Sunday 31 March 2019

Not the best end to a day (1)

Wednesday 20th March; Birmingham to King’s Heath Swingbridge (derelict)
Thursday 21st March; just a little further on

It all started so well today!  Meg had her walk, the rubbish got disposed of (via a stroll to Cambrian Wharf), the paper was bought along with milk at the little Cambrian Stores.  Soon after 10 we left our moorings opposite the Round House, which is being restored and it looks as though it will be let out to commercial enterprises. 

We set off towards the Icknield Port Loop, deciding it would be more interesting to cruise a loop to turn the boat round rather than just winding in the entrance.  We turned into the second entrance to the loop, at the ‘crossroads’ with the start of the Hockley Port Loop and were delighted to see that the side of the bridge away from the towpath had escaped the attentions of graffiti vandals.

CRT-type work was going on at Icknield Port, where a workboat had two end-of-first-life lock gates waiting for disposal

At the city end of the loop, the area of derelict factories we had seen being flattened last year is now a building site.  This is what the widebeam we saw yesterday in Brindley Place had been advertising.
It all used to look like this ....

but now -

We couldn’t decide if the white building on the left was offices or examples of the starter homes on offer.   It looks as though they are constructing some sort of small arm or basin here, where the dam is still in place.

Back through the city centre, pausing at Holliday Wharf to empty the cassettes and get some water, and out of the city we went.  At Selly Oak we had another look for the old Selly Oak Junction with the Lapal Canal – was this it?  It looks as though the towpath may have risen over a bridge.  The route looks a bit blocked …

We wondered if these steps would eventually be the towpath access to the new Sainsbury’s.  If so, some mooring rings would be nice!  There doesn’t look to be a great deal of room for the Lapal canal to run though.

The plan was to stop for lunch at King’s Norton Junction, and go on to Hockley Heath.  The engine had been overheating a little, and a blast of reverse threw some plastic off, but when we moored just round the junction at lunchtime it was obvious Dave would need to go down the weed hatch.

There wasn’t a great deal of rubbish, but I had pulled a black plastic sack out of the water as we moored, so there was a ready container for it.  There was some surgery happening to a large tree at the Guillotine Lock – they weren’t taking it down, just cutting it back a bit.  It’s very skilled work - I caught it just as the piece of tree was descending with perfect control.

We set off about 3, only to pull in almost immediately as the engine overheated.  There was quite a bit of water in the bilge, but we couldn’t see where it had come from.  After it had cooled a bit, Dave checked and  topped up the coolant header tank – it took a couple of pints – and we tried again, managing just a couple of hundred yards.  We coasted in to the bollards by the derelict swing bridge and called RCR.  The engineer reached us at 5.30, diagnosed a problem with the thermostat housing and said he’d have to call Barras in the morning to see if we need a complete new unit or just gaskets.  

We were a little anxious about stopping overnight along this stretch – just a few hundred yards away the self-pumpout equipment at the junction was removed after constant vandalism – but it seemed to be quite quiet with just families and dog walkers enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

It was a very quiet night and we awoke to birdsong.  The next morning Dave topped up the water and we crept carefully along to Lyons’ Boatyard where we moored on the towpath side.  The engine hadn’t overheated and there was no water in the bilge, as we had been going barely above tickover, so we were able to leave the engine running to charge the batteries.  A message came from RCR to say they would be in touch ‘soon’, and another a little later to say they would be emailing an ‘estimate’ for the work, but are we safe to continue cruising or not?  We don’t know.  Mid-afternoon we had a ‘how did we do’ phone call and the lady was surprised to hear we had no idea what was going on.  She passed me on to someone else who promised there would be an email by 5pm….. but no.  Lyons’ engineer is working away today but will be in tomorrow so we will at least be able to find out if we can safely cruise.

8 miles in 2 days, Brandwood tunnel, a lot of thumb-twiddling.

Friday 29 March 2019

Into Birmingham

Tuesday 19th March
On an overcast but dry morning Dave fitted the new starter battery.  The old one is now serving as temporary ballast on the starboard side!  At least we can now start the engine even if we can’t tell how full the batteries are!  By 10 we were in Wast Hills tunnel – a swift transit but rather wet, as usual. At King’s Norton Junction was the sad sight of the canal house, which has been burnt out.  There is no road access, so the fire engines had trouble getting to it (as reported in Canal Boat in the new issue).

Now it was the fast stretch into Birmingham – not particularly interesting when you have done it many times, but hey.  The area between one of the walls and the works buildings behind it has been planted up with Forsythia and Chaenomeles and looked stunning.

The little cafĂ© in a portacabin on the offside has been done up and re-opened, with the mooring cleared, but we didn’t stop.  We pulled in at the Selly Oak moorings for a trip to Sainsbury’s but it was closed!!  It has moved to the new premises where the Lapal canal should be running, and there has been a lot of planning-related argument as they have (allegedly I expect I must say) attempted to get out of making space for the restoration.  We got directions to the new store from the lovely girl in Pets At Home and found an enormous megastore in a new retail park, which includes a Go Outdoors and M&S food among other shops which I forget, shopping not being a favourite activity of mine.  We wondered if this (below) was destined to become the line of the Lapal canal, but couldn’t see quite how it would join the main line.  The signal on my phone has been dodgy to say the least on this trip, and I haven’t had the laptop battery life to research the current position.

It looks like a towpath running along what could be a canal under restoration.  It ends at the road bridge in the distance and is on the very edge of the Sainsbury site.  By now Meg had realised where we were headed.  We are pretty sure she remembered there was a park up ahead!

The moorings on the windy stretch between the Mailbox and Gas street were deserted, and there was just one at Brindley Place – a widebeam! What??

It is a sales office for ‘Port Loop’ – we guess that is the development on the land we saw being cleared at the Icknield Port loop last year.  We had the pick of the moorings on the Main Line, and as soon as we had moored got going to the Museum and Art Gallery to see the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.  The Royal Collection has a large number of his drawings, and to mark his 500th anniversary various locations around the country are displaying – free – twelve of them.  They are small of course, not much bigger than A4, but protected by a plain sheet of glass so you could get up close and really have a good look.  It wasn’t busy, everyone could have a good look and people were talking to each other about them. 

After a burger apiece at the Handmade Burger Co – mine was a Veg-Mex with pickled jalapenos, my that brought tears to my eyes! – we had an evening on the boat.

8½ miles, Wast Hills tunnel, and Leonardo drawings that are rarely seen, at least by the hoi polloi.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Not just the Tardebigge flight

Monday 18th March; Tardebigge (above lock 33) to Hopwood

Oops, only 10 days late …..

Up early, and with a cooked breakfast in our tummies for a long day’s locking we left our mooring at 8.40.  It was very cold when we started, but it wasn’t long before we were plenty warm enough! We used the system we developed yesterday.  I closed up as Dave cruised to the next lock, which I’d already set as luckily they were almost all ready for us.

Then I closed the gate on the towpath side and left him to carry on while I went on to set the next lock, then came back to close up.  Chiffchaffs and larks were singing as we cracked along, super-efficient at about 7 minutes a lock.  At the Noisy Dog House the dogs just watched me go by, as with no dog by my side at the time I wasn’t of much interest.  But as I came back I thought I’d grab a snap of Sink Dog (the Alsatian sits in an old stone sink).  But the instant I lifted the camera it leapt out of the sink, snarling.

I wonder if they are trained to be so aggressive?  I feel sorry for them, but I’m just glad they are chained up.  Though if that’s how they spend their days, then hassling passers-by must be their only entertainment.

At one point we met a boat on its way down. Stray Not Far, built by Ortomarine, is an electric/diesel hybrid, 16 months old and was silent and fume-free in the locks.  Attractive too.  We were making good time and it didn’t seem too long before we were passing the reservoir.

But we were getting tired and we were heartily glad when a CRT chap showed up and gave a hand.  He had been running water down – lock 44 leaks like a sieve and yesterday the pound above was apparently nearly empty.  We had noticed that the bywashes were mostly not running but had had no trouble ourselves.

Instead of stopping on the long pound below the top of the flight (and because the lockie was prepping the top lock for us) we carried on through Tardebigge and Shortwood tunnels (the first dry, the other a bit drippy).  The south portal of Tardebigge is attractive stone and brick

and the northern one sits in a cathedral of trees.

We moored before Alvechurch for lunch, then continued to the marina and chandlery so Dave could try and get a new starter battery.  Luckily they had the right model in stock, and at a good price.  Then on we went again, past the new Withybed Moorings where there is still a lot of space.

There were a few Tufted Duck and Great Crested Grebe on Lower Bittell reservoir and a smart male Mandarin pottering about on the canal nearby.

Dave caught a glimpse of a kingfisher as we approached Hopwood, but I missed it.  We eventually tied up at Hopwood at about 5.  A hire-cruiser sort of day today – 8 hours’ cruising, but we need to make up time so we can get back home in time for my next medical appointment.
25 locks, 7½ miles

Friday 22 March 2019

The plan was to creep quietly out of the marina …

Sunday 17th March; Droitwich Spa Marina to lock 33, Tardebigge flight

I am posting this on Friday 22nd March.  This trip has not been going to plan at all!

We were up early as the wind would be at its gentlest before 8 am.  We planned to leave quietly but the piercing whine, which disappears once the engine is going, wouldn’t stop!  Dave tried again but the engine wouldn’t fire.  We must have spoilt quite a few Sunday morning lie-ins. Out came the jump leads and Dave started the engine off the domestic batteries.  Then we did creep quietly out, to our great relief as the wind was visibly strengthening.  Up the Hanbury flight we went, to turn northwards up towards Birmingham.  The gauge at the top lock shows the Severn still in flood, and the Salwarpe, the little river which joins the canal on the way towards Droitwich, had come up in yesterday’s rain.  

The sky was blue and the sun was brilliant.  What a change from the last few days!  We are thankful to be on the canal and our route not constrained by river levels. 
It’s not just locks that get maintained during the winter, but at least work on the signs doesn’t give rise to a stoppage.  

This must be the first day for ages the people at the lock cottage have been able to hang their washing out without fear of it flying away!  It's a good drying day today.

Dave was kept busy doing the locking while I tried hard to get to grips with cruising in the wind.  It’s unfortunately necessary - I had major surgery in January (for bowel cancer) and it’s taking a while to get back to full fitness.

The towpath at Stoke Works is closed for several hundred yards at the moment.  There is a massive housing development under construction all along the canal.

We wondered if they will be offered as lovely properties with views of the canal – but a factory spreads its unlovely self all along the offside so purchasers might be rather disappointed!
I tentatively  went to set the bottom lock of the Stoke flight and managed ok, so I did a few more.  We pulled in at the Queen’s Head at lunchtime, not intending to go further today.  Dave went down the engine hole to investigate the starter battery while I admired the pussy willow. 

After lunch we walked up the flight to a little over half-way.  The noisy dogs in the Dog House were busy shouting at the Jack Russell walking in front of us and we slipped by without them really noticing.  But they were waiting as we came back! 

The locks in the lower part of the flight were all empty, so we decided to forgo a meal in the pub tonight and come up through the first 5 locks, to where there is a long-ish pound with a piled edge.  This would mean less work tomorrow – there are 30 locks in the flight and if another boat had started before us tomorrow, well that would be 5 more to set.  I locked ahead – opening the bottom gates on an empty Tardebigge lock is easy! then walked back to close up after Dave had raised the ground paddles and opened the top gates.  It worked a treat – he got the heavy work and I felt I’d achieved a decent amount of work without exhausting myself.  Fingers crossed for a good day tomorrow. 

It’s a much better lookout here than down at the bottom by the pub. 

5 miles, 20 locks, 1 failed starter battery

Tuesday 19 March 2019

If only we had bow thrusters …

Friday 15th and Saturday 16th March; Droitwich Spa Marina

… we would be moored below the Tardebigge flight instead of still languishing in the marina. But the wind is so strong that it would be impossible to get out of the pontoon without being blown sideways into the boats opposite.  The flag on our neighbour’s boat was blowing out horizontally in various directions and flapping so violently that the photo is blurred.

We’d already delayed coming up to the boat by two days while we waited to see if the winds would abate.  When we arrived on Friday and unpacked, we discovered (as usual) what we’d forgotten.  In this case it was one of the bags of kitchen supplies.  But our neighbour checked that it wasn’t still sitting in the drive, nor inside the house.  It’s a mystery!  Anyway, as the wind was still far to strong to allow us to get away from our berth, Dave got on with investigating the battery condition meter, which had stopped working when he came up in January to check the boat.  He took the panel off

and tested the current flowing between the battery and the meter, which was ok, then used the multimeter to confirm there was a voltage between the terminals on the meter, and concluded that the battery meter itself is b*ggered.  I am taking his word for it.

Meg kept her eye on proceedings but only to make sure we hadn’t forgotten she needed a walk.  So as we weren't cruising anywhere we took her off along the towpath and up the Worcester and Birmingham.  Frustratingly it would have been perfectly possible to cruise on the canal, which is of course much more sheltered than the marina.  Still, I collected an armful of ash twigs for kindling and Meg found a crab-apple in the bottom of the hedge.  She had great fun chasing it till it bounced into the canal.  Dave tried using a stick to get it close enough for her to reach but with no luck.  He wasn’t going to risk slipping off the sloping bank trying to retrieve it himself.

Coltsfoot, which flowers before the horseshoe-shaped leaves emerge

A boat was ascending the Hanbury locks as we came back to the marina.  They have bow thrusters and had been pointing in the right direction for a quick getaway, so were able to get out of the marina.  They were hoping to cruise the Droitwich Ring, but of course the Severn is in flood.  The wind had dropped a little by 5.30, but it was getting too dark to operate the locks in safety so we stayed put.  The wind dropped during the night but by daylight on Saturday morning it was worse than before.  So we went shopping to buy the things that we were missing and picked up a sack of coal on our return.  After lunch, as the rain was still holding off, I walked down Saltway (the main road past the marina) to where I’d seen an ‘eggs for sale’ sign.  There were vegetables too.

Excellent value.  On the way back I followed a footpath sign pointing down the edge of someone’s garden.  The path continued through a little wood, and then I discovered this

It must have been one of the original locks on the Droitwich Junction Canal.  The restoration had to take a different line in order to get under the M5 motorway which had been built in the interim.  The footpath continued and came out at the picnic area by the road leading to the marina.

With the fire lit this morning, the boat has warmed up nicely.  The rain is blowing hard against the windows and we are hoping it will be calm enough first thing on Sunday to get going at last.  At least we got the Saturday paper so have plenty of reading matter!

I hope the pictures have displayed properly.  When I used I used the old method it wouldn’t publish at all.  So I have deleted the photos and will put them in via blogger to see if that works.

1 derelict lock walked past, 0 miles cruised, wind, wind, rain, wind.