Winter at Lowsonford

Each Winter in recent years, the locks between Preston Bagot and Kingswood Junction have been closed for maintenance and repair, effectively trapping “Starcross” at her moorings in Lowsonford. We used the time to do a little maintenance ourselves, including replacing the water pump, and also had a few enjoyable days just visiting her and using her as a base to explore the surrounding area. In 2005, the stoppage lasted from early January until mid-March so it was March 12th before we could get out and about again.

Down to Stratford

Date: 12 – 13th March 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Stratford upon Avon and back
Crew: Jim, Hil and Ken
The crew met up at Lowsonford on the Friday evening with Ken coming by train from Wolverhampton and walking down from Lapworth station.  Departure on Saturday for the first trip of the year was at 08.30 on a sunny, clear but cold morning. We had a brief stop at Wootton Wawen, lunch at Wilmcote and took water at Bishopton arriving at Bancroft Basin at 17.40 where there was plenty of mooring space on the pontoons. We survived a kamikaze attack by Anglo-Welsh’s day boat which was zig-zagging up the cut at Wilmcote, bouncing alternately off the bank and the moored boats!
Bancroft basin is a lovely place to be on an early Spring evening, with the setting sun,  lights coming on, and not many tourists around. It was also quiet all night for a town centre mooring, although we did find a couple of broken bottles on the bank next to where we had tied up in the morning.
On Sunday morning we were up and away for 08.20 on another beautiful day, although it soon clouded in. The occupant of a boat moored just outside Stratford asked after Starcross’ previous owners and we were able to update him. We were at the bottom of Wilmcote locks by 10.00, the top by 11.20 and back home at Lowsonford for 16.30.

Single-Handed Down Hatton

Date: 8-10th April 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Radford Semele
Crew: Jim
Friday, 8th April
No crew available this weekend, but I’d always fancied a bit of “single-handed” boating. I wasn’t sure if I could face Hatton on my own or not, but decided that I’d decide when I got there! Left Lowsonford at 18.40 but immediately had to wait for a boat coming down at the first lock. Then it started to snow, although not for long. I got to below lock 23 by 20.30 and then tied up as it was dark. After tea I paid a visit to the “Navigation”, rapidly becoming one of my favourite pubs. It was the first time I’d had a pint of Draught Bass since brewing had been transferred to Martston’s and it was a big improvement.
Saturday 9th (Royal Wedding Day – apparently)
Set off at 08.40 up the last three locks to Kingswood Junction and then turned right onto the Grand Union. I soon wanted to stop for a coffee, but this section of the GU has concrete piling and narrow towpaths, not ideal for the single-handed boater (particularly an inexperienced one) to stop and tie up. I was still unsure as to whether to attempt the Hatton flight or whether to turn round and head for Knowle instead, but as the top three locks were full, and therefore “in my favour” I decided to press on. Unfortunately, all the remaining 18 were against me!
I waited a while, to see if another downhill boat came along, but it was too early in the season for much traffic. It took me a while to develop a satisfactory method of locking on my own in the broad locks. Basically, what I did was: Tie up at top, open one gate, enter lock and tie centre rope up to lock ladder at the far end (the bollards are inconveniently placed for less than full-lentth boats); close gate; open one paddle; pay out rope, to prevent “hanging-up”; when lock empty, pull boat clear of bottom gates; open one gate; return to boat and motor out; tie up at bottom of lock; close gate; move on to next lock and repeat 20 times! I had entered the top lock at 11.58 and, after a half-hour break on the way down, I exited the bottom lock at 18.12  making 6.25hrs for the passage. Overnight mooring was in the Saltisford Arm, convenient – but not ideal as all the visitor moorings were occupied by what looked like long-term stayers and I had to tie up in the winding hole. In the evening I walked the short distance into Warwick to try out the local pubs.
Sunday 10th April
I was up and away by 08.45, which was just as well as a pair of hotel boats moored in the arm wanted to use the winding hole. The two locks at the Cape were quickly passed and I arrived at Radford Semele at 11.30 to tie up. Whilst greasing the stern tube I noticed that quite a few of the prop shaft bolts were loose, and at least two of them were in the bilges! The previous owner had warned me to keep checking them but I’d been vary lax. I tightened them up before leaving Starcross for a week and returning to Leamington by bus for the train home.

Mob-Handed Back Up

Date: 15-17th April 2005
Route: Radford Semele to Lowsonford
Crew: Jim, Mark, Kris and Bernard
Friday, 15th April
I had a morning meeting in Birmingham but didn’t make it as the train taking me there stalled on the Lickey Incline and by the time it had been sorted out the meeting was over. I was therefore able to get to Radford in plenty of time, despite carying a new camp bed I had bought in Brum from Leamington station. Starcross was OK (it was the first time I had left her anywhere other than her home mooring), so I winded ready for the morning and tied up again. The “White Lion” in Radford turned out to be excessively food orientated so I walked over to Offchurch where the pub at least has a “non-food area” – and four real ales.
Saturday, 16th April
A problem arose in the morning, when the solid-fuel stove refused to light, sending plumes of smoke into the cabin. There didn’t appear to be an easy solution, so attemts to light it were abandonned until the evening.
The first part of the crew, Kris and Bernard, arrived from Leicester at 10.00 and we set off towards Leamington, where Mark joined us at 11.40 off the Oxford train (or rather off a bus from Banbury due to “engineering work”). We stopped at the top of the Cape 2 for water for the boat and beer for the crew and then raced up Hatton in about 2 hours in complete contrast to my single-handed efforts the previous week. We made such good progress that we continued to Kingswood for the evening and, after another abortive attempt to light the stove, a visit to the Navigation.
Sunday 17th April
After a rather chilly night on the new camp bed we were away at 8.40 on a bright, sunny morning. We were behind a rather slow boat through the locks, so stopped for a late breakfast and were promptly passed by another. The bottom part of the Lapworth flight are slow at the best of times, with tiny bottom gate paddles and heavy gates so it was 12.15 by the time we got to Lowsonford. As our next planned trip was northbound, the crew agreed to continue down the next seven locks to Preston Bagot to wind and then return to base, during which time it started to rain, and we were back at Lowsonford for 16.30. One of the drawbacks of the mooring at Lowsonford is that it is a four-hour job to turn round!

Disaster at Hockley Heath

Date: 30th April – 2nd May 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Hockley Heath via Hopwood
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday 30th April
We arrived at Lowsonford mid-morning and set-to removing vast quantities of soot from the baffle plate at the bottom of the chimney, getting very dirty and cross in the process, but it did the trick and the stove worked perfectly therefafter. The afternoon was spent going up the locks to Lapworth, where we stopped for the night at Bridge 58. “Starcross” was due for bottom blacking, which we had arranged to have done at Swallow Cruisers during the first two weeks in May, so we had decided to make a weekend of it, taking in Wast Hills Tunnel and the top bit of the Worcester & Birmingham in the process.
Sunday 1st May
Today illustrated the disadvantages of cars, when used in conjunction with boating as Hil spent much of the day cycling back to Lowsonford, moving the car to Hopwood, where she would be leaving, and then coming back to Starcross. Our planning was hindered by getting stuck behind a very nervous and slow hire boater, but I managed to get past him when he panicked on approaching a bridgehole and seeing an oncoming boat at least 300 metres away. We turned left at Kings Norton and went through Wast Hills tunnel where we stopped at Hopwood for the evening.
Monday 2nd May
Hil had to leave last night, but I was anticipating an easy trip back to Swallow Cruisers along a lock-free strectch of the cut. I had, of course, forgotten about the lift bridges! Bridge 8 at Shirley was easy enough, as it is electrically operated from the towpath side, but the next lift bridge – just round the corner from my destination – was another matter. This is operated by measn of a windlass from the non-towpath side, which presents problems for the single-handed boater as, having crossed the cut to open it, there is no way back to the boat until it is closed again. The presence of a high hedge along the off-side bank makes it difficult to get off the boat there and the sensible thing to do is to wait until another boat, or one of the many towpath walkers, comes along. I, however, was conscious of the fact that time was getting on  – it was late afternoon – and I had to get to Hockley Heath to catch the rather infrequent X20  to Birmingham. With no other boats around, a  landing appeared possible on the offside near the bridge so I decided to attempt it. Unfortunately, I misjudged it and the front end of Starcross came into contact with the bridge deck with a horrible splintering noise as the woodwork on the cratch split. Sheepishly, I abandonned the attempt and tied up and, of course, almost immediately along came another boat. Following them through the bridge, I delivered Starcross to Swallow Cruisers and left, just in time for the X20, feeling thoroughly fed up with myself.

Back to Base

Date: 22 May 2005
Route: Hockley Heath to Lowsonford
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday, 22 May
Swallow Cruisers took three weeks to black the bottom and had been unable in that time to find anyone to repair the cratch. We therefore dismantled it at the yard before setting off in bright sunshine down the Lapworth flight. The work had been promised for the previous weekend and the delay meant that Hugh was unable to join us. We soon found that in fine weather the absence of the cratch and its cover were an advantage and Starcross ran without them for the rest of the summer. We were amused during a brief lunch stop to watch a 40ft hire boat in front of us attempt to turn round in a 39ft-wide bit of canal.
Most of the flight were “against” us and Hil’s windlass slipped at one lock catching her on the forearm and causing a nasty bruise. After Kingswood Junction the weather got worse and for the next two hours there was very heavy rain. We had no option but to carry on, reaching Lowsonford at 18.15, just as the sun came out. We repaired to the “Fleur de Lys” for a pint of Adnams (sadly not a regular beer there). Whilst dismantling the cratch we discovered that a ceiling leak in the vicinity of the stove was being caused by a cracked chimney mounting. Before leaving, we covered the area with an upturned ashpan as a temporary measure which still prevailed over 12 months later.

Day Trip to Wootton wawen

Date: 4 June 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Wootton Wawen and back
Crew: Jim,  Martin, Vanessa, Matthew and Patrick
Sunday 4 June
The real purpose of the trip was to turn Starcross round in readiness for the next trip, which was to be to Braunston, but the opportunity was taken to give our friends their first ever canal boat trip. The trip itself was fairly straightforward with our guests quickly getting the hang of lock work and basic steering. There was time for a pint in the Navigation at Wootton Wawen (Fuller’s London Pride) and a quick look at the aqueduct and to be amused by the antics of a wedding party which had arrived for a trip on the trip boat based there to find it wasn’t ready for them.

Weekending to the Braunston Gathering

Date: 17-19 and 24-26 June 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Braunston
Crew: Jim, Hugh and Hil
Friday, 17 June
I arrived at Lapworth by train at 12.25 and set off walking down the towpath to Lowsonford, before setting off back up the locks with Starcross. Hugh joined at Dick’s Lane, having been delayed en-route from Huddersfield by late trains. We had time for a diversion to the bottom of Knowle locks, where we tied up for the evening, prior to visiting the town’s three pubs of which “The Vaults” is by far the best for beer and atmosphere.
Saturday 18 June
Away by 09.00 and, with a brief pause back at Kingswood, continued to Rowington where we tied up on the embankment managing to lose a mooring stake in the process. The purpose of the stop was to allow a visit to the “Case is Altered” at Five Ways – a pub on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Unspoilt Pubs – and rightly so. It was about a 45 minute walk across the fields to the “Case” and well worth it for a couple of pints of excellent Hook Norton Mild. We were away again by 14.15, eating lunch on the move (the Case is too fine a pub to do food) and arrived at the top of Hatton by 15.45. There were no other boats around so we got stuck into the flight. It was by now a very hot afternoon and most locks were against us so towards the end we were struggling, particularly Hugh would was doing most of the lock work. We got to the bottom at 19.15 – Three and a half hours – and tied up at the junction with the Saltisford Arm. Hugh had to leave almost at once to get to Warwick Parkway for his train home, not even having time for a shower, let alone any food! I walked over to thre “Cape” for a huge meal and a few pints of “Twollocks” (a local brew which can be pronounced “two locks” or as one two-syllable word depending on your level of gentility). The bar was full of boaters, including a couple of loud South Africans who were telling some local lads that Britain was being ruined because we were “letting too many foreigners in”. To their credit, the local lads pointed out that “foreigners” included South Africans! I left, for a quieter pub.
Sunday 19 June
I was awake early, despite yesterdays exertions but didn’t get away until 8.45, by which time the day was already hot.  The Cape 2 were shared with a following boat and I was soon passing through Leamington where a sign on a factory read “10.19 / 29C” I had an uneventful run to Radford, tying up below the bottom lock and then catching the bus back to Leamington station.
Friday 24 June
Hil and I arrived at Radford by car about 13.00 to find the BW padlock on the gate guarding access to the parking area jammed, forcing us to leave the car on the roadside. We were away up the locks by 14.30 by which time the rain had stopped and the sun was out. At Bascote we met the “Onion Bahjee” crewed by two elderly gentlemen one with a bad back and the other with a heart condition. It was a good job they were only going to Shaprness!
We tied for the evening on the embankment near Long Itchington and Hil cycled back to Radford for the car.
Saturday 25 June
We were off by 09.15 and soon paired up with another boat up Stockton locks, reaching the top by 11.10. We paired up with a single-hander for Calcutt three and stopped at Wigrams Turn for lunch opposite the new, half-empty marina. Hil left after lunch and I continued along the Oxford Canal through Shuckborough and Flecknoe along one of my favourite bits of the network. Braunston was likely to be busy due to the Working Boat Gathering so I stopped about a mile short at Bridge 99. I decision that I found was justified when I walked into the village later on past a continuous string of moored boats. Shortly after stopping a “Willow Wren” 70ft-er came past reminding me of my early canal holidays in the 1970s (the crews don’t seem to have changed much either). Saturday evening was spent at the beer tent on the rally site and also in the pubs of Braunston!
Sunday 26 June
Sunday was spent at the Working Boat Gathering. This event is highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in working boats as it is probably the event with the largest number of such craft attending – around 60 in 2005.

Back from Braunston – the long way round

Date: 27th June – 3rd July 2005

Route: Braunston to Lowsonford via Fazeley and Birmingham
Crew: Jim, Kris, Bernard, Mark
Monday 27th June
Awoke to a glorious sunshine with early mist on the cut soon burnt off by the sun. Away, single-handed, by 8.25 via the Northern Oxford. Stopped, briefly, for coffee (well, I was single-handed) at Barlby – a bad move as I was promptly overtaken by three boats, putting me three boats further down the queue at Hilmorton where one of the paired locks at lock 5 was closed for repair. I had an interesting conversation with one boater who reckoned it would have been somehow more efficient to have closed all three right-hand locks! I also managed to upset the boater behind me by letting the Coventry Canal Society’s workboat “Panther” overtake me in the queue. They were on their way back from the Rally – so I judged them to be a “working boat” and therefore deserving of priority. The crew were also assisting everyone through the locks and generally speeding up the whole operation. I stopped for lunch and water at the bottom of the locks before carrying on to Brinklow to tie up. I had intended to stop to the south of the village but the line of moored boats appeared before I was ready for it and due to indecision over a number of gaps I ended up well to the north at Bridge 26, from where I walked the “Centenary Way” into the village. After a spectacular sunset I took another stroll, back along the towpath to Stretton and into the village again to visit the Raven for a few pints of Pedigree (the last of which was well “after time” (those were the days…..)
Tuesday 28th June
Hawkesbury Junction
Set off 9.00 to Hawkesbury Junction, where Bernard was due to come aboard. He, however, rang to say he had been delayed so we agreed to meet at Coventry Basin, allowing me to add the Coventry Arm to the itinerary. After a successful rendezvous – and a brief shopping trip – we left at 16.30 and carried on to Bridge 5 on the Ashby Canal, where we stopped at 19.00 due to a tremendous thunderstorm. The rain looked set in for the evening so we stayed where we were – not even venturing out to the pub!
Wednesday 29th June
Left Bridge 5 at 8.30 to go as far up the Ashby as we had time for. This turned out to be Market Bosworth, which we reached mid-afternoon. I was keen to revisit the “Red Lion” which in the 1970s was the only pub selling “Hosking’s” beers – brewed in Leicester. However it was closed so we settled for its neighbour – whose name I don’t recall. We left again at 16.15 and stopped for the night at Stoke Golding.
Thursday 30th June
We were away by 9.00, stopping for breakfast back at Bridge 5. The rain returned but it cleared up shortly after Marston Junction and remained so through Nuneaton to Atherstone, were we reached the top lock at 15.15. Slow locks, and boats in front meant that it was 16.30 before we tied up on the visitor moorings below lock 5, where Kris joined us for the evening. We investigated the pubs of Atherstone – if anyone knows of a good one I’d be pleased to hear about it in case I have to stop there again!
Friday 1st July
Kris and Bernard left in the morning and I was away, single-handed again, at 8.30 down the remaining six locks of the Atherstone flight and to Polewsorth, where Mark joined having come by train from Oxford. There are good moorings at both ends of the town and it seemed a pleasant enough place. We stopped at Bridge 68 for a visit to the Gate Inn (Marston’s) and then pushed on through deteriorating weather down Glascote Two and passed Fazeley Junction stopping at Kingsbury Water Park at 18.30, before an evening in the Dog & Doublet, which was very busy.
Saturday 2nd July
Away at 8.50 up the Curdworth locks which would be one of my favourite flights were it not for the incessant noise of the motorway. There were very few boats around, but a huge fishing match at Minworth stretching for miles along the cut delayed us.We were at Salford Junction by early afternoon then proceeded up the Saltley Cut and up Garrison locks reaching Brordesley Junction by 15.00.  Here I took out the folding bike to lock wheel up Camp Hill. We don’t always use the bike at locks but this flight isd laid out ideally for bike use and saves a lot of time for a small crew. We tied up for the night at Bridge 72 from where its a short walk into Knowle for the evening.
Sunday 3rd July
Away by 9.00 on a fine sunny morning. Swiftly down Knowle locks and reached Kingswood Junction at 11.30 where we were delayed by a pair of hotel boats reversing out of lock 21. They had been unable to wind at Dick’s Lane they said – but I’m still not sure why they wanted to!  Mark left at lock 27 to get his train from Lapworth and I carried on alone again to Lowsonford, reaching the mooring at 15.00.  After a trouble-free run it was annoying not to be able to find the boat keys and eventually Hil had to drive over from Hereford to pick me up as I would have missed the last train.

Visitors from Horsforth

Date: 23rd – 24th July 2006
Route: Lowsonford to Edstone and back
Crew: Hil, Jim, Jean and Geoff
Saturday 23rd July
Hilary’s parents, Jean and Geoff from Horsforth, came for their first trip on Starcross. Driving over from Hereford, we all arrived 10.55. We were away by 11.40 down the locks to Preston Bagot where we stopped for a late lunch. Carrying on after 14.00 we passed Wootton Wawen and took our visitors as far as the Edstone aqueduct where they left to book in at their B&B at Snitterfield. We winded the boat and then tied up near bridge 57 to await their return for an evening meal. Itbturned out to be a very pleasant and quiet mooring with not many boats about apart from the “hire boat rush” from Anglo-Welsh in the late afternoon.
Sunday 24th July
After a lie-in we were away at 10.00 as the rain set in. At Bearley Lock the crew of Anglo-Welsh’s day boat watched us through “to see how to do it”. We stopped for a coffee beak at Wootton Wawen and the gas promptly ran out.We also used the toilets at the Navigation, which are accessible without entering the bar, and again for lunch at Preston Bagot. This latter stop turned into a prolonged tidy-up and packing stop as the rain got worse. Eventually, however, we had to set off and followed another boat up to Lowsonford, arriving 16.00

To the Three Choirs Festival

Date: 5th – 7th August 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Stoke Prior
Crew: Jim, Duncan and Hil
Friday, 5th August
Duncan drove down from Oldham and we met at the Navigation in Stoke Prior, leaving his car there and returning to Lowsonford, via a pint in the Blue Bell in Henley-in-Arden.
Saturday 6th August
Away at 0800, stopping briefly for breakfast just before Kingswood. Carried on up the rest of the Lapworth flight and along the Northern Stratford, which was fairly quiet boatwise. Stopped for water at Yardley Wood, where Duncan discovered the large factory-style building visible from the cut is in fact Yardley Wood bus garage. Then continued via Wast Hill tunnel, meeting an oncoming hire boat about half way through (which was more than half way across the cut!). Hopwood moorings were very busy but there was just space before the bridge and, after tea, we repaired to the Hopwood House, where we managed to spend the whole evening drinking Banks’s Mild in the bar before noticing, two minutes before closing time, that a beer festival was being held in the car park!
Sunday, 7th August
Due to our failure to find the beer festival we were up and away by 08.00 and fit and ready for the descent of Tardebigge, which took us 3h 50m with a bit of help from Hil who joined us at Bridge 51 having cycled over from Hereford. We carried on down Stoke Flight and tied up on the visitor moorings at Stoke Works. We had to leave Starcross here for a week and I was a bit concerned that the moorings had a 48-hour limit. However, as the only two boats tied up there had been there a week previously when we reconnoitered the area I felt no one would be bothered, which as it turns out they weren’t.

Three Choirs Trip – Part 2

Date: 13th – 14th August 2005
Route: Stoke Works to Hanbury Wharf via Bilford
Crew: Jim, Hil, Ian and Sue
Saturday, 13th August
Part two of the trip to the Three Choirs Festival involved Ian and I taking his car to Stoke Works where we arrived about 11.00. We unloaded the car, had coffee, untied…and it started to rain. We went 200 metres down the cut….and the engine stopped! A quick check with the dipstick revealed that the diesel tank was almost empty. At the time I thought that perhaps some fuel had been stolen during the week Starcross spent at Stoke Works, but in retrospect it was probably the fact that narrow boats use so little fuel, and have such large tanks, that I’d got out of the habit of checking. Checking the fuel level depends on dipping the tank as Starcross, in common with most boats, has no fuel guage. A quick call to “River Canal Rescue” “Steve” who confirmed my diagnosis and took me off in his van with a loaned jerrycan to a nearby garage where I was able to buy some (fully-taxed) “road” diesel. For understandable reasons RCR staff are not allowed to carry “red” diesel anywhere in their vehicles. We eventually got away by 15.30 – it was still raining – and the delay meant that Hil and Sue changed their plans to meet us at Tibberton, coming instead to Hanbury Wharf where we ate – being entertained by a “New Boat Co” wide boat being craned into the cut as we did so. Hil and Sue then departed for their concernt at the festival, whilst Ian and I continued down to Tibberton. The evening was spent in the “Speed the Plough” (Banks’s), which seems to be the better of the village’s two pubs.
Sunday 14th August
After a leisurely breakfast we were away by 09.45 down the Offerton locks to Bilford to wind. On the way we met a “Starline” hire boat coming hell-for-leather up the cut with a massive breaking wave. We shouted at him to slow down, but were ignored. The winding hole at Bilford is little-used and quite narrow and hard to spot when coming from the north. At least, these are my excuses for having to have two goes at turning here! We went back to Tibberton for lunch, overtaking the Starline boat on the visitor moorings there, before carrying on back to Hanbury, where I had hoped to fill up with diesel, having obviously only put in a small amount of the fully-taxed stuff at Stoke. The chandlery there was, however, closed so we tied Starcross up opposite the long-term moorings just south of the wharf and left her there for another week, being disturbed as we did so by the Starline boat, still going flat out to a chorus of shouts from the long-term moorers – all of which were ignored or met with abuse from the steerer!

Back to Lowsonford

Date: 19th – 21st August 2005
Route: Hanbury Wharf to Lowsonford
Crew: Jim, Hil, Gwen and Martin
Friday 19th August
I got the train from Hereford to Droitwich, intending to walk out to Hanbury Wharf but was met at the station by Gwen and Martin who had driven down from Mirfield, arriving earlier than expected. Despite getting to Hanbury by early afternoon the chandlery there was still closed. As the need for diesel was now urgent I was reluctant to set off without any, but was advised that the proprietor might shortly return to open up, which eventually he did. The tank was promptly filled with 172 litres of fuel, which with a new gas bottle came to exactly £100. We then set off up the Worcester & Birminham to the top of the Astwood locks arriving just as it started to rain. After our meal we walked up to the canalside “Boat & Railway” noting that outside there were seven “Black Prince” hire boats all heading our way.
Saturday 20th August
Change-over day at the Black Prince base, Stoke Prior
Hil arrived from Hereford at 9.45 and then we did the “two-car shuffle” to get a vehicle to Lowsonford to await our arrival. This was completed by 11.30 and we were away by 12.00 up the Stoke flight, the six locks here taking us 63 minutes following a slower boat in front. We then stopped for lunch and tackled Tardebigge afterwards, entering the bottom lock at 14.00 and exiting the top at 17.30 after suffering some delays due to low pounds and slower boats. We stopped at the BW yard for water and showers (where I left the soap behind) and carried on to Alvechurch where we had difficulty in finding a mooring space, eventually having to continue on to the junction with the Crown Arm at the northern end of the town. We tied up at 19.30 and, after tea, walked back to bridge 61 and the “Crown Inn” for an excellent pint or two of “London Pride”. The mooring here is OK but the sound of the M42 is intrusive and continuous.
Sunday 21st August
We were up at 07.00 and away by 08.00, breakfasting on the move. Wast Hills tunnel took 35 minutes and we met only one boat – without incident. We turned on to the Stratford Canal at Kings Norton and carried on to Warings Green where we stopped for lunch. Lapworth top lock was reached by 15.00 where we found ourselves following two boats. The flight was busy in both directions and we lost quite a bit of time waiting for traffic.  We stopped at the link cut to the GU for a break around 17.30 and then set off for the rest of the trip down to Lowsonford. Hugh and Jeanette joined us for a few locks en-route by car from Bristol to Huddersfield but we had little time to stop and be sociable. The locks down to Lowsonford were as slow as ever and it took over two-and-a-half hours to do the 2 miles and 10 locks from Kingswood where we tied up at 20.35 after a twelve-and-a-half hour dayworth top lock was reached by 15.00 where we found ourselves following two boats. The flight was busy in both directions and we lost quite a bit of time waiting for traffic.  We stopped at the link cut to the GU for a break around 17.30 and then set off for the rest of the trip down to Lowsonford. Hugh and Jeanette joined us for a few locks en-route by car from Bristol to Huddersfield but we had little time to stop and be sociable. The locks down to Lowsonford were as slow as ever and it took over two-and-a-half hours to do the 2 miles and 10 locks from Kingswood where we tied up at 20.35 after a twelve-and-a-half hour day

Mum’s Birthday Treat

Date: 8th September 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Wootton Wawen and Back
Crew: Jim, Hil, Kathleen, Harry, Pat and Gareth
Sunday, 8th September
This was a special trip to celebrate my mother, Kathleen’s 80th birthday, with Mum and Dad, brother Gareth and his wife Pat. The party had lunch in the Fleur-de-Lys before setting off on a decorated “Starcross” for the afternoon trip to Wootton Wawen and back. Mum was excited as she’d never been on a narrowboat before and a good time was had by all.
A Fortnight on the Shroppie
Date 24th September- 9th October 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Bunbury and back
Crew: Jim and Hil (with visits from Bob and Mark)
Saturday, 24th September: Lowsonford to Lapworth
As this was the start of a fortnight’s trip, there was “no rush” and we arrived at Lowsonford at 13.30, had lunch and filled up the water tanks before setting off just before three o’clock and in front of a boat coming up from Preston Bagot. We had a good run, for once, to Kingswood Junction so decided to carry on up the flight to the top of the thick. I was amused at one lock to be berated by one a crew of Germans on a downhill hireboat for dropping the top paddles of our uphill lock (but leaving, of course, the gates open for him). He then rushed down to the lock we had just left and lifted the  paddles again until his boat was in the lock before dropping them!  Top marks for pointless exercise! Meanwhile, we tied up above lock 6 at 18.40.
Sunday, 25th September: Lowsonford to Birmingham
We didn’t get away until 9.50, being still in “no rush” mode and Hil decided to rearrange the bits of broken firebricks that we carry round inside our stove. When we did get away it was just in front of another boat. I don’t think they were pleased, but we were just as fast as them, through the remaining four locks of the flight and didn’t hold them up. We planned to call at the excellent village store at Earlswood for some bread, but it was closed. We stopped for lunch instead just before Shirley and then continued on to Birminhgham, tying up in the Oozells Street Loop at 17.20. We had a somewhat disappointing excursion by bus to Birmingham’s “Balti Triangle” before repairing to the Prince of Wales pub for a nightcap.
Monday 26th September: Birmingham to Autherley Junction
The morning was spent having a look round the city centre before setting off at 12 noon for a straightforward trip along the New Main Line. Wolverhampton Top Lock was reached at 16.35 after passing the curious 24-hour visitor moorings opposite Broad Street Basin which appear to have no access other than by boat. It took a bit longer than anticipated to get down the flight as we stopped to help a local lad who was having trouble with his bike gears, which appeared to be of very low quality, so didn’t get to Autherley until 19.45, tying up, in the dark, outside the sewage plant.
Tuesday 27th September: Autherley Junction to Brewood
We didn’t get away until 10.30 and spent a leisurely morning pottering along the lock-free stretch as far as Brewood where we stopped at 12.00. We spent the an hour or so looking around the village and shopping then after lunch went for a cycle ride to Chillingham Hall and Weston Park (about 20 miles). In the evening we tried out the new oil lamp I had bought, only to find that the glass base was cracked and the oil leaked out!
Wednesday 28th September: Brewood to Norbury Junction
Another lazy day, and we were not away until after 10.00 on a dull and windy day, threatening rain. We had a brief stop at Wheaton Aston for water and then a walk around the village, which we thought unexciting – although it seemed to have a good bus service, at least during the time we were there. We carried on, having lunch on the move and eventually tied up at Norbury Junction, in driving rain, by mid-afternoon. We spent the rest of day reading on board and later had a walk into Norbury village, about 2km distant, returning in the evening to light the first fire of the autumn.
Thursday, 29th October: Norbury Junction to Goldstone Wharf
In the morning we cycled over to Newport. It was a fine, sunny morning with lovely views and quiet roads. Hil’s bike developed a loose wheel, which we hoped to get fixed in Newport only to find that both the town’s bike shops had recently closed. We had a look round the town, which seemed quite interesting although food shopping had been taken over by two large supermarkets. We treated ourselves to a very expensive coffee in a cafe above the town’s delicatessen. A passer-by diagnosed Hil’s bike-wheel problem as a broken spindle and we limped back to Norbury for lunch.
We called at the Wharf for some coal and were pleased to meet the proprietor, Simon Jenkins, who greeted us with the words “Its a long time since I saw that boat!”  As far as we knew, Starcross had spent most of its existence on the canals south of Birmingham so we asked him why he thought he had seen it before. It turned out that Simon had helped to build Starcross at Aldridge Boat Builders in the early 1990s and even has some photos of her launch “somewhere”. We didn’t realise it at the time but this was a turning point in our ownership of the boat and would lead to us relocating our mooring to Norbury Junction in due course.
After picking up the coal, and saying goodbye to Simon, we carried on, without incident, on a lovely early-Autumn afternoon to Goldstone Wharf where we stopped for the night because I wanted to revisit the pub at nearby Cheswardine which I had last called at five years earlier when on a trip on Middlewich Narrowboats’ “Willow”. I remembered the pub, who’s name I can’t now recall as interesting and unspoilt. Five years on it wasn’t either, a big disappointment.
Friday 30th September: Goldstone Wharf to Audlem
We awoke to heavy rain, so didn’t set off until it had stopped, at about 10.30. The first call was at Market Drayton where we found a bike shop to fix the broken wheel on Hil’s bike. The mechanic obviously doesn’t get many opportunities to try his skills as he was keen to build her a new wheel, but this wasn’t really necessary and we didn’t have the time. The weather deteriorated again throughout the afternoon so we stopped at the top of Audlem locks at 18.00. Two hours later it was raining too hard for us to contemplate the walk down to the “Shroppie Fly” although by closing time it was a clear and starry night!
Saturday 1st October: Audlem to Calveley
We set off about 10.30 down the locks, stopping at Audlem village for a coffee, some shopping and a look around. That took us until lunch time so we treated ourselves to fish and chips in the village chippie. The Canal Shop at the wharf was closed for its own lunch when we got back so we set off northwards again around 13.15 along a fine, open stretch of canal with long-distance views. Nantwich was passed about 16.15 and we stopped for the night at Calveley, which I recognised as somewhere I had visited in the 1970s aboard “Seal” a converted wooden working-boat then temporarily in the charge of the Salford University Inland Waterways Society! The pub at Calveley has been tarted-up and renamed the “Goldmine” (the customers are now presumably referred to as “punters”). The only thing to be said for it is that it serves a decent pint of Lees Bitter.
Sunday 2nd October: At Calveley
We had a day off boating today, walking instead to Peckforton and Beeston Castles returning down the cut from Wharton Lock – about 12 miles.
Monday 3rd October: Calveley to Audlem
On the way back from yesterday’s walk we noticed a winding hole above Bunbury Locks not shown on Nicholson’s, so we turned there and began to head for home, intending to stop at some of the places we had missed on the way north. First of these was Nantwich – a fine, handsome town with some good food shops although the off-licences were a bit upmarket for us! Having spent the morning in town, we set off at 14.30 and joined the short queue (3 boats) for Hack Green locks. We stopped for the night at Audlem and this time managed the shorter walk to the “Shroppie Fly”, spending a pleasant evening listening to the folk music, which takes place there every Monday and usually includes some boaters amongst the participants.
Tuesday, 4th October: Audlem to Adderley
Another late start (but blame the Taylor’s Landlord this time) and after replenishing the water tank it was 10.45 before we started up the flight out of Audlem, which was quite busy. Stopped for lunch at the top and then set off again about 14.00. Adderley was our destination for the night, and we reached there within the hour, spending the rest of the afternoon on a cycle ride via Shavington Park (where Hil got a puncture) and Market Drayton. We spent a quiet night in on the boat, which turned into an early night as the batteries were almost flat due to the relative lack of recent progress. There was a concert on the radio from the Presteigne Festival, which is very near to our home, but we didn’t think much of the choice of music unfortunately.
Wednesday, 5th October: Adderley to High Offley
Our leisurely progress down the Shroppie was even more so today as we wanted to visit the Wednesday street-market at Market Drayton and also to spend the evening at the renowned “Anchor” pub at High Offley. Even so, we had – for us – an early start, before 09.00, through the morning mist, which soon lifted and turned into a fine, sunny day. We reached Market Drayton at 10.45 and took a walk into town to find the market. This definitely lived up to expectations, being a large street-market with a good variety of stalls. We bought veg, spares for our vacuum cleaner, cake, coffee, oatcakes (Staffordshire-style) but couldn’t find a rain hat for Hil.
We set off after lunch as the fourth boat in a four-boat convoy up Tyrley locks. Hil got off to walk through Woodseaves cutting  -which is just about possible given the state of the towpath. The boats ahead of us were proceeding quite slowly so it was not until 17.00 that we reached High Offley. We took a walk up the hill into the village and enjoyed the view from the churchyard, then after our meal we called in at the “Anchor”, which is one of the most-unspoilt (or should that be “least spoilt”) pubs on the system. There was an ideal mix of boaters and locals in the bar, where the steerer off a visiting hire-boat was being regaled with “tales of the cut” by other, longer serving, boaters.
Thursday 6th October:
High Offley to Brewood
One of the slower boats from yesterday’s convoy was also tied up at the “Anchor” so we made an early start to get away ahead. We stopped briefly at Norbury Junction for water and again above Wheaton Aston lock for lunch before a leisurely afternoon toddle down to Brewood on a fine, but Autumnal, afternoon, arriving about 16.00. We had a walk around the village and its environs and then went to the “Admiral Rodney” for a meal, which was very good, although the beer and “atmosphere” were somewhat lacking.
Friday 7th October: Brewood to Birmingham
We left Brewood at 09.00 and stopped for diesel at “Water Travel” at Autherley Junction, to find they had been taken over by “Napton Narrowboats” They still sold diesel however, so we took on 88 litres at 50p/litre. We started up the “21″ to Wolverhampton at 11.00 and got to the top at 13.40  -not bad two-handed, albeit with cycle assistance!
Wolverhampton Top Lock
Hil had to leave at Wolverhampton and whilst we were moored there we were warned by a local that it was not a good overnight stopping place and that we would be better on the non-towpath side. We told him we were going on to Brum and he seemed to think that was an even better plan! We usually treat such advice with a pinch of salt as, although well-intentioned, it is often based on outdated information and, had we not had to get to Birmingham anyway I would have been happy to stop.
Hil left to get her train and I set off along the New Main Line at 14.25 tying up back at the Oozells Street loop at 18.50, just as darkness fell, after an uneventful run. Mark was coming up from Oxford to join me here, but he took my description of “top of Farmer’s Bridge” as a mooring spot a bit too literally and, having been unable to find me or to get through to my mobile phone, almost gave up and went home. Once we had met up, we had a quick meal before a pub crawl of Birmingham, ending up in the excellent “Wellington” free house.
Saturday 8th October: Birmingham to Knowle
Bob came down from Sheffield to complete the weekend crew and had no difficulty in finding “Starcross”! We started down Farmers Bridge locks at 10.20. By 13.00 we were on the Ashted flight and the rain began, getting steadily worse throughout the afternoon. This led to a rather dull run through the grot to Tyseley and the less grotty, but boring, stretch through the outskirts of Solihull. We passed Catherine-de-Barnes (still raining) at 16.00 descended Knowle locks and then tied up, at the bottom at 18.00. It promptly stopped raining and we were treated to a wonderful sunset complete with rainbows.
In the evening we walked down to the “Herons Nest” at bridge 70 for an adequate meal, but found the pub rather boring so we walked back into Knowle village where we visited all three pubs, the best of which being without a doubt the “Vaults”.
Sunday, 9th October: Knowle to Lowsonford
We were away by 9.30 and got to Kingswood Junction an hour later. The passage down the southern half of the Lapworth flight was relatively quick due to meeting oncoming boats in all the right places – and having just managed to get ahead of one notoriously slow boat often to be seen on the Stratford Canal – which had better remain nameless. Lowsonford was reached at 12.30 and, the car having been left here, I ran Mark and Bob into Henley for their onward transport home before returning to tidy up and pack eventually leaving about 18.00 after a very enjoyable trip.

Stratford and Back

Date: 22 – 23 October 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Stratford upon Avon and back
Crew: Jim, Kris and Bernard
Saturday 22 October
In the 1970s when Kris and I were both at Salford University we used to hitch-hike to Stratford to visit the Memorial Theatre for a bit of culture. Since then, Kris had always wanted to tie up a narrowboat in Bancroft basin and this was to be her chance. We met at Lowsonford the previous evening and during a visit to the “Fleur de Lys” got chatting to some other local boaters, who reckoned that Stratford and back in two days was in some way “very hard work”!
Just in case it was, we were away by 8.00 on a fine Autumn morning, stopping two hours later at Wootton Wawen for a late breakfast. We often find, especially in summer, crews prefer to get away before breakfast and make some progress before stopping for a bite to eat (or even not stopping if time is pressing). We were making good progress down the Wilmcote flight until we caught up with a boatload of girl guides. Despite being mob-handed, and apparently knowing what they were doing, they were excrutiatingly slow through the locks and cuased significant delay.  We had a delay of our own at lock 54 where, due to a misunderstanding between Jim and Bernard over who was throwing what to whom a windlass ended up in the cut! This was the fist one to be lost in nearly a year of ownership and brought the tally to Lost: One windlass + one mooring spike; Found – One hammer (on an unoccupied stretch of towpath near Braunston). More excitement occurred at the railway bridge on the approach to town where A4 Pacific 60009 “Union of South Africa” was crossing on a steam special.
Despite the hold-ups, Stratford was reached at 15.50 and we were able to tie up on one of the pontoons in Bancroft Basin, with a bit of difficulty it must be admitted, until we got the hang of it.
Sunday 22nd October
On the assumption that the Guides would be returning north we planned to be away before them but were foiled as they got away at 8.00am whilst I was taking the opportunity to visit the excellent municipal “sanitary station” in the car park near Bancroft Basin.
There was little point in sitting behind them on the climb out from Stratford so we delayed our departure until 9.30, which meant that we didn’t catch them up until the top of Wilmcote locks. They stopped for lunch shortly afterwards and we were able to get past. The rest of the trip back to Lowsonford was uneventful until we arrived only to find another boat tied up on our mooring. The boat, which looked like a “liveaboard” or “continuous cruiser” from the amount of junk on the roof was unoccupied, but we were able to tie up in the space normally occupied by our neighbour “Lillian” which was fortunately away. The interloper’s occupants had not returned by the time I had to leave for home so I had no option but to leave Starcross in “Lillian’s” space and hope that I didn’t upset anyone. Before leaving I drained the domestic water system as it was now late October and we had no trips planned.

An Engineer Calls….and a trip to Hatton

Date: 24 -  27th November 2005
Route: Lowsonford – Hatton Top and return
Crew: Jim and Duncan
Thursday 24 November
In view of my general lack of mechanical knowledge one of the first things I did on buying Starcross was to join “River Canal Rescue” – a sort of AA/RAC of the waterways. One of the services they offer members is an annual engine inspection which, for a fee, can be combined with a service. This had been arranged for today so I drove over from Hereford to meet the RCR engineer “Steve” on site at 11.00. Steve arrived promptly and found not much wrong with the engine other than a slack fanbelt. He did his best to adjust it, but the relative positions of the engine block, alternator and woodwork surrounding the engine made it difficult. He recommended a smaller belt, but unfortunately didn’t have a suitable one in the van. Although I’m sure he is a competent engineer he did give some cause for concern when he kept the cold start button depressed for so long that blue smoke and then flames came shooting up out of the engine! He also advised us to fit a “new air filter”, which led us on a wild goose chase trying to track one down until narrowboat-expert Tony Brooks was able to inform us that the Perkins 4108 doesn’t have an air filter – just a metal dome covering the air intake, which admittedly was in need of a good clean-up!
Steve had finished the job by lunch time, so in the afternoon I took Starcross for a trip up towards the “Navigation” at Kingswood, stopping just short of lock 28 at dusk and walking the rest of the way. The previous day had seen the relaxation of the UKs draconian pub licensing laws, dating from World War I and, in theory, allowing pubs to open 24-hours a day. The mass media were predicting mayhem on the streets, so I was mildly put out to find that the Navigation closed at 23.00 as usual!
Friday, 25th November
Duncan was coming from Manchester to join me for the rest of the weekend and the plan was to tie up at Preston Bagot and walk into Henley-in-Arden for the evening. I set off at 10.00 after a long search for my phone – eventually it turned up in a cupboard it has never been in before or since! There was ice on the cut and I had some trouble turning in the winding hole above Dick’s Lane. I tied up there and cycled into Lapworth for some shopping.
Duncan rang at 12 and we agreed we would meet at Lowsonford, which we did at about 14.30. After an easy run down the locks we tied up at Preston Bagot below the bottom lock at 16.45. As planned, we walked into Henley for the evening. We were almost refused service in the White Swan as Duncan was wearing a high-visibility yellow coat – the first time I had come across this particular dress restriction. Our search for a legal post-23.00hrs pint was again frustrated as the Three Tuns shut, as usual, at 23.00hrs! Fortunately, Starcross comes equipped with a bottle of Scotch with which we made do.
Saturday, 26th November
We were up by 8.00 and away by 8.35. The ice had nearly all gone and it was a fine but overcast morning. We stopped just south of Lowsonford for breakfast and arrived at Kingswood Junction at 12.45. The weather had got colder but clearer and the forecast snow looked as if it might arrive (although it never did). We passed across Rowington embankment, through Shrewley tunnel, winded above Hatton and tied up at Hatton station at 15.10. We took a stroll back to the locks and had a look round before taking a train into Warwick for the evening. Even here, the last pub we were in closed at 23.00, but as the last train back was at 20 past it didn’t really matter.
Sunday, 27th November
We breakfasted before setting off this morning so were not away until about 10.00. Shortly after setting off we passed the first moving boat we had seen all weekend between Hatton and Rowington. We met the second, and last, at Kingswood, where we arrived at 11.45. After an uneventful run down to Lowsonford we arrived back at the moorings at 14.00. After Duncan had left I had to drain the domestic water (again) and clean up a little. I established that running the water pump, shower pump and vacuum cleaner simultaneously is more than enough to blow all the fuses and plunge the boat into darkness, which as I couldn’t find any spare fuses, was how it had to be left.

Christmas 2005

Date: 24th – 27th December 2005
Route: Lowsonford to Bearley & Back
Crew: Jim and Hil
Our second Christmas aboard Starcross didn’t involve much cruising, being just a leisurely potter down to Bearley. We arrived at Lowsonford about 11.00 on Christmas Eve, moved on to the water point for loading up – and re-filling the water tank. We fitted a new mattress to the bed, did a few other little jobs and then moved down one lock towards Yarningdale for the night.
On Christmas Day we were away by 10.00 and on down to Wootton Wawen on a fine winter’s morning. We called for a pint in the disappointingly quiet “Navigation Inn” there and then carried on to Draper’s Bridge, just south of Bearley aqueduct, which was to be our Christmas mooring. We just had time for a quick walk around the local footpaths before dark.
Boxing Day was spent on a long cross-country walk past Bearley, Edstone Hall, Wootton Wawen and Aston Cantlow. After dark we tried out my new telescope and star chart but it was a bit too cloudy to see much.
The following day we awoke to find the cut iced over. A northbound boat came through shortly afterwards and broke the ice and we set off about 10.00, just as it started to snow. We turned at the winding hole and then went up to Preston Bagot for lunch, by which time the snow had stopped. After lunch we proceeded up the seven locks back to Lowsonford arriving about 15.00, having seen only one other moving boat in four days.

Winter at Lowsonford

The remainder of the winter was spent on the mooring at Lowsonford. It wasn’t possible to go anywhere as the locks either side of the mooring were closed from early January until mid-March for maintenance. We made do with the occassional weekend visit to check everything was OK until the cut re-opened in March

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