Saturday, 30 November 2013

Detour for Diesel

Yesterday we came down the 21 locks at Wolverhampton. It was a pretty uneventful trip, compared to when we came up the locks, and we didn't see another boat all day.  We stopped in Lock 10 and nipped to the butty wagon, which is always parked just over the bridge, for mid-morning bacon butties.

A bit later on the heavens opened and we got drenched. Thank heavens for waterproofs!

Recently, the locks have been closed while repairs were carried out. CRT said the repairs were at Lock 2 but the only signs of repairs we could see were at Lock 20 (2 from the bottom)

After a short cruise on the Staffs & Worcester, we did a detour up the Shropshire Union Canal. We were running on fumes and by going to Turners at Wheaton Aston we reckon to save around £40 on diesel compared to Birmingham prices.

We finally moored for the night at Brewood. I'm not a great fan of these moorings as there's no internet signal and they're usually full of 'lurkers' and dog shit.  This time was no exception and we both got our boots covered in the stuff and that's despite being moored right opposite the dog bin.  When I took Chico out this morning I had to clear up outside the boat as some dirty sod had let their dog crap in the middle of the path right in front of the bin.

Today has been beautiful and sunny again and we enjoyed our trip to Turner's.  The diesel was 75.9 p/l compared to 95 p/l when we were in Birmingham, and we filled with water and dumped the rubbish before coming back down the Shroppie.

We're moored on the SUCS (Shropshire Union Canal Society) moorings in the middle of nowhere.  The canals are very quiet and in the past 3 days we've only seen 2 other moving boats.

It's been a spectacular sunset so hopefully the weather will be good again tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


On the way to Wolverhampton we were stopped by a cyclist who asked us for a lift through Coseley Tunnel as there had been a landslide which had blocked the towpath. Unfortunately we couldn't oblige, we had nowhere to put his bike as our roof is full of solar panels and bags of coal.

When we got though the tunnel we had to warn a dog walker that the other end was blocked and then Roger phoned CRT.  They claimed to know about the landslide and were adamant that there were warning signs at both ends of the tunnel although there definitely weren't. They promised to send someone out ASAP.

We're now moored in the centre of Wolverhampton ready to go down the locks in the morning.  After lunch we went into the town centre and did a spot of Christmas shopping in the two indoor shopping malls.  If you want any information about Wolverhampton shopping facilities you can find it HERE

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Back in the Black Country

We left Birmingham this morning as planned, going up Smethwick locks and past the Engine Arm where the entrance bridge was being guarded by seagulls.

At Gilbert's Bridge we came across these builder's bags floating in the cut. They were full of the outer sheathing from cables and just waiting to get wrapped around someone's propeller. Roger phoned CRT and they promised to send someone out ASAP to remove them.

We arrived at the Black Country museum, filled up with water and emptied the toilet tank and then moored up for the night.

What kind of dirty disgusting boater was here recently?  There is a large rubbish disposal skip here but these lazy bastards just emptied their kitchen waste beside the moorings!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Birmingham Christmas Markets

We're leaving Birmingham tomorrow, so today we went into town to see the Christmas Markets.

This is the ice skating rink & ferris wheel which have been set up outside the new library.

Children can post their letters to Santa, presumably the man himself will be here closer to Christmas.

We weren't tempted by a take-away Christmas dinner and, judging by the total lack of customers, no-one else was either.

Do chocolate covered fruit kebabs count as part of your five a day?

There was every type of German food and drink you could want


We settled for Bratworst with onions and mustard.....yummy

London for lunch

Yesterday I took the train and went to London to meet some of the ladies from my Breast Cancer Care forum.  Although we come from different parts of the country (and also France and Ireland) we all started chemo at the same time and have helped one another get through it and have become great friends. 

It was lovely to be able to finally put faces to the names
from the left :- Lisa, Karen (all the way from France), Gill, Christine, Elaine, Louise and me

We met at Brasserie Zedel just off Regent Street and as soon as I walked down the stairs I had an amazing sense of deja vu.  It turns out I'd been in the restaurant several years ago with Roger when it was called Atlantic. It only became Brasserie Zedel last year.  The food was excellent and we had a really good time.  Four of us declined dessert and instead went looking for a chocolate shop near Carnaby Street that we'd heard of.

The shop is called "Choccywocckydoodah" and some of their creations were astounding.

 We went upstairs to the cafe and were spoilt for choice.

Louise had a small portion of cappuccino cake

and I had a Tiffin.  Neither of us managed to eat more than a third as they were just too chocolatey.

Roger met me at the station and we got home around 9pm.  I'd had a wonderful day out.  Amazingly the train fare was only £20 return and hopefully I'll be able to go again next time we're in Birmingham.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Old Friends

Yesterday we had a visit from a very good friend. We haven't seen Martin for a while and the boys had plenty of catching up to do.......which just had to take place in the nearest pub!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Back to Brum

Yesterday, we left Hockley Heath and started heading back to Birmingham.

100 yards up the road from Bridge 20 is Wedges Bakery shop and we moored up to go and check it out.

They sell the most enormous Cornish pasties I've ever seen, although Roger managed a whole one with ease. He said it was one of the best he'd ever had. Unfortunately I wasn't impressed with the white loaf I bought. It had a lovely crust but was just like cotton wool inside. The ducks seemed to like it though.

When we got to Shirley Draw Bridge we had a bit of a problem. Roger used the water mate key and followed the instructions, just the same as he'd done the other day, but nothing happened. An error message came on the screen telling him to phone CRT which he then did, but he was unable to get the key out again. Unfortunately it was just past clocking off time for the CRT engineers but we were assured they would be with us first thing this morning and as it was almost dark anyway we reversed and moored for the night beside the pub.  He took the floaty ball keyring off the jammed key so it wasn't obvious to passers by, just in case anyone decided to mess with the bridge overnight. The CRT guys arrived dead on 8am and at first tried to say that it was operator error, but finally conceded that it was probably a fault with the control box and would get it checked out.

They let us through and we've had a lovely day's cruise back into Birmingham.  Although it's bitterly cold the sun has shone all day, highlighting the Autumnal colours.

We've seen lots of squirrels in the past few days and also several kingfishers which have been playing with the boat.  They fly off about 100m in front and then perch on a branch until we draw level and then they're off again. They get to the end of their territory, which is about a mile, and then let us pass and fly off back the other way. They're always too quick for me to photograph though.

After stopping for coal and diesel, we're now back in Birmingham and we'll stay here for a few days before heading down the 21 and onto the Shroppie.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Hockley Heath

We've been moored at Hockley Heath for a couple of days now. It's a nice quiet spot opposite some long term linear moorings and it's given Roger the opportunity to polish the side of the boat.

Yesterday we walked into Hockley Heath village which is about a mile away. We needed a few groceries but the first shop we came to was this McLaren showroom. Roger just stood and dreamed.

This second hand car was for sale at £149,000  - just slightly out of our price bracket.......

As the weather was so nice and sunny today we decided to walk down the locks to take the rubbish and recycling to the CRT depot at Lapworth. We try and walk at least 2 miles every day but by the time we'd had a detour into Lapworth to pick up a few more groceries and then walked back to the boat our pedometer said it was 4.5 miles. 

Chico got a bit of a fright when he went nosying through an open gate. He came face to face with this scarecrow. He wasn't too impressed and gave it a good barking to.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Last week I bought some roast chestnuts from a stall in Birmingham.  They were lovely but very expensive at £2 for 10 nuts so when I saw them for sale in the market at £1.50 for a pound I thought I'd have a go at cooking them in the boat. The top of the fire wasn't hot enough to cook them directly and I wasted the first half pound as they just went rock hard.

I dry roasted the rest on the top shelf of the oven while I was cooking the dinner the other night.  You need to cut a cross in one side to stop them exploding and they took around 30 - 40 mins.  I let them go cold and then reheated them later for half an hour on the top of the stove.  They were delicious, very sweet and nutty, and were the perfect TV snack with a glass of red wine.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Leaving Birmingham

We stayed on the visitor moorings in Cambrian Wharf for a week but as boats started arriving to stay for the winter we decided to go back out onto the main line linear moorings.  CRT charge £9.15 per month per metre of boat length to moor in the wharf but there are no dedicated winter mooring places, no security and no facilities on the pontoons i.e. no electricity or water. The water point is only about 100m away at the service block above farmer's Bridge Locks but I'm afraid that for the £181 a month it would cost us I'd want on-site facilities in case we got frozen in.  It was quite funny watching them vie for the best mooring, as one boat went out for water another nicked their place.

After 2 nights outside the NIA, and to comply with CRT rules for continuous cruisers, we left Birmingham heading towards Stratford.

Just past King's Norton Junction we passed through the stop lock. In the days of private canal companies stop locks were often found at junctions as one canal company tried to protect it's water from it's neighbour and also collect tolls for passage.

The stop lock here at King's Norton is unusual because it has guillotine gates at each end.  These no longer work but CRT have recently spent over £150,000 to renovate them.  It's a shame the graffiti artists couldn't stay away.

Apart from a heavy shower at lunch time the weather has been nice and sunny again.  Granted it's cold and windy but as my granny always told me "there's no wrong weather, just wrong clothes",  so dressed in thermals and snow-boarding pants and jacket I was toasty warm and stayed outside for most of the journey.

The autumn leaves have turned the canal into "leaf soup" again. It doesn't last long but can be a real nuisance as the leaves collect around the propeller and slow the boat down.  I have to say though, that the alterations Roger made to our stern gear earlier in the year seem to be minimising the leaf effect as we don't seem to be having to clear the prop by sticking the boat into reverse gear as often as we used to.

En-route we passed a CRT dredging barge moored up on the off-side. It was full of bicycles, motor bike, scooters and engine blocks. The only thing we didn't see was the ubiquitous shopping trolley.

Some cheerful soul who'd we met in Birmingham yesterday reckons the temperature is going to drop to -7 next week, so with that in mind and "just in case" we stopped at Lyons Boat Yard and stocked up with logs and smokeless fuel.

Chico stayed on the boat (fastened on) to defend it from this little Jack Russell. I'm not sure which dog had the louder bark but they certainly made a racket!

By the time we'd stowed the coal and stopped off at the water point just before Bridge 5 it was starting to go dark.  It looks like we may be in for some frost tonight as it's almost full moon and the sky is extremely clear.  In fact if it stays this clear and there isn't too much light pollution, I may get my telescope out later and have a look at the stars.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Casserole cooked on the fire

I've had a bit of a cock-up with the blog and deleted a post by mistake so I apologise if  this seems a bit familiar.

I'd said how much I love being on the boat in winter as it's so cosy and warm and how I cook casseroles on the fire which means no slaving over a hot stove.

Photo: I love winter on the boat, it's so cosy and warm and the dinner slow cooks on the fire so no slaving over a hot stove :-)

Caroline posted a comment, which also got deleted, asking how long it takes to cook a casserole on the fire. I suppose the answer depends on how hot the fire is at the time, but I usually start it off at lunchtime on the stove to make sure it's boiling before transferring it to the fire where it sits slowly bubbling away all afternoon. We always have the fire banked down during the day, especially if we're travelling, so it really is slow cooking and takes at least 4 hours for a casserole or stew.  My dish is 20cm diameter which is just large enough for two good sized portions and fits nicely on the stove top without overhanging which means it's stable enough to leave there even when travelling.