Tuesday 21 October 2008

Little Onn to Calf Heath

Tuesday 21st October 2008
Little Onn to Calf Heath
Shropshire Union and Staffs & Worcs Canals

14 Miles
2 Locks
6 Hours

After yesterdays rain it was a delight to see the day dawn clear and bright. The seemingly unoccupied boat behind me did in fact have a crew on board, one that are currently unhappily based at Otherton Marina, and who are active members in the escape committee seeing refuge at Calf Heath!. We have heard so many bad reports about the way boaters are treated at Otherton it is hardly a surprise that they are barely 2/3rd full.

The day was truly exceptional with bright sunshine and gentle winds, but more boaters than one generally expects this late in the season.

I made an obligatory stop at Wheaton Aston filling station and topped off the diesel tank (62p per litre) and was advised that the 60:40 split is by no means obligatory, it is all down to self declaration, which the garage is happy to accept. When applied, the extra tax will cost an additional 50p per litre, which sounds a lot but when considered on an annual basis, it is not enough to dissuade us from boating.

From Diesel I moved on to the self service pump out only to discover that both my pre paid meter cards have been used by friends who have borrowed the boat and replaced the cards, fully used. Its not the money that matters, it’s the inconvenience of only finding out when all connected to the machine! Grr. In future I will hide my BW payment cards.
Whilst “not” pumping out I encountered another of the genial solitary male continuous cruisers sailing aboard “Directors Cut”, selling some lovely photos to supplement his pension. It is interesting how the linear village throws you into contact with complete strangers, most of whom display a warmth and willingness to engage which you never find on land.

The stretch from Wheaton Aston to Brewood was a stunning show of autumn colour – the best I have ever witnessed. This left the cut clogged with leaves, of course, but that was a small price to pay for the experience. And anyway, you always get there in the end.

As it’s the last trip of the season I tried to get a pump out at Autherley, but the staff had all gone out to rescue on of their cruisers leaving a cleaner to man (actually it was “woman”) the shop. Her remit didn’t extend to pump outs so the holding tank got a good dollop of Blue and I will keep my fingers crossed that the new tank ventilation system via the rinse pipe continues to do the trick. If it lasts all winter without stinking I will become a true convert of the maxim that “a well ventilated tank is a non smelly tank”.

Finally made it back to Calf Heath at 4.30 and said a sad goodbye to WB and the last proper trip of 2008.

Monday 20 October 2008

Market Drayton to Little Onn

Monday 20th October 2008
Market Drayton to Little Onn
Shropshire Union Canal

7 Hours
18 Miles
5 Locks

It blew a gale overnight and I awoke to pouring rain so I had a lazy start to the day and finally got on the move at 11am. I immediate fell in behind a rather slow boat and dawdled my way to the Tyrley Locks, letting some space build up between us.

It happened that a crew were descending, so I waited and fell into conversation with the owner of the boat in front, who was a continuous cruiser and had been aboard for for five years, slowly making his way around the system accompanied only by his dog. He was a quiet but friendly man who graciously lifted a bottom paddle on exiting the lock and so eased my passage. His boat was called “Inky and I” so I guess I was talking to “I”. Mind you, I am sure he called his dog Spot which was curious. Maybe boats live for longer than dogs… I followed “I” right through Woodseaves Cutting, which was made ponderous by the huge number of leaves brought down by the overnight winds. There was no danger of breaking the 2mph speed limit today. We finally parted company with waves and greetings at Goldstone Wharf, with me on my way to Calf Heath and him to his winter moorings half way up the Bradley Arm of the BCN. (see log entry May 2007).

The passage up the Tyrley Flight and through the cutting had been sheltered and in sunshine, but all that changed as I left Goldstone behind. Dark grey clouds streamed in carried by a gale force wind which sent WB crabwise up the cut and became wild as I crossed the lofty Shebdon Embankment. Just beyond the old Cadburys works a boat pulled out when I was less than 100 yards away and then veered from side to side. I quickly realised that this was the same boat that has been making a total hash of things in the area the previous day so pressed on and passed by without delay.

By the time I reached Grub Street cutting the clouds opened necessitating a quick stop to don full waterproofs, have a pint of water and stoke the fire – all whilst the boat continued at tickover and without touching either bank. This is not a trick to play when there are other boats around.

From here on the rain never let up and I passed a sodden Norbury Junction with few signs of life, apart from a curl of smoke from the residential boaters. I had the canal to myself all the way through Gnosall, but was constantly reversing to clear the clogged prop. The surface debris was so bad that at times the prop was fouled the minute I started up. Progress was therefore very slow.

I decided to press on a bit further and stop at dusk, hopefully stopping at Little Onn, just before the Rye Hill Cutting where I had noticed a good mooring spot after bridge 24. The spot was also recommended by a walking boater who helped me with Tyrley Top Lock. I arrived in the failing gloom to find plenty of space and a sheltered haven for the night.

The evening was spent drying off in front of the fire and watching a few episodes of Dads Army, followed by an hour of The Water Road, an excellent canal travelog by Paul Gogerty which I have been rereading whilst away. Whilst it follows the established theme of “man takes off in a boat and finds both himself and the lost England”, PG is a travel writer by profession and therefore writes very well. He explores the people around the cut and therefore introduces a rich seam of human life interest, which is engaging, bringing the trip to life.

The rain cascaded down, the wind howled and I settled in for a cosy last night aboard.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Gnosall to Market Drayton

Sunday 19th October 2008
Gnosall to Market Drayton
Shropshire Union Canal

14 Miles
5 Locks
6 Hours

This second day is a relatively short leg and given the inclination and a crew, you can reach the bottom of the Audlem flight quite comfortably. However, this is a laid back single handed cruise so no need to set a challenging timetable.

The overnight rain had lifted and the day broke clear and bright. Just the opportunity I had been looking for to service the engine! I had passed Seethay Wharf in the car on Friday so had purchased the necessary consumables, together with some new sump pump brackets from Beta Marine so all was set. Nothing is simple on boats is it? The brackets turned out to be too big to grip the pump but hey presto, Duck Tape to the rescue. Four turns round the barrel and it was snug and secure.
With oil / filter changes, batteries topped up and an additional 5ltrs of anti freeze added I was off at noon.

The Shelmore embankments provided a good view of the Wrekin in the distance, followed by a stop at Norbury Junction to take on some food supplies and extra coal for the fire. The Norbury area was awash with fishermen who were evenly spaced for three miles, yes three miles – all the way from 1 mile before Norbury to the northern end of Grub Street cutting. I have a policy with fishermen, I pretend that they are moored boats and therefore pass them at dead slow and straight down the middle. I don’t make much progress but I do attract plenty of nod, winks and "watcha’s" from this normally taciturn breed.

Hunger forced a stop at Park Heath Wharf where I retreated from a growing gale to stoke the fire - both the one in the grate and the one in my belly.

Woodseaves was an absolute delight and taken with the lovely Tylrey flight made a great end to the run. Woodseaves was a riot of autumnal colour and on this occasion I had it to myself. This space allowed me to stop under the bridges and take some excellent photos. This run offers the best of the Shroppie’s cuttings and of all, I love Woodseaves the best. As a child my parents took me on canal holidays and these must have included the Shropshire Union. Throughout my teenage tears I used a mental image of an endlessly straight cutting with a magnificent high bridge at the end as a picture to help me get to sleep. I would lay there with my slowing heartbeat being the rhythm of the boat engine driving me oh so slowly towards the bridge – but I always fell asleep before I got there. I assumed it was a amalgam of various canal images, but was shocked to discover it was a real place – Woodseaves!

Tyrley Locks where delightful with their cute workers cottages at the top. Fortunately I met two boats coming up which is always a bonus for a single hander.

I rolled into Market Drayton just as darkness was falling and a fine rain was in the air. On the final run in I encountered a turtle. Yes, a turtle – you know a scrawny necked creature that pokes its head out of its shell. In this case it was the boating variety who felt that my slow wasn’t slow enough so out popped this withered head on a stick and all ranting and gesticulation. Poor old bugger, he can’t have much of a life if that’s all he has for entertainment.

Settled on my now regular moorings alongside the school playing field, consumed a hearty salad and sardines (I know how to live... actually I also know how to lose weight - two stone in two months thanks to the Cambridge Diet and self control) and settled down to watch Bond's Goldeneye.

Another great day aboard WB.

Saturday 18 October 2008

Calf Heath to Gnosall

Sat 18th October 2008
Calf Heath to Gnosall
Staffs & Worcester and Shropshire Union Canals

18 Miles
2 Locks
6 Hours

Index of posts in this series:
1. - Calf Heath To Gnosall - this post

2. - Gnosall to Market Drayton
3. - Market Drayton to Little Onn
4. - Little Onn to Calf Heath

This is the Capt’s annual autumn solo cruise. However, solo does not always mean alone!
On this occasion the Capt is accompanied by Jeff for the first day and as Belle was away for the night we decided to sleep on WB after Jeff finished youth club. We arrived at Calf Heath at after 11.00pm and promptly set a fire to take the chill off the boat and settled down to a peaceful night in the marina.

We woke at 9.00am and were ready to meet the Chairman (and wife) of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust when they arrived at 10.00 am to take some photos to publicise the Capt being the 2000th member of the Trust (see IWA National Festival). The resulting photo will probably grace the front cover of the Trust's newsletter, so I will post a copy in the log as and when it appears.

The weather forecast for the next four days is mixed so I have opted for the relatively lock free route to Market Drayton, which will make for an easier home run if the rain sets in. This route is particularly beautiful in the autumn as it includes the vast wood lined cuttings of the Shropshire Union. I have done this run a number of times before and never tire of it.

The first day is a regular trip to Gnosall. Initially it was sunny and mild but a freshening north westerly wind picked up as the day progressed. We paused for some lunch at Autherley Junction, mooring up on the rings created to the IWA festival at Pendeford Park. The weeds are already running riot and the moorings will have returned to their normal wilderness state by next season.

Whilst it was a Saturday, there was very little traffic on the move, just a few hardy souls overnighting on the popular sites South of Chillington Wharf and Little Onn. We pressed on to Gnosall arriving in the gathering gloom and moored up alongside the Navigation Inn. The Capt is on a determined weight loss campaign (1st and 2lbs since May) so whilst Jeff tucked into a huge curry, I had to “enjoy” a hearth mixed salad with tune. Ho Hum.

Belle was due to pick Jeff up at about half past eight but had trouble on the journey from Nottingham so we watched 3 classic episodes of Dads Army on my new company laptop. Jeff finally left at about nine thirty leaving the Capt to his three days of solitude.
Perhaps I should say something about this solitary thing. I am normally a very sociable sort of man but there is a strong solitary part to me that needs a bit of space once in a while. Satisfying this need is probably the hardest part of parenthood, but thankfully Belle recognises the need and is happy to give me this space each Autumn. It’s a really special time for me and spending the time away on the boat for the last run of the year really hits the spot.