Monday, 9 December 2013

Atherstone Locks Open Day– Sunday 8th December

Today we took Jimmy, our new Guide Dog pup, for his first look at a lock. C & RT were holding an open days over the weekend at the Atherstone flight of locks whilst they were carrying out repairs to Locks 4 and 6.
1 From the Bridge
In order to ensure that visitors were safe and to comply with H & S requirements they had drained the Top lock and installed scaffolding and steps so that we could go down into the lock. The site was entered via the old boat yard on the off side and we were greeted by enthusiastic volunteers promoting the Trust and its activities and then we signed in and donned a Hard Hat before we were taken down into the lock in small groups. Jimmy was obviously not allowed to go down so watched what was going on from the bridge above whilst keeping the volunteers and visitors entertained.
1 Jimmy Visits Lock
The top lock had been sealed off with Stop-planks which although only 3” thick were holding back the water from the 38 miles of canal behind them. (Back to Coventry Basin and all the way up the Ashby Canal). Ash from fires is then fed down behind the planks to seal any leaks between them and grass turves are lowered down to the bottom of the planks to seal any leaks between the bottom plank and the base of the lock where an odd stone may have lodged creating a space and potential leak. It is amazing that these original methods are still the best solution today.
We were able to stand on the bottom brickwork of the lock which has remained in excellent condition since it was laid there in the late 1700’s and look at the top paddles which are now made from composite plastic sliding in metal guides. These have progressively replaced the original wooden ones and provide for smoother operation and a longer life. The white marks around the paddle and its chamber are rudimentary sponges.2 Topgate and Paddle
Down in the deep chamber of the lock we could see the fresh water mussels which were growing on the lock sides below the natural water level so the water quality can’t be that bad. We could also identify the areas of wall repairs which had been made with modern cements, nowadays  they are repaired using more sympathetic methods which ensure that they do not adversely affect the remainder of the walls by being too hard.
3 Into Top Lock
The bottom of the lock was strewn with rubble, bottles, plastic pipes, grills, as well as bicycles and the like. Volunteers were planned to come in later and clear the dross from the lock chambers as after testing it had been identified as non toxic. Had it shown any toxicity it would have had to have been cleared by specialist contractors at enormous cost to C& RT. 
4 Bottom Gate and Pound
Whilst draining the lock C&RT had found these fish, mussels and Crayfish which were on display for visitors prior to being returned to the canal.
5 Wildlife in lock
Later we walked down to Lock 4 to see the C&RT men busy replacing the bottom gate and its paddle gear. We met and had an interesting chat to Volunteer Lock Keeper, James, who helps boaters navigate the locks on a Wednesday.
6 Replacing Gate on Lock 4
Whilst the flight was built with water saving side ponds the paddle gear has been removed and sealed, with the exception of Lock 6 where the pond is used as an aid to help prevent flooding of the adjacent property when vandals decide to drain the higher pounds.
I would like to thank Mark and his C&RT Team as well as the Volunteers for a very well organised and interesting visit.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Autumn Mist - Sunday 6th October 2013

Today we awoke to a real Autumn Mist and I could not help photographing Autumn Myst in the Mist.
Autumn Myst
The water in the marina was flat calm and the reflections were amazing as well as the Spider Webs.
Mirror 3
Unfortunately it was time for us to go home even though the warm sunshine was trying to make us stay a little longer.
web 1

Saturday, 5 October 2013

End of Autumn Cruise - Saturday 5th October 2013

This morning we had a leisurely walk into Brinklow village to get the Saturday paper and encountered Muntjac Deer and Pheasants as well as a wide range of birds. What we miss when speed along in our cars.
Brinklow has a nice village sign which depicts the many aspects of its history including the Canal, The Tump, Farming, and Church.
The village store includes a post office and the friendly staff will serve you to a range of grocery and pet products.
We returned to the boat and meandered back to our marina passing these cows who had decided the canal would made a good bath.
On the opposite bank on board Nb. Atlas we got our dog fix for the day with this lovely 12 week old Labrador pup.
Unusually this morning there was no wind as we entered the marina making it was easy to moor up to the pontoon. Once settled June cleaned the boat whilst I serviced the engine and took the waste oil to the recycling centre in Rugby.
Our Autumn Cruise had covered 136 Miles, 189 Locks and 4 Drawbridges. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

All Oaks Wood - Friday 4th October 2013

A very late start this morning so that we could get a paper and wait for the light drizzle to finish. Moored a short distance in front of us was Nb. K9 with this lovely display of flowers on the bow.
No sooner had we set off than a boat left the water point and another came up the lock so that we were followed by the two boats all the way to our final mooring. They were obviously happy with our speed as they made no attempt to close up.
As we passed the Coventry Cruising Club we noticed that the Towpath up to bridge 7 is being re-surfaced with a membrane being laid between side planks and then rough and fine stones laid on top. I am sure that it will be a super job when it is finished, just wondered who is paying for it.
We had our dog fix as we came to the Colehurst Farm Mooring as there is a 5 month old black Labrador on the first boat who we have watched grow on each trip passed the moorings.
Les Wilson Narrowboats have their yard at the eastern end of the moorings and they seem to be doing well as there is always a new boat under construction. They specialise in 57ft Josher style Narrowboats with mid or stern engines at reasonable prices.
We motored on to Stretton Stop where a kind gentleman opened the swing bridge for us, much to June’s relief as it is quite heavy to operate. As usual another boat came through the bridge as we exited the stop and negotiated the breasted up hire boats.
We motored on to All Oaks Wood and found plenty of room to moor for the night. After lunch I set to cutting back the grass from the canal edge so that I could touch up the blacking scars on the rubbing strakes to reduce rust taking hold over the winter. The mooring is in a lovely position with a nice grassy bank; we moored here when we were on a hire boat travelling the Leicester Ring and thought then what a great mooring it was although in those days, unlike now, it was empty of boats.
Later we enjoyed our Blackberry Crumble for pudding. It should have lasted two days but we could not resist finishing it up. It will probably be the last of the blackberries for this year as the wet weather will spoil them.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Autumn Mist, New Chicks & Cookery Classes - Thursday 3rd October 2013

We set off in a real Autumn Mist which gradually cleared to give a few sunny intervals before the rain arrived about 2.00pm , but even then it was merely a shower and not the torrential rain the weather men had been forecasting.
Around the corner from our moorings we found this sunken wreck with a C&RT notice on it. Such a shame that boats are left abandoned, it must cost C&RT a great deal to remove them from the waterways.
I am always fascinated by the old BW Yard at Hartshill with its short arms and house built on what appears to have once been a bridge. I was even more intrigued this time to see a sign advertising a “Landgirls Cookery School” and on checking the internet found their website where I cribbed this extract.
Located in Hartshill, between Nuneaton and Atherstone, here at Landgirls Cookery School we teach friendly, relaxed one day baking, cooking and cake decorating classes to a whole host of individuals from the home baker to professional chefs and restaurant owners, our aim is simple, to provide a cookery school that enables everyone to come and learn in a warm, calm and welcoming environment, we welcome you as guests and many of our returning students have became friends. Our love of cooking and teaching stems from both of our grandparents, the passion they had for real food and home cooking was and is an inspiration and with a whole heap of recipes, ideas, techniques and processes taught by them we are proud to carry this on for future generations.
Entering Nuneaton we passed under this bridge with trees growing on it and I wondered if it was another of C&RT’s Cultural ideas like the Forest Boat they had in Birmingham!!
We stopped off at Star Line Boats to top up with diesel at 94p/ltr. on a self declare basis and had a quick look around their small chandlery. We were served by a very friendly and help guy.
As we pulled away from the boat yard and made our way slowly towards the bridge, with boats moored right up to it as usual, a boat came into the bridge at a great rate of knots and had to slam it into reverse when it saw our bow. The comments from the crew of The Hargreaves Trust Boat  which was moored the other side of the bridge went something like “He thinks its the M6”. Later at bridge 17 we had the same thing happen again, a boat came through the bridge so fast he could not get it back on his own side of the canal, fortunately we had slowed and were able to stop short enough for him to regain control. Another incident happened at bridge 13 when a hire boat who was catching us up  came through behind so fast that it hit a boat moored next to the bridge. I pulled over and let him pass but he then slowed and eventually stopped at the next bridge as he had something around the prop and we were able to pass him and continue on our way.
Travelling through the Charity Dock boats we spotted these two tiny ducklings, they must have been born only a matter of days ago and I wonder if they will manage to survive the winter.
New Chicks
We turned at Hawksbury Junction with one boat coming down the lock and another waiting to go up. As we moved forward another boat turned in and the other boat started to exit the turn, the hire boat we had passed earlier shot by the junction at a great rate of knots even though he had just negotiated the narrow section under the foot bridge totally oblivious of what was going on ahead of him. Thankfully he did not turn and the boat exiting the junction was aware of them. I always thought the beauty of canals was the slow pace of life!!
Talking to the men working at the house next to the stop lock they said how busy the junction had been that morning. They said the first boat went through at 7.00 am and they had seen at least 20 more boats go through up to lunchtime. We moored up just beyond the lock and the canal continued to be busy all afternoon.
As the rain had stopped I went for a walk and came back with a bowl full of delicious Blackberries so hopefully it will be crumble for pudding tomorrow.
Now this is what you call a Log Store.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Last Climb – Wednesday 2nd October 2013

We had expected to awake to heavy rain but once again the weather forecast was wrong and it was dry so we made an early start towards the Atherstone flight of locks. We passed, at Grendon Dock, the old working boat Jaguar which looked in real good shape although the butty behind it needed some proper TLC.
4176 Boats
We soon caught a couple of hire boats going up the locks in front of us, one was Nb. Susan, crewed by some Americans, which we had hired the year we decided to buy our own boat. June went ahead to help the Viking Afloat boat in front as they were a little slow and by this time we had another two boats coming up behind us.
We were surprised to see the boatyard at Baddesley Basin appeared to have closed and diesel and pump outs were no longer available. The shed was just its skeleton steelwork and the signs had gone. However on the plus side the embankment on the opposite side has been rebuilt and looks very smart.
Boat yard
At lock 6 next to Kings Head Bridge there is an operating side pond although the volunteer lock keepers we met further up the flight said that they had been instructed not to use it. Great shame as the flight is very busy at present and it would help save precious water, particularly if the others could be brought back into use.
Once we reached lock 5 we met boats coming down every lock, including the coal boat, and after completion of the flight we moored up a short way through Atherstone.  We have seen more boats on the canal today than we have seen all year, it was that busy. Even the moorings in Atherstone only had one space left, on our last visit there was not a boat in sight.
After lunch I walked back into Atherstone for the paper and a few treats and noticed that the Barge and Bridge Pub has closed, yet another canal side pub bites the dust.
I walked down to the Co-op Supermarket and outside they have a stone feature created by Michael Disley showing an adult and child reaching for a ball in the Atherstone Ball Game an event which has taken place on Shrove Tuesday for over 800 years. Both figures wear hats to represent the towns place in the hatting and felt industry. The child stands on a pile of books to reflect the towns status as a place of learning since the 16th century.
Atherstone Ball game
We spent the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the lovely weather.

Farewell to Autumn Years - Tuesday 1st October 2013

This morning it was time for us to bid our farewells to Autumn Years and head in opposite directions. They were heading for Alrewas and we Polesworth as we return to our respective marinas after a great time together exploring some of the midlands waterways.
The construction of new homes alongside the canal at Fazeley Junction has been abandoned with the buildings unfinished.  Intended as a residential Care Home complex and 12 ‘assisted living’ apartments, the walls and roofs were largely complete but work then stopped, leaving the buildings as a shell without windows or internal fittings.
A planning application for developing the site, formerly an untidy collection of garages and disused buildings, was first lodged in 2005 and approved in 2006. However, these plans were not implemented and in 2010 a new application was made for the Care Home complex which was approved in December 2010.  This again included re-use of The Boathouse with the design respecting its historic character and the new buildings of generally attractive appearance.  Work started, with a substantial investment being made by the developers, Havercroft Construction Ltd., but was then abandoned before completion. Let us hope that it is not too long before the site is completed and restores this important junction to a living community again. IMG_4154
The timber company at the Junction has always fascinated me and it was in existence in 1910, and run by Mr Ben Aucott senior with a work force of about 12 men and 2 boys. One of the boys was his son Ben who was to also ran the business for many years.  The business in those days was called Fazeley Rustics and they made wooden garden furniture. Ben Aucott had three children by his first wife, who is believed to have died in childbirth and ten children with his second wife. He lived at the Junction House. He had 5 boys and 5 girls in the second marriage and 4 of the boys followed him into the business. Ben, a well known singer, had been a farrier in World War 1 and he managed the business while Lawrence drove the coal lorry. Norman was a wheelwright , Edward a timber man in charge of the men who brought in the timber and was himself a good axeman. The firm had a huge crane and an even bigger stack of trees, the crane being used to take the trees to the huge saws. They had horses kept in the yard and also a blacksmiths shop, for Ben did the metalwork for agricultural items and shoes for the horses.  There was a huge vehicle pulled by horses that carried the trees and each day the team would go out early to cut down and bring in the timber. The team was Eddie Aucott, Alec Bott, later killed in the army, Mr Fisher and sometimes his wife and they were loaded up with axes and saws to go out to work. The team operated at a radius of 10 miles or so. Today the company is know as H & G Gould Timber merchants and still takes delivery of large trees and uses the crane to unload and move the trunks around the site. Whilst I was there they were just unloading this lorry and some of the sawn trunks can be seen in the bottom picture. 155 Timber Yard
Just passed the junction is a C&RT yard and these two flats were moored outside with new lock gates awaiting installation somewhere.
161 Lock Gates
Just before Alvecote marina we spotted the motor and butty of the Little Chimney Company and stopped to have a chat and get our daily dog fix with Molly, Lilly, and Daisy. We had a nice chat with Tracey and Kim and then Kim showed me around his butty workshop. I must say he makes a lovely job of the stainless steel chimneys he makes and sends them all over the country.
165 Little Chimney Co
At last I managed to spot the ruins of Alvecote Priory through the trees. I must be concentrating so much on negotiating the sharp turn that I usually miss it. I will have to stop next time and take time to explore them.
Under the M42 bridge can be seen these sketches on the supports. I am not sure who or why they were instigated but it dose give some interest to what would otherwise be a plain concrete bridge.
172 M42 Bridge
As The Monument, Polesworth come into view we know we are not far from one of our favourite mooring spots. It is an obelisk built by Sir George Chetwynd to mark the site of the Chapel of Hoo in the 1850s. The ancient village of Hoo has one recognisable feature that is still standing in North Warwickshire today. The Hoo obelisk is believed to be half a mile away from the original settlement as it was moved in about 1840 when the railway track needed to be widened. IMG_4175
An item on the local BBC Midlands News tonight covered the hoped for restoration of the Lapal Canal at Selly Oak which I mentioned earlier in this blog. There is now hope that the Supermarket will help fund the project as part of the site development.

Breakfast with the Kingfisher – Monday 30th September 2013

This morning we were having breakfast and looked out of the window to see this Kingfisher on the opposite bank. We watched it for quite a while and then it caught a fish and finally flew off when the first boat came by. We would never have expected to see a Kingfisher at Fazeley Junction of all places.
Today is a special day because the reason I fetched the car was so that we could go to the Puppy Walker Recognition Day at Guide Dogs new breeding centre at Tollgate. So after wishing Graham and Carolann a very happy wedding anniversary we headed off to just the other side of Warwick.
Arriving at Guide Dogs we were met by our Supervisor who happened to be on car park duty and then we went into the meeting room with nearly 200 invited Puppy Walkers for coffee and biscuits.
The photos below show the new Breeding Centre, a couple of supervisors and a trainer and below some of the invites puppywalkers.
122 GD School
There were presentations on the research work being done at the centre, question and answer sessions and demonstrations of dogs working in an obstacle course. The yellow Labrador is Penny who was walked by some  friends from our Puppy Class.
129 Dog Work
We also went along the viewing galleries so that we could see the young pups who had been born at the centre or had just come in for the first few days before going out to their new Puppy Walker. The litter pictured here is from a Brood Bitch who attends our class and one of the pups will be going to Katherine another PW who was with us on the day and we were all trying to guess which one she would be having next week.
143 Pups
The day was rounded off with a talk by Penny Hefferan about the eight Guide Dogs she has had since she was 19 years old. It was such a moving talk that I think everybody was in tears by the end.
We said our goodbyes to the old and new friends we had made in the Guide Family and headed back home to drop off the car before catching the train and bus back to Fazeley. We arrived back just before 6pm and arranged with Carolann and Graham to try the Ivory Tusk Indian Restaurant in Fazeley as it had been recommended to us by several boaters. We had a nice meal but it was not quite up to the standard of our local Indian.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Just for Knitters – Sunday 29th September 2013

Late start today as we did not want to get to Fazeley until people had moved off as we needed to moor there for a couple of day.  Leaving Cudworth Bottom Lock the canal is really over grown with reeds and trees but it gives it almost a river feel.
For most of the journey we followed the nature reserve and could get glimpses of the lakes and hides with twitchers busy with their cameras and telescopes. It was strange therefore to hear gun fire from the lakes near to Fazeley, I would have thought that it would have frightened the wild life off but it did not seem to.
4 Nature reserve
In the distance could be seen the church at Drayton Bassett and a little further on the gothic style foot bridge with its twin towers. There does not appear to be an explanation for its eccentric appearance, but it is unique and always a talking point among boaters.
Reaching Fazeley Junction just after 10.00 am we were able to find two mooring spots and after a quick coffee I caught the No. 110 bus into Birmingham. There is an excellent half hourly service on a Sunday and every 15 minutes during the week. It travels via Sutton Coldfield and has some lovely views over the countryside in the earlier parts of the route.Image0615
As the bus went down the Aston Express way from Spaghetti Junction the Aston Villa Stand and Aston Hall were clearly visible from the top deck. I am afraid the photos are not too good as they were taken with my phone through the bus window.
3 Aston
The bus dropped me off outside Moor Street Station and I was able to catch a train to Solihull with just a 5 minute wait. I collected the car from home as we needed it tomorrow and after a quick chat with our neighbours returned to the boat.  As I was pulling off the drive Joanne arrived with Pru. They were on their way to catch the ferry back to the Isle of White and popped in so that we could see Pru and have our dog fix for the day. Pru made such a big fuss it was just as if she had never left Solihull.
Back at the boat Sharon, Steve, and Millie arrived for afternoon tea and cake and a look around the boat.
2 Sharon Millie and Steve
Later I went to explore what restaurants are in Fazeley and spotted the Parish Hall which has now been adopted as the Town Hall even though the it still has the words Parish Hall carved in the door Head Stone.
Moored through the bridge from us was the Nb. Made of Fibre boat with the website emblazoned on the sides. A quick check on the internet found this which will be of interest to Knitters.
“The Maid of Fibre is the name of our canal boat, the first of its kind, that has been converted into a sanctuary for knitters to come and view yarns from all over the world and explore the fantastic range of natural and blended yarns that we supply.Whilst we travel across England and Wales down inland water ways on board a 60 foot narrow boat, we invite you to come on board for a unique experience and view next season's trends in a tranquil part of the country, outside of the shop, whilst relaxing and enjoying the countryside.” Image0612