... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 30 April 2017

Totting up

I noticed that by the end of March, I had already beaten the annual total of posts for 2015.

By blogging every day of April I am now within one of 2014's annual total. Only in 2010 have I ever posted every day for a month - when I did it for nine months straight, then tailed off, exhausted, to eight posts in each of October, November and December.

From there it is only another 21 posts to equal 2016's total, so that should be achievable by the end of May, and only a further 16 to achieve 2013's 116 posts by the end of June - with a bit of a head start in hand towards the next target.

The next highest year is 2012 with 162 posts, so I reckon I could be there in another month with enough of a head start, but let's say August to be on the safe side.

Then a further 35 posts takes us to 2011's second highest total (197). I reckon I'll be there by the end of September.

Then it'll be a big final push to get 100 more posts in before the end of the year to equal the highest posting year so far - 2010, with 297. That will be quite a challenge as 2017 didn't get off to the most productive start, but I am making up for lost time now, and if I can keep this up, then who knows. Just keep reading and I'll try to keep writing.

Saturday 29 April 2017

Brownhills blues. And reds.

We were one of the first boats to arrive in Brownhills, on Thursday at lunchtime, so we were there for nearly four days in total - plenty of time to explore.

In many ways it was a very sad, run down, place. In the high street, even the HSBC Bank had a landlord's possession notice on it. Attempts at retail-led regeneration appeared not to have been successful:
Twenty years later all the shops in this precinct were boarded up:
However, it did seem that the town could support three carpet shops, and the desolation on the high street could just as easily be attributed to the massive Tesco's which many of us (with some honourable exceptions) were all too happy to use as our fridge. And Jim, seeking a newspaper on Monday morning, found what from his description sounded like a newsagents-cum-coffee and cake shop run by two incongruously dapper chaps, doing a roaring trade.

House prices are not particularly low, and in fact there was a lot of new building too, suggesting - from my Newhaven experience - that Brownhills may be serving as a dormitory for Birmingham and that its residents are doing their shopping elsewhere. That elsewhere may even be Walsall, which (and we shall proceed there properly in due course) didn't seem to be doing too badly in its retail centre.

Enough of retail depression, I hear you mutter. Show us some boats! I think we put on a pretty good show:
I think I counted about twenty five historic boats, and another seven or so members with more modern boats.

There was a small parade on the Saturday, and plenty of other boat movements as those who just couldn't get enough BCN goodness set off for Chasewater, or the Cannock Extension.
Here are Aldgate and Renfrew winding in preparation for a jaunt to Chasewater.

The local Brownhills Bob blog was appreciative, and posted a nice montage of photos (in which Chertsey features quite heavily. Another roving photographer, Roger Dutton, sent me this photo he took of Jim putting a final polish on the paintwork:
My, that really brings out the wavy cabin sides - that's a historic (early eighties) steel skin on a rebuilt (late seventies) wooden cabin, and no, I'm not going to have it all cut off and a perfect replica 1937 one made in solid steel!

On the other side of the canal from the road, Tesco's and the high street were the extensive woods and common land. We took Ricky for a walk there and were immensely impressed with it. And we were amazed, on our return at dusk, to meet at least half a dozen red deer:
It was too dark to get a decent photo, but this is at least evidence! The whire dot on the left of the path is one deer's bum, and there are three or four others to the right. Apparently ther are very common, crossing from nearby Clayhanger Common and Cannock Chase. Even when Ricky barked (as he was bound to do) they only retreated a few feet. They were much bigger than the (fallow?) deer I have seen up here and it was a most impressive and magical sight.

Friday 28 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 4: The Daw End Branch, Wyrley and Essington

There is not much to say about this. The running log says 'shallow'. Then later it says 'very shallow'. We got stemmed up in some mud and I wrestled the long shaft out of the front of the boat and successfully pushed us off, but I couldn't manoeuvre the shaft back in once the bank was no longer there to support its weight - it needed to be held almost vertical, by the last couple of feet. A certain former superstar scaffolder of my acquaintance could have done it easily, but unfortunately he was steering at the time. Eventually I gave up and tucked it more traditionally into the topstrings. (It usually lives inside sitting on top of the chains along the side of the hull.) At one point we were travelling more slowly than a very recalcitrant toddler being taken for a walk along the towpath.

The high point of this waterway should have been the previously mentioned Black Cock Bridge, and here indeed is a photo of it.

This is one of the many photos Jim took of it, but unfortunately none of them shows where it was jacked up (although I saw the gaps in the brickwork very plainly).

Thursday 27 April 2017


As you may recall, it is customary in our office to bring back local delicacies from one's holidays. This time there is no getting away from the fact that - with apologies to the vegetarians, vegans, Muslims, Jews, people with weak teeth (or teeth they care about), allergies to monosodium glutamate, or indeed functioning tastebuds - it has to be pork scratchings. Only in the Black Country when requesting pork scratchings in a pub are you offered the choice of 'hard or soft?'

Because I went a-searching for Black Country delicacies that I might be able to rustle up instead, and the best I could come up with was faggots with grey peas, and groaty dick. Which frankly sounds more like a cautionary tale from a fire and brimstone Southern Baptist than a tasty menu.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 3: Rushall Canal

Having survived the Tame Valley, the next challenge was to be the Rushall - you definitely don't want to stop on there, we were told. Well, to be honest, it would have taken some feat of timing if we had, given that it's only two and three quarter miles long. Again though, no trouble at all, and it hasn't really stuck in the memory either. The main note in the log is of seeing the second dead Canada goose of the trip - but someone pointed out later that this might be nothing to do with the nature of the waterway, but more about the rather competitive time of year. We saw a dead duck on the lockside at Glascote on the way back too.
The main problem with the Rushall was this was a bit, well, rushy. Lots of cut reeds in the water which was of course pretty shallow.
Here is an otherwise unremarkable photo showing that there are indeed some locks.

We stopped above Rushall locks at Longwood Boat Club and in the morning I was delighted to see the Jam Butty (whose name is actually Montgomery) - the amalgam of a pre-existing modern butty stern end with a fore end made of iron BCN boat to make a really cute butty that fits in a lock behind the 42' Wand'ring Bark. Captain Ahab's posts on how she came into being can hopefully be found here.
My small part in her creation came about because Chertsey was moored at Stretton at the time, and Montgomery's rear end was on display to the world, craned out of the way on top of a Portacabin at the yard. Keith Ball had built Montgomery as a butty in the nineties, had then taken it back in part exchange, cut the stern end off and converted it to a motor boat which was then sold. The Captain saw the stern as he passed the yard and asked me about it... I introduced the idea of creating what was to become the Jam Butty to Keith (who liked the idea, and was the first to call it that)... Andy got in touch with Keith, and a little star was born. And this was the first time I had seen the finished article, many years later.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Good signs

Some of my favourite signs of the trip.

This one tickled me for no apparent reason:

This one for a more obvious reason:

And this one, which has to be my top favourite, for its admittedly puerile charm:

In case you're wondering at the omission, I didn't get a photo of Black Cock Bridge - I was too busy trying to get Jim to photograph the jacking points in it that Captain Ahab had told me about, where it had been jacked up successive times to compensate for mining subsidence. Unfortunately Jim didn't have the first idea what I was shouting about, so I've no photos of them either. Also, I'm not that puerile...

Monday 24 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 2: Tame Valley Canal

So we turned off the Birmingham and Fazeley onto the Tame Valley Canal at Salford Junction. From what we'd heard, the Tame Valley was very much a case of 'here be dragons', so with expectations suitably lowered, we were pleasantly surprised. We did start noticing serious amounts of rubbish though, both litter and more serious dumping. Not as bad as what was to come on the Walsall, but depressing nonetheless to be in an area where people still view their local canal as a rubbish tip rather than an amenity to be enjoyed. The fact that much of it is in cuttings, and shielded from sight, doesn't help - it's easy to understand how out of sight can be out of mind. One passing local was quick to blame 'immigrants' but I have the sense that it has been ever thus. No more than a few decades ago the canals round Birmingham (and indeed elsewhere) were viewed by almost everyone as a blight and an embarassment, fit for no better a fate than that of communal midden. The increasing tendency of local authorities to cut back on and charge for rubbish collection is only going to make things worse, as already evidenced by the recent rise in fly-tipping on a commercial scale in rural areas. On a more positive note, there are significantly fewer dead dogs in the cut these days.

Perry Barr locks was another place we had been warned about, but had no trouble either way from anyone. Indeed they were nice locks in mostly pleasant surroundings, marred only by the amount of rubbish - tyres being a speciality - fouling the gates.
We were getting a little short of water by the time we caught up with Stanton at lock 10, and when they couldn't get over the cill of lock 7 we stopped for lunch for an hour while some more water was magicked up (or possibly let down).

The cutting at the top of the locks was beautiful with spring flowers
 Although the water was still teeming with flotsam and (mostly I fear) jetsom, which I didn't photograph.
 Numerous brick piers have been inserted - seemingly at different times - to support the cutting.
While the trees that had been doing their best to destabilise it have recently been cut back significantly.

There were some serious cycle path works going on, for miles.
This appears to be being funded by Birmingham City Council.  I only hope that they become well used, and bring more people to the canal.
When we came back along this way on the Tuesday, from Walsall, the boats working on this were the only boats we saw all day.

On the way to Brownhills, we turned off at Rushall Junction
On the way back, we joined from the Walsall Canal at Tame Valley Junction.

No longer afear'd, we tied up by Piercy Aqueduct for the penultimate night of the trip. A lovely rural idyll...
 Or the periphery of England's second city...
Depending on your perspective.

And finally, a scene from Perry Barr facing downhill.
We had no problems with water on the return journey - there seemed to be plenty, although we weren't inundated like Flamingo.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Birmingham and Fazeley continues...

I have worked out how to resize photos in Windows 10 (you have to use Paint) so can now post them without fear of either overloading your bandwidth, or, worse, exceeding my Blogger allowance with unnecessarily massive photos. Should you require a massive version for any unfathomable reason, please do ask.

Now, rural idyll is all very well, but when I'm boatibng I do like a bit of post-industrial. I feel a bit bad about this, because post-industrial represents the graveyard of dreams; it usually - and definitely here - means poverty, unemployment and worst of all, loss of purpose. Buildings can be repurposed, but all too rarely are - and more rarely still, sympathetically. Can people be repurposed so easily? Ask a miner who's got to apply for jobs in a call centre.

First, here's one of my favourite bridge signs:
Here's a general sense of the more urban environs - graffiti, razor wire AND rivets. What more could you ask:
There was a lot of green-and-pleasant (also, of course, representing the Death of Industry) but not so interesting to photograph.

But here is another interesting bridge - Erdington Hall Bridge:
And a scene of colour-matched comfort:
And finally, the approach to Salford Junction, where we leave the Birmingham and Fazeley and turn onto the Tame Valley Canal:

Saturday 22 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 1: The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Having passed Fazeley Junction more times that I care to remember, this time we finally turned off onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.
Jim had just taken over the steering at this point, for the first time of the trip, and I do have photographic evidence (although no recollection) of me doing at least some of the locks coming up Curdworth. Here is the rather cutesey Drayton Footbridge - which my mother would have been unable to use, such was her phobia of spiral staircases.
And here am I, in the distance (best way) at Curdworth:
The Curdworth locks all had nice little floral features, which I only noticed on the way back down
 Here is Ricky pointing them out
One good thing about Curdworth was that they were clearly numbered.
We got slightly stuck in Lock 9 on the way up - I think it was just something behind the gate. Had to give it a little flush to get back out and have a scrape around - it was fine on the second attempt, albeit with a bit more power.  Other boaters we spoke to on the way up were all quite nervous of what we might encounter above Curdworth, and the general consensus was that no one should stop anywhere between the top of Curdworth and Longwood. Well, the Tame Valley, Rushall, and Walsall Canals are stories for another day, and I heard some second hand stories about late arrivals in Walsall encountering 'youth' in some form, and Captain Ahab met some lately at Ryders Green (where we didn't venture) but our experience was very positive and trouble free. We saw motorbikes haring up and down the towpath in a couple of places (well, wouldn't you?) and met a few young people and even fewer drunk people, all of whom were friendly and willing to be helpful. I suspect there is something in the theory that they're all inside playing on their 'netboxes', as someone put it. Also I suspect it's very much a matter of luck. Despite high levels of poverty, deprivation and unemployment, there clearly still aren't enough feral youths available to be everywhere, so whether one encounters them - even in habitats where they have previously been spotted - is largely a matter of luck, and finding them is much rarer than not finding them.

Moored in the Dog and Doublet pound was this rather lovely converted BCN boat (a Bantock perhaps?)
Clearly a longstanding conversion and a boat with real character.

Curdworth Tunnel comes complete with all the warnings about wearing lifejackets, turning off the gas etc, despite the fact that I've been under bridges that were longer. It also says maximum beam 6'11", which I can confirm is on the conservative side. This is where we stopped at lunchtime on Tuesday April 11th.
And here I think I will leave the Birmingham and Fazeley for now, because I want to post a lot more photos and I need to find a way of resizing them first.

Friday 21 April 2017


I don't think this really counts as Day 14, from the outside of the marina at Alvecote to the mooring behind the pub, seemed like a very long time, all in reverse... Having got the boat cleared out and cleaned up and the cars loaded, I undertook this final challenge and was helped rather than hindered by the breeze that had been worrying me all morning, and successfully tucked in and tied up next to Birmingham. Hmm, how appropriate. Last night was Curry Night in the Barlow and I for one was quite relieved after the previous night's mixed grill to have something a bit lighter (and to be relieved of the burden of too much choice).

I've downloaded and looked through my photos from the trip (well, the ones on the camera anyway - there are still the ones on the iPhone from when the camera wasn't to hand). I've enjoyed playing with the SLR again and I'm even considering getting another lens for it. At the moment I have an 18-55mm and a 75-300mm - but guess what - I really miss the 50-75 range. With my previous camera I used a 35-70 nearly all the time.

Just for starters, here is a photo of a stowaway who tried to join us on day 2, at Hopwas Wood.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Back in time for lunch (and pub of the trip)

Day 13, Dog and Doublet to Alvecote. 4 hours 20, 6 locks.

And we didn't even leave until half past nine! There have been hardly any pubs on this trip, but if we leave out the Barlow (because it is now our local and we're in there all the time, and we know what's good about it) the Dog and Doublet wins hands down, and would have done even against stiffer competition than the appalling Plough. The food was decent, the beer was ok, if limited (but so it is at the Barlow - in fact, only Doom Bar on tonight) but it was super dog friendly. When we were last in there the landlady asked if Ricky would like a meat pudding that a customer had left. This time they happily brought a dog dish so that Ricky could eat the fried egg that came with my mixed grill, and the landlady later insisted on bringing him some water - which he promptly made us look bad by drinking with alacrity. So from a very limited field, pub of the trip is the Dog and Doublet at Curdworth.

We had a trouble free final run back, tonight in the Barlow; tomorrow back in Sheffield having a bath and watching the snooker.

It's been another excellent trip - even Jim has enjoyed it, which I suspect is because of the shorted days. I shall write at greater length and in cool recollection about it all over the next few days.


Wednesday 19 April 2017

A good day's boating (at last)

Day 12, Piercy Aqueduct to (nearly) Dog and Doublet, Curdworth. 8 hours 50, 23 locks.

For the first time this trip we've ended up in the pub at the end of the day and what's more, feel like we deserve it. It's been a good day's boating - no problems, plenty of water, no rain, no wind and relatively mild.

We fished a few bits of rubbish out of the cut, including a double air bed part way down Perry Barr. I have perfected my technique for going downhill in the locks like Curdworth where they have single gates both ends. The button and one of the tip cats are both lifted (as well as the front fender of course) and once in the lock I take the tiller bar off. Once the lock's empty and the boat starts to drift back, I pull the swan's neck right round so that the rudder's at right angles, an then hold on to the protective steel plate on the top gate (what's it called?) to stop the boat drifting forward again as Jim opens the gate. In some of the locks we need every inch; others seem a bit longer.

We stopped in the pound just above the pub because I thought there might not be any space there - I was misled because we'd see about four other boats today and after yesterday that seemed a lot! Anyway, my mixed grill has arrived so I must finish.

Location:Dog and Doublet, Curdworth

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Chertsey goes clubbing

Day 11, Walsall Town Basin to Piercy Aqueduct, Tame Valley Canal, 5 1/4 hours, no locks.

Well, last night was certainly not one of restful and refreshing sleep. One of the throbbing nitespots on Walsall's hip and happening waterfront was pushing out rampaging disco beats until two fifteen in the morning (I checked the time every time it looked like stopping; there were quite a few false alarms but a there was nothing else to do, really). The lack of restfulness was compounded - if compounding were necessary - by my decision yesterday morning finally to cave in and light the stove. It takes a good two days to settle down to a consistent gentle heat, so I was also boiling, and had to have the slide open a fair bit for ventilation as well, which didn't help with the noise levels. Under cover of the disco, all kinds of ne'er do well-ing could have been occurring, of which I was mercifully unaware. However, it didn't, and once the music did stop, there was no rowdiness, just the noise of a couple of cars taking the revellers away. I suspect that in fact there might only have been two carloads of revellers; certainly in the hours of daylight the local joints did not appear oversubscribed. Other than being alternately too hot and too cold, then, I did subsequently get some sleep. In fact I was so dead to the world that I apparently failed to hear Emu's Bolinder backfiring no fewer than three times as they sought to make a quiet early getaway. By the time I emerged, the piri piri chicken place had already set in motion its loop of irritating Euro-pop, and a number of our comrades had already slipped away.

I however wanted to visit the Walsall New Gallery first - accounts differ on whether it is facing imminent closure through lack of funding, and having visited Walsall once before and. It gone in, this time I really wanted to. Also, I wanted to get a souvenir mug for the trip, as the event this time did not supply one. Well, I was to be disappointed on that score - good gallery, rubbish gift shop - mostly generic arty gifts, rather than Walsall-specific ones. I got a postcard tho to send the folks at work.

And then we were off. This time we turned left onto the Walsall Canal, and what a sad rubbish-strewn waterway it is. No wonder the people who came that way arrived in a state of depression. We ploughed through, and it got a little better. I made a lovely turn at Walsall Junction onto the Tame Valley Canal (mind you, these BCN junctions do seem generous; I suppose they needed to be for a string of joeys to negotiate them), and the Tame Valley, at this end, was a welcome contrast - straight and deep, and relatively less littered. On a different trip I might have bemoaned it as boring, but in this context it was a positive pleasure. Around two we passed Rushall Junction so are now retracing our steps, having done a little ring (a ringlet?) of the Tame Valley, Rushall and Walsall canals. We will also have done the whole of the Tame Valley and Walsall canals once we get back to Fazeley Junction.

Tonight on the recommendation of Renfrew's Cap'n Pete, we have tied up by the Piercy Aqueduct, about a mile short of the top of Perry Barr. Both sides of this canal have a towpath, but this side definitely has an offside feel (i.e. no vastly expensive cycle track) and Ricky has set to with abandon to first dig up, and then flake out on, the grass. It's a lovely pastoral contrast to Walsall Town centre - although I have to say in its defence that firstly Walsall was a lot less depressed and depressing than the impression I had previously formed, and secondly, that we had no trouble at all from any people there - indeed they were most friendly and interested. I'm not sorry that tonight will be quieter, all the same.

Location:Piercy Aqueduct

Monday 17 April 2017

Destination: Walsall

Day 10, 5 hours 40, 8 locks

And here we are in Walsall, after a remarkably pleasant and uneventful journey. We were in the middle of the convoy which left Brownhills at half past nine, with Richard Parry on the lead boat, Warbler. Being in the middle was definitely a good place to be; the boats in front found the problems first, and the ones bringing up the rear (after a diversion up the Cannock Extension) ran out of water.

Although it was shallow much of the way, and much of it litter strewn, mostly the surroundings were quite green - much of it former colliery land I would guess. The Walsall locks were not at all unpleasant - and, Jim reports, easy to work. I had trouble getting into a couple, which is odd, going downhill - I think there might have been rubbish stuck down the sides.

We are know tied up in Walsall Town Basin, having only got stuck on the bottom a little bit in the Town Arm. If the noise is anything to go by, Walsall is a vibrant and happening place. The gallery - which I am keen to visit - is closed until 10 am tomorrow. I had a quick look around the shops and the pedestrianised centre is certainly less depressed than I recall Walsall being from my last visit - although I suspect I was looking at a different part of it then.

About twenty boats were planning to make this trip; it's raining now so I shan't go out and count them, now that all but one have arrived.

Ah, the quiz. We came second to last, but with a quite respectable score of 88 out of 125, which is 70.4% and thus a First, which is fine by me. The winning team got 117 which is pretty amazing. There were an awful lot of BCN questions which I was no use with at all. All in all the Brownhills gathering felt fairly low key. This might have been something to do with the weather not being very conducive to sitting around outside, or the community centre being so far away, and even to it not being dog friendly. We're all shut away inside the hold again now as it spits with cold rain outside. I gave in this morning and lit the stove, so I will be boiling tonight and this is probably the last place I want to sleep with the slide open! The Basin is right in the centre of town, surrounded by eateries and bars. Mostly the people have been very friendly, and there was a lot of interest at Brownhills from passers by.

Location:Walsall Town Basin

Sunday 16 April 2017

Getting quizzical

Not long now until the event of the year - the HNBC quiz. The Erewash team who have been boating for about three hundred years between them will win; the aim of GUCCCi GUCCCi GUCCCi GU (geddit?) will be to not come last. Last year we achieved this by quite a significant margin, of about three, I recall. This year we have a substitute member - Enceladus Sarah - hence the extra GUCCCi to add to Chertsey, Purton and Renfrew. (Perhaps it should be guccci...?) This is because poor Little Ricky is banish├Ęd from the community centre and thus Jim must remain behind to keep him company. I have high hopes of our new member though (no pressure...)

This afternoon at the auction I made four purchases, and spent a total of eight pounds. The most expensive purchase was an empty five gallon Morris's oil tin, at £4, to replace the one Jim threw out.

A couple of boats have already left, but most of us are hanging on for the ceremonial convoy into Walsall tomorrow. If you don't hear from me tomorrow night, send out the search party.

Location:Still outside Tesco's in Brownhills

Saturday 15 April 2017

Carpet bagging

Day 8, Brownhills

Last night I did go over to the community centre for the talk and film show. The talk was quite interesting, with a lot of then and now photos, but as most of them were of parts of the Wyrley and Essington I haven't yet visited I didn't get as much out of it as I might have done.

This morning was sunny but with a cold wind. First I headed over to Tesco's to get the pork scratchings that I'll be taking back as my regional holiday treat for my workmates. Then Jim went off down the high street to find Ricky a new bed. His old back end/car tatty bed got caught in the rain last night, and he had recently torn the cover, so we decided the time was right to replace it. Once the new, bouncier, bed was in place on the back end, he didn't move from it for hours.

One thing I noticed was that among the small proportion of Brownhills shops that were still in business, there were three carpet shops, all offering discounted roll ends and remnants. It struck me that it would be a good opportunity to get a bit of carpet to fit the middle, 'saloon', section of Chertsey's hold (the section - or 'room' - that is traditionally called 'back of the mast'). The next bit back ('back middle', if I recall correctly) which is the kitchen, has had nice black and white checked vinyl for a couple of years. (The other two 'rooms' are fore end (currently the bedroom and stores) and back end (shed/patio/conservatory), and the divisions are marked by the cross planks.) So we measured up and set off in search of a bit the right size.
We were quickly successful (and I also got a nice little mat for the back cabin) and returned with a roll of speckly brown shouldn't-show-the-dirt-too-much carpet. To lay it we had to move the wooden bench that is full,of tools and stuff, so that provided the opportunity for a bit of a sort out. The carpet was actually laid rather more quickly and painlessly than I had anticipated, and has transformed the appearance and feel of the boat.

After a late lunch I took my melodeon over to Flamingo for Cath to give me some tips about playing the chords and basses - I am getting on quite well with working out melodies but this is the big challenge. It was fun experimenting and starting to work things out and I have a couple of new tunes to try before Braunston. When I came back Jim was entertaining Enceladus Sarah, and Rosie and Buzz had settled down beautifully with Ricky.

I've given the talk a miss this evening and am conserving my energy for tomorrow's tat auction (to which we actually have something to contribute this year) and tomorrow evening's quiz.

Location:Still opposite Tesco's in Brownhills

Friday 14 April 2017

More arrivals, and a little exploration

It's been that day when we polish the brass, put the cans out, and wait for everyone else to arrive. Apparently forty boats booked in - there aren't that many yet but I'd guess at least twenty so far, and there has been a bit of interest from passers by. Flamingo, Beatty, Enceladus and Swallow arrived this afternoon, and Ricky made the acquaintance of Rosie and Buzz, Enceladus' greyhounds. Bath arrived earlier and tied up alongside us and Beatty then on the outside of them. The offside opposite us is very shallow and any passing boats have to stay close. It's telling that only one boat that wasn't actually attending the gathering had to worry about this.

I went and looked up and down the high street this afternoon, and it's a heartbreakingly sad place. The shopping precinct, a big regeneration project opened in 1997, now has all its shops boarded up. I was involved in local regeneration projects in the nineties, and can all to easily imagine how hopeful and excited they must have been when their funding was approved. But it does strike me that if a place needs economic regeneration because the people who live there have no money, providing retail outlets, the success of which is largely premised on people spending money, isn't very logical.

There has been intermittent rain this afternoon, and it is raining fairly consistently and heavily now... shortly however I *might* go and try to find the community centre, and catch the talk on the BCN. Oh, and the bar of course. Sadly our social venue this year is not dog friendly, so we are taking it in turns to Ricky-sit.

Location:Brownhills, outside Tesco

Thursday 13 April 2017

Surprise wildlife in Brownhills

Day 6, Longwood Boat Club to Brownhills, 4 hours

What looked like a couple of hours on the map turned out to be a four hour slog through a mainly very shallow canal occasionally augmented with rocks. But the end was in sight so we soldiered cheerfully on.

Before we left I caught up with Captain Ahab loading the Jam Butty, and finally got to see that delightful craft in the flesh (having played a small part in introducing the Captain to its rear end and thence to its creator).

We were pretty much the first boats to arrive at the site of the gathering, and following a brief encounter with another rock, managed to get in reasonably close to the bank. There are moorings on both sides and at first the offside looked more attractive, but we couldn't get in there and we just might be better off where we are, as there are a lot of dog walkers the other side. Also we have Tesco's.

We wended our way over the footbridge to take Ricky for his evening constitutional and found a path weaving through extensive woodlands. It was lovely and to be honest not what I had expected of Brownhills. Even more surprising, on the way back, just as it was getting dusky, we saw a group of deer - I think they were female red deer - feet from the path. They seemed not at all nervous end even when Ricky barked they only retreated a few yards.

Jim is now happily reading the Walsall Express and Star, which is apparently big on domestic murders.

Location:Brownhills, outside Tesco's

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Makes a change from the Thames

Day 5, 9 1/2 hours + 1 hour waiting for water; 25 locks

Now that's more like a half decent day's boating! The weather was ok for most of it - mostly bright, but chilly and with enough wind to be a nuisance - and only started to rain just as we tied up. The stone throwing youth of whom we had heard such horror stories completely failed to materialise, and apart from large amounts of rubbish in the canal - including at one point an armchair - I was afraid Ricky was going to make a leap for it - it was not at all unpleasant. Once past the three locks at Minworth, the rest (13 at Perry Barr and nine at Rushall) had double bottom gates, so the fenders could go down again.

Stanton came through last night and tied up a bit beyond us, but later joined in our convoy. In front of us were Atlantic, Eli, and Stanton, and after a bit, behind us, Oberon. We stayed evenly spaced through the locks, and each boat back set for the one behind so we got through pretty efficiently.

The only issue was a shortage of water in some pounds, along with the aforementioned rubbish - we occasionally bounced over something on the bottom. At a couple of locks - particularly the middle of the Perry Barr flight - we had to wait for someone to let some water down before Stanton could get in. Overall these were nice enough locks - though you'd have to ask Jim really as he did them all!

As well as the rubbish, once we were on the Rushall canal I spotted (in separate places) two dead Canada geese. I've never even seen one dead one before, so I wonder what all that's about.

It should only be a couple more lock free hours to the rally site at Catshill Junction, and Jim and I are hoping to investigate the delights of Brownhills tomorrow.

Location:Long wood Boat Club

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Day 4, Dog and Doublet to Curdworth, 1 hour 55, 8 locks

Last night we popped into the Dog and Doublet and it wasn't bad. Atlantic as well as Eli have now caught up with us and I hear that Stanton and Renfrew are not far behind.

We set off this morning after ten and did the remaining eight Curdworth locks and the short Curdworth tunnel. The sign at the tunnel entrance said maximum beam 6'11" but Chertsey held her breath and all was well. There were volunteers at about half the locks and they were cheerful and friendly and helpful. It's a squeeze lengthways getting Chertsey into these locks because they have a single bottom gate, needing 7' clearance to shut it. Hence the front and rear fenders are all up which makes going into the lock fun. I have been doing ok though, and they are not too violent at filling.

We tied up in time for lunch and I finally got a first coat of paint onto the table cupboard so that Keith's beautiful painting is surrounded by something a bit better than splodgy blue undercoat. Jim has polished up a cup handle that came with the boat but not attached to anything which will grace it nicely.

Then we went for a walk further up the towpath then back into the village for a paper and an ice cream before coming back for a little more light polishing.

This morning just beyond the pub pound there was a lovely long straight stretch of grassy towpath so we took Ricky for a run - probably the longest straight gallop he's had. He did seem to enjoy it.


Monday 10 April 2017

Short days beginning to pall a little

Day 3, Huddlesford to Dog and Doublet: 4 hours 45, 3 locks

Another ridiculously short day, which even with the addition of three quarters of an hour stuck to the bank at Hopwas, still saw us tied up by two.

But first, back to last night. We made our way over to the Plough at the appointed time, only to learn that our reserved table was not yet available - we were invited to buy a drink and wait until it was. But the place was packed and there was nowhere to sit and precious little space to stand. The Plough sells itself as being a dog friendly pub, but in fact dogs (and their owners) are corralled into a small part of it, and there was barely floor space for Ricky and Mr Jones and the sheer concentration of dogs as well as people made it all quite tense. Even if they did deign to find us a table there wouldn't have been room to breathe and certainly not for the dogs to lie down without constant fear of being trodden on. So we took the decision not to grace them with our presence, and instead repaired to The Boat That Will Be Called Princess Lucy II for takeaway pizza, fetched by the Captain and Jim from Papa John's in Lichfield. It was very nice pizza, and we had a much better evening, for much less money, than we would have had in the Plough. So that was last night.

This morning we set off at 8.30. Although the sun was shining it was distinctly chillier that the last couple of days, with a cold and worrying breeze. Since last year and the virtuous example set by Cap'n Pete, I have been assiduous in slowing down to a quite excessive degree for moored boats - and it does seem to make people happy even when it clearly has no actual physical effect on them - but today I realised that that way might lie trouble. It's hard to know whether people who moor opposite open fields would prefer me to go by them a bit faster than they might usually like, or to be blown sideways into them... The inevitable happened just as we approached Hopwas Woods, but the person whose boat Chertsey got too friendly with was absolutely lovely about it. We couldn't get off the bank after getting past him, so tied up (unnecessarily) for a cup of tea and a bit of a think. After that we got off with the help both the nice man and Jim, with a long shaft at each end of the boat, at the second attempt.

We dragged along the rest of the way; it felt really shallow, which is odd as I don't remember that from coming the other way on Saturday, and the pound wasn't noticeably low. After a while a boat caught up with us, and it was Colin and Annie on Eli. They too are heading for Brownhills and we have both stopped at the Dog and Doublet where we plan to pop in later. They stopped on the Services at Fazeley Junction while we turned off onto the Birmingham and Fazeley canal for the first time, with Jim at the tiller for the first time this trip and me with my big camera out. The B&F seems very pleasant so far. We got slightly stuck going into Curdworth lock 9. We flushed out backwards I had a poke with the long shaft behind the gate and dislodged a small accretion of something. I don't know whether that made the difference or Jim just came in more determinedly the next time, but all was fine. These locks are short and we've had to lift the rear fenders to get the bottom gates shut.

Annie and I spent a while poring over maps while Jim and Colin pored over the engine, and we think we have planned the rest of the journey... a really really short day tomorrow, a long day (at last!) on Wednesday, and possibly another really short one on Thursday to get us to Catshill Junction - all to avoid overnight stops in places deemed unsavoury by various people.

People spend fortunes to have slightly scary holidays in places like South America and South East Asia, but we can do it right here.

Location:Dog and Doublet, Curdworth

Sunday 9 April 2017

No hurry

Day 2: Hopwas Wood to Huddlesford Junction: 1 hour 55 including winding.

It's an odd thing, this not hurrying. Having time to stop and sit around. Read books. Go for walks. We have a relatively short distance to go, in a relatively long time, for us.

Today was another lovely hot sunny one - and I have really caught the sun. We set off just before nine, and were tied up in time for elevenses. Jim did some more polishing and we dressed the boat up, just for fun, and in honour of a visit from the Princess Lucies this afternoon. Ricky had a great time catching up with Mr Jones and tonight we are off to the Plough for dinner.

Last night we had butter beans and spinach in tomato and roast garlic sauce, with brown basmati rice.

We spent some time this afternoon poring over Nicholsons 2, planning our journey into the mysterious badlands of the Tame Valley canal, the Rushall canal and the Daw End branch. Oh, not forgetting the Birmingham and Fazeley - all new territory for us.


Saturday 8 April 2017

A very short day

Day 1, Alvecote to Hopwas

But it was worth starting the engine, because it has been such a beautiful day. I got to Alvecote about ten, and unloaded all the provisions from Bluebird. Chertsey was looking smashing after Jim's week of hard work - brass sparkling and paintwork gleaming.

We're aiming to get to Huddlesford around mid morning tomorrow as we reckon that'll be the best time to find a mooring at what I believe is a popular spot.

And now we are tied up listening to the birds singing with Hopwas Woods on one side and the River Tame on the other enjoying the evening sun.


Friday 7 April 2017

Another new headlamp

I can't keep track of all the new and old headlamps we've had. One nice old one, smashed on a bridge; replaced with an even nicer one, whose bulb went just pre-Braunston tunnel last year, and we couldn't find a replacement. So we had to buy a cheap modern emergency one because we'd left the other cheap modern emergency one at home.
The weekend before last, Jim fitted yet another one. This was a lamp we'd bought in the Braunston marquee a few years ago, but had never had a bulb for, with a LED array we'd bought for, but couldn't fit to, last summer's one. This is handy because it's got a bracket, and we still haven't replaced the stalk that was damaged in the Drunken Hippy Bridge Incident. So it's bolted through the deckboard. Which also needs painting. Never ending isn't it.

Tomorrow we'll be setting off, for Catshill Junction on the Wyrley and Essington, via the Plough at Huddlesford Junction, where we'll be meeting up on Sunday night with the Princess Lucies and Mr Jones. It seems quite strange that the trip will be such a short one - three short* days, even taking in the detour. If all goes smoothly we should arrive in plenty of time for the Brownhills gathering. I shall try to do a daily, pictureless, log post, to illustrate and expand upon on my return.

* The Chertsey guide to cruising days:
10 hours = a day
12+ hours = a long day
8 hours = a short day
6 hours = half a day
< 6 hours = is it worth starting the engine?

Thursday 6 April 2017

Bedhole screw holes

When I put the cross bed away at the end of the last trip, I noticed that the screws had finally all pulled out of one of the hinges.
I then of course completely forgot about it until the time came to open it up again. I couldn't really put it away again without fixing this, and I needed to to sweep out the cabin, so I called on Jim to see whether he might have any suitable bigger, longer, screws in his toolbox. He came to the rescue of course, but was very concerned that he had had to use cross headed screws. I reassured him that no one would ever see them.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Going on the dock

You often hear people talking about 'going on the dock' but never us - until now. Whenever we've needed to black a boat, or get underneath it, up till now, we've had it craned out onto the bank. Of course this was easy, ond obvious, when we were at Stretton with its on site crane.

But now we're at Alvecote, and the obvious place to go for blacking is the dry dock at Grendon. And boy, does Chertsey need blacking. If I tell you it was last done in 2010...
To be honest, I'm hoping that as it had three coats of Comastic then, brushed - brushed mind, not rollered - onto shotblasted bare steel, that it won't be too bad below the waterline - although I am sure that we've put plenty of scrapes into it over that last seven years.

In another new development, we won't be doing it ourselves. I have mixed feelings about this. I don't really have the time to spare to do it, and I'm not all that enthusiastic about exposing myself to more nasty potentially carcinogenic solvents than I have to - but at least when you do it yourself you know how well it's been done. I've never worked in a dry dock though and I don't think I fancy that much either.

So, I have booked Chertsey into Grendon dry dock at the end of May for someone else to pressure wash and black the hull. We're hoping to be able to time a trip to have a good look between those processes, and decide whether to have it done again with Comastic (more expensive) or if it's sufficiently sound to put bitumen on top - you can put bitumen on top of Comastic, but not vice versa. Hopefully we won't find any nasty surprises (although I still go cold when I think about Plover dragging us off that bridge pier on the Soar).

I'll have the tunnel bands done as well - and in proper red and white this time. Martin meant well when he painted them to match the livery (it isn't as obvious in the above photo as it is in real life), not realising we'd only just done them, but I've never felt that it looked right.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Those traditional little jobs...

While Jim was scraping and painting the gunnels, I was attending to the spring clean of the cabin, of which the biggest job must be the stove.

It was less than four months this year that the stove had sat unused, but it has still sprouted a bloom of rust - and needed a damn good clean anyway following being used in our autumn and winter boating. I've seen it worse, but the procedure's still the same.

First a good wire brushing to get the rust off the surface, then a soft brush to get rid of the rust and dust and ash. Then I cleaned out the firebox and the insides - I didn't brush the chimney this year as it has actually had very little use. Next, apply Liberon Iron Paste all over. Forget Hot Spot and even Zebo and Zebrite; Liberon Iron Paste is the stuff. I rub it in with a toothbrush, which on one level is not terribly efficient, but it is the best way of getting it out of the rather impractically tall thin tin without getting my hands absolutely covered in it.
Work it in all over, then leave it for a while (albeit not the four hours they recommend) to dry, then buff it up with a rag - it's actually not much effort.
And the results are fabulous.