Day 57: Leeds or bust!

August 30th, 2010

Kevin came out for a Sunday afternoon jaunt from Wakefield to Leeds. It started easily enough, getting into the boatyard over the wall and getting away without being arrested…

At Fall Ing Lock the Calder and Hebble joins the Aire and Calder Navigation. The lock was occupied by two boats when we arrived, but wouldn’t equalise – it took three of us to push the gate open.
We carried on to Stanley Ferry where we stopped for a pump-out and lunch. The pumpout here also has a stupidly short hose but fortunately it just reached.
The A&C is a big, big navigation, with huge power-operated locks. On a weekend there are no lock-keepers but it’s easy enough to work the locks. Unfortunately, the lock-moorings are not placed sensibly and with the high winds (gusting 40mph!) I managed to spanner Innocenti sideways into a line of moored boats, prompting some shouts of “you bloody idiot” or words to that effect. Honestly, what’s with placing long-term moorings right at the approach to locks? BW seem to do it in all sorts of places (Hatton Top Lock is my particular un-favourite, as there’s almost nowhere to stop and wait for the lock), best stop grumbling before I turn into a correspondent for Narrowboatworld.

At Castleford we turned left and headed through the flatlands of relandscaped collieries and up towards Leeds. At Woodlesford Lock I stopped on the right-hand landing and tied Innocenti with the centre line while Kevin went to drain the lock. As I stood and waited, suddenly the bows was drawn out by the wash from the paddles, and the centre line caused the boat to heel sharply to starboard. There was a loud crash from the cabin, and Kevin hit the emergency stop to close the paddles. I got alongside again, tied up using bow and stern lines, and went inside. Most of my crockery had escaped the cupboards during the roll, but the final casualty list was just two sideplates and two cereal bowls! Lucky…
According to the lock-keeper, who surfaced shortly afterwards, this does happen from time to time, but no-one seems to have seen fit to erect a warning sign…

We motored on into Leeds and finally moored in the very smart new Clarence Dock development (the smartest visitor moorings ever, with water and power at the piers!) and went for an excellent curry.

Day 57, Wakefield to Leeds, 17 miles and 11 locks.
Total so far 583 miles and 496 locks.

Day 56: Awkwardness

August 30th, 2010

Innocenti’s alternator hasn’t been quite right since Manchester. I thought it was a fan belt problem at first, and indeed the fan belt was very difficult to get tight – but successive modifications (the final one being in Huddersfield, with Richard doing battle with the awkward nuts and bolts) have resolved that problem. Unfortunately the fault remains – the alternator and rev counter work for a few seconds when the engine is first started from cold, and then give up. After a certain amount of poking about we concluded that the internal electronics in the alternator had given up – either the regulator or the diodes or both. So I’ve been relying on running the generator each morning and evening to top up the batteries. Anyway, in Mirfield we decided to go on to Wakefield and see about getting a specialist to look at the alternator. We also needed a pump-out fairly urgently. A mile down the cut is a boatyard – “Shepley Bridge Marina” – where we stopped to get a pumpout. Sadly his hose was too short to reach Innocenti’s tank (honestly, boatyard owners, will another few metres of suction hose break the bank?) and we had to press on. We went to Wakefield, enjoying the broad navigation, and moored up at Wakefield Wharf – we’d met the owner on the Hudds Narrow and he’d offered us a weekend mooring. When we came to leave the yard we found it was locked! Some entertaining wall-climbing allowed us out into town and I was fortunately also able to get back in…

Day 56: 9 miles and 10 locks.

Day 55: Diagon Alley

August 30th, 2010

No, I haven’t been giving a lift to a certain famous young wizard, but have instead been experiencing the delights of the Yorkshire waterways. This started with the Huddersfield Broad Canal, a rather unsung waterway that links the aforementioned town with the river Calder at Cooper Bridge. It features nine short fat locks – 57′ x 14′. Those that have been paying attention will remember that Innocenti is 59′ long, so some careful navigating was required. You go in at a slight angle, with the bows tucked in behind one of the bottom gates and the stern in the centre of the lock, since the cill is concave and you get more length there. Once the lock equalises you open the other bottom gate and use your bow thruster (thanks Richard!) to pull the bows across into the open gate. With a 60′ boat it is apparently sometimes necessary to wind the boat before the lock flight and go down backwards!
At Cooper Bridge there is a rather tricky junction – you turn left out of the Hudds Broad and go upstream before making what turns out to be a 170-degree turn to enter the navigation cut… the sharpness of the turn isn’t immediately apparent until it’s too late, and we hit the bank. Oh well, nothing was damaged.

The Calder and Hebble Navigation is also designed for the same “Yorkshire Craft” as the Hudds Broad, except for bonus points a lot of the paddlegear is operated by a “handspike” – a piece of stout wood – which you insert into the ratchet wheel to raise the paddle. It’s very slow, and on a lot of the locks conventional paddlegear has been fitted as well. My handspike has now joined my national collection of obscure lock-operating equipment, but will doubtless be deployed next time I have to repel boarders, as it’s a seriously heavy blunt instrument.

We moored in Mirfield, on a pleasant little navigation cut.

Day 55: 5 miles and 11 locks.
Thesis 15579 words and 85 pages (thanks to some pagination and adding acknowledgements and contents table…)

Days 53 and 54: down 42…

August 25th, 2010

“The Huddersfield Narrow Canal isn’t so much a canal as two lock-flight seperated by this pig of a tunnel” — Steve Haywood, in “Narrowboat Dreams”.

We stayed overnight outside the visitor centre at the east end of the tunnel, and were told that the flight down would open at 8am. In the event, there were four boats ahead of us in the queue and it wasn’t until 9:15 that we were going down the flight. The first ten locks have very short pounds, so two BW lockies keep an eye on everything and help out while you use them. We stopped about four locks down because a boat ahead had flooded one pound – it took a little while to sort out. By 1030 we’d descended to the reservoir at Sparth, where we offered the lockies tea (milk and two please) and then pressed on to Slaithwaite. The aforementioned town goes by a variety of pronunciations, none of which is the way it’s spelled (slay-thwaite) – I’ve heard “sluthwaite”, “slow-it” and “slaw-it” from locals, though “slow-it” seems the most popular. There are 21 locks from Tunnel End to Slowit and some of them are Hard Work. Locks that leak is a speciality of the Huddersfield, especially those that leak into the surrounding ground and thus leak outwards into the canal through the wing embankments when full. There are also car-wash locks which spraywater down the length of the boat from between the stones.
A particularly awkward lock is Shuttle Lock, just at the edge of Slowit, which has been given an East Anglian style guillotine gate because the adjacent bridge is now too wide to allow for a mitre gate. This gate has a paddle in it, which amused me (call us stupid, but down in the Fens we’ve realised you can just raise a guillotine a bit to let the water out, you don’t need a paddle) but its operation is with a windlass via a series of mechanical and hydraulic gearboxes. It’s a dispiriting thing to wind, and takes forever. Anyway, we moored up just below it, next to the tearoom-narrowboat “Pennine Moonraker”, and I did some work while Richard went shopping. He also did a recce, and discovered much nicer visitor moorings two locks down. We went down and moored up, and I found Sluthwaite/Slowit to be a very nice little town indeed, and with everything for the passing boater right there on the canalside: sanitary station, bakery, greengrocer, butcher/piemonger, car parts shop, laundrette, chippy, pub. Ashby’s chippy comes highly recommended – £3.75 for fish and chips, cooked fresh, very tasty and free scraps and tartar sauce! In the laundrette I met two other boaters, Bruce and Kirsty, from “Pipistrelle”, and it turns out that Bruce owns a boatyard in Wakefield. A Useful Man To Know, definitely…

Day 53: Marsden to Slaithwaite, 4 miles and 21 locks.

Today I’ve done a far chunk of thesising this morning and then Richard and I have plodded on down 21 locks to Huddersfield. I can say that some of the locks were even harder work than before, especially the ones further down (9E – 5E, I think) which have improbably stiff paddles on the bottom gates. For bonus points, the anti-vandal system on the locks in Huddersfield itself (4E – 1E) is operated using a BW Yale key rather than the usual device – unlike all the rest of the locks on the flight. The new tunnels under the engineering works’ built over the canal are interesting and rather spooky, especially as they’re both curved!

On arriving at the bottom lock, some swift arithmetic revealed that we had done 101 locks since leaving Castlefield in Manchester (9 on the Rochdale, 18 on the Ashton, 32 on the west side of the Huddersfield and 42 on the east side) and that Lock 1E of the Huddersfield Narrow was the last narrow lock until the staircase at Foxton, south of Leicester!

Day 54: Slaithwaite to Huddersfield, 5 miles and 21 locks.
Total so far: 552 miles and 464 locks. Thesis 14565 words and 65 pages.

Day 52: Standedge Tunnel

August 23rd, 2010

There was a misunderstanding this morning. I went outside at about 9am to fiddle with the fan belt tension once again, and found that the other two boats on the mooring had gone. This made me nervous, as I didn’t think I was expected up the flight until 1130, and Richard was due to arrive by train around then. I called Standedge visitor centre – apparently I needed to be at the tunnel portal at 1130 for my 1330 passage! Oh.

Some urgent singlehanding followed, up the eight locks to the tunnel mouth, and Richard arrived as I was mid-way up. At the tunnel, the BW man took one look at my chimney and said “that won’t fit”. Some minor surgery followed – by removing the stovepipe inside and pushing the chimney down, we got it down to the height of the handrails relatively easily. We were also advised to remove the navigation lights, which was simple enough.
Finally, at about a quarter to two, the BW team were ready. Terry accompanied us on the boat, and Brian would drive the van along the old railway tunnel alongside and check on our progress.
Standedge is very interesting – lots of it is hewn from bare rock, and the tunnel changes shape every hundred metres or so. At regular intervals there are cross-passages to the disused and active railway tunnels, so you feel the rushes of air caused by trains passing through, and there are all sorts of interesting chambers formed where the tunnels connect. The tunnel is three miles long, and 637ft below the moorland above – and 645 feet above sea level (and don’t I know it, all those locks!). It took seventeen years to build, using hand drills and gunpowder for blasting.

About two-thirds of the way through, Terry pointed out a plaque on the wall put there by the tunnel-keepers of the 1940s. As I looked, Innocenti slewed briefly to the right and we hit an inconveniently-placed outcrop in the wall. Crunch. 20 tonnes of boat came to a halt rather suddenly, and once we emerged from the tunnel it became clear that we’d stove-in a section of the overhang at the front of the cabin – nothing structural, fortunately. We’re spending the night here at Marsden and will go down the locks to Slaithwaite tomorrow.

Day 52: Dobcross to Marsden, 5 miles and 8 locks (of which 3 miles were underground).
Total so far 543 miles and 422 locks. Thesis 13496 words and 69 pages.

Days 49-51: climbing the Pennines

August 22nd, 2010

Wednesday was spent going to Ashton-under-Lyne from Manchester. It took all day, it always does. At least it didn’t rain much.

Day 49: Castlefield to Portland Basin, 7 miles and 27 locks (phew!).

Thursday was more interesting, going up the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Apart from a false start (the boat ingested a large anorack into the propeller, necessitating a ten-minute weedhatch session), the locks were mostly easy to operate and the canal remarkably free of boats. The first few locks in Ashton are a bit grim, and the bit through Stalybridge is trying quite hard to de-regenerate itself (with weeds growing through the new block paving), but once beyond Stalybridge the canal becomes rural and tranquil, climbing the Tame Valley amid huge banks of sweet-smelling Himalayan Balsam. A word to the wise – you can’t moor just anywhere on the Huddersfield, it’s shallow and has a stupid underwater ledge, like the Shroppie. In particular, you can’t moor anywhere near the railway station at Greenfield. You can moor between lock 21W and Clogger Knoll Bridge (48 hour moorings), and on the towpath just beyond Clogger Knoll Bridge. The final moorings (room for about 4 boats) are just below Lock 24W, which is the highest you can go without a tunnel booking.

Day 49: Portland Basin to Uppermill, 6 miles and 21 locks.

Today I’ve moved the short distance from Uppermill to lock 24W in Dobcross, ready for the tunnel passage tomorrow. Note that the top paddlegear on lock 23W is improbably stiff and the paddles don’t open more than half way. You need a long throw windlass or superhuman strength or both.

Day 50: Uppermill to Wool Road, 1 mile and 2 locks.

Day 48: up the Big Ditch, avoiding huge ships

August 22nd, 2010

We got up early, having been warned by the lock-keeper at Dutton that his colleagues would probably arrive early to operate the lock for us. True to form, they arrived just after 8am. Weston Marsh Lock has seen better days, and the chain drive to the top gates has broken, so the poor BW guys drag it open with a Tirfor portable winch and a steel cable. We locked down, and I called the Ship Canal’s control office at Eastham on the radio. Much to my surprise, they answered (my radio’s only a little 5W handheld and we were very low to the ground) and said that we were clear to go. They also wrong-footed me by asking for an ETA at Latchford Locks, and I fumbled with the charts and guessed 2 hours time.

Then the gates were opened and off we went into the massive basin formed by the junction of the Weaver with the Ship Canal. Keeping in the marked channel was easy enough, and a line of bright yellow buoys showed that we needed to keep clear of the sluices that let the Weaver out into the Mersey beyond. Once everything calmed down, it became clear that the MSC was going to be fine – it was a clear, sunny, calm day, the canal was wide but not enormous (it’s no bigger than the Thames) and everyone was helpful. We passed Runcorn Docks and saw two ships: a smaller craft being loaded with salt and a larger tanker, the Stolt Kittiwake, both safely moored up at the quay. Beyond Runcorn the canal becomes very quiet – just embankments covered in brambles – until we arrived at Latchford Locks in Warrington.

Locks on the MSC are paired – one very large lock and one smaller one – but at Latchford and the other locks we were directed to the ship lock. The locks do have intermediate gates to save a bit of water though! The lock walls are very high – at least 5m above water level – and it’s quite hard to see what’s going on up top as you maneuver. We stopped where we were directed, and the lock-keepers let down ropes to us at both ends – we tied on our special 50′ ropes and they pulled them up. Then another vessel came in behind us – the MSC Company’s maintenance boat “Buffalo”. Being regulars, they didn’t tie up, just bobbed around in the lock about 20m behind us, with the occasional burst of engine power to keep them in place. The locks fill very gently – after all, you wouldn’t want to bounce a seagoing ship around – and from the side, much as the 1930s Grand Union locks do. The gates, interestingly, are powered by the original water-hydraulic system much beloved of Victorian engineers, so the whole thing operates in total silence – the electric motors pumping the water are hidden away in the accumulator towers, so the gates open and close absolutely silently.

What surprised me is that we attracted a crowd. Latchford Lock, despite being part of a still-working port, is a public place. People cross the lock-gates and sluices on foot and on bikes, and stand around on the lockside just as they would in a smaller canal. A guy on a bike chatted to me, turned out he owned a boat on the Bridgewater canal but had never yet seen a narrowboat on the Ship Canal…

Buffalo called us on the radio – could they pass us? Yes, no problem – they left us for dust while we were still tied up. On we went to the next locks at Irlam, passing through the petrochemicals berth at Partington, where you have to turn off all your gas appliances, and admiring the rather fine graffiti. Crews have painted their vessels’ names on the piers, and in the middle of one is a much older slogan saying “God Bless our Sovereign”!

As we approached Irlam locks we passed Buffalo tied up at the wharf (having lunch) and then the radio crackled into life – Buffalo’s master was calling another vessel (“Daisy”) saying “we’ve got the narrowboat, they’re just passing us”. We caught a glimpse of something big-ish, presumably Daisy, as the lock gates closed – they turned around and went back towards Partington- and further research has revealed that there’s a pusher tug called “Daisy Dorado” that operates the ship canal’s container shuttle barge between Irlam to Liverpool, carrying wine for Tesco amongst other cargoes.

The next stretch, from Irlam to Barton is again pretty quiet, though we did see the remains of various wharves, including those that were once used to load Manchester’s sewage sludge into barges for dumping in the Irish Sea before that practice became illegal. Eastham said that there was no traffic above Irlam today so we didn’t have to worry about meeting other vessels.

Beyond Barton you start getting into the urban area, passing under the M60 and then shortly under the famous Swing Aqueduct. Sadly, there wasn’t a narrowboat on it to wave to at the time, though we did see one crossing it later!

Around the final bend towards Manchester and we pass the wharves used for cereals, cement and scrap metal, and finally to Mode Wheel Locks, who weren’t ready for us. I held Innocenti carefully against the large pier below the lock while they let the water out for us. Once through the lock, we suddenly went through an invisible dividing line which separates the scruffy-and-still-working canal and docks from the shiny and regenerated Salford Quays. We nipped round No 9 Dock to look at the new Media City building site (the new BBC Manchester buildings) and then the phone rang – it was a guy called Eric, who would operate the final lock of the day. We bid farewell to the Ship Canal and locked up through Pomona Lock into the Bridgewater Canal, which felt very small by comparison! We went on and moored at Castlefield and played hunt-the-water-point (for my future reference, there are two water points at Castlefield – one on the left just under the railway viaduct where you can’t see it, and one more awkwardly on the right next to the line of moored residential boats and the locked swing bridge).

A good day all round. I would say to my fellow boaters that the Manchester Ship Canal is well worth a visit, and that the complexities and costs shouldn’t put you off. The full details of the preparatory work is in my previous post, but here are a few hints:

  • Get a VHF radio, even if it’s only to listen to – you can at least hear the other traffic talking to Eastham. To maintain full VHF contact with Eastham you will, however, need a proper vessel-mounted radio – the range isn’t far enough on a handheld. The locks have radio in their offices, but only at Latchford did the lock respond to my VHF call – the locky had a portable on his belt.
  • If it’s a nice day, tape the Admiralty chart to the cabin roof with masking tape so you can read it easily. If you’re feeling efficient, plot your position on it every hour, just like a real ship would do!
  • The IWA’s navigation notes are quite out-of-date now, though they contain some useful hints. You should ignore everything anyone tells you about needing to throw a rope up to the lock-keepers, though – they’ll let a line down to you, which is much easier
  • On the subject of ropes, longer is definitely better. The minimum is fifty feet (15m), but we had 20m at both ends and still the lock-keepers had issues attaching to their bollards in some of the locks. If I did it again I’d be tempted to bend the long rope onto my existing mooring ropes to gain a bit of extra slack.
  • The locks fill gently and have very smooth brick walls. You don’t need to worry about being thrown around by the currents
  • It is expensive. The ship canal costs £125, plus £22 for Pomona Lock if your boat isn’t Bridgewater registered. The Admiralty charts are £21.50, plus postage. A survey should cost £30. All told, I spent a shade over £200, including buying a second long rope as I already had one.
  • Wear lifejackets, not least because it gives the impression to the MSC staff that you’re taking it seriously. Interestingly, MSC lockies don’t wear lifejackets, though BW and EA ones do…
  • Everyone is very helpful, so don’t worry about dealing with jobsworths or or being intimidated by commercial traffic. Eastham will hold you up if they’re expecting something really big, so the odds of meeting anything bigger than Buffalo or a Mersey Ferry are pretty small.

Day 48: Weston Marsh Lock to Castlefield, 29 miles and 6 locks.

Days 46 and 47: a busy weekend

August 22nd, 2010

This is the start of a much-overdue series of catch-up posts, as I’ve had a busy week in the North-West!

So, winding the tape back to Friday 13th August, I spent the day in Nantwich, getting the laundry done and buying lots of provisions. Nantwich is a very foody town, with at least one excellent butcher – I didn’t go in the second one as the first one seemed unbeatably good! Mmm, meat products! In the evening I was joined by Dave, Richard, Claire and Steve, and we all piled into the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet restaurant in the old station building before retiring to the boat.

A lot of Saturday morning was absorbed by filling Innocenti’s water tank – to summarise, a large water tank plus low water pressure equals a long wait! After that we motored on, between the showers, and went down a few locks before arriving in Middlewich for the night. I did very little all day apart from making gallons of tea…
Day 46: Nantwich to Middlewich, 15 miles and 7 locks.

Sunday was an altogether different day. We had a short journey from Middlewich to Anderton, along the relatively busy Trent and Mersey canal. We were booked down the lift at Anderton at 3:15, and in fact arrived there just after 2. After mooring up, meeting Mike and Shelley, having yet more tea, biscuits, icecreams etc, it was finally time to go down the lift. The first hazard, though, is to negotiate a tight bend into a narrowish entrance under the towpath footbridge. This I got wrong, and there was a large clunk is 20 tonnes of slowly-moving narrowboat collided with an even greater weight of immovable concrete bank, shortly followed by general squealings from the cabin as the impact had knocked over the milk jug. In the ensuing chaos to mop up the spilled milk (no-one cried, but there was quite a lot of agitated chatter…) my mop got broken and it was discovered that there was no more milk to make tea with. Disaster!

Meanwhile, at the blunt end, I was manoeuvering Innocenti into the long trough-like aqueduct leading from the canal to the lift itself. In order to prevent a lift malfunction from draining the entire T&M pound (which would be somewhat catastrophic as the canal is on the same level all the way to Manchester and Wigan!), there’s a guillotine gate at the entrance to the aqueduct. You go in and stop, and they close the gate behind you. Then the water level is adjusted slightly (the T&M is not necessarily always at the same level as the lift caissons) and the guillotine is opened at the other end into the lift caisson itself. In we went, tied up the stern as instructed and killed the engine. Then we sat and waited while the trip boat was loaded into the other caisson. Once all was secure, the gates close and the lift very slowly begins to move. It’s a genuinely impressive piece of engineering, and all works like clockwork. The lift operator kindly explained what was going on. To start with the boat moves very slowly, and the caisson judders as the hydraulic oil goes through check valves to stop it dropping too fast. Eventually the motion becomes smooth and we drop fifty feet into the basin below. Once the gates were opened, we went out into the River Weaver. In view of the milk situation, I took a decision to nip into Northwich and get some. Northwich is 20 minutes upstream – in the wrong direction from our final destination. We pulled up on the public wharf and Dave, Richard and I went on a milk foray. We found a lot of shut shops, this being 4pm on a Sunday. Aldi had literally just closed as we arrived. As a last-ditch effort, I went into a Costa Coffee and negotiated for a plastic bag of milk and we returned triumphantly to the boat. Now we had a difficult situation – we needed to crack on down river before the lock-keepers closed the locks at 6pm. So, full speed ahead! Unfortunately, after about 30 mins or so, the rev counter suddenly died. “Oh heck”, I thought (or equivalent words to that effect), “the fanbelt’s snapped!” and I removed the deckboard. What I saw was an intact fanbelt and a lot of bilgewater. A brief investigation revealed that Innocenti’s rather poorly-executed weedhatch allows prop wash into the engine bay at speeds exceeding 5mph, a feature I had not previously discovered. On with the bilge pumps and a slower speed. We got to the first lock, at Saltersford, just after 5. The Weaver locks are large – like the Thames ones – and there was a lock-keeper on hand. We asked him what our odds were of getting to the next locks, at Dutton, before closing. He was a bit dubious, but agreed to ring his colleague. We were clear to go, but we needed to get a move on! There followed one of the slowest races against time known to man, as we cracked on down the Weaver towards Dutton at 4mph, all the weedhatch would stand, trailing (clean) bilgewater in our wake and looking at our watches. Fortunately, the engine suffered no damage, the lock-keeper was friendly and we arrived just a few minutes before 6pm. We gave him a bottle of beer to say thankyou for staying late. The real imperative for getting through Dutton was that we’d have missed our booked passage into the Ship Canal the following morning had we been held up.
Anyway, we continued down the lower reaches of the Weaver, enjoying the quiet rural nature of the river and drinking well-earned beers until the wind brought a whiff of petrochemicals and we found ourselves approaching the swing bridge at Frodsham. Here we dropped off Claire to get a train back to Manchester and continued another mile to the lock at Weston, right opposite the chemical works.
This is a funny place – oddly tranquil with no-one about, and with salty sea air coming off the Mersey Estuary. There were also excellent blackberries! We moored for the night on a handy pontoon by the lock, ate our sausages and ratatouille and retired for the night.

Day 47: Middlewich to Weston Marsh Lock, 20 miles, 3 locks and one big boat lift!

Day 45: Audlem and Nantwich

August 12th, 2010

Today i’ve done lots of locks – 17 in total – and started in the pouring rain. Fortunately, by lock 3 of the Audlem flight the sun came out and I took my waterproofs off. I stopped briefly at Audlem Mill, after thirteen locks, and bought an ice-cream. After that I found myself in a queue to do the last two locks in the flight, and the queue reappeared at the two locks at Hack Green, next to the Secret Nuclear Bunker…

I’ve finally moored on the edge of Nantwich and treated myself to fish and chips.

Day 45: 8 miles and 17 locks. Total so far 460 miles and 347 locks.

Days 42-43: up the Shoppie

August 10th, 2010

This week I’m on the Shropshire Union Canal, affectionately known as the “Shroppie” by canal buffs. It’s very calm and tranquil, but popular with boaters. The little villages on the Shroppie are bustling with boats – far more here than in the heart of Birmingham!

Yesterday I cruised up from the junction to Wheaton Aston, and bought a spare fan belt from the little canalside garage – one of those amazing places that sells nearly everything, and can get what it hasn’t got!

Today I’ve carried on up to Shebdon and moored on a quiet stretch. I went for a walk in the woods to go and look at Knighton Reservoir and its feeder, but a lot of the footpaths on the map have disappeared, and intriguingly, so has the canal feeder. I’m guessing it’s been culverted.

Day 43: 11 miles and 0 locks. Total so far 443 miles and 320 locks. No thesis progress in terms of words – I’ve been doing some software and experimental work.