1975 – 6 Grebe and Sycamore


By now, having done the obvious circular routes, we were looking for something different. Hugh came up with the brilliant idea of hiring two boats, one from Rugby to head north and one heading south from Middlewich. When the boats met, they would turn round and exchange crews so that the crews got a one-way trip and the boats ended up where they’d come from!  Amazingly, the hire firms agreed even though the people that brought the boats back would be completely different from those who took them out.

Martin’s diary (see below) provides an excellent account of this trip notable for gale-force winds bringing down pub signs in Audlem (and a certain “British Waterways” sign I still have) and tramping across a muddy field to reach the pub on the last night.

The meeting and changeover place had been calculated for New Year’s Eve at Tipton, at the bottom of Factory Locks, but it nearly didn’t happen.  Grebe arrived in good time, but Sycamore turned right onto the Old Main Line at the top of the locks and headed towards Birmingham!  Eventually they realised their mistake and came down Brades Locks and back to Tipton on the New Main Line. (Mike, on Sycamore records that Factory Locks were closed thus forcing them to take this route, but they were open the following morning!)  This at least meant it was facing in the right direction to return to Middlewich and Grebe had to be taken up to the top of the locks and winded so that it too faced the right way. During the wait at Tipton Bernard discovered a Hanson’s pub, the Noah’s Ark, and the landlady indicated that she would be very happy to accommodate us on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, the “Newcastle” crew were unhappy that only Mild Ale was available and wandered off to find some Bitter, but both crews enjoyed an excellent evening.

Keith joined us on New Year’s Eve. I took a late afternoon train into Birmingham to meet him, but due to the early shutdown on the railway there were no trains back to Tipton. We made it by bus, changing at Oldbury. The following morning Keith was distinctly unwell. Disregarding the “n” pints of Hanson’s Mild he blamed it all on “that hot dog I had at Oldbury bus station!”

Dates: 27th December 1975 – 4th January 1976

Boats:  Grebe from Willow Wren, Rugby and Sycamore from Willow Wren Kearns

Crews:  Northbound: Keith Bailey, Kris Brook, Jim Davies, Mark Doran, Bernard Jordan, Hugh Mowat,  Harold Pugh, Duncan Roberts, Gwen and Martin Tordoff, and Bess the dog. (10)

Southbound: Lynda Barr, Ian Brown, Clive Coole, Angie Ford, Steve Greenfield, Ken Harrop, Lily Hopkins, Mike Piet, John Radcliffe, Hilary Smith, Suzanne Wood, Grahame Yard (12)

Route:  Grebe  – Rugby –  Braunston –  Grand Union – Wigrams Turn – Stockton Brook – Hatton – GU route to Birmingham – BCN, New Main Line to Tipton and return.

Sycamore – Middlewich – Barbridge Junction – Shropshire Union – Autherley Junction  – Aldersley Junction(?) – BCN – Wolverhampton – Tipton – King’s Norton – Lapworth – Hatton – Napton Junction – Napton – Napton Junction – Braunston.

Stopping Places and Pubs:  

Northbound Boat:

Saturday 27th December: An Ansells’ pub in Hillmorton

Sunday 28th: Fox and Hen (Davenports) near Welsh Road Lock

Monday 29th: Navigation (M&B), Lapworth

Tuesday, 30th:  Davenports pub in Birmingham (White Lion?)

Wednesday, 31st: Noah’s Ark (Hanson’s) Tipton

Thursday, 1st January:  Hartley Arms (Banks’s) Wheaton Aston

Friday, 2nd January:  Shroppie Fly (Free) and Bridge Inn (Marston’s) Audlem

Saturday, 3rd January:  Verdin Arms (Robinson’s) near Church Minshull

Southbound boat:

Saturday, 27th December: at Middlewich

Sunday, 28th: Bridge Inn (Marston’s), Audlem

Monday, 29th: Boat Inn (Marston’s), Gnosall

Tuesday, 30th: Wolverhampton

Wednesday, 31st: Banks’s pub, Tipton

Thursday, 1st January:

Friday: 2nd : New Inn, Hatton

Saturday, 3rd: Napton Bridge Inn, Napton



Jim’s and Martin’s photos on this Flickr link

 Mike’s photos to be added soon

Martin’s Diary  (Northbound boat) (Note the late starts on certain days, Jim)

New Year 1975/76 – Grand Union – Birmingham – Shropshire Union

  • Sat 27th Dec– Collected Kris in Halifax. In Cortina to Leicester (Kris’s flat) & Rugby. Good weather. Willow Wren cabin boat “Grebe” 70’ X 7’. 12-berth. Me; Gwen (& Bess); Kris; Bernard; Mark; Jim; Hugh; Duncan; blind Harold Pugh. Got as far as Hillmorton on Oxford Canal. Meal and pub. Draught Ansells. V good.
  • Sun 28th Dec– Nice day again. Off 0900. Braunston. (Walk on part of GC line). Napton Jct. Stockton Locks. Pub – “Boat Inn”. Bascote. Tied up at Welsh road Lock, below Bascote. Up hill to Davenport’s pub “Fox & Hen”. Good.
  • Mon 29th Dec– Fine and dry until late evening. Off 0815. Fosse Locks. Leamington. Shopping in Warwick. Hatton Locks. Shrewley Tunnel. Lapworth. Discovered that Bess had been left at Hatton. Cycled back there on Mark’s bike. Found her ½ way down flight. Walked 4 ½ miles back to Lapworth. Stew, made by Gwen and me. Pub – “Navigation Inn”. Draught M&B (same pub as NYE 1973/74)
  • Tue 30th Dec– Dull but dry and mild. Knowle Locks. GU to B/ham. Badly stuck once at Solihull. Camp Hill Locks. Digbeth Branch. Up Farmer’s Bridge flight. Removed car tyre from prop at top. Walk into B/ham. Indian curry meal, then Davenport’s pub.
  • Wed 31st Dec– Gas St Basin for water and to turn round. BCN Main Line to Tipton. Rain from lunchtime, heavy at times. Met Newcastle crowd in Willow Wren 12-berth cabin boat “Sycamore”. Transferred boats at foot of Tipton 3 locks. Pub (Hanson’s ale). Meal in boat. Back to Hanson’s pub until 1230. (Joined by Jim’s friend Keith).
  •  Thu 1st Jan – Fine morning – heavy rain later. Tipton. W/ton. Long walk. Down 21 locks to Aldersley Jct with S&W, then Autherley Jct with SU main line. Up SU to Wheaton Aston. Gwen and I made meal. Pub. Banks’s beer.
  • Fri 2nd Jan– Rain most of day. Caught 0730 Midland Red bus Wheaton Aston to W/ton. Trains to New St, then Rugby, arr 1005. Drove car via M6 and Eccleshall to Mkt Drayton. Walked to Tyrley Locks to meet boat. Adderley locks. Audlem Locks. All got very wet. Tied up in Audlem. Night of nationwide gales. Much damage – nearly hit by flying sign of pub “Shroppie Fly”. Called there, then Bridge Hotel. Very strong Marston’s.
  • Sat 3rd Jan– High winds until later. Mainly dry. Took car to Middlewich. Crosville buses to Crewe and Nantwich. 70p one way! Met boat near aqueduct. Beautiful sunny afternoon. Pub in Nantwich. Made pie & pea lunch. Barbridge Jct. Right, down SU Middlewich branch. Tied up near Church Minshull. Walk through muddy fields to Robinsons pub.
  • Sun 4th Jan – Very wet dull day. Back at boatyard for 1000. All away by 1100. Back via M56. Dropped Jim off in Eccles. M62 (snowy). Duncan off in Bfd. Home 1400 with Kris Brook. She went back to Leicester on m/bike and train.
    Summary – Canal Hol 75/76; approx 120 miles, 137 locks.


 Mike’s Diary Notes:  (Southbound boat)
Canal 1975-76 (cross-over) Sycamore from Middlewich & Grebe to Rugby
Saturday 27 Dec Meet Angie & Clive at Euston for 15.00 train to Rugby. Meet Lily & to Crewe for local bus to Middlewich for 43p. Sycamore in boatyard. Grab a bunk and drive round corner to park. Tea as people turn up. Into town for drink – Wilson’s ales. Organ.
Sunday 38 Dec Start 7.00. New boat & all beautiful. Weather cloudy but fine. Marking bridges for Lynda (who was to catch us up). Charge along to Nantwich for lunch. Fine town. ‘Swan with two Heads’ pub. Reach Audlem early. Look around village. Spag bol with soggy spag! Nice drink of Marstons.
Monday 29 Dec Up early and Audlem flight. Sunrise nice but not spectacular. Nice locks at Adderley. Shopping & drink at Market Drayton before lunch. Icebreaker boat. Put up Union Jack. Lovely town. Arrive Gnosall in darkness. Round to pub.
Tuesday 30 Dec Start early & rapid canal to Brewood. Shopping & card posting. Autherley at 13.00. Stone jammed in lock gate & spend ages fishing to roll it out of the way. Manhandle boat across drained pound. Fish out loads of rubbish. Slow climb for 4 hours. Last couple of locks in darkness. Fill with water in top lock. Boats pass. Cinema in Wolves ‘Barry Lyndon’. Chippy.
Wednesday 31 Dec Later up. Through grot. Stop to phone BW at Coseley. Dry in morning. Head to Dudley Tunnel and crush finger. Reverse to Tipton Junction & then to Factory Junction. Locks closed so onto Wolves Level round to Bradeshall. Lunch in rain & down to Main Line. Duncan on bike. Swap boats to Grebe at Tipton Station in rain. Wind at top of Factory Locks. Wine/sausage/cider & on to pub. Bop to midnight. Stagger back to boat.
Thursday 1 Jan Late up and head into Brum. Hypergrot. Dry. Gas Street basin blown apart. Walk out through suburbs. Starts to rain & snow. Lunch at Kings Norton. Struggle to get the boat round. Walk along and do swing bridge. Theatre with horse. Rain so stop early. Cold pub.
Friday 2 Jan Attractive Stratford Canal but shallow & winding. Lynda & John do all the steering. Weather dull at first but sun as we do Lapworth Locks. Windy. Shopping in Lapworth. Successfully round Kingswood Junctions. Wind & rain on GU. Out of water so on to Hatton. Down & up top lock. 105mph gales. Waves over gates. Chimney down on pub. Hard going. Blown around all night.
Saturday 3 Jan Wind died down. Dry pounds on flight so let water down. Sunrise supreme. 3 hours to get down flight. Weather very pleasant & sunny. Good speed maintained. Sunken boat at Blue Lias & dry pounds at Stockton. Hand start boat. Dark at summit. Straight & wide to Napton. Walk 40 mins to pub. Angie plays piano (she was self-taught & could not read music but picked up tunes we sang – she turned the Monty Python tune to jazz, blues, reggae, etc). Singing. Walk back. Cold night.
Sunday 4 Jan Windy canal. Drizzle. Out of water so pick up more at Braunston in buckets. Run to phone box & chase boat. Ice on canal. Heavy rain and snow. Cycle scramble, golf & fishing in rain. Walk to yard & then to station to get taxis.
Crew (on southbound boat): Mike Piet, Ken Harrop, Grahame Yard, Hilary Smith, Ian Brown, Suzanne Wood, Angie Ford, Clive Coole, Lynda Barr, Lily Hopkins, John Ratcliffe, Steve Greenfield
Notes: Boats set out south from Middlewich and north from Rugby, with crews swapping over in the Midlands.

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