Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Lapworth (Planning ahead and beyond)

Monday was a day of showers with the promise of getting colder in the afternoon with frost overnight.  On our morning walk, Buddy and I met Noel out on his daily bike ride around the perimeter of his farm.  Noel and his brother Martin are the surviving members of the Smith family that farmed Turners End Farm at Rowington for over two hundred years.  They are in their late 70s and still live in the farmhouse but let all the land to a local farmer.  I have talked about them before and picked up lots of interesting local history from them.

Every day Martin cycles down Dicks Lane to the canal, up the towpath to Lapworth to buy a paper and then cycles back again.  Noel cycles down Dicks Lane too but at the canal turns left to Lowsonford and then back along a lane to their farmhouse.  I bumped into Noel at Dicks Lane lock so he dismounted and we walked along the towpath to Lowsonford together.  I remarked on his bike and how it reminded me of my first ‘adult’ bike; he told me that their father had bought them one each (us oldies remember Sturmey-Archer gears and dynamos πŸ˜‰) and they are both still in daily use.

When we walked past the lock cottage that is for sale I mentioned about the drinking water coming from a well and he told me that they too didn’t have running water at their farm until the late 50s and that the well water in the area is very sweet.

Picture taken when they were both working farmers (Martin on the left; Noel on the right) – they wear the same outfits to this day 😊

Tuesday was one of the two days a week that the shop at Finwood Hill Farm at Lowsonford is open, so I took a good circular walk to pick up some eggs on the way.  This was my first visit to this shop and the lady farmer was a good chatterer and when we got onto canals she explained that their farm completely surrounds the lock cottage that is for sale.  She and her husband (and previous owners) have refused to negotiate about granting access to the cottage across their land.  An access drive of over ¾ mile would present all sorts of problems such as maintenance; fencing for livestock; potential for gates to be left open etc. 

I had the car for the day as we were off to play bridge in Stratford for the evening and, as Karen’s office is on the way, it makes sense for me to drop her at work in the morning and pick her up in the evening. This meant I could drive to the coal merchants at Hockley Heath to stock up on coal.  Buddy and I spent some of the afternoon trolleying coal from the car to the boat ¼ mile away down the towpath.

We woke to a light dusting of snow on Wednesday and I decided to go litter picking during the morning.  Even though this is one of the most litter-free stretches of canal we have been on, it’s amazing how much litter lurks at the water’s edge or under the hedges. 

After one hour the bag was getting on the heavy side for me and my back

We are now just over a year away from moving the boat over to France to start cruising the waterways over there.  We’ve done a lot of chatting about it but not really made any plans etc.  So, in the afternoon I started getting some information together such as how to get there, modifications needed to the boat, boat documentation required, exams we need to take such as the French equivalent of helmsman courses and VHF radio operation.  Of course, our friends Mike and Aileen are two years ahead of us so are full of information and experiences and are more than willing to help us on our way.  It has started to feel more real now that we are putting pen to paper and planning things out.

We’re going to have a busy 2018 before we go though.  When Karen got her contract, nearly two years ago, we were just about to get to Chester.  Unfortunately, we had to turn round and head back down to the Midlands so that Karen could start her job.  As soon as we set off again, in a couple of months or so, we will head straight for Chester and then to Liverpool where we have booked into the docks for a week in May.  We will then set off on the length of the Leeds & Liverpool canal.  Our previous boat was too long for the locks on that canal, so it’ll be good to finally cruise through my parent’s village, Gargrave, which is at the northern most point of the canal.  We plan to spend a couple of months in the Yorkshire Dales as we go through.

After the summer we will find a mooring for the boat as we are going to Italy for a month (with Buddy of course) taking a further two weeks to get down and another two weeks to get back.  Where we go after that depends on where we decide to have the boat craned out onto the lorry to take us to France.

Exciting times ahead 😊

Monday, 15 January 2018

Lapworth (cruising in reverse all day)

As I said in yesterday’s blog, we wanted a relaxing and quiet Sunday, and so we did.  We spent most of the morning on the boat and then went to get water before lunch.  The water point is only a couple of hundred yards away from where we are moored so you would think it would be a simple operation to cruise up there, take on water and come back again.

There is a lock between us and the water point and we had to negotiate that first.  Not normally an issue but, as we were facing the wrong way we had to reverse into the lock.  Again, this would not normally be an issue, other than narrowboats are not built for reversing.  Unless you have a bow thruster (or lady button as they are often called), it is very difficult to keep the boat in a straight line.  Bow thrusters are little motors at the front of the boat that enable the driver to move the bows left or right as required - useful when reversing but you do see people using them when they are casting off which can cause bank erosion where banks aren't protected by steel piling, concrete or other similar material. 

Even having done the operation many times here, I still don’t like doing it as the lock has a strong overspill weir which creates a strong cross current which sends the boat all over the place.  When going forwards you can adjust for the cross current by steering into it and turning away from it at the last moment but obviously not so easy in reverse when you have no control.  There was no one around which meant I got into the lock without any problems – I didn’t even hit the sides.  Of course, if there had been gongoozlers or other boats around I would have completely cocked it up 😊

Having gone through the lock I carried on reversing across the basin, span the boat round and moored up at the water point.  I turned the boat round as I had decided to go back to the same mooring after taking on water but wanted to be facing the other way.  We will be setting of for the Grand Union next weekend so it’ll be easier to set off facing the right way!  This did mean I would have to reverse back down the lock again etc.

I have only seen one boat come past us in the whole week we have been here, but, like buses, as soon as I moored up, two more appeared and then a fourth – all wanting the service point.

Moored at the water point – one boat in front of us – one waiting in the lock (having lunch!) and another to the right, out of sight of the camera

The other three boats were all people who have permanent moorings in the area and had all decided to get water or have a pump out on the same day.  Unfortunately, as they are all moored in different locations they didn’t coordinate their trips!  With the notoriously low pressure at the water point it took well over an hour to fill the boat and it was practically dark by the time the other boats had finished.  It seemed like it had taken all day to get water by the time we had moored back up again.

Even though we are having a lot of grey weather, Karen and I have both thought spring has come early on some mornings.  Laying in bed we have heard birds calling as if it’s March already – I’m not very good on birdsong but it sounds like the robins and great tits are at it already.

We have also enjoyed just sitting looking out of the window at the mallards playing outside the boat.  We know it’s the courtship ritual but some of the displays are just like they’re playing, especially when several of the males are performing the same dance simultaneously.  Our resident waterfowl pick their mates in the winter months so it’s not really a sign of spring but a sign of spring to come πŸ˜‰

The other sign of spring is that a lot of our spring flower bulbs in the pots on the roof are shooting – crocuses, daffodils, tulips etc.

Before it got dark we went for a walk down to Lowsonford to have a nose around the lock cottage that’s for sale.  It really is a shame about the M40 – it really is rather noisy in the garden, so not the tranquil and remote spot it would be if the motorway wasn’t there.  As I said yesterday, it’s a mile from the nearest road – such an ideal location

Moored at the same spot but now facing the other way

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Lapworth (shooting all over the country again)

Wednesday and Thursday were a real mixture of weathers – from clear blue skies to fairly thick fog.  We stayed put on our mooring and Buddy and I had a few walks and explores.

Sunny and crisp on Wednesday morning

We walked back up the Lapworth flight to Hockley Heath on Wednesday and then down the other way towards Stratford on Thursday.

Karen and I always try and buy free range eggs from canalside houses so I often carry a spare egg box or two in my back pack on the off chance.  At Lowsonford I came across this sign:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Saturday or Tuesday, so I will have to return next Tuesday to stock up on eggs.

When walking past one of the many barrel roofed lock cottages, typical of the South Stratford canal, I noticed the one between Dicks Lane and Lowsonford was on the market.  This is one of only two that have not been extensively extended over the years, so I endeavoured to find out more. 

   (Picture taken last summer by the way)
We have always been particularly attracted to this lock cottage as it is so remote.  We always remember it as the geese cottage as every time we have been through the lock, the owner’s geese are patrolling up and down the lock side.

I got in touch with the selling agent to find out more about the cottage: it is a mile from the nearest road, fresh water is from a well, electricity is supplied by a (broken) generator.  Looking at the pictures it is still very basic inside and very little has been done to modernise it.  All in all, it would be a brilliant hideaway apart from the fact that the traffic on the M40 can be heard.  I mentioned this to the estate agent and his typical response was, ‘Oh, I hadn’t noticed.  I’ve been there several times and always thought it was very quiet’.  Interestingly, all viewers have to be vetted and prove they have £165,000 in spare cash to buy the place and at least £50,000 additional cash to make the basic improvements.  Imagine explaining those figures to the lock keepers of the early 1800s πŸ˜‰

Dicks Lane lock cottage which is the relative neighbour of the lock cottage that’s for sale

In the picture above, you can see the original barrel shaped cottage next to the water with large extensions creeping out to the right.

The boat engine has been starting straight away every time I have tried it over the last four days or so, thus suggesting that Aileen was right and the boat was just sulking because we had left her for nearly three weeks πŸ˜‰.  I have had a few messages from people saying that they agree with my supposition that it can’t be the fuel start/stop solenoid that is failing, contrary to what RCR said, and more likely it is the starter solenoid or ignition barrel that is intermittently failing. 

After the fog had lifted on Thursday – at least foggy weather means there is no wind

Looking at the pretty iron bridges reminds me of another feature of this canal, the cast iron aqueducts.  Unlike most other ones in the country, the towpath runs along at the level of the base of the aqueduct so your head is practically at water height.  The longest aqueduct on this canal, at nearly 500 feet, is at Edstone and we have spent many a happy week moored around there.  I mention this because I came across an interesting (well, to me anyway) picture in the week.  The aqueduct has a drain plug in order to empty out the water for maintenance or inspection and I have included the following picture on previous blog entries:

The drain plug on one of our journeys over the aqueduct in 2017

The picture I came across showed how the drain plug was used in the steam engine days for locomotives to take on water.  This picture was taken in the 1850s according to Historic Warwickshire.  You can see the fireman half way up the side of the arch turning the wheel to control the water flow.

On Friday, we went up to Yorkshire to see my mum and dad for the day.  Dad has got weaker I’m afraid, but we still hope to get him into the care home up the road from their house in a week or so once the room has been redecorated. 

On Saturday it was another early start as we went down to Woking to help move my youngest son, Jake and his fiancΓ©, Dominique, into their new flat.  We had a great day and I was really pleased to see they had chosen a place right next to the Basingstoke canal.  No doubt the rest of the family would say they had chosen well because of the proximity to the railway station and town centre πŸ˜‰

It’s a grey morning again today (Sunday).  We’re going to take it easy today, but we’ll probably reverse up through the lock and take on water. Hopefully, no one will take our mooring spot whilst we are away, and we can come back and get a slow roast going for dinner this evening.  The chances of our spot going are quite remote as I have only seen one boat come past in the seven days we have been here so far.