Sunday, 17 November 2013

Kicking for the light...

We had left our mooring on the Shroppie nice and early, just before sun rise. There was plenty of ice on the roof and the ropes were stiff with frost. It was going to be a fairly long day for us, a couple of miles before the stop lock and then half a mile or so to the Wolverhampton 21. User friendly narrow locks heading up to Birmingham. We were in no hurry and by now the frost had started to melt and it was looking like good locking weather not too bright and hardly a breath of wind. The first few locks were in our favour and with light paddle we were soon into our stride.

The locks were also fairly shallow so as soon as I had steered LJ into a lock that Deb had prepared, I got up on the roof and then it was only a few feet up to the lock side so no need to walk down the length of the boat to the lock ladder. I would close the last bottom gate and Deb would unlock the security bolt on the upper paddles, and half wind up paddle before heading off to get the next lock prepared. Once LJ was at the top of the lock I would exit and shut the gate relocking the security bolt on the paddles. 

After the first half a dozen locks Deb started to find the upper gates open. Now sometimes the gates aren't particularly well balanced and open again, sometimes the wind can blow them back open, and sometimes it's a lazy git who can't be bothered getting off their boats to shut the gates. As we progressed even the security bolts hadn't been reset meaning that any little oik could open the paddles and run a pound dry. The next lock we meet one of the CaRT guys who said one of the pounds was very low ahead of us and he was running down some water for us. The boater before us (previous evening) was the reason the gates were open, lazy git! The CaRT guys we kind enough to set the next couple of locks for us and even open the lower gates so I could cruise on in. It was about now that the trip entered the second half of a trip very much of two halves.

Part cloud, dry, 8°c air temperature, 4°c water temperature.

We were plodding on in our own time, we were ahead of any kind of schedule. We were aiming to be at the top of the flight by mid afternoon to collect a coal delivery from Wulfruna Coal Co but we were nearly half way through and it wasn't much after 10.00 

Neither of us were very sure of what happened at lock side. Deb was walking back from the next lock up the flight and was a few hundred feet away. She said she thinks I may have slipped the windlass off the spindle and lost balance, I could have been about to walk around the paddle gear to cross the gate and slipped on the smoothed quoin stone - they are often smooth and slimey, and the towpath was still icy. 

I was wearing my heavy walking boots, Mendle Borneo with Vibram soles that are OK in mud, great on lose scree, but not very good on slimey lock sides. Unfortunately the layers of clothing that had kept me warm all morning were now conspiring against me. The, close to freezing, canal water was rapidly soaking through my windproof fleece outer layer, my fleece lined farmers shirt, a fast wicking T-shirt and finally a heavy thermal top. My jeans would also soon start feeling heavy and the thermal long johns would restrict my movement. 

I had reached out for the hand rail as I went over but my brain wouldn't allow me to release my grip on the windlass. The force of the collision instantly numbed my thumb that had taken the full thrust. I thought these kind of accidents were meant to happen in slow motion but in the blink of an eye I was under looking at the windlass still in my hand with a certain degree of confusion. Brain into gear, I decided that the windlass wasn't that important after all. Now that's weird, I had let go of the windlass and it was staying where it was, suspended in the murk but I was still going down. 

I thought these bloody canals were meant to be shallow! I decide I had better kick for the light. I had only been submerged for a couple of seconds but knew what the process was. Being keen sea kayakers for years we both know the importance of knowing how a kayak performs in a spill and had practiced capsize drills on occasion. First part of the cold shock response is the dreaded and deadly gasp reflex. Jumping into the sea or tipping a kayak over the gasp reflex is minimised by getting your head, or at least back of your neck, wet first. If you're lucky the gasp comes before your head goes under, if you're really switched on you can stop your head going under by ensuring that when you go jump/fall in you have one leg in front and one behind and as you go in you swap them over and make that the start your leg kick. Unfortunately I was not too switched on and after scrabbling for the hand rail had gone in backwards.

Within no more than ten seconds or so I had kicked to the surface and caught hold of the quoin stone on the outside of the lock. Deb had arrived in double quick time, it was important that she didn't try to pull me out, you have to be realistic about your abilities. With all my sodden layers and boots full of water I would guess that I had added at least three stones to my already considerable mass. I knew what I needed but by now if been submerged in 5°c water for a good few minutes. I decided to duck down give a big kick off the wall under the water and pull myself out. Unfortunately there isn't a bit of wall under the quoin stones just a big cavity where the water goes from the pound into the lock to fill it up. So I slipped under again with nothing solid to kick off. My calm request for a rope to facilitate a foot loop to help climb out came out something like 'HHH...I HNEED...HA..ROPE, GHHET HA HROPE' I was rather chilly.

Deb had the foresight to leave the bow rope attached to the front of the boat that was just the other side of the lock. I asked her to make a loop thinking that something big enough to put my boot through was all that was needed. Knots aren't Debs forte. We compromised on just chucking the rope in and looping the free end around the nearby paddle gear. My muscles were starting to suffer the cold. I got a foot hold and kicked up pushing with my arms, holding that position whilst Deb pulled in the slack off the rope until I was high enough to fall onto the canal side.

At least we had plenty of hot water as the engine had been running for a few hours. My sodden clothing made two machine loads and it looked like I had walked most of the canal into the boat. Within ten minutes it was all over, mug of tea in hand and off to the next lock. I was taken off locking duties and confirmed as a 'proper boater'. If only it had been the summer. Right, time to look for a new phone and a replacement windlass. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013



Wednesday 6th November
Stafford B98 - Lock 42
1.5 miles and 1 lock

The centre of Stafford is a straight walk from bridge 98 (the A34) and is about one and a half miles. There are some lovely old buildings there and on a Monday morning it was very quiet and we virtually had the whole town to ourselves. We returned to Stafford on Tuesday as the museum that I wanted to visit was closed on Mondays. The museum is housed in Ancient High House which is the largest timber framed house in England, it is Elizabethan and was built around 1594. Unfortunately on the day we went there was also a school trip and as is was around lunchtime the kids had taken up a number of the rooms to eat their lunches, never mind we got a good impression of the place in the rooms we could get into, it’s well worth a visit and free too.

We headed off in the pouring rain stopping at Staffordshire Boat Club to get a pump out. I don’t normally mention the emptying of our tank in the log, but the service here was excellent and only £12 so deserves a mention. The Club is run by volunteers and when we arrived James went off to find someone to assist and there they were laying tiles in their newly built clubhouse, the guy that came to do our pump out was the Harbourmaster and the Commodore was assisting with the tile laying. We were told if passing again to stay overnight as they nearly always have a space or two and the charge would be £7.50 or just buy a few drinks in the volunteer run bar in the evening.

We went through Lock 42 Deptmore Lock, this is on CRT’s winter stoppage list from 11th November so our target was met. We moored up just after in a nice rural stretch in pouring rain.

Early morning mist

Ancient High House - the largest timber framed house in England

Some other old buildings in Stafford

Alme Houses built in 1660

Rural mooring just above lock 42 

Friday 8th November
Lock 42 - Penkridge
3.75 miles and 3 locks
After a couple of days in the middle of nowhere it was time to move off and head for Penkridge. It started off being a lovely morning with bright sunshine only for it to change to cold and raining. We stopped before bridge 86 and Penkridge locks as it was 14 days moorings on this stretch but above the lock its only 48 hours and we intended spending a few days here. There is a great bakery in the village, Jaspers, we went there twice during our stay and both times lovely warm freshly baked loafs and a couple of their rock cakes.


On Saturday we went along to look at the outdoor market and noticed a banner there was advertising the Penkridge firework display later that evening, so along we went, it started at 6pm (8pm LJT). The massive bonfire was lit at 7pm with the fireworks starting at 7:30pm.

Sunday was Remembrance Sunday and we headed up to Penkridge Village to watch the parade and join the wreath laying at the war memorial outside the church.

James dressed for the occasion 
LJ in the distance

Nice sunny mooring in Penkridge

Total for week
5.25 miles
4 locks

413.6 miles
277 locks
8 tunnels
1 swing bridges



Monday 21st October
Mercia Marina - Shobnall Fields
5.25 miles and 1 lock
We delayed our departure from the marina, it was raining hard and very windy, by late morning the rain had stopped but the wind was still blowing well but off we went. It was difficult to make the left turn from our berth out of the marina so instead we turned right and tuned in the middle of the open part of the marina and made our way back to the canal. It was on and off raining all the way and the only lock was our first narrow one, I went to heave the small bottom gate and it flew open, I’d forgotten how easy they are or maybe I have acquire some muscles from the big gates of the double locks!!

Moored up at Shobnall Fields

Our first narrow lock for a while, under the railway bridge

Wednesday 23rd October
Shobnall Fields - Wychnor
6.3 miles and 4 locks
After stopping off at Shobnall Marina for diesel and coal we caught up with an Aqualine hire boat at the lock, it was their first time out and for only one night to see if they liked it as they are thinking of buying a boat. It was another windy day which made maneuvering in and out of locks tricky especially at Branson Lock 8 as there is a very open stretch just after it which kept trying to pin us to the bank. We had a quick stop just before Wychnor Lock to check out the river section and the weir, also to see if the bank was suitable for mooring after the lock. The notices for the river section were on amber and with the wind blowing the wrong direction we were a bit reluctant to do the river section today and the forecast was no wind in the morning. Yes good mooring spot after the lock just before bridge 44.

Just above Wychnor Lock before the footbridge

Thursday 24th October
Wychnor - Alrewas
1 mile and 1 lock
We walked up to check on the state of the river section this morning, it was slightly higher than yesterday, but still within the amber section and the flow seemed slightly more but no wind at all. Three boats came down with the flow and one up so we walked back to LJ and started off. We didn't travel far as we wanted to stop off in Alrewas and check out this lovely old village. So on arrival at Alrewas the sun was shining and quite warm so we had a late brekkie on the back deck.

One of the smaller weirs from the river

Approaching the massive weir

and just passing it - doesn't look too bad here but it was!!

Going against a fairly fast flow

We've arrived and celebrate with a pot of tea, well it was only 10am

Moored at Alrewas on the 48 hour moorings

Friday 25th October
Alrewas - Fradley
2.25 miles and 4 locks
There were volunteer lockies at the Fradley locks to help us through, we just did the first two one of the lockies said there was plenty of room to moor either side, so we opted for the new pontoons but unbelievably couldn't get in as it was too shallow so we reversed up and went the other side instead. Can’t believe new pontoons have been installed but you can’t get alongside them!!

You can't really tell from this photo but the larger duck looks half mallard half goose

Moored at Fradley

Saturday 26th October
Fradley - Rugeley
7.4 miles an 4 locks
We headed off fairly early as we wanted to get settled in Rugeley, we had decided to sit the storm out there. After the junction with the Coventry Canal we were on familiar waters again, as we had done this stretch up to Hayward Junction on the second boat we hired two years ago. As we were leaving the second lock a boat was just leaving the lock ahead coming down so it was a quick changeover and saved me opening/closing a couple more gates. We passed through Armitage with their stacks of loos and basins awaiting collection and then onto the Armitage Tunnel which had its roof removed in 1971. There are large signs here to send a crew member ahead to check it was all clear so off I went with a two way radio in hand, we didn't expect to see a boat as we had only passed one all day, but typically there was one on its way and no one getting off to check it was all clear. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe he was single handed, I could understand that, but no as he passed by there was little wifey sat there all comfortable, so I said  him it was a good job I had come to check before coming through, his response was a laugh and ‘yes it is’. When he passed James at the other end he did say thank you for waiting and mentioned ‘it would have been a bit tight’ was he having a laugh it’s tight for one boat going through, that’s why you have to send someone to check.
Our guide book says there are pleasant moorings just before bridge 66, I couldn't really see what was so pleasant about them that the guide book had actually mentioned them, we continued on just pass the bridge and found a few mooring rings just after the 48 hour section. We knew there was a fairly new Tesco right near the bridge and had a wander over, they have now pedestrianised the bridge and area near Tesco, apparently it has not even been open a month so really new then. Over the course of our stay we stocked up on all the heavy things like tins and flour and I ordered a vacuum cleaner to be delivered there using Tesco Direct, which is a fantastic service and keeps you fully informed by text as to where your order is. Lucky for us we didn't get much of a storm it all happen ‘down south’. We also had a wander around Rugeley town.

Passing Fradley Junction 
Here they come - slow progress through the moored boats

The Armitage factory

and their products awaiting collection

Through the Armitage tunnel that was

Moored at Rugeley

Totals for week
Miles 22.2 miles
Locks 14


Tuesday 29th October
Rugeley - Shugborough Hall
4.25 miles and 1 lock
Again it was a fairly early start, we had passed about seven Anglo-Welsh hire boats from Great Hayward so it seems they are keeping busy. When we got to the only lock of the day a boat was just leaving so we went straight in, I jumped off just before and headed up to close the gates but no need there were quite a few guys doing all that, it turned out there were eight boats waiting to come down the lock, I haven’t seen such a big queue at locks before even in the height of summer! Did they all know something we didn’t!! We arrived at Shugborough and headed off for a quick walk up to Hayward Junction, we met Ian, Irene and Jade on Free Spirit moored only a couple of boats ahead of us and spent along time chatting drinking coffee and eating biscuits. It was lovely to meet them all.

Approaching the aqueduct over the River Trent

Moored at Shugborough
Our view across the River Trent

Thursday 31st October
Shugborough Hall - Tixell Wide
0.75 miles and 1 lock
After a couple of days and a lovely early morning walk we did the short journey onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal and moored up at Tixell Wide.

Tixell Wide

James' Halloween pumpkin

Moored at Tixell Wide

View from the side hatch

Tixell Gatehouse

Sunday 3rd November
Tixell Wide - Stafford Nr Bridge 98
4 miles and 1 lock
We had an early start leaving Tixell Wide and with nothing about James couldn't resist doing the complete 360 turn, after all it must be the only place on the canal system that this can be done. It’s a shame I didn't think about it before as of course I was on the boat but it would have made a great video from the bank! After that we were on our way - in the same direction., we spotted a kingfisher just sitting on the reeds but as usual as soon as we were close enough for a photo he flew off, I did see again further up but not being too skilled in photography I couldn't get a good shot, never mind practice makes perfect, well I’ll never be perfect but the practice will help. Again we only had the one lock to do before we arrived at our destination of the nearest bridge to Stafford.

Mid 360 turn
Moored at Stafford just before Bridge 98

Total for week
9 miles
3 locks

408.35 miles
273 locks
8 tunnels
10 swing bridges