Thursday 31st December

On the nicest day of the winter I slept in until 8am.  Dog walk and breakfast took us up to 9:30am, and then checking the map, if we set off at 10:00 we could be at Autherley Junction about 11:30am, then Aldersley at 11:45 and into the first lock of the Wolverhampton flight of 21 by 12:00.

Canal Club, Wolverhampton
Canal Club, Wolverhampton

Sadly at an optimistic 5 locks an hour this flight would take me until 4:30 requiring an overnight stop in Wolverhampton, or a moonlight cruise to Birmingham, as there really isn’t much scope for mooring out on the Birmingham Canal Main Line apart from Dudley museum.   Wolverhampton itself has very limited moorings which are alongside a busy main road or in the adjoining BW Broad Street Basin, topped off with the railway station above plus its very own built in night club, the Canal Club.  Not my idea of the perfect place to stay on the busiest night of the year.

Suddenly Brewood seemed an awfully nice place, with shops, pubs and hopefully no drunken revellers unless of our own making.  So here we are still in Brewood, having filled most of the afternoon with a car shuffle, a little shopping and a superb meal of West Midlands speciality battered chips with chicken kebab meat, the likes of which can only be found within a 10 mile circle of here.  Delicious and satisfyingly bad for you.

Sadly the delights of West Midlands cuisine must have escaped the Lonely Planet reviewers who have today named Wolverhampton as fifth worst city in the world. I may have concerns about mooring here but I’m not so sure it deserves this reputation!  Anywhere with an official dog water bowl on the railway station platform 1 can’t be that bad!

We took a look at the top lock on the way to rescue the car from Nantwich and I was amazed to discover the canal was still frozen solid at the moorings – the first ice in several days.  Altogether it has been a very good decision to delay the locks until tomorrow.

So its going to be an early New Years Eve and an early start in the morning.  If anyone reading this on New Years Day should require a hangover cure, then I would be only too pleased to hand out windlasses and coffee – no appointment necessary; just walk down the 21 Wolverhampton Locks until you find us coming up and join in at any stage!

So goodnight and Happy New Year to everyone, in advance!  See you next year.

Sign of the week

Lonely sign on the Shroppie
Lonely sign on the Shroppie


Seen yesterday on a very lonely windswept towpath on the Shroppie, just before Gnosall.

Not sure if it had been pinched or really should be there but it was a good half mile to the pub which it advertised.

Tyrley to Brewood

Wednesday 30th December

A gloomy Tyrley Cutting, Shropshire Union CanalIt’s been a long cold wet winter day today and I didn’t see the Shroppie at its best, with endless muddy towpaths and biting cold easterly wind across the exposed embankments which forced us to crab along mile after mile at 45 degrees to the bank, just to keep moving forwards.

Therefore this is a short post to say we arrived at Brewood, which like most of the area has no 3G signal at all.  Three has no service, O2 is down to about the lowest possible signal and T-Mobile is just giving me a 1 bar GPRS signal.  I couldn’t live here, although Brewood is a very attractive town spoilt tonight by a loud drunken argument outside the Swan, which wasn’t exactly a welcoming site!

A quick hi to Sue on No Problem; passed you at Wheaton Aston but I think you are still away for the hols, and hi to Chertsey which we passed in the twilight at Stretton, so sorry Sarah I didn’t stop as I don’t think a visit in the icy dark would have done justice!

21 miles and 1 lock, 2 cold feet and 1 red nose.

Audlem to Tyrley

Tuesday 29th December

In the face of a dreadful weather forecast of heavy snow for the Welsh Borders and Shropshire, I took the dog out to check the conditions.  A hire boat had pulled in last night, so I was not the last boat to arrive in Audlem, and as they left quite early, while walking back down the locks I met them coming up at Lock 10.  I set the next three locks to give us a good head start, but diverted a few yards into the village, tempted by a preheated Co-op bacon roll in a plastic bag, which was actually very good indeed.

Munching this on the way back to pick up Zulu I was less than impressed to discover that another moored boat had sprung into life and was making its way up the flight through all my prepared locks.  So much for all my advance planning but they must have thought Christmas had come again!

So I set off making quite heavy work out of it, as every lock had to be turned, and was pleased to meet Adam and Adrian on  Debdale coming down, so at least a couple of locks were set in our favour.  They told me they were heading for Audlem for New Years Eve, which in retrospect seems like an incredibly good idea.  I spent the rest of the morning trying to work out where I would end up on Thursday night, but gave up! 

The forecast snow didn’t arrive, but around lunch time the constant drizzle was turning to sleet so whilst the temperature was warmer than yesterday, the chill factor made it much colder, with the a strong gusting icy wind too, although any ice in the canal had now all but disappeared.

These locks are actually quite easy on a good day, but today the bywashes are carrying a huge volume of water which requires quite a bit of power to punch through, by which time Zulu is going too fast to allow her to coast into the lock without power, which in turn means that I missed the opportunity to jump off the moving boat at least half a dozen times and then have to reverse back to the steps and haul her back in by rope.  With everything slipper, wet and icy it was all rather tiring – I must be getting old!

Adderley locks were comparatively easy, followed by a few miles of respite to Market Drayton.  Arriving there at 3.30 I just had time to carry on to finish the final five locks at Tyrley.  The bottom two locks are very damp, in a gloomy narrow cutting where the towpath is liquid mud and leaf mulch.  The volume of water coming down the bywashes on both sides of the first two locks was more like shooting the rapids, but we had plenty of practice and by now had a more efficient locking system, enabling me to complete the five Tyrely locks in 40 minutes and therefore in daylight.

We pulled in to the Tyrley visitor moorings and I then attempted to entertain Seth, the dog, with an interesting walk, but the rain was relentless, the towpath flooded, the roads flooded and very dark, with icy cold sleet and wind, so I changed plans and made do with a sniff around the moorings and back to the warm cabin where at 5pm it felt like midnight.  Seth was less than amused by this and I still don’t think he is speaking to me.

8 miles and 23 locks today
Feels like progress, although theres still an awfully long way to go to Uxbridge!  Its too depressing to count the remaining miles yet, as this route is so much further than the Trent and Mersey I think I am still further away than I started!

Barbridge to Audlem

Foggy scene at Nantwich
Foggy scene at Nantwich

Monday 28th December

Brrrrrhhh.  Freezing fog all day – the sun was there somewhere but visibility was down to a few boat lengths, all adding to the fun of boating through the ice.

Whilst much worse than I had hoped, the ice was actually well broken in most places, and the only place we had problems was between Hurleston and Nantwich where it had been up to an inch thick, the huge sheets of ice being quite hard to force old Zulu through.

It became more patchy after Nantwich, so I resisted temptation to stop and go to the wonderful Black Lion pub (still a great pub although slightly less quirky than it used to be) and pressed on to tackle the Hack Green Locks.  I was not looking forward to these after having to clear so much broken floating ice from the four locks on the Middlewich Branch yesterday, but these were more or less clear and a pleasure to work.  In this weather it is quite a relief to be back in the land of 6ft deep locks which are much more manageable single handed than the deep Middlewich locks.

A couple of oncoming boats had helped break the remaining ice and we made very good progress all the way to Audlem where we found a good overnight mooring between lock 14 and lock 13.  Normally we seem to hurry through Audlem to stop at Nantwich, so tonight was the first time I have had a chance to look around this very pretty village with excellent facilities.  The Shroppie Fly looked very inviting, the Bridge Inn somewhat less so, but all the fresh air took its toll and I crashed out infront of the fire without sampling either.

Altogether today has been glorious winter cruising weather – crisp and frosty but not too icy in most places, and if you could almost see the blue sky just up there beyond the fog!

9.5 miles and 4 locks
– not a great result but we didn’t start off until after lunch time after some car shuffling.

Middlewich to Barbridge Junction

Icy canal at Cholmondeston Lock
Icy canal at Cholmondeston Lock

Last night I got back to Zulu and initial prospects of re-starting the trip seemed quite good.  First of all I went to the winding hole and got round without a problem, whereas last week this would have been virtually impossible with the ice.  There was in fact no floating ice below Big Lock either, but the towpaths were virtually unusable with a highly polished ice rink standard surface.

Due to difficulties booking Harecastle Tunnel until the office reopens on 4th January, the first realistic booking I could have made would be 6th Jan, so reluctantly I decided to head down the Shroppie instead, even though this adds more than 20 miles to the journey.  It also opens up the option of going through Wolverhampton and Birmingham instead of Fradley – just think of all those extra locks – Wolverhampton 21 up, then Hatton down being just one of the options.

This morning after walking right up the Middlewich Locks I decided it was worth a try, so we set off and very slowly and carefully worked up the now fully re-opened Big Lock and then up the flight of three, where the bottom lock was the most difficult due to being unable to stand up without holding onto something along most of the lock side.

Normally when going up these very deep locks I step off the boat, boathook in hand, leaving the boat to enter the lock itself.  I then pick up the front rope with the boat hook and use it to pull the boat all the way in, which avoids having to use the ladder, which on icy days like today is an absolute no go.

The sixth lock, Stanthorne, was a real problem as there was so much ice in the lock that I couldn’t even get in with the engine, let alone with a rope.  Stuck solid and wondering what to do next, I reversed back to the lock landing and was very grateful for the appearance of another boat which came down the lock and flushed a lot of ice out, while also offering to work me up the lock.  Thanks again if that was you!

The ice was actually a lot worse than I had hoped, with long stretches of thick soupy ice blocks rather than fresh ice to break, but still quite hard going in places.  Particularly thick between Church Minshull and Barbridge.  The weather was alternately bright but freezing cold, and rain/sleet/wind while also being freezing cold. 

Nevertheless I made quite decent progress and am writing this at Barbridge where we are ready to start heading in the right direction in the morning.  Although theres still an option of going back if the weather deteriorates this could indeed be farewell Middlewich!

11 miles and 8 locks in 6 hours – not too bad considering the conditions.

Sign of the week II

Wrong date!
Wrong date!

Big Lock, 19th December 2009

Thanks to the lady with the dog who pointed out that BW had put the wrong dates on this notice.  Should of course have been 19th December and 20th December – but I never even noticed either. 

Boat rescued on its way from Ripon to London …… at sea??!?!!

Well here I am sitting by the fire in glorious sunshine, while only an hour ago it was a heavy blizzard and so icy I couldn’t even walk back from town.  Worried about safety on a day like this, I have decided to stay put even though it seems quite nice right now, as conditions can clearly change by the minute.

So what the !!***x! were these guys thinking yesterday when, according to the MCA a couple in their 60s had just bought a boat at Ripon and taken it out into the Humber Estuary on their way to London!  It is beyond belief, but with an official report on the MCA website, this is no joke.  To think that the lifeboat crews had to scramble in these horrendous conditions to go to their rescue, only able to locate them by a weak mobile phone signal, seems so unfair.  I hope they make a serious donation to the RNLI once they realise how stupid they have been.

But wait a minute… I just had a thought: There are no frozen locks to negotiate from Middlewich to Anderton where I can go down the Anderton Lift onto the River Weaver and according to my schoolboy world atlas somehow get into the sea near Liverpool by following the blue lines, and it should then be easy to head roughly southwards following the coast until I find London, which is only a hop skip and a jump from Uxbridge.   Problem solved.** 

Link to story on MCA:
 – Couple adrift in grim weather conditions
“At 02 26 this morning Yarmouth Coastguard received a 999 call on mobile phone from a 30 ft motor cruiser the LADY3”

** Just to ensure there is absolutley no doubt, this is intended as pure sarcasm and in no way should be interpreted as a statement of intent… Okay??

Abandon trip

Taken half an hour ago - now its a blizzard!
Taken half an hour ago - now its a blizzard!

On Friday night the canal began to freeze over at 4pm and by next morning it was solid ice up to 3/4 inch thick, but despite this the ground was of course solid but not at all slippery.  It was like walking in the dry cold of an industrial deep freeze, and gloves would freeze to anything you touched.

Last night it was not quite so cold, and the canal only has a thin covering of ice this morning in most places.  But it is almost impossible to walk without falling over.  I don’t know who fell over more this morning – me or the dog (actually it was the dog and he hurt his leg too!!), but after a lovely walk through the frosty fields it was actually quite scary on the towpath through the centre of Middlewich.  Crossing the footbridge at Big Lock had to be done an inch at a time, in a semi crouching postition ready to sit down at any stage – lethal!

This is therefore the decision point.  If the town centre public footpaths are like ice rinks, the remote Cheshire Locks are going to be far too dangerous for single handed working, so with regret I have decided to abandon the trip south until after Christmas.  The only problem is that the snow is now so heavy I rather fear we are going to find it hard to get anywhere by car too!

Good job we have this….

Theres nothing like a warm fire to keep the cold away
Theres nothing like a warm fire to keep the cold away