Monday, 24 July 2017

A cunning change to the cunning plan

One minor mystery of the cut – how come you can moor apparently in the middle of nowhere, like where we were last night, and, all day and all evening, joggers come pounding past? I mean, obviously, there must be housing nearer than you think, but it’s really quite unusual not to see joggers and dog walkers, wherever you tie.

Ah well, no matter. We had a very peaceful night and woke in good time this morning, such that we were on our way by 7.45. It had stopped raining, but was still very windy, something that’s going to be an issue for a couple of weeks, seemingly. Sheila steered and reported that the wind was tedious but not impossible, especially as it was on the bow for much of the time. We had a good run to Wheaton Aston, locked down and went on the water point.

Whilst the tank was filling, only moderately quickly, we considered our options in the light of the forecast for a storm on Wednesday with the high winds continuing into Thursday. We were running two days ahead of the draft cruising schedule, which only estimates two hours cruising per day. If we carried on to Gnosall today and to Market Drayton tomorrow (the last really fine day this month, it seems) we’d be able to take a couple of days out at Drayton and still be ahead of schedule.

So that was decided upon, as Stanley Holloway would say. We made it to Gnosall just on noon and found a good spot on the first visitor moorings after the tunnel, just a bit before the road bridge. As regular readers will recall, Gnosall is short for Gnosignall, though there’s now a decent 3 connection but still no Vodafone.

We’ve walked up into the village to get some supplies, partly to make sure we’ve got enough for lunch tomorrow and partly just to top up, the Co-op here being nearer (and a downhill walk back to the boat) than Morrisons in Drayton. Obviously, we’ll do some serious shopping there over the next couple of days as well.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Through Cut End and up the Shroppie

As planned, we made an early start this morning, though since it was Sunday, we didn't actually start boating until 6.30. It’s another situation where for one reason we want to get away early and for another want to time our arrival at the planned stop for mid-morning. In the event, it all worked out well. Sheila steered at first whilst I got some breakfast, then I took over and did the rest of the trick.

The weather wasn't much to write home about, raining softly from time to time but not very windy. We got through Pendeford Rockin’ without meeting anyone coming the other way and similarly had no difficulty at Autherley stop lock. The main challenge is the turn from the southbound Staffs and Worcs onto the northbound Shroppie. As usual, I didn't quite achieve a contactless turn, laying the starboard side on the fendering on the towpath capping and motoring her round.

It’s a very shallow stop lock, one of the smallest on the system – I suppose the main justification for leaving it in place is the sheer length of the pound leading away from it in all three directions. We didn't see any problem children, not that we expected to at that time in the morning, but there were just one or two boats starting to move as we headed along the wide and deep channel of the Shroppie.

Arriving at the moorings beyond Bridge 7 a bit after half nine, we were pleased to see that there was plenty of room, though there were quite a few boats here. One of them was Timewarp and we’ve had another natter with Tony this afternoon. That was while we were washing the roof, which badly needed doing, still being covered with dirty smuts from the winter in Mercia, exacerbated by material washed down off the trees during the recent rain storms.

Before that, we’d given the boat another quick sweep through, so we are once more filled with a sense of virtue.

And cream crackered.

It’s a lovely, peaceful mooring here, far enough away from the M54 not to be troubled by it but with decent mooring rings and Armco piling. Tomorrow, we’ll carry on to Wheaton Aston, or perhaps a little beyond. As usual on the Shroppie, there’s no guarantee that we’ll have a usable data signal every day, so don't be surprised if the occasional blog post doesn't get made…


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Curvily to Coven

I’ve not got a huge amount to report today, which has gone pretty much according to plan. We’d estimated 2 hours from Gailey to Coven, so left just before eight, expecting to need to give time for people to leave the moorings by the Fox and Anchor before we got there. It’s one of those sections that’s hard work for the steerer, being very curvy, but the crew has little more to do than hang about in the well deck, spotting oncoming boats.

Mostly this worked out alright, though some of the aforesaid boats were less considerate about sharing the width of the available channel than they might have been. We just managed to fit a wash load in as in the event we made it in a bit under the two hours. There were very few boats on these moorings, interestingly, though it was still before ten o’clock. Admittedly, those heading south might well have done what we intend to do tomorrow, that is leave very early so as to get through the Rockin’ in good time and pass through the dodgy area around Autherley Junction whilst the little horrors who throw stuff at you from the bridges are all still in bed.

We’ve walked into the village and got a good selection of meat from the butcher. On our return, we found an ex-OwnerShips boat, Hawksmoor, tied just in front of us and had a good old natter with her steerer about the joys of shared ownership and like topics.

It’s been a quiet afternoon. We’ve been able to sit outside in the well deck for some of the time, though an occasional shower drove us indoors in the end. Tomorrow, round onto the Shroppie and on to the moorings at Bridge 7.


Friday, 21 July 2017

A quiet day indoors

It has indeed been a rather grotty sort of day, windy and damp, though not as damp as it was 46 years ago in Aberdeen. On our wedding photos you can see Sheila’s footprints in the red carpet as she walked into Kings College Chapel…

We never make a big deal of anniversaries, except for the milestone ones, and today has been no exception. In any event, we’ve tried the pub here and weren't impressed. We will have a meal out at some point, when we get to a pub we like, probably on the Shroppie.

As planned, we’ve had a quiet day staying put in the wind and rain. There have been a good few boats back and forth, including the hire boats turning round at the yard. We’ve caught up with both desk work and cleaning and tidying jobs, so are feeling quite virtuous. The boat looks clean and tidy and clothes have been sorted in the drawers.

Tomorrow, we’ll amble round the summit pound to Coven for the night.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

Getting to Gailey

Looking at the weather forecast for the next couple of days suggested that Friday might not be a very good day for boating in this part of the world. Not much in the way of rain, but winds in the high teens gusting up to nearly 30 mph. We’d planned to stop below Gailey today and work up tomorrow, getting a pump out and diesel from the ABC yard above. But if we didn't move tomorrow, that would mean looking for these services from a busy hire yard on a Saturday.

Also, today’s forecast was for heavy rain first thing followed by slowly improving conditions, making the early start and breakfast on the waterpoint plan less than optimal. So we changed it, making a leisurely start then setting off at around half eight. It was, in fact, still raining, but with a fine mizzly rain. I togged up in a waterproof top and shorts (skin dries faster than trousers) and off we went, not stopping to water.

There was a steady amount of traffic about, so Sheila had help at every lock of the eight we had to do today, at the cost of me hanging about below hanging onto Sanity Again. Things went pretty smoothly except that my radio died. Knowing that they were coming up for a change of batteries, I swapped it for the spare in my pocket, but that died too. I got Sheila to take over steering whilst I did an all round battery swap, but it didn't help. It seemed likely that the fine rain was defeating the damp protection of the loudspeakers, so I gave both the problem radios to Sheila to put in the airing cupboard and we managed with hand signals for the rest of the trip.

We’d remembered Gailey as being a good place to get services, but were rather deceived in that. We got a very basic pump out for £18 and filled with just under 110 litres of diesel. The yard only offers a 60 propulsion/40 domestic split unless you are prepared to claim 100% domestic, something you should only do if moored on a residential mooring nearby. On the other hand, their base price for domestic was 64 ppl, so declaring 60/40 rather than my usual 40/60 probably worked out much the same as it would have at a yard charging around 75 ppl base price.

Nonetheless, we’ll try and avoid the place in future. The thing is, the next yard on our direct route is Napton Narrowboats at Autherley who are no better. Our alternative, since the toilet tank probably wouldn't have lasted to Brewood, would have been to go on to Oxley Marine beyond the junction, then wind at Aldersley Junction to come back to Autherley.

After all this, we pushed across to the water point to fill that tank which was getting very low. It’s a slow tap there and, as it was now past twelve o’clock, we ended up lunching rather than breakfasting on the water point. Once all done, we chugged along to the 48 hour visitor moorings at the other end of the straight. We’ve found a nice spot, peaceful (apart from the other boats mostly tanking past) and not too shady or under a tree.

We’ll sit tight here tomorrow, catching up with some jobs inside the boat that have been getting neglected with all this charging about. The good news is, the radios have fully recovered, showing the benefit of having an airing cupboard that gets properly hot thanks to that bit of finrad in the engine coolant return from the calorifier.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Pottering at Penkridge

Despite the comparative proximity of the M6, it’s always very peaceful when tied above Deptmore Lock and last night was no exception. We even overslept very slightly, but since there was plenty of time for matutinal coffee drinking whilst boating to the first lock, this was of no consequence. It proved to be another very pleasant couple of hours’ boating through Shutt Hill, Park Gate and Longford Locks to tie in our usual spot opposite the park homes of Penkridge.

We were all sorted by ten and had another coffee before setting out to visit the village centre. After a call at the bank, we explored the Wednesday Market, but didn't buy anything. It’s a fairly average sort of weekly market and well patronised by the locals. Visits to Sainsbury’s and the Co-op met our shopping needs, plus a call into the pharmacy actually found some moleskin.

It’s interesting that in the course of a phone call from son Graeme last night, he’d agreed that moleskin wasn't often available these days, the more modern Compeed products being preferred. Soldiers, of course, are experts in the care of the feet and the management of new boots, so I’ve no doubt he is right. Apparently, the squaddies use plain zinc oxide plaster as a prophylactic against sore feet.

So, the great moleskin hunt is over. Can't seem to find Chinese leaf anywhere, though…

We’ve been loafing in the boat during the afternoon, rather, reading and doing puzzles and Sheila advanced my Guernsey a little further. The weather has been ok so far, but looks rather threatening now – I shouldn’t be surprised if we have some heavy showers in the next few hours. Hopefully, such rain will reduce the number of small flies plaguing us here. We’ve had to rig the fly screens in all the hatches for the first time this summer.

We need to fill the water tank, so plan to lock up onto the service point first thing tomorrow and eat breakfast whilst the tank is filling, as we did last time we were here in April.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Up to Deptmore

I’ve probably remarked before that the first part of the Staffs and Worcs is a mixed bag, scenery-wise. You start off with one of the more lyrical sections before and after Tixall Lock, including the mysterious mansion with immaculately tended grounds on the offside immediately after the lock and before the right angled bend onto the Sow Aqueduct. Is it a private house, belonging to some millionaire? Is it a very upmarket care home? A small hotel, ditto?

Anyway, once over the Sow, things begin to become more robust, with the West Coast Mainline hanging menacingly above you and then the run of moorings at Milford. Milford village has a claim to fame beyond being a handy access point for Cannock Chase – it still has the first ever Wimpy hamburger bar in the country.

There follows the rather utilitarian stretch around Stafford with the park home estate replacing the railway line, the industrial estate that's home to RCR, then Radford Bank (where there were a number of Mercian boats tied up) and finally the greener section towards Stafford Boat Club. After that, things become much more rural again until Deptmore Lock is reached, incredibly deep just as Tixall is incredibly shallow.

By starting before eight, we managed most of this without meeting too many other boats, though we had one close encounter at a bridge, contact only being avoided thanks to Sheila’s warning from the bow and a hoot from our klaxon. This canal does specialise in bridges on blind bends and it’s a very good idea to ease off before each on the assumption that you may have to stop. Sanity Again has a well set up prop and good swims, of course, but her 23 tonnes takes a bit of slowing down, even from 2 mph.

We’ve tied in our usual spot just beyond the lock. It’s turned very breezy, though the sun is still beaming down. We’d run a wash load on the way (there’s just nice time for it if you start it at Milford), but there was no question of rigging the whirligig. However, it being very warm, dry and sunny, Sheila put most of the stuff on hangers in the engine room and the rest on the sock dryer. By leaving the slide, both Houdinis and the bow doors open, we’ve had a very pleasant breeze through the boat, keeping us cool and drying the clothes in double quick time.

Tomorrow, a few more locks, possibly in the rain, past Acton Trussell and on to Penkridge.