Day-by Day:2007

Winter Weekend at Norbury Junction
Dates: 13th-14th January 2007
Route: At Norbury Junction
Crew: Hil and Jim
Saturday, 13th January
On arrival at Norbury we noticed that we had new neighbours. Chris and Bea on narrowboat “Poppy” having arrived from Market Drayton a couple of weeks ago. We had noticed our previous neighbours on nb “Eli Clarke” heading south as we returned from Brewood but didn’t realise they were leaving the moorings for good. Since arriving at Norbury Junction our visits to Starcross don’t seem to have coincided with any of our neighbours so it was good to actually meet and start to get to know someone.
Whilst out and about at Christmas, Starcross blew a coolant pipe necessitating a call-out from River Canal Rescue. As neither the engineer nor ourselves had any antifreeze the system had to be refilled with plain water. Obviously this was an unsatisfactory situation so at the first opportunity we were back aboard to try to put things right.
When the pipe broke it deposited a large amount of coolant into the bilges, so the first job was to bale and mop this out. Having done so, we were somewhat surprised to notice a continued slight ingress of water. We though at first that this was coming from one of the hoses that was perhaps not sufficiently tightened, but on closer inspection it appeared to be seeping from one of the bulkheads.
Putting that to one side for a moment, we proceeded to drain and refill as much of the system as we could by means of the drain plug. It was obvious that this wasn’t going to drain the whole system, but to do that appeared to involve disconnecting some pipes and hoses in very inaccessible places. In the meantime, a passing boater suggested that our water ingress might be the result of a leak in the  shower pump, so we were diverted to an investigation of that area. Fortunately everything here appeared sound, although we did find that a container of “blue” had fallen over and leaked into the cupboard under the sink!
Having refilled the water system we ran the engine and were pleased to find that the temperature gauge, which had ceased to work following the original failure, was now functioning again. The unexplained water ingress also appeared to have ceased so we called it a day and repaired to the Royal Oak in nearby Sutton for a meal and a couple of pints of the excellent local brew, “Shropshire Gold”.
Sunday 14th January
Sunday dawned clear and bright – and there had been a frost! – although not enough of one to worry about as far as the engine was concerned. The level in the header tank had dropped, so I topped it up again with coolant, but otherwise we decided to leave the engine alone and concentrate on the domestic side of things, taking advantage of the good weather to give the bedding an airing and generally tidy-up. Whilst doing this we met another of our neighbours on nb “Dorothy Goodbody” We had assumed that with a boat named thus they would have some connection with Hereford (its the name of a local beer) and indeed they do.

Reckoning Up

18 January 2007
In 2005, our first full year of ownership, we spent a total of 63 days (full or part-days) aboard, travelled 520.5 miles (838km) and negotiated no fewer than 777 locks!  Given that boat ownership was then a novelty and we were keen to spend as much time as possible aboard I wondered what the equivalent figures for 2006 would be, when perhaps the novelty would have worn off a little. We still both work full time and live 70 miles away from our mooring so it would be easy to find excuses not to visit and to use Starcross.
I was therefore pleased to see that in 2006 we spend 60 days (or part-days) aboard, travelled 514.5 miles (828km) and the fact that our locks tally was down to 378 reflects the difference between the relatively flat Shropshire Union and the heavily locked Stratford and Grand Union Canals.  Clearly the idea of spending as much time on the cut as possible has not yet lost its appeal!

At Norbury Junction

3rd February 2007
A narrowboat is one of the few things that you would spend your life savings on and then leave lying around in a waterlogged ditch 70 miles from where you live! Not surprisingly, therefore, I feel the need to visit Starcross as often as possible, even when I’ve no chance to actually go anywhere. Last Saturday was one of those occassions.
According to various Journey Planning software packages the quickest way from Hereford to Norbury Junction is via the M5 and M6 motorways, so for once I thought I would try this route. Its actaully 25 miles further than the non-motorway route and still takes “about 2 hours”, although it did make a change. There had been patches of fog on the way up but at Norbury Junction it was a beautiful clear, crisp winter’s day. Starcross’ water tank has been drained for the winter so I had to walk up to the water point to fill the container to get enough to see me through the day. This provided a perfect excuse to call in at the Junction Inn for a pint and to watch the activity at the boatyard opposite. Tasks to be undertaken on board were to run the engine and ensure that the header tank and pipes were as free of air as possible and to remake the beds, which had been stripped at the last visit to allow the condensation to clear. Somehow these tasks contrived to last most of the afternoon so by the time I had polished a few brasses and had a general tidy-up it was time to lock up and return to Hereford, this time via Newport and Ludlow, which turned out to be a quicker route.
Date: 10-11 February 2007I had great plans for this weekend – the first opportunity this year to take Starcross out and enjoy a weekend on the cut. As she’s currently facing north, I had the options of a trip up to Cheswardine and back, or of turning at Grub Street and reaching either Gnosall or even Brewood. However, it was not to be. Heavy snow in Herefordshire on the Thursday and, particularly, Friday had blocked roads and made travelling difficult. More importantly, it had disrupted Hilary’s plans for the weekend, meaning that I was no longer a “free agent” and the trip was cancelled.Its a shame, because I would have liked to see Norbury Junction in the snow. Its also a shame because I have a feeling that the accumulation of snow on Starcross’ roof will have found its way through the leak points in the rear cabin and at the chimney.

Two Trips to Grub Street

Date: 25th February 2007
Route: Norbury Junction – Grub Street and back (twice)
Crew: Jim
Mobile at last!  Starcross has been confined to her moorings since New Year’s Eve and I’ve been confined to base for the last three weekends, so it was a relief to get mobile again, even if it was only locally and then not without problems. We are planning a week away next week to the Staffs & Worcs and Trent & Mersey and as Starcross was left facing north after her last trip she had to be turned. She also needed refuelling, a new gas bottle and coal for the cabin stove and, as the threat of frost has receded for the time being, I felt it was safe to refill the domestic water tank, so these were the tasks for the day.
On my last visit I had noticed that the cold start on the engine didn’t seem to be working properly and I was quite prepared for it not to be functioning again. I was surprised therefore to find that as soon as I turned the power on at the battery blue smoke started to rise from the air filter intake, showing that the glow plugs were working. I was puzzled that this was happening without the ignition being on and, after a phone call to one of River Canal Rescue’sengineers, I disconnected the feed from the battery at the glow plug end, thus allowing me to start the engine and leave the power on for the rest of the day. Then it was up to the winding hole at Grub Street to turn -  a trip of about 1.5 miles each way – before carrying on down to the water point at Norbury Junction to fill up the tanks, and empty the toilet cassette. Then a short trip across the basin to Norbury Wharf to fill up with 140 litres of diesel (at 42p per lire, but for how much longer at that price?) and a few other odds and ends. The boatyard has an engineer who could look at the cold start, but he’s just gone on a week’s holiday! They’ll see what they can do next week but if they can’t fix it it looks as if we shall have to improvise during our next trip, connecting the lead to warm the engine, then disconnecting it for the rest of the day!
By now it was about 16.00h, and as Norbury Wharf is south of my mooring, having turned the boat to get back, I was now facing north again. Its just too far to reverse comfortably, especially with moored boats either side, but there was just enough daylight time to go back to Grub Street, wind and return to base, this time facing the right direction. It is great to have Starcross ready for her trip with full diesel and water tanks – and an empty toilet! The hot and cold running water is particularly welcome after a winter without it, although this year I have no doubt I could have got away with leaving the tank full, so mild has the weather been. I left Starcross just after 18.00 and as the peace of the dusk was shattered by one of the resident liveaboards opposite starting up his engine for one of its twice-daily two hour sessions!

Spring Trip to Great Haywood

Route: Norbury Junction to Great Haywood and back
Crew: Jim, Hil, Wendy and Michael
Saturday 3rd March: Norbury Junction to Brewood

The first long trip of the year. A leisurely week’s run to Great Haywood, the destination and route being effectively chosen for us by the winter stoppage programme which hasn’t quite ended and which effectively blocked most alternative routes. The run made even more leisurely  by the fact that a “week” for us is now nine days (Saturday to the Sunday of the following weekend) rather than the six-and-a-bit days we used to get for a “week’s” hire.
First call was at Norbury Wharf to see if they had fixed the problem of the cold start staying “on” whenever the power was. They had, but only to the extent that that had arranged for it to be permanently “off”! They promised to complete the job when we got back, so armed with a can of “Easy Start” for the cold mornings to come we set off in the sunshine to Wheaton Aston and Brewood, tying up opposite the permanent moorings to the north of the wharf as the visitor moorings are often full. Another reason for stopping here was to get a good view of the total eclipse of the moon, which we duly did although no photos unfortunately.

Wheaton Aston Bridge
Sunday, 4th March: Brewood to Penkridge
My long-lost cousin, Wendy, and her partner Michael were due to join us today for their first ever canal trip. They had apparently been looking forward to it for weeks but, really, they couldn’t have chosen a worse day. The weather forecast was awful and, sure enough, when they arrived at Brewood at 10.00 it started to rain and just got worse and worse for the rest of the day. We set off at 10.30, passed Autherley Junction at 12.10 and turned left onto the Staffs & Worcs. After a quick lunch stop just past the motorway bridge we reached Gailey Top at 15.35 and eventually tied up in Penkridge near the Cross Keys and 17.05 just in time to miss the two-hourly bus back to Brewood. They said that they’d enjoyed it, despite having hardly got out of the cabin all day and I hope that they did and that next time they come they see what the waterways look like when the sun is shining! Interestingly, despite the fact that it took over eight hours to travel from Brewood to Penkridge by boat, the return bus takes just 12 minutes!
Monday, 5th March: At Penkridge

Below Penkridge Lock
Needless to say, Monday morning was fine and dry! I couldn’t understand why I’d had a bad head last night and again this morning until I realised that we only have decaff coffee on board and after just two days I was suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms! I’ve had this problem before on holidays and now realise that once the body has adjusted, as it did later in the day, the problem solves itself so I just had to put up with it. More serious (slightly) was the fact that the securing catch on he rear cabin doors doesn’t seem to work anymore so we can’t secure the engine room from the outside world. Even so, after a hard day yesterday we opted for a day off boating and instead took the “easy” option of a 13 mile walk up onto Cannock Chase, where we were surprised to come across a German Military Cemetery where that country’s soldiers who died on British soil during the two world wars are now buried. We were back at the boat at 16.50 and, rather than just run the engine for an hour or so, we opted to move down to below Penkridge Lock and tie up there for a change.
Tuesday, 6th March:Penkridge to Tixall Wide
Another fine morning (sorry Wendy!) and time first of all to do the shopping in Penkridge. A bakery and a fruit and veg shop still survive but otherwise its a giant Co-Op or nothing in the village centre. And what is with the Co-Op that its new “National” dividend card doesn’t apply in places such as Penkridge, which is apparently part of something called the Midcounties Co-Op, despite being branded identically to every other co-op in the country!
Still, we were away by 10.30, following a couple taking an Alvechurch hireboat from Alvechurch to Anderton (and apparently being paid to do it too). We stopped at Midland Chandlers at Teddesley but they didn’t have most of what we wanted (don’t people realise that “fuse wire” is used for all sorts of things besides mending old-fashioned fuses?) They did, however, have a replacement glass for our Villager stove, which was just as well as ours got broken yesterday!. We had a long – and late – lunch at Lodgefield Bridge, overlooking Stafford Sewage Works – which was not as bad as it sounds – and during which I gave Starcross a much needed wash and polish (well, one side of her anyway). Away again by 16.00  to Tixall, tying up in the Wide at 17.00 at a site made even more dramatic by the fields opposite being flooded after Sunday’s rain and turning the towpath into a narrow ribbon of land in a huge expanse of water. Later that night we enjoyed the sight of the full moon rising over the water in a quite spectacular fashion, which the photograph hardly does justice to.

Moonrise at Tixall Wide
The flooded fields opposite were full of wild geese which kept us awake for a while, but otherwise it was such a wonderfully peaceful and scenic mooring that we opted to stay all next day as well.
Wednesday, 7th March: At Tixall Wide.

Tixall Wide
Another day off from boating. We walked into Great Haywood and visited the Post Office and then carried on over the ancient Essex Bridge and through the grounds of Shugborough Hall. Then up onto Cannock Chase and over the top to Seven Springs, returning to the boat via Little Haywood and the towpath of the Trent & Mersey Canal to Great Haywood, where we called in at the village shop and the large, newish, farm shop at the junction before returning to Tixall to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the peace and quiet on the mooring.
Thrusday 8th March: Tixall Wide to Penkridge
Our original plan was to travel down to Radford Bridge and spend part of the day in Stafford. However, after we had set off – and it was too late to turn and go back to the water point at Great Haywood, we realised that we were low on water. We decided therefore on a change of plan and carried on back to Penkridge, where we filled up the tank at the water point above Penkridge Lock, then tied up and went for an afternoon walk along a fairly uninspiring road-based section of the Staffordshire Way, returning via Whiston, where we called in at the “Swan” for an early evening pint of Holden’s Mild. In the evening we went to the Boat Inn for a meal, but I was not over excited with either the food or the ambience. To my mind I’m afraid it didn’t live up to Mike Lucas’ review in April’s Waterways World, which we read on our return home later in the week.

The Boat, Penkridge
Friday, 9th March: Penkridge to Gailey
Our postponed visit to Stafford took place today courtesy of the Arriva bus from Penkridge. I’ve been quite impressed by the modern, comfortable and punctual Arriva buses on the 481 between Gnosall and Stafford, but this was in a different league.The 10.18 did at least turn up on time – although as other passengers on the stop insisted it was very late, presumably the bus half-an-hour earlier had failed to run. The bus itself was an ancient “Dennis Dart” with 40 or so narrow seats shoehorned into space for 30. The only saving grace was that the ticket machine failed, so after cursing and hitting it for a minute or two the driver gave up and gave us all a free ride to Stafford.
We “did” the Town Trail, which does its best to make a nondescript Midlands town sound interesting (although the leaflet itself could do with being looked over by someone who knows about legibility and accessibility legislation) and visited the large indoor market, which has very few food shops due, no doubt, to the proximity of the numerous supermarkets on the ring road. Highlights of the trail were the two churches, particularly the 12th Century “St Chad’s” where we encountered a gentleman busy polishing the church brasses. (I could have given him a job on Starcross, but he seemed fully employed). All in all we came away with the impression that Stafford was probably a much more interesting place before the developers of the 1960s and 70s had got their hands on it. Returning on the 14.45 bus (only 9 minutes late) we had to pay £2 each due to a fully-functioning ticket machine. After a quick trip to the Co-Op we got back to the boat and set off about 16.00 for the short trip up to Gailey for the night.
Saturday 10th March: Gailey to Brewood
We were away at exactly 09.47 (I know because, for once, I remembered to look at my watch), and enjoyed a pleasant but uneventful run down the Staffs & Worcester, remembering to take photos of the bridges and other features to submit to Nick Atty’s “CanalplanAC” site. Autherley Junction was reached at 12.25, where we paused for lunch until 13.10 before continuing up the Shroppie, on a bright, clear but windy afternoon as far as Brewood, where we tied up on one of the last spaces on the visitor moorings at 15.00. After a walk around part of Belvide reservoir we had our “last night of the holiday” treat at “The Mess” in Brewood, which serves rather good, if a tad expensive, evening meals. Returning to the boat at the end of the evening we were amazed to notice a narrowboat on the moorings with curtains open to allow a view of the inhabitants sat watching a wide-screen telly! I believe such things use a lot of power, which presumably explains why the boat’s engine was running at 22.15 in contravention of all the rules. I wouldn’t dream of “naming and shaming” the protagonists, but I wasn’t “Over the Moon” at what I saw!
Sunday, 12th March: Brewood to Norbury Junction
On yet another bright, clear and cold morning we completed the trip home, leaving Brewood at 10.00, Wheaton Aston at 11.15 (where we paused for 10 minutes to assist an elderly single-hander through the lock, and were back at Norbury about 13.45. Hilary decided to re-seal the shower tray and paint the bathroom tiles during the journey (!) which meant it was quite late before we had packed and tidied up. There was just time to see Simon at Norbury Wharf to arrange for the electrical work to be completed before we headed for home.

Shock and Sadness at Norbury Junction

Route: Norbury Junction to Tyrley and back
Crew: Jim
Saturday, 31st March
Arrived at Norbury Junction off the bus from Newport to find an air of sadness hanging over the moorings. The previous Wednesday a couple of boaters, well-known to the local boating community, were discovered dead on their boat, which was now moored outside the Junction Inn and covered in a tarpaulin secured with police tape. Carbon Monoxide poisoning was suspected (and later confirmed) which should be a warning to us all.
By contrast, the day itself was bright, clear and far too inviting to just sit at the mooring. Norbury Wharf had been true to their word and had completed the repair on the cold start so, after paying the bill and polishing the brasses, it was off into the sunshine and, for the first time since October, heading north from Norbury. Having got clear of Grub Street cutting it became apparent that the cross winds on the open stretches, of which the Shroppie has plenty, were quite severe but no major problems ensued. Shebdon wharf was reached after an hour and Goldstone Wharf after another hour and twenty minutes so by 17.00hrs I had arrived at Tyrley.

Mooring above Tyrley Locks
There wouldn’t be time in the morning to come back up Tyrley locks so my intention was to wind here and then tie up for the night. The already limited visitor moorings at Tyrley have been further reduced by the seemingly permanent allocation of part of them to a permanent permit holder, leaving spaces for just two boats, which were both taken. Plan B was to go back through Woodseaves to Goldstone Wharf but the pub there is not really to my taste. Mooring away from official sites is not always easy on the Shroppie as the sides tend to be shallow and sometimes rocky. However, I was fortunate – and surprised – to be able to get close enough in just south of Bridge 59 above Tyrley, from where I could walk into Market Drayton for the evening.
Sunday 1st April
Another fine and sunny morning saw me away by 10.00. Quite a few boats about, as there were yesterday, including northbound hire boats from Norbury Junction and Countrywide at Brewood. With their almost fixed routes and predicable timings, as well as their common liveries and the fact that they carry (human) cargo for profit, hire boats are really the “commercial traffic” of the modern day cut! I had a quick mid-morning stop for coffee at the rural moorings just north of Knighton and also managed to exchange a few words with David and Jill on “Endeavour” at their Shebdon mooring before arriving home at Norbury Junction just before 14.00. There was just time to do a quick tidy up before walking on to Gnosall for the 481 bus to Telford and a train home. This was a new route for me and it seems to work better than the route via Birmingham, despite there being over an hour between trains at Shrewsbury. As it was I was back in Hereford at 19.10 and home by half-past.

First Brewood

Dates: 13th – 15th April 2007
Route: Norbury Junction to Brewood and back
Crew: Jim
Friday, 13th April 2007
I travelled up to Norbury Junction by train to Telford, Bus 481 to Newport and then, after a convenient break for shopping in one of the two supermarkets that now dominate the town’s food trade caught the 350 service bus to Norbury village. This was about the fourth time I’d used this particular service and I was interested to note that there were a total of three of us on board – a record! No doubt this service does fulfill a useful role somewhere, but it certainly isn’t between Newport and Norbury (Not that I’d want it taken off, of course – its very useful to me on the limited occasions I need it!)
By the time I’d walked down from the village it was about 16.45. The cabin cruiser on which two people had been asphyxiated a fortnight ago had been moved from outside the Junction Inn and an air of normality had returned. Normal too was the behaviour of the liveaboard opposite who ran his engine from 17.30 until well after 21.00 hrs, when he went to the pub.  I strolled over myself later on for a few pints of Marston’s “Old Empire” and to waste a quid on a ticket for the sweep for the Grand National on a 66-1 outsider.
Saturday 14th April
Starcross has a fairly upright profile as narrowboats go, and rides quite high in the water. She therefore suffers a fair amount of minor damage to the paintwork on the grabrails under bridges and in tunnels. Today’s first task was to rub these down and apply some undercoat. Some of the paintwork on the cabin roof has also deteriorated and this was also attended to. About 12,00hrs I moved down to the water point and topped up the tank before setting off, on a gloriously hot and sunny afternoon southbound towards Brewood. Just outside Gnosall I spotted the first brood (geddit?) of ducklings of 2007 being guarded by their proud mum. After a brief call at Gnosall village to pick up a paper and one or two bits and pieces I carried on through to Brewood, tying up for the night about 17.15 opposite the long-term moorings just north of the winding hole at Countrywide Cruisers’ base. That evening I ate outside in the well-deck for the first time this year before walking into the village to revisit the Admiral Rodney that Hil and I had called in at in 2005 to find that it had changed hands. There was a better choice of beer (5 real ales) but quality was only average. The beer was better at the Three Stirrups (Banks’s) although its an uninspiring pub otherwise and also at the Swan, which is probably the best of Brewood’s hostelries. The village shop was still open and I was able to buy a football paper. I don’t have much interest in football but I find it fascinating the way that newspapers manage to carry match results and reports so quickly after the end of play. Apparently football “pinks” and the like are dying out due to the reduced coverage of games they can offer now that matches are staggered over the whole weekend so I was pleased to see that the “Express & Star” of Wolverhampton still offered this service. It had been too warm to light a fire earlier – the first time since September that this had been the case – and it was still pleasantly warm inside when I got back.
Sunday 15th April
Despite last night’s excursion I was up and away by 08.40 and heading back north. At Wheaton Aston lock I passed “Stour” – an ex-Clayton’s working boat with a rather rough sounding engine (but an authentic-looking crew!). Another stop back at Gnosall – this time for coffee (but no sign of the ducklings). From Gnosall I was following a ”Challenger Stealth Hire” boat (and what’s “stealthy” about that?). He went far too far over to the non-towpath side to pass an oncoming boat and I saw him get well and truly stemmed up. He was still stuck when I drew level, but he turned down my offer of assistance as he was “just waiting for me to get clear so he could reverse off”. Nevertheless he was still stuck there when I looked back from Shelmore aqueduct several minutes later. I carried on back to Norbury Junction, where I managed the surprising feat of arriving back at the mooring simultaneously with our neighbour “Poppy” coming from the opposite direction. We couldn’t have done that if we’d tried. After lunch I walked back to Gnosall along the towpath for the 15.45 bus back to Telford Station which arrives 5 minutes before the Shrewsbury train, although there is then a 70 minute wait at Shrewsbury for the Hereford connection. This was running 15 minutes late and continued to do so so it was well after 19.30 when we got back to Hereford.

Taking Sunshine to Brinklow

Dates: 26th – 29th April 2007
Route: Loughborough to Brinklow (On NB Sunshine)
Crew: Bernard and Jim
Thursday, 26th April: Loughborough to Shardlow
Our friends Kristine and Bernard have a 30ft “Mindon” boat, built in 1976 which may be only just over half the size of Starcross but which has plenty of  character. In particular its air-cooled Lister SR2 diesel makes much better noises than my anonymous droning Perkins! “Sunshine”, however, has two problems: her name, which seems to compel gongoozlers and even other boaters to comment on the appropriateness of the name on cloudy or, conversely,  sunny days and the fact that it is in need of a complete repaint (which is itself an opportunity to eliminate the first problem!) Bernard had arranged to take her to Rose Narrowboats at Brinklow for painting and originally thinking that it would have to be a single-handed trip had planned a route from Barrow-on-Soar via the Trent & Mersey, Coventry and Oxford Canals rather than via the Leicester section and GU main line as the former contained fewer broad locks, which are more difficult when single-handed. In the event I was able to join him for most of the trip and boarded in Loughborough after a three-hour, three-train trip from Hereford on Thursday morning.
We set off from the junction with Loughborough Basin about 13:15 and headed off down the Soar in bright, warm, er…sunshine. Starcross spends all its time on the canals, so the river navigation was a bit of a novelty. I was steering when we left the (downstream) Soar for the (upstream) Trent and was unprepared for the sudden drop in forward momentum when we hit the flow of the latter. We arrived at Sawley locks to find one set of bottom gates open and a boat waiting outside the other set, which were closed. The waiting boater asked if we intended to go through the open lock and when we said we did, he joined us. Not having been through before, I didn’t realise that the locks were electrically operated and that a key was required and didn’t therefore think it strange that the lock had been left open in the first place.
The first few locks on the Trent & Mersey Canal are also broad and are quite fierce when filling so a fair amount of care was required when penning through. Shardlow was, however, reached without incident by 18.30 hrs. Shardlow is a fascinating former inland port where the old warehouses have been either redeveloped for other uses or left to gently moulder. We enjoyed an evening walk up and down the cut before investigating the village’s public houses, of which the “Malt Shovel” was my favourite.
Friday 27th April: Shardlow to Alrewas
We made an early start, leaving Shardlow at 07.45 on a cold but clear Spring morning. Since entering the Trent & Mersey Canal yesterday afternoon we had become aware of the large number of “Canaltime” timeshare boats in the area, and we continued to see them at regular intervals throughout the day. They are not very popular with the boating community apparently due to the allegedly low level of training given to their crews, although we didn’t let this stop us exchanging friendly greetings with them as we passed (whilst saving the jokes and comments until they were out of earshot!). At Burton on Trent the locks become narrow and seem like child’s play after those encountered lower down. We passed through the town mid-afternoon and continued south, stopping briefly at Barton Turns Marina to visit the chandlery just before they closed. With still quite a long way to go to Brinklow we continued for another couple of hours or so to tie up in Alrewas. It was somewhere on this stretch that we passed narrowboat Balmaha, who’s owners post a regular blog describing their trips and adventures with her.
Saturday 28th April: Alrewas to Atherstone
Today was quite a marathon of a trip – over eleven hours, with all the work coming at the end of the day! We were away from Alrewas before 08.00 but didn’t get very far as we managed to get the centre rope wrapped around the prop on leaving Alrewas lock!

Rope around the prop at Alrewas
Bernard, as the guilty party, was quickly down in the weed hatch with the bread knife – a reminder of the advice I have received always to eat ready-sliced bread when aboard a narrowboat! The situation recovered, we were away by 08.40 with a considerably shorter centre rope, although still adequate given Sunshine’s 30ft length. At Fradley Junction, which was just starting to get busy, we were approached by a boater asking for assistance in removing a tyre from his prop. We didn’t have time to stop – and it wasn’t as if he was stranded, given his location, but we were happy to give him a spare hacksaw blade in the hope that it would do the trick. Turning onto the Coventry Canal we soon found ourselves behind another boat which was reasonably fast on the straight, but slowed down at every bend, bridge or other obstacle. When their dog jumped off at one bridge and they had to get off themselves to rescue it they realised they were holding us up and soon pulled over to loose us by. Unfortunately, just as we were overtaking, an oncoming boat appeared as if from nowhere, but no damage was done. Passing Streethay Wharf, at about 10.30, we spotted the famous “Granny Buttons”, subject of Andrew Denny’s eponymous blog. “Granny” was one of the first boating blogs that I came across and it inspired to me to start my own on-line record of Starcross’ doings. There were a number of people on Granny’s roof, with a long pipe, presumably inserting or extracting something from one or other of her tanks so we left them to it, just waving as we went by. We reached Fazeley Junction about 13.00 and stopped on the visitor moorings for shopping and lunch. Setting off again at 14:30 we were soon at Glascote locks to find the bottom gates being shut in our face. A quick blast on the horn brought them open again and we sailed in, to find the crews of two downhill boats ready to help us through. One or both of the top paddles appeared to be partly-blocked and the lock was taking ages to fill. The top lock of the pair was easier and we were soon on our way through the suburbs of Tamworth. The long, lock-free stretch comes to an end at Atherstone bottom lock, which we reached at 17:45. The locks were in our favour, a boat having just come down, and so we started up the flight. We met no other boats until we reached lock 5, where we passed two downhill boats. The pound between 5 and 4 was low and we had a little trouble getting into lock 4 until we let some water down from the pound above. We were out of the top lock two hours after entering the bottom of the flight, which we were quite pleased with given the time lost waiting for the oncoming boats and the difficulty at number four.
Sunday 29th April: Atherstone to Brinklow.
This has to be one of the easiest journeys on the cut, with only the lock at Hawkesbury Junction and that having a rise of only a few inches! Consequently it was an uneventful run along the Coventry and North Oxford Canals after another early start at about 07.00. Bernard and I follow the same policy when meeting oncoming boats which is to move out of the centre line as much as is needed, when it is time to do so (and not to dive for the bank immediately another boats hoves into view as some boaters do). Most people behave equally courteously, but occasionally we come across a member of the “I’m staying in the middle and you can bloody well get out of my way” brigade, with interesting results. One such shaven-headed boater met us near Polesworth and was pretty-obviously miffed at the fact that he had to make a last minute course correction to avoid coming into contact. I was glad that our paths were diverging, even if at only eight miles per hour.

Ready for repainting at Brinklow
We reached Brinklow at 14.30, tying up on the visitor moorings in what seemed like the middle of the cut, given how shallow it is near the sides here. Unfortunately Rose Narrowboats are closed on Sunday afternoons, so Bernard wasn’t able to discuss the impending paint job with them – a pity really as they were due to start the day after next and Kris and Bernard haven’t told them what colour they want it yet! Kris had driven over from Leicester to meet us and so we went for a belated Sunday lunch in one of Brinklow’s pubs before they dropped me off in Coventry for a bus to Birmingham at the start of my journey back to Hereford.
The trip from Loughborough had been hard work and long hours and so reminded me of my boat-hiring days when we used to rush round “rings” in winter in several days less than the recommended time to make the best use of our limited time on the cut. These days we normally take a much more leisurely approach, but it was good to have had the chance of going “all-out” for a change.

Norbury Canal Festival

Dates: 5th – 6th May 2007
“Crew” Jim, Hil, Hugh and Jeanette
We missed last year’s festival as we moved “Starcross” to her new mooring at Norbury Juntion the week after the annual Canal Festival, which is held over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. We only became aware of the Festival’s existance when we moved to Norbury and so we determined to attend the 2007 event.
Living in rural Herefordshire, we are used to the small-scale nature of village events, and Norbury Canal Festival is in many ways Norbury-Village-Fete-With-Boats, but no less enjoyable for that. There was traditional entertainment in the form of brass bands, folk music, morris dancers and the like as well as less traditional belly dancing! There were bric-c-brac and tombola stalls in aid of local charities as well as some more waterways-orientated stands. The Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust plays a large part in organising the festival and I did intend to visit their display and perhaps sign up as a member. Unfortunately, their display was tucked away inside a large rather dark tent, the entrance to which always seemed to be obstructed by volunteers deep in conversation with each other whenever I passed by, so I never got around to it! There were about 20 visiting boats, including a few working boats, which added interest to the event.
Although we enjoyed  Saturday afternoon at the Festival there wasn’t enough to keep us interested for a second day so instead we went for a walk to the intriguingly-named “Guild of Monks” which I had spotted on the map and which turned out to be a rather straigtforward, albeit attractive, farmhouse. There were several references to the “Guild” in local building and road names and I just make an effort to find out more about them.
All-in-all the canal festival was interesting, although I don’t think we would have bothered had Starcross not already been moored at Norbury

A Night at the Anchor

Date: 1st – 3rd June 2007
Route: Norbury Junction to Shebdon Wharf and back
Crew: Jim
Friday, 1st June
With the use of the car for once, I drove up to Norbury Junction arriving about 18.45. As usual, at least three boats on the moorings were running their engines so, after a quick chat with our neighbours on “Poppy” who had just arrived back from getting their boat signwritten in Grub Street (!) I set off myself to find some peace and quiet there. I don’t generally object to boats running engines at moorings and, of course, I have to do so myself if we haven’t been moving, but there are one or two people who seem obsessed by the need to charge their batteries, even to the extent of ignoring the permitted hours (rant over!).
From Grub Street its an easy walk up to Woodseaves village, where the “Plough” served a decent pint of Thwaites, but was very quiet, whilst the “Cock” was quieter still – being closed, despite being in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. The cutting at Grub Street is reputedly haunted but the night was without incident and I slept soundly until woken by birdsong – rather than diesel engines – the following morning.
Saturday, 2nd June
I walked back up to the village for a paper and then set to washing the roof and one side of “Starcross” (I usually only do the towpath side of the boat!) then giving it the luxury of a wax polish before polishing the brasses and generally making her shipshape. By mid-morning it was too hot to carry on, so after a leisurely lunch I set off up the cut the short distance to High Offley, pulling up on the visitor moorings just past the “Anchor”. The afternoon was spent in leisurely fashion, the most strenuous activity being listening to The Derby on the radio.
After an early evening walk up to the vantage point of High Offley church, from where there are views over half of Shropshire, I returned for a meal and another stroll along the towpath, eventually ending up back at the Anchor. “The Anchor” is one of the last remaining unspolit pubs in the country, consisting of two small rooms and a bar where beer is served from a jug into your glass. Its a busy place and as there is no juke box, telly or other sort of canned entertainment conversation is the order of the day. Because its so small and busy you invariably end up sharing a table and talking to your fellow customers. I got chatting to a bloke who said that in his youth he had worked on the boats with the “Willow Wren” and “Birmingham & Midland” carrying companies. I found his chat very interesting at first, although it dawned on me later that I didn’t exactly learn anything new from him as I seemed to have read it all myself in various books. I even, uncharitably, at one point wondered if he had merely read the same books as I had! But perhaps that’s being unfair.
Sunday 3rd June
I seemed to have survived the 6X in the Anchor, so after a quick breakfast, I was soon up and away to Shebdon Wharf to wind and return to Norbury Junction, calling in at the boatyard to confirm that I wanted Starcross blacking and the propshaft checking later in the month. I also asked for a price for replacing the collar and flue on the Villager stove (the collar is cracked and lets in rain and the flue is just about worn through) but as the cost of the work on the prop will depend on what they find when they look at it we agreed to leave the stove work until later. It had been a month since I’d been on the boat and it will be another month before I can get back so I’m definitely suffering cut withdrawal symptoms at the moment.

No Boating for a Month!

14the June 2007
Part of the deal with Hilary when I bought “Starcross” was that we would not necessarily spend all our free time aboard, and would continue to pursue our other leisure interests, particularly camping and cycling. So, although we did have our main summer holiday afloat in 2005, we won’t be doing so most years. This year we are off cycling in the north of Scotland for two weeks starting on Saturday when we catch the train from King’s Cross to Inverness (£16 each) returning a fortnight later (when it will cost £23.50)  First Great Western, however, want £41 each for the much shorter journey between Hereford and London so they can stuff it, and we’ll be driving and leaving the car with Hil’s sister. Given that FGW (Forever Getting Worse) are currently chuffed that “only” one train in three on the Cotswold Line fails to arrive on time, we couldn’t really rely on them to get us to London for the Inverness train anyway. (The “cross-country” alternatives were out because Network Rail is digging up the track between Hereford and Shrewsbury – and “no bikes” on the replacement buses -  and to go via Birmingham means relying on Central Trains, about which the less said the better!)
While we are away, Norbury Wharf will be blacking the hull and checking our propshaft, which I’ve been advised has a bearing going. Depending on what they find, and what it costs, they may also be replacing the collar, flue and door bolts on our solid-fuel stove. It will be 8 July, at the earliest, before I can get back to “Starcross” again by which time I’ll be champing at the bit, even if only for a poddle down (or “up”) the Shroppie for a few miles.

Still Going Nowhere

5th July 2007
Having been away on a cycling tour of the far north of Scotland (where Inverness is a “big city down south”!) and where we managed to miss the worst of the bad weather back home, I was looking forward to a weekend afloat. While we were away, Norbury Wharf had blacked Starcross’ bottom and repainted her tunnel bands. They found nothing much wrong with the propshaft, which was a relief, but in attempting to fit a bracket to the exhaust (to stop the vibrations) they discovered I had the “wrong type of exhaust”! Apparently I have a fixed fitting to the engine and a flexible pipe, whereas it ought to be the other way around. The fitting on the engine end was knackered anyway, so they have replaced it and refitted the pipe as best they could, which they hope will cure the vibration problem.
Because there was no expensive work to do with the propshaft I authorised them to go ahead replacing the flue pipe and collar for the solid-fuel stove in the cabin and I’ve today found out that they are doing the work this week and can’t guarantee it’ll be finished by the weekend – so no boating again for me! Still, they have promised to have everything ready by next weekend and I’ll be glad that the work on the stove will have been done, even though it is – supposedly – summer.

Back on the Move Again

Date: 13th-15th July 2007
Route: Norbury Junction to Grub Street and High Onn
Crew: Jim
Friday, 13th July
Drove up to Norbury after work on Friday in heavy rain. I’d forgotten that the A49 was closed northbound between Leominster and Ludlow and had to take an unscheduled diversion via Tenbury Wells. I then tried to cut across country via Clee Hill to reach the Bridgnorth road but it turned out to be a slow and difficult route. “Starcross” was back on its mooring where Norbury Wharf had placed it, having “almost” finished the work I’d asked them to do. They have: Blacked the bottom, painted the tunnel bands, checked the prop shaft (no work necessary), replaced the exhaust fitting, fitted a new bearing on the rudder, fitted a new stove flue pipe and collar, provided new fixings for the glass window in the door of the stove and fixed a new mounting on the ceiling to cover over the heat damage caused before I bought her. All that is left to do is paint the collar and surrounding roof area, varnish the wooden ceiling mounting and black the pipe and stove. (Phew!) Oh yes…and give me a bill.  The hardest part of the job apparently was detaching the old flue pipe from the stove – it had been there so long . It was also so thin that there was a distinct possibility of setting fire to the ceiling had I continued to use it for much longer. As it was too late to go anywhere, and as the rain was still bucketing down, I just sat and enjoyed it all until it was time to walk over to the, strangely smoke-free, Junction Inn.
Saturday 14th July
Saturday was a rare fine, sunny day in the summer of 2007. I set off about 09.00 up to Grub Street to wind and then back to Norbury to call at the sanitary station to empty the toilet cassette and take on water then moving onto the visitor mooring to give Starcross” roof a wash and the brasses a much needed polish. With everything looking ship shape again I set off down the Shroppie as far as High Onn, before returning as far as Gnosall Wharf. The heavy rain in June has caused several trees to lean alarmingly over the Shelmore embankment, reducing it at several points to a narrow single-track cut, but despite it being mid-July there weren’t many boats about to make it a problem. From Gnosall I got an early evening bus into Stafford and tried out a few of the town’s pubs. It still seems odd not to find pubs full of cigarette smoke and I wonder what has happened to all the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of pub ashtrays! There used to be one on every bar table in the country.
Sunday, 15th July
I awoke to (or rather, was woken by) heavy rain on the roof and despite putting off departure for as long as possible eventually I had to set off back to Norbury Junction, thankfully choosing one of the periods of lighter rain. The engine certainly sounds a lot smoother without the vibration caused by the old exhaust fitting being shot and the tiller is easier to manoeuvre with the new bearing but there’s still one of those strange intermittent noises coming from somewhere….
It was still raining as I drove home and as the A49 is still open southbound it was a straightforward journey. Hopefully now that all the work has been done on “Starcross” I will be able to get a bit more boating in for the rest of the summer, with the next trip – To Birmingham and Stourbridge already booked in for the end of the month.

Looping the Loops on the BCN

Dates: 25th – 30th July 2007
Route: Norbury Junction – Wolverhampton – Birmingham – Tipton – Stourbridge – Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim and Martin
Wednesday, 25th July: Norbury Junction to Gnosall
Heading onto the BCN at the bottom of Wolverhampton Locks
Last weekend had seen serious flooding in the Severn Valley. Herefordshire was only marginally affected, but the railway line to Birminham was cut at Ledbury and by Wednesday replacement buses had still not been organised. My route to Norbury Junction was therefore decided for me and I took a fast Holyhead train to Shrewsbury which with a quick connection got me to Oakengates a few minutes before time and allowed me to make a theoretically impossible connection into a slightly late running bus to Newport. As I was now half-an-hour ahead of schedule there was time for lunch in the cafe near what passes for Newport Bus Station and a bit of shopping before getting the “351″, with its typical load of 3 passengers all of who were going to Norbury village. I was pleased to see that the boatyard had completed the painting work on the roof after installing the new flue and collar and, after unpacking, it was up to Grub Street to wind and down to Gnosall, where I had arranged to meet Martin as it is much more accessible by public transport than Norbury Junction.
Thursday, 26th July
This was a day off boating as I had arranged to meet Jeanette for a day out in Alderley Edge. Gnosall to Alderely Edge ought to be one of those journeys that are very difficult without a car, but with a half-hourly bus to Stafford and frequent trains and good connections at Crewe it can be accomplished in under 2 hours. I was back at Stafford station at 18.15 and Martin had arrived from Kendal ten minutes earlier. Normally we could have caught the 18.22 bus back to Gnosall from outside the station but buses were being diverted by a road closure and as we had to walk up to what laughingly passes for a bus station in Stafford – a couple of bus shelters in a lay-by on the ring road! In a town the size of Stafford!! – we didn’t get away until the 18.52 departure. The evening was completed by a walk over to the Boat Inn for a couple of pints of Marston’s Bitter and Pedigree.
Friday, 27th July: Gnosall to Birmingham
This was the real start of the trip! Gnosall to Birmingham is a full day at the best of times, with the prospect of being delayed at Autherley Junction and up the “21″ at Wolverhampton so we were away promptly at 07.20. The weather was almost like summer and the first two hours to Wheaton Aston were fine, warm and dry – although between there and Wolverhampton there were a few heavy showers. We were at Autherley Junction by 12.40, pausing to fill up on diesel and buy a new gas bottle and started off up the Wolverhampton locks at 13.00. These locks are some of my favourites  – easy to work, just the right distance apart and plenty in the way of interesting scenery to keep you amused on the way through. We saw very few other boats and were managing about 8 minutes per lock most of the way, reaching the top at 15.40. From there it was a quick blast down the New Main Line, with only the Tipton Factory “three” to slow us down and we reached Birmingham at 20.10 where we could just squeeze into one of the last remaining moorings on the Main Line.
Mooring at Sheepcote Street Bridge, Birmingham
Birmingham%20Moorings.jpgLater in the evening we took a walk down to Gas Street, as Martin hadn’t been there for many years, and then wandered along Broad Street – very lively on a Friday night – before calling in at the Prince of Wales (one of my favourite pubs from 1970s New Year Hire Boat Trips, although its changed a bit since), the Shakespeare and the Wellington all of which I can recommend.
Saturday 28th July: Birmingham to Merry Hill
When this trip was planned we intended to have a crew of three, but Hugh was forced to pull out at a late stage so with just the two of us available we decided to modify the route somewhat. The original intention had been to head down the Farmers Bridge and Aston Locks to Salford Junction, follow the full line of the Tame Valley Canal to Ocker Hill and ascend Ryder’s Green locks before heading through Netherton Tunnel. Instead we opted for a tour of the loops off the New Main Line – which themselves formed part of the original through route to the Black Country. Leaving at 09.30 we headed first around the Oozells Street Loop. In about 1973, we took a Willow Wren hire boat round here and collected what one crew member memorably described as “half a telephone exchange” round the prop, (For younger readers, telephones had wires in 1973!) Not much chance of that happening today with the extensive moorings and boatyard of Sherborne Street Wharf occupying the site. Soon after rejoining the Main Line we turned left onto the Icknield Port Loop, which at one time rejoiced in the name of the “Icknield Port Road Wharf Loop Line”. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the small community of moored boats – including some ex-working boats, that inhabits the far reaches of this loop. The line then makes an unannounced, from this direction, crossing of the New Main Line, along which it was fortunate that nothing was coming, as we couldn’t have seen it, or stopped in time and continues around the Soho Loop. I’m not one for insisting on covering every last yard of the system, so we passed the junction to Hockley Port and continued past Winson Green where I took a number of photos, including this one, before realising that it probably wasn’t a good idea to be lurking around the back of a high-security prison taking photographs of the wall!
Winson Green Prison, Soho Loop
Back onto the New Main Line for a mile or so to Smethwick Junction where we turned right onto the Old Main Line. We noticed that both towpaths were closed and fenced off, but thought nothing of it until we got to the bottom of Smethwick Locks where extensive works were taking place on and around Rolfe Bridge which meant Martin had to scramble from the boat onto the lock wing wall to get to the lock and work us through. At this stage he recalled having seen something about a stoppage notice so we weren’t really sure if we were supposed to be going through but carried on regardless  -as did the boat coming down that we met a few minutes later. There is another of the BCN’s “surprisingly rural” stretches on the summit level after the tunnel which lasts all the way to the M5 which straddles the cut the rest of the way to Oldbury. An inconsiderately positioned boat was taking up ALL the towpath moorings, which could probably accommodate three boats otherwise, at Whimsey Bridge but fortunately there was space on the pontoons opposite for us to take a lunch break.
The water was deep and clear all the way along the Old Main Line back to Tipton where we turned right and, for the second time this trip, descended Factory Locks, carrying on to Dudley Port Junction and the right turn which leads to Netherton Tunnel and the Dudley Canal. BW had considerately left two maintenance boats in the tunnel but as they had their hazard warning lights on it was obviously OK for them to be there. We hadn’t seen many boats on the move on the BCN but now we were on the Dudley Canal we were definitely the only one moving. In fact between exiting Netherton Tunnel on Satuday afternoon and reaching Stourton Junction 24-hours later we passed only two oncoming craft. I managed the 170 degree turn at Park Head Junction (but failed to impress the anglers sitting on the lock landing) and once through Blowers Green lock there was nothing to delay us until we arrived at Merry Hill at 18.00. I had been apprehensive about the moorings at Merry Hill as the fact that “secure” moorings are felt necessary always makes me feel, well…insecure! Having found out that there were plenty of “insecure” moorings also available I was happy to use them, although next time I shall choose the embankment overlooking Sainsbury’s rather than the “harbour” which is subject to loud noise for rather later at night than it was when my edition of Nicholson’s was compiled. It didn’t bother us too much though as we had ourselves enjoyed an evening in the “Bull and Bladder” (Batham’s brewery tap) and the “Rose & Crown”, a Holden’s pub we discovered more by luck than judgement in Brierley Hill.
Sunday 29th: Merry Hill to Wombourne
We were away by 08.30, the heavy overnight rain having faded away and were quickly down the Delph “nine” (actually 8 since one was done away with in 1858, but old habits die hard in the Black Country) and on to the Stourbridge Canal. The next locks, the Stourbridge “16″ are quite a bit slower to work and Martin, whose turn it was to do the lock work, was kept busy lock-wheeling and doubling back to get us through as efficiently as possible. Although the overall condition of all the canals on the route so far had been much better than I’d been expecting we did have some amusement at lock 13 removing a lorry tyre, complete with wheel, from the cut, being just able between us to lift it clear of the water. At some point Martin nipped off to do a bit of shopping and came back with a pint glass bottle of milk. As I say, old habits die hard in the Black Country. For the last few locks we had the assistance of a volunteer “hobbler” who told us he always carries his windlass in a bag as the police tend to think of it as an offensive weapon.
On the Stourbridge arm
We turned into the Stourbridge Arm and went down to the basin, before winding and tying up at the water point to refill the tank and grab a bite to eat. Having an audience at any manoeuvre is always guaranteed to produce a cock up, but even Martin doesn’t understand why he failed to make the easy turn back onto the Main Line at Wordsley Junction! Apart from that it was an uneventful run down to Stourton Junction and up the Staffs & Worcester, which wasn’t much busier than the Stourbridge or Dudley cuts, to Wombourne which we reached at 19.00. We ate out in the Waggon & Horses near bridge 43. Its a typical modernised family-friendly eating pub, but the food is good and the beer’s OK. However its not the sort of pub we’d choose to spend the night in; unfortunately our exploration only taught us that none of the other pubs in Wombourne are either, although thanks to an Irish folk band apparently playing for a private party in the “Mount Pleasant” near bridge 45 we had an enjoyable evening in the end.
Monday 30th July: Wombourne to Norbury Junction
A long run today – 22 miles and 11 locks so we were off early at 07.30 on another fine sunny morning. The Bratch locks open at 08.00 and we arrived shortly afterwards and were through them with the help of the friendly lockie by 08.35. There was only one other boat about, just in front of us, but these locks must be a bottleneck at busy times. At Dimmingsdale lock the top offside paddle was very stiff and I foolishly allowed my windlass to slip off the spindle, hitting my left leg just below the knee. “Oh Dear!”. There was just a trickle of blood at the time, but later it swelled up significantly and is still painful as I walk three days later. This was just about the worst boating accident I’ve suffered so far, so I suppose I’m doing quite well, really.
We stopped at Compton to buy some basic provisions and it took me a while to find the Spar shop. Its well advertised on the cut but quite hard to find, being tucked away in a car park behind a wall on one of the five possible roads from the bridge. This delayed us somewhat, as did a hire boat that pulled out from the “21″ at Aldersley. There were two boats waiting in front of us at Autherley and two coming the other way and none of them were particularly fast or efficient at negotiating the lock and junction. One “Challenger” hire boat even had to resort to a bow thruster to negotiate the left turn into the northbound Staffs & Worcester! Despite a fairly fast run back up the Shroppie it was nearly 18.00 before we reached Norbury Junction. Martin set off to walk back to Gnosall for the Stafford bus which would connect with his cheap pre-booked train back to Kendal but by the time I had finished tying up and tiding up it would have been a very long and frustrating journey back to Hereford via my planned route of Gnosall and Telford. Due to appallingly bad “connections” between buses and trains I wouldn’t have got home until after midnight. I therefore joined the real world for once and ordered a private hire car from Newport to take me to Shrewsbury station, where I had time for a pint and a curry before getting the train there.

Down to Diglis

9th August 2007
When I’m not on “Starcross” I’m usually to be found toiling away in an office block in Hereford. The fact that it used to belong to the Bulmer’s cider firm and that their factory is still next door is little compensation for the lack of a nearby canal or waterway. So when I got the chance to visit my opposite number in Worcestershire County Council for a meeting I jumped at it.
The section of that Council that deals with my speciality, public transport, has been located in a portacabin in a highways depot just off the M5, presumably to ensure that it is totally inaccessible by said mode of travel. Its easy to get to by car, of course, but fortunately it’s also easy to reach by cycling up the towpath of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal from the city centre. I therefore put my bike aboard the 12.50 from Hereford and  somewhat over the scheduled 40 minutes later, found myself cycling up from Foregate Street station past Lowesmoor and the locks at Gregory’s Mill and Bilford as far as the A449, from where is a short hop to the offices.
The towpath doubles as a Sustrans cycle route and a long distance walking path (!) so its in very good nick all the way from the city centre. It was a lovely summer’s afternoon and very very tempting to just keep going north for the rest of the day.
After the meeting I returned, in a rather more leisurely fashion, overhauling a succession of Viking Afloat hireboats on their way back to base and passing the occasional Black Prince boat coming the other way. We used to see a lot of boats from these two fleets when we moored at Lowsonford on the Southern Stratford, but they are less common on the Shroppie.
I couldn’t resist carrying on down to Diglis basin to check on the progress of the wholesale redevelopment work that’s going on there. First discovery was that you still can’t get down the towpath from Commandery lock, forcing me to take to the roads for the final leg. The southernmost basin, empty of boats, is now lined on two sides by new and as yet unoccupied buildings in the typical modern  ”docklands” style. Building work is still in progress around the northern basin which looks a bit of a mess at the moment. Last time I was here I enjoyed a walk alongside the River Severn to Diglis Dock and river lock, but that footpath is currently closed to allow more building works (of what I still refer to as “Yuppie flats”) so, after a brief look at the river I made my way to the “Anchor” pub which is one of the unsung “unspolit gems” of the waterways, although how long it can remain so given the surrounding redevelopment remains to be seen.
It all goes to show that you can enjoy the waterways perfectly well without a boat -and what’s more no one asks you to pay for the pleasure either (although as a boat owner and mooring renter I think I already paid!)

High Summer on the Shroppie

Date: 11th – 12th August 2007
Route: Norbury Junction to High Onn and Tyrley
Crew: Jim, Hil, Wendy and Michael
Saturday, August 11th
Wendy and Michael made their first visit to “Starcross” back in March and endured a day of terrible weather on a cruise from Brewood to Penkridge. At the time we invited to them to return when the weather was better – and this was the first opportunity. Hil and I drove up from Hereford on Saturday morning, detouring via Leintwardine to avoid the closure of the northbound A49 and following a picturesque route through North Herefordshire that didn’t really take much longer than the direct road.
We got to the boat about mid-day and were greeted by a nearby moorer who told us he read this blog. Gosh! I didn’t realise people actually read it – I must be more careful what I say – particularly about Norbury Junction! By the way, being British, we didn’t introduce ourselves so if you are reading this again stop and have a chat next time!
After lunch we took Starcross up to Grub Street to wind and then headed south along the Shroppie to High Onn on a very pleasant sunny afternoon (remarkable in itself for 2007) where we turned again and finally stopped at Cowley by bridge 31. We enjoyed an early evening walk along tracks and footpaths to the west of canal before returning to the boat for an evening meal enjoyed in the well deck on a perfect summer’s evening – the inevitable rain shower not coming until we were tucked up in bed, which was only shortly after a Countrywide Cruisers hire boat came past, presumably hoping to make Gnosall before dark – which they didn’t.
Whatever happened to the Veg Pledge? Starcross moored on the towpath at Cowley
Sunday 12th August
After breakfast we moved up to Gnosall ourselves to wait for Wendy and Michael who were driving from Chesterfield. They arrived at 10.30, half-an-later than planned because I had forgotten to tell them that the A518 Stafford-Gnosall road was closed and that the “official” diversion route involved a lengthy detour via Eccleshall. I thought for a moment that, as on their previous trip, it was going to start raining as soon as they arrived, but the weather changed again and we enjoyed a mostly warm and sunny day. The journey back through Norbury Junction was slow, following slower boats in front and it was after 13.00 by the time we reached the rural visitor moorings at bridge 47, north of Knighton, provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society and where we stopped for lunch.
In view of the late running we cut the lunch break short and set off towards Tyrley. We had a fall-back option of winding at Goldstone Wharf but I thought that our visitors would enjoy Woodseaves Cutting so we carried on to Tyrley Top Lock arriving at 15:45. I was just positioning myself to wind above the top lock when I realised that the 70fter that had emerged from the lock was actually towing a butty on a long-line, the butty being still rising in the lock. Not wishing to entangle my blades and his rope I had to hold station until the butty was out of the lock and the motor steerer had hauled in the line, drawing the his tow forward in the process. Then, despite the sizeable audience, the presence of obviously professional boaters and an oncoming hire boat I managed to execute a faultless winding manoeuvre (doesn’t usually happen in such circumstances) and set off back towards Norbury. Its not only at Cowley that there has been a noticeable lack of cuting back of vegetation. Just north of Goldstone Wharf the overhanging trees on the non-towpath side now nearly span the whole of the cut, seriously reducing visibility for steerers.
Overhanging trees near Goldstone Wharf
Hil volunteered to steer a lot of the way back and started off through Woodseaves, coping well with passing other boats in the narrows, at least until we met a hire boat that stopped and waited for us at a point where there really wasn’t enough deep water and we had to ask them to pull back to a point where we could pass. We weren’t held up anywhere else though and were back at Norbury about 18.45 in time to cook and eat a hurried meal before we had to pack up and take our visitors back to Gnosall for their car. I showed them on a map the way that the 481 bus to Stafford copes with the road closure on the A518 and hopefully saved them 20 minutes or so on their homeward journey before we set off back to Hereford, where we arrived about 23.00

Bank Holiday at the Bratch…and another breakdown!

Route: Norbury Junction – Bratch Locks and back to High Onn
Friday 24th August
The A49 northwards from Leominster had re-opened so it was a straightforward trip to Compton, on the Staffs & Worcs. where we had agreed to meet Ian and Sue, coming from Hull, and leave a car ready for Sunday, when they would have to leave us. They arrived on time and after finding a suitable place to leave their car we set off to the mooring at Norbury, although we knew we would, unfortunately, be too late to catch the performance by the Mikron Theatre at the pub. This was a shame, as I always enjoy their shows but don’t often find myself in the right place at the right time.
Chillington Bridge
The plan today was to carry on past Autherley Junction and on to the Staffs & Worcs where we were to go southwards to, perhaps, Dimmingsdale before returning to Compton where Ian and Sue would leave us.  We made Compton on the way down for about 13.30 and stopped just south of the, full, visitor moorings for lunch, once again eating outside the boat, although on the roof as the towpath here is too narrow and busy to set up tables and chairs. We had the afternoon free to explore before having to turn and come back for an overnight mooring. I had earlier considered that Bratch locks would be a suitable destination as Ian and Sue hadn’t seen them before and they are one of the features of the system. However, I was a bit worried about the possible queues and the potential for delay, given that we would have to pass down them in order to wind and then come back up. The plan, therefore was to wind at Dimmingsdale, below the lock. However, on the approach to that lock we passed two loaded working boats (“Starling” and another whose name I missed) carrying domestic fuel and at the lock itself a third, “Roach”  was waiting for us to go down in order to come up, all three having loaded at Awbridge. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy some coal for Starcross. Ian took Starcross out of the lock to allow “Roach” in , whilst I bought the coal. The plan was to take the coal off “Roach” when the lock was full and then reload it on to Starcross after Ian had winded her and come up the lock himself. Unfortunately, I neglected to tell Ian of this plan and he then missed the winding hole (which is not very conspicuous) and set off southwards. Quickly stowing the bags behind some trees at the lockside I set off after Starcross on foot, but by the time I had caught up Ian was taking her down the next lock and we decided to carry on to the Bratch after all!
As expected, we were delayed there having to wait for three uphill boats as the locks, which are almost but not quite a staircase, work on a “three-up, three-down” system at busy times controlled by the lock-keeper. This meant that it was an hour and three-quarters between arriving at the top lock and leaving it again – this time having checked the location of Bratch winding hole with the ‘keeper. Ian and Sue didn’t seem to mind the delay, despite having to get back to Hull, although it was after 21.00 by the time we had got back to Compton, tied up and eaten.
Monday 27th August
Today was intended to be a straightforward run back to base. We set off about 09.40 on a cooler and cloudier day than either of the two previous days and made good time to Autherley Junction where we were only delayed about 20 minutes despite having to wait for three other boats to negotiate the stop lock. After passing the M54 bridge I commented that the engine wasn’t sounding as sweet as it had been and there were one or two strange noises, which at the time I put down to running over something in one of the shallow single track sections on this stretch. Starcross also didn’t seem to be going as fast as it normally would for a given amount of revs and also the throttle lever was playing up. In the end this prompted us to stop and examine at Stretton Aquedect, where we found to our horror that of the four bolts that held the exhaust manifold to the block one two were loose and one was missing completely and the entire manifold was coming away from the block. Despite being members of River Canal Rescue we initially called out Norbury Wharf as they had recently worked on the exhaust system. Their engineer was able to tighten one of the loose bolts (which we couldn’t get  one of our spanners to) but found that the thread of the other loose one was stripped and in fact that it looked as if at some stage the bolt had been glued in place. He removed the bolt to try it where the missing bolt should be, but concluded that as it wouldn’t fit, it was likley that this bolt had broken off inside the block! Crucially he then neglected to replace the bolt in its original mounting! During this operation I noticed that there was rather more water in the drip tray underneath the engine than there had been, although I didn’t realise the significance of this at the time.
With the manifold now reasonably secure, and with a promise from Mick to have another look when we got back to base we set off homewards. Approaching Wheaton Aston however, smoke began to escape from the engine hole and it was obvious that the engine was overheating, leading to a very quick stop. This time we did take advantage of River Canal Rescue who sent out an engineer within about an hour. Having brought him up to date on what had happened so far he quickly established that our coolant was escaping through the mounting where the stripped bolt had been removed. Even I, as a complete drongo as far as engines are concerned could see that this was not right!!  Our engineer fitted a replacement bolt, although as the thread inside the mounting has obviously been stripped he could not get it tight enough to prevent all the water loss. We were, however, able to set off back to Norbury very slowly, running with the radiator filling cap off and topping up every time the level showed signs of dropping. By now it was 18.00 and we were concerned about how long it would take us to get home. We unashamadly pulled rank on a hire boat crew encountering their first ever lock at Wheaton Aston and asked to go through first, to which they agreed. Normally we would have been happy to stop and teach them the finer points of lock working but when they started asking things like “Do we let the water out now?” we realised we really didn’t have the time.
Progress along the Shroppie was slow – excruciatingly so in the case of the long straight stretches – but by High Onn it was obvious we wouldn’t make base by nightfall, and we still had a two-hour drive back to Hereford after that. Starcross was therefore tied up at High Onn wharf and a taxi called from Newport, although as this involved us having to wait 45 minutes for it to arrive we subsequently cancelled it when the barman at the Royal Oak in Church Eaton, where we had gone to wait, told us of a local proprietor who was available immediately and who got us back to Norbury just in time to get some food at the Junction Inn and we eventually got home just before midnight.
Starcross, therefore lies at High Onn until the weekend when I can get her back to base and start contemplating what to do about what at this stage appears to be a fairly major mechanical failure.

Slowly Back to Base

Dates: 31st August – 1st September 2007
Route: High Onn to Norbury Junction
Crew: Jim
Friday, 31st August
Following its breakdown last weekend, Starcross had to be left at High Onn Wharf as at our enforced slow pace with the overheating engine we wouldn’t have made it back to base until nearly midnight! As, unlike most waterway bloggers, I don’t actually live on board my boat and I have a full time job in Hereford life can get quite complicated at times like these.
With all available crew either ill or otherwise occupied I was faced this weekend with the unexpected task of getting Starcross back to base. High Onn was a perfectly safe place to have left a boat for a week but does have the major disadvantage of being cut off from Staffordshire’s public transport network. I therefore had to adopt a car + bike approach to the journey and drove up to High Onn after work on Friday night. The road that crosses the canal at High Onn wharf is very narrow and has no space to leave a car safely, so I left it in Church Eaton village, outside the pub, and cycled back to the wharf to cook and eat a meal and spend the rest of the evening baleing out water from the drip tray beneath the engine, removing well in excess of five litres
Saturday 1st September
On what turned out, thankfully, to be a fine and sunny morning I set off about 08.00 towards Gnosall as the first stage of a journey back to Norbury Junction. Due to the overheating, Starcross has to be run very slowly, with the coolant filler cap off to monitor the water situation and to allow frequent topping up. Those who know the long, straight stretches of the Shropshire Union Canal will appreciate the tedium of travelling at about 1 mph – tedium broken only by the fear of imminent engine seizure!
At Cowley I was surprised to pass two fellow bloggers’ boats “No Problem” and “Moore 2 Life”. A few weeks ago I had been able to advise Sue on “No Problem” of a signwriter at Grub Street (although I got his name wrong) and I was pleased to see that he had done the job. As at this stage I was still uncertain that I would make it back to base and so I didn’t stop to say “hello”.
At Norbury I tied up and after removing another five litres of water from below the engine, went to see Simon Jenkins of Norbury Wharf who had agreed to check Starcross over and see what could be done.  My current view is that what has occurred is an old fault that has been patched up by a previous owner and I either settle for a similar patch (which may fail at any time) or bite the bullet and incur some fairly expensive repair or even replacement work. In the meantime, this month’s proposed trip up the Macclesfield Canal is definitely “off”!

Not Looking Good

6th September 2007
The initial advice from Simon at Norbury Wharf is that any repair would be expensive, even if he could get the parts, and that I may wish to consider having a replacement engine fitted.Although not unexpected this is not exactly good news! The cost is significant – well into “four figures” – so I’ll have to take stock before coming to a decision. In any case, Norbury Wharf are unable to do the work until the end of October, so there are no cruising reports for the Autumn of 2007

Getting Closer

4th  December 2007

Starcross has a New Engine

7th December 2007
Starcross has been out of action since a breakdown on August Bank Holiday which was eventually found to necessitate the fitting of a new engine. This task seemed to be taking an age, although in fairness it did take me a month to consider my options before placing an order at Norbury Wharf Ltd to do the work.They have removed the Perkins 4.108, judged to be beyond economic repair and a fitted a new Isuzu 35, which is a modern engine of the type now routinely fitted to hire boat fleets. I’d heard from Norbury Wharf that all would be complete by the weekend so, taking advantage of the fact that I had to attend a meeting in Birmingham on Friday morning, I couldn’t wait to get to Starcross to try it out.First though, a “bloggers meeting” occurred! Alighting from the bus at Gnosall, for the walk along the towpath to Norbury Junction what would I see but “No Problemand with Sue and Vic on board too as well as their visitor, Ann, from narrowboat Moore2Life. We’ve been following each others blogs for some time, since I was able to tell Sue where she might get her signwriting done in Grub Street, but had never met as, of course, Starcross has been tied up without an engine all the time No Problem has been on the Shroppie. Sue has, however, been able to keep me updated about progress during her regular calls at Norbury Wharf. It was good to meet up at last, but I was, of course, keen to get to Norbury Wharf so after a quick chat I was away up the towpath to the yard where I met engine fitter Bill who showed me over the new engine, reminding me what a tight fit it had been getting it into the available space.
 The Isuzu is certainly quieter than the Perkins it replaced – about half the volume from inside the cabin. Also missing is the vibration that used to rattle the crockery, although that might have been due to the coupling which was well and truly worn out and has now been replaced by a Python Drive.  Unfortunately, by the time I had found all this out it was too dark to set off up the cut and the weather the following morning was atrocious – heavy rain and high winds – so I settled for a morning tidying up the cabin and doing a few jobs such as fitting a CO detector and just listening to my super new engine.
As usual, Norbury Wharf have done an excellent job and its money well spent (even though I haven’t actually had the bill yet!)  Thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in Starcross’ problems – she even got a mention in Pam Pickett’s “First Mate” column in  Narrowboatworld! - and I hope to see you all out and about on the cut in the near future!

On the Move Again

Dates 15 – 16 December 2007
Route: Norbury Junction to High Onn and back via Grub Street
Crew: Jim
Saturday 15th December
Despite the new engine having been fitted and ready last weekend, the weather was so atrocious – and the time available to me so short – that I didn’t actually take Starcross off the mooring. This weekend therefore was the first opportunity for a trip under Isuzu power!
As we were facing north, the first destination was the winding hole at Grub Street and I untied at exactly 13.06 to head up to turn there, passing under the well known local landmark of High Bridge, which is about a kilometre north of the moorings
I had been warned by Norbury Wharf that my propeller was slightly too large for the new engine but that it was only just outside the recommended range and “should be alright”. It seemed alright to me, and “Starcross” glided along sweetly and smoothly. I used the first opportunity possible to test her stopping power as well and was impressed as a blast in reverse brought her smartly to a stop, with of course the usual complete loss of control over steering that reverse brings on a boat. It was then back through the linear moorings (permanent and visitor) at Norbury Junction where I found that the “minimum speed” (i.e. the speed achieved by just putting the engine into forward gear) was slightly faster than with the old engine, which will take some getting used to. Once clear of the moorings I had another opportunity on Shelmore embankment to test the power of the engine, but soon had to throttle back as the levels were down and I soon had a breaking wave. I settled back therefore for a quiet trip towards Gnosall on a very grey, cold and bleak December day typical of winter boating on the Shroppie.
I got to Gnosall at 14.50 where I tied up on the nearest visitor mooring to the water point whilst I let the engine run and emptied the water tank of the stuff that had been in there since last August, before refilling with a fresh supply. In the meantime I busied myself with giving the cabin sides and roof a wash down, by which time it was too dark to go on.
After tea, I caught a 481 bus into Newport and visited a few pubs in what is a surprisingly good town for ordinary “drinking” pubs!

Sunday 16th December
Sunday was a bit brighter, but just as cold and I was glad that the stove had managed to stay alight overnight to keep the chill out of the cabin. After breakfast I set off at 10.15 down to High Onn where I again winded and returned to Gnosall, not having passed another moving boat. Here I tied up again and set to with rags and polish to restore the brasses to something approaching respectability before an early lunch. I was back at Norbury junction early afternoon by which time the sun had come out and after calling at the sanitary station to empty the toilet cassette, I moved across to Norbury Wharf to fill up with diesel and thereby acquired the narrowboater’s “holy trinity” of full water and diesel tanks and an empty toilet! Whilst at the wharf I obtained my bill for the new engine which was greater than the initial estimate, but lower than my own prediction, so for once everyone was happy (or at least Simon will be when I’ve paid it!).

North to Nantwich

Dates: 26th December 2007 – 1st January 2008
Route: Norbury Junction – Barbridge Junction and back
Crew: Jim and Hil
Wednesday 26th December: Norbury Junction to Knighton
Having tested the engine with a short local run it was now time to put it through its paces on a longer excursion. The last twice that Hilary had headed south from Norbury Jucntion we had experienced problems so north it was! We arrived at the boat just before lunchtime and set off shortly afterwards with very few formalities. It was a grey mid- winter day and, of course, dark quite early so we were happy to tie up at the visitor moorings next to Bridge 47 at Knighton. That evening we took a walk through the lanes to the village pub – the Haberdashers Arms. I knew of the Anchor at High Offley of course, put I was surprised to find that the “Haberdashers” was another almost equally unspoilt pub (marred only by the presence of a television set, itself increasingly rare these days). What is it about this part of the world that is conducive to the survival of “proper” pubs?
Wednesday, 27th December: Knighton to Cox’s Bank
Another grey and cold December day saw us heading north again, past Goldstone Wharf and through Woodseaves cutting – one of the Shroppie’s famous landmarks. It was dark and gloomy in the cutting and right in the middle some quirk in the micro-climate was producing this ghostly layer of mist on the water.
We had the Tyrley flight to ourselves and stopped in Market Drayton to stock up on a few essentials. Some boaters are dismissive of the town, perhaps because Stafford Street, the main approach road from the cut, is one of the more run-down streets but I rather like it. Its at its best on Wednesdays, when the town centre is taken over by a huge street market, but even on other days it has a good range of shops including a branch of Williams of Wem,  high-class grocers and a source of excellent cheese, meat, fish, bread and general foods.
After completing our shopping and grabbing a bite to eat we were back on the move, down Adderley locks and continuing down the first two locks of the Audlem flight to a mooring at Cox’s Bank, from where we could walk down the remainder of the flight and into the village for an excellent meal at the Lord Combermere, to my mind the best of Audlem’s three pubs.
Friday 28th December: Cox’s Bank to Nantwich
Those of you who know the Shropshire Union Canal will realise that our progress was leisurely to say the least and today was no exception. We took a couple of hours over the next 10 locks and then tied up outside a deserted
“Shroppie Fly” pub to take on water and sort out the toilet cassette. The “Shroppie Fly” is perhaps the best known of the village’s three pubs but its my least favourite. I wasn’t too impressed with the food the only time I’ve eaten there and the cask beer range is unimaginative and kept far too cold – chilled to the sort of temperatures needed to disguise the fact that lager is tasteless. Its very popular though and most unusual to see it so quiet. To my mind the Lord Combermere is best for food and beer, whilst the Bridge Inn is the most “pub-like” (although we did note that it appears to be closed at the moment).
We pressed on down the remaining three locks before stopping on the lock landing for lunch. I know you shouldn’t, but its big enough for two boats and anyway there is a bridge hole below the lock which boats can use as well. Nevertheless I was glad we got away just before unconverted working-boat “Otley” appeared!  At Hack Green locks I was surprised to see a sign announcing the existing of a dredging programme. It was reminiscent of the signs you see on main roads and motorways boasting of “improvements” and i didn’t expect to see them on the cut. Signs like these cost more than you would imagine and i think most boaters would prefer to see a few extra metres of cut being dredged for the money, thank you very much. Needless to say, there was no actual dredging being done and we passed the dredger tied up a little way below then locks. By now then weather had deteriorated and rain had set in so we were happy to tie up on the first available spot on Nantwich embankment for the night.
Saturday 29th December: Nantwich to Barbridge Junction and return
Today dawned bright and clear: the best morning of the week. Naturally therefore we stopped boating and started shopping. the likes of Tossco and Stainsbury’s have never been invited to make an internet-ordered delivery to “Starcross” and they never will, so we were off to town to visit the market, where we bought bread, cheese, vegetables and a few other bits and pieces before looking round the town. Its a well-to-do place and no doubt about it. At one stage we found ourselves looking in a jewellers window at the watches – priced in five figures (and NO decimal point)! A J Welch on Hospital Street is another shop that looks nothing from the outside, but enter and you find yourself in a long corridor – no tills – no counters – full of luxury food items which leads to what can only be described as a combined museum and coffee shop! Well worth the visit. Nantwich, however, suffers from the supermarkets who are doing their best to kill it off so there’s actually nowhere to buy a pint of milk or a tin of beans in the town centre.
After a morning’s shopping – and a visit to the excellent town museum, we returned to the boat. Today was “turn round day” as we needed to start our return journey and as we also needed to run the engine for an hour or two we decided to head up to Barbridge Junction to wind. As soon as we set off it started to rain and the wind got up. Coming past the visitor moorings on the embankment north of the aqueduct I was blown sideways into the line of moored boats – no damage done and no complaints – but embarrassing nevertheless. As we approached Henhull the wind speed increased and I slowed to take a photo of a sunken boat.
As we approached this narrowboat we were hailed by the steerer, by now on the bank with a front rope. He had been trying to tie up for twenty minutes but his, less experienced, crew member at the tiller couldn’t manage to get the back end in. We obliged by nudging – barging? – his stern with our bow and, after a couple of attempts – and putting Hil on the bank so that the steerer could regain his tiller- we managed to get him tied up again.
Even that was not the end of the excitement. At Hurleston Junction there was a boat stuck in the bottom lock together with a queue waiting to follow. “Is he stuck” I asked one steerer. “Well and Truly” was the reply (with feeling!).  By now I was beginning to wonder if I’d manage the winding manoeuvre at Barbridge in what had become a gale. I decided that speed was the best approach and fortunately I took a wide angle as no sooner did I begin to turn than the bow of an approaching boat appeared from under the bridge. Neither of us had bothered to sound our horns, each believing that no one else would be mad enough to be out in that weather! We both took avoiding action and there was no collision. They tied up at Barbridge and we continued back to Nantwich. There were still some other boats about and we passed what appeared to be a sizeable proportion of the Challenger shared ownership and hire fleets either at Barbridge or approaching from the south. The boat was still stuck at Hurleston and all concerned appeared to have given up and  gone home (or at least inside). We didn’t stop to investigate as by now there were “white horses” and a noticeable swell running. We were, I must admit, glad to be back at Nantwich, surviving yet another near disaster meeting an oncoming boat at a blind bridge in the dark.
That evening we had planned a pub crawl of the town, but got no further than our first port of call the “Black Lion” on Welsh Row where the beer, atmosphere and entertainment were so good we stopped and it took us until closing time to recover from the afternoon’s adventures! Honest.
Sunday, 30th December: Nantwich to Adderley
Sunday morning and the weather had returned to normal after yesterday’s excesses! We untied at about 10.30 and headed slowly back towards Norbury Junction. There was still no dredging underway at Hack Green, unsurprisingly as it was Sunday, but we did pass the disposal site which did at least show that quite a bit of stuff had been removed from the canal. I took this photo to try and show the disposal site, but its more noteworthy for the lighting effect in the sky, I think.
Whilst shopping in Nantwich on Saturday we met a fellow boater who told us that she owned, and had been living on, “Willow”, one of “Willow Wren”‘s original fleet on hire boats that were converted from working craft at the end of commercial carrying. As Hil and I had both been part of a large group of friends that used to hire regularly from that company in the early 1970s we were sure that one, at least, of us would have enjoyed a new Year holiday on this boat and we were surprised to learn that it was now kept at Audlem and therefore we would have passed it earlier in the week. We resolved to look out for it on the way back and lo and behold! there it was, on the moorings below lock 12.
Looking at it again, it has the unmistakable profile of one of the company’s hire boats of that era. This means that together with “Oak”, which is normally to be found at Henhull and “Sycamore” which we have come across more than once on the south Midlands canals, there are at least three ex-Willow Wren boats from the 1970s still active on the cut. We got to the bottom of Adderley locks at about 15.45 and tied up there for the night in what is a wonderfully quiet and peaceful location with only the noise from the lock bywash in the distance to disturb the silence.
Monday, 31st December: Adderley to Knighton
We timed our departure from Adderley perfectly, with no southbound boat having overtaken us and a northbound one just leaving the bottom lock as we approached. The flight was therefore all in our favour. Back at Market Drayton we stopped for lunch and for a visit to the elsan disposal where I succeeded in losing the filler cap off the Thetford porta-potti down the pan! So, if Market Drayton elsan disposal is out of action at the moment……..(Sorry!) Fortunately, we have a spare cassette and therefore a spare cap so its not a problem (to us!) We spent rather longer shopping in the town that planned and were held up going up Tyrley by a slow hire boat from Norbury Wharf that was having difficulty with the fierce bywashes on this flight. They also managed to run aground in Woodeasves cutting, holding us up again, so it was nearly dark by the time we got to Goldstone Wharf and night had fallen by the time we tied up at Knighton after 17.00hrs. We had thought that we might have enjoyed a walk up to the Haberdashers Arms, as on  Boxing Day, but in the event it was so warm and cosy on Starcross that we stayed aboard, venturing out only just before midnight for a few last breaths of 2007 air. Even at such a remote location as Knighton there were still a few fireworks at midnight, so we didn’t miss out on the celebrations altogether!
Tuesday, 1st January 2008: Knighton to Norbury Junction
A quiet morning run down to Norbury Junction saw us arriving back at the mooring at 12.00. We took the opportunity to empty the water tank on the way as cold weather has been forecast. Back at base we greeted our “neighbours” on “Poppy” and “August” who were enjoying a few days on board before leaving at 14.00 to drive back to Hereford – a journey enlivened only by my taking a wrong turn at Shifnal leading to an unscheduled diversion almost to Wolverhampton!
The counter on the new engine now reads 42.2 hours which, allowing for the eight hours testing by Norbury Wharf after installation means we have enjoyed 34 hours cruising – it’ll soon be time for its first, post-installation, service

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