Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Bratch to Wheaton Aston

Now anyone who knows us and knows the canal system will think that's a long way for them to travel in a day, have things changed? No of course not, we just haven't had much in the way of internet to be able to blog, it has actually taken us a few days to get this far, so let's rewind to Tuesday 18th. We were just relaxing moored below Bratch locks when who should come past but Nick, Emma and Murk making up the Marpessa crew. They came onboard for a nice cup of tea, but unfortunately no cakes or biscuits, I hadn't done my baking, I was waiting for James to make his chilli jam so it could all be done together, sorry Nick and Emma I'll make sure I'm better prepared next time.

Wednesday morning we set off up the Batch locks, now these locks are slightly different to any we have come across, they are made up of three locks which used to be a staircase but for some reason back in history they all had extra gates put on to make them individual locks but with only a few feet between them, at the top we rounded the corner to see Marpessa moored up with her crew getting ready to start their day. We were planning on going straight through to the Shroppie but decided to stop at Wightwick (pronounced Wittick) as it looked a nice spot. We hadn't been moored long when Marpessa passed by, James managed to successfully pass Emma a pot of chilli Jam on their way by.

Bratch middle lock

Passing the old toll house into the top lock

Moored at Wightwick

The Batch to Wightwick 2.9 miles and 6 locks

After a couple of days we moved off to our next stop and this time we did manage to make it onto the Shropshire Union.

LJ enjoying a bubble bath at Wightwick Mill Lock
Wightwick to Pendeford 6 miles and 4 locks

Which brings us to today, we set off after the worst of the weather had passed with Wheaton Aston being the stopping point. We had walked up to Brewood (pronounced Brood) yesterday so didn't need to stop there today, we just had one little shower along the way and some nice sunshine, the wind was keeping it pretty chilly though.

The ornate bridge 10, Avenue Bridge, leading to Chillington Hall

The lovely church in Brewood

Going for a stroll along the canal

This little boat is amazing, a miniature narrowboat

On the aqueduct over the A5

Moored just above Wheaton Aston Lock
Pendeford to Wheaton Aston 5.6 miles

Total 50.6 miles and 48 locks

Nearly 100 lock miles already :-) 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Chilli Jam...

A couple of times a year I make my extra spicy preferred accompaniment to, well, just about everything really. Its cheap (especially if you make your own pectin, grow your own chillies or visit a market), easy to make and lasts ages.


800g to 1kg of whatever fresh chillies you can get
1kg granulated sugar
2 lemons (juice of) 
250ml distilled (clear) malt vinegar
250ml bottle of Certo apple pectin (most supermarkets stock it)

Oh and a pinch of salt, you don't actually need it but I'm not sure if this actually counts as a recipe without 'a pinch of salt'.


NB - for gentlemen partaking, have a pee before you start. If you need  go half way through (and even if you wash your hands several times first) you WILL regret it and end up sitting in a bath of cold water praying for the pain to go away. Do not rely on rubber gloves either! This is the voice of experience, not recent experience but you'll never forget it.

Wash and chop the chillies nice and small. I cheated and used a mini food processor. Now as I like to use just a tiny amount of chilli jam, say in a burger, I make it nice and hot. About a fifth of my chillies are evil little scotch bonnets.

Put the lemon juice, vinegar and sugar in a large pan and warm up over a gentle heat just to dissolve the sugar, stir only occasionally if needed. Stirring too much can recrystallize the sugar and then its a bin job.

Once its just about dissolved and clear add the chopped chillies. Give a quick stir and increase the heat to a simmer. This needs to be reduced in volume by about one fifth. Stir only occasionally.

Once it has reduced and ever so slightly thickened, ramp up the heat to a rolling boil and keep it bubbling evilly for a few minutes. Be careful of splashes and breathing too much of the steam (unless you need to clear out your sinuses).

Take off the heat and stir in the the whole 250ml of Certo pectin. Leave off the heat to cool slightly and bottle into small sterilised jars. Because it is so spicy I use 100ml kilner jars. If you bottle it whilst its too hot the chillies may well all float to the top, I try and wait a good twenty minutes so it starts to set a bit.


This recipe makes about 1.25 litres of very firm set chilli jam. If you want it softer use about 3/4 of a bottle of Certo, closer to 1/2 a bottle should be more of a sauce consistency.

This is just a basic recipe. I've made it with garlic and ginger (fry the garlic first or the vinegar will turn it bright green), and smoked chilli and lime with not so hot chillies and as a softer set for more of a dipping sauce consistency.

If you make this late in the summer Google a recipe for making pectin from crab apples. It works very well and halves the cost. My batch cost just under £5 with the shop bought pectin and the chillies were bought for £1.40 from Birmingham market.


Goes great on toast, muffins and bagels (just a tiny bit) topped with cream cheese. Chilli & phily.

On just about anything BBQ'd 

Half a teaspoon, and a couple of tablespoons each of yoghurt and mayo makes a great dip.

With some oil and soy sauce as a basting marinade for fish and chicken.

A little bit gives a nice kick to a beef stew or any pasta sauce, Chilli Mac 'n' cheese - nnnyyummmm.

Not too many ingredients in the basic recipe

Ready to simmer and reduce by about one fifth

Reduced and slightly thickened, ready for the full boil and pectin

That should last the summer!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Prestwood to Hinksford to The Bratch

Prestwood is a lovely spot although no internet or telly signal and very little in the way of phone too, but this hadn't bothered us until Super Saturday. The final of the Rugby Six Nations could not be missed so early Saturday we set off in search of a telly signal, think this is the first time we have done that! So after 2.5 miles and 3 locks we arrived at a nice open spot at Hinksford, managed to get a signal on the satellite and settled down for the afternoon.

On Sunday we were going to get on the bikes and ride up to Bratch locks but the towpath was like the M25, very busy with walkers, cyclists, fishing match and people who were in a hurry and should have left earlier (joggers). So instead we went for a short stroll to the village of Swindon where there is a handy little shop/post office, fish and chip shop, hairdressers and a couple of pubs.

Today the towpath was much quieter so we did our cycle to Bratch to check out our next mooring spot, we decided to move on in afternoon, James had seen a weather forecast of high winds for the next few days and we didn't fancy moving in that but we wanted a change of scenery. 

Nearly at the top

There are these lovely circular weirs at the locks here

Tut tut, fishing on the lock landing, glad we didn't need to stop on it
After 3 locks we came to the Botterham staircase locks, there is bridge across the middle of them to a canalside cottage , this means when filling the bottom lock, which James and LJ are in, with the water from the top one I couldn't see what was going on, so slowly did it with lots of crossing the bridge check all was OK in the bottom lock. 

Entering the bottom of the staircase

That's a very long way down, I'm stood on the bridge at the top of the staircase
There is a very handy Sainburys right by the canal at Wombourne so we stopped of for a quick top up on supplies before heading up our final lock of the day and mooring up in The Batch just below the lock flight. So another 3.2 miles and 6 locks to add to the counter. 

Nice sunny spot again

Total 36.1 miles and 38 locks

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Sometimes you do wonder if you've made the right decision...

Not today though. Our 'gap year' is fast approaching the start of its third year and whilst we were moored near Devils Den in the middle of nowhere with no TV signal, no DAB, intermittent phone signal and 3g if you stood in one place on the roof; we thought we had better get the walking boots out and head for the hills.

A chilly start, the overnight fog hadn't budged by 9.00 but soon after it started lifting. Using ViewRanger OS maps on my phone we headed up past organised paddocks and into Million wood (Flintshire Forest company's woodland) as the sun started to come out. Its been ages since we have had to tackle a mile or so straight up a hillside but we coped better than expected. 

Fog just lifting

Amazingly dry after such a wet winter

Dew heavy on wild roses 

We were aiming for a windmill as indicated on the map, just to see how complete it was. We met the land owner at her stables and were invited to go and have a look at the remains. Before the pine forest was planted it would have had an uninterrupted 360° vista.

Well most of it is still there

It may need a lick of paint

A short stretch on the lanes brought us to Enville at about four miles from the boat. Lovely little village that would have been extremely affluent in its day judging by the size of the church and some of the property. 

It was just past twelve and we could have done with a rest, good job the regional CAMRA best pub of 2013 was in sight (and I had my emergency £5 with me). The Cat Inn was a lovely little pub, neat and tidy inside, well looked after beer garden. You know you're going to get a good pint when the guest ale blackboard is bigger than the food one, and the first three ales bare the name of the village. A pint of Old Porter for me and half a Thatchers Gold for Deb (maybe I should have brought an emergency £10).

The Cat Inn

A locally brewed pint sat in the sunshine, spring is here.

Rested and fortified we carried on down to Enville Manor House. What a lovely place in a beautiful setting. Although our walk was a fair way from the canal the village of Enville it is well worth the effort if you're down this way.

It looks like some of the estate has been given over to local cricket and football clubs

Now that is a manor house

Back through the Million woods.

Another short stretch of road led us back in to the forest, up a never ending bridleway and back down to the canal and LJ. A lovely spring days walk.

Now we have a problem though. This was Friday, tomorrow (strangely enough) is Saturday and there are three six nations rugby matches to consider - and no TV signal. Think we had better pull pins and move on.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Stourbridge to Prestwood

We had a very pleasant couple of days at the end of the Stourbridge Town Arm, it's a nice peaceful location and very handy for the town centre, which is just a short walk away and has all the usual high street shops as well as a Tesco Extra. 

Yesterday we set sail and headed off down the four Stourton Locks, all against us again with the bottom gates open, would have been great if we were going the other way. Never mind I needed the exercise, I had a cake baking as we went. 

Stourton Bottom Lock

Left to Stourport and right to Stafford

At the junction we turned right onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal heading north and stopped a short way up at Prestwood. 

Moored up at Prestwood

Nice and rural, the only sound is the birds

Today 4 miles and 4 locks
Total 30.4 miles and 29 locks

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Merryhill to Stourbridge

We arrived at Merryhill and went off to look around the massive shopping centre.

Yesterday was battery maintenance day, not pleasant as I think our batteries have got to be the most inaccessible ever! Anyway with two looking pretty dead James did a bit of rewiring and we have gone down to having three, we'll see how that goes.

This morning we set off nice and early we had two lock flights to do, 24 locks in total and had to be moored up for the rugby at 2:30pm. Our first flight was the 8 of the Delph locks with all of the them against us and a few bottom gates open. Once through these we are now on the Stourbridge canal and I got a break of a mile or so before starting on the Stourbridge flight of 16, which were also against us and again some gates opened, at lock 5 a guy walking along the towpath said there was a boat a couple of locks down heading our way, that's always good new the locks should be in our favour after we pass but no they were all emptying through leakages. We passed the boat at lock 9 and it was Peter and Heather's friends (our winter mooring neighbours) John and Jude on Serena. Straight after the lock we did a left turn down the Stourbridge Town Arm, winded at the end and moored up just in time for the rugby. Think I'm going to be a bit achy in the morning.

The Delph flight - it's all downhill now

The old stable block

Don't often see LJ at this angle

James busy preparing dinner whilst waiting for the locks

Stourbridge flight

Waiting for the lock

Moored up in Stourbridge

Today 5.7 miles and 24 locks
Total miles 26.4 miles and 25 locks 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Windmill End to Merryhill

Yesterday we took a quick walk back to Netherton Tunnel and traced it from above, I wanted to see the top of the air shafts, I know they”re nothing exciting and all look the same, but strangely this kind of thing interests me! We then walked the few miles down to the Gosty Hilll Tunnel.

Entrance to Netherton Tunnel from above

One of the air shafts for the tunnel

After a quick walk to Bumble Hole this morning, where we saw the remains of the windmill that I assume Windmill End gets it name from, we set off in lovely warm March sunshine. James had a tight turn getting LJ round from Dudley No 2 canal to Dudley No 1 and then straight into the Blowers Green Lock, which at 12ft is the deepest on the BCN. It was built to replace two earlier locks which had suffered subsidence. 

Bunble Hole with the remains of the windmill

Joining the Dudley No 1 canal

And into the lock

The deepest on the BCN at 12 ft
We then had a good run to the Waterfront just a short walk from the massive Merryhill Shopping Centre.

Lovely sunny spot and very quiet this evening

Today 3.8 miles and 1 lock
Total  20.7 miles and 1 lock

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Bye Bye Birmingham

Today 10.3 miles

Total 16.9 miles

On 1st March our winter mooring at Cambrian Wharf had come to an end, as if three and a half months in Birmingham wasn’t enough we wanted to stay another couple of days for two reasons, firstly I was working until 2nd March and secondly I wanted to go to the Chinese restaurant the Ming Moon for my Birthday dinner so we moved the half a mile onto the moorings between the NIA and the Sealife centre.

On the pontoon at Cambrian Wharf

Nice sunny spot near the NIA
We had a great day yesterday, my birthday, and in the evening met up with our fantastic Cambrian Wharf neighbours Peter and Heather on Blackberry Way. We had a pre-dinner drink at the Dragon Inn in the Chinese Quarter before heading off to eat and we certainly got our money’s worth. We had a lovely evening with great food and great company. I want to say thank you to everyone for my Birthday wishes and the cards that I received - I know it’s not easy sending a card to someone without a postal address!

So onto today, it was time to say Bye to Birmingham and off we headed after a last visit to the library to print off a couple of letters we need to send. The sun was out and the forecast was cloud and sun, thankfully no rain for our first proper cruise for a few months, at least we were broken in again gently.

Bye Birmingham

Bye Nick and Emma, hope to see you again soon
We were heading for Windmill End and decided to break up the long straight of the New Mainline (Birmingham Level) by going down the two loops of Icknield Port and Hockley. The Icknield Port loop passes by the Rotten Park Reservoir where there also appears to be a CaRT yard with lovely buildings. 

Nice CaRT office?

CaRT yard with Rotton Park Reservoir behind
Back onto the Mainline there are a few maintenance jobs being done by CaRT, firstly some dredging works and then bridge painting on the Gower Branch junction. A little further on we turned off left down the Netherton Tunnel branch and through the said tunnel, a short distance out and we had reached our destination of Windmill End.

Back on the New Mainline

Engine Arm Aquaduct

Our first Heron siting of the year

Plenty of headroom under this bridge

The M5 over the canal

Rinsing the barge after emptying the dredged material

Holding the barge to the edge for us to pass

The light at the end of the 1.71 mile Netherton Tunnel

One of the many air shafts 

Moored up at Windmill End
Just a little info on the tunnel: Netherton Tunnel was the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain during the Canal Age. After just over two and a half years of construction the tunnel was opened in August 1858. It was built to relieve the wait at Dudley Tunnel which is very narrow and has one way working, waiting times could be eight hours or more and on occasions could be several days. Netherton Tunnel is 1.71 miles long and is wide to allow two way working and has towpaths on both sides. The tunnel was fitted with gas lighting over the towpaths, which was later converted to electric and now it is unlit.