Author Archives: Bob

An Alarm, and a Chippenham Diversion

The plan soon fell apart. Rachel, the lady who sort of looks after Festival Park Marina, said she’d be in the office at 8:30 on the Monday morning, and we were a bit puzzled at how quiet everything looked when we turned up. Eventually Gavin, the chief engineer and technically the marina manager was located, and claimed to have no knowledge of their promise to put us up for a week or so. Seems Rachel had unexpectedly gone into hospital… And Steve, the chap who looked after all the Black Prince boats said it was quite impossible (read “a lot of hassle”) to put us anywhere where we could hook up the electrics.

Eventually Gavin found a piece of paper, had some discussion with Steve, and all was well. Being out of season most of their boats were in, but with the bank holiday/half term arriving, the place they needed to put Song & Dance to meet our agreed booking meant shuffling all their boats up one. We suspect Rachel’s name was mud, in her absence. But eventually we were tucked up safe and sound.

Anyway, after doing a mound of laundry, a couple of days later we caught a train to Banbury, retrieved the car from Cropredy Marina, and headed home.

We’d got used to fine weather, if somewhat erratic temperatures, and the trip south to catch up with the post, friends, and Chippenham Folk Festival went swimmingly. So swimmingly that you’ll be pleased to know that photos of Morris Dancers have been left out this year.

However, just to prove the Navigator was doing something useful, here’s a picture of (some of) Sheelanagig taken from the back of the main stage, and a chap doing some Mongolian overtone singing up the other end of town…

SheelanagigOvertone Singing

Despite our hassles dragging a car around last year, on return to Song & Dance we decided to leave the car at Festival Park Marina for a few days, while we headed off to Westport Lakes to do some serious planning regarding our hopes for a trans-Pennine cruise. Can’t believe that it’s the last day of May – where are the weeks going?

Royal Weddings and Gas Leaks, China and Charlotte’s Chap

Cooking dinner on Friday night, we’d run out of Calor gas halfway through, so we hassled the chief engineer, who swapped over the gas bottles so the incineration could continue. Saturday morning, on opening the back doors there was a strong smell of gas; a dabble with some diluted Fairy Liquid showed gas leaking out where the “new” gas bottle was connected to the flexible regulator plumbing.

Turning things off, the connection was given a good clean and a serious talking to, and tightened up again, to no avail. So it was off with the gas, and we resigned ourselves to rather limited cooking facilities until we either got another gas bottle or found a gas engineer who could work some magic (the “new”/full gas bottle looked a bit long in the tooth particularly at the valve end, and had perhaps reached its useful life). The connection between the regulator hose and the bottle is a conical brass to brass union that just seems to rely on a tight fit/pressure to work – never understood how that could the job, but there you go.

So, irritatingly starting a sentence with “so”, we set off up Meaford Locks, and as it happened we made better progress than expected, and unfortunately passed Barlaston and The Plume of Feathers (With Neil Morrissey) – as it styles itself – just as things were kicking off back near home. Apparently Harry and Wills had spent the pre-wedding night at the hotel just at the end of our road – glad we were away to miss the undoubted chaos. Anyway, just past the pub was somewhere to tie up (damn!), so the chief cook rushed off to see if they had a suitable television, while muggins moored up, locked up, and subsequently arrived to find a TV (double damn!). Lunch and Guinness were ordered (mutter, mutter!). I must admit that with no sound and erratic subtitles , the preacher chappie was quite amusing. No sign of Neil Morrissey, though (in pub or congregation).

Madam wished to carry out yet another investigation of Wedgewood rejects (sorry, “Seconds”) at the factory just up the road, so after the wedding festivities were over, we set off again – it was only about a mile – and mooring at the factory complex and trekked off to examine some overpriced fine china. Managed to get a decent ice cream, though!

Earlier, we’d passed a boat claiming to be an engineering outfit (“wonder if he does gas“, we thought), but it was all shut up. Anyway, just as we were putting the kettle on, said engineering boat puttered gently past, crewed by our Morris dancing, fiddler and boat painter friend Charlotte (who put in an appearance in Bollington a couple of years ago), with her new-ish chap (and now fiancé). Simon is a proper job boat engineer and following a quick conversation said he’d pop back once they’d moored up just under the bridge. Turns out they’d bought a house in Wedgewood Village, and were mooring up to strip out their boat prior to taking it up to Longport to sell it: two homes were too much!

When they wandered down, Simon took a quick look, then said: “if you loosen the connection off a little, then twist the hose to and fro so the two mating faces grind against each other a little, it usually fixes the problem.” It did. A handy life-hack to remember – thanks Simon. Dinner was back on the menu!

We’d arranged to leave Song & Dance in the tender care of Festival Park Marina while we headed down to Chippenham Folk Festival, so waving goodbye to Charlotte & Simon who were up  early and still unloading stuff, we headed off through Stoke-on-Trent and up the Stoke Locks once more to moor outside the Marina, all ready to move in first thing Monday morning. For once things were going to plan.

Stone Me: They’ve Nicked the Co-Op!

Leaving Tixall Wide we were soon back on the Trent & Mersey at Great Heywood Junction. Just under the road bridge, rather than mooring up, the man about the boat held onto the middle rope while the lady of the house nipped across the bridge to raid the huge farm shop. That piece of business sorted, we were off again through familiar (but pleasant territory) and on the Thursday moored out in the boonies somewhere south of Stone, before heading off into the metropolis on Friday, mooring up just before lunch below the Star Inn and locks.

We have always rather liked Stone – a small self-contained market town and very much a canal town. But for how much longer? There’s always been a nice butcher, plus some odd and interesting shops, and a large Co-Op in the pedestrianized High Street which incorporated a post office (and which had posters on the canal offering free delivery to boats). There is also a smallish Morrisons on the ring road, but far enough from the canal to make the Co-Op the favourite stop. But there it was – gone.

Apparently there’s a new out-of-town shopping area (miles out of town) with a big supermarket, and the Co-Op decided they couldn’t compete so shut up shop. Including the Post Office. With no banks (they’d all packed up after training their customers to use the Post Office), no Post Office (and no one wanting to take it on – not even W H Smiths), one wonders how much longer Stone will stay a recognizable town. The council now run a free bus service on Thursday mornings to the nearest Post Office some miles away, presumably so people can go and pick up their pensions and/or benefits.

To add to the town’s woes, there’s a proposed major HS2 development site which will clog up the roads for years, and once complete will become an HS2 / Lorry interchange centre clogging up the roads for ever after. To add to the absurdity, just across the canal from town, by the pub, they’re building what looks like a large glass extension to the sports centre. We thought a new swimming pool maybe, but no, it’s apparently going to be a Marks & Spencer food outlet. It’s a strange world.

Anyway, with a satisfactory visit to the splendid ironmonger shop and some basic provisions acquired, we headed out of town without even stopping for a drink at the Star Inn, and packed up for the night at the bottom of Meaford Locks. It’s a slightly odd spot, as the towpath side is pretty rural but the other side is a new and clearly pretty upmarket housing estate (with a couple or three boats moored there too). We’d met someone earlier in the trip who lived and moored here: they were on their way home but we’d clearly beaten them to it.

Kingfishers Are On After All

The morning dawned a bit cold, misty and damp. Madam was keen to visit the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust reserve, while your scribe had some CD reviews to catch up on, so she went off on her own. Had a great time, it would seem. Fell in with an elderly local gentleman enthusiast cum photographer who was there most days, and gave her a personal guided tour. Although actual wildlife spotted was fairly small, she found it fascinating – kingfisher nest sites, vole burrows, and all sorts of local history. Apparently we have to visit again on the way home.

After lunch, the weather was picking up, so we decided to head up past the Shugborough Estate to Great Heywood, then divert down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal mile or so to moor in Tixall Wide, a favourite spot. It’s only a short run (3 miles and 2 locks), and just after the junction we spotted the first Kingfisher of the cruise. Mind you, Tixall is renowned for Kingfishers, it would seem. And even though it was late afternoon, there was plenty of room to moor up, the sun was coming out, there were plenty of birds around including some Cygnets, and a pleasant post-dinner stroll made the trials of yesterday seem a long time ago.

Kingfisher’s Orf, Dear

Every year, we see loads of wildlife, but the frequency one spots things seems to vary from year to year. One year – loads of Robins. This year – fewer Robins, but loads of Reed Buntings. Another year, hardly any Sparrows, this year loads.

But we still haven’t seen any Kingfishers this year, or Swifts, or House Martins: maybe the latter two are really late in arriving. It’s odd, because we’re already awash with Mallard chicks, and have already seen a few small Cygnets and Goslings, though not many so far.

Having left the delights of Rugeley, we pottered on for a while – this is quite a long section without locks – and eventually decided to moor up for the night at Wolseley Bridge. A pleasant spot with views towards Cannock Chase, even if the first time we moored here back in 2005, we had a hard frost overnight!

Wolseley Bridge Moorings

Just up the road about 500 yards are a decent Vintage Inns pub/restaurant, a highly regarded Indian, a Garden Centre with a cafe, and the HQ of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust complete with a small reserve.

We’d never investigated either the Indian or the Wildlife Reserve, and the cook was hors de combat, and decided that a restorative curry was in order.

The curry was excellent. But the restaurant had some licensing issues, so Kingfisher was off. So was Cobra. Or even a bottle of Rioja, which we find goes surprisingly well with a curry. One of those days, it would seem…

Let Sleeping Policemen Lie, or A Rough Time in Rugeley

Waving goodbye to the ghosts of pussy-cats past, we set off to find some milk. Actually we needed a lot more than that, and were aiming for Rugeley, where there is not only a huge disused power station but a 24 hour Tesco and a large Morrisons both within a hundred yards of the visitor moorings. It’s not the most prepossessing of towns (to put it mildly) but the approach via Handsacre and Armitage Shanks’ factory, and the departure via the aqueduct over the River Trent are a lot more interesting than one might expect. The visitor moorings are justifiably popular with boaters with the two supermarkets, and town centre all within five minutes walk.

But first we needed some boaty things done somewhat urgently; Kings Bromley Marina is just a few minutes cruising from Wood End lock, but we’d never been in before. It seemed rather a nice marina, although turning and reversing Song & Dance onto the service pontoon was a bit of a challenge – glad there wasn’t any wind to speak of. Mind you, you don’t see another boat for hours, then approaching the entrance, there’s a boat emerging while giving confusing indications regarding his intentions, and one coming down the canal the other way seemingly unwilling to stand off while things got sorted out.

Unusually, it was a woman who appeared to give Song & Dance a much needed pump-out, fill her with diesel and sell us some bits from their chandlery: she seemed to be odd-job-woman and the overall manager of the marina too. Unlike some places, where passing boats wanting pump-outs aren’t always welcomed with open arms, the helpful and friendly welcome were much appreciated. Should we be looking for somewhere to over-winter Song & Dance further north than Cropredy, we reckon Kings Bromley would be high on the list.

Anyway, with everything sorted, we carried on and made Rugeley Visitor Moorings by lunchtime (we got the last convenient one). The quartermaster wanted lunch on board before a proper shopping expedition, so muggins nipped into Tesco for a loaf of bread and a pint of milk, even though we were going back after perusing the delights of Rugeley high street and market. Man plans, God laughs…

Walking across the car-park and service area heading into town, Fran was momentarily distracted, tripped over a sleeping policeman, and went down like a sack of bricks. It was quite a fall, with cuts and grazes on hands and knees, and what subsequently became a truly impressive bruise on the hip. Needing to clean her wounds and sit down to let the shock wear off, we made it to the nearest seat: a handy Costa coffee establishment.

Wounds de-gravelled and cleaned up a bit, with the adrenalin wearing off and the caffeine a poor substitute, we had a quick look round the “Market Hall”, which was pretty much moribund, abandoned the plan to explore the local emporia for groceries, did another quick whizz round Tesco and decided to unwind by cruising out of Rugeley into the countryside a bit.

The moral of this is probably that you shouldn’t kick a sleeping policeman…

Lichfield Lorries, and Frazzled at Fradley

Waving goodbye to Hopwas, we headed for Fradley Junction to join the Trent & Mersey Canal. Making good progress on a sunny Sunday, we stopped for lunch at the end of the farm airstrip near Streethay Wharf that we discovered last time we passed this way.

Those sad enough to while away long motorway journeys by spotting offerings from the various “logistics” companies will find canal travel highly unrewarding, despite the frequent proximity to railways, motorways and main roads. However, there are one or two notable stretches where one can indulge this harmless eccentricity, one of these is just past Streethay Wharf, where the canal runs extremely adjacent to the A38 near Lichfield for a mile or so. In the twenty minutes or cruising along, we spotted 1 Eddie, 2 Norberts, and got a bonus point for a Fire Engine hammering along with full Blues and Twos.

With a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon in full spate, Fradley Junction was predictably mobbed with people and boats, so we pushed on up through the locks chaos as quickly as possible. On the way in to the junction we noticed a load of parked cars out in the sticks with a sign saying “Fred & Ethel’s wedding”  or words to that effect; passing the Kingfisher Holiday Park car park, that was wall to wall with shiny motorbikes all sporting yellow ribbons.

Once clear we were on our own, and twenty minutes later locked up through Wood End Lock to find we had the place to ourselves. Perhaps the ghost of Biggles knew we were coming and had scared off everyone else for the day. Anyway, with weather significantly better than when we scattered his ashes it was a pleasant and peaceful spot to raise a glass or two to the memory of our much missed late Captain.

Monday morning was equally sunny, and realising we were very low on milk, we decided to walk the mile or so back to Fradley Junction, and see if we could purchase some: there used to be a small shop there. Seems the shop only opens at weekends…

Still, a Guinness at the Mucky Duck, and first lunch at the Kingfisher Cafe (decent sandwiches, but just one Harley Davidson today) set us up for a wander round the conservation area / lake / converted side pond / fishing spot, which set us up for second lunch at the CaRT Visitor Centre Cafe (good cakes). No milk to be had anywhere, though.

RushesPond Dipping platformFradley Junction

On the way back, we noticed a rather fine Caterham sports car, and a Morgan that attracted Fran’s attention, both with “taps aff”, as our Scottish friends would say. It was certainly the weather for it.

Fradley JunctionFradley Junction

Getting back to the boat late afternoon and milk-less, the only thing to do was put on some more sun cream, and raise another glass or two to Sir, with something that didn’t need milk added…

Polesworth Pigeon & Peregrine, Fazed at Fazely

Setting off first thing on Saturday, we were soon passing through Polesworth. We’d stopped last time for some shopping and were rather taken by the town, but couldn’t think of an excuse to delay progress this time.

On our way in, we saw a peregrine passing overhead. Not sure if we’re getting better at spotting them, or there are more around. We’d like to think the latter is true: Braunston, Coventry, Leamington Spa (apparently) – healthy population at the top of the food chain implies underlying ecology is doing better.

On our way out, we spotted a very odd duck, which on closer inspection proved to be a wood pigeon trying to swim. Even closer inspection showed it was struggling, almost certainly with a broken wing. It had more-or-less made it across to the towpath side, so carefully backing up we fished it out with our Biggles rescue net (oddly never used in anger), and some passers by put it on the tree lined bank, but we rather suspected it would not survive for very long.

Further along, She Who Must said that we’d passed through the historically interesting Fazely Junction on the outskirts of Tamworth many times, but never stopped to look around…

Fazely JunctionFazely Junction

Fazely JunctionFazely Junction

Actually, the old parts are almost entirely hidden by modern buildings and alterations, although someone was rather taken by the fine house at the junction (apart from the roar of Watling Street adjacent to it).

Fazely Junction

Even the old mill seemed pretty derelict. Shame.

Rather disappointed, we carried on to Hopwas, and consoled ourselves with dinner at The Tame Otter. Saturday night, excellent three course meal each and a “free” bottle of wine for £50 – pretty good these days.  We’d eaten here on the way up last year: Biggles was very interested in the car park and all the outside tables and diners. We were moored right outside, and he took considerable coaxing to come back on board. No problem this time, unfortunately.

Lots of Allotments, Lots of Locks, and a Jammy Butty

Thursday morning, and we cruised down the remaining delights of the Ashby Canal; after lingering over lunch we turned back onto the Coventry Canal at Marston Junction. There’s a brief rural respite before reaching the outskirts of Nuneaton. Although the canal winds more or less through the middle of the Nuneaton conurbation you don’t see a great deal of the town. Lots of back gardens. Miles and miles of allotments, without the same allure of Miles and Miles of Texas.

Eventually breaking free of Nuneaton, there’s another pleasantly rural stretch, but with business to do in Atherstone we pressed on, eventually mooring up at Mancetter Wharf, just before one gets embroiled in the Mancetter / Atherstone megalopolis.

A twenty minute run on Friday morning had us tucked up on Atherstone Visitor Moorings at the top of Atherstone Locks, conveniently close to the Post Office delivery centre, a big pharmacy, and a handy cafe, rather less so from the large Co-Op at the other end of the high street.

Mail collected, shopping and lunch completed, loins were girded and we set off down the Atherstone flight of locks. There were bored volunteers at the top lock, but not so bored they helped work us down anything other then the top lock. There was little traffic coming up, and the locks were mainly against us.

Towards the end, we encountered Nuneaton a historic boat operated by The Narrow Boat Trust locking up, aided by some more CaRT volunteers. As it was ready to leave the lock, one of their crew said “Would you mind awfully if we turned the lock round and brought the Butty up before letting you down?” Not overly happy about this – it had already been a long day – we said it rather depended on CaRT’s attitude about wasting a lock full of water, but the volunteer said they’d plenty, don’t worry. Meanwhuile, before asking they had already bow-hauled the Butty under the bridge immediately below the lock and jammed it up against the bottom gates, so it would have been a major faff to pull it back by hand and out the way for us to go down with the lock, so we waited while they emptied the lock unnecessarily, then hauled the butty in behind us by hand, crashing into lock gates, while Nuneaton backed onto the top gates. Careful they weren’t.

we weren’t overly impressed: it would have been nice to have been asked beforehand. The crew following behind us – professional boat movers still with a long way to go – were even less impressed.

It was getting on by the time we got to the bottom of the flight, but fortunately there are some nice moorings just at the bottom, and the only other boat there a fuel boat who was delighted to fill us up. Here’s a picture of exactly where moored, but taken almost exactly a year ago in similar weather.

Atherstone Moorings by Bottom Lock

Only three miles but eleven locks… seemed like a long afternoon!

Dancing Mothers-in-Law & Ratty Runs

Wednesday morning saw us pulling up as near to Market Bosworth as we could, and tackling the mountainous ascent to the Co-Op, Greengrocer, Butcher’s shop and cafe. Not much seemed to have changed in the last decade, except the aforementioned peculiar cottage had done something very odd with the tree in the back garden, and the chippie had acquired a sense of humour (not).

Market Bosworth CottageBatter of Bosworth

All over the Coventry Canal and elsewhere, CaRT have been putting pegged coir rolls where the bank is suspect, as it allows Ratty (who was a Water Vole)  to get in and out with ease. And signs telling you all about it. In fact, despite any wind or willows, we are pretty sure we saw one swimming across the canal – rat sized but no obvious tale, so we got pretty excited. Here, they haven’t bothered with coir rolls – they just leave a hole very tenth post. Fran also got excited when she saw someone had named their boat after her, but was rather less impressed by the pram hood.

Ratty RunDSCF6910

About the nearest accessible place of even a half-decent size is Stoke Golding, a delightful village which we’d never visited before, and from which comes the energetic Stoke Golding Country Dance and an erstwhile Mother-in-Law, who collected it.

Stoke GoldingStoke Golding

The moorings below the village were splendid, with just a short walk across the fields to an excellent pub The White Swan, at which dinner was partaken.

And so, as we neared the end of our detour (the much by-passed Ashby Canal runs pretty much North – the direction we’re heading, but then you have to retrace all your steps), we decided it really was a lovely canal to wander gently along – we’ll be back, and stay awhile. Perhaps we’ll even visit Bosworth Field.