Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thursday to Saturday - end of week 4!

It's just five lock miles from Alrewas to Fradley Junction, where the Trent & Mersey Canal meets the Coventry Canal, and we arrived there in around an hour, used the facilities there, and moored up across from the BW Information Centre, shop and cafe.

It was then that Grace noticed that the batteries weren't being charged. I checked, and found the drive belt to the alternator, generator and engine water pump to be all but broken. The engine was too hot for me to attempt a replacement, so we went across to the café for lunch.

Back at the boat later, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to replacing the belt. We have spare belts of all sizes, so it all seemed very straightforward. However, when I couldn't even loosen the bolts on the alternator – yes, I did have the right size of spanner! - I had to admit defeat. I called River Canal Rescue. After about half an hour, I got a text from an RCR mechanic to say he'd be with us between an hour and an hour and a half. He arrived two hours later, having come from Manchester in very heavy rain and consequent bad traffic. At least it had stopped raining on us by the time he arrived.

It turned out the job wasn't nearly as easy as I have envisaged, for it took the expert three hours to replace the belt, and also the separate generator belt which was showing signs of wear.

Drive belts!
He also spotted another small problem which might have worsened without us knowing – a leak in the pipe taking water to the calorifier. Unfortunately, he was unable to replace it, but fixed it temporarily, and we'll have to replace it when we get back to the marina. But we were hugely impressed by the young man, Dean, who worked solidly for three hours to get a very fiddly job done, with a smile, great patience and real determination. RCR is most certainly a service worth paying for.

Our evening meal was at 9:30, and we went to bed early.

The weather for Friday was due to be heavy rain, so we decided to stay where we were. Dean had left a number of greasy fingerprints around where he was working, and I had water in the bilges that needed to be pumped out, so I got those jobs done while Grace did some vacuum cleaning inside the boat. We took a stroll around the site, too, which has a lot of character.

Saturday's weather was much better, and it was time for us to move on up Junction Lock, then turning left onto the Coventry Canal.

Our rooftop garden's doing well at last!

The scenery was lovely, the weather perfect for cruising, and we saw more boats out and about today than on any other day since we started out four weeks ago. There were no more locks on today's journey. The canal is narrow in places, and somewhat winding.

We moored for lunch above Cheadle's Bridge (no. 81), and at the end of the day below Dunstall Bridge, just north of Tamworth.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tuesday and Wednesday

Nicholson's Waterway Guide makes Alrewas sound like the kind of village that's worth a leisurely visit, so we set out from Branston under a bright sky, and made our way through some delightful countryside. Branston Water Park is another fine example of an area once designated industrial (gravel and cement I believe) having been turned into an area of natural beauty, and a superb recreational facility.

Not long after that, however, the A38 road came in alongside the canal, and followed it noisily for a couple of miles. At Barton Turn Lock, I met two of the crew of a boat of Swedes, holidaying on the canal for the first time, and thoroughly enjoying it. I also met an elderly American couple, sent by their British host to manage the lock while he stayed at the helm. They had quite literally never seen a lock before that moment, and I wondered at the intelligence of their friend. I talked them through the process, they filled the lock, opened the gates and looked pleased with themselves. The Swedes were younger, and rather more clued up, but still needed to be given a few bits of advice. If anything, they were rather too enthusiastic, wanting to open gates before the water was level, opening paddles too soon, and the like. They'll be fine by the end of the week!

The canal turned away from the road at Wychnor Lock, and the noise of cars and lorries faded into the distance. Just above Alrewas we joined the Trent for a short distance, passing the huge weir which serves at that point.

The approach to Alrewas is very attractive. We took the first available mooring, just below the bridge which carries the road into the heart of the village, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and early evening under a warm sun.

This morning, we took a stroll around the village with our cameras. It's really quaint, with lots of old buildings, half-timbered, thatched, all sorts. A number of canalside warehouses have been very tastefully developed, but it's sad to see where councils of the sixties have allowed horrendous architecture to be built amongst the old, with no sympathy whatsoever to the heritage of the place.

This weekend, the village is having two Open Garden Days, and people are busy preparing for that, making sure that flowers, trees and shrubs are being shown to full effect - even in the cemetery!

It's a lovely village - with a good Co-Op, too; always a bonus! - and well worth a visit. It would be good to stay for the weekend, but it's 48 hour mooring here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Leicester Ring - day 17

Our Willington mooring
Before leaving Willington, we went for a walk down to where an old, former toll bridge elegantly crosses the River Trent. Before the bridge was built, the river separated two communities. When the bridge was built to solve this problem, the people found the tolls to be excessive, leading over some years to a great deal of local pressure to free the bridge entirely of the tolls. This finally happened an 1898.

Other than the bridge, the town seems to have little to offer. The Co-Op was useful, but limited.

After an early lunch, we set off under a cloudy sky, but with less wind than yesterday, and, as we travelled, the sun came out and it became pleasantly warm. Confident in my newly-learned skills, I took the tiller for a good share of the time. The canal was lovely, but the further scenery limited by tall trees for much of the way. The only two locks were single width, and just 3'6” and 3' deep respectively. We passed through Burton-on-Trent, once famous for its numerous breweries, and still having the smell of malt and hops in the air from the few remaining companies.

Dallow Lock
Just past Branston Lock we came into the outskirts of the village of Branston – apparently where the famous Pickle was first made – and moored next to The Bridge pub restaurant. The sun is shining brightly, the wind is low, and it looks as if we might be in for a spell of summer!

Branston Lock

We'd like to issue a plea to fellow boaters! When you hear a warning blast from a boat horn, you answer it with a return blast. We hooted in a very proper manner as we approached, very slowly, a blind bend that turned into a bridge, our way also obscured by a tree. We proceeded with care only to meet the bow of a boat emerging from the bridge. Grace managed an emergency stop and evasive action while they continued on their course, the wife looking like thunder, angry, we presume, at the obtrusive noise we had made; and the helmsman shouting 'we heard you!'  We were, unfortunately, too astonished to shout back the obvious reply: 'Well, we didn't hear you - we'd have known you were coming if we had!"

Sunday, June 23, 2013


It rained during the night, and we woke early to a very dull and windy day. We're in no hurry, but we did want to get to Willington today, to use the services there, and get some shopping; neither essential, but making for greater comfort.

So we left and made our way to the next deep lock at Swarkestone. This was manned by a volunteer, who was emptying the lock for us as we approached. The rain started, and the wind got up to speed as Kantara entered. Locks of this size - another double lock, eleven foot deep - take a long time to fill, unless you want your boat to be thrown around inside the chamber by extreme turbulence, so we were getting pretty wet by the time the boat was leaving the top gate. There was plenty of mooring there, so we stopped to escape the weather, had lunch, and waited for conditions to improve.

Three hours later, the rain had stopped, but the wind was still very strong, but we opted to move on. Our next stop was the 12'4" deep Stenson Lock, and we arrived just as the crew of another boat were emptying the chamber so that they, too, could go up. We were told that they had had to wait several hours to get into the lock, because neither bottom gate would open fully, and two long narrow boats had jammed hard together on their way in, and couldn't get out of the jam. One of the two had had to be towed out before the lock could be used. As Grace pulled Kantara in alongside the boat we were sharing with, it became obvious to her that the same thing was going to happen to her if she continued, so she reversed out, and the two boats had to take the lock solo - a long process!

The rest of the journey to Willington was uneventful, but it was getting late, and the very strong, gusty wind slowed us considerably. The scenery was lovely, though.

Finally arriving at the village, we found it to be a very popular place to moor, and could only stop finally at the far end of the moorings. Too tired to cook, we ate a light meal and slumped! The rain's eased off, but the wind continues unabated.