Persuaded by his son, although not much persuasion was needed, Trustee John Dodwell has wasted no time in 2015 to get out on his boat Helen. In this blog, John shares his first boating experiences of the New Year with us and will follow up with another post tomorrow.
It was my son Richard who suggested we should go on HELEN in the New Year. I was happy to agree as you can have a good time at that time of year - crisp mornings, very bright blue skies (but that can bring ice) and without leaves on the trees, the views are
different. Ice by itself doesn't bother me - we've broken ice before.
Another reason for going was to make use of the Christmas two week "window" in stoppages. Many years ago, stoppages used to be in the summer, coinciding with the fortnightly colliery holiday periods. The increase in leisure boats made this impractical, so winter stoppages started.
Over the years, these have got into a routine of generally not starting before early November and being finished by mid-March. Much effort is put into ensuring alternative routes are available where possible - and that generally no
stoppages take place over the Christmas fortnight - when the construction industry closes down.
The easiest way I know of finding out about where and when stoppages are is to go to the stoppages section of the Trust's website. You can set up an alert system about the waterways you are interested in - and so be informed of emergency stoppages - such the
one about the car that, on Christmas Eve, went into Kegworth Flood Lock on the Soar!
These notices are also increasingly being used as a means of telling people about dredging and cutting back trees etc.
HELEN is moored in the winter months near Stourbridge and we got there about 12 noon. Ice earlier in the week had gone. We slipped down the Stourton Four without any trouble, meeting Ian Kemp and the historic boat COMET coming up, having spent the New Year at Wolverley. Ian runs the historic boat yard at Dadford's Shed by lock 12 on the Stourbridge Flight. When he and others moved in some years ago, the Shed was in danger of demolition - thank goodness that didn't happen.
We saw quite a lot of towpath walkers and gave a New Year delight to some youngsters by asking them to help wind the paddles and move the gates. We saw more families out as we headed south from the Junction along the Staffs & Worcs and it was good to see the canal being appreciated and used.
Having past through Kinver, we stopped at Whittington Horse Bridge for a late lunch at The Whittington Inn (recommended). We tied here for the night. This Bridge is an oddity as it is only wide enough for a horse, not a horse and cart - so I guess there was an old packhorse trail which the Canal crossed when it was built and so a bridge was needed.
This morning we turned, needing the Kinver Services Station, ending up at Greensforge. We are surprised - but pleased - by the number of other boats out with queues at Kinver, Hyde, Stewponey, Gothersley and Rocky Locks - in fact, three were waiting to come down at Stewponey.
Clear skies gave us some wonderful views. Without leaves on its surrounding trees, you get a good view of Stourton Castle. Elsewhere, the branches of leafless trees stood out in silhouette.
A dodgy ground paddle at Gothersley had already been reported (I'm pleased the boater took the initiative - on our return on Sunday, we found a Trust person had been out and taped it up, prior to repair). The problem was that the rack was going down too far and would only engage if manually lifted up.
We reported another ground paddle problem at Greensforge where the rack wasn't gripping. I was steering when we lined up for Rocky Lock and we stuck hard - the water level seemed down (on our return, all was well - but then, as Richard said, he was steering!).
We were being followed by a 20 ft boat whose owner was taking the opportunity of the Christmas "window" to move his boat from Droitwich nearer his home in Liverpool - he'd come up the Severn which fortunately was not in flood. Home made steak and ale pie in "The Navigation" (recommended) for us before going back to be snug in the boat with the fire lit.
John Dodwell was formerly one of our 10 trustees. 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