To Tixall Wide (30 March)

We are now at are favourite mooring at Tixall. We couldn't pass Great Heywood without taking a small diversion down the Staffs & Worcester Canal to moor up overnight in the wide. When we moor up here in the summer it usually very busy, but today we were only the third boat moored here. We selected a spot where we had good views of both Tixall Gatehouse and Shugborough Hall. The birdlife is typically good and we have seen grebes. A neighbouring boater, braving the elements in the well deck of his boat, commented to Maggie that he just seen a swallow. Brave bird!

Tixall Wide and Gatehouse

Tixall Wide

The journey up the Trent and Mersey from Fradley was also relatively quiet. The last time we went through Colwick Lock we queued for around two hours. It was so long that Edward Winter finished his sudoko while waiting. This time at Colwich we just met a boat coming the other direction and went straight through.

The weather was meant to be cloudy and mild. Well it appeared the forecasters got cloudy correct but it was far from mild. Let's hope the warmer weather forecast for the end of the week actually happens.

To Fradley (29 March)

Last night, Saturday, it was so cold we saw a gritting lorry operating in Fazeley. Woke on Sunday morning to bright sunshine and waited to meet up with Maggie's brother, who was passing through on his way to Solihull. As a result we managed to get some of Albert's brass polished and chatted with some "neighbours" - got to keep the towpath telegraph working. We met the crew from Chi-Cheemaun who blog and also read Albert's blog. They appeared to have got WiFi just along the towpath from us but all we could get was GPRS.

Taking on Water at Fazeley Junction

We took on water at the BW offices and then had a great cruise through Hopwas in the spring sunshine. The wood anemones carpeted the military area in the wood. They were spectacular.

Wood Anemones in Hopwas Wood

A Sunken Boat near Whittington

Fradley Junction on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon in Spring

The junction at Fradley was busy with walkers, bikers, drinkers and boaters.

Negotiating the Bridge at Shadehouse Top Lock (and we didn't touch!)

We tried mooring up on the visitor moorings just above Shadehouse Top Lock but they were full. In the end we found a good mooring just before Woodend Lock. We had great views of the sunset and saw the new moon.

Most Out of Date BW Licence Still on Display?

Lots of boats on the system don't display licences. Lots of boats on the system display licences that our out of date by some months. A few display licences that are a few years out of date, but recently I discovered a boat displaying a licence that must be some sort of a record.

Just north of Braunston on the North Oxford we passed a dilapidated, but floating, GRP cabin cruiser displaying a 1997 BW Licence. Is this a record for the oldest licence still on display? Sorry I cannot provide photographic evidence, it was difficult manouvering past the boat since it was moored close to a partially collapsed bridge.

To Fazeley (28 March)

We left Atherstone in showers and high winds. Luckily the wind was head on up the flight. We went down behind a single-handed boat. It was one of those strange situations, we passed three boats coming up the flight and they all said you are behind a single-handed boat. Yet we hadn't seen the boat pass us, and we had moored overnight right by the Top Lock. Maybe the boat moored up overnight in a lock pound? We shall never know because, after working the eleven locks and having to fill most, we moored up at the bottom of flight to refresh ourselves with a cuppa and the boat in front disappeared (again?).

Atherstone Top Lock in the Rain

Baddesley Basin in Spring Sunshine

Just after Bradley Green we passed More 2 Life who appeared to be blogging. At least they were working at their laptop.

Icebreaker at Grendon Dock

Pooley Hall

The first of five hailstorms came down as we passed through Polesworth. It got colder, and more blustery all day. The hailstorms also got harder but mercifully the worst occurred after we got through Glascote Locks. We moored up at opposite the BW Office at Fazeley Junction. We visited the local Tesco Express for provisions and later Steve visited the Fazeley chippie for some well earned haddock, chips and mushy peas. They went down well but the portions were huge! And no, we didn't finish them.

To Atherstone (27 March)

A windy cold day with occasional showers of hailstones!

We left Stretton before nine with blue skies but with the same old wind. Because there are no locks along this section the wind was not a particular problem and it was very quiet. We saw no boats moving until we reached Hawksbury Junction. However, the hail came down twice just before the junction. At Sutton Stop we came up behind Strumble, a Stowe Hill tug who was travelling from Coventry and waved us pass. We stopped near Marston Junction for lunch and watched Strumble negotiate the turn onto the Ashby Canal.

The trip through Nuneaton was uneventful. Along the Coventry Canal BW appear to have really got to grips with tree pruning. Its a good advert for the "veg pledge". It is so much better, particularly in high winds, not having to watch out for overhanging trees while negotiating bridge holes. The only problem with Nuneaton is the large amount of plastic litter, on the bank and in the canal.

The trip through Hartshill was pleasant but cold. Just by the yard at Hartshill we saw Nans Gamp. She was built by Peter Nicholls boat at the same time as our first boat Bertie (1991). She was moored at Gayton Junction until recently.

We moored up at Atherstone Top Lock and for the first time this trip we got a 3G mobile Internet connection; hence, four days worth of posting today. To bad the television reception didn't match.

To Stretton (26 March)

We picked up water by the Stop House and on passing the Millhouse found Granny Buttons moored up. This time Andrew was definitely not on board. His Twitter post told me that he was weekending up to Streethay.

Granny Buttons at Braunston

Again it was another windy day, but it was also chilly. It was particularly difficult navigating around Hillmorton Top Lock where one single-handed boater had just given up trying to moor on the upwind side of the canal and was waiting on the lock moorings for the wind to subside!

We lunched just below Hillmorton Bottom Lock and had a relatively quiet trip through Rugby. We went through Newbold Tunnel and for the first time saw its pretty coloured lighting. The boat behind us turned off its tunnel light to enjoy the experience. As a result they became just a dark profile in the "light at the end of the tunnel". Not a particularly good idea.

Newbold Tunnel Coloured Lighting

We moored up just before Stretton, and given how few boats we had seen on the move, we were amazed by how many other boats had decided to moor up there. We got into a gap between boats with the friendly help of a neighbour and with only a few inches to spare.

To Braunston (25 March)

Listened to the Today programme as we got up and heard that the RSPB Top Ten Garden Birds was featuring long-tailed tits. And there, as if on cue, a pair of long-tailed tits appeared in the hedge beside our mooring.

It was another very windy day and it was difficult keeping a good line. We got to Whilton for lunch and then went up the locks with an Ownerships boat. By efficient locking we got to Norton Junction in good time and decided to go onto Braunston.

They are refurbishing the towpath between Norton Junction and the tunnel. It's about time. The only problem is the contractor, Morrisons, appear to think that passing boats are there to be ignored and they don't even need to consider them.

Just before the second bridge out of Norton I noticed a work boat under the bridge. It was heading away from us and so promptly disappeared. It was therefore a great surprise when as I approached the bridge it suddenly reappeared going in reverse. The steerer was very concerned with the dumb barge he was manoeuvring and was not looking behind at all. I pulled to a stop just at the bridge but the workboat still kept coming back, with the steerer still not looking behind! After I pulled back someway he moved forward and pulled into a temporary wharf the contractors had set up just behind the bridge. The steerer didn't even look around as we passed by. What about consideration for other canal users? What about a lookout, since their wharf was hidden from view? I was not impressed.

We went down the Braunston flight with a hire boat from Hillmorton who came through the tunnel just behind us. They had a very efficient crew so, with Maggie setting the locks, we were able to get to the bottom lock just before the Canal Shop closed its doors. We managed to find a good mooring just by the Stop House and had a meal in a very quiet Millhouse.

To Banbury Lane (24 March)

We left Yardley around midday and travelled up the Stoke Bruerne flight with Ray & Liz, and Magnus III the mastiff, from Dreamweaver. Ray & Liz moor close to us at Kingfisher marina but this was the first time we shared locks with them. As expected the flight was quiet. Dreamweaver left us moor in the Long Pound.

At the top of flight we found that the restaurant by the lock that used to called Bruernes' Lock is in the process of conversion to the "Spice of Bruerne", an Indian cuisine.

In the strong winds they were having difficulty erecting the new sign.

Spice of Bruerne Indian Restaurant

We had a rapid and uneventful trip through Blisworth tunnel and moored up just before Banbury Lane. No internet access - hence the late post.

Blackthorn Blossom at Blisworth

Off boating tomorrow!

Yes, we will be on our way north tomorrow. Our aim is to travel along the Grand Union, North Oxford, Coventry and Trent & Mersey so we can do the Cheshire Ring (including the Anderton Lift and the Peak Forest Canal).

That's of course why the weather has changed! Still we won't mind, at least that's what Maggie is saying now.

Parrots by the Thames

Our two daughters both live near to West London so we are familiar with the colonies of parrots that inhabit the area close to the Thames. We first discovered them back in 2003 when boating through Richmond early on a bright summer's morning.

I therefore wasn't suprised when today, as I was sitting on a bench near the river in Walton, I saw two parrots in a nearby willow tree. They were making a great noise and enjoying the spring sunshine.

What was unusual about today's encounter was that they didn't dart off when I first approached them. So I took the opportunity of taking my first Thames Parrot Picture using my Nokia N95. I have had to crop and enlarge the picture but I am quite pleased with the result. Shame I didn't have my SLR handy.

For details of the birds try this web site.

A pair of Ring-necked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) in a willow tree, Walton-on-Thames

Not in Jim Shead's List

The other day I divulged that it was my ambition to find a waterways book not on Jim Shead's list. Well, I have just realised that I have already found it. The I Spy Boats and Waterways book, that I recently bought on eBay and was featured in my recent post, is not in the list. Jim does, however, feature the Observers Book of Canals by John Gagg.

I Spy Canal Boats

As a "baby boomer" I grew up with the I-Spy books that were published in the 1950s. They were a form of spotting book for children that was not just based on vehicles (trains, planes and buses) but for a range of situations where children might need to be entertained.

As the books point out, I-Spy is a very old game, but I can vouch that it was nevertheless fascinating. It certainly made you observant of your surroundings which I suppose might not be a feature of the modern hand-held play consoles.

I was therefore very interested to find a pristine I-Spy book (Number 14) on Boats and Waterways on eBay. It was a 1950s version published by the News Chronicle. I was the only bidder and I got it for less than a £1.

So what of my bargain? Please enjoy the first few pages that happen to cover canals and narrow boats! And before you ask, I didn't have a copy of this book when I was child. A shame really.

I am impressed with accuracy of their descriptions and the T & S Element boat featured on Page 3. It is also interesting to note that Big Chief I-Spy, as the mythical setter of the game was called, chose to include a canal-side inn to be spotted on Page 7. Was this for parents interest?

By the way, Redskins were those that participated in the game. If you got 1,500 points you could become a Redskin with (in this case) the tribal rank of Boatman (First Class). For every rank you obtained you got a feather for your head-band and moved up one place at the Council Fire. What a different world!

Thanks to Granny Buttons

Once again, I must thank Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons for his kind comments about my waterways book reviews. I appreciate it.

As Andrew points out I mostly write about second-hand books. I try to review books that are not generally available, are relatively cheap, but most of all have either something interesting to say about the history of our waterways, or about those who used them for work and pleasure. I try not to go over well-worn ground.

Andrew wonders if my reviews have already been published in any canal magazine. Well the answer is no.

My aim is to encourage waterways enthusiasts not to overlook the out-of-print literature. However, my ultimate goal is to discover a waterways book that doesn't appear on Jim Sheads book list!

Mouse eats Mouse!

I know this blog doesn't have much to do with boating but I couldn't resist posting about an event which happened in the Parkin household this week.

Earlier this week, I noticed that the rubber coating on the thumb-wheel of my wireless mouse was crumbling. Over a couple of days it crumbled away completely with black bits of rubber littering my desk. As a result I ordered a new mouse from Dell. I didn't particularly have any idea of what caused the rubber to fail, but I assumed it had just perished.

Dell wireless mouse with poorly thumb-wheel

As you may know, if you have read some of our posts about taking cats boating, we have a young cat called Daisy. Below is a picture of Daisy in the snow of a couple of weeks ago.

Daisy in the snow

Daisy has just reached that stage when she likes to bring wildlife indoors. This week it was a mouse. We discovered it when she began staring intently under a chair in the corner of the kitchen. The mouse had survived capture by Daisy without damage, but we had to scramble under furniture to catch it and put it outside.

Then today I discovered my rubber eraser, hidden behind my computer monitor, had been eaten away and suddenly it all made sense!

Chewed rubber eraser!

It was obvious that my computer mouse thumb-wheel had been eaten by a mouse.

A case of MOUSE EATS MOUSE! Presumably it likes rubber.

We hope it was just the mouse we found earlier in the week and not another of its friends, otherwise we might be in for an interesting time!

Canals & Inland Waterways by George Cadbury & SP Dobbs

I recently purchased a very good copy of this book on eBay for less than £14. Published in 1929, it is part of the Pitmans Transport Library and designed to be a text book for the then newly formed Institute of Transport. The Institute had just obtained its Royal Charter (1926) and this book was part of series for those taking the examination to become a member. The other books in the series covered rail, road and even air transport.

You might assume, and you would be correct, that the first author was a member of the famous “chocolate” family. At the time, he was MD of Cadbury Bros. and also chairman of the Severn and Canal Carrying Co. He is famous for perfecting milk chocolate! The second author, interestingly using his initials, was an ex-university economist who also wrote a book on the clothing workers. I suspect he may have done most of the “donkey work” on the text.

In the preface, because this is a text book, the authors make no claim to originality. However, they are typically guilty of understatement. Whilst it is true that the book revisits a lot of history that they abstracted from Priestley, they appear to have had access to interesting contemporary information from various sources including Royal Commissions, the WW1 Canal Control Committee, and various parliamentary committees. One of the committees they quote extensively is the Chamberlain Committee. It appears that just after the WW1, a committee was set up under Neville Chamberlain to examine the future of the canals. Chamberlain was, of course, to become Prime Minister at the outbreak of WW2. The modernisation proposals from the Chamberlain Committee recommended large scale changes in the management of canals (the setting up regional committees similar to the electricity industry) but the authors record that these proposals were forgotten in the “disastrous post-war slump that overtook British Industry”.

The book also contains some interesting original illustrations some
associated with Severn & Canal Co. operations.

Severn & Canal Narrowboat in Birmingham

A long line of boats being towed on the River Severn

Loaded horse-drawn coal boats on the Bridgwater Canal crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct

A line of "Tom Pudding" container boats on the Aire & Calder Navigation

Amongst the more interesting illustrations is an aerial view of Brentford. I was amazed to see that not only was there an extensive set of wharfs alongside the River Brent, but also large docks accessible from the Thames and railway transhipment yards. It appears that Brentford Dock and marshalling yards were constructed in 1855 as part of a plan by Brunel to link freight and river-borne traffic and the Great Western Railway's (GWR) rail network. The original tracks were laid down to the broad 7ft gauge but these were later replaced by the standard 4ft 8in gauge. All that is left today is the marina.

Aerial view of Brenford Dock in the 1920s

For me, the main fascination in the book is that 1929 was turning point in the history of canals. The canals had received a boost over the First World War but were facing increasing competition from the railways, which at this stage was definitely “king” when it came to the transportation of goods. However, road transport was beginning to make inroads, and the authors mention the unfair subsidy that roads receive because road freight does not have to pay the costs on repair of the infrastructure. They also report road congestion!

The theme of the book is - do not yet write off the canals and inland waterways. The examples in the book of what we would now call “good practice” are the modernised navigations of the Aire & Calder, the River Trent, the Gloucester & Berkeley Ship Canal, and the Weaver. However, the authors are optimistic about a new canal undertaking, the Grand Union Canal. The GU was formed by the amalgamation of the Grand Junction, Regents, Warwick & Napton, Warwick & Birmingham, and Birmingham & Warwick canals at the beginning of 1929. They reported that “mechanical traction”, as opposed to animal traction, was increasing for all except local journeys on the GU. The book also contains speculation about the proposal to widen the GU to allow “100 ton barges to pass over the London – Birmingham route”. We know what happened to that idea.

Being a text book, several useful Appendices of data are produced. One set of data immediately caught my attention. In 1929 the railway companies owned 1,014 miles of inland navigations and controlled a further 219 miles. Non-railway interests controlled a further 1,192 miles. These figures excluded 1,263 miles of rivers that included the Fenland Waterways, but it is very clear that by 1929 railway companies controlled around half of all navigable inland waterways. In terms of tonnage, in 1927, navigations controlled by railway companies carried 4.6 million tons whilst other navigations carried 12.8 million tons. As the authors point out in a slightly quaint manner, this was “an ambiguous position”. Of course, it took until 1947 for things to change.

The authors conclude the book by pointing out that “during the last few years the public has recently been awakened to the fact that all transport systems are mutually interdependent”. This is familiar reading.

This book provides a readable resume of early canal history and a fascinating insight into how British canals were perceived at the turning point in their decline as a transportation system for goods. Look out for copies.