Thursday, 31 July 2014

More progress than expected, and it's all really rather wonderful.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Thursday 31st July.

Perfect breakfast location.
Another longish day, which I note has the highest mileage of any we have yet recorded since starting this trip.

Our overnight location below Deptmore lock proved to be a stunning one, and just as a meal had been enjoyed outside last night, a slow breakfast was enjoyed outside with lots of fresh filtered coffee.  At locations like these, far from roads and farm machinery, (and even other boats), Odin can just be on the towpath, largely left to his own devices.

Tixall lock is one of the prettiest, I think.
The expected rush of boats away from Tixall wide that we had been part of when travelling the other way never really happened - it is less hectic now, and we saw little setious queing for locks going back on the Staffs and Worcs.  Around Tixall Wide, Canla and River Trust contractors have cut huge amounts of canal-side vegetation, some of it many feet high, and quite substantial. and it is all tossed in the canal, often forming very large clumps.  "Sickle" blasted her way though most of it, with no serious prop fouling, but leisure boats were not so lucky, some hire boats reporting 4 or 5 trips down the weed hatch in just a few miles.  I can't help feeling when this much is cut that putting it in the canal is not a great idea, even if the canal is as wide as it is at Tixall.

Tixall Wide
As we got back onto the Trent and Mersey at Great Haywood, the queues were initially not bad in our direction, but coming up through Heywood lock, at least six boats were waiting to come the other way.  Why do people insist on only opening one paddle when the delays are so large, though?

Many of the locks are attractive in different ways.
However at the next lock, Colwich, it was our turn to queue - not quite so bad, but 4 boats waiting ahead of us when we arrived.

Yet another very attractive lock.
We had planned to stop at Fradley, and nearly did when we saw the visitor moorings less than half full, (very unusual at this time of year - it is often stuffed full).  However we were going so well, we decided to carry on quite a bit longer, eventually stopping at Huddlesford junction, where the heavy freight traffic on the railway looked like it might be an issue.  I'm glad we stopped here, as the hospitality at the Plough was as good as the beer.  The pub is dog friendly, (and very people friendly), and a very Scottish accented landlord took great interest in Odin.

Ex Stewarts & Lloyds "Reginald", but no sign of owner Mike.
Deptmore Lock (Staffs & Worcs) to Huddlesford
Miles: 0 (Chalice), 23.1(Sickle), Locks: 6

Total Miles: 344.8, Locks: 187

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

It had to finally happen to me one day (it has taken over 40 years!).

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Wednesday 30th July.

There's probably not a huge amount to say about this day, other than one notable event.  The object really remained to try and keep making good time with "Sickle" without flogging ourselves to death.  We had expected to put in fairly long days on this particular part of the holiday, and were now still trying to recover a bit of time after our original delayed start from Audlem.

Gailey - Cath gets in the ice creams.
For much of the day things progressed well, although I have to say the final miles at the South end of the "Shroppie" were much as I always find them - after several days of very straight runs across embankments, and through fields and cuttings, I start to look forward to a canal with more twists and turns, and a reasonable spread of locks to work.

Going well at this stage.
Once through the Autherley stop lock, (which currently has almost no difference in levels at all), and doubled back up onto the Staffs and Worcs, you are quickly into a very long and narrow cutting, which is also a surprisingly shallow one, (or at least seems to be in "Sickle", which I think I probably have too much back end ballast in for this kind of thing).  There are only a few passing places, and it is not particularly easy to move over in some of them, so I was not sorry to emerge at the North end of the narrows with nothing having tried to come South.

But 10 minutes later, wet boy and waterlogged camera.
After a few more lock-less miles up through Calf Heath, (but certainly more twists and turns on the "Shroppie"), you arrive at a stretch where the locks come fairly regularly, often closely spaced, and few more than half a mile apart.  I just thought we were setting into a nice professional rhythm, with the two of us working well together, when at Rodbaston lock something happened which is a first for me since I first started boating in about 1970.   One minute I was walking along "Sickle's" engine room gunwale, the next I was descending into the cut.  I obviously wasn't in danger, so rather than try to grab the handrails, and go slamming into the boat side with possibly broken fingers, I let the inevitable happen, and ended up standing on the bottom, just over waist deep.

I was quickly out, with nothing more of me than my pride damaged, (there was an inevitable bunch of construction workers who watched the whole performance).  However my thoughts that I had got away with it were quickly dashed when I realised I was wearing our best Canon Ixus camera on my belt.  It was full of water, and the prognosis didn't look good!

We had decided initially to stop somewhere near Penkridge or Teddesley, but (despite the ducking!), our progress was good enough to carry on past Acton Trussell, (which always sounds to me like the place referred to by Hinge and Bracket).  however we didn't wish to get caught up in the environs of Stafford with its many road bridges and railway lines, and as the railway also follows the canal for miles after Stafford, we stopped short at an idyllic spot just below Deptmore lock.  Once again food was cooked and eaten al fresco, in very relaxing style.  The camera most certainly was not working!

Brewood to Deptmore Lock (Staffs & Worcs)
Miles: 0 (Chalice), 20.4 (Sickle), Locks:12

Total Miles: 321.7, Locks: 181

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Back to serious "Sickle" boating.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Tuesday 29th July.

 Deep cuttings often mean very high bridges,
The first full day with "Sickle" on her own, and as we were half a day adrift of original plans, a fairly long day to try and claw back a bit of time.

But it is not all cuttings of course
On the "Shroppie", all but a handful of the locks are in the flights at Audlem (15 locks), Adderley (5 locks) and Tyrley (5 locks), and these are all concentrated into a relatively short length of the canal.  We did the first two of those flights yesterday, so today Tyrley was fairly soon after we got going.  The lock flights are busy, with a bit of queuing, but not excessively so.

Former Cadburys works at Knighton with "Birmingham" tied up
After that we settled into more or less non-stop miles, with only a single lock at Wheaton Aston towards the end of the day to relieve the feeling I always get of "Roman road".

Norbury Wharf, with Tench & Ilford tied up opposite.
I say "more or less" non-stop, as the push button used to engage "Sickle's" starter motor was playing up, and I feared damage was being done when the starter motor failed to engage cleanly at the first attempt.  I wasn't sure I'd find a replacement at Norbury Wharf, but they came up trumps with something similar.  It would need some wiring mods to fit it, but I was unlikely to find anything better, and I considered it needed fixing before something failed completely.

One of the hazards of trying to use the laptop on Sickle's tug deck.

I can't think of a caption for a dog and a short tunnel.
We hadn't planned to try and go as far as we did, but calculated we could just about make Brewood.  This we did, and we were already much nearer to our originally planned schedule.  It was too late to consider cooking, (which with "Sickle;s" largely al fresco facilities can take a while, so the meal would need to come from the pub.  The vegetarian choices were rather more "snack" than full meal, and we would certainly have hoped to find a proper "veggie" main course.  They say the pub trade is really struggling, but sometimes my verdict is "need to try harder", if you want as many customers s possible.

Market Drayton to Brewood
Miles: 0 (Chalice), 22.0 (Sickle), Locks: 6

Total Miles: 301.3, Locks: 169

Monday, 28 July 2014

Moving again - and switching to just "Sickle"

(Boats Chalice then Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Monday 28th July.

Progressing up the thick of Audlem locks with Sickle.
A very chaotic start to today!  The boys were supposed to be leaving us, when Michael was to drive them both home, but neither showed any great enthusiasm for getting up, getting sorted, and getting going.

We, on the other hand, needed to move stuff between the two boats, making "Sickle" suitable to be our home for the next few days, and ensuring we travelled with as little as possible, but not leaving anything vital on "Chalice".  Because Michael had hi-jacked our bedroom, (we had slept on "Sickle" whilst he was with us), we all falling over each other trying to get sorted.  I'd better not say too much, but I am seldom at my best at times like this!

Sickle sets off without me - however the skill is not letting her leave without me!
Anyway, we finally sent them off, and then soon after we were moving "Chalice".  Unusually we have elected to pay to leave it in a local marina.  The "Shroppie" tends to be littered with visitor moorings having just a 48 hour stay time, and we felt it simply easier to put the boat somewhere secure, and where it wasn't keeling over on the infamous "Shroppie shelf".  (Much of the Shropshire Union has sloping or stepped edges, that mean the boats will not moor near the edge, and continually grind on what they end up resting on).

Sickle didn't leave without me, and is halted waiting for the next lock.
I have to say, if you are going to pay to keep your boat in a large marina, then Overwater looks one of the best.  It is very spacious, highly landscaped, even having islands in the middle, and there is loads of room to manoeuvre, (which there needs to be, as it seems cross winds blow straight down it!).

After 15 locks at Audlem, you qickly reach 5 more at adderley.
Then a walk of about a mile and a half back to "Sickle" with Odin, and the more serious journey could finally begin.  We had set ourselves a fairly aggressive schedule initially, but changes of plan meant we were now at least half a day down on what we had thought we might do,  By the time we pushed off it was afternoon, and any of the historic boats leaving on Monday had long since gone.  The locks were busy, but thankfully nothing like as bad as they had been coming the other way.  A determined push saw us up Audlem and also Adderley locks as well, but by Market Drayton we were burned out, and gave up trying to do any more that day.

Audlem to Overwater Marina (Chalice)
Audlem to Market Drayton(Sickle)
Miles: 1.4 (Chalice), 5.9 (Sickle), Locks:20

Total Miles: 279.3, Locks: 163

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Very small move only.

(Boat Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Sunday 27th July.

After a few days of not moving either boat, we finally moved one - not far at all, but still through several locks.

Since our arrival at Audlem, "Chalice" had been sitting in the pound below the 11th lock down, just short of the village proper, as all the moorings in the very centre had been reserved for the 40 or so historic boats visiting.  "Sickle" on the other hand, had gone down to the final pound above the bottom lock for the festival.

However tomorrow  "Sickle" needed to be moving away as soon as we could in the other direction, so, as the festival was drawing to a close, we worked it down through that final lock, turned it around. and brought it 4 locks back up the flight, and moored it alongside "Chalice", with each boat now facing opposite ways.

That was it for the day, as our other son Michael was still visiting us, so, along with David, and Odin the whole family was present, and we fancied a family meal.  Tomorrow Michael would be driving David home, and Cath and I would be boating with just Odin for a few days.  We went and had a meal at the Lord Combermere, which, if I'm honest, although filling, was hardly spectacular for the considerable cost involved.  None of the three pubs near the canal in Audlem seemed very well geared up to giving much choice to vegetarians.  We are not such a rare breed these days, so perhaps these pubs are missing out on customers they could easily attract?  The one that can offer a better choice by the next time we visit is likely to get our custom, but if none do, we are likely to rely on the supermarkets, and eat on the boats.

From one lock from bottom of Audlem locks, down, turned, and back up through 4.
Miles: 0 (Chalice), 0.9 (Sickle), Locks: 5

Total Miles: 272.0, Locks: 143

Audlem Festival of Transport

(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th August.

Generally intermittent Internet connections, and difficulty charging laptops on "Sickle", (which has only a starter battery, and definitely no 230 volts!), mean it is virtually impossible to do full blog postings at the moment.

However, as a taster, here is a selection of photos that David took at the weekends event, where we had a thoroughly good time.

Atlantic, Badger, Darley. Whitby (offside), Plover (towpath).

Darley, Whirby (offside), Plover, Ilford, Aquarius (towpath)
Aquarius (towpath). Ladybank & Dory (offside)

Tench & Stamford
Saturn, Marquis & Thea by the wharf

Stanton with Birmingham & Lindsay behind
Elizabeth with Swan behind

Stanton, Birmingham and Lindsay
Elizabeth & Swan
Scorpio & Leo
Scorpio & Leo
Swallow & Starling

Purton, Sickle, Victoria & Grange (towpath), Stirling (offside)
Sickle (& bloke with dodgy knees!)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Very Slow Final Few Miles To Audlem

(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)
Retrospective post for Thursday 24th July.

"Aquarius" towing "Ilford" on a long line approaching Adderley locks.
This was always going to be an "interesting" day!  Although now already close to our destination at Audlem, we were still two flights of locks away, and still needed to work both boats through both the Adderley flight, (five locks twice), and most of the Audlem flight, (we were not sure exactly where either boat would end up, but it would be at least 11 or 12 locks for each).

Long before we got up at Adderley boats were already heading towards Audlem, and by the time I was up dog walking at soon after 07:00 am, people were telling me they had got moving early, aware that the pair of boats "Aquarius" and "Ilford" loaded with coal were about to get underway, with the inevitable delays expected as such a pair attempt to work through flights using a technique known as "long lining".

If you are going to have long delays in a lock flight, at least these are scenic.
It was far too late then for us to also set off in a hurry, and almost immediately after I had been told "Aquarius" and "Ilford" appeared round the corner, and passed our moored up boats, ready for the Adderley lock flight.  Several boats were already queued up behind them, even before the locks, so it was obvious as we "set off", (in practice only moved forward a few feet to join a queue!), that our journey to Audlem was going to be a slow one.

The short version of the story was that after that we queued heavily the whole way, and neither boat ever really got a straight run from any lock into another - there was almost invariably still a boat ahead of us waiting to go into the next lock, as our leading boat "Sickle" left its own lock.

"Birmingham" arriving - one of my absolute favourites.
David, being David, beavered up and down relentlessly on the bike, trying to both set up locks ahead, and to assist those following, but at the end of the day, the congestion was so intense it was just a case of sitting it out.  Several times I turned off "Sickle's" engine, instead of leaving it idling, in a bid to save some diesel.

We heard anecdotally from those coming up, that the coal boats were struggling to cope with the congestion, and apparently one, (im not sure which, but guess the butty was more likely), got stuck across a weir. I'll not pass any comment, because I have in the past managed this myself with "Sickle" - the weirs can be quite benign one minute, but then have very severe flows only moments later, and if you don't have a boat either moving under power, or roped off to something, it can very rapidly get dragged to a position from where it is then remarkably difficult to extract it.

"Aquarius" "long-lining" "Ilford" through a lock at Audlem
It is lovely to see the coal boats being worked in a traditional way through narrow lock flights, but however you get the un-powered butty through, it is inevitably going to take longer than where motorised boats are operating singly.  Quite sensibly half way down they clearly took a decision to tie up the butty, and to bring it down later once some pretense of normal traffic flows had returned.

Things moved faster after this, but were still very slow.  We spotted an opportunity to moor "Chalice" in the long pound at Audlem, 11 locks down, and before where the historic boat event was reserving space, and probably as close to it as we could get.  WE tied "Sickle" alongside, and decided to find out where the organisers wanted her, before carrying on with just one boat.

The answer proved to be the very bottom pound of the flight, so after a bit of a rest, we took "Sickle" on her own down three more locks, and found a suitable space.

I am genuinely not convinced we have ever before spent so long going such a short distance.  However lots of locks were involved, there were loads of boats, and really nobody was doing anything wrong - it really was what they describe in road reports as "sheer weight of traffic".  I don't think I have sunk a pint much quicker in a long while though, and Cath very nearly beat me!

Top of Adderley Locks to various locations in Audlem Locks
Miles: 6.6 (Chalice), 6.8 (Sickle), Locks:35

Total Miles: 271.1, Locks: 138

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Good to get some locks again.

(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)

Still not a particular early start, but today we had reasonable determination to put in quite a few more hours than yesterday, and to get broadly back on track with our outline plan.

"Sickle" at High Bridge
Yesterday we had put fuel in "Sickle", but we didn't do so with "Chalice".  Although there was still no urgent need to refuel "Chalice", a couple of outlets on the Shroppie sell diesel at fairly competitive prices, so it is sensible to top both boats up as we are passing - we therefore planned a stop at Norbury Wharf.  I was also exasperated by only having one copy of the Nicholsons canal guide for this area, meaning that as it was being used by Cath on "Chalice", I never had a map to refer to on "Sickle" - so we shelled out on one of those as well.

The former Cadburys works at Knighton with boat "Birmingham"
Only when we had left Norbury Wharf did anybody remember we had an empty gas cylinder on "Chalice", so we pulled over beyond the next bridge, and David and Cath went back with a folding trolley to correct our oversight.  (Again this was not urgent, as the cylinder we have swapped to should last some weeks, but it is always prudent to change the empty as soon as possible after you swap, in case you forget to do so later, and eventually end up with no gas at all.)

Working down Tyrley locks
Thereafter there are a lot more lock-less miles.  The scenery is stunning, and the weather has been superb, but the Shroppie does have mile after mile of very straight canal, (quite often in cuttings), and I must admit I would find it more entertaining if there were a few locks to break up the long periods of just steering.


Leaving Tyrley locks
We continue to enforce a proper stop for lunch, and today we stopped near Goldstone.  Finally we reached Tyrley locks - the first real locks we have done for days - David worked flat out on the bike to try and help speed both me and Cath through with our respective boats, but not content just with lock work, he was giving Odin a thorough work-out too, as he repeatedly chased after David's bike.

Tyrley is approached through this distinctive and atmospheric cutting through rock.
Then forwards to Market Drayton, where a supermarket shop was planned.  I don't greatly enjoy this if the shop is any distance from the canal, and here, unfortunately, it is.  We had quite a lot to carry, and I actually found it quite tiring. I was actually glad at the time we bought no beer to add to our load, though I'm regretting that now, as I type this!

Market Drayton
There was a bit of debate about whether we stayed overnight in Market Drayton - we had found reasonable moorings, despite it being quite crowded.  In the end we decided we would like to get out of a town, and place ourselves somewhere far more rural .  So we are now at the top of Adderley locks, in total tranquility, surrounded by farming,  One other boat eventually arrived and moored a discrete distance behind, but, unlike much of the day, I do still feel like we have this bit of the canal just for ourselves right now.

Gnosall to top of Adderley Locks
Miles: 17.0 (Chalice), 17.0 (Sickle), Locks: 10

Total Miles: 257.77, Locks: 103

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Little progress, but some essential things achieved.

(Boats Chalice & Sickle - posted by Alan)

"Spirit of Phoebe" is remarkably narrow as well as short.
We have been operating with an outline plan - nothing we intend to stick to in a slavish way, but it is necessary with various events planned that we are making enough progress that we will be at certain pre-planned destinations by certain times.

"Sickle's" "twin" "Tycho" was at Stretton.
Up until now we have had not too much difficulty keeping up with any outline, and, if anything, have run ahead of it.  Today we did the opposite, and achieved far fewer miles than we assumed we might, (although this stretch of the "Shroppie" has only one lock in many miles, so that is the one bit that was not in doubt).

Reasons for slow progress today were......

1) We decided to walk into Brewood to find the small supermarket there, and top up on some essential supplies.

2) As a result of the late start resulting from (1), when we arrived at the single lock at Wheaton Aston, we ended up being (I think) boats number 6 and 7 in a queue waiting to go down.  Although people were fairly efficient, this meant an enforced wait of at least an hour.

3) (By far the worst). I decided that I could put off an oil change on "Sickle" no longer, so with the oil hot, we decided to delay at Wheaton Aston to do this.  In "Sickle" the arrangements for pumping out old oil are very poor, and as it uses about three times as much as "Chalice" does, it takes an age.  The oil filter is also a pig to change, being located in a fairly inaccessible spot.  The engine room was very hot, I was grumpy, and by the end of it had oil on most of me. (Thank goodness I was travelling with "Chalice" as well, so had access to a shower!).

4) As a result of (3), we realised we would not get to Norbury Wharf in time, where we had planned to buy diesel.  I therefore decided to reverse "Sickle" back to Turners at Wheaton Aston.  If I'm honest, it was not my best ever bit of reversing, and it all used up time.  Turners actually sells quite a lot of "boaty" type things at reasonable prices, and I came away having bought more than diesel.

Again very typical of this particular canal.
After all this we decided we might try and recover some time by pressing on to either Norbury, or even to High Offley, that sports one of the most "interesting" pubs on the system,

There are many long straight cuttings
In the end, though, we accepted that Gnosall, where we know the pub, would be reached sooner, and as I was knackered, decided if we could find a mooring, (or more accurately two moorings - often a bit harder!), that we would stop there.  We could find two moorings. so, after a fine meal, this blog is being composed over a few more drinks in the Navigation.

Not often both boats moving are in the same shot - unless tied together, of course!

Short tunnel just hewn through solid rock.
Tomorrow we will work harder, and catch up, (honestly we will!)

Brewood to Gnosall
Miles: 8.5 (Chalice), 8.5 (Sickle), Locks:2

Total Miles: 223.7, Locks: 93