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2014: Testing the new engine on the Severn and the Trent.

 

Tree art

A wonderful example of "Tree Art" near Market Drayton

 

We wanted to be certain that our new engine Bertie would not overheat when running at speed on rivers, so we had decided to go down to Gloucester on the Severn and then also to Newark-on-Trent. Leaving the Monty behind us we made good progress down the Shroppie but we had only travelled a little way down the Staffs and Worcester before we encountered a major problem. An enormous tree had fallen across the canal just north of Stourton and it was obvious that it would take some time to clear it. There seem to have been a great many trees falling down across the canal this year; is this due to the recent weather conditions, I wonder, or simply a total lack of maintenance by C&RT ?

 

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Moored amongst the nettles
The fallen tree, seen from our side
The fallen tree, seen from the other side
Contractors arrive to inspect the tree

We moored with some difficulty amongst the nettles, helped by the boat in front of us who actually had an electric hedge-trimmer with them, and walked up to inspect the fallen tree. Apart from its size, the other problem that it presented was that it had fallen down a steep embankment; the contractors explained that the trunk would have to be pulled up to the top of the bank as any attempt to cut it into small pieces would result in it becoming lodged in the bed of the canal from where it would be much harder to retrieve. Unfortunately to do this they would have to bring some very large winches on lorries across the back lawn of the house at the top of the bank.

Clearly their negotiations with the owner of the house had gone well, for early the next morning we heard the sound of the trees at the end of his garden being felled to make room for the two large winching trucks that had arrived. Then a large triangular "Men at Work" sign came whizzing across the canal and a voice called out to ask if somebody could please erect it on the towpath.

 

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First a "Men at Work" sign has to be placed on the towpath
A man with a huge chainsaw arrives ...
... as do two large winch trucks
The trunk is cut through, near to the top ...
... and is slowly winched up the bank

A number of ropes were attached to the tree trunk, and then followed an impressive display of chainsaw-handling. Soon the trunk had been cut through, just below the main branches, and the winch trucks worked carefully together to drag it up to the top the embankment. The branches were then quickly cut into manageable portions, until after just 5 hours of hard work the canal was open again.

 

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The trunk is completely clear of the canal ....
... and is ready to be taken away ...
... but the upper branches still block the canal
Finally the canal is clear and we can proceed.

After a 24 hour stoppage we were looking forward to a quick run down towards Stourport, but it was not to be. Incredibly as we headed for the lock just a couple of hundred yards away, two boats arrived just ahead of us; they had come down from Stourbridge and reached the junction just a few minutes before, and they were both working single-handed at an incredibly slow pace (even with Debbie's help) so we did not get very far that day either.

A couple of days later we were on the river Severn in blazingly hot weather, and we opened up the throttle to see how Bertie would react. To our relief she showed no signs of overheating as we flew down the river to Worcester and then on towards Gloucester the next day. As we neared the Partings, the lock keeper advised us over the radio to wait because the large trip boat "Lady Elgar" was coming up the river towards us. We and two other boats dutifully waited for what seemed an age before the Elgar passed us, and indeed we were theoretically too late to pen up into the docks; locking times were restricted so that the dredgers could operate unhindered, but the lock-keeper sensibly insisted that we should all be allowed through because it was not our fault that we were late.

The dredging was taking place to make the docks deep enough for some large sailing vessels to moor there for a movie which was to be filmed there later in the summer (Tim Burton's "Through the Looking Glass" with Johnny Depp) but they were once again using a "jet washer" type of dredger which does little more than stir up the silt so no doubt it will need dredging again soon.

After passing through the Docks we spotted some friends moored just beyond Sainsbury's and we breasted up alongside them for the night. Telford found the jump up to the wall from their back deck rather awkward, and had to be given a discreet helping hand  to the backside to prevent him from falling in, but it was a good spot to moor and we went with our friends for another great meal at  the "Tall Ship" pub next to the Docks.

 

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A well-loaded sand barge on the Severn
dredging at Gloucester Docks
This bridge-keeper's house was being repainted as we passed it.
Looking across the Severn from Sharpness

As it was again hot and sunny the next day we decided to potter down to Sharpness. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stay there very long, but I was able to take some lovely panoramic photos of the view across the Severn to Wales. Unusually we were there at high tide so the sun positively sparkled over the water to make it an idyllic scene.

Last year, as in the year before, our grand-daughter Lauren had decided that she loves doing locks. This year we decided to take full advantage of this by introducing her to the Tardebigge flight, and it had turned out to be very convenient for her to join us in Gloucester and help us as crew up to Birmingham. On the first day she was disappointed that we passed through only one lock, but with 60 locks in the next 2 days she thoroughly enjoyed herself and proved to be a very useful crew member indeed.

We took the opportunity to visit the Droitwich Canal again before tackling the Tardebigge flight itself, then stopped at Hopwood so that our crew could be taken home, before heading for Hawne Basin on the Southern reaches of the BCN.. To get there we passed through Netherton Tunnel, then had to make a sudden stop as we spotted (just in time) that the local kids had attached a length of armoured cable across the end of the tunnel. Luckily we were able to detach it from inside the tunnel, so the lovable lilttle rogues were not able to throw things at us or spit on us in the way that they could have done if we had been outside the tunnel trying to get in. Even though it was a sunny Sunday afternoon and there were plenty of families walking about, nobody seemed to think that the incident was anything that they should get involved in.

We were warmly welcomed at Hawne Basin as usual, and spent a happy afternoon and evening chatting to the people there. The following morning, with a full diesel tank and an empty waste tank, we returned to Birmingham where we paid a visit to the Museum and enjoyed their wonderful exhibition of Rowland Emmet's work.

We were keen to see Icknield Port loop again, as it some time since we went there and I had heard that redevelopment was being planned for the area and I was anxious to take some photos of the loop in its current state. On the loop we met the trip boat "Jericho" - which I have fond memories of steering, many years ago - before crossing straight over the Main Line into Soho Loop to spend a very enjoyable evening with some friends in Hockley Port.

 

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The entrance to Hawne Basin
One of Rowland Emmet's fantastic creations
Greenery lines the Icknield Port loop ...
... but  there are old walls behind it!
Icknield Port Bridge
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Boats on the Icknield Port Loop
The maintenance yard
The maintenance yard..
Leo in the dock
The reservoir spillway

Finally it was time to leave Birmingham, and this time for variety we took the Old Main Line to Wolverhampton, and made our way up the Staffs and Worcester towards Great Haywood. But first we stopped at Gailey to visit the very helpful travel agents North American Highways with whom we've booked our next cruising holiday from New York to Montreal. Then continuing northwards, we spent an idyllic day moored on the beautiful Tixall Wide; the sunset that night was as beautiful as I have seen for many years.

 

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We moored opposite the old Tixall gatehouse
The magnificent gatehouse in all its glory
The sun set behind the gatehouse ....
... and created spectacular colours across the Wide

We now set our course to the East for Newark-on-Trent, but first we wanted to rectify a serious omission in Keeping Up's travels. We had never taken her up the Erewash canal to Langley Mill, in fact we hadn't been there since 1986; we wondered how much it had changed in the intervening 28 years, and right now was a good opportunity to find out. Arriving at Trent Junction in very strong winds we decided to moor in the Cranfleet cut, but we were still bounced around by the waves all night.

 

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The junction is well signposted ...
... even for dogs!
Even moored on the Cranfleet cut it was very windy
Keeping Up at Trent Junction in 2014
Thistle at the same spot in 1990

The next day we set off up the Erewash. By good fortune as we were setting the first lock we were joined by another boat that was travelling to Langley Mill. With the heavy, broad locks it is much easier to have two boats sharing the work. We soon discovered that  the shallow arches of the bridges below the locks make it essential for the first boat in the lock to take to the offside, otherwise the second boat cannot get into the lock.

 

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Houseboats above the first lock
Flood gates for protection against the Trent
This magnificent old mill boasted a wonderful chimney
This chimney is all that remains of one old mill. It makes a good aerial mast

The waters of the canal were absolutely clear, and were teeming with fish, so that (as someone else had told us beforehand) it was like "boating through an aquarium" - far removed from the dirty smelly waters that we remembered from 1986. There were some beautiful houseboats above the first lock, the town areas were generally clean and tidy, and the countryside areas were green and beautiful. Overall it was a lovely stretch of canal, although the locks were quite hard work and suffered from a few maintenance issues at times (particularly vandalised anti-vandal locks which made many paddles unusable).

 

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The low arches mean that you must keep close to the towpath
The scenery was much prettier than we had remembered.
Moored at Langley Mill

Returning to Trent Junction, and another night in the Steamboat Inn, we then travelled down to Nottingham where we stayed for a couple of days before cruising slowly down the beautiful river Trent to Newark (including a stop on the lovely Hazleford Island, populated for the night by just ourselves and several hundred rabbits). We like Newark, and although we were disappointed that our favourite restaurant there had closed down, there are plenty of other good places to eat there. We did wonder whether or not to carry on to Cromwell and Torksey but the weather forecast was for a strong cold wind with a hint of drizzle which is not ideal for travelling on the tideway, so we turned around and headed back up the river to Nottingham instead.

 

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Back at Trent Junction the way is clear!
This strange craft, on a charity run from Beeston Marina, came past us while we were at Nottingham
The paintwork on this boat made us smile
We were surprised to see a Traction Engine in Newark

A phone call to Marston's told us that we could book into a tour of their Burton brewery if we made good progress to get there so we came back up the river quite quickly - confirming again that the engine did not overheat - and made our way along the canal to Burton-on-Trent. The brewery tour was absolutely fascinating; they are the only brewery still using the Burton Union system, in which the fermentation takes place in a huge array of barrels whose overflow pipes feed back into the tanks which feed the barrels. The tour concludes with a visit to their bar where we sampled several of their wonderful beers; they claimed that the Pedigree tastes the same wherever you drink it but I'll swear that I have never known it taste as good as it did in the brewery that day!

 

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Marston's brewery at Burton-on-Trent.
The brewery's old control panel, now replaced by a small computer screen
In the main (modernised) brewing hall
The old Burton Union sets, still used for brewing Pedigree Ale
The old cooper's shop (replica)

After leaving Burton we went back up the T&M to Great Haywood again, and spent a thoroughly enjoyable day wandering around Shugborough Hall. There's plenty to see there, including its own brewery from which we just had to buy a few bottles of beer, and it turned out that one day wasn't enough so we will have to return at another time.

At another of our favourite restaurants, the Plum Pudding in Armitage,  the owner Giuseppe "Il Marchigiano" was having an Italian banquet and party to celebrate his seventh anniversary there, so we had timed our travels to allow us to attend. A magnificent meal was followed by an evening of music and dancing until very late; a good time was had by all, and we were very glad that we were moored directly outside so had only a few steps to stagger back to our floating home!

And so finally we set our course back to Milton Keynes. Lady Luck smiled on us as we passed Orchard Marina where they were offering FREE pump-outs to generate publicity during August and we were able to take full advantage of their offer on almost the last day of the month. Finally we called in briefly at Braunston so that Jonathan could give Bertie a quick check-up, and we also diverted to Crick to make it easy for our usual surveyor Trevor Whitling to give the boat it's 4-yearly Safety inspection (similar to a car's MoT test) before we returned to our home mooring at Stoke Hammond. We'll only be here for a short while, though, as we have a North American river/canal trip planned (you will be able to read about it here, later this year) and then we must return to Braunston yet again (!) for the boat to be blacked.

 

Heron

 

 

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