Friday 31 May 2013

On the water again; Stockton Top south-eastwards ….

What a slow and tedious journey up the M5, accompanied by cars and caravans on their way back home after half-term up the M5.  But the weather was fabulous and the countryside spectacular with the may blossom foaming and the green of the leaves at its brightest before the heat (we hope) of the summer.  We finally arrived at Stockton Top rather later than planned, and by the time we had unloaded the car and sorted out the admin with the office it was after 5.30 – so once we had stocked the fridge we left the rest of the unpacking and set off towards Napton Junction.

bridge 19 grand union

This is the payback for hours on the road!  Fabulous.

We moored at a lovely peaceful spot about a mile before Calcutt locks.  We had planned on getting to Braunston but so what?  It’s warm, the sun is shining …..

Thursday 9 May 2013

Home for a while ….

Why does tidying and packing always take twice as long as you think it will?

Back home eventually, and now the blog is up to date it’s time to do the same for the admin and get to grips with the garden again ……

work to do may 2013

We hope to be out again in a few weeks.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Cuttle to Stockton Top marina

It poured with rain in the night but although it was cool and damp first thing the rain held off all day, though it remained a lot cooler than it has been recently. We moored briefly at Cuttle Bridge for a trip to the Co-op in Long Itchington before setting off up Stockton Locks.

There are certainly some interesting craft around!

unusual craft at Cuttle

We paired up with Lord Portal (owned by the RAF) to go up the locks. It was slow progress as there were boats ahead of us but with 5 crew between us we made light work of it. Here are the boats entering the top lock.

entering stockton top lock

We have a temporary mooring at Stockton Top marina for two or three weeks. We had to reverse into the berth but luckily Dave had had all that practice coming out of Ashwood, so we slid smoothly in with no trouble in spite of the breeze. Here is one of our neighbours - the Stealth Boat!

stealth at stockton top 2

After lunch Dave travelled back to Ashwood marina by taxi and train to pick up the car while Debby got on with the cleaning. This evening we walked up to the Boat for a meal, only to discover it had closed – that makes the fourth closed pub this trip. So we drove down to the Blue Lias instead, a family-oriented pub we have not visited before.

10 locks

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Radford Bridge to Cuttle

Yet another glorious day with sunshine and birdsong. Spring is certainly catching up with itself now – the crab-apples in the hedgerows are now in blossom to add to the abundance.

We set off up Radford Bottom lock looking out for signs to the Farm Shop we were told about the other day; it is easily found from the bridge by the lock. They sell their own eggs, chicken, duck and lamb, and local pork, bacon, beef, honey, jam and vegetables. The hens and ducks certainly looked happy enough, sunbathing and scratching about with plenty of space. We bought some massive sticks of rhubarb as well as bacon and chicken. This is the attractive approach to Radford bottom lock.radford bottom lock through bull bridge

We continued up Fosse locks and pulled in at Fosse Wharf for water and to empty a cassette. The water tap flows fast, which is just as well because we needed to use our hose to rinse the cassette; the water pressure in the sanitary station is too low to be any use even if the water point is not in use. Consequently the sluice area is the most filthy I have ever seen, with broken tiles to add to the general unpleasantness. (We have reported it to C&RT).  Some of the Fosse locks were very hard work in the heat.hard work at fosse locks

We unexpectedly met a couple who used to live in our village at the top Fosse lock - we have not seen them for 15 or more years.  No other boats were around so we were able to spend some time catching up. Here are Dave and Trisha aboard nb Traveller’s Joy on their way again.goodbye to Travellers joy

We moored on the end of the Armco above Wood lock for a leisurely lunch, then continued on to Welsh Road lock and Bascote. At Welsh Road we found that the bottom gates leaked so badly that both top paddles had to be kept up to get the top gate open. Unfortunately two boats were ahead of us this afternoon, so the locks were all against us.  The middle gates at Bascote staircase were spectacularly leaky.leaky middle gates at bascote

We moored for the evening shortly after bridge 27 near Cuttle and Long Itchington.  When we walked up to check out the pubs in the evening we found the Two Boats had only just re-opened after being closed for a while, but is not yet doing food, so we went over the canal to the Cuttle Inn. There had been a beer festival at the weekend in Long Itchington, and it had been so popular that they had run out of bitter!  There was also no beef left so the menu was a but restricted, but we still enjoyed a meal in the sunshine with our alternative drinks – here overlooking the Two Boats across the canal.

drinks at the Cuttle Inn

8 locks

Monday 6 May 2013

Kingswood to Radford Road bridge

Bank Holiday Monday.
We set off by 9.30, having had a cooked breakfast to set us up for the Hatton flight. On our way through the beautiful countryside we heard willow warblers, chiffchaffs, saw the first cuckoo flowers, and plenty of butterflies – orange tips, peacocks, a brimstone and even a couple of the first blues of the year, holly blues, as we came down the locks. We passed more spectacular trees in blossom.  Everything seems to be bursting into bloom at the same time trying to catch up after the cold spring.

amazing blossom guc

The distant building below is a cider house. A few years ago we moored at Turner’s Green hoping to eat at the Tom o’ the Wood, but it had closed; we moored out in the countryside and Dave walked back to the bridge and along the busy road to see if this pub served food. No food, and no beer either – cider only! Though it was very pretty.
cider house at rowington

We passed several areas where the bank had collapsed in the wet winter; this slip had obviously been quite serious.
landslip on the grand union

The blossom has been amazing this year, with the wild cherries and blackthorn still going strong.  The dandelions are pretty spectacular too!  The traditional day to pick them for wine-making is St George's Day (23rd April) when in a normal spring they are at their most numerous, but this year they seem to have only just got into their stride.
only dandelions but arent they fab

As we got closer to Shrewley Tunnel, we were hailed by nb Rivendell who asked if we would wait for them at the locks, which we were happy to do.  By now it was a glorious day and the sun was very hot.  Shrewley tunnel is extremely wet and we could see the hot roof of the boat steaming as the drips hit it.
We started down the flight around 11.30. Here we are coming down from the top lock. The paddle gear is heavy work and Debby was glad of the long-throw windlass.
approaching hatton 2 down

As it was Bank Holiday Monday, gongoozlers were everywhere and the crew had to pick their way through the crowds.
cant move for gongoozlers

This sculpture is near the top of the flight.
sculpture on hatton flight

Rivendell is a syndicate boat based currently at Brinklow. Together we had 3 crew and we worked as an efficient team as we went down the flight – matched only by Dave and Poppy at their respective helms, slipping gently into every lock together even though the boats were not roped up.
Although the gongoozlers often got in the way near the top of the flight, there were several worth their weight in gold on this hot day, especially a family were from Solihull who helped us down several locks - particularly this little girl who was stronger than she looked!
two brilliant helpers

The sun was so hot that the grease packed into the paddle gear started to melt and run down towards the ‘user end’, dribbling onto the U-shaped ‘claw’ that holds the paddle up, so you got it on your hands.  I tried to find out the proper name for the ‘claw’, but this seems to be the term in general use.  I did discover the correct term for the equivalent on ‘normal’ paddle gear is pawl, which we hadn't known.  By the last lock the liquefying grease had reached the spindle and so it got on the windlass, so a messy time was had by the crew. We stopped below the flight for some lunch – here is Rivendell on the way to the Saltisford Arm.
goodbye to rivendell

We stopped to take on water below Cape Locks. We had been told that the pub has unfortunately been closed for a couple of weeks, or we might have stopped there; a local told us that it was expected to be open again quite soon, so maybe next time.  We opted to push on, crossing the aqueduct over the Avon on the edge of Warwick, towards Radford Semele to get out into the countryside again.
avon aqueduct

We moored for the evening shortly after Radford Road Bridge, glad to be out in the countryside again.
23 locks.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Kingswood Junction

(Posted on 10th May)

The morning was so beautiful that we decided to stay at Kingswood for the day. The birdsong was so loud it (almost) drowned out the noise of the M40. Dave strolled up to the shop for the papers and we enjoyed coffee in the sunshine in the picnic area by the mooring.
coffee and the papers
When the boat in front of us moved off, we hauled the boat a little further up to get the best mooring by the picnic area. Debby did some running repairs on the cratch cover while the sun had softened the material enough to make stitching easier.
mending cratch cover 2
During the afternoon we did some cleaning and chores, including the brasses (Dave’s job). There was a tufted Duck floating around at the junction – all alone, or maybe it had a mate sitting on eggs?
In the early evening we strolled back up the Stratford canal to the Boot at lock 14 for a beer in the garden. The menu looks good, though a bit expensive, and we decided to come in on our next trip this way.
We ate on the boat, having the delicious sausages we bought at Wedge’s yesterday.
A delightful and restful day in the sunshine.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Shirley to Kingswood Junction

(Posted 9th May. Thanks to James and Doug for the info about LiveWriter!)
A bit chilly and damp this morning, quite a change from the last few days. There were several short-lived heavy showers during the morning but some good sunny spells in between. There were more flowers to be seen – these wood anemones are right by the towpath near Shirley.
wood anemones
We made a short stop at bridge 20 to visit Wedge’s bakery where we got some lovely bread, Eccles cakes and various other bits and pieces. We stopped for lunch at Hockley Heath in the last of the downpours and by the time we were on the move again and heading for the Lapworth flight the rain had cleared away.
cricket at top of lapworth locks
There was a cricket match going on near the top of the flight, and lots of beautiful blossom as we went on down.
blossom on lapworth flight
The pound between locks 7 and 8 is very small so we waited above lock 7 while the boat going down ahead of us crossed with one coming up lock 8.  Unfortunately as they came up lock 7 the water in our pound dropped so far that Chuffed developed a pronounced list - she was caught on the ledge below the water. So we had to let water through from the lock above till she floated off. Once we had gone down lock 7 it was fine again as there are side ponds the rest of the way down.
As we were behind another boat and only passed two coming up it was hard work, but as the locks were not deep Dave looked after emptying the locks while Debby locked ahead and then went back to close up, so we made good progress.  Here is Dave closing the top gate at 12 while Debby closes up above.
lock 12 lapworth flight
The side ponds have waterfall overflows, though narrower and less spectacular than those on the Delph locks the other day.  Here Dave is waiting for the lock to empty.
waterfall overflow from side ponds lapworth flight
We moored at Kingswood Junction on the link moorings, and made use of our new prized possession – a folding trolley. Debby was chatting to an owner from the permanent moorings to find the location of the sanitary station and happened to mention that she was glad it was close by as we hadn’t yet got ourselves a trolley; the owner then disappeared and came back with one which had been abandoned next to her boat a year ago! So thanks to this fine lady we have a perfectly serviceable folding trolley.
We walked to the Navigation on the Grand Union for a meal.  Unfortunately it was very busy and we were too late for a table, so we had to sit outside. There was a patio heater to take off the chill when it got too cold; we generally think such heaters are rather a waste of resources so we felt a bit guilty at using it but it certainly made life more comfortable while we ate.
19 locks and 2 lift bridges today. The bridge closest to the first of the Lapworth locks is very hard work.

Friday 3 May 2013

Birmingham to Shirley Drawbridge, Stratford Canal

Friday May 3rd 2013

Birmingham to Shirley Drawbridge, Stratford Canal

Well, back at home on 9th May and time to get blogging after a week with no or very slow internet access!

3rd May; Dave took this picture last night as we walked the dog before bedtime.  These are the gated flats between the Sea Life Centre and the bridges leaving Birmingham on the way to Tipton and Dudley.  You can see how quiet the canals have been - only one other boat mooring tonight on this stretch.

Another lovely morning.  We chose a good mooring spot to be in the sun morning and evening, but not so good for the dog;  if she is still with us next time we come this way we will go down to Cambrian Wharf where there is grass.  After washing off the ketchup which some wag had applied to the back of the boat, we set off towards Edgbaston passing our yesterday’s lunch stop.  

We turned at the Mailbox into a cold headwind funnelling down the canal which stayed with us till we reached the university to visit the Barber Institute art gallery, our first destination for today.  We moored at bridge 84a, where the uni has a mooring (though we didn’t get a response when we requested permission to use it, it seemed to be fine).  Unfortunately this was a good 20+ minute walk from the gallery and we would have been better off opposite the uni’s hydrogen boat project near bridge 82 and the station.  But it was well worth the effort!  It is quite a small gallery, so no cultural indigestion, yet there are works by artists such as Degas, Monet, Gainsborough, Gaugin, Rubens, van Gogh, Magritte, Botticelli ….  and it’s free, they just ask for donations.

We went on down to the Sainsbury’s at bridge 80 and stopped to get supplies and have a late lunch.  We didn’t set off again till after 3, passing the scruffy but secure moorings at Bournville, which look a little better than last year now that the burnt-out plastic boat has been removed.  There is a delay on Debby's digital camera which means that unless the camera is already switched on, shots taken from the side of the boat often don't quite come out as intended!

The guillotine lock at King’s Norton is in a lot better shape than when we came this way a few years ago!

The brasses on this boat were in fabulous condition and put ours to shame!  It's difficult to see in the photo but its name is Brasso.

During the afternoon we heard a cuckoo in the distance, and at last have seen some bluebells in flower. We moored a couple of hundred yards before Shirley drawbridge, in the countryside again at last.

"Bit better than Birmingham Mum!"

Windmill End to Birmingham

May 2nd 2013

Windmill End to Birmingham

Another wonderful sunny day.  We left the moorings and made for the Netherton Tunnel a few hundred yards further on, past the pretty bridges over the entrances to the Boshboil Branch and the way to Halesowen opposite.  The ruins of the Cobb Engine House stand on the hill above the junctions at the entrance to the tunnel.

At the northern end of the tunnel we passed under the Wolverhampton Level.  You can see the northern portal of the Netherton tunnel through the arch of the Tividale aqueduct.

Once we joined the main line, we could see a boat waving for help; they had run aground and were asking for assistance.  Luckily it was a straightforward job to tow them free.

A while later we were waved down by a workman with an air horn, and had to wait while workmen crossed the canal in a dinghy as they constructed scaffolding by this bridge.  The workman had nothing else to do but wait for boats – it had been very quiet, but as he said the sun’s shining and at least it’s a job.

This is Smethwick station, unusually located right on the viaduct, seen through the Galton bridge.

The lovely aqueduct carrying the Engine Arm above the main line

Last year we went to Birmingham on the Wolverhampton Level, seen here crossing the main line and about to pass along below the M5.

We arrived in Birmingham in the late morning and called in to Sherborne Wharf in the Oozell’s Street loop for diesel before mooring up near the Sea Life Centre.  We had no bread so walked round to the cafĂ©/bar opposite Gas Street Basin at Worcester Bar for lunch.  Not quite warm enough to eat outside, though we took our pints outside after eating.

We went to the City Museum this afternoon for a quick visit; we saw the Staffordshire Hoard items on display, and were pleased to see this fascinating and spooky exhibit was still there:

The figures are life size, all carved out of single pieces of wood and painted.  The spooky bit is that all the teeth are real!  The artist is Anna Maria Pacheco.  The pictures (on my phone) haven’t come out too well unfortunately.

Man with his sheep, Anna Maria Pacheco

During the evening we spent a fruitless hour trying to get a web connection fast enough to use – and failing – then went for a meal at Strada.

Merry Hill to Windmill End

May 1st 2013

Merry Hill to Windmill End

Thanks James and Doug and Steve for your welcome!   We have been having trouble getting a signal the last few days so we are a bit behind with our blog (it's now 3rd May).

Merry Hill is so relatively peaceful that we slept in without hearing any of the cars seething below us in the car parks.  We took our time enjoying the lovely sunshine as we prepared to go and it was well after 10 before we left.  After the Waterfront area, the canal is tucked away below the industrial units and with the leaves coming out it was calm and peaceful. 

We saw a Canada Goose on her nest at close quarters (the first of several today) and some moorhens having a dust-up, we assume over territory.  At Blowers Green lock we waited while a boat went up and as we went in another came up behind us – already equalling yesterday’s total. 

The lock is beside the old Blower’s Green pumping station which has been restored and is the headquarters of the Dudley Canal Trust.  It’s a bit of a dodgy area – there was a large notice pointing out that the flashing was made of a lead substitute and not the real thing.  We moored at the services behind the building to take on water etc, passing this gentleman indicating the start of the Dudley No 2 Canal.

It is a shame that the area is extremely noisy – there was an industrial works right by the canal with a cement silo of some sort which was filling a series of cement lorries as we waited.

On the far side of the junction was the first lock on the way up to the Dudley tunnel.

In spite of the noise of the surroundings and rubbish in the canal there was some lovely countryside within a few hundred yards of the junction.  This is Netherton Hill (not close to the tunnel at all) with its church on the top. 

We stopped at the moorings at Windmill End before the tunnel for lunch, and it was so beautiful we decided to stay for the rest of the day.  There is room for several boats at the edge of a country park area opposite the towpath, with grassy hillsides, woods and lakes.   

We had hoped to eat at the Dry Dock, but discovered it has closed and been converted to flats.  But it was a wonderful sunny evening for eating on the boat.