Where to begin?

Monday 3 May, 2010 by

First an update on the winter activities. The diesel leak was eventually traced to a dirty union in one of the injector feeds. Dismantling and cleaning the union has done the trick and there is now no trace of diesel leaking into the lubricating oil.

Apart from giving the boat a few turns around the local winding holesto help keep the batteries charged, little else was needed until it was found that a block of wood at the rear hatch had rotted away. A replacement was made out of Iroko and fitted during the early Spring.

Michael had received an invitation to take Tardebigge to a Tug rally at the Black Country Museum for the Mayday Bank holiday. Plans were made to take it up around Easter but work in the Museum canal arm meant a delay was necessary. So a trip on the Upper Thames was planned. At this point the weather turned against us and although the trip was started it was abandoned when, after spending about 40 minutes on the river, it became apparent the the river was winning the battle and we were not making much headway against the flow. Turning round we did the return journey in about 20 minutes and were glad to get back on to the Oxford canal. Plan B was invoked and we travelled up to Aynho before turning back to moor at Heyford on the Easter Sunday evening.

The run to Dudley was retimed starting on Sunday the 25th and Robert and Bernard set off at about 7am. Michael joined us at Banbury for the rest of the day’s trip to Cropredy. Disappointment was obvious when the pub at Cropredy was found to have only one real ale on sale.

Another early start the next morning gave us a good run at the remaining locks on the way to the summit pound and our target of the bottom of the Napton flight before we tied up for the day. A clear run across the summit and we soon arrived at Napton to begin our descent. Here we passed the “Cressy Run” convoy as they took a late lunch. Volunteer lockhelpers sped our passage down the flight and we decided to extend our run to include the Calcutt flight on the Grand Union. We eventually tied up just beyond the Boat Inn at Birdingbury.

Our plan was to make for the Cape of Good Hope so we set off with this in mind. A quick shopping stop on the outskirts of Warwick and a sandwich lunch filled us with good cheer and it was not long before we climbed Cape locks. Bravado took hold and we ascended the first four of the Hatton flight before tying up for the night.

The next day promised to be the hardest of the trip as we had seventeen more locks of the Hatton flight to climb before setting out for the narrow locks at Lapworth. Hatton flight were soon conquered and, after a brief stop for an ice cream and a chat about the lack of boats with a BW man who was painting at Hatton Top Lock we were under way again. Lunch was taken at Kingswood junction and the easy Lapworth flight were soon slipping past. A wait on the main flight delayed us for about twenty minutes whilst a slow boat was helped down and given basic instruction on how to operate locks. The top lock was soon reached and we decided to plod on until a mooring with enough water could be found. We were in Dickins Heath before a mooring was found and we happily tied up for the night knowing that the hard work was over – level boating until the rise to the Wolverhampton level at Tipton.

Train departures determined the start time the next morning and we set off to be at Bournville by 11.20. The deadline was duly met and Robert departed on his way to Trowbridge. Bernard continued on and soon approached the diversion at Selly Oak where an new aqueduct is being constructed. Things went wrong when, whilst passing under a temporary bridge, the boat suddenly stopped dead in the water and the engine stalled. Somthing was round the propeller! All attempts restart the engine failed and there was a boat closing rapidly from behind. Staff from the construction company soon gathered and attempted to pull Tardebigge free of the obstruction which, to Bernard, was clearly well below water level but the construction workers disagreed. All the horses (a dump truck) and the men pulled and the new mooring rope finally parted company. Plan B involving a JCB also failed and Plan C – getting in the canal – was implemented. Two of the construction workers donned waders and descended slowly into the canal. Further investigation determined the source of the problem – the ‘something’ was attached to the bottom of the canal!

Meanwhile the queue of waiting boats was getting longer. The waters cleared a little and floating just below water level there was a sheet of felt that should have been on the bottom of the canal. Further groping below the boat confirmed that more of the same material was wrapped around the propeller. Ropes were attached to the boat and to the dump truck and the JCB and whilst they maintained a steady pull on the boat a saw soon parted the material and, to a great cheer from the assembled company, Tardebigge floated clear. Tardebigge was dragged to one side and after more of the felt liner had been cut away from the bottom of the canal the waiting boats were allowed through. Half an hour later about two metres of the material had been removed and Tardebigge was declared free and allowed on her way. Steady progress was then made and the boat was moored in the basin at the top of the Farmers Bridge flight.

The weather forecast for the Friday morning was not good so Bernard set off towards the Museum at about 7.20 having already cooked and consumed a hearty breakfast. Excellent progress was made to the bottom of Factory locks where once again the engine suddenly ran very badly having picked up something from the canal. to save wrapping the problem even tighter around the propeller Tardebigge was hauled into the lock by hand and the lock was filled. Invesigations with the boathook showed there was someting big underneath the boat. Fortunately a a quick tug with the boathook and everything came out at once. Anyone want a heavy jacket! Round the corner to the museum and a quick fill of water and everything was ready for an attack on the notorious lift bridge that spans the entrance to the Museum canal arm. Someone had been at work and the effort required was much less the at previous times. A queue of arriving boats had formrd and the bridge stayed up for over two hours whilst boats were manoevered into their alloted spaces.

Boating experiences of the various steerers were exchanged and it was dicovered that there had been another instance of a boat snagging something at the temporary bridge at Selly Oak. A word with BW is in order.

Day 48 – Cropredy to Lower Heyford

Wednesday 12 August, 2009 by

The last day of Tardebigge’s epic voyage.

Bernard undertook another oil change whilst others slumbered in their beds and we eventually made the short journey to Slat Mill Lock around 8.30. A boat passed us heading in the same direction just before we set off. They were heading to Oxford from Fenny that day so they must have already been on the move for a few hours!

After two locks we hit a long queue at Hardwick Lock on the northern fringes of Banbury. We also had a sunken boat-cum-shed to manouevre round at the lock landing. Thankfully the majority of boats seemed totie up around Banbury so we were quickly through the town centre, lift bridge and lock. There were boats everywhere below the lock which we have never seen before. Just enough room to pass.

We pressed on. Michael was desperate for an ice cream since he’d only had a couple all holiday. There was not much sign of life at Kings Sutton Lock despite buying ice creams there before. We eventually found some (and a bottle of gas) at Aynho Boatyard. Michael enjoyed his mint Magnum in the light rain….

Somerton Deep Lock was the 500th of our journey. Griggs took a photo to mark the occasion which I’ll add when he sends it to me.

Our ambition was to reach Heyford in time for the 1735 train to Oxford. We were unlikely to make it. Remarkably we tied up just as it was leaving the station. Simultaneously Laura arrived to take Nick home and very kindly squeezed all of us into her car and took us back to Oxford. Our epic voyage was over.

I’ll do a separate post with journey statistics when they are worked out, but in the meantime, here are the last couple of pictures.

Day 47 – Napton on the Hill to Cropredy

Sunday 9 August, 2009 by

Griggs didn’t like the early alarm but still managed to emerge in time for locking bleary eyed. Michael was up and out preparing to set off immediately after the alarm and we were on our way very shortly after 7.00. We passed many moored boats en route to the locks and found another boat just starting to ascend as we arrived.

We made reasonable progress until boats moored in the flight starting pulling out in front of us. At Marston Doles (the last two locks before the summit pound) we rounded the corner to find a very long queue and were the sixth lockful through. We breakfasted and Nick managed a shower while we waited.

Good progress was made across the summit we considered stopping for a lunchtime pint at the Wharf in Fenny Compton but pressed on to the Claydon flight. Again progress was slow because many boats were on the move. We struck up a regular (lock-by-lock) conversation with boat in front Selene Rose and enjoyed chocolate brownies bought at the top lock. It was very hot and there was little shelter from the burning sun.

Varney’s Lock had bunches of flowers laid at it. A couple of weeks ago a lady lost her life here when falling off the back of her boat and getting tangled up in the propellor.

Cropedy is full of boats in anticipation of the annual Fairport Convention festival. There are no moorings to be found at all so our regular overnight stop here (and trip to the Red Lion) had to be missed this time. We moved down towards Slat Mill lock and moored up just before (at the second attempt after finding a wasps’ nest).

Menu: bacon sandwiches or cereal and toast; pork and egg slice with salad; poppadums, chicken rogan josh with sweet potato and cauliflower baltis.

Day 46 – Brinklow to Napton on the Hill

Saturday 8 August, 2009 by

We headed to Newbold on Avon after an oil change, hopefully the last of the voyage. Here we met Chris Griggs and Nick Balderson who were to join us for the remainder of our trip. We watered, dumped rubbish and recycled numerous empty bottles before the four of us moved on south through Rugby to Hillmorton Locks.

Tardebigge entered the bottom lock shortly after a hire boat had entered the adjacent paired lock. We almost instantly overtook them and made good progress to the top of the three locks. For several days we have been following Yalding around. Michael chatted with them at the top lock and we passed them at Braunston for the last time. They were heading to Calcutt but we carried on to Napton. A message was relayed to Nisha beyond Braunston that Yalding was on its way.

After a failed attempt to stop at a pub for a lunchtime beer (due to lack of mooring opportunities) we drank onboard and lunched on the move. We passed a remarkable number of boats between Hillmorton and Napton, often in conveys of four. We’re a little bit concerned that our passage up the Napton flight tomorrow could be very slow due to the number of boats on the move. An early start has been decreed!

We temporarily tied up a long way short of the Bridge Inn to investigate moorings but found nothing nearer the pub so the temporary mooring became our overnight spot. The pub was closed until 6pm so Chris, Nick and Michael ventured into the village for refreshment before returning later where they were joined by Bernard.

Menu: cooked breakfast or cereal and toast; pork pie and ham salad; roast leg of lamb followed by cheese and port.

Day 45 – Atherstone to Brinklow

Friday 7 August, 2009 by

The day dawned. It looked quite promising. Michael wore his shorts.

Alex Hajok joined us today and helped us up the remaining locks of the Atherstone flight. It was very slow due to the number of boats on the move and sharing locks with a another boat. Fact of the day from the extremely boring man off the other boat: “Sea Otter only make boats to order now. They do up to 55ft, but this is only 27ft.” Times three, at least….

Michael popped to the shops to stock up on bacon, beer and buns (for afternoon tea)* whilst Alex and Bernard cleared the remaining two locks. There was a veritable queue waiting come down when we reached the top.

The sun shone and it got very hot. We lunched on the move and met Harnser at Hawkesbury. We first shared a descent of the Hatton flight with Harnser a few years ago and Bernard has seen them a few times since.

We tied up for the night below Stretton Stop, near Brinklow where we bade farewell to Alex. She caught a bus to Coventry, thence a train back to Atherstone. At the mooring we were adopted by a local feline. It could probably smell our dinner.

Menu: cooked breakfast or cereal and toast (very late); Scotch eggs with salad; Chinese steamed salmon with noodles, followed by cheese and port.

*Only the buns were for afternoon tea.

Day 44 – Fradley to Atherstone

Thursday 6 August, 2009 by

The day dawned with clear skies and the promise of fine weather which soon materialised. Michael wore his sunglasses for the first time in days and was soon forced to dig out the sun tan lotion which hasn’t been used for about three weeks!

With no locks ahead of us for several miles we expected to make good progress to Fazeley on the outskirts of Tamworth. Unfortunately the last couple of miles from Hopwas were delayed by a boater who seemed unable to go any faster than ¾mph. Even Tardebigge’s tickover was gaining on him! Thankfully he stopped for services at Fazeley so we made a flying visit to the Tesco Express before pressing on to avoid any further delays.

The Glascote pair of locks are slow fillers. We investigated the boatyard above for oil but there was no sign of life so we moved on to Alvecote where ten litres were bought. Light rain came down which worsened as we approached the Atherstone flight. After four locks we tied up at the optimal point: furthest away from the road and railway.

Menu: cooked breakfast or cereal and toast; cold lasagne or Scotch egg and pork pie salad; asparagus starter followed by Iri Dori.

In lieu of any photos here are a few stats: as of yesterday (the end of the sixth week) we have done 711 miles and 450 locks in 310 hours of engine running time. Our fastest average speed for a day is the Sprotbrough to Eggborough day when we averaged 3.69mph. The slowest was Slaithwaite to Marsden at 0.80mph. The most locks in a day was Wigan to Wheelton: 28.

Day 43 – Weston upon Trent to Fradley

Wednesday 5 August, 2009 by

After another late night in the pub with a fellow boater we eventually surfaced just after 8.00am. Michael prepared breakfast whilst Bernard changed the engine oil. It seems we are gaining about 0.3 litres of diesel in the lubricating oil each day. We set of at about 9.15am towards the first lock of the day. The weather was forecast as fine but we had a drop of rain to start with and then it gradually cleared to intermittent sunshine.

During the morning we passed Great Haywood junction and completed the great circle via Trevor, Wigan, Leeds, Huddersfield and Stoke on Trent (and all the other places in between!). From now on we are retracing our steps back to Lower Heyford but hopefully managing to find some different stopping places.

At Rugeley we stopped for some shopping and were pleased to meet Michael’s parents who joined us for lunch and hitched a taxi-ride back to Handsacre. The fare was paid in fresh runner beans.

The day passed uneventfully and for the first time in passing through here we were able to moor close to the Swan at Fradley junction where we had a few b***s.

Menu: cooked breakfast or cereal and toast; cold beef salad; lasagne with garlic bread.

Day 42 – Longport to Weston upon Trent

Tuesday 4 August, 2009 by

Major disaster! There was no bacon left (nor any other cooked breakfast items) so Bernard could not have a fry up this morning. We set off in anticipation of buying supplies in Stoke on Trent but the shop on the map was nowhere to be found.

We called at Longport Wharf to buy more oil for the engine and replace an empty gas bottle. The Stoke flight of locks was busy with a good number of boats descending both before and after us. Then the heavens opened.

Tardebigge seemed to enjoy all the water. The Trent and Mersey is deep so the boat was positively flying along which was such a contrast to recent waterways!

We stopped at Stone for shopping. The Somerfield we visited in recent years has now become a Co-op with a poor selection of meat. Fortunately bacon was in plentiful supply. A pint (or two) of Banks’s was consumed from the Star whilst descending the adjacent lock, and we carried on down hill, through quite remote countryside, to our mooring for the night at Weston. There is a pub near the adjacent bridge….

Menu: chocolate biscuits; cold chicken and gammon salad; Kamargaah (lamb steaks in batter) with stir-fried vegetables and rice, followed by melon.

[No pictures today it was too wet.]

Day 41 – Macclesfield to Longport

Monday 3 August, 2009 by

A late evening in the pub with James and Ben meant a slightly later rise from our slumbers today. We waited in vain to see if the local boatyard would open so we set off at about 9.15am. The weather forecast seemed promising and by about 10.00am the sun had broken through. The bridges on the Macclesfield all have a very curved openings and the roving or towpath changing bridges are very picturesque.

The journey through to Bosley locks was uneventful and we arrived at the top of the locks to find the first lock already full. We started our descent and were delighted to arrive at each of the remaining eleven locks to find them all either in our favour or with a boat ascending. The Bosley flight are unusual in that all the masonry is fully faced on the internal faces with very deep joints.

Passage was soon completed and Michael prepared a cheese and ham surprise for lunch. This was taken on the move as it seemed possible that we might arrive at Harecastle tunnel in time to travel through today. A telephone call to the Harecastle helpline was not much help – they just said “if you are there by 4.00pm you are guaranteed passage”. We arrived rather later than 4.00pm just as a number of boats were coming out of the tunnel and, with two boats about to enter, we were waved in by the tunnel-keeper who briefly explained the safety rules as we passed by and we were off!

Michael overcame his dislike of tunnels and steered us all the way through. Fortunately the forced ventilation was drawing fresh air from behind us and, as there was no boat following us, we had the benefit of clean air to breathe. The tunnel passage took 46 minutes. The average is 45 minutes so we thought that quite good. We tied up on some pleasant moorings adjacent to a public park in Longport.

Menu: cooked breakfast or breakfast sandwiches; gammon and cheese savoury salad; sausages with sweet potato mash, followed by fresh melon.

Day 40 – Bugsworth to Macclesfield (via Whaley Bridge)

Sunday 2 August, 2009 by

A early rise meant that Bernard could dismantle part of the engine to more fully check the diesel leak and, with assistance from Michael O’Hagan, pump the contaminated oil into a suitable container. Whilst nothing conclusive was found, a couple of loose unions in the lubricating oil system were tightened. After filling up with new oil the engine was run whilst Bernard investigated further. It seems likely that the diesel is actually coming from the injector feed pipe on one cylinders but we have no information about this part of the engine so it will need professional attention.

We set off and soon returned to the junction of the canal and turned towards Whaley Bridge where there is a well restored canal warehouse with a central loading bay for canal boats inside the building. Turning and retracing our steps we arrived back in Marple where we headed towards Macclesfield. We passed through the fine turn-over bridge at the junction and met a boat that we had last seen at Frankton locks on the Montgomery canal.

Our mooring in Macclesfield

Our mooring in Macclesfield

From our high vantage point the sunny day enabled us to see across the countryside to Manchester. We eventually reached Macclesfield having passed more boats on the move today than we saw in all the time we were in south Yorkshire. Here we said goodbye to Mark Place and Michael O’Hagan who were then ferried back home by Michael’s father.

Menu: cooked breakfasts or breakfast sandwiches; cold gammon salad; steak.