National Memorial Arboretum part 1

The National Memorial Arboretum is an inspiring thought provoking, and I would say, an essential place to visit if you are are moored in Alrewas. It’s about a 45 minute walk from the canal. We were there for the whole day and still didn’t see it all.  My words can not do the sentiment of the place justice, because not only is the venue vast but also the enormity of the depth and breadth of sacrifice and service is overwhelming. And way beyond agreeing with the rights and the wrongs of war, I think it is appropriate that as a country we have a place to acknowledge the freedoms we have because of the service of so many.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I expected to see on our visit. There are over 300 memorials and 30 000 trees. You’ll be glad to know I didn’t count or photograph them all. Some memorials are representative showing servicemen going above and beyond, like the Army medical  corp. When I think back to my nursing career in the safety of an NHS hospital, I’d have been given the sack if I had moved a patient like this but this medic got his patient to care despite the potential consequences of his own safety.

This Eagle is the emblem of the Army Air corp. There were many magnificent beasts honouring various regiments but we don’t have a familiar allegiance to any one in particular so I chose to share this one because it impressed me. 

Some represented the suffering of service men and women, this one paying tribute to those with mental health issues and post traumatic stress.

And some represented our serviceman and women at work, as in this Bomb disposal officer.

This poignant sculpture called Shot at Dawn acknowledging our errors when our conscripted young men, terrified at what was confronting them fled rather than face the enemy. They were court marshalled, stripped of their regimental insignia and shot for desertion. It was a brutal and unforgivable punishment, carried out without justice as one young soldier wrote home to his mum that he was suffering with a cold and needed some fresh air to clear his head, he had been arrested and “was in a spot of bother, but would sort it out in the morning” the wooden posts behind the sculpture all had a name plaque, and their age, sadly some only 16 years old, having lied to get into the army so they could serve our country.




Fradley Pond

The Pond at Fradley Junction, is a water conservation facility. It was built around 1777 when the owners of the newly completed Trent and Mersy canal were worried about loosing their water to the adjoining Coventry canal. A channel was dug, taking water from the top lock above the junction into a reservoir, which  fed back into the canal below the junction.

There’s a mile long circular walk with audio points giving lots of snippets of information about what you can see.  And there’s some lovely sculptures as well.

The pond has had several uses but now been developed into an award winning nature trail with hides and feeding stations, fishing platforms and viewing points.

Lots of grubs for hungry Blue tit chicks

But the Mallards had to look a bit deeper.

I believe this is a greylag goose, obviously it’s gosling has had it’s lunch and is now taking a nap.

Squirrels on the other hand are always looking for their next titbit.

I was told to look out for the water vole who lives at the feeding station, I’m not sure if this is a water vole or a rat. Either way I think it’s cute. There were several mice but they didn’t stick around for a decent photo.

We don’t often see Jays on the ground, but someone had sprinkled seed for them.

Around the bend and over the pond

We’ve now moved onto the Trent and Mersy canal, and gone around the bend at Fradley Junction. It’s gongoozelers heaven, Fradley Junction seems to have a lovely atmosphere and a real buzz. And we’ve found a quiet mooring inbetween the junction and Alrewas. On Sunday we had a visit from Tim and Veve. Veve hadn’t seen a lock before so it was a new experience for them. 

That didn’t stop us taking advantage of an enhanced crew as we all got to work the four locks for the day.

Not sure this technique is in the RYA handbook, but they got the hang of it and have promised to come again.

Fradley Junction is well served with cafes and a pub as well as all the other necessary services a boater needs. Including a dog mooring spot.

We bought our ice creams and went for a wander around the adjoining nature reserve, Fradley pond. And oh what nature we saw.This has to be the biģedt dragonfly I’ve ever seen.

Lots of opportunity to explore with this purpose built pond dipping platform.

Fabulous Fradley, but not quite round the bend

We’ve had several days moored at Fradley, next to Bridge Farm Lane, about a mile before the junction.

Heather was attending a nearby event called Flame Off, a convention for lampworkers, that’s working with glass, where the primary source of heat used to melt the glass is a torch flame, originally an oil lamp, as opposed to glass blowing which uses a furnace. We offered/demanded to provide her with bed and breakfast.  She attended workshops and demos and came back to the boat, excited to show us what she’d learnt. 

She was at pains to point out that these are all learning pieces, not perfect beads, but never the less I was impressed. 

While she was sweating it out with a high temperature blow torch, the rest of us took it easy, relaxing in perfect conditions.

And I went walking, looking at the flowers, these wild orchids are exquisite. Worth getting down on your knees to look at the intricate detail.

Fradley itself is divided into two halves by the canal, and is a merry mix of some beautiful old thatched cottages and a lot of new estates.  Sadly the need for housing is eating into the countryside and our beautiful old villages are being swamped and overrun with development. I wish I new the answer, cause I’m not sure the town planners do.  We all need somewhere to build our nest.


Meandering the Midlands

Continuing our cruise up the Coventry canal has taken us through some beautiful countryside. And having helped our friends, it was now our turn to take Firecrest down the Atherstone locks. 

There are often volunteer lockies here and a community that takes great pride in their canal, with plenty of colourful flowers displays. Next time, I shall make sure I have time to explore the town as well. Although it’s a couple of hours hard work, Eric took the strain with the windlass for a couple of locks. As you can see, he has a good work ethic.

We’ve commented on how few herons we’ve seen recently but this magnificent bird flew along side us for quite a way. 

There are another 2 locks in Tamworth, the Glascote pair. Which again are very pretty. We moored up at Ventura Park, the retail quarter of Tamworth, a huge consumer complex, it turns out we were moored next to the Jolly Sailor, not a pub, or a boater, but the car sales hub. We have friends/business associates in Tamworth and Chris has joked that his P&P is Personal and a Pint. Chris and Edna took us on  walking tour of the town, and despite the sprawling new housing estates, they are rightly very proud of its heritage. Unfortunately it was evening and not enough light for my photos to do justice to the town. Though being evening we did go out for a rather tasty Bangladesh meal.

The following day we were passed by another Braidbar boat, One Day, owned by Anna and Martin, this was one of the newly built boats at one of the open weekends that inspired us, so as we had spent a fair bit of time looking around their boat, it was pleasure to invite them onto Firecrest for a cuppa.

Continuing along the Coventry

I’m getting a bit behind with our journey as I look back to the spring bank holiday weekend.  We set out with great expectations in balmy baking hot sunshine, however the warning signs were there.  We gazed over the fields and saw the ominously dramatic storm clouds forming. 

We moored just beyond Nuneaton, at CampHill.  A quick look on google showed us that this area had been used for quarrying stone and manganese since Roman times. As there is a well marked footpath through the woodland, aka shade from the sun, we set off to explore. It didn’t take long before we felt like a handsome Prince searching for sleeping beauty.

Although the reason was sensible,

I didn’t photograph the memorials to the teenagers who had lost their lives in its hidden depth.

We made it back to the boat just in time before the storm broke.

I don’t think we have ever heard rain so heavy on the boat and the lightning was blinding. I have a real time storm tracker app which plots every strike so we could see the deluge that the Midlands was under although we only heard about the extent of the flooding and damage the next day. There are times when it’s very useful already living on a boat.

We contintued our journey northwards through countryside we were unfamiliar with.

For my friend, who tells me I am knowledgeable about plants, I believe Dr Zeus calls this one a Truffula tree

And we think this is a take on the modern facility known as a Man Creche.


Curious on the Coventry

Turning right at Hawkesbury junction takes us north rather than south into Coventry itself. Another case of us having a schedule to meet people, not that we mind I hasten to add. It’ll be the second time we’ve cruised this way and we always enjoy the curious sites we see around Charity dock yard. 

Although we do wonder who’s watching who.

And whether the locals are friendly.

Some of the gardens are beautifully tended,

Some are just “enjoyed”

Though I do wonder if the neighbours enjoy it as much as we do as we cruise past.


Happy Birthday Firecrest

Can you believe it. On 1st June 2017 we paid our licence fee, were given our paperwork and Firecrest finally became ours to cruise as we choose. Today we celebrated our 1st birthday with our daughter Heather on board with us, and a bottle of champagne.

We are moored on the Coventry canal, enjoying the evening sunshine. (Firecrest is the boat at the far end.) I’m hoping Eric will do all the figures about how far we’ve travelled etc, and I’ll tell you more about our Coventry journey. Watch this space.

Underneath the Arches

I think the Oxford canal was built by someone who’d had a little too much to drink and, looking at the original route, would have failed a police breathalizer.  It wiggles and winds all over the place probably because James Brindley was having to keep a tight reign on the budget, embankments and cuttings being too expensive to include in the design. In 1820, about 50 years after it was completed and it was realised how profitable this major highway was, work began to ease navigation by creating a straighter more logical route.

The tortuous sections weren’t abandoned completely, they were spanned by the precast Horseley iron works bridges, now they have become, marinas and secluded residential moorings.

Shortly after leaving Rugby, the canal passes under the Newbold tunnel. Another expensive addition to the newly straightened canal. It’s 240m long and although it can take side by side narrowboats, it’s easy enough to see and wait for oncoming boats.

At Antsy the canal spans the valley over an aquaduct which you can’t see from the boat, but the railway rushes past over some fantastic arches. I can only assume the train passengers enjoy a similar view of our transit.

A few miles on at Hawkesbury junction, the Oxford canal joins the Coventry canal 

It’s a peaceful but popular mooring spot, far enough away from the motorway and railway, but still close enough to the Greyhound, a must for boaters and gongoozelers alike.

And finally we’ve just heard that our friend Laurence’s boat, Elizabeth Anne, won best of show at Crick.  James Attwood is a fantastic boat builder with a flare for innovative design and is a real asset to Braidbar boats.

Fully Ballasted

We’ve had issues with Firecrest’s ballast since we got her. Before we left Braidbar we added 200kg which helped significantly, but as we got to know how she handled we realised more was needed for a perfect trim. As Eric needed to hire a car to attend a meeting, he took the opportunity to have some weights delivered back home which he could them bring to the boat. And while we had a car I took the opportunity to fully ballast the fridge.

We’ll distribute the weights properly under the floor at the bow. We also filled up with water at Rugby and diesel at Lime Farm Marina. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to how the boat handles with all that extra weight.  We still think more might be better but it’s not high priority. We wanted to go cruising.