Saturday, 29 July 2017

Keeping ahead of the weather in the hamster wheel

We were on a mission to get to just after the top of the Audlem Flight of locks (we start at the top and head down) where we were going to meet up with Mike and Helen.

Mike was the Site Supervisor on the Waiuta and Alex Remediation projects that I project managed over the 18 months from January 2016. Mike and Helen are on an OE and spending time with their sons here in the UK and in Europe, and they accepted an offer to come and stay with us on the boat for a couple of days.

When we determined that doing the Audlem flight would be a good experience, we hadn't properly assessed the distance and number of locks we would have to traverse to get there! So over the week prior to their arrival we boated every day, which led us to discuss that we felt a bit like hamsters on a wheel! Four days before they were scheduled to arrive, David did a Canal Plan exercise to find out distances and times required if we boated each day until Wednesday to be in place for when Helen and Mike arrived on Thursday. So it was 4 hours a day - that is not a long boating day at all.

So the hamsters on the wheel is really about having to move each day. Of course, we could have boated for 8 hours over half the days, but I am past being able to do 8 hours at the tiller these days - it's age, don't you know?!

So the last few mooring stops have been:
  • Slade Heath, near the village of Coven - subject of photos in the previous post where the paths were not that clear and entries/exits were overgrown with nettles and brambles
  • Stretton Aqueduct over the A5 - a bit noisy on Sunday afternoon, but very sunny and with views across the fields. On the Monday morning, it was cheering to see the traffic at a standstill on the A5. Not generous, I know, but it did make me feel a bit smug ...
    Commuter traffic on Monday morning ...
  • Old Lea Wharf near the village of High Offley.
    Getting to this point involved travelling on top of embankments that had been painstakingly constructed to carry the canal. One section took 5.5 years to complete as it had a number of breaches occur during the building. Other sections were cut through sheer rock.
    My memory of previous trips through Grub Street Cutting was that it was extremely narrow and it is noted as such in the Nicholson's Guide. However the Shelmore Embankment and the approach to Cowley Tunnel seemed much narrower. I am unsure now where we were when we had to go inching past two approaching boats. As they were on the towpath side, they kindly stopped for us and the boat behind in a slightly wider piece (about the width of a double lock, I kid you not, but overhung with trees on the right).
    Looking back towards Cowley Tunnel, carved out of the rock. No bricks in this one to shore up earth.

    Just outside Cowley Tunnel: The canal has been carved out of this rock - to save building locks, I guess, and to cut travelling time for the working boats. What with the high embankments built above the fields along this canal, the work done was huge, and all done without the earthmoving/digging equipment that would be used today. Pretty impressive, we think.
    We ate on the move - David made sandwiches but the bread (baked by my own fair hand and then frozen) had got crumbly from its sojourn at freezing point. So I made a bit of a mess trying to eat one-handed while steering - too busy to stop, of course. So David had to clean up with the dustpan and brush (also while I continued to steer). So fear not, he is not worshipping at my feet, although he probably should! And I am not on a pedestal, I am just trying to increase my height so I can see properly!

    This bridge in the Grub Street Cutting is famous in the boating world. There are no longer any cables running to the isolators, but it still looks impressive. The bridge building across the canals is another outstanding example of the work done in earlier times.

    Once moored up, we went for a walk using the OS maps and made our way back along the towpath to cross the bridge and up the road and on to the path. Clearly farmers here don't want the public footpaths used. The sign had been removed and the stile was covered in nettles and brambles. The footpath was not particularly visible but using the map on the phone showed us the direction, so could find our way. All stiles were overgrown. At first we decided we wouldn't be stymied; but after a while we couldn't be bothered. Once we found the exit to the road (after climbing a fence to avoid the path which was full of nettles about 6 foot high and covered in discarded farm equipment),   and the exit was also bramble-covered and nettle covered, we decided to go back by road. Even that was interesting though as it was a one-lane lane, where all signs were about horses ...
    In the early evening, Bob turned up on his newly purchased (from Venetia Marina) small narrowboat. He was on Day 3 of ownership and had done lots of locks that day. (Having done them too now, I am impressed that he got through them and managed to continue boating without calling the marina to get his money back - some of those lock by-washes are a bugger! See below ...)
  • By the aqueduct in Market Drayton - lovely, sunny and peaceful there in the afternoon.

    We decided Mel needed to come out and show himself as our esteemed Boat Goat. He was happy being in his proper place, and once through these confined areas, excited much comment from passersby. Our explanation is that he doesn't poo and doesn't need feeding. And he's very obedient and never disagrees with either one of us.
    That day's cruise was all pretty good until we got to the Tyrley Locks:
    In the first lock we were accosted by a woman who was waiting below the lock, saying that there was no point in our going through the lock as there was another boat in the pound below heading the same way we were. It wasn't until we came out of the lock, when I noticed she was pretty grumpy, that I asked what she had wanted, and found she would have preferred me to back out of the lock and let her empty it with no boat in it so they could come up. Que? What? Doh! Her thinking makes no sense as it is a no-no to waste water by turning a lock unnecessarily. By the time we got down into the pound, the boat ahead of us was already going into the next lock. My hunch, in hindsight, was that she and her husband were stressed by the locking and by hirers who had struggled. Well, if you want the flight all to yourselves, you need to leave very early in the morning - say 5am. Otherwise, sharing is the name of the game.
    All was well then until we got to the last lock. We ended up caught on the rock ledge while waiting outside the lock for the inexperienced boaters to come out of the lock. I had been warned by the volunteer lockie at the lock above to stay in the middle, (and I hadn't read the warning in the book either, so my bad). However when David suggested I come over to the left to let the hirers out, I did so - silly me. If anything I should have gone over to the right. It took a few minutes to get off - reversing off didn't work as I couldn't get far enough back and away to move forward without being caught again.
    In the end it was a boater waiting for the lock below who came and assisted - with a sensible solution - David was already pushing using the boat pole, the additional piece was, rather than accelerating to get away, I went into neutral and stood on the far side of the boat. Happily the boat floated off. If I had been thinking, instead of reacting, I would have realised that, but I wasn't using my brain - idiot woman!

    It was a great relief to reach Market Drayton and moor up for the day. Having consulted Julia (the supermarket location queen) and google maps, we did a big shop at the small Asda (not my favourite place to shop but it was closest), trundled both trolleys and a couple of bags back to the boat, and got it all packed away.
    I spoke with the guy on Mabel when he moored behind us later in the afternoon and he told me he knew of someone who had been caught on the shelf above that last lock in the Tyrley Flight for half a day while waiting for the water level to be raised enough to float off ... So a lucky escape for us.

    Dinner was meant to be early, but I didn't realise the gas bottle had run out, dammit... Still, it was an early night for us both.

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