Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Home again

As planned, we set off a bit before eight this morning for the final run to Mercia. It was a slowish trip with a bit of hanging round at Dallow Lane, but not a problematic one. Both service wharfs were busy when we got here, so we've come straight onto the pontoon.

The rest of the day has been taken up with moving things into the lodge and catching up on the news with a variety of friends. Tomorrow will be for more boat sorting, then Friday we might well take a trip into Derby.

I'll blog occasionally over the next six months, then get back to regular posts when we set off again. Thanks to all my readers for following our (and my) ramblings this year!



Tuesday, 20 September 2016

In the home straight

We're on the familiar track to Mercia, setting off just before eight this morning on a much better day, weather-wise, than yesterday. The sun even came out for some of the time. Sheila was locking and had to work hard at some of the paddles. She's now fully fit, though, and coped very well.

Alrewas, Wychnor and Barton locks came and went, our progress only marred by a single handed woman who pulled off the towpath slap in front of Sanity Again and worked down Barton ahead of us. She stopped on the water point and explained "I didn't see you coming" – which might well be true as she didn't appear to look. An apology would have been nice but perhaps too much to hope for.

Never mind, it's only one silly incident and was more than made up for by the helpful woman off Free..., the boat following us. We also encountered a CRT guy at Tatenhill who looked to be doing a routine survey of the canal structures and who turned the lock for us, saving me a load of hassle with the odd shape of the cut there.

There was plenty of room on the moorings here at Branston Water Park so we've tied in a good spot, on the wider bit of the cut but not under the trees. We took a walk through to the village this afternoon to buy bread at the new Co-op but apart from that we've been chilling out on the boat.

Tomorrow, we'll probably start at about the same time, it being another three hours or a little less to Mercia. That way we'll be able to get a pump out and diesel before getting back to the pontoon in time for lunch.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Damp day to Alrewas and many meetings

It was wet all morning, not a heavy rain, but a fine drizzle which could have been quite penetrating. We put our waterproof overalls on and just got on with it. It wasn't cold nor very breezy most of the time, so conditions were by no means impossible. It did mean that the cut was much quieter than yesterday, making Sheila's task of steering easier.

We got to Woodend in an hour or so and found a boat just leaving. I worked us down and we plodded on to Shade House. Most of the Fradley Locks were against us, but we found a steady procession of boats coming up for the second half of the flight, which helped a lot. They were a complete mixture of hire boats and privateers, part of the September traffic of those not tied to the school holidays.

It was just on eleven when we got to the top of Bagnall, where there was just one 70' space, nicely above the road bridge. As we tied, we realised that the boat already there behind us was Black Pearl. Geoff used to moor alongside us when we were on Grebe pontoon in Mercia and he popped out as we were getting sorted and had a natter with us.

Just after lunch, we saw some more old friends when Adam and Adrian came past on Briar Rose – we knew from Adam's blog that they were on their way. They stopped alongside for a bit to catch up on Braidbar gossip.

Later in the afternoon, we took a walk into the village, going along the towpath to the Wharf Bridge to see who was about. Sure enough, there was Rubyjack with "Dangerous" Dave and his dog Ruby. We had a bit of a rabbit with them too. Dave's an on and off moorer in Mercia as he likes to prowl round the system, presently heading for Llangollen, he said.

We stocked up with meat from Coates the Butcher and were pleased to get back to the boat.The rain has stopped, mostly, but we are glad to have the Squirrel on again, keeping us warm and dry in this distinctly autumnal weather.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

What a good day

It's been a spiffing day's boating today, though hard work in some ways. I always misremember how long Brindley Bank to the Tesco mooring takes, probably because we used to tie at Bridge 69/the Pig Farm/Taft Wharf, which is about 30 minutes away from BB. Anyway, we set off a bit earlier than planned, at around five to nine and got to the mooring just 30 minutes later. It didn't matter because a) our favourite spot just this side of the bridge was free and b) although it was Sunday, Tesco opened for "browsing" half an hour before the official start of trading at ten.

We took fifty minutes to do some serious shopping, including a couple of bottles of one of our new favourite wines, Yellow Tail Jammy Red. Back at the boat with loaded daysacks and carriers, Sheila set off whilst I stowed the goodies away and made coffee. I then took the helm back for what proved to be an exacting morning's cruising. It was a sunny Sunday at the end of the season, so lots of folk were having a day out.

The route from Rugeley to Handsacre features some narrow bits, of course, including the Armitage "Tunnel" and a couple of tight bends with bridge holes. We managed to meet boats coming the other way at most of these, so Sheila was kept busy on the bow, radioing warnings back to me.

There's a thread on CWDF at the moment about the difference in approach between the UK and French authorities on the subject of licensing steerers of canal boats. France requires the Europe wide CEVNI qualification (unless you are a hirer, in which case you don't need one, thus making a mockery of the concept) whereas in the UK anyone can buy a boat and set off without any instruction at all. And frequently do, usually heading for London.

One participant in this debate was arguing that an advantage of a licence requirement would be that steerers would be better at using sound signals at blind bridges, bends and junctions. At the moment, there's little point as most other boaters wouldn't have a clue what was meant by say four blasts, a pause, then two blasts ("I am turning round to port", if you're wondering.) The problem with this is a) there are so many blind spots on the narrow canals, there'd a be a cacophony of sound and b) most narrowboats have sad little car type horns that don't sound like a boat and can't be heard over an engine anyway.

The futility of the idea was demonstrated when we got to the Ash Tree bridge and bend, a 90ยบ bend immediately after a busy road bridge, going in our direction. As we approached, Sheila radioed that she thought she'd heard a horn, but it could easily have been a car on the road. I thought about a blast on the klaxon, but we were right by the pub at eleven o'clock on a sunny Sunday, so I just throttled right back.

As Sanity Again's bow entered the bridge hole, another bow appeared, doing a fair lick the other way. There was no way he was going to be able to stop, so I went hard astern and backed out of the bridge hole (I should really have sounded three times, "My engines are going astern" but I was too busy keeping her straight). As a result, we were able to pass without contact with each other, though the other guy did clip the towpath a couple of times.

My return for this piece of skilled boat handling was a scowl from the other steerer. No doubt he thought that, having sounded his horn, he should have been able to carry on regardless. Note that Sheila was unsure if she'd heard anything and I hadn't heard a dickie bird.

Ah well, no bones broken and it was a fine morning. We got to Handsacre just on 12 o'clock after a few, less exciting encounters. We've had a quiet afternoon, reading and puzzling. Tomorrow, we go down Fradley and will probably tie above Bagnall.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

A chug to Brindley Bank and lighting the Squirrel

The weather duly improved overnight, so that in the small hours we were able to take the bung out of the Houdini and prop it open on the cork. The light of a full moon came streaming in. We got going just before eight, Sheila winding in a great sweeping turn on the Wide. There was nothing moving on the Trent and Mersey, allowing her to swing round the Junction with aplomb and a good bit of throttle.

Haywood lock was mostly empty, but with nothing in sight I was able to fill it straightaway. By the time we'd got Sanity Again into the chamber a boat had arrived at the bottom and the cut has been pretty busy since. We collected a couple of followers on the run to Colwich, showing the wisdom of our prompt start. Two hours boating in all got us to the outskirts of Rugeley and the moorings at Brindley Bank. There have been a fair few fishing parties about all day, together with some Pokemon hunters.

We're not alone here – a couple of other boats are tied behind us. Although the weather has been fine and dry if cloudy, Autumn has definitely arrived. Sheila had a good session tidying up the plant troughs, which we'd lifted down into the well deck yesterday to keep them safe from the wind. Once she'd done that and put them back on the roof, I got the chimney and ash carrier out of the bow locker and lit the Squirrel. We've been glad of the warmth this afternoon. Hopefully, the scuttle of coal we've got will be enough to see us back to Mercia.

Tomorrow, there'll be no point in setting off too early as we want to be able to get a mooring by Tesco to do some stocking up for the last time. We wouldn't tie there overnight on a Saturday, but I've no doubt that the hire and share boats will.

Friday, 16 September 2016

A day off

The weather this morning wasn't perhaps as bad as we'd expected, but it did rain on and off and the wind certainly came up this afternoon. We've enjoyed a lazy day here at Tixall Wide, reading, surfing the net and doing puzzles. I put another litre of Easy-yo yoghurt on, but that was about the height of the domesticity. It's been very good for us after the exertions of the last few days.

We did walk back to the junction this afternoon to dump some rubbish and recycling and to buy some bread at the Farm Shop. The sun has come out, so the solar panel is doing its stuff. I ran the Webasto for an hour just now to get a tank of hot water and to warm the back of the boat and it didn't use any battery at all.

We'll make an early-ish start tomorrow, not because we have a long way to go but so as to get down Haywood and Colwich locks before the traffic builds up. The target is the Brindley Bank visitor moorings, to be followed by the run through Rugeley, stopping at Tesco, on Sunday.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Two days in one.

We started off in thick mist this morning. It was supposed to clear by eight but hung around for a long time. Sheila even had the tunnel light on for the first half hour or so. We'd planned, as you know, to stop at Burston today and carry on to Tixall tomorrow, but a look at the forecast for Friday suggested that a day off cruising was indicated. Tixall being better than Burston for hanging around, we tightened our locking belts and went for it. I worked us down the Stone flight and Aston lock, then took over the helm when we got to the Burston mooring.

This gave Sheila Sandon, Weston and Hoo Mill to do. It was just after twelve when we'd got down Weston, so I went below and ate lunch whilst Sheila steered. Sheila was able to get hers in instalments before and after Hoo Mill and I think supervised the turn onto the Staffs and Worcs still munching.

That turn means that we've finished the Four Counties Ring, of course, just six weeks after starting it. Well, that's a lot more pleasant than doing it in six days, which is what the hirers actually have to achieve when they do the "Four Counties in a week" bit.

Talking of sixes, today's boating took nearly six hours, a serious stretch for us.

This afternoon, we've visited the Farm Shop to get the ingredients for one last salad tonight before this amazingly warm weather breaks and we're back to the normal September stuff. We'll stay here on Tixall tomorrow and then plod on to Brindley Bank on Saturday.