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News article created on 24 October 2014

Reflections of a year's cruising

After a busy 2014 out on the cut, Trustee John Dodwell looks back at some of the highlights of his travels.

Time for some final reflections and to consider the highlights of my cruising year. I don't measure the number of miles travelled or locks used but I do keep an eye on time. I reckon this year was about 210 hours, down on last year's 300 (when we went down the GU, to Godalming, to Odiham on the Basingstoke,up the Thames to Inglesham Junction before coming back to Stourbridge via the Oxford and Hatton. Quite a contrast from 2012's Huddersfield Narrow and back over the Rochdale; we got caught out by the T&M's Dutton breach and so had to come round via Marple.

This year we have been on the Staffs & Worcs from Stourton, up the Wolverhampton 21 to Titford. Gas Street and down Tardebigge, the two Droitwich Canals and the Severn to Tewkesbury. Then up the Avon and the southern Stratford and northern GU for the northern BCN. Back down the Wolverhampton 21 for the Shroppie to Nantwich and then Middlewich. The Cheshire Locks and Harecastle before going down the Caldon and back. Leaving us with the T&M to Great Haywood and then down the Staffs & Worcs.

The highlights? well, many. It was a year of anniversaries of restorations. In May the 40th for the Titford Canal, that highest part of the BCN - where we and others showed it is feasible to get into Titford Pools. Next was the 50th of the re-opening of the Stratford Canal to Stratford from the north, combined with the 40th of the Upper Avon from Evesham in early July. Then, in late September, the 40th on the Caldon. 1974 was a good vintage year for re-openings!

Other memories are of creeping into Worcester Cathedral one Sunday evening and listening to the last part of Evensong, followed by that fantastic Widor organ piece. Of coming down the Tardebigge 30 locks single-handed - took me 5 hours. Tieing the bow one night on the Avon to a fallen tree in the middle of nowhere with the anchor off the back. Of the wonderful quiet in Anglesey Basin, nestling under the giant Chasewater Reservoir - nature has reclaimed the old coal loading areas where HELEN herself used to work, pulling the coal boats 50 years ago into the Black Country. Stopping one evening on one of the Shroppie's embankments and having great views to the west. Woodseaves and the other deep, deep cuttings on the Shroppie.

Coming down Tyrley, Adderley and Audlem flights - always easy to work (well....we'll draw a veil over the rudder getting un-shipped!). The contrast of the cut-to-the edge Shroppie and GU towpaths with those of the Trent and Mersey north of Harecastle. Harecastle Tunnel itself never ceases to amaze me. I've told you how great I think is the scenery of the Caldon. And another veil has to be drawn over my cracking my ribs - now getting better, by the way.

It's also the villages and towns - Droitwich,  Audlem, Nantwich, Leek, Stone to name a few. And the pubs/restaurants and the real ales. Whilst solitude can be great, it's also about the people we met. We had nine Trust staff and the Defra lady on board and would have had five more if I'd finished the year as I meant to. The Trust's chairman Tony Hales helped me up the Stratford's 11 lock Wilmcote Flight and one Sunday morning the Chief Executive Richard Parry helped me down the Wolverhampton 21. In both cases, they wouldn't steer - they wanted to check the lock machinery was OK.

Architecture and engineering?  I think of aqueducts such as the new one at Selly Oak,  Edstone,  Wootten Wawen, Stretton, Nantwich, Poole and Hazelhurst. Broad Street Warehouse at Wolverhampton with its covered unloading area; the old Cadbury's wharf at Knighton; Middleport Potteries, Cheddleton wharf. Cottages, such as the barrel vaulted ones on the Stratford, seeing Maureen Shaw's old cottage at Wardle under repair, Hazelhurst Lock house and that lovely collection of buildings at Tyrley Top.

For wildlife, my best memory is of the kingfisher who didn't fly off as I approached but stayed perched on the branch until the stern was level with him - I've never before been able to see one so close. The coots and other water birds seemed to breed later this year - well into July. The oddest was my being under the M6 on the BCN Old Main Line, sharing the shelter from the rain with a couple of herons,

As you know, it's also the people you meet. Fellow boaters, strangers in pubs, people on the towpath. It's the waterways that bring us all together. There was the guy in the boatyard who wouldn't accept payment for sorting out the rudder. There was the guy from Canberra (a member of the Australian Canal Society) who'd come over the Rochdale. When people found out I was a Trustee, they inevitably took the chance for a talk (and why not?).

One noticeable fact was that few had adverse comments about the basic canal structure - generally the locks and depth attracted little comment. It was more about overstayers, about overhanging trees or  towpath vegetation (on which subject the Trust knows it got things wrong in a few areas earlier in the year and needs to get it right next year)

The weather helped a lot, of course. I was out in the fine weather of June/July and September and missed the August storms. But I love it all and am already thinking of where to go next year. But this week I've got to turn my attention to Trust budgets as the Trustees and management  prepare for the financial year starting next April.

About this blog

John Dodwell

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!

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