Friday, 30 September 2016

Spring Cleaning in the Autumn.

Friday 30th September, 2016 at Aston Marina.
A beautiful autumn morning with the mist rising from the water.
Today, we spent the time getting MM ready for the winter months ahead. R washed the outside - the roof, both sides, the front and the back - while M sorted and cleaned the inside and dealt with the plants and all the other items that we are taking home.
After a quick trip into Stone for a very "few bits", we took MM across to the service bay and, with the help of Nick the Moorings Manager, we filled her up with diesel and emptied the poo tank.
Back at our mooring, we continued sorting things that need to go home, things that need to stay on board and some bits that have come to the end of their useful life (M hasn't yet had the heart to part with those faithful lockwheeling gloves...!).
At the end of the day, we were treated to another lovely sunset over Aston church.
M sat down and went back through this diary to look at some of the highlights of this summer. The list was far too long to include here. We have been so lucky with the places that we have been, the things that we have seen, but perhaps most of all, the people that we have met. Truly, MM is so well named because we have met so very many wonderful people over the last few months.
In October, we are going to visit David in the USA; so, we have decided to "take MM with us". R declared that, at nineteen tonnes, MM wouldn't fit in M's hand luggage - but she said not to be silly, she meant that we should keep updating MM's blog while we are in America.
Good idea!
So, we will sign off now - but watch this space for more adventures later in October. MM is going to America (well, sort of...!)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Back to our Home Marina and a New Stern Gland Seal.

Thursday 29th September, 2016 back at Aston Marina.
Michaelmas Day, and the last day of MM's travels for this summer. A dramatic sky-scape greeted M as she sipped her customary early morning tea on MM's back deck.

The rising sun illuminated the spire of nearby St. Andrew's church.
Bridgett and Peter dropped in to bid us farewell. We hope to call in to see them again around Christmas; it was so good to spend time with them again. The four of us never stop talking!
We waved goodbye to them as they returned to their house through the gate on the towpath.
Bridge 82, "Salt Bridge", is another of the very ornate bridges built to placate local landowners whose lands were crossed by the canal, in this case, the owners of Sandon Hall. However, the family seems to have embraced the canal, using it to bring in coal and limestone for their own limestone kiln and also for transporting their locally produced salt.
Finally, we reached Sandon Lock. It was our first lock in May and is also our last lock today in September.
R watched MM as she rose slowly in the lock, gently nudging the gate and impatient to leave as soon as the lock is full.
As M is still a tad nervous about driving MM, she prefers to do the locks. To protect her hands, she bought a pair of strong gloves at the beginning of last year. Last year, we did 345 locks and this year a further 323 - so a total of 668 locks, which have certainly taken their toll on M's poor gloves! The gloves (and M) have done stirling service and we think that they should be retired (the gloves, not M!), perhaps to the strains of "The Last Post"! (M thinks they should be buried with full military honours!!)
The final bridge this summer...
And then we turn into Aston Marina...
R sets up MM to back into her mooring, while our trusty Touran watches attentively from the car park.
A strong prevailing wind put R's steering skills to the test but as ever, with MM's help, all went well and she was soon safely moored in her familiar berth. Home!
One of the very few problems that we have had over the years has been with the stern gland that seals the hole for the propellor shaft and prevents water coming in. The stern gland seal was replaced at the end of 2013 but soon began to leak again because the seal had damaged the propellor shaft. A close-up of the shaft shows the wear marks on it.
At the beginning of last year, R replaced the tube holding the seal with a tube of a longer length to position the seal on a fresh part of the shaft, which worked for a while. By occasionally shortening this tube, the seal could be repositioned each time it started to leak but eventually it was clear that the seal needed to be replaced again. Some research indicated that there was an alternative make of seal made by Radice, that came highly recommended by an experienced engineer we know. It was supplied by Cheshire Marine Equipment and sent to Aston to await our arrival. R fitted it this afternoon.
An added advantage is that the new seal is much shorter than the old one and so seals on a completely different part of the propellor shaft, which means that it is not necessary to change the damaged propellor shaft, which would have meant taking MM out of the water - an expensive operation. The two seals side by side, shows the difference (the old one on the left).
We treated ourselves to dinner at the Marina Bistro after watching the sun go down behind Aston Church.
Then it was early to bed to make up for our late night last night. Tomorrow is a "sorting and cleaning" day before we drive home to Reigate on Saturday morning.
Today: 5 miles, 1 lock and 1.4 hours.
Trip: 476 miles, 323 locks and 326.4 hours.
Since MM's Launch: 2,585 miles, 1,774 locks and 2,010.4 hours.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A Wonderful Evening with Bridgett and Peter.

Wednesday 28th September, 2016 at Weston-upon-Trent.
The "Tixal Wide" is a lovely open spot from which to see the sunrise. Soft colours in the sky announce that the sun will soon be with us. A magical time of day, and no better place to view it than from the waterways.
Soon after, the sun makes its appearance through the trees.
After breakfast, we set off towards Great Haywood - but not until R had taken advantage of the "Wide" to do a "loop the loop", 360 degrees all in one. Not something you can often do on the narrow waters of the canals. "He's so naughty"! says M!
Great Haywood is the junction of the Staffs & Worcs and the Trent & Mersey canals and, like most junctions, it has a handsome and very distinctive bridge.
We moored up briefly to fill up with water and then to visit the local farm shop and also to have a coffee at the farm shop café.

So, here we are , back on the Trent & Mersey again, and only a hop and a skip from Aston Marina, MM's winter "home".
MM enters her penultimate lock of the year at Weston-upon-Trent. We are both feeling very emotional as we approach the end of this cruise, which has been so relaxing and so much fun.
Shortly after, we approached one of our favourite mooring spots, alongside the garden of our good friends Bridgett and Peter. R spotted their lovely house through the trees.
Quite by chance, they were in their garden with a visitor. They came out to greet us and and we stood in the sunshine having a catch up.
Later on, they joined us on board for tea and cake and, later still, they entertained us to a magnificent dinner in their house. The lively conversation carried on late into the evening. We so enjoyed their company and their hospitality - they are a very special couple.
Today: 4 miles, 2 locks and 2.6 hours.
Trip: 471 miles, 322 locks and 325.0 hours.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Stafford Riverway Link Restoration

Tuesday 27th September, 2016 in Tixall Wide.
The day started overcast but dry, in contrast to the heavy rain of yesterday.

Gailey lock is in a very attractive setting beside the Round House.
The next four locks come in quick succession. They are all in a pretty rural setting; however, the M6 motorway makes its presence increasingly felt through the rising assault on the ears until one arrives at Rodbaston lock, which is less than 50 yards from the M6.  At this point the noise is ear splitting and conversation only possible if you are standing right next to each other.
At Otherton lock, R noticed that the bywash, which lets surplus water bypass the lock, was almost completely blocked and the water level behind the lock was rising.
Using MM's boat hook, he managed to clear the debris, mostly branches and reeds, and it was soon flowing freely again.
Penkridge lock has a lovely old horse tunnel under the bridge. While the lock was emptying, M managed to nip to the nearby convenience shop for much needed milk.
There are many developments of "Park Homes" on this section of canal. In general they look very well kept and comfortable. Most are quite modest in size, but this one looked almost palatial!
Oh no! We had to pass right underneath the M6 as the lorries roared overhead. Ghastly!
There was once an aqueduct and a lock branching off the main line of the canal that took boats down on to the River Sow and from there they could cruise the mile up the Sow into the centre of Stafford. This arm of the canal ceased to be used in 1927. In 1930, the basin in Stafford was filled in and in 1970 the aqueduct and lock were demolished along with the lock keeper's cottage. Now the "Stafford Riverway Link" group is trying to restore the arm. We knew of the existence of the restoration group but, as we approached the old junction, we were surprised and delighted to see a work party actually in progress.
We moored up and went to see what was going on. A lady named Veronica (or Vee for short) explained that they had excavated the foundations of the lock keeper's cottage. They would love to have rebuilt it but there was no way to get electricity or water to it so they will just leave the brick outline of the house and garden.
They have also excavated the basin that used to sit before the aqueduct - the brick walls in the distance behind the notice were the entrance to the aqueduct.
It was wonderful to see the project finally getting off the ground. Stafford city centre would benefit greatly from visiting boats and a basin in the centre would be a major source of regeneration, as it has been in other places that have redeveloped canal basins. As the restoration "only" needs one aqueduct and one lock, it is a much better proposition than, for instance, the Lichfield Canal restoration that requires the rebuilding of 47 locks!
M loved this classic "turnover" bridge that enabled a horse, where the towpath changes sides, to change from one side to the other without having to unhitch the towing line. The towpath changes sides quite frequently so that the horse is not always pulling at the same angle but is sometimes pulling from the right and sometimes pulling from the left, thus easing the strain on his shoulders.
We chose to moor up in Tixall Wide on account of its lovely open setting. In the distance was the old gatehouse to Tixall House - sadly, the house was demolished long ago. Opinion is divided as to whether the "Wide" was created to placate the owners of Tixall House, by making the canal look like a lake, or whether the lake was there before the canal and just used by Brindley as a convenient stretch of water.
As the sun went down, we were treated to one of the more spectacular sunsets of the year, enhanced by the reflection in the water.
Today, MM clocked up her 2,000th hour cruising. She has done us proud and has hardly missed a beat in all that time.
Today: 13 miles, 11 locks and 7.2 hours.
Trip: 467 miles, 320 locks and 322.4 hours.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A Rainy Morning.

Monday 26th September, 2016 at Gailey.
We awoke to an overcast morning and a forecast of light rain in the morning and heavy rain in the afternoon. We decided to cruise the seven lock-free miles to Gailey and moor up there as we saw no point in doing a lot of locks in heavy rain. There are five locks immediately after Gailey, so we'll tackle them tomorrow when hopefully, the weather will have improved.
We went into the office to say goodbye to Annie (Pete wasn't in this morning) and untied MM in light drizzle.
Autherley Junction is a pretty spot. It is necessary to negotiate the "stop" lock, which is only 4 inches deep, but is designed to stop the Staffs & Worcs Canal taking any water from the Shropshire Union Canal. When the canals were originally built, the proprietors jealously guarded their water supplies!
Then it's through the junction bridge, farewell to our old faithful friend the Shroppie and hello to the lovely Staffs & Worcs Canal.
Almost immediately north of the junction, you enter the "Pendeford Rockin" (as the old working boatmen called it). This is where Brindley's navvies had to cut a half mile of the canal through a solid belt of sandstone that breaks through the clay strata at this point.
The channel is only just wide enough for one boat to pass through, although there are a few passing places. It must be a baptism of fire for novice hirers fresh out of Autherley - mind you, that included us back in 2010 when we passed through here on our first ever hire boat!
MM was almost scraping each side of the sandstone cutting.
By now, the earlier drizzle had become more serious rain and, for the first time in weeks, out came our trusty "Eddie Stobart" umbrella. We have been so lucky this summer; it has rained on us rarely, and mostly at night. But the Staffs & Worcs is beautiful, even under the umbrella in the rain.
There is one section that is not so lovely, that is the section past the S.I. Chemical works. The smell was awful and the large warning notices forbidding narrowboaters to moor, or even to stop, were probably unnecessary as no-one would choose to moor up next to such olfactory horrors. Pooh!
Our mooring for the night was just south of Gailey Wharf, almost in the same place that we moored on the first night of our first cruise on nb "Emma" in April 2010. Happy memories.
Despite the cold and rain, we walked up to the Wharf and its iconic Round House, which used to be a toll office but is now famous canal shop with a wonderful cornucopia of canal ware.
To our surprise, we found a fridge magnet depicting the lockside cottage at Kinver on the Staffs & Worcs, which we seriously considered buying in 2014. It looks quite big in this picture but, in reality, it was much too small!
M needed to post some letters and was expecting to have to walk a long way in the rain, but she was delighted to find that there was a post box just behind the Round House.
As the promised heavy rain arrived later, we took the afternoon off and stayed where we were.

Today: 7 miles, 1 lock and 3.8 hours. 1 kingfisher
Trip: 454 miles, 309 locks and 315.2 hours.