Monday, October 31, 2011

Dirty jobs

I case there are any non boaters out there who think the boaters are all living in the lap of luxury, let me mention toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, boat toilets are fine to use, but not being plumbed into the sewerage system, we do have to get them emptied.  Those like us who have cassette type toilets have quite an intimate re-aquaintance with their contents from time to time.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the places BW requires you to use for this purpose are less than immaculate.  Personally I prefer the outdoor ones for reasons you might guess.

Happily the facility at our marina is of the shiny stainless steel variety under cover but in the open air.  In short it is very acceptable, so we are indeed fortunate.  Somewhat more fortunate I fear, than the marina staff who have sometimes to attend to blockages in the facility.  Today I spotted a notice there asking boaters to take great care with removable plastic items e.g sliding covers and screw on spout caps on their cassettes when emptying.  It seems they recently had to remove seven such items that had jammed the pipe and in the wording of the poster – “as you imagine this was not without some difficulty.”


Today I shall refrain from photographic evidence. I know your limits.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Odd Jobs

Jobs for this weekend:
1. Drive to Crick to change Herbie’s nappies
2. Drive from Crick to Halesowen to buy a clock that doesn’t tell the time

Hmm I can see that you might be excused for thinking I’ve finally lost the plot.  Perhaps I should explain.

1.  Herbie does indeed wear nappies.  We use cheap disposables to absorb any fluids that leak into the engine sump tray. Most effective they are too, providing you pull of the elasticated edges so they lie flat. When they are saturated just pop them in a plastic bag and dispose.  Herbie has had a small but persistent diesel leak from the fuel filter.  I think I might now have tracked down the source and with luck can cure it by replacing a washer.  Leaks are swines to cure sometimes.  You fix where you think it is and then you find it’s somewhere else.

2.  Now about this clock.  I bought it off Ebay and I have to collect it because it is big and heavy.  The literature on these clocks say they are accurate to within 8 seconds a month.  Not bad for a pendulum clock.  The problem is it has no face so although it keeps good time it doesn’t let you know what it is!

Have I gone completely mad? 

Au contraire mes amis.

You see it is a GPO master clock as used in old telephone exchanges to time calls etc. It is capable of sending out an electrical pulse every 1,6, or 30 seconds, and these pulses work a slave clock which does have a dial.  Aah, so do I have a slave clock?  Well, not yet, but they do come up on ebay quite often so its only a matter of time.  Which of course I can’t tell.

It’s all Rick’s fault.  He has a small collection of master clocks and he made me want one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bang to rights.

Once or twice on our last trip the “lads” were out on the towpath on their motor bikes.  After one incident I saw this notice at a nearby BW water stop.
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What is a Section 59 Warning?, you may ask.   Perhaps the “lads” know, but I didn’t.  However I consulted Constable Google and he provided me with the answer, and here’s what he said.

Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 states that any person driving a vehicle on or off a road in a manner that causes nuisance or inconvenience to other road users or members of public will receive a warning that lasts for 12 months. 

If at any point within that 12 month period you are caught driving in a similar manner then your car (or bike presumably) can be seized by the police and you'll have to pay a penalty to get it back. This is normally in the region of £200 depending how long they keep it for and what area you live in.

This power is executable by Police officers and Police Community Support Officers ONLY.

I wonder how often the lads get caught.  Come to think of it, how many of them hang around BW water points reading the notices.   Next time I see one of these lads I’ll politely ask him to sit and wait while I summon a Constable or a PCSO.  Problem solved.  I know my rights.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An unusual windlass.

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I saw a lady using this windlass on the Curdworth locks and she kindly let me photograph it.  She said her husband bought it off ebay although it looks like a one off. Obviously it’s an adapted socket set ratchet, but I’ve never seen anything else like it.  I omitted to photograph the handle, but it was a pretty standard cranked windlass handle.  It was quite light to carry, unlike the big ratchet jobs with extending handles that some chandleries sell.  I wouldn’t mind one. Anyone else seen one or know where they come from?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Calibrating Canal Planners using the stop watch you didn’t know you had.

Sometimes you don’t even know what you’ve got when you’ve got it.  I was thinking overnight about the probable inaccuracies in my CanalOmeter for the Bottom Road (see yesterday’s post) because on a good day you can zip through close flights of locks much faster than you expect. If only I had timed our ascent with a stop watch, I could check.  Suddenly I realised I had an answer.  Let me start from the beginning

I use data from Nick Atty’s brilliant Canalplan to calculate travelling times. Experience has shown me, and thousands of others, that it’s a pretty good guide to cruising times. I used to just take the distances and number of locks and do the rest of the calculations myself based on what speeds I expect to achieve and how long it takes to do locks locally.  However since Canalplan introduced the option to show cumulative times I’ve just used those.  Stupidly I forgot to adjust Canalplan’s settings to reflect the “local conditions”. 

Locking times can vary enormously.  Anything from 5 minutes (e.g. Northampton flight) to 35 minutes (River Nene, where you have to tie up, walk round the corner, and wind one of those bl***y wheels).

For narrow canals, Canalplan’s default settings are

Average speed 2.5 mph.  Time for individual lock 12 mins, -  for locks in flights 8 mins

2.5 mph might seem slow, but as an average I might accept it because of slowing down passing moored boats and any small delays.  The lock times don’t seem unreasonable either, but I recalled that going up Farmers Bridge flight we seemed to be doing a lock every 5 minutes or so.   If only I had timed the flight I could have compared actual times with Canalplan’s predictions.

Wait a minute. Eureka!  I do have the times.  Simples. Digital photos have a time stamp don’t they. In fact I have photos, hence times,  for the whole trip that day, from the first lock we entered to when we emerged at Farmers Bridge.

First lock (Minworth bottom lock) 07.34 (believe you me, we don’t often start that early)

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Entering Farmers bridge bottom lock (after a short tea and sandwich break) and 6 miles and 14 locks already done (phew) 11.20



Coming up through Farmers bridge top lock 12.26

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So from the first lock that’s 3h 46 mins to the bottom of Farmers Bridge locks and another 1hr 6 mins to the top.

Blimey! We seem to have done 13 locks in 66 minutes, so that’s about 5 mins per lock.

Now using Canalplan’s default settings we get 5hrs 26 mins for the first part plus another 2 hrs 26 mins to the top.  A total discrepancy for the whole day of precisely 3 hours. I could have had another couple of hours in bed!!

Is this Canaplan’s fault?  Are CanalOmeters a waste of time? Not a bit.  We should have done the settings first. We knew we had extra crew to set up locks in advance and there were very few other boats moving to delay us.  There were 26 locks in all that day, so overestimates soon pile up.  A minute ago I just redid the Canalplan route with more realistic settings and the answer came out within half an hour of the true figure.  Not bad for a long day’s work.

The lesson for you in using Canalplan and for me in making CanalOmeters is to think hard about the default settings before you start.    I may well re-do the Bottom Road CanalOmeter to reflect this.  My older ones for the southern GU which did use local knowledge of speeds and locks have proven to be pretty accurate.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bottom Road CanalOmeterised

Last night I was re reading bits of Idle Women – Susan Woolfit’s great book about women on the canals in WWII.  At last I was able to relate to some of the canals she worked on around Birmingham, and I was interested to remember that the route to the south via Fazeley and Hawkesbury was known as The Bottom Road.  According to Mrs Woolfit, the boaters didn’t like it a lot even though they got extra pay for taking that route She says the boats were sometimes sent that way because of “something to do with saving water”.  I’ll need to ponder that one.  Apparently the boaters objected to the very dirty condition of parts of the route, and also to the single locks.  Single locks are a delight for a single boat, but for a boat towing a butty they are hard work as you have to do every lock twice and manhandle the butty into the locks.

Anyway, enough of that.  All this inspired me to waste a few hours today in creating a Bottom Road CanalOmeter (with an extra bit added to get me back to Crick).  I don’t like to create one of these calculators until I have first cruised the route because you have to choose which landmarks to include, but having now cruised it i felt able to go ahead.  If you don’t know what a CanalOmeter is, then take a look at my CanalOmeters page which tries to explain everything.  Suffice it to say they come in handy when you want to know how long it will take to get to where you are going from wherever you are en route.

bottom road ometer

In fact I did it the other way round, starting at Crick and going up to Brum, but it works either way. If you’re cruising the North Oxford or the lower half of the Coventry or the B’ham and Fazeley canal you might find it useful.  One word of warning though.  When it comes to long flights of locks he calculations may well be well on the pessimistic side.  With a couple of extra crew and locks in your favour you can easily save a couple of hours up the Aston and Farmers Bridge flights.


I really ought to make CanalOmeters more frequently because if I don’t then I forget how to do it and it becomes a bit of a nightmare as I have to re discover all the tricks.  It’s all done with Excel spreadsheet pie charts and the formatting can be a bit of a nightmare.  Strangely enough, its the inner hours wheel that is the hardest to do. Anyway, despite a few more grey hairs it’s there now .  Click on my CanalOmeters page if you want to down load The Bottom Road as a PDF or any of the others there.  To make one all you need is a bit of card, a printer, a pair of scissors and one of those little brass paper fastener thingys.


I think the next one I’ll do will be the Stratford route.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How the other half lives.

People speak of the North South divide as if it was all in favour of the South.  Well the divide sure showed itself to us on our last boat trip, but not in that way.  (Note to all real Northerners – I know that Brum is not the north*, but it’s as far north as we got, so bear with me. ) A pint of Brew XI (Brewed for the Men of the Midlands the old advert used to say) at £2.75 a pint?  Give me some more of that.  When we drink in pubs in the Home Counties you could easily add 75p to that. 

As for food, we did eat out more than we ought, but sometimes I couldn’t believe the prices.  Best was at the Beehive in Curdworth on the B’ham and Fazeley where just after the cute little 57 yard tunnel there are the last good moorings before storming the battlements of Brum.  The Beehive is ten minutes walk from the canal and very unprepossessing from the outside,

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but this is a pub I would gladly visit again.  Inside it is friendly and comfortable and we had a rump steak with all the trimmings for £6 odd!  It was good too.  I just checked the menu of the Malt Shovel at Cowley, in many ways a similar pub a day’s cruise from London on the GU.  Identical meal £10.45.  At other pubs in the area it might cost a couple of quid more.

We might have paid about £9 or£10 at the Greyhound at Hawkesbury but the food there was of a quality that would cost £14 or  more at Bugbrook or Old Linslade, or Apsley  . .

I don't think Midlanders have too much to grumble about.

What about the fabled friendliness of the north midlands?  Well of course on the canal most people are friendly, we spend the whole day waving and saying hello. But once shore we’re back to reality. 

All I can do is give an example of how we were treated one night. On our way south from Brum we moored on the pontoon outside the Bluebell Cider House at Hockley Heath not far above Lapworth.  That’s Warwickshire. Their on line menu showed tasty sounding meals for less than a fiver but we arrived at the moorings earlyish and decided to tidy up the boat, have a cup of tea and a shower before awarding the pub our patronage.  At 7pm our hunger got the better of us and we strolled up the garden path feeling suitably famished.  “Doing food tonight?” I asked.  “Oh I’m sorry, on Saturdays we finish food at 7”.  Imagine my delight!

Seeing our disappointment, the bar lady said she could always order a Chinese takeaway for us and found a menu from the nearest one and phoned through our order.   We each had a pint of their rather splendid Black Rat cider and sat down to wait.  When the Chinese food finally arrived, the pub provided us with plates and cutlery, which of course they had to wash up afterwards.  Actually we hardly had time to eat because we were deep in conversation with the locals about this and that, and got so friendly with one couple that we kissed goodbye when they left.

Nuff said.

*footnote re Where is the North?

Many many years ago I was in a school in Sunderland talking to boys in their final year.  Unemployment was rife up there.  Prospects for these lads were very bleak.  In the South East there were jobs galore.  I asked one boy if he would consider moving down south if he couldn’t find work locally.  “Down South?” he pondered. Then stoically, “Yes, I would” he said.  I asked where.  “ I dunno, York or Leeds I suppose”. 

It’s all relative isn’t it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How to print your blog

Next time I have to fill in a form declaring my occupation I shall put “Author”, for I have finished a book.  The problem is,

a) only one copy exists, and

b) you have already read quite a bit of it.

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Yes, it’s this blog, printed and bound.  Actually, the first three years from the nearly six years this blog has been going.  Now I’m saving up for book 2, the next three years.

As quite a few of my readers are also bloggers, they may care to know how this printing was achieved.  Easy.  Through

All you do is, give them the name of your blog and it’s URL, select the dates you want printed, choose a cover etc. and press a button.  After a short wait, the book appears on screen and you can leaf through to look it over, then order the print and pay them quite a bit of money.

A sample page

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The quality of the binding, paper and printing is very good, and there is a useful index giving the page numbers by post title..  There is just one snag.  It is not cheap.  Not even a bit cheap.  I would be embarrassed to tell you how much my 270 pages cost, although I note that it would be a lot cheaper if I had chosen to have it in black and white.  However I thought it was worth it as a keepsake, and I have enjoyed browsing through, as have the friends who have seen it.

Of course you can read it all here in the blog archives, but there is something nice about having it in a bound copy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kingswood Junction deciphered

Don’t you just love quirky canal junctions? I had never been to Kingswood Junction before we did so recently.  What a gem!  All that lovely brickwork and the distinctive Stratford bridges with little gaps in the middle to let the horse rope slip through.

I haven’t read up on the history, but it looks like it was created as an afterthought to link the GU and Stratford canals at a point where they are only a couple of hundred yards apart.  It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast, but very attractive, although I cant work out why it is shaped like it is.

Here’s a diagram


We arrived from top left down the Lapworth flight.  Here we are coming out of the lock I have marked as L1.  See L3 to the left and L2 to the right.

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The Stratford canal continues down to the right and the GU to the left. So far so good.

Now here we are in L3 looking back to L1.

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The confusing bit is the signpost, because the arm pointing right in the picture says Grand Union Canal, and the GU is nowhere to bee seen.    Then having descended L3 we pass another little turn taking the canal back to below L1.


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This comes out in a pool below L2. I  suspect that might have been put in later to prevent the need for boats going from Warwick to Stratford having to go up aL3 and then down again through L2.  Then that makes me wonder why they bothered with L3 in the first place,as it’s redundant really.  Boats coming from the Stratford to the GU could just drop down through L2 and turn right along the little alleyway towards the GU

Here’s the view looking from L2 back up to L1.


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Anyway all jolly nice if a little confusing when you first arrive.  There are some attractive old  canal buildings around too.  Worth getting out of the car for a stroll if you ever are nearby.

After leaving the junction behind I realised we hadn’t yet seen the GU coming down from  Birmingham.  In fact it’s another couple of minutes away along the link.  Stupidly, I didn’t bother to photograph it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tales of the unexpected–the limitations of canal guides

What’s this?  Water pouring down some steps.

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Zoom out a bit and we get this

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So where is it?  Knowing where we’ve been recently you might guess it’s somewhere in Birmingham.

Nope, its on the Stratford Canal somewhere north of Lapworth and right out in the sticks.  Either side of this on the canal are farm pastures and wooded cuttings. Nothing else for miles! My Nicholson’s guide shows the spot as the outskirts of a small village, so you can imagine we were a bit taken aback when we cruised past.  I guess it’s a very recent build.

Even when things have been unchanged for years, the maps and guides can’t really tell you what a place is like.

Take this spot on the Birmingham and Fazeley canal a few minutes south of Tamworth.
drayton bridge map

I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this:

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and then the bridge you see towards the bottom of the map:

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The map gives no clue as to the feel of the place, or of course the wonderful quirkiness of the footbridge, which has little spiral staircases at either end.

I love reading the guides before we cruise anywhere, but they never really tell what a place is like.  And best of all, most places are better than you expect.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A magical transformation.

A very strange thing happened to us on the Stratford canal.  Above Lapworth there are three lift bridges to negotiate.  One is electrically operated and the other two are hydraulic and need a bit of elbow grease and a windlass to wind them up.  At the last one, I leapt off the boat and ran towards the bridge, then remembered I needed a windlass, so Kath, at the tiller,  picked up my favourite one and tossed it onto the canal bank.  There it gave a wiggle and a bounce and promptly jumped into the canal.

“Oh bother!” I exclaimed (well, words to that effect anyway).  Even though I had a duplicate spare windlass, I was not a happy bunny.  I thought I ought to at least try and retrieve it, although I don’t have one of those magnet thingies.  So, without much hope, I probed around in the mud at the bottom of the canal using the boat hook.
“Wait a minute, I’ve hooked something”.  Gingerly sliding the pole upwards so as not to drop whatever it was, I hoisted out of the water to reveal . .  .

someone else’s windlass!! 

Covered in nasty black mud and a thick crust of rust, it didn’t look much cop but I kept it anyway as further probing failed to locate my own windlass.
Next day I got very dirty scrubbing off the mud, filing away the rust, and sandpapering the “new” windlass and somewhat miraculously it came out looking more than reasonable.  A good coat of fertan and job’s a goodun.  In fact I have to confess, I now like it better than my old one because it has a rotating sleeve on the handle.

Old one (replica)
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“New “ one
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paddling and other pastimes

Yesterday, with a crew of 7, we had to keep stopping for a break.  Not because we were tired but because we were getting towards our destination too quickly!  With the efficiency of a military operation we sped through the locks between Long Itchington and Wigrams Turn.  How could these big locks fill and empty so quickly?  Well, there's no getting away from it, it must because of those gert big paddles I've been complaining about.

Capt Ahab commented that they weren't hydraulic as I had thought, but had within their rather massive cast iron bellies a worm gear.  I suspect he is right.  Apart from opening a very big hole for the water to pass through, they have another redeeming feature.  Once fully raised, you can whip off the windlass and let them close themselves under gravity. Not with a rattle and a clang like normal lock gears, but with a sedate descent, doing no harm to themselves.

For those unfamiliar with these beasts, here is a picture of our lovely model Bob (Who's a pretty boy then?) posing alongside one to show the scale.
You wouldn't want one falling on your foot!  No Bob is not stopping it from falling over. I'm still not sure why they are set in the ground at an angle. 
Coming through Braunston today we were back to "normal" lock paddle gear, and I have to admit that the locks took twice as long to fill.  In fact, thinking about it, the locks with the big paddle gubbinses probably fill as quickly as little single width locks.  You can get through one in five minutes.

Having flogged yesterdays crew through a lot of these big locks and having forced them to stop regularly for tea and cake, pickled onions etc. (thanks R and M), we all got our reward with a splendid meal at the Folly at Napton.  Should anyone warn you off this pub, check first  if they have been there recently.  The new landlord has wrought a great transformation in terms of  ambience and food and the beer is good and prices very fair.

After the crew departed, leaving Kath and me in the pub to recover, we got a special treat.  In the other bar a group of musicians of considerable virtuosity were holding a session.

Most people could be forgiven for not even recognising some of the  the instruments, but being an anorak for these things, I can tell you that they were:

Guitar (of course.) a nice one made by Rob Armstrong ( I told you I was an anorak).
2 Piano Accordians (played a lot better than normal)
(Now it gets interesting)
Portative organ (bellows blown with little pipes like a church organ)
Shepherd Pipes ( an English pastoral bagpipe)
An intriguing folding xylophone

All played "real good".

We're only a day from our home mooring now, having crossed the remote plain between Napton and Braunston with its strange view of bridges to come  seen across the winding hedgerows.

Passing through Braunston we found ourselves crossing paths with Nb Balmaha whose blog we often read.  Quite funny really, each of us pointed the other's boat name, gave a surprised "Hello you" smiled and parted company like ships that pass in the night.  Another time we'd like to say hello properly.

When we're back I have some stories saved up to tell including one about a magical windlass.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Record bid foiled.

8.30 am. I sit here broken hearted.  This morning we set off down the Hatton flight after rising at 7am so that we could get as far as possible today in order to pick up Rick and co for a ride tomorrow.

Hatton locks are tough.  The hydraulic paddle gear takes some strength to wind, but we were undaunted. 

Progress was good.  Very good. We did the first five locks in 25 minutes.  At this rate we would do all 21 by 10am.  This must be a record.

Then a nice BW man appeared.  "Would you mind pulling over after this lock and tying up for a bit?  There are empty pounds down at the bottom, and we have to open up eight turns on the paddles in every lock to feed water down the flight. It shouldn't take more than an hour and a half."

An hour and a half?  We should have been at the bottom by then.  We wouldn't have minded so much but we got up at 7am!

So here we are stuck waiting and I have a chance to update the blog with memories of happier times.

Lapworth was nice.  Very pretty locks

and an easy descent,

 especially as we "allowed" two young boys to open and close all the gates for us.  We stopped after lock 14, leaving six to do next morning when David "Rainman" was due to join us.  We thought he would enjoy the narrow locks

and we knew we wouldn't get further than Hatton top as he was only arriving at lunchtime.

Kingswood junctoion where the Stratford canal meets the Grand Onion is very quirky and interesting and we got a glimpse of the first of the Stratford's famous barrel roofed cottages.

9.30.  Oi up, here's the BW man again.


Now several hours and 28 locks later I am almost too tired to type.  The delay at Hatton was an hour, then we set off down the flight.  Those hydraulic paddle gears are flippin' 'ard work I can tell you.  I feel like I've been in the gym all day.

Our first trip through Warwick and Leamington was uninspiring and you see nothing of the best side of these two towns.   After that it's countryside and locks.

However, we are feeling very pleased with ourselves pleased because we've reached Long Itchington where there is a choice of pubs.  Looking at the Nicholsons Guide yesterday we thought it looked out of reach. Tomorrow we have a further four crew members so we intend to drive them like slaves while we take it easy all the way to the Folly at Napton.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Invasion of the grannies. City centre draped in crimplene.

Friday night, the clubs and bars were open just round the corner from our mooring.  Would we get bovvered overnight.  Early in the evening we looked out of the window to see what sort of  people were out and about, fearing the sight of chavs on the rampage. No Rick to protect us, his term of service was up he had gone back home by train.

What's this?  A granny.  And another. And another, and another. Blimey, another! What's going on?  We looked up the programme for the NIA next door to us.  Daniel O'Donnell.  And at the Symphony Hall round the corner "We'll meet again - wartime songs introduced by Angela Rippon".  The place was awash with crimplene and the roads blocked with coaches!  The chief noise was not the smashing of bottles but the squeak of wheelchaits and the clack clack of zimmer frames on the paviours.

So we were alright.

Andy Parsons at the town hall was, well, just like Andy Parsons really.  60 minutes really funny satire in a 90 minute show.

This morning we thought we would explore Ouzell Street Loop on our way out of town.  Quite an interesting backwater and I suspect very quiet although only just round the corner from where it all happens.

 It only took ten minutes to do the loop but it was not without incident as the exit back onto the main line requires a 320 degree blind turn out of a ten foot wide opening.  I can confidently tell you that the width of the main line there is about 50ft 2 inches as we were briefly jammed across it in our 50ft Herbie!

Then on through Brindley Place

past the last of the posh city centre bits

and within minutes it all gets green again

a steady stream of joggers passes us and we head out into the sticks.

Birmingham has been really great and we'll definitely return to see more.  Tonight we're well down the Stratford canal, which up until here seems to be an endless sequence of wooded cuttings.

Tomorrow the Lapworth Flight.  Can't wait.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Stairway to Gas Street

Beep  beep beep.  Damn that alarm clock.  A long climb up into Brum and we thought we ought to make an early start.  I was feeling somewhat better after spending half the night in A and E* and I wasn't going to miss what ought to be a hard day but the highlight of the cruise.

First still in the countryside and a few locks at Minworth, then increasingly industrial as we closed in on Spaghetti Junction.

It's not only the motorways that meet in a tangle here, the canals do too, right under the mighty flyovers.

It would seem that a number of boaters get in a mess here, judging by the notice in the car showroom by the canal.

Then on into bandit country, Aston Locks, scene of Brum's contribution to the recent riots.  Armed to the teeth with er, windlasses, we stormed up the rather attractive 11 locks in the flight and saw no-one at all save a couple of joggers who gave us a friendly wave.

A quick bite of lunch then on up the final steep haul, the 13 Farmers Bridge locks raising us another 81 feet in half a mile.  The name Farmers Bridge conjures up a bucolic image of haywains and grazing cattle.  In reality it looks like this

 Dark, stygian, and often subterranean.  is it grim?  Not the tiniest bit.  One of the best day's cruising I can remember. It's great fun locking steeply up beneath the bridges and office blocks.  The three of us were running a team system.  Each person three locks driving, then six locks working.  At a lock every 5 minutes the time flew by.  So close are the locks that one office building actually had three locks beneath it with side pounds to absorb the water from the emptying locks.

We were almost sorry when we emerged at the top and saw the NIA building ahead. And loads of mooring space too.  We're right outside the Arena, just round the corner from Gas Street basin and a short walk from all the city centre attractions.  Brilliant.

This evening, on a whim,  we've got tickets to see Andy Parsons at the Town Hall ten minutes walk away.  Nothing ventured .....

*PS I'm much better now thanks.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sleepless in Curdworth

We didn't get a lot of sleep last night.  At 2 am this morning Kath and I were in A&E at the Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield. Earlier in the evening some abdominal pains I had been getting got worse and in the end we decided I ought to get checked out at hospital.  I didn't want to have appendicitis or something erupt when we were in the middle of nowhere on the boat. Such was the seriousness of our concern that I left half a pint of M&B Brew XI undrunk in the pub!!

I got interviewed twice, poked and prodded, asked to cough, and had samples of blood and pee taken. Then we had to wait, and wait, and wait while the lab deduced that my fluids were all in order and I had no infections to worry about.  Kath was falling asleep on the cubicle chair and I was pacing up and down like a pregnant father.

In the end they can't be sure what it is but it is probably muscular (me - muscular!?!, my six pack has long since turned into a Party 7*.) spasms and not anything to be immediately scared of.  So we got a taxi back to our mooring at Curdworth., stumbled along the dark towpath and collapsed exhausted into bed.  Rick was boat minding while we were away and not getting a lot of sleep either.

Then after what seemed like 5 minutes in bed the 7am alarm woke us to get us up and out to face the 27 lock summit climb into Brum.  And it was GREAT.  Tell you next time.


*For the youngsters amongst you, the Party 7 was a rotund 7 pint can full of fizzy weak beer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Summit bid briefing

OK chaps, gather round.  Here's the plan for the tomorrow's assault on the summit of Everest the Birmingham and Fazeley canal

State of play:  we're safely through the icefall Curdworth locks, and resting at camp three on the Lhotse face near the White Horse.

In the Icefall

Rick has recovered from his bout of acute mountain sickness and been brought up from Khatmandu Long Buckby to join us by Sherpa Marilyn.  Good to have you with us Rick. The wind is pretty damn ferocious out there as we found on our short trek today, and the forecast for tomorrow is not good so we'll need to rope up tightly.

Base Camp

Early start tomorrow.  We need to reach the south col Aston locks by early afternoon or we're doomed. Take care not to miss the path at  the Geneva Spur Spaghetti Junction  or you'll end up on the Nuptse ridge in Perry Barr.  Remember to watch out for signs of altitude sickness and keep up the fluid intake.  We'll have to push forward to make our summit bid up the Hilary Step  Farmers Bridge flight before dark.  There'll be no time to make a descent, so we'll have to bivvy on the summit.  Dangerous but we have no option.

This time tomorrow lads we'll be on top of the world outside the National Indoor Arena. Then a day's rest and we'll make our descent down the SouthWest Face Stratford canal.

Anybody brought a flag?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Yellow Jack strikes crew

You can't get the staff .  Rick, who should be with us on board tonight ready for the rigours of the long  climb into Birmingham, is instead having his fevered brow mopped by Marilyn back home in Long Buckby.  A dose of the yellow jack or some such. GWS Rick.  Too many Bunnage salads.

On hearing the sad news we thought we ought to put some miles under the belt today to make life easier tomorrow, so now we are at Drayton on the Birmingham and Fazeley where there is water under the boat.  Yes, after days of slow progress and inaccessible bank sides, we descended Glascote Locks to discover where all the water has dropped down to.  Not only from the Coventry canal but from the lofty heights of Birmingham.  Suddenly the channel seems full and the boat speeds along on less revs.

Today it has been Really Windy.  Our passage past the bijou back gardens of the good people of Tamworth was only achieved without a multiple pile up beause there were hardly any other boats moving.

I suspect that we may have seen the last of this amazing heatwave we've been suffering enjoying.  According to the met office our arrival in the city centre on Wednesday is likely to be a moist one and somewhat cooler, and our rest / tourism day on Thursday will be properly wet..  This could be construed to be a Good Thing as I have now run out of clean T shirts and have only warm long sleeved shirts left. 

I'm a lucky guy.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Scary stuff -shallow waters and mighty leaps

The bottom of this canal is getting perliously near the top.  Every mile, it seems to get worse and we see little beaches on the offside.  Sitting here tonight alongside a wood north of Polesworth, Herbie rests gently on the bottom.  I hope we can get her off again tomorrow. I dare say all this hot weather has caused a lot of evaporation to make the water situation worse. At this rate it can't be long until the canal is un-navigable.

Coming down the 11 locks at Atherstone was ok despite the restrictions.  There was a nice bit of up and down passing during the first half, but then it just seemed to go dead and hardly any boats were moving.  We did have to turn one lock after a long wait but one out of eleven ain't bad.

More scary stuff.  I've been practicing my dare devil leaps across open bottom gates to save walking round.  Kath kindly snapped me on her fancy new phone -what I call her raspberry.  Here I am in full flight.

Drum roll. . . .
Loud applause (please).

Tomorrow we stay put and await the arrival of Rick.  I shall use the time polishing the starboard cabin side - if I can get the boat near enough to the bank - and until my dwindling supplies of wax polish run out.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Murder on the canal? The delights of Coventry.

Leaving Hawkesbury a couple of other boaters asked us where we were heading.  When we told them Coventry they visibly blanched and acted as though we had said Afghanistan!  These people have never ben to Brentford.

However we began to wonder if they were right when a towpath walker hailed us saying that we might not make it to the basin because a body had been found in or near the canal and police were cordoning it off.  Gulp!!

We had no choice but to press on towards the city centre because there was nowhere to turn round.  Eventually we saw a policeman and a barrier, but the barrier was only across the towpath and we were able to pass without hindrance, although under the gaze of the copper I couldn't help looking shifty and I expect he was mentally putting us on the suspect list.

Coventry has a fair bit not to like, but like the curate's egg it is very good in parts.   We took Peter round the cathedral, and on the way back to the boat did a quick turn around the Transport Museum which was surprisingly good.  We'll definately go back there and take a longer look -and its free!  In the evening we met up with Peter's old university pals Matthew and Sally.  Matthew steered us (on foot) past the Theatre and the Award Winning Car Park (only Coventry could have one of them) to a very fine pub called the Gatehouse where beer is cheap and delicious, food is cheap and cheerful and the staff are enthusiastic.  It is also apparently one of the few pubs in Coventry that has a garden, which was a good thing as it was still scarily warm for the time of year.  We kept glimpsing signs to Medieval Spon Street which we will have to save for another visit.

I particularly like this old canal side power station converted into something or other.

The numbers on the side represent tthe number of electricity subscribers each year when the station was first opened, rising slowly at first and then exponentially.

I also like how they have kept other reminders of its past function.

and perhaps most of all, how the lettering across the building leaps through space and ends up on the side of the adjacent (alarmingly thin) block of flats.

The previous night we dined at the Greyhound in Hawkesbury and had the best food I can remember in a long long time.  Someone there can really cook.  A strong contender for this year's Herbie Awards.

After a week of dining out, Peter has now left us and we are back to cooking for ourselves out in the sticks north of Nuneaton.  Which brings me to Peter's suggestion of a good blog headline.