Saturday 28th August:
Crew: Simon, Ellie, Ralf and Elin.
Aston Lock to Handsacre
Having car-shuffled the night before, and returned at 1am (after getting lost in the dark round Lichfield and Tamworth) Simon and Ralf weren't popular in the morning. Especially when Simon had the crew awake at 8.15 ready for a full day's cruising.
Locks were few and far between, and the miles passed as the crew marvelled at their luck with the weather. We did pass Mike and Krystina Wooding on Draco who were towing a butty northwards. Sunshine was occasionally interrupted by the odd spit of rain from a passing cloud, but the weather held...just. Ellie and Elin had their first canal boat driving experience, with Elin's Swedish sailing experience proving useful with figuring out the steering. Ellie, however, took a little longer to get used to the reverse nature of rudder steering.
Jannock took on water at Great Haywood junction while the girls ventured to the farm-store over the bridge, returning with delicious raspberries. As we moved off, the heavens opened, so a unanimous vote decided to stop for lunch while the rain passed. A delicious quiche and a number of cinnamon rolls later, we moved on, only to find ourselves held up at each and every lock by a slow boat in front. Frustrated, Simon decided, while waiting for Colwich lock, to hover the boat on the wrong-side of the cut while the crew raided the blackberries from the bushes next to the railway - thus untouched by countless walkers beforehand.
We passed the Boaters Christian Fellowship at Taft. Although we didn't stop, Ralf thought it very admirable that the BCF had allocated part of the bank as a "Swan area", although didn't understand how the swans would read the sign to know it was intended for them!
Rugely passed without incident and finally the crew moored in Handsacre, resisting the temptation of the Fish and Chip smell that drifted down the cut. Instead, Simon was making prawn thai curry, but forgot the thai curry spices and the coconut milk (later found in the car) so had to adapt the plans using a jar of Indian Tikka sauce in the cupboard (sorry Mum!).
In the evening, after a few drinks, Ralf (being German, and a huge Uno fan - ask him about his homemade 'Speed Uno'!) discovered Oh-No-99. The rest of the evening passed amid tears of frustration as we (a) kept losing games and (b) slowly lost the ability to count reliably. Elin was judged to be convincingly the most unlucky, managing to play half the time with at least two '99' cards in her hands...
Sunday 29th August
Crew: Simon, Ellie and Ralf.
Sadly, Elin had to return to Manchester, and a few hours were spent in the rain trying to organise her journey back home. Thus, cruising only commenced at 11.30, and so the remaining crew rushed to make good progress, hampered a number of times by heavy showers. Thankfully, full waterproofs were donned and the weather passed by the time we were most of the way down the flight to Fradley Junction. Strong winds meant that Simon crashed into everything possible while trying to navigate the turn onto the Coventry canal.
Frustrated by his less-than-elegant turn and the weather, he suggested that the crew take a break for a visit to the Swan to soak up the history. Sadly, the pub was rammed full of people eating Sunday lunch, but a quiet corner was found in the tardis-like basement. Suddenly, the sun was out again, so we moved outside to the tables around the back, finished our drinks and went back to the boat to make the most of the conditions.
Sadly, the wind picked up leading to several hair-raising 'drive round the corner sideways only to find a boat in a bridgehole immediately in front of you' moments which necessitated drastic action, generally resulting in a cruise under low branches, the crew jumping into the cabin and the driver's hair left full of twigs. Some of the weeping-willows on the Coventry canal need a serious trim! Two miles from Fradley junction, Ellie said "Ah, I've left my expensive coat in the pub..." Thankfully, the Nicholson's guide came to the rescue with the Swan's phone number, so arrangement were made to collect it on Monday.
North of Hopwas, Simon was appalled to see two hire boats moored up in the wood on the off-side, right next to the signs written in big red letters saying "DANGER - LIVE FIRING RANGE. KEEP OUT!" as the children ran off into the woods. Thankfully, the boats must have noticed my critical stares and decided to move on. Ralf and Ellie were pleased to see a traditional working boat and butty also moored in the wood (in a somewhat safer place, thank goodness) before we came into Hopwas. As we passed the visitor mooring, we were told "this is the last mooring for miles" but we continued, to find a 48 hr mooring in the middle of the village. Conveniently, this was about 50m from the Tame Otter pub, which was selected for dinner, drinks, and the venue for teaching Ralf and Ellie how to play Soddit. We then decided to see whether the Red Lion (on the other side of the cut) was worth a look, but the thumping music, "Two meals for £5" offers and the drunken people playing Wii bowling on a big screen put us off. We retired to Jannock for some more drinks and another game of Soddit.
Monday 30th August
Crew: Simon, Ellie and Ralf.
Monday heralded a beautiful sunny day, without a cloud in the sky: in fact the largest object available to obscure the sun was actually the moon! We left Hopwas fairly early, hoping to reach Atherstone before it got too late, but as soon as we reached Tamworth bottom lock, found ourselves in a queue. After proceeding through the Tamworth locks, Ellie and Ralf proceeded to perfect their driving skills as we headed back into the countryside, dodging low hanging trees, and boats steaming towards bridge-holes with ease. Finally, we arrived at the final challenge: Atherstone flight. We were due to do a pumpout before hitting the flight, but the sanny station at Grendon, below Atherstone flight, didn't cater for self-pump systems. Never mind - it can be done at the top of the flight...
Since we were now running behind schedule, it was agreed that we should attack the flight while snacking at regular intervals, and then eat an early dinner before heading home. By this time, the lock crew was a well oiled machine, and we kept having to wait for the boat ahead of us to leave the lock in front. After about 2 hours, the 11 locks were completed, and Simon went to find the sanny station across the way from the top lock. However, according to the resident of the lock-keeper's cottage, this station also is unsuitable for self-pumpout, as the connection to the main sewer system has been removed. He said that the official reason for this was because careless use kept leaving it blocked, but he strongly suspected that it was simply a ploy to force self-pumping crews to spend money at boatyards to have the deed done... If that's true, that's practically criminal!
Eventually, the tired (and slightly sunburnt) crew made it to Hartshill. Simon and Ralf had - lost on the car shuffle late on Friday night - parked Simon's car in the wrong place, and so Simon wandered a further half a mile down the cut to the Anchor pub to collect it. After cleaning, tidying and packing up, it was time to leave. Just as Simon was locking up, he found the suncream...
Thank you for a pleasant weekend. We hope to see Jannock again soon!
Edited by Graham