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 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. 

Holiday report – no canals this time!


What an anticlimax coming home to lashing rain and colder temperatures this morning than we had in a week of travelling through Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

Looking outside at the rain I can’t get inspired to write anything about canals today so here’s a few jottings about our holiday instead.  Personally I can’t see the attraction of sitting on the same beach for a week, so we tend to do the opposite and sit on buses and trains instead, which I can understand will not appeal to many especially those who prefer to relax on hols!

However we had the most marvellous time, starting in Riga, thanks to Ryanair.  I find Ryaniar’s use of technology to be superb and rather than complain about being charged extra for using their automatic check-in terminals at Stansted (as opposed to free online check-in)  I will actually praise them for thinking out a radical new solution to preventing check-in queues.  It took no more than 2 minutes to find a free terminal, collect our boarding passes and hand a bag in to the baggage drop desk.

Riga was wonderful but surprisingly desserted.  There was no traffic, no noise, no pedestrians in many streets – altogether a little bit eerie.   The old town centre is very attractive with a mixture of quaint and very grand buildings.  Every corner has a coffee shop – no queues – and free wifi is the norm.  The cheaper restaurants offer self service menus till late  into the night and we especially liked the Pelmeni – self service bowls of different flavoured ravioli style dumplings – a great feed for a couple of quid.  You are charged by weight, which is a very common feature in Latvia – pile it onto the plate and pay only for what you take, weighed at the till.

The day’s highlight for total relaxation turned out to be a tea shop with hundreds of teas to choose from and a first floor piled with cushions to lie on with a view of the park, all within a couple of minutes of the town centre.

The river Daugava was perhaps 400 yards wide through Riga and with at least a three foot swell I was pleased to be visiting by land and not arriving by boat on a river with breaking waves.  A narrowboat here would have no chance of staying upright but boat trips do exist, although like so much aimed at tourists here, the operating season will only be May to September.  Continue reading “Holiday report – no canals this time!”

Jolly Boating Weather

This morning the sun is shining like summer – didn’t wear a coat when out early with the dog, which to me means Spring has arrived. And I’m looking forward to taking Zulu up to Manchester next week.

Trust the weather to come up with this…

BBC Weather Forecast for Manchester this week
Weather Forecast for Manchester this week


What a lovely warmish spring day.  A delight to drive up to Middlewich and find Zulu is absolutely fine, apart from her slightly poorly Paloma water heater of course.

Well thats now solved – I bodged a repair last time, but after speaking to an incredibly helpful guy who sells reconditioned Palomas on Ebay (no link but I can provide his phone number if anyone is intererested).  Without even describing my problem in detail he predicted that the inlet valve body had distorted with ice – and he was absolutlely right. 

After calling him back he was able to provide me with a fully recondiioned inlet valve for 20 pounds including postage and it came the next day – totally excellent service with loads of free advice thrown in.  And so today within 30 minutes I had replaced the old valve, cleaned 30 years of crap off the old boiler and found it fully working – better than ever as the inlet valve is now working properly, controlling the flow and therefore controlling the water temperature.

The sunshine makes it all the better, and I was amazed at how busy the Trent and Mersey has become today – at least 6 boats came past within an hour – more than we have seen all winter at home on the Kennet and Avon!

Muddiest week for 18 years?

Big Brother has told us to expect more snow this week, hot on the heels of the worst snow in the UK for 18 years.  As the forecast has been fairly accurate this week, I’m sure its on its way too, so I took advantage of a relatively clear Sundat to pop up to Middlewich and check that Zulu is surviving the extreme weather.  I even managed to fix the leaking Paloma water heater,  and this time properly drained it as well as the whole water system.  I learnt the hard way, and wont be caught out again – I hope.

Middlewich hit the national news this week when almost every local authority in the council tried to order more salt for the roads only to learn that there was no more road salt in the country.  That is apart from at Middlewich, where allegedly British Salt had been absent mindedly tossing all of the bi-products of their table salt making process into a 100,000 tonne heap without much regard for what it would ever be used for.  Smartly they doubled the price for rock salt and still sold enough to form a 4 hour queue for local residents caught up in the traffic jam of lorries arriving from all over the country and queuing all the way down the A54 from the M6.

So perhaps some good for Middlewich may come from the weather.  Today there were plenty of lorries around but no traffic jams.  But has nobody remembered what damage the salt does to our cars – I must remember to get the jetwash out when I get home and remove todays’ coating.

The muddiest moorings for 18 years?
The muddiest moorings for 18 years?

Sadly the pathway beside Zulu’s moorings has deteriorated to the extent that I have complained to British Waterways – although not a public footpath, our moorrings are used as a short cut to the local dog walking field by litearally hundreds of dogs and their owners day.  The mud churned up by so many footprints has finally reached the stage where it is almost impossible to slither along from Big Lock to the boat without falling over, or even worse falling into the water – to one side the frozen canal and to the other a drop of 12 feet to the river which is flowing like whitewater rapids following the thawing snow.

So today I am not happy.  I hope BW may see sense and divert one of the their towpath renewal teams currently working on in Middlewich over to sort out a couple of loads of stone to stabilise the path.  We will see!  Meanwhile I need to perfect a way to keep the mud out of the boat but am still practicing.

The big freeze

Early January is certainly the coldest time I have ever spent living aboard.  Temperatures overnight reached minus 16C according to local measurements, and the canal was well frozen for days on end.

Sadly while away from Zulu I neglected to properly drain the Paloma water heater so I can only blame myself for the new shower feature in the kitchen, consisting mainly of a horizontal jet of water coming from between the two halves of the inlet valve.

Thanks to a chap who advertises Paloma exchange units on Ebay – he answered my email enquiry about whether this could be fixed with a phone number to call and he turned out to be most helpful.  I discovered that the original screws which hold the two halves of the valve together should be have given way, under the force of any ice building up in the valve, but very commonly the valve is distorted by freezing, or the rubber diaphragm inside the valve splits.  Either way its repairable but I miust admit I am tempted by Tony’s Ebay offer of a fully tested and serviced replacement boiler on an exchange basis, for the cost of £99.  Many Palomas sell for much more than this on ebay.  I will try to repair it first though and planned to pop up to see Zulu this week.

However this morning the weather warnings on the news have for once been justified as the entire south of the country is literally snowed under.  No buses in London, half the Tube system out of action, Heathrow and Gatwick currently closed as well as Southampton Airport and to make things worse at Heathrow, Cyprus Airways landed safely in the snow and then taxied off the taxiway on the way to the terminal, resulting in a huge aircraft stuck in the mud. 

Predictably the National Rail enquiries website is really struggling to cope at the very time it should be providing help and information to the public.  People on the news are panicking about how to get home and it really doesn’t help when crucial sources of information are unavailable.  In the event of a major public disaster I do hope the government has web based systems ready to keep us informed, but on this occasion I can only express my frustration with National Rail.  I travelled last night and tried time and time again to find out if my onward arrangements were still running – the entire website was down.  This morning it was unavailable through the morning rush hour, then came back on in a patchy sort of way, working one minute then not the next.  A few thousand quid and some thought as to how the public want to use this service would easily put right the ability to keep the website going through exceptionally busy times.

Meanwhile for much of the morning this has been the result.

National Rail Website Overloaded
National Rail Website Overloaded

Rest in peace

Last week I was concerned that Norman, the resident moorer at Big Lock moorings, was not around.  On previous visits he was always there – sitting outside with dog Holly, a rollup and a mug of tea putting the world to right with all the passing dog walkers, or pottering around on the moorings where he has recently planted dozens of bushes and fruit trees.  In fact last time I was here I didn’t see him either, although Holly was sniffing around on the towpath, and his back cabin light was on, so I thought no more of it.

On Thursday I was therefore horrified when Norman’s brother came looking for the boat and told me that Norman had died and his body was found onboard on Tuesday after a concerned dog walker had called the police.

I knew that not all the family had been informed, and so didn’t post anything until now, when today the sad news is the headline story in today’s Middlewich Guardian.   Luckily Holly has been taken in by the person who called the police.

But the sad story has really been nagging me this week.  If only I had insisted on checking up last time I was here instead of assuming all was OK after seeing the dog, then things may have worked out different.  Norman was a lovely bloke and lots of people are going to miss him when passing by the moorings.

So I ever notice anyone missing from their boat in the future I will certainly be more inquisitive, just incase.

To the IWA National Festival and back

I don’t know why I do it, but every year or two I feel an urge to go to the IWA National boat festival and so with Wolverhampton in striking distance of Zulu I decided to go.

By the time Saturday arrived Zulu was in Polesworth, so after realising I had moored in a wasps nest last night I made a hasty departure followed by a nice leisurely run up to Tamworth where I believed there to be a station.  Jolly nice is the approach to Tamworth, especially with so many lovely gardens along the canalside and there is literally miles of moorings to choose from.  Obviously I chose the wrong one in terms of distance from the station but it couldnt be that far, could it?

I walked.  It took 30 minutes after following town centre signs at the Arches instead of turning right.

And what a dump is Tamworth Station – being a weekend the main line was being disassembled by literally hundreds of orange clad workmen.  No trains then?  But yes – the Birmingham train would leave from the other level.  Banging and crashing from the workmen, drilling and concrete breaking, dust and dirt.  Local mums were holding a smoking competition outside the station cafe, and had totally blocked the entrance with their pushchairs. Naturally I had just missed the train so had to pass a very uninteresting 30 minutes before the next.  What a dump!

Finally on the train and quickly through to Wolverhampton via Brum, I decided to walk down the 21 locks to Autherley and very nice it was too.  That was, I’m afraid, the highlight of the day as the festival was, as always for me, a big anticlimax.  Organisation seemed to be confused – there was for instance no obvious way in,  which has to be a bit odd. Some attempts at controlling the mud had been made but the battle was lost for the time time being.

At the IWA National Rally, WolverhamptonI was ushered to the far end of a queueing system, so I could approach the ticket office from and approved angle, even though there was nobody else waiting to buy tickets, which seemed even odder.  £7.50 for a ticket was about normal, but I still don’t know whether any member of the public thought they got any value for this as once inside there was a mudbath surrounded by a few engines, a few boats, a few charity and waterways restoration type stalls, a boiling hot marquee with far too many people trying to shelter and the usual rheumatism cures and magic frying pan stalls which seems to appear at all similar events.

Never mind – there will be some food – and there was indeed a kind of food court with comparatively poor quality and poor value offerings after the marvels of Cropredy Festival a couple of weeks ago.  I joined a short queue to spend six pounds on some dahl with pakora – quite nice but very bland – yet dozens were tucking into the same.  When I think I got once of the nicest plates of half a dozen different curries at Cropredy for the same price, I know where I would rather have been.  On to the beer tent where two – yes only TWO – girls were trying to work out what beers were on offer and possibly twenty anxious customers trying to work out how to be served.  Especially anxious because they had just paid 50 pence for an empty plastic glass by queueing in a separate queue and were now obliged to either queue for beer or queue again for their deposit back.

Not impressed with this nonensense I obtained a pint for £3.20 which could have been mistaken for something out of the drains.  Whilst I will enthuse about a nice pint, as I did for the wonderful dark mild at the Greyhound, I will also damn those who take good beer and serve it in a way which makes it an ordeal to even get half way through it.  Totally horrible.  And then join a queue of 20 to hand my glass back in. Not impressed.

Back out into the mud I searched for something other than  boring stalls – there were a few slightly less boring, but far easier to find something interesting at a local chandlery than to persevere here – and without a focal point such as an arena and without any specific events to wait for I went home after an hour. Imagine going to a music festival where it turned out there was hardly anything on once you had got inside the gates.  Many stalls sat in a small island within a muddy pool. I felt very sorry for those who had paid good money for their pitches, and sorry for those splodging around trying to find something to do.  I can’t criticise arranging a get-together for boat owners, which of course the Festival does extremely well, but I am not sure what pleasure the general public would get from a day out in the mud.

The biggest queue was for the buses back to the car park, wherever it was.  There were however plenty of buses and plenty of cars parked illegally at the roadside sporting “You have been warned” stickers from the police.  At least they could go straight home. The public bus back to town was a nightmare with the dog – the driver drove like a lunatic throwing us all over the place and I was delighted to be back on the train to Tamworth.  I never though I would say that!