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

There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet..

From Cowley Tunnel No 33 (northern entrance) to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 14 miles, 2¼ flg and 5 locks.

After the rain and wind that had made Sunday one of those days that make you wonder why you go boating Monday had to be better, and in some ways it was, but in many ways it wasn’t. Yes it wasn’t raining (which can only be described as a good thing) but the wind that had made the rain so nasty had doubled in intensity and, somehow, seemed to be several degrees colder.

Now the Shroppie is a beautiful canal and it has some amazing views out over Wales – but those views come at a price : there is no hiding place. Luckily the major embankments at Shebdon Embankment and Shelmore have quite a lot of trees so they are pretty sheltered but even on those there were times at which Mintball was crabbing as she moved along.

At times it reminded me of the time we were taking Mintball down the Leeds and Liverpool towards Maghull in what turned out later to be the tail end of a hurricane and we had to use ropes to pull the boat off the bank to get through the swing bridges

The Title comes from “His Last Bow” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

“I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.”

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared”

And it shall rain for ever and ever….

From Penkridge - Visitor Moorings above Lock to Cowley Tunnel No 33 (northern entrance), a distance of 22 miles, 7½ flg and 8 locks.

Well what can be said about Sunday 27th of May 2007 that doesn’t involve lots of descriptions of rain

We got up early and turned at Penkridge Winding Hole and started to head back towards Gailey Wharf and at the same time it started raining. From then on I guess it was a challenge – who would give up first: me or the rain. Kathy worked us up through the locks and stated, quite correctly, that you’ve really got to love boating to do this sort of thing. We got to Gailey and moored up for about 30 minutes – to have some breakfast but, more importantly, to warm up. The air temperature was low enough that mist was rising off the canal – a situation that continued until well into the afternoon.

For some strange reason not many other people were on the move, and those that were agreed that we were all quite mad.

The original plan for the day was to have lunch on the move and then have a hot cooked meal in the evening but by about 11am we’d decided that this plan was just not going to work, mainly because the rain had now been joined by a rather nasty wind which just leeched body heat out of you. So we stopped at about 2pm on the new moorings on the Shroppie (between Lower Hattons Bridge No 6 and Hunting Bridge No 7 ) which are about 3 miles up from Autherley Junction

After a hot lunch of slow braised pork with potatoes and carrots it was time to wrap up warm again and, fuelled by a never ending stream of freshly brewed coffee from the galley, we pushed on.

Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 was actually totally deserted, with no signs of any life : a stark contrast to when we’d come through on the Easter Weekend when we’d had to queue for nearly 90 minutes to get through.

We eventually gave up when we reached Gnosall and moored in the cutting just past Cowley Tunnel No 33 (North end)

We were the only boat on that block of moorings so it was very quiet – and very, very dark. Seriously dark, to the point that I couldn’t see to get out of bed to go to the loo – a task made even harder in that I had to be careful not to step on Kathy, or Smokey, or step off the edge of the bed 😉

As for who gave up first: us or the rain. Well the title of this post comes from when I woke up in the middle of the night. The radio was on and Classic FM were playing part of Handel’s Messiah. Just as the choir sang “And he shall reign for ever and ever” a lot more rain landed on the roof of the boat….

North by North East

From Hunting Bridge No 7 to Penkridge - Visitor Moorings above Lock, a distance of 13 miles, 2¼ flg and 7 locks.

Saturday was one of those days that makes boating worth the hassle of keeping a boat. The sun was shining, but there was still a cold edge to the air which meant that when the sun went behind a cloud it got a bit chilly.

In the 20 or so minutes before we cast off there was a flurry of traffic and we were worried that the day was going to be spent stuck in a convoy. But it quietened down and we cast off into a pretty quiet canal.

As we headed south we caught up with a couple of boats and by the time we reached Autherley Junction we were in a small queue. The boat in front of us went into the lock, the helmsman got off and went into the boatyard shop and the member of crew on the lockside didn’t do anything until the helmsman came back and then was really slow in winding the paddle up. Kathy got off to check to see if anyone was going to come through the lock and the crewmember on the boat in the lock just on, leaving my wife to drop the paddle and close the gate. Luckily they turned West towards Aldersley Junction rather than East towards Coven Heath .

The canal was, once again, strangely quiet – we met one boat just before Marsh Lane Bridge No 67 (South End of Narrows) and another who pulled in at First Passing Point but apart from them there seemed to be no-one else on the mood.

Just after Slade Heath Railway Bridge we met two sets of canoe catamarans full of kids enjoying themselves. The supervisors saw us coming and made sure the boats were pulled up by the bank safely out of the way. As we went past the kids all stood up, saluted us and said “Aye Aye Captain “ 😉 It was good to see kids enjoying themselves and even better to see that they were being properly supervised (a situation which is sadly often lacking). We guess they were out from the adventure centre near Laches Bridge No 73, and looking at the photos on the CanalPlan entry it looks like its part of their standard routine 😉

After that excitement it was back to quietness and solitude – even Hatherton Junction was quiet with little sign of life on many of the boats; all we can assume is that as the weather forecast for the weekend was not too good that people just hadn’t bothered, but considering it was the start of the half term holidays we would have thought more people would have been on the move.

Even Gailey Wharf was quiet – no boats on the visitor moorings, no boats on the water points, no boats in the lock, Viking Afloat were taking up all the winding hole. Not what you expect on the late May Bank Holiday weekend. Whilst we watered Kathy popped into the shop in the round house and bought a couple of items, including some extremely tasty slices of cake.

We worked our way through the first two locks and stopped in the pound above Boggs Lock No 34 for a light lunch. Whilst were were moored up one boat went past – it was an old working boat (tastefully restored) and was being singlehanded through the flight by a man with one of the thickest Birmingham area accents I’ve ever heard.

When we cast off after lunch we found ourselves in between the singlehander and another boat who really seemed to be in a hurry.

Originally we had thought about pushing past Penkridge, even as far as Tixall Wide (Northeast end) but listening to the weather forecast on the radio we decided that it probably wasn’t worth it. So we stopped for the night at Penkridge – Visitor Moorings above Lock

Due South

From Tom's Moorings to Hunting Bridge No 7, a distance of 23 miles, 7¼ flg and 6 locks.

We had arrived at the mooring on Thursday evening – it took 90 minutes from Cheltenham and we used the motorway (M5 and M54) all the way to the A41, but as it was after 9:30pm by the time we’d finished loading up we decided it wasn’t worth moving for the night so we stayed put.

Friday morning started a bit damp : that sort of misty drizzly rain which soaks everything in seconds, which didn’t bode well for the weekend although we could see that the sun was trying to break through the clouds.

The visitor moorings were all very quiet – not many boats on them and of the ones that were there seemed to be no signs of life, and we chugged quietly on by.

We met a couple of boats on the Tyrley lock flight but apart from that it was quiet.

Woodseaves Cutting was much greener than it had been at Easter and by now the sun was occasionally breaking through the clouds but still there seemed to be no boats moving. When we had come through the cutting at Easter we had met a couple of brave souls who were walking along the towpath. Nobody was doing that this day and by the state of the towpath no-one had done it for a bit.

When we passed The Wharf at Goldstone Bridge No 55 “Missus Mouse” was moored in the odd mooring that I mentioned previously and the field just before the Pub (which had been full of caravans at Easter) was pretty much deserted.

The cafe at Norbury Junction offers a wide range of food and drink and also Wi-Fi access which is good news for any passing boater who needs to check on their emails or update their blogs. In fact with a boatyard offering full boat services (fuel, gas, pumpouts, engine repairs etc.) and a pub that serves Banks’s it’s hard to find anything negative to say about the place… although the large number of moored boats can be a bit of a pain.

The moorings just by Gnosall Railway Bridge seemed a sensible place to stop for lunch and they were pretty full and most of the boats seemed to be on the move rather than just dumped there.

Cowley cutting was pretty overgrow – if the rock had not been so faulted Cowely tunnel would have been quite impressive.

The run up to Wheaton Aston Lock No 2 was easy – hardly any boats on the move and apart from one boat at the lock (who was very slow) there wasn’t a queue.

The slow boat going through the lock was single handed and was also steering rather erratically as we followed it down towards Brewood .

As we had been on the move since just after 7:30am we decided to call it a day when we got to the 48 hour moorings near Hunting Bridge No 7

A trip to “The Wharf”

We needed to do some work on Mintball to get her ready for the BSS certificate, there wasn’t a huge amount of work to do and it seemed silly to drive all the way to Market Drayton just to do a couple of hours work so we decided to do some boating as the same time.

We headed south from the moorings to Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 . The locks were moderately busy with us meeting a boat at just about every single lock, but we didn’t really have to wait at all which was good.

When we got to Tyrley Top Lock No 3 and Tyrley Wharf (which for some reason doesn’t have a CanalPlan ID) we moored up and decided to go and try out the Four Alls which is about 10 minutes walk up the hill from the wharf.

The pub was quite nice, they had an extensive food menu which included light bites as well as full meals, and a decent range of real ales. It was tempting to sit there and have an even longer lunchtime than we planned but we wanted to push on a bit.

So back to the boat and off through Woodseves cutting which stretches from Tyrley Farm Bridge No 59 to Cheswardine Bridge No 56 which as it’s not high summer wasn’t actually totally overgrown so you could see just how friable the sandstone they had to cut through to make the cutting in the first place is. The quality of the stone, and the fact that after two weeks without rain water was still oozing out of the rock, also explains why they are always having problems with slippages. Having been through this cutting in high summer I had to say that I found it much more interesting, and prettier, in mid April rather than late July/August.

Once you are out of the cutting its only a shortish run to Goldstone Bridge No 55 and it’s pub (called the Wharf). There is a winding hole here and an extremely neat private mooring which looks like the remains of some sort of gauging dock.

There are a lot of moorings along this section so progress is not much faster than going through the cutting but there is a lot to see and the people on the moored boats seem to be friendly enough.

It’s a long winding, gentle chug through open countryside to the tiny settlement of Knighton whose inhabitants apparrently don’t have to pay “tax” under a charter granted by King Charles II. From a canal point of view you could pass Knighton by without even noticing it if it wasn’t for the rather large factory behind the old Cadbury Wharf. A few years ago when we came through the factory was making drinking dhocolate and the air was full of the sweet smell of chocolate, this time however it wasn’t apparently making anything and the only thing we could smell was the nearby sewage works! The bank side opposite the wharf has been rebuilt from engineer’s blue brick but don’t even think of mooring there as it’s sitting on rocks!

Knighton Wharf is perched right at one end of the Shebdon embankment, which is quite an impressive structure, especially when the trees aren’t fully out and you can see just how high up you are: the views across the surrounding countryside are pretty impressive too.

Shebdon Wharf is located right next to Shebdon Aqueduct and here is the second pub called “The Wharf” in just a few short miles. The moorings here have just been refurbished with an overhanging top, rubbing strakes and rings and with steps down to the pub it’s a handy place to moor up… which we did.

After doing some work on the boat we popped down the steps and tested the pub – like the FourAlls it has quite a wide ranging food menu with some extremely good value deals. The beer, which was Everard’s Tiger, was extremely quaffable 😉 . The next day we turned at the winding hole at the wharf and returned, without visiting the Four Alls, to the mooring

The Joy of Kidderminster

I really wanted to write something nice about Kidderminster but..

We are moving our canal boat from it’s old moorings at Upton on Severn Marina to its new moorings at Market Drayton so rather than do the entire run over the Easter weekend we decided to do some of the move this weekend to make things easier/more relaxed over Easter.

So we do the run up the River Severn – it was extremely cold and windy and it was good to get off the river at Stourport and back onto the narrow canals which the boat was built for.

Kidderminster makes its presence felt the minute you come through York Street Lock – the top gate is always surrounded by a mess of plastic bottles, cans and other detritus of Human civilisation.

So you head off up the canal, sneaking through the outer reaches of Stourport, the canal bank is pretty well kept, but unfortunately like so many other places, littered with dog shit. Quite why dog owners think its acceptable to let their dog spray its shit all over the place and not clear up I do not know.

Once you are out of Stourport its quite a nice run through open country until you reach Falling Sands Lock which now has security devices on all the paddles as the youth of Kidderminster think its clever to open all the paddles and drain the canal. The lock was full of more plastic bottles, a rucksack, plastic bags and other rubbish.

It’s a short run from Falling Sands, under the Severn Valley Railway Viaduct to Caldwell Lock. Now Caldwell Lock should really be a pretty lock, given its location tucked in under a sandstone cliff, but alas its all spoiled by more bottles, crisp bags, shopping bags, old tyres and other things which you’d really rather not think about.

Now you are approaching Kidderminster itself. Kidderminster used to be a very industrial town and was famous the world over for its carpets. It doesn’t make anything more, apart from rubbish and chavs (if the sample of the population on the towpath is anything to go by). There are some canal side properties that try to make up for the lack of respect the local have but I don’t think its working.

Kidderminster has two canalside supermarkets – a Tesco and a Sainsbury’s. At Tesco the locals seem to finish their shopping by dumping their trolleys in the canal… we hit one and the propeller ripped a lot of blue plastic into the water…. I’ll get onto Sainbury’s in a few lines.

So past some more chavs, more graffiti, the “drive thru” MacDonalds, under the rather grim ring-road bridge, through Kidderminster Lock, with its own collection of rubbish ((It might be a complete co-incidence but one of the worst problems we have ever had with prop fouling was in this lock when we got a small inflatable dingy wrapped round it. It took about 45 minutes of hacking with the breadknife to get the thing off)), and past the Wharf, past the dodgy looking winos with their cans of “super strength” “lager”, past the Sainsbury’s (which didn’t have trolleys filling the moorings last time we stopped) past a long section of newly built, and newly graffitoed, wall and you start to escape from the town. The canal starts to get better but either there was a rather inefficient plastic bottle recycling plant or the local think the canal is designed for throwing them in to.

By the time you reach Wolverley Court Lock you are out of the town and the moorings above the lock are good and quiet. ((But the TV reception is lousy))

OK I know that all large towns can have problems with rubbish in their canals but the rubbish levels in Kidderminster remind me of the rubbish levels you used to see in Blackburn and Burnley over 20 years ago.

It seems so sad that Kidderminster which has done a lot to revitalise its derelict factories, by turning them into a huge shopping area along with offices and college facilities, seems to have really ignored the boaters. People in boats wont stop if the ground their boats on rubbish or don’t feel safe leaving their boat due to obvious signs of vandalism and a high chav count.