Friday 29 June 2012

Worcester 2012 - Worcester

Worcester 2012
24 May 2012

21 miles - 15 locks - 8 hours

An early start after a hot and sultry night, doors wide open and fly screens in. Its three years since I made the fly screens and its only now that they are proving their worth. The problem with the doors open approach is that dawn bursts in carried on the wings of the dawn chorus - 4.00am in this case.

Wolverley Church

This proved to be another day of wall to wall sunshine, the cuttings of the southern Staffs and Worcester offering dappled shade with the Stour just beside the canal. And with rivers comes Wild Garlic - at last, much to Belle's satisfaction. This bit of canal is always a pleasure and never more so than today. It was warm, balmy and verdant, trees casting their seeds to the breeze and Dragonflies aloft in their thousands.

Stourport staircase

Wolverley shepherded in the morning sun, with the village church aflame in its golden rays - all perfectly framed in the canalside trees. Everywhere people were chilling out beside the water, Kidderminster was full of them - wandering along hand in hand.

Stourport gongoozlers

Stourport arrived in mid afternoon where we pumped out, refilled with water but were denied a new bottle of gas - Limekiln has run out. Then it was out onto the Severn, a river so recently in flood. As we travelled down there was evidence of floods everywhere - debris and mud three metres up the bank. But for us the Severn was in benign mood, sparkling beneath a clear blue sky. So often we see the Severn through  a haze of rain but this was the old river at its sparkling best. 

Lock keeper's mirror

With deep water beneath our keel we sped along and soon had a decision to make. Head straight up the Droitwich barge canal or carry on down the river to Worester. With the weather so lovely we decided to carry on, mooring by the canoe club and wandering into the city in the  cool of the evening.

Worcester swan

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Worcester Ring 2012 - Whittington

Worcester Ring 2012
23 May 2012

13 miles - 21 locks - 9 hours

Another scorcher, comfortable till 1.00pm but then a wilting 27 degrees. Too hot for comfort.

The Bratch

Today's objective is Wild Garlic for a chutney - a common enough plant but completely elusive when you are looking for it. I am also on the lookout for Watercress and Sorrell, but they remain  equally elusive.

Lockside scenes on the Staffs and Worcester Canal

All around us green growth is abounding, nature breaking free from the shackles of a late spring. Its all a dramatic transformation since our near zero trip to Dimmingsdale Lock only 10 days ago.

End of another hot day

We arrived at Bratch at lunchtime and were the eighth boat through, another quiet day on this waterway. We rewatered at Greensforge, picking the slow tap of course, and were glad of the cooling shade at Gothersley and Stourton, herons flapping slowly over the still surface of the water in their endless search for their next fishy meal. 

We moored up below Whittington breaking out the BBQ for the first time this year, washed down with a couple of pints of the lager homebrew kit Jeff gave me for Christmas, supplemented by a glass of Quince Ratafia - very tasty with notes of vanilla and cinnamon.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Wild Side Preserves goes global

Wild Side Preserves website is launched today
26th June 2012

Many of you will know that Belle (Helen) has been busy getting her Jam, Jelly and Chutney business off the ground for the last few weeks, bringing a taste of the hedgerow and towpath to the world of preserves.

After establishing a demand for her yummy preserves a website was commissioned and the switch was thrown at 8.30pm tonight - so is now open for business. 

Have a look at the website and let us know what you think. We are very proud of our new baby!

Our next show will be the Chesterfield Canal Festival this coming weekend.

Click here for a link.

Monday 25 June 2012

Worcester Ring 2012 Compton

Worcester Ring 2012
22 May 2012

9 miles - 1 lock - 3 hours

Other posts in this series:

1. Compton (Staffs and Worcester) - this post
2. Whittington (Staffs and Worcester)
3. Worcester (River Severn)
4. Droitwich
5. Hopwood (Worcester Birmingham)
6. Tipton (BCN)
7. Wolverhampton (BCN)

Remember that week in late May when the sun came out and gave us a glimpse of summer amid all that rain? Well, we were fortunate to be out on the water for the six days when the sun shone from a cloudless sky, days when we spent out time trying to shelter from the rays rather than the rain.

This first day was a business day, family matters to be taken care of but an agenda which saw us off to the boat in late afternoon. We packed our staff into Wand'ring Bark, including Belle's copious preserving kit, in 27 degrees of heat - yes it really can get that hot in England!

By the time we set off everyone else had packed up for the night, hunkered down beneath trees to take the edge off the sweltering heat. So we had the canal to ourselves as we cruised through Autherley and Aldersley Junctions, starting point of our attempt on the BCN Challenge. 
It was a gentle start, mooring just below Compton Locks at 7.00pm.

The journey starts.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Moby Duck - book review

Moby Duck
by Donovan Hohn

Like the subject matter of the book, this 400 page hardback washed up on my reading pile almost by accident.

Our recent visit to Lyme Regis included a stay in a B&B which was in a bookshop. In fact, it was so "in" the bookshop that the walls of the rooms were lined with the stock! It was therefore probably inevitable that I would chance on something which caught my eye and became obligated to make a purchase.

And so I came across Moby Duck, a first book by Donovan Hohn which whimsically follows the fate of 28,800 floatees (25% of which were plastic ducks) from the Pacific where there were lost from a ship in a storm in 1992, to wherever the wind and the tides took them.

To add a further layer of personal interest, the book links into Melville's Moby Dick and so into the travails of my alter ego, Capt Ahab.

The book starts with a schoolteacher reading of the odyssey of a flotilla of bath toys which bob their way round the Pacific and, after a number of years, turn up in the most unlikely places. There were reports that examples had made it through the pack ice of the North West passage and been found in Maine - could this really be true? Hohn devoted five years of his life to the quest of the missing ducks.

Like the currents which bore them, the book charts Hohn's whimsy. Using the passage of the Floates as a core thread he lets his curiosity lead him. At times it is a narrative of his various expeditions and at others a meticulous account of the things he discovers along the way. The book dives into waterborne waste, the properties of PVC, international shipping, economics of toy manufature, oceanic currents, global warming and even alcoholism among the Inuit Indians. Some tangents are more interesting than others, but  all lines of enquiry eventually return to the theme of those cheeky yellow ducks and how far they may have spread.

The book both informs and entertains, but perhaps more of the former. It is grand in its scope but erratic in its whimsy. It certainly supports my guiding principle that if something interests you, go with it - set your curiosity free and see what shore you find yourself washed up on.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Foraging at River Cottage

Foraging at River Cottage
May 2012

Belle has harboured a long standing desire to visit Hugh Fearnleigh-Whittingstall's River Cottage and more specifically to attend one of John Wright's foraging courses.

Park Farm - River Cottage HQ

The issue is that the courses are infrequent and expensive so the idea was deferred till it could be incorporated into a Birthday and Christmas present, and then we had to be patient till the spring.

Finally the months passed and the first course of the year hove into view, to be held at Park Farm near Lyme Regis. A curious B&B set in a second hand bookshop was identified plus a room booked and all was set. 

We arrived to discover that the main barn had been burned down and our base was to be a rather grand tent / kitchen courtesy of NFU insurance. John Wright chatted with the early arrivals as we tucked into a very good breakfast omlette and finally all 24 delegates were present, raring for the off.

 John Wright

Its amazing what you can find around a farm if you know what you are looking for. All manner of wild plants were identified and tasted, and with every plant there was a warning of something which looked very similar but is, of course, deadly!

Hunting the elusive Pig Nut

For my part I am more of a horticultural grower than a forager and there we were in a poly tunnel with great plants growing in beds but all the foragers were interested in was the Fat Hen which was the weed growing in the midst of the bed.

And so we wandered round the site, picking a bit here and there rounding off with some mushrooms (the only safe ones come in blue plastic boxes from Tescos - believe me) and pig nuts which were painstakingly teased from the meadow.

The afternoon was taken up with a cooking demonstration showing how the foraged ingredients had been included in the menu for our meal. This was followed by the meal itself which was great all washed down with a pint of their very own Stinger Ale. Somewhere along the line we became eligible for some free River Cottage books so we emerged loaded with reading matter and full bellies.

Belle with the Mr Wright

All in all a highly entertaining day in the company of some interesting people. Of course, this has fueled Belle into a foraging frenzy and her inability to find water mint is, of course, entirely my fault.

Friday 22 June 2012

Thames Waters - book review

Thames Waters
by Roger Pilkington

This is a book I have hankered after for ages. Its the first in a long series of boating books written by Roger Pilkington, but because it is the first it was a limited run and the going rate is £14 for a quality first edition - quite a lot for a book published in 1956.

I came across this copy in a little bookshop in Lyme Regis, which isn't the most likely setting for a good haul of canal books. But maybe its obscurity is the reason it has accumulated such a good range - whatever the cause, I ended up with an armful of books and the proprietor ended up with £54 in his till! This little haul included Thames Waters, my prize acquisition which immediately jumped to the head of my bedside reading pile.

This is an account of Roger's purchase of a three year old Commodore's Barge from the Admiralty just after the WW2, and follows their exploration of the Thames and linked widebeam waterways  over what I would guess was a five year period.

The book provides an introduction to the 45ft x 10ft 6in Commodore and her conversion to leisure use by the Pilkington family. Out went the two big engines and in went a single smaller engine, along with bulkheads, bedrooms and a bathroom at a shipyard on the Medway. She sounds very grand but in reality she was just small enough to fit up the River Kennet to Newbury (the Kennet and Avon Canal was impassable at the time), Osney bridge in Oxford and the Grand Union Canal to the Midlands.

The book unpacks a family's growing love for the River Thames from mouth to source, and the pioneering exploration of the various offshoots at a time when they were under real threat of closure. It is strange to read of an ongoing campaign to retain the South Oxford - but that is part of the books charm. Its a product of its age and is a watery time capsule describing an age which has passed, but at the same time a river which has an enduring appeal. Who dosn't love the River Thames?

These early travels precede Pilkington's later accounts of forrays onto continental waterways, about which he is better known. Indeed, the book leaves them back on the Medway being encouraged to cross the Channel and seek waterways anew. 

Is it worth £14? Well, sometimes one expensive good book is worth a dozen cheaper ones. Having got in at the start of the series I can now follow his adventures chronologically so you can expect more Pilkington Posts in the months to come!

I have now become hooked on this series which includes:

Thames Waters 1956 - this post
Small Boat through Belgium 1957 - cant find a copy as a reasonable price 
Small Boat through Holland 1958 - reviewed.
Small Boat to the Skagarak 1960 - reviewed
Small Boat through Sweden 1961 - reviewed
Small boat to Alsace 1961 - reviewed
Small Boat to Bavaria 1962 - reviewed
Small Boat through Germany 1963 - reviewed
Small boat through France 1964 - reviewed
Small Boat in Southern France 1965 - held
Small Boat on the Thames 1965 - sought
Small Boat through the Meuse 1967 - held
Small Boat to Luxembourg 1967 - held
Small Boat on the Moselle 1968 - held
Small Boat to Elsinore 1968 - held
Small Boat through North Germany 1969 - sought
Small Boat to the Upper Rhine 1970 - held
Small Boat to the Lower Rhine 1971 - sought
Small Boat Down the Years 1987 - held
Small Boat in the Midi 1989 - held

Have I got them all in my list?

Thursday 21 June 2012

Jubilee in Birmingham

A day aboard Jubilee
June 2012

I was offered a last boating hurrah before my operation, and I accepted like shot.

Camp Hill Locks

Halfie has been moving his new narrowboat Jubilee around the Midlands for several weeks and Saturday night found him at the top of Camp Hill Locks looking for a bit of help to get it to the top of the North Stratford.

So Sunday morning found me walking up the Camp Hill flight and into the BW compound to join Halfie for the day. 

Jubilee in Camp Hill Locks

After a good look at Halfie's new acquisition we set off, making light of the top few locks but then a problem - a boat which had started down an hour and a half ahead of us was stationary above the bottom lock. It transpired that the pound between Garrison, Camp Hill and Ashted has been drained overnight and was now impassable with boats stuck at the bottom of the Camp Hill and Ashted flights.


The crew of the boat ahead had informed BW and then settled in for the duration establishing a base camp on the lockside complete with camping chairs and a table. I was advised that the Garrison back pump was working and no doubt BW were, at that very moment, opening the paddles at the top of the Camp Hill flight. Fat chance - I tend to lean towards the maxim that "Heaven helps those that help themselves" so borrowed Halfie's bike and set off to open the paddles from the Catherine De Barnes pound myself.

The pound to be filled is long, maybe a mile or so when you allow for Typhoo Basin, so filling it would be no small job. In the end we ran the paddles for about 50 mins, which raised the level by about two feet and provided enough water to float the boats. Now here is the thing - with all the paddles raised to flood the bottom pound the last thing I expected was for the boat at the bottom lock to try and lock themselves down till the flow had been brought to a stop. But that's exactly what they did and surprise, surprise, when the top paddles were closed the water level rose rapidly and poured over and round the lock, threatening to swamp them. Halfie tried to assist by closing his paddles but promptly found himself in the same predicament and I made a mad dash down the hill dropping all the paddles as fast as I could. By the time I reached him the towpath was awash with about six inches of water! Thank goodness we had mobile phones.

Traffic jam at the foot of the Ashted flight

By the time we left the Camp Hill flight I would like to say that BW was on site having responded to the call for help. Sadly that wasn't the case and left to their own devices the hapless crew would probably be there still!

 Halfie sucking canal juice at Ashted Locks

But that wasn't the end of the tale. Having had a quick tour of Typhoo Basin we approached the Ashted flight and found an Alvechurch boat tied up with its engine cover raised. We were told that they had tried to leave the lock and became stuck on the silt scour. To try and free themselves they flushed a lock of water through but didn't realise that the engine hole has an air vent on each side. The water swirling out of the bottom gate paddles poured in from both sides and before they knew what was happening the engine bay way filled to the brim - covering batteries and the engine right up to the air filter on the top.

Having pumped the bay dry the hirers were trying to get the water out of the air intake with a rag. Halfie rustled up a bit of plastic pipe and siphoned out a fair bit but to no avail. Water had entered some or all the cylinders and there was no way it was going to turn over, let alone fire up. Time for them to call the engineer.

Mural on the Farmers Bridge flight Birmingham

With the trauma's of Digbeth behind us we made good progress up the Ashted flight, the paths lined with yellow flowers. Then it was the historic Farmers Bridge locks, which are always interesting and easy to use, before refuelling at the Service Boat moored at Old Turn Junction.

 Farmers Bridge Locks, Birmingham

There followed a very pleasant three hours as we cruised the Birmingham Worcester Canal to Kings Norton Junction and then down the North Stratford Canal through Brandwood Tunnel and on past Lyons Boatyard to bridge five, where the Jubilee will start its journey to its new home in Milton Keynes. The time flew by as we discussed everything under the sun, and then some. I steered and Halfie provides a steady stream of refreshment. All in all a very pleasant way to end what started as a somewhat fraught trip.

Jubilee is a lovely boat, fitted out by her previous owner who was clearly an accomplished carpenter and achieved an end result which eclipses many professionals. Nice boat Halfie!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Oh the Gall of it!

Hospital calling...

Oh the joy of forward dated blog posts. You could be forgiven for picturing us out on the cut but the only cut I will see today is somewhat different.

I fear that today is something of a reality check. Remember those gall stones I mentioned? Well, by opting for a very low fat diet I have kept the pain at bay but gradually, over the last few weeks, the nagging pain has become a constant companion.

In the end I gave up, saw my GP and was promptly referred for a scan. Yup - gall stones. Three of them varying in size from 12mm to 20mm and not about to disappear on their own.

Care of my work BUPA cover an early date for surgery was agreed - today in fact.

So I am off to Little Aston Hospital for surgery. Four incisions, one night in hospital and two week convalescence. Can't grumble though - its all very quick and I will be as right as rain in time for out two week trip in late August (destination uncertain but probably including the Avon and Gloucester Sharpness chasing the wild plum harvest).

Wild Side Preserves gift pack - £15 including postage and packaging

Hopefully I will be up and about on light duties, ready to man the Wild Side Preserves stall at the Chesterfield Canal festival on 30th / 31st June - see you there?

Tuesday 19 June 2012

BCN Marathon 2012 - Groundhog Day

BCN Marathon Challenge
Groundhog Day
5 June 2012

I could almost hear Cher singing "I got you babe" as I woke in the Museum Moorings.

This time last week we woke in the same basin at the same time making the same journey through the same locks to the same home mooring. And now here we are doing exactly the same thing again.

Our companions for the weekend

But like Groundhog Day every journey is different even if the backdrop is the same.

We left about 10 mins after Autumn Mist and caught them up just beyond the Coseley Tunnel. They gentlemanly offered to let us past but today we were in mo hurry and were happy to throttle back and trundle along to the top of the Wolverhampton 21.

Snr Moment at Bloomfield Junction

As we arrived in the basin there was nb Tacet waiting for a family group to show up. We explained that we had achieved 2hrs and 2 mins with a crew of two on Saturday and wondered what they could do with a crew to rival the cast of Ben Hur (13 to be exact). 

They helped us down the first 8 locks and then met the rest of their party walking up. I could see the glint in their eyes at another challenge but then thought no more about it and made a leisurely descent, thankful that Autumn Mist were drawing a top paddle to help us just as we had helped then up the hill a few days before. The locks slipped past and as we were exiting No21 we saw the crew of Tacet refilling behind us. They were flying!

A small part of team Tacet

We called in at Oxley Marine for some diesel and as we were chatting to the proprietor Tacet came past with a huge grin on their faces. Well? I asked.... the paused in true Jeremy Clarkson style and said "One Hour..... long pause.... and 22 mins". I have to admit, that is fast - certainly a time to beat.

You never know how a canal journey will turn out. Same canal but a completely fresh experience! Groundhog Day.

Sunday 17 June 2012

BCN Marathon 2012 - A pause in Tipton

BCN Marathon 2012 
Black Country Living Museum and the Dudley Tunnel
4 June 2012

Our early arrival at the Tipton meant that not only did we get the best mooring spot, we also had time to be tourists for a couple of hours.

Sunken day boats

 Old paddle gear and an ice breaker

 Day boats or Joeys

First I ha a quick look round the canal section of the museum which contains all sots of curios, even in the star of the show was away in London doing her Presidential stuff for the Queen.

Then there was time to do the 40 min tour of the Dudley Tunnels, something I had never done before. Its a good show and well worth the £5 charge. Mind you, Jeff was a bit huffy about the white plastic hard hat!

Trip boat in Dudley Tunnel

 The open roof of a cavern


Start of "the rest of the tunnel"

All in all a good end to a much drier day.

Friday 15 June 2012

BCN Challenge 2012 - the extraction

BCN Challenge 2012
Getting Out
4th June 2012

Getting to Walsall is only half the story. Having worked ourselves into the centre of the northern BCN we have to get out again.

Walsall Basin

The plan was to exit via the Walsall locks and then return to Wolverhampton via the Wyrley Essington - home in a day. But all does not necessarily go according to plan.

We started well enough and I was even getting quite enthusiastic about the locks, finding some interesting photos here and there. But then something odd at lock 4 - I was waiting for the boat to rise and provide a foreground but it didn't rise! A closer inspection revealed a bottom paddle jammed open with no prospect of a quick fix. We had no option but to reverse back down again, belatedly noticing a sign on the back of the paddle informing us that the flight was closed!

Walsall Locks

With our way north blocked our only way out is to the south down the Walsall Canal, again. Word was spread around the boaters and schedules were altered.

Walsall Canal at its most flattering

I guess it would be possible to get out via Ryders Green and bank to Wolverhampton in a day but with the extra days bank holiday why rush? So having turned at the end of Town Arm we slogged back down the Walsall, accompanied by the beauty of the Black Country Spine Road. Ryders Green was busy, with about four boats in the pounds working their way up to the Birmingham Level. 

An unusually busy Ryders Green (or The 8)

The mainline offers some options and we chose Brades, a quick route to the Old Main Line. It's here we first met the triathlete out on cycle training. He was going up Brades heading for Dudley but as we exited the straircase pair he emerged behind us. He had gone left and ended up in Smethwick! He tried again and turned right only to stop again as he had a puncture.

Ascending Brades Locks

Its amazing how the lilies have grown in a week, last Monday the were just a few on the surface and now they carpet the water margins leaving just a narrow navigation channel  in the middle.

Surprisingly the BCLM contained only two boats and we managed to take the trip boat mooring at the back, a first for us. As we had arrived at 3.00pm we had a bit of time to kill so after a quick look round the canal section of the museum we took the 40 min trip into the Dudley tunnels. This is something I have wanted to do for years and on reflection it is well worth the £5 cost - packed with interest and history.

Keith Sykes / Autumn Mist

Autumn Mist showed up a bit later and we whiled away a happy hour or two and sank some beers in the setting sun, swapping canal stories.