Back to the mooring


Kathy got up early and went off bird hunting but there was neither sight nor sound of it and she came back with just a few general scenic shots.

The day had started off sunny but it clouded over and the wind which had been coolish all weekend went noticeably colder. If the weather was good and we didn’t get held up much at Tyrley locks we thought we might head past the moorings and turn at the winding hole at the head of Adderley locks – which of course doomed us on both the weather front and the queues at Tyrley locks.

Tyrley locks had a pretty steady flow of boats in both directions but not evenly balanced which meant that we ended up doing as much lock work, if not more, than we would have done if there had been no other boats around. However there weren’t any clueless fools on the flight which made for a nice change.

We got back to the moorings for a latish lunch and we actually left the boat at about 3:30 and we got home before 5, which might be worth remembering for other bank holiday weekends


To the cutting


The mile of canal from the 48 hour moorings near Hunting Bridge No 7 to the winding hole by Upper Hattons Bridge No 5 has an embankment, a cutting, a couple of bridges, a rather smelly farm, some open fields and a Motorway -its a microcosm of the entire canal.

The winding hole at Upper Hattons is a rather large elongated affair, and considering its the first winding hole north of Wolverhampton Boat Club it is rather silted up and turning round in it produces rather a lot of black silt and unpleasant smells.

Like the previous day there seemed to be a burst of activity first thing in the morning and then things went quiet. There was a small queue for the lock at Wheaton Aston, but nothing like it had been on Easter Sunday when we had to wait for over an hour to get through. As we needed to water and get rid of some rubbish we pulled in below the lock at the sanitary station and had lunch at the same time.

Kathy had an idea that she might stand a better chance of getting a good photo or three of the bird of prey in Grub Street cutting if we moored over night and she could go and wander round. So we moored up for the night just north of High Bridge – a good mooring in that it was nice and deep up to the edge but it was a pain putting the metal hooks round the piling rail as the rather soft bank had covered over the top of the piling, but some enthusiastic work with a mooring pin soon cleared space. There is another problem with this mooring and that’s the midges – rather nasty ones which cause very large swellings.

Three Mile Post

There is one advantage of heading south on the Shropshire Union and that is that after Tyrley there is only the single lock at Wheaton Aston which means that the day can be spent relaxing, reading, listening to music or just watching the world go by.

There is one disadvantage however : the what feels like endless lines of moored boats on the offside. Still I suppose it does give you even more time to watch the world go by.

During the mad rush on Friday we’d forgotten to take some stuff out of the fridge and we found we had no butter – still thats not a problem we thought, there is a handy little store at Norbury junction so we can just pick some stuff up there when we pull in for a pumpout.

Just before we cast off from the moorings there was a small flurry of traffic and I did wonder if we were going to spend the entire day stuck in a traffic jam – anyone who has boated round Braunston over a bank holiday weekend will know just what I’m talking about. However things went quiet and we found ourselves making our solitary way southwards.

It was a perfect day for canal boating – the sun was shining but there was a slight breeze which stopped things getting too hot.

The Daimler was back by the boats near Grub Street Winding Hole – it seems such an odd juxtapositioning – rather smart classic car and really scruffy boats.

The moorings on the approach to Norbury Junction seemed to be pretty full, which surprised me as the forecast for the weekend was good and its really the last long weekend in the “season” so you’d expect more people to be out and about.

We called in at the boatyard at Norbury Junction for a pump out and a new front fender (which was pretty rotten). The store had everything but butter so we decided to wait until Wheaton Aston and pop to the store there.

Passing through Gnosall we noticed Tyseley moored up on the offside by Coton Mill and signs advertising that Mikron were playing there tonight. I have to say I was surprised to see them there as I’d expected them to be at the IWA National Gathering over at St Ives, but I guess they decided not to go – which in a way is understandable as the way there does involve a lot of rather desolate waterways and if your business is theatre there probably isn’t much financial sense in it.

The shop at Wheaton Aston (a couple of hundred yards up from the garage) had butter and quite a range of supplies so its something worth remembering.

Our “target” for the night was the stretch of 48 hour moorings by the three mile mile post near Hunting Bridge No 7 – primarily because we know we can get Mintball into the side properly on these mooring as they don’t have the rather annoying concrete ledge about a foot under water. I was expecting them to be quite full as the visitor moorings at Brewood were packed, but when we got there we found plenty of space.

What is it about Tyrley Locks?

Well the planned weekend didn’t get off to a good start. Kathy took one of our cats to the vet because she’s been loosing weight (more than she should have been doing). She came out from the vets and the car wouldn’t start. Called the break down people who said it would be an hour before they got there : it was actually more as their driver didn’t seem to be able to find the Park and Ride Car Park at Cheltenham Race Course, and when he did he drove right past Kathy who was standing there by the car with the bonnet up – the car had its bonnet up, not Kathy! Whilst she was wasting here time the vets came out and said the blood test showed that Smokey had Kidney Disease. When we were telling mum about this later she expressed amazement that a vets can do its own blood tests on site and get the results in less than 2 hours when it takes the NHS weeks to do a blood test.

So with all the delays Kathy didn’t get stuff done in the morning that she should have done so packing and loading the car went a bit wonky and some stuff got left behind – but we did have the major items (clothes, food, booze etc.) so that was OK.

The roads were lousy – it took over 1 hour from just south of Kidderminster to Bridgenorth so we got to the boat a bit later than planned, however we soon loaded up and headed off.

I’m almost starting to dread Tyrley locks as they just seem to make boaters do silly things – and this time it started before we even got into the bottom lock. The lock was empty as a boat had left it only a couple of minutes earlier but that didn’t stop someone coming down from the lock above and start filling it without even checking to see if there was a boat coming – I was about 20 feet from the gates and Kathy and Mum and Dad were just about at the bottom gates! The man did drop the paddles and let us through and apologised saying that he just hadn’t seen us.

Now anyone who has done Tyrley will know that the by-wash channels are vicious and cause some nasty side currents so if you are going up stream you need to take the locks at a bit of a dash to get the nose in cleanly. Of course going in like this means you need more reverse and tend to end further up the lock than planned. We’ve found Mintball likes sitting about a foot clear of the bottom gates which avoids any nasty backwards or forwards pulls and surges. So after a completly event free second lock we entered the middle lock of the flight. There was a man on the bank – it turns out he was on Ivy (from Longport) and was coming down. Before we had the gates even half closed and I was actually moving forward he slammed up the top paddles. Voices were raised – it was pointed out that we weren’t actually ready. He said that we “nearly were” and “If you are going to be like that then you can do all the paddles yourself”. He then went off in a sulk – its nice to know that private boaters can be worse than hireboaters.

I’ve previously said things on here about Challenger Stealth Hire boats – well we met one that wasn’t. Ivy had closed the gates on the lock when they were coming down and the people behind them (on a Challenger boat) saw us and actually opened up the gates. We got chatting – it seemed that Ivy had forced them, and another boat going in the oppposite direction, to take evasive action when he pulled out of a mooring (off line marina or arm?) right between them. Hopefully the crew on that Challenger boat will become the norm rather than the exception.

After the madness of Tyrley I was dreading going through Woodseves cutting. In fact we had it to ourselves so we chugged through the green tunnel of trees and ferns and lillies before mooring up for the night on the 48 hour moorings near The Wharf at Goldstone.

Halcyon days

The next morning Kathy (who doesn’t often lie in at the weekends, compared to me who will lie in at the drop of a hat) got up early and took some photos, hoping to catch some atmospheric shots before the canal filled up with boats.

She took several photos which are on her Flickr site but the best one has to be of a heron sitting in Cowley Tunnel:

Heron in Cowley Tunnel

Although we didn’t have a long way to go to get back to the moorings we didn’t really need an early start but Tyrley locks can easil turn into a bottle neck and we did want to get home at a reasonable time.

We were the only boat on the move again – there seemed to be no sign of life on most of the moored boats, curtains were drawn, doors closed, padlocks in place. Hard to believe it was the middle of the summer holidays.

By the time we got to Norbury there were a few more signs of life: dogs on the towpath (blissfully unaware of the squirrel that was scampering along the fence above its head), a few people walking round and a couple of boats on the move. The Cafe at Norbury was open and we nearly pulled in for breakfast but decided to push on.

Kathy really wanted to see if she could get some better pictures of the bird in the cutting so she was on the back deck, camera primed.

I noticed the Kingfisher first – it darted down the canal in front of us which is normal behaviour. Then it went and stood on the bank. As we got closer it seemed to hop round a bit and seemed to be distracted.

Kathy zoomed right in on it using her zoom lens and got the following:

Kingfisher with a fish

The Kingfisher had a fish and seemed to be intent on eating it rather than flying away.

As we went through the cutting we kept a close lookout for the Kestrel. There was no sign of it and the whole cutting was still (even the cat wasn’t lying on the roof of the moored boat).

Just as we approached the end of the cutting the Kestrel zoomed in from overhead and vanished into the trees, and then a minute or so later crossed the canal and vanished again. It was obviously doing it just to spite us 😉

We kept meeting boats coming the other way, but they seemed to come in pulses, small batches of 3-4 boats, which is odd given that the locks would tend to remove grouping and thin the boats out into a regular spaced out stream.

Of course it was a given that we’d meet one of these bursts of boats going through Woodseaves cutting. It was fun but at least it shows that the channel is actually 14 feet wide!

Tyrley locks turned out to be the bottle neck that it can so often be. There were 3 boats in front of us and a few coming up. It didn’t help that some of the boats going down had never seen a lock before in their lives and didn’t have even the basic idea on how to use a lock.

So with novices heading down the locks the last thing you need is arrogant “I’ve been boating for ever” types coming up and stealing locks off people. Chaos – at one point there were 4 boats in the pound between the top and second lock. We got one coming up as we were going down – turns up, opens the paddle on the near side (without checking that we were ready) which meant Kathy had to walk over to the far side of the lock (I usually do that side on the way down to avoid her having to walk over) and then of course she was on the wrong side of the lock so had to walk all the way back round again when she was heading down to the second lock.

Waiting between the 3rd and 4th locks wasn’t exactly fun due to at least two wasps nests in the bank and I don’t think they were too happy to have boats right outside their front doors. Maybe BW could put some notices up saying “Please do not moor outside the Wasps Nests”, they seem all too keen to put similar notices up for people who choose to live in properties that overlook the canal.

The public moorings at Market Drayton weren’t too busy and we were able to turn and back into our moorings with no real difficulty

Geneshale, knows Al !

Despite being moored opposite the long term moorings (a couple of boats had had their engines running into the mid/late evening) it was a very quiet night.

We decided to make an earlish start just in case there was a long queue at the lock, so having pulled up our mooring pins we chugged past the visitor moorings which were probably about 60% full – so we could have moored there but our alternative moorings were as good.

There was no queue at the lock and we were able to cruise straight in. As we were closing the gates a small fibre glass bucket hurtled up the canal at quite some speed, I’m not sure where they thought they were going, but it wasn’t in the lock with us.

It was quite pleasant to work through the lock without having other boaters waiting and actually doing it in the dry with the sun shining.

I’ve always found the shallow cutting through Lapley Wood very picturesque – I think its probably my “favourite” cutting on the canal. The light filters through the trees in a different way to the other cuttings and it adds a lot of depth and character to the banks which makes it an interesting place to steer through.

Again there seemed to be little other traffic moving and so we made our solitary way over the A5 (which also seemed remarkably quiet) and along the embankment towards Brewood.

Brewood is one of those places where the long linear moorings announce the village quite a time before you get there. It was as we chugged slowly past these boats that the fibre glass bucket appeared behind us and proceded to turn round to moor.

As we came through the cutting a hireboat decided that the best time to cast off is right in front of another boat… not a good idea at the best of times but when your stern is stuck on the bottom its certainly foolish.

As we wanted an easy weekend we decided to turn round in the winding hole by bridge 3. The winding hole would seem to be huge and it looks like you could do a U-turn in it… Ha ha ha!. Don’t try it. The canal by the towpath is silted up so your back end snags as you start to turn and the rest of the winding hole is rather shallow which leads to rather a lot of rather smelly mud being stirred up.

We decided that we would head back to Wheaton Aston for lunch and as it was only mid morning this seemed perfectly sensible. Just after we had winded a boat came through bridge 3 and as we approached Brewood it slowly gained on it.

We slowed down for the moorings and held back for a Viking Afloat boat which cast off ahead of us but was heading into Countrywide Cruisers. As we passed the Viking Alfoat boat I was asked if I was Nick or Steve !

The boat behind us was now almost on top of us so I waited until a gap in the moored boats and pulled over and waved them past. The person on the boat claimed that they weren’t pressuring me but that they couldn’t go any slower due to their tickover. Frankly if that was the slowest speed I’d hate to be the boat at the front of any gap he tried to pull into! If people insist on putting high revving modern engines in their boats then they need to look very carefully at the gearbox ratio and the prop size/pitch.

We made our way back to Wheaton Aston and only had to wait a couple of minutes for the lock. We stopped right at the top end of the visitor moorings for lunch.

After lunch we decided to feed the boat so it was off to the Garage for 111 litres of fuel. The tanks are now brim full and it should keep us going for a bit!

After the fun of the fast boat we then got stuck behind a slow boat. I had to keep dropping into neutral to stop us running into them. Their engine seemed to be running quite fast and was smoking but there seemed to be almost no power. The boat kept wobbling all over the canal and they seemed quite unaware of us being there – despite looking at us several times. I eventually got past them at High Onn wharft and winding hole where they pulled in to pick up some people. We kept an eye on them after we had gone past. By the time we reached the next bridge (about a third of a mile) they still hadn’t managed to turn round.

We stopped for the night in the cutting by Cowley Tunnel. There were a couple of other boats there but apart from the people messing round on their bikes in the woods we could have been miles away from civilisation.

Supper was some 21 day aged steak washed down with a couple bottles of Lindauer Brut.

The Great Fire of Wheaton Aston

We arrived at the moorings on Thursday night at about 9:15 having left Cheltenham just after 7pm – we’d been held up by a couple of slow vehicles after we had come off the motorway.

As it was too late to move we stayed on the moorings and sat on the front deck of the boat drinking coffee as darkness fell. It was very pleasant, apart from the hire boat on the short stay moorings who were rather noisy and one of them (a woman I think) decided that using the hedge at the bottom of the garden as a toilet and then throwing their toilet paper in the canal was an acceptable thing to do.

Still we gave them a bit of a fright in the morning when we cast off and moved out of our moorings and missed them by about 1 foot as we swung the front round and headed off towards Wheaton Aston.

As it was our anniversary weekend we didn’t have any real destination and we were going to play it all by ear.

Tyrley locks were pretty quiet until we got towards the top end when we met a Challenger “Stealth Hire” boat coming down. Now I don’t know what it is about Challenger boats but I guess you have to have a lobotomy before they will let you on one. They filled the top lock without checking we were coming up and then when they came out of the lock they spent about 2 minutes getting all their crew back on (I assume it took them a similar length of time to get them all off at the second lock). I think its time for a new canal “law” – if the boat is painted black is apparently being crewed by idiots its a “Stealth Hire” boat.

As it had been quite a while since we had last watered we decided to pull in at the top of the locks and fill up the tanks. The moorings are restricted to 30 minutes – I suggest that if this is the limit then BW do something about the water pressure (or rather lack of it) at the water point.

Still it was very relaxing sitting there watching the world go by and a cat on a boat on the short stay moorings was only too happy to come and say hello in return for lots of tickles.

After we had filled up with water we cast off and made our way sedately through Woodseaves Cutting which was, as ever, extremely damp.

We went the full length of the cutting without meeting another boat and we were at Goldstone Wharf before we saw any other signs of life – with a small flotilla of boats heading past us towards the lock.

There has been a lot of debate recently about linear moorings. Ignoring the “passing speed” arguments and the effect it has on your daily progress I have to say that I find passing what feels like endless lines of moored boats extremely boring – especially if its on a stretch of canal that you do quite often. You can of course pass the time by playing “spot the licence dodger” – but again if its a stretch you regularly do its rather like playing pub sign cricket on an often travelled road.

We stopped just short of “The Anchor” at High Offley for lunch.

Almost immediately after the Anchor you enter Grub Street Cutting. It is nowhere near as narrow, damp or gloomy as Woodseaves and is actually quite interesting to steer through.

There is a small cluster of boats just after you enter the cutting and although there never seems to be any sign of life on the boats there is usually a white Daimler two door coupe parked in a makeshift car port. It wasn’t there when we passed through and Kathy and I were commenting on this when a bird flew over our heads and into the trees. Previously when we’ve been coming through this cutting we have seen a large bird of prey flying round and settling in a tree but we’ve never been able to get a good look at it. However as there were no other boats around we backed up and Kathy took some photos of it. Looking at them later and using a 30+ year old bird book we identified the bird as a Kestrel.

Kestrel

If we’re wrong then please let us know!

Things were as busy as ever at Norbury Junction so we didn’t pull in and mention the weedhatch incident 😉

I know it was Friday and mid afternoon but Gnosall was suprisingly quiet. To be honest, apart from a couple of bursts of boats it had been pretty quiet all day – not that we were complaining, its nice to go boating sometimes and not be in the boating equivalent of the M6 on a Friday evening.

From Gnosall all the way through Cowley Cutting, through High Onn, Little Onn and Rye Hill cutting, and towards Wheaton Aston we saw maybe 3 boats on the move.

As we didn’t know what state the vistor moorings at Wheaton Aston would be like we stopped short of the moorings themselves and moored up just north of Dirty Lane Bridge. We were able to get right into the bank and the moooring pins went in well – so it is worth remembering if you don’t want to risk going to the visitor moorings and finding them full.

After we’d moored up we got a visit from one of the local ducks who decided to go for a walk along the roof. I hope the quacks were quacks of approval!

Duck

I assembled a new Barbeque (all metal construction) which we had bought from Sainsbury for the princely sum of £2.99. I’m not sure how the economics of it work as it seems to be quite well constructed but is cheaper than one of their rather useless tin foil disposable ones.

The title for this blog entry comes from the Official web site for Wheaton Aston which states:

It is said that two of the major events in Wheaton Aston’s history directly affecting the size of the village, have been the great fire in 1777 which destroyed half of the village houses and the installation of better sewerage in the 1960s and 70s which had the opposite effect of allowing more houses to be built.

Which is depressing really – you would have thought that the canal clipping the side of the village would have had some impact – but then again I doubt the original boaters stopped to eat at the pub or top up with fuel