Victor: Up and away!

Published: Thursday, 10 September 2020

UP AND away indeed through Derwent Mouth Lock on to the Trent & Mersey yet again.

BelowAstonYes my friends at long last we are away, for like many of you when an early cruise was prevented by that dratted coronavirus, but this time no set destination, as there is little chance with 'a stoppage a day keeping the boater away'!

Out in the sticks

The virus has certainly made a difference to the mooring patterns of the continuous cruisers with very few in the usual places yet a dozen way out in the sticks moored below Aston Lock where we have never seen a soul in all our years of boating.

As the cruise continued a similar pattern emerged with their avoiding those public places so popular before the advent of the pandemic.  A bit of sense eh?

BetterByWaterAston the best of the six

In the dim and distant past I well remember the Aston Lock being of steel with long steel beams that made it a doddle to operate, but the 'it wasn't traditional' brigade demanded it was to be completely wood, and for the next umpteen years it was a complete menace to operate with difficult to move gates that would not stay closed—and paddles the required only the strong.

Oh happy I am to relate that its last repair has sorted all its problems, everything now being easy, and by far the best lock of these often referred to as the 'dreaded six'.  That incidentally was responsible for the mass exodus of narrowboats from Sawley Marina at the opening of Mercia Marina way above those 'dreaded six'.

Making life better by water.  How?

Mooring at the top of Aston and taking the dog for his daily run the now well plugged 'Making life better by water' sign so beloved by CaRT came to view, but had a well deserved addition, as shownperhaps by the boaters moored below the lock. 

Personally as no doubt many other boaters, I would really like to know how dear Canal & River Trust are 'Making life better by water'?  To my mind its waters have never been so terrible as they are now.

BrokenPaddleWestonThough Aston had eventually had its repair, the same alas cannot be said for the next lock up—Weston. It had had difficult gates and paddles and leaked like a sieve, and in the years since we last struggled through it has become progressively worse.

Shaft distorted

A bottom gate paddle had been so distorted that the steel shaft operating it had become bent with the energy needed to wind the paddle, as can be seem from the picture.  The strong men amongst you had given it too much muscle!

CillWestonThe problem was the paddle has become broken and no longer covers the aperture when forced down and so allows water through making it difficult for the level to reach its limit to be able to open the top gates.  But alas, worse is to come, for the cill is about ready to give up the ghost.

Let's hope if the cill gets repaired they also repair the bottom paddle or else we will never get the top gates open!

Approaching Swarkestone Lock we discovered only half of the lock moorings could be used as there was a small cruiser sunk and tied to the moorings, that we later learnt about from a volunteer at Stenson.


At Stenson Lock we met our first volunteer, and this time no problems, for he had no compunction at opening the paddles to capacity when we asked.  After all, though many don't seem to realise it, if you get your boat in the correct position even if only one in a broad lock, it will come to no harm.

StensonBlockedIt was here we learnt about that sunken boat that the volunteer had been told about many times, and he in turn had passed on to the CaRT people whose depot is just a couple of hundred yards away from it, but still nothing done to remove it and it had been there for months.

In the old days Stenson Lock was a bit of a doddle, with two ground paddles and four gate paddles on the top gates, making progress very easy.  Then the health and safety bods decided this was too much so outed two of the paddles.  Then came the decision to include baffles to make it slower still, but then came the problem.

For though they hastily slapped on the baffles they are not so hastily at cleaning them out, with their causing so much build-up of debris that eventually the lock really has are just two ground paddlesthe pictures shows the result of the paddle fully open.  Oh yes, these too are often reported but as can be seen from the picture, bugger all happens.  The volunteers believe they should be cleared out at least once a month.

So it was then our normal mooring at Branston, but for the first time ever the Burton side of the two bridges as the water park beyond the bridges was seeing more and more development, it's serenity having gone. Even the lake having little attention seeming more like a dirty ditch. Our usual stopping place though, as there is a 55 minutes walk for the dog by the fields, though a wood, along a fishing lake and to Tatenhill Lock and back along the towpath to the boat.

Very few boats about and only a single hire boat, from Aqua.

What a difference

What a difference indeed for when we reached Alrewas it was manic.  The boats were queuing to drop down on to the Trent then a queue of four boats waiting at Bagnall Lock. 

Jan reckons it was like 'Chinese whispers' at Bagnall Lock with everyone telling everyone else to make sure you open a top gate paddle before attempting to close the bottom gates as they will not stay closed.  Of course we realised this, as it has been the case literally for ever! 

FradleyMarinaEven when new gates were installed years ago, it was still the same, with many complaints.  So then struts were fixed on the bottom gate beams to hold them closed, but did not last very long as they were nicked, and needless to say were never replaced.

Up to 60 boats a day

Then to Fradleywith the new marina coming along nicely, which it has been for three yearsby which time a longer queue at Hunt's Lock, but a very helpful volunteer soon had them through, telling us that there had been up to 60 boats through in one day, that can be well believed, brought on no doubt by the coronavirus and with the kids at school at long last, allowing so many the freedom to cruise.

And so to our usual mooring just beyond Keeper's Lock and this time a wood for the dog.  Oh yes, the moorings have to be specially chosen Thomas dictatesfor the dog!  A surprise at our start at 7.10am—three boats on the move!  It was going to be a busy day.

Victor Swift