Monday, 25 October 2010

Cool, Cold, Colder

Monday 18th October to Sunday 24th October

24 Miles, 38 Locks, 1 Tunnel– for this week

Totals: 340 Miles, 358 Locks, 10 Tunnels, 9 Swing Bridges

It has been about 2 ½ years since I was through Stoke by canal – we actually went through there on 3 occasions – but I was most impressed with the feel about the place – it is lovely approaching Stoke from the south with the width of the canal as it is – feels more like a boulevard.

All through Stoke I was also impressed with the way in which it appears to be showing itself in a much better light towards the canal – parks are fresh and tidy and well maintained; the residential developments which have taken place are directed outward to the water; even many of the older buildings which are remnants of the original industry of Stoke have been tidied up – less rubbish and weeds.

That was Monday and after spending the night moored at Westport Lake – an inviting location, it was off to Harecastle Tunnel – the day didn’t look the best, but after some early showers, the sky looked imminently brighter and so I went.

The tunnel does not hold any worries – this is now the fourth through passage and whilst it was noticeably colder than any previous journey it remains uneventful. Sunshine greeted on the exit at the northern portal and then began the descent of Heartbreak Hill.

These locks are not especially hard and I had planned on getting through the first 12 and then mooring up for the night. After about 6 locks the heavens opened up and it was one drenched boater that then carried on through the remaining 6.

As is usually the case when you have been through heavy rain and the coat has started to leak through and the boots are letting more water out than they allow in, once you moor up the sun then appears to poke fun at you – anyway it was a mooring at Rode Heath. After a hot shower, it was time for some work and then for more pub research and then back to the boat for dinner.

Wednesday morning felt particularly colder inside the boat, than others in this last week – there was a reason for that – a very heavy frost overnight left a white carpet over the fields, the boat, cars in the pub carpark – in fact anywhere you looked. The back cover was frozen stiff and took some time to fold up; the mooring ropes were frozen and there was enough ice on the roof for a winter Olympics.

Even though it was as cold as it was, the sun was out in a bright blue sky – not a cloud to be seen and it was absolutely magnificent cruising along in the cold air and the sun, down the remaining 14 locks to Wheelock.

I was on a mission now – I had perused the BW closures list and found that I need to be through locks by 8th November or else I would miss getting to the marina, so I was going to make sure that I made it with plenty of time to spare.

 Having said that, I find Wheelock a pleasant place and decided that I needed to have a days rest here after finishing descending the hill. After that it was onto to Middlewich and a now having got to here on a Friday, it was necessary to again take some time off.

I had computer files to update and this would take at least half a day on the Saturday; but equally as well there were some long overdue housekeeping and maintenance things that needed doing – so the vacuuming was done; the kitchen and bathroom cleaned; the other side of the boat was washed, checked the battery electrolyte charge, oil checks and cleared the drains for taking water away from the back deck - and I continued on with the polishing – now have half of the boat done – I even had time to bake some scones – which don’t taste too bad.

So that was the week that was – a mixed bag as far as the weather was concerned; a very pleasant one with people met on the towpath and at locks on the way down; a week of hard work and a chance to rest as well.

A problem this week with uploading pictures - so will try again later

Monday, 18 October 2010

Nothing exciting doesn't equate to Boring.

Monday 11th October to Sunday 17th October

17 Miles, 14 Locks – for this week

Totals: 316 Miles, 320 Locks, 9 Tunnels, 9 Swing Bridges

Rugeley, would by many not be seen as the most likely of places to spend a couple of days, but it is a nice place without being especially brilliant, but it is a very friendly place I found,

Rugeley Power Station - in it's majesty

Most would only know it by the acknowledgement of the domination of the area by the power plant, but in many ways there is a bit of a European feel to the landscape when viewed the right way.

Not sure of the good use of time here - blowing leaves away in October?

St. Augustines - Rugeley

The town centre is functional without being elegant. But what appeals now that I have spent a couple of days there is that it is just nice; just quiet; just friendly.

Rugeley town centre

This has been a week of nothing special – nothing defines this week as has done with other weeks – perhaps eventually reaching Stone does say a little about it. Stone was from where we hired a boat in 2008 for 6 weeks and which determined our life to be; so in some ways it was a bit of a homecoming; I spent 3 days here as I knew it well enough to know that most of the things that I would need were here.

View from Aston Lock - back down the canal

I met a guy on the towpath and we started chatting – as you do – and he was telling me about a small business that he has started up called “Food Afloat” – he has 5 boats that cruise around as mobile supermarkets – I am going to get some more details about this; but if you see them, give them a try – helping small businesses helps them to survive.

Saturday was a extremely lovely day after the previous two non-descript days; it was very bright and sunny in the morning and very early afternoon before clouding over.

Mist rising; filtered sunlight; pleasant setting - all seems right with the world

Sunday showed what was to come – with some ice on the roof and front and back covers – very cold; but then a bright clear morning (probably why there was ice). Cruising along with the chill of the air, the freshness of a clear day and the warming sun on my back – this felt good – reminds me of the Mel Brooks line – “It’s good to be the King” and it was a morning to feel like a king.

Mooring up at Barlaston before lunch meant that I could once again visit The Plume of Feathers public house at Bridge 103 for their delicious Sunday roast – did not disappoint – virtually a serve yourself affair. We have been here before and it serves food to its usual standard – very nice.

Sad end to this boat

Monday, 11 October 2010


Monday 4th October to Sunday 10th October

27 Miles, 11 Locks, 1 Swing Bridge– for this week

Total: 299 Miles, 306 Locks, 9 Tunnels, 9 Swing Bridges

At the start of any week it is difficult to imagine the way that the week will pan out.
Mondays are unique in the week – they signify the end of the weekend and the return of work time and I remain completely fascinated watching others as they make that journey off to some remote office or worksite on a Monday morning – I say fascinated as it has been almost 7 years since I have trudged (I mean – gone) off to the office on a basis resembling more than even once a week and for most of this year not at all.

Really they are like ants travelling along one behind the other.

By way of saying all of this is that I have reached a level of individuality with which I am more than pleased.

Monday this week was a milestone for me – armed with the knowledge, possessing the right equipment and poised with the desire, I tackled the previously daunting task of changing the engine oil. Again thanks to Steve at Willow Wren, this actually became an enjoyable task, taking a little over an hour to fully complete – the only difficult task was fitting my frame down into the confines of the engine well with a warm engine (thankfully not going).

My previous visit to Atherstone had not realised a lack of suitable coffee shops and I have to say that this visit did not dispel that previous finding. I am sorry to say that it will remain the one point of disappointment about this lovely little town; but I will be returning and I will investigate the 10 or more pubs that I have located – so for now, I say adieu to Atherstone.

Tuesday was a travel day down the remaining 6 locks and a few more miles – I had spotted a likely mooring place when I had come the other many weeks ago, so I was determined to see how this would turn out.

The place in mind was opposite a pub by bridge 59 – Samuel Barlow – named after one of the early working boat fleet operators.

Samuel Barlow pub - by Bridge 59
The day was fine, if rather breezy, but managed to settle in early afternoon – the measures of a good mooring site were sated – good internet and at least fair TV – both settled for excellent – on that basis alone I will be back.

Wednesday was a chance to explore and also to stretch my weary legs, so off on a bit of a stroll along the towpath – found a Tesco’s to purchase more supplies and then back to the boat to investigate the pub. Over the bridge and through the carpark – started off slowly with a coffee – mmmm better than anything I had had for a while; but wait what that sound that I heard – it was the undeniable tones of a fellow Aussie – the owner of the premises, Paul, was originally from Cairns, via Sydney and Melbourne and had been here for about 15 years.

Sampling of the local product then became an imperative, and of course trading a bit of our life stories went along with that.

After a couple of more drinks a few of the locals arrived and introductions all round meant more people to talk with and to drink with.

A few more hours later I knew it was time to leave and said my goodbyes all.

I needed to return the following day to make sure that I had not embarrassed myself and I was reassured by Paul that all was OK.

I could not recommend this pub highly enough – friendly, passionate, lively – but a word of warning – don’t get to drinking too much with Swifty and Ronnie – they are evil people to the unwary.

Fazeley Junction

Away I must and Thursday saw a short cruise down into Fazely, an overnight stop - I looked back on our past movements and we/I have been through this junction three times now - each time approaching from a different direction and each time exiting in a different direction.
More movement on Friday to Whittington.

Saturday arrived and there amongst my emails was a message from Elly and Mick, two fellow Australians, in fact two fellow Victorians, over here to look at boats and other things in preparation for their trip in 2012 and buying a boat for 12 months ( I say it will be 2 years).

Elly and Mick
We had been in contact and I was looking forward to meeting them and chatting with them. A short cruise to Fradley junction gave them a better place at which we could meet – at least one they would be able to locate; and so we met on Saturday afternoon and chatted over a coffee about where they were up to and what I was doing and a lot of things about boats, banks and getting here.

Such a nice couple who have a plan for there lives and I await there arrival on the canals sometime in the next 2 years. They know that they are going to enjoy it. Catch them on their blog  Narrowboat Dreaming.

Good luck you two.

One for Diane - look at the boat named "Sanity?" - it's the "Fudge Boat"

And finally we come to Sunday and what I thought would be a short cruise rather extended itself to Rugely and mooring here for the night.


But along the way the evidence of autumn became so much more apparent than I had seen in the last few weeks – the trees are turning in colour, leaves fluttering down, leaves finding their way to the prop, the warm sun on your back and the gloves and coat to keep warm from the cold air – the season has changed and we move forward to what we need to do next in the cycle – for tomorrow will be Monday and the ants will be on their way again.

For those of us old enough to remember the world in 1980 and that fateful day in December when the news flashed with the story that John Lennon had been shot dead - Saturday marked his 70th birthday – what would the world really have been like if he had been lived - we can only imagine.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Yabba Dabba Doo

Monday 27th September to Sunday 3rd October

24 Miles, 6 Locks, 1 Tunnel, 1 Swing Bridge– for this week

Totals: 272 Miles, 295 Locks, 9 Tunnels, 8 Swing Bridges

This has been a week dictated by the weather and other timings. Needing a pumpout and the also to keep the diesel tank topped up I had decided that I would best accomplish these at Willow Wren hire base and they had indicated that Wednesday would be a suitably quiet date – so I did just that and set out on Wednesday morning, stopping to fill the water tank as well – it probably, in hindsight wasn’t the best day to do all of this – the misty rain had that penetrating effect, but there were increasingly longer spells of dry weather during the day.

Prior to leaving Rugby for a second time I saw this unusual little vehicle in the park opposite to where I was moored.

We should also acknowledge the efforts of Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine and native son of Rugby - the picture below is of the commemoration to this pioneer.

Not a long day cruising and moored up just after Bridge 35 with company from various animals on the other side of the canal. I had settled in for an evening being able to see a Man United game – this one a Champions League match against Valencia away from home – a great 1-0 result in the end, but the highlight of the night came about 8:30 – I could hear and then felt another boat outside breasting up alongside – this was a new and strange experience so I investigated through the window – sure enough alongside was another boat and friendly sounding chap asking for Derek and Dot ( the original owners of Gypsy Rover) – it turned out to be Ian on Gosty Hill who hadn’t heard of the change of ownership, but certainly introduced himself and we had a relatively short chat as he needed to round the bend to moor up.

The view opposite the mooring near Bridge 35

The following day I passed by as he was servicing another customer and briefly spoke – we will certainly be on the lookout for Gosty Hill next time we are back on the Oxford.

Invariably after a day of rain and with a cold night that we had, there is an early morning fog and Thursdays was really quite enjoyable – you just knew that when it lifted we would be in store for a very nice day – no disappointments here. Compare the pictures below - both of the same scene but about 3 hours apart.

Knowing that Friday was predicted to be a very wet day it was important to find a decent mooring spot and I had the intention of making for Hawkesbury Junction and the inviting Greyhound pub. So Friday was a day of peace and quiet save for the trip down the 200 metres past the lock to the pub and return.
This one is for Sam and her affection for cows

The rain really didn’t let up all day until about 5 – 5:30 when the clouds started to clear and we were treated to a delightful sunset.

A very uninspiring week, this week was and nothing much changed for Saturday with a cruise back onto the Coventry heading northwards – that will be the catchwords for the next month – ever heading northwards.

Through Nuneaton where I briefly moored up before a message from James in Birmingham to sort out Sunday lunch as Debbie was away and he felt the need to encourage me to the pub somewhere – we settled on The Kings Head in Atherstone, only because I had been there before and felt that it was not a bad meal – in fact it had been very good and had a nice relaxed and cosy atmosphere.

This of course meant that I would need to get myself a bit closer to Atherstone on Saturday afternoon to enable a better chance of avoiding impending bad weather on Sunday.

Not a chance of that happening, it started early and didn’t look like stopping any time quickly, so off I ventured – the only people with less sense than me this morning were those involved in a fishing match around Bridge 36.

Finally mooring up just before Bridge 40 for a short walk down to the designated meeting place, it was quite clear that the internet signal was sporadic at best between mooring and pub, and this precipitated the need for a later move down 5 locks to a previous mooring site where it was much better – this latter movement taking place after 5pm and in the dry.

The lunch was very good – the food being suitable, but getting a chance to see James, Katherine and Rachel once again was worth the effort this morning and Saturday to make it there.

James, Rachel and Katherine (she doesn't always look like this - sometimes it is less appealing)

It was very leisurely and after about 3 hours we decided that it was time to leave and say our goodbyes. James and I had a good chance to talk about things that had been happening and were to happen.

Finally I must end with the reminder that this week has seen the 50th anniversary of The Flinstones – a fact which didn’t escape the people at Google – so hope that everyone else had a Yabba Dabba Doo of a time.