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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 56 – Shropshire Union

Posted by indigodream on 4 April, 2017

Rewind to Friday 26th August

Autherley Junction to Goldstone Wharf

Kingfisher πŸ™‚

One of the great joys of boating is the sheer variety that England’s canals, and climate, has to offer. After yesterday’s excess of locks and rain, today we had a day of blue skies, sunshine and one of the longest lock-free pounds on the system. We hardly took any photos yesterday, but today a kingfisher obligingly sat on top of a hawthorn tree for long enough for me to get several photos – such a difference!

We’d had a mercifully quiet night on the mooring and enjoyed a relaxed start, casting off at around 9.30am. However we didn’t get very far – as soon as we’d turned onto the Shroppie via the silly stop lock, we stopped at the hire base to get a pump out. We then moved a boat length onto the waterpoint and filled the tank. Archie and Henry were weary, once they’d had a good rummage at the junction, they were happy to settle as we set off along the Shroppie.

I’ve never known one pose so nicely πŸ™‚

It was a day for services – we stopped at Wheaton Aston, well, it would be rude not to given that it has the reputation for being the cheapest on the system – today it was 51.9p per litre base price. We also got a new gas cylinder.

With various tanks properly full, or empty, we set off for a long afternoon on the lock-free pound. It’s easy to see why the Shroppie is so popular – it’s so pretty and there is a great contract between the cool, deep cuttings and the sudden embankments with breathtaking views across to the far Wrekin.

I dropped Richard off at Gnosall so that he could catch a bus to Stafford then a train back to Birmingham to retrieve his car and collect his new bike from Wolverhampton. The hounds and I carried on cruising, the late afternoon is my favourite time of day on the water and it was a welcome respite after a vexatious couple of days.

As we near the end of a long odyssey, the crew are getting very weary…

There were good moorings at Shebdon Wharf with the 5-day rings totally unoccupied; the long stretched of long-term online moorings made for slow progress but they were leavened by long stretches of unoccupied country canal. I envied nb Gorgeous George, that had bagged itself a prime mooring spot with a magnificent view of the Wrekin. I’ve always fancied mooring there, but it is very isolated so nigh on impossible for Richard to get back to the boat. As I cruised past I was very glad I hadn’t moored – nb Gorgeous George had a cat running loose around the towpath and adjacent field – could have been a close call with the hounds!

I arrived at Goldstone Wharf at 7.15pm – I’d just moored up and fed the hounds when Richard turned up on his shiny new bike. We went to the nearby Wharf Inn for supper – sadly dogs are only allowed in the garden but it was a bit chilly for sitting outside so we left them on the boat, but they didn’t seem to mind πŸ™‚

Photoblog:

Autherley Junction – useful services, including ice-cream!

 

Drama! This poor hire boat had a window broken by a ballistic rock thrown out by the strimmers….

Deep cuttings and dappled sunshine…

 

Classic Canal scenes around Brewood…

 

Aqueduct…

 

Rummaging…..

 

A fine place to stop for lunch…

 

A fine canal for photography…

 

Tempting…

 

Breathtaking views – with the Wrekin in the distance..

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 55 – Wolverhampton

Posted by indigodream on 1 April, 2017

Rewind to Thursday 25th August

Dudley Canal Centre to Autherley Junction

We’ll try these moorings next time πŸ™‚

After the shennanigans overnight, we weren’t off to a great start – although there was little chance of recovering Richard’s bike, we reported it to the police, which took a bit of time. We also reported it to some local “quick cash” outlets, who were surprisingly helpful; but there we ran into a problem – although we knew the make and size of the bike, we couldn’t find any photos or a record of any serial numbers – all essential if you want to track a stolen item being offered for sale. We reluctantly accepted that the bike was probably gone forever and started the search for a new one.

Well, that was a revelation – it is impossible to just buy a bike! Every single bike shop in the area seemed to need a minimum of 24 hours to assemble a bike; some needed a whole week! Now I was starting to understand why you might steal one – if you need a bike in a hurry it’s the only way! We now also had to accept that we’d have to work our way down the Wolverhampton 21 without a bike.

Coseley – a side of Dudley/Wolverhampton only seen from the canal…

The only advantage to being awake for most of the night was that we were up early (or late, depending on your perspective) and were able to set off around 9am. The weather was overcast but dry, giving us good conditions for inspecting the moorings round the corner, under the CCTV cameras, and for regretting not moving last night – ah well, now we know.

We had a good cruise to the top of the Wolverhampton 21 – the canal has an interesting mix of development and dereliction, and then there’s the welcome incongruity of Coseley’s richly wooded cutting – fascinating…..

Interestingly, there are some short -term moorings at the top of the Wolverhampton flight – I wonder whether you’d dare moor there – the area has a fearsome reputation.

As we started down the flight, we came across many boats coming up – this meant that the locks were set our way, which was a great advantage on a dreary day, especially when we were sorely missing the bike for lock-wheeling.

As we got to Lock 5, it started to rain; by lock 6 it was torrential; by lock 7 it was a deluge; then it rained on a biblical scale for the rest of the flight. We gritted our teeth – although it was very tempting to stop and sit it out for a few hours, most of the pounds are short and water levels erratic so we pressed on – we simply had to get to the bottom of the flight.

There’s obviously a story here…

Luckily, the hounds needed little persuasion to stay dry and warm inside, which was a shame as there is good rummaging potential on the flight – especially towards the bottom. Sadly, by the time I reached my favourite stretch between locks 17 and 21, I was so wet and cold that I couldn’t enjoy it. Conditions were so miserable we didn’t stop for lunch – I had a feeling that if I went indoors and peeled off my waterproofs I would not motivate myself to put them back on again. We snacked our way soggily down the flight, and by the end I found myself rushing just out of the sheer desperation to moor up for the day.

When we got to the bottom of the flight, we had a debate about whether to moor at the junction, we’ve moored quietly there before, or whether to press on to Autherley Junction. In the end, we moored up just shy of Autherley Junction on a stretch of mooring rings with convenient access to the nearby road bridge. Although it had felt like an immensely long day we actually moored up at 3.30pm. We peeled off our waterproofs, had lunch, and that settled it for me – no way was I going out in that rain again!

Smart mooring offside at the top of the Wolverhampton flight – would you dare to moor overnight there??

With that decided, we relaxed for a bit while Richard continued his search for a bike. Sod’s law dictated that by 4pm the rain cleared and fragments of washed and faded blue sky started to emerge. Richard set off first to a local bike shop then by bus to Wolverhampton to find a bike, while I had an amble with the hounds and relaxed. Bike shopping was quite hard, Richard bought nothing but came back to the boat to have a think about the logistics of a plan B, his knee was playing up badly so a bike just had to be bought!

I don’t have notes for what we did in the evening – I’m sure we ate on board because I couldn’t be naffed to go out, and I recall that Richard ordered a bike via the internet from Halfords that would be ready for him to collect the following evening – hurrah!

Life before the deluge πŸ™‚

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 54 – BCN

Posted by indigodream on 16 March, 2017

Rewind to Wednesday 24th August

Sheepcote Bridge to Black Country Museum

The trnasport layer cake - view from the bottom.

The transport layer cake – view from the bottom.

The day started cool and overcast, which was better for me, though it brightened up considerably later on. We had another logistical day as we had old friends Ken and Sue, with grandson Luke coming to cruise, not forgetting experienced canine Indigo Dreamers Poppy and Pluto. They were driving down from North Wales and would leave their car at the Black Country Museum, our cruising target for the day. Richard would pick them up by car and bring them back to the boat. It was such a smooth plan, but they accidentally put the wrong post code into the satnav and ended up in Kidderminster!

Never mind, it gave me time to pop to the Sainsbury’s Local for food and to spot a handy taxi rank on Oozell’s Street (which I wish I’d spotted yesterday when we needed a cab). It also gave me time to prepare lunch so that when they arrived we could all have a restorative meal.

By lunchtime it was 30 degree indoors and a fine day for exploring the BCN; we’re great fans of the city’s waterways and haven’t been here since 2013, so we were excited to be back. Unlike our BCN challenge days, we had plenty of time, so we set off down the new main line – it was as grand as ever and we waxed lyrical about it’s many features. To make the best of the transport layer cake (where the old canal crosses the new Main Line under the West Coast railway and the M5) we first passed right under it then we made an acute right turn to ascend the Spon Lane locks.

Spon Lane Locks are great for rummaging...

Spon Lane Locks are great for rummaging…

Spon Lane is a fine spot – the locks seem so cut-off from the real world and all the dogs had a good rummage, though it was a bit hot for zoomies. We then set off along the Wolverhampton level, enjoying every fascinating inch.

We got to the Black Country Museum late afternoon, just as a boat claimed the last secure mooring spot on the towpath. We spoke to the staff there, and we would have been allowed to brest up to another boat, but they didn’t seem that welcoming and we had four dogs to offload, (though only Archie and Henry would stay overnight). We asked the staff whether they’d heard of any trouble on the moorings just outside the museum and they said they hadn’t.

As it was still light, we took a chance on mooring just outside the museum while we uhhmed and ahhh’d about staying there overnight. We were still undecided when we strolled back to the museum car park to say goodbye to our guests. We had planned to eat at the museum cafe/bar, which is open for supper, but it’s not dog-friendly, even on the outside terrace, and the place seemed empty and soulless – we weren’t impressed.

Resons to "get out of the water" - blue green algae and heavy hydrocarbons!

Reasons to “get out of the water” – blue green algae and heavy hydrocarbons!

When we got back to the boat we mused again on whether to move. Richard had cycled round the corner to scout alternatives – our other choice was on the long length of mooring rings in the housing development round the corner. In the meantime, another boat joined us on the moorings and we felt “safety in numbers” and stayed put. This later proved to be a mistake, but that’s hindsight for you!

The mooring were very noisy with traffic from the two main roads nearby and later some roadworks involving a pneumatic drill. It would have been just as noisy on the other side of the bridge in the museum, so we can’t fault the rings just outside for that!

We settled down to eat on board and to watch some more DVDs – the moorings were quiet without any bother from the towpath, which was a relief. During the evening, three more boats came down hoping to moor at the museum – one had hoped to get through the Dudley Tunnel. We were astonished, as they had an abundant rooftop garden which added two feet to their air draft. They headed off towards Netherton, where they definitely wouldn’t have trouble with headroom! All three latecomers headed off to the yonder – I wonder where they went?

Spon Lane Top - that's enough rummaging...

Spon Lane Top – that’s enough rummaging…

It all seemed to be going well – the towpath had been very quiet and at 2.30pm the tumultuous rain promised in the forecast arrived. Although the noise of the rain woke me up, I was strangely reassured as I thought the filthy weather would keep the mischief-makers indoors – I was wrong!

At 3.30am, Richard heard a gentle scraping noise – he was awake and reading and at first we thought it was just one of the hounds moving around, but then it happened again. There was obviously something going on so he sprang out of bed to look. Although it was seconds from the second scrape to Richard getting onto the front deck, his bike was gone and the thieves had scarpered. In such a short time, they’d cropped through the bike lock and were already out of sight. To us it felt like a professional job rather than an opportunistic crime and it was too late for us to wonder about the dodgy character we’d seen under the bridge earlier who might have been spotting things to steal.

We had a restless night after that – there were no more incidents and the boats were unmolested, but we were on edge, as you might expect. The hounds were not bothered, they heard nothing and cared even less!

Photoblog:

Transport layer cake - middle level :-)

Transport layer cake – middle level πŸ™‚

 

Under the M5 - welcome shade from sun or rain...

Under the M5 – welcome shade from sun or rain…

 

One of the BCN's rural faces...

One of the BCN’s rural faces…

 

This is only our second visit to the tunnel prtal - one day we'll get here early enough to visit the canal and take a trip through the tunnel...

This is only our second visit to the tunnel portal – one day we’ll get here early enough to visit the canal and take a trip through the tunnel…

 

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Dog Blog – An Alex Update

Posted by indigodream on 28 November, 2016

This evening Alex went to his second dog training class. He coped ok in the class but he has a long journey ahead of him!

Archie and Henry came along for moral support which was totally hilarious, particularly when the Trainer borrowed Henry who walked perfectly towards another dog bar one minor detail, the Trainer had not noticed that the other dog’s owner had a belt with an open food pouch just at Henry head height.

Later all were practising the “watch me” command which involves all owners standing in front of their dog with a treat at chest height, saying watch me and rewarding the dog. None of the dogs managed as good a watch me as the tandem effort from Henry and Archie, shame that they were just spectators!

The perfect watch me!

The perfect watch me!

Yesterday we managed to get some photos of Alex stretching his legs, he runs with exuberance and joy but does hold his paw up a bit afterwards. Sorry but the light was a bit poor for action photos.

 

And they are off

And they are off

 

Archie working the camera!

Archie working the camera!

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3-r_sd9a1283a

5-r_sd9a1291a

6-r_sd9a1290a

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8-r_sd9a1293a

Hmm, paw being held up

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Dog Blog: Introducing a new Indigo Dreamer….

Posted by indigodream on 13 November, 2016

Sunday 13th November 2016

Alex soon after he arrived - he was exhausted but couldn't let go of his fear enough to fall asleep...

Alex soon after he arrived – he was exhausted but couldn’t let go of his fear enough to fall asleep…

A few weeks ago, our favourite greyhound charity emailed us with a cri de couer – they needed a foster home for an 18 month old greyhound called Alex who had been injured mentally and physically during his time as a pup in Ireland. It’s remarkable that he ended up in a rescue charity rather than dead in a ditch, but we’ll be grateful for small mercies.

When we met Alex at the rescue kennels in October he was a terrified puppy, encased in terror and unable to make any sense of the world; he didn’t have the mental equipment to realise that he was safe now. The rescue felt that he would never progress unless he had the one-to-one attention that a home could offer. His from paw had been mangled in a racing accident and he has four broken bones (one broken in three places) that have been allowed to heal all crooked and although he was reluctant to stand on that foot, his pain was hard to judge through his terror.

We couldn’t take him that day as he had a vet appointment on the Tuesday, and as we drove away we were equally excited and daunted by the challenge of helping to rehabilitate such a damaged pup.

We picked him up on Wednesday 12th October with a mission to increase his confidence and seek a specialist vet’s opinion on his foot. We’ve taken him on as foster because it wouldn’t be fair to impose our boating lifestyle on a stressed hound – having done that to Ty, we couldn’t do it to Alex.

Well. a month on, and I’m pleased to report great progress – Alex’ confidence is increasing by tiny steps every day. Sadly there is nothing that can be done for his foot – the injury is too old, and corrective surgery would be very risky. However, we can keep him comfortable with anti-inflammatories and his foot is far more functional than the horrible x-rays would suggest and seems to be getting better.

But a week later he'd established his safe nest and matered the art of roachng (sleeping upside-down like a dead cockroach!)...

But a week later he’d established his safe nest and mastered the art of roaching (sleeping upside-down like a dead cockroach!)…

Last weekend was emotional – Alex became the 60th greyhound Indigo Dreamer. He was the first greyhound on board after Indigo Dream’s relaunch in her new colours so he follows in Blue the blue greyhound’s steps as the first greyhound on board after her original launch 10 years ago….

Alex has come such a long way in his first month and coped far better with the weekend’s challenges than we could have hoped for. These included:

  • Long car trips to and from the boat, including a stop off a motorway service station (bit of drama there as he tried to jump back into the boot before it was actually open – oops!)….
  • The boat itself, including mastering the pontoon walk, having the engine running, being in very close proximity to us, and having some visiting boaters and their dog on board…
  • Lunch in a canalside cafe with other people and their dogs….

and all this on the weekend of Guy Fawkes, with fireworks going off all around – though he is strangely not bothered by them! Although he was nervous, he didn’t have the panting dread that previous wuss boy Ty suffered – it’s a great start πŸ™‚

Alex on Indigo Dream - he travels with his doughnut bed - that establishes his safe place - whether in the car, the boat or the cafe!

Alex on Indigo Dream – he travels with his doughnut bed – that establishes his safe place – whether in the car, the boat or the cafe!

This weekend we had another breakthrough as Archie Beanz came to stay for a while and be Alex’ older bruvva and all-round therapist. The difference is Alex is remarkable – we were able to let him off-lead in the garden for his first zoomies and he had a wonderful time. We took some photos of him running but sadly a bit late in the day so a bit dark for action photos. When he got back in he was then faced with challenges like Richard hoovering, Alex cuddled up to his new bruv – wonderful πŸ™‚

There is a long way to go and we have committed to fostering Alex until the start of the boating season at the end of March. We will take him cruising in January to see how he copes with the boat moving (he did well on the boat moored up). If he can take to boating then he can stay forever, but either way, Alex will have a wonderful life from now on whether with us or a non-boating family.

Breakfast at the cafe in Nantwich Canal Centre - lots of other dogs and people but he wasn't panicked :-)

Breakfast at the cafe in Nantwich Canal Centre – lots of other dogs and people but he wasn’t panicked πŸ™‚

 

He travels well in the car :-)

He travels well in the car πŸ™‚

 

Three weeks in and Alex had totally perfected the art of snoosing in his safe nest...

Three weeks in and Alex had totally perfected the art of snoozing in his safe nest…

 

Today, Archie came to stay - Alex trusted him immediately and is cuddling up for comfort..

Today, Archie came to stay – Alex trusted him immediately and is cuddling up for comfort..

 

This is the first time we've felt confident enough to let Alex off-lead in the garden - he loved his first zoomies and I think he ran off a lot of tension...

(As far as Richard has admitted) This is the first time we’ve felt confident enough to let Alex off-lead in the garden – he loved his first zoomies and I think he ran off a lot of tension…

 

A month on and Alex is doing well - fingers crossed that he can shake off his cruel early life and make the best of all the joys that a loving home can provide :-)

A month on and Alex is doing well – fingers crossed that he can shake off his cruel early life and make the best of all the joys that a loving home can provide πŸ™‚

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 53 – North Stratford

Posted by indigodream on 20 September, 2016

Rewind to 23rd August

Lapworth Top to Sheepcote Bridge, Birmingham

Lovely reflections..

Lovely reflections..

We set off at 9am – just as well – it was further into the centre of Birmingham than we remembered!

Today was the first scorchingly hot day of our holiday – it was therefore nice to have a lock-free day, though there were a few lift-bridges

At first we were behind a very slow hire boat, who courteously pulled up to let us pass – after that we didn’t see anyone going into Birmingham, though these was another stampede of boats going towards Lapworth. We hastened through King’s Norton – it has an unsavoury reputation, yet it was quiet and green when we passed through. We noticed that several hire boats had moored at Norton Junction – again, by repute it’s definitely not the place to stay the night and we hope that they were just stopping for lunch.

We enjoyed our trip into Birmingham – it’s a cruise which is replete with memories but the canal and its surroundings are being intensively developed, so we couldn’t just dwell on memory lane – there are plenty of new things to be seen πŸ™‚

As we approached Gas Street Basin we decided to moor up at the waterpoints opposite the Mailbox. This proved to be an adventure as the wind tunnel created by the tall building around Paddington Basin are mere summer zephyrs compared to this stretch! We tried every trick known to boaters but she kept being blown off the moorings – I could either get the bow or the stern in, but not both. It was an epic struggle and it must have taken a good 20 minutes to moor up. We’d stopped there rather than Cambrian Wharf because the water pressure at Cambrian Wharf is so low. The pressure is much better here, but the time we saved at the tap we probably lost in the mooring!

This development has aged well - it still looks grand..

This development has aged well – it still looks grand..

With the water tank full, we set off towards Birmingham’s magnificent town centre and its multitude of moorings. As we were planning to head off along the mainline in the morning, we headed for the moorings around Sheepcote Bridge. It was early afternoon when we arrived, and there were plenty of spaces, though they filled up later. We took a place on the left hand side (looking towards Wolverhampton) nearest to the footbridge (by the end of the Oozells Street Loop). The mooring post by the footbridge stated that the moorings were 14 day; but later, when the hounds and I had a bimble down to Sheepcote Street Bridge, the post at the far end stated that they are 48 hour. It was academic this time, as we were only staying for a night, but it would be interesting to know for the future.

Once we’d moored up, Richard caught a cab back to his car while the dogs and I wandered over to the rubbish point on Cambrian Wharf. It was really very hot, so I dunked them under the tap at the waterpoint – they were extremely unimpressed!

The hounds and I got back to the boat and enjoyed a couple of hours watching the world go by – there was plenty to see – narrowboats to-ing and fro-ing, party boats boogeying, trip boats informing, people passing on the towpath,Β  people on the footbridge looking down and admiring Archie hound snoozing on deck – it was buzzing! Then we had a delightful visitor – Paul Balmer of Waterways Routes popped by – his boat is moored in the Oozell’s Street Loop nearby and he’d spotted us on his way back from the shops. It was great to see him – he’s such a canal enthusiast and always full of interesting tales of his extensive travels round the network.

Cafe culture...

Cafe culture…

Richard had a slow journey back, but the car was now ensonced in Paradise Circus car park as it would be needed in the morning.

Memory Lane exerted itself in the evening when we took Henry and Archie to the Handmade Burger Company restaurant canalside at Brindley Place. We found a nice table outside and got the hounds settled on their sheepies. As always, they were impeccable behaved, thought they didn’t attract as much fuss as they usually do – I don’t think they minded too much We then ordered two meals for ourselves, and, as we did for Blue and Lou all those years ago, ordered the hounds a children’s meal. Bargain! The children’s meals were free with our order. Maybe it was inevitable that the food was not as good as we remembered, though Henry and Archie didn’t complain! The canalside ambience was as good as ever, so we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

We got back to the boat relatively early, and despite the extensive foot traffic earlier, the towpath adjacent to the boat was quiet overnight…

Photoblog:

Just chillin'...

Just chillin’…

 

The lck-free pound gave Richard an opportunity to get the hoover out, so Archie ended up with the luxury beds on the back deck - sweet!

The lock-free pound gave Richard an opportunity to get the hoover out, so Archie ended up with the luxury beds on the back deck – sweet!

 

The stretch through King's Norton looks so civilised...

The stretch through King’s Norton looks so civilised…

 

The Brandwood Tunnel...

The Brandwood Tunnel…

 

Birmingham approaches - we have a feelign that a lot fo these buildings were just being built the last time we were here...

Birmingham approaches – we have a feeling that a lot of these buildings were just being built the last time we were here…

 

More Birmingham approach views..

More Birmingham approach views..

 

The tower cranes suggest a city that is working hard to improve itself...

The tower cranes suggest a city that is working hard to improve itself…

 

Gas Street Basin - the iconic mix of ancient and modern is emblematic of the whole BCN...

Gas Street Basin – the iconic mix of ancient and modern is emblematic of the whole BCN…

 

This iconic mix of ancient and modern is emblematic of the whole BCN...

This iconic mix of ancient and modern is emblematic of the whole BCN…

 

Brindley Place...

Brindley Place…

 

Old Turn...

Old Turn…

 

Great city centre mooring...

Great city centre mooring…

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 52 – Stratford Canal

Posted by indigodream on 19 September, 2016

Rewind to Monday 22nd August

Tom o’ the wood to Lapworth Top

A change of canal....

A change of canal….

Having had an early finish and a lot of sleep yesterday, we woke up early and refreshed for a day full of locking and logistics!

I was relieved to find that my ankle had subsided overnight so my first job was to take the dogs for a walk along the towpath. I was surprised to find that a boater moored a few boat lengths away scowled mightily as I walked past with the hounds (who were behaving), yet he’d been quite genial the day before – not a morning person or did he disapprove of my bright red patchwork trousers?!

It had rainedΒ  heavily overnight, so it wasn’t the best time for foraging, but I couldn’t resist a long thicket of plum trees and enlisted Richard’s help to pick another punnet for the Tidy’s.

Unusually for us, we managed to get underway by 8.30am, but although we got to the Lapworth flight by 8.50am, there was a boat coming up from the Stratford end just setting the next lock up from the junction. Our hearts sank a little, but they were really courteous and having spotted that we’d be ready for the next lock before them, they let us go first. We got into a nice rhythm as the super-efficient crew of the boat behind kept pace, with us cracking a paddle for them before setting off to the next lock.

These canal cottages are so picturesque...

These canal cottages are so picturesque…

At first, it looked as if we’d have the flight largely to ourselves, but that was an illusion! A few locks up, there was a positive stampede of boats coming down – most were genial and at most locks we managed to cross in the longer pounds.

There was a CRT volunteer lockie walking up and down the lock flight, trying to organise the flow, as some of the pounds are really short and awkward to cross. He was doing a great job until he encountered a hotel boat, who insisted on coming down a lock, forcing a crossing with us in a short pound. It wasn’t a big deal, but the skipper had left a child on the helm and the boat really needed a more experienced (or taller, at least) hand in such close quarters. The skipper was scowling and giving the CRT volunteer some stick, in the end I had to point out to him that he needed to move his boat forward or there wouldn’t be room for me to get past – he scowled some more. I was surprised, it can’t be very pleasant to be on a hotel holiday with such a miserable crew 😦

The Lapworth is lovely - always one of our favourites..

The Lapworth is lovely – always one of our favourites..

It was a tiny incident and not enough to disturb a lovely day’s locking – Lapworth is one of our favourites and the hounds enjoyed the freedom of hopping on and off for some light rummaging, though it was obvious that they were tired so they spent more time snoozing than looking!

We got to Lapworth Top Lock and moored up opposite nb Nanshe, who has kept an eye on Indigo Dream when we’ve left her there before. Richard got his bike out with the intention of cycling back to Lapworth train station, where he’d catch a train back to Leamington Spa to pick up the car. Things didn’t go quite to plan – his train was showing on the station board, then, when it was due, it vanished from the noticeboard and the train didn’t show either – no explanation was given! Rather than wait an hour for the next train, he decided to cycle all the way back to Leamington Spa – it’s downhill, but the towpath is pretty lumpy bumpy and it’s quite a distance, so that’s a good workout!

How about some lock-wheeling? A little rummage? No thanks, they said...

How about some lock-wheeling? A little rummaging? No thanks, they said…

In the meantime, I dragged the weary hounds out for a foraging trip – firstly up to the first lift bridge, then down the flight to see if we could catch nb Willy No Name and give them a hand up the flight. We got a few punnets of blackberries, though I was gutted that a laden victoria plum tree growing by the side of the towpath had a heavy infestation of maggots so the fruit that looked so tempting was rotten inside.

It took a while for Richard to come back with the car, especially as he’d done a bit of foraging himself – at Patisserie Valerie – and had some luscious cakes to take for our afternoon tea with Helen and Andy (aka Captain Ahab and Belle). We left the hounds behind and drove up to their house with gifts of cake and fruit. It was so lovely to see them – we talked jam and boating and chemotherapy – we could have talked all night but Helen tires quickly so we only stayed an hour. Just as well, if we’d stayed longer our shed/kitchen envy might have spoiled the conversation. As professional jammers, they have a wondrous new kitchen and Richard tells me that Andy’s shed is a sight to behold!

On the way to Walsall, we’d spotted the Miller and Carter steakhouse not far from the boat – sadly the service was a bit lacklustre, the seats were uncomfortable and the steaks were ok but not good enough to overcome the poor service, which is a shame. Nonetheless, the portions were generous so there were enough steak trimmings to guarantee our forgiveness when we got back to the hounds πŸ™‚

It's a lot of locks - to think that we usually do Cape, Hatton and Lapworth in a single day!

It’s a lot of locks – to think that we usually do Cape, Hatton and Lapworth in a single day!

 

 

 

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 51 – Grand Union

Posted by indigodream on 16 September, 2016

Rewind to Sunday 21st August

Leamington Spa – Tom o’ the Wood

Plenty of room to move on a broad canal - we split up to let the widebean through the middle...

Plenty of room to move on a broad canal – we split up to let the widebeam through the middle…

We got up quite early by our standards because we had a potentially huge day of locking ahead.

But first we had a job to do – I’d spotted a damson tree just down the towpath from our mooring so we went foraging. We had plans to visit Andy and Helen Tidy while we were in the Midlands, and it didn’t seem right not to take a contribution to their jamming! We collected a tiny punnet of ripe damsons – just a token gift but it was obvious that we were reaching the end of the plum season, even up here.

On the way back to the boat, I turned my ankle ever so slightly on a loose stone on the towpath – ouch! I thought nothing of it then, I’d walked the pain off in a few strides, but it was a stupid thing that was to have an impact on our cruising later….

Then we come together for the lock entry - I really enjoyed cruising with Jean and David..

Then we come together for the lock entry – I really enjoyed cruising with Jean and David..

We had a relaxing cruise through Warwick and were soon at the Cape Locks, followed shortly after by the mighty Hatton flight. We didn’t have a fast trip up the flights – there was a slow boat in front of us. But once again we were blessed by excellent company in the form of David and Jean in nb Willy No Name. They were confident on the helm, and we soon fell into a rhythm of leaving the locks via one gate and coming together in tandem to enter the next. As David wryly observed, both boats were going in for blacking soon, so a few bumps would be of no consequence! Though it really wasn’t an issue, both boats handled beautifully and although we’ve never wanted bow thrusters, when we saw how neatly nb Willy No Name manoeuvred, we started to see the benefit! However, we’re not planning a retrofit. πŸ™‚

The weather was much better today, and by the time we neared the top of the Hatton flight there were lots of walkers and gongoozlers around.We’d really enjoyed David and Jean’s company, so at the top lock, Richard hopped off and bought us all huge ice creams from the canalside cafe – they were lush!

Nb Willy No Name moored up at the top of the flight and we carried on – it’s quite a long lock-free pound so I went in to make lunch while Richard helmed us through the rather soggy Shrewley tunnel, which surprised us, I don’t recall it being particularly drippy on previous visits.

Classic view from the Hatton flight...

Classic view from the Hatton flight…

Although it hadn’t given me any bother all day, when I got up after squatting down to get things from the fridge for lunch, my twisted ankle suddenly became very painful and I started hobbling like an old woman and the offending joint puffed up alarmingly – meh!

We stopped at the waterpoint at Tom o’ the Wood, where we recalled there was good water pressure. It didn’t take too long to fill the tank and it was still only mid-afternoon when we coiled the hose and contemplated completing the Lapworth flight.

But I called it a day – my ankle had become ridiculously painful, despite being well medicated from the contents of the on-board pharmacy. We moved off the waterpoint onto the 48 hour mooring rings about boat length away. By the time we moored up I’d had enough – I pulled the bed down and had a long nap; actually, we all had a long nap – the boys were tired too!

We woke up feeling refreshed and my ankle was much less painful, so we planned a trip to the pub for supper; but before hobbling back there I gave them a ring to check that they were doing food. I’m glad I did, they stop serving food really early on a Sunday so we stayed in with a simple meal and our stock of DVDs.

When we’d moored up earlier, I was exhausted and out of sorts so I didn’t notice the noise of the M40 – but later on I became really aware of it – sandwiched between the Grand Union and Stratford canals it really exerts it’s aural presence, though the canal feels blissfully disconnected from the real world…

These wooden boats look so sad - big restoration project if they're to be saved...

These wooden boats look so sad – big restoration project if they’re to be saved…

 

 

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 50 – Grand Union

Posted by indigodream on 14 September, 2016

Rewind to Saturday 20th August

Napton to Leamington Spa

Archie inspecting his little cousins' boat :-)

Archie inspecting his little cousins’ boat πŸ™‚

We had thought about travelling to the boat on Friday night, but hey, we now had 10 days of uninterrupted boating ahead of us so why start it in a traffic jam!

We had a good trip up to the boat on Saturday morning, loaded with our clothes for a week, various oddments for the boat, and our cruising companions Archie and Henry – always good company on holiday πŸ™‚

We arrived at the boat mid-morning and were soon off, having left the car in a little layby above bridge 109. We were anxious to get going as the weather forecast was pretty dire for the afternoon.

We were moored very close to Napton Junction, so we were soon on the Grand Union, watching the wind whip up little whitecaps on the canal – now that’s a rare sight! There were a few boats on the move and we were joined by nb Clarence at the top of the Calcutt flight. They were truly excellent locking companions – efficient and entertaining. We flew down the flight, despite there being some epic winds blowing a mixed bag of showers ahead of them. It was a waterproofs on, waterproofs off sort of day, with the weather deftly changing its face to suit the opposite to what we were dressed for.

The canals are so colourful, in every sense of the word...

The canals are so colourful, in every sense of the word…

We weren’t sure how far we’d get, but nb Clarence were such excellent locking partners we soon found ourselves flying down Stockton as well in 40 minutes! They stopped off at the Blue Lias for a drink – we were sorry to lose their company but we wanted to carry on – not only did we have a cruising target for our holiday, we were also enjoying the freedom of one of our favourite waterways.

The hounds enjoyed their first day of cruising and, as always, failed to pace themselves – there was Olympic looking to be done, as well as lots of lock-side rummaging.

We were soon at Radford Semele lock, which marked the start of the long lock-free pound to Warwick. Richard cycled back for the car and I carried on to “The Moorings” pub. There was a mooring directly outside the pub – very convenient, especially as Leamington Spa’s big stores are a five minute drive away.

We haven’t been to The Moorings pub for years – back then it was a carvery type place and did not allow dogs inside. Now it’s a lovely dog-friendly gastropub – the food was fab and the service friendly and efficient. The hounds enjoyed a lot of fuss, but they were tired and a little bit skittish so they were glad to go back to the boat and to bed.

Tandem manoevres on the Stockton flight - super-efficient and surprisingly manageabe considering how windy it was....

Tandem manoeuvres on the Stockton flight – super-efficient and surprisingly manageable considering how windy it was….

But it wasn’t bedtime for me – although I was in a pub, it’s quite rare for me to actually drink (though I can enjoy a cold cider after a long day’s cruising!), so I was up for taking the car round the corner to Morrison’s and getting our supplies in for the week. I got to the store within a whisker of closing time, but it was blissfully empty of people so I whizzed round in no time and was soon back at the boat. The pub, which is also a hotel, had a generous car park so we left the car there overnight with the intention of moving it to the train station car park the following morning.

The mooring was rather noisy until about 11.30am – partly from the cars crossing the road bridge, which is almost directly above the moorings, and from the really annoying musak from the pub. It didn’t bother the boys, they were fast asleep, having had a busy day’s locking πŸ™‚

 

Photoblog:

Tired already, and the holiday has barely started :-)

Tired already, and the holiday has barely started πŸ™‚

Olym[pic looking - the team is looking a bit grey around the gills now - I tell Archie that he's ageing beautifully, like Pierce Brosnan :-D

Olympic looking – the team is looking a bit grey around the gills now – I tell Archie that he’s ageing beautifully, like Pierce Brosnan πŸ˜€

Very leaky gates at the Basctoe staircase...

Very leaky gates at the Bascote staircase…

An abundance of apples at Bascote - but I'm noot equipped for making jam on board...

An abundance of apples at Bascote – but I’m not equipped for making jam on board…

Leaving the Basctoe staircase - I like this flight - wehave mny happy memories here...

Leaving the Bascote staircase – I like this flight – we have many happy memories here…

This sign on Welsh Road lock cottage tickled me :-)

This sign on Welsh Road lock cottage tickled me πŸ™‚

Welsh Road lock cottage - who says the Grand Union isn't pretty? :-)

Welsh Road lock cottage – who says the Grand Union isn’t pretty? πŸ™‚

Archie's middle-aged now but he's still got it!

Archie’s middle-aged now but he’s still got it!

The camera has always loed Henry Beanz...

The camera has always loved Henry Beanz…

Lcok-wheeling - no wonder the boys slept so soundly....

Lock-wheeling – no wonder the boys slept so soundly….

Not sure what this event above Radford Semele lock was, but it certanly looked like fun..

Not sure what this event above Radford Semele lock was, but it certainly looked like fun..

Pub hounds - they always behave impeccably - even more so when they're exhausted!

Pub hounds – they always behave impeccably – even more so when they’re exhausted!

 

 

 

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Boat Blog: The Odyssey 2016 – Day 49 – Oxford Canal

Posted by indigodream on 13 September, 2016

Rewind to Monday 15th August

Fenny Compton to Napton

Such a lovely day...

Such a lovely day…

We had decided to cruise a long weekend to give ourselves a more comfortable chance of getting to our target destination, the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union, by August Bank Holiday. We had to get down the Napton flight, and were anticipating queues, so we got up reasonably early. We had moored close to the bridge, and had notice the passage of several boats very early on. When I took Herbie for his morning walk, I noticed that the back pin had almost been dragged out of the soft ground; on the way back from our walk, I saw the front pin come loose; then, as I was waving at Richard to grab the centre rope, the back pin popped out, setting Indigo Dream adrift. It wasn’t a problem, we were more or less ready to cast off anyway and I mused ruefully that either Indigo Dream was straining to get away from the Oxford Canal, which hasn’t suited her at all; or maybe it was the Oxford Canal ejecting us for not being appreciative enough of its merits πŸ™‚

Richard did a car shuffle to Wigrams Turn while I cruised the boat along the long and winding lock free pound to Napton top lock. Luckily there were very few boats coming towards me as I negotiated the contorted convolutions of the summit. However, there was a slow boat in front of me, heading for Napton, and I was aware of the vast bulk of a traditional carrying boat behind me. I had thought it was nb Chertsey, but I later found out that it was nb Renfrew.

"Is my team ploughing?" asked the ghost in Houseman's poem - you could almost see them here...

“Is my team ploughing?” asked the ghost in Houseman’s poem – you could almost see them here…

Coming round one hairpin bend, I suddenly saw that the boat in front had pulled over to the towpath on the left; I thought he might have pulled over to let an oncoming boat through, if that were the case then there would be no room if I stayed on the right so I pulled in behind him too. As it turns out, there was no-one coming – he’d pulled in to let his wife off with the dogs for a walk. He courteously invited me to overtake, but as I maneuvered to get past him, nb Renfrew hove into view behind me and had to hit reverse quickly, as I had done only minutes earlier – you couldn’t make it up!

I had a smooth journey after that, apart from a slight delay from a narrowboat who had lost a flowerpot overboard and had essentially blocked the canal while they tried to search for it with a boat hook. They weren’t so courteous and forced me, then Renfrew, to wait while they had a last prod after their pot before finally decided to move on!

A little further on, I saw a woman and two dogs standing rather irritably on the towpath; I guessed it was the lady of the boat that had let me past earlier. I hastened to reassure here that her boat was fine and that her husband had kindly let me and Renfrew past and that he would be along very soon. She didn’t seem impressed by her spouse’s generosity – oops!

It was a wonderfully sunny day, so I was wearing my rather eccentric, but efficient, sun hat. As one boat passed, the skipper shouted “you’ve been to Zimbabwe”. He was absolutely right, we went there on honeymoon! I asked him how he knew – he said he recognised my hat, he’s got a Zimbabwean sun hat too – he’s the first to have ever recognised its origin πŸ™‚

Interesting mooring - that boat is sitting in a hollow basin just big enough for one....

Interesting mooring – that boat is sitting in a hollow basin just big enough for one….

Despite these little interludes, it was another slow journey, but the canal demands your time and attention here. The summit of the Oxford Canal is achingly beautiful, with a rural landscape worthy of A E Houseman. It felt as if I’d been transported to some pre-war idyll before the world had discovered the horrors of industrialised combat. As the fecund fields rolled by, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the Shropshire Lad had materialised here in Oxfordshire for a spot of ploughing with his faithful team of shire horses.

I was in whimsical mood when I spotted Richard waiting for me near bridge 127 or thereabouts – he’d cycled up the hill from Napton, having successfully dropped the car off near bridge 109. He reported a mighty queue at Napton top. When we eventually arrived there, there were at least 10 boats in front of us waiting to lock down. There were soon 10 boats behind us too, though it was a sociable queue and we had the chance to talk to the crew of Renfrew, who were delightful. Richard had also spotted nb Zavala ahead of us – they had been part of the Medway convoy so I walked up to have a chat. I felt a bit better when they said they’d been yelled at by that boater in Cropredy too! I mused that maybe Indigo Dream and Zavala simply hadn’t adapted quickly enough from the vast width of the estuary to this narrow and bucolic waterway.

Whirlwind! The photo doesn't do it justice - it was an amazing sight...

Whirlwind! The photo doesn’t do it justice – it was an amazing sight…

The queue gave us time to have lunch and to witness a phenomenon. It was a very hot day, and all of a sudden a breeze turned into a whirlwind which carried straw from an adjacent field hundreds of feet into the air – as the whirlwind moved across the canal great clumps of straw fell onto the boats before being carried along to the next field. It was an amazing sight, and one which I haven’t seen since 1996, when I saw a similar whirlwind not so far away from here.

We were next in the queue at Napton top when we had a strange encounter – the lady from a boat coming up the flight was being exceptionally officious as she tried ordering the waiting queue around and transmitted her instructions to her husband on the helm. Her idea was that her husband would come up the flight, wind at the top lock then go back down the flight immediately. She wanted us to moor back from the lock landings so that he would have more room to turn and was aggrieved when we had to shuffle forward to make room for the boat coming up in front of here to moor on the 48 hour moorings just behind the lock landings. The queue wasn’t impressed with her apparent attempt to jump the queue down; or her elaborate explanations for why we’d need to wait while they offloaded crew on the offside etc etc. In the end, they decided not to wind, much to my relief, and went to cause bother at the back of the queue instead!

Out of Africa...

Out of Africa…

I was quite relieved when we started down the flight – we’d been waiting for some time, but once we got going, we flew down. But we did find time to say hello to a little lurcher that belonged to a boat coming up the flight.

We got to the bottom of Napton mid afternoon and faced a decision on how far to go. The car was at Bridge 109, but that wouldn’t prevent us from going a little further – maybe making the turn onto the Grand Union and going down Calcutt or even Stockton. In the end, we found a truly lovely mooring spot just before bridge 109 and decided to finish early and beat the traffic home.

Photoblog:

Richard was very unimpressed with the tow path!

Richard was very unimpressed with the tow path!

 

The vew towards Napton bottom...

The view towards Napton bottom…

 

I wanter to capture how a big working boat looms over the lock gates - it was quite a sight...

I wanted to capture how a big working boat looms over the lock gates – it was quite a sight…

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