Flat batteries at Lapworth

Friday 5th March 2010

Ah well it had to happen sooner or later.  After 10 days at Lapworth Zulu has consumed every last bit of battery power and I really can’t work out why, as the isolator was off leaving only the bilge pump to drain them.  The starter battery is also isolated from the cabin batteries when the engine is off.  There was such a resounding silence when I turned the key that I actually thought someone may have taken the batteries, but they are all there intact.

Then a little towpath magic happened.  Several people stopped to offer their advice, most useful being “see him over there… go and ask him to borrow his genny”.  And so I did.  And 10 minutes later a lovely 2Kw generator was topping up the starter battery.  Thanks very much mate – that was very generous to let me walk off with your generator in your wheelbarrow.

I phoned River and Canal Rescue a bit late in the day, but their engineer did offer to come out even though it was going to be after 8pm.  I was pleased to be able to call them back before the guy set off, in the knowledge that I was probably going to be able to start the engine myself before he got here.

One hour later I risked turning the key and Zulu fired up instantly.  So instead of leaving at 5pm and being at Hatton top lock by dark, I left at 7pm and am only at Tom O’The Wood moorings tonight, filling the water tank at the convenient tap and blogging by candlelight while the engine is still squeezing or hopefully pouring some charge back into the batteries.  The cabin battery bank was down to 4.5 volts – the technical people amongst you will realise this is not a good thing as not only does it make the lights very very dim indeed, but it also enters that grey area where they may not ever be charged properly again.  I do hope this isn’t the start of battery troubles.

The day started well through, after a very heavy frost and minus 5.5C at 7am this morning.  I took the train to Lapworth and discovered that the single fare would be £42.00 whereas splitting the ticket into two halves, from Newbury to Banbury would be £14.80 and from Banbury to Lapworth would be £9.80.  A saving of £17.40.  But then my Network Railcard saved another £1.80 despite the minimum fare on a weekday of £13.00. And the ticket lady said … save another 20p by getting a return to Lapworth from £9.60.

Therefore I paid £22.60 for exactly the same seats on exactly the same trains instead of £42.00.  There is something seriously wrong with the system when a return ticket is less than a single, and two tickets are almost half the price of one.  What can we do to get a fair fare structure!

So tonight its an early night.

Total progress today. 1 mile.
They all count, as long as they are in the right direction.

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.

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.

Who stole my coal?

Angry this morning. Over the last 10 days in Birmingham someone stole my 2 bags of taybrite.

Rant over. It’s a lovely day today and I’m blogging from my iPhone as I crack the ice through Edgbaston.

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!

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!)

Progress report from Brewood

Frozen Wolverhampton locks at Autherley
Frozen Wolverhampton locks at Autherley

Tuesday 12th January 2010


No progress.

Today I took a drive up to Brewood just to check that Zulu was OK in the cold.  Inside the cabin it had been minus 4 degrees and the water in the kettle was frozen solid.  What a good job I drained the water system down before leaving last week.

Apart from that, everything was fine, apart from the frozen canal of course.  Thin ice at Brewood, almost clear in places, turned very thick out of town.  For a moment, deceived by the lack of snow on the roads, I though it may even be possible to d a bit of boating this week, and I took the dog for a walk along the old railway towards Autherley Junction.  The Staffs and Worcester was once again ice free but up at the Junction it was even more frozen than last time and absolutely no sign of broken ice whatsoever, so unless someone can tell me otherwise, I don’t believe a single boat has managed to get up the Wolverhampton locks since I tried two weeks ago.

So back to the car, and back home just in time to miss the next wave of snow, which on Wednesday morning is now lying over 6 inches deep in places, with at least 2 inches of new snow falling overnight. 

Zulu will have to stay put for the foreseeable future.

Waiting for the thaw

Sunday 3rd January 2010

I left Zulu in Brewood on Friday night, hoping somehow that this cold weather would be over within a couple of days, but it rather looks like it could be well over a week before the trip can be resumed with the weather still getting worse in places.

Sadly this means that I will miss my main deadline of reaching Braunston Tunnel cutting before 11th January, after which the canal is closed there until 5th March, unless BW can be persuaded to allow the occasional convoy of stranded boats to pass through.  I will call them tomorrow to check if they have even managed to get their own boats in position before giving up totally.

Having left Zulu and headed south by road, I can confirm that the Newbury area Kennet and Avon is currently ice free, and whilst thick in places, the ice is certainly breakable all the way up to Crofton, as a couple of boats have made the trip over the weekend.

Such is the power of blogging though, a quick search of other canal blogs shows me that Great Haywood is mostly iced in according to Caxton’s blog, so I am thankful that I didn’t divert all the way up the Staffs and Worcester just to get stuck there, and Norbury Junction, which I passed through a couple of days earlier, has frozen again yesterday according to Debdale.  Worse still, Epiphany tells us (and confimed today by email) that Birmingham centre is more or less impassable with 5 inch thick ice at Rotten Park.  So even if I had forced my way to Wolverhampton it now seems likely I would now be stuck somewhere  in no mans land instead of relatively cosy at Brewood.  There are also a couple of threads running on Canalword.net forums where people are posting ice reports, and then of course there is twitter where Granny Buttons was encouraging the use of a #canalice tag to enable searching of relevant topics.  This could form an  invaluable facility if more people start using it – particularly useful as it can be checked and updated using mobile phones in real time.  It is just as useful if people would also post “no ice” posts as well as reporting thick ice.

But right now on this lovely sunny afternoon down south, I have no way of knowing if conditions on the Birmingham Canal Main Line are changing or even if Brewood is deep in snow. 

So if anyone can keep me updated on this I would really appreciate it and if anyone wants an update on the eastern Kennet and Avon then I will be only too happy to report back what I can.