Saturday 26 August 2017

Home again, and a little bit of Photoshop magic

Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August; Hartshill to Springwood Haven and home

The red sky last night had done the biz and we set off at 9 in bright sunshine for the short hop to the marina.  It was a little chilly in the shade as it was a bit breezy as well.

1 moored at hartshill

It wasn’t long before we were at the wharf, then reversing into our berth.  In spite of the wind, that manoeuvre went rather well.  By 11 Dave was setting off on the bike for Nuneaton station to begin his journey back to Alvechurch for the car.  He didn’t take it with him all the way – he padlocked it to the railings at Tuttle Hill bridge (no 23) and I ran up to retrieve it and cycled back to the boat.  On the edge of one of the notorious rubbish hotspots on the system, I didn’t see a single bit of rubbish.

While Dave was hanging about on railway stations, Meg and I enjoyed a short woodland walk near bridge 27.  The sun through the trees was beautiful.

2 woodland walk

Dave was back by 2, having not done much hanging around at all with train times falling very conveniently.  So we all went out for another woodland walk.  Along one path the local yoof have made a series of ramps for bikes, which looked rather fun.  They don’t show up well in the photo though.

3 with cycle ramps

This time we took different paths, and found an area where a camp had been made and an old mattress and other rubbish were tangled and overgrown with brambles.  Not so lovely.  Back on the boat, after a cup of tea, Dave did a few little things down the engine hole between showers and then we just chilled.  We have been very lazy this trip, with not even any paintwork touched up. There was plenty of activity outside though, with boats leaving and returning to the marina.

On the Sunday we were up quite early to clean and pack and were on our way home by 11.  We will be back aboard in the autumn.

5 chuffed at springwood haven

When I wrote the blog for the day we went to Rugeley, I included a picture taken as we crossed the Trent aqueduct.  Of course the railings rather spoiled the picture.  My friend Chris (who used to own NB Avon Rose) is a dab hand with Photoshop and sent me an email saying, what railings?  Clever, isn’t he? 

1 trent near brindley bank   1a chris S photoshopped it 

Trip stats;

13 days, 85 miles 2¼ furlongs, 54 narrow locks, 1 swing bridge, 5 tunnels (Wast Hill, Edgbaston, Galton, Coseley, Wolverhampton).

Canals; Worcester and Birmingham, Birmingham Main Line. Staffs and Worcester, Trent and Mersey, Coventry, Birmingham and Fazeley.

Friday 18 August 2017

A day of good timings

Friday 18th August; Atherstone locks to Hartshill

Should we get up for an early start up the Atherstone flight?  At 6 the rain was belting down so we stayed in bed, but by 7 the sun was out.  We were away by 8 and made a quick stop at Bradley Green to empty a cassette, as we didn’t want to risk the facilities block at the top lock being in use. 

We were at the bottom lock at 8.30, having already passed the first boat down, and found a boat ready to come out.  Whatever time did they get up?  But it turned out that the first three boats had moored in the long pound between locks 9 and 10.

2 atherstone bottom lock no 11

Our turn at the bottom lock.

At lock 9, the next couple of boats had come from the top with a 5.30 start, and to our surprise had had no rain – but the showers in the past few days have been very patchy so they must have missed the rain we woke to.  As we ascended the locks we met a boat at each one.  Occasionally we had to wait a few minutes as they had only just arrived, but there was a boat in front of us so the locks would have been in their favour.  Even so we had a very easy passage. As we approached lock 5 we decided to finish the flight rather than stopping for shopping on the moorings there.

3 lock 5We knew there were volunteers at the top lock.  As Dave approached lock three I nipped round the bend to see a volunteer at lock 2 making it ready for a boat descending the top lock.  I made sure he realised we would be coming up so he didn’t close the gates on us.  There was yet another boat waiting above the top lock as we approached, so that would mean a full house for us – passing boats at all 11 locks, both entering and leaving.  The lockie was using an old-fashioned push mower with its lovely gentle sound on the very neat grass at the top lock.

5 top lock

I saw a photo on someone's blog recently of the little platform built for ‘moorhens and ducks’ in the side pound at the top lock.  We’ve seen it before, but never with a nest on it.  This year a moorhen has built a nest and was in occupation for their photo.  Disobligingly, it was just getting off as I went across to close the bottom gate.  It’s getting a bit late for breeding now I would think.

6 moorhen nest

The facilities mooring was free so we stopped to take on water as boats kept arriving at the locks.  Then as we left, boat traffic stopped and the lockies were hanging around chatting.

7 vols at atherstone top lock

Luckily we were were able to moor easily on the visitor moorings and went up to the shops, going right along from one end of the high street (pet supplies, butcher, baker) to the Co-op at the far end, and back along the canal.  We got back just as the rain started so stayed put for lunch.  There was a long and very heavy shower, ending with rolling thunder.

We didn’t want to stay there for the night and got going again when we judged we’d have an hour or so of dry weather as we wanted to get to Hartshill.  It looks as though there is going to be a considerable length of new piled mooring space at Atherstone.  It certainly needs more above the locks but I don’t think these will be ready yetawhile.

8 new moorings at atherstone

We moored in a favourite spot at Hartshill, close to the gate to the footpath across the field down towards the railway.  Off we went with Meg as soon as we were safely moored, taking a punnet with us in case of blackberries.  There were very few until we had reached the track beyond Caldecote Manor where it turns back toward the railway.  We ended up with plenty and I had to carry them rather carefully as we finished our walk, returning up the towpath.

We thought we’d go up to the pub and investigate the menu, as we’d had a lovely meal here a few years ago.  We weren't very impressed with it.  The only free table was right by the piano, not a problem in itself, but the scent from the large vase of lilies on the piano was getting a bit much as we finished our beer so we were glad to go back to the boat to eat.  And here was the last of the lucky timings;  we hadn’t been back long before the rain set in again, this time for several hours.  It eased off at dusk and I took this photo out of the side hatch.

9 evening sky at hartshill

Good weather tomorrow?

6 miles 11 locks

Thursday 17 August 2017

On past Glascote locks

Thursday 17th August; Hopwas woods to bridge 50, between Polesworth and Atherstone bottom lock.

After a wet night, but sheltered from the buffeting wind which we gathered had been a problem for other boaters, we pottered off.  The morning was warm but for the first half hour it drizzled.  By mid-morning we were approaching Fazeley junction and spotted this boat which seems to be providing a useful service.  I dropped my phone so I was rather late taking the picture, and I failed to get the boat’s name, but it is offering free disposal of used engine oil.

1 leave your old engine oil here

At the facilities block just before the junction we were annoyed to find that the rubbish compound has been closed.  Judging by the number of rat poison containers around, I reckon the local residents had been complaining about it.  As we waited to cross to the visitor mooring for a quick trip up to the Tesco Metro, a passing boater called out that Fazeley Mill marina had an excellent price for diesel (can’t remember what) but we weren’t going that way.  After our failure to bag another temporary mooring at Alvechurch marina after this trip, we had decided to come round onto the Coventry as there are lots of options if you can spend a few days getting there.  Our first choice, Fazeley Mill, unfortunately was full, otherwise we would have taken advantage of the good price, but we have secured a few weeks at Springwood Haven near Nuneaton.

Shopping done, we went on to join the inevitable queue for Glascote locks.  On the way we crossed the Tame aqueduct in the sunshine.

2 tame aqueduct tamworth

There were three boats waiting at the bottom lock, and another just going in.  The boat in front said he had joined a queue of five.  Anyway, after realising the boat going up was waiting for a boat just about to enter the top lock, we got the kettle on and had lunch.  Eventually it was our turn.  The ‘leaky lock’ is far less leaky than it was but it still took a long time to fill.  The poem, which used to be pinned up on a sheet of paper, has now been immortalised in a brass plaque, but I had left my phone on board so there is no picture.  I have had a call to say my camera has been repaired, so photos should be better on our next trip!

3 queue at glascote locks

It doesn’t look like it, but there were three boats waiting at the bottom lock.

We wanted to get reasonably close to Atherstone bottom lock for the night, and chose a sunny spot near bridge 50. It was a bit breezy, but a rise in the ground opposite sheltered us from the noise of the railway and the road beyond.

9½ miles, 2 locks

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Pay attention! A near thing.

Wednesday 16th August; Handsacre to Hopwas Woods

It was cloudy but dry when we pulled pins and with a very chilly breeze – so chilly that I dug my woolly hat out for the first hour.  Then it got warm very quickly and the shorts were donned for Wood End lock, where there was a short queue.  There was a volunteer there counting boats and recording serial numbers, and helping with the gates in between.  She has done this for the last three years; this lock has a counter at the bottom gates – it is made of the same grey plastic as modern guttering – and the count is to check that it is working properly.  It counts one every time the lock is emptied, but doesn’t that mean someone coming up after a boat had come down wouldn’t get counted?  and I hope it doesn’t leak as that would give a false positive.  Her busiest day had been last Thursday – 52 boats while she was on duty.  Her previous highest count had been 40 last year.  By the time we were in the lock three boats had arrived behind us.

At Shade House lock the volunteers were out in force; it is a training day for new volunteers and there was someone at each lock. There was also a notch worn between the two bottom gates, just the right size for a bow fender to fit snugly.  With two people at the top gate to distract him, Dave went further forward than he normally does, and when the lockies started emptying – I felt a bit redundant by this time – what with all the chat, no-one noticed that the bow fender had caught up.  The trainee lockie said, is that supposed to happen? and I shrieked STOP!  luckily Dave was able to get the boat off without us needing to refill the lock but it could have sunk us if it hadn’t been noticed.  It just goes to show you have to pay attention at all times.  This was taken after the excitement.

1 volunteers at shadehouse lockWe got down the next lock to the junction without further incident, and turned onto the Coventry where we needed to take on water.  Two boats were on the water points with just enough room for us to slot in and wait.  Dave had taken the first cassette down to the Elsan point – a few hundred yards further down the Trent and Mersey – and got back again by the time it was our turn. The tap was slow when both water points were in use, and our tank was quite low, so there was plenty of time for a couple of cups of coffee and plenty of chat (and for Dave to go back down to the Elsan point with the second cassette, lucky man!)  It was still a bit early for lunch so we went on.  We made a point of enjoying the peaceful countryside this morning; I’m not sure where exactly HS2 will run but it’s going to affect this area quite considerably.

2 nr fradley village enjoy the peace while you canWe stopped just past Fradley village to pop up to the garage on the busy A road for a paper – only to discover that it had closed down since we last used it.  We decided not to bother going back to the village and had lunch instead.  Our next stop was Streethay Wharf as we needed to replace a gas bottle.  While we were there we topped up with diesel too.  Work was taking place on NB Lilibeth, which was being overplated.  An expensive job!  The welder was working round the stern area so isn’t visible, and I obviously couldn’t go round to snap him working.

3 overplating at streethay wharf

There were a lot of boats on the move today and sometimes it was slow going past lines of moored boats.  At one point there was what looked like smoke blowing across the canal, but it was dust and chaff; there is a combine harvester in there somewhere, with the tractor and grain trailer arriving out of shot.

4 theres a combine harvester in there somewhereThe sun was going behind the clouds as we continued on to where the Coventry becomes, temporarily, the Birmingham and Fazeley canal.  Not a good picture I’m afraid as it was too bright to see the words on the marker.

5 coventry becomes birm and fazeley

Rather than bagging a patch of bank to catch the last of the sun we wanted to moor in Hopwas Woods – the dog walks are splendid and we knew there was rain forecast before long.  We bagged our favourite spot not far from the bridge which leads to the woods.

6 hopwas woods

This mooring has the added advantage of extra light, as a tree on the towpath side had fallen (away from the canal) some time ago, and we were also clear of the trees so wouldn’t be dripped on after rain.  Dave took Meg off to the woods and I went for a run along the towpath.  We hadn’t long been back when the rain began and seemed to continue for the rest of the night.

10 miles, 3 locks, 1 swing bridge.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Sunny through Rugeley

Tuesday 15th August; Shugborough to Handsacre

After a wet night it was a lovely sunny morning.  There were a lot of boats going by as we had breakfast but most were going up Haywood lock.  One boater commented, as we made ready to leave, that CRT ought to suspend the moorings closer to the lock in the summer as it was always so congested.  She had a point; two boats were already hovering waiting for the chance to get onto the lock mooring.  With the ground paddle out of action at the top it was taking ages for the lock to fill.

We left at about 10, with a short wait at Colwich lock as someone came up, and made our way to Rugeley.  Over the Trent (shame about the fence)

1 trent near brindley bank

to Brindley Bank, the site of the murder in 1839 of Christina Collins.  She had paid for a passage from Liverpool to London, where her husband had gone to look for work, but was murdered along the way by the boatmen she had engaged, and her body dumped at the Bloody Steps.   But I can’t work out if the steps went up or down.  Was the body carried UP the steps to the Talbot Inn?  The Talbot Inn is no longer there and the only ‘up’ today is the back gardens of houses.  Or down?  Either way, I’m not sure I would like to live so close to the site of a murder.

2 above canal at brindley bank rugeley

There is a sculpture in Stone in her memory, just below one of the locks.  I remember reading, in a recent Canal Boating Times, a modern ghost story based on the sad tale.

On our way into Rugeley I was very fortunate in taking a picture of a swan family at ease on the bank at the very moment a spaniel came barrelling round the corner.  The cob leapt to the defence of his family in an instant and that dog certainly changed direction pretty quickly!  We could clearly hear the hiss of the cob above the noise of the engine.

3 swan defends family

We stopped at Bridge 66 for a stock-up shop at Tesco.  Then after lunch we went into town to find the only cycle shop in the area (Peloton, in Horsefair) to get a new inner tube for the bike.  We bought two, reasoning that if one had failed at the valve the other probably would quite soon.  The car park behind Iceland has recycling bins so we cleared that too.

On our way out of Rugeley we took the regulation photographs.  Construction of the power station began in 1965 but it was decommissioned last year and demolition is scheduled to begin later this year.

4 power station

I have always found this figure, at the end of the moorings west of the Armitage Tunnel, rather creepy.  He has been raising his glass to passers-by for years.  The picture seems rather blurred; he must have been drinking for so long it has affected the photographs.  Can’t be my lack of photography skills.

5 weird figure at narrow bit

And the last obligatory photo should have been of toilets but I failed!  I had foolishly put the kettle on a while before and it started to whistle at the worst possible moment – when I came out again I had just missed a lorry with a full load of the things.  So annoying.  So I took a snap of the factory instead.

6 toilet factory

We had to wait ages for three boats to come through the narrow section at Armitage.  There used to be a tunnel here, though the roof was later removed.  But you still need to send a crew member ahead to check for, or stop, oncoming boats.  I was lucky that a local boater was coming the other way and the crew had come ahead on foot to check or it would have been four.  And I was further through the narrow bit, so we won.  It must be awkward for single-handers.

We moored on an attractive sunny stretch soon after Handsacre.  The towpath edge wasn’t perfect so pins had to be placed with care.  At the back we had crossed pins, but at the front crossed pins moved when the first boat went by so I changed to a triangle arrangement, don’t know if it has a proper name, but it worked much better than crossed pins in the soft ground.

7 replacing inner tube past handsacre

It was a very pleasant spot.  Dave replaced the faulty inner tube on the bike before we relaxed in the evening sunshine.  Though if you look you can just see my chair to the left of the picture.  I was in charge of getting the relaxation going you understand.

8 miles 1 lock.

Monday 14 August 2017

Ooh it’s got a lot busier!

Monday 14th August; Tixall Wide to Shugborough

Well it rained overnight and kept it up during the morning.  We weren't intending to go far today, so we drank tea, read and watched the boats go by – and there were rather a lot with crews all hunched up in their waterproofs.  Though not in this picture.

1 wet morning

Eventually it stopped so we set off, expecting to stop at Haywood Junction for water.  Of course, we had forgotten that this is a junction on a popular cruising ring (the Four Counties) and there were three boats waiting for the tap.  Luckily we weren't desperate!  We didn’t add to the congestion, and trickled along past the moored boats to find, as expected, a queue at Haywood lock.  Spotting a gap between the moored boats big enough for Chuffed, we slotted in and stopped.  Plenty of time to carry the rubbish back to the junction and get some fresh stuff in the farm shop.  The butcher there offered to vacuum-pack some meat for us, which we were very pleased about; we only have the small freezer compartment on a standard fridge, and vac-packing meat means it will last twice as long as in ordinary wrapping.

We had lunch too before deciding it was quiet enough to go down the lock.  We didn’t go far, just to the far end of the visitor moorings below the lock.  Then we went off for a lovely walk with Meg in the sunshine.  First across the little river Trent on Essex Bridge (though I think I took this on our way back).

3 essex bridge

There were several families having fun splashing about in the river.

4 fun in the trent

Before we reached the estate roads of Shugborough Hall, we cut off through the gate and the little woodland which leads to a path across the fields by the river.  There are some lovely trees here.  It’s possible this is a giant redwood, though as I failed to take note of the shape of the leaves I can’t check.

5 maybe redwood

Beautiful soft thick red bark though.  Eventually we found our way to the estate road that leads back to Essex bridge, then rather than go back to the boat we called in at the cafĂ© by the lock for tea and cake.  Very nice to sit in the sun and watch the action at the lock.

After that cake I found I had the energy to walk all the way back to last night’s mooring to retrieve a piling hook which had unaccountably got left behind this morning.  That’s not the first time it’s happened but at least we weren’t far away when the loss was discovered.  And I did find it, so that’s saved a few quid.

6 moored at shugborough

There wasn’t a lot of sun this evening and it was raining before dark.

1½ miles, 1 lock

Sunday 13 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.