Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Leaf Lament

We headed for the boat hoping to take it out for a couple of hours to charge the batteries and heat the water, but as we headed north the winds grew stronger and stronger.
Icy winds sliced across the marina as we unloaded and the almost naked trees bent under the assault.

The Captain built up the fire and declared we were staying put that night.

The next morning looked promising with sunshine and light winds. I had a craft fair to go, but as I didn’t have to leave before 3.00 we had plenty of time to cruise to Rugeley and back.

Autumn is a tricky time to take the boat out. Some boats sweep through leaf filled canals but our boat soon gets a clogged prop. In spite of this we set out cheerfully. Within minutes we hit a thick slick of leaves - the boat became sluggish. The Captain threw the boat into reverse to clear the leaves from around the prop but it didn’t work. The boat drifted to the side of the canal and I leapt out to hold the rope expecting The Captain to open the weed hatch and plunge his arm into the freezing water in order to scoop the decaying leaves out.
He didn’t. Instead he tried to walk the boat forward beyond the thick debris to where the water was completely clear. We grounded on the bottom.

A narrow boat appeared behind us and chugged past. I expected the Captain to ask them to tow us into clear water but he just waved and said we were fine. After waiting for the leaves to drop away from the prop shaft he asked me to drive while he pulled from the bank. It didn’t work.
A puzzled walker asked “Do you know what to do?”
The Captain sighed. “I’ll have to go down the weed hatch,” he replied.

Reluctantly he opened the weed hatch and plunged his arm into the muddy depths. He shook his head and reached for his knife. Finally the culprit emerged, not just decaying leaves but a bundle of plastic bags knotted together so that they formed a big ball. I dread to think how much rubbish the fish have to cope with.

After sawing again the Captain produced another tangle of plastic. After that surgery the prop turned better but still got clogged with leaves several times.
“We won’t make it back in time unless we wind here,” he said as we reached the first winding hole at Handsacre.
He winded the boat and tied up, the only boat on this popular mooring.
After a cup of tea we set off back trying to miss the leaves but the prop kept clogging up. he wasn’t happy as we turned into the marina, we’d been out three hours but the batteries had only had two hours charge.

He spun the boat round to reverse into his berth, but the gusting wind sent him towards moored boats. Customers at the diesel point watched as he turned the boat to try again.
He allowed for the wind to push the boat sideways as he reversed. It didn’t so he missed the berth again.

The third time he managed to get the rear between the pontoon and our neighbouring boat. The watchers from the service pontoon seemed disappointed that the afternoon’s entertainment was over.

After lunch the Captain busied himself with the fire as I set off for a school with my books and art. Hopefully he will be in a better mood by the time I return.

Sunday, 14 August 2016


Its always busy at Tixall Lock
We cast off at 8.15 though the Captain woke me at 6.00 clattering around in the kitchen. Apparently Lottie had woken him and asked for her duvet to be put over her, and he made a cup of tea as he couldn’t get back to sleep.
but it is a peaceful place
We had only four locks remaining on this trip, the first one was ready to enter. It was lovely to enjoy the views on this part of the canal; normally we have done this section in stiff winds and heavy cloud. We reached Tixall Lock in time to see a boat emerging, however a man on the lock side closed the gate and ran to open the paddles to drain the lock. When this happens I am happy to stand around and watch the crew work the lock, clearly they were in a hurry. He was. He hustled his posh boat in and closed the gate then ran to my end to start filling.
“You’ve left a paddle up,” I said. He ignored me and started winding the top paddle. “It won’t fill with a paddle up,” I repeated. He turned his back on me.
view from the Wide
His wife heard me and called him back but he shouted, “Its fine.” She pointed to the raised paddle and he sprinted back to lower it. Just then a hire boat hurtled into the bushes below the lock. Clearly the barrier across the canal had come as a surprise to the helmsperson.
Posh boater worked the lock red faced while I watched the hire boat crew punt their way out of the bushes and return to the lock pins. Silently the posh boater lowered the paddles my end and opened the gate. Then he stormed off to rejoin his wife. If that’s the way the posh crew work I’m glad to be a commoner.
As I closed the gate behind our boat an eager boy ran up from the hire boat below and put the paddles up. A man from the hire boat behind me told me I could get Lottie back on board as they would open the gates for me. Both hire boat crews seemed far happier than the grumpy man in a hurry.
plenty of spaces at the other end
We were surprised by the lack of boats moored on Tixall Wide but not by the wind that blew across it. I hadn’t noticed the wind before so Tixall Wide wins the booby prize for the windiest mooring. We went past the moored boats and turned onto the Trent and Mersey canal. After going straight into Great Hayward lock we cruised past Shrugborough House. 
I waved to a lady with a buggy and two hounds  just before we moored opposite Shrugborough park.

Shrugborough House
While we were mooring I spotted a doll lying on the tow path. From its immaculate condition it hadn’t been there long. I called after the lady with the buggy but she couldn’t hear me. Hampered by cyclists whizzing past and Lottie trying to sniff the hedgerow I called to the boaters to stop the lady.
The call went along from one boat to another then a third. The lady turned round and the man on the third boat pointed to me. I held up the doll.
and our quiet mooring further along the park
The lady came back and reclaimed her daughter’s lost toy. Apparently she had retraced her steps along the canal to look for it but must have turned back just before our mooring spot. She was delighted that the search was over and her daughter was happy again.
We were having lunch when an Anglo Welsh boat rammed us at full speed. The cupboard doors flew open an the glasses tipped over but nothing broke.
“How can you swerve into a boat on a long wide straight bit,” The Captain yelled. He looked over the side but there was no obvious damage on our steel hull. The Anglo Welsh boaters were apologetic but it was strange how they lost control on an easy bit of canal. I guess they were travelling far too fast.
We had a quiet evening apart from the cows lowing. Tomorrow we have an easy cruise back to base. 

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Hello heifers

Lottie's audience
It was a bright morning but rain was forecast for mid day so the Captain got moving at 7.30 before breakfast. Others had the same idea as a boat passed us as we cast off. The Captain went up to help at the lock but the crew abandoned the lock after opening the gates and left him to close up alone. We never caught up with them.
At Rodbaston Lock there were a herd of young heifers. They saw Lottie and came to the gate. She barked. They skipped away but returned to find the Captain had put Lottie on the lead. She barked again but they watched without flinching as if aware she couldn’t reach them.
We cleared the fourth lock before rain fell but it was threatening as we moored at the visitor moorings at Penkridge.
Lottie crossing the gates
While we had a cooked breakfast, the Captain’s treat for his early start, it rained heavily. However the squall soon passed over and we set off again hoping to clear the next locks without getting wet. The Captain filled with water at Penkridge lock while I checked if any boats were coming before filling the lock. By the time the gate was open the water tank was full. Perfect timing.

unusual wooden boat
However it started to rain as we headed out of Penkridge so the Captain moored up before Longford lock which was another of Lottie’s favourite moorings. At first it was just drizzle but it became heavy and prolonged so we had a prolonged stop.

We moved off for the third time we cruised for three miles and tackled the three next locks without it raining. We passed through Acton Trussell and the rain began again so we moored. It is a lovely spot but no other boat joined us though several passed in both sunshine and another rainy period. It is nice to be alone.

After dinner Lottie got up and popped out of the boat without us following her as there are no other boaters or cyclists around here. After a few minutes she returned without being called and flopped onto the sofa for her after dinner nap. 

Friday, 12 August 2016

mud slide

heading for the narrow cutting
We were back to English weather with the morning being damp, unable to chose between dry or wet. We set off after 10.00 hoping it would stay dry. The water was clear as no boats had been moving.
rooftop garden
A boat closed up as I waited for a boat to turn across me onto the Shroppie at Autherley Junction and was close behind after I waited for three boats to exit the narrow cutting north of the junction. It followed closely as we entered the stretch just wide enough for one boat but I kept to a steady pace. We passed one passing place then I saw a boat approaching as we neared the far end. I let the boat idle as I neared the next passing place and the boat behind almost nudged us. Couldn’t he see I had nowhere to go? The boat started to reverse so the Captain waved him on and signalled to the passing place which was hidden from the approaching boat.
At last he sneaked into the gap and we eased past, unfortunately for the boat behind us he swung across the cutting slowing his escape. Before long the boat was on our rear fender so the Captain took the helm and let him pass. Surprisingly it took a long time for them to pull away. It wasn’t until we slowed to pass moored boats that they vanished round the corner.
Once alone we had a quiet cruise and the sun eventually made an appearance at mid day. We moored in the tree lined cutting beyond the pub at Cross Green.
unusual tiller

While eating our lunch we could hear children playing on the off side. They seemed to be slithering down the steep bank. Suddenly there was a squeal and a splash. A boy stood up in the shallow water almost opposite our boat. He tried to climb back up but slid back into the water again. His brother tried to drag him out but the slope was too steep.
“Just stay there,” the older boy said. “I’ll have to call dad.” He dug out his phone and made a quick call while his brother stood knee deep in the canal. Soon his father appeared further along the bank.
just a little bit muddy
How did you get down there?” the man asked. He lurched through the undergrowth and joined the older son on the bank.
 Gailey top lock
He stamped down a few nettles that were in the way then leaned over. “Give me both hands,” he ordered. The boy did so and his father dragged him out of the canal. “What a mess!” he said, without seeming angry or surprised, and herded the boys back along the bank and up between the trees.
The disturbance caused Lottie to slide off the sofa and go exploring. she took a dip and emerged muddy, so the captain had to wash her again.
We had a leisurely cruise round to Gailey enjoying the lock-free stretch.

We moored at the visitor moorings at Gailey as far from the lock as we could as Lottie loves the twittern of trees there and it is quieter. Lottie showed her appreciation by strolling around while we sorted things out.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Bratch and dredgers

Bumble hole lock
We cast off at 9.05 and made rapid progress without rushing as the locks were empty. All I had to do was push the gates open for the boat to go in. We didn’t even have to wait at the staircase lock which can cause a boat queue.
The Bratch
empty middle  lock
We were fortunate to arrive at The Bratch locks just as a boat went into the first of flight of three. As you cannot pass on the flight the CRT Volunteers usually let three boats go one way and then three go the other. As there was only one boat ahead of us we were able to go in next rather than wait for three boats at the top to come down. Helped by the CRT Volunteers we climbed the flight in less than half an hour. When we reached the top there were four boats waiting, some of the faces were rather sad. We moored at the far end of The Bratch moorings for lunch waiting to tie up until the man with the mower had trimmed round the rings. By then two more boats had joined the queue to go down.
ready to rise
out at the to of The flight
We were thinking of moving on when a boat sped by us, only to come to an abrupt halt because a dredger was blocking the canal. It was NOT a hire boat. Having read the sign which said we could be delayed for up to half an hour by the dredging works we moved off leisurely. As we chugged up slowly to the dredger it moved over allowing the narrow boat ahead and us to pass by. When they moored up the lady said her hubby hadn’t seen the dredging signs. Well he might have if he had passed us by on tickover!
We had a lovely afternoon. The strangest thing was the sight of a narrow boat reversing towards us as we left Ebstree Lock. The boater seemed happy going backwards even though he had just passed a winding hole. Perhaps his gear has jammed in reverse.

mooring above The Bratch

We found Flitwick moorings almost full so moved on around to Compton. They were full too, apart from a short space at the far end. Sometimes it is good to have a short narrow boat.

How can you miss this warning?

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

watching the birdies

above our first lock
Strolling Heron
We cast off at 8.40 but moored up less than an hour later. 

On the way to Kinver  we passed a heron fishing, and a moorhen feeding a chick in her nest. I was delighted to get a clear view of these shy birds as they creep through overhanging foliage. The father moorhen meanwhile was escorting another chick through the tangled web of branches overhanging the canal.
feed me!

We wandered into the village as we had a birthday card to post. After finding the post office we wandered back puzzling Lottie. Normally shops mean buying food, and the last time we stopped here we trekked up to the church which has a lovely view, but this time it was just a pavement walk and no bulging bags to sniff on the way back.

almost invisible chicks

We moved on again, up through the lock and stopped at the services. the Captain filled with water, I emptied the rubbish and recycled our bottles and Lottie mooched around the bushes.
Off again we went but only through Hyde lock were we moored for an early lunch.

We set off for the fourth time after a long lunch break. We wound through some amazing sandstone formations and went through the shortest tunnel. At just 25 yards long it didn’t get dark in the middle.

The scenery is spectacular on this section and the twisting canal keeps the helmsman on full alert for oncoming boats as it is also narrow but we only met two boats all afternoon. Where were they?

sandstone cliffs
We arrived at Swindon visitor moorings to find them full, so that was where the boats were. The Captain left me holding the boat before the moorings and went ahead to look for a space.

The brightest Tunnel

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Falling Sands,falling Lottie and falling rain

Falling Sands Lock
looking back at Falling Sands
It was warm rather than hot when we set off but Lottie was still determined to have her cooling morning dip. At Falling Sands Lock, our first obstacle of the day she made her way into the brook that ran next to the canal. However as she came out she slipped and slithered down the bank into thick mud. 

Brand new bridge under construction
Steam above

When she came back wagging her tail she didn’t understand why we wouldn’t let her back onto the boat. As there were no boats around we left our boat in the lock and gave her a bath. The mud was thick and gluey but we got the worst of it off before moving off.
lock below the sandstone cliff.

hand plough
 We passed beneath the viaduct as a steam train crossed it, the Captain snatched his camera up to capture it. The steam delight caused him to wax lyrical about the merits of that particular steam engine. After that an old hand plough caught his eye. as a camera man he liked its curves.

Kidderminster Church

What rain? I asked
 Two locks further on, by Kidderminster Church, the weather reverted to the English norm with a sudden heavy shower. I was protected in the tunnel under the road waiting for the boat ahead to ascend but the Captain and Lottie were up working the lock. By the time I drove the boat into the lock the rain had stopped as abruptly as it began. 

time to shop
leaving Kidderminster

We moored at the supermarket. Another heavy shower occurred while the Captain got our provisions but it stopped before he left the shop, and the weather got brighter and warmer as the day went on. As we neared Wolverley we met more boats than we had done for days.
Lottie met a young black lurcher and played with it while I worked Wolverley Court lock. We moored just before Wolverley bridge as the visitor moorings were full.
new waterside houses

spot the boats
After a three hour lunch break the Captain decided to cruise on another couple of miles. It was peaceful apart from working Wolverley Lock. The pub on one side was bustling with customers in its lock side garden and the cafe on the other side was also busy. Lottie had to be kept on a short lead as she wanted to investigate the local cuisine. The gongoozlers also included a herd of cyclists and a bunch of motorbike enthusiasts.

carved  birds
following a boat to the last lock of the da
Nobody admired her which I think dented her pride, of perhaps her hang dog expression was due to being unable to scavenge under the picnic tables. You would think we never fed her from her “I’m starving,” look.

After tackling the second shortest tunnel at only 65 yards we eventually moored at a quiet spot not far from Sleepy Mill. The only thing we saw moving all evening was a lonely cyclist.
the car park at the busy cafe