Go to Allan's Page Part 2 - Peak Forest, via Llangollen to Birmingham Canals Home Page Part 3 - Birmingham to Drayton Manor and the Ashby Go to Deb's Page
BCN Wedding of the Year View Slideshow  

Peak Forest, Llangollen, Birmingham, Drayton Manor and Ashby 2012

Part 1:Two birthday parties, and to Stoke via Coventry

During the early part of the year we had enjoyed several weeks of wonderfully hot dry weather with mild breezes, and we were looking forward to starting the year's boating with a week of sailing on the Norfolk Broads which I hadn't seen since the 1970's. We had found a really good boatyard and hired one of their traditionally-styled 4-6 berth sailing boats High Seas for a week with two friends, and drove up to Norfolk in hot sunshine. Arriving at the boatyard, the sight of all the masts made me feel quite nostalgic and we couldn't wait to get started; but that lunchtime the weather changed. We waited for a rain squall to pass - the first rain for several weeks - and then sailed up the river for two days of wonderful sailing in between dodging the showers; but the nights had turned bitterly cold and the winds were getting stronger every day so that by the Monday night it was just too windy for comfortable sailing. The weather forecast told us there would be howling gales for the rest of the week and, together with most other hirers, we gave up the unequal struggle and returned the boat to its base 4 days early. We had certainly had some fun, and even Debbie realised that sailing can be really enjoyable, but we knew when it was time to call it a day!

High Seas

Our original intention had been to set off immediately after our return from Norfolk, revisiting the Boston area and joining a campaign trip to Spalding, but this plan was already in doubt after our direct route via Leicester was closed by a lack of water after the weeks of hot weather. The sudden floods that ended the drought then threatened not only to close the Trent (which was our alternative route) but also - by washing an excess of silt into the sluices - they had totally shut the entrance to the Welland which was our destination. The trip was cancelled and we decided to spend the summer in the Midlands instead.

However, another problem then scuppered our plans. When we had collected the dogs from the kennels after our time in Norfolk, we realised that the occasional lameness which had been troubling Telford for a few months had become a lot more serious. After a quick visit to the vets, and referral to a specialist, it was diagnosed that he had ruptured his cruciate ligament and needed an immediate major operation known as a TPLO to re-model his knee joint. The operation was a success but we were rather thrown by the surgeon's advice that we should tell him not to use his leg for at least 6 weeks because the bone was only held together with a couple of self-tapping screws. How could we keep our bouncy little dog from running and jumping everywhere for 6 whole weeks? We cancelled all our plans straight away, bought a stair-gate to stop him from going upstairs, and shut ourselves in the house to await his recovery.

 

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Sailing boats at Eastwood Whelpton's yard
21st birthday party, part 1
21st birthday party, part 2

After the 6 weeks Telford was given the all-clear; he would be fine as long as he was careful, and canal boating was again to be allowed, so we loaded the boat and set off straight away. Or at least we would have done, if the engine hadn't decided that it was time for another oil change - even though I had only just changed it - and spat all its oil out over the entire engine bay. A brass core plug had failed, but at least it had done so at the home mooring instead of at some critical moment on an epic voyage somewhere. A cry for help to our usual engineer at Braunston was immediately answered with an instant repair job, and we were ready to set off the next day.

Our first destination was Lapworth, where a group of boaters from the Canal World Discussion Forum were meeting the next weekend for two days of eating, drinking, and nattering. This would be the ideal opportunity to give Keeping Up a party to celebrate her reaching the grand old age of 21, just as we had done for our previous boat Thistle. Making rapid progress towards Lapworth in very wet weather, we arrived at Warwick just in time to receive an email from a Forum friend asking if we could take his boat in tow when we passed it moored at Leamington Spa. We were of course too late to do that, but another Forum friend brought it up to Warwick for him and, in thankfully much improved weather, we made a rapid ascent of the Hatton flight together.

The weekend at Lapworth was a great success - especially the communal Sunday breakfast which included an ostrich egg - but for us the highlight was Keeping Up's 21st birthday party. It was quite a squeeze with up to 24 people in the lounge at times, but everybody had a great time with copious supplies of champagne and a delicious birthday cake which another of our Forum friends had baked for us.

As this party had only managed to include one particular sector of all the people who know Keeping Up so well, we decided to hold another party for our family and local friends back at Stoke Hammond. Once again it was a great success and this time we were really lucky with the weather, so that we were able to spread across our field instead of squeezing ourselves into the lounge. I like to think that the boat enjoyed all the fuss and attention as much as we did, and we promised her a full repaint as a birthday present later in the year.

 

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This boat (178) was built just after ours (177)  at Stoke
The mural at Wolverton is looking good
A wonderful new sculpture at Wolverton
Many bridges towards Coventry have sculptures on them ...
... including an illustrative map on the road bridges

By now it was early July and we were anxious to set off on our wider travels. Telford had almost completely recovered from his operation, and the steady rain had eliminate the need for timed restrictions on the locks - many of the rivers were now in flood instead - so our plan to spend some time on the Midlands canals seemed to be ideal. We decided that our first destination would be Stoke on Trent, where Keeping Up had been built, but on the way we decided to divert to the City of Coventry. We had not been there for nearly 20 years and although we had enjoyed visiting the city on that occasion we sincerely hoped that the approach by canal would have improved in the intervening period.

 

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This concrete sofa doesn't look very comfortable ...
... unlike these superb metal fishes
Another canalside sculpture near Coventry
The historic Cash's factory
The entrance to Coventry Basin

We were pleasantly surprised by condition of the canal which was much better than it had been before; the residents of Coventry seemed to have finally understood the difference between a rubbish tip and a canal so that I didn't have to visit the weed-hatch even once. There were artistic sculptures on the banks and bridges, including metal maps of the arm on most parapets, and we noted that Cash's famous 48 "Hundred Houses" looked quite smart; these were built as workers' cottages with factory workspace occupying the entire top storey of the terrace. The basin itself had also been improved tremendously, with plenty of very good moorings, so we winded under the watchful eyes of James Brindley's statue (which took us 2 minutes, and took the hire boat following us more than half an hour - oh were we glad we hadn't been behind him) and went shopping. Finally after a good lunch in town we decided not to stay because there was virtually no opportunity to walk the dogs anywhere near the basin, and instead we headed back into the countryside for the night.

 

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James Brindley watches over the Coventry Basin
We found a good mooring next to the old loading crane in Coventry Basin
Getting ready to leave the Basin
Leaving Coventry again

Passing under the M6 motorway with its never-ending rows of supporting columns, we passed Hawkesbury Junction and were soon admiring once again the marvellous chaos that is Charity Dock. As ever, amongst all the boats on the bank (and the Reliant Robin on top of them all) there were a number of colourful "characters" observing our passing, including even a couple of fairground horses in front of the dry dock.

 

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The pillars below the M6 reminded us of the Egyptian temple  in Karnak
Approaching Charity Dock at Bedworth
Bankside characters at Charity Dock
Fairground horses guard the Dock
Around Charity Dock there is always a scene of glorious chaos

As we arrived at Atherstone,  someone on the towpath warned us that we wouldn't be able to go down the flight because a boat had sunk in the second lock, but it turned out that it was actually just beyond the lock so we could pass it quite easily. We heard later that the owner had only just bought the little cruiser and was having to pull it by hand because the engine wouldn't start, so its sinking must have been an awful blow to their dreams, although it looked as if it wouldn't be difficult to re-float it (fingers crossed).

 

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This cruiser had sunk at Atherstone
The magnificent Spode House near Armitage
Canoes on the River Trent at Shugborough
We moored opposite this hollow tree

Our journey northwards continued uneventfully to Fradley junction, which was just recovering from complete chaos the previous week when flooding had closed the river section below Alrewas, creating a queue of boats that had blocked the canal all the way back to the junction. Stopping overnight at Fradley, we met several more of our CWDF friends in the Mucky Duck (aka the Swan) and had a really good evening - which led to a rather late start the following morning. This didn't really matter because it was raining steadily and we decided to stop early; instead of travelling onwards we treated ourselves to a really good meal at the Plum Pudding in Armitage instead. The Plum Pudding is a restaurant that we have known for many years during which time it has sunk by several feet because of the mining subsidence beneath it. Fortunately (although it has not always been so) the restaurant is currently absolutely superb and we had a magnificent meal that night, including fillet steak stuffed with Parma ham, asparagus, and mozzarella cheese.

As we travelled up the canal we could see that there was still a lot of water in the Trent, but luckily for us the river and canal remained determinedly separate (unlike 21 years ago on our maiden voyage) and we had a lovely trip up the canal. We moored overnight in beautiful countryside opposite a hollow tree, and the next morning when we looked out of our window we were delighted to see one of the cows standing proudly over her newborn calf.

 

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Proud mother and newborn calf
Waiting for Mum to come back
Many bridges on the T&M have a false towpath on the offside to keep you from hitting the arch
This old rope-roller on the bridge at Stone has no function nowadays
I always find the top Lock at Stone quite fascinating

The weather forecast the next day was awful. By that I mean not only that they forecast awful weather, but also that it was awfully inaccurate as we sweltered in hot sunshine all day. At Stoke, Mike Adkins of Stoke-on-Trent Boat Building who had built Keeping Up, came on board for an hour during which time he looked thoroughly nostalgic, saying "ah yes, I remember we used to do it that way" as he walked through the boat. We spent that night by the beautiful Westport Lake, as the next day we were due to pass through the Harecastle Tunnel and head for the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals ...

 

BCN Wedding of the Year View Slideshow  
Go to Allan's Page Part 2 - Peak Forest, via Llangollen to Birmingham Canals Home Page Part 3 - Birmingham to Drayton Manor and the Ashby Go to Deb's Page

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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