Thursday 27 September 2018

Fazeley Mill Marina

Today's Canal - Birmingham & Fazeley

Yet another bright start to the day -Mike was off in good time this morning (well, nine o'clock anyway) for the short run back to the marine. We filled the water tank at the public point just outside the marina entrance as by now the washing machine was doing its stuff and we were somewhat low.

Moving inside, we first paused at the service wharf as we not only needed the sani station but also a replacement gas bottle. That done, and our mooring fees paid, we were directed to our allotted place. This is probably the first time we have been into a marina with multi-boat pontoons - they do take a little care in manoeuvring especially as we opted (as it seemed most but not all of the other boats had done) to reverse. At least that will mean and easier getaway in a fortnight's time.

The person in charge of the marina as well as several of the long stay moorers all proved very chatty and Mike had to get away to do the car shuffle. His advance research had shown that there was a  choice between taking a bus into Tamworth (with about 8 minutes walk either end and train via Rugby) or to Wilnecote (with 25 minutes walk and train via Birmingham New Street). The fares are the same either way.

Local advice was firmly in favour of the walk to Wilnecote even if the time was somewhat underestimated!

The walking route to the station is straightforward and Mike ended up with a twenty minute wait before the train arrived (on time). The only problem was that there was no ticket machine at the station and the train manager opted not to check tickets. As a result Mike had to buy it at New Street which is never a speedy process. The new layout at New Street seems to involve passing through ticket barriers umpteen times - well at least three, or was it four? A quick dash to WHSmith for  a paper an a 'meal deal' meant that Mike jumped onto the train with less than a minute to spare!

On the way he phoned the taxi company we used when collecting the car from Gayton and a car was ready and waiting at the bottom of the steps as he arrived at the station. A few minutes and only £10 later he was deposited at Weltonfield - the driver was very keen to make sure he dropped off right next to the car even though this meant driving around the basin to the far side!

The journey back was almost uneventful except that the exit from the M6 is currently surrounded by road works ('upgrading to a smart motorway') and the temporary lane signs seemed at odds with the permanent ones wit h the result that Mike came off at the wrong place. Luckily this did not cause much delay as the A road runs parallel to the motorway until the correct intersection. Part of the reason is that, having once inadvertently taken the M6 Tool - a fee and a long diversion - he is now paranoid about this particular intersection which at times seems to be intent on enticing drivers onto the toll road regardless!

Meanwhile, Christine had just about completed the laundry and cleaning that she had planned, although chatty neighbours kept interrupting her in order to tell her their life stories!

Later in the afternoon we drove a shirt distance to the nearest Morrisons for a few items, re-stock our cleaning materials as well as rolls for our journey home tomorrow.

That's it - sorry, no photos this time.

1.8 Miles - 0 Locks

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Drayton Bassett

Today's Canals - Coventry, Birmingham & Fazeley

Yet another bright blue sky greeted us as we awoke and then set off at our usual time.

Soon we passed a small farm with a eclectic mixture of animals -more alpacas - as well as this poser!

We continued for a little further until we saw in the distance a church tower. Not sure where it was, this caused us to look at the map and realise that we were approaching the village of Polesworth, a place that hitherto we have always passed by. However, just after passing under the last of the bridges into the village we saw a good visitor mooring and so we pulled in and opted to walk into the village.

At a number of locations around the village there are stones which have attached to them inscriptions relating to the history of the place. This one recalls that until the middle of the 20C, coal mining was a very important part of the local economy and that miners made up much of the population.

The village borders on the River Anker with the road bridge across - the village had expanded substantially on the opposite side of the river.

It turns out that Polesworth was an important historical place - this building was once Nethersole School, founded in 1638 by Sir Francis Nethersole although this front part was re-built in 1818. The school closed in 1970 and quite recently has been converted into apartments.

The village once boasted a large abbey and nunnery but fell, as so many did, to Henry VIII's dissolution and land grab. The gatehouse, however, remains. For a long time the abbey kept it as luxury rooms for offering hospitality to wealthy visitors (who might then donate money to the abbey!) It was returned to this purpose in 2010 when it was converted into two holiday apartments.

The present parish church was formed from a part of the earlier abbey church, much of which was demolished. The gravestones around the outside paint the usual picture of people who either lived to a considerable age or who died very young - alas there were far more of the latter than we are accustomed to today. This one, from 1946, came just before the rapid improvements in facilities for childbirth and the reduction in perinatal mortality.

Inside, the church is very spacious and the windows, on a day like today, let in lots of light.

One unusual feature is a modern icon entitled The Raising of Jairus Daughter. It was commissioned from a Romanian painter Tatiana Nichita after a visit to the abbey in 2004.

The vicarage is adjacent to the church and was rebuilt in 1870 incorporating parts of an older building on the site. The nearest part is now the Refectory which is regularly opened to welcome visitors and we had a cup of coffee there. Several short videos have been made to explain the history of the abbey and the gatehouse, using local people as the characters. Someone kindly turned on the display so that we could watch some of them. Christine recognised at least one of the ladies in a group sitting at the next table. She commented and they were highly delighted and very amused to watch themselves - it seems that they have not really looked at them recently!

We then walked back to the boat a slightly different route. This plaque lists a number of well known historical figures from the village, including Inigo Jones and John Donne. There is a local belief that William Shakespeare attended the village school.

Two other interesting facts we found later: although the place still refers to itself as a village, its population is nearly 8500, more a market town. Although it still retains its station, it only has a single Parliamentary Train each day (see) to avoid a formal closure process.

We set off and passed through some rather pretty countryside - almost impossible to realise that huge coal mines once dominated the landscape.

At Alvecote there is a large distribution centre for cpl, well known around many marinas, chandleries and other places that supply boats with their fuel. We could see a pair of working boats moored alongside and assumed, from a distance, that they were loading up bags to take on their travels but as we passed we realised that they were unloading onto the wharfside. This web page gives some interesting detail.

After a break for lunch we continued through the outskirts of Tamworth until we arrived at the two Glascote Locks which we came through quite speedily -other boats happened to arrive at just the right time!

The canal then passes on an aqueduct over the River Tame. This is the largest tributary of the River Trent which it joins at Alrewas.

At Fazeley we turned left onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Immediately after passing under Watling Street bridge we spotted on the right a large building - was it once a church or did it have an industrial past? It was originally a Methodist Church and an interesting recollection can be found here.

Shortly afterwards we passed a recognisable boat: nb Jubilee, whose blog is on our watch list and we met briefly on the Middle Level earlier in the summer.

We would not have repeated a picture of the cute Drayton Footbridge but we have not seen the associated swing bridge in use before. A couple of cyclists closed it just after we passed through - presumably the bicycles cannot readily be taken up the steps of the footbridge. At least it seemed to move quite smoothly.

We pulled in just outside Fazeley Mill Marina so that we could check out our booking for tomorrow - we plan to leave the boat here for a couple of weeks whilst we return home but we had had a little difficulty contacting them originally and only had a voicemail message to say that it was OK.

There was still a little of the sunny afternoon left and where we had pulled in was overshadowed by trees - and no possibility of tv. So we decided to continue down the Birmingham and Fazeley to the next winding hole at the bottom of the Curdworth Locks.

We returned half way back to the marina and opted for an overnight mooring alongside RSPB's Middleton Nature Reserve. After tying up, Christine took a walk around the lakes which are formed from a string of former gravel pits along the Tame Valley.

.7 Mikes - 2 Locks

Tuesday 25 September 2018


Today's Canal - Coventry

When we awoke at just after four this morning the very full moon was shining brightly in a clear sky.

Our camera is not really up to this sort of picture but, with some extreme image processing we had sufficient to give an impression of how amazing it was.Luckily we both went back to sleep quite quickly after this diversion.

We we awoke properly we found another amazing day, weather-wise. This is the same view as the moonlit one but with a bright blue sky (and no image processing!)

We set off as usual with a level pound until Atherstone. Along the way we passed through Hartshill, once a major maintenance yard for the canal company anmd still retained for some works.

A little further we passed these remains of a a former quarry with what looks like the heaps of waste material piled up above. The quarry does not appear on OS maps until the 1930's and so cannot have had a particularly long life.

The other side of the accommodation bridge that led to the quarry there are some current development works but we have so far not found out what is happening - other than several industrial units are being put up and extensive piling alongside the canal.

The next site along is an odd combination: Harvey's Joinery & Boatbuilders with Towpath Alpacas! We did not see any signs of boats being built at the moment, but the unit is till operational and we managed to catch sight of one or two alpacas!

We both remarked as we cruised alonmg that this stretch of the Coventry Canal is much prettier and peaceful than we recalled - but perhaps too many of our previous visits here have been in the rain! In any event, all of the run down former industrial sites have all but been re-developed and there are few eyesores to blight the landscape.

Apart, that is from this building just before the locks. Apparently it is now listed and dates back into the 19C. Known as the Britannia Woks it was the base for Wilson and Stafford's hat factory (one of the main industries for which Atherstone became famous) which closed in 1999, bringing an end to that tradition. A developer is seeking permission for plans to develop the building into apartments.

There were four volunteer lock keepers on duty today and all were most helpful indeed.

At the top lock they are trying to keep score: our passage was given a mark just after taking this photo.

Much of the top half of the flight is in leafy tree lined pounds.

The last lock keeper we met was at Lock 5, the one that givers access to the town. The boat coming up was a single hander, determined to do everything without help and in his own particular way. The volunteer was a model of customer service and just gracefully moved away when his offer of help was declined. (However, he did have an interesting conversation with Christine who was still waiting at the lock above!)

We tied up on the visitor moorings below this lock where A5 bypass bridge passes over the canal.We locked up and walked under the railway bridge to the main street. This is the alignment of the old Watling Street. The railway was originally constructed with a level crossing over the road. As traffic increased on both the intersection became a bone of contention between different authorities. Whilst the level crossing continued as the main route, a small underpass was in place some time before 1887. A diversion of the A5 over a bridge was built in the early part of the 20C and later replaced by the present bypass bridge which still has otherwise strange alignments of roads linking into the town. (see)

The main road through the town centre follows the route of the Roman road and is both wide and at one time was very handsome. Many of the buildings can be seen to have grand uses in the past - some still do. However, most of the retail outlets are small specialist shops or little cafes.

According to an information board, the Albert Hall was built by public subscription in 1876 as a mission hall. It could accommodate 500 people for prayer or public meetings and was intended as an alternative meeting place to the many pubs which flourished in the town.  What caught our eye was its present use: it is now known as the Kingdom Gym. Not sure if the original subscribers would enjoy the pun!

We walked back across Market Square - there were just a few stalls today and we just picked up a large bag of cherry tomatoes.

We wanted to visit the parish church - we came here at Easter 2016 and found it very run down but with an enthusiastic new assistant curate. What a difference we found just two and a half years later. The curate was licensed as the vicar earlier this month.

Not only has a heritage lottery grant enabled major repairs and the whole church can be used once more, it also provided a number of excellent information panels. The small back area that was the only part in use in 2016 is now a community and heritage cafe that attracts many who would not otherwise visit.

There is a special exhibition about local people who lost their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict. Portrait photos are combined with short biographies - many show how so many ordinary and poor people from large families were drawn in and often lasted a very short time at the front.

It was also evident that there are lots of different things happening - worship looks as if it has been transformed.

We walked back down the main street to the large Co-Op next to the station. We did not have a lot to get but we should now only need the usual basics of milk, bread and papers until we return home. outside the store we spotted this statue that depicts and adult and child taking part in the famous annual Ball Game in the town which has been held each Shrove Tuesday for the past 800 years. Both figures wear hats to celebrate the hatting and felting industries and the child stands on a pile of books.

When we returned to the boat we had a rather late lunch and it was three o'clock before we recommenced our descent of the locks. In the next pound a soft offside bank repair is underway.

We have been particularly struck with the quantity of red hawthorn berries that decorate the towpath hedges.

Eventually we emerged from the bottom of lock 11. We continued the short distance to Grendon Services where we stopped briefly to use the sani station. Time then to look for a mooring and we found somewhere that looked as if it would yield a tv signal - not easy as much of the canal here is edged with substantial trees and shrubs.

7.1 Miles - 11 Locks