Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Weeding our way into Birmingham

Monday 13th June to Sunday 19th June 2011

52 Miles, 48 Locks, 2 Tunnels– for this week
Totals: 577 Miles, 530 Locks, 17 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 9 Swing Bridges

This week has been a rather satisfying one for us; we have managed to find a marina which meets our needs for a winter mooring; we have made our way into Birmingham; we have sorted out our TV aerial problems; we have experienced 2 new canals.

We left Barlaston on Monday and made our way down to Stone, a town that holds such good memories for us – this is where we commenced our boating experience; mooring above the locks enabled us to have quiet mooring and reasonable TV reception as well as good internet.

A shopping expedition to restock the pantry and a general walk around – checked that Stone station was handling trains again – our last visit 3 years ago saw them out of the loop a bit as work was taking place at the station with the tracks – but good news, the train links ran to Crewe in one direction and London the other way.

On Tuesday it was on down through the 5 locks to Aston Marina where we pulled in onto the visitor moorings; we had a good long chat to the people there; a good walk and look around; spoke to moorers; saw the farm shop, the pub/restaurant; visited the local off-site pub and spent a night there to get a better feel for the place – in the morning we paid our deposit for a winter mooring – this gives us the requirements that we were looking for in a mooring.

Wednesday was back out onto the canal and down to Great Haywood Junction where we turned onto the Staffs and Worcestershire Canal for the first time, mooring at Tixal Wide. A chance to have a bit of a walk around – it is just so peaceful and quiet here – we will be back to spend some more time and walk around a lot more I the future.

Onward to Penkridge and the going was very hard indeed – the canal was pretty shallow in places and any deviation from the centre meant a meeting of boat bottom with the canal bottom – 2 or 3 times we managed to get stuck. Diane also did a fair amount of steering this day, allowing me a chance to do the locks – none of the groundings were during her reign at the tiller.

We had decided that Penkridge would be a suitable place to stop which allowed some respite from the noisy M6 without the need to travel too far.

It was at Lock 39 (Longford Lock) that we pulled up waiting for one boat to go up and then one to come down that we came across Elsie and Eric (and Ben) on NB Bendigedig and had the usual short hellos as we briefly crossed – we will catch up with them sometime.

It is one of the disappointing aspects of this canal north of Autherley Junction – there is so much co-habitation with motorways and busier A roads that inject their level of noise into the peaceful quiet of the canal.

The journey from Penkridge was very enjoyable and the canal had more depth and width – so none of the trials that we had earlier experienced. We had wanted to moor up before reaching the narrows but didn’t find anything suitable, so we ventured through there – only encountering two boats but with the passing placing suitable sited we had no problems at all. Eventually we moored up just past Autherley Junction and as has been our lot recently, the heavens opened up just as we had made it inside - so no chance of walking a half mile back to the pub.

Saturday was the day for us – the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks and then the long cruise into Birmingham. We have done this flight before (back in 2008) so we had no problems with it – we just knew it would be a long day – longer than we thought.

The locks we great; the paddlegear was easy to use; some of the top gates were heavy to move; the water was crystal clear – you could see the bottom and the fish swimming around; no rubbish around but there was a bit of floating weed along the flight.

We were up the flight in just over 3 hours and had a bit of a break at the top as we took on water and had some morning tea – the facilities are quite good and the showers were hot and refreshing.

Then it was into the troublesome area – two boaters we passed on our journey up had told us about the level of weed after the locks – more than we have seen before and we lost count of the number of times that the shift into reverse was made to clear the prop - there was a need to stop to clear it, and it was the weed fouling things up.

We had decided to try the old line into Birmingham on the Wolverhampton level as we had previously been on the New Main Line and found it quite boring; glad that we did.

After the turn to stay on this level we ummed and aaahed about mooring at the Black Country Museum, but decided to press on as we had planned to catch up with James and the girls at Birmingham.

In hindsight it might well have been better to have stopped.

The journey through the outskirts of Wolverhampton leading into Birmingham on this waterway was indeed very nice; the weed was no where near as bad as earlier – in fact, after Coseley Tunnel the weed dramatically reduced.

The waterway was through a residential area so a bit more to look at and cruising beneath the motorway was opportune as it occurred just as the rain started.

We did not encounter any rubbish until just after the three locks at Sandwell and then it was not an issue.

This will be our preferred course into Birmingham from the west next time – a mile longer but well worth it.

Finally 10 hours after we had set off we were able to moor up just outside the NIA and rest some weary bones.

We had agreed to meet up with James and the girls in Victoria Square at the International Food Fair, but a change in circumstances for them meant that it was not possible – still we enjoyed the food, the music and the cider and beer, but we were very tired and 9 o’clock found us very much fast asleep.

Sunday was a much better day weatherwise and we felt more invigorated; so it was off into the city – why don’t the shops open before 11 on a Sunday and why aren’t the markets open at all.

We managed to find the tourist information and we found Maplins we were able to get a few cables and connections that we needed to install the new omnidirectional digital TV aerial that we had purchased at Midland Chandlery (Penkridge) a few days back.

In just a couple of hours we had installed the aerial on a new pole onto the side of the boat and the digital enhancer box which was able to split the signal between TV and radio and presto – excellent digital TV signal without any pixellation and excellent radio – we had achieved; and we are very happy about it.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Single Handed Boaters - The Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly

Monday 6th June to Sunday 12th June 2011

32 Miles, 40 Locks, 1 Tunnel – for this week
Total: 525 Miles, 482 Locks, 15 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 9 Swing Bridges

The weather this week had a huge effect on our travelling this week with two days when we were drenched just prior to mooring up, another where we decided not to move due to rain – sounds more like the lack of play at Wimbledon or Lord’s and reasons why.

But far and above that there were the contrasts between very good behaviour and exceedingly selfish behaviour by single handed boaters.

This is not us having a ‘go’ at single handed boaters – having done this for 4 months last year I know an awful lot about the trials and tribulations of this – it isn’t easy but if you have made the decision to go it alone (for whatever reason) then you accept the challenges and responsibilities for making sure that you do the right thing all of the time (not just when it suits you) – nothing different to there being 2 or 3 or more of you on a boat.

Being on the canals is a privilege not a right and you need to be prepared to work with and help others and to think of other users all of the time.

Travelling through the Cheshire locks is a hard task at the best of times, but setting out from Wheelock we immediately came across a lock which could not fill completely from a pound which was well down on its normal level.

Diane had to walk up the locks for a fair way to let water down in order for us to move out and along. This all took time and we saw it initially as one of those things that goes with lower rainfall – until she found that the lockgate paddles had not been put down completely by an earlier boat and further we were told that it was a single handed boater not closing them

You can accept that it is possible to accidentally leave one paddle not down, particularly if they are stiff and you think that is it down fully – but not at 3 or 4 locks in succession.

Gradually we made our way up the locks followed by two other boats – we reached the M6 as the heavens opened; drenched and tired, there were two single handers in the locks – both coming down at the same time – that’s OK.

One ready to leave the lock, gates open, decided to take his time, knowing that we are there waiting to come up – I was helping him to get through – so the boat is bobbing around in the pound – in the windy pound – waiting and waiting. He then leaves to wait under the bridge out of the rain – the same rain that continued to drench us – but having left the ratchets open on all of the paddle gear – an accident waiting to happen – too lazy by a long way.

The other boater just leaves the lock only bother to close one gate – didn’t even attempt to worry about the other – too lazy by a long way.

Sure it means a bit of extra effort to close it – or he even could have asked if I would close it for him – too lazy by a long way.

A complete lack of empathy for others – “I’m alright, b_____r you" attitude.

The following day we saw the better side of single handed boating – an older man struggled through a set of paired locks as we were coming up; a hire boat in the other; he pulled the boat over to the bollards to moor up to let the other boat through as he was concerned about slowing them down – this is the type of attitude that anyone would want to see – the other boat appreciated the gestured and acknowledged the same.

That’s enough about that for now.

When you pass along a long stretch and catch up with and work through the locks with others you, of course, ask each other where are you heading. I have been surprised by the number who didn’t fancy the idea of going through Stoke at all.

We have been through Stoke 4 times together and I have a further trip to count on my own and only the first one caused us to be concerned and not by anything other than the level of rubbish in the canal – and that was 3 years ago.

This time, as with my previous time, the canal through Stoke would have to be the cleanest that I have seen when going through a large town – in fact cleaner than in most places anywhere that we have been – the amount of effort put in by the people in Stoke to create a user-friendly setting has been tremendous. We have moored up in Stoke over 6 separate nights and had no problems at all – something reflected by others that we have spoken to; so please do not think ill of Stoke, but instead enjoy the environment and enjoy the town.

For now we are sitting quite cosily in Barlaston, after enjoying a very nice Sunday roast at the Plume of Feathers hotel; sitting listening to the rain on the roof and thinking how much better off we are than those on the boats that are cruising past.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Travelling and Tragedy

Monday 23rd May to Sunday 5th June 2011

40 Miles, 28 Locks, 1 Tunnel, 8 Lift Bridges – for this fortnight

Totals: 493 Miles, 442 Locks, 14 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridge, 9 Swing Bridges

We finished our time on the Montgomery by returning via a revisit to the Queen’s Head and mooring overnight there and in the now disused western arm.

This really is such a beautiful canal and when further sections are opened it will become more of a mecca. We shall return for another visit – just on these 7 miles alone – peaceful, pleasant and perfect.

We had a need to return back to the Llangollen which involved our intention to visit the Crick boat show.

This involved mooring outside the arm to Ellesmere, catching a bus to Shrewsbury and then picking up the hire car from Enterprise.

We were able to offload a case at the Tourist Information point in the bus station for a pound – they looked after it and we were a fair bit lighter.

Armed with a map we did what we usually do – take the walking map tour of the new town where we have found ourselves.

This tour was of the “shuts” of Shrewsbury – shut being a local word for the pedestrian alleyways that were around that ran between streets – it reminded us somewhat of Lyon (France) where they have covered alleyways that provided access to the behind the streets apartment blocks.

Whilst those of Shrewsbury were not in the same league it was fascinating to see some of the areas that could quite easily have been missed.

We are not sure of the standing of a town like Shrewsbury in the mind of most people in England, but if anyone is in the area, please do visit it is so lovely.

The good people at Enterprise duly picked us up at nominated time and place and within a very short time we were on our way – to Rugby.

All went well until we were about a mile from the Junction 1 on the M6 when we came to a sudden halt (no movement of the traffic) – we had been warned just seconds before on the overhead advisement sign that there was congestion on J1.

Slowly we crept forward; all traffic on the other side of the road had been stopped – we knew there was an accident of some type – emergency vehicles using the hard shoulder whizzing past.

Eventually we saw why – an accident involving a small car and a van – helicopter on the road – we had no idea of knowing the seriousness of the injuries, but the ‘copter suggested it was – we hope that those involved are all OK.

Onto Rugby and the Travelodge near the station – seemed well and fine, but – 2 adults sharing a room – one towel, we were lucky as it turned out – same thing for the 2nd day – but they couldn’t get us another towel – they had run out – a breakfast voucher – all OK – but you need to present it to get your cereal bowl and plate (a bit demeaning in this day and age) – 2nd morning they ran out of orange juice, milk for the coffee machine and butter satchets as well.

Overall we were two of the lucky ones – apparently they had overbooked and 4 unlucky people were destined not to be able to even get to their rooms as they didn’t have one.

I don’t think the small saving that we made compared to the Premier Inn where we have stayed before will entice us back here again.

Crick show was very good even if there was a bit of late morning drizzle – all fined up and was quite enjoyable in the afternoon – we saw all of the things that we needed to see – marinas (for winter moorings), window people about double-glazed windows, paint people about wood finishes, bedding people about mattresses and spoke to Wilsons about covers – yes they are still in business, no there is no problems with the company – they have simply merged three companies into two (or was it one).

All our questions have been answered.

We were off early the next morning to Hopton-on-Sea in Norfolk to Maggie and Paddy – had a really good day with them even though Paddy was getting over some food poisoning; stayed the night with them and then off about 10am.

On the way back we visited Overwater Marina (near Audlem), as we had spoken to them at the show so thought we should see it I person – we were very impressed with the overall layout; proximity to Audlem and the village itself; what was available on site – this is now top of our list for this winter.

Back to the boat – all OK – moved her into the arm on the following morning and returned the car back to Shrewsbury, via a short visit to Whitchurch.

We moved off the following morning going past Whixall Moss (where we moored again); ventured down the Prees arm (on foot); Grindley Brook (moored).

We had decided to move early from Grindley Brook to avoid the rush and congestion that we saw the previous day at the staircase – so away by 7am in foggy conditions – down and through all 6 locks by 8am.

I was walking between the Willey Moor lock and Quoisely Lock when the guy from the boat in front was walking back – “better slow down and moor up – we have contacted the police – there is a body in the water”

Not a pleasant sight – drifting with the current of the water from Llangollen – a man in his late 50’/early 60’s.

The police arrived after a little delay – they used the boat in front to help retrieve the body and get him onto the back.

Further waiting for them to find a tarpaulin to cover the body; the paramedics to confirm death and then SOCO to photograph and finally for undertakers to arrive.

After a wait of about 3 hours they said that we could carry on – they were still waiting for the undertakers – they had been aware of the need of some boaters to get boats back and the need for others to be underway, but they needed to be respectful of the person who had died and we could not disagree.

They had procedures to follow and had kept us as informed as much as they could – they had given an estimate of about how long it would take and give or take 5 minutes it was correct.

His sister had been at the scene to identify the body.

It transpired that the man concerned had had a traffic accident just over the next bridge – the car was still there – and in all probability had staggered dazed down the towpath in search of help and into the canal.

A sad and tragic way for a life to end.

We each have a limited number of days and we need to make the most of each and enjoy life to the full as we just do not know when it will be taken away from us.