Wednesday 31 May 2017

A warm and lovely day

Wednesday 31st May; Stoke Pound to Astwood bottom lock

Another warm day though rather cloudy to start with.  We made our way down the Stoke flight, dropping off rubbish at the skips by Black Prince at the bottom lock, before pulling in at Stoke Works visitor moorings.  Along the way the fields were being cut for hay or silage.

1 hayfield

We needed milk so I walked to the little shop on the Ryefields Estate.  I would have cycled, but the tyres needed air and the bike pump wasn’t working.  It’s not really that far – less than 15 minutes' walk – but for some reason it always seems a long way.  The butcher next door had very little on display and I wonder how long he will be able to keep going?

Dave had been tidying up the rubbing strake on the port side.  We had lunch then trickled through the bridge onto the water point where we filled up and disposed of glass bottles in the recycling bins by the social club.  On our way again, we passed a boat with an interesting name.  Now how do they pronounce that at the flights where you have to check your boat in with the lockie?

3 good name

As we approached the top of Astwood locks I hastily revised my plan of getting off at the bridge to prepare the first lock as the towpath was a little congested.

4 towpath lock mooring works

The towpath and lock moorings had been collapsing and the work has been going on for a month to put in piling all the way to the bridge.  Having had to dig  out the edge before starting they are now remaking the towpath.

5 works

Over the next two weeks they will be placing coping stones along part of the stretch too.  There are no signs to say the towpath is closed so I suppose they must have to move the digger every time someone wants to go by.

6 works

There were several CRT workers coming up the towpath but none with a windlass - unfortunate as the locks were all empty.  They had been painting; by the time we reached him the last one was just putting in the finishing touches as I went to fill the lock and he kindly opened the gate when it was ready.  I hope the paint is quick-drying otherwise his work could be wasted!

7 cill marker new paintIt looks as though more work will be needed below the bottom gates; it all looks most attractive – or it would be if it was an effect in a Chelsea show garden – but the brickwork underneath is in a very poor condition.

8 ropy lock tail

We pulled in about 200 yards below the bottom lock.  We love mooring here – a good edge, wide enough towpath, reeds, fields and hedges, birdsong, and away from roads though the railway isn’t far.  But that doesn’t bother us and the M5 is far enough away to be tuned out.

14 lovely mooring

And super walks too; we went round the footpaths near Hanbury Hall in the sunshine.  The route took us through fields of oilseed rape, now taller than us and stinking of cabbage, as it does.

11 walking through oilseed rape

There was one field which looked to have been sown with a wild flower meadow mixture.  The most numerous flower seemed to be yellow rattle, which is parasitic on the roots of grass.  I didn’t think to get a picture, but it looked attractive and I think it’s what we need along motorways and verges – and towpaths?  It would reduce the need for mowing as it restricts the growth of the grass, while allowing wild flowers (and therefore insects and all the wildlife that feeds on them) to flourish.

Further on I could see a characteristic brown shape in the distance – a roe deer.  He was well away from the path, but still moved away as we got closer, though not in any great hurry.  Luckily the dog couldn’t see over the grass, which was high in this field, or she might have given chase.

12 roe deer

Anyway her focus was on a ball she had just found so there was no need to put her on the lead.

When we got back to the boat I did some baking and Dave continued his inventory of what is in the various lockers.  The previous owners had all sorts of things squirrelled away and we are still, after 5 years, finding things we didn’t know we had.

12 locks, less than three miles.

Tuesday 30 May 2017


Tuesday 30th May; Alvechurch to Stoke Pound

It was grey and cool when we set off – ideal weather for a long flight of locks.  First we stopped at the hire base for some fuel (that was a mistake – it was expensive, won’t go there again) and a replacement piling hook as one (not mine) had inexplicably gone missing.  NB Back of the Moon which had been moored opposite the wharf last night had already left and was therefore ahead of us down the flight.

I finally got a snap of some new goslings.  My first attempt the other day was thwarted because there were too many adults around; this time the babies were so new that the adults were still shielding them from boats.

1 goslings

Shortwood tunnel was quite wet, but Tardebigge was dry.  Apart from the brick-lined ends, the main part seems to be rough-hewn out of the rock and this made the shape look very irregular.  The bright bit is the end of the tunnel and the orange blob is the headlamp beam; I think I may have got the wrong setting on the camera!

2 tadebigge tunnel

The Anglo-Welsh hire base had a single boat moored which went in this morning; the rest must be out with half-term holidaymakers but we haven’t found the canals to be particularly busy this trip.

Before we started locking we stopped at the facilities wharf but didn’t bother with water as we will be fine until tomorrow when we can water up at Stoke Works. There is some unusual wildlife in one of the canal-side boat gardens.  It looks as though it might have had a previous life as a hot-water cylinder.

4 hippo on way to locks

The feeder reservoir is not at the top of the flight and an engine house was built to house a pumping engine.  It is now a private residence but quite a striking place to live I would think.  And quite annoying with people taking pictures. 

5 old engine house

All the locks were against us for the top third of the flight.  By the time we reached the reservoir we were well into our ‘downhill’ routine, and taking it steadily as there were 30 locks to be done, when to our delight two volunteers appeared.  It was Jennie and Chris (and Monty the dog) of NB Tentatrice. They were actually litter-picking but Jennie had her windlass – so not only did progress improve markedly, we had a jolly chat too until they had to go off, but by then we were nearly half-way down.

6 jennie chris and monty tentatrice

It was lovely to see you both and many thanks for all your help!

Just over half-way down is a house with a variety of large aerials in the garden – and two dogs which bark manically at any passing dogs.  We call it the house of the noisy barkers.  Meg prefers to stay on the boat for this one.

7 the noisy barkers

Today the owner of the house was doing some work on one of his aerials and kept shouting at them to stop them barking so much.

8 man with the aerials

We did meet a few boats coming up, which eased the work, but many of the locks were quite leaky so it was a lot of hard work.

9 one of the lower locks

This was a very welcome sight! we finished soon after 2 o’clock, the descent having taken just on four hours.

10 down at last

There was only one boat on the Stoke Pound moorings and we tied up at the end furthest from the pub.  After a late but much-appreciated lunch we did some sorting out of the lockers in the bow and well deck, and relocated the anchor to one of the stern lockers where it will be much easier to get out when we go onto rivers.  We went to the Queen's Head to eat, taking advantage of their money off offers on food and drinks as we went before 7.  But we weren’t terribly impressed – our local chippy does better fried fish and the chef was one of those who thinks your steak should be rarer than what you asked for. 

Five and a half miles, 30 locks

Monday 29 May 2017

Just a bit of rain …..

Monday 29th May; Hopwood to Alvechurch

It rained overnight and was overcast in the morning.  The boats around us had mostly gone by 9; several were hire boats from Alvechurch and needed to be back by 10.  We weren’t intending to go far today, just to the long pound between the top two locks of Tardebigge, and as our mooring was so lovely we delayed starting off and got on with a few jobs.  Dave began staining and varnishing the new veneer on the wardrobe yesterday, so he did another coat of that, and I cleaned through the boat.  We had a leisurely coffee listening to the larks, thrushes, wrens, etc before getting going late morning.  There are towpath works starting in the long cutting between Hopwood and the Bittel reservoir.  You can see how shallow the edges are here.

1 shallow edge past hopwood

The little fishing lake which was looking very new and stark a couple of years ago is now established and a match was taking place.

2 match at fishing lake bittel

There was a boat with no name at the reservoir moorings but it certainly had interesting artwork.  Perhaps the boat’s build had been rather difficult?

3 no name but interesting artwork

We pulled in at the empty Alvechurch visitor moorings for a spot of lunch and got chatting to a chap called Ian.  He had helmed NB Cecilia yesterday on the BCN 24-hour challenge and was waiting for the rest of the crew to bring her along.  As Cecilia is a community boat, CRT will be allocating them a designated mooring here but it is not marked out yet.  They were busy having a chat and a coffee at Hopwood when we passed so he would have had to wait a while!  Apart from having to remove a large tarpaulin from the prop at an early stage of the challenge they had had fun although Ian loathed the Walsall canal.  But it soon started raining and he decided to go home. 

It tipped down for several hours and put paid to our notion of getting to Tardebigge. 

5 pouring at alvechurch

But boats were on the move in spite of the weather.  We felt very sorry for the Anglo-Welsh and Alvechurch hirers who were starting or ending their holidays in such dire weather.

6 soggy hirers

Cecilia arrived while it was still raining.  They unloaded their stuff and had disappeared before it finally gave over, well after 5. Meg eventually got taken for a decent walk.  During the evening we watched a heron trying unsuccessfully to catch his tea.

7 heron

This morning I saw a crow try to take a fish from the middle of the canal but couldn’t say whether it was successful.  It’s not something we’ve seen before – the closest was a crow hopping along the offside edge with its eye on a newly hatched brood of ducklings.  That failed too I am glad to say (though clearly the crow was only behaving naturally, it didn’t have the ‘fluffy factor’ so of course we were inclined to take the ducklings’ side).

2 miles

Sunday 28 May 2017

Countryside again

Sunday 28th May; Birmingham to Hopwood

I didn’t get much sleep last night – the traffic continued till well after 3 and revellers from the clubs and the Pride gigs were still walking home over the bridge at a quarter to four.  That’s a Saturday night in the city for you!  The blackbird which has been singing solo most beautifully from the other side of the canal started up at 3.45 too.

Quite a lot of boats went by at first light.  We thought they must all have been doing the BCN 24-hour challenge - NB Tawny Owl was moored on the other side yesterday evening bedecked with bunting and a ‘Team Tawny Owl’ slogan prominent.  We were up by 7 but took our time over breakfast, getting the paper, disposing of some recycling and then going down to the facilities block at Cambrian Wharf, which we could see was free.  As we were on our last cassette we didn’t want to risk not being able to moor at Holliday Wharf.

After filling the rather depleted water tank as well we were on our way not long after 9.  A CRT crew was collecting rubbish in the sunshine.

1 rubbish collection

The decision to use the Cambrian Wharf facilities was a good one; someone had moored overnight on Holliday Wharf completely blocking access.  Our next plan was to visit the Barber Institute, the art gallery at the University, and we tried to moor near the University station.  But with the water levels being rather low at the moment we couldn’t get in close enough and then had a bit of trouble getting off again.  But there was depth just before the aqueduct a few hundred yards along so we moored there and walked back.  The campus was very quiet as term has finished.  We enjoyed our visit and on the way back took a moment to look at this massive sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi of the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday.  The coils the figure is holding represent electromagnetic force.

   3 faraday

Back at the boat we had some lunch before another stop at Selly Oak for some supplies at Sainsbury’s and a tin of red-ox in Halfords.

It was very hot by the time we got going again.  At King’s Norton junction there was a sudden kerfuffle and a lot of noise from geese; a dog had jumped into the canal to chase them.  He wasn’t gaining on them at all and was completely ignoring his owners calling him out.

4 chasing geese

Wast Hills tunnel was straightforward (though rather wet) and we were through in half an hour.  We took the first suitable spot on the approach to Hopwood, a few hundred yards before the visitor moorings.  A beautiful quiet spot after the roar and bustle of the city.  Lots of birdsong and just lovely.

6 pleasant mooring before hopwood

Before too long there were four or five other boats nearby but there was plenty of space for us all.  After the beautiful day there was a bit of rain during the evening just as the boat in front of us were having a barbecue.

8½ miles, Edgbaston and Wast Hills tunnels

Saturday 27 May 2017


Friday 26th and Saturday 27th May; Birmingham

Our first day in Birmingham was very hot indeed and we were lucky to be on the shady side of the moorings.  Dave took Meg for an early walk to avoid the heat, and I went for an early run, but by the time I finished at 8.30 it was already very hot.  At 9.30 we walked to Moor St station to meet daughter Jen and grandson Finn who were visiting for the day.  Finn was fast asleep at the time and didn’t wake till we got back to the boat.  After a look at the passing boats

1 finn watches his first boathe decided he was hungry and cruising was not for him. After his needs had been met we set off for a short cruise to charge the batteries and he went to sleep.  We went round the Icknield Port loop – the grass bank in the second picture is the edge of Rotton Park reservoir -

4 icknield port5 icknield port

then after crossing the main line, round the Soho loop.  The towpath here is being upgraded (aka being converted to a cycle path).  The machinery they are using seems tailor-made to fit cycle tracks towpaths.

7 towpath sized machine soho loop

The mooring we have is shady, at least in part, for almost the whole day.  On a day like today that is important!

12 partial shade most of day

After a lovely relaxed lunch and a happy afternoon playing with Finn we walked them back to Moor Street and had a quiet evening in.  The library was illuminated by the evening sun.

13 evening sun on library

The next day dawned wet and a lot chillier.  In a dry spell I walked down to the service area at Cambrian wharf to dispose of rubbish, and passed this ‘Garden Centre’ boat.

 1 plant-selling boat

Dave spent the morning ironing new veneer onto one of the wardrobes where it had become water-stained when the hatch hadn’t been closed properly at some point.  This is the bottom bit by the floor.  Now it just needs some wood stain and varnishing.

5 new veneer on wardrobe

Meanwhile I made an egg and bacon pie for tea tonight, some scones and flapjack.  After lunch the weather had cleared up and we went to visit the cathedral of St Philip;  it has some stunning stained glass windows but last year when we visited the inside was being cleaned or restored and you couldn’t see much for scaffolding and protective screening.  The four panels of stained glass were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, the pre-Raphaelite artist, and even on a dull day the colours were glowing vividly.  This is the Day of Judgement; the reds were much more intense than the picture shows.

5 burne-jones last judgement

Today was Birmingham Pride day but unfortunately by the time we realised it the parade had been and gone.  Apart from a few people on their way home wearing rainbow garlands, or wrapped in rainbow flags, there was little to see where we walked.  The cathedral had this flag above the entrance; not the ‘standard’ rainbow flag but a rainbow nonetheless.

2 rainbow flag in cathedral

Outside the cathedral is a statue of the first bishop of Birmingham.

3 first bishop of birminghamThere are thought to have been over 60,000 burials in the churchyard but few memorials remain.  Some stones mark entrances to family vaults and there is an obelisk erected to the memory of Colonel Burnaby who was sent to relieve General Gordon of Khartoum in 1884.  The cemetery was closed to burials in 1858 for public health reasons as it had become “offensive to the surrounding neighbourhood, especially in the summer months.”  The most recent, and most poignant, memorial was that erected in 1995 for the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974.

4 obelisk

We walked back to the boat via Victoria Square past more Victorian edifices – the one with the columns was the Midland Bank.

6 victorian grandeur midland bank

Armed police are still patrolling.  These two had just posed for a photo with two children.

7 had just finished posing with 2 kiddies

Tomorrow we will be on our way again, south down the Worcester and Birmingham towards Tardebigge.

Thursday 25 May 2017

Phew …… no locks today

Thursday 25th May; Hockley Heath to Birmingham

It was HOT.  We didn’t leave till nearly ten; rather than get going straight after breakfast we swept the roof of the accumulated oak catkins and other assorted bits of tree, before washing off the aphid honeydew. 

1 washing the roof

It was pleasant working in the shade but very warm.  Before we really got going on the long trip into Birmingham, we stopped for a quick visit to Wedge's bakery for some bread and treats (though later we were disappointed with the cakes, sausage roll and non-spicy veg samosa, the bread was nice).

Then it was cracking on, sun cream and hats deployed, appreciating the fabulous weather and the lovely dappled shade.

2 dappled shade on a hot morning

At Dickens Heath, where there seem to be more houses every time we pass, the water feature was working for once.  It’s a strange thing – I wonder if anyone actually appreciates it?

3 water feature dickens heath with water

A little while later we were enjoying the quiet morning and approaching a bridge when suddenly the bow rode up out of the water and over some object as though we were on a (slow) rollercoaster!  Dave took the engine out of gear and we waited to see what would happen …..

4 the bow rode up over this

it was still rolling over in the water and we were lucky not to have a problem with it.  In fact we were to see a lot of floating bits of tree along the rest of the North Stratford.  At Shirley drawbridge everything went smoothly – a few years ago it failed before it was properly closed and of course it makes you a little bit anxious when that happens.  On the towpath side, what used to be a ‘wasteland’ (as I’m sure the developers would have described it) is now a sea of roofs with no trees or open green spaces for children to play in; the greenery in the picture is on the edge of the towpath.

5 sea of rooves at shirley

We stopped to take on water at bridge 5.  The water flow was so good that the tank was filled before we had eaten our snacks from Wedge’s, so we finished our lunch with ears cocked for approaching boats in case we had to make a smart exit.  But we didn’t have to.  The cottage nearby is still being restored, but is in a much better condition that last time we passed.

6 restored cottage by water point bridge 5

A boat pulled out in front of us as we approached the guillotine lock – I think they had been having a look at the mechanism.  Anyway I took the two obligatory photos at the junction, the first of the guillotine gates of the old stop lock.

9 obligatory photo 1

And then for once the sun was not entirely in the wrong place for a picture of the toll house at the junction.

10 obligatory photo 2

Once on the Worcester and Birmingham there was much less shade and as well as swigging pints of water we had to deploy pretty scarves (well I did, Dave had one of the dog’s towels) to protect the backs of our necks from the blistering heat.

Although it is not the prettiest stretch of canal, there were flowers to be seen; the yellow flags would have been wild but the poppies were doubles so probably had been sown deliberately.

13 yellow flag by factories  12 poppies in industrial W & B

It is quite a long drag up this bit in the heat, but eventually the BT tower hove into view.

15 bt tower

Because of the security situation following the appalling suicide bomb in Manchester armed police were in evidence as we came round Old Turn junction.  They looked relaxed and were smiling at people and passing boats, which was reassuring.

16 on patrol

We moored on the Sea Life centre side of the canal, which we find to be quieter than the other side and it is better for the dog as there is more shade in the summer.

A long hot day.

14½ miles, Shirley drawbridge, Brandwood, Edgbaston and Broad Street tunnels