Monday 28 September 2015

The Super Moon

Super Moon
September 2015

I like astronomy, but not enough to get myself out of bed for a lunar eclipse. 

But that said, I did find myself up and getting ready for work at 6.15am and as I busied myself making some porridge for breakfast I saw the final moments of the moonset with the moon looking larger than I have ever seen it before.

Of course, I grabbed my camera (cant find my tripod since we moved) and did the best I could from the back wall of the yard.

Not as stunning as many images of there event but there you go, a memento of the occasion.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Explorer B to Bradley

Explorer B to Bradley
September 2015

Last week saw the second formal BCNS Explorer Cruise of 2015 make its way around the lesser travelled sections of the BCN, led by Stuart and Marie Sherratt.

Rotten Park Reservoir Autumn 2015

This time there were about 24 boats which I met up with twice. Firstly I met them during their stop at Longwood Boat Club, our home mooring which was a flying visit and then a longer visit when I met them at Broadwaters two days later to lead a walk along the abandoned Bradley Locks, Rotten Brunt and Gospel Oak routes.

A new lock gate nearing completion

This is a good "lost canals" walk because its passes through the thick of the abandoned routes and it can be linked with 1. A visit to the Bradley Lock Gate factory  and 2. A visit to the Gospel Oak pub for liquid refreshment on the way back. I am a cheap date - my price for the walk is a pint!

The dry dock storage area

But I had started out early because as part of an ongoing bit of research into the reservoirs of the BCN, I wanted to take an early morning photograph of the Rotten Park Reservoir. Rotten Park and Broadwaters are not exactly close, but I managed the two locations even through the rush hour traffic.

Heel posts - not Mills Bombs!

The Bradley factory are always well worth a visit, with all those big boys toys on show and carpentry projects underway which are of epic proportions.

 The huge bandsaw - with my Blackberry to indicate the size

Did you know that each lock gate is made by just one carpenter and the process typically takes about a week. A small gate may cost circa £10,000 and a large one £25,000 and will have a life span of 22 to 25 years. The oak used is not treated in any way and wandering around the yard is like reading the winter stoppage list - with the name of each lock to be re-gates painted on the balance beam.

I love the kit they use, particularly the bandsaw with huge teeth - see my Blackberry in comparison.

The 2015 vintage gate plates

I did leave the factory with a souvenir courtesy of Stuart's intervention. I have long hankered for a spare lock gate construction date casting. I saw Stuart pull one out of the skip a year or two ago and this time he emerged from the store room with two plates dated 2013 clanking in his ruck sack. Let me be clear that they were given to him! Anyway, one of these was handed over and is destined to adorn my new shed, which will confuse visitors who will assume that it was "Built at Bradley 2013".

Always something of interest in the skip!

On my way back I stopped off at the Smethwick Heritage Centre in Victoria Park as part of the reservoir project, a place I had assumed was the site of the Smethwick Great Reservoir built to serve the original Brindley summit. In the centre I found a good map from the 1840's which clearly showed the reservoir on the other side of the road, a site which was decommissioned and then built on in 1900.

The Great Reservoir - Smethwick

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Black Country Boating Festival

Black Country Boating Festival
September 2015

Where have the two weeks gone since the BCBF event at Windmill End?

Helen and Andy manning the stall.

Photo courtesy of a certain Mr Maslin

This year was the 30th anniversary festival and the event was bigger and better than ever, helped along the way with some very kind weather. It rained hard as we set up on Saturday morning and again as we made our way home on the Monday, but for the event itself the sun shone down on us and encouraged the crowds to return to this atmospheric location.

A heaving main drag

The lead in to the festival was not without its traumas. As you will recall, our propshaft coupling had all but failed and the engineer from Oxley Marine showed up to offer a terminal prognosis. Two studs had pulled out of the casting and the other two were loose. We debated the possibility of helicoiling them till we saw that the rubber was parting company from the casting in four places. There was no option but to fit a new unit. Hey ho - it has given good service for 13 years and for the last 5 it has been running with a dodgey pinned stud, so I guess it didn't owe us anything.

As for the festival... what can I say?  From a trade point of view it was an absolutely stinking success with sales breaking all records. Our regular customers come back thick and fast so that on the afternoons we didn't sell - we just took £10 notes and filled bags. Attending this festival is a no brainer for us.

But there is so much more to this festival than the trading. From a social perspective it has to be my favourite. We have been going so long that the organisers are now friends. Then there are the other traders who we see every year and we make the most of the opportunity to share a bevvy or three and indulge in a game of cards. Of course, this activity seems to centre on The Homebrew Boat with Sandra and Barry.

The Jam Butty in fighting trim

One facet I really like about this event is the local participation which manifests itself in the Church in the Beer Tent where the local churches come together to worship. The preacher was a bit long but delivered an interesting take on the Syrian refugees, likening then to the Good Samaritan parable. The other local angle was the inclusion of a second entertainment venue complete with bar and burger van. The stage was populated with local talent some of which were very, very good.

The second stage

All in all an excellent 30th anniversary event. 

Will we be back next year? You bet we will - all booked and paid for!

Our journey home was helped by Chris Dinsdale who met us outside the Netherton Tunnel. In spite of the rain we still gathered Blackberries and Elderberries, yours truly losing a fork in the top lock of the Rushall flight. The Sea Searcher came to my rescue and after a minute or two the gleaming implement emerged much to the amazement of Chris and Helen. Halfie will appreciate this!

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Up the Cut to Windmill End

Up the cut to Windmill End
September 2015

On our return to the canals we were immediately greeted by Smiffy who helped us up the locks into Stourport Basin and the much needed facilities.

From there it was a steady plod up the Staffs and Worcester, pausing at Kinver to have our new cratch cover repaired after an unfortunate altercation with Evesham Lock.

 Passing Morgana at Primrose hill

Scenes from Stourbridge Locks

Along the way the Centaflex coupling, which had been running on 3 bolts, started to show signs of terminal decline so we took it very easy as we entered the Stourbridge Canal, playing leapfrog with a couple of Roving Trader boats which were returning from Stourport Floating Market. 

The Stourbridge locks were very attractive and surprisingly productive from a foraging perspective and there is an interesting twist at the top lock where evidence of mining settlement become apparent in the lock walls.

Settlement repairs - mining subsidence!

An inspection at Merry Hill revealed we were down to just two studs and they were on borrowed time! We therefore made a very slow approach to the Windmill End site of the BCBF on Thursday evening followed by a "help" call to RCR!

 Delph Locks

Lodge Farm Reservoir

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Carry on up the Severn

Upstream from Tewkesbury to Stourport
September 2015

After a week of going with the flow on the Avon it was payback time - two days of pushing the relentless flow of the River Severn.

Breasted up on the River Severn

To be fair, the river was well in the green zone so there was never a better time to have a go at this mighty waterway with the butty in tow. The first decision was to go breasted up or on straps? Progress line astern is certainly a bit faster but abreast is more maneuverable, better controlled in the locks and has the added benefit of being able to get in and out of the butty whilst on the move.

Plastic boat territory

Abreast it was then, so we sorted ourselves out as we waited for the Tewkesbury Lock Keeper to return from her lunch break, using both the front mooring rope from Wand'ring Bark, plus the butty's front rope to tie her nose in tight. We set it up so both rear bulkheads were about level and the end result is a surprisingly stable combo. Whilst progress is slowed to about 4.5 mph over the water and 3.5 mph against the land, there is no tendency to drag to one side as you might expect. 

 Birdlife abounds

Then it is just a case of exercising patience, accepting that other craft will pass you but sure in the knowledge that we will get there in the end. If Pearson says an hour for 4 miles expect to take an hour and a half.

After about three hours at the tiller Upton hove into view and as soon as I rounded the bend I had my telescopic lens out and I was looking to see in there was any mooring room on the pontoon. Moorings are scarce hereabouts and I was delighted to see just two narrowboats tied on, so plenty of room for us.

Upton on Severn

As we drew closer I was both amazed and delighted to realise that one of the boats was Briar Rose, with Adam and Adrian in attendance. This was one of those happy coincidences which happen from time to time and in a flash meal plans were altered so we could all spend the evening together. Lots of wine was consumed along with just about all their cheese (we provided the chutney and extra crackers because, strangely, we have plenty of both on board).

Briar Rose at Upton on Severn

Adam and Adrian slipped away at 8.30am the next day heading for Gloucester whilst we had a wander around Upton discovering that the quirky bookshop is no more. But as recompense we found a tree of amazing John Downey Crab Apples and its owner was more than happy to let us pick a bag.

The day was wall to wall sunshine which showed the Severn at its sparkling best. The wildlife was out in force but very few boats were on the move. 


We were planning to aim  for Stourport but with the locks closing at 7.00pm it was clear this was not possible. Instead we kept going till we passed Holte Lock and moored on the upper lock landing for the night. There are few moorings on the part of the river and the lock keeper was happy to leave us there, so long as we were away by 9.00am the next morning. As we moored up we saw an amazing orchard on the lock island and after making suitable requests permission was given for us to pick cooking and eating apples plus damsons and plums. In one fell swoop we had made up for the thin pickings over the last few days.

Moody River Severn

Come 9.00am on Tuesday morning we were up and away through a mist so thick I couldn't see the end of the lock cut. We completed the trip up through the final lock in a little world of our own, dropping the butty astern as we approached Stourport and a return to the intimacy of the narrow canals.

A sad end for a BCN day boat

Whilst rivers are not as good as canals, at least this trip has given us confidence to tackle moving water with the butty in tow, and even to run the fast water outside Gloucester Docks at some point in the future.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

The Lower Avon

The Lower Avon
September 2015

After the white knuckle ride down the upper Avon the Lower Avon was a bit tame, with the river broadening out and slowing to a sluggish meander over open meadows and periodically descending the odd lock or two such as Chadbury and Fladbury before its serpentine course brought us to the charmingly names Wyre Piddle, our home for the night.

Fladbury Mill

Wyre Piddle stands out in my memory as a night stop when exploring the lover Avon long before the Upper Avon was reinstated. I remember watching Around the World in 80 Days in a local school as part of a community cinema programme. This time round the entertainment came in the shape of Alice, our granddaughter who brought her mum and dad for a visit at the moorings of The Anchor Inn.

Moorings at Strensham

The next day it was off down the river, pausing at Pershore to re-supply in the local Morrisons before pressing on round the huge loops which take the river round Birlingham and Eckington, all the time overlooked by Bredon Hill.

Eckingham Bridge

We spent the night on a makeshift mooring just above Strensham lock which offered more sloes to add to our collection started at Nafford lock.


The following morning saw us back out on the wide expanse of river, dodging sailing boats and sharing in a Reggae festival just outside Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury marked the end of the Avon section after which we breasted up and ploughed in the relentless current of the River Severn.

Sunday 6 September 2015

The Upper Avon

The Upper Avon
September 2015

What a busy few days since my last post. We made an uneventful descent into Stratford and made a bee line for the Avon Navigation Trust's floating base in Bancroft Basin to but a one week river pass for both boats. They don't see a lot of buttys and were grateful I had reviewed the website and identified that the un powered craft fee of £10 in addition to the motor boat £50 would be the most appropriate. I know this is pricey for a few days on the Avon but it must cost a lot to maintain the navigation structures - and its a lovely river with echoes of the Thames in miniature.

We have opted to make a descent of the river because I am not convinced we could make a passage towing upstream due to the swift currents in the shallow reached below the locks.

We stayed in Stratford on Wednesday afternoon, entertaining several of Helen's thespian friends, including Miles Richardson who gave us a wave from his dressing room between performances.

We did complete a bit of new water on this trip - up above the bridge to the services at The Old Bathing Place. The guidebook warns that its a bit tricky for narrowboats but with a bit of fresh on there was plenty of depth but the narrow channel made dodging the trip boats a bit challenging. 

The Old Bathing Place Stratford on Avon

The elsan is fine but the tap is so far from the river our hose wouldn't reach! The journey back to town highlighted one of the perils of towing on this river - those pesky old bridges with their tiny arches, this time set on a left hand bend which is our Achilles Heel. We had the nightmare scenario of a trip boat close behind a a rowing boat which inexplicably came across in front of us and disrupted my approach. Wand'ring Bark came through cleanly but The Jam Butty slewed a bit and gave the bridge a bit of a bang.

Stratford Bridge

In Thursday it off down the dreamy river, with mile after mile of valley rolling by, punctuated with locks built as part of the Upper Avon restoration. 

The problem with these locks, as I remembered from our last upstream visit, was the "wild river" sections just below then there the channel is narrow, shallow and winding. We went down at a rate of knots, the boat at just over tick over to keep steerage but no faster because we were ferry gliding round the big corners, the bows close to one bank and the stern on Montgomery sweeping out to the other bank. We just played that there would be no one coming the other way at the crucial moments!

Robert Aickman Lock

We spent the night on the moorings above Barton Lock, far from roads and amazingly quiet.

Barton Lock mooring

If the lock approaches were not enough there were more of those bridges like the one at Bidford on Avon where the navigation arch is on the extreme left and the current twists around. Time for another power slide to miss both the cut waters and the following bank.

Bidford on Avon Bridge

Beyond that the Upper Avon slid serenely by with Evesham offering the only hiccup. They have installed a hydro power plant under the old lock house and this means that there is a massive current sweeping past the lock mouth. I could see the problem from the water flow and crept to the end of the lock moorings - applying power to dash into the jaws of the lock and rest against the downstream piles. Phase one went OK but then there was the 10 ton butty hanging outside and being grabbed bu the current so I powered in to the lock but had a good rattle in the process, putting a small tear in the new cratch cover for my pains. If they install hydro schemes they should but in some better navigation guide posts on my opinion.

Evesham Lock