Friday, 8 July 2016

Back at Aston Marina

Friday 8th July, 2016 back at Aston Marina.
An early start today in view of the weather forecast for tomorrow and the restrictions on Sunday train travel. Our original plan was to arrive back at Aston tomorrow (Saturday) and come home Sunday but it is forecast to rain all day tomorrow and there is engineering work on the railways on Sunday - so we decided to do a long day today in order to be back at Aston tonight and to take the train home tomorrow.
We set off at 8:00am. Once clear of the built up area of Rugeley, we were in lovely open countryside again. We love the way that the old canal bridges frame the view ahead.

Another of our very favourite locks - Colwich Lock. We are often watched through the locks by cows on the bridge - but not today.
R thought that our reward for an early start should be second breakfast at Great Haywood. The café proudly displayed a Wimbledon-themed menu.
It was lovely cruising along this familiar stretch of canal back to Aston - and in pleasant sunshine.
At Weston Lock, we fell into conversation with Alan and Anne on their boat "Alanne" (get it?). To our surprise, they remembered meeting us two years ago.
As they left, it was unclear whether it was Alan or their Great Dane, Bella, who was in charge.
Sandon Lock is always very special as it is always the first and last lock of our trips south from Aston.
It is a deep lock and the water flow is very strong. Often forceful enough to water the geraniums! M is delighted with the geraniums this year; after a very disappointing start when they appeared to be doing nothing at all, they subsequently took off and are now the finest display we've ever had.
At 2:40, we turned into Aston Marina - in sunshine. So, we left in sunshine on 4th May and returned in the sun on 8th July. Perfect; a lovely start and a lovely finish.
A very stiff breeze made backing into our mooring quite tricky. The wind was strong all day and in our faces, so by the evening we both looked sunburnt - but in fact, it was windburn!
R decided to give the roof and sides another wash down to make sure that we had got rid of all the sticky residue from the Lime trees in Burton-upon-Trent.
So, we are back "home" at Aston. As ever, it is a happy/sad feeling. Sad to be mooring up MM but happy to be back and going home with a wealth of great memories - and more to look forward to, as we shall be back to resume our cruising in early August.
So - Watch this space!
Today: 13 miles, 5 locks and 6.0 hours.
Trip: 206 miles, 126 locks and 147.3 hours.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Another Very Pleasant Meeting - and an Unusual Duckling.

Thursday 7th July, 2016 at Rugeley.
A dry morning, if cloudy. Suddenly, it seemed as if all the boats moored up in Alrewas decided to set off at the same time!
A fairly big queue built up on our side of the lock, which was only 100 yards past our mooring. We quickly joined the queue, much to the annoyance of a rather sourfaced woman who joined behind us and complained bitterly that progress was too slow! We would point out that it is very rare to come across that sort of attitude in the boating community.
By contrast, we passed the time by helping other boaters through the lock and fell into conversation with a delightful gentleman called Michael. He was single handed, so we helped each other through all the locks to Fradley Junction (they are narrow locks but we helped each other though one after the other). We have been to Fradley many times, but we have never approached it from the east, so this was a first.
At Fradley, we moored up both boats since the three of us decided that coffee/second breakfast at the C&RT café was a fitting reward for all the locks we had done together.
M declared that the "breakfast bap" was excellent - and the coffee was good too.
We spent a couple of hours chatting to Michael over a second cup of coffee. He was a very interesting and amusing gentleman; we enjoyed his company.
As we sat next to the canal, we saw what we thought was a yellow plastic duck float by. It turned out to be one very yellow duckling looking out of place in a brood of (normal) brown siblings. Either it was a throw-back or perhaps its mum had been "got at" by two drakes of different ancestry.
At about 2:30, we said goodbye to Michael and filled MM up with water (the C&RT café is in the background).
 Then we went through the last lock before the actual junction. This lock was manned by C&RT volunteers.
There are two more locks going west out of Fradley - so, imagine our surprise when the first lock opened as we approached - thanks to Michael, who had walked up and set the lock for us. After that, we really did say cheerio to him! We shall miss him, as he turned south down the canal towards Coventry.
Wood End Lock has to be one of our favourite locks, right out in the country in a beautiful setting.
Two of the boats that we passed were of particular interest. M thinks she should acquire this one, being a nod to her birthday...
The second was a must for R as a chocoholic...
We finally moored up in Rugeley, where we were visited by a family of swans who wanted to share our dinner - we did give them some duck food, which seemed to be well received.
Today: 9 miles, 8 locks and 6.4 hours.
Trip: 193 miles, 121 locks and 141.3 hours.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A Duckling Rescue More Than Once!

Wednesday 6th July, 2016 in Alrewas.
There is a great deal of confusion as to how to pronounce Alrewas. We gave up trying to work it out, so christened it "Walrus" instead.
R washed MM's side nearest the trees. At least he got some of the sticky lime tree stuff off.
It was a bright morning, so we thought that we would go for a stroll around Burton upon Trent. The Town Hall is a handsome building, but the clock faces in the tower couldn't agree on the correct time!
M wanted to get a "few bits" but there were no food shops in the middle of town. The maps showed that they were all on the outskirts. We did find an excellent marina and chandlery but their café was closed for renovations - so we had to set off without second breakfast. Bother.

The passage through Burton was accompanied by the aroma of yeast, malt and hops. There wasn't time to do the renowned Bass Museum tour on this occasion, we will save that for another time.
However, Marston's brewery wanted to remind us to come back.
The locks on this section are fascinating - small, shallow and tucked beneath narrow bridges. A welcome change from the wide and deep locks we have been doing for the last couple of weeks.
At Barton Turn Lock there was a "duckling drama". Six very small ducklings got swept down the bywash (that takes the excess water past the lock). Normally, this would not be a problem as they would just be spat out at the bottom and go back into the canal. In this case, the bywash had a middle section with brick sides a foot high and an outlet that was under water. The ducklings were trapped in this section and couldn't get out. Lots of panic-stricken quacking from Mum and cheeping from chicks! Luckily, the lady from the pub beside the lock produced a fishing net and she managed to start catching the ducklings and putting them back on the towpath. She had obviously done this before!
Problem was, that as fast as we caught them and put them on the towpath, they ran back to their siblings in the bywash! Eventually we managed to get them all out and reunited with their relieved Mum, who was waiting below the lock.
R ended up running down the towpath with the last duckling in the net trying to catch up with the mother duck as she led the other five ducklings away from the lock as fast as possible!
Just beyond the lock, the C&RT were doing dredging, which delayed us for a few minutes.
A little further on, a shore-based digger was emptying the very smelly black sludge from a full barge. In the past, the very rich dredgings were put on to the side of the canal - but now the dredgings have to be disposed of at a licensed site (at significant cost) as they might be contaminated. What bureaucratic nonsense...

At Alrewas, nearly all the moorings were full but we eventually found one space free squeezed between a winding hole and the lock moorings. We took an evening stroll around the village, which turned out to be extremely pleasant and very quiet.
Today: 7 miles, 5 locks and 3.9 hours.
Trip: 184 miles, 113 locks and 134.9 hours.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

M Returns by Train

Tuesday 5th July, 2016 in Burton upon Trent.
MM stayed moored up in Willington while R explored the town.
M arrived at Willington on the train about teatime and we set off  (after tea and cake!). It was a sunny afternoon and it seemed a shame not to make the most of the good weather.
We were a little concerned about Burton upon Trent as it looked very industrialised from the guide books; however, we were agreeably surprised. It had lots and lots of mooring space stretching for nearly a mile, all with mooring rings, and much of it was tree-lined.
Quite a contrast to many of the towns we have visited that have very few visitors' moorings - Leicester had room for just four boats. We chose a delightful mooring beside a very large park called Shobnall Fields.
There was a long avenue of mature lime trees alongside the canal, the air was scented with the fragrance of the blossom (spot the ladybird!).
We are always cautious of lime trees as they tend to drop a very sticky secretion on anything below. We thought we were safe, because we were not under the trees. However, we had not reckoned with the wind, which was blowing from that side and so, by morning, MM was sticky all over - and R had just washed her! Bother.
Still, the sunset through the trees was beautiful.
Today: 7 miles, 1 locks and 3.8 hours.
Trip:177 miles, 108 locks and 131 hours.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The River Trent and on to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th July, 2016 at Willington.
Early on Saturday morning, M caught the train from Beeston to go home for a few days. Overnight the River Trent had gone down - last night the indicator was almost in the red ("do not proceed") but this morning it was well down in the orange ("caution"). As R got back to MM, another boat was going into the lock to go out on the river, so R followed them.
The trip up river was uneventful and took just 85 minutes - compared to the 45 minutes it took to go down river two days ago. There were two more river sections before MM finally arrived at the entrance to the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Getting into the canal mouth was tricky as the River Trent flows in from the left, the River Derwent flows in from the right and the wind was blowing hard from the side. A challenge!
On Saturday night, R moored up in Shardlow, which used to be a busy "inland port".
Happily, most of the old warehouses survived and have now been converted for modern uses. One is a Canal Heritage centre.
The centre was full of old photographs of Shardlow as it used to be. It also had a replica "back cabin" complete with a rather too glamorous boat woman!
On Sunday morning, the old Clock Warehouse, now a pub, was the site for a national steam boat rally with half a dozen beautiful steam launches.
On Monday night, R moored up at Stenson Lock, which was being manned by C&RT volunteers - a welcome sight as the lock is quite deep at 12ft 4in. Even better, there was a very good coffee shop next the the lock and a small farm shop behind.
On Tuesday morning, R moved on to Willington to pick up M from the train. He secretly enjoyed his few days on his own (says M!).
Three Days: 16 miles, 9 locks and 10.6 hours.
Trip: 170 miles, 107 locks and 127.2 hours.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Punk Rock Coots, an Explosive Lifejacket and a River Delay.

Friday July 1st, 2016 at Beeston Lock.
July already? It sort of crept up on us!
An early awakening of the unplanned variety. Lots of voices on the towpath woke us at 4:20. We thought at first that it was a crowd of revellers returning after a night out - but they didn't sound like revellers. Just after 5:30 we discovered the reason. The pounding of many feet along the towpath indicated that they were particpating in the "Nottingham 5:30 Walk/Run". As its title suggests, it is a 5.30km non-competitive walk/run starting at 5:30am. This lot ran past MM at 5.40am.....
Other than that, it was a very quiet mooring!
After breakfast, we moved MM a short way up the towpath and moored her up outside the biggest branch of Sainsbury's that we have ever seen. Wine stocks on board were getting low and we have found Sainsbury's to be very good for offering quality wine at reasonable prices. We were not disappointed....
With great amusement, we watched a pair of coot parents feeding their young. As with moorhens, if you give food to the parents they carry it back to the youngsters and feed them (unlike greedy ducks!).
The little chicks are definitely the punk rockers of the waterfowl world!
Not sure if even a punk rocker would go for that hairstyle.
We set off back in the direction we had come yesterday - that is, towards Beeston. It was dry but very windy.
At Beeston Lock, the canal "cut" finishes and, through the lock, you are back on the River Trent.
The warning notice was in the amber - if you look closely there is just about 4 inches of amber below the red!
We waited for a couple of hours while we had lunch but, if anything, the water was higher - so we decided to moor up and stay here for the night and try again tomorrow.
While we were sitting quietly with a cup of tea, there was a sudden loud and unexpected roar from the elecrical cupboard. Had something exploded? R gingerly opened the cupboard, only to find that one of our "automatic" lifejackets had inflated itself in its bag. Weird! R had to cut it out of the packaging (with some difficulty as it was still trying to inflate) but it is no longer usable and we will have to get another in due course.

More rain arrived about teatime, so it was a good thing that we decided to stay put tonight.
Tomorrow morning, M has to go home for a few days but there is a station at Beeston only a few hundred yards away and it is on the same line as the train that she was planning to take from Long Eaton. She will catch the same train just 9 minutes earlier.
Today: 3 miles, 0 locks and 3.0 hours.
Trip: 168 miles, 103 locks and 123.7 hours.