Day 49 – Peterborough

Oundle to Peterborough isn’t that hard but the extremely hot weather didn’t help.

The map shows an EA water point at Fotheringhay so that was my first target. Fotheringhay is a very pretty and posh village with plenty of mooring space. All of it chargeable, £5 per night, £2.50 short stop and even £2 to take a canoe out of the water. There’s a half mile stretch of signs setting this out.

Right next to the bridge EA own (or lease?) a tiny patch of land, about 3m long frontage on the river and maybe 5m back, on which stands their water point. Obviously it’s too short to moor anything longer than a kayak so whoever it is owns the moorings will gracioulsy allow one to over lap for as long as it takes to fill up. A sign warns that if you don’t move straight away you will be charged for mooring.

Just to make life even more tricky the plot is fenced and gated and there are no mooring rings or bollards just a steep, nettle-covered bank.

There was just one final flywheel operated lock and as I approached I could see official looking vans and people grouped around the guillotine gate end. Surely not another closure?

In fact much better, the guys were there to strim and mow the grass around the lock, but they aren’t allowed to do it whilst there is a boat using the lock, so hurry things up they did most of the lock winding. Great contrast to last year when contractors, not EA staff, strimmed long wet grass while Seren was in a lock and pretty much covered her. I told them about the Fotheringhay nettles and they said they’d go and strim there too. Amazing.

Closer to Peterborough, where the Ferry Meadows park starts there were groups of teens and families enjoying the river. Some of the teens are a bit clueless, one bunch of lads, seeing me approach spread themselves out across the channel so there wasn’t a gap big enough to pass. I knocked Seren out of gear so at least no-one would get mangled by the prop and drifted with the wind and current toward them. They parted and let me pass but then swam round behind making me very nervous about engaging forward gear again.

At a lock a bunch of teenage girls were sunbathing on the lock surround. It was one of EA’s ‘special’ locks where the landing stage is on the opposite side to the control box so as often do I pulled in on the ‘wrong’ side avoiding the girls and a walk over the lock. A couple came around to talk to me. They wanted to know if they could swim in the lock once I’d filled it. I pointed out I’d be putting the boat in then emptying the lock so it’d be dangerous. Then they asked if I could leave the control box open when I left so they could refill it. I felt mean in refusing but I’d feel worse if one had drowned. They took my refusal well and went back to sprawling on the grass.

Finally I turned into the cut leading to Thorpe Meadows where I’d arranged to meet Linda for a meal at The Boathouse. She got lost, apparently the signage is terrible and the meal wasn’t that good, but nice to see her. Loads of people, families, teens, young men and women (mostly Polish I think) were on the landing stage or in the water. Very friendly and co-operative though and they’d all drifted away by bedtime.

Day 37 - Too many locks

Day 37 – Too many locks

I may have lost count, and still haven’t managed to buy a Trent & Mersey guidebook to confirm but today started with the Wheelock flight of eight locks, followed by six locks in three pairs then a flight of 10 ending at the Red Bull CRT service station (and Red Bull pub). I think that’s 24 locks.

Many of today’s locks had the original split, cantilevered bridges over the downhill end of the lock. These were originally installed to facilitate towlines on horsedrawn boats, and later used by motor boats towing butties. These days hardly anyone uses them but they are useful for solo boaters bow hauling their boat in to the lock to avoid the long slimy climb up the lock ladder. Unfortunately many bridge halves have drooped closing the gap, and even where they have remained separate BW/CRT have installed new hand rails without splits (see photo).

Split Bridge, Silly Handrail

After climbing out of so many deep locks up slimy lock ladders I was tired and filthy so I had a shower got changed and treated myself to a steak & ale pie and pint at the Red Bull. Good choice. We’ve had a few light showers during the day but within minutes of me getting back into Seren after dinner it started pouring down.

Day 21 – Llangollen Canal (nearly)

For the last couple of nights I’ve stopped in rural locations with no mobile internet connection, so this is written on Wed 26, ie day 23.

No rain on day 21 which was unusual, not many locks either, just the last three at Audlem, two at Hack Green (site of the well known ‘Secret Bunker’) then I stopped on moorings just before Hurleston Junction.

During the day I got a message from Nick Harvey, it transpired he was only a couple of hours ahead, but already on the Llangollen Canal.

Day 20 - Still on the Shroppie

Day 20 – Still on the Shroppie

Woodseaves Bridge on the Shropshire Union

Slept late (07.10) after last night’s pie and pint so left Goldstone about 08.40. Most of the run up to Tyrley locks is in the Cheswardine cutting, another ‘Tree Tunnel’ There are several bridges but Woodseaves is particularly impressive. If you can see it for foliage.

Tyrely Top Lock

There are five Tyrely locks so after all my previous experience they passed off quickly, then onto Adderley where there are another five. So far so good, but the next flight, Audlem has 15 and there isn’t much breathing space after Adderley. So I stopped for lunch.

Unusually for a lock flight Audlem has two longish pound between locks 11-12 and 12-13 with CRT moorings handy for the village. I’d decided to stop after 11 but a woman coming up on a narrowboat had left 12 open for me, so I did that then stopped. Just in time, the rain that had been threatening for an hour arrived.

Day 18 – Wolverhampton Locks

Yesterday afternoon I passed a depressing signpost, ‘Aldersely Junction 2 Miles, 21 Locks. Then I cruised along for a while longer before stopping by the top lock. The actual flight is probably not much more than a mile. And falls 132 feet. It’s a slog and one lock looks much like another if they weren’t numbered you’d have no idea where you were.

Early on a CRT worker came along to tell boaters that two of the pounds were dry, after lock 12 and 15. I think I was on 5 at the time so it seemed unimaginably far ahead. Eventually I got to lock 12 just as a boat that had been held up got permission to proceed. At 15 I met a boat coming up that had been delayed three hours. The only thing holding me up was the need for tea and toilet breaks every hour or so!

The locks start in urban Wolverhampton and end in what feels like countryside, though a look at the map shows it isn’t really. It’s an illusion you often see on canals, tree lined banks and hedges make them feel remote.

I stopped close to Autherley Junction where the Shropshire Union canal starts, with an all together more encouraging sign post ‘Chester’ and a mile post ‘Nantwich 39 miles’. Nantwich is where I’ll turn onto the Llangollen Canal. There are 29 locks about half of them singletons or short flights and 15 at Audlem. So two to three days.

Day 16 - Worra lorra locks

Day 16 – Worra lorra locks

Left Catherine de Barnes around 8.30 or so for a nice lock-free stretch to Camp Hill locks in Birmingham. Two of our grandchildren (Milly and Georgie) comment on ‘Tree Tunnels’ whenever trees meet over a road. They’d have loved the canal through Solihull which was a tree tunnel almost all the way. It would have been nicer with dappled sunlight instead of occasional glimpses of a grey sky but you can’t have everything.

What looks like 4 locks at Camp Hill on my map turned out to be 6 but they are easily operated narrow locks. Unlike those on the Northants Arm the bottom pair of gates have their walkways on the downhill side so when one is open it isn’t too big a stretch even for me to walk across which saves a lot of walking.

Lock 12 Farmer's Bridge
Lock 12 Farmer’s Bridge, waiting for a key

After lunch I did 6 more on the Digbeth Branch. Then a dilemma, the next flight of locks is Farmers Bridge down to the CRT facilities at Cambrian Wharf. But there are 13 of them. It was early afternoon, too early to stop so on I went. At the second one (#12, they start from the bottom) I got in but the bottom gate was secured by something CRT calls a Handcuff Key, or anti-vandal key. Not the same as the Yale-type CRT that opens the Northampton gates and CRT facilities nationwide. I didn’t have one.

I phoned CRT and a member of staff from Cambrian Wharf brought one within a few minute and charged me a fiver for it. Good service but it’d been nice to know beforehand.

So only slightly delayed I pressed on. This section of the canal is interesting if you like seeing the underneath of modern architecture. There’s a lot of flats and commercial buildings lining the canal and many of overhang the water and are supported on piles into the wider areas of water. I think maybe the locks were doubled once but aren’t now there are just weirs.

13 locks after 12 earlier in the day is a slog, but worth it. Cambrian Wharf has facilities I need and a nice pace to moor overnight and do some shopping in the morning.

Day 15 – Progress is good(ish)

This should have been published days ago, but owing to unidentified tech gremlins it wasn’t. So here’s hoping it works now and I can catch up. It’s been an eventful couple of days…

Still 2½ days adrift but getting on well. I started on the remaining 11 Hatton Locks and as I left the fifth one of the day three CRT volunteers turned up to help. The remaining six were a doddle, I stayed in the cockpit and they did all the work opening and closing paddles and gates.

Then a nice long cruise in weak sunshine (better than heavy rain) through Shrewley Tunnel and on to Tom o’the Wood and Kingswood Junction.

My Canal Plan route continues up the GU Canal but when I was planning I decided to go left/right onto the North Stratford Canal into Birmingham, it goes through Edgbaston and is reckoned to be prettier than the newer GU route through Solihull. It came down to locks. On the GU they are large, if I’m by myself I only open one side but the paddles are big, hard to operate but fast. One the Stratford the locks are narrow which means I have to open both gates, which means walking up the lock and down again, twice. So I stuck with the GU. The next set of locks at Knowle were a slog, and it started to drizzle. Thankfully there are only five.

Next stop Copt Heath wharf where I bought some diesel. Seren’s fuel consumption (and tank capacity) is a mystery. Yesterday and the day before I put in 10l from a jerry can, before that I hadn’t filled up for nearly a week so I reckoned it must be nearly empty. But at Copt Heath we could only get just over 4l in the tank. I suspect foaming is the problem. I refilled the jerrycan with >9l so I’ll try putting that in sometime tomorrow.

Then on in the pouring rain to stop for the night at Catherine de Barnes Bridge.

Still having problems with the fridge. During the day with the engine running it works OK, but as soon as the engine is off the load on the ‘leisure’ battery is much too high and the battery soon starts to fade. My multimeter only reads up to 10A and it goes off the scale. I think the problem is the inverter but the only way to be sure is to plug the fridge into a proper mains supply and measure its current consumption. Transforming up from 12V to 240V one would expect a current increase of x20 so if the fridge takes 0.5A then the inverter will draw 10A plus a bit for inefficiency. But as far as I can see the fridge is taking more like 0.1A. I’ll organise a mains ‘hook-up’ in Llan (or Chirk Marina) and see how the fridge performs then.

Day 14 – More big locks

Before setting off I made a list of things I needed to do:

  1. Empty loo
  2. Fill water tank
  3. Fill diesel tank (to be on safe side I put my reserve 10l in)
  4. Get more gas (I swapped the bottles over a few days ago)
  5. Find launderette

I expected to find a marina where I could do all five. No such luck. Royal Leamington Spa has a boaty place, on the river Avon, not the canal. But Warwick has three. Delta Marine is a boatyard that does repairs and refits. They suggested Kate Boats about 100m along. It’s a hire boat place that graciously allowed me to empty the loo and fill up with water, but they run out of gas in bottles the size I need and they only keep diesel for the hire fleet, not for sale. So onto Saltisford Canal Centre which did have gas, but no diesel and would only let me use the launderette if I stayed over night.

So with enough fuel for now and everything else sorted I pressed on to the bottom of the Hatton Flight of 21 locks. There I stopped for an early lunch and did some hand-washing and the washing up I’d not done earlier to save water.

I made a start on the locks after lunch doing five of them accompanied by a narrowboat. I couldn’t keep up the pace though and they pressed on while I had a tea break. Then I did another five and stopped for the night.

I was starting to worry about the fuel, Seren has no gauge so I rely on a rough estimate of how big the tank is and the assumption I use 6-7l per day. So after dinner I found a petrol station on line and went for a walk. It wasn’t far but 10l of diesel in a steel can gets heavy after ½mile!

11 more locks first thing tomorrow, then a nice relaxing pound to Knowle.

Day 13 – Big Locks

I wrote this yesterday but then found I couldn’t publish it because I had no internet connection. So here you are 24 hours late.

Unlike the Northampton Arm the GU Mainline has large locks. Those encountered today (17 or 18 depending how you count a 2 lock staircase) have the 1930s big ground paddles. They are amazingly efficient at emptying or filling a lock, but hard to turn. I did the first few at Stockton single handed, then a chap from a boat at the top who was out walking his dog borrowed a spare windlass off me and set a few locks in advance for me. Very kind.

Round about the 5th lock he saw a boat coming up and set the lock for them and asked them to leave the next two open for me coming down. Eventually I got to the bottom.

There’s a brief pause after that until Bascote locks, the staircase pair and a single. There were two Australian couples on a hire boat coming up and two others ahead of me waiting to go down. The Aussies were having a logic problem, filling locks they should be emptying and generally getting it wrong. Eventually it was my turn and as I entered a narrowboat arrived to share the lock.

We shared the next couple but I needed a rest by then and he pressed on. I need to empty the loo soon and spotted a ‘Sanitary Station’ on the map below Fosse top lock so I decided to make for there, and teamed up with another hire boat with 3 couples on, 2 probably in their 50s and someone’s parents who just stayed in the cockpit. The younger ones were fit and organised though so we made good progress.

The Sanitary Station was closed. We did one more lock together then I had to call it a day above Fosse bottom lock. I’ll get to Warwick tomorrow and there are three marinas there. I might even find one with a launderette.
I’m still two days behind, in fact two days ago I should have been through two more locks and stopped in Royal Leamington Spa, so I guess that’s about two days plus an hour. If I keep to schedule from here on I should arrive on June 27. So I can drop another few days and still get to see Jools Holland at Llan on July 1st.

Day 11 - Things are looking up

Day 11 – Things are looking up

As I prepared dinner last night Seren tilted slowly nose down. Looking outside the reason was obvious, the ‘pound’ (section of canal between locks) was almost empty with just a narrow stream running down the middle. Seren was on the sloping mud at the side.

The single lock gate behind us (lock 8) had blown open and the twin gates at the other end of the lock were leaking. So I closed the gate, walked up to lock 7 and opened the paddles both ends to let enough water through to fill the pound. Snag is of course that leaves the next pound empty but I hoped it would fill overnight via the overflow channels.

Low water, in this weather?

It didn’t. So this morning I had to fill the pound between 6 and 7 with water from above 6 then refill the pound between 5 & 6… At this point a CRT (Canal & River Trust) guy appeared in a pick up. Apparently it happens every night, the lower locks all leak but the top one has been replaced and doesn’t so it doesn’t top up the lower ones. Someone has to refill the Northampton Arm most mornings.

All the walking back and forth and up and down between locks doubled the distance and time taken and left me worn out. Fortunately there are no more locks for miles after Rotherthorpe.

The weather cooperated too. While I was doing the locks there were a few very light showers, then some prolonged rain while I cruised along with the cockpit roof shut. Then, amazingly, at lunch time the sun came out. There were a couple more showers but for the first time in a week I haven’t ended the day with a pile of wet clothes and the cockpit drenched.

Unfortunately before the weather improved it looks like water got into the inverter, a gadget that converts battery power to mains to run the fridge. I’m hoping it will dry over night but unless it does, no fridge.