Monday, 31 March 2008

Torksey to Newark

Monday 31 March 2008
Torksey to Newark Day 11
Tidal River Trent

Miles 20
Locks 3
Hours 7

Another beautiful morning of spring sun set in a cobalt sky. We woke at 7.30am but lit the fire and lazed around till 9.00 am and so didn’t make it to the lock till 1

We searched high and low for the lock keeper but whilst the office was open there was no sign of him. After 15 mins we gave up and locked ourselves out not withstanding the red lights, but left a note on the capstans telling him our direction of travel and eta at Cromwell.

It was immediately apparent that there was more fresh in the river and absolutely no sign of a flood tide to assist out passage. As we entered the flow from the lock channel we slowed and resigned ourselves to a slow plod up river. I had watched a few boats punching the current as we came down river but conditions were now much, much worse. As we moved up river the water level rose and rose till it covered the meadows between the river and the levees and made sense of the marker poles on the apex of each bend. With all this fresh we didn’t have to worry about the sunken islands at Normanton, as they passed about 14ft beneath our keel. We managed less than 3 mph in these lower reaches and on some of the narrow bend and under the bridges we barely made any headway at all, even with the throttle wide open. At times the current slowed us to 1mph against the bank whilst doing 7mph over the water. With so little margin for error it all got rather scary, particularly as we had to hug the lee of the bends to find slack water, at same the time watching out for the big gravel barges which passed us on the downstream run from time to time.

We also passed two gravel barges which swept past majestically, closely followed by two narrow boats fairly flying along at tickover with ashen faces skippers grimly clinging to their tillers.

It was with some relief that we finally caught sight of the green light shining from Cromwell lock and then noticed the state of the adjacent weir. What has been a 2ft trickle a week ago had turned into a 12ft torrent and the river status bar was worryingly close to the top of Amber.

As we entered the lock it was apparent that our message had been passed on and our arrival was anticipated. We were the only narrowboat to attempt the passage that day although a big sea going cruiser would follow up later on. There are times when Jeremy Clarkson’s, “you cant beat raw power” approach makes a lot of sense.

Nether Lock was navigated without difficulty and we returned to the same pontoon and the same Springer nb Verity that we encountered on the way down. The family were out for 6 weeks from Keadby and were very happy to chat and share a beer and watery tales. After another trip to Waitrose we settled down to the final two episodes of Life on Mars – Series 1.
On reflection, the boat behaved brilliantly in spite of the strain placed on it, dashing from eddy to eddy, never missing a beat. All the fast travel did highlight a leak in the weed hatch seal which resulted in several inches of water in the bilge but apart from that everything worked perfectly and gave confidence for future long distance, and possibly salty, passages.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Lincoln to Torksey

Sunday 30 March 2008
Lincoln to Torksey Day 10

Miles 11

Locks 0
Hours 3

The clocks changed to BST during the night and the new day brought another change in the weather. This time it was spring sunshine from start to finis
h and we had a leisurely start to the day rising at 10.30 am. The change in weather was accompanied by a sharp rise in the temperature and we roasted with the fire banked far too high. Jeff, being in the saloon got the worst of it and woke with his hair sticking to his head! We discovered an odd feature of this mooring – during the night we could hear, or maybe it was feel, a very deep sonorous thumping sound every 15 seconds. It is probably a ground water pump but in the deep of the night it was a bit unsettling.

Our journey for the day was the short hop to Torksey, so we had another wander into Lincoln in the vain hope of finding a replacement rugby shirt for Dan to replace the on the Capt dyed blue in the wash. Lincoln didn’t seem to be into Rugby so we left empty handed. It turned out to be a big canoe race day in Lincoln with all manner of kayaks and canoes setting off along the Fossdyke from Brayford Pool. Dozens of categories of craft set off with the crews enjoying the novelty of spring sunshine. We finally set off at 1.30 pm and passed a few local boats going to and from the picturesque Saxilby, where we again saw the novice live aboard. I don’t thing his external generator will go down well with the locals…

We revisited Barton Water Marina and took advantage of their assisted pump out for a reasonable £12.50 – but no bloo. We reached Torksey at 4.30 pm, giving the Capt time to empty he bilges of 3” of water accumulated courtesy of a broken weed hatch seal, and Jeff time for some fishing.

After 30 mins Jeff deemed fishing a waste of time so the Capt took over and promptly landed 6 good specimens, much to Jeffs chargin!

The day finished with a lovely red sunset, curry and a game of Monopoly during which the Capt killed off Jeff in the early stages courtesy of four houses on Mayfair! The Capt took pity on Jeff and left him to wipe out Belle whilst he withdrew to write up the log. These evenings are what boating is all about.

Tomorrow we return to the Trent at 9.00am at agreed with the Locky and then two days punching the current back to Nottingham.

Whilst I don’t expect to be back on the Fossdyke / Witham system again in the neat future, it has offered us nearly 100 miles of the most isolated cruising imaginable but have left ourselves the prospect of Kyme Eau, Witham Navigable Drains and the South Forty Foot for another trip.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Boston to Lincoln

Saturday 29 March 2008
Boston to Lincoln Day 9
River Witham

Miles 32
Locks 2
Hours 8

Saturday was scheduled for a day trip with old friends, entering the Navigable Drains at Antons Gowt and then back up to Boston via Cowbridge Lock to the Maud Foster, mooring at the end of Hospital Lane.
Having seen the low levels in the Maud Foster the previous evening and heard the storm warnings on the radio we decided on a change of plan and to beat a hasty retreat to the Trent, making a passage to the Midlands whilst it was still possible to do so.

In spite of the awful weather forecast Saturday dawned clear and bright with a great view of the Stump behind us, and an endless reach of water ahead reflecting the bluest of skies.

During the night the water rose by 4 ft announced by an occasional rattle on the mooring rings to remind us of our steady ascent. With sluicing due to restart mid morning we cleared the moorings at 10.00 am minus the windproof clothing which had been essential for the last 8 days.

The long reaches back to the entrance to Kyme Eau were positively pleasant with the spring sun on my back but is was sobering to note that the pointy gates to the various land drains like Timberland Delph and Dogdyke had sealed themselves overnight, locking in any boaters which might have been tempted to use them for an overnight stop.

As we progressed the clouds rolled in from the south - west and the wind strengthened back to gale force, returning the Witham to a procession of whitecaps. This time we were running before the find and kept pace with the swells making the journey much more comfortable.

On out outbound journey we had noticed a sign at Chapel Farm advertising logs for sale. The persistently cold weather had necessitated continuous use of the woodburning stove, and whilst we had a couple of sacks of coal left on the roof, the wood store was down to the last few scraps of kindling. We therefore decided to stop and replenish our supplies. The owner was rather nonplussed by our arrival on foot and we appeared to be the first customers to arrive on the water. When we asked about the price he enthused about the fantastic lifestyle to be had afloat and told us to take as much as we could carry from the woodshed – all free of charge! Jeff and I managed three huge bags between us, which kept us toasty and warm all the way back to the Midlands. Three cheers for Chapel Farm.

As we pressed on towards Lincoln the water level continued to rise, first covering the fishing jetties and then the flood plains to the high banks. By the time we reached Bardney, what had been a 6 foot fall the day before had now been reduced to 2ft 6in! The speed of the changing water levels is sobering. We finally arrived in Lincoln at 5.30 pm and worked through the interminably slow Stamp End Lock in a persistent drizzle carried along by a high wind which threatened to rip the Cratch Cover off its hooks.

In an attempt to get out of the wind we tried to moor in the narrow channel just south of the Glory Hole, but a combination of the wind being funnelled down the concrete canyon and an abundance of teenagers in the adjacent shopping centre prompted a re think. With the light completely gone we motored across Brayford Pool with the aid of our tunnel light and to the startled stares of diners in the floating restaurant.

With the few visitor moorings occupied we tied up on some empty long term moorings alongside the University halls of Residence which broke the force of the wind and provided a sheltered spot for the night.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Kirkstead Bridge to Boston

Friday 28 March 2008
Kirkstead Bridge to Boston Day 8
River Witham

Miles 16

Locks 0
Hours 4

What a contrast to yesterday! The weather is as bad as it was good the day before. A vicious gale had blown in overnight and we woke to 2ft
breakers surging past us.

These drains are very exposed and in this quarter the wind funnels between the banks generating impressive swells complete with whitecaps and spindrift! The wind had finally turned, after 6 days in the north it was now blowing a gale from the south west. The mooring had become very exposed and uncomfortable so we moved on without delay, butting into nasty short swells which resulted in sheets of spray from the bows. As WB pushed on through the waves the troughs repeatedly lifted the counter out of the water, allowing the prop to suck in great gulps of air and triggering shuddering bouts of cavitation.

The engine never faltered and pressed us on at 1900 rpm passing each 1km distance marker every 7 mins. In the absence of anything else to look at one starts to anticipate these distance markers which appear out of the murk like lonely sentinels giving assurance that progress is indeed being made towards our destination.
Both my Nicholson guide and the info provided by the Torksey Locky were calibrated in miles so I spent ages working out how many km post
s we would pass on our way to Boston, based on a known distance of 32 miles. I guessed at 50 km and the final tally of 51 was close enough to prove the Capt Ahab still has his mental marbles.

There is not a lot to say about these last 16 miles out to the coast, a stretch which would constitute a full days cruising elsewhere but which we covered in less than four windswept hours. The canalised river is almost perfectly straight, wide and deep, never deviating from its course by more than a degree or two and was restored in the 1700’s by the people of Boston to both improve drainage and transport links to Lincoln.

We were planning a exploration up Kyme Eau towards Sleaford but in the event we pressed on and were relieved when the towering Boston Stump emerged from the rain as we rounded the final bend at Antons Gowt – Gateway to the Navigable Drains.

By now it was clear that the primary purpose of this waterway is to drain the surrounding fields, acting as a huge reservoir for the many pumping stations and with the water flushed (sluiced) away on the next ebb tide. Navigation comes a distant second and boaters need to be mindful of their place in the pecking order. As we arrived the weather forecast was for a lot more rain and all the pumping stations were running full tilt, making room for more water in the surrounding land drains. The Witham was also being sluiced at top speed and was about 4ft down, making mooring difficult. These rapid fluctuations in water level made us appreciate the dangers of lingering in the Navigable Drains and the risks of becoming stuck behind low bridges for days or possibly weeks at a time. This was clearly not the time to explore the mysterious drains that surround Boston so we decided to leave them for a future expedition – maybe when the South Forth Foot is open for business in 2009.

It is widely quoted that “Boston dosn’t like narrowboats”. In truth, the moorings are almost entirely geared towards plastic cruisers. When we visited the BW visitor moorings hadn’t opened for the spring and our attempts to moor at Boston Marina were met with a curt “ we don’t do narrowboats”. Its possible to see why the town has a perceived dislike of narrowboats, but having lived here for five years on the 1980’s I think it has more to do with local communication style than actual sentiment. Locals tend to approach conversation in a manner reminiscent of Yorkshiremen – blunt and not given to hyperbola. In truth, the scaffold based finger jetties are far too fragile to resist the enormous sideways pressure of a deep drafted narrowboat when the river is being sluiced at maybe 3 or 4 knots. In the event, a solicitous approach to the lock keeper at Grand Sluice allowed us access to the BW visitor moorings for the night (£5 per night thereafter) on the understanding that we be away by 10.00 am the following day when sluicing was scheduled to restart. For the record the limited lateral moorings are enough for 2 narrowboats, maybe three if desperate, complete with water, power and rubbish disposal and all in a secure locked compound. Watch out for rapidly changing water levels which rose 4ft overnight. Keep your mooring ropes loose and use the rings on posts which let you ride up and down without fuss or danger.

We had a good wander round Boston – a surprisingly pretty market town which is very self sufficient due in part to its distance from major cities. There are two great markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the shadow of St Botolphs Church aka “The Stump”.

We also took the opportunity to hike over to the Maud Foster and view my 1st house in Hospital Lane, which was remarkably unchanged.

There is lots to see here but one point of particular interest can be found beside the Grand Sluice Lock. In the mid 1800’s an iron post was driven into the ground right down to the underlying bedrock. This was set up to monitor land shrinkage and it was surprising to see a good 10 metres exposed, with the shrinkage showing no signs of abating. What with land shrinkage and rising sea levels Boston had better get cracking on the Witham Barrier or there wont be anything here to protect.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Lincoln to Kirkstead Bridge

Thursday 27 March 2008
Lincoln to Kirkstead Bridge Day 7

River Witham

Miles 19
Locks 2
Hours 5

As there was no particular urgency to get to Bo
ston we spent the morning exploring Lincoln. We visited banks, bookstores, outdoor shops and finally the stunning Cathedral. It’s 20 years since I last visited Lincoln and it was my first time inside the Cathedral. It is a truly awe inspiring place, mostly 700 years old. Generations have applied their creativity and resources to the construction of a building to glorify God. It’s a good job the 2008 earthquake didn’t damage it, the stonework must be very fragile in places.

Steep Hill is like a can of Ronseal – it does exactly what it says on the can, but in the case of the street is does take your breath away. As you toil upwards there are a plethora of little shops which provide a good excuse to pause and recover your composure. Jeff was adamant that he didn’t find it steep and insisted on running up and down it just to prove he could.

On our return to Wand’ring Bark we discovere
d that some light fingered local had helped themselves to the flowers off the roof – the cheek of it. Belle was rather distressed by their absence so we shook the dust of Lincoln off our shoes and, at 1.00pm, we plunged headlong through the Glory Hole.

All very pretty followed by an amazing modern sculpture which hangs over the river. I could only surmise that it represented man reaching up to God – but maybe I was still in the spirit of the Cathedral.

First stop was Stamp Lock with is slow moving (but mechanised) guillotine top gate.
These upper reaches of the canalised Witham have the Cathedral as a backdrop and you can’t help taking a quick peek behind you to see if you can still
see it. This can become habit forming and in fact it remains on the horizon all the way to Bardney Lock.

Whilst the river carries the usual flotsam and jetsam of a major town, the channel is deep and wide and good progress is possible.

Immediately beyond Bardney we took a sharp left up the Old River Witham, which remains navigable for about a mile to the road bridge. Progress was slow due to a strong current and limited depth. We made it to the bridge and planned to wind at the entrance to the pumping station 400 yards beyond but ground to a halt in a sea of mud just beyond the bridge. The swift flow made turning difficult but we made it and were quickly swept back to the tail of Bardney lock amidst another shower.

From here on the character of the river changes and assumes the air of a typical fenland drain, with high banks on either side blocking the endless views of flat fields and wide open skies. Judging by the debris on the banks the drain level can rise very high, probably making a level with the reach above the lock. The end of the day settled into a lovely spring evening with a rich sunset and punctuated with occasional aircraft from the RAF base at Conningsby. We had planned to stop at Southrey visitor moorings but they were full of craft laid up for the winter so we pressed on to Kirkstead Bridge and moored on its long floating pontoon which is typical of its type in this area.

We passed a solitary craft during the afternoon but that is getting to be the norm in this neck of the woods.
Jeff stepped up to the culinary plate and delivered a very respectable Spag Bol before another episode of Life on Mars.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Newark to Lincoln

Wednesday 26 March 2008
Newark to Lincoln Day 6
Tidal Trent and Fossdyke

Miles 31
Locks 3
Hours 8

It poured during the night and the quiet was shattered at 8.00 am when the adjoining breakers yard got to work. The rain had added to the flow which is strong in the Newark cut, probably 3 mph. We went upstream to town bridge to give ourselves lots of leeway during the turn. All went well and we left the other boats sleeping on the pontoon. We were at Nether Lock by 9.10am as planned, accompanied by a novice in a plastic cruiser. He said he was planning to live on it but with no heat, frozen water and a dead bonsai I cant see this plan lasting too long.
We hung around under the bridge above the lock till 9.30
, but the lights remained stubbornly red and there was no sign of the Locky anywhere. In the end I figured that the controls couldn’t be too difficult and operated the boaters controls, locking both boats down under the watchful eye of the tenants of the adjoining cottage. The controls were simplicity themselves but the chamber, gates and sluices were huge – a far cry from the narrow locks of the Midlands. The plastic boat zoomed off and Jeff made a very skillful exit, picking me up on the jetty opposite the weir at about 10.00am. We arrived at Cromwell at 10.45 am, a bit behind schedule but this want a problem. The Cromwell Locky said that the man responsible for Nether Lock was off work so we could have waited for ever. We penned out at 11.00 am decked out in buoyancy aids with navigation lights deployed only to find… a stretch of river that looked just like the section above the lock. Never the less, there was now no barrier between us and the North Sea, just 60 miles of tideway.

The Locky waved us off suggested that with 2 ft of fresh on an ebb tide we would be at Torksey at 2.00pm and Lincoln at 5.00 pm. He was right to within 10 mins on both counts!

This section of the Trent is as barren and bleak as it is bold. Sure it gets bigger and bigger but given its tendency to flood, the villages keep their distance and the river meanders its way across a massive flood plain, rarely reaching the low hills that border it. Landmarks consist of a few bridges and power stations with their massive cooling towers supported on a lattice of improbably spindly diagonal legs. High Marnham is clearly decommissioned with the turbine hall and boiler rooms gone leaving a cluster of cooling towers presumably waiting for the inevitable return Old King Coal as the saviour of the British power needs. We pushed on and on down the endless Dunham Rack, a very dismal place on a cold and rainy day in March. The idea of water skiing these reaches failed to appeal.
Jeff was looking forward to Normanton Sunken Isla
nds but these were a big anticlimax given their very sunken status at the time. Finally, in a flurry of hail, we turned into Torksey Cut with its green light welcoming us into the lock chamber.

At last, the locks were back to the 70ft x 14ft dimensions of a broad canal and the Locky was really helpful. When he learned we were going all the way to Boston he dived into his office and produced several pages of tips and information. Most usefully, he explained the vagaries of the water levels on the Witham which can vary by four feet from day to day as water is sluiced out to make space for run off from the fields. With rain forecast this explanation proved invaluable.

He had only seen two boats that day so our passage through Torksey was a welcome diversion from his maintenance duties. He was the relief Lock Keeper and lived on the narrowboat next to the lock. He mentioned that was expecting the plastic cruiser - had we seen it? He must have been referring to the boater we has seen at Nether and were able to confirm that he was safe and well, tied up on the pontoon at Fledborough.

The Fossdyke navigation was originally built by the Romans during the second century (but has been improved since!) and they built their canals just like their roads – broad and straight. It was built to connect York with Lincoln and then provide access to the Wash and its river systems into the East, all using natural tidal flows. It was the first man made waterway of its kind in the UK and therefore a worthy contender as one of the seven wonders of the waterways. The first stretch was 5 miles long without a single kink – impressive if somewhat monotonous. At the end you reach the pretty settlement of Saxilby, a quiet Lincolnshire village with lots of small shops of the type that time has forgotten elsewhere. The Fossdyke goes on and on, broad and deep. Sometimes it is accompanied by the A57 and at others by the Gainsborough Railway. There is a new development just before Lincoln called Burton Waters which includes housing and a marina. The marina relocated from Brayford Pool a couple of years ago and offers the best chance of diesel and a pump-pout in the area. The fuel wasn't cheap (80p per litre) but it was reassuring to be fully prepared for the remoter southern section of this journey. The marina is really aimed as seagoing and riverboats and, whilst they were happy to take my money, I did get the feeling that steel narrowboats like Wand’ring Bark were considered rather second rate.

We entered Lincoln past long lines of houseboats. Being on a broad waterway the types of vessel used were more varies that we are used to - everything from 1950’s lifeboats to a fire damaged three story gin palace.

There was a shortage of visitor moorings in Brayford Pool itself so we worked our way alongside the concrete wall of the pool, next to the Harbourmasters office. This area used to contain “sticking out” jetties but these have long since vanished leaving only underwater obstructions and deep mud to trap the unwary. The eastern side of the pool represents Lincoln’s new entertainment area which is lively, but a bit loud.

We created a mooring with extensive prop dredging, but wouldn’t recommend the spot. For a great destination the boat moorings are deplorable – but this is set to change when the Brayford Pool Trust finally decides what to do with the place.
After a stroll up Steep Hill, we had a meal at Pizza Express and then watched the film 100,000BC at the local multiplex before returning to the boat. On the way Helen tripped on a low step and fell hard. Not the best end to the day but a sudden downpour washed away the revellers enthusiasm and gave us a quiet night.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Nottingham to Newark

Tuesday 25 March 2008
Nottingham to Newark Day 5
River Trent

Miles 23
Locks 7
Hours 6

The mooring beside Sainsburys proved to be noisy with cars zooming up and down the adjacent road all night. It is best avoided if possible. It was also a cold night with temperatures down to freezing and the fire needing stoking part way through to maintain a reasonable temperature.
It was an early start at 6.00am to get Tilly ready for school. It’s a good job we didn’t leave the car in the Sainsburys car park – it is locked overnight an
d they apply a £50 charge for all stays over 3 hours. We reached School for 8.45 and a very helpful Bag Lady ran the Capt back to the boat having left our car outside their house.

We set off at 11.00 am, past the impressive Magistrates Court and Fellows, Morton & Clayton warehouse which sits right in the middle if a major regeneration scheme. Two locks took us down to River Trent, opposite Nottingham Forest’s football ground. Form here on the Trent got bigger and bigger and demands that you take it seriously. Whilst it wasn’t in flood, the current was strong and was bending trees over at the margins. The run down to Newark took 5 hours but, with the current against us, this will probably climb to 7 hours for the reverse trip. We saw a couple of narrowboats toiling their way upstream, all foam at the bows and little progress to show for it. It looks hard work but that is a problem for another day.
This section includes an interesting reach under the cliffs which comprise the southern edge of the Trent valley. There is an active airfield on the top of the escarpment with a steady procession of gliders being towed and winched into the air against the blustery breeze.

In my opinion, the Trent is not a beautiful river at any stage. That said, it drains a huge swathe of middle England and can carry vast quantities of water to the Humber. Floods are common and the trees and hedges which line its course bear testimony to past deluges with branches strewn with debris from last year. We only saw two boats on the way down and the Lock Keepers reported a mere six movements for the whole day. With so few boats out on the water the Lockys know exactly where everyone is at all times and each radio’d ahead to the next who set the locks for immediate entry. The weather remained bitterly cold all day, sometimes adding sleet and hail to add to the misery. The weather has got to change soon… I felt sorry for Belle and Jeff because boating isn’t much fun in weather like this.

We reached Newark’s pontoon moorings just below Town Lock at 4.45 pm. This is a good spot to moor, with water and electricity laid on. Very posh. Sausage and Mash was followed by a trip into Waitrose for supplies. The narrowboat Verity moored above us had come all the way up from Keadby and the skipper was very happy to share his extensive knowledge of these waters. He places great store by his VHF radio and if we ever come this way again it is an item I will invest in.

With Primeval finished, tonight we made a start on Life on Mars, Series 1 which has Jeff very excited. As for me, I am looking forward to packing away my sleeping bag and rejoining Helen in the back cabin now that Tilly has gone. Tomorrow it is the Tideway to Torksey and have booked a penning out slot for 10.10am so we need to leave Newark at 9.15 to be at Nether Lock when it opens at 9.30 am, and then complete the 4 miles to Cromwell.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Stenson to Nottingham

Monday 24 March 2008
Stenson to Nottingham Day 4
Trent and Mersey, River Trent and Nottingham Canal

Miles 21

Locks 9
Hours 8

Winter returned with a vengeance today. Cloudy and cold, sunny and cold, snowy and cold but always cold. The final run into Sharldow was uneventful, accompanied by a flurry of Canaltime boats making their way back to base at Sawley Marina.

Shardlow is a quaint old place with lots of antique canal buildings lining the cut. It makes a fitting end to the Trent and Mersey. We finally reached the Trent proper at Derwentmouth which elicited a wow from all on board.

After the narrow canals the Trent seems huge and a bit humbling. Whilst the river lever was well in the green zone (as it has been at Alrewas), there was a strong current which pushed us along quite quickly as we came to terms with a completely new set of signs and rules of the road. The stretch to Nottingham included the Cranfleet and Beeston Cuts which are canalised sections built to avoid particularly difficult bits of the river. As a result, you never feel that you have reached the river “proper” and instead just keep dipping your toe in and out.

Finally, the Beeston Cut changes to the Nottingham Canal at Lenton Chain and countryside gave way to industry. SS is of the opinion that most Canal approaches to major cities are dismal and squalid, and Nottingham is no exception! Fortunately the industrial section is mercifully brief and we made it to the moorings outside Sainsburys before they closed. We met up with the Bag people (Mum, Dad and little S) for fish and chips and left our car at the Premier Inn for the night, ready to take Tilly to School in Derbyshire on Tuesday morning. We had a sad Tilly who would have preferred to continue with us on the boat.

Watch out for the amazing riverbank huts above Nottingham. They come in all shapes and sizes but my favourites were the two story versions, one a wooden hut with delusions of grandeur and secondly the part completed steel and glass “grand designs” jobbo built on stilts.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Alrewas to Stenson

Sunday 23 March 2008
Alrewas to Stenson Day 3
Trent and Mersey Canal

Miles 14
Locks 5
Hours 5

Our four day schedule to Nottingham allowed us a morning in Alrewas and a quick perusal of the church notice board gave us the option of a 9.00am traditional service or a family service at 10.00am. With two teenagers to entertain the family service seemed a safer bet and we had to admit that the Anglicans do a good job on the festival services. This service featured the bishop of Wolverhampton no less who somewhat unnervingly looked very much like my brother! The service concluded with Easter Eggs for all attendees, small ones for the adults and larger cream eggs for the children. Jeff (14) apparently qualified as a child under cannon law, but Tilly (15) appears to have made an ecumenical transition into adulthood which, on this occasion, didn’t impress her too much!

Belle excelled herself with a ship board Easter Egg hunt, which was as successful as its wider ranging garden based hunts which are a traditional part of our family life. From here on our days journey started with a bang - the bang being a big old working boat crashing into the boat moored behind us. Unfortunately that wasn’t all it hit. On its way out of Alrewas lock it also hit the upper gate hinge, shearing off the retaining collar. We arrived to find several boats piled up and the lock gate jammed open. BW had been called but a fix on Easter Sunday seemed unlikely so, being a second generation boater brought up in an era then a crowbar was an essential boating tool, I decided that a Heath Robinson approach was called for. I strapped the hinge with a mooring rope and swung the gate on this makeshift fulcrum. Much to the surprise of the waiting boaters my lashed up solution worked and we moved half a dozen boats through, ourselves included. The remaining boaters didn’t seem too keen to replicate my effort for fear of the gate falling off and it appears that ours was the last vessel through for the day. I guess the lock remained closed till BW came to the rescue and applied the shiny new hinge which was in evidence on out return 10 days later.

It was a relief to see the river section at Alrewas comfortably in the green zone, which boded well for the rest of our trip south after Nottingham. The next section runs alongside the busy A38 which LTC Rolt found so objectionable when he passed this way in the late 1930’s. At that time he complained of vehicled hurtling along at 50 or even 55 miles an hour – what would he say to dual carriageway with cars approaching 100? The T&M weaves back and forth, flirting with the A38 all the way into Burton where we passed a boat coming up and being amazed at the narrowness of the locks. From here on the canal moves to broad guage and becomes more and more remote, with steel piled banks giving way to reeds and shallows at the margins. This remote section has a quality similar to the Chester Canal north of Northwich.

We moored at Stenson where we had a fantastic roast, thanks to SS. We gave the Bubble (pub) a miss and settled down to more Primeval, having first fitted the anchor to the stern ready for the next 10 days on the river. The newly built A50 does intrude on this location with the drone of road noise being audible but not unduly intrusive.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Great Haywood to Alrewas

Saturday 22 March 2008
Great Haywood to Alrewas Day 2
Trent and Mersey Canal

Miles 14

Locks 12
Hours 5

The forecast was for cold, northerly winds with snow showers later and for once the weatherman was spot on. The strong winds resulted in much crabwise progress down the exposed sections of the T&M but, as we experienced yesterday, we were virtually the only boaters using the canal. Things calmed down as we navigated the sheltered sections through Rugely and Armitage but even around the usually busy usually Kings Bromley Wharf, nothing was moving.

We fairly raced through the Fradley flight but we were accompanied by a gaggle of gongoozlers who tend to congregate around the Swan Inn.

Our ambitions for this day had never been very great and we planned to stop in Alrewas and attend an Easter Morning service in the Parish Church. We reached the village in good time but spend about 30 minutes faffing around when we discovered that there were no spaces on the visitor moorings between the water-point and the lock onto the river section. Our solution was to lock down onto the river, turn by the weir and return to the winding hole north of the church and moor in a space we has spied right beside the church. We had decided to eat out to make up for the non appearance of fish and chips last night and by chance we opted the Crown. The Capt spied a hand written poster advertising a real ale festival which offered about 12 different local ales at £1 per ½ pint. We sampled 3 or 4 and were particularly taken with Old Legover. In the end we signed up for the whole thing including pie and mash at a reasonable £4 a head plus apple pie for pudding. The staff were really welcoming and the event was a great success from our point of view.

The evening concluded with another 2 episodes of Primeval and sleep to the sound of the Alrewas parish church clock