Category Archives: Oozells Street Loop

The Shady Winding Weedy Route, Or The Straight Sunny One? 13th June

Wolverhampton Off side mooring to Sheepcote Street Bridge Moorings, BCN Main Line

Mick woke early and was getting dressed at 6am, Tilly and I stayed in bed hoping we’d be able to sleep a little longer. We managed about twenty minutes more but were aware all the time of the covers being rolled up and the bow being pushed out. We were on our way just before 6:30am.

Passing iconic buildings on our way

Time to get on with work, we’d be stopping for breakfast at some point. Research first, what should THE clock look like? Would there be Grecian statues in a Colombian garden? Would it matter, it is panto after all? I remembered to have the lights on for going through the tunnels today, nothing worse than getting so far drawing something out and having to stop and wait for the sun to come back out. I’d rather the sun didn’t go out in the first place! Where’s it going out to?

Today’s studio along with the usual assistant

The smell of fresh morning came through the hatch. Then the sound of the engine finding it harder to move Oleanna. We’d reached the narrows by the house where weed always seems to collect. No point in clearing the fowled prop until we were through it all. Mick struggled on until we’d cleared the worst of it then pulled us almost to the side, turned the engine off to see how much was round the prop.

Time to replace the floor in my model box. I’ve been using the one from last year to mark positions of things, but I’d grown bored of looking at cobbles, I’m still undecided as to quite what the floor should look like this year, having it white will help.

Factory Junction

At Factory Junction Mick made the discission to go right, so far his plan was to follow the Old Main Line which is more wiggly, but likely to be more weedy. In Tipton we pulled in to the water point and refilled our tank whilst having breakfast, hopefully no-one would arrive wanting to top up as we ate our cereal. Mick cleared the prop again just as a chap walked by saying ‘Welcome to Tipton’.

Left as the temperatures started to rise, it was 10am now. Mick would see how the weed was before making his final decision on the route into Birmingham. If it was bad he’d drop down Brades Hall Locks, if not he’d stay on the flat. A peek out the hatch suggested the weed situation had improved, we’d be staying on the flat.

Changing the floor to white card also means the steps into the auditorium needed to go white. I could remake them, or just recover them, they got recovered.

Staying on the flat meant a slower pace but a good stretch of the canal sits directly under the M5 meaning there was a good stretch of shady canal to cruise. A beep on the horn as we neared Oldbury Locks Junction, just in case someone was about to pull out.

An old bridge under the M5

At about 11:30 we saw the first moving boat, zooming along in the shade towards us. Tilly and I held onto my model box as Oleanna tilted over. Over the top of the New Main Line, right at Spon Lane Junction, staying in the shade for a while longer.

Just gone midday we were back out in the sunshine only to duck into the dark for the summit tunnel. Time to get a handcuff key out and be ready for action.

Plenty more geese down the flight

The three Smethwick Locks were just about in our favour a touch of topping up required but not much. I walked ahead to open gates at the next lock whilst Mick lifted a paddle to start emptying the lock above. By the bottom pound was a large creche of geese, the youngsters all different ages. I ended up walking past the hissing guards three times. No matter how many times I told them I didn’t want to hurt their babies, they still hissed at me!

On the bottom lock the top gate says No 10, on the bottom gate No 3 ?

Left at the junction and then straight on, past loops to the north and south. My steps were now dry, time to get on with thickening up arches and making the clock.

Where is everybody?

In the centre of Birmingham the mooring time limits are soon to be altered for a trial period. The majority of moorings right in the centre are currently 2 days with a few 14 days and an ambiguous stretch which suggested it was both. After a consultation they will be trying out new 4 day moorings, Cambrian Wharf will be Leisure Moorings (so no visitors), the not so central moorings will all be 14 days. This all sounds rather good to us. Our visit this time will be for three days, some shade would be nice so that we’d not be cooking inside all day. We pulled in opposite The Roundhouse, a 14 day mooring and shade by 1:30pm.

Lunch, then time to head off to the art shop Cass Art for some card. The walk got a touch confusing when I spotted that the hoardings in the city centre had moved yet again and now Victoria Square, the large area in front of the Art Gallery and Museum was cordoned of and being repaved. Thre was also a horse playing a keyboard. Just after I’d put my camera away it reached for a bottle of water and started to drink, a better photo opportunity missed.

Card, at last there is card!

I found my way to where I wanted to be and a rack of mountboard sat waiting. Time to find the least damaged sheets in the rack, I hate dinted corners! I also purchased some new drawing pens and a set of very fine paint brushes. The shades of green paint didn’t quite say rainforest to me or they were really quite expensive, I didn’t need them just yet so they can wait.

Few boats on the usual moorings

My walk back to Oleanna took me up the last few locks on the Farmers Bridge flight, one boat going down another moored on the lock landing one lock from the top. Cambrian Wharf was just about empty and only three boats sat outside the Sealife Centre, not one boat moored on Oozells Street Loop. Is there something we don’t know? Why is Birmingham soo empty of boats?

The view from Barajee

Today we’d reached Bumingham a day ahead of schedule, this is our forth destination met so we decided to head out for something to eat to celebrate. Everywhere with outside seating was bustling. We headed to Barajee the Indian Restaurant that straddles Broad Street Tunnel. With only being one chap eating we were given the best table in the house, overlooking Gas Street Basin. How different this whole area must have looked before it was opened up to the outside world and redeveloped. One gate used to open into Gas Street and most of the bridges near the Sealife Centre didn’t exist, neither did the Sea Life Centre or the Lego giraffe! We thought about Manchester Castlefield Basin, what a shame it doesn’t have a similar feel, open to visitors, places to moor, numerous cafes etc. It used to be better but now mooring there is hard for visitors.

3 locks, 14.1 miles, 2 rights, 2 lefts, 9 straight ons, 2 overs, 1 full water tank, 2 weed hatch visits, 1 new floor, 1 white set of treads, 1 clock, 2 sheets card, 6 brushes, 6 pens, 2 poppadums, 2 mains, 1 side, 2 rice, 2 glasses wine, 4th destination achieved, 1 resigned cat.

Round. 21st April

Cast Iron Roving Bridge to Shirley Railway Bridge, Stratford Canal.

Looking in from the road

Before moving off today we wanted to have a look at The Roundhouse. Last year it had just opened when we were in Birmingham, but you had to be on a booked tour which were all fully booked. Now there is a visitors centre which is free and booked tours, which sadly there was only one space left, so we opted to just have a look at the visitors centre.


I’d always assumed that the Roundhouse had been to do with the canal, stabling for the horses to rest up. But it was actually the stables and stores for Birmingham Corporation’s Public Works Department. The result of a design competition the Roundhouse was built in 1874 to a horseshoe design by local architect WH Ward.

Strawberries, currants and gooseberries planted alongside the towpath

In 2013 the National Trust and Canal and River Trust got together to save the Grade 2* listed building. Monies were raised and by 2019 full scale renovation works were begun. Now the building is sectioned off for different purposes, it houses local offices for both C&RT and the National Trust, there will be a cafe and has other spaces that will be let out. It will act as a hub for walks, canoeing all sorts of activities.

Time line

It was a shame not to be able to do a tour today as the visitor centre is small and only had a couple of displays to look at. A big time line of the building fills a wall.

Then a horses stall is filled with interesting facts and sayings about horses. Did you know a horse has 100 muscles in it’s ear where as we only have three?

Multi coloured diddy people

Another room is used for exhibits, today a bit of a mix of things. A wall comparing night workers of the 1800s to todays. Then it was lamp lighters and night soil men, today take away workers and factory workers.

The building itself is a gem. The ground ramping up from the road to the rooms on the first floor whilst access is still possible through the centre of the building at canal level. The renovation has been done with a sympathetic modern touch, large windows giving views out over The Distillery and canal at the back. Next time we’re in Birmingham we’ll make sure we book tickets for a tour in advance.

Time to move on.

On our way back to Oleanna, Scorpio and Butty Leo were being brought round from the Oozells Street Loop, the crew on board showed how to handle the pair turning the steep corner without touching the sides.

Reversing up

For us it would be a reverse back to Old Turn Junction to wind and face the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. We timed this very well with one of the trip boats turning out from that way! Both skippers indicated their intentions and manoeuvres were made accordingly so both boats could be on their way. Oleanna swung round as if she knew where we wanted her to head, through Gas Street and round to the Mailbox Services.

Under Broad Street

Sadly here there was a queue for the water point, so we carried on, our need not urgent. One chap was looking for the bins by trying his key in any gate he could find, we informed him there were no bins, so he just added his rubbish to the nearest public bin, this must happen all the time.

Edgbaston Tunnel. Under the new footbridge that is being built for the University Station. Then past what we think will be a winding hole to aid access onto the restored Lapal Canal when it opens. There is a section of it in water hidden behind screens close to the new Sainsburys.

We pulled up on the new rings just through Bristol Road Bridge to do a top up shop to see us through into next week and have lunch. Then pushed of again following a 70fter through Bournville and on to King’s Norton Junction where their long length gave them problems in turning. They let us pass as we were aiming to turn left also, this would leave them with more space and less pressure to get round the bend.

Too long to turn in one

All this stretch seems to get pulled out and stretched even longer each time we do it. Those land marks you wait for get further and further apart. Thankfully the guillotine lock is where it should be and was remarkably clean of graffiti today.

A clean guillotine gate

Bluebells fill the banks of the canal, and local boaters huddle around junctions and water points. Then the house we’ve watched come back from dereliction over the years, all spruced up.

At a bend we came across a boat with it’s engine turned off, just sat off centre in the cut. We were almost about alongside when the chap started the engine up and proceeded to move off, he’d not checked behind. Mick shouted as we would have difficulty stopping now. The chap saw us and knocked the revs off, he’d just had to clear his prop.

Shirley Drawbridge

Shirley Drawbridge soon arrived. I hopped off the stern, waited for a gap in traffic then pressed the buttons. The boat now following us had pulled in, so only Oleanna to go through this busy bridge, eleven held up.

Now with more countryside about we pulled over onto some arnco, Tilly could have some shore leave in better surroundings than she’s had the last few days.

0 locks, 10.32 miles, 3 canals, 1 reverse, 2 lefts, 1 round house, 0 tours, 70ft, 1 wave goodbye, 90 minutes, 1 happier cat.

‘I Thought I Was Going To Drown!’ 13th September

Damson Parkway Bridge 78A to Cast Iron Roving Bridge, Birmingham

Now yesterday I said we’d be starting our ascent into Birmingham this morning, well before we could start the climb there was a matter of cruising almost 6.5 miles before we actually dropped down 12.92 m, then we could start our ascent.


An alarm was set and there were no cuppas in bed this morning, tea was had with breakfast. Surprisingly a boat came past a little before 8am, but it was a C&RT tug parting the water as it went, hopefully it wouldn’t be going as far as Camp Hill Locks.

Back in 2015 this route out of Birmingham seemed to take forever, we’d come down and up the locks and then cruised for what felt like an absolute age before we reached Catherine De Barnes all the time wondering if there’d be any space for us. Heading the other way still took time but today there was plenty to look at as C&RT work boats numbered many.

Diddy paddle power

On a floating pontoon sat a generator and attached to it were some little paddle motors. We thought that maybe these could be used where the depth is very shallow on the off side, they almost looked like they were a new section for Mouse Trap. A tug was moving more of these along to a new site.

Dredging was happening at two sites, well one chap was engrossed with his phone, another had a tug with it that had to be moved out of the way to let us pass. All very busy.

Two bridges becoming one

Soon we started to see red gates and panels on the bridges, these are so that the fire brigade can drop their hoses into the canal should they need to. At Bridge 82 there are actually two Bridge 82s. Once they have crossed the canal they join together. One the far side of the bridge someone has painted Kingfishers and Herons.

I’d just been remarking about graffiti artists and what a shame it was that they didn’t start off with their masterpieces and had to practice their tag so many times. Back in February 2019 we got to see the evolution of Ghost from scrawled tag to multicoloured art work around the northern parts of the BCN, then there was one of his, an intermediate tag quite close to Top Cat.

Tyseley Waste Bridge 88A

Passing through Tyseley all you can see is the large incineration plant and the bridge that leads to it. Once the area was known for it’s tube works which attracted numerous bicycle and motorcycle manufacturers. I used to have a Dawes Bicycle which was made here.

Camp Hill Service block

Up ahead modern tall buildings appeared as we passed old factories and warehouses, all showing blocked up windows and archways from decades of change and decline. Then our first lock came into view, the top of the Camp Hill flight. Alongside the top lock is a service block with all facilities, we pulled in to top up on water, empty the yellow water, dispose of rubbish and give Tilly’s pooh box a refresh as she’s likely to be using it more than she has been recently.

Camp Hill Lock 1

With a handcuff key in my back pocket and windlasses at the ready we could start on the locks. The top lock was empty which meant unless top gates leaked most of the flight would be empty too. I lifted a paddle and then walked down to lift a paddle at the next lock so that it could be filling as we made our way down. We soon got into our stride, me setting the next lock ahead as Mick lifted a paddle on the lock with Oleanna. I then walked back to open and close gates. Most locks had handrails on the bottom gates enabling me to kick them open, then Mick helped to close the offside gate with a pole, saving a lot of walking round.

No escape from scrawl

Walking ahead at Lock 3 there is a big pool as the canal curves round under road bridges. There was the bow of a boat ahead, was it moving or just moored up? It was moving, an Aqua Hire boat, so I walked back to set Mick free the next three locks now in our favour.

Big chunks of steel sit alongside gates on these locks and boast their age, still going since 1891.

Around Lock 6 is surrounded by graffiti. Some good, some not so. Having time to read some of it I realised a lot was in memory of Jason. Was Jason a graffiti writer or a local lad who died at the locks?

Straight on

Straight on for us at Bordesley Junction.

Looking back, to the left still uncharted water to us

The canal to our right, the continuation of the Grand Union Canal, is still one to tick off the list on the BCN. We cruised on to Digbeth Junction now on the GU Digbeth Branch.

By Warwick Bar there is building work ongoing. Most of the area is listed, so buildings are being refurbished for new uses. Residential and food outlets will dominate, the area being transformed due to the proximity of HS2. Through the bar itself with double gates at each end, then a right at Digbeth Junction leaving the Typoo Basin behind us and now on the Birmingham and Fazeley Digbeth Branch.

All of a sudden we were greeted with floating rubbish, earlier in the morning we’d seen a lady litter picking whilst feeding the ducks, it looks like the entrance to Curzon Street Tunnel could do with several like minded people.

HS2 works going on behind
Old and new infront

Building work surrounds you as you come out of the other side of the tunnel. Six years ago it was Birmingham City University buildings going up, now added into the mix is HS2 which will cross the canal over the bottom lock of the Ashted Flight.

Mid flight

The locks were all full, so now we started with our uphill routine, the locks however were mostly close enough together for me to come back and close the top gate instead of Mick stopping to close it. The bottom gates are now also single gates, so no kicking to open them or walking round required, just a little bit more umph!

Between Locks 1 and 2 there is a tunnel, a renowned tunnel! Six years ago Lillian lost a nav light here having come down the lock and being a touch too close to the offside, it really was a horrible grating crunching noise. Today I wished Mick luck and left him to close up at Lock 2 as I walked through the tunnel to lock 1 to empty it and then sit and wait.


Below Mick had a passing thought, maybe he should drop the level of the pound a bit to increase the air draught in the tunnel. The top of the chimney was removed and a bucket of toilet solids was moved into the well deck, just in case! The tunnel light went on along with the nav lights, from the far end I could at last see Oleanna making slow progress through the tunnel.

Mind the bump

The handrail along the towpath is beefy wood and mentally pushes you towards the offside wall. But today Mick blocked that out. I could hear the bowthruster nudging the bow away from the wall, from my position it almost looked as if Oleanna was crabbing her way through the tunnel, there isn’t enough width for this to have happened. Slowly they made progress a bulge in the wall very obvious to me towards the northern end. Out came Oleanna’s bow, both nav lights still in tact, hooray!

A scuff or two

Up she rose in the lock, Mick giving the pram cover a checking over. Had the tunnel struck again and damaged the fabric? As Oleanna came up to the top the damage could be seen more clearly. The fabric had a few scuffs from the tunnel wall/roof, but more to the point was a scratch along the grab rail. Then we noticed another and another, some of them right down to bare steel! Mick should have listened to that little voice in his head and dropped the level of the pound. Ashted Tunnel had struck again!


A pause for lunch on the bollards just through the next bridge was finished with a slice of chocolate banana loaf to help us up the last flight of the day, Farmers Bridge.

At Ashton Junction we turned left onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, a right would have us descending locks again heading towards Spaghetti Junction. Left however meant thirteen locks and arriving into the heart of the canal system of Birmingham at Cambrian Wharf and Old Turn Junction.

Farmers Bridge Bottom lock

The bottom two locks are slightly set apart from the others, so I wouldn’t be returning to close gates behind Oleanna. Just after I’d lifted the paddles on Lock 12 we could see a volunteer walking towards us, he’d come to tell us to leave the gates open as a boat was heading down. We swapped with them in the next pound and the volunteer continued on downhill.

Beam on the off side

Lock 11 has it’s bottom gate beam on the off side and as I stood there waiting for Mick to bring Oleanna into the lock a man walked up, climbed over a low wall on the off side and then walked down the steps below the lock. It was fairly obvious that he was looking for somewhere a touch out of view, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a rizla packet. I closed the gate to the lock and was about to walk up to the top paddles to fill it when the chap came back up the steps.

Bywash at Lock 11

‘Are you going to fill down there?’ he said in a slightly alarmed voice pointing to the pound below the lock. ‘No just where my boat is’. I could see the relief on his face ‘I thought I was going to drown!’ He returned down the steps now knowing he’d stay dry to smoke his spliff in peace.

Now we were in the thick of the flight and the locks ahead empty or just about. So it was easy to start filling a lock and walk up to open the gate on the one above, then return to close the gate behind Mick. The volunteer walked back up the flight, not stopping to help us directly, but instead he opened up the locks ahead of us as he climbed back up the hill, a great help. Thank you.

Gate open and waiting

We were on a roll now up the flight, each lock waiting for us.

The locks under buildings are quite atmospheric, modern architecture meeting old transport. The lock under a bridge even more so. Above here masses of scaffolding engulfs the buildings, cladding work going on. Extra supports over the canal have had to be fixed to pillars on the existing building to hold the scaffolding up. In a weeks time the towpath down the flight will be shut for even more scaffolding to be erected.

At lock 6 we were greeted with the bottom gate shut. Maybe the volunteer didn’t want to set too far ahead of us. But as I emptied it the reason became clear quite quickly, the top gates leaked a lot, so in the time we’d take to get there the pound above would have emptied itself. The lock above was also full for a similar reason.

A touch of a leak

Then I spied a downhill boat coming out of lock 2. We could now leave gates open for them, we rose up lock 4 and waited for them. Plenty of crew on hand to work NB Kew down the flight, but it being a full length boat time was taken to position her in the lock, the tiller pulled right across and tied in position the arm removed so as not to snag on the lock walls. We wondered how far they would get before dark and which way they were heading.

Up the last of todays locks, we’d reached Birmingham, now we had to find a space. Back in February 2020 this had not really been a problem, but today spaces were few. One space in the corner of Cambrian Wharf, it can be shallow in that corner and awkward to get into.

Top of Farmers Bridge Locks

Oozells Street Loop was chocka. There was one space left towards Sheepcote Bridge, but would it be big enough for us.

One space left

We pulled in, a chap from NB Chyandour came out to take our centre rope. We touched both at the bow and stern, slightly overlapping to be truthful, but neither of our neighbours minded.

Oh Blimey! BUMingham again! At least the small sideways trees have a touch more cover to them this time!

BUMingham bricks!

Time to dig out the sand paper and primer, get something on the grab rails before the rain brings with it rust and makes the job a bigger one. I chipped off loose paint, sanded back the gouges and applied a coat of primer. I’d intended repainting the grabrails this year, but time is now running out both weather wise and before panto starts. So a patch up will have to suffice for this winter. Hopefully in the next few days there won’t be constant rain so I can get undercoat and top coat on it too.

Tweaked in

25 Locks, 9.73 miles, 1 straight, 1 right, 2 lefts, 2 tunnels, 12.92m down, 35.9m up, 4 paddle boats, 2 dredgers, 2 tugs, 1 full water tank, 1 empty wee tank, 1 clean pooh box, 3 boats met, 2 slices cake, 1 volunteer, 1 weed smoking survivor, 6 inches too long, 1 cosy mooring, 1 disappointed cat.

2020 A Long And Winding Year.

Get yourself a cuppa and put your feet up, this is a long post.

Into BUMingham

Having seen New Year in on the North Stratford Canal we commenced the new year by cruising in to Birmingham or as Tilly would have it know, BUMingham, she’s not too keen!

What a stripy world!

A meeting with Amy from Dark Horse Theatre Company about a project in the summer set out our years cruising as I’d need to be in Huddersfield then York for the show. Then it was time to pack and get myself ready for ten days in Vienna. This would be the longest I’ve been away from boat life since we set out in 2014. Half of my clothes were packed up along with a basic scene painting kit and I jetted off to what was a mixed experience. Despite the problems I had a wonderful time working with a great team in the theatre, I hope one day to return.

Whilst I marvelled at the wonderful scenes in Vienna and pulled my hair out at work, trying to keep a calm exterior, Mick and Tilly headed back out into the countryside towards Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham. Here they met up with a friend Chris who was planning a boat build.


Mick and Tilly came back into Birmingham to pick me up and then we set about exploring the BCN. There is plenty to explore and we didn’t quite manage to go everywhere, but we did our best.

Smethwick Locks

We headed up Smethwick New Locks onto the Old Main line. Stopped at Dudley Port Basin, coconuts accompanied us down Brades Staircase, then through Netherton Tunnel where we’d planned on visiting Hawne Basin, but thick ice thwarted our first attempt. The following day we succeeded and had a bumpy ride along the Dudley No 2 to fill our diesel tank.

Emma and Ted

Factory Locks brought us back onto the Old Main Line, we visited Wolverhampton, turned onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal and wiggled our way through the rubbish to Pelsall Junction. Here we had a wonderful get together with my bestestest friend and her son Ted (my Godson) who were over from Sydney, an all but too short lunch with them before they headed onwards on their whistlestop tour of England.

The Cannock Extension and Anglesey Branch were ticked off followed by the Daw End Branch, The Rushall Canal, Tame Valley Canal and up the Ryders Green Locks back into the centre of BUMingham early February.

The Jewellery Quarter kept us busy with visits to Smith and Pepper a time warp jewellery manufacturers, The Back to Backs, The Coffin Works. We watched the film 1917.

The Garden white card scale model

I designed costumes and made the white card model for The Garden for Dark Horse whilst we sat out storm Ciara which was to wipe out the Figure of Three Locks on the Calder Hebble. The damage to the locks looked great and not fixable quickly, a rethink to our cruising route was needed for me to get to work in the summer.

We went to the Symphony Hall and listened to Schubert and Berg spurred on by Dimitrios from NB Galene. Storm Dennis kept us from cruising to our next evening of entertainment at Titford Pump House, a bus replacement did the job so that we could see Alarum Theatre Company’s Acts of Abandonment. Little did we know at the time that this was to be our last live theatre until December.

A night out in the countryside for Tilly and a last night in the city to fill our bellies with curry. Then we were off again, up Smethwick Locks under the M5 where the scaffolding was being taken down. We turned up the Oldbury Locks following a boat that turned out to be NB Sola Gratia. A spin round the Titford Pools was in order before we returned for another diesel top up at Hawne Basin.

The Walsall Canal now beckoned us, that was a bumpy ride over trolleys, trees and all sorts! A fantastic fabric shop, the New Art Gallery right by our mooring and The Leather Museum kept our interest for a couple of days before we climbed up the Walsall Locks back up to Wyrley and Essington Canal.

The garden at Urban Moorings

The ladies at Urban Moorings welcomed us for an overnight visit, time to work the washing machine hard as we plugged into the electric. Then we kept our fingers crossed for a mooring at The Black Country Museum, which thankfully worked.

Marion and John came to meet us for an afternoon at the museum and we all enjoyed fish and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar in between visiting shops and watching chain links being made. The following day we took a boat trip into the Dudley Tunnel, had a second visit to the museum along with a portion of chips before heading out to moor in Tipton and have a visit from Heather from NB Bleasdale, followed by a pie at Mad O’Roukes Pie Factory.

The 7th of March saw us descend the Wolverhampton 21, leaving the Birmingham plateau behind us. Blimey we managed to pack a lot into the first ten weeks of the year! Just as well really. Onto the Shroppie where I had my first successes with gluten free sour dough bread, Tilly got to remember life in the countryside and we were treated to Shroppie Sunsets again.

Burgers with the Margees

The recent storms had brought down numerous trees and caused landslips so our progress was a touch slow heading northwards. We had a lovely lunch with Alison and Laura the Margees at Norbury Junction, they were to be our last visitors on board Oleanna for quite sometime.

Passing NB Bessie Surtees on the Tyrley Locks we actually got chance to chat for the first time. A stop to stock up in Market Drayton, we saw our first homemade mask (a pair of y fronts repurposed) and the start of empty shelves in supermarkets with people gleeful to have a twelve pack of toilet roll under their coat.

The Audlem flight was busy with plenty going down and NB Mountbatten coming up, delivering coal as they went. Theatres closed that day and we started to put into practice new ways of working locks hoping to keep ourselves safe. As we socially distanced around the shops in Nantwich people were joking about the virus. We shopped, adapting what we bought to what was available and then got ready for our first Zoom with family on the 21st March.

We stocked up with NB Halsall at Calverley then made our way onto the Middlewich Branch and down Cholmondeston Lock. The following morning (23rd March) we listened to our gut instincts. If lockdown was to happen we’d rather not have to negotiate locks to get to shops or services, so we winded and headed back up Cholmondeston Lock onto the Nantwich pound. Our gut instinct was correct.

Adam and Adrian on NB Briar Rose

The next few days we saw plenty of boats moving, finding places they wanted to spend the coming weeks, heading for home or temporary ones like NB Briar Rose. Jac my sister in law eventually managed to get a flight back from Melbourne where she’d been to celebrate her Mum’s birthday, at last everyone was where they should be.

We tried different moorings out for size as the need to fill with water or get shopping arose. It was also good to keep Tilly moving, both to stop her from getting bored and to help the local wildlife survive.

Our decision to be on the Nantwich pound turned out to be a good one, we ended up mooring at the bottom of Hurleston on the visitor moorings most, this became ‘Home’ for us where we watched spring turn into summer.

Watching the field behind the hedge be ploughed, planted and start to grow. Listening to the Lapwings enjoying the bounty in the potato fields. Getting to know our neighbours at a distance. The wheelie shoppers. The huskies out for their morning walk. The egg farm at the top of the locks. Weekly veg boxes from Nantwich Veg Boxes which we collected for ourselves and NB AreandAre. Supermarket deliveries were sought each week, sometimes only managing click and collect. The sun shone and Tilly had freedom. The coal boats kept us stocked up with fuel and our waterless (composting) toilet took one need to move out of the equation.

By mid-April my design for The Garden had been reimagined into an illustrated audio play. I was to do the illustrations, then they would have audio and some animation added to be available online. Chippy panto started to gear up with the hope that all would be back to normal-ish by the end of November for the show to be mounted.

We winded, went for walks, watched plays on the internet, winded, ate cheese scones, winded again! Tilly ventured further afield, across her field. We had barbeques, brownies and watched the reservoir banks get mown by remote control.

By Mid-May we were allowed to travel, so we hired a car for a day trip to Scarborough to see how our house was after the tenants had lost it during lockdown. In need of some tlc we now made plans for the rest of the year. We would be returning to life on land for a while, but planned on cruising as much as we could before then.

On the 23rd of May the suspension of the 14 day rule was lifted, our ‘home’ mooring was now 48 hours only so it was time to start moving again. Some boats around Hurleston headed off straight away, others remained a full 14 days before pushing off. We spent the next two weeks pootling to the far ends of the pound, Hack Green and Calvereley, the gunnels got a repaint and we said farewell to NB AreandAre who were heading up onto the Llangollen.

Cholmondeston Lock

With a full boat of veg and fruit from Nantwich Veg boxes, a Sainsburys shop and a visit from NB Halsall we were ready and on the 10th June we pushed our ‘home’ mooring away for the last time this year, Calverely was visited for a top up of water a toilet refresh and then we were off, turning onto the Middlewich Branch and descending Cholmondeston Lock, our first lock in 80 days. New gardening gloves became my boaters PPE and worked well, better than sanitising every five minutes.

Across onto the Trent and Mersey where we headed for Bramble Cuttings for a couple of nights. We’d been hoping to be able to drop down onto the Weaver but the Anderton Boat lift was still closed. So instead we winded at Whatcroft flash and headed up the Cheshire Locks hoping to catch Bosley Locks being open for a day to make our way onto the summit pound of the Macclesfield.

Nice Lock

It was nice being back on familiar ground again, although it took a little while to be able to do the Trent and Mersey hurdles over the lockgate beams with ease after sitting still for so long.

Our chairs were brought out onto the towpath to watch the setting sun at Tilly Railings and a barbeque was enjoyed on the Dane Aqueduct as we waited in line for Bosley Locks to open.

Bosley Locks and The Cloud in the background

With a single hander in front and one behind everyone helped out where we could making our passage up the locks a very jolly if hot one that only took 2.5 hours. Over the next ten days or so we pootled our way along the Macclesfield Canal, such a lovely stretch of water and oh those bridges! Still our favourites.

Calling in at Bollington Wharf we had our gas locker lid mended and had a top up of diesel. Foxgloves filled the canal banks and woods, we stopped at favourite spots along the way turning under the snake bridge at Marple onto the Peak Forest Canal at the end of June, heading for Whaley Bridge and Bugsworth Basin.

Saturday 4th July the pubs could re-open, we however went for a walk and waited for our delivery from Sainsburys along with a diesel top up from NB Alton. A batch of cheese scones were made to help us down the Marple flight on the 7th, we were the second boat down and it felt like we were pioneering boats going where no one had gone for months.

A couple of nights at Droylesden Marina saw to the washing pile and to recharge our batteries before we descended into Manchester. Our last narrow lock of the year was to be Ancotes Bottom Lock 1 on the Ashton Flight where we paused for a night at Telford Basin before tackling the Rochdale 9 on our own the following day. Patience and sheer determination got us out of Lock 92 at the bottom and was rewarded with a cheese scone as we made our way out to the Bridgewater Canal and Worsely.

The 14th July saw us rising up the Wigan Flight. We’d made arrangements to share the locks with NB Billy but it was decided by the volunteer lock keepers that they might be over long to share with, so instead we teamed up with John and Lindsey on NB Merganser. With the help of the Wigan Flight crew setting ahead we made good time up the flight, we then slowed down leaving the others to head off ahead of us.

The next few days we found ourselves leapfrogging NB Billy, or should that be hopfrogging? But we finally caught them up at Blackburn to share the locks. Another spectacular sunset was enjoyed by all near Foster Swing Bridge.

We’d planned to take our time along this stretch, but with local lockdowns looking possible in the area we decided to push on. The Burnley Embankment was busy with walkers and not a place to stop so we continued on to the bottom of Barrowford Locks. The following day we were caught up again by NB Billy so we shared the final flight up to the summit with Clare and Pete.

Our sixth anniversary of being fulltime boaters happened to coincide with pulling up at our favourite mooring on the network, the curley wurlys above Bank Newton. The following day the clouds lifted and we got to see the view. A barbecue was just managed before it started to rain.

It wasn’t quite plain sailing down into Skipton as the skipper of NB Amelie ended up in the cut at the bottom of Bank Newton and then we had problems with lock gates and swing bridges. Mick and I had an overnight in Scarborough leaving Tilly in charge and with the magic food bowl primed. On our return to Skipton we were met by two octogenarians leaning out of the upstairs windows of their house waving. We joined Margaret and Robert for a lovely meal, good to see them even if we were a bit nervy being in their company inside.

Sunny weather accompanied us onwards and finally I managed to take the photo I’ve been after for four years, Oleanna coming towards me under Parson’s Bridge. Now we have the matching pair, Lillian going away from us, Oleanna towards.

At Bingley five rise we teamed up with NB Barley to descend with the help of Lock Keeper Clare, carrying on to Saltaire in the sunshine.

A pause in Rodley meant we could meet up with friends Graham and Tracy in their new garden room, very nice to have a good catch up with them. The following day we took the opportunity to have lunch with my cousins Julie and John, our first pub in months.

Meeting up with Jenny and Andy on NB Barley again we shared the locks down into Leeds with them early the next day. A lack of water meant it took an hour to do one pound as water was let down from above, but we made it in the end to Granary Wharf. Shame the lack of water followed us, in fact the basin did a good job of emptying itself overnight. It took quite a few hours before boats had enough water to be afloat again, we all made a hasty exit as soon as we could.

Back into the big locks of the Aire and Calder we motored on to Ferrybridge where now only three of the power station cooling towers remain, a very sad sight.

Down Bank Dole Lock, the slow filler and we headed to Selby. Our trip up the Tidal Ouse was an interesting one a there were SO many trees floating about, we had to try our best to loose them before passing through what few bridges there were. Kingfishers escorted us just about all the way to Naburn which was a real treat. Instead of pulling up in York we decided to head on up to Ripon, we’d spend time in York on our way back, or so we thought!

Above Boroughbridge a familiar boat came into view, NB Billy. This was the last time our bows would cross this year. At Oxclose Lock we had some time for Tilly to explore before heading up into Ripon Basin to meet up with Robert and Margaret again and for Tilly to show off her ability to spot otters.

I’d get it in the neck if I didn’t include a photo!

On our way downstream the river was rising, we stopped off for a meal at The Dawney Arms making the most of the Eat out to Help out deal. Wonderful food and chance to meet up with Kerry the Landlady and hoped that the river level would ease overnight. Fortunately it did and we made our way in to York. We had hoped to meet up with old friends whilst we were in the area, it turned out the only people I got to see where Jaye and Duncan for lunch. Social distancing, rising rivers sadly put paid to seeing other people.

Over the next ten days the river rose twice. On one fall we made it back into York to pick up a supermarket delivery but very quickly headed back to Naburn where we ended up breasting up in a line of four boats tied to the floating pontoon by the water point. Levels didn’t rise so much as to necessitate wellies or waders, but it did put paid to the London Leckenbys joining us for a few days at the nearby campsite. A big disappointment all round.

But on the 31st August levels had dropped sufficiently for us to head back to Selby accompanied by Richard and Heather on NB Isabella, new boat owners. Naburn was their very first lock, Selby was to be their second! It was such a beautiful morning, we led the way but then let them go first when we reached Selby, we were likely to be able to stem the tide better, but they managed the lock with ease.

Lovely to see Bridget and Storm

At West Haddelsey we had a visit from Bridget and Storm, so lovely to see them. We’d planned on being good and sitting out, they’d even brought their own chairs and the camper van for their own toilet. But as it started to rain we bent the rules taking shelter inside Oleanna. This was the day I gave a second phone to the god of the cut.

For a replacement we headed down to Goole, calling in at Viking Marina to check we would have a mooring later in the month. After filling up with cheap diesel we then headed off up toward Doncaster and Sprotbrough where we caught up with Mick’s niece Fran, before returning back onto the Aire and Calder to do maintenance jobs and enjoy our last days onboard.

On the 18th September we pulled into our berth at the marina, finished off the contents of the freezer and started to pack. Two trips in a hire car to Scarborough and we were moved, Tilly joining us the second time.

Back then we imagined we’d be down to Oleanna doing jobs on day trips and by now we’d have had a couple of weeks out on the cut, but this simply wasn’t to be.

Living Room reclaimed

Jobs in the house keep me busy, along with starting work on the postponed Chippy panto. Mick for a while applied for supermarket jobs, hoping to be a delivery driver. The only job he was offered was as a meet and greeter just before Novembers lockdown. We both decided that maybe we’d cope without the money.

Not as low as she got after the breach

Then before Christmas came the news of the Aire and Calder breach. Fortunately plenty of people are keeping an eye on all the boats including Oleanna.

Blimey what a year!

So our vital statistics for the year 2020 according to canal plan are

Total distance is 792 miles, 2 ½ furlong and 339 locks . There are 82 moveable bridges of which 5 are usually left open; 233 small aqueducts or underbridges and 41 tunnels – a total of 19 miles 6 ¾ furlongs underground and 8 major aqueducts.

This is made up of 365 miles, ¼ furlongs of narrow canals; 242 miles, 4 ¾ furlongs of broad canals; 81 miles, 3 ¾ furlongs of commercial waterways; 76 miles, 1 ¾ furlongs of small rivers; 0 miles of large rivers; 27 miles of tidal rivers; 202 narrow locks; 118 broad locks; 18 large locks; 1 lock on major waterways.

Sadly with Oleanna’s log book where it should be, onboard, I’m not able to offer up the engine hours, litres of diesel, gas bottle or bags of coal. This year I can’t even work out how many boxes of wine we’ve gone through!

However I can tell you that from one page of journeys on our trip computer, missing out all the journeys in between the start of the page and the end, the total distance travelled would have been 2.25 furlongs. Instead it actually amounted to 56 miles 7.5 furlongs with 19 winds (turning around). This was of course in Lockdown 1. Grand total number of winds this year, 67.

Christmas Day 2020, Scarborough Spa

Here’s hoping that the pandemic calms down, we all get vaccinated and the breach on the Aire and Calder gets sorted so that we can go boating again. After all we didn’t plan to move back on land permanently!

Not a bad view