Category Archives: Boats and Boating

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…

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.

The A to Z Canal (or not), Ostrich Burgers and Baileys

Having more or less accidentally turned onto the Ashby Canal, one is immediately struck by how different it is to the rather built and industrial Coventry Canal. Built to carry coal from the Ashby Coal Fields to the wider world, it never actually reached Ashby de la Zouch. Ah well. But it winds its way through delightfully rural Leicestershire rarely coming close to “civilisation”, without locks or lift bridges to disturb the peace. Even the nearby railway is the Battlefield Line which only has traffic at weekends, high days and holidays. Never far from Bosworth Field, the weather was so sunny (if occasionally a little chilly) that we got so blissed out for a couple of days that photographs were forgotten.

We realized it was almost exactly a decade since we’d last travelled this route, with additional crew Emma, Jake  & Louis. So here’s  a few pictures from then – looks like it might have been chilly…

The Crew - 2008Ashby Canal 2008

We rather like Market Bosworth: it’s a pretty village with most of the shops you could want. The only snag is that it’s a mile or more from the canal up quite a steep hill; at least one’s carrying the shopping downhill.

Market BosworthMarket Bosworth

Market BosworthBattlefield Line - Market Bosworth

On the way, you pass this rather unusual cottage and garden, and if you pick the right day, a nice old saddle tank engine.

Cousin JackAshby Canal - End of the Road

Back in the present, this chap’s clearly a Show of Hands or Steve Knightley fan.

Snarestone Service PointSnarestone Service Point

Tuesday morning we reached the end. The useable canal used to finish at Snarestone, where the local enthusiasts maintain a base. Nowadays you can boat another half mile or so, but unless you’re a good bit shorter than Song & Dance you than have to reverse all the way back. Too hard! Anyway it looks a little different from how we remember it a decade ago. That said, our principle memory was of a permanently moored narrowboat occupied by a couple and three huge German Shepherd dogs. Since then we’ve seen a few other similar households where multiple huge dogs would seem to take up more room than exists in a narrowboat. The boats must have Tardis technology.

Turning round, we went back a little way through Snarestone Tunnel (the village is built on top of the canal), and had a surprisingly excellent lunch at The Globe Inn: it’s the first time we’ve seen Ostrich Burgers on the menu. One had to try one.

Motte & Bailey

Later that afternoon, the cook was staring at the map and said “What’s a Motte-and-Bailey look like?”. Like that…

The Great Coventry Canal Bridge Numbering Scandal

One of the best ways of knowing roughly where on a canal you are is to keep track of the  bridges you pass under. On nearly all the canals, the bridges are numbered. There are a few exceptions: on some waterways, and on rivers, they’re named instead (or have both a name and a number). But on canals it usually numbers .

The numbers refer to the bridges built at the time of the canal, and increase or decrease as you trundle along. Occasionally a bridge will have been demolished, leaving a gap in the numbers (although you can often see where they were because the canal narrows there). Nevertheless, knowing where you are – bridge wise – can be important, and it means other people can easily find you in an emergency, as we found out last year.

Of course, some more bridges will have been built since the canal was constructed. And the rule is that you take the bridge number below your shiny new one, and add a letter. So Bridge 15A will always be between Bridge 15 and Bridge 16 – it might be right next to Bridge 16 when Bridge 15 is miles away, but that’s how it works.

So, imagine our horror as we came out of Coventry Basin on a bright sunny Sunday morning, finding Bridge 5 nestling between Bridge 5A and Bridge 5B. You really can’t rely on anything these days: heads should roll!

Anyway, we recovered enough to retrace our steps back to Sutton Stop, and carrying on were soon at Marston Junction on the outskirts of Nuneaton, where the Ashby Canal turns off North. We were so discombobulated by the morning’s shocking discovery that we decided a few days rural recovery was needed, and on the spur of the moment turned Right onto the Ashby Canal. Well, it was a beautifully sunny Sunday lunchtime…

Sutton Stop, Coventry Go

The North Oxford Canal is not our favourite, partly because it’s less scenic than many, often enclosed by trees, and mooring can be a problem – there are loads of large boulders just below water level along the banks, and tying up anywhere without pilings can be a problem. It’s not without interest though.

It used to be a wiggly contour canal like the South Oxford (the summit of which goes to ridiculous ends). But to speed things up subsequently, embankments and cuttings were built to make short  cuts across quite a few of the lengthy loops. The towpath crossed the resultant redundant loops on some impressive iron bridges (bought as a job-lot by the look of it), and the loops themselves either died, became mooring arms or turned into marinas.

North Oxford CanalNorth Oxford CanalNorth Oxford Canal

These pictures were actually taken on our race North at the same time last year.

We’ve moored just here, on the way South one year: quite a nice spot.

North Oxford Canal

Eventually, after winding in and out of Ansty and the surrounding motorway junctions and omnipresent electricity pylons, one reaches the meeting of the Oxford Canal with the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction, also know as Sutton Stop. And indeed there is a stop lock between the two canals with a drop of about six inches maximum. This time the Visitor Moorings were crowded but we just about fitted on the end.

Here’s some old pictures of the area: Sutton Stop on a busy, hot and sunny weekend on our first trip south. Somehow they never made it into the Blog first time around.

Hawkesbury Junction Visitor MooringsThe Greyhound, Hawkesbury Junction

Not sure why ponies were wandering around the moorings, but The Greyhound sure was busy.

Hawkesbury Pumping StationHawkesbury Junction

Coming South down the Coventry Canal, just after the Hawkesbury pumping station there’s an interestingly tight turn under the junction  bridge into the stop lock/North Oxford Canal. And on a sunny weekend there are dozens of gongoozlers at the pub to mark your handiwork. Using the bow thruster is regarded as cheating…

Hawkesbury JunctionHawkesbury Junction: Sutton Stop Lock

This time, we were pleased to see the little cat “graffiti” was still there, four years later.

We’d also decided that instead of turning Right at the junction in the morning and heading North, we’d turn Left and follow the 5 miles or so into Coventry Basin, as we’d never been down there before (although SWMBO knows Coventry rather well from a past life over which we will draw a veil).

A Braunston Bimble, a Friendly Trans, and a New Town

Parked on the North Oxford Canal just on the outskirts of Braunston, we needed some groceries, to collect an fRoots package from the Post Office, and some small boat bits from the huge Midland Chandlery, so off we set across the muddy field for a stroll around town.

Braunston - church fieldBraunston Visitor Moorings

North Oxford Canal - BraunstonBraunston

In the Post Office, a tall slim person, we guessed late 60s, dressed smartly in women’s clothes, and without a trace of stubble or Adams apple spoke just like a bloke; having changed a massive £20 into Euros s/he expressed surprise when I said the magic words Poste Restante and said s/he didn’t know that service existed. and asked about it.

The assistant in the shop called him Bryn. We moved across to the community cafe across the road, and shortly after we’d got our coffees, s/he came in and we got chatting. S/he’d been a sea-going engineering person for many years, travelled most of the canal system years ago in a narrowboat, and still worked in the marina for the boat sales company, even though s/he was now over 70. Knew Piper Boats well. Clearly a well known figure around town, s/he was off to France on the bus for the weekend on the annual village exchange visit (hence the Euros), it was equally clear that the totally unfazed locals still referred to Bryn as “him”. Clearly rural England isn’t as hide-bound as one might think…

Returning to Song & Dance via the chandlers, we set off after lunch for the delights of Rugby. Arriving at the top of Hillmorton Locks, we decided to lock down: there are six locks paired up so only three to work, and tied up at the bottom at what used to be a pleasant mooring “out in the sticks”. Apparently Hillmorton locks are the busiest on the system. It was quiet when we passed through, although we did spot nb Rebellion who we’d helped out last year as we leapfrogged each other down the River Soar and past Leicester.

These green fields now seemed pretty well churned up, and diggers and stuff were beavering away. We discovered the next morning that the whole area that used to comprise the VLF Rugby Radio Station (for submarines and self-setting clocks) was being turned into a new town: hundreds of houses, two primary schools, a secondary school, yadda, yadda. And doubtless no improvements to the local transport infrastructure. Not quite true: there were rumours of a Rugby Parkway railway station. Wonder what we’ll find next time we pass.