Monday, 22 February 2010

At Last I Get The Chance To Post Some Snow Photos!

I must admit I was very envious of all those boating bloggers posting their photos taken in the heavy snow and ice of December and January - out boating in mid-winter when I was confined to a hot and stuffy office. But last weekend I got an unexpected chance to post some myself.
The plan was to take Starcross from its home mooring at Norbury Wharf up to Nantwich in preparation for next week's trip up the Chester Canal. Bernard, from nb Sunshine, came over from Leicester arriving  in Norbury bang on time at 16.15 on Friday afternoon off the bus from Newport. He had wimped-out of making a marathon bus journey on his free bus pass and had done the bulk of the journey - Nuneaton to Stafford - on a cheap train ticket instead.
Bernard arrived just in time to assist in a time-honoured ritual aboard Starcross: de-coking the stove! My Villager "Heron" is fitted with a baffle plate just below the flue, presumably to stop rain and debris from the flue landing on the fire. Soot, however, collects on the plate and eventually blocks the flue so that smoke from the fire can't escape. The design of the plate and its relative position to the rest of the stove means that when this happens all you can do is get your hands and arms absolutely filthy by scraping the soot out with your fingers. Its a lovely job -and my hands still aren't completely clean three days later.

Tyrley Locks on Saturday morning - no hint of the weather to come
Saturday however turned out nice and sunny and we made an early start north. We were in no particular hurry so stopped at Shebdon Wharf for breakfast and Market Drayton for lunch. It was good to be on the move again, especially at Tyrley where the five locks were the first I'd been through since 31st October last year. The trip was uneventful, with few other boats on the move and we tied up at Cox Bank, two locks down the Audlem flight just before 18.00.
There are three pubs in Audlem, and the Bridge Inn always seemed the most down-market - only filling up after the others had closed for the night. It had, however, been "done up" last summer so we walked down to see if it was any better. It isn't.
It had been very cold walking back up the locks afterwards with clear skies and a keen wind so we were amazed to wake on Sunday morning to three inches of snow.

Jolly Boating Weather at Cox Bank last Sunday
 Our normal method of lock operation involves one party leaping across bottom gates twice at each lock and this was clearly hazardous on the conditions. Stopping where we were was not, however, an option so we devised a system to make locking as safe as possible. Bernard would fill the lock if necessary using only one paddle and then open the top gate. I would take Starcross in and get off on the opposite side to work a paddle and gate whilst Bernard did the others. He would then bow haul Starcross out, assisted by a flush from a top paddle, tie her up on the lock landing and return to close the bottom gate on his side. 
Audlem Locks in the snow
Having already closed my gate and paddle I could then walk across the closed gates - this being the only time either of us had to cross the lock. In this way we managed to get down to the bottom of the flight in three hours, not bad in the circumstances, especially as most locks were against us.
The weather gave BW's recently-installed lockside trip hazards an extra dimension, especially as the tops have been painted white for maximum concealment in snow.

Snow-covered trip hazard at Audlem
By the time we reached Audlem Wharf the sun was out and the thaw was on, giving us this Christmas-card scene:
Audlem Wharf and Mill
After the bottom lock we enjoyed a traditional boaters' breakfast (well, traditional for us) of porridge (at 11.45!) and continued to Nantwich, arriving early afternoon then getting a bus to Crewe station where we went our separate ways.

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