Wednesday 26 July 2017

Alvechurch and home

Tuesday and Wednesday 18th and 19th July; Kings Norton to Alvechurch Marina

I don’t know what it’s like at the weekend, but for a Monday night this mooring turned out to be delightful.  Early dog walkers started passing before 7, but from 11 last night there was not a sound apart from birds as it grew light.  This must be Meg’s mooring of the year.  Acres to play in.

4 kn playing fields

The spire of King’s Norton church rises behind the trees in the distance.  Meg had a good walk before we left, and a play with one of her many balls, as we will be in the marina this afternoon which is not so much fun for her.

3 knorton church across fields

We usually seem to move off at about 9 and today was no exception.  The information board at the Wast Hill tunnel portal suggests a transit time of 50 minutes, but as the tunnel is double width it’s normally much quicker than that unless there are a lot of boats coming the other way.  We made it through in 33 minutes, passing just one boat.

Hopwood was almost deserted, so we could have come through the tunnel last night, but Meg reckons we made the right decision to stay where we did.  The only sign of life was this CRT chap who appeared to have made a specific trip to check on an unattended boat moored way up closer to the tunnel.

5 crt checker at hopwood vm

Apart from a wait near the Bittel reservoir for a boat to extract itself from the trees by the bridge on the bend, we had an uneventful trip to Alvechurch.  There are some lovely properties along here.  Idyllic apart from the M42 across the fields.

6 pretty but noise from m42

A new marina to be known as Withybed is being built not far from Alvechurch. As at the one being constructed on the North Stratford there is a lot of red earth and some equipment but we saw no activity at either site.

7 new marina nr alvechurch

After a stop for a cup of tea on the visitor moorings we moved through the bridge to the marina wharf.  Dave went in to the office to sort out our temporary mooring and was able to get a good deal on fuel.  The wind had got up of course, so it was a bit awkward reversing into our berth.  As the marina is online, and the pontoons are at 90° to the canal, they have to be quite short otherwise longer boats would not be able to get in or out.  There are stout metal poles to tie your centre rope to.

After lunch Dave strolled over the bridge to the station to travel to Droitwich Spa and fetch the car, which didn’t take too long.  The weather turned very hot and humid while we got on with the various end-of-trip tasks.  Dave checked the weed hatch and removed a quantity of string and rope along with the inevitable torn plastic we must have picked up yesterday.  For tea we had fish and chips from the chippy in the village.

There was a torrential shower overnight, with the hail hammering on the hatch and pinging off the mushrooms.  Luckily the morning was dry and we had an easy run home.

We should be back again in early August – destination unknown as yet.

6 miles, Wast Hill tunnel.

Trip stats; Droitwich Spa marina to Alvechurch marina

17 cruising days, 102 miles 2¾ furlongs, 92 locks.

This was made up of 41½ miles of narrow canal, 1¼ furlongs broad canal, 44 miles 5½ furlongs small rivers, 16 miles large rivers,  72 narrow locks, 19 broad locks, 1 large lock (Diglis). 3 tunnels (Dunhampstead, Brandwood and Wast Hill), 1 major aqueduct (Edstone) and 4 smaller ones including Wootton Wawen and Yarningale.  3 lift/draw bridges.

The rivers are the Severn and the Avon, and the narrow canals are the Droitwich Junction canal, the North and South Stratford canals and the Worcester and Birmingham.  The little bit of broad canal is the Worcester end of the W&B.

Monday 17 July 2017

Stop-start, then a long drag

Monday 17th July; Hockley Heath to King’s Norton

Today was a day of bits and pieces.  Early on it was very still, and with no passing boats the reflections were striking.

1 lovely reflections

Before we left I walked back into Hockley Heath for some shopping.  But, being Monday, the butcher was closed and the little convenience store hadn’t had a veg delivery, so apart from milk I bought nothing. 

It was a hot and sunny walk, though with lots of cool shade along the towpath as I went back to the boat.

2 dappled shade

And it was very pleasant on the water.  We stopped at Wedge's for some bread but were disappointed to find that the area that use to hold vegetables had become part of the well-patronised café area.  At least we had fresh bread, so there was a pleasant lunch stop near the Bluebell. Then, having read on a blog some time ago that there is a Tesco Express at Dickens’ Heath, we stopped there next.

3 bridge 12 dickens heathThe view from bridge 12.

Apart from an older property near the canal, everything appeared to be built in the last ten years or so.  The architecture is ….. interesting.  It’s not like boring and soulless modern housing estates, and everything has the air of being designed to look interesting and established.  A lot of the area is paved and pedestrianised, and there is everything you could need day to day; a surgery, dentist, optician, Tesco, chemist, restaurants, a library.  There is even a clock on the oddly-shaped roundabout near the canal. 

4 clock rather out of place

But everything was too neat and tidy, and none of the houses or apartments seemed to have any individuality.  In spite of the sunshine, and people sitting outside the café, it felt soulless and rather creepy, as though the inhabitants had been taken over by aliens.  At least we could get some fresh veg, but I wouldn’t like to live there.

On we went to the Shirley Drawbridge.  Time was getting on, and as well as needing water we were hoping to stop for fuel at Lyons boatyard.  We were quickly through the bridge, and the bridge came down, but would the road barriers open?  No.  So a call to CRT, and when they called back to say it would be a 45 minute wait, our hearts sank.  But a lovely chap drinking in the pub garden would be around to warn boats and drivers, so as there was nothing to be contributed by hanging about we reluctantly left the CRT key in the lock (you can’t remove it until the bridge cycle is complete) and go on.  We stopped at the tap by bridge 5, which is a good fast fill, and Dave went to check Lyons’ opening hours as we would be pushed to get there before 5.  What did he discover?  Closed on Mondays.  Drat.

We had enough fuel to get us to Alvechurch even though it is a bit expensive there.  We weren’t sure where we were going to moor for the night.  We thought Hopwood, on the far side of the Wast Hill tunnel, might be rather crowded by the time we got there, but we didn’t want to moor before King’s Norton junction.  Where there is a lot of graffiti you wonder whether it is advisable to stop.  So when we saw a work boat with metal shutters locked over its windows we just carried on.

5 work boat Dignity has  metal shutters

Dredging had been going on nearby, though everyone had gone home by the time we passed.  The dredger and pan were moored near the offside, but not close enough for access from the bank.  We guessed the staff had used the small workboat to get to the towpath.

6 dredging works near the junction

We rounded the junction and started the long haul to the Wast Hills tunnel.  We knew that there used to be a self-operated pump-out at the junction, which was removed after persistent vandalism some time ago, so were a bit dubious about being too close to the junction.  We were wondering about stopping for the night near a private boat which is permanently moored on the way to the tunnel, and when we saw a hire boat pulling in not far away we thought ‘safety in numbers’, and stopped too.  There were mooring rings, and one even had a short rope spliced to it with a loop ready to pop over a dolly, so we felt more confident.

And it was absolutely fine.  A few cyclists (who rang their bells, on the whole), walkers mostly with dogs, and once darkness fell just one passer-by.  Peaceful as anything.  Meg was delighted – there was access 50 yards away to extensive playing fields just across the river Rea.

2 bridge over river rea

9½ miles, Shirley draw bridge (failed), Brandwood tunnel

Sunday 16 July 2017

The last of the locks for this trip

Sunday 16th July; Kingswood Junction to Hockley Heath

We awoke to a grey day with occasional light drizzle, but the weather soon cheered up.  We were away soon after 9 and I turned Chuffed at the junction with the Grand Union.  Not the slick three-point turn as I had watched two boats do it yesterday, but I didn’t touch the banks or the brickwork.  Dave nipped off to open the lock up to the Stratford canal, then left me to fill it as he went over to see what was happening at the next lock, as we wanted to take on water.  A hire boat was there, but unfortunately another boat was waiting too.  I handed over to Dave, as it was clear there would be quite a bit of manoeuvring, and decamped to the shop to get the Sunday paper!

As I returned, the lady from the waiting boat came up with a gift for Meggy.  They had got into the habit of retrieving balls from the canal with their previous dog, but their new one wasn’t interested in balls; so they kept them for dogs who are!  Isn't that lovely?

1 booty from lovely boater

I steered for the first part of our ascent up the Lapworth locks.  They have waterfall bywashes, which are easier to cope with than ones that come at you from the side.

2 waterfall bywash

I really enjoy doing the locks and was suffering from locking-withdrawal, so after a while I started opening the top gates while Dave locked ahead.  He opened top paddles and left me to it, though he did come back to close the gate.

3 dave skips over a lapworth lock

These gates aren’t too heavy so we swapped over for a while and I did a few locks before my leg started to ache again.  Some of the locks have this lovely flowering rush growing in the side ponds.

4 flowers in side pond

The cut had been quiet since we left Bancroft Basin; I think we must have been in between batches of hire boats.  We only met one boat this morning after our failure to get water.  Thankfully there was no-one coming down lock 7, the one with the spindle affair on the footbridge – it was a very tight squeeze last time with a longer boat coming down.

5 approaching lock 7

We stopped for lunch above lock 4.  The towpath is narrow here and it’s too close to the road to be a good overnight stop, but it’s fine for lunch.  A very odd pair of boats went past as we ate.

6 strange craft

The one being towed appears to be the domain of their daughter – at least, a girl of about 11 was sitting looking out of the front (there wasn’t a bow, as such, or at least not much of a point).  The rail at the back looked like an iron bedstead.

We moored a few hundred yards past Hockley Heath, in the pleasant shady stretch we have used before.  Dave got on with some touching up of the rubbing strake (can’t think why he needed to) and I made up a butter-bean and cheese bake.  Shopping opportunities have been few and we are running out of fresh stuff!  Later on we walked down to the pub for a pint.  If the wait for food hadn’t been over an hour we would have eaten there and had butter beans tomorrow, but went back to the boat instead.

As the light faded there was a little flurry of hire boats before all was quiet.

3 miles, 19 locks, 2 lift bridges

Saturday 15 July 2017

On to Kingswood Junction

Saturday 15th July; Lowsonford to Kingswood Junction

A cool and cloudy start this morning as we worked our way up towards the junction.  I am still having to do the steering and still having trouble with bywashes, but Dave is a dab hand at locking now.  Some of the gates are hard to get moving – at least now he knows why he has to hang about for a while if I want to get back on board.  He made sure to teach me exactly when to put the engine in reverse as I came out of the lock so that he could get back on board easily!

1 dave works hard

At one lock we met a local man who is involved, perfectly legally, with trapping and culling mink.  They are the descendants of mink that escaped, or were released by activists, from fur farms decades ago.  They thrived, and as highly efficient predators they caused, and continue to cause, huge damage to our native wildlife.  He wanted to know if we had seen any sign of them, which we hadn’t.  He has to leave his Jack Russells with his hens when they are out in their field to protect them from the little critters.  Once he was shouted at by a group of walkers who thought he had shot an otter.  He explained the destruction mink cause to ground-nesting birds, fish stocks and water voles, but they stomped off saying they would report him.  If you see mink he would love to know exactly where so he can deal with them.  I don’t know your views on animal rights, reader, but I feel our native fauna has more right to exist in the UK than this American invader!  If they had found their way here under their own steam, so to speak – such as a European bird extending its range by flying across the channel – that would be different.  But introduced by man?  No.  By the way, if you find one in a trap and release it you would be breaking the law and risk contracting Weil’s disease into the bargain.

We were soon at the service point on the junction for some much-needed water and to empty the cassettes.  The tap here is very slow, so we half-filled the tank today and planned to top up in the morning at the other tap a couple of locks further on.  We moored at the Grand Union end of the branch, beyond the railway bridge. 

2 moored at kingswood junction

After a late lunch, Dave sorted out our next temporary mooring at Alvechurch.  Then it was showers (good facilities here!) and general chilling out and watching boats and walkers pass, with occasional dogs sticking their heads through the side hatch, to Meg’s fury.  I only took two pictures today, so here’s one of my lovely salad tub – green and red lettuce Salad Bowl, nasturtium and coriander.

3 tub of edibles

The leaves and flowers of nasturtiums are tasty, slightly peppery in flavour.  I thought it would be red when I sowed the seed – this orange does not go too well with the red paint, does it?

It would have been a lovely quiet spot – not many trains on a Saturday night – but two boats on the permanent moorings opposite chose to run their engines, one 8 till 9 and the other from 9 to 10.  Perhaps they want to discourage people from mooring opposite.

2 miles, 9 locks

Friday 14 July 2017

A slow, slow day and lettuce envy!

Friday 14th July; north of Wilmcote to Lowsonford

Well, we woke on a bit of a slant, just enough to need extra effort for rolling out of bed.  This was not entirely unexpected, given the problems with water levels yesterday, but you can see from the picture that it was very slight.  We left the mooring lines a bit loose last night, just in case, and they were still loose enough to untie easily this morning.

1 excellent spot

Two boats went by, slowly, while we were having breakfast, then we set off, slowly.  We only needed a slight push to get into the deeper water, but the bottom was pretty near the top so we cruised very sedately to the Edstone aqueduct.  We could see the boat that passed us a good 15 minutes earlier still on the aqueduct, and a boat waiting, so we stopped and had quite a wait for our turn.  We too took much longer than usual to get across, and when we reached Bearley lock we found the reason for the low water level.

2 crt notice re low water at brearley lock

The water level was fine above the lock.  Between the lock and Wootton Wawen, a new marina is under construction.

2 new marina

There was yet another hold-up at Wootton Wawen; the boat in front was stationary on the little aqueduct.  After a while Dave put the bow in so I could find out what was going on.  A liveaboard was taking on water from the very inconveniently placed water-point;

6 watering up holdup at wootton wawen

if you are travelling south, you can pull in (just) alongside the boats at the wharf, but if you are going north even a long hose probably wouldn’t reach as the tap is on the aqueduct.  (For non-boaty readers – water tanks, and therefore the filler cap, tend to be at the bow or at least near the front).  You can see the tap and white supply pipe on the fence and the aqueduct is on the right.

8 badly placed water point

We were only held up for 10 minutes but the poor hirers in front only wanted to get to the visitor moorings 50 yards away as they were finishing their holiday the next day. 

7 coming over wootton wawen aqueduct

Dave crosses the aqueduct

I think if we had been that desperate for water we would have moved to let following boats pass, and then gone back to the water point.  The boat that caused the hold-up was in no hurry – they moored within a couple of hundred yards so could easily have done so. 

I am still unable to walk comfortably or work the locks, so I had another day of struggling with bywashes.  At Preston Bagot I took a selfie in the mirrored windows as I came out of the lock.

9 my steering reflection at trago mills

I brought Chuffed into the next lock faultlessly (no bywash), sadly unremarked by the long crocodile of teenagers on the crossover bridge and straggling along the towpath in both directions.  I bet the teachers had fun moving them on at the mirrored windows!

Meg was enjoying the extra walkies between locks with her Dad.  She is recovering well from her sore tummy.

12 and proof I steer

I had a couple of tries at an arty shot through the pretty split bridges.  This I think is the view from Bucket lock as the lock was filling.

13 view behind lock 33

There was plenty of room to moor at Lowsonford, where we tied up opposite the pub garden….

15 view from fleur de lys garden

where later we enjoyed a beer before having the delicious and tender pork steaks I bought from Barry the Butcher in Stratford.  (How did I end up with this odd pattern of froth on my glass when Dave didn’t?)

14 strange beer froth patterns

Oh yes, that lettuce envy.  The delightful lady from the boat behind us was most impressed by my salad tub.  (Now we’re back at home it’s looking rather bedraggled in the pouring rain and howling wind).

6 miles, 9 locks, 3 aqueducts (Edstone, Wootton Wawen and Yarningale)

Thursday 13 July 2017

Role reversal

Thursday 13th July; Stratford to beyond Wilmcote

Every pontoon in Bancroft basin last night was taken, the river moorings were crowded, and on the other side of the bridge the pub moorings were full too. But once the tourists had gone it was very quiet. A few boats moved early; one came up from the river as we were getting up, and two went down to the river.  We left at about 9 and were soon at the first lock, which is on a bend and with limited space to wait.  My calf muscle protested sharply when I started to walk over the  crossover bridge and I had to limp sideways up the slope.  Then I could barely manage to push the gate open.  So once the lock was full we swapped over and I had to leave the lock work to Dave.

1 dave does locks no 54 stratford

It took us both a while to adjust; I rarely steer except when the Captain wants a break and he normally only deals with locks if I am locking ahead.  We travel pretty slowly when I am at the tiller.  Basically I am quite nervous so I avoid doing the steering, which of course is silly and the wrong thing to do, so I shouldn’t be complaining.  It’s good for me!

Dave walked ahead to the Manchester Road lock, which is the one with the really difficult bottom gate.  It opened as I approached and I brought Chuffed in, to find a gaggle of cheery volunteers getting organised for a morning’s tidying up closer to the town.  It soon became clear that there were problems with water levels up ahead.  We had heard rumours, but nothing specific, over the last couple of days; now a CRT man came down and told us to wait in the lock until he had run water down into the pound which was very low.

2 hanging around waiting for water to be let down

So we relayed the message back to the boat following us, and I chatted to the volunteers about this wretched gate.  Apparently the IWA has suggested that CRT should sponsor a design competition for the local colleges to design an improved gate, but nothing has happened.  Something other than the wretched metal poles which dig in your back would help!

3 and that nasty bottom gate

After half an hour or so Dave phoned down to say I could go on, and we were on the move again.  Luckily a passing family closed the top gate for me and I went on to the lock by the Premier Inn.  Meg was bored at the lock; no-one would play with her.

4 premier inn lock 5 and meg waits patiently

The low water levels had variously been blamed on reservoirs not being full enough after being kept low for winter maintenance, huge numbers of boats attending the Stratford festival the previous weekend, and the dry spring. We discovered later there had been vandalism, probably on the Wilmcote flight, as well.

We made it up the Wilmcote flight without too much trouble although some of the pounds were very low.  I was on quite a steep learning curve as water was being run down from above and some of the bywashes were  bit fierce!

8 some bywashes were horrendous

I would like to report that I got into this lock without touching the sides but …. I didn’t.  Dave soon realised to his horror how much walking is involved when you lock ahead, but also discovered how pleasant it is to chat to the boaters you meet on the way.  Drat, I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that bit!  These locks have heavy gates, and luckily his back held out.  There is no way I could have managed them.

6 dave puts his back into it

Some of the pounds were very low indeed.  At one, I waited in the lock below until he had opened the next gate as I didn’t want to risk running aground if I got too close to the edge.  This one was over a foot down even after a lockful of water had been run down.

11 as pound very low

Rather than stop at the busy Wilmcote visitor moorings, where a stretch is still fenced off where the wall is leaning out over the water, we went on past bridge 50 and found a quiet mooring out in the country.  Apart from the occasional walker and passing boat, and trains not far away, it was very peaceful.

We had both had an interesting day, way out of our comfort zones – well, that’s certainly true for me.  I was very annoyed not to be able to do the locks, but am in good company;  Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have both failed to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals through injury.

3½ miles, 16 locks

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Off the river and back to normality(aka the canal!)

Wednesday 12th July; from the  River Avon to the Stratford canal – less than half a mile

It rained well into the night.  We slept well till dawn when we were abruptly awoken by an almighty crash!  The dog was on our bed in a flash and it took a moment or two to realise that it was only a long rolling thunderclap and not some dreadful accident befalling us.  It all went quiet again after a bit of squawking from wildfowl, and when we got up the weather was clear and the sun was shining across the park and through the trees.

4 park mooring

The rain had raised the river level about 5 inches.  Our moorings, though not too tight anyway, had slackened off considerably.  Over breakfast we watched the early scullers on one side, and the runners and dog walkers on the other.  This is a lovely mooring, very quiet, and we weren’t bothered by a request for mooring fees either.  I went up to town to try and find Barry the Butcher, which I did eventually, but couldn’t find the greengrocer which I thought was there.  I bought a paper and some delicious-looking olive bread in Sainsbury’s, using the self-checkout, and bought a lardy cake in the posh little bakery/cafe (now supplying fruit cake By Appointment To HRH).  Back at the boat I discovered that I had left the bread and papers in the bagging area. B****r.

We decided to go up to Bancroft Basin before lunch rather than later on, so Dave gave Meg a quick extra play in the park before we left.  He has trained her to run between his legs on command, and as a reward he throws the ball for her to catch.

1 meg through legs  2 meg catches ball

Simple pleasures.

When we arrived at the lock up onto the canal the trip boat was almost ready to come  down, so as the lock was in their favour we waited for them.  There was plenty of room on the pontoons and we moored near the CRT information boat.  I went straight up to Sainsbury’s and explained my foolishness.  The lovely checkout assistants had put my shopping on one side, bless them.  I could sense their metaphorical eye-rolling as this daft woman collected her Guardian and olive bread.  But the bread was lovely so it was worth the (slight) embarrassment.

I lazed around during the afternoon, watching boats arriving or passing through, but Dave took Meg with him to the area outside the theatre to watch a guitarist.  I could hear the music perfectly well on the boat, but Dave likes to watch a performer’s technique.  When it cooled a bit I went for a run in the park but had to cut it short with a torn calf muscle.  I did however manage to limp up to the Wetherspoon’s, the Golden Bee, where we had an excellent pint and a well-prepared steak.  You need protein to repair muscle damage, you know.  And the chips were excellent.

1 lock, less than half a mile

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Rain, and an expensive day

Tuesday 11th July; Luddington to Stratford

At the end of the wharf here were two Avon Navigation Trust workboats.  The longer one was tucked in behind a long wide pontoon and the small push-tug can be seen in the photo below, to the right of the pontoon.  We are opposite.

11 luddington

At 8 this morning three CRT workmen appeared.  They detached the pontoon from the long workboat and fixed it to the little tug which slowly and skilfully reversed out of the wharf

1 moving pontoon

with one man making sure they didn’t touch the little cruiser moored further back, while a third opened the lock gates.

2 moving pontoon

While they descended the lock, I chatted to the man about their day.  Although this lock is wide enough for the tug to slip in beside the pontoon, some locks are narrower and they will have to take them through separately.  I imagine that is quite a job if the pontoon has to be bow-hauled in by hand.

3 taking it down the lock

They were hoping to make it as far as Harvington (Robert Aickman New lock) tonight.  I would hate to meet that pontoon coming round a bend.  And I bet the hire boat that went down a short while later would soon catch them up and be none too pleased!

We pushed across before we left to use the Elsan point and take on water.  There were some interesting bracket fungi on a stump nearby.  The sawdust-like substance caught in the spiders’ webs seemed rather to be bits falling from the trees.

4 bracket fungi

We were away soon after ten and it wasn’t long before we were at the first of today’s two locks, passing through some very pretty stretches on the way.

5 pretty luddington

The first lock was open and ready for us, and two boats arrived at the top as we went in.  This lock, originally Weir Brake, was named Anonymous Lock after restoration, for the many donors who wished to remain anonymous. 

7 anonymous or gordon grey

But Nicholson’s has it labelled as ‘Gordon Grey’ lock.  Gordon Grey was on the board of the restoration trust.

The last lock, Colin P Witter, was soon dealt with

8 colin p witter

and Dave took a picture of the sculpture marking the completion of the restoration.

9 sculpture at colin p witter

We moored by the park, a hundred yards or so before the ferry.  The rain started soon afterwards and set in for some hours.  But we had to go out; Meg’s underneath has been getting quite sore and we decided to get a vet’s advice sooner rather than later, as it has happened before and she ended up quite poorly.  So, fully togged up in wet-weather gear, we set off for the 15-minute walk and 45 minutes later, and £100 lighter in the credit card department, we were saying hello to Julie and Steve (Hakuna Matata) who were moored in Bancroft Basin.  But we were so wet we felt we had to decline their kind offer of hospitality.

Back on the boat, we drank tea and watched the hire boats carrying on as normal.  The scullers were out in force later on, and a large group of children and young people in little kayaks followed, all defying the weather.

2 locks, 3 miles