Friday, 30 December 2011

Bottles at Braunston

We had planned a few days out over the Christmas break, but with the weather cold wet and miserable, just did a short trip to Braunston and back.  On an afternoon walk we went to look for the line of the old canal in the fields.  It was fairly easy to find, and it looks as though it was filled with rubbish, as there are old glass bottles coming out of the ground.
Later on in the evening the wind dropped and the rain stopped to give us a quiet night before returning to the marina.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Another addition to the local sculpture trail.  This one is more in keeping with the history of the woods than some of the others - that bank in the background is one side of the "Radfall", a wide track that was maintained for access to the woods.  Contemporary records show that at the time the area of a specific wood was measured by the number of pigs it could support. 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Misty mornings and sunny afternoons

Another short trip to Braunston in unusual weather.  Cold misty starts eventually developed into bright sunshine on both Saturday and Sunday.  It was quite eerie overnight near Butchers Bridge, with water condensing and falling almost like a very fine rain showing up in torchlight.  Lots of people were moving their boats well after dark too, presumably with schedules to meet to avoid being stranded by stoppages.  Breakfast is easier at Braunston too, now that the Gongoozler's Rest offers take away bacon sandwiches that can be picked up on the way back from walking the dog.  

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Chatham Dockyard

We've visited the museum at Chatham before, and looked around the submarine and warships that they have there.  (Canals link: the battery bank in the submarine is particularly impressive.)  This time we wanted to look at the Victorian rope works, which is equally impressive, all the more so for the demonstration of rope making.  The works are over 1000 feet long, so that ropes of that length can be made, as specified by the Admiralty based on the depth of water in the locations that they wanted to moor.  It was also surprising how many vernacular expressions come from things to do with rope.  A couple come from the use of a cat of nine tails for punishment in the Navy.  "Letting the cat out of the bag" related to getting ready to beat someone, while "not enough room to swing a cat" referred to the lower decks being too cramped to carry out a punishment.  Lots of other stuff there too, like a large collection of historic lifeboats showing how they have developed over the years.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Turning seasons

It isn't even four weeks since I saw this tangle of cobwebs in the woods in that last hot spell of the summer.  The dry spring made it a good year for spiders, and I remember trying to catch the sunlight in one.  There was an intermittent pattering noise as the wind gusted that at first sounded like the first heavy drops of a summer storm.  It turned out to be the first of the acorns being dislodged and falling through the tree canopy.

Most of the acorns are on the ground now, and the ones still falling sound different as you hear them bouncing off the nearly bare branches and twigs, rather than pattering through the leaves.  There aren't many cobwebs left either, and the walkers you meet are in fleeces and hats.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bonus day

Just for once, the weather forecasters got it right today.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky all the way from an early morning dog walk to a mooring outside Braunston Marina, via lunch at the Admiral Nelson. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Replating Dover

NB Dover, featured in a TV series about fitting out a few years ago, has been up on the hard standing at Braunston Marina for a while. In a quiet moment I wandered over for a look.  She's having new plate welded on between the baseplate and just above the waterline for most of the length of the boat.  I wonder if the insulation and internal fitting out survive that sort of treatment, or will she need another refit?

On the way back to the marina you often see ducks, sometimes in a row.  These are the first seagulls in a row that I have seen on this stretch though...

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Margate and the Turner Contemporary

There wasn't a cloud in the sky this morning as we set off to visit the gallery that opened earlier this year in Margate.  It is a big, airy building, and the exhibition was about youth culture.  One interesting piece had "then and now" photographs and comments from people pictured locally.  "Then" had them in their hippy, skinhead, rocker or goth garb as teenagers, with current pictures showing how they look as adults.  
The modern steel building sandwiched between the Margate harbour buildings and the Victorian buildings behind, some of them looking on the verge of dereliction.

One intent of putting the gallery here was to help regenerate the town through making it more of a destination for visitors, rather than simply a day out on the beach.  I think the jury is still out on that.  In the past few years there has been lots of retail development on the edge of the Thanet conurbation around Westwood Cross, meaning that town centre shops are rapidly reducing in number.  The increased shopping traffic around what was already a bottleneck may also be a disincentive to visitors, judging by the miles of crawling traffic that we passed on our way home.   

Friday, 30 September 2011

Velux product warning

It wasn't until the inner pane of one of our windows at home spontaneously broke that I found out that the manufacturers had issued a warning earlier this year that this might happen.  The problem affects one size of the windows manufactured from 1997 to 2003, and they will replace at their cost any windows from the affected batches.  Checking the numbers on the panels at the Velux website, all four of ours were affected.  It didn't take long to get the replacement arranged, but we'll need to wait a month for a fitter to become available.  It is worth a check if you have any of these windows, as although the broken glass stayed in place, there were plenty of shards all over the floor after the break.

Monday, 26 September 2011

On chimneys

While on holiday I got used to the having a rather scruffy roof.  In the foreground the flue for the gas boiler is showing some black deposits caused by the burner needing a service.  I hadn't worried when I found the chimney next along was rusted so much that it would barely sit on the chimney collar.  No problem, I thought, as I still have an old one.  However, as rust never sleeps, that one was little better and the liner had almost fallen out.  You can just see bits of it in the gully to the right.  So we bought a nice shiny one as a replacement.
 This is made out of encouragingly thick stainless steel, and looks made to last.  Here it is with some insulation wrapped in foil that I used to pack the gap you can see between the inner and outer skins to reduce condensation.  Early signs are favourable, as with the tight fit on the collar and the screwed on coolie hat it has also survived some unavoidable excursions through low trees on the offside of the canal.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

What lies beneath

Just a short day out with friends, lunch at the Blue Lias and home again. 
We saw very low water levels in the top pounds of Stockton Locks, revealing large banks of mud and the occasional fallen tree.  It also meant that you could see a lot more of the paddle mechanisms in the locks than normal.  Also there is quite a crop of freshwater mussels on the lower lock walls - it is surprising that so many can grow in this rather unpromising looking water.

Back to the marina in time for the clouds that were with us all day to dissolve into a beautiful sunny evening.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

In the woods

I've written in the past about how the local woods have been bought by a wildlife charity and are being managed for diversity.  The latest phase in attracting the locals to come take a look is a sculpture trail that includes some spectacular totem poles depicting local wildlife (I think).  Further along are some giant ants made from willow with a curiously out of proportion ant hill of wood shavings.
It is nice that they've been there for a while without anyone feeling the need to paint them, or destroy them!  Of course they are a fantasy, as insects with no circulatory system are limited in size by the rate that oxygen can diffuse into their tissues from their spiracles, so there are firm limits on the size they can achieve.  Not a lot of peole know that, or at least not a lot of 1950's horror film producers.  This one however leaves me cold, even if a bench is provided so that you can sit and admire it.
I may not know much about art, but I know what I don't like.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Home again

On the way back from Braunston we saw this temporary patch to control the leakage into a culvert that I see from the winter stoppage programme is to be fixed this winter.  It didn't look convincing even for a temporary fix, so I hope it lasts.  We talked about how having been on a longer trip to different places made the familiar ones close to home more interesting again.  Also, that extra week makes it all so much more relaxing to the point that we didn't feel the need to use all of the available holiday time cruising.
Tomorrow it is home to a relaxing weekend before finding out what joys the world of work has waiting for us.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

To Braunston

In mixed weather we travelled from All Oaks Wood to Braunston.  Lots of boats on the move, as ever in September, but a trouble free run through the Hilmorton locks of which one of each pair were locked to save water.  There are plenty of bridges with poor visibility on this stretch, so some inevitable meetings...

Despite the traffic we found a mooring outside the Mill House for the night in time for a wander around the village and locks, happily reuniting a walker with a lost set of keys that we found on the towpath.  Later on I looked out for a supernova that was near the Plough in the sky, but not much was visible to the naked eye.  Crossing the A45 to get to the footpath along the other side of the canal the number and speed of lorries flying past in close proximity felt quite alarming after three weeks aboard.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Nuneaton for ever

After a quiet night in the countryside we set off through Nuneaton.  You don't see anything of the town centre as the canal skirts the town.  What you do see is miles and miles of down at heel housing and allotments, with in some cases razor wire separating the two.

After what seemed like more miles than it probably was, we arrived at Hawkesbury Junction in a shower, usefully in time for a Greyhound pie for lunch.  On through the afternoon to a favourite mooring for the night at All Oaks Wood.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Atherstone to Nuneaton

The wind and rain through the night battered the boat and periodically woke us.  There were only showers in the morning though, as we set off up the remainder of the flight meeting lots of boats, including some old boats still on their way home from Shackerstone.  After lunch at the top we set off in gusting winds, but thankfully no rain.  At the Hartshill yard, the towpath has fallen in.
We found a quiet spot out of the wind to moor between Springwood Haven and Nuneaton.

Monday, 5 September 2011

To Atherstone

The day started sunny, but soon developed some showers and strong winds.  The mixture of strong sunlight and dark skies made for some spectacular views.
After lunch near Polesworth we headed for Atherstone hoping to get onto the flight before the 4 pm closure.  We made it with time to spare but found a large queue of frustrated folk coming the other way.  Several historic boats returning from a rally together with the ordinary traffic, and a broken ground paddle on the bottom lock, had together caused people to take seven hours or so to traverse the flight rather than the usual four.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Armitage to Hopwas

Dinner last night was at the Plum Pudding in Armitage.  Excellent as always.  The overnight rain had mostly cleared by the time we set off towards Fradley.  The canal here is fairly windy, with lots of poor sight lines through bridge holes.  Sometimes the first sign of an oncoming boat that you see is the edge of the wash, so I look out for that.  Sometimes though, I end up finding I've given way to  a fast paddling duck.
Woodend Lock is a peaceful spot for the present, but is on the route of HS2, which based on current plans will pass about level with the top of the lock.
The first of the Fradley locks had bottom gates that were rather eroded, and waiting to catch the front fender of descending boats with inattentive crews.  Still cloudy at lunchtime, but the sun came out in time to show Streethay Wharf at its best.
The good weather stayed with us through to a mooring on edge of Hopwas - near some beautiful woodland which is open to the public when the military aren't using it.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Signs of Change

Heading North on the Staffs and Worcester Canal, there is lots of evidence of how the area has been developed, redeveloped or allowed to return to agriculture. We moored last night near what used to be an isolated canal side pub, but is now swallowed up in housing estates. It is a similar picture elsewhere, with housing on what used to be industrial sites which grew up by the canal and are gone now. In other places the canal forms a boundary for housing spreading out for nearby villages. Depending upon the desirability of the sites, some of it is park homes, some high density terraces from the seventies, and some larger more recent prestige buildings that make the most of the canal rather than turning their back on it. Near one of these, looking like a hotel, some House Martins were gathering. They were landing on the eaves of the building in between swoops over the canal to feed – stocking up for the long journey to Africa.
On the other hand there are isolated stretches of countryside, with the occasional church standing alone in the landscape as the last remnant of what used to be a village.
Eventually we escaped the noise of the M6, and joined the railway to reach our destination at Tixall Wide. I've always fancied mooring here, but have never found a space before. It is unique on the canal system, more of a lake than a canal, and was built to appease a nearby landowner who didn't want the view of the valley from his house spoilt when the canal was built. The house is gone now, but judging by the remaining gatehouse it must have been impressive.
It is a lovely place to moor, but not as quiet as you might think, as the flatness of the landscape means that you can hear the nearby roads, and on this occasion the crops in an adjoining field were being harvested.
Later on in the evening there was too much cloud for a sunset, but as a substitute we had the street lights of Stafford bouncing off the clouds.
We're definitely homeward bound now, heading for Fradley and then Fazeley.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Compton to Penkridge

After a chilly night, the sun was soon burning off the mist promising a warm day.  The reflections above Compton Lock were particularly appealing.  The water became progressively cleaner as we headed north to buy diesel at Oxley Marine.  After that a heron seemed to be endorsing our choice of route to Great Haywood.
Northwards again, we ran over something large in the narrows at Pendeford Rockin.  After a few attempts we got off it and past it, and could see it looked like a large tree root and a load of geotextile, and far too heavy to lift out.  Little of the industry that used to feed the canal its work remains, although there is one large chemical plant.     

After lunch at Hatherton Junction we made steady progress through the afternoon, pausing only to help out another boater in salvaging a rowboat that got swamped by leaks from the gates as he descended the lock, towing it behind his narrowboat.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Moorhen tracks

I don't know what the moorhen was walking in before it got on our roof, but it certainly left some very clear tracks behind showing where it had been.  Travelled to Compton today in brighter weather, passing this bridge over a locktail, where use of tow ropes over the years had almost cut through one post of the bridge.