Saturday, 19 May 2018

A sorting out sort of day

As planned, we've spent today on the mooring below Gailey lock. It's another warm sunny day, the first part of which was spent inside with the engine running and the washing machine churning away. I took the opportunity to catch up with a load of entries for the Owners' Group Pub Guide. These took a bit of time because some of them involved creating new sections for waterways that hadn't previously featured and I was very rusty on the routine for doing that.

However, it was all sorted before lunch and the new version of the Guide uploaded to the Owners' Group site. After lunch we had a bit of Bill and Ben time – those who are decrepit old enough to recall Watch with Mother will remember that every episode of the Flowerpot Men ended with the words "and they all dozed quietly in the summer sun".

There followed another walk, again to Rodbaston Lock, there not being much else in the way of route options here (unless you fancy a stroll beside the A5 or wandering back along the canal past the lines of moored boats). There was quite a lot of traffic, so we had a few opportunities to assist at the various locks and plenty of chances to chat.

Back at Gailey, we went on to the Round House shop for more ice cream. I also bought one of the Working Waterways series of paperbacks I'd not got, namely Tom Foxon's Number One. These accounts of life on the cut at the end of the carrying days are quite intriguing – as long as you don't fall into the trap of trying to emulate their methods on a system that's just not robust enough to take it any more.

Tomorrow, we'll make an average start for the two hour run to the Cross Keys pub above Filance lock.

Friday, 18 May 2018

It must be summer

It's been another glorious day's boating, though a comparatively short run, even by our standards. We set off between eight and half past, Sheila steering and your correspondent doing look out on the bow, mostly, as well as sorting things below decks. This is the last really rural section of the Staffs and Worcs heading north – nothing wrong with the rest of it but it's never far away from "civilisation" from here.

It is, of course, a Brindley summit (Compton is said to be Brindley's first attempt at a narrow lock) and, like the South Oxford, it winds about slavishly following the contour. Not long after we set off, I pointed out the stacks of the Four Ashes incinerator, looking to be about two fields away. Only an hour later, we were actually passing them, they having approached and retreated off and on in the interim.

After zooming past the chemical works with their fierce No Stopping, No Mooring signs, we arrived at Gailey top. There was a boat already on one of the water points, the one furthest from the lock, but as we pulled onto the other one, they left and we were able to pull back out of the way of the activity lockside. It's not bad pressure, but we had plenty of time to dump rubbish, drink coffee and so forth before we had a full tank.

Sheila worked me down the lock and we've tied on the nice open moorings below for a couple of days. This afternoon we took a walk along the canal past Brick Kiln and Boggs to Rodbaston, just for the exercise. There's a bit of traffic about, but nothing too dramatic.

Tomorrow, we'll run the engine and do a wash load as the section from here to the Cross Keys above Penkridge won't give us time to do it and we don't want to run the engine in Penkridge any more than we have to.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Routine sort of day

There's not a lot to talk about today. We had a good night here at Coven and made a leisurely start this morning after wrestling with a particularly challenging Killer Sudoku. We nailed it in the end with only one early guess at a square and no errors.

After breakfast and coffee, we walked into the village. Before going into the Co-op, we checked out whether there had been any changes in the little parade of shops just over the road and up the hill. The greengrocer has added a coffee shop and Post Office to their offering and there's a hairdresser and a baker that's more of a sandwich shop.

The Co-op itself isn't very useful except for the basics and we only found about half of what we had on the list. It is very small, without an instore bakery, and a good chunk of it is given over to the off licence side though without stocking any interesting bitters. There's more of a choice of lager and a load of alternative ciders.

More exciting was a visit to the butchery on the way back, where I was able to restock with meat and we bought a pork pie for lunch.

Back at the boat we stowed things away then had a coffee. Since then it's been a case of pottering about, in Sheila's case including earning merit this afternoon by doing her tax return. We hope that the forecast for tomorrow is correct as it looks like an excellent day for the run along the summit pound to Gailey.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Some serious boating

Well, by our standards, anyway. It's three locks and a bit over four and a half miles from Wightwick to Coven and we wanted to stop in Compton to shop, so we reckoned on something over three and a half hours. We got away a bit before eight on a cool, damp day, the rain not quite drizzling, more spitting at us.

We were soon up the two Wightwick locks and Sheila walked on to Compton to reconnoitre the moorings. She found a space between the road bridge and the lock into which we popped at half eight. A quick trip to the Sainsbury's Local found most of what we wanted. These smaller in-town supermarkets only have limited ranges, of course, and it very much depends on what the locals like to buy as to whether you find what you prefer.

Back at the boat, we left the shopping in its bags until we got going again. Once up the lock, Sheila took over steering whilst I stowed stuff, then we swapped so that she could get the washing machine going.

After that, it was a bit of a damp plod through Tettenhall and past the Wolves race course and the two junctions, Aldersley and Autherley. It was now around ten, so not surprisingly we had to wait half way through the Rockin' for a couple of boats to come through the other way. Fortunately, both we and the first of the others had deployed crew ahead on the towpath, so there were no surprises.

I held Sanity Again opposite one of the passing lay-byes for them to come through. The surrounding become more rural after that and we finally tied on the visitor moorings beyond the Anchor after half eleven.

Soup and sandwiches for lunch, then a quiet afternoon watching the other boats go by. Even though the Four Counties is broken at Middlewich (and seems likely to remain so until after next winter) there is much more traffic here than south of the junctions, including Brian on the coal boat Halsall, though selling more diesel than coal now, I guess.

We'll sit tight here tomorrow, then go on to Gailey for a couple of nights. We've arranged to meet Dave from Cabincare at Penkridge on Monday to discuss installing fly screens in the hatches.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

And so to Wightwick

It's been another very pleasant day's boating. It's only a couple of hours from the Bratch to Wightwick, so we didn't set off until half eight or so. It was still quite cool, but as the morning went on the early mist burnt off and the sun came out. Still, Sheila was glad of her fleece standing steering, though I didn't feel the need of one as I worked us up Awbridge, Ebbstree and Dimmingsdale locks. These three are close enough together to walk between, so I've had a reasonable amount of exercise.

It was then a short ride to our mooring at Wightwick. As last time we were here, we've stopped short of the official visitor moorings which are a bit close to a noisy road bridge. It means working the mooring chains down behind a heavy wooden waling rather than the usual crash barrier type stuff, but it's worth it.

We had a coffee and then Sheila put out today's batch of washing – the whirligig has fairly been earning its keep in this warm weather.

This afternoon, I made up some more descaler from the stock of concentrated phosphoric acid that lives in the engine hole and descaled the toilet and the kettle. I dilute the 80% stuff I bought on eBay by 10:1 to give an approximately 8% solution which is ideal for these jobs. Whilst I had the engine boards up, I took the opportunity to refill the stern greaser.

We've been taking it easy, otherwise, enjoying the summery conditions whilst they last. Current plans are to move on to Coven tomorrow, stopping to shop at Compton as we pass, spend two days there and two at Gailey before going on down to Penkridge.

Monday, 14 May 2018

A trip to Wombourne

Do you suppose the good folk of Wombourne get fed up with jokes about Wombles? Maybe not, the locals probably don't have my twisted sense of humour. Anyway, despite the fact that Pearson says that it's not practical to do so, we decided to take a walk to the shops in Wombourne this morning. Our copy of the relevant First Mate's Guide reckoned it was twenty minutes from the moorings below the flight, which sounded perfectly doable.

Which indeed it is. You walk up the road from the bridge below the bottom of the flight, past the waterworks, and carry on uphill beneath the old railway bridge and then turn right into Station Road. That first bit is bereft of pavement, so stay by the houses so that you can slip into one of the drives to avoid passing traffic.

Once on Station Road, it's a straightforward pull up the hill on pavement all the way. At the traffic lights, you can choose between turning left to the medium size Co-op or carry on down the other side of the hill on what's now Windmill Bank to a cluster of village shops. These include a butcher, a baker and two parts of a Poundland style cheapjacks, in one of which we bought a couple of extra rolls of masking tape.

On the way back, we called in at the Co-op for some fruit and veg then trogged back down the hill to the locks and so back to the boat. It came out at about two and a half miles altogether, so no big deal on a fine day.

Nonetheless, we felt sufficiently well exercised to take the rest of the morning off. This afternoon, we've been grafting at painting the starboard gunwale in Andy Russell's Gunwale Black. Sheila applied the masking tape and I wielded the mini-roller. It was worth doing but, my word, it doesn't get any easier with the passing years. No matter, it's sorted now and looks pretty good though I say it myself.

We'll do the other side at a convenient moment and location– the towpath will be to port for most of the next few weeks, first along the Staffs and Worcs and then up the Trent and Mersey.

Tomorrow, on to Wightwick as a change from Compton.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Start early, stop early

We'd calculated today's run at around three hours, so set off before eight, Sheila locking and myself steering. We were soon up Swindon and Marsh locks – it's another area where it's hard to believe that it was once entirely industrial, with a rolling mill on the west side specialising in silicon steel sheet according to Pearson's. That's all gone now, replaced with smart smart new houses – the only evidence that it was ever there is that the towpath changes sides between the locks where it used to avoid the works.

On we went up Botterham staircase. No trouble here this time and the two hire boats that had clearly stopped for the night above were just getting going as we went past. Sheila hopped on board again and I coasted along to give her time to sort the washing machine. Once done, she left the boat at Giggety bridge, giving herself a bit of a walk to Bumble Hole lock. The offside ground paddle wasn't doing very much there, so we took a bit longer to get up, but we weren't in a rush.

There were fishermen between there and The Bratch, so another slow length. Not one but two lockies were in attendance at The Bratch, one of whom helped Sheila with the gates but was careful to tell her to take her own time in filling each lock. A boat was just arriving as we emerged from the top and we had no trouble finding a mooring above, indeed there have been only two boats here all day. There's not been much traffic around at all, odd for a sunny Sunday in May.

Things had gone so smoothly, we were all finished boating well before coffee time at half ten.

Weatherwise, it's been glorious, so much so that Sheila has just taken the washing in from the whirligig and put it away. This afternoon has been a mixture of odd bits of work like washing the gunwale ready for painting tomorrow and of loafing on the bow reading (me) and doing crochet (Sheila).

I mustn't forget to report that our fish and chips last night lived up to their reputation. Generous portions and particularly fine chips, crispy-crunchy on the outside and floury in the centre. Thanks to John and Evelyn for the recommendation!

Tomorrow, the plan is to walk into Wombourne in the morning and paint in the afternoon.