Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Scarecrows, a dodgy man and a lovely mooring

Sunday 13th August; Penkridge to Tixall Wide

We woke quite early to the clonks and bangs that signify the sun is shining on the side of the boat.   We didn’t get away till well after 10 though; the Co-op didn’t open till 10 and we didn’t think to do the top-up shopping yesterday.   There are recycling bins in the village too – only small ones so I just disposed of a couple of plastic milk bottles.

It was a lovely morning and apart from the M6 roaring along beside the canal it was delightful.  We did feel a bit smug though.  Plenty of boats on the move too. At Teddesley Wharf we spotted Georgie Kate, the cake trip boat, which was being readied for another trip by the looks of it.

1 georgie cake not kate

At Acton Trussell we spotted several figures slouching around in gardens.  We suspect the village had recently had a scarecrow festival or something like that.

2 scarecrow at acton trussell

We stopped for lunch just after Radford Bridge.  We would have liked a roast dinner in the pub, but it was gone 1 o’clock and there would have been a considerable wait so a sandwich it was.

At the big bend at St Thomas Bridge we passed the new moorings where you can stop to look at the work being done on the link to Stafford.  But we didn’t.  We carried on past the mobile homes and the garden where the figure of a dodgy man has been hiding behind a bush for years.

4 mobile home with hiding man

We were sure there had been other figures in that garden – pigs maybe, under the tree?  But they seemed to have gone or been moved.  On we went to the aqueduct over the Sow.  We came round a sharp bend to find a boat crossing the aqueduct;  last time we came this way, the vegetation had been sparse enough to let you see across the bend and get advance warning of any need for avoidance – which we had to do rather hastily this time.  The Sow looked very placid.

5 from sow aqueduct

There were no boats waiting at Tixall lock; just a robin watching proceedings.

6 robin on toxall loxk sign

We crept towards the Wide quite slowly as we wanted to be able to moor away from the crowds but without having to reverse.  We found a lovely spot just before the Wide itself, with one other boat just visible round the bend and two cruisers which arrived later and moored a way behind us.

7 lovely m before tixall wide

I walked up to the Wide to have a look – there would have been room to moor, but we would have been cheek by jowl with everyone else so we were glad we stopped where we did.  Time for a bit of baking and a lovely quiet evening.

9 miles 5 locks

Saturday, 12 August 2017

We haven’t been this way for years

Saturday August 12th; Coven Heath to Penkridge

The wind had changed direction slightly overnight so the M54 was less noisy when we opened up this morning.  The sun was shining as we pulled pins but there was a chilly breeze too.  We have seen some lovely floral displays this summer but this was something else …

1 massive floral display

Maybe the little dog was keeping lookout.  A picture from the front would have been ideal – the steerer was invisible! but the sun was right ahead of us. 

The chemical works at Calf Heath was quite smelly.  It has pipe bridges with decorative covers

2 chemical works calf heath

but they really don’t want you to moor there.  Dave said, don’t they mean ‘no mooring especially’ if you hear an alarm?

3 chemical works mooring sign

It’s several years since we’ve been along here and a lot of it was entirely unfamiliar, though we did remember the chemical works, and Penkridge too when we got there.  We stopped at Gailey to get some bread.  The visitor moorings are a long way from the lock and bridge and I have not seen this level of threat for overstaying before.

4 gailey vm mooring threat

The garage near the bridge had very little choice of bread so I thought I’d walk along to the shop.  I would have taken the bike, but an inner tube had split when Dave was pumping up the tyres for me.  It’s a very busy road – fortunately with a decent footpath – and when I got to the roundabout it was to find the shop closed for the duration of nearby roadworks!  So it was back to the garage for a paper and then to the boat to share the last of a stale loaf for a rather small lunch.

The afternoon was warm and sunny and we met boats at all the locks on the way to Penkridge.  Of course I had to take a picture of the round toll-house at Gailey lock.

5 leaving gailey lock

At Brick Kiln Lock an unusual boat came into the lock as I walked up to help.  Where was the steerer?  All I could see was its roof.  As I closed the first bottom gate a figure emerged from half-way along the boat, reaching for the ladder – the steering position was near the front but the only way out was through a side hatch.  Not a very practical craft for a single-hander!  He wasn’t wearing a top – the risk of getting covered in green slime from the lock wall must be very high and I suppose skin is easier to wash than a t-shirt.  He kept a towel handy to wipe it off – you can just see it hanging to the right of the side windows in the picture.  Anyway I told him to stay put while I worked the lock.

6 inspection lock replica leaves brick kiln lock

His boat is a modern copy of an inspection launch and looked very smart.  At Penkridge lock we caught up with the boat in front, which was waiting for a boat to come up.  We pulled onto the service point opposite the lock moorings to empty a cassette while we waited our turn.  The boat that came up was the trip boat Georgie Kate from Teddesley Wharf,  whose passengers were enjoying delicious-looking fancy cakes and tea served in beautiful vintage china on white tablecloths.  He was turning and going back down, so we topped up the water tank as well and left the lock for him.  It wasn’t long before we were down too, and mooring a few hundred yards along between houses on one side of the canal and mobile homes on the other.  Penkridge lock has a horse-tunnel going under the road.

8 probably penkridge lock

We took Meg and walked into town, where she chose cows’ ears in the pet shop and we chose some nice cakes in Jasper’s (and some bread too).  After eating on the boat we went to the Boat for a pint or two as they had live music – a singer with guitar playing pop classics from the Beatles onward.  There was a TV tuned to the athletics World Championships in London, so every now and then she lost half her audience (including us) as their heads were turned to watch GB get some medals – silver for the women’s 4x100 relay and gold for the men.  It was a highly enjoyable evening, but we didn’t stay right to the end as it was Meg’s first ‘live gig’.  It wasn’t so much the amplified sound she wasn’t keen on, more the applause.  She did get a lot of fuss made of her by the other drinkers though, which she did enjoy. 

8½ miles, 7 locks

Friday, 11 August 2017

Weed and work, and a change of plan

Friday 11th August; Coseley to Coven Heath

Coseley is a good quiet place to stop, though the sun, such as it was, quickly went behind the trees.  It was very quiet overnight.  I thought there was quite a bit of weed last night; how wrong was I?

1 lots of weed

By morning there was a solid mat of the stuff most of the way to the tunnel.  We crept slowly along trying to avoid picking it up on the prop, so there was plenty of opportunity to snap the tunnel portal and the steps up to the top.

2 cosely tunnel  3 coseley tunnel

We went up the steps twice, once last night and once this morning for shopping (me) and to play ball with Meg (Dave).  Neither of us thought to count them – too busy puffing - they are very steep!

The tunnel turned out to be rather wet and we hadn’t taken the usual precautions for an unfamiliar tunnel.  Luckily most of the drips were to one side.  The drips in the photo look more like stalactites or bits of trailing weed but believe me they were very wet and drippy!  Coseley tunnel is unusual in that it has a towpath on both sides.

4 wet cosely tunnel

As we entered the outskirts of Wolverhampton, Dave put the engine into reverse several times to try and clear the prop, and I had to get the short pole to push a wodge of weed off the bow.  There were still some coot babies fluffing around the place, but they were too far away for my phone to get a decent picture.  After a while we had to pull in for Dave to spend 10 minutes down the weed hatch while I held the centre rope as there was nowhere to tie up or bash in a mooring pin.  Thankfully it was all weed round the prop, and no plastic to clutter up the well deck waiting for disposal.

Eventually we were nearing the centre of Wolverhampton and luckily the facilities at the Broad Street basin were vacant. We hadn’t been able to complete filling the water tank at Cambrian Wharf the other day, so got the hose out for that, emptied a cassette and the rubbish, and grabbed a quick sandwich before tackling the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks.

We started down at 12.10, and met three boats ascending in quick succession.  But the locks leak quite a bit, so it wasn’t long before I was having to lift a paddle when I locked ahead rather than just opening the top gate.  Not a problem though; we had already eaten and it didn’t rain (well, only a little bit!)  One of the locks near the top still has the metal strip on the corner of the bridge for the tow-rope to run through as the horse came through the bridge.  I used to think, surely a rope can’t wear grooves in stone or metal?  Eventually I realised that it was the grit picked up by a rope that must be doing the damage.

6 rope thing on corner of bridge

We soon got a good rhythm going; I locked ahead and Dave followed on, dealing with gates and paddles till I came back to let him out and close up after him.  This is Dave getting on with the job as I returned to lock 12.

7 lock 12

It was warm work, so plenty of water was drunk, and Dave’s delicious flapjack kept us going.  There used to be a little shop after the second of the railway crossings, but it has closed now.  It was at the end of a terrace where most of the cottages had a Torbay palm in the front garden.  Many years ago we met an old gentleman who used to bring one back from his annual holiday to Torquay with his late wife, and after a while all the neighbours had one too.  There aren’t many left now; people have paved over their front gardens to park their cars.  The old gentleman must be long gone.

8 still some torbay palms

As we neared the bottom of the flight, we could hear a loudspeaker system and the cheering of a crowd; there was a meeting at the racecourse.  Sadly, though races were clearly happening, we heard no thundering hooves and saw no action.  Eventually we made it to the pretty bottom lock.

10 lock 21 at last

We had made it down in 3 hours 10 minutes.  Now, our original plan had been to turn left at Aldersley Junction and complete the Stourport Ring, but Alvechurch marina had said they were unlikely to have room for us on our return.  We will be wintering at Droitwich Spa, so rather than go south already we turned north and will do some phoning over the next few days to find a mooring for a few weeks till we can come out again in September.  We stopped briefly on the visitor moorings before Autherley Junction so I could dispose of this traffic cone which had been floating around below the bottom lock.

11 traffic cone

Meg had worked hard supervising her crew on the flight and took a well-earned break.

12 relaxing meg

It is quite a few years since we last came this way and we were a bit concerned about the rocky narrows – what if we met another boat?  But it turned out to be quite a bit easier than the narrows near Llangollen and although we met a boat near the far end it was no problem to pull back to the nearest passing place.

14 narrow bit

We passed under the M54 and stopped for the night on an open grassy stretch at Coven Heath.  The noise from the motorway was a bit intrusive till we shut the doors, but the outlook was pleasant and it was safe for Meg to wander around.

During the evening a couple of hire boats from the Anglo-Welsh base at Autherley Junction went past very fast.  The first was a real speed merchant – his wake was slapping against our hull for quite a while as he increased his revs and sped away.  I doubt we will catch up with him.

Just under 8 miles, 21 locks, Coseley and Wolverhampton Tunnels.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A senior moment …..

Thursday 10th August; Birmingham to Coseley

No rushing this morning; we were up late and by the time I had disposed of the rubbish and got the paper we finally left at 10.15.  The sun was shining which was a real bonus after the last couple of days.

1 sunny main line

The towpath was being repaired at one point;  they seem to lay asphalt first, then come along later, spread liquid tar on it and pour gravel over the top.

2 spread tar on the tarmac  3 then sprinkle gravel on the tar

There was no sign of any roller, and they didn’t close the towpath.  There were just notices warning dog walkers of wet tar.

4 but didnt see a roller

There wasn’t much else of interest to see.  There were a couple of cormorants on the Smethwick pumping station chimney;

4a cormorants on smethwick pumpingstation chimney

and we snapped some of the usual landmarks - the rural-looking approach to Galton Tunnel


and the Stewart Aqueduct which carries the Wolverhampton Level above the Main Line and below the M5.

6 stewart aqueduct and m5

There were stunning ripple reflections under the motorway deck.  Unfortunately they look more like smoke.

7 reflections on underside of m5 bridge

We haven’t ‘done’ the Gower Branch and Brades Hall locks yet.  We missed our opportunity again.

10 havent been up gower branch yet

We really wished we had gone that way as we approached Factory Locks at Tipton.  There was a queue of two boats at the bottom lock.  We hung back, not sure what was going on as the boats were both in strange positions.  A hire boat, first-timers, had pulled in so close behind the first boat that she got stuck trying to get out.  But all ok in the end.

11 bottom factory lock

She was single-handing so I went along to help.  And my senior moment occurred.  I went ahead to start emptying the next lock, failing to spot that the top gate was open.  By the time I realised, I had half-emptied the next pound. Idiot!!  As the single-hander was going into the second lock, the hire crew were still sitting on their boat.  I had to go and suggest they might like to start locking up too …..

They were a bit slow; having come up from Alvechurch, it was their first lock.  I was busy helping the single-hander, but they were ok.  A boat started coming down as the first one left, and then another arrived, the trip boat from Dudley Tunnel.  Space is tight in the top pound, but there were no problems passing.   Eventually we got to the top.

12 leaving top factory lock

Tired and hungry, we cruised on to Coseley where we moored between the footbridge (which seems to be blocked) and the tunnel.

13 moored at coseley stop

After a very late lunch, Dave and Meg discovered the way to the shops up and over the tunnel.  The view from the top is rather good.  The hazy blue hills on the horizon are actually covered with the buildings of Birmingham.

14 view from top of tunnel

15 view from top of tunnel

I felt I had to go up to see the view.  It was worth the effort of all those steps!  As I returned to the boat I noticed mats of weeds floating down from the tunnel.  Something to watch out for tomorrow!

16 mats of weed building up

Dave was down the weed hatch, pulling a load of plastic and weed off the propeller.  Later on he picked a punnet of fabulous large and sweet blackberries.

9 miles, 3 locks, Galton tunnel.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bears in Birmingham

Wednesday 9th August; The Vale to Birmingham

I woke a couple of times during the night to the sound of rain beating on the roof.  Then, well before 7, we were rudely jolted awake by a boat going past MUCH too fast. As Chuffed settled again, we could hear him (must have been a bloke surely!) increase the revs, then as the slapping of his wake against our hull slowly subsided, he upped his revs again.  Ah well.  Back to sleep.

We got up to rain, had breakfast to rain.  The Met office forecast on the computer said it would lessen mid-morning then stop, and so it proved. Before we left I walked Meg along the path which runs behind the trees near to the railway; it runs a couple of hundred yards behind a series of grassy areas interspersed with clumps of trees.  It’s away from the towpath so better for dogs.

We set off around 10.30.  We needed water but Holliday Wharf was fully occupied.  Filming was taking place as we came to Worcester Bar; they didn’t ask us to stop so we didn’t, and the couple being filmed just carried on with their conversation.  I wonder what it was for?

                   1 filming got us too1 filming got us too

We rounded Old Turn junction as the musical chimes rang for 11 o’clock, and went down to Cambrian Wharf where we turned and waited for water.  A hire boat was topping up, and we waited for them to finish.  Although there are two taps, the flow is not very good and we thought we’d let them get done before we started.   After an hour, with another boat having arrived and started to fill, we called it a day and went to moor just beyond the Arena.  We would have preferred to be on the Sea Life Centre side though, where the foot and bike traffic is less, but the moorings that side had all gone.   There was noisy road-mending work happening just a few yards away too, but beggars can’t be choosers as they say.  The restored BW boat Scorpio passed by.

4 scorpio passes

After lunch we had to go shopping; bits and pieces which needed Boots, M&S etc.  We also returned the end of a baguette to Sainsbury’s; we got it yesterday in Selly Oak, and when Dave cut the remains to make lunch today he discovered something black and soft in the middle.  Yuk.  It was probably a squashed olive or something like that but it means that the mixing equipment had not been properly cleaned at Selly Oak.  So back it went.

As we walked through the town we saw several decorated bears.  It is a project of some kind though I can’t remember what, and when it finishes the bears will be auctioned off for a good cause which also escapes me.

aurora bear   repair work

I thought Aurora Bear was still being decorated, but the girl was carrying out running repairs on all the bears.

shakesbear  Shakesbear (groan) was in the pedestrianised New Street and popular with the kiddies.

live long and prosper

Live long and prosper! I am only showing off that I can do the Vulcan greeting, but I am sure a trekkie would tell me I’m not doing it quite right!

                 bearindley placebearindley place 2 

This is Bearindley Place (another groan).  It is decorated with a loose interpretation of the local canals.  Very loose.

We ate in Zizzi’s, which was very pleasant especially with a money-off voucher, and returned to spend a quiet evening in.

Under 2 miles, no locks, and one tunnel, though I don’t think Broad Street tunnel should really count.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Relaxing again …. shame about the weather

Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th August; Alvechurch Marina to The Vale, Birmingham

We came up to Alvechurch marina on a busy M5 with some very slow driving but at least it was mostly dry.  Our mooring was very convenient for quick loading and within the hour we were ready to leave.  The mooring pontoons are very short here, and you need to use your centre rope to tie up to a post.  The tyre around it was in the wrong place to protect our paintwork, so I had deployed the fender picked up by the hirer we met in Worcester on our last trip.

alvechurch mooring

My camera, which failed on our last trip, is luckily still under warranty and has been sent off to Nikon for repair.  It hasn’t yet come back to the shop, so most of the photos this time will be taken with my phone. 

We could have stopped at Hopwood, but decided to go on to King’s Norton so that Meg, who had so patiently dozed in the car for half the day, could have a good run around.  We passed just one boat in  Wast Hill tunnel, soon after we entered, and were through in 28 minutes.  It seemed to be easier coming north.  As Dave took Meg out again later, he noticed ‘red sky at night’; fingers crossed!

Well so much for folk weather forecasting.  Or maybe it wasn’t the western sky that was red ….  Although the location is very quiet we woke several times during the night to hear rain beating on the roof, so much so that we overslept till well after 9!  And it was raining again, but by the time we left, some time after 10, it had stopped.   Just past the junction we could see something going on up ahead involving a crane.

1 crane

The work boat was being craned out and they started lifting after we had passed.  These were taken by Dave on his camera.  The chap stepped off smartly just afterwards.

2 crane3 crane 

Luckily there was only one boat moored at Selly Oak so we could stop for a trip to Sainsbury’s and Halfords.  The moored boat seemed very concerned about privacy and security; as well as a ‘Private property, keep out’ notice, and all windows obscured,  they had chained and padlocked themselves to the bollard.

4 secure mooringIt started to rain as we got back with the shopping, but we didn’t think it was right to clog up the mooring in case someone else needed it.  So we got the wet weathers on and went on to moor at the Vale in the university area of Edgbaston, just before bridge 84A.  It was dark and gloomy under the trees but at least we were inside.  Eventually the rain stopped and the boat behind us moved off, so we pulled back into the open by a grassy patch, and decided to stay put rather than go into Birmingham.  We walked up to visit the Botanical Gardens – almost visible across the railway line, but to reach it you have to cross the footbridge and follow the road over the Edgbaston tunnel.  It’s only about 15 minutes though.

There are tropical glasshouses with some wonderful plants, and extensive grounds outside.

6 sarracenia  7 sarracenia

Sarracenia are insectivorous.  Insects fall into the pitcher and, unable to get out again, are digested.  Below, the one on the right is Drosera, or Sundew.  Insects are trapped on the sticky beads of moisture on the fringes of the leaves.  There is a round-leaved sundew which grows wild in the UK in damp acid areas, where the soil is thin and poor and holds insufficient nutrients.

8 pitcher plant  11 drosera

There were also exotica such as bananas and some amazing tropical flowers.

9 banana 10 amazing tropical flower 

Nearby was the National Collection of Bonsai.  These specimens are so valuable they are kept under lock and key, and there is another locked and barred gate to separate them from the rest of the collection overnight.

12 caged bonsai

Beautiful if you like that kind of thing.  They make my toes hurt, with their roots crammed into those little pots.

Outside, there was a beautiful rock and water garden constructed down a slope.

14 me in rock garden  14a Dave in rock garden

As we walked back to the entrance we were surprised by a little voice up above saying ‘Hello’.

15 parakeet said hello

We had a very pleasant afternoon and the rain held off pretty much too.  After the evening rush of cyclists bombing by, so busy that Dave could only take Meg on the grassy area and not along the towpath, the evening was very quiet.  The railway is close but doesn’t bother us.

16 moored at the vale

9 miles, Wast Hill tunnel