Friday, 30 May 2014

Convoys, countryside, a comms catastrophe

         Every now and again, as if for the first ever time, the Captain makes an observation along the lines of “it’s only when you’re travelling this slowly along the canals do you realise how much infra structure this country has...” He said it on Thursday, while gazing at the multitude of pylons and power lines near Hawkesbury Junction
and not far from the M69 motorway bridge. Railway lines and trains are constant companions

to this canal and near Ansty the waterway is crossed on a high bridge by the M6
and near Barby by the M45.  The North Oxford makes its slow way through Warwickshire into Northamptonshire. Quite often these lovely bridges
reveal the 1830s updating of the original canal route when about 15 miles of twists and turns were straightened out. (Nineteenth century infra structure!)
         As Coventry was receding on Thursday morning
it became apparent that Cleddau had company. There were boats ahead – and boats behind. After taking on water it took an age it seemed to get back on the move. (Think trying to join a main road from a minor road and all the other drivers ignoring your signals.) “Where are they all coming from?” exclaimed the Captain.
         “Where are they all coming from?” questioned a moorer near Brinklow.
          “Where are they all coming from?” asked a helmsman at Stretton Stop as boat after boat after boat crept through the narrow gap usually linked by a little swing bridge
 - and he seemed to have no prospect of moving forward at all.
           No-one knew, apart from a rumour that there had been a hold-up - somewhere...
           To be part of a procession could be jolly, intentional. To be part of a relentless slow moving queue is soulless and so at All Oaks Wood a mooring was found.
           “Really, you’re like a (Boatwif had expected the word ‘snail') caterpillar crawling through the countryside with your house on your back,” a towpath walker had remarked back at Tamworth a few days ago. Mmm, the words “crawling”, “countryside” and “house” all apply. "Countryside" in these parts is muddy
 but also colourful.

  It was while moored at All Oaks Wood that the comms crisis occurred: Boatwif inadvertently leaned back against the trailing charging wire of the iphone which was plugged into a 12 volt socket. There was a distinct Snap! sound – and the iphone was no longer receiving its life-blood. The spare cable wasn’t functioning... a replacement was vital. What luck that a well stocked 24 hour Tesco was a few miles further on at Rugby on Friday morning.
              Newbold-on-Avon, just west of Rugby, has a tunnel which used to be prettily lit; now just a few of the blue and purple lights seem to operate.
 Big neighbour Rugby is proud of being the place where rugby football originated
 – though saw no scrums or tries today!
Onwards to Hillmorton and the three paired narrow locks. Here convoys of boats from above and below were homing in on the bottom locks.
 A Volunteer Lockkeeper took charge of the situation.
          “Close the gate first,” he bellowed at a novice, “unless, young man, you intend to drain all the water out of MY canal.”  There was something of the sergeant major about his manner, but happily accidents and collisions were avoided.

          It is at Hillmorton that locklines are engraved either side of the middle locks’ top gates,

 (They were installed in 2012 to commemorate the inaugural year of Canal and River Trust.)
Within an hour the M45 had been crawled under and a mooring found.
            Tomorrow, hopefully, a mooring in busy honey spot Braunston...

Total distance to Bedford:  341 miles
Distance so far: 112 miles

Total number of locks to Bedford:  143
Locks so far: 53

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Postscript to Atherstone

         Minds were set that a morning wander into Atherstone was to happen on Wednesday. Why let mud and puddles interfere with a plan?
How many shops can you legitimately present yourself in when your entry brings a deluge to the floor...? The Captain, as if embarrassed by the large amount of water he was depositing on the floor of a pharmacy, backed out and took cover in a hardware store.
Imagine if you can the sound as rain pounded onto and into so many plastic receptacles...
          Atherstone has a long street (usefully named Long Street) but today in the downpour the far end was uninspected. Last year there was chance to see the pretty market square
A new find was a curious art installation outside the Co-op

Atherstone, town of hat and felt-makers, has long had a Shrove Tuesday tradition of playing the Atherstone Ball Game.
Read more about it here . Atherstone as a Booktown was news too, though not sure whether that initiative is still under way...
           Back at the boat it was time to move on – up 5 more locks and then onwards towards Nuneaton, Bedworth and Hawkesbury Junction. At the top of the locks is a depressing sight

– but who has the funds to restore or to demolish such a building...
            Sights along this canal are fairly familiar (allotments,
Hartshill Yard,
the spoil heap near Bedworth,
the mannequins at Charity Dock)
and the smells too. Close to Hartshill is a bone factory, the whiff of which certainly floats across the towpath hedge. But look at this building,
a transformation from the closed down pub being worked on last year. 
           On canals well travelled memories and associations jostle in the brain. The Tame Aqueduct (Monday) – that’s where there was a broken fan belt incident last year. Atherstone Top Lock – that’s where a huge hailstorm some years ago left boaters bruised, cowering and incapable of action. Hawkesbury Junction – there’s been at least one very embarrassing moment on that difficult turn.  But places bring memories of folk too.  A friend has emailed today that she remembers Reliant Robins being built at Fazeley in 1980; another friend has close family links with Atherstone and Nuneaton; a colleague from 25 years ago often spoke of Bedworth and North Warwickshire. Only a few miles from here on the Coventry Arm are the Cash’s Hundreds Houses, distinctive terraced weavers’ housing. Unearthed in the on-board sewing box a few days ago was a small pack of woven Cash’s name tapes,
redundant now - since schooldays for Cal Son and the Cheshire Mum are long in the past!
            Hawkesbury Junction, distinctive with its engine house,
offers a straight ahead for Coventry Basin or a sharp left and another left for the North Oxford Canal.
So that is where Cleddau is now moored, her crew warming up and drying out, dress code for the day having been thick boots, over-trousers, gaiters, waterproof jackets, gloves and mountain caps – honest!
           Tomorrow – towards Rugby.

Total distance to Bedford:  341 miles
Distance so far: 93 miles

Total number of locks to Bedford:  143
Locks so far: 50

Leaks and how to deal with them

Moored Tuesday at Atherstone.
          Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a mismatch between location and map – Techno Son-in-Law is currently in mid-Wales, enduring “a rubbish internet signal” so his MapMan services are currently unavailable...   
           It was strangely quiet on Monday morning at Fradley Junction: granted, before 10am it was too early for either gongoozlers at the locks or drinkers at The Swan. The shop beside the pub was open though – and there’s been a transformation in recent years. The emergency grocery stock is still small but the range of canal influenced souvenirs is huge. Upstairs, displayed against white walls and under timber beams, are more pictures and gifts. “The caravan people seem to like cream colours,” explained the lady in charge, as marketing words like ‘footfall’ and ‘commissions’ crept into the conversation. If you’re passing Fradley consider dropping into the shop, pop upstairs to the tea room and from a window table you’ll get a grandstand view of all the action. “Oh, we get people falling in, people not being able to handle the boat, gongoozlers, all sorts,” said the lady.
          Back at Cleddau the Captain was ready to go. But Sniff... sniff!  Around the front deck swirled a hint of gas.
           Detection. Gas was leaking from one of the gas bottle tubes or couplings. The arrangement was made safe and the day’s cruise could be started.
          On a boat of mature age when something (else) needs replacing you think back to how old it might be. Circa 1997 for gas tubes, from the Willowbridge, Bletchley period, was the conclusion... An hour or so along the Coventry Canal lies Streethay Wharf.

While the Captain trawled its well stocked chandlery for a replacement gas tube Boatwif gazed at the underside of a boat up on the wharf. Welding sparks indicated action
at its bow end. Tubes swapped the Captain proudly smirked “And the gasman came to call,” before reeling off a litany of his recent boaty achievements (sourcing and sorting the engine room rainwater leak, installing a temporary radio aerial in the bedroom).
            The Coventry Canal between Fradley and Fazeley twists and turns through rural surroundings,
past the Lichfield Cruising Club,
past Whittington, past the MOD firing range in Hopwas Woods,
past a couple of WW2 pillboxes,
through Hopwas to Fazeley Junction. Here regeneration is much in evidence..
           The blue in the sky, so short-lived, faded away, to be replaced by leaky clouds and steady rain. The Captain juggled with tiller and umbrella (“must keep the engine dry”). In such rainy conditions others proved quite inventive, whether drying clothes
or working on a boat engine
           After Fazeley Junction (no right hand turn to Birmingham for Cleddau)
it was straight on for Tamworth, over the River Tame and along to the two Glascote Locks. “We’re going UPHILL now,” remarked the Captain. “It’s been downhill since we left.” Ahead was a newly painted boat, picked up just two days before at Great Haywood, gingerly being moved to London as a home for its young owners.
On through Tamworth, past quirky gardens and all manner of sodden garden seats, eyes open to spot this intriguing ornament.
Just how did an East German border post come to be sited in a Tamworth garden...?
         Wednesday. The route is familiar, cruising through the post-industrial coalfield landscape of North Warwickshire:

home of hire boats, private boats and old work boats.
           A nature reserve, a column atop a spoil heap
representing the sun’s conversion of leaves and trees into coal.
           The thought-provoking underside of the M42 bridge
           Polesworth. Other post-industrial places could take lessons from this place: a country park on the site of the Pooley Hall Colliery, poems alongside the towpath
words set in stone to explain the river’s timelessness, 21st century worship
alive and well
in a 1200 year old abbey church
             Onwards, weaving between River Anker and a train line. Horses in fields, snowy white geese in the water,
red poppies on field boundaries.
            There’s a flight of 11 locks at Atherstone
– but easy mooring close to the town between locks 6 and 5.
             First digital job each evening now is to send a position report to nb Tentatrice. Here it is: do not accuse the Captain of unnecessary verbosity!
               Cleddau 271500May14 Atherstone (Callsign, date time group, position - what more do you need? KD)
               Tentatrice is creeping south and east, heading too for Braunston. Have a read, and consider what uses you have for olive oil...

               Tomorrow, towards Hawkesbury Junction (Coventry outskirts).
Total distance to Bedford:  341 miles 
Distance so far: 82 miles
Total number of locks to Bedford:  143 
Locks so far: 44