This years big cruise had the objective of getting Foamfollower to Middlewich or Anderton. Phil & Wendy wanted to go on the Leeds & Liverpool and down the tidal Trent but there just wasn't enough holiday. In all we travelled 199 miles and 164 locks with the odd lift bridge.
The photos can be viewed here.
A pretty poor journey to the Marina, the M40 south was closed and the traffic was tailing back to J2 of the M42. The cross country route was pretty good and we arrived shortly after 13:00. This meant that Phil had performed the oil change and minor service without us. Thanks. I had an abortive attempt to modify a car indicator buzzer to be an alternator not charging warning sound. After a spot of car shuffling to Radford (Phil & Wendy were decamping before Hatton!) we set off. We had a steady run through Stockton Locks and moored up at Long Itchington for a few beers and a meal in the 2 boats.
Weather great, crisp & sunny. I cast off at 8am as we had a heavy day ahead. We shared Bascote & Fosse locks with "Wild Mint II" out of Calcutt. A good bunch of people but their cruising speed was our tick over. For some reason they didn't want to use the tiller arm and preferred to hang onto the swans neck. "It got in the way" they said! We dropped Phil & Wendy off in Radford lock and they will join us again in Anderton. We asked to leave Radford lock ahead of the Wild Mint II and we made good progress to Cape locks. They were shut but opened as we approached to reveal "Juno" waiting. They welcomed the prospect of working Hatton together as they'd always been on their own before. About half the flight was in out favour and we made it to the top in 3 hours which was ahead of our schedule. Just after the top lock we passed Savernake the paddle driven narrowboat. There wasn't much traffic about but we had to meet another boat in Shrewley tunnel. Just passed the tunnel when the railway line gets close we nearly jumped out of our skins as a steam train came thundering past with a set of Pullman coaches. It all happened so quickly I failed to get the name. We found an excellent mooring just before Kingswood bridge and headed off for a few beers in the excellent Navigation Inn. Dave & Mia from Juno joined us for the meal. Monday morning I have to reverse back to the junction to head towards Stratford. Not sure of our exact plans but meeting up with Andrew in Evesham is on the cards if he's around.
Left Kingswood at 0915 after breakfast and reversed back to the junction to find the South Stratford canal. The bridge holes are certainly narrow here, it's the first time we've come across this style of bridge with no towpath under. They do look picturesque though. The sun is out and the countryside looks great. There wasn't much traffic heading for Stratford (except the boat that saw us coming) and most of the boats coming up were Stratford cruisers with happy American's on. We did meet one chap working a lock who'd found narrow boating quite a shock. He'd brought plenty of books to read thinking that all the locks would be manned and he'd have plenty of time to rest. He was enjoying it but it just wasn't what he'd expected. Progress was on the slow side as we had to turn most of the locks. We tried to slow down but still only met boats coming when we left the locks. Moored just north of bridge 59 at Wilmcote. Enjoyed a good meal in the Masons Arms washed down with some Hook Norton. The pub was fairly quiet but everyone was very friendly.
Left Wilmcote 0915 to head down Wilmcote locks. Another sunny day and getting hotter (makes a change from our last years big cruise). No real problems until we got to lock 48. Debbie was in the lock and it was nearly empty when there were cries of "stop the water". When I looked back the boat was listing seriously in the lock. I dropped the bottom gates and let some water in and within a few seconds all was well again. We were about 6 feet from the cill so it wasn't that and we weren't touching the sides either. We have no idea what it was and continued to empty the lock and all was ok. The pound below wasn't particularly low so it's a mystery. Talking to another boat in Stratford Basin in the evening they too had similar problems in that lock but only caught slightly and slipped off. We stopped at Chaly Beate Bridge for water and found that our gas alarm was sounding. There was no smell of gas and the usual trick of blowing on the sensors didn't stop the alarm. However, on closer investigation the sensor in the battery compartment was wet so we can only assume that the bilge water splashed it. As a precaution we turned off the gas and switched the fridge to 12v. Arrived at Stratford Basin 1350 and moored on a pontoon, watched by hundreds and videoed by many! We has a short walk around Stratford for a bit of shopping and returned to the boat for a few hands of crib and G&T's. Note: The "Relax" Chinese Restaurant does free delivery to boats in the basin! Very nice it was too. Spent the rest of the evening drinking and chatting with others in the basin until midnight.
Made a leisurely start at 0915 from Stratford Basin although early enough to only have a handful of people with video cameras at the lock onto the river. We gave them something to film though as we assembled the anchor from the engine room and carried it to the pointy end in the lock. The weather was dry and the sun was trying to come through but didn't make it until late morning. The river was very quiet, we didn't see another boat for hours. We decided to stop at Bidford Boats for a pump out only to be told by the old chap there that the normal chap wasn't here and he was getting too old to handle the machine as it was playing up. However, when asked he said we could try if we liked. It took us about 20 minutes to get it going by priming it with water first. Once primed things worked well. He charged us £4 for the blue as we'd done all the work. However, selling diesel at 46p/l I think they can afford free pump outs! Arrived at Evesham at 1700. Found Andrew's camera shop but he'd left for a meeting in Worcester. We went to Rilys anyway for the curry and we do believe that it's the best we've had in our lives!!
Got up and went to the bakers in Evesham High Street. The aim was to but some croissants or pain au chocolate for breakfast. This was abortive and I was told I needed a specialist bakers for that! Performed a few engine checks and set off at 0845. We were closely followed by "The Early Go" from Ventnor Farm who we'd been spotting every day since we left Calcutt. We stopped at Sankey Marine to purchase some much needed stern grease. Diesel 33p/l but we didn't have any. Shared nearly all the locks with The Early Go which was quite exciting as they were 70 foot and kept getting stuck in the locks trying to get out. We arrived at the Fleet Inn at Twying Fleet about 1530. The pub mooring was full with 2 cruisers and we held on the ferry mooring whilst we were thinking what to do. Luckily this must have scared them both off as they left and we moored carefully with plenty of fenders to protect the paint from the high landing stage. The pub served a wide variety of real ales and Scrumpy Jack. We did eat there but the food was nothing special. Mine was very hot but Deb's was only warm. We had seen another table send theirs back because it was too cold. Onto the Severn on Friday heading for Stourport or there a bouts.
Popped into the village for milk & bread at the post office stores. The newspaper stocking level was strange as they had about 30 copies of the Times but only 1 of the other broadsheets. Set off for Tewkesbury and moored up to take on Water just before the lock. Watched 2 narrow boats mess up the lock entrance and have to be hauled in by the lockie. Another made an unusually long visit to the bushes and trees waiting for the first to get in. Serenity from Napton Narrowboats drew alongside and took on water after he admitted leaving the tap on all night and now was empty. Luckily it went down the plug hole and not over the floor. We made a good entrance into the lock and were soon down on the big river. The sun was shining so the colour of the trees was accentuated. We were warned that the Severn could be a bit boring with high banks. We found it better than expected but still much prefer the canals. The first downstream boat was a large cruiser which was certainly going more than 8mph. The wake certainly made us bob around and Deb had forgotten her sea sickness pills. We hardly met any other boats and those that we did were travelling at a much slower pace and we hardly moved. Serenity left us around Worcester but not before giving us some mild entertainment when he decided to put his wife into a large willow tree (the only tree on the whole moorings) which she was not too impressed with. We stopped at Astley Burf (The Hampstall Inn) for the evening as there was a 60 foot space between all the cruisers. A cruiser came along later in the evening and moored alongside us. They were heading for the festival in Stourport (which we knew nothing about). They said it would be fun, carnival processions, boats all done up, fireworks in the evening. This was a weird place, we went in for a beer but didn't stay too long. The food was very basic, the pub had a few patrons but they all smoked and had children, two things in life we prefer to avoid!. Deb cooked an excellent pasta carbonara and we played a few rounds of crib.
We had been warned that Lincomb Lock would be busy due to the festival so we made sure that we arrived for opening time. Stourport Basin was very busy, plenty of boats & BW putting up tents & stands for the festival. Leaving the festival and heading for York Street Lock is a contrast, the canal below the lock is filthy & dark. There was so much rubbish that the prop was continually clinking. Luckily nothing seemed to attach itself that I couldn't shake off with a spot of reverse. The other side of the lock was much prettier. The run up to Kidderminster was great, yes we much prefer the canal! There were 3 lads by Caldwell Lock who opened the gates for us and fished a fire extinguisher out of the lock which we took away to dispose of. They seemed pleasant enough to us but the boat following said that they tried to climb aboard their boat. There is a new 24 hour Tesco just north of bridge 15 with plenty of ringed moorings. I lost Deb in there for an hour whilst I put the anchor away and tidied up a bit. Just before Kidderminster Lock there are more ringed moorings for Pizza Hut if you're desperate. Waiting under Kidderminster bridge was not very nice, it was pretty dark and there were some dubious kids about so I locked the front door whilst waiting for the lock. Had a great run after that, got wet in a few places as we were experiencing sunshine and showers. This turned out into a nice warm afternoon after about 1400 and we found an overnight mooring at Kinver just before the lock moorings. A visit to The Vine by the lock in the evening provided beer & food. It was crowded and most tables were booked. However, they let us have one that was booked for much later. They had a good choice of beer and the food was excellent. Very good portions. The Garlic, cheese & bacon flatbreads were actually a meal in themselves rather than a starter.
Unlike the weather forecast the weather was sunny and warm, still wearing the shorts. We made good progress despite a couple of fishing competitions. We get the impression that fisher folk up here are much more friendly that down south on the GU. We only met 1 Mr. Grumpy who made comments as we slowly passed by. We weren't planning on stopping in Wolverhampton so continued towards the Shroppie. We certainly like the Staffs & Worcs, the rocky cuttings and twisting route. Bratch staircase was very impressive. The BW lockie was boat spotting and checked our license. Onto the Shroppie we made speedy progress past the sewage works which were a bit ripe. We carried on under the M54 looking for a mooring only to find that the concrete shelf at the edge prevented us from getting much closer than 18" from the bank. It was getting late by now but we finally moored just north of Bridge 7 along with a few other spaced out boats. He road noise had almost gone and the mooring was pretty good. Total: 17 miles, 21 locks.
Weather still dry with sunny spells but a bit cooler. This was a bit of a boring day, only 1 lock and 20 miles. Far too many moored boats so we didn't get as far as we'd planned. However, the overnight stop at Cheswardine was very pleasant and gave Debbie a chance to pick some sloes & damsons for that much loved gin. As mentioned earlier we filled up at Turner's with cheap diesel. We also stopped at Gnosall for water. Note that the Post Office mentioned in the 2000 Nicholson is now a private house. There is a store the other way but it is about 500 yards.
Beautiful sunrise and blue skies, left Cheswardine at 0800. We weren't the first to leave so all the locks were against us:-( Quite a few of the locks had strong bywashes on exit especially Tyeley #4 which put the previous boat aground for some minutes. Just approaching the top of Audlem flight and the heavens opened for about 20 minutes. Debbie decided it was my turn to point and ran inside. However, once in the top lock it stopped and the sun came out again for the rest of the day. We stopped at Audlem Wharf with the intention of visiting the canal shop and carrying on. However, the Shroppie Fly was open so after 2 pints we called it a day, lit the stove and did the crossword. It was quite entertaining sitting outside watching boats navigate the water point and lock. We had a reasonable meal in the SF washed down with some good ale. It was a very friendly pub and we ended up being challenged to a game of crib by some of the other boaters in. It rained heavily in the night.
We abandoned our plans to go to Chester in favour of a trip up the Llangollen to Wrenbury Mill. We booked a table at the excellent Dusty Miller and a friend from Chester came out to join us for a meal. The weather was constant drizzle with a few dry spells. It wasn't too unpleasant and we had a reasonable chug. We stopped at Nantwich basin as our pump-out was critical and we could do with some gas. This was interesting, coming from the south the basin doubles back and you have to wind to go down to the basin. I was tempted to reverse down but the wind had got up and there were far too many moored boats. Managed to wind with about 6" to spare. No problems with Hurlstone locks, met a boat just leaving the bottom so they were all set for us. Met a chap single handing an Anglo Welsh boat from Trevor to Bunbury as it was needed on Saturday. He was most grateful when I worked a lock for him and didn't turn it in his face as had happened earlier in the day. BW were dredging just before Wrenbury Mill so we pulled over to wait. We had wondered what the tidal waves coming down the cut were as we bobbed up and down a fair bit. They certainly throw those little tugs "James" around and make a huge wash. They were very friendly and let us through in about 5 minutes. We had an excellent meal in the Dusty Miller.
The weather was really grotty today, pretty misty and raining. We had to go a little further up the Llangollen to wind and in an hours time we were back at Wrenbury Mill about 1000. No problems with the dredging today as they seemed to be bent over the engine of one of their cars. Picked up something around the prop in Swanley Number 2 Lock but luckily a few bursts of astern dislodged it. Arrived at Hurlston flight to find quite a queue for the locks. There was a steady stream of boats going up and down and we were about 5th in the queue. We tied up and took on some water and wandered down to look at the locks. It was chaos mainly because a boat coming up (D'Artagnon) had decided to turn a lock in front of the boat coming down. This meant that for the rest of the afternoon there would be 1 boat waiting in the side pound which wasn't that easy due to the bywash currents. The lockie had decided it was all too much and had gone of to do work elsewhere. We found him later having tea on one of the permanent moorings at the bottom of the flight. At least the rain stopped and the sun came out. Made reasonable progress after that and ended up mooring on the Middlewich branch on the 48hr moorings by the River Weaver Aqueduct.
Beautiful morning, set off about 0920. Progress was slow as the pound felt lower than the day before. Just by Br14 there are 48hr moorings for the Badger Inn and these were fairly busy. Passed some excellent 48hr moorings just built (do not use until Sept 15th) between Br21 & 22. These offered stunning views over Winsford Flash. We arrived at Wardle lock to find the explanation for the slow progress. Someone (on a boat?) had opened the top paddle and the bottom gate at about 1am. We popped into Anderson Boats whilst waiting for the Middlewich locks to obtain the Wigan flight keys that will be needed next week by Phil & Wendy when they take their boat back. We had a pleasant run right through to Anderton and moored on the 24hr moorings by the top of the lift. Woke at 5am and realised that there was water either side of the boat!! Threw on some clothes and found that the bow was still firmly attached but the stern rope had been cut with a knife!! Great. Luckily our old centre rope was to hand and I was able to secure the boat and return to bed. This is the first time we're had problems like this before. We certainly didn't hear anything in the night.
Another great morning, took a stroll into Anderton to buy a paper, milk and some snacks for lunch. Back to the boat to give it a good tidy up and wash before Phil & Wendy arrived. Confirmed our passage in the lift for 12:30, everything was fine. P&W arrived about 10:30 and we nattered for a while before heading off to be given our briefing for the lift. Everything ran to time and we were down on the Weaver before we knew it. We headed up through Northwich past the fantastic swing bridge and on up through Hunt's Lock. Vale Royal locks were closed due to a serious collapsing wall problem so we winded and headed back for the lift. We were early but managed to catch the 15:30 lift. After seeking advice from CutWeb members we decided that the evening meal should be at the Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge. Wendy needed to do a big shop so she headed off and we chugged through the tunnels to Bridge 108. The tunnels were both poor on visibility as they had bends and it was difficult to see the other end. The first tunnel looked clear so in we went. After a short while in the tunnel we heard hooting from the other end so we stopped and hooted back. However, it seemed clear to us that the other boat was still coming so we reversed out. The trip boat was just entering as we got to the entrance but they saw us and reversed out too. Progress after that was fine and we arrived at the bridge and had moored just before Wendy arrived with the shopping. A few G&T's later we all headed off to the Leigh Arms. This was an excellent pub and a great recommendation.
We were up a little later this morning, can't think why. Anyway, a hearty breakfast saw us all fighting fit. The only problem was that we were heading home and P&W were off on their trip. We packed the car and set off to pick our car up at Calcutt.
That's it for another year:-(