Blog

Lunar Eclipse

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We were tied up at Audlem on our latest trip, and I decided to get up in the middle of the night to watch the lunar eclipse. It was well worth the effort. I took a few photos with my compact digital camera, more in hope than expectation, and this one came out fairly sharp. Just goes to show that I still have a steady hand. It did make getting up the next morning a little more difficult though. It’s a good job that most folk don’t want a coal delivery at six in the morning.

It has been another hectic month or so for us. Pete Hawker took Roach up the Macclesfield Canal for us via Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent, and was accompanied by his lad, Rowan. In the old days, Rowan would have been working full-time by now, but it seems that he still has some time at school to do. No wonder chimney sweeps have to charge so much these days. Jenny and I met them at the top of Bosley Locks to take over Roach for the remainder of the trip whilst Pete and Rowan returned in our van. We had brought a top-up of coal in the van together with our clothing etcetera, but somehow managed to leave the bag containing all Jennys’ clothes in the van. This meant that I could go out to the pub at night, but Jenny couldn’t. She was not a happy bunny, and did not appreciate my humorous comments and suggestions about borrowing my y-fronts.

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The next trip was a tour of the Black Country; Tipton, Withymoor Island and Hawne Basin amongst the list of picturesque destinations achieved. The Noahs Ark and the Fountain are on the approved list of fine drinking establishments in Tipton, and no visit to Withymoor Island is complete without a trip to see mine host, Tim, at Ma Pardoe’s in Netherton. We decided to get to Netherton from Tipton via Brades Locks, not a route that we generally use, but it was a nice evening so that was that. The bridge below the staircase locks has had the very low girders removed, which means that the risk of banging ones head is much reduced. Our passage down The Brades was very pleasant, in fact it was almost rural, as the adjacent photo shows - not really a true reflection of the surroundings at all.

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The canal down to Hawne Basin, Halesowen, is like boating through the nineteen-fifties; run-down factories and the “Brickhouse Estate” adding to the ambience. I prefer my canals like this, unspoilt by modern planning ideals, and generally unadorned with pointless signage. The one feature of this canal that is memorable for every traveller on this route is Gorsty Hill Tunnel. This is little more than a glorified drain-pipe through which one must travel to get to Hawne Basin. 

We seemed to spend a lot of time underground on this trip - twice through Gorsty Hill, and twice through Netherton Tunnel. The passage through Netherton Tunnel is still affected by the heap of spoil almost certainly left by contractors employed to grout behind a section of tunnel wall. We bounced over this on our return journey, but the rocking and rolling whilst fairly well loaded on our out-bound leg was quite alarming. You never know, maybe CRT will get around to supervising contractors one day, and this sort of complaint will be a thing of the past. I’m not holding my breath.

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The Narrow Boat Trust pair, Nuneaton and Brighton, were loaded as soon as we returned to the yard, and they departed for the Thames, taking in the Working-Boat Gathering at the Black Country Museum on the way. The Narrow Boat Trust is a fine organisation which operates a pair of large "Grand-Union” boats. They are always on the look-out for new members, and especially new members who would like to crew the boats on their two coal-runs per year. This is a brilliant opportunity to experience first hand the trials, tribulations and satisfaction that can be gained from working properly loaded boats over long distances. Find out more on their website here.

Jim Taylors' Empress was also loaded with coal to provide extra capacity for our next trip. This involved a trip to the Bell for food and beer, mob handed with the Taylors and the Braines; Ian Braine and son George leaving with Empress the next morning. We should catch Empress up tomorrow - hopefully.

We then set off on Roach for all points North, having loaded with a larger than usual 21.25 tonnes of coal. The going was predictably slow on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, but we were not actually brought to a halt anywhere until the stop-gates beyond Wolverhampton Boat Club on the Shropshire Union Canal. We had quite a few runs at this obstruction before a following vessel offered to assist by “snatching” us through on the end of a rope. 


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A night in the Hartley Arms at Wheaten Aston, followed by a couple of pints in the Junction Inn at Norbury, and an evening at the Anchor made for a very convivial and entertaining couple of days, but the highlight was finding a “lost soul’ on the towing-path at Brewood. Keith Brown, for it was he, master of polite conversation and genteel living, was concerned that we had forgotten to leave him any coal. As if we would dare risk the eloquent tirade likely had we omitted to deliver his means of keeping his barley wine at the critical temperature necessary for optimum enjoyment!

And so, onward, to Audlem. There’s an eclipse tonight, or last night - or something.

coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014