Friday, 22 December 2017

Grand Union Canal. Kingswood Junction to Stockton

The first time we moored at Kingswood Junction we made use of the nice tarmac car park to change the front brakes on the Punto. This time we topped up all the fluids in the Rio, pumped up all the tyres, made some new stings for the parcel-shelf and put a new bulb in the high level brake light.
Along with Jaqui and Alls driveway it’s becoming our regular car mending place.

A short walk from Legend took us to Baddersly Clinton (National Trust).
When we got there we managed to get lost in the grounds and ended up in the kid’s play area, but a very nice, if slightly bemused ranger helpfully pointed us in the right direction.
We were very impressed with the house and the guided tour of the gardens, especially the bit where our volunteer guide pointed out a hollow log that, for a couple of hundred years, had been part of a water pipe between the moat and a fish pond before being accidentally dug up during renovation work. We were less impressed with the cafeteria style tea room which, while giving itself the grand title of ‘Restaurant’ failed miserably in making us feel welcome, and once our cash had been handed over made sure that as soon as our overpriced tea had been drunk, we immediately vacated the wonky table and uncomfortable chairs by the draughty fire escape that we’d managed to find and squeeze ourselves into, in order to make room for more affluent clientèle. Back at the boat twenty minutes later, Ann-Marie made us both feel immeasurably better by conjuring up some apple, date and walnut scones which we had with much nicer tea in our own mugs.

We had a lovely day boating along the GU to Hatton.


We’ve moored near the cottages at Hatton Station once before, but either Legend had less stuff on board, or the canal was deeper then, (we suspect a little of both) because this time we couldn’t get into the bank and ended up a couple of hundred yards further on. It was further to walk to the station  car park, but the view was nicer and there was more solar. (crucial at this time of year!)
After a car move and shopping trip we came home in the dark, which was when we found that the saloon and bathroom lights weren’t working. With very little effort, Dave decided that fault-finding could safely be postponed for a bit, so we had dinner by candle light.

In the end, the lights didn’t get sorted out till after the weekend because we went to Guildford to see The Sound of The Sirens at the Boileroom.
They we brilliant as usual and, as an added bonus, both John and Linda were there so it was lovely to catch up with them too. Karen came with us and we stayed over on her bed settee.

As we were down that way we took Dad out for a Birthday Brunch at the airport café at Blackbush. Dad’s been wanting to try their Polish Breakfast ever since he found out that such a thing exists so, while he waited expectantly for what he was sure would be a rather exotic omelet with spicy sausage, bacon and mushrooms, the rest of us played it safe with either a Full English or, in Ann-Mries case, Eggs Benedict. What turned up in front of Dad was scrambled egg. He put on a brave face, but we could all tell he was disappointed. On the way home we promised ourselves that next time we go down there, we’ll re-address the situation by taking all the ingredients for what we think a Full Polish ought to include. By the way, the Full English was spot on, and Ann-Marie's eggs benedict was to die for.

The light problem, after Dave had poked his multimeter into various fittings and cables, turned out to be a dry solder joint on one of the switches on the distribution panel resulting in the wire vibrating off the switch. Our distribution panel was original equipment on the ark. It has chrome toggle switches and fuse holders made out of Bakelite which hold glass fuses and have screw tops with “Fuse” written on them.
Any competent electrician would no doubt implore us to exchange it for a modern unit with LEDs and circuit breakers but we love it. And unless a Boat Safety Examiner condemns it, it’s staying in the engine room. That decision puts Dave between a rock and a hard place. Access to the back of the panel is awkward without turfing everything out of the engine room, and anyway if pictures of anything he’s previously tried soldering were to be made public, the word “viral” would need to be redefined. So, we need to replace the switch with one that looks the same but has spade terminals and can be integrated into the circuitry with relative ease and the simple use of a crimping tool.
God bless the internet #1
We ordered 4 so that when it happens again we’ll be prepared. While we’re waiting for them to turn up at Karen’s, Dave has by-passed the original switch so we have lights. It still goes through the fuse so it’s perfectly safe, it just means that unless we take the fuse out, we can’t isolate the saloon and bathroom lights. Like we ever want to do that.

Bob and Mandy had promised to come over and give us hand down the 21 Hatton Locks, so we were up bright and early and had the boat on the water point at the top lock by half past ten. There was a boat already a couple of locks down, so when Bob & Mandy walked up, they told them we were coming behind and asked if they’d mind waiting. They said they’d be happy to wait, so Legend had three extra crew which made a really easy time of it.


The elderly couple on Nb Maybe said that they’d normally have had to stop half way for a rest, but with our 3 sterling lock wheelers pushing gates and winding paddle gear, there was no need for them to exert themselves and we had both boats at the bottom in less than 3 hours. Not a record, obviously, but a nice steady descent with lots of chatting and the odd cup of coffee to help us along.

It had become apparent that the Rio had an intermittent starting problem and it was getting annoying. Sometimes it was taking up to six goes before it would fire up and we were rapidly loosing faith in our new car. Dave discovered that there was a Kia owners forum, and through some very helpful people on there also discovered that the immobiliser antenna, which is secreted in the ring that goes round the ignition key slot, is prone to failure and was almost certainly the cause of our problem. Dave walked round to the Kia dealership in Warwick and ordered the part for £20. Two days later it arrived and with help and encouragement from Mr “Gumpyrio” he had it fitted that afternoon.
Faith is now restored and we look forward to many miles of happy motoring.
God bless the internet#2

Unbelievably, Caleb’s first birthday arrived. It seemed completely impossible that the wee man had been around for a year already. We had a chat with him on facetime - well, we had a chat with Chloe while Caleb stuffed half a banana in his mouth then sneezed all over Chloe’s phone.
It was wonderful to see him and it looked like he was having a ball with all his Irish family.
God bless the internet#3

One of our favourite moorings on this bit of the GU is at Welsh Road, so we were looking forward to going back there for a few days. We had a lovely time boating up from Cape; though Warwick and Leamington Spa, and round the big sweeping bend to Radford locks where there was a picture postcard Autumn scene with a tractor ploughing its way across the field.
We stopped just before Fosse Locks for a spot of firewood gathering...
then moored up above Welsh Road lock just in time for the sunset.

There was some severe winds forecast on our third night at Welsh Road, so Dave put a spring line on the stern and we prepared for a rocky night. The following day promised to be calm and sunny so we planned to carry on up the locks to Bascote bridge. That night it was windy, but we didn’t rock about very much. In the morning it became clear why we didn’t. Ann-Marie woke up with her nose on the wall and when Dave got out of bed he nearly fell over. Legend had become far from Listless.

A bit of detective work revealed that the Welsh Road back-pump - installed to counter leakage by constantly sucking water from below the lock and returning it to the pound above - had stopped overnight, resulting in the water level of our pound dropping by about 18 inches. That had left us and Nb Moor and Peace who were in front of us, sitting at a jaunty angle on the bottom of the canal with our sterns out of the water. Clearly we were not going anywhere anytime soon. A few phone calls resulted in CRT’s maintenance crew firstly clearing dead leaves out of the pump and re-starting it...

...and secondly letting a flood of water out of Napton Reservoir and down Bascote locks. The pump stopped again as soon as they left, but when all the fresh water turned up we suddenly found ourselves floating. With the pump out of action we knew we only had a short window of opportunity before all the new water went the same way as the old water, so we did the quickest of quick cast offs and followed Moor and Peace up to Bascote locks.
With Legend tucked up safely at Bascote Bridge...
...we wizzed off to Devon to see Jacqi and Al. Driving away from Warwickshire it was lovely and sunny, but as we got closer to the West Country it got greyer, wetter and colder. By the time we arrived at Holdsworthy we’d been rained on for half the journey and been through a hailstorm on Exmoor. There’s a reason it’s all green in Devon.
Despite the next day being wet and windy again, we wrapped ourselves up and went to Boscastle.





Understandably, sight seeing didn’t take long and we were warming ourselves up in the NT café in no time. “National Trust?” I hear you ask. “Haven’t you fallen out with them?” Well, Dear Reader, we thought we ought to give them another chance. And it was the only place open, and it was warm. The information centre itself was very interesting. Lots of local history and archive material along with a whole roomfull of stuff about the flood in 2004 (Yes, 2004!) including videos and interviews with members of the emergency services as well as local residents. Very well presented and very well worth the visit. The tea room however, wasn’t. £3 for a small cheese scone welded to a paper plate is not going to have us rushing back.

We took the coast road back to J&A’s, stopping off for a windswept - and rather abrupt - stroll along the beach.


The next afternoon saw us back up the M5 and back on board with the fire lit by tea time.
The following morning dawned crisp and clear. Bob and Mandy once more came to our aid as we made our way up the Stockton flight.

At the top Ann-Marie provided scones for the crew, who came on board for the short trip round the corner to our mooring at Birdingbury. As soon as we’d tied up Bob drove us all up to the nearby Draycote Reservoir where we walked round the perimeter (lots of binocular action from Bob and Ann-Marie)


and then had lunch in the very good café.

We’d picked Birdingbury as a mooring spot because there was very easy car access and it ticked all our security boxes. This was important because we were going off away for Dave’s 60th birthday celebrations and we were going to be leaving Legend (again) for 10 days. With the water pipes drained and the batteries isolated, we set off in the car to Karen’s where Dave was introduced to his birthday cards and presents. In the evening we all went out for a very nice family meal, followed by a swift swerve into a tiny Tesco on the way home for a Vianetta and some cheese and biscuits. Well, it saves the restaurant having to do all that extra washing up doesn’t it?
We'll tell you all about the rest of his very exciting birthday next time.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all.




The Stourton and  Stourbridge flights were mostly in our favour, despite one set of gates refusing to open and another refusing to stay shut, then we were round the wiggly bit and up the beautiful Delph flight. We moored pretty much where we’d been before overlooking the shopping centre. In the morning the forecast rain hadn’t arrived so we cast off straight away. After the previous day’s exertions, working Legend through the one lock at Blower’s Green onto the Dudley No2 was breeze.
After that it was a simple cruise to Windmill End, a right turn to follow the canal to Gosty Hill tunnel and then on to its current terminus at Hawne Basin. We pulled onto the service wharf in the increasing drizzle, got diesel, a gas bottle and two bags of coal on board then did a very professional looking reverse onto one of the pontoons just before it really started to rain.
The following morning we were off again at the crack of dawn, back through Gosty and Windmill End then into the grand Netherton Tunnel while all the local kids were still asleep. There seems to have been a spate of trophy hunting going on in Netherton since we last went through; all the reflective distance markers have disappeared, no doubt they now adorn some teenager’s bedroom wall.

At the end of the Netherton Tunnel Branch we turned right onto Thomas Telford's big straight Main Line and were moored up just round the corner from Gas Street by lunch time, giving us plenty of time to visit the markets in the afternoon. Without trying very hard, we appear to have got into a habit of coming back from Birmingham’s exciting-but-slightly-scary bazaar-like street market weighed down with cheese and fruit. Today was no exception, however stopping off at the library on the way home with two very ripe Camemberts in our shopping bag was probably not the best idea we’ve ever had.

Over the next two days we stayed put and let Storm Brian do its worst.

While the boat was being rocked about, Dave spent the time doing a few little jobs on the boat. In order to save a bit of our precious electricity, we now have a 80mm hole in the floor behind the fridge, into which is fitted a 12 volt computer fan wired into the fridge controller. When the fridge motor is running, the fan sucks cooler air from the bilge and blows it over the back and sides of the fridge so that it cools down quicker and the motor runs for a shorter time. The motor takes about 2 amps and the fan about 0.2 amps so if it reduces running time by more than 1/10th then it’s a win.
Of course we didn’t time the fridge before we installed the fan, and we haven’t got the patience to time it afterwards, but we have a plan. At some stage we’re going to get an engine hours meter so that we can tell more accurately when to do an oil change. Before we fit it to the engine we’re going to wire it up to the fridge for a couple of weeks; one week with the fan on and one with it off. That should tell us if we’ve done the right thing and we’ll let you know the result.

He also fitted a plug on our mag-mount tunnel light and a corresponding socket just inside the engine room, making lighting up the bit of tunnel between the headlight and the tiller a much simpler operation.

After Brian had blown itself out we were off again, down Farmers Bridge locks under the skyscrapers...
...with a right turn at the bottom onto the Digbeth Branch; new water for us, but not a canal we would recommend. Halfway down the Digbeth branch are the Ashted locks. Half way down the Ashted locks is the Ashted tunnel. The locks are lovely,...
...but the Ashted tunnel is a nasty thing.
There is a towpath through it with a safety rail which severely restricts the headroom on the off side. We’d heard it was low, so we’d emptied the big box and folded it flat, and moved all the plants into the well deck. However, it’s not the height that gets you, it’s the curvature of the roof, especially as said roof bulges in places. No doubt, when the tunnel was built the roof wouldn’t have had bulges, and the towpath wouldn’t have had railings, making navigation a whole lot easier. Dave knew he’d been close;  the solar box was a hair’s breadth away from scraping the bricks, but he thought he’d got away with it. However in the next lock we discovered this.
We’ve since heard that the best way to get through is to bow haul the boat, sliding it along the towpath coping stones. It also helps if you empty the pound a bit, or at least make sure the by-wash for the lock below isn’t bunged up with debris. We're a bit gutted, because after nearly seven years of doing this we should have worked that out for ourselves. And we should have undone the front corners of the cratch cover. 

We’d planned to stop at Camp Hill, but there wasn’t any room and the weather was still ok, so we filled up with water, emptied the loo, put the roof box back together and carried on. Camp Hill is a useful, secure off-side mooring, but it’s not a particularly pretty place to be, so we weren’t that disappointed.
Through the afternoon we gradually shook off the graffiti covered urban sprawl of the West Midlands and sank back into the countryside...

...mooring up at Kixley Wharf near Knowle just as dusk arrived.

If you’ve been paying attention, Dear Reader, you might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned moving the car of late. That’s because we’d left it at Stourport and come all the way through Birmingham without it. Getting it back was simply a matter of Dave getting the train from Widney Manor, (just outside Knowle) straight to Kidderminster, and then walking down the towpath to Stourport.

Understandably, we stayed at Kixley Wharf for the full 14 days.




While we were there Dave did a few wood wombles, we thinned out a couple of cupboards to the local charity shops and painted some non-slip pads on the roof either side of the rear hatch, making it easier to get on and off the boat when it's in the bottom of a lock.

At the weekend we drove down to Bristol to stay with Anne for a couple of days in her new flat. She took us for lunch in a cafe in a cemetery, which sounds strange, but was really brilliant. If you’re ever in Bristol with a spare afternoon, Arnos Vale Cemetery is well worth a visit. After lunch we went for a walk around the “Southern Skyline”; a route that takes you around the edge of Bristol with some fantastic views over the city




The next Friday we were booked to go to the WRG Bonfire Bash on the Uttoxeter canal, so it was a bit of an inconvenience when the Astra had a catastrophic MOT fail on Thursday afternoon. By Thursday tea-time we’d got a short-list of local cars that fitted our criteria and appointments to see two of them on Friday morning. The first one was a Kia Rio, and the second one was a Citroen C3. We never got to see the C3 because the Rio ticked all our boxes so we bought it there and then. By lunch time we’d taxed and insured it on line and taken the Astra to a scrap yard.
By tea time on Friday we were in a pub in Upper Tean drinking Doombar with a bunch of other WRGies, and by seven o’clock we were in the accommodation eating fish and chips. Quite an exciting day.

Over the next two days we helped transform about a quarter of a mile of jungle into recognisable canal bed and towpath. We had at least five bonfires along the line of the canal, with about half a dozen WRGies feeding each one. Ash, holly, ivy, alder, ferns, brambles and masses of rhododendrons were pulled, slashed, sawn or hacked and unceremoniously heaped on the fires all day long, apart from when we were all under the gazebo eating cake.
 Saturday morning. Jungle.
 The first fires getting going
 Ann-Marie tackles another Rhododendron.
 Dave starts fire number five.
 An hour later.
 Sunday morning and they're still alight.
 Ann-Marie and Malcom wishing they'd brought marsh mallows
Just add water.

After two nights on an airbed in a hall full of snoring WRGies it was lovely to be back in our cozy quiet boat, but despite our aches and pains we had to move the next morning. 

We stopped just before Knowle services to pick up some firewood that Dave had stashed before the weekend, but someone had already taken half of it. The cheek of it! Never mind, there’s always plenty more.
We were over half way down Knowle locks before we realised that working them from the off side required about half the walking back and forth that Ann-Marie had been doing.That’s something we’ll have to remember next time.


We stopped at Kingswood Junction at the end of our new bit of water. Our previous visits to Birmingham have always been via the Stratford canal, but we quite like the GU way and now we know how to get through Ashted without wrecking our boat we’ll certainly use that way again.         

Grand Union Canal. Kingswood Junction to Stockton

The first time we moored at Kingswood Junction we made use of the nice tarmac car park to change the front brakes on the Punto. This time w...