Friday 1st January 2010
After a lazy day yesterday I got up at 7 to walk the dog and set off for Autherley at 8am. The canal was frozen solid but the ice had all formed overnight, so was not more than a quarter inch thick in most places, so we had the satisfying sound of cracking ice without the problems of moving huge heavy slabs of the stuff around. So far so good.
The trip to Autherley took until 9:30 so I was pleased that we now had plenty of time to get up the flight of 21 locks to Wolverhampton, and hopefully time to get all the way to Birmingham. As the sun rose into a blue cloudless sky I did think it unusal that my coffee had frozen, and I don’t ever remember having to scrape newly formed ice off my map cover before – the temperature which reached minus 5 last night was not going to rise above freezing today!
There was a small amount of ice to shift at Autherley stop lock but not a problem, as it too was of the thin variety and once clear of the junction, heading south allong the Staffs and Worcester canal there was no ice at all. I pulled in at the junction for Birmingham, tied up with rigid frozen ropes (clue) and walked around the corner to the first lock of 21. It was a winter wonderland of frost, ice, icicles and more ice, this time of the very thick variety.
On the positive side, the ice was all in the water, and on the metal work, unlike the treacherous frozen lockside stonework which I had on the Middlewich locks last week and so much less dangerous.
However this did not look good. Clearly no boats had been through yet today, and maybe not this week; above the lock, which itself was frozen solid, was a mass of thick chunks of old ice, all welded back together with new ice in a patchwork style into a solid sheet. I could just about smash it with a long shaft, but of course it was breaking at the weak points while some of the bigger bits were still well over an inch thick, two inches in places.
Optimistically I walked up the flight under the railway bridge and up to the main road to see where the worst bits might be. It seemed the longer the pound the thicker the ice, and in particular between locks 19 and 18, maybe 400 yards, was absolutely solid looking.
Even more optimistically, I emptied the first two locks amused by the way the sheets of ice cracked and groaned and then fell into the water below….. and thought there would be nothing to lose by seeing if Zulu was capable of breaking the ice in the first pound.
A small crowd formed. Well, a man and dog. He said “Good morning” in a way which conveyed “do you know what you are doing then?” He let me explain that I had walked a mile up the flight and back, before saying that the last boats to go up a couple of days ago had got the to the railway bridge but then had to reverse back down 10 locks. Not what I wanted to hear, but it looked pretty bad ahead and for certain, one thing far worse than mooring in Wolverhampton for the night would be getting frozen into the lock flight for days or even weeks.
Nevertheless I filled the lock carefully, making sure that the boat wasn’t getting snagged on the ice sheets alongside, smashed the ice sufficiently to open the top gate, and set off into the frozen pound. Twenty feet into the frozen pound to be precise, before Zulu’s old engine met its match and would go no further. With 20 more locks and 2 miles of this to go, the decision to give up was easy and I reversed into the lock, dropped down to the junction and headed back the way we had come.
Stoppages en route would now become a major issue. I had hoped to get through Braunston before the tunnel cutting is closed on 11th January but this is now looking less likely. The alternative routes would be south, then up the Stourbridge canal but the Stourbridge 16 and Delph locks would more than likely be just as frozen as these. Then there’s north up the Staffs and Worcester, down the Trent and Mersey through Rugely to Fradley, then down the Coventry Canal, but Atherstone locks are closed for almost 3 months from 4th January and definitely not a realistic target within 3 days in this weather.
So the only logical option is to moor somewhere local and wait for the thaw. Brewood? Could be worse, so we retraced our steps back to Brewood, drained the water system down, banked up the fire which should last a couple of days, and set off South to the comforts of the other boat, finally admitting defeat in the face of the wrong type of ice.
On the other hand it has been a lovely crisp, frosty and sunny day for a winter’s cruise to nowhere. Some people are out doing this for pleasure today and I have certainly enjoyed it, even though most unproductive.
11 miles and 4 locks, one backwards.