Thursday, 31 October 2013

A couple of firsts...

But before that...After leaving Mercia we had the shortish hop to Shobnall Fields on the edge of Burton Upon Trent. By now we were about 18 miles from Trent Junction and the end of the Soar and with a few days of rain behind us were quite glad too. Ali from Beacon boats had said that the Soar was steadily rising. Main task for Burton was to top up the cupboards and with Lidl about a mile away we made a trip in (and slow trip back) for both the days we were moored on the fields visitor moorings. Whilst there we also made use of a half decent Indian restaurant that was unlicensed and took the last of the wine that Deb's sister had kindly brought us up when they visited.

Mooring At Shobnall Fields

Tight access to the services at Shobnall Marina

We knew that we had a small portion of the Trent still to go but hadn't realised quite how much rain we had had. As we approached the wind was against us and would have been blowing us weir-wards and the evening sun was right in our eyes. We moored on the edge of a winding hole and went off to see what the flow was like for the next day - we had been told by a hire boater in the previous lock that the river was on red boards so we may have had to stay put for the day (awful mooring too about 10ft from the Ryknild Street Roman Road - now the busy A38.) After our walk to the Alrewas lock we were pleased to see that the river was on amber and there was a far better mooring point close to footbridge 44 about a mile east of the weir. The next morning the winds had died down (from about 18mph) to negligible so we had an early potter up the still swiftly flowing Trent (about 4" off red) LJ coped well, we haven't done much against the flow of rivers up until now and she nearly coped on low (1000 rpm) engine setting. Pressing the little green button and increasing revs to 1500 rpm made the going easy and a quick blip to full throttle (still 1500 rpm on the governed engine) saw a robust bow wave and an estimated 3.5 mph forward against a 3 mph flow (paced out the previous day with GPS and following a stick - very technical)

As we had left early, by 10.30 we were moored in Alrewas and sat on a sunny morning in an ideal wind free spot having tea and toast on the rear deck. Apart from a quick look around the village the only thing on the agenda was to visit the National Arboretum. We would have liked to have been here on the 11th of November but that's the day that CaRT close two of the routes (and our only option) into Birmingham so we have to get past them in good time. I've got quite a few pics of our morning out which I will endeavour to post nearer the date.

Last Mooring Point Before the River Trent
Tea on the Terrace after the last of our River sections

Next stop was an important one. Rugeley. We needed some secure (no mooring pins) moorings to stay for a couple of days this was the time of the 'storm that didn't come' - at least it didn't reach this part of the East Midlands (we had even gone out scouting trees that looked a bit iffy to check for fire wood). Any way on storm day we had hardly any wind, maybe a few 20 mph gusts, and virtually no rain. The other thing we needed to do (as well as look around the local town (home of the donkey jacket) was to wait for Deb's tesco order to arrive. Not food this time but a new vacuum cleaner - how exciting! I had re-wired a spur from the main prop gen so we can use the vacuum from the gen directly rather than through the inverter and battery bank. Even though it's a small vac, via the inverter it would draw about 140 Amps which wouldn't be nice for the batteries and would take juice out even with the engine running.

Making a run before the storm

Debs new acquisition
A beautiful next stage to Shugborough hall, somewhere that we had moored on our last trip here aboard a rather dodgy hire boat called Tin Can (Bucket o' Nails would have been a better name). We had promised ourselves a look around the hall but the buggers have closed it for the winter. On Route we (very nearly) bumped into the guys from Dolce Far Niente who don't blog but as we passed I shouted out 'I know all about you from Doug and James on NB Chance' expecting at least a bit of a shocked look both they said 'and we know all about you from them too!' In degrees of separation in the narrowboat circles you are never more than 100 yards from someone who knows Doug and James off NB Chance. Icing on cake once we had moored up was bumping into Ian and Irene (and Jade) from NB Freespirit. We were headed off for a stroll as we had arrived by about 12.00 (or 10.00 LJT) and we hadn't walked for more than about 100 yards when I saw Irene on the back of Freespirit with a laptop desperately trying to get a signal to post her latest blog. Within minutes we were sat in the warm with coffee and biccies talking like we had known each other for years. You know when you've got new friends when two hours seems like ten minutes and its still not enough. We had a great time with them for a couple of hours on each boat catching up and putting the world to rights - we'll have to moor near a pub next time guys. I must just remind myself of Jade as well, the best behaved Lab I have ever met, happy to share her space with strangers and lay at their feet - a remarkable young lady and not looking half her thirteen year age.

Journey to Shugborough

Shugborough Hall 

The Lovely Ian and Irene
OK the first first... In Lidl at Shobnall I bought a dual use pumpkin hoping to get enough flesh for a pie, or at least a couple of tartlettes and to carve my first pumpkin. When I  grew up in the 70's/80's Halloween was still very much an American holiday, we did the trick or treating but that was about it. Although Halloween was Calum's birthday we didn't used to take much notice of the trick or treaters and newly fashionable parties - if pumpkins were carved it would have been Deb and Jess before I got home from work. So here's my efforts and a Birthday pic of the old boy.

A bit tribal

I was going to carve a bone to go through the cheek holes...

Callum was never allowed to climb trees 

But he was always happy to help setting up the awning

As long as he had a bed with a view
 Second First... and this is where it all gets a bit surreal. The clocks changed last weekend, they went back an hour and we all lost a precious hour of evening daylight all because of some Victorian farmers or Scottish school kids, I'm not really sure which. I spent lots of time analysing our use of time and how we personally measure it. Actually the analysis was probably not that long (or I may have even dreamt it). We don't have to get up for work, we very rarely have appointment times, we can't find anything to really get into on TV - if we do watch it we just turn it on and pick what's acceptable. The sun rises this time of year at about 06.30 and sets about 4.45. To get the most out of the day you have to be early to bed and early to rise. Both of these are mental blocks. I can't get up at 06.00 and go out for a hike at 06.30, I can't go to bed at 9.00. We haven't put our clocks back an hour - we've put them FORWARD an hour. We've been getting up at 06.00 GMT which is 08.00 LJT (Lois Jane Time) Its now 6.30 pm LJT and I am about to have a plate of Deb's Risotto watching the geese fly over Tixal Wide - So if I agree to meet you in the pub somewhere, give me an hour or so either way. Normal service will resume in the spring (or sooner if we have a major time based cock up) 

Thursday, 24 October 2013



Monday 14th October
Sawley - Weston-on-Trent, Bridge 9
5.4 miles and 5 locks
We set off in the pouring rain, the flood lock had been closed since yesterday so that was the first one of the day, the level was at the top of the green just into the amber. Then we were passing by the final weir and going against the flow of the Trent. Next was the crossroads with left continuing on the Trent, right being the un-navigable River Derwent and straight on, where we were heading, onto the Trent and Mersey Canal and shortly afterwards into the lock, where the level marker hadn‘t even reach the green! We were hoping to stop off in Shardlow but with full moorings we continued on. At our next lock we were joined by first time hire boaters who were a bit reluctant to share the lock as they weren’t sure they would fit in, but in they came and we did the rest of the locks with them until we stopped just after bridge 9.

Ready for the weather

Not very elegant but at least dry

Leaving Sawley, marker at Sawley flood lock

Passing the weir

And then up the River Trent, quite wide at this section

Nice clear sign, at least we know which way to go

Looking back at the cross 'road'

Marker at Derwent Mouth Lock, nice and low

Waiting for the lock

Nice building in Shardlow

And another

Lock sharing with a couple from South Africa, their daughter and her son

Moored just after Weston on Trent (bridge 9 in back ground)

Thursday 17th October
Weston-on-Trent, Bridge 9 - Willlington
7.5 miles and 2 locks
We had glorious sunshine this morning, a big difference to when we set off on Monday. The boat that had been moored behind us overnight was just getting ready to set off as well so we let them go first and followed on a few minutes later. I got our brekkie of tea and toast and went up to join James. In was indeed a wonderful morning and with the sun on our backs we were quite warm. At our first lock we just missed the boat that had set off in front of us, they had just lifted one paddle to fill the deep lock of nearly 11ft so it was quite a wait, by the time the lock had filled there was a boat waiting to come down then finally it was our turn. Once through we continued on our way through the lovely Derbyshire countryside and now the clouds were beginning to appear. We reach the second (and final) lock of the day, this time the boat in front had about half filled the lock and this was another deep lock with a rise of 12ft 4in. I had to raise the paddles slowly in this one as it was quite ferocious and throwing poor LJ around, it was slow going but we got there. On our approach into Willlington just as we were passing Mercia Marina down came the rain, just a few minutes more and we would have been ‘home and dry’.

Unused railway to Derby - now a brilliant foot/cycle path

Lovely morning

Looking very autumnal now

Unusual building

The old toll house

Massive farm house

Swan family resting/eating in the field

Stenson Lock, very deep and the last wide one

What about boaters!!!

Moored up at Willington - unfortunately near the railway

Friday18th October
Willington - Mercia Marina
0.75 miles
We made our way down to the winding hole and thankfully the boat that had been moored opposite it all night had just left which gave James a little more room to run LJ round to head off to try out Mercia Marina. We moored up on the Midland Chandlers mooring and headed for Reception where we were made to feel welcome, handed over our money, collected our pedestrian entrance zapper and given our berth number along the Avocet pontoon. James did a great job reversing in and once tied up and the shore power connected the washing machine started working overtime. Mercia is a lovely marina and would be our number 1 choice for winter moorings - maybe next year as we’re booked into Cambrian Wharf this year.

On Avocet pontoon at Mercia

13.65 miles
7 locks

377.15 miles

256 locks
8 tunnels
10 swing bridges

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Try before you buy...

Two plus years ago one of my coping measures on a really shitty work day was to log into Mercia marinas web cam on my phone. Sad I know but it have me my instant canal fix. Just as frequently Deb used to message me screen shots of the comings and goings. The web cam is somewhere close to the cafe and looks out over the expense of the water over the top of the boats for sale. At the time living on a boat was a distant dream and part of the ten year plan. That was until I woke up one day and said - we're going to do it in the next six months. 

We visited Mercia, amongst others, and whilst we looked at an old trad boat that was a possibility there wasn't much to offer in the sales section. The rest of the marina did impress though. It is huge but well laid out into smaller sections with lots of islands to keep the vista open. The facilities were top notch and the boats were, on the whole, neat and tidy. 

Last years plan was to winter at Mercia but having been forced to stop in Hinckley in the summer we had had enough of marina life for a while. This year we have arranged a winter berth in Birmingham as we fancied a bit of city life but we have decided to have a pit stop at Mercia for a couple of days. The primary reason being to get the summer wardrobe thoroughly cleaned and dried and freshen the winter clothes that have been vac packed in storage, all ready for the chill down. 

The secondary reason was for a bit of 'try before you buy'. Mercia is an acceptably central location with good road and rail communications, great facilities and at a reasonable price, even the leccy is cheap at less than 12p per kWh its a fraction of what it costs to generate on board. The time is fast approaching where we will need to consider stopping for a little longer and earning some money (when will the mortgage interest rates go up? - $64k question). The practicalities of a marina berth with the all important electric hookup probably out way the preference of the pretty off line mooring on the edge of a rural village and the flexibility of paying slightly more but per month or quarter could be of real benefit.

By the time we (possibly) come back for next winter there should be the final part of the development finished. All but three of the new lodges have been sold and the restaurant/retail units are being started next month and will provide some competition for the on site cafe. Of course, that is unless any other plans materialise. Up until now we haven't made a decision until we approach a junction and decide 'left or right?'

A couple of pics of the marina taken from LJ yesterday evening 

Sunday, 13 October 2013



Wednesday 2nd October
Kilby Bridge - Birstall
11.5 miles and 19 locks
After our lovely evening with Doug, James and Birgit it was time for us to head off and tackle Leicester. We were ready to set off at 8am but it decided to start raining again so a short delay whilst we got into our waterproofs. I took Doug's great advice and set off on my bike to the first lock of the day, just around the corner from our mooring. I arrived to find the lock empty (we were going down) and the bottom gates open, it took a few attempts to get the gates closed but they kept opening by the time I had got round the other side, anyway after running around the lock a few times I managed to get them shut and the lock filled. At our second lock of the day the same thing lock empty and bottom gates open. Just as I opened the gates and James got LJ in a hire boat came round the corner so at least I wouldn't have to close the gates on leaving. The lady came up and helped open the gates for us to leave and told me there was a boat a few locks ahead also heading down, then I knew all locks would be against me! The next one was ok as the hire boat had been up, but the rest ALL the way to Leicester were empty and with the bottom gates left open, the lazy gits we were following weren't bothering to shut the gates. I know some gates don't stay closed but apart from our first one at Kilby I had managed to close them all, it's a good job we didn't catch them up!! We had a quick stop when the rain began again quite heavily to have tea and toast then it was on our way again, with me on the bike. I eventually got onto the boat at Aylestone Mill Lock after about 7 miles, with all locks against us and bottom gates open. We continued onto Birstall going past all the weirs of my nightmares. Needless to say by the time we arrived I was a bit worn out and tired, I slept well that night.

First lock of the day

Here they come

Bit of a tight squeeze, the workmen here were having a bit of a row when I passed

St Mary's Mill

Don't want to go the wrong way here

The weir by Freeman's Meadow Lock

Waterways merge again

Guess it was something to do with the Uni freshers week

Interesting chimneys

Ornate bridge

This lock leaked so much it was tough getting the bottom gates open

Another weir, so easy to go the wrong way

This looks like an inflatable building

Heron in a tree

At last we've reached Birstall

Sunday 6th October
Birstall - Junction Lock 47
3 miles and 1 lock
After a lovely relaxing stay at Birstall, along with a trip by bus into Leicester we were off, just a short hop this time and an overnight stay in a lovely rural location. 

Swan family having a rest on the slipway at MGM boats

Near the weir just before Junction Lock 47

14.5 miles
20 locks


Monday 7th October 
Junction Lock 47 - Loughborough
8.25 miles and 5 locks
James was up and about early this morning, as usual and I was soon up when James had said there was a hire boat stuck across the lock just ahead of us. After watching them we realised that they were well and truly stuck and may need a hand, so off we went. What we think happened was that when they opened the paddles to fill the lock the boat got dragged over and then as the pound level lowered the rear end got stuck on a ledge, with the front wedged by the gate. After closing the paddles and three of us pushing the boat it eventually came free. It wasn't long after we started our journey towards Loughborough stopping just short of the junction down to the basin.

Stuck hire boat

Leaky lock


We shared this lock with a duck family, they all swam out when I opened the gates

Getting wider now

This swan seemed to be racing us

Glad we didn't go the wrong way here

Water levels are lower than the green mark

Very river like now

Horses going for a walk

We passed some beautiful gardens

This was an easy lock!

Having a paddle

Just before the junction at Loughborough

Wednesday 9th October
Loughborough - Basin
0.5 miles 
We decided to move into the basin to carrying on with a little painting, it was ideal for getting to the back where we wanted to get the tunnel bands done. We ended up staying two nights, the first it was full with another three boats coming in after us and the second night we were alone. We had no problems there and it was quiet, but we were told it can get noisy at the weekends.

Friday 10th October
Loughborough Basin - Zouch Lock
3.5 miles and 2 locks
Not a pleasant day weather wise it was intermittently raining and drizzling and the wind was blowing a hooley, but we wanted to move from the basin.

Normanton on Soar

Emergency moorings

Visitor moorings at Zouch

and in front towards the bridge and lock

Saturday 12 October
Zouch Lock - Sawley 
6.5 miles and 6 locks
Fairly early start again this morning just after 8am and headed for our first lock which was just the other side of the bridge we were near, so I set off walking and got the lock ready for James and LJ to get in, when the couple of the boat near the lock raced out to join us. We had company, with Frank and Jane all the way to Sawley which made the lock operating a bit easier.

Sharing the locks and halving the work for me 

Another easy lock 

Can just make out Ratcliffe power station 

Filled in lock

Shame about the house right in front

Heron waiting for his dinner

The houses are all built on stilts here

Leading to the dreaded Thrumpton weir

These signs are massive

Passing the junction

A huge expanse of water

It didn't take these rowers long to overtake us

The paired Sawley locks, i just needed to press buttons here

And moored up at Sawley near the marina

For the dogs that can't translate

A better picture of the power station taken Sunday afternoon, with better weather

18.75 miles
13 locks

363.5 miles
249 locks
8 tunnels
10 swing bridges