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The 1975 Canal Holiday

Another Ladyline hire boat two week holiday starting from Barbridge. The craft this year was a Norman 20, with a BRAND NEW Honda 4stroke 7.5HP outboard. This engine proved unable to cope with our demands. Neil checked the water filter, but it kept on overheating. the only way to get it to stop cutting out when it was under a lot of load, was to leave the cover off and cool it with cups of water. John Rushbrook got very good at this. The FULLY charged battery only lasted a couple of days. That was when used just for powering the slightly larger radio / cassette we now had on board. Ian Scott went for a walk with the useless battery one night and came back with a fully charged new one. John and Neil never asked where he got it from. We were prepared for the useless electrics on a Ladyline hire craft and had taken Neil's dad's camping Gaz lamps and a couple of large Gaz cylinders. These we had to sneak on board (with the beer!) when we loaded up. When under way Neil made a magnificent tunnel light reflector from an old biscuit tin! We seem to remember that the berths were better laid out than on a Dawncraft Dandy, there where only three and no "coffin" berths.

The planning

Yet again no log survived. Only with the arrival of Beatty in 1991were proper logs kept! 

This year we got adventurous! 

Four restoration schemes had recently come to fruition. The Caldon Canal was restored to Froghall, in September 1974 (although the Leek tunnel was not restored for a few more years) The Park Head Locks and Dudley Tunnel was restored and opened (for the first time!) in Easter 1973. The reopening of the Stourbridge Canal made another interesting circular tour. Finally the Upper Avon was finally opened throughout in 1974. 

We decided to go for the lot!

Reproduced below is Martin Ludgate's appraisal of the restoration dates (and the reason for the lintels over Colin Witter / Stratford Lock!)

The last lock completed (not 'restored', to be pedantic, as it was a new lock, like - I think - all the Upper Avon locks) was Weir Brake. A map in the centre pages of 'Navvies' 42 (May 1973)  shows all the locks with the following construction dates - listed in upstream order :

George Billington Lock Nov-Dec 1969
Robert Aickman Lock June-July 69
IWA Lock Aug-Sep 69
E&H Billington Lock 21st May - 2 July 1972
Pilgrim Lock Nov-Dec 70
WA Cadbury Lock  May-June 71
Luddington Lock June-Sep 71
Weir Brake: "Site of new lock"
Stratford on Avon Lock Aug-Oct 71.

The reason Weir Brake was last was because for a time it didn't look like the river authority would allow a new lock there, so Stratford Lock would have to be built much deeper and the length below it dredged out to the depth of the Weir Brake to Luddington length.  Then they relented and allowed a new lock. However, Stratford Lock had already been built to the increased depth, so the chamber and bottom gates were 6ft deeper than necessary - this (and the poor ground quality) necessitated construction of lock lintels (not universally popular aesthetically, and once referred to by a lady councillor as "Mr Hutchings' monstrous erection in the park") to hold the sides apart.  It has since been shallowed, so the lintels could be removed - but people have got used to them now!

 

The route

Shropshire Union, Barbridge to Autherley. Staffs and Worcs to Stourport. River Severn up nearly to Bewdley! River Severn to Tewkesbury. Lower and Upper River Avon to Stratford. Avon up to Alveston Weir. Stratford to Lapworth , Southern Stratford Canal. Swap over to Grand Union to Bordesley Junction. Birmingham and Fazeley Canal to Gas Street Basin (via Ashted and Farmer's Bridge Flights of Locks.) New Maim Line to Albion Junction. Gower Branch to Bradeshall Junction. Old Main Line to Tipton Portal of Dudley Tunnel (wrong day to go through tunnel this way!) Old Main Line to Factory Junction. New Main Line to Dudley Port Junction. Netherton Tunnel Branch and Netherton Tunnel to Windmill End. Dudley Canal and Park Head Locks to Dudley Tunnel. Dudley Tunnel to Tipton. New Main Line to Dudley Port Junction. Netherton Tunnel to Windmill End. Dudley No2 Canal to Park Head. Dudley No1 Canal (Delph Flight), Stourbridge Canal to Stourbridge Junction. Staffs and Worcs Canal to Great Hayward Junction. Trent and Mersey Canal to Etruria. Caldon Canal to Consall Forge and back. Trent and Mersey Canal to Middlewich Junction. Finally Middlewich Arm to Barbridge. 

The Basic Log

Saturday July 5th - Audlem. pub in town, can't remember which.

Sunday July 6th - Gnosall. We meet a whole bunch of Anglo Welsh narrowboats in the cuttings and soon leave them in a horrid tangled mess! The Boat Inn at Gnosall was our classic stop for the night..

Monday July 7th - Greensforge. As was normal then, our quick passage though the last bit of the Shroppie and round the corner down the Staffs and Worcs kicked up some horrible stuff and smells from all the crud let out of the Sewage works on the corner. I can remember Ian reving the boat up in gear in the locks and making great clouds of suds from all the evil detergent let out in to the canal from the sewage works. We stopped at another classic canal side pub that night, the Navigation Inn at Greensforge.

Tuesday July 8th - Stourport - Pub in Town. We went shopping in Kidderminster to Sainsbury's. Neil remembers getting stocked up on some more Vesta meals! That night Ian went car battery "swapping shopping"! 

Wednesday July 9th - Tewkesbury. We started early as we fancied going upstream on the Severn. Bewdley was in site, but after bouncing over a few boulders, thought it better to retreat! We made Avon Lock and got Lower Avon licence (no combined Upper and Lower Avon Licences available then.) Went to a few pubs in the town and fish and chips. 

Thursday July 10th - Stratford upon Avon. Started early and got to Stratford latish. The Avon....phah TNC daytrip! Along they way we torpedoed a marauding little Dolphin cruiser to pass the time, then machine gunned the survivors! The Upper Avon was fantastic then. The locks were a jumble of old waterways junk....but...it all worked! Fish and chips again. Drank beer on boat, earlyish to bed.

Friday July 11th - Lapworth. Another early start as we thought we would get further up the top of the Avon than we did in 1973. Got to Alvington weir stream. Outboard shot up in the air a few times and broke shear pin. Soon on the way again and went back to Stratford and carried on up the Southern Stratford Canal. We got nearly to Lapworth and walked down lane, across the Grand Union and went to pub that was or became Tom o' The Wood. Chicken in a basket meal (Neil ordered a second!) and a lot to drink.

Saturday July 12th - Tipton. Earlyish start as we wanted to be in position for the Dudley tunnel the next day! We went into Birmingham via the Grand Union. Camp Hill Locks were still on their original alignment. We made the Gower Branch at nightfall. It was pissing with rain, so we gave up and stopped under bridge before the Bradeshall Staircase Lock! Badly prepared Vesta meal courtesy of John Rushbrook, I seem to remember! Too knackered and wet to get to pub. Drank most of tinnies supply. 

Sunday July 13th - Stourton Junction. When we arrived at the Tipton Portal of the Dudley Tunnel a BWB Bloke caught us and said that there was one way traffic through the Dudley Tunnel, did we not know this? Today it was North bound. We thanked him very much and said we would see him later! Off we shot back onto the New Main Line and through the Netherton  Tunnel. Due to all this confusion disaster struck, we ran out of petrol in the day tank, in the middle of the tunnel. All the torches had flat batteries and Ian took control. As we were in a hurry, he could not be bothered to move the Gaz tunnel lamp so filled up the day can from one of the 5 gallon Jerry cans, USING A MATCH! During this operation John and Neil were hanging from the front rail, waiting for the explosion! 
After a flat out assault on the Dudley No2 Canal and Park Head Locks we arrived at the Park Head Portal of the Dudley Tunnel. The same BWB bloke was there with another small cruiser waiting to go through. The BWB man looked at both totally un-prepared craft. We both were intending to shaft ourselves through with the broom and mop. The BWB man tutted to himself, then said that the best thing to do was to go through fast, using our engines! He then questioned us about our boat, "Is this a hire boat?, 'cause they aren't allowed through!" "NO!" was Neil's quick reply. Fortunately this Ladyline boat had no markings, apart from the name. This had been altered to "Tentacle 3", in line with our fleet. We nearly broke out laughing when he wrote this down in his notebook as the craft's name! The other craft was a bit apprehensive, so Neil quickly thought that we did not want to follow their smelly outboard and offered to go first. We were soon hacking along in the tunnel, with the other boat in heroic pursuit. We never touched the sides once and it must have taken under half an hour! 
Due to this excellent timing we thought that we could still reach our intended goal that night - Stourton Junction. Off we shot through the Netherton Tunnel again and were soon on new ground again, going down the Delph and Stourbridge Flights.  It was a wonderful sight just before the Delph Flight,  no Merry Hill Shopping Centre, but a working steel mill! We did indeed get to Stourton Junction and turned left to moor opposite Stewponey Wharf.  That night I think it was yet more fish and chips and an early night. 

Monday July 14th - Compton. A rather whizzy attack on the Staffs and Worcs. Tixall Wide was full of fishermen (not boats, like it is now!) Ian demonstrates the tight turning capabilities of a Norman 20. After a few pirouettes, many shaking fists were seen, as we sped off. We went to a pub in Compton, but the name escapes us. 

Tuesday July 15th - Stone. Uneventful day with a bit of traffic. We went to the classic Star Inn. Yet more something in a basket (all the rage in the 1970's!)

Wednesday July 16th - Etruria (having done the Caldon!) One of the daftest, longest "days" we can remember! Early start as NEW canal ahead! We were soon stuck into the Caldon. It needed dredging in a few places as we picked up a fair bit of weed. BWB dredger and hopper abandoned in bridge hole. No attempt at mooring, fortunately the dredgers hydraulic legs were not down and we managed to pick our way through! NO boats seen moving all day. The Black Lion appeared shut. We did not know what we were missing!. We had to stop at Flint Mill Lock as there had been an bank slip a bit below this. This had shut the mineral railway. The scar is still visible as a lack of trees. A new overspill weir marks the spot today. Neil managed to leg it down to Froghall for a quick inspection. 
We decide to go back to the Boat Inn at Cheddleton for the night as it looked the part, being thatched. In the Boat Inn, things soon got out of hand. They did not do food. We had not eaten much all day. This coupled with too much Marston's Pedigree spelt disaster. We seem to remember that there was a long bench table. Ian started chatting up a couple of 40 something year old women. Soon Ian was disco dancing around the bar followed by the two women (chance would be a fine thing nowadays - Ian!) They started amorous advances to Ian. John and Neil were horrified and thought that it was time to split (22.30). We managed to rescue Ian and get him across the bridge, still dancing and calling out to the "lovely ladies!" Eventually Neil and John bundled the still dancing Ian into the boat moored opposite. We thought that we had escaped, but the women were seen following us. It was the quickest take off we had down for a while, mooring pins still dangling from the mooring ropes! 
If you could then imagine the scene. Ian is disco dancing around the gunwales, as we are pursued along the towpath by the two women. Eventually we loose them. Ian is still manically doing his dancing around the gunwales, making the boat sway so much that the prop comes out of the water, on each roll. Neil is steering and John is trying to coax Ian in, to save the boat. Eventually Ian falls in. After this sobering operation Ian starts to feel rather poorly. While changing he is violently sick and crashes out. John shouts to Ian that we are not stopping or coming in until he has cleared everything up and shuts the cabin door on Ian and his mess. Eventually at about 3.00am the next day we coast round the corner at Etruria and stop for what is left of the night! Ian had by this time had sobered up enough to clear up. Neil steered all the way (fair amount of moon, no lights and a warm night) While John cranked the 14 locks on his own!

Thursday July 17th - Rode Heath. After a rather late start, we all emerge none the worse for wear. We arrive at the Harecastle Tunnel and go straight in as nobody waiting either end. Arrival at Rode Heath is fairly early and we retire to one of our regular haunt's at the time - The Broughton Arms. Many vast portions of Scampi and Chicken in a basket were consumed as well as many pints of Marston's Pedigree, a beer that was to become the ale of the holiday!

Friday July 18th - Middlewich. After overtaking a few boats on the paired locks of Heartbreak Hill, we arrive fairly early and repair to The Cheshire Cheese, for the last night. 

Saturday July 19th - Barbridge (late!) After the early start did not materialise we have a hack along the final straight  - the Middlewich Branch. A bit of traffic, but we soon whiz past this! Our late arrival proves to be no problem. Just how long can you spend cleaning up a Norman 20! We tell them that the Honda is knackered and keeps on overheating. We get our deposit back! Soon we are sedately cruising down the M6 in Neil's Viva. After two weeks on the cut 60mph seems like 600mph!

 

These images were scanned from some TOTALLY knackered instamatic snaps. They appear basically red and grey. Paint Shop Pro has been used with much fiddling to get some form of colour and detail back! 


Would you hire a boat to these three reprobates! John Rushbrook, Neil and Ian Scott.

Leaving Market Drayton, southbound. Ian Scott and John Rushbrook. John did not quite have the "biggest hair" of any TNC member, that prize goes to Julian E! Shropshire Union Canal.

Leaving Cowley Tunnel. Shropshire Union Canal.

Probably Wightwick Mill Lock. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Bratch Locks, in white, and without dodahs, As we will always remember them. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Bratch Locks. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Bratch Locks. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Bratch Locks. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Stewponey Lock and Wharf. God knows why Ladyline supplied a hose, the water tank was a 10 gallon plastic jerry can! Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Strensham Lock. Lower Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Pershore Lock. The high chain link fence at the tail of the lock is yet to appear! Lower Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Pershore Lock. Lower Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Fladbury Lock. Lower Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Evesham Lock. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

George Billingham lock. The old Thames gear opened the gates! Where there were balance beams, a boingy telegraph pole sufficed!  Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

George Billingham lock, from the lock cut. This is somewhat more mature now, with moorings and trees! Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Robert Aickman Mark 1 Lock. now used as a dry dock. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

We torpedo another hapless craft! Cleeve Prior. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

We take no survivors! Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

IWA Lock. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

IWA Lock. The rickety swing bridge has now gone. The nasty approach to the top of the lock has not! Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Upper Avon. E&H Billingham Lock. Warwickshire River Avon.

E&H Billington Lock. Some lock gates where devoid of balance beams, relying on a primitive rack mechanism to open them. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Pilgrim Lock Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

WA Cadbury Lock. At the start most of (all?) the lock gates where ex-Bridgewater Canal, of the demolished "new"Runcorn locks. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

About to come out of Luddington (Stan Glover) Lock. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Arriving at Weir Brake Lock. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Stratford (CP Witter Lock). The sheet piled face of the lock has now been concreted over. Willow trees now shield this structure from the offended Stratford residents. Upper Avon. Warwickshire River Avon.

Upper Avon. Ian sits on new opening monument, by Stratford Lock. This is rather appropriately made of sheet piles, seeing as everything else is around here! Warwickshire River Avon.

Amazingly, this is the Wilmcote Flight. The trees and bushes to the right were torn down when gravel was extracted. The site was then used for landfill and is only now returning to normality. Southern Stratford Canal.

Wilmcote Flight. Southern Stratford Canal.

Edstone Aqueduct. Southern Stratford Canal.

Wooton Wawen Aqueduct. Southern Stratford Canal.

Bucket Lock and Aqueduct. Southern Stratford Canal.

All the original restoration wooden gates were still around then. Southern Stratford Canal.

Southern Stratford Canal.

Our first time on the Knowle Flight. Ian has done a few laps of the pound! Grand Union Canal.

Knowle Flight. Grand Union Canal.

The lock keeper had been polishing his Ford Anglia! Knowle Flight. Grand Union Canal.

Ignore John and Ian! ...in the background is Camp Hill Flight, Lock No 54 which was demolished and repositioned to make way for a new by-pass. Grand Union Canal.

Looking back at Bordesley Junction. Camp Hill Bottom lock to right and Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal to left. The bridge between the factories is no longer there. Grand Union Canal.

Farmer's Bridge 13 Flight of Locks. Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

Farmer's Bridge 13 Flight of Locks. Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

Looking back at Stewart Aqueduct, where the Old Main Line passes over the New. The M5 was yet to exhibit it's concrete cancer! BCN.

Speeding round to Park Head on the Dudley No2 Canal. BCN.

Going up Park Head Flight to the Dudley Tunnel! Dudley No 1 Canal. BCN.

Dudley Tunnel. Ian is ready with the mop to push the boat through! Dudley No 1 Canal. BCN.

Tipton Portal of Dudley Tunnel - what a change here! Although there were no printable photos in the tunnel, there is a convincing set of bubbles leading into the tunnel mouth. This digital enhancement has for the first time revealed the tunnel gauge and the other cruiser that followed us in! Dudley No 1 Canal. BCN.

After whizzing round through the Netherton Tunnel we start down the Delph Flight. Dudley No 1 Canal. Look at the lovely unkempt look of the flight. BCN.

Approaching Botherham Staircase Locks. Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Northern Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Northern Staffs and Worcs Canal.

Probably Meaford Flight of locks. Trent and Mersey Canal.

Eturia Staircase Locks at the start of the Caldon Canal.

Engine Lock. Caldon Canal.

BWB have abandoned their dredger and hopper in the bridge hole and we have to juggle our way through! Caldon Canal.

Caldon Canal.

On the River Churnet below Oak Meadow Forge Lock. Caldon Canal.

Consall Forge Station. The main waiting room building on the other side of the track did not survive. The little overhanging one did. The preserved North Staffs Railway is finally back here. Caldon Canal.

The breach below Flint Mill Lock that meant it was to be a few more years before we reached Froghall. Caldon Canal.

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