Saturday, 13 July 2019

An easier day - but "oh dear!"

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

The big push to be at Alvecote last evening had put us in a good position for a somewhat more leisurely journey on to the Stretton arm of the Oxford canal, where we have arranged to have small amounts of steelwork done on Flamingo by Brinklow Boat Services. In fact this should have happened about 5 weeks ago, but getting locked in on the Rochdale canal had scuppered that plan - fortunately Brinklow could still accommodate us at this later date.

Now we had two relatively short days to get to Stretton, and an obvious half way stop is near Springwood Haven, where there are good deep moorings, and excellent walks for the dogs.

Today would be the day with most of the locks - the eleven lock flight at Atherstone, a good well maintained flight, though the locks are notoriously slow to fill.

Unfortunately as I tried to hand Cath the camera we normally use for the majority of the blog photos, my hand caught on the strap as I thought I had handed it over, and yanked it from her hand, after which it skidded across the lock-side, and disappeared into the cut just above the top gates of the second lock up at Atherstone. They don't half sink quickly!

Cath though it couldn't posibly retrieved, but David had a go with our big magnet. I wasn't sure there would be anything magnetic, but apparently it found something, (maybe the clip on the case), and came briefly to the surface, only to fall off and sink again before it could be grabbed.

There was steady traffic up and down the locks, so I had to move the boat on up the flight, but after a long wait David did eventually appear with the camera - once set a challenge he likes to succeed!

Approaching the top of Atherstone, (taken on the "other" camera!).
Now we knew you can resuscitate mobile phones by drying out in tubs of rice, so we have tried the same with the camera. Unfortunately unlike phones zoom cameras contain motors, gears, many moving parts, not to mention lenses, diaphragms and sensors.  So far the camera is refusing to play ball, and the lens remains fully extended and any attempt to use it results in a"lens error". There is visibly water inside the lens, and also between parts of the LCD screen on the camera back.  There may also be rice grains embedded in the mechanism that should work the lens! I have not completely given up hope, but I am certainly not optimistic of a good outcome. This sadly was not a cheap camera - we do have another with us, but it is less suitable for blog photos, and there will probably be a lot less photos posted for a while.

We did get easily to Springwood Haven, and the dogs got a good walk, but I think it will have been an expensive day, unfortunately.

Samuel Barlow, Alvecote to Springwood Haven

Miles 10.8, Locks:11
Total Miles 323.3, Total Locks: 345

Friday, 12 July 2019

The most miles in a day so far.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Wood End Lock, Trent & Mersey Canal
A couple of days ago, when I tried to look at a revised plan of where we might aim to spend each night, I realised that with a couple of long days we might get to  Alvecote Marina, and hence to the Samuel Barlow pub - always a favourite for us to treat ourselves to an evening meal.  However the fact that we started a bit too late yesterday, and had then hit significant hold ups, had left us not as far ahead overnight as this plan really needed.  We were still several miles short of Rugeley, but also food supplies were dwindling, and we needed to make a stop for a serious supermarket shop. (Provided you can find a mooring for a 70 foot boat, Rugeley has a very conveniently located supermarket).

Approaching Fradley
So today we made a much earlier start, and pushed on for the miles needed to get us to the shopping stop. Unusually there was masses of available mooring space, so we were soon tied up and went in the supermarket, although the latter took some time - it's not unusual as you try to find items you need in large stores with unfamiliar layouts.

Our final lock on the T&M before turning on to the Coventry
By the time we were started again the canal planner we use indicated that whilst we probably could get to Alvecote, it was unlikely to be in time for last orders for food - we decided to try anyway - at least we could have a beer.

There are just 5 locks for today's journey -  three before you turn off the Trent and Mersey at Fradley Junction, then nothing until near Alvecote, with two slow filling locks at Glascote.  Between those two sets of locks includes some 11 miles from Fradley junction to Fazeley Junction, the first half of which are somewhat confusingly a detached portion of the Coventry Canal, whereas the second half from Whittington is part of the Birmingham & Fazeley - our route becomes the main Coventry Canal again at Fazeley. You can tell which you are on, because Coventry Canal bridges have numbers, whereas Birmingham and Fazeley bridges have only names, (except for at least one where somebody has stolen both the name plates in recent years!).

Glascote locks on the Coventry canal
Against planner predictions we eventually arrived at Alvecote in plenty of time for a relaxed and excellent meal. With Flamingo on narrow canals we seldom beat the default timings from the planner - it is a big heavy boat that needs to be nursed around the many bends, through tricky bridge holes, often filled with silt, and past lines of moored boats.  Today, however we beat the predicted journey time by well over an hour - quite unusual, but most welcome. We must finally be doing something right!

Trent Aqueduct, near Rugeley to the "Samuel Barlow", Alvecote

Miles 23.2, Locks 5
Total Miles 313.1, Total Locks:334

Thursday, 11 July 2019

A slow start, but still good progress overall.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

Waiting near Roger Fuller's yard 
- his boat Clematis is craned out for work.
We were rather later setting off south from Barlaston than we had intended, and it should have been obvious from the large number of boats that had been there last night, but had already left, that queues at the lock flights were likely.  The first of these is the rather attractive flight of 4 locks at Meaford.  As we were getting near I could see lots of boats ahead, so I dropped Cath at a bridge some considerable distance before the top lock to go up and check the situation, whilst I "hovered" in the bridge hole - this often easier than joining the melee near the lock, knowing there will not be any spare space deep enough to be able to get to the side. I think I "hovered" for more than half an hour - we really should have started earlier!

The Slough - same boat type as Flamingo, 
but much altered over the years.
Once able to finally move up to the lock for our turn, things thankfully went a lot quicker for a while.  The Meaford locks are not long out of the way before you arrive at another 4 passing through Stone.  Again there was some, (but far less), queuing for the top lock, but here at least I was opposite the boatyard run by Roger Fuller, so there were some interesting boats to look at, and a bit of conversation to be had. Cath had suggested we pull over for some shopping, but there are very few moorings in the town centre, and none were available.

Working boats would probably also had 
solar panels had they been available!
Instead she went ahead and bought some oatcakes, rejoining us when we got to Star Lock - these have proved very popular in the past, and were so again today, allowing us to have a hot and tasty lunch on the move with zero effort required to prepare it.

Our stretch target today was to  get into Rugeley.  From the point we made a late start that was always ambitious, and by the time we caught up a very slow moving boat (very, very slow!), it became even less likely we would get all the way into the town centre.  However we remembered some very good moorings approaching the Brindley aqueduct over the Trent some distance before the town, so we stopped there.  We could still be where we wanted to be the next evening, but tomorrow looked like being a long day.

Barlaston to Brindley Aqueduct, near Rugeley

Miles 17.0, Locks: 14
Total Miles 289.9, Total Locks: 329

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Finally covering some proper miles again.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

Hall Green Stop Lock was to protect Trent & Mersey water supplies
We set off fairly early and travelled the first 9 miles from the bottom of Bosley Locks to the Hall Green stop lock. It's a very attractive canal, although in parts seemed shallower than much of the Macclesfield did yesterday.  It is not always entirely obvious which bits may or may not have been dredged so far.

As we approached Hall Green stop lock there were CRT employees at the lock. Another boater told us that they were 'measuring the lock'. After the previous day we were concerned - was this another narrow lock? Would we have to go backwards a mile and a half to the winding hole? Would we have to make the trip back into Manchester in the other direction? Fortunately, it was just part of a survey that they are doing - perhaps they will be measuring the Bosley locks as part of this.

Immaculate "Dane" a wooden Mersey Weaver boat
Another mile or so and we were back on the Trent and Mersey canal and approaching Harecastle Tunnel. At the tunnel entrance the tunnel keeper asked Alan "have you been through the tunnel before?" He shouted a few safety instructions over the noisy Lister engine and we were straight into the tunnel without stopping and with very little preparation. the height of the tunnel varies greatly due to mining subsidence, and at one point gets very low indeed for some distance. We are always mindful that a boater died in the tunnel five years ago, it is often hard to see where the roof dips down, and you could strike your head. It is much harder to do this tunnel in Flamingo than in the 'leisure boat', Chalice, that we used to own, as the back of the boat is much higher and it is difficult to adopt a safe steering position if you are tall.  However a distinct advantage of being a late addition to the procession of boats already going through is that we were a long way behind the last, so Alan could choose his own speed without any risk of catching them up.

Etruria Bone and Flint mill, with Lindsay & Keppel
Once through the tunnel we headed on the three miles towards Etruria Junction. The canal winds past the remains of the old potteries, with a few bottle kilns in among the ruins of factories. Then down the four locks at Etruria, and into open countryside again. 


We now believe it was from a wharf here
that Flamingo operated as a trip boat.

We passed Hem Heath, where Flamingo operated as a trip boat for nearly two decades in the 70s and 80s and then on to Barlaston. We moored half a mile or so before the village and Alan and I walked to the town to get some much needed supplies. Then we changed our minds. There is a pub there which looked like it would feed us, and would accept the dogs in the bar, so we rang David on the boat and asked him to come down and bring the dogs to join us. The pub is owned by Neil Morrisey, and is filled with pictures of him grinning - as well as signs saying 'No dogs behaving badly!' 

Surprisingly, looking back at the whole delayed trip from when we first started, this is the first day we have covered more than 20 miles. It was good to finally to have the first day in a long while without any real stresses.
Bosley Bottom Lock to Barleston
Miles 21.6, Locks: 7
Total Miles 272.9, Total Locks:315

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

The Macclesfield Canal - Actually OK until...

(Boat Flamingo - posted  by Alan)

One if several large former mills
Several people had suggested that the Macclesfield Canal is very shallow, so after the tribulations of the Ashton and Peak Forest we were fairly apprehensive. However, the first few miles were no problem at all. The reason became clear when we passed a dredging team. we don't know how much of the canal they have actually dredged, but in practice we found only the occasionally significantly bad bit throughout more or less the whole of the part travelled today. 
This is marked as a visitor mooring, but it's not easy to get on and off

It's an attractive and largely rural canal with a lot of lock free miles, although occasionally you pass a massive and impressive former mill. One of these is at Bollington, and shortly after we stopped for gas and diesel at Bollington Wharf, run by Brian and Ann-Marie McGuigan, who also operate coal boats in the area. Brian advised us of a few bridges that might still be a bit shallow, and which we might bounce through or get slowed by, but reckoned that otherwise we should hit no further problems on the Macclesfield canal until we joined the Trent and Mersey.

Dredging in progress - a very welcome sight
Nearly all the locks on the "Macc" are concentrated in a single and very attractive flight of 12 locks at Bosley - tere is one further shallow stop lock at Hall Green. We settled into Bosley with the same pleasing rhythm, as had been the case at Marple on the Peak Forest the day before, although this time we were going downhill.  

Stop for fuels at Bollington Wharf - great people, great service!

However at lock no 6, we found the lock was a lot narrower than others had been, and realised we needed to proceed with some additional caution. Lock no 7 was fine, but at lock 8, once in the chamber it was fairly obvious that the lock is much narrower across the coping stones at the bottom gate end than it should be - at least 3"narrower than other locks in the flight.  We measured it, and it really is only just 7 feet and half an inch.  This is the width that "Grand Union" boats like Flamingo were actually built to, so even as delivered brand new, and fully to specification, such a working boat would rub the edge, and possibly "hang" as the lock is emptied.  Many "Grand Union" boats have developed a bit of "middle age spread" over the years, and Flamingo is known to be around half an inch wider than its quoted design dimensions - not particularly unusual.  This will not normally be a problem in almost all narrow locks, as usually they are at least 7' 3" minimum, and on some canals as much as 8 feet. However when you find you need to get a boat through a lock that is wider over the "guards", (the rubbing irons that protect the extremes of the hull) than the lock structure it needs to pass through, you generally have a problem - as we now did!

The only swing bridge encountered
I will not detail the steps we took to get the boat through the lock, other than to say what we did was highly unconventional, and used more "creative thinking" than we have ever done for any problem encountered on canals in the past.  It didn't actually involve any damage to the boat or any part of the lock structure, but quite how we managed to make it work we are still not quite sure, as the maths involved seemed to say it couldn't possibly!

Needless to say we were all mightily relieved, as the prospect of working backwards up 8 locks, reversing a mile to a winding hole, (where we might well not have been able to turn anyway - many are too silted),and then retracing our steps to Manchester for several days, only to start South again by a different route was more than any of us wanted to even think about, after all we had endured so far on the "escape from the Rochdale"!

The early part of descending Bosley locks was as it should be
We simply don't understand why this doesn't seem to be recorded anywhere as a known problem.  We had done our research on these canals, and this possibility didn't come up. A lock that ony measures 7 feet and half an inch across the top coping stones will normally inevitably be an issue to quite a few boats, as plenty exist that are wider than this.  It seems there is some evidence that this lock may have been "grouted" in recent times - that is injecting grout through and behind the stonework to seal leaks.  If that has occurred we wonder if it has resulted in the coping stones getting moved inwards, and this is only a quite recent happening.

But "there may be trouble ahead"
We will of course record the problems with this lock with CRT, once we have time to write up exactly what we think the issue is. We were lucky to get through - very lucky.  It is bound to affect other boats, some if who may not have crews prepared to do what we found we had to do!

Marple Junction to Bosley Bottom lock

Miles 17.4, Locks:16
Total Miles 251.3, Total Locks:296

Monday, 8 July 2019

The journey to Marple

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)
Lift bridge to start our day

The Peak Forest Canal is slow and shallow, and there were a several miles to go before the locks at Marple. 

Alan and I started the day by finding our way up to the Asda to get some much needed supplies. The store has clearly been designed with cars in mind. It isn't easy to get there from the canal towpath and requires crossing busy roads with no pedestrian crossings. We loaded ourselves up with as much as we could carry and slogged back to the boat.


The new railings on Marple Aqueduct are not really in keeping.
Through the first lift bridge and on through the sludge. We were brought to a halt at almost all of the bridge holes after that. Each time we all got off, I would 'bowhaul' the front of the boat with a rope, while Alan and David walked the boat through the bridge hole by walking along the roof and pushing on the bridge.


Marple locks are all fairly deep.
We had been warned by an experienced local historic boater that we needed to be particularly careful in the entrance to Hyde Bank Tunnel. There is a large pile of masonry in the middle of channel there. He said to take a run at it. Before we got there we talked it over. The boater has slightly shallower boats than Flamingo - should we got at it gently to try to float over it? We decided to try that first, then take a run at it if we didn't get into the tunnel.


The Marple Flight is very attractive throughout.
I went and sat on the bows, to try to lift the back of the boat, then we floated in gently - and stuck fast. So Alan took the boat back and made a run at the tunnel. There were graunching noises and we slowed. Just for a moment thought we were going to stick fast in the tunnel - what would we do? As it is a fairly short one-way traffic tunnel we would hope that nobody would come in from the other end. Inside the tunnel we would have no phone signal, and we would have to wait for a boat to arrive behind us before we would be able to get a message to CRT. Fortunately, another shudder and the boat began to move forwards again.

Very attractive former warehouse
Shortly before the flight of locks there is a well-known aqueduct crossing the River Goyt. It is visually stunning, but what has caused controversy in recent years is that fact that on the opposite side to the towpath there was just a wide stone path with no railings and a drop of 90 ft. CRT decided to install railings, as many people have stopped boats mid aqueduct for a stroll on this path. There have been rumours of youths jumping the canal from the towpath to the wide path on the other side. How they would get back again with no run-up remains a question. The railings are quite attractive, are they really appropriate to a more than 200 year old aqueduct?

The locks at Marple are very deep, but mercifully without any AV locks. It is a very attractive flight. The paddles and mechanisms work beautifully and there is one large gate at the top of the lock where you can wind all paddles from the same place and open and close the gate without having to walk around the lock. However, they all have a narrow stone bridge over the bottom end, which makes opening the bottom gates a bit difficult. To close them you have to stand on the bridge and start pushing, then you have to climb up onto the lock side to finish the job.

The top of the flight has a road alongside - quite unusual, we think.
We were lucky that we met boats coming down the flight and all of the 16 locks were 'our way', making the job of the 'lockwheeler' - who goes on to prep the next lock ready for the boat - nice and easy.

We got to the junction at the top at about 6 pm, and decided to moor there for the night. We weren't really sure how far the next viable moorings were down the Macclesfield Canal - and everyone had said that it was 'very shallow', so stopping where we were seemed the sensible move.

Dukinfield Lift Bridge to Marple Junction

Miles 7.8, Locks:16
Total Miles 233.9, Total Locks: 296

Sunday, 7 July 2019

The Ashton Canal - No longer "bandit country", but still problems with navigating it.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

Thomas Telford Basin - a secure and quiet refuge in Manchester.
The Ashton Canal is notorious. You will hear stories of gangs of feral children ("bandits") stoning boaters as they try to work up the locks. The reality is that the families of troublemakers were largely moved out years ago. The flight is now bordered by blocks of chic and expensive apartments. You are more likely to see joggers and families with pushchairs than 'bandits'. However, it is important to realise that we weren't far from where we had the unhelpful kids the previous day. In fact, because the canals are parallel at the beginning, barely a third of a mile, but, somehow it seems populated far more by what would have been called 'yuppies' a few decades back.

Setting off - the start of the canal is "urban chic" these days.
We set off up the flight in the sunshine. The first few locks were 'our way' and didn't need emptying so we made reasonable progress. Passers by chatted, asking about the boat, or how the lock works. A man and his elderly dad told us to watch out for the troublemakers we would encounter up the flight. There were large numbers of runners out, many of them walking back down the flight wearing medals and race numbers for a 10K race. We passed a stadium where an amplified woman's voice was commenting on the race, and cheering the runners on.

We passed the National Cycle Centre. The sun shone. We knew that we had to get nearly to the top of the flight by about 4 pm, as there is a broken swing bridge and CRT open it twice a day (8:00 - 9:00 am and 4:00 - 5:00 pm). There was no hurry, things were going well.

The building with somewhat crazy sides.
Then Flamingo stopped centre channel. A bit of poking around with the short shaft showed something around 2 feet of water (Flamingo draws nearly 3 feet), and a large number of solid rectangular blocks under the water - probably coping stones, though how anyone had managed to lob them mid channel I have no idea. The pound was down around a foot. I was on the tow-path, David on the front of the boat, trying to locate the deepest water - but also transfer weight forwards, we'd learned on the Rochdale what a surprising difference moving one person from the stern to the bows would make. I went up to the next lock, perhaps a hundred yards, and started flushing water down. As it was so far to the boat, and because the pound was significantly down I thought we would have little chance of moving the boat, but, slowly, steadily Flamingo started to move as the wave of water going down reached her. We'd taken quite a lot of water out of the next pound up but we'd made it to the lock.

Alan and David contemplate the "bottom too near the top" situation.
The problem with going up hill on a flight is that any water that you run down is taking it from a pound you are going to have to go through later on. Going downhill you take the water with you. So we were struggling for several locks, trying to let enough water down to get through the pound, without taking too much out of the next one.

We spotted some boats a few locks back following us, and catching up fairly fast as they weren't struggling to get into each lock. 

A recurring theme - often pulling does better than the engine can.
The next lock was empty with one gate was open, the other nearly so, so Alan was planning on nudging the gate open with the bows. I spotted that there was a mobility scooter parked on the wrong side of the balance beam of the lock, so that if Flamingo went into the lock the scooter would be swept onto Flamingo. So Alan had to stop fairly quickly to prevent that happening. The owner of the scooter - who was fishing - faffed around, he couldn't find the keys, he couldn't move the scooter so it took a while before it was possible to get the boat into the lock. Unfortunately, the sudden reversing had pulled up some of the rubbish from the bottom of the canal, and we had a serious prop foul. Added to which the boat had drifted sideways with her bows in the lock apron, so was jammed. 

David took a pole and started to push the stern out so that the boat could go straight into the lock, but Flamingo was stuck on the bottom - the following boats had started to drain the pound we were in. The fisherman with the mobility scooter was full of advice about what we should be doing, shouting advice loudly, but he didn't really seem to understand what our problems were. 

I went up a couple of locks to let some water down. When I got back I found David lying on the lockside trying to use a freezer saw to remove more of the fouling from the prop. I held onto his belt to stop him from sliding from the lockside under the back end of the boat. We don't really have a freezer on the boat, but we have two freezer saws, specifically for removing fabric from the prop. Each time David got a bit more of the curtain (and flags, and dresses) off the prop before we headed on to the next lock. The people on the following boats were helpful, and sympathetic, but like us they wanted to get to the broken swing bridge and get through it.

Not seen by us in a long while 
- Equus, one of the oldest surviving iron hulls.
Finally we got to lock 16, I left Alan and David to get the boat through, and went on to talk to the CRT employees, explaining that there were two or three boats following us who all needed to get through the swing bridge. It was the two men who had had to rescue us twice the previous day, and they seemed sympathetic to my pleas that they let all the boats through.

Flamingo went through the swing bridge at 4:00 pm. Then the last two locks and we could tie up to take on water and empty the toilet cassettes. After the last two days I went and got straight in the shower while we were taking on water. David stripped to the waist and got into the canal, where he started to try to clear the prop properly. After he cut his hand he called for some gardening gloves that we use to handle coal - there was barbed wire twisted around the prop. The bolt croppers we had bought weeks ago in Manchester made short work of that.

We didn't see the other boats, which was somewhat surprising as they had been very close behind us. It turned out that the CRT employees had let us through, then gone away. The other boats had to call CRT out again and only got to the top of the flight around an hour and a half after us.

Then there was a trip of a few miles to Dukinfield junction where we planned to moor for the night. I had planned to go to the nearby Asda superstore, until Alan reminded me that it was Sunday and Asda had shut hours earlier.

The final few miles to the Peak Forest Canal were slow, and mooring close to the bank at Dukinfield was impossible. We managed to get the boat close enough in that the dogs could jump the gap to the towpath- fortunately they are both fit. I cobbled together some kind of meal from what I could find in the fridge and the cupboard - while motorcycles roared up and down the towpath outside.

Here to There

Miles 1.0, Locks: 0
Total Miles 2.0, Total Locks: 0