Friday, 13 May 2011

Slow Boat back on track.

Day Six: 8 July. Pilling's Lock to Shardlow.
And we're back on the water and on our way; at least, after a shower that made me feel a little less like Pinkie McStinkie, the Slut of the Cut....
We cover the same ground - er, water - back to Loughborough, but turn right up the river instead of into the city. It's back into the countryside, with wide reaches, loads of metallic blue and green damselflies, dragonflies like helicopters, ducks and moorhens herding their broods of young out of our way.
We travel in part-convoy with a couple of other boats, which means less banging about in locks and more hands to work them. One guy coming the other way says that the Trent & Mersey is getting short of water, and some folks have bottomed. We push on, with cross-winds.
The confluence of the Trent and Soar, near the cooling towers of Ratcliffe Power Station, is a vast expanse of water, more like one of the Norfolk Broads, with at least 3 canals leading off, and there is a huge weir to avoid.

Splatters of rain start as we head up the new canal - quite refreshing, really! - and face the confusion that is the Sawley Mechanised Locks. These are supposedly manned, but all we see is one officious beard that told us to wait while another boat came out, and then promptly vanished, leaving us to hover off the 'island' between the parallel locks, tall stone walls to either side. We finally get into the lock, and see the notice saying 'ropes must be used', so there is a bit of a scramble. Drew figures out the mysteries of the automated system, which button does what... we escape with little trouble, save for the shortness of the pick-up point on the island and, with a bit of deft manoeuvring, get onto the water point.
An encounter with another boat at this point draws my attention to how many boats have huge dogs aboard - this one had two German Shepherds, and one last night had an enormous black Newfoundland (and a one-eyed cat!). Maybe they act like supplementary heaters in the winter...

Drew helps another guy throught the lock - the controls on this side are totally different to the ones on the side we came up - and we water-up. Naturally, it overflows, but fortunately the whole system is geared to dealing with excess water.
Derwent Mouth Lock is badly damaged, one paddle is as loose as a catflap, and the whole RH gate is stuck fast. Awkward, but it's wide enough to sneak through (and gives us an idea for dealing with wide locks!) Looks like it won't be the last damaged lock on this stretch, either.
Tied up in the middle of Shardlow - a very pretty place - across the road from the Malt Shovel (classy but expensive) and the New Inn (plain pub food but good, and plenty of it) - guess where we went! Sat outside in the sun, admiring the motor show that developed in the car park, and chatting to the owners of a rather nice Ducati bike.
18 miles/10 locks/0 tunnels/River Soar, Trent & Mersey Canal

Day Seven: 9 July. Shardlow to Branston Lock.
Made our way through the picturesque and historical waterside of Shardlow; heading west now, and some quite deep locks. Pretty open land all around, with no significant settlements apart from one or two pubs and a remote, but prosperous-looking Indian restaurant. Got a phone message from Matt, checking that we were okay (nice of him), and called ahead to check the best time to call at Barton marina for fuel and a pumpout. Not that we'll get there today. Still several widebeam locks to deal with until we got to Burton-on-Trent; Dallow Lane came as a pleasant relief as the first 'smaller' one encountered.
We're still roasting in the sun, getting quite brown (and pink), although upper arms and shins remain resolutely peelie-wallie.
Burton-on-Trent is odd. It's a biggish town ('Largest in the National Forest' according to a sign we saw in a very small copse) but, although the canalside is quite nice, there is little industrial (and we like industrial) - you can see Marston's Brewery and the Coors maltings - and the rest remains stubbornly suburban.
Moored initially by the (clean, antiseptic, modern) industrial estate, but couldn't figure out how to get through it to the shops, so moved up to the moorings (and the mooringhens) by Bridge 54, after Branston Lock. Pearson's Guide said that Morrisons was about half a mile, but Drew vanished for nearly two hours, returning sweaty and disgruntled, having walked 'miles'. Filthy MacNasty was quickly sent to the shower and despatched.
18 miles/7 locks/0 tunnels/Trent & Mersey Canal

Day Eight: 10 July. Branston Lock to Fradley Junction.
Slow start, as we need to be at the marina after lunchtime. Two locks and a very tight entrance to Barton-under-Needwood marina, which is vast, and very posh. We drifted, elegant and windblown, alongside another AW boat, 'Foxton'. and negotiated the fuel and pumpout. Grumpy chap became less grumpy when he found we were the 'propshaft boat', and said that 'Foxton' had picked up a tyre round her prop in Birmingham, and had to be hauled out to have it cut free. Exited the marina somewhat poorer but quite competently (until we hit the opposite bank... oops!)
Down to join the river again between Wychnor and Alrewas (love these names!), where it's wide with yet another huge weir.  Pretty countryside, loads of dragons and damsels and lots of flowers by the waterside. We'd planned to stop at Fradley Junction, to get a better look than the last time we were here some years back, but it was not to be - the whole place was jam-packed with boats and gongoozalers, so we went carefully round the junction on a rope, to find the swing bridge open; with a guy behind us, that meant we didn't need to stop and shut it, and we sailed through happily.

Boat after boat after boat lined the canalside, until finally we found a space on a rather overgrown bank opposite a housing estate and slotted in there, with only a few nettle stings. Mum battled the shower this time, and Nellie O'Smellie was no more.
8 miles/9 locks/0 tunnels/Trent & Mersey Canal, Coventry Canal/fuel & pumpout

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