Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cromwell Lock and the Tidal Trent

First Recon to Cromwell Lock. Just north of Newark, this lock separates the tidal Trent from the non-tidal Trent. It is near here we will have to hold up and wait for the tide to be right for our run down to Torksey lock.
Unless you put the postcode of the lock cottage into your sat nav you would never find the lane in Cromwell village to get to the lock. It is a very well kept lock with large areas of cut grade, benches and picnic tables plus the odd brick built bbq.

First view of the lock from upstream on the Trent
The lock keepers were extremely friendly, they explained the best times to head down the Trent and sold us a copy of the Tidal Trent chart. A bit expensive at £10 for an A4 booklet but full if information that I hope will keep us off any sand bars.

The lock itself is BIG but we have done these before when we ventured down to Gunthorpe a couple of years ago. It was the first year we had TM, before we realised we knew nothing about boating.

Generally it would not be practical to moor on the bank above the lock. The area is dotted with rings and mooring points but the water level in the summer us a good 10 feet below the bank. Not much chance of getting Spot on and off the boat. There is a pontoon large enough for a few boats so no problem if we decide to stop overnight.

We sat by the lock to have a picnic, next to the bench was this memorial, so sad.
This memorial is dedicated to the ten men of 300 Troop 131 Independent Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers (V) who tragically lost their lives on 28 September 1975 whilst on "Exercise Trent Chase",  an 80 mile navigation exercise on the River Trent.  Eleven men were in an assault boat on the River Trent during a force 6 gale, with the river in flood, when their assault boat was swept over a weir known as the Devils Cauldron. Ten men were drowned and one survived by clinging on to the assault boat. The scene of the tragedy is marked by a piece of Scottish granite with an inscribed plaque bearing the names of those who perished. Another memorial, pictured below,  was established in Zetland Park, Grangemouth. The men are also commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

On the way home we found The Muskham Ferry pub just above Cromwell lock. The beer was good the food reviews look good and the pub has mooring for 6 boats so a good place to stop before moving down the river.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tidal Trent and The Pennines

This years summer cruise has been a bit and bob year. We seemed to spend most of our time cruising up and down the Trent & Mersey between Fradley and Shardlow with various problems with me of TM. The up side of all of this is I have a better understanding of the fresh water system on TM and we have a new fully functioning toilet. The summer was not a total loss. We did manage the Leicester ring with a couple of important detours. We finally found time to turn left at Foxton and visit Market Harborough. The Ashby Canal has been an thorn in our side. It is only 15 miles from Castle Donington but we had to admit we had never ventured under that little narrow bridge.
Next year we are planning a big (for us) cruise, most if which will be on new waters.

Planned 2015 Cruise
In a nutshell, down the Trent to Keadby then back over the Pennines. Not sure which route back over the Pennines, that decision may not be made until the very last minute. The trip has a number of firsts for us. First time on the Trent past Gunthorpe. First time a tidal river. First time "Up North" on TM.
Over the winter we will be making a few reconnaissance trips to various key points on the trip so we know what to expect when we get there and to build our anticipation of the cruise. The details of the Recon Missions will be documented on this blog. Not that I think many people will be interested but   it is a good place to put the information where I can find it next year when we are out on TM.
Watch this space! or not.
Yesterday we had an email from our friends Angie and Steve. The have taken the plunge and moved onto their new narrowboat Jack 'n' Janner and are currently cruising somewhere near London. Congratulations and best wishes. We look forward to meeting up with you on the cut. If anyone out there on the cut spots Jack 'n' Janner, give them a wave and say Hi.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A trip down the Ashby Canal

One of the aims of this cruise was to go down the Ashby Canal. Tilly May has passed the junction on a number of occasions but in each case circumstances contrived for us to pass it by. Saturday we moored at Dadlington and on Sunday we motored to the end, winded and moored at Shackerstone for a meal in The Rising Sun pub. The Ashby is a meandering, narrow, and shallow canal with a complex rural character. It is flanked in places by some very old woods, and much of the land looks like it is or was part of a large country estate characterised by huge pasture land and acres of arable fields.

The return passage down the Ashby was fraught with problems: extremely shallow areas, a family in front of us who had just picked up their first hire boat (travelling at just over tick-over) and dredgers.
The plan is to be home for Saturday evening which means we need to be in Fradley for Thursday evening. To this end we pushed along to more just north of Nuneaton. The last time we came through Nuneaton it was cold and hailing. At the time I said it was a dump and even the rats had moved out. I thought that my recollections were tainted by the weather, so this time I look through sunshine and fresh eyes. Nuneaton is still a dump that even the rats have moved out. On to the Atherstone flight today.
Jan leaning out the side hatch of TM 

Spot walking in the Leicestershire countryside

The Ashby Canal

Leicestershire from the Ashby Canal

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Prison visit and sea shanties

Got up early and took Spot for a walk along the towpath. After only a few yards we came across a brand new gate set in the hedge of the towpath. It was not locked and had no notice to say private or footpath so we went through for a bit of an investigation. The gate lead to a newish wood with a number of well used footpaths heading in all directions. Finally we emerged into a car park full of cars in front of a massive building with a sign informing us we had just entered Her Majesty's Prison Rye Hill! Exit stage left followed by small spotty dog. Jan had a bit of an accident at Hilmorton Locks: the catch which holds the paddle open popped off and the windlass spun around on the shaft and hit her on the arm. Very painful and initially a bit of a mess but nothing broken. After a bit of first aid while we filled up with water we moved on to Newbold on Avon and a few pints and a meal in the Barley Mow. Only just managed to find a mooring at Newbold so we were quite close to the Newbold tunnel entrance. In the morning we could hear music in the tunnel, after a few minutes a boat emerged from the tunnel with a group of students stood on the bow playing instruments and singing sea shanties - what a fun way to start the day!

Music on the cut

 The cut will always surprise you when you least expect it. We cruised steadily through some superb open vistas and closed-in wooded glades and on to Hawksbury Junction (known on the cut as Sutton Stop, named after the first lock keeper). The Greyhound pub is one of our favourite watering holes, the beer is good and the food is really good, also dog-friendly. Last night I ate one of their famous pies: steak in red wine and Stilton sauce. It was to die for!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Watford Locks

Had a very pleasant evening at Elkington moored between bridges 26 and 27 - see photo below. The wood next to our mooring is owned by the Woodland Trust and is a wonderful place to walk. Many of the trees are very old and the woodland floor is quite open so Spot loved it.

Evening moon over Elkington

Elkington - Tilly May by the left edge.

Due to heavy rain fall previous day, had to sit under umbrella through Crick Tunnel to prevent getting drenched from roof dripping.

We took our time moving to the top of the Watford Locks flight as we'd had a couple of boats go past us before we cast off so knew we could have a bit of a wait to traverse the flight. This flight is right next to Watford Gap Services so after all the quiet of Elkington the traffic noise appeared horrendous. Once at the top of the flight we went to find the Lock Keeper to book in, but didn't see much of a problem as there were no other boats waiting to go down. The chap told us he had 11 boats waiting to come up (had told Jan 7) and he was going to bring 6 up and then we could go down. Not a lot we could do but put the kettle on. After half an hour we had only seen 2 boats come up so we decided to go see what the problem was and give a hand. No lock keeper in sight and chaos on the locks. Lots of hire boats without much of an idea what to do. We set to to help move things along only to be told by the next lock keeper that they were bringing all 11 boats up before we could go down. They would not let us move down into the next pound ready for the staircase, said it was "too windy" although we felt it was such a waste of water.  Finally after two and a half hours we were at the bottom. I know these chaps are unpaid volunteers but in this case I am not sure that they helped at all.

Had a nice meal at the New Inn at Norton Junction.

Going through Braunston tunnel met a boat head on with a failed tunnel light - chap on the bow with a torch: felt sorry for him as same happened to us 2 years ago! Lots of traffic through Braunston flight.

Decided to call it a day between bridges 80 and 81 as only one other boat moored.  Just putting in pins when 4 boats came down and 3 up all passing us at the same time resulting in total chaos!!

Spot Alert & Ready It Move!

Rainbow from the side hatch

Monday, 11 August 2014

Back Cruising and moored near Elkington

We now have a new pump out toilet that works much better than the old model. We rented a cheap car from Enterprise and went home for the weekend while I sorted getting a new toilet fitted. Jim Packer had a look at it last week and after talking to Lee Sanitation we discovered the unit was obsolete so I drove the Fenny Compton on Saturday and picked up a new loo. I returned to Tilly May on Sunday with new loo and moved her back onto the 48 hour mooring at Welford. Jim arrived and we managed to fit it ok. Back home Sunday evening and back down Monday morning with all washing done, lawn cut and shopping done. I took the car back to Daventry and Enterprise drove we back to Welford and were on the move by 1pm. We cruised in the sun until about 4pm when the thunder started. We were caught by the first storm but moored near Elkington where we have moored before. We have now had 3 more thunder storms, I just love storms when we are on the boat, the sound of rain on the roof reminds me of camping when I was a kid.

Friday, 8 August 2014

On to Welford

From Newton Top Lock we had a pump out at Debdale Wharf - very obliging people.  Fortunately the tunnel light worked ok at Saddington Tunnel but Jan always turns on all inside lights “just in case”.  Coming out of tunnel we were met with superb views - almost aerial - of vales and fields up to Foxton. Moored there for the night.

Foxton Basin early morning before the Gongoozalers arrive

We had burger and chips at the Foxton Lock Inn and it was ok-ish. Not having been down to Market Harborough before we decided next day to go down that arm and moor in Market Harborough Basin.  For the uninitiated (as we were) the first swing bridge has a WB key which is not needed as bridge not locked.  The second swing bridge has a plaque with instructions on it; however, the first most important ones are missing: ensure orange barriers are installed across the road BEFORE you insert your BW key for the quarter turn, otherwise you will not be able to retrieve your key.  Also, you MUST ensure white markings on road match perfectly otherwise you cannot move the bridge.  We were fortunate in having local walkers point these out to us as they had come across many boaters tearing their hair out trying to  decipher half-instructions.  Bridge works really easy once these instructions are followed.

Market Harborough Basin

At Mkt Harborough we ate at The Riverside in the basin and were not very impressed. Next morning we walked into the town centre - what a beautiful old town, so full of character and individual providers.  It was Sunday so most shops were closed however we managed to find a Co-Op and get a few bits (apparently there are other supermarkets only a few hundred yards down the road but be prepared to walk back up a steep hill with your shopping). Had a nice coffee in the town at the 3 Swans Hotel down a courtyard then moved Tilly May back to Foxton ready to go up in the morning. We booked in to go up Foxton Locks about 9:30 and were at the top in about an hour.  All thanks to the CaRT volunteers who make the flight transition so easy. Then on to the Welford Arm of the Grand Union and we moored at the Wharf and had a very nice steak pie in the Wharf Inn.

Jan and an upside down Spot half way up Foxton Locks

View across Leicestershire from the top of Foxton Locks

Yet more bad news, the macerator pump on the toilet stopped working. The old adage comes to mind: glass half-empty or half-full; things come in threes or third time lucky - we think we have had the former in both cases as this is our third attempt out this year. Thanks go to Ian and Fliss on NB Ubique (based at Crick but moored at Welford on our arrival) who gave us details of a local boat engineer who could help us. Fortunately Welford Wharf has toilets so we are here for a couple of days while we wait for the engineer to come and sort it.

Small lock on the Welford Arm

On the way down the Welford Arm we spotted a tow plane taking a glider up 2 or 3 times. This reminded me that an old friend Mark operates a glider around here so I dropped him an email and we met for a meal at The Wharf Inn on Tuesday evening - excellent food and company. The plan was for Mark to take us into Market Harborough for a Mexican this evening but the engineer said he could not get to us until early evening Wednesday so we had to cancel the meal with Mark.  What bad news - we have to eat at the Welford Arms again - all available fresh meat on board TM has gone to Spot as she is not eating very well and is being tempted by anything we can get her to eat.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Foxton and Welford Wharf

From Newton Top Lock we moved on to Foxton for the night. Not to go up but to move on to Market Harborough Basin. We ate burger and chips at the Foxton Lock Inn and it was ok.
Next day a short trip up to the Basin in Market Harborough. We ate at The Riverside in the basin and we were not very impressed. Next morning we walked into the town centre. It was Sunday so most shops were closed however we managed to find a Co-Op and get a few bits. Had a nice coffee in the town the moved Tilly May back to Foxton ready to go up in the morning. We booked in to go up Foxton Locks about 9:30 and were at the top in about an hour. Then on to the welford arm and we moored at the Wharf and had a very nice steak pie in the Wharf Inn. Yet more bad news, the macerator pump on the toilet stopped working. Fortunately Welford Wharf has toilets so we are here for a couple of days while we wait for an engineer to come and sort it. On the way down the Welford arm we spotted a tow pain taking a glider up. This remind me that an old friend Mark, operates a glider around here so I dropped him an email and we met for a meal at The Wharf Inn in Tuesday. The plan was for Mark to take us into Market Harborough for a Mexican but the engineer said he could not get to us until early evening Wednesday so we had to cancel the meal with Mark.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Into Leicester and out the other side

Apologies for not posting a blog since Monday but we have been busy and knackered so today's stop for thunderstorms has given us a chance to catch up. As we said before, we had a great day out with Steve and Shaun on Sunday.

Loughborough Basin

From Loughborough basin we decided to push on through Barrow and so spent the night moored just after Junction Lock but before the Hope and Anchor pub. We had picked up supplies at Tesco before leaving the basin so had all that was needed for a BBQ on the bank. We filled up with water at the Hope and Anchor (not sure it is an official water point but they are few and far between on the Soar) and pushed on to Castle Gardens in the middle of Leicester. Fortunately a boat moved off the pontoon not long after we arrived so we had a good safe mooring.

Kids Canoeing on the Soar in Leicester

I have to say the Soar heading into Leicester is a great river to cruise.
It is narrow and winding and lined with all sorts of flowering plants - it has the appearance of what Terry Darlington's description of his American trip across the Okefenokee swamp, we were looking for crocs and anacondas, but only saw a coconut floating in the river!! It is only the last mile that gets a bit industrial and mucky but all in all a nice trip.

The edge of Leicester

We walked into Leicester, had a couple of pints and sat outside Witherspoons people watching until we collected a take-away Chinese from Shanghai Moon (always eat here when passing through). The meal was very good but on reflection we now think that The Basin in Loughborough is numero uno!
Wednesday morning we set off to Kilby Bridge to top up water and spend the night. Made a bit of a cockup and managed to get to the pub 15 mins after they stopped serving food so we survived on ham sandwiches (again!). Thursday was to be a steady run towards Foxton.  However our plans were scuppered as we had to wait for an hour below lock 25 (Top Half Mile Lock) while a CaRT chappie back filled the water level between that lock and the one below due to the water level only just deep enough in the centre of the cut to take a boat.  We also paired up with a newcomer to the canal boating who had taken a boat only 2 days ago and was moving it single handed to Oxford for refurb; he wasn't too sure about the difference between single and double locks nor too handy with a windlass so very much a newcomer (as we all have been).  He said is following an "ambition, not a dream" in having the boat - we wish him well.  We decided to moor just after Newton Top Lock (near Newton Harcourt). Another middle of nowhere spot but the the thunderstorms were brewing and we just managed to get moored before the downpour. Ham salad for tea!!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Loughborough Basin chinese

We had a great start to the summer cruise. Shaun & Steve travelled with us from Shardlow. The weather was fine the chilled rose flowed and a good time was had by all. We ended the day with a meal in The Basin restaurant next door to the mooring. The food was fantastic, the service was good and the meal was a reasonable price. We finally ended the day sat on the steps of the basin drinking wine and looking like a bunch of winos. Unfortunately I took no photographs as I could not find my camera until this morning.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Third Time Lucky!!

Sunday we attempt to restart the 2014 summer cruise. Slight change of plan. We have seen Willington and Fradley enough for this month so we are heading up the Soar in a clockwise direction. Our friends Steve and Shaun have helped us to get home the last two attempts to start our cruise so the plan is to take Steve and Shaun with us for a days cruising to Loughborough then moor in the basin and take them for a meal at The Basin restaurant. They can then catch the Skyline bus from outside the restaurant back to Donington. Me will see!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tilly May Is Fixed Thanks to JD Narrowboats

Had a phone call from the chaps at JD Narrowboats this morning. They had found the problem, which turned out to be the water pump itself. This was really good news. So the tank was fine and we didn't have to have a whole new set of pipes run from the tank. Most importably the pump on Tilly May is right at the stern so the water we found below the floor had not traveled all through the boat. After a bit more drying and some rewiring of the fridge so that the wires are not on the flour where they can get wet and we will be ship shape by the weekend.
It was so worth the mad dash back to Shardlow. Darren and Andy at JD Narrowboats are top men. They look after Tilly May  and provide us with a great place to moor. If you pass by you should take a look at the boats they build, they are Fantastic. Thanks Chaps!
We have decided to continue on our original route but this time clockwise as we have been to Fradley Junction twice already so at least we will be out for a few weeks before we visit again.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Water Down Below!!

Awoke on Monday morning to find water on the galley floor. At first thought the fridge had defrosted but quickly discovered we had a serious water leak coming from the water tank. The space under the floor was full of water. After a full assessment of the situation we decided to run for home so the boys at JD Narrowboats could sort the problem. So we spun the boat around and headed back to Fradley Junction. We left the boat overnight and arrived back to start the run back home. We left Fradley at 9am with a plan to do 25.5 miles and 15 locks back home. If all want to plan we would be home by 9pm. All started well but once we were through Alrewas we hit queuing boats at Wychnor lock. Jan went down to help speed boats through. By the time the boat in the lock and moved through the other boats said we could jump the queue. People on the cut are so nice. When we arrived at Barton Turn Lock there were 3 boats queuing, but the boat that had gone through Wychnor lock had told them of our mad dash and they all waved us through the queue and down the lock. Jan was in tears and how helpful ever body was. It took 11 hours to do the 25.5 miles and 15 locks. We arrived at 8pm and today the boys are looking at the boat. We have to say a big thank you to everyone who help us yesterday.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A return to Fazeley and a great curry

I know we shouldn't complain, but today was a bit hot! We seemed to spend the best part of the day with the sun in our faces, slowly cooking. No locks today so at least we didn't have much physical work to do but the heat is still draining. Passed through some pretty channels lined with trees, very restful. We spent the night on the Fazeley visitors' mooring and I picked up a takeaway curry from the Ivory Tusk, which is just around the corner. We ate there two years ago and I can say the food is still as good. Top quality food and plenty of it. We had some welcome rain in the night and are due some this morning.

Disused Victorian Factory overlooking the Birminham Fazeley Canal at Fazeley

We plan to head towards Polesworth today - hopefully no dead bodies (got held up there 2 years ago when drowned man found in the cut!)

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Fradley Junction & The Mucky Duck

A trip to Coates butchers in Alrewas before a leisurely cruise up to Fradley Junction. The Trent & Mersey was busy with boats all the way to Fradley, but we still managed to be moored up and sat in the bank by 1pm. We decided to moor on the Coventry canal just past the swing bridge where it is quiet and the towpath has a wide grass margin suitable for snoozing in the sun with Spot. 

A footbridge over the Trent below Alrewas

Had a salad with home made Scotch Eggs from Mr Coates. Later we took a walk to the White Swan for a few pints of Abbott Ale followed by a very pleasant Turkey and Leek Pie. Life is a bitch!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Willington to Alrewas

We awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. Swans pecking at the boat for food (fed them digestive biscuits last night - bad move), swallows whizzing past the side hatch. A water topup at the CaRT facility and on out way to Alrewas. Alrewas is one of our favourite stops. The flood meadows and the village are so beautiful.

Railway Cottages at Willington

The journey was uneventful. The large periods of chugging along by the side of the A38 make this section of the Trent & Mersey a little noisy, but it is nice to move onto single locks. The contrast between Stenson 12 foot double lock and the tiny 3 foot 6 inch single Dallow lock is welcome. 
The Usual Audience at Dallow Lock
At Tatenhill lock we met a couple who were 1 week into a life changing adventure. They had sold up and bought a boat from Northampton to become live aboards - very excited! By the time we reached Alrewas we were both well cooked by the sun. One mooring left just after the lock so chairs out in the shade next to the hedge and a well earned bottle of ice cold Peroni. Dinner in The Crown on Post Office Road. This pub had just been refitted a month before the last time we were here. It turned out that Thursdays are fish night. Jan had a dressed crab starter that was fantastic and could have fed both of us. I had traditional fish & chips that was large and very well cooked with a light crispy batter. Finally sat by the boat watching the sun go down until about 9pm when we went to bed knackered. Terry Darlington is right - 9 o’clock is the boaters midnight!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Shardlow to WIllington

A nice steady cruise from Shardlow to Willington. No major problems with the locks which makes a change. Even Stenson lock filled and emptied without incident. Finished the day with a few pints of Burton Bridge and a fantastic meal at The Dragon.
Lock side Cafe at Stenson Bubble

Weston Grange
Every time we pass this house I look and wish I lived there.

Off we go Again!

My apologise for no blog but our initial cruise ended after only two days when an inner ear infection did for my balance and we had to return home. Now fully cured we are off again today. A month late but we will just cruise until September. Watch this space.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Bloody Stenson Lock

The morning started late, so late it was afternoon by the time we pulled pins and set off on our 2014 summer cruise. We left Shardlow about 1pm and motored in bright sunshine, arriving at Willington at 7:30pm. The highlight of the cruise was bloody Stenson Lock. It took over an hour for 4 boats to pass up the lock. The cafe side bottom gate still will not open fully, but we know about that, its been like it for years. Today the paddle in said bottom gate would not close completely. This resulted in a long wait for the lock to fill. Eventually I had to re-open the paddle to try and flush what ever was stuck in the paddle, and after some effort managed to close the paddle an extra turn which was just enough to get the lock to fill. 

Jan at Stenson Lock

Once moored at Willington we ambled down to The Dragon for something to eat. Sorry sir we stopped serving food at 7pm. Never mind we will walk around to The Geen Man. Sorry sir we stopped serving food at 7pm. So back to the boat for ham sandwiches. Fortunately, I was reminded by Jan that we normally cook some ham to start the summer cruise so I had popped to the butchers in Kegworth on Saturday and cooked a lump of gammon in Coke. Home cooked ham sandwiches, salad and crisps. A meal fit for a king!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

2014 Summer Cruise Starts Tomorrow

Tilly May clean, serviced, full of water and fuel, empty of poo. All we have to do is set off tomorrow.