Saturday, 31 August 2013

"Sickle" On A Canal Completely New To Us.

(Retrospective post after failing to keep up! - Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Atherstone, yet again.
At the start of the year we set ourself a "stretch" target of all the festivals and historic boats we hoped we might get "Sickle" to in 2013.  It seemed fairly ambitious back when we drew it up, but, up until now, we have managed all we hoped to do.  However we always knew the fnal parts of it would take a bit of organsing.

The lockes are generally close together at the top of the flight.
The plan had the possibility of the Shackerstone Family Festival followed the very next weekend by the Stoke Bruerne "Village at War" event.  We have never been to Shackerstone, but "Village at war" is already a firm favourite of ours.  But we still have family circumstances where moving boats in the week is "challenging", so could we possibly do both?

Making the turn at Marston Junction.
We decided to go for Shackerstone, but then make no firm decisions until we saw how things panned out.  So this weekend was about getting "Sickle" from Alvecote, (the last event) to Shackerstone (the next one).

We have never before been up any of the Ashby Canal.  Lack of time has meant whenever we have passed Marston Junction, where it joins the Coventry, we have never been able to go and sample it.  So, very unusually, it would be "Sickle" breaking completely new territory for us.

New territory - the old stop lock is very silted.
But first we had to get to Alvecote, and travel down the Coventry canal.  Alvecote and Shackerstone are well separated by canal, but remarkably close by road, but not close enough that we fancied cycling between the two to collect a car.  But driving two cars up seemed daft.  I put out a late appeal to see if anyone could help us, and almost immediately got two forum friends offering to carry us between one and the other - as neither were actually that close themselves, this really was a very generous gesture from each.  So we took up just the one car for a change.

Our travelling companion - and typical Ashby background scene
Atherstone locks are getting quite familiar to us - the fourth time we have worked a boat through in just a few weeks.  At the first lock a young man on a following boat said "I'll just tie my boat off" then I'll come and help you work the locks!".  Do we really look that old?  Needless to say once we got going we stayed well ahead, and never saw him again.

This is a very typical view of the surroundings.
We had been advised that the best place to try and get to for food when joining the Ashby is a pub called "the Limekilns", which is near Hinckley.  We would have to sit outside, as we had "Odin" with us, but unless the Ashby is really shallow, I thought we could just be there in time.  Well the Ashby, at least the first bit, seemed broadly OK, and progress was reasonable.  We did get our meal, but it was getting fairly dark as we ate it!

Alvecote (Coventry Canal) to The Limekilns (Ashby Canal)
Miles: 20.8, Locks:9

Total Miles: 458.4, Locks: 251

Friday, 30 August 2013

Stoke Hammond Three Locks to Cooks Wharf

Not a lot to report about this day, other than it was the final day of boating with "Chalice" for a while.
No boat pictures today, but Odin enjoyed lockside football.
As previous posts relate, we were on a minor mission to get home, because there are still some events we want to do with "Sickle", but if we are not available for boat movements "tomorrow", (Saturday), then plans fall apart.

It keeps him amused, and it is far more interesting than chasing other dogs!
We had broken enough of the journey yesterday to guarantee getting back to base today, but, as is so often the case on this final leg, we were not able to do it particularly quickly because the pace was often set by others.

But mission accomplished, eventually - back home just about in time to regroup ourselves, and for Cath and I to head off by car back to Alvecote "tomorrow", so we can resume our travels with "Sickle"

Stoke Hammond Three Locks to Cooks Wharf
Miles: 11.1 (Chalice), Locks: 13

Total Miles: 437.7, Locks: 242

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Pressing On, Then A Chat With The Chief Executive.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

The task for the day was very simple - get going reasonably early, and, without going mad, try to make good enough progress today to leave a significantly shorter day to do tomorrow as our final day on Chalice.  This should allow us time to get home, and vaguely sorted on Friday evening, before heading off again on Saturday to start Sickle's next move.

Results of the offside vegetation "cull"
We had an easy passage down Stoke Bruerne locks.  It was the first of the flights we have gone through since coming back on to South east Waterways that actually had enough water in, and a volunteer lock keeper was helpfully setting locks more or less one ahead of the one we were working through.  Hence Cath and I got down them quickly enough - very different from Braunston only yesterday!

More evidence of trees trimmed.
Julia was at the bottom with fuel boats "Towcester" and "Bideford", so we fuelled up Chalice for the third time on just this one trip.  Fuel did not used to be that big a part of overall boating costs once upon a time, but with the massive price rises, and the extra duty now payable on "propulsion" fuel, it is now a significant cost, even when moving just one boat about.  When we are moving both together I try not to think about quite how much we are burning!

Cath takes "Chalice" (and Odin!) into our last lock of the day.
Having been critical of South East Waterways in my last post, I will redress the balance a bit by saying that after a bit of pressure from concerned boaters, they have brought forward some of the much needed cutting of some of the trees on the off-side, as you move down the Grand Union below Stoke locks, and on towards Yardley Gobion.  Some of the cutting is fairly substantial, and the size of some of the branches removed is obvious from the cut left on the tree.  Unfortunately at other places it seems the trimming is far less aggressive, and what we saw Fountain's actually doing as we passed seemed to only be removing light growth, and few large branches.  Still it is much needed, so anything that improves matters will be welcomed.

The surviving double bridges are because a narrow lock was once alongside the broad.
We passed Fenny Stratford lock early enough in the afternoon that carrying on to the bottom of Soulbury Three Locks seemed a reasonable proposition.  I didn't want to stop too late, because the new Chief Executive of the Canal and River Trust, Richard Parry, had said he would try and call me that evening, and, indeed, he eventually did.  Richard was prepared to give me a fair amount of his time, even though it was by then fairly late.  I have to say I was most impressed by this first encounter, even if it was not face to face. I'm not great at first "meetings" being by phone, but felt quickly at ease with Richard.  He seems like a much needed breath of fresh air, although I think few would doubt the enormity of the task he faces, particularly in the matter of how the Trust is seen to communicate with its "customers" - the main topic of our chat.   I wish him every success in his endeavours.

Stoke Bruerne to Stoke Hammond Three Locks 
Miles: 22.7 (Chalice), Locks: 9

Total Miles: 426.6, Locks: 229

Visitor Mooring Congestion At Stoke Bruerne? - The Reality Overnight 28th - 29th August

I have made no secret of the fact that I think the Canal and River Trust were trying to solve a largely non existent problem when they came up with their "South East Visitor Mooring" proposals.

It seems that despite it being the peak of the holiday season, since the signs went up threatening £25 per day overstay penalties, that occupancy of moorings at Stoke Bruerne has been very low, and on occasions there have been very few boats now visiting at all.

These picture of the moorings that were once supposed to have been in so much demand are all taken in the morning between about 8:00 am and 9:15 am, as we were setting off down the locks.  At most two boats had set off from the pound between the top lock and the tunnel, and it seems highly unlikely any more than this had left the "long pound" below the top two locks.

The previous night The Boat pub and restaurant had been remarkably quiet for August.

I can't prove the signs are now actually reducing the numbers of boaters wanting to make an overnight stay at Stoke Bruerne, but for some reason the moorings are unbelievbly quiet and under-used.

Perhaps those behind this in CRT see the situation we found as a "success", as certainly when we had turned up at nightfall the previous evening, there was massses and masses of space available.  However the usual vibrancy of the place was missing, and it certainly didn't feel like Stoke Bruerne in the Summer school holidays.

Only one other boat between us an the tunnel.
Otherwise completely empty.
Boating down the previously popular "long pound" - completable empty this morning.
Lock-wheeler's view of the "long pound"
Meanwhile, just along from the massive new "Welcome to Stoke Bruerne" boards.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A VERY Long Day!

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan/Cath)

"Chalice" passes "Badsey" and my brother Pete's old butty "Angel".
We had little idea what today might hold.  Despite the fact Hillmorton locks have in the past been very busy, it certainly didn't look that would be the case if we made a reasonably early start.  However, later in the day, once off the Northern Oxford, and back on to the Grand Union we would encounter the lock flights at Braunston and Long Buckby.  These are are both completely unpredictable at potentially busy times.  Sometimes you can slip through relatively quickly, but at other times they can turn into a frustratingly slow crawl.

Wrong priorities - enough water is more important to boaters than poetry!
We were right about Hillmorton - nobody else was yet ready to go up.  What was disappointing though was that at the start of the day the intermediate pounds here were significantly down in level.  At least nine inches was missing from each pound, perhaps rather more than that from one of them.  It was not going to cause Chalice any problems, but it is sad that CRT cannot allocate enough staff to water control duties, and that things regularly get in this state.  If there is not enough water at the start of a day, volunteer lock keepers in particular don't seem very adept at trying to replenish pounds whilst lots of boats are using the locks.

The problem with push tugs is the time necessary to rejoin them at each lock.
We made reasonable progress after this down the Northern Oxford, but by the time we joined the Grand Union at Braunston Turn things were getting very busy, and the junction itself resembled dodgems!  At the Braunston lock flight there was a queue, but fortunately not a big one.

However progress up the flight was painfully slow.  It didn't need to have been so, but a number of things were not helping, including.....

1) Low pounds for much of the way up.
2) A single volunteer lock-keeper insisting on working a lock in the middle of the flight in a certain way, whilst there was no equivalent control at any of the other five locks.
3) A general reluctance by people to actually move their boats in or out of locks, even when gates were fully open, and they could have got going.
4) People "turning" locks in the face of boats coming the other way, even though it was not advantaging them at all, because all it meant was they might join the next queue slightly sooner than they might otherwise have done......

....... and breathe........

One of the periods of waiting at Braunston locks
Surprisingly the tunnel was remarkably clear both of boats and fumes, with a straight view of the other end from the moment we went in, (despite all the books that repeat the myth you can't see through it!).

At the locks at Long Buckby & Whilton, we did rather better, although once again low pounds were a common feature - is it really impossible for CRT to keep levels up in locks like these, given they are all supposed to be back-pumped?  The people we shared with were happy to let us on our way first at the bottom of the flight, after which we pressed on determinedly.

By now we were starting to work out if we could possibly reach Stoke Bruerne - something that had seemed highly unlikely whilst crawling through Braunston locks.  It might certainly be getting dark, but as the final two miles are mostly tunnel, darkness doesn't affect that bit of the trip.  Fortunately someone is monitoring Stoke Bruerne visitor moorings since the changes made by CRT, and consistently reporting a surprisingly low occupancy.  So we knew if we slipped through the tunnel late we would have no trouble finding a mooring.

In fact we made remarkably good progress, and it was still part light as we exited the tunnel, and quickly found a mooring.

After more than 12 hours of boating we now wanted an easy life, and this was provided by another excellent take-away from the Spice of Bruerne restaurant - not forgetting of course that the time they take to prepare your meal is ideal for slipping over to The Boat for a drink.  We managed to avoid the considerable over-ordering we had done on the outward trip, and now have a fair idea how much to buy for a hungry crew of three!

Below Hillmorton Locks to Stoke Bruerne
Miles: 28.4 (Chalice), Locks: 16

Total Miles: 403.9, Locks: 220

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Who said we were not going to be in a hurry any more?

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Atherstone locks yet again - we will need to do them one more time with "Sickle"!
So much for our new found resolve that we will rush around less when boating!

We have greatly enjoyed a mix of making reasonable progress interspersed with much shorter boating days, and I think we will increasingly get into that.


Historic boat "Warbler" turns onto the Ashby canal, as we will with "Sickle"
However, we had fairly ambitious plans this year with "Sickle's" events calaendar, but also wanted to get in a longish summer trip with "Chalice" as well.  For reasons I'll not bother to explain, although Cath has retired we are still in a situation where at the moment we need to be back home during school term time.  This means that much boating with the two of us will not for a while really be possible, except at weekends, once the summer holiday ends.

Modern push tug - not hard to see why they make a lot of wash!
So we suddenly realised that we had barely enough time to both get "Chalice" back to her home mooring, but also to move "Sickle" on to her next event - the Shackerstone Festival.  But of course, if we pressed on quite hard, we could probably just do it......

"Bexhill" - The first full length working boat I ever steered.
The rest you can guess - we needed to condense what might normally be at least four and a half days boating into rather less than four.  Here we go agaikn - so much for taking it easy!

There were absolutely no coloured lights on this trip,
Newbold Tunnel was given decorative lights some years ago, but they have been slowly failing over time, and on the way up, only a handful were still working.  However on the way back there were none at all.  Have they thrown in the towel, and decided to turn off what remained?

Atherstone (below lock 9) to below Hillmorton Locks
Miles: 27.9 (Chalice), Locks: 10

Total Miles: 375.4, Locks: 204

Monday, 26 August 2013

Alvecote Historic Boat Gathering - Day 3 - Monday

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)

Time doesn't really permit a full write up of the event, or at least not yet.

For the time being, here is a collection of pictures from the third (and final) day.

Oh, and after all the fun, we also made a small start on our journey home - with "Chalice" only - "Sickle" is staying on at Atherstone until moving on her next event.

"Oberon" (modern replica) ahead of "Sextans" (sister to "Sickle")

"Oberon" is a replica of a Yarwoods "Small Northwich"
"Sextans has been re-lengthened to 50 feet, and contains part of "Thea"

Cath & Odin.

The anglers in the "winding hole" (boat turning point) didn't stay there long!

Blind panic encountering "Town" class bows at pipe bridge.
Former working boatman at tiller of "Nuneaton"



"Birmingham" leaving marina basin

"Elizabeth" passes "Aldgate" which is grounded.

"Aldgate has grounded on a hard "scour" in the canal bad.

"Sickle" using a bit of power to tow "Aldgate" free.

"Ibex" (left) & "Aldgate"
"Marquis" & "Darley"

Queue forming! "Sickle" is third in line.
"Auriga" with "Cassiopeia" behind.

"Elizabeth" (left) & "Badger"

Long queue for pipe bridge and the winding hole beyond it.


"Aldgate" with "Sickle" behind.

"Sickle" still waiting for congestion to clear beyond the pipe bridge..

And through the bridge.

"Aldgate" is turned.

Turning "Sickle"

"Sickle" will go round in one.
"Sickle" having turned, "Auriga" is next.

"Warbler" leaving the event.

"Python" awaits attention at Grendon dry dock.

Parading at Alvecote and back to Atherstone with Chalice only.
Miles: 2.2 (Sickle), 5.4 (Chalice)  Locks:2 (Chalice)

Total Miles: 347.6, Locks: 194