About Us

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In 1977 we hired our first narrowboat from Anglo Welsh at Market Harborough.From that moment our destiny was set. In 2006 we finally purchased our own brand new 57' narrowboat which we named 'Free Spirit'. Our aim is to travel the length and breadth of all the navigable rivers and canals of the UK. This will be our story as it unfolds.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Collared for an interview with Argentine students.

December 2nd

What a wonderful start to the day, All the troubles of yesterday disappeared as I looked out on blue skies, glorious sunshine and a slight frost coating the ground. A good night was had and even though we were very close to a road, hardly a sound was heard. This mooring is a little gem, probably not even used much as it's not shown in Nicholson but well worth stopping at. 


 Before we could leave, cards had to be posted to Australia, New Zealand and Holland. The last posting date for oversea (except Europe) is on the 6th December and with a post office back down the flight, Ian was sent with strict instructions to purchase the correct stamps and make sure they were posted. Then we set off for Brum.

For once, we had a most uneventful journey, water was deep and we managed a good 4mph, only slowing for those narrows. Took these photos on route.

Bromford Junction and Spon Lane locks to the left. We continued right.

Interesting bridges supports to go under.

Galton Tunnel

The narrows

And Birmingham skyline

Having set off feeling warm, by the time we reached Birmingham I was beginning to feel the cold. The wind had picked up and my goodness it was icy. We had cruised 6 miles to reach Sheepcote bridge with the moorings just beyond, no wonder I was starting to chill down. This time of year we are pretty much guaranteed to find a mooring and such was the case when we arrived. That wind was beginning to be a nuisance, blowing away from the bank and as I took the boat in, I struggled to bring FS to the side. Ian leapt off with the center rope and just about managed to control her. and bring her in. I jumped of the stern and whipped the stern rope through the ring and back around the dolly. Making her secure meant I had my derrière pointing toward the towpath.  Now why am I telling you all this? Well because our mooring antics were witnessed and filmed by a couple standing on the towpath and they would have got a lovely shot of my huge backside! Would no doubt have filled the lens! Anyway, as soon as FS was secured they came over, introduced themselves and asked for an interview! They were Argentine students over here for two months doing a thesis on the English canals. Our canals have fascinated this couple for a long time and when they had the opportunity to come over and study them, they jumped at the chance. We couldn't refuse their request and before we knew it, microphones were attached to clothing, camera turned on and the interview started. Most of it was about our lifestyle, how we coped in winter, cost, why did we decide on this way of living etc, etc, and after a good 15 minutes I could see Ian starting to shiver. I still had all my outer winter gear on, but Ian had left his coat in the boat. By the end of the interview he was shaking with cold, the first time I have seen him like that since he had pneumonia during his chemo back in 2009. Once detached from the microphones, he nipped inside for a warm leaving me to finish our conversation. A promise of the photos taken, and the edited interview will be sent to us by email, now won't that be something to look forward to.




Diana Fernander and Federico Acosta Rainia.



Once Ian was warm we headed into town. A German market was on and we fancied seeing the Christmas lights. I think both of us were a little disappointed. The market was more of a food market and I thought they could have done better with the lights. It was crowded and felt a little uncomfortable being close to everyone. so after a couple of hours we headed back to FS.



And also seen

One of those living statues.


Our diesel was getting a bit low, so Ian phoned Cambrian wharf for a price. At £1.05p a ltr I don't think we will be topping up here, especially as we can get it at Fazeley for 85p ltr. Off then tomorrow to do Farmer's bridge and Aston locks, 23 in roughly 2 miles!

And wildlife



Friday, 3 December 2021

Challenging day part 2

 December 1st continued, (sorry folks, a long post)

Ocker Hill Junction was reached before midday and it was a left turn to Birmingham on the Walsall canal and toward the next obstacles, Ryders Green Locks.


We decided to do the unthinkable and sit on the lock landing for lunch. The chances of another boat appearing was zero judging by the lack of boat traffic at present. We couldn't get FS's bow to the side, which in itself was unusual because the stern was usually the problem being deeper in the water! Anyway, 30 minutes later and we set off up the flight.

As I ascended, a cyclist came tearing down the towpath. He came to a stop by Ian and said in a Brummy accent, "You won't get very far mate because there is no water after the third lock." Oh no, not again! I thought. Ian decided to walk up and check for himself, I was still in the lock so what to do??? I was reluctant to stay, felt I could become a sitting target, and thought it would be preferable if I headed off to the next lock landing. In hindsight, I should have stayed where I was until Ian returned but, as Ian always tells me, I always know better! So after closing the gate, I inched forward and then realised ahead of me was what looked like shopping trolleys obviously thrown from the pedestrian bridge!


And one on the other side too.

And not only that but right by the lock landing and under the road bridge, two youths. I felt a bit apprehensive. Birmingham hasn't the best reputation for being safe. So two things to contend with, was there more trolleys hidden beneath the depths, and being on my own with the boat with those youths in so close proximity, would I be okay. In the end I phoned Ian, told him of my concerns and he said he would return as soon as possible but that I should start making my way to the lock.


I decided to put the power on  and get through the pedestrian bridge as soon as possible and boy, was I glad I did. FS hit something, tipped to port for what seemed like an age and righted herself with a jolt. Then I spied Ian and the relief was unimaginable. You suddenly realise that those lone boater women must feel very anxious when they reach some undesirable areas. Anyway the lock gate opened and in I went. Very noticeable was the rubbish!! Ian couldn't even close the bottom gate without swinging it several times to get rid of the cans, plastic bags, wood etc, and that in itself was an effort.



 It never did close completely, a small 1-inch gap which we hoped would close as the water entered the lock. It didn't but we still rose up okay, got out of the lock and noticed this pound was down as well. I  took FS toward the lock landing and then, with a horrible scrapping sound I got stuck...well and truly and no amount of using the pole at both ends could shift her.



Ian phoned CRT. Told the person at the other end the situation and that he was about to run water down the flight. Good good he was told in no uncertain terms NOT to touch those paddles! Only those trained in water management could do it and he may well make a problem further along the waterway if left to him. For goodness sake, he told them there are several miles before the next locks and filling a small pound would hardly cause any sort of problem but the CRT operator was adamant, Leave it alone! So we waited, 40 minutes later CRT arrive. 



Ian joined them, walked up the flight leaving me with FS. Then 5 minutes later the heavens opened and I'm not just talking about a bit of wet stuff. No, torrential it was, big drops that rapidly turned into hail and lasting for over 10 minutes. I hoped they had found shelter but it was very obvious on Ian's return this wasn't the case. In fact, he looked as if he had been submerged in the canal! Nothing, not even his pants were dry. I got him to strip off in the well deck, Not going to allow him to drip water all over my floor and furnishings! Anyway, he got dry, told me they had raised the top lock paddle by half to allow the bywashes to start running and then they had walked back to their van with the message that they would have another look in 40 minutes time.

That's one of the CRT guys
Ian looking like a drowned rat!
Hail

After half an hour and with the rain now stopped, I decided to have a look for myself. What greeted me did not look promising! Somehow I don't think we will be going anywhere soon,

This after 40 minutes!

 Then a short while after my return a CRT bod knocks on the window. Ian was back out up the flight so he relayed the message to me. Now, baring in mind it was nearly 3 pm, he told me the pound would most likely take several hours to fill so it would be best if we stayed where we were for the night. Crikey...that statement was like a red rag to a bull. No way, I told him, was I going to stay the night in bandit country especially as a syringe had been found outside FS's bow, and not only that, but because FS was stuck and the lock behind us leaked from both top and bottom gates, the danger of FS tipping as the water levels decreased was a big possibility. The pound had already dropped slightly since we had been stuck. No, I made it very plain that if necessary we would take the matter in our own hands and do the job ourselves! I think this spurred him on to action because by 3.50 pm Ian returned to say the pound was nearly full and all we had to do was get ourselves free and we could leave. "What did they do?" I asked Ian. "Lifted both paddles on the top lock allowing the water to surge into the pounds and through those bywashes down to the empty pound" he replied. Within 30 minutes that pound was full! Now why didn't they do that in the first place!!!! It's what Ian was about to do before he phoned CRT. Wish we had just gone ahead and done it. Lesson learnt...if you want a job done properly do it yourself.

4 pm we were away. Dusk was upon us and I knew that, with a further 6 locks to do, we would be travelling in the dark. This was another first for us, never in over 40 years of boating have we ever done any locks in the dark! Oh, actually I tell a lie. We did have to once. After ascending off the river Trent we then had to descend backwards back onto the river because we discovered the facilities at Trent lock were out of action. The only other facilities nearby was back along the river at Sawley.

That bywash at lock 5...OMG, if I thought the Shroppie bywashes were bad this was 100 times worse. "Make a run at it" said Ian in an authoritative voice. Hmm okay for him just standing by the lock gate. Yea right, I thought. Well in for a penny.... then, OMG again. Power was on, I pointed the bow slightly toward the flow and left of the lock opening with hopes the push of the water would get me lined up but no...That flow was so bad not only did the bow head for the brick wall, so did the rest of the boat. I swung the tiller to the right, the bow responded, but FS's middle and stern didn't. The bow went in and I always say if you get the pointy end in the rest would follow. Oh it followed all right, the boat slammed one way against the wall and then another, I managed to knock back the revs and was convinced a multitude of breakages had occurred as unwelcomed sounds were heard from inside. Oh God, was this going to be the same on every lock up the flight? Once FS was up I raced inside to check what was broken, but there was nothing, The picture frames had fallen off the shelf yes and one of the kitchen chairs was on the floor but gosh, I got off lightly considering.


That bywash!
The journey up the flight was interesting. It was getting harder and harder to see the edge of the lock walls as I approached, even though the headlight was on. It was set up for tunnel use and pitched slightly to the right, completely the wrong angle to see the walls. By the time we reached lock 1 I drove the lock almost blind. Thankfully all the rest of the bywashes had a gentle flow so no more trying to run the gauntlet of the surge.




 At the top of the flight and on the off side is a lovely mooring just right for one boat. Whether this is an official stopping place I don't know but we have stopped here in the past. Anyway, after the journey we have had today, I would have argued my case if challenged.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

A very challenging day.

 So much has happened today and none welcome so where to start? Right at the beginning I suppose, but because the day has been full of unwelcomed surprises this tale will have to be told in two parts.

December 1st.

A cold a drizzly start to the morning, in front of us were the 9 locks of the Rushall flight.  On our mind was that conversation with that local yesterday about the low pound by lock 6. Would it be a problem?

 

Top lock 1 Rushall flight.

Well no....rather the opposite, there was too much water in the pounds! If the pound before lock 6 was usually dry then it was because of the appalling leakage through the bottom gate cill. No photo of that but I did take one at lock 8 which was just as bad. Then between lock 4 and 5 the towpath was flooded,  Ian paddled his way through much to my amusement.  His so-called waterproof walking boots, turned out not to be as he unhappily found out. All the rest of the locks had the same issue, too much water. The entrance to Lock 3...well I couldn't see the sides. It was a complete guess as to where I should aim and it was more by luck than judgement that I got in unscathed. So plenty of photos of the first of what was to become a very challenging day.


The first indication that the water levels were high.

Lock 7

Where was the lock side?




Over the lock and around the side as well.



Poor chap, he didn't expect to be getting his feet wet today.


Lock 6 cill was bad, but this was at lock 8. No wonder the pound drain away!
 

Quite glad to reach the bottom of the flight, I know Ian's feet were! Boots off and placed by the fire, socks straight in the washing machine. This was not to be the only time he got drenched today. More than just his feet though, but that is for tomorrow's post. Anyway a boat was seen on the move. Wow, in 5 days we felt we were the only folk out and about at this time of year. But the boat was a CRT workboat. Piling had been replaced after Shustoke bridge, a long length of new moorings, so we were informed by CRT. Hope they dredge as well 'cos it doesn't look too inviting at the moment! One to mark for the future in Nicholson's book me thinks.


Hope some dredging will be done!

And a very pleasant surprise for a change, A kingfisher skirting the water in front of us and landing on the new piling.



At Rushall junction we turned right, onto the Tame Valley Canal which is straight...well almost straight apart from two slight bends it goes on for 3.5 miles and this is where the second of the unwelcome surprises came in.

Rushall Junction

Rushall canal on the left.

This canal takes you alongside the M6 and over the M5


M5 aqueduct.


In the distance I spied one of the narrow sections, This in itself was not unusual because these narrows are all along the Tame Valley and Main line canals. Why they are there I have no idea, maybe someone will enlighten me.


 

Anyway, getting ever nearer I was puzzled by how narrow the channel was. Surely FS won't fit through that!

Time for a think. Ian was below and ignoring my calls. Nothing for it but point FS toward the bank and leave the helm to go find him. Just returned in time to stop FS from a bank collision, got Ian off, he grabbed the boat hook and I waited to see what was to happen.



Ah, now I knew what it was, a stop gate!




As FS went past the gate swung back and because the boat hook was still attached to the gate, the metal hook made a horrible scraping sound on the hull. So much for our efforts in blacking the hull back in June!

We really thought all our troubles would now be over, Get to Ocker Hill, turn left and then ascend the Ryder Green locks. How hard could that be? Hmm, well... more problems was just around the corner and this will be told tomorrow.

And saw this Nuthatch on a feeder.




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