Day-by-Day: 2008

The Llangollen Trip

Part 1  Norbury Junction to Whitchurch
8th – 9th March 2008
Crew: Jim and Duncan
Friday 8th March: Norbury Junction to Market Drayton
If our “New Year” trip was the last trip of 2007 – and the occasional potter down to High Onn to wind doesn’t count – the the first trip of 2008 started on Friday, 8th March when Jim and Duncan met up at Prees Heath at one of the jumble of transport cafes, pubs and fast-food joints that are to be found where the A49 and A41 trunk roads meet. This area is a long way off the motorway network and so the traditional transport cafe still has a role and I often think that Prees Heath is what refreshment stops would like like everywhere if we had continued to rely on “A” roads for long-distance traffic rather than the motorway network with its more uniform and sanitised facilities. After meeting up we took both cars to Whitchurch and left one in a very convenient car park at the end of the short Whitchurch Arm of the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union. (As far as I know this particular waterway was never officially named the “Llangollen Canal” even though that’s what everyone calls it nowadays).
The other car took us to Norbury Junction, where we boarded Starcross and set off northwards. It was by now after 13.30 so lunch was taken “on the run” consisting of sandwiches and packet soup (!) this being an old tradition dating back to our  hireboat days of the 1970s when it was the standard meal at that time of day for the crew of a fully laden 12-berth “Willow Wren” or “Union Canal Carriers” 70 footer.
The afternoon run was pretty uneventful, even the five locks at Tyrley delaying us by only 30 minutes due to an efficient crew and a lack of other boats. As Starcross was already north of the water point at Norbury when we set off we had to fill the water tank on arrival at Market Drayton before tying up for the evening.
Filling the water tank at Market Drayton (and discovering a burst pipe!)
 The tanks had been drained after our New Year trip to avoid the possibility of frost damage to the pipes and I was pleased to see, once the filling was complete, that this ploy had been successful and there were no bursts or leaks in the system. Afterwards we walked over to the Talbot Hotel for a meal, followed by a few pints in some of Market Drayton’s other hostelries.
Saturday, 9th March: Market Drayton to Swanley
Today was to be a full day of boating, so we made an early start at around 8am, just delaying slightly to hear the latest radio bulletin on the fate of Maggie Thatcher (“not dead yet”). The five locks at Adderley took another 30 minutes, as at Tyrley, and in the pound between there and the top of the Audlem flight I cooked our breakfasts, which we enjoyed on arrival. At lock two, of the 15 at Audlem, we met a brand new boat crewed by two young lads who were delivering it to the hire boat base at Wooton Wawen. I’m sure that they had received adequate training in boat steering, but someone should have told them that you can put the tiller over as far as you like in a lock, but it won’t actually turn until you’re out!
They did manage to avoid us though and we had the rest of the flight to ourselves, admiring the extra trip hazards bollards installed at every lockside during the winter stoppage and being assisted for part of the way by a boater (without boat) from the Middle Level, presumably enjoying the novelty of a flight of locks! After a brief stop at Audlem Wharf for a bite to eat (more soup and sarnies, naturally) we made good progress across the Cheshire Plain, there being a subtle but noticeable difference in the topography compared to the Staffordshire/Shropshire borders above the flight. Passing through Nantwich at about 15.00 Duncan, who was steering, experienced the same problem with the crosswind that I’d found in December and couldn’t avoid being blown into the line of moored boats. Like me, he decided that speeding past the rest of the line  was the lesser of the two evils – and we had no complaints. We had a short wait at Hurleston Junction whilst the crew of historic narrowboat “Swan” extracted it from Hurleston bottom lock, where it had briefly stuck; but they knew what they were doing and Swan was soon clear and heading past us, turning northwards onto the main line.

Historic narrowboat "Swan" at Hurleston Junction
After “Swan” had passed through, it was our turn and, having seen other boats well and truly stuck in this narrowest of locks, I must admit to a degree of apprehension as I took Starcross in. The lock is certainly very tight, but Starcross proved to be not too wide and we were through without incident.
We continued that evening to Swanley, where after tying up we were passed by Middlewich Narrowboats’ “Willow”, a boat we remembered after having hired it in 1999 for my 50th-year trip around the Four Counties Ring.

Willow passing Starcross at Swanley
Its a splendid boat with traditional controls, an engine room and a boatman’s cabin complete with coal fired stove. A cut above the average hire boat. Shortly afterwards it stated to rain. We had been unsure as to whether to stop at Swanley or whether to push on to Wrenbury for the night, but the change of weather decided us and Swanley it was, tying up at bridge 8 having passed the huge new marina just beforehand. The plan from Swanley was to walk over to the “Star” at Acton (which is actually much closer to the Shroppie Main Line) and this is what we did – only to find it closed and boarded with a “to let” sign outside! Unfortunately, there are no other pubs nearby so there was no alternative but to walk back to the boat and to make inroads into the emergency supplies of beer and Scotch kept just for such occasions. Although frustrating not to be able to visit a pub on a Saturday night we did enjoy the walk there and back on a clear and dark evening with some magnificent views of the”Plough” and “Orion’s Belt” and many other constellations that I don’t yet recognise.
Sunday 9th March: Swanley to Whitchurch
Another early start saw us away by 08.00 on another fine but cold and breezy morning, stopping again for breakfast an hour and a half later on the approach to Wrenbury. It was noticeable, even this early in the year, how many more boats there were moving on the “Llangollen” but even so, I was surprised to encounter a convoy of no fewer than four “Canaltime” boats heading east along this stretch. The “Alvechurch” hireboat base at Wrenbury Mill has completely taken over this area, with moored boats along the towpath in both directions, sometimes, doubled up, for several hundred metres. I wonder what the arrangements for mooring fees are?

Hire Boats at Wrenbury Mill
The boats are at their most numerous around the lift bridge, which is electrically operated and gives boaters a rare opportunity to hold up the traffic. Despite working through as quickly and efficiently as the fail-safe devices built in to the system allow, I feel that a few people were late for church that morning! It must be chaos on a summer Saturday afternoon when most of the fleet set off for Llangollen.Duncan and I both have childhood memories of (separate) journeys along the A49 and catching a glimpse of the canal at Quoisley. These date from the 1960s – although we don’t remember seeing any boats in those days – but this was the first time that either of us had actually taken a boat through Quoisley lock. I still make fairly regular journeys up and down the A49 and always look out for the cut at Quoisley so it was interesting for a change to be on a boat “looking out” for the road.
The lock cottage at the top of the Grindley Brook staircase of three locks has obvious “Telford” influences.

Grindley Brook Lock Cottage - designed by Telford
We made good progress up the first three locks and caught up with an Alvechurch hire boat as it began its ascent of the 3-rise staircase. Despite being novices – and younger than the average boater – the crew knew what they were doing. However, either through age or inexperience, they were very apologetic and worried that they might be “holding us up”. They weren’t  – and although I said so – I wish I’d been a bit more forceful and reminded them they they had just as much right to be on the cut as anyone else and they certainly didn’t need to apologise for their presence. We stopped briefly for a bite to eat at the top of the locks and then Duncan took Starcross up to Whitchurch, whilst I made a start on packing and tidying up inside. The Whitchurch Arm runs off the main line of the canal towards the town of the same name and the first few hundred metres has been restored by the Whitchurch Waterways Trust, who have plans to re-open the remainder when the cash can be found. In the meantime, the arm is a very pleasant mooring spot and the Trust had very kindly agreed to allow me to overstay on their 48 hour moorings – and to keep an eye on Starcross – until rt II of the trip. Entry to the arm for most boats  from the east involves passing the entrance and winding to approach from the west due to the angle of the actual junction and then we had to wind again, half way down the arm before reversing into a suitable mooring spot. Then it was just a matter of collecting the car from a nearby car park and taking Duncan back to Norbury Junction for his vehicle before I returned home.

Llangollen Trip – Part II

Dates: 15th – 23rd March 2008
Route: Whitchurch to Llangollen and back
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday 15th March: Whitchurch to Platt Lane
One of the advantages of having left Starcross at Whitchurch was that we could get to her easily without the car, so we left Hereford at 10.56 and with a simple change of train at Shrewsbury were aboard by 13.15, having taken our bikes on the train and cycled from Whitchurch station. We tend to carry drinking water separately from the water in the main tank – and even more so having read a recent article on the need for regular tank cleaning in Canal Boat magazine, so Hil’s first task was to cycle down to the water point at Grindley Brook and refill out two 5 litre containers, whilst I returned to the town for some shopping, which proved to be a depressing experience as, apart from one or two bakers and a butcher, the town has been destroyed as a shopping centre by a huge central Tesco supermarket. Luckily a small Co-Op survives on the outskirts so I was able to at least obtain some basic food  – and drink – provisions. By 15.30 we were ready for the off, when it promptly began to rain. We carried on regardless to Platt Lane, stopping at bridge 43 with the intention of visiting the “Waggonner’s” for an evening meal. We were disappointed! Of course, I had read about a pub near the Llangollen Canal burning down recently – I just didn’t associate it with the Waggonner’s that’s all – so for the second Saturday night in a row we were confined to the boat for the evening! The rain continued all night, finally ceasing about 09.00 the following morning.
Sunday 16th Platt Lane to Ellesmere

Mooring for the "Shop in the garden" at Whixall
We sat tight until the rain had finished and then set off towards Whixall Moss. At “Port Whixall” we stopped for the “Shop in the Garden” advertising all sorts of goodies for sale, but it must have been a bit early in the season as apart from a few eggs and some tinned food the shelves were bare. Neither was there anyone around, so leaving what we hoped was enough cash for some eggs, we returned to the boat and went on our way.
We stopped for lunch overlooking Cole Mere, one of a number of lakes surrounding the town of Ellesmere that mean it is often referred to as “Shropshire’s Lake District”, then Hil steered whilst I walked along the towpath as far as Ellesmere Tunnel (only 80 metres). Tried to find a mooring on the Ellesmere Arm but there was no room (actually there was plenty of room if people had just moved up next to one another) but instead we tied up opposite the BW yard next to the historic Shroppie fly boat “Saturn” that was on her way to the boat gathering at Ellesmere Port. In the evening we walked into the town and had a very enjoyable meal in the Black Lion, heartily recommended.Monday, 17th March  Ellesmere to Chirk Bank

Ellesmere Town Hall
Had to move the boat at 08.30 as a BW gang were resurfacing the towpath next to the mooring with material being unloaded from a hopper by a floating digger. Moved down the arm where by now there was plenty of room, so we tied up there and went shopping in the town. Ellesmere is about half the size of Whitchurch, but has fared much better as a shopping centre. Possibly this is due to the visiting boaters but more probably because its too small to attract a major supermarket and so in the town centre can be found the excellent “Vermeulens” delicatessen, “Eden Wholefoods”, an organic veg shop, and a couple of grocers shops from the smaller chains as well as a charity shop where I bought a string bag for my shopping – no more plastic carriers – and a “Charles and Di Royal Wedding Souvenir” mug from 1981 – all in the best possible taste.
We were away by 11.30, past Frankton Junction – where the bridge numbers inexplicably revert to “1″ and through New Marton Locks - picking up a protest letter to send to the local council against the proposed high-voltage power line that is proposed to parallel the canal here to avoid upsetting motorists on the nearby A483 road! We reached Chirk Bank at 16.45 and decided to stop for the night there clear of the factories that line the canal to the north of the town.Tuesday 18th March  Chirk Bank to Llangollen

Chirck Aqueduct and Railway Viaduct
Away about 0930, over Chirk aqueduct – which would be more famous were it not overshadowed by its near neighbour at Pontcysyllte, and then through the tunnel. Called at Chirk Marina for diesel at an outrageous 76.9p per litre – and we had to wait for someone to finish their breakfast before being served! Also disappointed to calculate later that Starcross’ new engine appears rather thirsty consuming far more than the “average” “one-litre-per-hour” of narrowboat engines generally. Perhaps its just the newness.
Its only a short run from Chirk to Pontcysyllte. I’d walked across the aqueduct here before but had never taken a boat over. I must admit I was glad of the fact that Starcross has a “traditional” stern so I could stand well within the cabin whilst going across. I wouldn’t be so happy on the open back of a cruiser.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
At the far end of the aqueduct there’s a sharp left turn for boats heading towards Llangollen, along what was originally intended as a feeder for the main line which it was planned would head north, through the north Wales coalfields to Chester, although this was never built.
Llangollen now is a very popular destination for narrowboaters, so much so that its one of the few places I know of on the canal system – as opposed to rivers – where you actually have to pay for an overnight mooring – £6 in this case  -whether on the towpath or in the new basin. The moorings have the benefit of running water and a power hook up but as our tank was full and we have no 230v appliances on board (apart from a vacuum cleaner) this wasn’t really of any benefit to us.
Wednesday 19th March  Day Off
We had a day off from boating today and went for a cycle ride over the Eglwyseg hills to the north of Llangollen andf back though Minera and Penycae. I was a bit apprehensive as to how the Dahon folder would cope with a hilly 25 mile route but I was pleased to find I could easily keep up with Hil’s more suitable tourer over the hills. The weather was perfect and there were spectacular views from the top towards the Berwyn Hills in the west, over the Wirral to the north and eastwards over the Cheshire Plain towards the Staffordshire moorlands and even the Pennines in the far distance. We were back at the boat by 16.00 and as we didn’t wish to incur another £6 overnight mooring fee, moved Starcross up to the basin to wind then back for about a mile or so out of town to join two other boats on an obviously well used unofficial mooring site near lift bridge no. 44, cycling back that evening for an average meal in a local wine bar, whose name escapes me.
Thursday 20th March: Llangollen to Chirk Bank

Single track section en-route to llangollen
Had a bit of trouble starting the engine this morning. Its a different procedure to that of the Perkins previously fitted and, to make it worse, the instructions in the manual are different from the verbal ones I received from the fitter who installed it at Norbury Wharf. Sometimes I get confused and apply a amalgam of two or more of these various methods – which rarely works! Once an attempt fails its best to wait a while for the batteries to recover before having another go, which I duly did and so eventually we got on our way. On the outskirts of Llangollen are two narrow sections where boats cannot pass. the longest of these is 500 metres in length and crews are advised by BW notice to send someone ahead to check the way is clear. Easy now in the days of mobile phones I suppose but I wonder how in earlier days the advance crew member could convey the information that the way was clear without leaving their post thus negating the value of the information! There was nothing coming today and having successfully negotiated the narrows we continued back through Trevor and over Pontcysyllte in a howling gale back to Chirk Bank for lunch.
In the afternoon we took a walk around the town, starting on a path underneath the aqueduct and railway viaduct which gave the opportunity to take this photo of the aqueduct from a different angle.

Chirk aqueduct from a different angle
There’s not much to Chirk but what there is is displayed in a series of interesting information panels in the church. Transport forms an important part of the town’s history as it lies on Thomas Telford’s London to Holyhead “Irish Mail” road (which later became the A5) and which is apparently the only road “built by the government” between the Roman occupation and the M1 motorway! Built for fast horse-drawn mail coaches in the 1820s the road had a short hey-day of less than 25 years before it was supplanted by the railways. The modern A5 bypasses the town, but there’s enough local traffic left to make crossing the road difficult and to detract significantly from the ambience of the place.Good Friday, 21st March: Chirk Bank to Ellesmere

Full moon at Chirk bank
The spring equinox brought, of course, a full moon and the wild and windy weather tempted me to take this rather spooky photo of the view from our mooring in Chirk.  OK, its not up to Granny Buttons standard as far as night time photography is concerned, but I rather like it.The wind continued throughout the next day and caused a few boaters some difficulties. We almost came (literally) unstuck ourselves when attempting to tie up below New Marton locks for lunch. The wind caught “Starcross” broadside on after Hil and I were on the bank but before we had been able to insert the piling hooks into the piling and tie up. Luckily I was able to make a leap for the counter before she was blown out of reach into the middle of the cut!
After we eventually tied up in a more sheltered spot we were passed by a hireboat going the other way. Imagine our surprise when preparing to set off some half-an-hour later to see said boat, broadside on across the canal at the bottom of the next lock which presumably they had been spending that length of time attempting to enter!
We did have thoughts of going back to assist, but we’d untied by then and tying up again was going to be a pain. At that moment another west bound boat came along so we appraised them of the situation and left the helping to them.

Boat in trouble at New Marton locks
There was more wind and hail throughout the afternoon. Approaching Ellesmere we saw what appeared to be a Canaltime boat attempting to tie up next to a farmer’s field on the non-towpath side. It turned out, however, that they had been blown against the bank and didn’t know how to free themselves, having been there for over 20 minutes. We soon had them off and sent them on their way, but they admitted they were “crap” (their words) at boat handling, so I wonder how far they got. We were glad to reach Ellesmere again, tying up this time through the tunnel in a lovely spot overlooking the mere where, surprisingly, despite the provision of mooring rings there appears to be no restriction on mooring other than the general 14-day period that applies to anywhere on the towpath.
Saturday, 22nd March  Ellesmere to the Prees Branch

The bleak expanses of Whixall Moss
We revisited Ellesmere town centre in the morning and then set off about 11.30. Being Saturday the cut was noticeably quieter with far fewer hireboats around. It was still windy and again we couldn’t manage to tie up comfortably at our first chosen spot on Whixall moss, carrying on instead to the junction with the Prees Branch (Does this junction actually have a name of its own?) where we tied up and had an afternoon walk around the moss, which is a National Nature Reserve apparently full of rare plants and wildlife. I say “apparently” because sad to say all we saw were a few seagulls and a couple of Canada Geese! We were back on the boat for 17.30 in time to be disturbed by a Viking Afloat hireboat barrelling past at full revs with the steerer totally oblivious to the effect of this on the line of boats by now tied up here.
Sunday, 23rd March  Prees Branch to Whitchurch
Snow had been forecast overnight, but all we got was rain and as soon as this had stopped we set off for an uneventful trip back to our temporary moorings at Whitchurch. The train journey home was uneventful too, except for the stupidly small train and the lack of storage space for luggage which meant we spent the first part of the journey in the vestibule.

What a day!

Date: 29th March 2008
Route: Whitchurch Arm to Hurleston Locks
Crew: Jim
I didn’t wish to outstay my welcome at Whitchurch, where the Whitchurch Waterway Trust had very generously allowed me to leave Starcross for a week on their 48hour moorings – twice!  The day dawned bright and clear, so I made an early start away from the moorings at 07.20 for a single-handed run to Hurleston. The trip doesn;t start easily for a single-hander. There is a lift bridge on the main line just on the western side of the junction, from which most boats can only emerge towards the east, due to the angle of the junction itself. In addition I’ve always been very wary of lift bridges since coming a cropper on the Stratford Canal a couple of years ago. The drill here was therefore – stop at the junction – tie up – open lift bridge – untie – emerge from the Arm – proceed to winding hole – wind (turn) – return to junction – pass through bridge – stop – tie up – close bridge – untie and proceed! The next obstacle is the three-rise staircase at Grindley Brook, where I arrived at 08.10. Luckily the flight was empty, so all I had to do was fill the top lock and then use this water to take me down to the bottom in a three stage procedure. I did have to dissuade a steerer from an uphill hire boat from attempting to enter the bottom chamber as it would have been impossible for us to pass had he done so! Apart from that the descent was trouble free as was the rest of the morning’s run to Wrenbury.

Wrenbury Lift Bridge
At Wrenbury there is an electrically operated lift bridge and, as usual all the controls are on the non-towpath side. For a single-hander its necessary to stop on the off-side, tie up (where there is a convenient fence) walk along the road to the bridge – lift it – return to the boat – untie – pass through – stop immediately and tie up to another rail – clamber over the rail to regain the control panel – close the bridge – then untie, by which time the front of the boat will have become entangled in the front ends of the  fleet of Alvechurch hireboats which are kept here and from which it has to be extricated before you can set off. I was just congratulating myself on successfully accomplishing this complicated manoeuvre – and only holding up six cars – when Wrenbury Church Lift Bridge appeared – in the down position. Three weeks ago it had been locked open and out of use with a temporary footbridge alongside, but the work had now been completed. The crew of an oncoming boat were, however, just opening it and the left it open for me to close again after I’d passed through. I decided it was still too early to stop for lunch – a decision I soon regretted as from nowhere a stiff breeze – which soon became a gale – blew up and the heavens opened! The wind was blowing from the towpath side making it difficult to tie up without losing control. The usual drill when single handed is to come alongside, jump off with the centre rope, pull the boat in firmly to the bank and secure it to a convenient post or mooring ring if available -  before tying up each end. However, its usually necessary to jump off before the boat has come to a complete stand, when the back will drift out into the channel – so if the wind is too strong there is a danger that the whole boat will be blown out of reach before it can be secured. I abandoned one attempt to tie up for lunch because of this but then had to stop for Baddiley Top Lock where it was a close-run thing until I could secure Starcross sufficiently well to operate the lock! This experience was repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout the afternoon at each lock so I was quite exhausted by the time I arrived at Hurleston. I eventually stopped below Baddiley locks, in a more sheltered spot, and hoped that the rain would ease off over lunch. It didn’t, however, and I got well and truly soaked during the rest of the afternoon’s run to Hurleston, where I tied up at about 16.30. The plan was then to cycle back to Whitchurch to pick up the car but after a mile or so I got a puncture in the rear tyre and it had started to rain again, so I abandonned this plan and walked back a few hundred metres to the main road for a bus to Nantwich. There was no timetable on the bus stop – in fact there wasn’t even a bus stop on my side of the road! – but I knew that service 84 ran half-hourly. I was surprised however when the first bus that came along was supposedly “out of service” although as it passed by I could see passengers aboard! Luckily it turned out to be a duplicate and the service bus was along afew minutes later getting me to Nantwich in time for a pint before catching the train to Whitchurch. I then had to walk into town and out the other side to the canal – a journey of about 4 kilometres, following which I drove back into town, bought a bag of some of the worst fish and chips I’ve ever had and drove home in the rain. Not one of my better days!

Up to the Port and Back

Dates: 5th / 6th April 2008
Route: Hurleston – Christleton via Ellesmere Port
Crew: Jim and Hugh

Top Basin, Ellesmere Port
Saturday 5th April: Hurleston – Stoak
Hugh and I met up at Hurlerston on Friday evening and promptly decamped to Tarporley on the 84 bus to investiagte the town’s pubs. I had memories of doing something similar back in the 1970s when on a hire boat moored at Barbridge Junction but with the passage of time my memories had dimmed and the puibs had changed so I didn;’t really recognise anything.
On Saturday morning we were away by 08.20 and out of the bottom of the four Hurleston locks by 09.05. It was a very cold and wet day but we didn’t stop for lunch and arrived at Christleton at 14.40. Both sets of gates at Greenfield lock were leaking so badly that we needed assistance from a passer-by to get into the lock.

Leaking gates at Greenfield Lock
The rest of the descent to Chester was relatively trouble free, although the heavens opened as we passed through Chester centre giving me a good soaking at the tiller.

Storm clouds looming at Chester
The Northgate three-rise staircase was in our favour and we were through in 30 minutes, and heading across the little-used Wirral section. Hugh can manage the steering on relatively open and uncomplicated bits so I’d left him to it while I attended to a few things in the cabin. On my return to the counter, after a while  he asked me whether I’d left a kettle boiling as there was a strange whilstling sound! It turned out to be the warning buzzer from the engine which, coupled with a bright red light on the temperateure guage, was trying to tell us that the engine was getting far too hot!  Having executed an emergency stop (!), the problem was soon diagnosed as two polythene sacks and a ton of weed on the prop, which Hugh had failed to notice, and once these were removed and the engine allowed to cool down, we were on our way again. By now, however, it was nearly 19.00 and it was clear we wouldn’t get to Ellesmere Port before dark. The plan was changed to stop at Stoak, where the Bunbury Arms provided us with a decent meal and some beer. In our rush to get to the pub in case they stopped serving meals early we didn’t bother to light a fire, which meant we returned later to a very cold cabin! I’d also managed to leave a tap partly open in the bathroom which means that the water pump had been activated and the batteries accordingly depeleted. It doesn’t pay to rush on a narrowboat!
Sunday, 6th April  Stoak to Christleton

A light dusting of snow at Stoak
Awoke this morning to a light covering of snow, although not as much as some other boaters have experienced in the midlands. Before setting off I noticed that the front fender had come loose on one side. Presumably it must have got hooked up on a bottom gate sometime yesterday and the “weak link” in the securing chain had done its job and given way, so preventing the front end of the boat from being held up on the gate whilst the stern descended into the lock as the water was let out! I was very surprised that I had not noticed this as I genuinely have no recollection of anything like that happenening at any of yestreday’s locks.  Luckily I found a spare link in the engine room (Thank you, previous owner) so we were able to re-attach it before getting away.
We got to the Port at 09.05 and had a look round the outside of the museum, after being challenged by a staff member who remined us that there was an admission charge (even though they don’t open until 10.00) “unless you are off the boats” Of course, as the towpath alongside the Whitby locks passes right through the site I don’t think they can stop you anyway.  In any case we only had 20 minutes for a quick walk down the locks to the lower basin before we had to set off back towards Chester, which we reached at 12.40 after another visit to the weedhatch to clear the crud picked up in the tunnel under the M53.

Gongoozlers at Northgate 3-Rise
At Chester, Northgate locks were again in our favour and this time we got up in 25 minutes with a small but admiring audience of foreign tourists, some of which confessed that they had assumed the locks were derelict and unused until we appeared. Greenfield lock again proved difficult to negotiate, taking both of us and a passer-by to open the top gate, due to the leak and we were back at Christleton for 15.00 where we tied up and left for home. I managed to misread the map which meant we walked about twice as far as we needed to to pick up the 84 bus back to Nantwich, but we still managed to get to the stop on time and in any case the bus was a few minutes late. As soon as we got on board it started to snow again and this continued all the way to Nantwich and in my case most of the way back to Hereford.

Back to Base

Dates: 12th-14th April 2008
Starcross had been away from her Norbury Junction mooring since 8th March, having travelled to Llangollen and Ellesmere Port over a week’s holiday and a succession of weekend trips. Enjoyable though this is, the complications of finding somewhere to leave her for a week, not to mention the expense of travelling backwards and forwards every weekend, meant that the time had come to return to base for a while. Duncan and I therefore met at Chester station on Saturday morning, before walking out to Christleton (Duncan has an employee’s bus pass for the “First” bus company – but they don’t run to Christleton and he doesn’t like to pay another bus company for something he would get free from his own!) At least this enabled us to find a few decent local shops en-route and stock up with food for the weekend.
I’d asked on an internet forum for suggestions as to where to leave a boat in the Chester area, and had drawn criticism from one member who felt I was unwisely advertising the fact that my boat would be unattended “somewhere between Chester and Beeston”. However, most people are honest most of the time and I was pretty certain she’d be alright at Christleton, which she was, so we were able to get away just before 12.00 just as the rain and hail began. It didn’t last long however and we enjoyed a trouble free run back up through the locks to Bunbury. These broad locks are very slow to fill, but can still throw a boat around if the person operating the paddles isn’t careful. My normal practice in broad locks is to take a centre rope round a bollard and back to the counter so that the steerer can control both rope and engine if necessary.

Holding tight at Wharton Lock
However, the positioning of the bollards on these locks, combined with the length of my rope, meant that this wasn’t possible as Duncan demonstrates here at Wharton Lock.

We were delayed at Calveley as we were beaten to the water point by another boat and consequently had to wait for them to fill their tank before we could fill ours. It was therefore about 18.30 when we reached Nantwich, having seen the first brood of ducklings of the season at Barbridge Junction. This being Saturday night we spent the evening on a crawl of Nantwich’s pubs, most of which we found very enjoyable.
Sunday, 13th April: Nantwich to Knighton
Despite last night’s “enjoyment” we made an early getaway although we elected to leave before breakfast, which we took at a more civilised hour after passing through Hack Green locks at the well-known visitor moorings at Coole Pilate. After a brief stop  outside Audlem’s “Shroppie Fly” pub and a quick visit to the Co-Op in the village we completed the remaining 12 locks of the flight in 100 minutes despite them all being against us as we were following another boat. Later, we passed through Market Drayton for, I think, the first time without a stop and then climbed the five locks at Tyrley, where the house at the top  – complete with English and British flags and an anti-EU slogan – always finds me singing a medley of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (The EU Anthem), “The Marseilleise”, “Deutschland Uber Alles” etc etc as I work the adjacent lock.
We stopped for the night at the visitor moorings provided, with many others, by the Shropshire Union Canal Society at bridge 47 near Knighton, from where its a short walk to the “Haberdashers Arms” an excellent “unspoilt” country pub of a type once common on the canal system, but now extremely rare.
Monday, 14th April: Knighton to Norbury Junction
Its only a 90 minute run to Norbury Junction from bridge 47 so we were back on the mooring for a late breakfast. At High Offley we encountered hotel boats Duke and Duchess en-route from Brewood to Chester. After breakfast, Duncan left to walk to Gnosall for a bus to Stafford station before I did a few jobs, gave the roof and one side of Starcross a much-needed wash and polish and then called in at Norbury Wharf to ask them to look at the batteries and/or charging system as they don’t seem to be holding much of a charge, resulting in very dim lighting even after a full day’s run.

24 Hours at Norbury Junction

26/27th April 2008When Kris and Bernard acquired their own boat they told me that becoming a boat owner made one feel differently about boating. The urge to keep moving and cover as much ground as possible that one feels as a hire boater, with only a limited time on the cut, is absent and one can feel just as happy and satisfied sitting on a mooring, going nowhere. I’m not sure I believed them at the time, but since buying Starcross I can see what they mean. This weekend was a case in point. I arrived at the boat midday on Saturday, spent the afternoon cleaning and polishing and repainting the black bits on the bow where the paint keeps getting rubbed off by the friction of the mooring line (which is continuing to happen as every passing boat goes by and which will soon need doing again) and in between listening to the radio,reading,and chatting to neighbours Chris and Bea on Poppy and in the evening enjoying the vastly increased lighting level following the fitting of new batteries before popping down to the Junction Inn for a few jars.
On Sunday morning it rained, so I did some “inside” jobs before setting off home just 24 hours after I’d arrived; cycling to Gnosall and putting the folding bike onto the 481 bus there. The best route home involved a wait of 45 minutes either in the urban wasteland of Telford town centre (nothing but shops, shops and more shops) or a slightly longer wait at Oakengates, one of the small towns of this area of Shropshire now subsumed into – and overwhelmed by – Telford New Town. Its a bit of a sad place in many ways and as a town is clearly unable to compete with Telford but it still has a railway station and at least three excellent pubs of which I chose the Crown Inn Seabrook’s crisps
, which as anyone from north of Crewe will tell you, are the best crisps in the world with a wacky website to boot!

To Chillington

9th-11th May 2009
Crew: Jim, Hil and Christine
Friday, 9th May
Hil and I drove up to Norbury after work, picking up Hil’s aunt, Christine, at Telford railway station and getting to the boat at 18.40. Most unusually we set off within five minutes of arriving, hoping to find somewhere to stop on Shelmore embankment for the evening but ending up on the visitor moorings on the approach to Gnosall.
Saturday 10th May

Christine steering through Cowley Tunnel
Hil and I were awake at seven, but Christine was already up and away for an early morning walk. Eventually we set off at 09.00 after which the sun came out and it got quite warm. The elsan disposal and the toilet were both out of order at Wheaton Aston, so there was nothinbg for it but to join the three-boat queue for the lock. We stopped for lunch at the caravan site just north of Brewood and then went down to Chillington wharf, where Hil winded Starcross perfectly before we returned to bridge 10 to tie up in the cutting. After a rest, we went for an afternoon walk into Brewood, getting there just as everything was closing up for the day. Later that evening Hil and Christine went badger spotting along the towpath – but didn’t find any.
Sunday, 11th May
We were awoken by a wonderful dawn chorus in the otherwise silent cutting. There was a fishing match in progress at Brewood as we passed and we were sadly unable to fill up with cheap diesel at Turner’s Garage as it doesn’t open on Sundays. We stopped out in the country at Cowley for lunch and were back at Norbury Junction by mid-afternoon where the crowds at the wharf and outside the pub made it feel “like Blackpool”. Diesel is almost as cheap at Norbury Wharf as it is at Turners so I filled up with 57 litres at 67p a litre and bought a new gas bottle for good measure.
Unfortunately, Christine managed to trip over our mooring spikes twice when we were getting ready to leave Starcross and hurt her leg quite badly.

Bus Riding from Gnosall

29th May – 1st June 2008
Thursday 29th May
Once a quarter I attend a Friday meeting in Birmingham and usually go on up to Norbury Junction afterwards for the weekend. This weekend I had a Thursday meeting in Shrewsbury as well so took full advantage and went up to Norbury after that. Its a two bus journey from Shrewsbury, changing at Newport and that got me to the boat by 16.40. I set off shortly afterwards up to Grub Street to wind, but not before noticing that despite very heavy rain there was no water in the cabin. After winding I came back through Norbury and carried on to Gnosall arriving just in time for “The Archers” on radio 4. Late that evening narrowboat “Dragon” came through on a charity challenge run around the four counties ring in 65 hours.
Friday 30th May
I still had to attend my Birmingham meeting, so got the 08.10 bus to Stafford and a train for Birmingham, returning after the meeting. Later that afternoon I took Starcross down to High Onn to wind again and returned to Gnosall, this time pointing the right way for return to Norbury. I washed the roof and the counter and, after tea, as I’d got a day ticket left over from this morning I took the bus to Haughton to try out the Church Inn (nothing special) before returning to the Horns Inn at Gnosall and then a late bus back to the boat.
Saturday 31st May
I bought another day ticket, but this time purely for pleasure – travelling to Stafford, Uttoxeter, Cheadle and Hanley before returning to Newport on the lengthy 350 service that comes through Norbury village and eventually back to Gnosall. That evening, to get best use out of the bus ticket I went back to Stafford and on to Stone where as well as a having a few pints I saw nb Dragon again!
Sunday 1st June
After the excitement of the last few days it was a quiet trip back to Norbury Junction after breakfast and an equally uneventful trip home.

A few days around Norbury Junction

26th – 29th June 2009
Thursday, 26th June
We had come back unexpectedly early from a holiday in Cornwall and so found time for a few extra days on the cut. We didn’t plan to go very far and took our bikes to explore the area of the Staffs/Shropshire borders around Norbury Junction that is still largely unknown to us. Driving up from Hereford on Thursday afternoon, Hil asked if she could ride her bike from Shifnall (about 10 miles) whilst I went ahead and got “Starcross” ready. This involved filling the water tank and to get to the water point I had first to go up to Grub Street to wind (turn).
As soon as Hil set off cycling it began to rain so I was in a hurry to get Starcross winded and back to the water point before she arrived. I did make a cursory enginbe check before setting off, but having the luxury of a new and reliable engine has made my lazy. I also pushed her along a tad faster than normal in my haste but, whatever the reason, halfway back from Grub Street the engine temperature rose and she started to overheat. I knew I had to wait until I could remove the coolant filler cap to check the level, but of course I didn’t wait long enough and the cap shot up in the air propelled by a fountain of hot water, hit the cabin roof and disappeared! Fortunately I had taken  the precaution of protecting my hands so no damage was done, but then I couldn’t find the cap! I had removed most of the engine boards and was searching in the bilges when Hil arrived – having come up from the water point to look for me. She of course found it straight away – sitting on top of the engine – so we topped up the coolant and went down to fill the domestic water tank at the Junction. This took about 20 minutes, during which time the rain got worse and worse and as it was by now after 7.30pm we decided to tie up on the visitor moorings at Norbury just a hundred metres or so from our own permanent mooring, and here we stayed until Saturday.
Friday 27th June
Today was a cycling day and Hil had planned a circular route eastwards through Gnosall then north to Eccleshall and Swynnerton returning to Norbury via Shebdon and Adbaston. Forty-five miles in all which I tackled easily on the Dahon folder I bought earlier in the year and which stacks away quite neatly alongside the engine.
Saturday 28th June
We were feeling a little guilty about occupying a prime visitor mooring when we had our own reserved spot nearby so we moved up the cut a couple of miles to High Offley, where we tied up near that renowned canalside pub “The Anchor”. Settled in by 11.00 we opted for another, shorter, cycle ride this time westwards through the lanes to Great Bolas and Hodnet, where a wedding was taking place in the village church. We returned via Cheswardine (crossing the canal at Goldstone Wharf) annd Soudley, where we noticed the pub, which is within striking distance of the canal, was closed and boarded following a fire. In the evening we fancied a pub meal and as The Anchor is too fine apub to have to do food we walked up to the Wharf Inn at Shebdon for what turned out to be a less than wonderful eating experience with poor quality food which took an age to arrive (although the beer wasn’t bad).
Sunday 29th June
Today there was just time to go up to Shedbon wharf to wind and return to Norbury Junction, where we tied up – this time on our own mooring – by 1.00pm although it was after three by the time we’d tidied up and got away.

Still at Norbury Junction

18th-19th July 2009
I did hope to have a few days aboard Starcross in the middle of July when my Trade Union called us out on strike over a pay claim. However, Bernard needed a hand to move his boat “Sunshine” from Lower Heyford to Brinklow, where it was booked in for repair following an argument with a lift bridge at Thrupp on the Oxford Canal.
An early train from Hereford and a two-minute connection at Oxford saw me at Heyford station by 09.10 and we were soon underway heading north. Sunshine had drifted into the bridge whilst it was stiull in the down position breaking the glass in the cratch and damaging the woodwork. The damage wasn’t as bad as I had imagined and Bernard had covered it up with some plastic sheeting to avoid having to give embarrasing explanations to other boaters for his imcompetence!
This was not a pleasure trip, so we had two long, but still enjoyable, days getting to Cropredy on Thursday night and Braunston on Friday without further incident. I left Sunshine at the bottom of Hillmorton locks on Saturday morning and cycled into Rugby where I got a train to Stafford followed by a bus to Gnosall and then cycled up to Norbury Junction, the whole journey taking only three hours, which is about what it would have taken by car. The only downside being the ridiculous fare demanded by Virgin Trains – and then nobody bothered to check that I’d bought a ticket anyway.
Hilary joined me at Norbury Junction later on and we enjoyed another weekend on the moorings, getting no further than the water point at Norbury Wharf!

Tyrley – for Drayton

9th – 10th August 2008
Saturday 9th August
I drove up to Norbury Junction, stopping off in Newport for a bit of shopping and also to buy a copy of Mike Raven’s excellent “History of Staffordshire” – the real “geographical” county of Staffordshire that is, including the bits that are nowadays administered by various unitary authorities such as the City of Wolverhampton or Stoke-on-Trent. I’ve found a need to know more about the places we pass through on the cut and this volume covers much of the Shropshire Union, trent 7 Mersey and Staffs & Worcs. canals.
It was raining heavily when I arrived so I tried waiting for a while, but eventually I decided to set off by which time it was about 12.00. I stopped at Shebdon wharf an hour or so later for lunch and then it stopped raining and I had a pleasant afternoon’s trip northwards to Tyrley. There was space on the visitor moorings at the top of the locks so I teid up there. I’ve found that if you carry on down the locks to Market Drayton it makes the return journey the following day a bit of a rush on these short weekend trips. There was a steady stream of boats passing in both directions until about 18.30, by which time it was raining again.
I walked up the lane to the “Four Alls” pub, but as I feared it is very much a roadside eating house and although it has three cask beers it serves them so cold and bland that its hard to distinguish oine from t’ other. Its not far into the town of Market Drayton and there is an off-road route so I walked into town for the rest of the night. The town was very quiet – everyone either away on holiday, saving up to go on holiday, or skint afterwards!
Sunday 10th August
Not having gone down the locks there was no rush to get back to Norbury today so I was not away until 09.30 after winding at the top of the flight. Yesterday had been busy but it was even busier today. At one point I could see six oncoming boats, including both of Norbury Wharf’s day boats – one of which got stuck becuase the sterer gave me far too wide a berth when passing. The moorings at Goldstone Wharf were full, so I carried on to Knighton and the visitor moorings at Bridge 47 for an early lunch. By now the sun had come out and, although windy, I enjoyed an excellent run back over the embankment, past High Onn and through Grub Street cutting to Norbury Junction arriving about 14.30

Bank Holiday on the Shroppie

23rd – 25th August 2008
Crew: Jim, Hil, Kris and Bernard
Saturday 23rd August
Hil and I drove up to Norbury junction, via Much Wenlock, arriving about 11.15.  Walking down the towpath from thge car park, the plastic crate that has been used for the last 3 years to carry stuff to and from the boat collapsed, scattering its contents over the towpath!
The plan was to meet kris and Bernard, who were going to the IWA National Rally, at Brewood in the late afternoon. First we had to move on to the water point to refill the tanks and empty the toilet cassette. We were away by 12.30 and heading for Gnosall, eating lunch as we went. There was a sizeable fishing match going on on the approach tyo Gnosall, which held us up a little. We needed a quick stop at Gnosall for a visit to the shop near bridge 34. Its not as big, or as well-stocked, as the shops in the village itself, but is a lot nearer. After an uneventful run to Wheaton Aston we were held up briefly at the lock, but the two boats in front us worked through very efficiently and we were soon on our way. Hil steered whilst I cleaned up the well deck and the cabin windows. The weather gradually clouded over and we arrived Brewood at 16.45, choosing to stop opposite the long term moorings to the north of the village rather than on the official visitor moorings, which are in a deep, gloomy cutting.
Kris and Bernard were delayed coming from the Rally becuase they got on the bus to the wrong park and ride site and then their car wouldn’t start. They had to call out the road equivalent of River Canal Rescue to get them going again, although it was only a flat battery. By the time they got to us and we had eaten it was too late to go out so we enjoyed an evening on board.
Sunday 24th August

Beautiful bank Holiday Weasther at Brewood
We started today with a walk round Brewood, which has a number of interesting buildings including Speedwell Castle in the village square. We then set off south to Chillington where, after winding at the wharf we tied up for a walk over Avenue Bridge and along the old avenue itself to the gates of Chillington Hall. After lunch we set off back northwards. Despite it being bank holiday weekend and the cut being very busy there was no queue at Wheaton Aston. We carried on past Norbury Junction to stop for the night at High Offley for a visit to the Anchor, enjoying the folk music and Wadworth’s beer. I was a bit surprised to find a convenient mooring here, but the free space turned out to be opposite the camp site and pub sewage system – a fact that quickly became obvious once we had tied up.
Monday 25th August
We were away by 09.30 up to the winding hole just beyond Bridge 48 where we turned. On the way back we stopped at Shebdon moorings for a chat with David and Jill on “Endeavour” who were just enjoying a weekend on their boat and not going anywhere. After lunch on the go again, we arrived at Norbury Junction by 13.30 and after tieing up and tidying up we went over to the Wharf for an early afternoon tea before dropping Kris and Bernard back at Brewood for their car (and waiting to see if it started- which it did) before driving home.

Wet Wet Wet
5th/6th September 2008

Friday 5th September

This weekend was another opportunity to make best use of having to go to Birmingham on a Friday morning to carry on up to Norbury afterwards, even though it involved walking from Gnosall in heavy rain. Plans to take Starcross up the cut somewhere were abandonned due to the atrocious weather and it was even too wet to contemplate going down to the water point!
Saturday 6th September
It was still raining hard so I picked up most of the stuff I’d come to collect, except Hil’s cardigan!, and walked through the flood water to Norbury village for the “350″ bus. The contract for the service has changed hands and new operator, Baker’s, provided a newer bus albeit at a higher fare of £1.60. From Newport I continued to Stafford and Wolverhampton on Arriva’s buses and called in at the Great Western, one of my favourite pubs, before getting the train back to Hereford. This part of the journey was affected by the flooding and we arrived an hour late, which was OK as we got a refund from London Midland becuase of it.

Taking Starcross to be Painted

Norbury Junction to Norton Canes
24th – 29th September 2008
Crew: Jim and Ken
Wednesday, 24th September: Norbury Jc to Cross Green
The paintwork on Starcross really needed attention as soon as I bought her but painting is expensive if you have it done properly and so the job was put off for a few years. Canal Transport Services has a good reputation for boat painting and also employs Dave Moore to do the signwriting for it, so it was my first choice, especially as they could do the job at relatively short notice.
So, Ken and I met at Norbury at 11.00 and, over a cup of tea, planned our route. CTS is located at the far end of the Cannock Extension Canal on the very northern edge of the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) so its not an easy place to get to. Our original plan was to wander around some of the lesser known reaches of the Birmingham network, but Ken was keen to revisit some of the places that he and I would have passed through back in the 1970s hire boating days.
We got away from the mooring around 12.00, but only as far as Norbury Wharf, where we filled up with diesel and water for the trip ahead. The first lock you encounter heading south from Norbury is at Wheaton Aston and there were four boats already waiting to go through when we arrived at 15.20. It was 50 minutes later before we could get away – at least we could enjoy the view.

The View from the Queue at Wheaton Aston
We were through Autherley Junction at 18.35 where we turned left onto the Staffs & Worcs Canal, eventually tying up at Cross Green (Coven) at 19.50 just as it was getting dark.
Thursday 25th September: Cross Green to Rugeley
We were up at 07.00 and away by 07.30, but despite the early start three hire boats came through the bridge ahead before we could set off; then we mettwo ex-working boats on the sharp bend outside the pub – a test of everyone’s steering skills – especially as the steerer of the first didn’t warn me about the second!
We passed Gailey Top Lock at 09.20 and at Otherton Lock met a single-handed boater who was waiting patiently at the bottom of the empty lock for someone to come down and empty it! There was a brief stop at Penkridge where the big co-op in the main street sells every kitchen impliment imaginable – except the tin opener we were looking for! Locating and obtaining a tin opener elsewhere in the town took us another half-an-hour and it was 12.00 before we were away again, continuing to Great Haywood where we arrived at 16.00

Great Haywood Junction
It was too early to stop so we turned right onto the Trent & Mersey Canal and carried on in lovely late afternoon/early evening sunlight all the way to Rugeley, eventually stopping at 18.00. After a meal we walked into the town centre, but it was closed! Rugeley on a Wednesday evening is definitely not the most lively of places but eventually we came across a pub advertising “local real ales” – which turned out to mean Banks’s (of Wolverhampton!).
Friday 26th September: Rugeley to Fazeley Jc.

Busy at Fradley
We were away by 07.45 on a cool, misty morning, soon passing the huge Armitage porcelain factory where it was good to see that alothough the country may be going down the pan we can still make toilets. We got to Fradley top lock at 10.10. Contractors were getting ready to start some work on the second lock down, but they waited for us to pass. As is often the case at Fradley, the locks were busy and we had a queue in front of us. Most, however, were continuing down the Trent & Mersey towards Shardlow, whereas our route lay along the Coventry Canal, necessitating a sharp right turn outside the Swan inn at the junction.

Turning right at Fradley Junction
The sun soon came out and we enjoyed at easy run along the Coventry as far as Fazeley Junction where, depite the early hour (only 14.30) we stopped for the day, passing the time watching the comings and goings at the junction and generally taking in the scene at this historic spot.

Fazeley Junction
That evening we walked up onto the main road to find the Three Tuns, an excellent unspolit Marston’s pub that was every bit as lively as the whole of Rugeley had been quiet the night before.
Saturday 27th September: Fazeley Junction to Birmingham (Oozells Street)
We made an early start (07.37) and right away hit a bank of fog, obscuring forward vision. It was just as well there were no other boats on the move and, indeed, we didn’t meet anything until the bottom of the locks an hour later.

Into the fog on the Birmingham and Fazeley
We enetred the bottom lock at Curdworth at 08.35 and left the top lock two hours and twenty minutes later. These locks are some of my favourite on the system – easy to work and well spaced for efficient working – if you have a crew. Unfortunately they are nowadays somewhat spolit by the constant roar of traffic from the adjacent motorway. After Curdworth the city of Birmingham starts to encroach. Anti-vandal locks are fitted to the paddles at Minworth and for the rest of the way into Brum. We passed Salford Junction, now totally overshadowed by Spaghetti  (Motorway)Junction above it and turned towards the locks at Aston at 13.45.

At the bottom of the Aston locks
The Aston flight passes through some of the last remaining traditional industrial scenery on the B.C.N.

Industrial scenery on the Aston flight
After aston, its only a short run to the Farmer’s Bridge flight where thirteen locks complete the climb up to the Birmingham Level of the BCN.  The bottom lock was the scene of a teenage party when we arrived – a bit worrying at first but they turned out to be no trouble – at least not to us – despite obvious eveidence of underage drinking and smoking of dubious substances. Ken reckined they were “Goths” but quite how he knew that is beyond me!

Teenage Party at Farmer's Bridge
Further up the flight we came across another party – this time a very different one, a group of young engineers from India, working in Birmingham on a “project”. They had discovered the canal and locks by accident and were very keen to know more. I got them helping with the locks in return for enlightening them on the history of the canals in this part of the world. I think that between them they took at least 200 photographs more than I did – but here’s mine:

Engineers from India
After all this excitement we called it a day and tied up on the Oozells Street Loop moorings at 17.45, where we stayed for the night.
Sunday, 28th September: Birmingham to Norton Canes
We were away this morning at 07.55, having breakfast on the move and arriving at Pudding Green Junction  an hour and forty minutes later, where we turned onto the Wednesbury Old Canal. Rider’s Green locks were in our favour and were easy to work being in good condition despite the limited use they see.

Riders Green Locks
We had to make our first visit to the weed hatch at the bottom lock, reached at 11.00, but it was only a plastic bag and was soon removed.  The Walsall Canal was very weedy and shallow and we soon had to re-visit the weed hatch at Spinks’s Bridge (fishing line and weed).

Darlaston Road Bridge, Walsall Canal
The scenery on the Walsall Canal is unremittintgly industrial with very little in the way of modern redevelopment. Our third and final weed hatch visit came at the bottom of Walsall locks, which we reached at 13.45 just as it came on to rain.

Bottom Lock, Walsall
The proximity of the canal hereabouts to Walsall town centre has brought about a certain amount of redevelopment, particularly around the locks, which once again proved an easy flight, the passage taking just an hour, despite the rain and having all the locks against us.

Redevelopment at the Walsall Locks
The sun re-emerged later that afternoon as we passed through Goscote where the local youth were using the towpath as a mini-moto and scrambler bike towpath. Pelsall junction was reached at 16.35 and we tied up outside Canal Transport Services paint shed in Norton Canes at 17.00

Last Photo of Starcross in the old livery at Norton Canes
That evening, Ken and I made an abortive trip into Norton Canes village looking for a decent pub and failing to find the Railway Tavern (in Camra’s Good Beer Guide!), making do with the nearby roadhouse on the A5 and its keg Marston’s Pedigree (ugh!)

Starcross – The repaint

28th September – 16th November
From the end of September until mid-October, Starcross was at Canal Transport services’ Norton Canes yard for re-painted. She went in looking like this

The Old Livery
and came out like this

The new livery
There are more photos on the “Repaint” page which will be made live shortly.
The work took a bit longer than promised, but on 16 November I drove up to Norton Canes to have a look at the finished article. I was pleased with what I saw, although I did find that the tiller bar wouldn’t fit onto the swan neck because they had applied too much paint to it(!) and there were one or two minor jobs still not done, which I had to ask them to complete. essentially though, Starcross was back in business and ready to be taken home.

Coming Home

28th – 30th November
Norton Canes to Brewood
Crew: Jim, Hil and Duncan
Friday 28th November
Due to the short winter days we realised that the trip back to Norbury would have to be split over two weekends. So, on Friday Hil and I drove back to Norton Canes and saw Matt Cooper of CTS to hand over the cheque for the work. That done, we drove to Brewood to pick up Duncan – who would be leaving his car there – and, after a meal in the Bridge Inn, drove back to Norton Canes to get ready for the morning.
Saturday 29th November: Norton Canes to Wolverhampton
We were away by 08.35 on a foggy November morning, which turned into a cold and foggy November day. Unsurprisingly there was nobody else moving on the Wyrley and Essington and we had an uneventful trip as far as Lane Head, where we stopped for lunch – and to warm up. Soon after restarting we picked up a padded jacket on the prop which, unsurprisingly, brought us to a sudden halt. The second weed hatch visit followed shortly afterwards at Wednesfield, this time a pullover and some tinsel (an early unwanted Christmas present?). The fog closed in as the afternoon wore on and we glad to tie up at Wolverhampton top lock at 15.25 after which Duncan and Hil walked up into the town to do some shopping. After tea the three of us walked over to the “Great Western” pub in Sun Street, one of my favourite drinking establishments.

The "Great Western", Wolverhampton
Sunday 30th November: Wolverhampton to Brewood
Ken was supposed to be joining us at Wolverhampton, but he didn’t show up last night and we couldn’t raise him by phone in the morning, so at 09.15 we set off down the locks, noting as we did so that Wolverhampton’s inner ring road appeared to be at a standstill due to a broken down car at the junction nearby. A boat had gone down last thing yesterday so all the locks were against us but nevertheless the passage through the 21 locks took only two-and-a-quarter hours and we were at Autherley Junction b y 11.45. The sun came out as we set off up the Shroppie and we were also overtaken by several canoeists on the outskirst of Wolverhampton. Most unusually, we picked up yet another item of clothing on the prop at Pendeford before stopping for lunch in the sunshine just before Avenue Bridge. Brewood was reached at 14.00 where we tied up on the visitor moorings before Duncan took as back to Norton Canes o pick up our car after which we were back home by five o’ clock.

Coming Home – Part 2

5th – 6th December 2009
Brewood – Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim, Kris and Bernard
Friday 5th December
I didn’t think the “new” starcross looked quite right without a chimney to match the back cabin doors newly painted by Dave Moore, so I went a little out of my way from Hereford to call in at Midland Chandlers in Penkridge to get one. Even so, I still managed to get to Brewood for lunchtime so went off to the Bridge Inn for fish and chips.
The back cabin chimney is false – and just for effect: the real chimney that serves the coal fired stove is at the front of the boat, but before I could light what was almost the first fire of the year I had to sweep the flue – a messy job that involves brushing all the soot down onto a plate above the fire grate and then scooping it out by hand! Needless to say I was absolutely filthy by the time I’d finished.
Kris and Bernard arrived about 18.30 and then Kris and I took both cars up to Norbury Junction before returning for a meal and afterwards another visit to the Bridge Inn.
Saturday 6th December
As it had been dark when they arrived, this was K&B’s first chance to see the new paint job and they were suitably impressed, although it wasn’t until after we’d set off that I noticed one of the side fenders was missing, having disappeared some time during the week spent on the visitor mooring at Brewood.
We broke the journey at Wheaton Aston to get some diesel from Turner’s Garage, renowned as the cheapest source of boat fuel on the canal. This was the first time I had bought diesel since the tax rules changed and fuel used “for propulsion” attracted the same level of duty as road diesel. Official guidance is that a split of 60% propulsion and 40% (and therefore lower duty) domestic use is “unlikely to be challenged”, but its up to the boater to declare according to his own personal circumstances. I’d have been happy with “60/40″ but Turner’s were having none of it and “beacuse its winter” they suggested 98/2 with full duty and tax being paid only on the 2%!
After that we carried on to Norbury, but as so often happens, we were enjoying ourselves so much that we carried on past the mooring to wind at Grub Street before tying up. Our next door neighbours on “August” were the first of many to comment on the splendour of the new paint job.

Can’t Keep Away

Norbury Junction
13 December 2009
Although it had only been a week since I’d been aboard, i couldn’t resist coming back to see Starcross in her new livery. It was raining when I arrived, so I concentrated on some inside jobs – varnishing the kitchen window frames and mopping out the engine room bilges.
I went over to the Junction Inn for lunch and then, as the rain had stopped, put some varnish on the back cabin hatches. Starcross always had a tendency to leak around the back cabin roof where poor design means that rain water collects under the slide and eventually seeps through the roof. I’d cured this by waterproofing the area, but when it was stripped for repainting the sealant had gone as well and water was coming through. I therefore applied more sealant over the new paint – but as the area is always covered by the cabin slide it didn’t spoil the look at all.

Between Christmas and New Year

27th – 29th December 2009
Norbury Junction to High Onn and Back
Tuesday, 27th December
Hilary was up at her Mum’s for a post-Christmas visit so I drove up to the boat and arrived at Norbury Junction at 12.50, loaded up the boat from the car, which took two trips, and then set off for Gnosall, arriving at dusk – about 16.25. After tea I went across to the Boat Inn for a couple of pints.
Wednesday 28th December
I’d managed to keep the fire in most of the night so Starcross was still tolerably warm in the morning. I did a few inside jobs, most important being the fixing of a beer bottle opener next to the beer store, and then set off down to wind at High Onn. I was back at Gnosall for 15.45 and went off for a chat with Phil on “Tomorrow”. Tomorrow used to be moored at Lowsonford on the Stratford Canal, which was where Starcross was when we bought her. She was moved to Norbury Junction by her present owner and is now often to be seen shuttling between Norbury, Gnosall and one or two other places. Phil and I agreed to meet in the Boat Inn that evening for some more beer.
Thursday, 29th December
I was due to join Hilary and some friends at a cottage in the Peak District today so I was up by 7.30 and did some tidying up before breakfast. I was back at Norbury for 13.00 and in Warslow for 16.00 despite stopping at Froghall to have a look at the Caldon Canal. I did notice before leaving that the water pump kept cutting in despite the taps not being in use but at the time I put it down to a dripping tap and, as the power to the pump would be off anyway whilst I was away I ignored it. Little did I now then that this had been going on for some time and signalled the death of the Paloma water heater and its expensive replacement!

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