Friday, April 27, 2007

One Month On!

Yes, it is exactly one month since we set off southwards from Wheelton in Lancashire. It does not seem possible that we have been living aboard for just a month – it has become our way of life, plus we have covered a lot of miles and worked a lot of locks along the way. From Dave's log, over 200 locks and nearly 300 miles!

We left Stratford-on-Avon on Monday 23rd, retracing our route up the beautiful Stratford-on-Avon Canal. We are really enjoying the warm Spring weather.

On our way, we came over the Edstone aqueduct again, which may not be as high over the valley as the Pontcysyllte is over the River Dee, but it is very similar with one notable difference: the towpath runs in its own 'trough' next to the canal, giving the walker a 'duck's-eye view'! Here is Val looking UP at the boat for a change!

Onto the Grand Union on Wednesday and past another unusual feature. Shrewley Tunnel has a separate towpath tunnel which leads up to the village on the hill above. We moored and went up to the the Post Office and store.

We have had a couple of 'non-moving' days since then, getting some DIY work done on the boat and dealing with several tool orders. Tomorrow (Saturday) we tackle the Hatton flight of 21 broad locks down into Warwick, with Jeremy coming to help us in the morning. At about 10-15 minutes per lock, that should keep us busy! Here is a picture of about half of them, looking up the flight.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Just the other day we said it was probably unlikely that we would get as far as Stratford on this unplanned diversion down the Stratford-on-Avon Canal – but here we are!

Although the lock gates are heavy and the locks take ages to empty (though they are quick to fill!), we were making such good progress down that we thought we would come down to Stratford.

We aim to retrace our route northwards to Kingswood Junction now and then head down the Grand Union Canal as originally planned, meeting up with Jeremy next week as we get nearer to Leamington Spa, where he works. He has recently completed a sponsored cycle ride from Lands End to John o' Groats, in aid of CORD, the charity he works for, but still reckons he will be able to cycle out to meet us.

If you look carefully, you can see 'Zindagi' among the boats moored in the very centre of Stratford. We didn't realise that 23rd April is supposed to have been Shakespeare's birthday!

Only 31 years late!

Back in 1976, we booked our first-ever canal holiday. Adam was nearly 3 years old and the holiday actually started on Jeremy's first birthday. We couldn't really afford it, but somehow managed it. We booked with Anglo-Welsh Narrowboats to take a boat from their base at Wootton Wawen on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal. Our friend Mike came with us, partly to help contribute to the cost!
It was, of course, the year of the Great Drought. The summer was scorching and we had started our first bit of vegetable gardening, siphoning the boys' bath water out to water the garden.
A few weeks before our holiday was due to begin, Anglo-Welsh phoned us to say that our holiday would have to be relocated, as the Stratford-on-Avon Canal was being closed due to lack of water. We took our holiday from Great Haywood instead.
Many people remember the drought that year. Do you remember the first rain AFTER the drought? It poured. That was the week we took our holiday. I think it rained every day, but we still enjoyed it. And here we are, still boating!
Wootton Wawen? We never made it there until last Friday, 20th April – only 31 years later! Here is a picture of one of Anglo-Welsh's hire fleet making its way back into the basin over the cast iron aqueduct. You can just see 'Zindagi' at the left, with the wind turbine up.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Down the Stratford-on-Avon Canal

This bit of canal should be familiar to us, as we have travelled along it before – but that was in 1986, just a year before we moved to Devon, and our last 'family holiday' on the canals with school-age children. To be honest, though, it looks as fresh to us as any of the 'unknown' canals we have been on, and offered us a much more scenic way out from Birmingham than the more direct route via the Grand Union.

The plan has been to rejoin the Grand Union at Kingswood Junction, and then travel through Leamington Spa, where our son Jeremy works. We phoned him to say that we were getting closer, but he will be away this coming weekend, so we have decided to take an unplanned diversion a little way down the southern section of the Stratford Canal, though we are probably unlikely to get as far as Stratford itself! Jeremy will probably cycle out to meet us for a few evenings and then maybe spend some of the next weekend on board. We may get him to help us down the Hatton flight of locks. He last helped with them 21 years ago, but this time he is likely to be able to make a more substantial impact!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

South to Birmingham – and out the other side

After we left Dave & Mary at Barbridge, we started southwards again, travelling down the Shropshire Union Canal – completely new territory for us. No particular rush, so we have taken a few days of just staying in one place and enjoying the warm spring weather. Despite the fact that the boat is brand new, there is a surprisingly long list of things that still want to get done, so there has been quite a bit of DIY going on, and more planned. Little touches like towel rails in the bathroom and clocks on the wall all add to the feeling that this is our home – and we have really got used to the fact as the weeks go by.

So, time for a few more photos to try to get you up to date with our movements. The first one is a view of some of the locks at Audlem on the Shropshire Union Canal. We seem to have 'lock days' and 'non-lock days', at least to some extent, and Audlem presented us with 15. Then a few more in the next few days as we climbed slowly out of the lower-lying countryside through dark red sandstone rock. The soil colour has sometimes reminded us of the rich red Devon soil, but the scenery is completely different, and very varied. The next shot gives you an idea of some of the beautiful little places we have been through – this is the Boat Inn Bridge at Gnosall in Staffordshire.
Even the climb up the 21 Wolverhampton locks on Tuesday was amazingly rural to start with, and ended at these cottages at the top lock. Time for lunch almost in the city centre, and really peaceful. We had wondered whether to stay there for the night, but decided to press on and get to Birmingham.
What a strange journey, but fascinating! Seeing how the old and the new sit right next to each other or, in the case of the M5, right on top of each other! The towering columns supporting the raised section of the motorway as it enters Birmingham follow the canal's route for a while, creating the strange sight of an old canal bridge dwarfed by modern engineering. Our arrival at Gas Street Basin was delayed by having to refill a short section of canal between two locks, as vandals had let most of the water out, but that was interesting in its way, and we ended up in a very quiet corner, had a tasty meal in a nearby Indian restaurant, and then did a little shopping the next morning before heading on south and joining the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, where we are now moored, just a little southeast of Birmingham.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Our First Guests – and the Llangollen Canal

Time passes so quickly! I really must work on the blog more often – we finished our visit up the Llangollen Canal over a week ago, and our first real guests, David and Mary from Okehampton, seem to have survived being guinea pigs. They and Whisk the dog took to life on a boat very quickly. The pictures are far too numerous to even give you a proper selection, but here are two as a taster. First, the 'scary' one as 'Zindagi' seems to fly over the Dee valley, 120-odd feet below, on the amazing Pontcysyllte aqueduct (with only a few inches of metal trough at the edge). and then a shot of 'the crew' as we made our way back to Dave and Mary's car at Barbridge Junction (sorry we only got the top of Whisk's head!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Canal Engineering Marvels

One of the benefits of our route south from Lancashire is that we have been able to see some really interesting pieces of canal architecture and engineering. First was the famous Barton Swing Aqueduct, where the Bridgewater Canal crosses the Manchester Ship Canal by an aqueduct which is also a swing bridge. It was due to open after winter maintenance on Saturday 31st March at 12 noon, and sure enough it did! We were there a little earlier, and so got a view of it swung away and out of use as well as the 'user's view' as we crossed over it!

Next was the equally famous Anderton Boat Lift, which links the Trent and Mersey Canal with the River Weaver, 50 feet below it. We didn't take a ride on it, as we had a deadline to meet up with Dave and Mary, but had a good look. Perhaps another time?

Teething Troubles – Sorted!

As we made our way down the Wigan Flight (23 locks in one wet day!), we stopped for lunch in about the middle. Our lovely new diesel-fired hob had given us a few whiffs of unburnt diesel fumes, but this time it excelled itself and fumigated the boat, as well as making a howling sound and emitting foul-smelling dark fumes from the flue vent. Time to call on Patrick, the expert from Kuranda, the importers. He gave us some things to try to clear the problems, but the problems got worse. In the end, he had to come out and spend half a day sorting out the problem. Fortunately, we had reached Middlewich by then, and the folks at Middlewich Narrowboats also have the same Wallas cookers on their boats, so their expertise was useful too.

The end result – it now works perfectly, and a week of good use has now passed, so we are confident that all is well. A very big thank you to Patrick and his colleagues for the trouble taken to sort it out, plus another thank you to Adam, Dave, Joe and Michelle at Middlewich Narrowboats for their 'hospitality' – Zindagi spent most of the day at their wharf.
Some days earlier, we had been fumigated in an even less pleasant way – our Envirolet composting toilet was very smelly. After several e-mails to Canada, we received instructions on how to take it apart to check it, and found that one of the fans had been blocked by some filler during installation. Once that was removed, the composting process seems to have begun to settle down and the boat is completely 'pong-free' inside, while the outside smell is reducing substantially and we are led to believe it will reduce to nothing soon.
Meanwhile, we needed to make our way down to Barbridge Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal, to meet our friends Dave and Mary from Okehampton and take a trip with them up to Llangollen and back. The journey along the Bridgewater Canal through rural Cheshire was really pleasant. Lovely countryside, good weather, friendly people – both boaters and locals.