Indigo Dreaming

The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

  • Blog Index as a pull down

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta

  • Recent Comments

  • wordpress counter

Archive for July 31st, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 35

Posted by indigodream on 31 July, 2009

Monday 27th July

Dimmingsdale Lock to Bridge 11 Shropshire Union

Moving up to the suburb of Wightwick - doesn't look to bad, does it?

Moving up to the suburb of Wightwick - doesn't look to bad, does it?

Having stopped early yesterday we needed to cruise this morning in order to meet our weekend target of Brewood. We all got up at around 8.30am but after the dogs had done the essentials (remember they’d gone to bed at about 7pm the night before, having refused a walk in the rain), we all went back to bed! Although the weather was a lot better we just couldn’t be bothered – the mooring really was very pleasant.

We lazed around until we’d finally drunk enough coffee to get us going.

I’d be lying if I said that this next stretch was a scenic as the lower part of the Staffordshire and Worcester, but it’s pleasant enough. The suburb of Wightwick was surprisingly attractive and well-maintained given its proximity to the dreaded Wolverhampton. There are fewer opportunities for dog rummaging here as the majority of locks are accompanied by minor road bridges but they still managed a few closely supervised bobbles.  The weather was kind at first, a bit gusty but dry. We had our waterproofs to hand anyway – just as well. Quite abruptly the heavens opened and we were in for an hour of torrential rain and hail. The previously sun-warmed roof was steaming as the freezing rain hit it – what awful conditions. We soldiered on while Blue and Lou sniggered from the dry comfort of their sofa.

Will this rain never end.....

Will this rain never end.....

We thought that was it for the day, but we eventually got lucky and as we travelled north we cleared the clouds and had an afternoon of cold gales and hot sunshine in equal measure.

Note: There’s a narrow passage below the Tettenhall bridges with moored boats on both sides. It may be easier to give way to boats coming down the canal even if it is “your bridge” as they have slightly less room to lay by. Coming from the south you don’t see how narrow it is on the far side – the two moored boats on your side are nothing compared to what is on the other side.

We were used to the regular deep locks and their frisky bywashes by now, so there was no novelty until we got to Aldersley Junction – our last chance to turn back towards our beloved Birmingham! But there was a bit of chaos here – there was a boat coming down (there’s a lock immediately after the right turn into the Birmingham Main Line); but a boat wanting to go up onto the BCN decided to turn anyway and managed to create a 3-boat jam, preventing us from going up and the other boat from coming out – well done sir!

3-boat jam at Aldersley Junction

3-boat jam at Aldersley Junction

It gave us time to admire the junction though – it’s interesting and has a fine redbrick turnover bridge.

Shortly after, of course, there’s the excitement of the Autherley Junction, where we said a regretful farewell to the  Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The right turn onto the Shropshire Union is a hive of activity with its ridiculous stop lock (a fall of less than 6 inches), a Napton Boats hire base, a shop and a length of online moorings. It’s a friendly place, which also has useful services including a large rubbish point.

But after that bit of activity, the Shropshire Union was a distinct disappointment. Up to Bridge 3 it’s a suburban canal surrounded by a mixed housing estate – ok in places, run down in others. Probably not a place to moor overnight or to leave your boat unattended but let me know if I’m wrong. We did give the eye to some lads lurking suspiciously on Bridge 2 but they vanished as we approached, possibly because of the cheery

View back to Autherley Junction

View back to Autherley Junction

Community Police Officer wandering around. We saw three Community Police Officers today – I felt very reassured by their presence.

Our first target was Bridge 4, near the village of Bilbrook. Interestingly, there was a flock of workers near the bridge, wearing overalls with the ‘General Electric’ logo – it was good to see signs that some industry that has actually survived up here!

Bridge 4 itself is accompanied by a nasty narrow chicane followed by so-called 48-hour moorings. The sign says that they’ve been provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society so I feel a bit mean complaining about them. But really, why provide a fine hard edged bank with mooring rings then build an 18-inch ledge just below water level which means that you can’t pull right up to the towpath. The ledge is just at the right height to grind against the side of the hull (beyond the reach of our normal fenders) – it would have been an uncomfortable place to spend the night.

Fine views on the Shropshire Union - shame you can't get in to moor here....

Fine views on the Shropshire Union - shame you can't get in to moor here....

However, we didn’t need to be there for long. Bilbrook is useful because it has a train station which gave Richard a good chance of getting back to Kidderminster for the car. We’d left the locks behind us for now so it was my mission to get the boat up to Brewood and find a safe mooring near a road bridge, with parking!

How I cursed that d”£$%^ concrete ledge. Richard had dashed off to catch his train (they are only one an hour) so I had to get off the mooring myself – not usually a problem but I couldn’t reach over to push the boat out (and could only just step back on after untying the ropes!). I tried to shuffle her off but the wind kept pushing me back and going forward just grounded me on the even wider ledge beyond the ‘official’ mooring. In the end I managed to reverse off, with much cursing.

Well, that was me set to ‘niggle’ mode and I really didn’t enjoy the stretch up to Bridge 7. The canal is quite elevated here with lovely sweeping views across the plateau to the East. But I was really miffed by the metre-wide ledges that

The narrows - between Bridge 8 and 9 I think...

The narrows - between Bridge 8 and 9 I think...

had been quite deliberately built below the waterline on the towpath side; you’d have no hope of mooring on the mess of concrete ledges, rubble and paving slabs. Now why would the canal have been restored that way – was it a planning requirement? As far as I can see, the only dwelling that was close enough to object was a large farm, possibly an abattoir, which exuded the most evil stench of rotting meat (and associated flies).

In all fairness, though, there are proper 48-hour moorings between Bridge 7 and 8. There seemed to be a friendly community of boaters moored there – not necessarily overstayers, just people who seem to get along.

I was bemused by the behaviour of an oncoming boat along this stretch. There was a brisk wind and they had seemingly drifted into the trees on the offside and seemed to be having immense difficulty in getting off. The two crew were on the roof pushing against the branches and the boat was moving around erratically. I was about to offer to tow them off when I realised that they were picking cherries!

This is an attractive place - I wonder if that cottage comes with a mooring....

This is an attractive place - I wonder if that cottage comes with a mooring....

There’s a stretch of narrows after Bridge 8 – it’s a difficult spot as you don’t have a good line of sight – if you have the crew then do use a lookout. There is an apparent ‘passing place’ in the middle but it looked very shallow offside. I was almost out of the narrows when an oncoming boat decided not to wait where it’s wide. I charitably thought that maybe he advanced because he’s so familiar with the waters – with me pressed right up to the towpath (no ledges here!) and him in the trees we passed with a full 3″ to spare!

In my niggly opinion, the canal takes a turn for the better from Bridge 9 onwards. The steeply wooded embankments start to rise on either side and everything was washed in calming green light. A bit how I’d imagine the bottom of a lake really; no mermaids here though, but there were a couple of kingfishers.

I sighed with relief as I approached Bridge 10 – it’s such a handsome structure and the canal is lovely. It also meant that I was almost at my destination – Bridge 11. The towpath’s in a terrible state here – at best it’s a bit muddy, at worst it’s a peaty ankle-deep quagmire. It’s not surprising with the recent torrential rain and all the water draining off the embankment but the path really does need some TLC given the many walkers and boaters hereabouts.

Bridge 10 on the Shroppie - handsome structure..

Bridge 10 on the Shroppie - handsome structure..

I chose not to moor before Bridge 11 – there were several recently fallen trees there! I found a spot just beyond the bridge and moored up, helped considerably by the wind (for a change!). I banged in four pins (springs fore and aft) and moved them several times as I mused over which was the best spot in the soft ground. I finally got her secured to my satisfaction and started packing up ready for Richard’s arrival with the car. It’s a darkly beautiful mooring place under the shady trees but it’s not lonely – there was a steady traffic of boats both ways and I was pleased that Indigo Dream was stable with no signs of the pins moving. All of the passing boaters were very pleasant apart from one nuisance with three young teenage boys on the roof who were throwing bits of seeds and twigs at any likely target, including Indigo Dream’s open side-hatch (missed) and the bin on our back deck. The parents on the helm were laughing along with their boys – they seemed to think that it was great entertainment; I was cross!

Richard came back shortly afterwards and we made a remarkably quick getaway. Just as well, our route takes us down the M6 now, reminding us that we’re a long way from home……

Now I know why the words of that immortal muppets song "you can't eat soup with a fork" came into my head as I was banging the pins in!

Now I know why the words of that immortal muppets song "you can't eat soup with a fork" came into my head as I was banging the pins in!

Tuesday 28th July Boat Update

You might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t know how to tie a boat! Indigo Dream’s pins were ripped out of the soft towpath this morning and she was found adrift back towards the bridge (around 200 feet away from where we left her). A kindly boater had retied her and let us know where she was – thank heavens we’ve left our contact details on the boat window! Our rescuer had had her own boat set adrift (not sure where) and she’d drifted a quarter of a mile down the canal before someone retied her. Can you imagine arriving back at your mooring, finding no boat and with no clue where to start looking! Our rescuer also told us that she’d spotted a few speeders going past…..

So, Richard’s had to take the afternoon off to plod back up to Brewood to check Indigo Dream and find some way of securing her to the mushy towpath. Banbury has become something of a jinx for us as he managed to pick up a tyre wrecking puncture at possibly a delicate shade over 70 mph in the fast lane of the M40. His car has one of those silly space saver tyres no good for anything so he popped into Banbury to buy a new tyre resulting in an hour’s delay. I have to work next Saturday so we need a secure 14-day mooring; easier said than done here…..

Photoblog:

Contentment Roll 1: "Hum, it's nice here, maybe I should roll...."

Contentment Roll 1: "Hum, it's nice here, I think it's time for a roll...."

Contentment Roll 2: "Ok, hup...."

Contentment Roll 2: "Ok, hup...."

Contentment Roll 3: "And over I go....."

Contentment Roll 3: "And over I go....."

Contentment Roll 4: "Ooh aah, it's not that easy to roll over...."

Contentment Roll 4: "Ooh aah, it's not that easy to roll over...."

Contentment Roll 5: "That's sorted then...."

Contentment Roll 5: "That's sorted then...."

Blue looking fit....

Blue looking fit....

Lou taking her locking duties very seriously...

Lou taking her locking duties very seriously...

Low railway bridge - in good repair (we think it's disused)

Low railway bridge - in good repair (we think it's disused)

One man and his dog (searching for a man in ablue tracksuit with white trainers). Glad Lou was on board - that would have been a doggie ASBO for sure.

One man and his dog (searching for a man in a blue tracksuit with white trainers). Glad Lou was on board - that would have been a doggie ASBO for sure.

Interesting structures at Aldersley Junction (and the boat beginning her blocking manoeuvre!)

Interesting structures at Aldersley Junction (and the boat beginning her blocking manoeuvre!)

Interesting array of bridges (including huge pipes smelling faintly of sewage...)

Interesting array of bridges (including huge pipes smelling faintly of sewage...)

"Now I can relax; there's just too much for a dog to do on the boat...."

"Now I can relax; there's just too much for a dog to do on the boat...."

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Odyssey 2009: Day 34

Posted by indigodream on 31 July, 2009

Sunday 26th July

Whittington Lock to Dimmingsdale Lock

Lock gates.....

Lock gates.....

I’m so glad that we remembered to consciously enjoy our cruise yesterday because today our spirits were slightly dampened by a day in our waterproofs!

We set off  in the rain but at 10.30am it dried out briefly in time for our stop at the useful services just above Kinver lock – we emptied the toilet tank, filled the water tank and got rid of some rubbish. There are also showers here.

The clouds looked ominous though and we kept our waterproofs on (it being a well-known fact that taking your waterproofs off makes it rain immediately!)

Shortly after our little pit-stop we felt Birmingham’s siren pull – it was Stourton Junction leading to the scenic Stourbridge Canal, but we resisted and carried straight on. We’re glad we did. If we thought that stretch up to Kinver was lovely, then the next bit is even better.

New views at every lock

New views at every lock

Note: Richard says that he spotted Hadar on our travels but she was all locked up – pity, we haven’t bumped into any fellow bloggers for a while.

A little way up from the junction we spotted a cave on the right of the canal, sealed with a padlocked timber door. It’s a curious object, ominously known as the ‘Devil’s Den’, but apparently once used as a boathouse. It’s impossible to tell how deep the cave is, but the entrance seems to be well-silted so I doubt if you’d be able to drag anything much bigger than a canoe into there now.

Past the Devil’s Den the countryside takes over with waves of meadows sweeping relentlessly against the dark green cliffs of the surrounding forestry.

There are very few long-term online moorings on this stretch of canal but there is a substantial marina at Ashwood with a few lengths of online moorings nearby. We were a bit sad to see a sign at the marina entrance “No hire boats” – it seemed unusually aloof for this canal. “Why?” we wondered – have hire boats been a nuisance? Do they accidentally miss the main channel and end up stranded in the marina’s narrow arm? What would a hire boat be looking for in the marina – there aren’t any obvious attractions (like a shop).  Who knows!

The devil's den

The devil's den

One of the other attractions all along this canal are what I’d call ‘proper’ locks – narrow and deep.  Most are 9′ plus and with each one a new vista emerges – fantastic. BUT watch out for the bywashes below the locks – they’re lively and push the boat all over the place, making for a few untidy lock entries on my part. Richard decided to drive a bit today so I actually did some of the grunt work. It was fine – these are very well-maintained locks with smooth and easy gates/paddles. The locks fill quickly with a combination of two ground paddles and a fierce gate paddle so we made good progress up the canal.

The locks are mainly rural, so the dogs could get off for a rummage at most of them. But they soon lost interest. We soon noticed the pitter-patter of rain on the water in front of us. I hoped that it was just a passing shower but it was, in fact, the start of a torrential downpour which was to last the rest of the day.

Bratch

Bratch Bottom

It was a shame as there is the interest of a deep staircase at Botterham, followed not long after by the famous flight at Bratch.

Now Bratch is undoubtedly interesting but I do hate these locks – they’re such a fiddle. I KNOW they’re a flight not a staircase but it’s really a technicality when you look at how the locks have to be set using their colour-coded paddles. There was a boat working its way down so I had to wait for half an hour at the bottom. I huddled up in my waterproofs, trying to present as small a target for the rain as possible. I was entertained by a father and son combination fishing in the wide basin beneath the lock. It seemed exceptionally boring but the little boy (of only 6 or 7) seemed to be having a good time. I was also amused by a pair of lads who walked through the rain to the underpass leading to the first lock just so they could stay dry while they had a few ciggies. One did risk getting his feet drenched as he perched on the edge of the bywash channel – judging the speed of the water coming out he did well to get his trainers above the flow in time!

You can’t deny the sheer scale of the Bratch locks – they are so deep and surrounded by massive infrastructure of paths and bridges. I think it’s a gongoozler-magnet, on better days. I was alarmed by the fact that the lock-keeper (maybe retired BW volunteer) just opens the gate paddle straight away, with the boat well below the water-level. I was even more alarmed when Richard did the same, as the bottom gate hadn’t shut properly and I was afraid of getting the back fender pinched in the gate. It wasn’t, but it’s nice to be asked whether the boat is ready before letting through a torrent of water at head height!

Bratch Middle

Bratch Middle

Actually, we’ve been a bit lax with our gate paddles throughout this stretch. Once the boat is stable at the back of the lock, and I’ve decided that we probably won’t sink, then I’m signalling for Richard to open the gate paddle. It’s all very safe with the boat in reverse at the back of the lock, but if something fouled the prop then the boat would be sucked straight into the flow. I should really go back to ‘best practice’ and wait until the gate paddles are submerged before opening them.

Once we got to the top of Bratch, we stopped off at the little lock keeper’s shop and bought a few plaques. We’ve not thought of collecting them but the BCN Challenge plaque will look a bit lonely by itself (when we finally get round to fixing it to the back door). But we’ve seen very attractive plaque displays on other boats and it will be good to mark the scope of our wanderings on Indigo Dream.

We’d planned to get quite a bit further today but by 5.30pm it was seriously miserable on deck. We were bone dry inside our waterproofs but it was just too gloomy to be fun. We decided to moor in a quiet rural spot above Dimmingsdale Lock. There are 48-hour moorings on the right just above the lock, but nb The Corridor, from the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, was tied up there and there wasn’t quite enough room for us (though it looked like a top mooring spot). It didn’t matter – there are fine moorings on the left just before the tiny side-branch on the right.

Bratch Top

Bratch Top

Although it wasn’t that cold, we ran the heating just for the sheer comfort of it, and to dry off our waterproofs, of course! I offered the doggies a walk and ran a little way down the towpath to get them going – Blue jumped straight back on board; Lou looked at me, looked at the boat, looked at me, then went back to her bed.

Being a countryside mooring we ate on board and had a cosy gathering in front of one of the the ‘Lord of the Rings’ DVDs. All four of us snuggled onto the sofa (quite a feat) and cuddled together for comfort. When the rest of us retreated to our nests at the front of the boat, Lou was left with the sofa to herself – she whimpered for quite a while – I think she missed the pack! Richard thought she was just hungry, which may be the most likely explanation, as she doesn’t normally want to share her bed!

Photoblog:


Rolling countryside

Rolling countryside

Green and pleasant land.....

Green and pleasant land.....

Riotout plant life at Dunsley Tunnel

Riotous plant life at Dunsley Tunnel

We were amazed that this old wooden hull is still afloat....

We were amazed that this old wooden hull is still afloat....

Jolly toll-house at Stewponey - there's a lively wharf here.

Jolly toll-house at Stewponey - there's a lively wharf here.

We liked this wine holder....

We liked this wine holder....

What is this structure - any ideas?

What is this structure - any ideas?

The girls....

The girls....

Alert lock crew

Alert lock crew

Very neat moorings at Wimsey Wharf

Very neat moorings at Wimsey Wharf

Amazing canalside garden

Amazing canalside garden

Ashwood Marina

Ashwood Marina

Lou in contemplative moods

Lou in contemplative moods

Both Blue and Lou almost fell in the canal today while crossing these lock gates!

Both Blue and Lou almost fell in the canal today while crossing these lock gates!

Typical english scene - rain would have stopped play before they got started!

Typical english scene - rain would have stopped play before they got started!

The Botterham staircase

The Botterham staircase

That's such a dodgy bridge - particularly slippery in the rain

That's such a dodgy bridge - particularly slippery in the rain

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »