Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Hobbit Pt1 - film review

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey
January 2013

I am a bit of a fan of Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I was excited to hear that The Hobbit was being shot by the same team. Sadly, I wasn't as impressed by the end result.

The problem I have with the film is simple. The original books where huge sprawling tomes and the challenge was to try and fit all the content into the three films. Even with three films and nine hours to play with it was still a difficult task and a lot of good bits hit the cutting room floor, sections which were reinstated in the DVD version which then weighed in close on four hours per episode - but vastly improved the end result.

The Hobbit, by contrast, is a modest length book but because they really want to milk the franchise, its been spun out into a further three episodes. Put simply, there isn't enough plot to sustain another nine hours of screen time - so all the rest is battle scene padding. Don't get me wrong, its very good CGT padding but the underlying plot matches the pace of the glaciers through which the cast travel.

And then there is the 3D. At the risk of sounding like a sad old git (which of course I am not) I am not a 3D enthusiast. About 75% of the showings were in the more expensive 3D format and the 2D were relegated to really inconvenient times so we were condemned to perch those ridiculous gasses on our noses and watch the "not very realistic" 3D effects. I find myself very aware of the whole 3D thing and this detracts from my ability to lose myself in the film. Far from drawing me in I find myself increasingly assuming the role of an observer, which is quite the opposite of 3D's intention. Give me 2D with a compelling storyline any day.

Overall I enjoyed the film and will almost certainly watch the three episodes, but I am fairly confident that the end result would be better condensed into two, or maybe even one single pacy film.

Monday 28 January 2013

Its got to be the worst job on the world...

Removing a pump out holding tank
January 2013

I remember reading a Granny Buttons post about the perils of aging holding tanks. GB was 10 years old at the time of its replacement and I remember thinking - hmm.... something to bear in mind when Wand'ring Bark approached the end of her first decade afloat.

Well, a couple of years ago I had problems with the Thetford dump through loo and I had to take it out to undertake some running repairs. When I removed the unit I found the steel tank beneath was rusting badly, so I slapped on some bilge paint and accepted that a more permanent solution would be needed in the not too distant future.

Loo out - not looking too bad

I have never liked the idea of all that muck swilling round in a tank under the bed and on three occasions the tank has overflowed with truly terrible results. And then there is the smell - sometime tolerable and sometime really unpleasant.

So the end result is to retro refit of a cassette system and this is the big job of the winter. The new Thetford unit is on order so its time to bite the bullet and get that smelly old holding tank out. I knew that this would be a tricky and seriously smelly but nothing prepared me for the experience itself. 

Hmm - not so good

Removing the throne was no problem. 15 minutes with a spanner and there it was sitting in proud splendour on the front of the boat, but the tank itself was another matter. At 6ft long and about 18 inches wide by 12 inches high, build out of 3mm steel it was a brute of an object. In itself it was going to be heavy, so I had to take a deep breath and bail out the residue - oh what a stench!

With the tank empty (ish) I then commenced the extraction battle. Of course, the tank was installed before the rest of the boat was built and no thought was given to its later removal. The only way out was to slide it right under the bed and then lift it up and out - easier said than done.

On its way out...

First the bed supports had to be removed and then the bulkhead opening between the bedroom and the shower room enlarged to let the protruding pipe connections out. As I worked on the tank I realised that there was already one rust hole in the top near a weld, so it was a very timely project.

Rust hole

With the tank slid right under the bed one end could be lifted and the limitations of my previous bail out effort were plain to see. More bailing through the smaller dump through hole! Finally, with much groaning and straining I had the tank up onto the bed base and so out onto the stern deck, ready for a much needed rinse down. Then it was back into the "sweet smelling" cabin to mop out the muck which was lurking under the tank and repairing all the supports I had cut out to facilitate its extraction.

Cleaned up and ready for the installation

With the interior of the boat more or less clean and ready to receive the new loo, the last task was to get the old tank into the car. But this was a significant problem as the jetty stops about 4ft before the start of the back deck. I pondered this long and hard and was just about to turn the boat round to get the stern next to the shore when a fellow boater with a stout pair of gloves offered to help. Oh, an answer to prayer! 10 minutes of manhandling and we had the smelly item festering in the back of the long suffering Mondeo.

And how to dispose of the tank? Well, we seem to have an endless procession of tatters rolling up and down our road so I left it on the drive and by 10.00 am the following day there was  a knock on the door and a couple of Polish guys asked if they could have it. The atricle vanioshed into the back of their transit

So there we are. At the half way stage with the old put behind us and the new yet to come. I will let you know how I get on with the installation phase of the project.

Saturday 26 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Fosseway Lane

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
Fosseway Lane
January 2013

And so we come to the end of our exploration of this abandoned canal. True, there are three miles remaining but these are under active restoration and so don't really count for my purposes.

I could bring the hunt to an and at Wall Lane but I couldn't resist moving on to Fosseway Lane and having one last look at the canal as it is slowly being awakened from its 60 years of slumber.

If you are in any doubt about the location of the canal crossing the buildings next to the railway level crossing give the game away. To the west there is the Canal Nursery and opposite is Old Canal Cottage, complete wilt a little narrowboat on its sign.

Park next to the Canal Cottage, and old lengthsman's house, and you will find a path to lock 19 which stands tall and proud, largely restored and ready for business. This lock is surrounded with metal fencing but nothing prevents you entering the chamber from below and taking a close look at how it was constructed.  One thing is immediately noticeable - an absence of water. Even after months of rain there was only a token seepage into the lock and securing an adequate supply will be key to the restoration of this area.

Fosseway Lock (19)

I did take the liberty of climbing out using the emergency ladder but a word of caution - one of the bolts at the top is loose and it gave a good rattle and I hauled myself onto the weed covered lock margin.

Originally the canal route continued beside the railway before crossing the Birmingham Road at Sandfields Basin and Lock 20, near the modern Peugeot Garage and Duke of Wellington pub. But for the future the canal will bear away south after Lock 19 and follow the line of Falkland Road down through a couple of locks to Birmingham Road and then under the railway embankment to rejoin the old canal track to the south of Lichfield.

Having gone so far I have determined to return and see the restoration work for myself, but it will fall outside the lost canal remit.

Below Fosseway Lock

So that brings this short series to a conclusion. This has possibly not been one of the most rewarding hunts but it has not been without its unexpected finds. The absence of a right of way along the towpath is a significant hindrance and the bridge hopping alternative fails to really satisfy. From a restoration point of view I can see some major achievements but also a huge number of obstacles on the shape of dropped bridges, smashed locks and private concerns built on the canal route. This is going to be a long slow path to full restoration.  

Thursday 24 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Wall Lane

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
Wall Lane
January 2013

Assess east along the canal from Pipehill Wharf is obstructed by undergrowth and private land, neither of which are insurmountable obstacles but with Helen accompanying me on this mission prudence won over valour and we opted to drive to the next bridge crossing.

Lichfield seen from Wall Lane bridge

Tantalisingly, the map marks the site of Shaws Bridge half way to Wall Lane, but this is at the end of a field track and not an attractive prospect in the muddy conditions.

Wall Lane looked very hopeful as we drove up to it, a clear narrowing of the road with sturdy iron balustrades on either side but when I stopped and looked over instead of a muddy ditch I found a pair of very rusty rails. The canal and rail lines (both abandoned) run closely all the way from Pipehill to Lichfield and this proximity does offer some help with the levels. At Pipehill the canal and railway were just about at the same height so, with no locks in between, you would expect to see the same at Wall Lane.

Canal channel above Wall Lane Bridge

Sadly the canal line has been hugely filled in to the point that there is no real trace of the bridge which carried Wall Lane over it. Undeterred, I clambered over a gate and went to explore the line to the west - back towards Pipehill Wharf.

The remains of the cutting above Wall Lane

Initially all there was to see was a classic parallel line of hedges about 20 yards apart, usually a good indication of a canal route, but then the land fell away to reveal a narrow cutting dug through sandstone with a vertical cliff still visible sinking into a fetid pool of what could loosely be called water at the bottom. It was on the right line and at the right depth and so if it looks like a canal and by jingo, it smell like a canal - it must be a canal! Sadly this impressive fragment is just that, a fragment. 50 years of farm tippings have been invested in this site and at this rate it will be gone on another 10. That said, the infill is all removable but I dont envy the WRG the task ahead of them. Recently the farm has been dumping rotten potatoes and what appeared to be a mound of rounded pebbles well able to support the diminutive frame of a 17 stone canal hunter. Sadly the compressive capacity of the nearly rotten vegetables was much reduced and I found myself knee deep in foul smelling slime.

I was tempted to press on along the farm track and try to reach Shaw's bridge from this end but the sound of shotgun fire at close range rather put me off and I postponed this investigation for another (safer) day.

Site of locks 13 - 17 at Wall Lane

This site offers fine views of Lichfield Cathedral and I suspect that this longish pound half way up the flight will be a moorers favourite in years to come.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Pipehill Wharf

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
Pipehill Wharf
January 2013

As usual, access to this section of the canal route is challenging. You can track the canal for a while from an adjoining field track but then the secure grounds of the waterworks gets in the way.

Canal channel and embankment behind waterworks

From the road you can see the embankment rearing into the air behind the pump house, continuing on to a bridge where the canal and a railway run under the road.

Culvert at waterworks

This area offers some of the canals best historic structures, with the bonus of a water filled channel to enhance the illusion of a navigable canal. Shortly after the waterworks you will see a low arch in the embankment, a small aqueduct carrying a fast flowing stream. Surely this must offer a viable water supply for the restored canal?

Pipehill Wharf

400 yards further on and the canal widens out and it turns under the road. This is the site of Pipehill Wharf located next to the railway and therefore presumably an old interchange site. 

 Pipehill Bridge

It is possible to scramble down to the canal side and examine the crumbling brick walls of the wharf, and take a walk under the skew bridge and take a look at the channel as it winds its way eastwards and through the next hill.

Channel east of Pipehill Bridge

Sunday 20 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Muckley Corner and Coppice Lane Bridges

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
Muckley Corner and Cooppice Lane Bridges
January 2013

Access from Watling Street to Walsall Road is tricky. 

The canal route with locks 9 and 10 is lost beneath farmland followed by a nursery where a strip of land bears testimony to its past.

Muckley Corner's navigable bridge - and lock 11

Finally access is regained at Muckley Corner Bridge where the canal track runs alongside the lane and terminates with the remains of Lock 11, its tail hard up against the modern road bridge. At the time of our visit the site was saturated, flooding the new bridge arch almost to the top and the lock wings complete with their rope grooves diving into the murky depths.

Above lock 11

If that wasn't enough, we nipped round into Coppice Lane to have a look at the next road crossing. At first glance this was an unpromising site but then, as I peered over a gate, I saw a familiar straight line - the edge of lock 12. Closer inspection revealed the concave remains of the gate hinge together with the associated ironwork.

Side of lock 12 with gate hinge

Immediately below the lock you will find a mound of ivy, and if you take a second look you will see that it is yet another pipe bridge, still painted green with a control tap on the top.

Pipe bridge over the tail of lock 12

Start of the watered channel

Lock 12 drops the canal into one of the longest pounds on this canal - nearly a mile long. Remarkably, this stretch is still in water fed from a modest ground water supply - one of the few water sources available. The watered channel continues north east, its cutting giving way to an embankment as it approaches a water pumping station.

Friday 18 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Wall Butts

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
Wall Butts
January 2013

The canal bed continued to the north of Boat Lane, entering a triangular area of public open space bordered by Muckley Corner, Watling Street and Boat Lane.

Muckley Corner open space with canal route

The fact that the canal traversed the area is undoubted, as it crossed Watling Street just to the east of Muckley Corner. We traipsed to and fro across the common land and identified a raised section which is the probable route, and we did think that the information board would help pin things down. In the event it was all rather general and without a "you are here" mark it was difficult to orientate ourselves (Helen joined me on this particular hunt). 

The canal cuts an indistinct path through Wall Butts

We managed to pin down a few certain bits, especially the very wet saucer shaped depression with a clay lining. 

The most canal like section with a good profile

The section ended abruptly at Watling Street which has been widened and dropped so no trace of the old bridge remains. However, there is a sewage pumping station in the point the canal appeared to cross.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Boat Bridge

Wyrley and Essington
Ogley Locks - Boat Bridge
January 2013

After losing access from the line of the canal at the quarry to the east of the aqueduct we pick it up again at Boat Bridge, just behind The Boat pub.

Whilst I couldn't access the cutting behind the pub, a bit of scrambling along the road verge I was able to grab a view of the dry cutting heading north under the trees.

Dry channel to the north of The Bridge.

But that wasn't all I saw when I poked my head over the fence. The new road has obliterated the old road bridge but there beneath me was a huge water pipe, cranked up into a classic pipe bridge over the remnant of the canal channel. My angle on the pipe was lousy, but I think you will get the idea. There also appears to the a bit of old bridge parapet in the undergrowth, but without being able to get close I cant be sure.

The remaining pipe bridge

To overcome the obstacle of the new road the plan is to insert an extra lock just to the north and thus gain the headroom needed. 

The route on the other side of the Shire Oak / Muckley Corner Road is not very clear. However, a road called Boat Lane is something of a give away and faithfully follows the lone of the canal round to Watling Street with, as far as I can tell, the in filled route lying immediately to the north of the lane. 

Monday 14 January 2013

W&E Ogley Locks - Aqueduct

Wyrley and Essington - Ogley Locks
January 2013

Having crossed a featureless field the line of the canal emerges onto the periphery of the M6 Toll Motorway through the site of Lock 8. This Lock sat within an area which is marked out ready for restoration, although the chamber itself is gone as far as I could tell.

Ogley Locks flying aqueduct

Then the canal throws itself off a cliff so to speak, launching itself into the void created by the motorway cutting. The construction of the motorway could have been the last nail in the coffin of the Ogley Locks restoration but LHCRT manged to install an aqueduct which now stand as a silent statement of intent of things to come.

From a historical perspective this is, of course, a completely non authentic structure but given its significance I have given it a complete post of its own.

Site of lock 8

Beyond the aqueduct the canal twists round to the South East behind a quarry and on to The Boat pub, but its line is inaccessible.

Saturday 12 January 2013

W&E - Ogley Junction

Wyrley and Essington
Ogley Junction
January 2013

We will start our exploration of the lost Ogley Locks flight at Ogley Junction, about half a mile from Catshill Junction in Brownhills. 

Map - Ogley Top Lock to aqueduct

When built this wasn't a junction at all as the arm to Anglesey Basin was a mere feeder from Chasewater Reservior. However, yet more coal was found near the reservoir so it was enlarged and a major wharf built at the far end.

Ogley Basin

Ogley Junction now sports a sizeable basin, occupied by a handful of residential boats with the bank covered with what appear to be Trust pontoons. The entrance to lock number one was straight ahead from the cast iron roving bridge and immediately in front of the two lock cottages, now owned by the LHCRT as a first step towards the restoration of this end.

Ogley Lock Cottages next to lock 1

The first five locks came thick and fast with numbers 2 - 4 lying beneath a garden centre and the gardens of houses built between Ogley Junction and Barracks Lane where the canal emerged from behind a farmhouse and on into the fields beyond. 

As there is no line of sight up locks 1-5  this is an image of the parallel road which shows the hill the canal climbed up:

Sadly, there is not much to be seen today as the line has been completely in filled and even identifying the line through locks six and seven is a challenge.

The featureless terrain of locks 6 and 7