Littleport was tough in the wind. We saw a spot but had to ask another boat to move up slightly so that we'd fit. So I had to leap off and politely ask a couple who were eating their dinner if they'd mind moving back. They did so very obligingly especially given that the woman was in what I can only presume were her nightclothes!

Now we're off for dinner in our favourite Indian restaurant, in Littleport, the Indian Garden. We booked a table while at Denver, to give ourselves something to aim for!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Day Twenty-Eight: Return to the Flatlands

Peterborough - March

16 miles, 2 locks

River Nene, Middle Levels

Our appointment with Tina at Stanground Lock, onto the Middle Level, was at 9:30. We were soon through and onto the 'boring bits'! The first part, to Whittlesey, and around Brigate Bend are not too bad actually. The Potato Factory (where McCain's chips are made) is visibile from miles away, and dominates the landscape. Here, the drain is above the level of the farmland surrounding it so you can actually see what's going on around you. We saw lots goats and horses, and had several tractor drivers give us a cheery wave.

Of course, one of only three boats we met going the other way was just before Brigate Bend - the notorious 90 degree angle with high concrete walls - in the middle of Whittlesey. At Ashline Lock, on the edge of the village, there were three boats waiting to go through. As the lock is only 11' wide, we had a bit of a wait! We helped the other boats through and gave out advice about navigating the Fens, and one of the boats was new to the area.

Beyond Whittlesey, it gets really dull. A corner is cause for excitement. The banks are high, and there are numbered markers for fishing competitions (a secret ploy by the fishermen to drive boaters mad). I did a bit of this on my own, as James was inside, and so I turned the music up loud and actually quite enjoyed it! Eventually we reached March. We stopped in Fox's Marina, and have chosen to moor there for the night, despite the cost of £7.50. We think it's worth it for the security. We walked into the centre of March and checked out the town moorings, which are full, so it was the right decision!

Salters Lode at 4pm tomorrow, and then back onto the Ouse and Cam!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Day Twenty-Seven: Right Down the Line

Wansford-Peterborough

5 miles, 3 locks

River Nene

We started our day off with a fantastic cooked breakfast from the truck stop cafe just a few minutes walk from the Wansford pontoon moorings. Big mugs of tea, huge plates of bacon, eggs, beans, sausages and bread, eaten in a proper greasy spoon surrounded by truckers and others looking for a break from the A1.

After this, we decided to take a break from boating for the morning, and take a ride on the Nene Valley Railway. We got on at Wansford station, literally a stone's throw from the mooring. There are lots of interesting old engines there and the station itself is done up like something out of the 50s. Unfortunately they weren't running a steam train today but an old diesel, however this didn't spoil our fun. We climbed into the lovely wood-lined carriages complete with violently coloured chair fabric, and found ourselves a compartment. After about half and hour we alighted at Peterborough and went for a look around the city. We bought Lyra a new cat toy in the Pets at Home shop. Soon it was time to catch the train back to Wansford and the boat.

It was a mere 2.5 hour cruise into Peterborough. This was partly because two of the three locks had been left full, which is against the rules of navigation on the Nene. On every lock there is a notice saying that the guillotine gate must be left raised, and the lock empty. One lock even had the gate paddles still open. Still, our using them set them right, at least.

We are now moored up on the town quay, and have our passage onto the Middle Level booked for tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Day Twenty-Six: Descent of the Nene

Islip-Wansford

River Nene

22 miles, 12 locks

An uneventful day, continuing down the Nene towards Peterborough. We started from the lovely but awkwardly positioned moorings in Islip/Thrapston. They are right next to thee medieval pack horse bridge but down a side cut. The Duck's manoeuverability made it easy to get out in the morning however.

We only shared the last four of the twelve locks today, with a family of nine on a little well kept Springer. They had shared the past locks with a cruiser, the crew of which hadn't lifted a finger to help work the locks! They were pleased that we shared the work. They left us to moor up at their caravan near Yarwell, and we carried on to Wansford, where we stopped at the new EA pontoon near the Nene Valley Railway (see photo above). Its a lovely spot, and we have only found space because only 3/4 of the boat is on the pontoon. But we moored up like this when we stopped here on the way up and there's not too much flow on the river at the moment.

Peterborough and Stanground tomorrow.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Day Twenty-Five: Wind and Weed

Washlands mooring- Islip Nine-arch bridge

27 miles, 17 locks

Today we covered a great deal of distance- nearly half of the Nene- without really noticing! We were breasted up overnight with the boat that we had followed down the Northampton arm, and we decided to leave when they did to share the first few locks. Consequently, we were underway by 9am and soon through the first lock.

On the upper section of the Nene, the locks come thick and fast, altghough the average fall is very little. The river is also narrow and twisting, and weed of a horrible clinging type tends to collect in the entrances and chambers of the locks. It was also a very windy day- the wind swept down the river valley, at times a strong headwind, at other times a very strong crosswind, that wanted to take the boat sideways.

Nonetheless we made it to Billing aquadrome with no problems- truly, because our companion boat was nb No Problems, albeit in mandarin chinese which I'm not going to attempt to transcribe!- where they peeled off to have their fridge serviced. Luckily, though, at the very next lock we met up with nb Heaven Scent, and soon got into a nice efficient routine.

We reached Wellingborough at lunchtime, and Amy headed off to Tesco to get more provisions, whilst I went down the weedhatch. Seeing a fisherman next to the boat catch a large pike, however, was very worrying! None of my fingers were mistaken for minnows, nevertheless, and I removed some tough weed stems from the prop.

Then we set off again, on our own until Higham lock, which we shared with an intrepid hireboat from Fox's in March. A welcome reminder that we're approaching the Fens and home ground! The sun shone and the wind continued to blow, which caused them a few hairy moments on the bends. They stopped at Rushden and Diamonds, however, so we carried on by ourselves. At upper Ringstead lock, a group of teenagers asked me to leave the guillotine gate unlocked so they could lower the gate and swim in the lock. I politely but firmly explained why that wasn't a good idea, and they headed off to a better section of the river. I can see how some boaters might have felt threatened by such a group of teenagers- having faced groups of 30 at a time at work has proven useful!

A bit of drama occurred at Woodford lock; with two cruisers moored for the night on the landing stage, I dropped Amy off from the bow of the boat to set the lock, only to get one of the securing lugs on the stem post stuck on one of the lock-gates. However we looked at the angle, pulled the boat around with ropes, and released it.

Finally, we made Islip at half-past six, and we're now moored in a pleasant backwater in the shadow of the medieval nine-arched bridge. A pleasant evening of reading outside in the evening sunlight- with sausage sandwiches!- is now on the cards.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Day Twenty-Four: Homeward Bound

Stowe Hill Wharf - Washlands Flood Moorings

GU Canal, Northampton Arm, River Nene

15 miles, 20 locks

Today we left the canals. Our last wide locks were yesterday on the Buckby flight and our last narrow locks the Rothersthorpe flight down into Northampton.

After a couple of hours cruising we reached Gayton Junction where the Northampton Arm descends into the city. It is the link to the Nene, the Fens and home. We were at once sad but relieved to be on the home straight.

The flight itself took four hours. There were several boats descending the flight ahead of us, so each lock but one was against us. However, the sun was shining and we shared the steering and lock working between us. The couple on the boat ahead were friendly and we helped each other our by closing the necessary gates for each other. The water in the arm was remarkably clear: when the locks were empty you could see the bottom! I guess this was because so many boats descending flushed the water through.

The most remarkable incident encountered on the flight was the man out with his four ferrets in a bicycle basket. He was a little odd but friendly and the ferrets were very cute! He took them out of the basket and they were all harnessed up and linked together on strings so they couldn't run away.

Eventually we reached the bottom where the last narrow lock opens onto the River Nene. We are now moored just three locks outside the city in a pleasant spot on the Washlands flood mooring. This area is a nature reserve but when it floods, serves as a collection area for vast lakes of water. It has automatic barrage sluices at either end to prevent navigation in floods. The couple who we followed down the flight and who are now moored against us, were once moored here when the gates closed, and trapped until the floods went down!

We went for a walk after dinner, as it was such a nice evening, and took the photo at the top, looking back at the lakes. Tomorrow we begin our assault on the Nene. It won't be as hardcore as the last time though!

(The internet dongle's currently on the blink so until that's sorted all blogs are from my phone so can only have one picture, at the top)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Day Twenty-Three: The Duck completes the Thames Ring

Bridge 80 (N of Braunston) - Stowe Hill Wharf

12 miles, 13 locks

N Oxford Canal, GU Main Line

Our first stop of the day was in Braunston where we bought an oil pump to clear the oil in the bilges and made use of the oil disposal point at the marina.

We have now entered Braunston from all three angles (although admittedly one was on Melaleuca). We shared five of the six locks up out and towards the tunnel with a boat containing a group of school kids. They and their helmsman were a friendly bunch. The kids were all eager to help, and were quite competent, under their leaders' instructions. The hireboat full of students with whom we shared the first lock, and who followed us up were less so. They mistakenly opened both paddles on the bottom gate before the youth club boat had left, or the gates been closed. The result was that the gate I and one of the kids was closing smashed into the side of their boat, which was whisked backwards very quickly despite being full ahead. The helmsman shoulted to drop the paddles and all was well again.

Soon we were up and through the tunnel, in which we passed four boats coming the other way! Then we were back at Norton Junction, finally completing the missing section in our own boat of the unfinished Thames ring which we started in 2008!

We descended the Buckby flight in intermittent rain and bright sunshine, and continued as far as Stowe Hill Wharf, just south of Weedon, mooring up in sunshine, but luckily just before a huge rainstorm. Back on the Nene tomorrow!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Day Twenty-Two: The Art of Queuing

Hawkesbury Junction - Bridge 80, just North of Braunston

20 miles, 4 locks North Oxford Canal

The first challenge of the morning was to negotiate Hawkesbury Junction. This is a difficult turn for some boats because is is two 90 degree angles one after the other such that the boat travels three sides of a square, ending up facing the opposite direction. For the Duck, however, with its ability to turn on a pin, it was a doddle. James took the boat in a U-turn, landing just by the stop lock onto the Oxford.






Just beyond the junction, we went past a boat with a man and a big Alsatian sitting in the bow. As we passed, he called out that the dog was the 'other Lyra' from the blog Lyra's Adventures, but that it was probably best that the two didn't meet!

It rained on and off, so we took turns at the tiller again. However, it had cleared up by the time we arrived in Rugby. On the way in we passed through a short tunnel which was spectacularly lit:



We stopped on the visitor moorings, and I headed to the big Tesco just by the canal for supplies of things that can't be bought in village shops, like value loo roll and Ecover washing up liquid! As we left Rugby, we passed nb Piston Broke, and gave them a wave.

Next stop was Hillmorton Locks. These are double locks so we anticipated a quick ascent. How wrong could we be? The middle pair had been reduced to just one lock, so that there was a huge bottleneck of boats. We were no.7 in the queue when we arrived! So we were in for a wait. And it was raining again. After a while, we thought that one of us should go and help, or at least look to see what was going on, even if there were already loads of helpers there. So, when I turned the corner to get to lock I was surprised to see a couple locking through by themselves, even with seven other boats waiting. So I gave them a hand. There were some boats coming down the locks but far more going up, so my help was much needed. Most of six boats in from of us were in fact hireboaters, and for many this was their first experience of locks. So I spent the next half hour or so helping boats come and go, and explaining the principle of locks to many of their crew. It was actually quite good fun, and they were appreciative. One lady even asked if I was lock keeper!

By the time our turn came around, there was no-one to help us, but we have a very efficient system for going up narrow locks between the two of us that involves leaving the boat in gear, with tiller strings holding it straight, and letting the boat drive itself in and out of the lock. This frees both of us up to work the paddlegear and open and close gates.


Hillmorton Locks

We carried on chugging towards Braunston, stopping just before dinner was ready. We'll reach Braunston, to go to the chandlery and the butcher's, in the morning.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Day Twenty-One: Rain, rain, go away!

Bradley Green - Hawkesbury Junction

Coventry Canal

12 miles, 11 locks

Well, today it rained. I didn't take any photos, as it was too miserable to be inspiring and I didn't want to get my camera too wet.

We ascended the Atherstone Locks in the morning, follwing a boat we'd first seen on the Soar. The crew are from Holland and were taking the boat back to the hire base South of Atherstone. They were very helpful: opening the paddles after they'd left the locks so that it sped thing up for us! The rain stopped as we reached the top, and we used the sani-station before mooring up in Atherstone itself.

Sarah and Jim had recommeded that we locate the pie shop in the town, and the thought of pies was what kept us going as we went up the locks in the drizzle! We soon found it, on the main street: a farm shop called 19 Gales. As well as pies they did local meat, eggs, fresh veg and cakes so we stocked up with groceries as well as pies. Although we're saving the pies til tomorrow as we had some chicken to eat up tonight, we can attest to the deliciousness of the sausage rolls and the fruit tarts!

The very moment we set off to continue on towards Hawkesbury Junction, the rain began bucketing it down, so we took turns steering trad style, with wide-brimmed hat, waterproof, slide pulled nearly closed and back doors shut. Lyra had the best deal, snuggled up asleep inside!

Through Nuneaton and Bedworth things didn't improve but we had resolved to carry on to Hawkesbury whatever. We're now moored just short of the junction and are about to tuck into a cosy pasta bake.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Day Twenty: Sent To Coventry

Curdworth - Bradley Green (N of Atherstone)

Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, Coventry Canal

14 miles, 14 locks

This mornig dawned bright and sunny. Soon we were off and approaching the top of the Curdworth flight. It dropped down through bucolic countryside with proper rolls of hay dotting the fields. I enjoyed steering the boat while James did the lockworking. At first the locks are close together so walking between them is easy. But as the ground begins to level out they become further apart. So James got on the little foldie bike and went lockwheeling. It made the whole process quicker and simpler. No dropping the lock worker off or picking them up afterwards. And some of them were far enough apart that despite them all being againt us, by the time I got to the next lock, James had it open and ready for me to cruise into. The flight was without incident except for a comical moment when I couldn't find the landing stage. One one side was a pub, with mooring completely full. On the other was a small grassy bank with what looked like bollards surrounded by flowers. However, it turned out that the 'bollards' were flowerpots! And so I went aground as it wasn't a mooring at all. I got the Duck off again when the lock was ready but was at a funny angle due having to reverse off so it wasn't my best lock entry!


Somewhere on the Curdworth flight


Lockwheeling


The flowerpot 'bollards' on the right!

Once through the flight, we continued North past Drayton Manor, and were soon on the Coventry Canal. There are two locks in Tamworth at Glascote (where Hudson boats are built) and they were very busy, but we had plenty of help from others waiting so were through relatively quickly.

Then we just trundled on through Tamworth, listening to music, and moored up near Bradley Green, aiming to stop for a little in Atherstone tomorrow to get some of the famous pies before carrying onwards.


Through Tamworth

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Day Nineteen: Looping the Loop

Engine Arm - Curdworth

13 miles, 30 locks BCN Old Main Line, New Main Line, Birmingham and Fazely


The alarm went off early today, as we were planning on exploring the Soho loop and the Icknield Port loops on the BCN, just off the New Main Line. These loops are the remnants of the old meandering canal, as Telford cut the corners to shorten the distances involved.

We set off down the engine arm, with two sharp 90 degree turns to get onto the main line. John, the Duck's previous owner, was lamenting his new boat's lack of steering in comparison to the Duck, and it was gratifying to get around both sharp corners without touching the sides. Long swims and a comparatively big rudder help here! We were soon in the three locks at Smethwick, and then heading down the straight New Main Line. The three locks were the first we ever did on the boat, just over two years ago when we first bought the boat. The weather, however, was sunnier then! We decided to miss out on the Soho loop- apparently the local yoof, bored and off of school, tend to throw things at boats as they pass, and we were a little bit later than we planned to be. Any time before 9am is apparently allright, in general, but it was nearly 10 when we were there, and so we decided not to chance it.

However, we did turn down the Icknield Port loop, and I'm very glad that we did. We first saw a great collection of old BCN Joey boats and workboats, some made of rivetted iron with an amazing patchwork effect where patches were applied. I've definitely got a soft-spot for rivets, they're just so industrial! Further on, we passed the BW yard, at the "port", and a few moored boats. The moored boats formed a contrast of working craft through the ages, from elegant Bantock station-boats- curved bows, with plenty of rivets- the slab-sided, vertical stemmed and double ended Joey boats- to more modern welded steel constructions, the most recent being modular and interchangeable. There was also a nice collection of tugs, from an old cut-down working boat, through a Bantam or two, up to the modern blue-topped and smart pusher tugs used by BW to move their workboats.


Patchwork hull

Once back on the mainline, we continued into the centre of Birmingham, and then turned off down the Oozell Street loop, to visit Sherbourne Wharf for diesel. As a result of a price-war between this wharf and a diesel boat, their Red is only 70p per litre.

They are also the only boatyard we've been to that allow you to declare your own splits on diesel. This situation, for anyone who's not boating at the moment, is extremely convoluted and complex. Basically, when buying diesel for the boat, only the proportion that is used to propel the boat is taxed. The diesel that you use for domestic use- i.e. battery charging, running a diesel heater- is untaxed.

Theoretically, as a boater you have to declare and sign a form for HMRC, and say what proportion of the diesel you buy is used for each. You can claim anything from 100% propulsion (although most people have an alternator at least, and so don't) down to 100% domestic, and theoretically you should be able to declare the proportion that you use.

However boatyards don't like this. They have to fill in paperwork, and many only sell at one price and one split. This puts boaters in a tricky position, because they are responsible for declaring their use, and they are liable to prosecution if they lie- but if the boatyard won't allow them to declare the percentages that get taxed, and only offer one fixed price, then they are stuck and could be prosecuted for tax evasion if HMRC check up.

The reason why I mention this is that Sherbourne Wharf is the only boatyard we visited that allowed us to declare our own split, whereas all the others we have bought from, and have seen, only sell at one fixed price. The whole situation is very complicated, and no-one's happy with it.

Anyway, enough of a rant. We filled the tank, and then moored up at the very swanky Brindleyplace, which felt like the most secure mooring we'd ever had- a security guard passed every 5 minutes or so, and there were CCTV cameras everywhere. They were there for the benefit of the posh flats, of course, not visiting boaters, and it definitely seemed like overkill!

We headed into the city, in search of a cooked brunch- and found a floating greasy spoon! nb George, moored close to Gas Street basin, fitted the bill exactly, and for £6 each we had a full english. It was quite fun eating afloat, in the company of people who aren't used to doing so- one chap found it rather hard, whenever the boat rocked from passing tourist boats or the customers or waitresses as they moved about.

After a quick stroll through Birmingham centre, and some research in the library, we decided that there weren't any plays, films, or events that we desperately wanted to see, and as the sun had come out we decided to keep on up the cut, rather than moor overnight in the centre as we had planned. So at 2:30pm we started the engine, and headed off to the Birmingham and Fazely canal.

Once round the canal roundabout, we encountered some BW people with a remote controlled shark (!) and then headed off down the Farmer's Bridge flight of 13 narrow locks.

These were all against us, as a boat had passed down recently, and none had come up. Nonetheless we got into a good system; with Amy steering the boat (with no crashes or "SPONG!"s, despite the pressure of many gongoozlers...) I would operate the paddles, and then nip ahead and set the next lock, before dashing back. All very energetic! We were glad, a few locks in, to gain the help of a passer-by with a windlass. A local man, he told us how he always carried his windlass when walking by the cut, just in case... and he enjoyed lockworking! We were very happy to see him, and he helped us speed down the flight. The flight itself has been covered and hemmed in by modern developments, and the whole area is a patchwork of periods- BCN red brick and ironwork from the 19th century, alongside re-inforced concrete of the 20th and curved steel architecture of the 21st. Several locks are in tunnels and caverns under high-rise buildings- quite impressive, but not as impressive as the twelth lock, which is in a cathedral-like arched space under a railway line- incredibly impressive, and a massive engineering work.


A lock in a tunnel


The Post Office Tower...


...and the lock beneath it


A use for the square bollards!

Once at the bottom, we effusively thanked our helper, and headed off down the Aston flight- a further 12 locks, and all but one set against us..... Nonetheless the sun came out and we enjoyed working efficiently down the flight, sharing the lockworking and the steering, until we were pleasantly tired. We arrived at the bottom at 4:45, and so we did the 25 locks, all but one against us, in a shade over two hours, which I'm quite pleased with!


Halfway down the Aston flight

Once through the flight, we carried on into the early evening, passing under Spaghetti Junction, and heading out through the outskirts of the city until we reached pleasant countryside, just before Curdworth. A few scattered locks were no problem, and we moored up in a nice spot- only to move, 20 minutes later, when the local Yoof showed up and decided to play music from their cars at loud volume. We headed off about 200 feet down the cut, out of earshot, and so are now enjoying the peace and quiet once again.


Junction with the GU



James

Monday, 9 August 2010

Day Eighteen: Snap!

Wolverhampton Top Lock No.1 - Engine Arm

BCN

11 miles

We had a late start after a difficult night: we were set loose at about 11:30pm, and when we went out to check, Lyra follwed. In the dark she didn't realise that there was water on both sides and promptly fell in the cut. So we had a wet cat (who luckily managed to get herself out) but no where to put her as the boat was still on at the bows, but swinging out at the stern such that I couldn't just fling her inside the cratch for fear of landing her back in the cut. So I held onto her, shivering as she was still soaked. She wasn't having any of it, and tried to escape, gouging my neck with her claws. Luckily by this time James had pulled the boat in far enough that I could take her inside and dry her off. James chained the boat up and we tried to get some sleep.

Today was the first of two days we are planning to spend on the BCN. We began with a run down to the Black Country Living Museum. The journey there was enjoyable, in the sunshine. We both love cruising the BCN, with its industrial backdrop, but beautiful canals.



The Black Country Living Museum is a fantastic place. It does have a conventional 'museum' but for the most part it is a little Black Country village, complete with pub, shops, tram, canal, school and mine. There are 'inhabitants' (complete with costumes and Black Country accents), pigs, chickens, and horses. We went for rides on the tram, looked in the shops, explored the mine workings, ate proper Black Country faggots and peas, and looked at the boats. Properly worth a visit. It feels very unpretentious. There are no boring museum plaques, just buildings that are what they are because that's how it was.


BCLM boats

We left, having given out gated mooring to a blog reader (hope you had a good evening there, Eddie!) and headed off down the Old Main Line towards Engine Arm, where the Duck used to be moored, and where John, who used to own, and substantially refitted the Duck, was waiting to meet us. He showed us his new boat, Shuttleworth Snap, of which the interior is mostly fitted out, a sort of Duck Mk.II, with a lot of the features (bed on gas struts, wet room bathrom) that we like about the Duck recreated with a few improvements.


We took the Duck on test run to round about here, at Spon Lane, just over 2 years ago.


Arriving at Engine Arm

We had a delicious beef chilli, and them showed him what we'd done to the Duck. Not much has changed inside but the engine sounds different with the new cooling system, and the paintwork has certainly changed! It was a lovely evening, and we are safe here on the gated moorings at the end of Engine Arm, planning to do a bit more exploring of Birmingham tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Day Seventeen: The Twenty-One

Penkridge - Wolverhampton Top Lock No.1

Staffs and Worcester Canal, BCN Main Line

12 miles, 27 locks

We started this morning aiming to reach Autherley Junction (where the Staffs and Worcs meets the BCN at Wolverhampton) and then see how far we could get into Birmingham.

The last few miles of the S&W took longer than planned as we were travelling behind several boats and had to wait at the locks, but it was lovely weather and we met friendly people at each lock. The biggest queues were at Gailey Top Lock, with three or four boats waiting in each direction. So we tied up, and had ice creams as we waited for our turn.

At about 2:30, we got a call from John, previous owner of the Duck, who we are hoping to meet up with while in Brum. He let us know that most of the locks on the BCN are currently padlocked shut by BW to prevent water loss after about 4pm. Thankfully he texted back to say the the Wolverhampton 21 (the flight which we needed to ascend in order to get onto the BCN) was closed at 6:30 not 4.

We also hoped to see our friend Mike who blogs at Random Writings as his thesis-writing cruise is currently taking him through Birmingham too. We did see his boat, Innocenti, at Autherley Junction, but there was no-one in. So we carried on, hoping to head up the flight, and gave him a text to let him know where we were. Unfortunately when we got there we realised that we needed a water conservation key, also known as a handcuff key, which is different to the normal BW key. We knew we had one somewhere, but having never used it, couldn't think where it was! I tried calling BW (no answer), and was considering giving up and trying to get one in the morning, when suddenly Mike and his friend Nicola appeared, to help us up the locks. They themselves had just come down the flight earlier! We were very grateful, especially when Mike brought two of the special keys with him! Problem solved.


Ascending the Twenty-One

The flight took us an hour and a half - with three crew we were very efficient! There were also several boats descending, including the ex-BW working boats Collingwood and Ash. They were currently host to a Christadelphian boating holiday group, of all things! The butty Ash was being hauled down behind the motor, and so we kept the Duck out of the way as they bowhauled it past.


Ash

We soon reached the basin at the top, which is a little noisy, but relatively safe, as there are several other boats moored here, and they kept an eye on the Duck as we went up the road to have a curry with Mike and Nicola. Apparently while we were away, a drunk had got into the cratch and was 'rapping to the cat' who he had claimed was 'on vodka'. Still, he didn't cause any harm and was gone by the time we got back from a very tasty curry just minutes from the mooring.

Tomorrow, we hope to visit the Black Country Living Museum, do a bit of cruising, and see John for a BBQ in the evening.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Day Sixteen: Close Encounter of the Towed Kind

Wood End Lock - Penkridge

Trent and Mersey Canal, Staffs and Worcs Canal

21 miles, 7 locks

Today we awoke to a variety of crunches and scrapings as other boats passed; our mooring was shallow and rocky. We got underway quickly, but soon ended up behind another boat whose comfortable cruising speed was considerably less than our own. Nonetheless we slowed down and enjoyed the scenary, and the occasional challenging maneuver through narrow gaps and around blind bends with oncoming boats.

The slower boat pulled in for water at Spode Hall, and so we continued through Armitage, past the toilet factory, and after several lashing rain showers we made it to Great Haywood and the junction. Just before we got there, we met a blog reader, and although I didn't catch her name she was very friendly! We turned onto the Staffs and Worcs canal, and were soon in Tixall wide. I did a figure of eight in it for fun, and then we headed off through Tixall itself.

The next exciting encounter was meeting Sickle, towing the butty Cedar, owned by Matt Parrott, aa fellow member of the Young Working Boater's Society. Of course we met in a blind bridgehole, so I quickly reversed out letting him through. A few laughs and some mickey-taking later, we each headed off.

Finally we came to Penkridge, and have decided to stop here for dinner. There's no signal on the dongle, so I've written this on Amy's phone instead- the fiddly keyboard may well have led to some spelling mistakes!

The plan for tomorrow is The Big Push, onwards into Birmingham itself.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Day Fifteen: Something Brewing

Willington - Wood End Lock

Trent and Mersey Canal

14 miles, 14 locks

Breakfast this morning was toast with the delicious honey from the internet. We also removed the tape from the newly painted gunwales first thing, to reveal a sharp edged strip of nonslip paint.

Our first stop of the day was in Burton-upon-Trent. We wanted to pick up some more book. and so to that end, needed to find a charity shop. Unfortunately the centre of Burton is quite a way from the cut, so we spent a good 2 hours finding our way in, shopping for more reading matter and having lunch, before heading back to the boat. But we did find several good books, which will keep James happy for a while!

The town is famous for its breweries, and as we cruised out up the two narrow locks in Burton, we could smell distinctive hoppy/beery aromas! The coutryside was very picturesque, and we enjoyed working the narrow locks. They have very satisfying and attractive paddle gear, with large round pinions.


T&M paddle gear is quite distinctive

However, we soon ended up in a canal traffic jam, having to wait behind two other boats at every lock before continuing. This wasn't a problem, but we did want to keep to schedule and one of the boats ahead was really quite slow: only opening one paddle a few clicks and refusing to let anyone open any more. But they and the other boat in front moored up at Alrewas, so we carried on to Fradley, aiming to complete the flight while it was quiet. As it was there were several other boats coming down the flight but none going up, which worked perfectly in our favour!

Now we are moored above Wood End Lock, just short of King's Bromley (where Chertsey is moored) having found one of the last spaces available on this busy stretch.


Tonight's mooring

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Day Fourteen: Doors of Perception

Shardlow-Willington

Trent and Mersey Canal

8 miles, 5 locks

4 hours

We had a morning in Shardlow today, attending to some small tasks. We masked and painted the gunwale on the left-hand side, and sprinkled on some oven-dried sand as the first step of forming the non-slip surface. Later in the day we painted over it with International Atlantic Grey, to finish off the non-slip strip down the gunwale.

Lyra has been getting more adventurous, and whilst she's content to sleep in the bedroom or perch on the back of the sofa and look out of the window whilst we go along, the moment the engine stops she wants to head outside. We have let her do this, but often she wants to come out whilst we're in the middle of mooring up, or at an inconvenient time, and the net hasn't proven completely cat proof. It's also a big barrier to getting through the boat, so we bought the materials necessary in B&Q back in Loughborough to make a door to fit the gap between the bedroom and the engineroom.



Not too bad, if I say so myself! The shape of the aperture was very difficult, with protruding bits of beading and an odd angle, hence the large gap visible on the left-hand side of the door. Getting it to fit the doorway was tricky, but after several modifications with a saw, it fits well. It's made of a sheet of 6mm MDF with some pine strips re-inforcing the edges and providing a frame for rigidity and for the hinges, and will eventually be replaced with something nicer. In the mean time, it's very cat-proof, and will stop drafts and keep us warmer in the winter, so definitely a job worth doing!

We also recieved a gift this morning- a pot of home-produced honey, from Paul (I think) on nb Jubilee, who is aparently an avid blog reader! We're very grateful, and I'm certain that it will be splendid on toast for breakfast tomorrow.





So we set off at 2pm, after lunch, and trundled along towards Willington and the waterpoint and sanitary station there. The locks were double and deep, with most having a rise of 11- 14 feet or so! They also had terrifyingly efficient gate paddles, which cannot be opened until the lock is partially full, otherwise they can flood the helpless boats below them.

We managed to share several locks, which made them a LOT easier, but on the few we had to do by ourselves, we resorted to the Nene method of keeping the boat secure- our very long mid-rope led back and tied with a boatman's hitch (it never jams and is easy to undo, depite the load on the rope) onto a bollard, and then putting the boat into forward gear. The rope then holds the boat against the side, despite the very fierce flows from the paddles. Nonetheless, we're looking forwards to the next few locks- they're all narrow from here onwards!

We also saw many historic and interesting boats today. The Joshers Trout and Petrel , LMS boat (paired with Trout) Dabchick, the big woolwich Bath, and- around a blind bend!- the star-class Aquarius.





We chugged on to Willington, did the necessary filling and emptying, and visited the Co-op for supplies. At 7pm we moored at a pleasant spot just out of the village, and we intend to make the short hop to Burton-on-Trent for lunchtime tomorrow, and then possibly a shorter jaunt afterwards further along.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Day Thirteen: At the Crossroads

Loughborough - Shardlow

GU Leicester Section, River Trent, Trent and Mersey Canal

12 miles, 10 locks

6 hours

Today was a day of contrasts. We began in the urban landscape of Loughborough, which quickly gave way to countryside. This section of the Leicester Line is basically a river so the going was quick, and we made good progress.

Just outside Loughborough is the stretch which the rowers use. Its as wide as the Cam's widest part, with smooth curves. The rowable stretch is about the same length as in Cambridge. We saw a sign warning boaters that they may encounter rowers, but no actual rowers. The last one was a sculler in Leicester.

We managed to share only one lock on the way to the junction with the Trent, but there aren't too many on this stretch so we still kept up a good speed. Soon we were on the Trent itself, and after days on the canals, we felt dwarfed by the sheer scale of this mighty river! We throught abouts topping at Sawley but the facilities mooring was in use so we pressed on. It was with some sense of relief that we reached the rather more comforting scale of the Trent and Mersey canal. We love it already, having decided to stop the night in the pretty little canal village of Shardlow. It has an excellent chandlery, where we got a few bits and pieces. It even has a charity bookshelf. James was running out of reading matter (which is a crisis in the Duck!) so I was pleased that he found a few books to keep him going for another day or two! We've sorted out a few to donate tomorrow morning and keep the bookshelf stocked.

Now for an evening walk around Shardlow, having had our earlier walk curtained by a sudden downpour. I'll post a few pictures of this pretty village tomorrow when we will hopefully have a better signal.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Day Twelve: Loogaborooga

Leicester - Loughborough

16 miles, 11 locks

Just a short one because we're in a cafe at the cinema, and the laptop battery's running out.

This morning, we were lucky enough to find a boat to share the locks out of Leicester. nb Trundle, from March, with whom we shared all the locks up until Junction Lock, also blog at Trundlin' Along. They were friendly, and it was much more pleasant to share locks!


Trundling out of Leicester

The countryside this side of Leicester is lovely too. The canal (sometimes joining up with the Soar) runs through watermeadows which make the route pretty but sometime overgrown. Meeting boats coming the other way when there are willows blocking your view is a bit hair-raising.

We stopped for diesel at a boatyard near Barrow-on-Soar. It was a reasonable price so we filled the tank.

It was then a pleasant run into Loughborough (which James insists upon calling Loogaborooga...) where we are now moored for the night. We failed to get to a cinema last night because the one we headed for had moved, although the Google Maps location still showed the old venue. So we are trying again tonight, have found the cinema (in a proper old art deco building) and got tickets.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Day Eleven: Soar Point

Kilby Bridge - Castle Gardens, Leicester
8 miles, 12 locks 6 hours

We set off earlier today, and planned to go all the way through Leicester. Having wished for a boat to share the locks with yesterday, we headed off just after a hire boat this morning, aiming to share the wide locks with them. So, at the first lock, we went in one at a time. The hireboat was nearly in, with just the stern still to go, when the chap at the helm decided to speed up a little and put some throttle on. At this point, the boat sped suddenly backwards! It seems that the gearbox had developed a fault. So, we ensured that they had been in contact with the hire base, and went on our way again, with no boat to share the locks. It was hard going again, and we were beginning to get despondent. Then I realised we'd not yet had tea this morning! So, with the kettle on and the sun beginning to shine, things started to look up. Still no boat to share the lock with but we made better progress and I took over the steering, which was good practice and gave me a break from heavy lock-work!

The approach into Leicester is lovely. It feels rural up until pretty much the centre of the city, We had no trouble at all. A couple of kids came down to one lock, but they weren't trouble makers and they did help. James chatted to them for a bit and explained how the lock worked.


One of few non-rural locks

After King's Lock, the River Soar joins the canal. This gave the waterway a different feel: the water looks clearer but it is weedier. At one point, a huge unguarded weir takes over one side of the river. In a flood it must be hair-raising!


The massive weir

Once in Leicester, we had planned to stop briefly before carrying on out of the city. But we found a fantastic mooring in Castle Gardens which is on a floating pontoon behind a high fence, which in turn is on accessible from within a park that is locked at 8pm. Boaters can enter via a BW key operated gate at the side of the gardens, making it very secure. We went for a wander around the city centre, did some shopping (for more delicious local sausages and some Red Leicester cheese), and shared a chocolate frappacino whilst reading the paper. We liked the place and the mooring enough to decide that we'd stay the night here, go and see a film while we were in a 'proper' town, and carry on in the morning.

So, while we only travelled a shorter distance today, we are still 2 days ahead of our schedule, and planning to do a longer trip tomorrow.


Castle Gardens mooring


Bridge over the River Soar. I love that reflection!


Riverside tiles designed by local kids