About Me

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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Winter is a coming!

The second weekend in October brought cold winds and rain. SONFLOWER sheltered under Tom Rolt Bridge for Banbury Canal Day which was a washout. Not quite such a washout was the concurrent Banbury Folk Festival which took cover in General Foods club and provided lively folk performances with the advantages of dry surroundings and good beer.

Upstairs Fairport Convention was the star Act on Saturday night and they were very ably supported on Friday by Tradaarr and on Sunday by The Gerry Colvin band. There was also better beer with Hook Norton Brewery's "Old Hooky" on offer.

After removing the banner and bunting on Sunday evening the wind settled down a bit and the rain abated to a drizzle. So two hours of Monday morning were spent returning Sonflower to her home mooring via Calthorpe Winding Hole. I hope no-one was looking because I really fouled up the turn and stemmed SONFLOWER on the far side of the Winding hole. No damage done I returned to home mooring without incident.

Most of the boats from Canal Day were on the move including a volunteer crew on the CRT workboat that had dragged the town centre length of the canal and exhibited the bikes and trolleys pulled out this year. I did not have to operate the lift bridge in either direction and had help at the lock both ways too.

Now it is time for an engine service, Autumn touch up and winterisation.
                                                                                                 2miles, 2 locks, 2LB, 2 hours


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Fazeley to Home Mooring

It is only 5 days cruising to get from Fazeley Junction on the Coventry Canal to Marsh Footbridge 163 on the South Oxford Canal. But for us this season it took us 16 days!


Fazeley To Bedworth,


We left immediately after the Boaters Christian Fellowship Weekend at St Paul's Fazeley making a short detour to the Fazeley Mill Marina for a necessary pump out. We turned at the Junction. By emerging from the Watling Street bridge we totally confused a hire crew who were hoping to pull into the already occupied water point opposite the junction. I made the turn and they stemmed their boat under the  Junction Bridge 77. We managed to get behind them and disappear back into Watling Street bridge. Pump out was easy. The lady of the Marina helping with a token for the machine and with operating the equipment.


So off to Watling Street Bridge again and a simple turn at the junction and uneventful cruise to Polesworth where we got the last space on the visitor moorings. The Best Mate and SueperCrew knocked up a meal. We were still full from Sunday Carvery dinner at the Fazeley Inn so a small meal was in order.


The next day we started early and headed for Atherstone Locks. Here we met our BCF colleague Who volunteers there. He advised us to get in touch with another memebr who has a moring near Bulkington Lane Bridge 14 in Bedworth. We di call but he was away. I left the boat in the hands of the Best Mate at Nuneaton and got a buses back to Fazeley where we had left SueperCrew's car. I drove it to Bulkington Lane and met them just after they had moored up in a lovely spot, a quarter of a mile from the bridge.


                                          20 miles 13 locks 11.5 hours




(Over the previous weekend I had heard from my sister that my aunt was seriously ill in Liverpool. I made a trip up there on Tuesday so our cruise was interrupted.)


Bedworth to Newbold-on Avon (single handed as The Best Mate is not well)






We  had friends staying with us for a week. We have known them since 1980 so we can ask a favour every now and then. They were going up to Leicester for the day so as Bedworth and Newbold are "on the way". I schemed that this little cruise could be done while they were visiting! They dropped me in Bedworth at about 10.15. A short walk to the boat and then prepared her to go.


I had a lttle problem engaging forward drive so checked the ATF level in the gearbox and put a bit more in just in case. I dribbled sme doen into the engine bay so had to mop it up with a rag held in a litter picker. The litter picker broke and the rag dropped into the bilge. A repair of the litter picker was effected and I used iot to retrieve the rag, mop up the spill and try the drive again. A little more success and we were on our way!


The remainder of the cruise was uneventful. I had the help of a volunteer at Sutton Stop lock and just drove on from there.


I even had time for a pint of Purity Pale Ale in the Barley Mow before my friends arrived to take nme home


14 miles, 1 lock, 5 hours


Newbold-on Avon to Hillmorton Top Lock Visitor Mooring


Two friends came with me to Hillmorton in the car and then by Bus to Newbold. We bought fish and chips at Fishsmiths on the High Street. It was excellent. Mini fish and chips was plenty for us. Then we cruised for a little over three hours. One of my crew had never been on my boat when moving so that was a first and the other had never driven into a lock so I gave him his debut too!  There were two CRT volunteers at Hillmorton Locks so we had help here too.


                                                     4 miles, 3 locks, 3.5 hours


Hillmorton to Spice Ball Park Moorings, S Oxford Canal 

Our friends left on Sunday after lunch. The Best Mate was still feeling unwell and we needed teh boat back to Banbury for Canal Day next weekend!


I took the difficult decision to go and do it alone. I drove to Hillmorton and stocked up with steak pie and beer at the Co-op. Single handing can be difficult for eating and sustenance that is easily consumed at the tiller is essential.


I cruised until dark on Sunday evening almist getting to Bridge 80 on the North Oxford. The next morning (Monday) I left at 0600 as first light showed in order to get to Napton when the licks opened. I thought that was 0900h. Wrong! 10.00am and there was a boat already ahead of me when I got to the Sanitary station. I cut some kindling while I waited.   The later start up Napton locks meant that achieving Claydon locks the same day was impossible as they closed at 3pm. Another delay occurred when my centre rope flipped a windlass into the cut just before lock 10. 20 minutes of magnet fishing later I had lost my place to another boat. There was no hurry so I stopped at the top lock moorings and had lunch and re-filled the stern gland greaser.


I achieved Fenny Compton Wharf moorings to find a shiny 50 foot boat in the middle of a 120ft mooring. They were just starting to eat dinner so I told them not to bother moving and backed through Bridges 137 and 137A to a mooring a couple of boats back on the 14 days. Steak and Ale pie and Otter Pale Ale called from the Wharf Inn. 

There was also some good conversation with the crew of Corinthian  heading for Cropredy Marina. They were interested in where I moored "on-line" as this was a cheaper option that they had not considered.


Early in the morning I filled with water beside the Inn and then cruised very slowly to Claydon Locks. Here I was second in the queue again. The first boat up Napton the previous day had missed the closure by 15 minutes. To do that he must have been motoring! Nick says it should take 6.5 hours so they made up an hour on that time! The boat name was Sloe Roaming! Nothing Slow there. He had a reason for his haste. His crew was a teacher due in class in Basingstoke the next morning. They needed to get her to a station. Banbury was the target. I edged past the boat and nestled against the lock entry to repair my button chain. A shackle had sheared apart. I then returned to my olkace in the queue. There was a boat moored on the lock landing. No evidence of life apart from empty wine and spirit bottles. I guess he was "sleeping it off."


So onward and downward filling the first two locks but having a boat come up the third. The fourth Claydon lock was set against me with the bottim gates left open for an approaching craft. However, the craft was not approaching! It was Dusty the coal boat who was filling a boat with diesel between locks. I phoned them to ask if they would be long. "That depends on whether he has an hole in his tank" came the reply. I closed the gates, filled the lock, worked down and was in time to moor behind the now replenished craft for my turn to be filled! 136 litres of diesel and two bags of coal later I was on my way again.


Just after Broadmoor lock I was waved down by a good friend who came aboard to help me through Criopredy lock. She was heading for Banbury Library to do some research and had asked if she could use a parking space at our place. No problem as I was out boating. So she came to give me a helping hand.


I passed Sloe Roaming again on Cropredy 14 day moorings. They stopped for lunch! Such luxury.  They caught me up at Bourton Lock and then came past me as I moored up at Home Mooring.


All that I needed to do was get two buses (or as it turned out a bus and a taxi) back to Hillmorton to collect my car.


33.5 miles,  21 locks 17 hours

Monday, 10 September 2018

Birmingham to Fazeley

We actually traveled the length of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal over two days last week. We went up to Fazeley by car and into Birmingham by bus on Thursday evening. Getting off in Broad Street at dinner time meant an almost obligatory visit to Barajee, our favorite Brum curry house. We finished the meal this time!  We then had an evening chat with our next door neighbours on NB Sola Gratia.

On Thursday morning we set off early, well before 10 o'clock! The Farmers Bridge Locks were the first flight we ever navigated back in 1999 and we have a special attraction to them. At lock 4 we were joined by a CRT Volunteer. He was helpful and gave me the opportunity of going ahead to open the next lock top gate. A CRT tug and hopper came up lock 6 and from then on all was set fair.

Aston locks were not such a smooth operation. At the first lock two CRT men were helping another boat up. It was in lock 2 so we had a bit of a wait. They were real black country folk. One had been an "Oss Boatman" and the other I describe as a black country comic. He had great wit. He quipped that we should have a fair flight until lock 9. Levels were a bit low there. Low!?! Sonflower bottomed in the lock. I refilled and floated her up again and rang CRT. The pound was long and water too low for navigation. I was not going to take responsibility for emptying the pound above to fill the pound below. The team who had been at lock 1 came down quite quickly and one went back up the flight to open paddles and one monitored what was happening below as they fed water through. It took about 90 minutes before he was satisfied that we had enough to get to lock 10. We had a great time with his black country conversation.

At lock 10 we found the problem! The top gate would not shut and the lock would not empty. I tried fishing with a boat hook but to no avail. I phoned CRT again and our comical friend appeared again, this time armed with a long rake. A lot of raking found the problem: a car silencer jammed against the seal. With this removed, normal operation was restored.

We had lost over two hours of boating. It was a nice day and we made good progress to the start of Minworth Locks. After this the canal cleans up a bit and we started to look for somewhere to moor for the night and to have dinner. We passed a few pubs on the waterside that looked as if they had seen better days. Traditional Inn means that no money has been spent on it for quite a few years in this part of the country.

On approaching the Cuttle Bridge (Wiggins Hill Bridge) we noticed that the Old Kingsley pub had been totally re-vamped and was now the Cuttle Inn and Hotel, with a nice looking outdoor seating and dining area. Why were there no other moorers here at 6pm on a Friday? I can't tell you. We had a very nice meal and good wine too. We also noted that they serve a buffet breakfast for £6.50 so we returned in the morning for that. The only downside is that the moorings are floodlit all night. Good for security and for reducing load on the leisure batteries. But next time I might move away for a bit of darkness.

So on Saturday morning we gently completed our passage of Curdworth locks. A sign here tells boaters that there is no longer rubbish disposal at the locks but at Bodymoor Heath. A sign at Bodymoor Heath yard says there is no longer rubbish disposal there but at Fazeley Junction.  At Fazeley Mill Marina we stopped for water and here there was a sign telling us that there was no longer rubbish disposal at the Peel's Wharf but it was in the marina (on behalf of CRT). We disposed of our rubbish. We would have been miffed of we had gone on to the junction and found no rubbish disposal there either. No wonder the inhabitants of Birmingham use the canal rather than a bin.

So to Tolson's footbridge where we moored on piling clips.

                                                                      15miles 38 locks   14hours

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Black Country Living Museum

We had a grandson on board for the trip from Cambrian Basin to the Black Country Living Museum. We chose to go along the Old Main Line from Brades Hall Junction which meant navigating the Gower Branch and Brades Locks which is new to us. It was our first experience of these locks which are a single lock and a staircase. We had no problems at all and gave our grandson his first experience of pushing and pulling lock gates and winding paddle gear.

The Old Main line is weedy. It is lined with water lillies and has blanket weed floating in clumps in the channel. Regular reversing of the prop kept it clear.

We moored for lunch above the Netherton tunnel branch on the Tividale Aqueduct. A boat was already moored there bit thy moved up a couple of bollards to let us in. They were very apologetic and told us they dod not expect to see anyone else as they had seen only one boat all morning.

After lunch we were soon at the BCLM and moored on 24hr mooring.

                                                                           8.1/2 miles, 3 locks, 8 hours (including lunch).

After a nice time in the museum including a visit down the mine and to the sweetshop we settled down for the night. The museum food outlets close at 5pm so we made use of the local takeway chinese "Chopsticks". I ordered the sort of meal we would have had in  Banbury but the size of the portions here was really OTT. The pancake rolls were the size of a pringle tube and the chicken balls the size of full size billiard balls. And there were loads of them. We decided to keep the barbque spare ribs, 1.1/2 spring rolls and the chow mein for lunch the next day. In fact we had more than that left over including half the chicken balls and king prawns in batter.

We went on the Dudley Canal  Tunnel Trusts tunnel trip int he morning. What a pleasure. The limestone caverns,including a light show and video presentations were wonderful. Our grandson got to leg us in the tunnel and we really enjoyed the experience. After this we went back to the BCLM for a bit more history and a pint of mild ale at the Bottle and Glass Inn.

After lunch we went back via the New Main Line. At Factory locks we had to wait for a D of E Award party to bring their butty up the locks. The last boat in the queue that built up behind them were in no mood to wait for locks which resulted in too many boats than would fit between locks 2 and 3. This boat emptied down and worked up lock 2 trapping Sonflower in the top lock with another boat waiting in the pound. Once they were up the jiggling and maneuvering about could commence to leave them in the short pound between the locks. I don't think they noticed the trouble their impatience had caused.

The rest of the cruise back to Cambrian Basin was uneventful. We were glad to get back. The best mate made a delicious chilli with the chicken that remained in the centre of the left over Chinese chicken balls.

                                                                       9 miles, 3 locks, 4 hours

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Walsall to Wolverhampton to Birmingham


We left Walsall Town Basin at 10.15 on Friday. The passage up the Walsall locks was weedy and the shallow canal gave us problems with prop fouling again. We could not enter directly into lock 4 as the boat stopped on something. We pulled the boat to the side and bow hauled her round the obstruction.

The services building at the top lock is closed and there was no water available. Local boatyard staff and a boater told us the nearest on our route was at Snyde Wharf.

The Canal Museum, signposted at the bottom of the flight,is boarded up and up for development.

The Wyrley and Essington Canal is full of blanket weed. Apart from that and the impediment to progress it is very peaceful and pleasant. Of course the local population keep it topped up with plastic bottles, drinks cans and bags of rubbish.

The Sneyd Wharf services were clean and cared for and a refreshing highlight of the cruise.

We got to Wolverhampton, winded in the basin and backed to the Wolverhampton Top Lock moorings to find they are 24 hour!
Pretty Wolverhampton Mooring


                                                 11miles, 8 locks, 8 hours

Hopper on lock landing, Factory Bottom Lock, BCN
So this morning we boated to Birmingham. It was good to be back in deeper water and reasonably rubbish free.


Arriving at Factory Bottom Lock, BCN
Factory locks had a reasonable variety of items including a "road closed" sign but it was not obstructing the workings and we could not get it out. As we were descending the locks we did not need to use the lock landing at the bottom lock: this was occupied by a moored hopper.



We did a tour of Oozle's loop to find the pump out services of Sherborne Wharf are on the main line at The Distillery. So we winded at Old Turn and again at another basin to the west of centre and the returned to The Distillery to pump out. A trip boat were not amused that we were on "their" stopping place. Apparently our pump out should have been timed between their need to use the stop! There appears to be a continual conflict if interest at this point as the discharge point is one bollard from the stop sign.By the time we were finished, unconnected and ready to leave there were two trip boats vying for the same stopping point.We left them to fight it out.

All services completed we moved on to Cambrian Wharf and returned SONFLOWER to her accustomed position.
                                               13 miles, 3 locks, 5hours


Monday, 30 July 2018

Titford to Walsall

Today we leave the Langley Green area of Oldbury and the tempting Titford Pools to navigate to Walsall. New to us and exciting.

I, the skipper, have decided that we will not attempt to navigate the pools on our own. BCNS have strong advice not to do so and having read some blogs, including our intrepid exploring friends  Halfie who made the same decision, we took the BCNS advice.

I do thank the BCNS for taking their work boat Phoenix through the route on Friday last and clearing the way but what has tipped my decision is the wind that has arisen and the unknown way it will behave around the motorway viaduct. I understand that the mud in the pools is too deep to pole ourselves off and there is every chance that a gust or two could take the boat into the shallows.

We will return in company.



Moored in Walsall Town Basin
We have arrived!

The getting here was interesting! The first job was depositing three bags of rubbish at the pump house skip. Thank you BCNS. Most was collected from above the Oldbury Top Lock.

Between the Oldbury Bottom Lock and Oldbury Junction there were in excess of 50 silver fish floating dead. I contacted CRT to alert them to an environmental catastrophe. Then just round onto the Old Main Line was a 30" koy carp! Negotiating the turn to Spon Top Lock took time in the wind under the motorway!

We turned north onto the Wednesbury Old Canal and were slowed down by the shallow depth of the narrow channel between the reed beds. It was very pretty. But pretty was not how you would describe the canal as we made our way north. The gates of some of the Ryders Green locks didn't fully open because of the rubbish behind them. The reedy and water lily lined canal was littered with rubbish and flotsam. We had to clear the prop of poly and other rubbish about ten times, often stopping the engine in mid channel. Mainly polythene sheeting and bags today but a draw string gym bag and a rope added to the mix. Some was obviously industrial waste.

The canal could be so beautiful. Walkers commented "Enjoy your trip" with a knowing grin. Fishermen cast over flotillas of plastic bottles; there are cascades of rubbish at every bridge; we stopped counting shopping trolleys when we hit double figures; there are settees and armchairs, fire extinguishers, a gas bottle, empty beer kegs, doors, wood, and board among the flotsam. The fittings of a moored small cruiser seemed to be floating away from it.

How do people put up with it and live with it? This could be a six mile long navigable lily pond! there are red, yellow and white water lilies growing in various stretches. Wildlife exists: muscovy duck, ruddy duck, coot, moorhen, swans with signets, canada geese, farmyard ducks , grey heron and cormorant were all spotted today along with ubiquitous gulls and mallards.

But in Walsall Town Basin it looks ok! I cleared a sackfull of plastic bottles and litter this morning.

                                     10miles and 17 locks:  8.1/2 hrs

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

BCN Anthem

"I've had miles and miles of poly round the prop..." Sings the chorus of a boating folk song about the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigation). And now we have experienced it.

We set off this morning to do the loops. That is Oozell Loop, Icknield Loop, and Soho Loop which are rarely navigated parts of the BCN Main Line. All went well and we exited Soho Loop onto the Main Line and stopped for breakfast at Smethwick New Pumping Station. Here CRT had an awareness promotion. Except the volunteers were not wearing uniform or badges, didn't realise there were two parallel canals where they were; could not answer simple questions about boating but did recommend a visit to Titford pools.

Just as we pulled away the poly struck. I could not get to the side but shut down the engine mid canal and opened the weed hatch. With craft knife and brute force we filled a carrier bag with poly including braided tape saying "security sealed" It  was not tearable.

We turned the tight right hander into the entry to Spon Lane Bottom lock. Here only one antivandal mechanism worked so I reported the defective one and we worked up on one paddle. All sorts of rubbish were successfully navigated through the looks but we came to a halt making the tight right-hander after the top lock. I poled to the side here and secured the boat on the lock mooring. The offending item was a tent. I pulled much of it off and cut it away but had to open the weed hatch again for the last fragments and some fishing nylon.

We stopped for lunch at Oldbury Bottom Lock. No problems here except more rubbish and a reed bed that we had to push into a lock with us. We got to the top and debated where we needed to turn and how far we could go. In the event the decision was made for us. We grounded entering Uncle Ben's Bridge and during a turn in the Uncle Ben winding hole, avoiding a coot's nest, we grounded again and picked up something else on the prop. I went to the weed hatch for a third time. This time it was a long length of cotton cloth.

We decided it would be fool hardy to try to get to the pools and went back a little way to mooring rings.

We walked to Titford Bridge in the evening passing two shopping trolleys and other debris in the canal. The water is too dark to tell whether the actual depth of the channel was shallow too.

We have not seen the pools yet.

7 miles, 9 locks, 7 hours