Monday 30 April 2012

Warsaw - River Vistula

Warsaw - River Vistula
April 2012

My apologies for my lack of posts recently, an absence due to business commitments away from the water.

Warsaw from the east bank of the Vistula

My latest travels took me to Warsaw in Poland and for my first evening I found myself down on the riverbank of the Vistula which runs beside the city and used to carry a huge volume of traffic. Not so anymore - a moving boat is a rarity but the river and its bridges remain majestic.

Vistula suspension bridge with new Warsaw football stadium behind

 Vistula suspension bridge - rebuilt in the 1980's

Here are a selection of images from the riverside.

Bridge hoardings on route to the new national stadium

Poland's national football stadium, Warsaw

Sunday 22 April 2012

WRGies in Walsall

Walsall - for that dirty weekend with a difference
22 April 2012

The WRGies (Waterways Recovery Group) have descended on Walsall with a vengance as part of the annual canals clean up programme.

Grappling at the foot of Walsall Locks

I attended the event as part of the crew of BCNS's workboat Phoenix, which was teamed up with Hawne from the Coombswood Trust. Both craft were operating as floating skips, collecting the rubbish hauled from the canal by the WRG teams.

Collectively we made quite a  sight, with over 80 volunteers from WRG, maybe 10 from BW (its going to be hard to get those letters out of currency!) and than another dozen or so on the workboats - probably over 100 people donned out in high vis vests grappling with the filth. We certainly had plenty of locals stopping to have a look.

Is there room for half a balance beam?

Phoenix is ailing at the moment so did the short haul to the top of the locks and back, which was enough to completely fill her hold. Then it was back to the Town Arm Junction where BW had a grab and  a couple of huge skips. The three workboats fetched back a huge volume of filth, including the usual assortment of tyres, bikes, golf bags building waste plus a huge mound of weed which had covered the basin at the top lock.

Perhaps the most unnerving items collected were the range of syringes. I was a bit surprised when I saw a BW guy approach the newly emptied boat with a sharps bucket, but there bobbing in the murky water were about 15 syringes. I am sure that this is normal, but its still a bit sad.

Another load for Phoenix

Our afternoon was spent grappling the Town Arm and basin which produced a surprising quantity of metal, all safely set aside for scrap and ultimately will pay for a beer or three. Interestingly, there was a general feel that the clean up isn't producing the same volume of metal as it used to. It seems that the tatters have caught on to the fact that there is a lot of metal to be had in the canal, and do a fair bit of grappling themselves. Every cloud and all that.

This has to be the vision of the future for the C&RT - volunteers and the organisation working together, this the admin and logistics delivered by C&RT and the labour by enthusiasts. Either way, the Walsall Canal and the Curley Wyrley are the beneficiaries and we should feel the difference when we run the BCN Marathon Challange in early June.Maybe all this dredging and clearing will alter the bonus factors next year.

Thursday 12 April 2012


I doubt the Captain will have mentioned this ...

... but today is his birthday! We will mostly be celebrating by attacking the Heartbreak Hill locks as we continue round the Four Counties ring. He will be a happy man. If he's very lucky we may break out the homebrew later in the day. Never let it be said that we don't know how to live!

Happy Birthday Man :o) There's never a dull moment xxx

Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet - book review

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
by Reif Larsen

Let me start by saying that this is no ordinary book by any yardstick. 

Its Reif Larsen's first novel and such was the publishing interest, it triggered a bidding war with a reputed $1m being paid for the rights to published.

Then there is the central character of T S Spivet, a 12 year old Asperger cartographer. A young man with a very odd view on life and an eye for mapping the improbable - correlations the normal folk among us would never think to map. Somehow he felt an urge to do this to make sense of his surroundings, all beautifully illustrated which caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institute who inadvertently gave him a job! The tale follows his journey from the Midwest to Washington to take up his post.

Its a beautifully written and idiosyncratic tale which veers off in all sorts of mostly irrelevant asides which when taken as a whole build into an amazing tapestry of colour. All this mirrors the eclectic mind of TS Spivet. But there is one snaglet - the prose never achieved authenticity of a genuine 12 year old voice, it was far more adult. But then the book surprises again - the voice may be wrong, but the extensive margins are filled with illustrations and asides which scream out Asperger boy!

The story is split into three: 1. The story of him at home with family 2. his train journey to Washington and revelations about his family history and 3. his time in Washington. The first two are excellent but the last section lapses into the realms of the unbelievable with secret passages, secret societies - I think the author was looking for a way to wrap the story up.

I never found the book dull, but neither did I find it an easy read. In all it must have taken me six weeks to read it and I tended to attack it in small bite sized chunks - and read a few other books round it which is unusual. The trouble is partly its size 8 x 9.5 inches which makes it far to big to fit in my ruck sac for consumption on the train. 

Then there all the bits and bobs in the margins which are necessary to the story. They placed me in a real dilemma - to read them all made inhibited the flow of the tale but to ignore them meant you lost vital elements. I ended up with a compromise and skim read the margins.

So, its an unusual book and well worth a read if only for its unusual approach. Don't expect it to be easy, so you will need to persevere but the reward is there if you try. As for the implausible end? It left me a bit underwhelmed but didn't fatally undermine the overall impact.

Thanks for the loan of the book Bones - you can be relied on to unearth the unusual and thought provoking.

Monday 9 April 2012


Groynes - North Norfolk coast
April 2012

The Groynes of the North Norfolk coastal defences offer some lovely photo opportunities, their water worn forms bearing testimony to a thousand storms. I learned to swim around these sea defences.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Bacton Wood Lock

Bacton Wood Lock
April 2012

I took Lawrie up on his offer to have a look at Bacton Wood Lock, just upstream from Spa Common Bridge. A glance over the parapet didn't reveal anything very interesting but 100 yards up the towpath it was a very different story.

Bacton Wood Lock

After several years of work there is a very nearly complete lock, its brick structure finished and just the gates are needed.

The idea is to fill the next pound to Swafield and in so doing bring water to Laurie's restored Watermill, and very lovely it will look too.

Paddles and sluices

Here are a selection of photos taken from the suspended work site.

The old paddle gear

 The mill leat

Upstream from Bacton Wood Lock

Thursday 5 April 2012

North Walsham and Dilham canal back in water

Yes - thats right, back in water!
April 2012

My last post was referring to the North Walsham and Dilham Canal between Ebridge Mill and Bacton Wood Lock, nearly of a mile which has been returned to navigable standard, and largely due to the passion and commitment of Lawrie (may be spelt wrongly) who bought the stretch of canal plus Spa Common Mill, and has initiated a massive effort to bring it back into water.

 Ebridge Lock and Millpool

Ebridge Mill 2012

I have watched the restoration of the area around Ebridge with interest over the last couple of years, and last time I visited the mill pool had been scraped out and dredger Weasel lay aground on the mud. Imagine my delight when I drove past recently and realised that the pound was lapping at full weir height and a clear channel stretching out to the distance.

Approaching Ebridge Mill

I couldn't let the opportunity pass so I hastily abandoned Matilda in the car and legged it down the towpath to see the extent of this miracle. After about 1/2 mile I came to a huge pontoon moored on the channel and evidence of a lot of recent work, but oddly it wasn't quite finished and a few leaks into the surrounding water meadows were apparent.

One of several leaks

I stopped, admired, took photo's and then engaged with Lawrie who drove his truck down the towpath to check on the leaks.

It seems that the dredging work was approved by the Environment Agency but they suddenly has second thoughts about the changes being wrought to the local Hydrology and slapped a stop work order on him - so everything has ground to  halt. He cant even drive piles into the bank to stop the leaks! The project is now at an impasse, and litigation looms.

 Approaching Spa Common Bridge

This is all a huge shame and terribly short sited on the EA. Within 12 months the scars of the dredging exercise will heal and the leaks will be plugged and the area will be left with a lovely new tourist attraction. At the time of my visit a dozen people were wandering round and having a good look at the canal, the first time it has been navigable in 90 years.

Spa Common Bridge

Just imagine this place when the lock upstream is complete and the canal is navigable to Swafield, about two miles distant. It is begging to have a trip boat moored at Ebridge and I guess that 10's of thousands of summer visitors would flock to the canal ever year - what an amazing shot in the tourist arm for North Walsham is only they could capture a vision of the draw it could represent.

I mentioned Bacton Wood Lock to Lawrie and he enthusiastically invited me over to take a look. More of that in another post.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

A surprise restoration in water

Canal restoration gathers pace - where is it?

I always enjoy Martin Ludgate's reviews on the restoration scene, and his predictions for the next completion. I seem to remember that his surprise prediction for the next decade is the Stafford Navigation.... but I think it may well be pipped at the post.

The mystery channel....

There is another canal restoration which seems to be surging along as a fantastic pace, and much to my utter amazement I recently discovered that about 3/4 mile is suddenly in water.

So my question is... where is it?

All will revealed in a post or two in a couple of days.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Shropshire Canal - Coalport

Shropshire Canal
April 2012

April 1st, and my last post in the Shropshire Tub Boat Canal series! Hurray I hear you all cry - enough pictures of overgrown ditches - lets have some more of your "nice" canal photos...

Restored canal at foot on Hay Incline

Well, by the time you read this we will be on our way to Llangollen so its back to the summer boating routine. However, this series has been six months on the making, three planning and assembling the maps and three doing the field work / write ups. At least its kept me off the streets for the winter.

Past the China Museum

The Coalport section of the Shropshire Canal offers a final hurragh for the canal hunter. The section at the bottom of the Incline was put back into water in the 1970's and this section runs into the China Museum site, all very pretty.

The canal line buried beneath the access road

Beyond that the line of the canal has been lost in a housing development built on the site of NuWay, but the line of the canal is followed by the access road. From there the canal runs behind the Brewers Arms Inn and reemerges as a dry ditch which runs parallel to the River Severn to Coalport Bridge.

The dry ditch approaching Coalport Bridge

This low level canal avoided the fast flowing section of river and craft initially accessed the river at Coalport Bridge via a short lived lock. This was later replaced by a self acting lift where goods were transhipped into larger river worthy trows.

 Journeys end - Coalport Bridge