Friday, 13 May 2011

Slow Boat goes to Coventry

Day Nine: 11 July. Fradley Junction to Polesworth.
A gentle day with very few locks to try us, although the ones we encountered were deep and slow to fill; looks like this will be the way of it from here on. Tomorrow we tackle the Atherstone Eleven, so an easy day was a good idea. It was breezy, which did cause a few problems with crosswinds on the bends, and a rather closer-than-we'd-have-liked encounter with a couple of British Waterways working boats, who were fortunately very understanding!
Through open countryside again, and the horsiculture belt; many of the horses had fly masks which led to comments of 'who was that masked horse?'
The railway line runs alongside the canal for much of the way, and electrification means that the overhead gantries are very intrusive and ugly. There are also several (Roman) roads, all carrying a lot of traffic. Quite a lot of boats, but very few obviously hired ones, and it was all very busy - Fazeley Junction wasn't quite as bad a turn as Fradley, but equally packed.
Through the suburbs of Tamworth, up Glascote Locks and past Alvecote, stopping for lunch and a bit of canalside retail therapy with a bloke doing nice leather goods. Drew got himself a proper belt and holder for his lock key, and now feels very professional.

Moored for the night at Polesworth, which is nice; deeply wooded with a cutting on one side and an embankment on the other which overlooks the river Anker. Drew went for a recce, and I encountered a swan which seemed determined to peck my trouser bottoms. There's a very good Indian takeaway in Polesworth, with generous portions!
12.5 miles/2 locks/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal

Day Ten: 12 July. Polesworth to Atherstone.
And of course, our first wet day... not merely damp.
Not 'a bit rainy'.
Stair rods. All the way through the Atherstone Flight (which is more a series of short pounds and locks than a staircase). Slow going - althought there were some boats coming down, we sometimes had to empty a lock down to get in (which makes you feel quite guilty). Mostly we were followed by a family in the first 'Viking' fleet hire boat we've seen; they were entertaining, with a small terrier that seemed to be enjoying itself hugely, and a gaggle of kids who vanished below at the first sign of rain, leaving their parents to brave the weather. General chat to folks as we went along, and plenty of lovely dogs, including one very stubborn black labrador that utterly refused to walk across the top of the gate of Atherstone Top Lock, no matter what his person did to encourage him.
Drew got quite adept at hopping across between the lower gates, which saved no end of foot-miles going round. It all adds up. We moored up for shopping, and decided we may as well stay put overnight rather than go on a couple more miles.
We were amongst various working boats, carrying smokeless fuel and gravel - some had been as far as London, and I wondered if they'd been taking materials to the Olympics site - I somewhere remember reading they were using canal haulage.
Last night's curry stretched to leftovers!
4 miles/11 locks/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal

Day Eleven: 13 July. Atherstone to Shackerstone.
Another day of rain and wind. Headed down through Nuneaton to Marston Junction and the Ashby Canal, watering up at the 'Valley Boats' marina, where Mum got postcards and a plaque of the Foxton Flight. Drew went looking for chandlery bits with no luck, but did manage (finally) to get the Lockmaster map for this holiday.
Leaving, we were chased desperately by a bevy of confused ducklings (surely their mum wasn't big and green?)
Ashby Canal starts with the remnants of what turned out to be a stoplock - very narrow - and went on to be serpentine, blowy, and extremely shallow for much of its length; Drew remarked it was like driving through thick gravy at times. There were lots of moored boats too, and we discovered that 'tickover' varies from boat to boat - trying not to overhaul the boat ahead, we ended up having to overtake... it was like the world's slowest boat chase...
Water vole near Bridge 4, buzzards over Bosworth Field (yes, THAT Bosworth!).
Mostly small and pretty villages (apart from Hinkley) and cornfields. The idea was to get to Snarestone tonight, but conditions were against us, and after a couple of hours of almost-arguement, we compromised on a mooring at Shackerstone. Some of the scenery lovely, but mostly in a 'rural-neutral' way, without so much as a derelict shed to break the flow of fields and weeds.
0 locks/25 miles/0 tunnels/Coventry Canal, Ashby Canal

Day Twelve: 14 July. Shackerstone to Coventry Basin via Snarestone.
An early start, and a spell of fine-ish weather saw us up to the end of the canal - the scenery up here is much more interesting, with another SSSI through Gopsall Wood - wish I could remember all the plant names!
Snarestone Tunnel (228m) was quite fun - it has a bend in the middle, and gets lower towards the top end so you do have to duck a bit! Turned round just after the tunnel - little else to do, although the canal association are trying to extend to the old terminus at Moira; it's a work in progress.
So now began the long run back down to the basin at Coventry, and a day of frustration for me; I tried to help share the steering but got constantly caught by the wind, ending up getting us stuck again and again, and having to hand over to Drew (with his boat-handling experience etc from diving, he's so much more clued-up) to sort out a problem I'd created. Better stick to what I'm good at, which is going in and out of locks, and dropping-off and picking-up.
Weather was better than yesterday, but still wet in patches, so on and off with coats etc. We eventually left the waterproofs on, which seemed to deter the rain until around Hawkesbury Junction.
A thunderstorm (with lightning) hit at this point, as we were passing all the moorings, so I retreated into the boat and stayed there until we'd nearly reached Coventry.
It's another odd place; the old slapjowl with the new, big with small. Some interesting features - Electric Wharfe, Cash's Hundreds - but less 'proper' canalside warehouses etc, mostly things that have been cleared by demolition, like the old Ordnance Works, or rebuilt-on-the-site-of, like Electric Wharfe. Lots of pieces of 'public art' (mostly covered with graffiti) and although there was some good graffiti, much of that had been defaced. Sad, like the amount of crud floating in the canal, although the mooringhens and mallards don't seem to care.
Some really lovely buddleia bushes overhanging the canal, odd orange lights making spooky shadows under Bridge 5a, new flats, amiable drunks, and a lot of late evening fishermen...we eventually made it to Coventry Basin just after 9 pm, and got the last mooring (there is room for more boats, just marked 'no mooring'. Frustrating!) Drew went hunter-gathering, and returned with Nandos, which Mum and I had never heard of!
32 miles/0 locks/2 tunnels (return trip)/Ashby Canal, Oxford Canal, Coventry Canal

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