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Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Ashby Canal, Coventry and then back to home

The Ashby Canal runs approximately North from its junction with the Coventry Canal and passes through lovely countryside and has no locks along its length.

On Thursday 4th October our friends arrived for a cruising/dining experience and after coffee we headed from Hinckley ( 52deg 32' 01.90 N, 01deg 24' 00.99 W) to Stoke Golding where we stopped for lunch. It was a glorious day and was made even better by David spotting a water vole whilst we were having lunch. Carol and I have not seen one of these in the wild for at least 10 years as mink have overtaken their nests and waters. This sighting could indicate that the mink are disappearing, possibly as a result of the re-population of more areas by otters now the water quality has improved.

After lunch we cruised to Sutton Wharf and then slowly back to Hinckley for our friends to go home after a day they said they greatly enjoyed.

Friday morning, early, we moved our mooring slightly and then left Lily for the weekend to go and see our youngest grandchildren for the weekend. Tuesday 9th was wet so we stayed put and I attended to a leaking fuel filter. This filter had been leak free for over 18 months when suddenly it started leaking about a baked bean tin full a day, with all the horrible smell it gives. The refitting, that had been tedious previously in trying to keep the gaskets in place, was not so this time, aided by a good smear of Vaseline.

Wed 10th we set off along the Ashby, overcast but warm, and serviced Lily at Sutton Wharf, Carol enjoying a good coffee. After noon the sun came out pretty well but without any great conviction, and after a short cruise we stopped at Shenton. This is an estate village, only the main house not being owned by the family that has owned the estate for centuries. It seems the hall was going to cost too much to repair shortly after the war, so they sold it, and it is now owned by an American authoress who visits occasionally, but who is lavishing money on its preservation.

The village is very simple and lovely, the landlords being very well spoken of by the tenants we spoke to, and because of this management, a great amount of the old charm still exists, with not a satellite dish to be seen and hardly a TV aerial in sight. Two of the farms offered home grown meat and eggs, and at one end of the village is a lovely cafe. It doesn't really do it justice to call it a cafe, but it is not quite a restaurant, and they really cook some lovely cakes and I'd guess their meals are equally good. The chocolaty biscuity cake I had was superb, and Carol commented very favouraly on the scone she had............but why didn't she eat any of the scones she made for our guests the other day?? I'm positive they were far better. Associated with this cafe is an antiques shop with an interesting variation as they also had several shipping containers that people lease by the shelf or the container for their goods to be sold. Shenton is well worth a visit.

So back to the boat and we cruised on to Shackerstone. The canal is twisty but has lovely scenery and is understandably popular. We had visitors in the evening in the form of Joe, who was my first boss (other than Carol of course) after the better part of 20 years running my own show. He is a most inspiring character with a prodigious brain and great knowedge of many things from the nuclear power stations, through old Rolls Royce cars, and on to things that local authorities want doing, with the odd lecture on Law at Loughborough University thrown in plus being a church warden. I view it as a great bit of good fortune that I got to know Joe. We promised Joe & Migsy a cruise later.

Now, we'd been dilly dallying around since August 13th, but we needed to be back at our base on October 19th. We wanted to spend time in Coventry, so we decided we did not have time to cruise right to the terminus of the canal this trip, so on Thursday 11th in an early moring fog, we turned and returned down the canal. We filled with diesel at Stoke Golding and during this we talked with the proprietor of Ashby Boat Co, who told us he had been surprised in having about his best year ever with his hire boats, especially given the terrible weather dring much of the Summer. We stopped at Hinckley again that night as we had to get to our car to let Carol chair an Inland Waterways Association meeting in Oadby that night.

Friday 20th, David and Lesley helped us double shuffle our car back to Debdale, bribed by the promise of Carol's very scrummy Lemon Drizzle Cake. We then did a short cruise to a very pretty spot for the night. Saturday was a pleasant day and we turned into the Coventry, used the facilities as we reached Hawksbury, before cruising into the canal basin at Coventry ( 52deg 24' 48.11 N, 01deg 32' 01.94 W). The cruise included the collection of rubbish on both the main propeller and on the bow thruster. Sadness for Carol, v poor TV reception. These lovely plants adorn the bridge over the entrance to the basin.

Sunday 22nd we went to the morning service at Coventry Cathedral. This was most moving, with a very good sermon and some lovely A capella singing by a visiting Dutch choir. After this, a coffee and a snack lunch, we then spent much of the afternoon in the Coventry Motor Museum. All I can say about this is that if you are only a bit interested in cars, go there, it as been much improved of late and virtually every car, motorbike and bicycle on display was built in Coventry. It was a lovely clear afternoon so when we returned to the boat we poddled along a couple of miles and moored near to the new Ricoh Stadium where Coventry City play.

I need to get a prescription dispensed but the last 3 chemists I have tried do not stock the statin I am prescribed, the same applied at the large Tesco near our mooring. It was a damp morning as we set off but improved as we cruised the six hours it took us to get to Rugby, where we moored in this pretty spot near the golf course. I was fascinated by the equipment two farmers were using in fields nearby but unfortunately I was not able to ask for more details as they were in sound proofed and air conditioned cabs.

It rained overnight but was bright during the day till we arrived at Braunstone where we had planned to moor as we needed to see a man about getting some new fenders. Braunstone is a bit like the M25 of the canals with five canals coming together within a very short space. We wandered up into the village for provisions, and as we ambled back it started to rain, and this rain got heavier as it went on, and carried on all night, we were very fortunate stopping when we did!

BUT Wednesday 17th dawned lovely and bright. I walked from our mooring to the start of the Braunstone Locks, but was very excited to notice Lily Pad moored up on the towpath. It was our first boat, we hadn't seen her for 6 years and were very pleased to see she looked well cared for. We shared the locks with a couple who were off to change their boat, sharing locks makes life much simpler. After the locks it was a few minutes cruising before we entered the tunnel, which is a very twisty affair. We crossed two boats going through it, and emerged into the sunlight to slowly cruise to somewhere to stop for lunch. Whilst cruising we had a very unusual occurrence as we passed close by a kingfisher that stayed put on its perch, usually they fly off just before the boat reaches them. Sadly the camera was below decks!

After lunch I made a bit of a horlicks turning towards Leicester at Norton Junction. The canal then rises up the 7 Watford locks to the Leicester Summit level. These are very picturesque locks, but they are only yards from the M1 Motorway Watford Gap service area, so it is very noisy. We found a delightul mooring that night and enjoyed the bright evening sun, though it became cold overnight. The next morning it was wonderfully misty giving an almost eery feeling to the canal. This day was a lovely day and as we had little cruising to do over the next two days, we cruised at tickover. Shortly after we cast off we entered Crick Tunnel, and crossed with just one boat. The day carried on as a lazy cruise and we were excited by the number of kingfishers that fled as we approached. I had the camera ready this time, but they never alighted anywhere near us! The scenery was lovely too and then to our great excitement we looked up to a roar in the sky to see the restored Vulcan Bomber fly over on its installation flight. An historic moment. We found another pretty spot to moor that night.
So Friday 19th October dawned beautiful and bright, no breeze, and warm sun. Wonderful colours on the trees and hedgerows. More kingfishers and buzzards too. Tickover cruising again saw us enter Foxton Top Lock at around mid day. We both had a large Bennetts ice cream from the top lock cafe, this is neary as good as the stuff Carol makes. We had a near upset coming down the locks as the "experienced" boater following us started to put water into the lock as Lily was half way through the opened lock gates.
I have yet to tot up the miles cruised or hours taken and locks passed, suffice to say it will not be great, but as far as we are concerned it has been wonderful. The amazing thing is that effectively from August 13th to October 19th we were in each others company almost 100% of the time. Now we are home, Carol is out to Bridge Drives & I have been out to other things, so the confined space is not so intense. I have got on her nerves a bit, especially with a cough I collected. We rounded it off by aving our youngest daughter, plus husband & children aged 2 & 5 staying with us on Tuesday and Wednesday night. It was cozy, but we all enjoyed it so I expect it will be repeated.
So, now we stay put, probably until the beginning of March, but we are off for short cruises with my cousin from Australia one day and another cousin from Canada on another.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Fradley to Hinckley

Our cruise from Fradley on Friday afternoon was in improving weather and we stopped short of the pub where we were to meet our friends at Huddlesford ( 52deg 41'05.21N, 1deg 46' 36.93W ), there was a large railway line there! But there were not many trains running and there was a great deal of construction activity. Delight of delights, the line was closed over the weekend, they are upgrading it, the West Coast Mainline, to 4 tracks at this point and obviously this weekend was one when major work was to be done. So a quiet night and then boat cleaning followed by watching qualifying for the Japanese GP. We didn't set our alarm to watch this live at 4 am, so it was on at 10.30, and curses, I just caught a brief word about Hamilton being on pole on a radio news summary. There will be no radio or TV on tomorrow before we watch the race, our friends are also GP watchers.

Stan & Libby arrived after a very simple journey from their home, taking around 30 minutes, and we had another superb soup for lunch, with fresh baked bread, thanks to the bread maker. We then cruised to Fazely junction and back in reasonable weather, but it was chilly. We had booked in to The Plough for dinner and had a very good meal. It was not normal "pub grub" but an interesting menu we all enjoyed. It was not cheap but was worth it and the Timothy Taylor bitter was very enjoyable. I gather from Libby that Stan joined me in snoring well that night!
The morning, Sunday 30th dawned brighter and with less wind. Carol & I wandered round the hamlet that is Huddlesford whilst our guests dressed etc and had an interesting chat with a lady who had been given a week's canal holiday by her brother for a birthday present. She was loving it, and in fact almost everyone on the hire boats and timeshare boats equally have said they were doing so too.

Back to breakfast, a little slopping around then the GP, with just the right result, and the we cruised to Fradley. I tried to find a copy of the Sunday Times but without success, and we just had to grab a couple of pints whilst Carol finished off preparing a very wholesome Shepherds pie and Apple Crumble lunch. It was a pleasant cruise back to Huddlesford and fond farewell to our friends.

Monday morning, we had rain overnight, it was overcast but milder and we cruised to Tamworth and moored at the point that Google Earth showed was likely to be nearest to the town. We were not greatly impressed by the place. I was wandering along a fairly busy road when my phone rang and it was my cousin from Australia calling about her forthcoming visit. Back at the boat we slowly cruised to near Alvecote Marina where we stopped overnight. This day brought an unwelcome incident in that we picked up an old jumper and wrapped it around the propeller. This involved stopping the engine and me clambering under the rear deck to open the "weed hatch" which gives access directly above the propeller and I was able to unwind this unwelcome addition. It didn't take too long and the water, whilst cool, was not cold unlike some years ago at Easter when on time had part of an interior sprung mattress around the prop.

I enclose a couple of pictures showing how the camera can lie. In one the setting looks lovely. The next shows why it is not as the busy A38 is right alongside. A distance before this I was walking along and had a glimpse of something near my foot out the corner of my eye. A rat, only inches away, and then a yard or so further on another sitting bold as brass outside its burrow. When we returned with our friends we saw these rats both ways, clearly a rodent problem!
Not so with the lovely clump of cyclamen not far away, nor where I snapped Carol cruising gently along in the countryside.
Tuesday we set off towards Hinckley and spent a fair bit of the day climbing the 11 locks that form the Atherstone flight. We came upon an unmarked Canaltime boat at the bottom of the first lock, fortunately, as they had no idea what to do. About 3 locks further on they were puzzled as to why the lock would not fill. I pointed out that they had not completely closed the paddles at the other end of the lock and water was flowing out as fast as it flowed in. They nearly drained the pound of water up to the next lock.
They decided half way up they would turn back, which allowed us to complete the climb, passing many boats descending the flight, they were not enjoying their holiday unlike every other set of crews on all the other hire and timeshare boats we have met. The boat leaving the first lock was crewed by two New Zealanders, couple of Australians were on a boat part way up, and just past the top lock two Americans were heading the other way. All relish our canal network.
At the top lock we stopped for water and services and we bought some fresh eggs from the lock keeper before heading on. The railway is a near companion along much of this next stretch and I had planned a stopping point that was further from the railway than much of the canal, however about a mile before this the propeller became fouled again so we stopped for the night. This time it was a large heavy duty polythene bag that had wrapped itself around the blades, reducing propulsion and giving a terrible shudder to the rudder. It had been a day of improving weather and was getting warmer, the mooring was lovely and quiet too.
We have arranged for two friends from Chesterfield to join us on Thursday and are off to see our daughter and grandchildren over the weekend, her husband is off to Chile for next week as a prize for his efforts promoting sales of their wine. So Wednesday morning we cruised to the bridge nearest to the Asda in Nuneaton to get food for their visit. I have found Google Earth most useful finding such places, I just punch in the search details and am able to see where they are in relation to the canal otherwise our cruising maps only show a narrow width either side of the canal, and do not give details of where to find things.
Not the greatest store but job done we set off on a very gloomy, if mild, day It rained for a short while after we had turned off the Coventry canal onto the Ashby canal, but once it stopped, out came the sun and it was a lovely late afternoon. We moored at Trinity Marina overnight, but they are not able to offer moorings over the weekend so we shall move off to the towpath side after our friends leave tomorrow. Nothing round the prop today, instead a diesel leak! It is coming from a filter near the diesel tank and I haven't touched it for over 18 months so why should it leak now? I can't stop it by tightening so have placed a tin under it to catch the drips and hopefully I will be able to get new gaskets over the weekend, but I hate working with diesel.
So now it is Thursday morning, David & Sandra are due at around 11.30 and the sun is out and the forecast is for a lovely day, and for the weekend too with luck.

Burton to Fradley

Thursday 27th September:- Cool this morning, I put the heating on for a short while, but eventually we were ready to depart...........just as it started to rain so we decided to wait and I walked up to what used to be Jannel Cruisers. I needed an extra door handle, I had bought several in August 2004 when we were here for the IWA National Festival, but was one short. Jannel is no more, it is now Shobnal Boat Services, and fortunately they had just the sort I needed. They were also able to make a couple of spot welds for us to re-attach the top of our front fender. It was not easy turning into their basin, especially in the strong wind, but for a grand total of £6 all was right again.

As we approached the next lock, Branston, we met Maurice & Jo in Helaire, who have been to the forefront in the organisation of the Loughborough Boat Festival each year. If you haven't been, it is held over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend and upward of 100 boats gather along the towpath for this event which s free to boaters and to visitors and these number, it s estimated, up to 40,000 over the Saturday and Sunday. The other amazing thing is that for the past few years the weather has been mostly bright and dry. Boaters, there is no booking, but the organisers reserve certain moorings for trading boats.

Maurice & Jo were heading back to Loughborough Wharf for the grand Re-opening following redevelopment. Carol was invited but had to decline as we are determined to complete this ring, but the IWA Leicestershire Branch was represented by our Secretary, David Hastie, and two other members of the committee attended too, though they were also wearing the hats of other boating organisations. We have had many misgivings over this development, though have had to reluctantly accept that given the somewhat parlous state of British Waterways finances they needed to take a commercial decision that will aid their future income. The wharf has now been reopened, but there is still one building to be completed, and this could plunge the waterspace in gloom as it is to rise to 8 storeys, though the development alongside the river in Leicester is planned to rise to 38!!!! Caroline Killeavy, the area manager for BW did very well in getting the new Waterways Minister to come along and do the business.

Anyway, our cruise on Thursday was from Burton to Alrewas, and it was very dull, cool and with a cold wind. There was quite a number of boats moving, surprisingly so given the time of year, many being Canaltime (time share) others being Shakespear Cruisers, based at Barton Turn Marina. Upset to find the Sanitary Station at Barton Turn was no more, next one is at Fradley. We arrived at Alrewas at just before 4pm having exerted ourselves working 5 locks and cruising 6 miles, and moored just above Alrewas lock.

Alrewas is a lovely village, and has useful stores, though the delicatessen has now closed due to the owners retiring, I believe. There is still a wonderful butchers shop where they offer all sort of home made sausages, plus a good if small Coop pubs, Fish & Chips plus other takeaways. I spoke to a charming elderly lady who saw me wandering with my camera and asked if I liked her village. She bemoaned the prices of houses there, pointing out a couple of examples, and they certainly reflect the picturesque nature of the place and its good communications with the A38 dashing past to the East. I enclose pictures of a couple of thatched houses and was very pleased to see the quality of the repair that had been made to one of them. I also spoke to a chap who was carefully painting the black woodwork of his old half timbered home. He was well wrapped up against the cold and agreed with me that he wished he had painted it earlier in the year.

Friday 28th, and after shopping in Alrewas, we set off to Fradley. We have two friends coming for the weekend and it requires careful working out as to where we could meet and cruise to and from, as well as having the necessary provisions. Another cool day, but brighter and around mid day we set off to Fradley where the Trent & Mersey Canal meets the Coventry Canal. The locks on the T&M around here are narrow and easy to work, but when ascending the top paddles generate a strong undertow pulling the boat hard onto the top gate/cill if they are raised too quickly. Just before the top lock there is a BW maintenance yard & facilities unit, and this has been improved recently to include a canal shop/information centre plus a cafe, so of course cappuchino was needed again! I avoided the Swan this day. It is a great canal pub and well worth a visit. It is about 3 miles rom Lichfield and 1 mile from the A38. Worry not, I got here on Sunday!
It started to rain and as we have an aversion to this, we turned into the Coventry Canal & stopped for a lovely bowl of hot soup as made by Carol. The other day we were in a Tesco store and talked to the checkout girl who said she never ate vegetables & didn't know what to do with them, whilst saying she liked soup. Whilst she was scanning in the groceries Carol told her how to make wonderful soup very simply. Carol and I like spicy food so our soup had a fair amount chillis in it, we needed it this day. By 3pm it had stopped raining and we set off for our planned meeting point at Huddlesford.
Fradley is at 52deg 43'25.32 N 1 deg 47' 36.27W