Day-by-Day: 2006

First Trip of the Year

Date: 9th – 11th March 2006
Route: Lowsonford to Alvechurch
Crew: Jim, Hil, Mark and Helen
Friday 9th March
The canal was due to re-open on Saturday, 10th March. We drove over to Lowsonford the previous afternoon arriving about 15.30 to get the boat ready. We refilled the water tank, which had been drained for the winter, and moved up the lock, as this was easier than reversing from the water point back to the mooring.
During the afternoon we spoke to one of the other moorers who thought that the work on lock 25, about a two kilometres up the canal, was overrunning and there was a danger that the stoppage would not be lifted. So, it was “on yer bike” and off to lock 25, arriving at about 17.30 to find work still very much in progress. A brief conversation with the foreman however established that the work would continue “until it was done” and that we could definitely pass the next day. We spent the rest of the evening in the Fleur de Lys, which was a bit more amenable than on previous occasions.
Saturday 10th March
Mark and Helen were coming from Oxford by train, so we drove over to Hatton to meet them, where they arrived, on time, at 11.07. This meant we were able to get away from the mooring by 11.30. Hil, however, had to leave after the first lock to get back to work.  Lock 25 was open, as promised, although there was still much evidence of the recent work. We stopped briefly for lunch above the lock and then carried on to Kingswood Junction, where it was Helen’s turn to leave us for her train home. Mark and I carried on up the Lapworth flight about 15.00.  We intended to call at the village shop near bridge 58 but found that it had closed down. We had to wait behind another boat to enter the “thick” of the flight and it was 17.00 by the time we got above lock 2 and starting to get dark. We had planned to get to Waring’s Green for the night, so continued through the deepening gloom to arrive, well after dark, at 19.00. Mark concocted an “interesting” meal of sausages, instant mash, mushrooms and frozen canelloni! (you can tell that the women had gone home!). Afterwards we walked across to the “Blue Bell” cider house, which I remembered from canal trips in the 1970s. Quite frankly I was disappointed as what I remebered as a small, rustic, pub selling predominantly cider had become a larger and much more conventional pub – no doubt due to the increasing custom from canal boaters. Perhaps it was either that, or close completely. For Mark and I however, the answer was to walk down to the next pub, whose name escapes me but which appears to be owned by Thwaites Brewery of Blackburn(!) which has the added bonus of being open until 00.30 at weekends. The (new) landlord is very keen and we were mildly reprimanded for failing to complain about (slightly) cloudy beer!
Sunday 11th March
We were up and away by 09.00 on a very cold and windy day. I made a bit of a mess trying to go through Brandwood Tunnel without lights – it doesn’t seem long enough to need them – but it is! We called at Lyons Boat Yard for 40 litres of diesel (at 53p/litre) a\nd a new gas bottle before continuing to Kings Norton and turning left onto the Worcester & Birmingham. It was very foggy in Wast Hill tunnel. So foggy in fact that we realised that unless one of us went to the bow to keep look-out we probably wouldn’t see an oncoming boat until it was too late. Fortunately we didn’t meet anyone although someone had obviously been through before us as there were dozens of blue balloons floating on the water. We arrived at Alvechurch at 14.00 and tied up on the 48-hr visitor mooring opposite the Marina, where we left “Starcross” for a week. Naughty I know, but it was still early March and the only other feasible tying-up spots were occupied by rather mean-looking fishermen. Any doubts I did have were dispelled by the boat that was blatantly tied-up in the “No Mooring” spot opposite the winding hole nearby.
We called in at the “Weighbridge” for a pint before I caught the train home from the adjacent railway station – possibly the most “public transport friendly” mooring used to date.

Lights Out in Alvechurch

Dates: 17th – 19th March 2006
Route: Alvechurch to Lowsonford
Crew: Jim and Hugh
Friday 17th March
This weekend I had the use of the car so I drove over to Alvechurch after work to find Starcross safe on her 48-hour mooring at about 19.20. I lit the fire and cooked some tea, but quickly found that there was very little juice in the batteries, forcing me to resort to candles and the oil lamp and, eventually, to abandon ship and resort to the pub for the evening. At the time I put this down to lack of use over the winter and the cold weather.
Saturday 18th March
The first job of the day was to get the car to Lowsonford, which I did by driving there (in 20 minutes) and cycling back (in about an hour-and-a-half). This operation was concluded by about 10.00 and Hugh arrived off the train from Huddersfield at 11.15. The traction batteries were not affected by whatever had caused the domestics to go flat so, after a quick coffee, we winded and set off up the Worcester & Birmingham. We stopped at the “Halfway House” for a quick lunchtime pint of Banks’s Mild and then carried on through a much clearer Wast Hill tunnel following an Alvechurch hire boat. The afternoon got progressively colder but the trip was fairly uneventful until we picked up a plastic bag on the prop just before Waring’s Green at about 18.00hrs.
Despite having run the engine all day, there was still no juice in the domestic batteries so after a candle-lit meal (!) we repaired to the “Blue Bell”, which was slightly more welcoming than last week. Hugh had also visited the pub in the 70s and between us we managed to work out the alterations and extensions that had been made to it since then. We decided not to stay however, and walked firstly to the “Reservoir” at Earlswood, which we likened to a 1980s hotel room foyer populated by the local “yoof” and walked back to the Thwaites pub (whose name I still can’t remember) walking in the front door at 23.02 – which still seemed a novelty following last November’s new licensing laws.
Sunday, 19th March
The starter battery was still functioning, so we were away by 08.30, stopping for breakfast after lock 3. We stopped just too long to avoid being overtaken by a following boat so started down the thick of the flight behind them about 12.00. There were boats coming up as well and we met a 70ft-er at one of the most restricted points near the top. We had the usual slow run down to Lowsonford, arriving about 16.15 but at least we had the car available to get Hugh to Henley in Arden (or as one graffito had it “Henley-bin-Larden”) station and me home.

Problem Solving at Lowsonford

8th – 9th April 2006
The absence of domestic electrical power had to be sorted out and the weekend of 8th/9th April was allocated to the task. Having sought advice, we picked up a new alternator belt and a voltmeter in Hereford and took them over to the Starcross. The new fanbelt was fitted, without too much trouble, but failed to have any effect. This meant it was likely to be the batteries themselves, so these were removed (not an easy task in itself due to the restricted layout of the storage area) and taken to Swallow Cruisers at Hockley Heath. The proprietor here, Alistair Lawrence, had a look at them, but felt that they were in reasonable condition and that from the voltmeter readings we were able to give him a more likely culprit was the alternator. Swallow do not offer a call-out service, but Alistair very kindly offered to come over to Lowsonford to check for himself, although as it was by now 17.00 on Saturday afternoon, this would have to wait until the morning.
True to his word, Alistair turned up the following morning and, having run a few checks, advised that we replace the alternator. If we could remove it ourselves, he would arrange for it to be reconditioned or replaced and we could pick it up on our next visit. Removing the alternator proved to be a tricky operation (although not as tricky as reconnecting it!) but Hil managed the task, making copious notes and taking photographs so that we (she!) would be able to put it all back togther again in due course.
Dates: 29th April – 1st May 2006
Route: Lowsonford to Stratford upon Avon and back
Crew: Jim, Hil, Isobel and Keith
Saturday 29th April
First job was to call at Swallow Cruisers to pick up the alternator. Alistair was away when we got there but he had left it with someone “to be called for”. This meant that we never found out whether it was reconditioned or a new one. Hil managed to fit it, even though this meant disconnecting and refitting the coolant pipe to the engine. It took a number of goes to make it leakproof again afterwards.
Isobel and Keith arrived at 13.30 and we set off after lunch about an hour later, not knowing at this stage whether the new piece of kit had solved the power problem. We were following “Warwick” down the flight, a very handsomely converted working boat. The stop for the evening was Wilmcote, which we reached at 18.15 on a lovely sunny evening. After tea, we walked up to the Mason’s Arms in the village, which is a lovely pub although it was very quiet for 22.00 on a Saturday evening. On our return it was dark enough to need to use the lights and we were relieved to see that the power seemed to be holding up.
Sunday 30th April
Bridge 61 at Wilmcote. A typical Stratford Canal structure with a split bridge deck.
Bridge 61 at Wilmcote. A typical Stratford Canal structure with a split bridge deck.
We had a late breakfast and were not away until 10.15, behind two other boats for the Wilmcote flight. Nevertheless, we made good progress down the locks, calling at Bishopton for water at 12.30 and arriving in Bancroft Basin at 13.45, where there was plenty of room to moor. We discovered here that rain had come in during the night through the pigeon box onto the bed below. Keith and Hil checked and tightened the alternator belt, while I attended to the seal on the pigeon box. Later, Keith and Isobel treated us to a meal in the town and we retired for a peaceful night’s rest, although I was awoken by the sound of Morris dancing at, presumably, dawn on what was of course, May Day.
Monday, 1st May
We left the basin at 09.00 and averaged 8 minutes a lock out of Stratford, calling again for water at Bishopton and getting back to the top of Wilmcote at 12.25. There weren’t many boats around, but one we did see was “Sycamore” an old “Willow Wren Kearns” hire boat from Middlewich, now in private ownership. Sycamore was one of the boats that first introduced Hil and I to the waterways in the 1970s when we first met. Apparently we were not the first people to tell the present owner that.We ate lunch on the move, crossing Edstone aqueduct in a strong cross-wind, passing Preston Bagot at 14.35 and getting back to Lowsonford at 16.05

A Change of Mooring

Date: 12th – 15th May 2006
Route: Lowsonford to Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim, Kris, Bernard
A Decision to Move
Taking water at Lowsonford for the last time
Taking water at Lowsonford for the last time
Whilst we had been happy to keep Starcross on the mooring she occupied in Lowsonford when we acquired her we always intended to move her eventually. Although a picturesque, safe and quiet mooring (except when the wind was blowing from the direction of the M40) it had a number of disadvantages. The main problem was the location of the mooring in the middle of a flight of very slow locks and nowhere near a winding hole. Unless one was prepared to set-off on a trip in the same direction as one arrived from on the previous outing, it was a four-hour job just to turn round, which is a big chunk out of a weekend trip. Access from our home in Hereford was not terribly good, either an-hour-and-three-quarters by car or about twice as long by train to Lapworth and a 3 km walk down the towpath. On Sundays, when virtually no trains call at Lapworth the nearest public transport was 5 km away at Henley-in-Arden making the journey even longer. A final problem was the village pub – like so many pubs in that part of the world it was more of a restaurant than a pub and a bit too upmarket for our taste. It also sold Greene King ale, which is far more common than it deserves to be. Moorings, of course, are hard to come by so we were resigned to remaining at Lowsonford for some time. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when we were offered a berth at Norbury Wharf on the Shropshire Union Main Line, where the proprietor, Simon Jenkins, had helped to build Starcross in the early 1990s. Simon asked for an almost instant decision, and therefore it was at virtually a few hours notice that we decided to up mooring pins and head north. Norbury Junction was from one extreme to the other as far as locks and winding holes are concerned, being a turning place in the middle of a 17 mile pound. It is about the same distance by car from Hereford and whilst public transport access is not perfect, there are regular buses from Gnosall to Stafford station including on Sundays.
Friday 12th May
Kris and Bernard agreed to help me carry out the move over four days in May. I met Bernard off the Leicester train at Birmingham New Street, walking over the Moor Street for the connection to Lapworth and then walking down the towpath to Lowsonford. We were only mildly surprised to come across someone playing an Alpenhorn at the side of lock 23.
After a quick lunch, I uprooted “Starcross’s” mooring sign and after taking water for the last time left Lowsonford behind en-route for our new home at Norbury Junction. The Alpenhorn player had disappeared by the time we were back at Kingswood and we carried on to Knowle, where we arrived at the bottom of the locks at 17.05. It took us 50 minutes to get through the five locks here, despite them being all against us and despite problems with currents and crosswinds which meant that I had to keep Starcross back in each lock until Bernard had got a bottom gate open above me and then take her as fast as I dared between the locks as to do otherwise meant getting blown and/or washed all over the place. The locks at Knowle are very attractive to look at, but not so much fun to work when short-handed.
What had been a warm, sunny day deteriorated in late afternoon and finally turned into heavy rain with some thunder, just before we arrived at our stopping place for the night at Catherine-de-Barnes. The “Boat Inn” served a nice, if pricey, pint of Davenports (which brought back memories of Midlands pubs in the 70s even if the original brewery has been razed to the ground) but they ran out of real ale by 22.00!
Saturday, 13th May
Kris was to join us at Catherine-de-Barnes, driving down from Leicester but being delayed by a pile-up on the M69. Even so, we were off by 10.15 on a hot and humid morning along the Grand Union towards Brum. Quite an uneventful run until Tyseley where we were greeted by a succession of loud explosions, which turned out to be fireworks (at midday?… in May?…). We stopped at the top of Camp Hill for lunch, tying up to the pontoons outside the old warehouse. We started down the six locks of the Camp Hill flight at 13.00 just as it started to rain.
Waiting for the top lock at Camp Hill
Waiting for the top lock at Camp Hill
Our route took us past Warwick Bar and then back up the Ashted flight, going carefully through Ashted tunnel, which is much narrower inside than it looks from the entrance! We stopped for a quick cup of tea at the top of the flight and, as a consequence, were just behind another boat at the bottom of Farmer’s Bridge locks. However, the other crew were at least as efficient as we were so we were not unduly delayed and arrived at the top by 16.10 where we took on water before moving to a visitor mooring on the New Main Line near the Indoor Arena as our preferred mooring spot, on the Oozells Street loop, was full. Kris cooked a chicken for tea and afterwards we walked down to Gas Street for a quick look round before moving on to the “Prince of Wales” for the rest of the evening.
Going up Farmers Bridge in the Rain
Going up Farmer's Bridge in the Rain
Sunday 14th May
Away from Birmingham by 08.45, to find that the tiller was suddenly very heavy. No apparent reason and a stop at a bridgehole to check for damage, debris etc found nothing. We had an early lunch just above Factory Locks at Tipton and then continued along the Main Line to Wolverhampton, narrowly avoiding an oncoming “Water Travel” hireboat at a bridgehole just outside the town.
Kris and Bernard did all the lock work down the “21″ and we managed them in 2 hours. The Wolverhampton flight has to be one of my favourites as the locks are well spaced and well maintained as well as being very fast to operate. Kris and Bernard left at Autherley Junction for a bus back to Wolverhampton and a train back to their car. As we tied up, we were approached by the crew of an already moored shared-ownership boat asking if we intended to stay the night. They had been advised by locals not to do so and indeed as we stood talking a towpath-walker, who said he was a boat owner also advised against it. Its a shame if it is unsafe to moor as otherwise its a pleasant and convenient location. I couldn’t stop to find out as I needed to make progress towards Norbury so set off again, stopping for the night at Brewood.
Monday, 15th May
Set off at 09.00, in the rain which persisted all morning for the final leg to Norbury Junction, pausing at Gnosall for morning coffee which, due to the rain getting worse, became prolonged into an early lunch stop. I eventually arrived at NJ mid-afternoon and made myself known to Simon who arranged for me to be shown Starcross’ new mooring.  One of the problems with the previous mooring at Lowsonford had been the overhanging trees (dead leaves in the Autumn, bird sh*t all year round) so I was slightly disappointed to find the my place was directly underneath the only tree on the site!
The New Mooring - Still under a tree!
New Mooring at Norbury - still under a tree.

Braving the B.C.N.

25th – 30th May 2006
Route: Norbury Junction – Wolverhampton – Brownhills – Walsall – Rushall – Ocker Hill – Tipton – Wolverhampton – Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim and Duncan
Like many people, my travels through Birmingham and the Black Country had been confined to the New Main Line and routes such as the Birmingham & Fazeley and Grand Union, but I had always wanted to explore the little-visited parts of the system, particularly the “northern reaches” such as the Wyrley & Essington, Cannock Extension, Walsall Canals etc.  It has to be said that these canals do not get the best press. Everyone says they are “surprisingly rural” (even though “everyone” says it, “everyone” is still surprised) but there are many tales of blocked bridgeholes, weeds and crud in the cut, wire (and worse) round the prop and unwelcome attention from the local yoof. Somehow, when planning the trip I’d always imagined it would be undertaken in a hire boat (and that, ultimately, any problems would be “someone else’s”) so it was a bit of shock to realise that I had effectively committed myself to taking my own boat into these uncharted waters. Much reading of magazine articles, websites etc only confirmed the worst and I was convinced that trouble lay ahead. Because of this the scheduling of the trip was deliberately pessimistic, with much “recovery” time built in!
Pelsall Junction
Pelsall Junction
 Thursday 25 May: Norbury Junction to Wheaton Aston.
Duncan, my crew member for the weekend, met me off the train at Stafford,where I was late arriving having been delayed, for the second time en-route to Starcross, by a failed train on the Lickey Incline and we drove to Norbury Junction arriving at 16.50. Predictably, Starcross’ roof had a liberal coating of detritus from the oak tree under which she is now moored so first job was to clear this up and “polish the brasses” to make her look a bit more respectable. I opted to reverse back to the Junction itself before turning, but the distance involved is a bit too far for comfort, particularly with moored boats on each side of the cut and a fair amount of passing traffic.After taking water, we turned at headed south as far as Wheaton Aston arriving two hours later and spending the night firstly in the canalside “Hartley Arms” and then in the somewhat more pub-like “Coach & Horses” in the village centre.
Friday 26th May: Wheaton Aston to Walsall
We awoke at 06.30 to the sound of heavy rain, but nevertheless were away by 07.35, passing Brewood at 08.35 and, breakfasting on the move, arrived at Autherley Junction at 10.15. We reached Aldersley Junction, “Gateway to the BCN” a few minutes later, but by now just behind another boat and with the “21″ just ahead. Fortunately, they were waiting for another boat – and were in fact part of the Wolverhampton Boat Club’s annual trip – so they let us by after the bottom lock. We repayed the courtesy by lifting paddles for them all the way up the flight. The Wolverhampton flight is best tackled, when 2-handed, by some genuine “lock-wheeling” so the folding bike came out of the engine room and off I went to set the locks in our favour. As I also doubled back to close the top gates behind Starcross – and raise those bottom paddles for the Boat Club – I covered the two-mile distance of the flight no fewer than three times. We averaged 7 minutes a lock, including at least two where we had to wait for downhill boats and reached the top lock at 12.50, carrying straight on to Horseley Fields and the “curly Wyrley”. Initial impressions were that the “Wyrley” was quite shallow, but otherwise there were no problems. The sun even came out to add to the general sense of well-being! The environment was rather more ’80s tat than the ’50s “grot” we were expecting and after only one weed-hatch visit, at Knight’s Bridge, we arrived at Sneyd Junction, much earlier than anticipated, at 15.30
Sneyd Junction, Wyrley & Essington Canal
Sneyd Junction, Wyrley & Essington Canal
Permanent and Visitor Moorings at Sneyd Junction
Permanent and Visitor Moorings at Sneyd Junction
Our original intention was to stay the night at Sneyd as it was a “secure” mooring. However, it appeared to be a little too secure. Of the three ways on and off the site, one was inaccessible due to undergrowth, one had a gate locked with a non-”watermate” key and the main entrance had substantial gates which, if we came back late at night to find them closed and locked would have been an insurmountable barrier. The thought of no beer on a
Walsall Top Lock Visitor Moorings with a BW mud-hopper providing extra security
Walsall Top Lock Visitor Moorings with a BW mud-hopper providing extra security
 Friday night therefore encouraged us to push on towards our alternative planned mooring at the top of Walsall locks, which we reached, despite a few lengths of heavy weed at 17.20. The one visitor mooring was occupied by a Waterways workboat, but we tied up alongside, feeling that this just added to the security of the mooring. Just along from the mooring we found the “Rose & Crown”, an excellent Edwardian pub, largely unspoilt selling excellent beer. The urge to explore, and the need to find food, drove us into the middle of Walsall, but we couldn’t find anything better so returned for the rest of the night “enjoying” the Karaoke from the relative peacefulness of the lounge bar until well after midnight.  The Birmingham Canal Navigation Society’s website describes the section from Birchills Junction to Pelsall Junction as one of the worst on the BCN for shallowness, rubbish and yobbery.  It was, therefore, with some trepidation that we set forth the following morning with an early 07.50 start. The general condition of the cut however, proved much better than expected and we made good progress reaching Pelsall Junction in two hours.
Saturday, 27th May
This was the most “surprisingly rural” section of the Northern Reaches made even more so by the May blossom which was in full swing as the photo taken at “Little Bloxwich” shows. At Pelsall Junction we turned left for an excursion up the dead straight Cannock Extension Canal to Norton Canes and back, which took another hour or so, during which time it decided to rain. We stopped at Brownhills at the newish visitor moorings for a bit of shopping. We managed to get a few things at the street market, but otherwise the town appears to have been eaten by a gigantic Tesco and just about every other shop is a charity shop a “Poundstretcher” or closed! There being little here to detain us, and the rain having stopped, we were soon away, turing left at Catshill Junction up the Anglesey branch to Anglesey Basin, which looks completely different from a boat than from all the pictures you see, which I now realise are taken from the reservoir wall. I was in the cabin at Ogley Junction when Duncan appeared to make a complete mess of the turn, however he was actually trying to help a fisherman free his line, which was in the path of the boat. We found out when coming back that it had been caught on a garden chair. Back at Catshill we turned left down the Daw End Branch, passing Aldridge Marina, where “Starcross” was built in 1991.
Aldridge Marina, where Starcross was built in 1991
Aldridge Marina, where Starcross was built in 1991
By  now the weather had got better and it was quite warm when the sun was out. There was still a strong crosswind, which caused a few problems whilst tying up at Longwood Junction but at least the combination of Waterways’ workboats and fairly obvious long-stayers had left one space on the visitor mooring there. I cooked a cauliflower cheese for tea, whilst listening to the “golden oldies” show on local radio. A chap on the working boat moored next to us tried to sell me some logs, but as I didn’t envisage having to light the fire for a few months and as we had nowhere to store them, I declined. We sepnt the evening touring the pubs of Rushall. The Royal Oak would have been good – 1950s style with a proper public bar – apart from the singer apparently intended as an attraction! The older “Miners Arms” had been totally mucked about with but the punk band (on their first gig?) were more tolerable, but best of the bunch was the “Manor Arms”, deservedly in CAMRA’s National Inventory of un-mucked-about-with pubs with a wonderful historic interior and a good range of beer, where we stayed until well after midnight.
Sunday 28th May
 We followed our policy of early starts (well, “early” for us, anyway) and were away by 08.00. We passed quickly down Rushall locks, experiencing only one problem where it was necessary for Duncan to hold both bottom gates open, using the shaft, whilst I took Starcross out. Other than this, the locks were easy and quick to work and we were at the bottom of the flight by 09.40. Rushall Junction was passed at 09.55 and we turned right onto the Tame Valley Canal, almost immediately finding ourselves running parallel to the M6 motorway and high in the air, with extensive views over north Birmingham. From the aqueduct we passed into a cutting and followed an almost dead-straight route for the next few miles to Ocker Hill. Here we turned left onto the Walsall Canal, soon reaching Ryder’s Green locks where we had some difficulty due to a sticking bottom gate and a few demic paddles. This, combined with having to remove a large amount of floating weed from the chamber of the top lock, meant that it took an-hour-and-a-quarter to pass the flight.
Duncan keeping the gate open on Rushall Locks
Duncan keeping the gate open on Rushall Locks
At Pudding Green Junction we turned right onto the New Main Line. Ironically, having seen only one moving boat in three days the next one we saw nearly ran us down as we emerged from the junction! We followed “Iechyd Da” as far as Albion Junction before turning left up the Gower Branch to experience the only staircase locks on the BCN at Brades. From Brades we turned right onto the Old Main Line, following through to Tipton Factory Junction and passing “Iechyd Da” againnow moored up above the top lock. We arrived at Wolverhampton top lock at 16.10 and as we were now about two hours ahead of our very loose schedule we decided to carry on and explore a small piece of the Staffs & Worcs. We made good progress down the locks to begin with, but soon got into a queue behind a slow boat ahead. Here we had a slight contretemps with the crew of the following boat. With Duncan lock-wheeling on the bike, I was alone on Starcross whereas they had a more-than-full crew. I was therefore pleased when one of said crew appeared and said he was happy to close the bottom gate. I assumed he was taking pity on me for being alone and that he would in fact close both gates.
Towards the bottom of the "21" at Wolverhampton
Towards the bottom of the "21" at Wolverhampton
After two or three locks however he rather peevishly asked if I could “please make sure the gates were closed behind me” as he was fed up of “walking round the lock”. From then on I made a point of closing both gates (without of course walking unnescessarily round the lock) and despite his crew outnumbering us by at least 6 to 1 they weren’t noticeably gaining any ground. Any churlishness here was more than made up for by the female crew member of the boat in front who presented Duncan and I with a couple of cans of beer whilst both boats waited for the next lock. It was after 19.00 by the time we cleared Aldersley Junction, where we turned left and headed down to Wightwick  for the evening. After tea, the “Mermaid” was a disappointing reward for a long day being a very bland chain pub with a choice of only two beers (Bass and Banks’s Bitter) and closing at 22.30!
Monday 29th May
We were woken at 06.30 by a local crowing cockerell so got up by 7 and were away by 07.40. Despite the early start three southbound hireboats had already gone by! At Aldersley Junction the steerer of  ”Land of Green Ginger” interrupted his winding manoeuvre to wait for us to go by and we were through Autherley Junction at 09.15. We soon encountered a veritable train of southbound boats. We waited for three of them to pass at the narrows below Bridge 6 and there must have been a dozen or more in the convoy, all just a few minutes apart. At Brewood, which we reached at 10.45, the rain came on very heavily and got worse as the morning progressed. We reached Norbury Junction at 15.00 where I put 130 litres of diesel in the tank and was a bit miffed to be surcharged an extra quid for paying by debit card!
So ended my first extensive tour of the backwaters of the BCN. The condition of the track, the locks, the “yobbo” situation and the lack of problems were all much better than expected, the only disappointment being the increasing suburbanisation of the area and the lack of true “grot”! Duncan and I both agreed that a return visit to “complete” the network was needed!

Starcross B S C (Boat Safety Certificate)

Every four years a narrowboat needs a new safety certificate, which requires a check by a qualified examiner. We didn’t know anyone suitably qualified but Simon at Norbury Wharf offered to contact one and arrange an examination on our behalf. What this meant of course was that we left everything to Simon and didn’t attempt to find out what might be required (although some things such as new fire extenguishers were obvious) and did even less to prepare Starcross for the exam. The rather predictable result was a test failure and a rather large bill to put things right – although we were pleased to see that the failures were a lot of small things, rather than any major faults. Following the first, unsuccessful, test we spent the weekend of 10th / 11th June 2006 at Norbury doing those jobs that we felt we could manage ourselves. These included:
- Removing the radio/cd player and ducting the remaining cable away from the gas pipe.
- Cleaning, painting and removing all metal objects from the front locker, where the gas bottles are kept.
- Dismantling, cleaning and replacing the ventilation grills in the roof.
- Cleaning the blocked gas burner on the cooker (although we couldn’t manage the one in the oven).
This left Norbury Wharf to:
- Fit new non-return valves on the gas bottles
- Fit new battery terminals and cables
- Remove the gas fridge, which was broken when we bought the boat,
- Supply and fit new fire extenguishers
- Clear the partly blocked gas burner in the oven.
There was one other failure, the Paloma water heater, which failed its “spillage test”. This sounded the most serious fault of the lot, but its only “advisory” so of course we’ve ignored it! We were also relieved to notice that the scorching around the chimney of the coal fired stove did not apparently indicate a safety-related problem! Subsequently, the insurance company picked up on this failure and suggested that they would have to remove cover for any accident or damage that could be caused by it. They asked me to ask the examiner what needed to be done to correct it and were not at all happy when his reply was inconclusive. Eventually I persuaded them to continue cover on the basis that the heater was only used to supply hot water for showers and washing up and that I had fitted a “carbon monoxide detector” (£2.50 in any DIY store) in the kitchen!

Getting to Know the Shroppie – Part 1

23rd – 25th June 2006
Crew: Jim
Friday 23rd June
Tyrley Top Lock
Tyrley Top Lock
After a morning meeting in Birmingham I was able to take the train to Stafford and, having plenty of time available, chose the Central Trains route via Walsall and Rugeley as I hadn’t been beyond Rugeley Town on that route before. An interesting route, via Walsall with glimspes of the Tame Valley and Walsall Canals and also parts of the Trent & Mersey. From Stafford the plan was to take an Arriva bus to Eccleshall, changing there to a bus bound for Newport (Shropshire) which would take me to Norbury village, about a mile from the cut. There was the option of a direct Post Bus from Stafford, but this followed a circuitous route and took over two hours for the 10 mile journey. Changing buses in a small English town you haven’t been to before is always a bit of a gamble, but the timetable I had showed almost an hour between buses at Eccleshall so, after alighting from the Stafford bus with everyone else at one end of town I was in no rush to try and find the stop for the Newport bus, using the time to do a bit of shopping and having a look at the town. When I eventually found the stop for Newport I was a little surprised to find that the timetable posted on it differed from the one I had downloaded from Telford & Wrekin Council’s website and that the Norbury bus had left seven minutes after I had arrived from Stafford! (Telford & Wrekin has since apologised to me for having an out of date timetable on its site). The only option was to wait a further 30 minutes for a bus to Woodseaves and walk from there. Fortunately the pub adjacent the bus stop was the brewery tap for Slater’s Brewery and served an excellent pint of bitter. At Woodseaves we arrived simultaneously with the Post Bus from Stafford, but by then it had already called at Norbury Junction so I had to walk along the main road until it intersected the canal at Grub Street, from where it was a pleasant walk down the towpath. Nevertheless the journey from Stafford had taken three and a half hours!
Starcross was moored on the last remaining portion of the Newport Branch, which originally ran to Wappenhall to join the Shrewsbury Canal, and which now forms part of Norbury Wharf’s yard as they were still  working on some of the remedial work in connection with her boat safety certificate, so I had the opportunity to spend my first (and last) night on the branch  and to navigate almost the whole of the remaining navigable length!
Saturday 24th June
I filled the water tank at the BW water point and was away by 0945 heading north to Tyrley (and possibly Market Drayton). However a “morning coffee” stop at Shebdon turned into a lunch stop and I didn’t get to the top of Tyrley locks until after 16.00 where, due to the heat, and the need to be back at Norbury by Sunday lunchtime I decided to stop and wind, walking the rest of the way into Drayton for the evening.It was a pleasant mooring in a shallow cutting, looking towards the pleasing group of buildings on the lockside, marred only by the “Little Englander” display of a “No to EU” graffito presumably erected by the owner and particularly insensitive in a spot where many visitors from the mainland will pass by on boats.
Sunday 25th June
I had promised to be back in Hereford by late afternoon, so an early start was needed and I was away by 0800. The journey back was quite slow due to the long lines of moorings on the Shroppie (can’t complain – I’m on one of them!) and an excessive number of fishermen around Cheswardine. At Shebdon a blackbird was sat on the front locker of a boat pecking away at its reflection in the cratch window – and from the pile of droppings on the locker cover it had been doing so for some considerable time! Norbury Junction was reached at 11.30 and I put the boat back down the Shrewsbury Arm before walking to Gnosall for the Stafford bus which arrived at Stafford station just in time to catch a slightly delayed Virgin train to Birmingham, giving me an extra hour to spare for my Hereford connection, which I chose to spend in Wolverhampton, visiting the excellent “Great Western” pub near the old Low Level Station.

Getting to Know the Shroppie 2

Date: 14th – 16th July
Route: Norbury Junction to High Onn and back
Crew: Jim
Friday 14th July
Following last time’s public transport debacle I borrowed the car this weekend and so arrived painlessly at Norbury Junction around 16.00 after stopping at Newport to stock up on provisions. Following the completion of the boat safety work Starcross had been returned to the on-line moorings but I was pleased to see that it was now about one boat length further up the cut and no longer under the oak tree! I took the opportunity to erect the name board I had brought with me from Lowsonford to mark out my new berth. I called in on Simon to pick up the new certificate and pay the bill – it was a good job he had warned me of the amount beforehand – and then spent the rest of the evening cleaning up, polishing brasses etc until it was time to walk over to the Junction Inn for a pint of Banks’s Mild. On arrival I found that the guest beer was “Summer Lightning” so I had a pint of that as well.
Saturday 15th
As the boat was pointing north, I set off in that direction, through Grub Street cutting and up to Shebdon to wind. I had planned to use the winding hole just before the visitor moorings for the Wharf Inn and then reverse onto them for a coffee break but I chickened out due to the large number of spectators around and pulled forward a few metres to moor instead.
After a break I headed back south to Gnosall, arriving mid afternoon and tying up “between the bridges” where there was at least some shade on what had become an oppressively hot afternoon. In the evening the ever-useful Arriva 481 bus service took me to Stafford, where I sampled a few pubs before returning on the impressively-late 23.52hrs departure which carried a creditable 16 passengers. (I work in public transport, I can’t help noticing such things, sorry!)
Sunday 16th July
After a leisurely breakfast I took a walk around the village to try and find a paper shop and was duly impressed to find two! I set off at 11.30 towards the nerest winding hole at High Onn. On arrival there was a boat just ahead also winding and it took him at least 10 minutes to do so. As my view of the operation was partly obscured I couldn’t see what the problem might be, but when he’d finished and it was may turn I got round in one, so I was no wiser. In the meantime a northbound hire boat had got in front of me and I had to follow it slowly back to Gnosall. There was some entertaining in the narrow cutting just south of the village when he met an oncoming boat and panicked, reversing wildly along the cut and ending up forcing us all to cross “wrong side”. I stopped myself at Gnosall for lunch, but got away before them – although not before another hire boat took three seperate attempts to moor in front of me! All this made me later than expected back at Norbury Junction and in my rush to pack up abd get away I managed to forget to lock Starcross up, a fact I didn’t realise until I was nearly back at Hereford. Fortunately, the boatyard was able to check her for me and close her up so everything was in order on our next visit.

Chance Meeting at Market Drayton

 Dates: 21st – 23rd July 2006
Route: Norbury Junction to Adderley and back
Crew: Jim and Hil
Friday 21st July
We drove up to Norbury after work taking the “scenic route” via Much Wenlock except that due to an unexpected road closure this became via Bridgnorth and Shifnal, which was actually a better route. Arrival at NJ was at 19.00, leading to a mad dash from car to boat so as not to miss “The Archers”! For the first time we ate at the “Junction Inn” which advertises “traditional pub grub” and therefore sells soggy chips, overcooked veg, huge “home cooked” pies (well, everywhere is somebody’s home) and a miserable veggie choice! and am I being too miserable when I find it annoying to be invited to “choose my own cutlery” (from a table in the bar, when I’m in the garden) by a waitress that has just walked past that table bringing out our meals? I think I’ll stick to the beer in future.
Saturday 22nd July
We awoke to a very warm morning, had a lazy breakfast and were not away until 10.30 with a vague plan to go north at least as far as Adderley and possibly to Audlem, following “Lazy Daisy” a short narrowboat powered by an outboard motor and steered by, presumably, Daisy herself who tied up in Grub Street.
We stopped for lunch at Goldstone Wharf and managed to find a bit of shade on the towpath for an hour or so, as by now the heat was oppressive. It was therefore 15.00 before we reached Tyrley locks, which were fairly busy with northbound traffic, although there was no one in front of us. At lock 4 a Challenger “stealth hire” (?) boat was firmly aground on the scour which is caused by the feirce bywash opposite. The steerer was struggling to get free and his crew – who appeared dressed for a party rather than a boat trip – were not being of much help. Eventually we managed to get him free with the help of another uphill boat which gave him a snatch. By now, all hopes of reaching Audlem at a reasonable hour had been abandoned and we pulled in to Market Drayton to get some drinking water before moving on to somewhere quieter around Adderley. As we tied up I was hailed from the towpath by Trevor, who I first met in Brighton in 1973 and who I had seen only a few times since!  He was in Drayton on his own boat, which came as a surprise as I didn’t know he had an interest in the waterways. After a pint in the nearby pub to talk over old times we were treated to a guided tour of “Kind of Blue” which Trevor had recently had built and were impressed by the cycle storage facilities built into the back cabin. (Trevor, like ourselves, is a keen cyclist). Nice as it was to see Trevor, these delays meant it was quite late by the time we arrived at Adderley, winding above the locks and then tying up a few hundred metres back towards Market Drayton.  
Sunday 23rd July
 Woke to another fine morning, although a sudden shower of rain just after Hil put the bedding out to air on the roof livened things up a bit. Back through Market Drayton, where Trevor was busy touching up his paintwork (These new boat owners…..) we carried on much further than intended before stopping for a belated lunch at about 14.00. The afternoon was again very hot, made worse by the fact that we were now travelling south and into the sun, leading Hil to resort to the umbrella, which subsequently nearly came to grief under a few bridges. After a prolonged lunch stop we continued back through Shebdon and Grub Street (where Lazy Daisy was having her own late lunch) and got back to our berth at Norbury Junction by 17.00.
Rather than rush home, we decided to spend another night aboard Starcross, which meant we were able to take this photograph of “dusk at Norbury Junction”:

Weekend at Norbury Junction

Dates: 29 – 30th September 2006
Route:  At Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday, 29th September
We arrived at Norbury at Saturday lunchtime to find a very pleasing scene – two working boats, “Hyperion”  and “Empress” loaded with solid fuel.
It was over a month since we had last been able to visit Starcross and after such a length of time it always comes as something of a relief to find her safe and well at her mooring! At Lowsonford she was moored under a willow tree, which deposited a load of leaves on her roof every autumn. At Norbury Junction she is, almost, under an oak – so as well as leaves we collect a fine crop of acorns. Largely because I am unable to give them regular attention, Starcross’ “brasses” (mainly ventilation mushrooms and portholes) have become somewhat tarnished and don’t polish up as well as they should. I was therefore anxious to try some new brass restorer and polish I had found on the internet. Its about 10 times the price of Brasso and the like, but first impressions are that it does a good job. Whilst I was busy on the brassware, Hil was touching-up the paintwork on the handrails and at the bow.  In the evening we lit the fire – for the second time this year – and had a quiet night in and I was pleased to see that the lighting was holding up well following the installation of the new alternator earlier in the year.
Sunday 30th September
We only had the morning to finish off a few jobs but, just as we were about to leave, David and Jill came by on “Endeavour” out from Shebdon for the day and we enjoyed some boating chat over a coffee before we had to pack up and return home.

Manchester in the Rain

Route: Norbury Junction to Manchester and backCrew: Jim, Martin, Hugh, Duncan, Hil
Thursday 19th October
Norbury Junction to Shebdon
The planned route to Norbury involved two trains and two buses, but became even more complicated en-route. Trains between Shrewsbury and Wellington were being replaced by buses, the timetabling of which was hopelessly optimistic. My planned 10 minute connection into Arriva’s ever-useful 481 service at Oakengates was missed by 10 minutes as it is clearly impossible for even a rail-replacement bus to make the journey in the time allowed. My next connection, at Newport, which should have allowed time for shopping was now in jeopardy as the 481 was timed to arrive at exactly the time the 350 to Norbury was due to depart!  All was going well until at the last stop before Newport we were hailed by a little old lady, complete with shopping trolley, who took at least two minutes to board the bus and flash her free pass! There was no alternative but to remain on the 481 to Gnosall and walk the three kilometres up the towpath carrying a week’s luggage. I even missed a possible ride on a northbound boat by no more than a minute or two. River Canal Rescue were due to meet me at Norbury to do an engine service which, once I’d got over the fact that the engineer didn’t look old enough to be driving the van, was duly accomplished. I then needed to collect some diesel, water and gas from the yard before winding and setting off north. At the last Boat Safety Exam I had had to have the valves on the gas bottles replaced and I now found that my old spanner no longer fitted. Fortunately, Simon at Norbury Wharf has one that he allows people to borrow. I was also pleased to learn that I am now apparently well-enough known at Norbury Wharf to be allowed to serve myself with gas and diesel!It was 17.00 before I got away on a fine Autumnal afternoon for an hour’s run to Shebdon, tying up at the wharf just before it started to get dark.
Friday, 20th October
Shebdon to Audlem
I made an early start, being away by 0740 as I needed to do the shopping I hadn’t been able to do in Newport in Market Drayton before Martin arrived. I had a brief pause at Goldstone Wharf around 0900 for coffee and got down Tyrley locks in an hour, with no other boats around. Market Drayton was reached at 11.39 where I tied up and walked into town for food, firewood, beer, and batteries all of which could be accomplished without recourse to a supermarket, except for some fresh veg.
Martin was coming from Kendal and arrived off the X64 from Stoke at 1315, the driver making an unauthorised stop on bridge 62 to let him off. We had lunch and set off at 1410. Almost immediately the sun went in and it started to rain as we approached Adderley locks. By Audlem the rain was torrential and we had the flight to ourselves (nearly all against us), tying up just below the wharf at 17.55. After tea, the Shroppie Fly fell foul of my first rule of pub-going in which I never visit a pub in which the music is too loud from the outside and instead visited the Lord Combermere and the Bridge Inn. The excitement in the latter was provided by Customs and Excise who chose Audlem to intercept a lorry load of smuggled cigarettes they had been trailing from Dover! (At the time, the locals seemed to think the lorry contained illegal immigrants – which they thought very exciting).
Saturday 21st October
Audlem to Middlewich
Away from Audlem at 0855 in light rain, although it soon turned in to a fine day. Barbridge Junction was passed at 12.20 and in view of the good progress we elected to have a lunch stop just before Cholmondeston lock at 1300. Despite reports of congestion in this area we got through the lock without delay and had an uneventful run along the Middlewich branch until it came on to rain again just before the town. We stopped on the visitor moorings before Wardle lock for the night. The Middlewich branch has always been one of my favourite sections, even though on the first occasion I cruised it the captain of the cabin cruiser I was on almost managed to set the boat on fire when he decided to make some chips for supper after the pub.
Sunday 22nd October
Middlewich to Moore
We set off at 0905 and I almost immediately managed to upset the lady who now lives in the lock cottage at Wardle Lock. As with the others on the Middlewich branch this is a very deep lock and so I didn’t take my windlass with me when I climbed up from the boat to open one of the bottom gates. My attempt to drop the paddle using my hands as a brake came unstuck as the paddle gear was wet and the rod slipped through my fingers causing the paddle to drop much faster than I had intended! I was told that “its no wonder the hire boaters do it when they see people like you!”  I’ve no doubt that her father – who she told us used to work the boats between Ellesmere Port and Leamington Gas Works, committed far worse atrocities on gates in his time!!
We got our comeuppance by having to follow a hire boat down the locks on the T&M crewed by a novice crew who left all the bottom gates open. We caught them up as they waited for the Big Lock and astonished them by coming in alongside them – they didn’t think you could get two boats in at the same time apparently!  We also managed to get out of the Big Lock before them and never saw them again. This section was very busy with hire boats from Middlewich Narrowboats, Black Prince and Alvechurch Boats all out for the schools half-term. In the 1970s we came this way more than once on our New Year Trips and I was surprised that I didn’t remember much of it. I realised later that this was because with late afternoon starts and bad weather it had always been after dark, except on one memorable trip in daylight when  the fog was so thick we had a spotter at the bow, relaying info via a ”midshipman” in the middle hatch to the steerer at the rear, who couldn’t see further than the middle of the boat! No such problems today and after a call at the newish services at Anderton we stopped at the Lift to marvel at the new Visitor Centre.
By now it was raining again and we suffered a 20-minute delay waiting at Barnton tunnel for three oncoming boats.  No such trouble at Saltersford – although I don’t understand how this tunnel works. You can’t see one end from the other and its so crooked that its not until you are halfway through that you get a brief glimpse of the other end. The only traffic control is a sign telling you not to enter unless you are sure there isn’t anything coming the other way – which is impossible! We were through by 1505 and enjoyed the next section to Preston Brook with its extensive views over the Weaver. Preston Brook tunnel has a system of timed entry and we arrived just in time for the 1700 passage and onto the Bridgewater Canal, carrying on to moor at Moore, where we arrived at 1820 and dusk. We had decided to eat out (Martin’s treat) in the village pub that night and whilst the food was good, the only cask beer was Theakston’s Old Peculier, which is a bit strong for a full evening’s drinking so, after a couple, we returned to Starcross, where I keep a small supply of bottled ale for “emergencies”.
Monday, 23rd October
Moore to Worsley
Lymm, Bridgewater Canal
Away by 0820 on a fine, sunny morning to Lymm, where we stopped for half-an-hour or so to re-stock the food cupboard. Lymm is a very picturesque town, but a bit short on useful shops, so we ended up in Somerfield. You can often learn something about the social composition of a settlement from its paper shops  -and Lymm’s had huge stocks of “Times” and “Telegraphs” but NO “Guardians” ! There then followed a long, straight run through Altrincham, Sale and Stretford largely parallel to the tramway before we reached Water’s Meeting at 14.40 and turned onto the Leigh branch and through Trafford Park and across the Barton Aqueduct. In the 1970s I drove double-deck buses across the canal at Patricroft Bridge regularly and so I was looking forward to taking Starcross underneath. Martin left at Patricroft and I continued to Worsley to turn and moor up on the green.
Tuesday, 24th October
Worsley to Castlefield.
A short run, beginning at 0940 back along the Leigh branch to Water’s Meeting (having obtained the one-and-only “Guardian” in Worsley’s paper shop!) Back at Barton, the aqueduct had been swung to permit a small ship to pass along the Ship Canal, which delayed me by about 30 minutes. Castlefield was reached at 12.10 and, after a short diversion to explore the area to the west of the Rochdale Canal around the Staffordshire Arm, I tied up below the Grocer’s’ Warehouse on the attractive and very convenient moorings there. The afternoon was spent exploring Manchester City Centre before visiting a few pubs in the evening.
Wednesday, 25th October
At Castlefield.
No boating today, which was just as well as the weather was awful, but typically Mancunian (i.e. rain). Instead I bought a rover ticket and explored parts of Salford and Eccles by bus and tram. In the evening Duncan joined me for a pub crawl of town arriving from a business meeting in Ballymena and therefore simultaneously winning the awards for best-dressed crew member and farthest travelled visitor to Starcross.
Thursday 26th October
Castlefield to Acton Bridge
Today was the 20th anniversary of the deregulation of bus services in Great Britain outside London, not that it bothered anyone on the cut! I got away by 0830 just as it started to rain yet again, reaching Stretford by 10.00 and Lymm by 12.15 for a brief lunch stop. By now the rain had stopped, but high winds made navigation difficult in places. Preston Brook tunnel was reached by 1545, just missing the 1530 – 1540 southbound passage window – not that that stopped two other boats entering at 1550! The 1630 convoy comprised three boats and I was out and through the stop lock by 1705, continuing past Acton Bridge and as far as bridge 213 where I stopped at what Nicholson’s Guide correctly describes as “good moorings” (as long as you don’t want to go to the pub).Working Boat “Empress” loaded with solid fuel passed northbound around 1830 disappearing into the dusk and producing some very evocative sights and sounds as she did so.
Friday, 27th October
Acton Bridge to Middlewich
I woke at 0700 and was away by 0800 hoping to get through the two remaining tunnels before it got busy. Saltersford was reached by 0900 and I got though alright, although I still don’t see how one can “ensure nothing is coming the other way” before entering given the crooked nature of the bore. There was an oncoming boat in Barnton tunnel, but this is no problem as you can see each end from the other. That excitement over, I stopped at the Anderton Lift for a late breakfast, by which time it started to rain.
Hugh was due to join at  Broken Cross, where I arrived at 1249. This was never one of my favourite pubs in the 70′s – and although completely different inside these days, its no better, not even the beer – a very nondescript pint of something masquerading as “Greenall’s Bitter”. Hugh was coming from Carnforth by car and rang to say he would be delayed due to traffic so we agreed I would press on towards Middlewich – although not before hire boat “Willow” had gone past flat out and dislodged the rear mooring pin (fortunately retrieved). Hugh eventually joined me at Croxton Aqueduct and we carried on, now behind “Willow” up the Middlewich locks and onto the Wardle Canal where we stopped at 18.15.
After tea we visited the Middlewich Beer Festival for an hour or so then moving on to a couple of pubs.
 Saturday 28th October
Middlewich to Audlem
For reasons not unconnected with last night’s activities we were not away until nearly 10.00 for an uneventful run along the Middlewich branch to Barbridge (13.15), Hack Green (15.35 – 15.55) and Audlem, tieing up above the second lock at 17.10. The pubs in Audlem had not changed since last week although as there was no music coming from the Shroppie Fly we risked a visit, only to be disappointed by poor beer quality.
Sunday 29th October
Audlem to Market Drayton
The clocks went back to GMT today so it was light by 07.00 and we were away up the locks by 08.25 reaching the top of the flight at 10.25. Adderley locks (5) took another 35 minutes although it would have been longer if Hugh had not inadvertently pinched a lock from a downhill boat (fortunately, they didn’t seem too upset). We arrived Market Drayton at 12.35 and had lunch, after which Hugh departed on the X64 for Stoke and Hil arrived by car from Hereford to share the journey home to Norbury tomorrow.
Monday, 30th October .
Market Drayton to Norbury Junction
We set off at 08.00 and had Tyrley locks to ourselves, reaching the top by 09.20. Hil left at Goldstone Wharf to cycle back to Market Drayton to move the car on to Norbury before rejoining me at Shebdon, where we arrived alomost simultaneously at the prearranged time of 12.00, although Hil then spoilt it by saying she thought she had come to the wrong place. We then completed the journey back to base on what had become a typical Autumnal day (and with very few boats around), reaching Norbury at 13.30 before packing up and leaving Starcross secure at the end of a very successful trip.

Winter Sunshine at Gnosall

Route: Norbury Junction to High Onn and back
Crew: Jim
Saturday 18th November
Norbury to Gnosall
Winter sunshine at Gnosall
Winter sunshine at Gnosall
I don’t like the idea of Starcross lying unattended for too long, especially during the winter so this weekend was really just a visit to check her over, run the engine, light the fire and generally ensure she was safe and well. I had the car, so drove up from Hereford in just under two hours on a fine, sunny but cold November day. Starcross has two ongoing problems at the moment, she is taking in water from a leak in the engine room roof and losing water from the radiator (and I’m unsure why). The first part of the day was therefore spent checking up on these faults and doing what I could to contain them. The roof leak will need some new woodwork to cure, but for now its a matter of trying to stop the water collecting under the hatch slide from where it works its way through the roof. All I can do about the radiator is keep it topped up as I can’t see where the water is going, although I do know its not going into the oil, thankfully.
After these jobs had been done I set off south about 14.00 heading for the winding hole at High Onn before turning and retracing my steps to Gnosall. A very enjoyable trip, still in bright sunshine with the only problem being “leaves on the line”, necessitating a periodic blast in reverse to keep them away from the prop. I met converted working boat “Rigel” at turnover bridge 26, necessitating a quick reverse on my part and temporarily running aground to let him past. (I know my place!). The short Autumn days restrict cruising and despite the fine weather it was almost dark at 17.00 when I got back to Gnosall.  In the evening, despite Gnosall having four good pubs I thought I’d try nearby Newport, which can be reached by the hourly evening service on Arriva’s 481 route. It was a well-worthwhile trip with several good boozers in the town, of which I especially liked the New Inn and the Swan.
Sunday 19th November
Gnosall to Norbury Junction
It had been very cold in the night, but fortunately the fire stayed for most of it, keeping the interior of the boat warm. Sunday was another bright and sunny day for the short run back to Norbury. The sun had brought everyone out and I met several boats even on this short trip. Although I didn’t go far, I was pleased to realise that had we still been moored on the Southern Stratford, the winter stoppage programme would have prevented us from going anywhere at all.

Friendly Fishermen

Dates: 8th – 9th December 2006
Route: Norbury Junction to Grub Street and Back
Crew: Jim
Friday 8th December
This trip was really just a “checking-up” trip on Starcross to make sure all was well and taking advantage of having a meeting in Birmingham on the Friday morning. After the meeting I took a train to Stafford and an Arriva 432 bus to Eccleshall, changing there to the 350 which runs to Norbury village. All went well this time, unlike the last ocassion I tried this route when I was misled by an out-of-date timetable on Telford & Wrekin Council’s website. I’m pleased to say that they have corrected that error – but now they only show Monday to Friday times – not Saturdays – which are different!
By the time I’d walked from Norbury it was almost dusk and there was just time to get on board and light the fire before dark. I was pleased to see that the water level in the radiator had not dropped – perhaps that was just a temporary problem?  I’d brought with me two new LEDs for the cabin lighting which I’d bought as an experiment in cutting power usage. Not having had to replace a bulb since buying Starcross, I now discovered for the first time that she has two different bulb sizes in use! The LEDs fitted the ceiling lamps but not, as I’d hoped, the wall lamps. I was pleased to see that they worked (it wouldn’t have surprised me if they had fused the whole system!) but they are not quite as bright as the tungsten bulbs fitted and give off a colder light. I’ve therefore put them in the kitchen area, where they will be useful if we ever feel the need to leave a light on for security purposes. After a meal I took a walk down to the Junction Inn which was pleasantly busy. The Banks’s Mild wasn’t up to much – but there was a well kept seasonal beer from Coach House Brewery.
Saturday 9th December
Another reason for coming to the boat this weekend was to turn her round so that she was facing south for our Christmas trip. Last time I tried this turn I elected to reverse down to the Wharf and wind in the junction with the Newport Branch. However, I’m still perfecting my reversing skill (!) and down a relatively narrow stretch with moored boats on both sides is not the best place to do so. Grub Street winding hole is only a mile or so north of the mooring so off I went. The canal was closed at Shebdon so I didn’t expect to meet any traffic. Neither did I expect to meet a fishing match – and especially not a meeting of the “Friendly Fishermen of the Midlands Association”. Approaching the first in line I was beckoned towards the centre of the cut and willingly complied, not wishing to antagonise the fishermen who were presumably expecting a largely boat-free day. The fisherman thanked me – and we exchanged a few pleasantries, which to my surprise were repeated by several of the others.  Having by now spoken to more fishermen in five minutes than in the two years since I acquired Starcross I thought I ought to apologise to one of them for the fact that I’d soon be winding and coming back.  “No problem at all, mate…that don’t matter!!” was the reply. From their accents they were Black Countrymen so perhaps they still considered boats a novelty – unlike the locals who appear heartily sick of them.
After winding there was just the tidying up to do but I also took the opportunity to black-lead the stove and to touch up some of blacking on the hull before leaving. There are no buses from Eccleshall back to Stafford on Saturday afternoons so the bus link from Norbury village is of little benefit. Instead it was the 3km walk to Gnosall (via the road rather than the towpath due to recent heavy rain) then the 481 to Stafford and train to Birmingham where I arrived just in time to miss the 16.59 to Hereford. This didn’t matter, as it wasn’t running anyway having been replaced by a bus to Worcester which wouldn’t leave for another thirty minutes. I opted instead for a slow train to Worcester from Moor Street station changing there for Hereford where I arrived at 20.05, approximately five hours after leaving Norbury Junction (although only about 2h 45m of that had been travelling time – the rest was waiting for connections).

A Sunny Interval

Dates: 16th – 17th December 2006
Route: Atherstone to Willington
Crew: Bernard and Jim (on n.b. Sunshine)
Saturday 16th December
Sunshine at Fazeley Junction
Sunshine at Fazeley.jpgOur friends Kristine and Bernard also have a narrowboat, in their case “Sunshine” which is a 30ft “Minden” built in 1976 and equipped with a Lister SR2 engine. Normally based at Barrow-on-Soar, she had been taken to Rugby for some hull repairs in the Autumn but had been caught by the winter stoppages. Bernard had invited to to help get her home during the Christmas “window” when stoppages are usually lifted to cater for holiday traffic. I joined him at Atherstone late on Friday night after a marathon journey by train from Hereford to Tamworth and then an Arriva bus which serves every possible diversion off the main road to Atherstone.
We made a start around 08.15 from above lock 6 and almost immediately ran into a problem at the next lock where we struggled to get a level due to a leaking bottom gate. We eventually solved the problem by emptying the lock and flushing away some debris, which had become caught in the gates preventing them for shutting properly. Most of the rest of the flight turned out to be very slow locks and we were also delayed by a number of other boats, everyone just starting to move again after the stoppages. We reached Fazeley Junction by lunchtime and were approaching Whittington shortly after dark when the engine suddenly stopped in a cloud of dense smoke!  I was quite shocked by this, but Bernard had experienced it before, and it turned out to be nothing worse than a clump of weed around the prop. Having freed this, we were able to continue to Fradley Junction, stopping just after 18.00 and, after a meal, spending the evening in the “Swan”
Sunday 17th December
We were up and away just before dawn and through the locks at Fradley. Everthing was very quiet at that time on the morning, but I can see how this place has got iteslf a reputation as a congestion hot-spot, with its combination of locks, junction, swing-bridge and extensive moorings! Making the most of a fine sunny morning we continued through Alrewas and Burton before deciding to stop at Willington, where Kristine arrived to give me a lift back to Burton and take Bernard home. The Trent and Soar were in flood, so Sunshine was to be left at Willington for a few days until Bernard was able to return and get it home in time for Christmas. I got the Arriva 812 bus from Burton for a (not very) scenic tour of South Staffordshire, alighting at Lichfield for a train to Birmingham and then home.
Sunshine on the mooring at Willington

Breakdown at Brewood (Christmas Trip 2006)

Route: Norbury Junction to Brewood and Back
Crew: Jim and Hil
Tuesday, 26th December
We had intended to be on Starcross from Christmas Eve but I went down with Shingles the week before Christmas, so it was Boxing Day before I felt up to getting out and about again. We drove up from Hereford via Bridgnorth arriving at lunchtime. After a bite to eat we moved down to the water point, where we could get the car alongside to load up and then set off for Gnosall, arriving at 15.50 The only incident of note was an oncoming boat which gave us so much room to pass on Shelmore embankment that they promptly ran aground. On arrival, Hil then had to walk back to Norbury Junction for the car as we were leaving Starcross at Gnosall for a couple of days to visit her parents in Leeds.
Friday 29th December
After an easy trip down the M1 and via Uttoxeter and Stafford, we arrived back at Gnosall early afternoon, unloaded the car and then took it to Norbury Junction to await our return. We walked back down the towpath to Starcross, arriving just as it got dark. The engine had not been used much in the last few weeks, so despite running it for an hour or so we experienced some loss of power in the lighting department. I was particularly disappointed – and surprised – to see that the supposedly low-power LEDs I had fitted actually failed completely whilst the tungstens just dimmed. That evening we treated ourselves to a meal in the Royal Oak – very good value (and a smoke-free dining room) with a wide choice of ale including Highgate Mild and Archers as well as Greene King Abbot.
Saturday, 30th December
The weather had been pretty dull and miserable over Christmas, and worse was forecast. We were therefore surprised to wake to a better than expected morning. We had a much needed cleaning and tidy-up session which included Hil giving the stove a clear out – very necessary occasionally to stop a build up of soot blocking the flue. During this time the weather deteriorated and we set off at 11.00 in drizzle, which became serious rain by Wheaton Aston, where we stopped for lunch. After a debate we decided to press on to Brewood, more because Hil fancied a walk along the towpath than anything else, but the rain got steadily worse. The visitor moorings at Brewood are not very extensive and were full, but we managed to find a spot just before them where we could get near enough to the bank to tie up. We walked into the village for supplies, which we had no trouble finding due to a large “Spar” and an excellent old-fashioned grocers (which probably likes to think of itself as a delicatessen these days). Despite the attractions of Brewood’s five pubs we decided to spend the evening aboard.Sunday, 31st December
Our original plan had been to stay out until the New Year, but once again we were thwarted. Hil had not been too well last night, but woke feeling absolutely awful. We decided to cut short the trip and return to Norbury Junction. First, however, we had to turn. This involved a trip of about a mile to the next winding hole and it was on our way back that I first noticed a smell of burning. This quickly became accompanied by smoke escaping from the engine compartment through cracks in the cabin superstructure, producing a most bizarre effect. By now we were almost back at the visitor moorings and so I was able to stop quickly and shut down the engine. At this stage I thought that some rags had fallen onto the exhaust manifold and caught fire – giving me an unexpected chance to use the new extinguishers we’d had to get for the Boat Safety Certificate! On opening up the engine compartment however, it became clear that the pipe carrying coolant from the tank had become detached and that the engine was overheating.
Although I had identified the problem, and had a pretty good idea how to fix it, I wasn’t sure if any long term damage had been done to the engine so we took advantage of our  River Canal Rescue membership to call out an engineer who agreed with my diagnosis and thankfully confirmed that no further damage had been done.
Despite the prompt response, it was now after 13.00 and we still had 10 miles – and one lock – to go to get back to Norbury Junction. The promised wind and rain had arrived with a vengeance but in a strange sort of way I enjoyed being huddled in the cabin hatch braving the elements and taking advantage of having a trad stern. I make the mistake of not leaving Wheaton Aston lock fast enough and promptly got caught by the by-wash and pushed onto the side, helped by a fierce cross-wind. It took our combined efforts to get away but after that it was plain – if wet – sailing back to Norbury where we arrived just after dark. Once again we unloaded at the Water Point and then took Starcross to her berth before driving home to Hereford, where despite it being New Year’s Eve we opted for an early night, thus ending Starcross’ travels for 2006.

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