Tuesday 30 November 2010

Fairies of the Chase

Cannock Chase
Fairy tree
14th November 2010

Perhaps one of the more unusual sculptures in Cannock Chase is the 'fairy tree'.

Deep in the heart of the woodland, somewhere near charismatic wood, lived a family of faries, who sang as loud as the could....
Ishmael - if you read this .... sorry!

The tree has many doors through which the faries pass at night. We were oh so quiet but we didn't see any - we just saw their washing hanging out to dry in the cool autumn wind.

Monday 29 November 2010

Cannock Chase - sculpture trial

Cannock Chase
Sculpture Trail
14th November 2010

Our child free weekend concluded with a trip to Cannock Chase for a walk along a sculpture trail.

This proved to be surprisingly absorbing, with a wide variety of sculptures of differing styles. I am not sure that I always got their meaning but an hour's stroll round the 1.5 mile route was enough to see what was there, and pick up a few interesting images.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Salford Quays

Salford Quays
13 November 2010

We paid Salford Quays an unexpected visit today.

I was addressing a recruiting meeting of a well known fast food franchise (I was lovin it) and it happened to be on one of those rare child free weekend. We elected to see this commitment  as an opportunity, so Belle went with me, settling herself down in a corner to read her course book and watch a Shakesperian play in Italian.

After I had 'done my stuff' we drove into Manchester and decided to take a look at the Lowery exhibition on Salford Quays. Lowery - an interesting artist and one who is best appreciated when you can see a significant body of his work on one place.

His is a very unusual style, strange matchstick like figures painted on a white background. There is an evolution over the years but the theme remained the same. Perhaps the interesting thing is that his paintings are all people centric but rarely singling an individual out and instead giving an impression of crowds against an industrial backdrop. They aren't happy images, they all seem bent down and wearied by their scurrying to and fro, little ants living meaningless lives.

Lowery was a sad man himself, panting stark seascapes consisting of just water and sky, or maybe a sea with a rocky tower depicting himself - standing against the storms which would ultimately wear him away. Happy stuff!

We emerged into a sunset, giving me just enough time to get some moody shots over the water.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - The conclusion

Caldon 2010
Brewood to Calf Heath
7th November 2010

12 miles - 1 lock - 4 hours

The problem with trip reports for the last day is that they always cover familiar ground and no matter how much I like the area, it's not always easy to find something new to say.

Autumn at Chillington

On this occasion the X factor was the weather combined with the season. A misty autumnal morning with the sun burning through created great shafts of light within the cuttings, a sight so beautiful I stopped the boat to stand and stare.

Brewood moorings - with Eric Bloodaxe in the foreground

Still waters at Chillington

Approaching Autherley

Autherley Stop Lock - the last of the year

It is Belle's birthday tomorow, and with Tilly returning to college today, we met up at the Fox and Anchor at Coven for a celebratory meal. Worrying that we may be late for our reservation Jeff and I got our collective skates on only to find ourselves mooring up at 12.00am - a full hour earlier than necessary. The good news is that this gave us a bit more time to complete our packing and cleaning.

Caernarfon near Calf Heath

We hauled up behind nb Caernarfon on the last couple of miles, a butty style narrowboat with an unusual hydraulic propulsion system with a bow thruster tube inserted into the rudder. Its effective and looks authentic, but very slow.

And so the 2010 cruising season draws to a conclusion. All in all a great year on the waterways with destinations ranging from Manchester, London, Sharpness and Leek, much of it acheived with a very dodgey driveshaft coupling.

Wand'ring Bark needs a break and some serious fettling this winter before we have an renewed attempt on the elusive Chesterfield Canal in 2011. She feels like the walking wounded needing remedial surgery on:

Centreflex coupling - one stud missing and the others of uncertain strength

Accumulator - split and weeping (maybe a victim of last years big freeze)

Paintwork - usual bumps and bangs plus the trauma of the Froghall Tunnel

Covers - need retaping

Draw knobs - three off and several loose

New cooker - ready and waiting to be fitted

So the cruising may be over for the year, but there are plenty of boaty things to keep me occupied over the winter months And then there is my ongoing search for the lost canals of the BCN. Plenty of material to record within the pages of Captain Ahab's Watery Tales.

Friday 26 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - Goldstone to Brewood

Caldon 2010
Goldstone to Brewood
6th November 2010

19 miles - 1 lock - 7 hours

We awoke to find a strange yellow orb hovering over the Wharf Inn. We looked again and realised it was the sun - we hadn't seen it for a while. Not only was it sunny, it was mild and still - more like summer than late autumn.

Goldstone Wharf

Jackets and gloves were abandoned and we continued the servicing we had started in Nantwich, replacing the small drive belt and adding five litres of new antifreeze. I'm never terribly keen about contorting my 6'3"  frame into the tight confines of the engine bay, shuffling myself onto the swim and uncoiling my legs into the little gap by the engine mounts. Long practice has taught me to prepare all my tools and spares within easy reach because when I am in I have no wish to repeat the experience.

 Shebdon embankment

Replacing the drive belt has been a long time coming, I tried it in September but I couldn't get a 100cm item onto the pulleys. Instead I bought a 102.5 cm belt from Halfords which worked a treat. I take coolant seriously, particularly after last winter when I woke in the middle of the night with temperatures exceeding minus 12 and wondering how the engine was faring. It was fine as it turned out but now I am worrying that my mixture is too thick with antifreeze!

Grub Street Cutting

We were off at 10.30am with a low  sun shining in my eyes necessitating sun glasses - which elicited a few odd looks. There was very little traffic, boats being put off by the leaves in the canal which made progress difficult, particularly on the cuttings. Not that we were the worst effected. We passed a Norbury day boat in Gnosall which was revving away but making almost no progress - clearly no one had suggested reversing from time to time.

This autumn has been rich with Kingfishers, their electric blue plumage glinting all over the place as they tracked us along the canal.


We paused at Norbury to refill with diesel - 13 days running and 100 litres used - not bad. As its winter and the boat will be static for months I altered by declaration to 50:50. Whilst most of the leaves have gone the cuttings have retained a bit of colour, particularly lovely with the late afternoon sunshine streaming through the denuded branches.

Wheaton Aston at sunset

Daylight was failing as we passed through Wheaton Aston Lock but we really needed to be at Brewood for the night so we pressed on.  Light became a major issue by the time we reached Stretton Aqueduct after which we resorted to the tunnel light. I always feel boaters look at me like I am mad if I cruise by with my light on.

Wheaton Aston cutting

Brewood was its usual quiet self and as I write this entry the rain has set in again, gently drumming its tattoo out on the roof. Its nice the way the rain seems to confine itself to the hours of darkness.

Just one day left - sad.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Stanking Planks

Stanking Planks
25th November 2010

A stanking plank formed from part of a railway sleeper takes pride of place in my remodelled front garden. Fear not, I didn't pinch it from BW - such and act would be unthinkable and incredibly dangerous. This one was well past its sell by date, and when I found it it was obstructing one of the lock gates at Penkridge.

For those of you who are wondering exactly what a stanking plank is I am referring to the specially shaped planks which are held in sets at strategic points around the canal system, ready to be dropped into grooves in bridges and locks to seal off a breach or help with a repair.

These sets of planks are so numerous they become almost invisible. The trouble with them is that they need to be stored out of the weather and over the years a number of solutions have been implemented, including little tunnels in the haunches of bridges or the wartime utility concrete bunker affairs which as as ugly as they are effective.

But all this is changing. BW has come up with a "Swiss Chalet" style of plank holder which leaves them in the open air but protected from rain. These are slowly becoming more and more widespread and I have to say I really like the understated design. A really good addition to the canal infrastructure.

Here is the new shelter at Hack Green Locks, alongside the post war "austerity" version it replaces.

Good Eh?

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - Nantwich to Goldstone Wharf

Caldon 2010
Nantwich to Goldstone Wharf
5th November 2010

16 miles - 27 locks - 9 hours

We had a long leg ahead of us today and planned an early start, but it didn't work out that way. The problem was our choice of viewing last night - The Godfather part 2 which ground on for an interminable 3.5 hours before we sought out our beds at 11.30pm. We could have turned off part way through but we kept thinking it would improve!

 Nantwich skies

In the event we were off at 9.00am under a mild autumnal sun reaching Hack Green Locks and the site of the not so secret nuclear bunker a couple of hours later. The locks were surrounded in barriers and plant ready to repair works next week, as was the bridge which had had one side removed ready for rebuilding.

We paused at the Weaver Aqueduct so that I could slither down the embankment to grab a photo. I was surprised at the size of the Weaver this high up and could appreciate how the wartime plans were prepared to make the river navigable to this point and then install a lift to a widened Shropshire Union, making a broad line all the way from the Mersey to Birmingham. If this plan had come to pass the shape of this area would have been so different.

The Audlem flight was a comparative hive of activity, with two boats descending and a Springer rising way above us. These locks are always a joy to work but on this occasion the flow of water cascading round the locks was so strong that entry without bumping was an impossibility. Half way up a lady was selling windfall apples at 50p for half a dozen - so we stocked up with two bags and munched our way to the top.


Adderley Locks are strange in that I have passed through them many times but always struggle to remember anything about them, except the top one. The adjacent farm has taken to selling free range eggs and fairy cakes from a little honesty booth so we took advantage of both to keep us going till we get home.

Adderley honesty booth

I think that all the leaves in Shropshire have fallen into the canal at Market Drayton. The cut was covered from one side to the other and we had to reverse every minute to make any semblance of progress. In truth we were never truly free of leaves but whilst we were moving forward we let them be. The rain started as we approached Tyreley Cutting which, in spite of the wet and the leaves, was absolutely stunning. We debated about refilling with water at the Tyreley locks as the last stop was four days ago way back at Froghall. As it turned out the tap was broken which settled what had been a hotly contested topic all the way up the locks.

Tyreley's golden carpet

The rain fell harder and harder as we passed through Woodseaves, with the sun long gone and the canal barely visible in the deep gloom. We were relieved to come to a stop at Goldstone with the light fully gone and the rain descending in stair rods.

Today it finally dawned on me that the rythm of cruising out of season has to change. Normal days travels are no longer prossible and an hour lost in the  morning can't be recovered later on. 7 hours is a sensible maximum but at hat rate completing the Four Counties in six days is extremely challenging. On the flip side - we have the entire canal to ourselves which is heavenly.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Planning Pantomime

Planning Pantomime
23rd November 2010

I sometimes despair about the amount of control and regulation within which we are obliged to operate. We live in a nanny state gone mad, where no one can do anything without a due process being followed, usually involving some governmental body who serve little purpose other than making jobs for the boys.

The object of my ire are the innocuous lock gates of Booth Lane Locks (69) on the Trent and Mersey just south of Middlewich.

The current gates are a splendid example of 1970's utility construction, made on a budget out of sheet steel and now nearing the end of their functional life. Gates wear out be they steel or wood, normally lasting 35 years or so and they are therefore a consumable item on the system, a bit like house windows or flat roofs which need replacing every few decades.

So, replacing gates is very much a business as usual activity, but did you know that BW are obliged to seek planning permission to replace scabby old steel gates with the more traditional alternative made out of EEnglish Oak? No? I didn't think you would.

Who, in their right mind, could possibly object to lock gates being reinstated in their classic format. And if this permission were to be refused what then - retain the existing gates in perpetuity?

Now I appreciate the need to planning controls or we would end up looking like Spain, but where is the common sense? Sure I need to be assured that my neighbour can't build what he liked right on my boundary, but do we really need a ponderous planning process to be wheeled into operation before a humble lock gate can be replaced, or a garage door for that matter.

I really resent this one size fits all mentality. BW is obstructed from their task of maintaining the system and are obliged to divert much needed resourced to seeking out pointless planning permissions. On the other side of the fence we are paying an army of civil servants to administer a pointless process, wasting yet more of our money. Surely in these cash strapped times we don't have the luxury of funds for this kind on nonsense.

So I will leave you with the planning permission notice sheet appended to the lock. Do you have any objection? Can you really imagine anyone else objecting?

Madness and lunacy!

Monday 22 November 2010

Caldon 2010 - Wheelock to Nantwich

Caldon 2010
Wheelock to Nantwich
4th November 2010

20 miles - 9 locks - 8 hours
The forecasts predicted heavy rain but thankfully it all fell overnight. I woke several times to hear the rain drumming on the roof, but by a small miracle the last squall passed over at dawn and held off all day. We had grey skies all day with a constant promise of better things to the south west, but we never quite made it to the brighter lands on the horizon.

Middlewich canalscape

Yesterday's solitude was maintained as we made our way north along the Trent and Mersey and into Middlewich. We were two hours into the Middlewich Branch before we met another craft, a Middlewhich Cruisers hireboat hurrying back to base. The area around Middlewich used to be home to some sizeable chemical works but sadly these have now closed and we are left with yet another empty plate of concrete with a huge cairn of rubble in the middle. A sad sight repeated all round the system these days. The altered empty building rate relief policy has a lot to answer for.

Lost industry at Middlewich

One benefit of late autumn cruising is the scope for views that are usually obscured by foliage. This length of the Middlewich Branch canal crosses many small deep valleys which are choked with trees. Suddenly, we were able to peer down into these grottos, each complete with a  little beck running through a carefully monitored culvert. This is all agonising stuff for an aqueduct hunter - which of those flights of steps lead to a dull culvert and which lead to an aqueduct?. Its impossible to tell.

Autumn on the Middlewich Branch Canal

We stopped off at Venetian Marina for a much needed pump out (10 days cruising since the last one) who charged a reasonable £15 including Blue. One snag of cold weather cruising is kindling. We need a fire every day and whilst we carry a good supply of fuel we always run out of kindling and resort to scavenging to replenish our stocks. Jeff made the sensible observation "Why don't we have an axe on board to let us split logs into kindling?" The boy's got a point and a quick foray into the chandlery yielded one serviceable and axe for the princely sum of £8.50.

Escaped pig at Minshull Lock

Then it was on to Barbridge Junction as the light started to fail, continuing beneath Hurleston Locks and on to Nantwich, mooring up about 8 hours after we started. With just a glimmer of sunset left we undertook the first half of the end of season service, extracting the still hot engine oil and replacing the oil and air filters. I would have liked to replaced the small drive belt which is so stretched and thin that it squeals for the first two minutes of each day till it warms up enough to stick. However, by then it was so gloomy I couldn't see the nuts so left it for another day.

Juliana at Barbridge Junction - another classic from Taylors of Chester

It wasn't a great photographic day as it was far too grey to bring out the colours.