Take no notice. What stoppages?

Incorrect stoppage notice on Lapworth locks
Incorrect stoppage notice on Lapworth locks. Even the phone number is mis-typed.

Last week we came down the 19 frozen and snow covered Lapworth locks from Birmingham and I meant to mention the notice pinned to the balance beams of lock 20, the bottom lock of the flight if arriving from the Grand Union.  I knew it to be untrue, having just arrived from the other direction but what would I be expected to do if I had just arrived to go up the flight?  Maybe walk 2 miles to the top, to verify it is possible to get through – as once committed to the flight there is no turning place until well after the top lock.  Maybe I should just assume it is OK in the absence of a lock and chain? Or maybe check Waterscape.com to find out whether there is really a stoppage?

Search results from Waterscape.com
Search results from Waterscape.com

Yes that’s what I did earlier in the trip.  No point in phoning British Waterways these days, as the stock answer is “have you checked Waterscape.com?”  I didn’t realise it at the time but by searching for stoppages on the Stratford Canal and CHANGING THE FROM DATE I had broken the search system, which then returned a long list of incorrect stoppages!  I couldn’t understand why boats had been arriving in Birmingham while I was seeing a long list of Lapworth stoppages for January to March.  And then the penny dropped.  The search results were showing me 2009 stoppages – I just hadn’t noticed the year until now!  I tried it again at Lapworth and got exactly the same incorrect results.

Today after complaining to British Waterways about this, I notice that the search results have been corrected, and indeed there is no way to search for 2009 stoppages deliberately so last week’s results can only have been the result of an error rather than finger trouble.

So back to the plot, the notice on the bottom gates of the flight is now totally inexplicable.  I wonder if it refers to the flight going down towards Stratford, which is indeed closed, although you wouldn’t be going up through lock 20 if taking that route.

So once again, no information would be so much better than half a story – if Waterscape.com didn’t exist and if someone had removed the notice from the lock when lock 19 was repaired ahead of schedule 2 weeks ago, then nobody would be any the wiser.  But as it stands BW are continuing to make demands of the user without having the systems to back them up themselves.  There is no excuse for returning old data from a website query, other than dodgy programming and lack of testing and the incorrect notice could have been removed by someone from the local BW Offices the day the locks reopened.  Its all of 200 yards from the lock to their front door.  They could do with typing practice too by the looks of it – even their own phone number has been mis-typed!  It should of course be 01827 252000.  I suggest we should all call them tomorrow.

Meanwhile theres no cruising log this weekend.  Looking at the rain, and the forecast for even more, I have decided not to move Zulu today but hopefully the weather will improve this week.

Viking Warrior – was that Zulu’s long lost sister?

“]Viking Warrie]
Viking Warrior at Lapworth

In the 1980s Zulu Warrior belonged to the Royal Navy as one of two narrowboats based at Uxbridge on the Grand Union.  They were basically hire boats, available for Navy personnel attached to the nearby “Stone Frigate” HMS Warrior, otherwise known as Northwood HQ near Rickmansworth.  The staff at Uxbridge Boat Centre still remember having Zulu based there.

Amongst the paperwork which I inherited are the old hire boat inventory, handling manual and some of the log books.  I never found the actual “brochure”  for hiring Zulu, but I do have a glossy A4 leaflet with the details of the other boat, purpose built for the job in 1975, as opposed to Zulu’s history as a former hire boat.

This sparkling new all steel boat was called Viking Warrior, and was apparently 50ft with 8 berths.  From the faded photos it isn’t clear whether Viking was a cruiser or trad stern and I have no other information about her.  Searching Jim Shead’s boat listing for Viking Warrior came up with only one GRP boat which couldn’t possibly be the original, so for the last two years I have assumed that she no longer exists.

Potentially rare shot of Zulu Warrior and Viking Warrior together for the first time in 30 years
Potentially rare shot of Zulu Warrior and Viking Warrior together for the first time in 30 years

This weekend look what I found, on its mooring just above Bridge 28 at Lapworth on the Stratford on Avon Canal.  Viking Warrior, all very shiny, and a traditional stern but remarkably similar bows and window pattern to the photo in my brochure.  Could this really be the long lost partner for Zulu?  Searching Jim Shead’s boat list by the index number comes up with Viking Warrier (sic) which of course is why I couldn’t find her in my original search, and the index number 60553 could well be from the 1980s but isn’t exactly datable as it is from the era where all existing boats were handed a sequential number regardless of their actual age.  The length is given at 45 feet, but there again Zulu was sold to me as 7 feet longer than she is in the real world.

UPDATED 24-FEB-10

I hope to do some more research so if you know anything about these two boats it would be really great to hear from you.  I would especially like to see old photographs of Zulu.  Meanwhile I have been reminded (Thanks Brian – see comments) about an article Royal Navy Narrowboats on Grannybuttons.com published shortly after I bought Zulu – indeed published because I bought Zulu.  There is already a wealth of detail about Viking Warrior contributed by Noel Durkin, and mentions Dick Pryce-Jones as being in charge of the naval narrowboat project and apparently still has his own narrowboat, nb Juniper, at Upware.  So if either of you read this, or anyone else with more information, I would love to hear from you.

Although Zulu and Viking have long since been decomissioned from the Navy, there are still at least two Royal Navy narrowboats, so you never know who you may meet in the next bridge hole.  The most recent, the Warneford VC, was added in March 2009 as covered by http://www.hmforces.co.uk/news/articles/608-royal-navy-launches-new-vessel-a-narrowboat and will be based at Hilperton on the K&A and I believe at least one more, the Emma is based in the Midlands.  These boats are, like Zulu, used for recreational and occasional team building exercises.

Lapworth top to Lapworth bottom

Sunday 21st February 2010

Zulu breaking the ice of new day at Lapworth
Zulu breaking the ice of new day at Lapworth

I looked out at 7am just in time to see the tail end of a snowstorm which had added at least another two inches of fresh snow overnight but at least this meant the temperature was on the rise after hitting minus 5.5 during the night.
 
I therefore got my lie-in and got up again after 9 when a lot of the fresh snow had already melted. At about 10am I optimistically set off into the ice, which although thawing, was still almost enough to stop us dead in our tracks.  In fact it did several times, but taking another run at it broke through.  Too late to think about the paintwork now though. Without the thaw in the brilliant morning sunshine  there would have been no way on earth I could have continued the journey, but I was keen not to become stranded in a lock flight.
 
Lapworth locks were quite hard work single handed, as they have no tail landing, which means opening the gates then using the ladder to get back on the boat, which isn’t too bad as the locks aren’t deep. In the snow however it meant taking everything half speed, as well as walking on to open the next lock and then back to close the previous one, trebling the distance walked at each lock and not being able to leave the boat unattended while going down due to the ice.  Its funny how some pounds and some locks were ice free, whereas other locks were frozen solid.

 

 

An icy lock scene at Lapworth flight
An icy lock scene at Lapworth flight

Worth noting for anyone who hasn’t broken ice to get into a lock, the ice fragments have a nasty habit of jamming  vertically between the brickwork and the boat, so when this happens there is even more work to do, making sure the boat isn’t hanging as it drops down the lock.  Smashing ice with a heavy shaft is also quite satisfying.
 
By the time I got to the bottom of the flight, 15 locks later, I was ready for a late lunch, which I ate in the sun wearing only a tee shirt and jeans after shedding a layer of clothing every hour on the way down!  The area around Kingswood Basin and its complex canal junction is a lovely location, very popular with dog walkers, and I can well understand why mooring vacancies here always attract a lot of interest, even though there are locks galore in every direction!
 
So Zulu is now moored just beyond the visitor moorings, close enough to walk to Lapworth station.
 
Thanks again to Matilda Rose blog, who reminded me that the Lapworth flight was no longer closed due to the early completion of the Lock 19 stoppage.  Looking at the fresh snow alongside each lock, I think I was the only boat to follow you all week.

Today I have done 2 miles and 15 locks which took just under 4 hours, ending up within a boat’s length of the Grand Union. Finally almost on the right canal but there’s still a long way to Uxbridge!  No point in rushing though, as Braunston and Buckby still have stoppages which could well be delayed until Easter due to the weather.

Birmingham to Lapworth

Saturday 20th February 2010

Zulu going round Sherbourne Wharf, Birmingham
Zulu going round Sherbourne Wharf, Birmingham, in search of coal

Woke up to a very cold Birmingham and all thoughts of a dawn departure vanished into duvet land.

Good old Zulu’s 37 year old engine was good enough to start first time after two weeks resting and we set off to Cambrian Wharf for water, and then to Sherbourne Wharf for coal, to replace the two bags which were stolen while I was away.  Unfortunately they don’t sell it, so back to Gas Street Basin where Away 2 Service supplied a couple of bags of Taybrite for £9.00 each while I was passing through the Worcester Bar.

Other bloggers had recently noted the odd temporary bridge at Selly Oak where a new road is being built under the canal and adjoining railway line.  The canal will be closed here from Monday 22nd until 26th while a temporary canal diversion is built alongside, which to me sounds much more than 5 days work.  Meanwhile a chap turned up to raise the temporary bridge without asking, and called out to give it some power as other boats were going aground here.  Zulu doesn’t exactly do extra power, but I gave it all we had and rode up and over the mudbank without quite coming to a halt.

Turning left at Kings Norton and through the unique stop lock with its guillotine gates, open at each end for several decades I guess.  the surroundings become less industrial and at Shirley there’s a total transformation into open countryside.  This is certainly where people who want big houses live – there are some very attractive country houses and very nice places to moor after the grungy urban stopping points outside Birmingham itself.

Onwards towards Lapworth on a lovely sunny day, but the closer to Lapworth, the thicker the ice and the more snow on the ground.  I thought I was following another boat, but it must have been the one oncoming boat which I passed, as the broken channel I was following ended, leaving poor old Zulu an ever harder course through the ice.  The two lift bridges 26 and 28 near Lapworth are certainly fun single handed without snow and ice to contend with too! I ended up pulling the boat through and catching it as it went past under the bridges – well it seemed to work this time but theres something disconcerting about your boat sailing past without anyone on board, and no direct means of catching it unless the boat hook can reach it!

At the top of Lapworth at 5pm I was obviously the only boat of the day – the ice was getting thicker by the minute, so with less than an hour of daylight I decided to go down the first four locks and call it a day.  Which has worked out OK so far despite having to break fairly thick ice in places.

However as I tied up below lock 5 the ropes were freezing in my hands, and the temperature had already dropped to minus 4 and with a clear sky it seems perfect  conditions to become even colder.  If the ice permits in the morning I can look forward to another 15 locks in close succession, and if it doesn’t I can look forward to a lovely lie in.

Todays total : 17 miles and 4 locks.  Brrrrrhhhhhh.

Back in Birmingham and ready to go!

Friday 19th February 2010

No thanks - I will pay £9.85 less than this and still travel on exactly the same trains
No thanks - I will pay £9.85 less than this and still travel on exactly the same trains

Following a similar plan to two weeks ago, I set off about 4pm from Newbury, except this time I declined the £44.00 off peak return rail fare to Birmingham and purchased the following:

1 x Off Peak return ticket from Newbury to Banbury with 30% discount for Network Rail Card £18.95

1 x Off Peak return ticket from Banbury to Birmingham £15.20

Total cost £34.15

Saving with railcard, £9.85 to travel on exactly the same trains in exactly the same seat.

This time I took the Reading to Newcastle Cross Country train, which starts at Reading, and is therefore empty at first, so not only did I get a seat this week, but it was actually a pleasure to travel on this service.

So tonight here I am in the centre of Birmingham, with Zulu none the worse for being left alone here for the last 12 days, apart from an inch of snow still on the roof.  There is however almost no snow on the ground, so everything looks OK for an early morning departure.

Just time to pop out to Broad Street for some groceries and a pint…… or rather not thanks, on a Friday night its just a little bit on the busy side for me.   Back on the canal side there isn’t a soul around.  What a difference a couple of hundred yards can make!

A new dimension through blogging?

Someone asked today whether blogging has opened up a dimension which I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Moored outside the NIA in Birmingham before moving to 14 day moorings
Moored outside the NIA in Birmingham earlier this month before moving to 14 day moorings

Here is the perfect example.  I am sitting in the south in glorious sunshine.  Zulu is sitting in Birmingham (I hope!!) and this weekend I hope to be able to continue our journey through to Hatton on the Grand Union.  Until now I was oblivious to the difference in weather between here and there.

How topical to discover that the most recent two bloggers to update their blogs, at the time of writing, are both relevant to my journey.

First of all Gypsy Rover who have moored  a couple of spaces behind Zulu.  Their post at 9:01am this morning confirms that it snowed quite heavily in Birmingham last night, so I must make sure the path is clear before setting off to the Grand Union tomorrow morning.

Secondly Matilda Rose who moored near me in Birmingham a couple of weekends ago. Today at 8:23am they have posted a description of their journey from Birmingham to Hatton via the Lapworth flight on the Stratford Canal.  Wow – I hadn’t known for sure that this route was open, after having seen the extent of maintenance works a couple of weeks ago when I called in by car.  Now I will almost certainly head that way instead of going down Farmers Bridge and joining the Grand Union in Birmingham.

Also a double mention to John on Epiphany who has published the most comprehensive list of moorings and facilities on the BCN.  Thanks for this after my annoyance last week that BW publishes a load of out of date information on Waterscape.com which doesn’t even include the 14 day moorings on which we are moored right now, despite them having been there, almost outside their West Midlands Office, for at least the last 5 years.  I believe John has also recently taken responsibility for the new NABO website which was launched last night.  I took an interest in this from a technical point of view last year, as this site has long been barred from access to T-Mobile mobile broadband users.  T-Mobile interfere with web pages by keeping  a snapshot copy on their own proxy server, as well as delivering low resolution images in place of those supplied on the original website.  It would not surprise me if they also block access to some sites, though they deny this and why this would have been the case with NABO I have no idea.  Whatever the reason, T-Mobile blamed the hosting company, and the hosting company blamed T-Mobile.  Neither could be swayed to sort it out.  I was able to establish it was the whole web server and not just this website, but the obvious answer was to move to a new hosting company, which NABO have now done.  Therefore all those on T-Mobile who couldn’t access this website in the past – you will have no problems now.

Finally it seems appropriate to also mention that the IWA have also just updated their website – very professional and well laid out it looks too.

It often seems to me that the more corporate the website the flashier it will look, but the content will be duller, more likely to be out of date and even downright incorrect (as per my complaint about Waterscape.com’s listing of moorings on the BCN which bears no resemblance to reality).  There seem to be more and more good canal blogs, and almost every single one has something positive to contribute to other boaters – it is obvious how frequently they get updated, unlike most corporate sites, and so I know I can rely on Epiphany’s mooring list more than any produced by BW at present because the people behind it have an interest in making it right. Personal blogs are a tough act for Waterscape, IWA and organisations like NABO to follow although to me the clue to success is staring us in the face.  Write it like it is, put quality of content before quality of presentation, review what you have written and update it when its wrong, and do it often and when appropriate.  Or in one word – “blog”.

Compton to Birmingham

Saturday 6th February 2010

Zulu in Wolverhampton Top Lock
Zulu in Wolverhampton Top Lock

Thanks for the help at Wolverhampton Locks, Springy, whoever you were!   What a result – 24 hours earlier I had posted a request in Canal World Forums for someone to help lockwheeling up the Wolverhampton flight this morning, and hey presto Springy turned up windlass and anti-vandal key in hand after a brief discussion on the internet.

The flight is in very good condition and the locks are all pretty easy but single handed walking ahead and back, you end up walking more than double the distance. With 21 locks this makes a four mile walk, on top of 126 gate openings and closings, and hundreds of paddles to wind.

So with an extra pair of hands we made very light work of it and arrived at the top lock just before 11am, not quite 3 hours after starting. Copious cups of coffee and lock-cooked bacon and eggs kept us going strong. Springy turned out to be a most knowledgeable boater, as are so many members on Canal World and it made a very pleasant morning’s boating.

Once at the top I bade Springy goodbye and made good use of the immaculate BW service facilities at Broad Street before setting off in search of a suitable mooring to leave Zulu until next weekend.

Where better to look than Waterscape.com, since every question I have asked British Waterways in the last two years has been answered with “have you checked waterscape.com?”

Well I did, confirming that 14 day moorings are few and far between on the BCN, and on most of them you wouldn’t want to leave the boat unattended for too long, so what better than the 14 day moorings at Dudley’s Black Country Museum – behind lock and key; this is as good as it gets.

I pottered along past a few dog walkers and a couple of anglers, looking forward to another feature which I had just discovered on waterscape. “Coseley Tunnel: Risk of throwing of stones and other missiles”

Coseley Tunnel without being stoned
Coseley Tunnel without being stoned

Who was going to throw them?  There wasn’t a soul in sight of the towpath. I have no doubt that in years gone by a bored group of local lads discovered that it was fun to frighten boaters, but this should surely not become a documented note on the navigation guide as these things come and go as the perpetrators grow up, move on to more rewarding crimes or get locked up. Or maybe I was just lucky today. In fact I later did pass a group of 10-12 year olds chucking bricks into the water at Dudley, but not at the boat. No need to add this to waterscape yet thanks, BW.  Maybe when they are 14 and on glue …..

So I arrived at Dudley just after 3pm, missing the last tunnel trip boat of the day – which is a shame as I have never been through before, but noted that on the first Sunday of the month they operate a trip all the way through the tunnel, which sounds worth coming back for.

Extract from the Boaters Guide to BCN
Extract from the Boaters Guide to BCN

I was however moored on a 48 hour mooring so needed to find the 14 day alternative – the very reason I had come here – but it was patently obvious that there was no such thing. Waterscape.com has once again provided incorrect information. With some of the moorings being private, others for museum customers only that only leaves room for half a dozen boats at the most and all 48 hours max. So at half three, I decided to push on to Birmingham and back tracked to Factory Junction. I really enjoyed the three Factory Locks which rank among my favourites. They are unusual in having a continuous straight brickwork edge from the top to the bottom, so in theory you can pull the boat out of one lock, close the gates and then walk ahead while the boat drifts onwards towards the next lock, opening the gate and watching it glide in. Don’t try this on a windy day folks, but today I had the whole place to myself and dropped down the three locks in just over 15 minutes total.

About 100 yards beyond the bottom lock I noticed the most enormous heap of beer cans on the bridge embankment to the left. I reached for the camera, but quickly put it back when I saw the most likely source of the mess – a large group of Tipton’s finest hoodies had obviously made this some kind of headquarters, right above the can mountain, and several appeared involved in taking stronger stuff than lager. Better to push on than get involved in handing out rubbish bags, lest I should become their contents.

As it got dark the cold set in, and I began to wonder if the scaremongering press, notably the Daily Express, were going to be right about another cold spell heading our way. Definitely best to be secure in Birmingham in case this happens and the canal freezes over again!  With an extra coat and gloves on, the rest of the journey was wonderful – I didn’t see one single person between Dudley Port and Sherbourne Wharf.

Zulu at Birmingham 48 hr Moorings
Zulu at Birmingham 48 hr Moorings

It was about 7pm when I arrived in Birmingham and the first thing I noticed was that the moorings between Sherbourne Loop and the next bridge are 14 days, on both sides of the canal too. Grrrrrr Waterscape.com doesn’t mention this at all, making a mockery of the information it provides, where it says all moorings are 48 hours apart from Cambrian Wharf which I knew to have three 14 day moorings. Well at least that was the another problem solved. This area has a really nice feel to it, with security cameras all over the place, and residential balconies all along. For a Saturday night the whole place was very quiet indeed and I didn’t half sleep well!

Today’s total is a respectable 25 locks and 23 miles and I feel that arriving in Birmingham has been a major milestone in the journey. The only available route south from here is going to be down Farmers Bridge locks, then Aston and up Camp Hill to join the Grand Union at its northernmost point at Solihull, all of which needs to be done in one session due to lack of moorings, so thats probably what I will do next weekend, heading for Hatton where there’s a very convenient station. Now whilst I would have been absolutely happy to do Wolverhampton locks alone but appreciated some assistance, Hatton flight is another matter altogether and I won’t be doing them single handed unless I have no choice. I therefore give you advance notice that if anyone is interested in helping me down Hatton, I would really really appreciate your help in a couple or three weeks time!

Meanwhile thanks again to Springy. It was great to meet you and without your help I would definitely not be writing this from Birmingham!

Giving it another try

Friday 5th February 2010

Its been two weeks since I parked up in Compton so on this sunny afternoon, even warm, I paid £48.20 to a machine at Newbury station in exchange for a piece of card with Wolverhampton written on it.

I hesitate to call it a train ticket, as this would imply there would be somewhere to sit in comfort, sipping a coffee or maybe a beer – well it is the weekend after all.  No,no,no.  There was a train though – the 17:11 Cross Country Reading to Manchester – so I had the choice of not getting on it, or getting on it.  The vestibule, as the “Train Manager” called it, was as far as I got until Banbury, initially sitting on the floor but after another ten people got on it was inevitable that standing was to be the method of travel.

Seated for the second half of the journey, I had by now listened to the cheerful Train Manager telling us that the  quiet zone was at the back, but the buffet car wouldn’t be opening due to a “staff vacancy”, at least half a dozen times.  What about the poor people who couldn’t even get in this train left behind on the platform at Oxford?  How on earth have we allowed the railway system to deteriorate to this extent.

Back to the boating then, here I am back on Zulu tonight, enjoying 3G access with my Three modem – worth noting, as t-Mobile didn’t work here at all last time.

So Wolverhampton Locks, here we come again.

See you there in the morning (oh go on – you know you want to do some locks!)