Friday, 5 December 2014

Polesworth to Hawne Basin. Coventry Canal. Birmingham & Fazely Canal. BCN.

November was an incredibly busy month. There was bottom blacking, a wedding, a broken car, lots of visitors and some paid employment. Goodness knows how we ever had time to fit in two full time jobs before we started this boating malarkey!

With our compulsory Halloween pumpkin on board we left Polesworth and headed towards the Birmingham Canals Network (BCN) via Fazely Junction and the Birmingham & Fazely canal.
As it was past canal switch off day, there were very few other boats around and we had the cut pretty much to ourselves.

There was a lovely mooring at the bottom of the Curdworth flight right outside the Kingsbury Water Park; a disused gravel-pit which has lots of walks and bird watching hides around the lakes. Elizabeth, Ellen and Sarah came for a day and we had picnic in one of the hides before taking Legend up three locks and mooring outside the Dog & Dublet at Bodymoor Heath. The girls had a lovely little boat trip and Sarah wrote about it on her blog when they got home.

The Dog & Doublet has a very handy car park which backs right onto the visitor moorings; just the thing when you need to clear all the stuff of your boat roof. Kim and Luke were kind enough to let us stash most of our plant pots and other paraphernalia that we cart around with us until the spring, by which time the new roof paint will have cured. Well that’s the plan. We also dismantled our big box and took it up to Anne’s so it could spend the winter, along with our folding bikes and camping stuff, in her shed. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after all that there’d be nothing left and we’d have a clear roof. Wrong. There are still strawberries, rhubarb, coal, logs, petrol cans, two mops, a ladder and the boat poles. None of which we could possibly do without, apparently.
With Kim, Luke and George on board we set of for our last mooring before heading into Birmingham at Curdworth, just after the tunnel. We had really good weather as we went up the rest of the Curdworth flight;
Luke had a look at the offside vegetation
 while George rekindled his love of our bed and the throb of an air-cooled Lister.
It was quite shady in the cutting but very beautiful with all the autumn colours, and perfect for what we needed. From there Kim helped us with a big car shuffle which left the Astra in the car park at Hawne Basin, and left us with an easy trip into, and through the city.

We took the road less travelled, and at Salford Junction (better known to land lubbers as Spaghetti Junction on the M6)
turned off onto the Tame Valley canal towards Ocker Hill.
We had considered stopping under the motorway, as there’s an off side mooring, (on the right in the photo)
But it was all a bit gloomy and the noise was rather relentless, so in the end the prospect of a peaceful night won over the (very slight) added sense of security and we went on to the bottom of Perry Bar locks.
We’d been warned about Perry Bar locks being a bit tricky, but despite a couple of the pounds being a bit low we had no problems as we made our way up the next morning
and carried on to Doe Bank Junction. The Tame Valley has very much the same feeling as the Birmingham new main line; instead of the hidden meanderings of early canals it proudly cuts a bold straight line across the land with wide cuttings under towering bridges, and high embankments with grand aqueducts spanning roads and rivers.
There are towpaths on both banks and it confidently states that no expense has been spared and that waterborne transport is the future. Although most of the written accounts and old photographs of working boats come from the days of paired motorboats and butties, with families living cramped together in ever increasing poverty in back cabins, there was over one hundred years of highly successful and profitable horse boating before that. That’s the climate in which Messrs Jessop and Telford drew up their plans for a brave new world. It’s not hard to imagine a time when there was a regular passage of laden boats in each direction, coal working up the locks, pig-iron working down, and the towpaths through the cuttings echoing to the steady clip-clop of prosperity hard at work.
At Doe Bank Junction the Tame Valley meets the Walsall canal. This is perhaps better known as Ocker Hill, and there is a sanitary station there and a permanent mooring site on the Lower Ocker Hill Branch. While we were filling the water tank a chap came past with a dog and invited us to moor in the branch overnight, which we did and very nice it was too, although we think that our decision to go in backwards was very much the right one.
Although the water couldn’t be described as shallow, it was considerably thicker, blacker and decidedly less fluid beyond a certain depth.
The next morning we were up and at it first thing. Out of the moorings before any of the permanent moorers were awake and straight into Ryders Green Locks; referred to in hushed tones by those who know them.
We talked to a lady later on who said that she’d moved from Ocker Hill because she couldn’t face “Doing the eight” every time she wanted to go anywhere. To be fair, although they were a bit heavy going we didn’t think they were that bad, there are worse things to have on your doorstep.
It has got a fair amount of rubbish in it though; this was just one of Dave's trips down the weed-hatch.
After that we joined the Wednesbury Old Canal to its junction with the New Main Line at the wonderfully named Pudding Green where we turned right.
After a couple of miles we reached Dudley Port Junction where we turned left onto the Netherton Tunnel branch and headed for our first big tunnel since Harecastle.
The water point marked on the map just before the entrance there wasn’t there anymore, so we put all our lights on and sallied forth into a two-mile-long hole in the ground.
We met four other boats in the tunnel which passed the time, but really, after all the excitement and apprehension at the entrance, boating through tunnels can get a bit tedious.
Popping out into daylight is always fun though. The southern end of Netherton Tunnel is at the lovely Windmill End, where the water point still works and where there’s a cafĂ© and a Dudley Canals Trust information office. And lots of onlookers if it’s sunny, which it was.
While we were filling up and chatting to our fans, we rearranged the roof so that nothing got scraped as we went down the Dudley Number Two canal and through the second tunnel of the day at Ghosty Hill.
This one we remembered for being very low indeed, but the last time we went through was before we’d seen Harecastle, which is just as low and lumpier, or Froghall which is lower than the lowest thing in a how-low-can-u-go competition. Which meant that Ghosty, although interesting with its variable roof and its Count Dracula portrait half way through, wasn’t quite the squeeze we’d expected.
At the other end of Ghosty Hill is Hawne Basin. We got there in plenty of time to moor up and get ourselves sorted out for our second trip up their slipway the following morning.

By 9am the next day Legend was up the slipway and sitting on the trolley in the shed. It was rather disturbing to find that although we’d only blacked the hull 2½ years ago there wasn’t a scrap of it left below the waterline.
We think this may be because last time we did it, we’d put Intertuf16, which is a vinyl composite, over traditional bitumen. We think either of these would have been fine on their own, and even the other way round, but we’d put a hard plastic film over a soft undercoat. We’d noticed that whenever we bumped the boat against the bank with a bit of wellie a chunk of blacking had flaked off, but it was still a surprise to find that it had all gone. We spent the rest of Friday removing all we could from the waterline up to the gunnels. It was a horrible job; bash a section of the hull with a hammer, then chisel off the shattered coating, sending showers of black chippings everywhere.
We got blacking chips in our teeth, in our hair and in our underwear. Thankfully Hawne Basin has a bath; when we’d finished we spent an hour soaking in it, then another half an hour cleaning it.   
On Saturday morning we had our hull survey. Because our boat will be 25 years old in 2015 our insurance company require a satisfactory hull survey report before they issue a certificate. As this necessitates an ultra-sound test of the steel thickness below the waterline it has to be done out of the water.
After spending the previous evening worrying about our un-blacked and, to our untrained eyes, rust-riddled hull, it was to our great relief that Ashley Pinder, (Marine surveyor and boat building son of famous boat building family) pronounced it to be in pretty good nick for its age. He made a few suggestions about keeping it that way, including some advice on blacking frequency – ie. do it more often, but in general pronounced it fit for purpose and went away to write a report to that end. It is his belief that as environmental controls become more strict, the canals are becoming cleaner and in consequence have more oxygenating organisms in them. These in turn are attacking steel hulls more vigorously than before so the coatings aren’t lasting as long. It’s a theory. It could also be true that the stricter environmental controls are resulting in less effective paint.  Whatever, it seems that if we’re going to go cruising all year round, bash a bit of ice now and then and venture out on the salty stuff on occasion, we ought to be slapping on a few coats of jollop every two years from now on.  Ashley also told us to consider having the whole of the underneath grit-blasted and epoxy coated – a process that costs about £3,000. We are considering it, but if we’ve got to come out every 6 years anyway, and blacking every two years costs us £300, it’s difficult to make it viable. The slipway at Hawne is for hire by the week, so we had a list of other jobs lined up. As soon as Ashley had left we set too with some little foam rollers and a can of traditional bitumen each.
On Sunday we did a second coat and on Monday we added a third. In between times, while we were plugged into proper mains power, Dave was up on the roof with the orbital sander,
and Ann-Marie sanded the whole of the oak flooring inside and gave it two coats of a protective oil emulsion. The outside temperature was down to seven or eight degrees overnight, so the decision to go ahead with the roof painting might not have been the wisest, but once we’d started there was no going back. When the red oxide was still tacky 24 hours later it became obvious we weren’t going to get two coats of gloss on by Friday, the addition of some quick drying white undercoat speeded things up a bit and then some very fast brushwork with a very big brush saw a really good film of topcoat done by Wednesday night. It was still soft when we left on Friday, but we had all our tat suspended on wooden batons across the hand rails so it didn't get damaged. We'll probably leave it like that till the spring.
At some time during the week we went to start the car and it wouldn’t. At first Dave thought it was the battery, but a quick swap with the starter battery from the boat confirmed that it wasn’t, so on Wednesday Dave borrowed a set of axle stands, writhed the starter motor out from where it was lurking behind everything else (it’s funny how Haynes Manuals never mention anything about removing chunks of skin from the back of your hand) then got onto Euro Carparts and ordered a new one. We put the basin down as a delivery address and paid for next day delivery; the plan was to fit the new one on Thursday, go back down the slip on Friday morning and leave the boat in the basin for the weekend while we drove to Hereford. Simple,no?
Most of the people in the basin knew of our plight, the chap who ran the shop was aware that we were awaiting delivery, but by teatime on Thursday it still hadn’t turned up so Ann-Marie checked the tracking number. According to that it had been left at the shop at 2:30 and the shop had shut at three. To cut a long story short, after a lot of people went out of their way to help and after we’d almost given up hope, we finally got it by sheer coincidence at about six o’clock. Someone on a boat had taken delivery and because he didn’t recognise the name had kept hold of it, despite it having “Slipway” written on the label. He could have given it to the shop, he could have asked around, he could, God forbid, have walked over to the slipway and mentioned that he had in his possession a piece of hand delivered equipment that perhaps we might find useful. But no, he’d put it in his engine room. Why would someone do that? What did he think was going to happen to it? What stopped Dave from pushing him into the canal when he found out? The answers, Dear reader, are beyond us.
And so, just after dawn on Friday morning, while the rest of the residents of Hawne Basin were still snuggled up in their beds, a very jubilant and rather grubby Dave was punching the air with his bloodied hands and shouting “YES!” simply because his car had started.

The rest of the day went perfectly to plan. With its nicely repainted stern first, Legend gracefully re-entered the water.
Dave backed it across the basin and we tied up to the service point to take on water and fill up with some of the cheapest diesel on the cut. After that we settled our account and then backed over to a gap in the permanent boats on the far side where we moored up and left it safe and sound while we went west for the weekend.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Ashby Canal, Coventry Canal. Stoke Golding to Hartshill.

As this is supposed to be a boating blog, rather than a catalogue of our social gatherings, here’s a few of the things we’ve done to improve Legend just recently.
There are some very nice Turk’s Head knots on the Swan-neck along with a new tiller tassel.
The tiller tassel attaches to the tiller-pin that goes through the hole in the tiller arm when it is on the tiller, keeping it in place. We don’t have a hole, therefore we can’t have a pin, but Dave made a tassel anyway. If we ever find something that we think would make a pretty tiller-pin, then no doubt a hole will be drilled. That will be an interesting exercise; a perfectly vertical hole through 1½” mild steel bar. Don’t hold your breath.
There’s a new tray that fits on top of the rear slide while we’re cruising along for holding phones, maps, cups of tea etc. and has posts for the centre ropes. Very usefull.

Inside, we’ve swapped the lights in the bedroom for those in the dining room. One of the first things we did when we bought the boat, and something we’d encourage anyone else to do too, was to change all the halogen bulbs for “warm white” LEDs. However, as is the way with all things marine, you can’t just go on line and order the cheapest ones. Unlike a house, where 12volt power comes from a transformer and is constant, the voltage on a boat can vary between 11.7v and 14.6v depending on what else is happening, so our bulbs have a built-in voltage regulator and can cope with anything from 10v to 30v. (That means they would even be suitable for a 24volt system, should we ever feel the need to change.) Which of course meant they weren’t cheap, and there were 20 of them, so we got the smallest ones that each of the fittings would accept. This meant that the bulbs in the main cabin only had 6 little cubes each, while the 3 bigger fittings in the bedroom had 12. Most of the fiddly, intricate stuff that goes on in the boat, be it needlework, model-making, painting little things, knotting, beading or what-have-you, always goes on at the dining room table so that’s where the brightest lights ought to be. We’ve known this fact for 3½ years and finally got round to doing something about it.

Of course it wasn’t just a straight swap – the holes were completely different sizes - which meant making a) some conversion plates for the bigger holes and b) an inordinate amount of sawdust with a hole-saw all over the bedroom for the smaller ones. It has been worth it though and another step closer to getting Legend just perfect.

Kim and Luke live near Nuneaton so have been regular visitors since we came onto the Coventry, and will remain so right into next year when we head out to Northampton and the River Nene. They’ve agreed to store our planters and flower tubs over winter after Legend has been out of the water to give the roof paint a chance to harden off properly. That is, of course, if it’s not too cold to actually paint it. It’s only three weeks away so we’ve got our fingers crossed. We come out on Halloween, we’ve booked a survey for Saturday morning after which we’ve got until the following Friday to black the bottom, paint the roof and do anything else we have time for. Our insurance company want a survey doing every 6 years as the boat will be over 25 years old at the next renewal date, Coombswood hire out the slipway by the week, so it makes senses to do as much as we can while we’re out of the water in a shed. Being in a shed means we can’t light the fire, but this time we’ll be prepared, Norm and Jude have offered to lend us a couple of oil filled radiators and we’ll borrow a fan heater as well. Toasty!

Kim and Luke are in the process of buying their house, so there’s plenty of DIY to do. Dave gave Luke a hand to dry-line the small bedroom to make a nursery for George and he’ll help with the coving at some point as well. Luke wouldn’t usually need any help, but he’s just had surgery, so he’s not fully up to speed at the moment. All this visiting meant that Ann-Marie got lots of baby cuddles with George, and it meant we got to watch the final of Bake-Off at the same time as everyone else.

Anne’s daughter Jen was at home when we went to pick up our post and we realised that she’d never been to see the boat, so the next morning they both followed us back to Stoke Golding for a day on board. We went on a 6 hour cruise all the way to the end of the Ashby, turned right onto the Coventry, through Nuneaton and pulled up at Hartshill, just by the maintenance yard and its beautiful clock tower. Yes, right where we’d visited Happy Daze the week before. Jen was very impressed with it all.

Hartshill was a very useful mooring; there was a little car park right by the bridge and a water point, both of which we made full use of before we left. 
Karen, Andrew and Ben came up one evening and we all went out for a meal. It would be nice to say that it was our scintillating company that persuaded them to sit in a car for six hours, or perhaps the attraction of the menu at the Stag & Pheasant (Lasagne, Spag bol or pizza.) but no. Ben was sussing out universities and Derby was on his list, so after looking around the halls and campus we were deemed to be worth a half hour diversion at least.  Don’t think for a moment that we were at all disappointed in the pub, we’re great fans of a limited menu; we’d much rather peruse three choices written in chalk on a blackboard in words we understand, knowing that everything has been cooked today no more than 20 feet from our table, than flick through endless leather-bound pages of meaningless adjectives describing a freezer full of boil-in-the-bag, overpriced scrag-end. We can happily report that Italian Night (every Saturday) at the Stag & Pheasant is worth a visit, as is Curry Night (every Monday) when we went with Chloe.  Just don’t expect soup.

Kim, Luke and George joined us when we boated from Hartshill down the beautifully kept Atherstone flight to Polesworth. It was George’s first proper boating day and he thoroughly enjoyed all the wavy water and the ducks, although what he seemed to enjoy most was our mattress and a throbbing Lister; this he made abundantly clear by sleeping for two hours on the former while less than three feet from the latter.
We reckon he’s got diesel in his veins.

Polesworth is a lovely spot;
it’s got shops a short walk away, there’s good parking and it’s very sheltered (a fact we were thankful of when the tail-end of Hurricane Gonzalo came along). It used to be surrounded by coal mines, the remains of which, and their associated spoil heaps, are now nature reserves with some lovely walks through them.

At the top of one of the old slag heaps is this.
It is made to look like thousands of gold leaves on top of each other, we think it might represent the wealth made by the ancient forest that metamorphosed into coal under the ground here, but it could just as easily be a massive tooth-pick. This is what it looks like from the bottom.
And this is what Ann-Marie looked like taking that photo. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Coventry canal. Snarestone to Stoke Golding

September 2014 will be remembered for the seemingly endless succession of parties, all of which were tremendous fun, full of our most favourite people and made us feel all loved up and special. They were also all miles away, but no matter, we would have gone wherever they were.
First there was the Bourne Borderers reunion. Everyone who had been involved with the best Border Morris side in the country since it started 22 years ago, including us, had been invited for a day of meeting old friends, chatting and dancing. After a practice session at Edenham village hall in the morning where we ate copious amounts of cake and learnt four dances in quick succession,

we upped sticks (quite literally!) to the Wishing Well Inn in Dyke to perform them.
The afternoon was spent back in the hall with more cake, more dancing and more chatting with new and old friends. Later on, just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, dinner was dished up, and we found that - if we tried really hard - we could.

Our very good friends Andrew and Karen generously provided accommodation for us so we spent a brilliant evening in their company, along with several other side members, most of who turned up with various musical instruments. Tiddly Pom, here we go, there we go.

In the morning we went to Bateman’s brewery where Frankie and Harry got married. This was because Dawn was celebrating her birthday in the camping field and a bunch of our old 2cv mates were there to help her along. As we were passing… We stopped to give Dawn her prezzie, had a carvery with Wiltz and Annie, had a chat, sat round a brazier in the sunshine; all the usual stuff.

On the way home, just before we got back to Legend, we stopped on the road to pick up a sizable piece of Ash that we’d noticed a couple of days previously while out walking. We’re not lighting the fire yet, but we weren’t leaving that behind.

During the week we were in the car almost as much as the boat. As well as a run up to Anne’s for post, we went down to Mum and Dad’s in Fleet. We picked Lauren up and we all went out for lunch, and then dropped Lauren off at Wendy’s before coming home again. It’s good to be far enough south so that we can get down to Hampshire and back in a day. 

The next weekend we were back in the east for Tony and Jan’s anniversary horkey. A horkey is a party where the guests provide the entertainment and as Tony and Jan are the backbone of Pig Dike Molly, who Ann-Marie used to dance with, the guests were more than happy to oblige. There were songs, poems, musical recitals, ceilidh dances and more. Dave performed his self-penned spoonerised version of Cinderella – Rindercella and her su tuggly isters –  always popular, always a hit. He keeps saying he’s not doing it anymore, but as soon as he stands up and the audience hushes his alter-ego “The Tory Seller” takes over and it’s show time.
“Thank you, you’ve been great, I’m here till Thursday. There’s still tickets left for the meat raffle from Maureen behind the bar, Goodnight, enjoy the scampi.”

It goes without saying that there was enough food to supply a troop ship. Even after multiple return trips to the buffet we still came home with more than we took and found ourselves eating hastily assembled broccoli and tofu sandwiches on a nocturnal blast along the A47. At some ungodly hour we finally got back to Snarestone and our little boat, tired - as Enid Blyton would say - but happy.

Our activities during that week included picking a bucket full of rose hips, hawthorn berries, elderberries, blackberries and sloes and then turning them all into hedgerow jelly while moving the boat to Market Bosworth,
where Kim came for the afternoon with Baby George.
We also went for a lovely walk following the Leicestershire Round and the Ivanhoe Way and boated to a terrific mooring on the off-side just after the Shenton aqueduct, right next to a row of sloe bushes and a wild apple tree.
Another week and another trip eastward for another reunion. This one was for the SpaLding APpellation DAnce SHow, aka Slapdash; Ann-Marie’s Tuesday night dancing club.
There were more ceilidh dances, more friends, more food, as well as some performances of appellation dance, two of which featured a rather surprised Ann-Marie in borrowed shoes.
Despite several invitations to stop over we elected, one again, to attack the A47 armed only with quiche, sausage rolls and a box of assorted buns.

After a short but sound night’s sleep we were off again; this time to Bob and Mandy’s boat launch.
Bob and Mandy belong to Bourne Borderers, they’ve had many, many hire-boat holidays and always wanted to get a boat of their own to live on. They came to see us on Legend a couple of years ago to pick our brains, we had a lovely day boating on the GU although we don’t think we had much to teach them; they’d already done far more boating than we had and had a pretty good idea of what they wanted.
Their boat is called Matilda Blue, it’s 6 years old, 70’ long, gas-free, and very smart. They had a launch party at the Narrowboat Inn at Weedon where they bought it, and in their first afternoon of ownership had more people on board than we’ve ever had. They treated everyone to lunch in the pub, then in two shifts we all had a cruise to the next windy hole and back. Dave had a go on the tiller; it’s been a long time since he’s had 70’ of boat in front of him, but he managed to not disgrace himself, and is unrepentantly adamant that stuffing the bow into the bushes whilst winding full length is unavoidable and perfectly acceptable.  Of course that depends on where you’re sitting at the time.
Ann-Marie made them a card, and Dave made a Tiller Pin Tassel.
So we’ve now got more boating friends. Whoo-hoo! They’re heading in our direction; they’ll be going through Hawksbury, Marston and  Fazely on their way to the BCN and ultimately Tewksbury so they should come past us when we’re on the Coventry in a few weeks.

Richard, Katherine, Kieran and Leila came for the day while we boated from Shenton to Stoke Golding.
They’d not been before and the kids were fascinated by the whole affair. They wanted to know how everything worked, what everything did and how we did everything in such a little house.  Kieran even had a go at steering, despite not really grasping the principal and not being able to see over the roof. There was no-one coming the other way. Well, no-one in a bigger boat.
While we were still within striking distance we went to have a look at the Bosworth Battlefield site, a beautifully landscaped hilltop where, up until the 1960s, it was thought that the most important battle in the War of the Roses took place, where the last of the Plantagenet Kings was overthrown and where the Reign of Tudor began. It has recently been proven that if you’d stood on this hilltop when the battle was taking place, you’d have had a panoramic view of the three armies beating the heck out of each other on the marshy plains below. Still, it’s a very evocative place to be, and all rather sobering when you consider that the industrial revolution that caused the canal to be dug started in earnest about 250 years ago, and the battle between armour-clad, mace-wielding nutters took place a mere 250 years before that.

In the afternoon we drove down to Hartshill on the Coventry canal, a short hop down the road, where the lovely Happy Daze was moored with Lindsay, Paul and happy Jack on board.
Jack had been to the vets recently, so it was good to see him almost back to his old self. We had tea and cake, followed by a walk up the hill where we were treated to a wonderful view over Leicestershire with the Derbyshire hills in the distance. In the evening we all went to the Anchor for dinner. It was a lovely day and we really didn’t want to leave. Legend will be at Hartshill in a couple of weeks, by which time Happy Daze will be the other side of Braunston and heading down the GU. Such is boating; you make the most of fleeting visits.