South West Herts Narrowboat Project

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Pictures of the trip
Map of the trip's progress
About Pickle's Folly

Pictures of 2 January.

Pictures of 4 January.

Pictures of 6 January

Pictures of 8 January

Pictures of 10 January

Pictures of 21 January

Pictures of 14 March


Pickle's Folly's maiden voyage from Stourport-on-Severn to Hunton Bridge.

An alternative to transporting our new boat from its builders to the Project's base was to take her by canal. Research showed that it was possible, although we would be running the gauntlet of lock and canal closures through the off-season period. An advance party of three drove to Stourport on Sunday 30 December 2012 with equipment, clothing and bedding to prepare the boat. While one drove the car home, three more crew members arrived on Monday 31 December, with the food. The following is the story of the trip, as it happens.

Monday 31 December 2012: We got off to a slow start, not leaving Stourport-on-Severn until 12.30hrs as John Carr had a puncture on the trailer and then flattened his battery with hazard lights which resulted in having to buy a new battery. We loaded everything on board, lots of food, etc. It was not cold, the rain stopped as soon as we started. Reversing out of the covered dock was the first challenge and finding our way through the basins and into the first narrow lock, trying desperately hard not to scratch the paintwork. I have to say this did not last long and the first scrape appeared very soon. We had calculated that if we drove for three hours it would put us on target. After 6 miles and 4 locks passing through Kidderminster, we finally stopped at Wolverley Bridge. No one saw the New Year in; John had started his day at 5 o'clock, so bed time was 2000hrs.

Tuesday 1 January 2013: We arose at 0730hrs. It had been a cold night and every where was covered in frost. Ronnie the dog was taken for a walk after breakfast. Opening the locks for a fast passage, we walked for the first few locks before jumping back on board, to the dog's disgust. After a couple of short tunnels and 15 locks in 24 miles we spent the night at Wombourne Bridge. The canal has been interesting, carved out of the red sandstone and caverns carved into the sandstone by the canal builders to shelter out of the weather, all back in the 1700s. Having had a good meal and finding the pub was closed, we went to bed. We hope to get to Aldersley Junction tomorrow to turn off to Wolverhampton Main Line and 22 locks in 2.5 miles - ouch!!

Wednesday 2 January: We are well in front of ourselves; over 9 miles and 31 locks today. We are only two miles short of our fourth day schedule and it's our third day. We had fine weather with only one or two little showers - nothing heavy. The two miles with 21 locks in total was good going with three people working the locks, we worked out a good system and we were through in quick time: 2.5 hours. Every one has worked hard today and deserved a good drink in the centre of Wolverhampton.

Thursday 3 January: We have now left Wolverhampton and are heading for Birmingham, taking the fast route on Telford's straight canal with only three locks. All the old buildings or what is left of them are very interesting and to imagine their former glory was intriguing. The cast iron bridges are very ornate and have lasted a fantastic length of time - since 1842. We arrived in Birmingham at 1330hrs and after we had a quick lunch, set off to descend Farmers Bridge Locks, all 13 of them [I had calculated only 9 - oops!]. This was a fantastic experience as they have build apartments over the canal and some of the old brickwork: even a lock in a tunnel. It's only round the bend and down another 7 locks [which I had calculated to be 4 - another oops!]. We hived off to Typhoo Basin [not far from New Street Rail Station] for a secure night in a disused wharf. We have covered 15.5 miles and 23 locks - not bad going.

Friday 4 January: Having spent the night in Typhoo Basin with all the rubbish and disused factory buildings, we set off early to miss the rush hour, but came to a quick stop having joined the Grand Union Canal at Camp Hill Locks. The first pound was empty and we had to drain water down from the higher up locks and then we were on our way again. Lots of debris, thousands of plastic bottles and plastic bags, old windows, etc. We finally escaped through Yardley and Solihull with all its tags and graffiti everywhere. Then into the tranquillity of Catherine de Barnes, and we stopped to remove the plastic bags from around the propeller: I could not believe how many there were. We then had control and could motor on at 3 mph. Where to moor for the night was a point of discussion: a pub was the answer: The Black Boy was the obvious choice. We went in for a quick birthday pint at 1600hrs and came out at 2000hrs after a meal, a couple of pints and a coffee. With Pickle's Folly just outside, it was very convenient.

Saturday 5 January: We were away at first light to get through the Shrewley Tunnel and the 21 locks of the Hatton flight; also to meet up with Pete who was picking up John and Clive to take them back to Stourport-on-Severn to collect their car and then return home. This was easier than I had expected and liaised easily at the Hatton Bottom Lock at 1245hrs. This left Nick, Clive and myself to carry on through Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa. We finally moored up for the night at the bottom of Bascote Locks, which are due to close on Monday 7th January. I am very pleased with our progress, but it is touch and go if we get through the next stoppage tomorrow, Sunday. We shall see. Poor internet connection as we are in the sticks - photos to follow later.

Sunday 6 January: Left bottom of Bascote Locks at 0800hrs; light was just building and we could see all the equipment in place ready for the closure on Monday. Today proved a very long day as we were trying to beat the 7th January stoppages/closures. We had to be below Buckby Flight bottom lock by nightfall. This entailed motoring non-stop all day, navigating Napton Junction, Braunston turn and its flight of locks, plus its tunnel, 2042 yds long, Norton Junction, and the Buckby Lock flight: in total about 30 locks in 15 miles. We landed up going through the last lock at 1715hrs in the dark, with headlight on, trying to find a suitable mooring - just after the lock, behind a CRT tug, presumable ready for the closure the next day. Phew! Time to relax as the time pressure is off.

Monday 7 January: Stoppages are now behind us [except for Marsworth, but we shall see about that one]. A leisurely start to the day; away by 0915hrs [ish] having sat down to breakfast, rather than having it in shifts. Also stopped for lunch for one of Nick's fry ups - not had time before. What a relaxing day! Pickle's Folly got a sweep and a mop through - all nice and clean inside. Ronnie the dog got a brush, much to his disgust. Only made it to Blisworth after 12 miles and no locks: yes, no locks. Thought it would be good to have some pub food in the Royal Oak, but they haven't any food today!! Had a quick drink and back to Pickle's Folly to warm up a vegetarian lasagne - very good. Clive has finished the washing up and its time for bed. Tomorrow is the big Blisworth tunnel; at 3075yds it's the third longest in Britain. Then 8 locks and Milton Keynes.

Tuesday 8 January. Blisworth Tunnel was very wet, with lots of water coming down the air vents like turning on the shower at home full blast. Well, we did it: all 3057yds. We had a quick look round Stoke Bruerne, but as it was all closed, there was not much to see. Ronnie the dog met a friend, a sheltie, which he was pleased to see. We only had 8 locks to descend - 7 in the Stoke Bruerne flight and one odd one at Cosgrove. Cosgrove looks like an interesting place to look round, later. We need to make the northern outskirts of Milton Keynes tonight. We arrived at The Black Horse pub at about 1600hrs - just right, but will this pub have food on tonight?

Wednesday 9 January. Yes, they did have food, but gourmet food at a price - oh well. The sunny sights of Milton Keynes were very interesting and clean to the extent a man cleaning graffiti off one of the canal buttresses - brilliant. We have done very well again today; the weather was sunny but very cold, so Nick and Peter shared the helming. The lock at Fenny Stratford was unusual with a fall of only 1 foot and 1 inch - strange! And a swing bridge in the centre i.e. half way along in between the gates. Many moored boats along the way, some look as if they have not moved for some time. Hence our progress had to slow down passing them. Just to keep us warm, the three locks at Soulbury were the answer. Our progress was so good we went on through Leighton Buzzard and stopped at Grove Lock which just happened to have a very nice Fullers pub located beside it, with food. Another very nice meal. Tonight it's very cold outside with ice forming on parts of the boat, but it's nice and warm inside - the heating is working well. It is now 2300hrs and the heating has switched off and the temperature is slowly dropping and it's time to snuggle up in our warm sleeping bags. Progress today was 16 miles at an average speed of 2.8 mph, with 6 locks. Tomorrow we reach Marsworth flight of locks and the first stoppage we have hit. We shall have to wait and see.

Thursday 10 January. Last day to Marsworth: about 10 locks and 7 miles. The day got off to a cold and misty start and continued like that for the rest of the day; whoever was helming got frostbite on their hands and feet - too cold. We started just after 0900hrs and arrived at Marsworth at about 1400hrs, pleased to be there mainly to get below and get warm. After a bite to eat, we tracked down a Canal and River Trust engineer to find out what was happening -  the lock 43 has its gates in place, ready for sealing and fitting, but the biggest problem is the bottom lock 39: they have chained and padlocked it ready to replace the gates. This work was added to the closure of lock 43 so it is hit and miss that the job will be completed by 18th January. It is a matter of time and keeping an eye on the situation to see when the crew can move again. It is incredible that the Tring reservoirs are full and have too much water: when I was last there you could walk over 75% of the bed of the reservoir without getting your feet wet!

Monday 14 January. It has been very cold outside, although inside Pickle's Folly the heating keeps us nice and cosy. The work on the bottom lock is progressing. We have made friends with the people on another narrowboat who are trying to get to Boxmoor but were not aware of the closure. We found that the canalside information on the Grand Union Mainline is not as good as the other canals we have used on this trip. The wildlife in this area is fantastic; we can watch many different birds in the hedges and on the towpath without leaving the comfort of the boat!

Monday 21 January. It remains cold, and guess what? The snow has arrived! The insulation is doing its job as it is comfortable inside the boat, and as the photos show, the snow on the roof hasn't melted. The canal has ice on the surface so moving the boat will be interesting if we don't wait for the thaw.

Thursday 14 March. Well, here we go: the last leg of the Pickle's Folly trip back to Hunton Bridge. Pickle's Folly has been at Marsworth for nine weeks caught up with stoppages at Marsworth, Boxmoor, Kings Langley, and then the wharf re-builders' barge was also caught up with stoppages at Iron Bridge and Cassio - this all had a knock-on effect. We left the car in the car park at 1100hrs, carrying our bedding and stocking up with food - the weather was cold but fine. 1 helm, 2 lock workers with the boat, 1 going ahead to set the locks - so four of us. We stopped off at Tring for lunch after the six locks of the Marsworth flight. The plan was to spend the night about Berkhamstead, so we pushed on, trying to find a mooring near to a pub but to no avail. Then The Mill loomed up and space on its banks, so we moored up quick. Having settled down for food we realised that the heating was not working and the temperature was falling. We tried every idea to solve the problem but no luck - so we used the gas stove for heat. With a pub nearby, the evening was spent keeping warm with their hospitality.

Friday 15 March. After a cold night, but warm in our sleeping bags, we started off after breakfast - we realised we had to push on without a break to make it back before dark. It felt like all the locks were against us (due to most locks having to be left empty): the weather was cold, drizzling: not nice. We landed up having soup in mugs with chunks of bread, warming us against the cold. We arrived at the base at Hunton Bridge about 1600hrs whilst we turned the boat round - a mission against the stream flow from the River Gade. We were successful and all tied up alongside Dick's Folly, clearing our kit out and picking up cars, etc. Well, this is the end of 14 days delivery from Stourport-on-Severn to Hunton Bridge, via Wolverhampton. 155 miles, 203 locks, 9 tunnels, 44 miles of narrow canal, and 111 miles of broad canal, with a good team of helpers to helm the boat and work the locks and prepare the food. Thanks to all concerned - I hope you enjoyed it. Very many thanks - Peter.

Map of the trip's progress. Pictures of the trip

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