Trustee John Dodwell returns to HELEN for some early autumnal cruising across the midlands.
After seven weeks break (my excuse is that my daughter got married), I returned on Monday to HELEN. I’d left her at Paul Barber’s yard near the bottom of the Erewash Canal. I was joined by two Trust staff for the day.
One was Simon Bamford. He is in charge of delivering all the major repair jobs, whether done by major contractors such as Kiers or done by the Trust's Direct Services group of skilled craftsmen - mainly used on stoppages etc.
Simon came fresh from having spent the weekend cruising with friends on the K&A in the Aldermaston area. Paul Barber warned him about problems at Aston Lock and he said a stoppage was due there this winter.
The second person was Liz Fleuty, Development & Engagement Manager for the East Midlands region. She’s previously had canal holidays. Her job involves talking to local parish and other councils and groups and encouraging more use of the waterways.
With the expansion of the East Midlands Region to include the eastern Trent and Mersey as far as west of Burton-on-Trent, she wanted to see this area from a boat.
We were soon on the open, wide and deep waters of the Trent but not for long. At Sawley Locks, we met a team of three volunteer lock keepers who work these automated locks.
They reckon the whole group have the Locks covered most days of the week. Some do two or three days a week but another does a day each week here and spends another day in the Braunston area.
Lunch was at The Malt Shovel in Shardlow - rather slow service. Simon was startled to be hailed by a group of men – all now retired from BW/CRT and having one of their regular get-togethers.
The locks on this part of the Trent & Mersey are wide and most have considerable falls – one (Stenson) being nearly 12.5 ft. This means the bottom gates are large and heavy. And the pressure of water on the paddles means the bottom gate paddles are hard. It’s not obvious what can be done to make life easier – I could only think of making them into staircase locks. But it would hardly be top of the agenda for spending money - and would drastically change the heritage. As it was, Liz and the rest of us coped. We saw the visible problems at Aston Lock with both ground paddles out of action.
We locked through Stenson Lock as dusk drew nigh at the end of a lovely day through very pleasant countryside. That’s after we had rather a shock when HELEN rolled violently over an obstacle just before Bridge 15. That went into Liz’s note book, along with other items she spotted as we travelled.
A day by myself but before leaving Stenson I chatted to a volunteer lock keeper at that Lock. He’s one of a group of about 15 who organise a rota covering the big locks I’d been through the day before. When winter comes, they expect to be helping with local small repairs.
I stopped at Mercia Marine for gas – my goodness, how enormous this place is! And stopped later at Horninglow Basin for water. I saw a kingfisher today - as I had yesterday. No herons today – but did spot a rabbit out feeding in the early evening. This part of the Canal, as people know, suffers from the busy, noisy A38 road – but it doesn’t seem to detract boat numbers.
Most of the Canal here - and yesterday – is deep and I wasn’t stirring up mud when in the channel. Rather startling to find water come out of the bottom lock quadrant at Barton Turn Lock – I’ve sent an email to the Trust about that, as I did also about the offside ground paddle at Wychnor Lock.
I ended the day ended the day going slowly along the River section above Wychnor up to Alrewas – just as the sun was setting (see main photo). Wonderful!
John Dodwell is one of our 10 volunteer trustees, who carry responsibility for the charity’s policies and strategies. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.
John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!See more blogs from John Dodwell