Monday, 18 September 2017


September 2017

After yesterday's rains the ground was awash and the Trent had risen and was flowing fast at Great Haywood.  

Misty morning in Great Haywood

I sloshed my way back to the Elsan point at Anglo Welsh and was dismayed to discover a huge pool of non or ultra slow draining slurry in the ground level pit. It was unclear if this was due to misuse or, more likely, the holding tank had filled with storm water. I didn't envy the Anglo Welsh employee who would be charged with solving the problem.

We were off and away by 9.00am, dropping through two locks on our short hop to Rugeley, our destination for the day. The run was pleasant and the warm sun in my face made me realise just how long it was been since we cruised beneath anything but leaden skies.

Autumn colours

In all out years of boating we have passed through Rugeley many times but we have never actually stopped on the visitor moorings. But today all that was to change as we had several bits of business to conduct, the most important being to meet a writer for Camping and Caravan Club magazine. 

They have got a bigger butty than us!

We arrived in time to do a shop at the adjacent Tesco store, have lunch and then I took the washing across town to the launderette. You seem to meet the whole world in launderettes which is one of life's great levellers, as we gather to watch out smalls dance their merry way to cleanliness. On this occasion I was joined by a gentleman who emanated a steady whistle and duly introduced himself as "whistler". It turned out he was also a boater and in our ten minutes together provided a potted life history of his years on nb Sawdust.

Haberdashery and Haddock!

I returned to find Helen in deep conversation with the writer, Ali Ray and we spent a pleasant couple of hours exchanging foodie related stories, as well as discussing the important matter of Artisan Gin manufacture. I think she said that we would feature in their October or November edition, so hopefully we will get to see a copy in the near future. 

By the time I got back to the boat Facebook announced that I had been spotted in Rugeley High Street, following my phone on the way back to the boat. These Google Maps on phones are great, just as long as you can keep a signal. Mark and Justina (Grand Rosettes) had spotted me passing their new haberdashery shop which, by co-incidence, is almost next to the Albion Chippy who produce very nice and reasonably priced fish and chips.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Staffs and Worcester revisited

Staffs and Worcester revisited
September 2017

Travelling the Staffs and Worcester has had something of a homecoming feel about it. For many years the route from Gailey to Great Haywood was something we did several times each year, and often as part of a weekend break which took us to Tixall Wide and back.

Would you believe it, but its at least five years since we covered the eastern half of the canal and its certainly the  first time we have towed The Jam Butty along its winding route. It was therefore very familiar but at the same time I have had very little idea of the time it would take to travel. In the event what used to take us one long day was covered in two modest days, a slowing down which has more to do with our appetite for hours at the tiller than slowness through the water.

We were relying on Gailey having a working elsan point and were more than a bit miffed when we discovered it closed for refurb work. I do wish CRT would provide a holding tank as a temporary stop gap for these repair works. The run into Penkridge was to the usual accompaniment of the M6 and all along the route we were being tailed by nb Helen, but who were never quite fast enough to catch us in the pounds. 

We paused in Penkridge and, for the first time, walked into town. And what a lovely little centre it is. We restocked on provisions as a good sized Co Op, bought some great bacon, sausages and pork pies in a real local butchers and, on the suggestion of the crew of nb Helen, visited the agricultural supply company on the far side of the main road. This place does a great line in work wear suitable for boating and two pairs of trousers were purchased as well as a warm top for Helen. 

After we restarted we were surprised to see nb Helen again on our heels - they must be gluttons for slow travel! No sooner had I left the town than I thought that the engine was misfiring with erratic lumping and bumping. This got worse and worse till a moored boat told me that a rock concert was in progress at J13, and the bass lines were the cause of my mechanical concerns.

Not long after we came to Teddesley Boat Services and I was most surprised to see what appeared to me the bows of Lady Hatherton peeking from the shed she occupied for so long. But as I looked closer it appears that the wooden hull has morphed into steel. I doubt that this is an aquatic case of alchemy so can  someone tell me if this is a reproduction of the venerable inspection launch, and if so what happened to the old one I last saw five years ago.

I was keen to be well away from the M6 as I was from the music festival, so we progressed to beyond Acton Trussell, and just short of Deptmore Lock, sharing a peaceful mooring with nb Helen who finally passed us, by 200 yards!

Sunday dawned clear and bright but we seem to be getting worse and worse at starting out. In fact we were so late breakfast became brunch (bacon and sausages form Penkridge butchers) and we didn't get going till 11.30am. Stafford boat club was surrounded with visiting craft and most bore the insignia of RN, so I guess it was a meet up off the Russell Newbury owners club. I don't know if they have an informal collective name, but "The Old Thumpers" wouldn't be too wide of the mark.

Stafford turned into Baswich and it was great to see some evidence of work on the ground for the Stafford Waterways Link - I am not sure how this is going, but I have always felt it is something of a dark horse restoration project. Then it was Milford and to Helen's huge relief I found a crab apple tree loaded with fruit. For weeks I poo poo'd the idea of picking on the GU where the trees were prolific, but foraging opportunities have been a bit thin on the ground around Birmingham.

Creative play house at Baswich

The good weather left us as we crossed the River Sow and from then on it was brollies and waterproofs with squall after squall hitting us, till it settled to steady rain as we crossed Tixall Wide. The plan was to get to Rugeley for Morrisons and the Launderette, but as the towpath filled with water I took the expedient option and pulled into a convenient 70ft gap just after Great Haywood junction. Rugeley will still be there tomorrow!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Days of industry

Days of industry
September 2017

A trip up the Shroppie wouldn't  be complete without a visit to Industry Narrowboats at Stretton Wharf, birthplace of The Jam Butty. 

Stretton Wharf - Birthplace of The Jam Butty

We have a standing invitation to pop in and our progress northbound the day before had already been noted. On this occasion the visit was with the specific purpose of foraging down their driveway where all sorts of seasonal goodies were promised, and we were not disappointed. We picked a huge bag of cooking apples, a smaller bag of rosy red eaters, sloes for sloe gin, rosehips for rosehip jelly and quite amazingly, three kilos of late red plums which were clinging into the branched by their fingertips.

The fruit foraged at Industry Narrowboats

One snag occurred whilst harvesting - my extendable fruit picker decided to jam in the retracted position and refused to open up. I tried everything but in the end asked to borrow their workshop vice which did the trick. Whilst I was in the workshop I couldn't help but see Canis Major up on the blocks. Canis Major is a shortened GU motor built in the 1930's and is noteworthy as she was the last boat converted by  Peter Keay of Walsall. 

Canis Major stripped to the bare bones

I have to admit that I have a real fascination with historic boats in the "raw", and they don't come much rawer than this one. She has just had her wooden bottom removed and her knees are exposed with great holes cut into her sides where new steel is being welded into areas which must have been paper thin. The is a fine craft, unusual in that she still has a wooden top conversion and her old Lister engine waits patiently for the next phase of her life. 

No bottom but nice lines!

Industry Narrowboats specialise in the old and the unusual and its always a delight to have a look round the yard and see the projects they have on the go. Perhaps the most interesting are the odd "bits" of boats hanging around, a habit which of course led to the birth of The Jam Butty four years ago made from two back ends welded together.

An unexpected encounter with Halsall

Our return through Autherley Junction was delayed as the coal Boat Halsall's bows edged into the junction bridge hole just as I was coming out of the stop lock. Brian McGuigan was at the helm and took the setback in his stride. He backed off a bit and I kind of jack knifed round his stern with both of us busy taking photos of each other! I got the impression he was rather taken with our little butty and credit goes to him for the photo of me getting our pair out of the weeds opposite the junction.

Brian McGuigan's shot of me

We pressed on to Coven and a good meal at the Fox and Anchor which used to be our local when we moored at Calf Heath. The food was good quality and washed down with a couple of pints of Proper Job.

Pendeford in the later afternoon sun

Friday was another industrious day after a very late start. The red plums were prepped and turned into a couple of dozen jars of Cinnamon Plum Jam. At the same time the butty had a good sort out, clearing up the mess after the rain impacted shut down ant Netherton.

Those plums in their new format....

The late afternoon was spent making the short hop from Coven to Gailey, passing Hatherton Marina at Calf Heath which was our home mooring for so many years. I certainly don't need a map for this twisting waterway, every curve is indelibly imprinted on my memory.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The curious case of the drip at midnight

The curious case of the drip at midnight
Sept 2017

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night and heard the rythmic tic, tic, tic of a drip? Annoying at the best of times but on a boat the sound of a water drip is never good news and one which cant be ignored.

It all started a few nights ago at the Black Country Boating Festival when I woke sometime after 2.00am to the steady sound of the drip. At first I thought is was the dodgey pipe joint under the sink which has leaked intermittently into an ice cream tub ever since we set out in April. But the resonance was all wrong and whats more, by moving my head I could tell it was coming from the back of the boat, not the galley. 

I tried to get back to sleep but there it was, drip, drip, drip. Unable to sleep I got out and stuck my ear next to the engine cover to see if it was the stern gland. Unlikely I know and no, the noise wasn't coming from the engine bay. Its more like the gas locker - so I lifted the lid and sure enough it was louder. But that's impossible cos there is no water in the gas locker. But, the path outside was wet so maybe, just maybe, the drip was water emerging between the bricks next to the gas locker and echoing through. Not a perfect answer but it was plausible enough to let me go bask to sleep.

There followed a whole string of drip related dreams: Drips from the ceiling soaking the house, drips from the stern gland filling the engine bay - you get the drift....

Imagine my consternation when I woke at 3.00am in the Black Country Museum and there it was again, a steady sequence of dips maybe 30 seconds apart. There is no way its the tow path this time, so I ventured out in my pajamas (again) and opened the lid of the gas locker. 

Yup, there it was again - but louder with the lid off. 

And then a moment of realisation. I keep a trigger operated water spray cannister in there to help then I use cutting compound on the paint. But last time I had moved it was in Birmingham to replace a gas cylinder, and when I put it back it went in upside down. In fact it wasnt a drip at all but instead a bubble, like you get in an airlock with home brew. 

The source of troubled dreams

As the night cooled so did the cannister, The air contracted and sucked in more air from outside which them bubbled up, one bubble at a time.

Turn the cannister over and the problem was solved instantly.

Peaceful sleep has returned to the good ship Wand'ring Bark.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Bye Bye BCN

Escape to the Country
Sept 2017

The back mooring at the Black Country Living Museum is always peaceful and this time was no exception, it even has its own tap for total convenience, which is handy when you are doing the laundry.

We set off at about 9.30am, passing a gathering array of trade boats preparing for this weekend's Tipton Canal Festival, which we have decided to skip favouring a leisurely 10 days to get to Huddlesford and hopefully some autumnal foraging along the way.  The run to Deepfields was uneventful but Deepfields to Bilston was thick with floating weed. 

 Coal Boats Roach and Triumph

Along the way we passed coal boats Roach and Triumph deeply laden and making slow going in tricky conditions. Just getting the butty round them was a challenge as both the coal boats and the butty draw three feet and both hulls naturally searched for the same deep water channel. We kind of swung round each other in a ponderous pirouette and slipped by without so much as a kiss - with enough time for a few shots which captured both craft in action.

I think I have got a bladefull!

Then it was on to Wolverhampton with a hire boat on our tail. They were catching fast but became ensnared in the Bilston weed trap and resorted to the weed hatch, letting Peter Baldwin's Saltaire to pick up the chase. I had a mile or so to go to the top of the "21" and I decided to wind it on a bit and so take the locks first. We held out lead and arrived at the top lock with maybe three boat lengths lead, closely followed by the unfortunate Anglo Welsh craft.

With the early locks in our favour we set off,  me resorting to running back and forth to pre fill the lock ahead, where the gaps were small enough. With a bit of effort we managed to stay a clear lock ahead of Saltaire till the locks space out near the race course. At this point we realised that they were operating with a crew of three with our friend Richard Alford, a Waterways Chaplain, undertaking lock wheeling duties. When the finally caught us at lock 20 the considered opinion of Saltaire was that we had put in an impressive show, especially with only two on board. Our time was just under three hours with about 14 locks set against.

One of the nice things about boating is the ability to change plans as we go. As we came down the "21" we debated our schedule to Huddlesford and in the spur of the moment decided to spend a couple of days on the Shroppie. Having just completed the 21 we were weary and moored up north of the M54 bridge, sheltered by a thick hedge from the high winds which were forecast. And did it blow! The wind raged all night and was so hard the boat shook and shuddered.

The morning dawned clear but there was still a very strong cross wind which caught several hire boats out as they emerged from the cuttings and banged down our side. Towing in high winds can be a tricky exercise, but when moving the butty is pretty steady and no mishaps ensued. We paused at Wheaton Aston services and then moved on to Turners where we refilled with Diesel at 57p per litre. We have used about 80 litres since Stratford three weeks ago, which isn't bad.

Foraging Quince

One snag about Turners when approached from the north is the absence of a winding hole, and reversing with a butty to the one the other side of the bridge is a non starter. We therefore pressed on north to the winding hole at High Onn, Along the way we remembered an open offer to harvest a boaters quince crop. We had seen an unharvested canal side tree for several years before we met the owner and sadly we have never been in the area at the right time since. However, this year the tree was heavily laden with fruit and a swap of fruit for jam was conducted - a good swap which will supply us with Quince Jelly for next season.

 Quince, glorious quince

All that wind played havoc with the trees and we encountered a very early case of "Shoppie leaf soup"  where all the cuttings are full of floating sycamore leaves. Individually they are not a problem but en mass they clog up the blades and you have to reverse every half a mile or so. Oh the joys of those wooded cuttings.