Monday 30 September 2019

A dry (ish) trip into Birmingham

Wednesday 25th September; Hockley Heath to Birmingham
We were almost clear of the trees last night but not quite – the breeze got up and there were a couple of loud bangs as acorns (we thought) came off the tree above.  In the morning I went to remove them and found three knopper galls instead.  These are formed when a tiny gall wasp lays eggs in the developing acorn and the growing larvae cause this amazing distortion.  When this first appeared in the UK, people got very worried that it would destroy future generations of oak trees – but some years there are many more acorns than galls, leaving (we hope) plenty for squirrels, jays, etc to eat as well as enough to germinate into new little oak trees.

After a quick visit to Wedge’s Bakery for bread and some tasty savoury snacks, we cruised towards Shirley, past a Christmas Tree farm,

the burnt out cottage where saplings are growing on the collapsing first floor,

and the Earlswood permanent moorings, where someone has created a nifty way to climb a tree.

Lady Line Wharf is having some work done, though we couldn’t tell quite what.

At Shirley Drawbridge, which now with a replacement control box is a joy to use, we held up a mere 6 cars, though one was a Learner so we felt we had added to their education.

We rounded King’s Norton junction, where the toll cottage is now swathed in plastic while the ravages of the fire are being repaired, though we saw no activity.

We stopped briefly at Holliday Wharf to empty a cassette, passed under Black Sabbath Bridge (previously Broad Street)

and after the quiet waterways so far we were surprised to find the moorings pretty full.  We found a Chuffed-sized space on the Sherborne Wharf side.  I walked down to Cambrian Wharf to dispose of some rubbish, and realised the moorings there were pretty full too.  It turned out that there is something going on at the Black Country Museum this weekend.  Historic boats Uranus and Cassiopeia were breasted up against a flat on the offside below Tindal Bridge.

Efforts have been made to make the planted areas more useful for humans and insects.  There are herbs of various kinds (gone to seed now, they really need trimming unless the seeds are being left for the birds);

some lovely ferns;

and flowers for the bees.

14½ miles, Shirley Drawbridge

Saturday 28 September 2019

Thunder, lightning and Lapworth locks, not quite in the dry

Tuesday 24th September; Lapworth locks, Boot pound to Hockley Heath, bridge 24
We were rudely awoken before 6 by torrential rain and a thunderstorm.  Meg joined us on the bed – it’s not thunder that alarms her, but the drumming on the roof when it rains cats and dogs.  We didn’t get up, but did regret forgetting to put the tonneau cover over the stern when there was a small drip from the sliding hatch onto Dave’s fleece.  The rain eased off for a while after breakfast, so I could take the rubbish down to the bins, give Meg a bit of a walk, and get the paper and milk from the little shop.

But the short interlude of light rain didn’t last long.  It was definitely a morning for staying put.

A couple of unfortunate hire boats dripped their way past – this is part of the Warwickshire Ring so they were probably on quite a tight schedule - no lazy morning inside for them!  The forecast said the rain would ease up after 11, and it did.  We set off at about 11.30 and straightaway met a volunteer, who was free as the boat he had been helping down was stopping for a rest.  He helped us all the way up the thick of the locks.  We could tell that a boat was on the way down as the bywashes were running fiercely.  Luckily Dave knows how to deal with these – we have done this flight often enough!

We passed one more boat in the short pound below lock 8.

The volunteer raised the paddles at lock 7 for us.  This is the one above the short curved pound, where it is difficult enough to get a 55’ boat round without touching the edge or the walls.  We once passed a 70-footer here, which was testing to say the least but we managed it.  The towpath changes sides here, and as well as the split bridge which allows the towrope to stay attached to both horse and boat, it has a spindle affair to aid the process too.

The volunteer went back down the flight, and we did the rest on our own.  Not all in one go though!  Heavy rain started again as we cleared lock 7.  It’s a few hundred yards to the next lock, and as I wasn’t walking there was time to get waterproofs on.  Lock 5 we think of as the fancy plants and paint house - but no pictures of those as the rain was too heavy.  I sheltered under a tree and snapped the pyracanthas that were planted the year before last, I think.  Getting established now.

By now it was obvious that my waterproof – which failed on the last trip and which I re-proofed before we came out again – was useless.  As soon as we had squelched our way up lock 4 (the cricket field lock, rain definitely stopped play!) we moored up.  My top half was wet through.

We had lunch and waited for the rain to stop before we set off again.  It was still warm enough to be wearing shorts.  I filled my (spare, grubby, boating) waterproof’s pockets with some yellow plums from a tree by the woodyard, and eventually we made it up the top lock.  This is the American’s House lock.  Jeremy from Massachusetts lived here with his wife for years, and operated as an independent lockie.  He was always polite, smartly turned out and took his work seriously. 

When his wife died he moved into the village, and then went back to the States for a while.  But he came back to the canal, and when we saw him walking on the towpath last year he was still his dapper and friendly self.  But today’s volunteer said that he had gone back to the States for good now, as his health is declining.  We wish him well.

As we approached Hockley Heath the heavens opened once more.  The rings before the bridge were all occupied so we couldn’t stop there.  We had waterproofs on, but the rain was heavy enough not only to make us get the brolly out, but forced us to hold the boat under the road bridge and wait for it to stop!  Eventually we made it out again, and went on to one of our favourite moorings just short of bridge 24 – a little closer to the bridge than usual, to be out of the tree-drip area as much as possible.

Then at last the sun came out!   The M42 roared in the distance but was not particularly intrusive.  As darkness fell we put the Mikuni on for an hour – the boat was festooned with wet clothing and dog towels that needed drying.

3½ miles, 13 locks, 2 windlass-operated draw bridges,

Thursday 26 September 2019

Beating the rain

Monday 23rd September; Hatton locks (4 up) to Lapworth locks (the Boot pound)
We woke quite early, just as the sun was peeping through the towpath hedge.  We’d made no particular effort for an early start, but at ten past 8 we were ready, and the boat we had come up with yesterday still had its curtains drawn.  So off we went – rain is forecast for this afternoon and we would rather have finished for the day by then!

It was still chilly in the shade but we had our shorts on, and it wasn’t long before our jumpers came off.  The volunteers started early today – we had only just done the first lock when one appeared.  At Ugly Bridge (where there is a gap in the hedge to get to the garage shop) is artwork of an anatomically strange insect of some kind – it’s been here for years.

The sun was dazzling and made it difficult to get a decent picture - I was in the shade under a tree, but shooting into the sun doesn't really work on this camera. 

I couldn’t hang about – while I had gone to lock ahead, David the volunteer soon vertook me to set the next one up.  We made a fine team.

Even with his help, these locks are hard.  I was pleased to be coping though – I finished chemo a few weeks ago and am building up my strength again.  Boating is an ideal test, because if it’s too much Dave will take over and I’ll steer.  But so far that hasn’t happened, partly because he leaps off to help when he can.  He he is at the bottom of ‘the thick’.

At about halfway, volunteer David went back down the flight with another boat and his partner Ron took over, helping us up as far as the CRT workshops, where we met two boats coming down. 

The last 4 locks were in our favour.  I was just raising the top paddle on the last lock when two familiar faces appeared – John and Julia from NB Rune.  We haven’t seen them for a while and as they were waiting (in vain) for another boat to join them for the descent, we sat there in the full lock and had a good chat.  Eventually they gave up waiting and started down, while we took their place on the water point, emptied cassettes and disposed of rubbish.  Then we moved along to the visitor moorings, where we left the boat and went down to the cafĂ© for a very early lunch.  We had come up the 17 locks in 2¼ hours and felt we deserved a treat!

Some Triumph enthusiasts had the same idea.  I wonder if those bikes are ever taken out in bad weather?

Shiny shiny!
Fortified with a fry-up, we were on our way again well before 1 o’clock.  Shrewley tunnel was its usual dripping self.  The mossy bit at the north end seems to get bigger every year.

It’s a good thing we had the big brolly up or we would have got very wet indeed.

The old wooden boats between the tunnel and Kingswood Junction seem to have been abandoned.  We thought once that the smart red number plates meant they would be getting some TLC, but now they seem to be getting more and more dilapidated.

We turned off the Grand Union towards the Stratford canal.  Should we moor here tonight or go up the first few of the Lapworth flight?  Our mind was made up as a boat came down the lock by the cottage, and proceeded to take the best mooring.  We went on.

With boats coming down, and a volunteer too, we were swiftly up the 6 locks to the pound below the Boot Inn, where there is space for several boats.  By 3pm we were safely tied up and within half an hour it was raining.  The weather forecast is dire, so we are glad that at least some of the flight has been done!

6½ miles, 23 locks (17 broad, 6 narrow), Shrewley Tunnel

Wednesday 25 September 2019

The weather breaks (a bit), but it’s still warm

Sunday 22nd September; Radford Semele to Hatton locks
There was rain overnight and while we had breakfast.  But although it was overcast when we left, the rain held off as we cruised through Leamington.  There were lots of runners on the towpath but few boats on the move.

There is more artwork on the bridge by the student flats.

Further on, we have always admired the lovely cloud-shapes of the shrubs in front of a block of flats.  But not now! The shrubs still have a smooth rounded outline, but vandal contractors have shaved off all the berries where there should be a ripening banquet for the birds.

Spot the berries - not
We crossed the river Leam and passed into Warwick.  

River Leam

Most of the Kate boats are out – we have seen most of them in the last couple of days!  We were surprised to find the Tesco moorings vacant so moored quickly and popped over for a quick shop. 

The clouds had darkened while we were inside and were distinctly threatening as we returned to the boat.

The first drops fell as we waited for two boats to ascend Cape bottom lock, but stayed light while we waited for another boat to join us for the two locks.  We just managed to moor and close up before it poured down.

But by 2 it had cleared again.  We decided to stick to our original plan and moor above the first four locks of the Hatton flight.  What joy! Two boats had clearly just come down.  And even better, as we rounded the bend by the Saltisford Arm, a boat pulled out in front of us.  With two crew and four empty locks we fairly sped up, and both of us moored on the long pound below lock 30.  The weather stayed dry and it was still very warm.

During the afternoon, Dave replaced the Whale water filter under the sink and took Meg up the flight to play ball where the towpath widens out further up.  I took the opportunity of the pan cupboard being empty to clean the shelves and tidy the cupboard, before cooking up yesterday’s blackberries with some apples from our tree at home. 

6 miles, 6 locks

Monday 23 September 2019

A beautiful and fabulous day

Saturday 21st September: Long Itchington to Radford Semele
A quiet night and a sunny start, so what more could we ask for?  We have had a fabulous day today.

It started with a visit to the little shop you get to via the alley just below the bottom lock.  Between some derelict garages and up the road, and I was met by a loud and large Rottweiler in an empty shop!  All he wanted to do was lick my hand, then the lady who came to sell me my Saturday paper wanted to chat about her son going back to uni for his third year.  Even so, we were away at about 9.30, once more in glorious sunshine (though I think this may be the last of it ….)

laden crab-apple tree
NB Hobnail had passed us before we left and was waiting for us at Bascote Staircase.  What a pleasure it is to share locks with cheerful steerer and crew who operate locks in the same way as you!

We shared with them all the way to Radford bottom lock.  There were several signs on the lock beams saying that the Elsan point at Fosse Wharf was closed; the reason given is that the road (Fosse Way, only a B road but very straight) is too dangerous for the lorry driver to stop and empty the cesspit.

Dave and the lady steerer (I’m afraid we omitted to ask their names) made a perfect skilled pair as they moved from lock to lock.

At Fosse bottom lock there is clear evidence of a boat having omitted to check their speed before entering a lock.

On the way to Radford bottom lock, we passed this strange construction.  We have often wondered what it was for – does anyone know?  It looks as though it should be some lovely swings, but it’s not.

In spite of the bright sunshine, the faint moon was still visible in the intense blue of the sky.

At Radford bottom lock we said goodbye to our lovely locking partners, and moored for lunch a hundred yards or so beyond the bridge where the ‘Charity Dock outpost’ hangs out.

Widebeam dayboat from Saltisford Arm
After a relaxed lunch, we decided to give Meg a lovely walk and we set off toward the Greenway at bridge 331A, dropping off some rubbish at the lock as we passed.  The Greenway is on a national cycle route, which we followed as far as the footpath leading towards Offchurch village.  We walked into the village via the little church of St Gregory’s.  It’s small, with a little organ and small but lovely stained glass windows.  It also has a small door …. they warn you about the steps down into the church, but not the low headroom – I’m only 5’4” but still managed to bang my head.

Then we walked down the hill to the Stag, a pub where we had a drink once about 20 years ago.  Meg was thirsty, and it seemed rude to take her into their garden without slaking our own thirst …. so we did, in their shady garden filled with young families enjoying a quiet Saturday afternoon.

Our circular walk took us back down the footpath towards the Greenway, where we had spotted some excellent blackberries.  We quickly filled our container as we walked down the path. 

Back at the boat, and having discovered the lack of phone signal, we moved a few hundred yards closer to Radford Semele where the tree cover was absent and a signal was obtained.

As the afternoon started to cool, Dave replaced the shower pump which had failed on our last trip.  As you might expect, it was not straightforward – but we do now have a working pump!  A beautiful evening to finish a lovely day.

3½ miles, 10 locks (including Bascote Staircase)