Water Hog

July 31, 2011

We have been moored in Cropredy for a couple of days but they have been busy: on Friday we went home by train and collected the car and yesterday we went for a drive through the Cotswolds to Stroud and back. The trip round the M25 in the Friday rush hour reminded us why, even at its busiest, travelling by canal is infinitely more enjoyable than travelling by road.

Except for the rare occasion when we meet a water hog! As previously blogged we travelled for a very lengthy day, taking turns to steer through the long pound between the Napton and Claydon flights. It was my turn as we left Marston Doles. The Oxford Canal at that point has frequent very steep bends and the traffic was heavy. We seemed to meet at least two boats on every bend. After about ten minutes I had to stop and hover because an oncoming boat was passing moored boats and it would have been very dodgy and quite unnecessary for me to squeeze between them. As I went on, (slowly as passing moored boats on pins in a narrow stretch of canal), I noticed that a following boat, NB Tute’N’Kumin, had caught up and was pressing hard on our tail. I continued at a good speed, in fact virtually at full speed.

Round the corner was the mooring for Priors Hardwick where boaters moor to walk to the Portuguese restaurant: we have done that in the past. A boat was mooring with some difficulty and much shouting from the steerer to the chap on the bank struggling with the ropes; the stern had swung out across the canal. I slowed right down and then edged past carefully when it was safe. Meanwhile TNK nearly crashed into me and was continuing without pause despite the mooring boater sounding his horn in warning.

As we went on, travelling faster than I might have wished in the circumstances because of the pressure from behind, we met a hire boat on a bend. No doubt unnerved by both of us bearing down on him he misjudged the bend and went into the side so I slowed right down as I passed so he could extricate himself. I also committed the crime of slowing down to negotiate a particularly tortuous bend and bridge combo.

It was Alan’s turn to steer so we changed over and I, unnecessarily, pointed out the menace behind us. We continued with Alan being placed under the same pressure. Finally he shot through a bridge too fast and the bow went into the bank. This was just too much! He stopped under the next bridge and turned to ask them if they thought they were on a motorway, then pulled over to let them past.

As they passed the man said that he wasn’t supposed ever to drop under 600 revs. (Can’t imagine what havoc he causes getting in and out of marinas if he can’t go slow!) The woman screamed at me that I should let Alan steer all the time so we went at a decent speed! Can’t say that I have ever been accused of going too slow in the past and I noticed that I was travelling at the same speed, or faster, as every boat we passed. They tore off into the distance and we went on finally able to enjoy the peace of the Oxford Canal on a summer’s day. It’s worth noting that we covered the distance from the top of Stockton Locks to Cropredy in less time than Pearson quotes for that section of the canal so there was no dawdling on our part. Often we find it takes us longer and decide his times are unachievable by anyone.

We passed Tute’N’Kumin again after the Claydon Locks as we passed them at a slow speed as we normally do with moored boats. (That’s just because Alan was steering and he is a far nicer person than me, I would have sped past very close!) They then passed us the following morning at 6.30 a.m. when they sped past the long line of moored boats no doubt on their way to spoil more boater’s days further down the Oxford.

Statistics so far:-

2921.39 Miles, 1930 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 98 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels

Yet more Locks

July 28, 2011

We started early, at 7.30, thinking that we might make it all the way to Cropredy today. We had ascended the three Calcutt Locks by 8.30 and were starting on the Napton Flight by 9.30. Our thinking that most people wouldn’t be out and about was right and we had a steady ascent, following another boat and passing a couple of boats coming down. One boat passing us said that they had taken eight hours to get up the flight on Sunday with boats banked up many deep at every lock. The joys of the Oxford in the summer holidays! When we look back a few years we remember that we used to think the nine Napton locks a great chore to be overcome, now they are a mere blip in the day’s progress.

We wanted to have a full water tank before we moored for two weeks so pulled in at the Marston Doles tap at the top of the locks. It’s a very slow fill and took about 90 minutes to fill the half tank needed, so we had lunch and chatted with the many boaters queuing to go down the locks. Then we had the long pound before the Claydon Locks, many winding hours, admittedly through very beautiful surroundings especially with the wild flower edges and the cornfields beyond. About this time we realised that it was many more hours than we had thought to Cropredy and we probably wouldn’t make it all the way today. On we ploughed, taking turns to steer.

The canal was busy, and as usual on the Oxford passing boats were always encountered on the steepest of bends, sometimes two or three in a convoy. We also had a very unpleasant encounter with a road hog of the waterways, of which more tomorrow.

By the time we passed through Fenny Compton it was 4.30 and we thought that we might as well go on for longer, at least as far as the Claydon Locks. Fenny itself was heaving with boats moored before the bridge and continuously from The Wharf pub to the marina. As we came up to Claydon Locks we decided that we might as well go down the flight of five as it was quiet and a beautiful evening, sunny and calm. Just after the bridge before the top lock we came across the boat that we had followed up the Napton Flight. It was moored and the chap was in the water banging at the rudder bar with his gang plank. We stopped to see if we could help in any way: they had caught the rudder on the cill of the first lock and it was bent and the rudder could only be turned half way. There was someone else offering support and after various things were tried we went on after giving them the River Canal Rescue number. (They have just passed us at our present mooring and have a botched repair……….. After winding they will return to Fenny Compton for a proper repair job.)

Even though it was after 7.00 there were still boats passing us on the flight. With just three locks between us and Cropredy it seemed silly not to go on. We thought that we might find a mooring at the approach to the village and then we could look for the best place available to wait the two weeks till the festival. The second lock, Varneys, was the scene of the dreadful accident when a woman hirer was killed two years ago when we last came to the festival. We had thought that there might have been some act of remembrance there for her, maybe a plaque, but there was nothing.

It was 8.45 by the time we finally moored up above Cropredy. I had walked ahead to find a gap and there was a lovely space large enough for two boats. Helpful boaters on either side told me the reason it was empty was because of the wasp nest dead centre. It had been marked with a little notice on a stick after a boat had banged into the bank next to it earlier in the day. The boater and his children had been stung quite badly. The group consensus was that we would fit into the space with clearance of the nest and it should be OK if we took care so I called Alan and along he came. We moored up with about five feet to spare after the nest and shut the rear hatch to keep out any intruders. Alan and I are both sure that there was a nest in about the same area last time we were here. Luckily we had half of the previous night’s meal for dinner: we were famished. That goes down as our longest day’s travel to date; over thirteen hours counting the time spent watering.

Today we did 19.93 Miles, 20 Locks and 1 lift bridge

Statistics so far:-

2921.39 Miles, 1930 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 98 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels

Long Itchington

July 27, 2011

We planned a shorter day today after all the hard work of the previous days, but we have still added another twenty locks to our total. Long Itchington and The Boat pub have been favourites of ours so this was where we were to stop and have an afternoon off.

It was 8.45 when we set off and we ascended the first four locks unaccompanied, but then met up with Steve and Sandra on a boat whose name has completely escaped our collective memories. They were going on up the Stockton Locks above Long Itchington so we decided continue with them to moor at the top and walk down to the pub rather than stay in the village centre. It’s a pleasant walk on a summer’s evening.

It certainly makes a great difference having a boat to share these locks with; the gates are heavy and the paddles hard work. If we are ascending solo in a double lock we would also rope front and back. It seemed that this morning all boats were heading towards Warwick and as we went on through the Bascote Locks we crossed with a pair in every pound. After Bascote there was time to make a cuppa and then it was on through the bottom two locks at Long Itchington. I looked at my watch and was astonished to see that it was already 12.15: we would have had lunch if I had realised that the morning had vanished. We passed four boats in the Blue Lias pound between locks 11 and 12 and the water level was so low that I ground to a virtual halt with a moored boat inches on my right and a passing boat inches on my left. Like it or not I had to put on a lot more power to make any headway at all.

By the time we completed the ten Stockton Locks (making twenty for today in all) it was 2.30, time for a very late lunch and a not so long lazy afternoon, before a wander down to The Boat for a pre dinner drink. Alan is making chicken curry and had just complained that he had the strangest looking chicken to cut up. Seems we are having turkey curry.

Today we did 5.40 Miles, 20 Locks

Statistics so far:-

2901.46 Miles, 1910 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 97 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels

Locked Out

July 26, 2011

We have worked 107 locks in the past five days so we are feeling a little worn out. Today it was the Hatton Flight, but first we had to make our way from Kingswood Junction to the top of the locks. It was further than I remembered: in my mind it was just around the corner, not over an hour of very turgid travelling through dreadfully shallow waters. The pound was down at least eighteen inches and any deviance from the exact centre of the canal caused us to tilt alarmingly. Luckily we didn’t encounter another boat as we inched painfully through the cut known as the Rowington Tunnel, where there were exposed rocks on either side. We met boaters who moor at the Mid Warks Yacht Club and they said that it had taken four people to get them off the side and that they had had to go all the way back to Kingswood Junction to turn, rather than at their slipway as normal. I wonder if it might be this section of the Grand Union that is closed because of water shortages this year? In contrast there was water pouring over the by washes on the Hatton Flight itself, but that’s no good if boats can’t get there.

When we reached the top lock NB Blue Moon was waiting for someone to accompany them down and off we set. They had been there for twenty minutes or so. In contrast we passed four solo boats ascending that were two or three locks apart. The most any of them would have had to wait would be ten minutes.

There were four crew on Blue Moon and we set off briskly down the locks with two people going ahead to set the next lock down. We were feeling very pleased with how well it was all going when we caught up to two boats in front with about five locks to go. There were at least six people on one boat (all quite a bit younger than any of us) and a couple on the other boat. When they reached each lock all the passengers (I use the term advisedly because they weren’t doing any work) would pile out on the lock side and then all get back on again to travel the few yards to the next lock. It looked as if the only one doing any work at all was the elderly gentleman from the accompanying boat. The steerer on the many peopled boat was heard to say as we were spotted waiting for them “Oh look, some boats have caught up to us. Let’s go slower, we’re not in a hurry”. We weren’t putting any pressure on them but boats consequently backed up in every lock behind us and the word came down the line that there were people above whose hackles were well and truly raised. As we left the bottom lock (the descent had taken about 2 ½ hours) the two boats had disappeared and when we passed them they were already moored and heading with great agility to the pub, so going slow was obviously not as attractive when it came to passing moored boats.

It was a very hot day and we didn’t feel any great desire to walk into Warwick so we said goodbye to Blue Moon and headed straight on through the two Cape Locks, though not without wistful glances from Alan towards the Cape of Good Hope pub. There is a canal side Tesco on the edge of Warwick so we moored there while we did some shopping and then went on through Leamington Spa to a mooring at Radford Semele. It was a popular spot with several other boats moored and lots of walkers, runners and cyclists. Leamington Spa is obviously a place to keep fit.

Today we did 13.29 Miles, 23 Locks and 1 Tunnel to be added

Statistics so far:-

2896.06 Miles, 1890 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 97 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels


July 25, 2011

We thought we deserved a lie in after our early starts and long days of late: in fact we didn’t really give it much thought, we simply woke later. Maybe it was our brains telling us that we didn’t have to be wide awake by 6.00. NB Trivial Pursuit was moored behind us. We spent a couple of nights next to them sheltering from high winds in Rodley on the Leeds and Liverpool. They also crossed back on the Rochdale and we have seen them a couple of time since, though not to speak to. Anyway an hour or so was spent in one of those pleasant tow path chats before we headed off towards Kingswood Junction and they went on their way towards Birmingham. They were enthusing about mooring in Birmingham and saying that it’s one of their favourite places and we are feeling a little sorry that we have missed it on our travels.

It’s surprising that no matter how many times one goes shopping there are still things needed almost every day. Today it was bread, especially if we wanted some for sandwiches for tomorrow’s descent of the Hatton Flight. We pulled in to the side at Hockley Heath and Alan put some more grease into the propeller shaft while I ran along to the shop. Our son-in-law and grandson would have loved the McClaren car shop above the canal where there were some wonderful racing and sports cars.

As we went on towards the Lapworth Flight we passed through two lift bridges. At the second a boater from a hire boat ahead of us waved us through with them. The first lock was just ahead so we asked them to go back in front of us but they said they were travelling in a very laid back fashion so we should go first.

There are 20 locks in the flight between Lapworth and Kingswood Junction. I personally found them fairly difficult to steer. The pounds between the locks are very small and each has a torrential waterfall by-wash to the right of the lock. For the lock operator it’s also trickier to cross the two bottom gates than on other flights: Alan went through the handrail loop while I clambered over the high post at the inside edge. As we approached lock 4 a woman from a hire boat coming up emptied the lock that was set in our favour. I pulled into the side and we waited and waited. Alan went to see what was happening and found that her boat hadn’t been able to leave the lock below because they had been filling the lock with the bottom paddles up and had drained the intermediary pound. Alan had to organise sending water down from the pound I was waiting in (luckily one of the longer ones) and get them out of the lock. When I finally took our boat in and descended another boat had come up the lock below and the pound had drained again so Alan flushed water through while I sat in the lock being buffeted by the flow.

As we continued down the flight we passed several other boats most of whom were hire boats who found the passing as we changed locks very difficult – goodness knows we weren’t enjoying it either. We were very glad when we finally pulled in to a mooring at the Junction: even more glad when we walked back for an icecream and found that a boat we had passed in the final two locks hadn’t got much further because a rock had been trapped in a gate and the BW staff had been called out. Not my favourite section of canal however historic and attractive!

On the Lapworth Flight

At the Kingswood Junction

Today we did 4.89 Miles, 19 Locks

Statistics so far:-

2882.77 Miles, 1867 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 97 Lift Bridges, 56 Tunnels

The Longest Tunnel that we have never heard of

July 24, 2011

We thought that we would have a fairly long day and wanted to get started up the Tardebigge Locks early so we entered the first lock at 7.50. None of the other boaters were stirring and in fact we saw no boats until we reached the half way point. A boat had arrived the previous evening so the first few locks were in our favour, and as the gates seem well maintained the locks hadn’t filled overnight. (The top paddles are fairly hard work to get moving however). We made very good time, around ten locks an hour even when we had to empty locks. Whichever of us was working the locks would raise the top paddles and run to the next lock to open the gates or raise the paddles if it was full, then return to shut the top gate of the previous lock. The steerer would by then have dropped that lock’s paddles, opened the gate and taken the boat out. Once or twice Alan would have shut the gate as well by the time I started back. We are a little more cautious now after the boat sailed away on the Shroppie!

The scenery on the Tardebigge flight is very chocolate box pretty especially at the higher levels when there are views over to the distant hills. However Alan’s total attention was focussed on the aerial farms (that’s what he calls them) at two cottages mid way up the flight. One even had a vast aerial mounted on a crane. I had thought that the crane was a permanent fixture but Alan says it was probably being set up (I was going to say mid erection but didn’t know if that was appropriate for a family blog!)

In the end we passed four boats descending, one of which was crewed by a Dutch family. They got caught on the wood edging while they waited in the pound for us to pass and we had to let water down. Some of the higher pounds were quite low, whilst in the mid section water was pouring over the by washes. We completed the thirty locks in 3 hours and 20 minutes and it hadn’t seemed too much of an effort: it would have been a different matter if we had tried them the previous day.

We went straight on through the Tardebigge and Shortwood Tunnels and moored at Alvechurch to get some shopping and the all-important Saturday Guardian. How else can we mark the passing of one week to the next? Alvechurch is very red brick suburban as you walk down from the canal but the centre has some attractive older properties and a really good selection of shops. The Co-op had plenty of Guardians – I never know when there are none if that’s because no-one reads them or everyone does which is why they are sold out. We took a different route back because Alan was of the opinion that we had got lost on the way down and the real route would be shorter. It may indeed have been a tad shorter but it probably took longer as we stopped to squint at the very small map on his phone which neither of us can read without reading glasses on, and to ask various people the way.

On we went to the tunnel that no one knows about. Or at least no one on NB Lazydays. The Wast Hill Tunnel is 2726 yards long so an equivalent of the Braunston or Blisworth and took us 30 minute to go through but it took both of us by surprise. It was certainly very easy to travel through as it’s straight and wide enough for two boats to pass. We had a little day boat behind full of kids that screamed and bellowed as soon as they got inside the tunnel. Probably adds to the fun but might also be why we took 30 minutes to transit a tunnel that the BW notice says should average an hour.

By the time we reached King’s Norton Junction it had already been a long day but we didn’t fancy the moorings at all and kept going onto the Stratford. We were going to blog about the IWA action that had swing bridge 2 reinstated as a working bridge having watched the wonderful programme on BBC2 on Friday night but found that it is no longer there at all, just the former swing mechanism. In fact there wasn’t anywhere we fancied stopping for a very long way and we decided to head on all the way to the moorings by Bridge 19 and to eat at one of the pubs.

There is a lift bridge at Major’s Green next to the appropriately named Drawbridge Pub. When we reached it there were three BW boffins looking at the innards of the electric box and poking at things. We were asked to wait for a while till repairs were completed. Alan wandered along to have a look at the moorings on the other side and then stuck his head into the group in a solidarity with men working way. Actually I was hoping that as an electronic engineer he would say Eureka and complete instant repairs so we could go on but he came back and said they had lost a hexagonal nut. One of the men walked backwards and forwards across the bridge several times, they all looked down at the ground for ages and then the nut was found and a test run was made. Needless to say we decided that no test was complete without a boat going through and steamed through quickly before it broke down again and we were stuck.

As we went on there was a lovely surprise when Alan was hailed by Halfie who had biked out to look for us and arrangements were made to meet up later. We finally moored at 7.45 after a twelve hour day and were out of the boat and over the bridge in record time. We had arranged to meet Halfie in the Bull’s Head which was fortunate as the Blue Bell stopped serving food at 6.00. There was a ten minute walk along a quiet country lane and then delicious smells from the Bull’s Head which turned out to be just the sort of pub we like. The food was wonderful, not fussy, just straightforward and well cooked with delicious flavour. Halfie arrived with his wife Jan, daughter Alison and son-in-law Ben and it was such a pleasure to have a good chat. A lovely end to the day.

At the bottom of the Tardebigge flight

Alan’s aspiration, but don’t tell Frances.

Today we did 18.30 Miles, 30 Locks and 4 Tunnels (plus 1 from yesterday)

Statistics so far:-

2877.88 Miles, 1848 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 97 Lift Bridges, 56 Tunnels

Stoke Court

July 22, 2011

As we were moored on lock bollards last night we set off at 7.30 this morning. In fact I woke at 5.45 but thought Alan wouldn’t appreciate being given coffee that early! It was all very quiet for most of the morning. Alan was steering for the first few locks and had great difficulty with low water levels right up to the start of the Offerton flight, where we started meeting other boats. There was a surprise for us at one of the locks where we found a large dead eel on the top gate, the second we have seen over the last few weeks. We were also amused to see a group from a local nursery with five, very solemn toddlers being wheeled in one buggy with three rows of seats (and a very strong young lady pushing them!)

This is a very pretty canal once the outskirts of Worcester are left behind. There are long reeded sections and Alan was delighted to see a reed warbler nest with a bird sitting on it.

After passing the Droitwich Junction we were in heavier traffic. We had thought that we might stop for lunch before the six Astwood locks but seeing a line of boats behind us we decided to go on and eat on the way. The Black Prince hirers behind us were planning to hand back their boat this afternoon (just before the Stoke Locks) and various members of the family came up to help us though every lock. It was certainly to speed up their own passage but was a great help and they were very nice people.

After passing the very large Black Prince base we caught up to the boat that we had been following since we had passed the Droitwich. There were four people on it and one of the men was good enough to open a bottom paddle for us as they went out of the locks ahead. He said that they were going up the Tardebigge Flight this afternoon, a daunting prospect as it was already 3.00. This set Alan off and he suddenly became very enthusiastic about us going straight on. As we had already done 22 locks and had been on the go non stop for eight hours already I flatly refused to add another 30 locks and several more hours to the day’s total and we moored at bottom of the flight opposite the Queen’s Head pub. As it started to rain very heavily an hour later we are glad we didn’t go on! Mind you, Alan has filled in the time by making a new radio gadget in the process of which he dropped the sea magnet on his bare foot from a great height. This added to the pain he is feeling at present in one hand. It might have been safer to have gone on and kept him out of mischief!

ED: I have added a photo of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal lock mechanisms. The paddle catch is such a good idea, in that it is self-centring and so efficient to operate I cannot see why it has not been employed throughout the whole of the canal system. As to the white bobbin upon the lock gate, can anyone offer an expaination?

Offerton Locks

Worcester and Birmingham Canal

Heading home

Lock mechanism

Today we did 11.36 Miles and 22 Locks

Statistics so far:-

2859.58 Miles, 1818 Locks, 177 Swing Bridges, 97 Lift Bridges, 51 Tunnels