Wednesday 16 October 2019

Beating the rain - just

Monday 13th October; home again
We were up early as there were outside jobs to be done before the rain arrived.  It was very cold at 7.30 so we were glad of the Mikuni.  Dave was soon outside, prepping a dent on the rubbing strake for filling (I think I might have been involved in that …).

Then he cleaned up all the tatty bits between gunwale and rubbing strake and rubbed the whole lot down for painting.  Hmm, black dust all over my washed boat!  A wipe over with a damp dog towel soon sorted that out.  As he got busy with the masking tape, I started polishing the starboard side.  The Carnauba wax had turned up, I can’t think how I missed it yesterday.  Check out that shine!

As I was finishing I could see dark clouds approaching, so I took Meg along the edge of the sports field to play ball for 10 minutes.  As long as you pick up any poo, no-one seems to mind and it’s popular with the moorers.
More please!
A tight turn

A couple of boats were being returned to the water this morning. As a farmer, Nick has years of experience reversing tractors and trailers, so reversing down the slipway was a doddle.
Straight as a die
In she goes
Dave was packing up as we got back, and spits and spots of rain were beginning to fall.  Within a few minutes it was raining, though not hard and blowing from the side Dave hadn’t been working on.  Lucky!

We had lunch and finished the cleaning that hadn’t been done last trip when the cordless Dyson ran out of power.  We packed up the car in the rain, which we haven’t had to do for as long as we can remember.  Unpleasant, as was the drive home down the foggy wet motorway. 

The starboard side of the boat still needs washing and waxing, so we will be back again before the weather gets too cold to do this and winterise.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

A flying visit ….

Sunday 13th October; a football tournament!
Dave belongs to Exeter Strollers walking football club, and today there was an over-70s tournament – in Worcester.  So obviously we came up to the boat!  Well, actually I only came because the forecast wasn’t too bad – if it had, I’d have stayed at home!

The weather was pretty bad as we drove towards Bristol but the closer we got to the boat the better the weather got.  We unloaded in the dry – that didn’t take long, as we are only here for one night – and after a quick sandwich Dave got his kit and drove off.  So what did Meg and I get up to?  Well first, of course, Meg needed a walk, having been cooped up in the car this morning.  We went ‘uphill’ towards Hanbury Junction – having been on the motorway for a couple of hours already, I wanted to get away from it.  There was a volunteer at the top lock, checking the weather forecast on his phone – it is getting better, at least till tomorrow lunchtime!  He had three boats through this morning but was getting a bit bored now.  The Severn is rising – technically still navigable, but nor recommended – and so is the Salwarpe.

There was a very squishy patch of towpath on the Worcester and Birmingham nearer to the junction, but once we got past it there was good walking all the way to Aston bottom lock.  No boats were on the move and few walkers, no runners and no bikes.  There were some mushrooms though –

They look as though they could be field mushrooms, but my field guide is not on the boat, so there was no point collecting them. Aston bottom lock was empty, and I would say silent  but there was plenty of leakage from the top gates.

We started back, and soon met a fellow boater from the marina.   Having spent all week dodging the rain and blacking his boat at the marina, he was striding off for a rewarding pint at Stoke.  It was a lovely afternoon for a walk; fragments of blue sky were beginning to show as we made our way back and it was getting quite warm.  Two boats were coming up – here is the first.

The second was a hire boat, either from Worcester or making its way back to Alvechurch.  But neither had come up Hanbury locks.

Back at the boat, I washed the starboard side of the boat, then as I couldn’t find the Carnauba wax I cleaned out the well deck instead of waxing.  Meg said she still felt neglected, so we had a quick walk down to the staircase locks, where there is space to play ball.  When we got back, Dave had returned having had a great time.  He went off to have a shower - the facilities at the marina are excellent – and I lit the fire.

0 locks, but quite a few miles walked by all three of us.

Monday 7 October 2019

Back to winter quarters

Wednesday and Thursday 2nd/3rd October; Astwood bottom to Droitwich Spa Marina
It was dry when we got up, with a bit of sunshine too, but boy was it cold!  Quite a shock after yesterday’s mild weather.   Everything was dripping with condensation, even inside the cratch cover.  We always prefer to moor out here as it’s much quieter than Hanbury Junction, with no road nearby, the motorway just a distant hum and the trains not very close either.

Well wrapped up, we were on our way before 9.  Parts of the canal are getting very reedy and narrow now.

We came round a bend to find a boat snuggling into the reeds on ‘our’ side.  We passed to their port side and heard the steerer say ‘Well, we’ve passed our first boat without hitting anything!’  They must have just collected it from New and Used Boat Co at Hanbury junction.

Still tucked in on the wrong side ....
We moved smoothly round Hanbury junction to find the lock gate open and the hire boat we were behind yesterday on the lock landing.  They very kindly waved us into the lock, as they were waiting for the volunteers to arrive for advice.  They had been hoping to meet friends in Droitwich yesterday; we had warned them to watch out for the level of the little river Salwarpe, and the electronic board above the locks had indeed shown it to be in flood.  But today it has gone down, though the Severn is still in the red.  We had hoped to travel back to Droitwich via the Severn, but changed our minds in Birmingham when we saw the weather forecast.  Just as well, as we need to be at home after the weekend, but would have found ourselves stuck in Stourport several days ago.   

The volunteers arrived as we emptied the top lock – they could see we were familiar with using the side ponds so let us get on with it.

Filling ....
and filled.
One of the volnteers came to help at the second and third locks, which was nice.

Hanbury middle lock
At the bottom lock was a group of contractors who were doing the autumn  mowing and strimming.  They were some of the most uncommunicative people we have ever met on the cut.

They must have had a bit of a drip from one of the strimmers as they carried it over the lock.

Petrol rainbow
Once into the marina, we filled with fuel and found our spot for the winter.  Dave whizzed off to the station to travel back to Calcutt to collect the car and left me to pay the mooring fee – ouch!

After lunch Meg required a walk, so off we went to Vines Park, as I wanted to collect some conkers too.  She took her ball, which was fine till we got to the narrow bit of towpath just before the road bridge to town.  A scary Alsatian (just a puppy) spooked her and she must have put her ball down.  Just a hundred yards later I spotted it and hurried back – it was nowhere to be seen.  The Alsatian owner said airily, she must have dropped it in the water.  There was no sign of it - it would have floated - and I suspect she may have nicked it for her doggy!  Oh well, luckily there is a pet store next to Waitrose so we could get another.

Vines Park
With a new ball and pockets full of conkers (to reputedly deter spiders, but I love the look and feel of them so would have got some anyway) we made our way back to the boat.  Dave arrived soon afterwards.

The big job for the afternoon was replacing the batteries with the ones we bought at Alvechurch.  I got them from the well deck onto a luggage trolley, wheeled them to the stern and passed them over, while Dave did all the on-board work (or should that be under board?)  It took both of us to get the trolley with the old ones over the lumpy path and up the slope to the car!

By dusk it was cold, so we lit the fire.

1½ miles, 3 locks.

It was very cold in the morning.  We finished packing up and cleaning fairly quickly and we were away by late morning for a quick and easy drive back to Devon.

Trip stats
We travelled on the Grand Union, North Stratford, BCN, Worcester and Birmingham and Droitwich Junction canals; 62 miles althogether with 108 locks, made up as below.
40 miles 6¾ furlongs of narrow canals with 65 locks, and 20 miles 5¼ furlongs of broad locks with 43 locks.
We traversed 7 tunnels; Shrewley (wet), Brandwood, Edgebaston (once in each direction), Wast Hills (very wet), Shortwood (a howling gale) and Tardebigge.
3 lift bridges including the mechanised Shirley Drawbridge.

Sunday 6 October 2019

Where were those thunderstorms?

Tuesday 1st October; Stoke Pound to below the Astwood locks
After yesterday’s rain we were relieved to see the weather had improved, although waterproofs were still needed for an hour or so.  As we were preparing to leave, the hire boat at the far end of the moorings beat us to it, so we were in no hurry, as we had plenty of time to get moored up before the promised thunderstorms this afternoon.  But with the drizzle it was some time before I took any photos, so here is our overnight stop from 2015 - in somewhat better weather.

It was wet underfoot and damp in the air, but warm enough to change into cut-offs and a short-sleeved t-shirt, at least for a while.  We made slow but steady progress down Stoke locks.  At one of the locks we could see we were being video’d (how do you spell that?)  and the gentleman was paying close attention to what we were doing with the gates and paddles.  It was an American family group, who had a very different experience of boating to us – they had just spent a few months in the Bahamas on their trawler (converted, I assume, as one of the group was rather elderly).  The lady asked about living aboard a narrowboat, and commented that they did their washing in a five-gallon bucket – she did concede that they had better drying weather than us, and I bet there was a lot less mud too!  Anyway, there was a sad ending to the story, as their boat was lost in hurricane Dorian in early September. 

We stopped in the bottom lock to offload a cassette and the rubbish – the facilities here are set a long way back, next to Black Prince, and we certaily did not want to bring the cassette all the way up and over the bridge from the moorings below the lock - no-one in their right mind would carry a loaded cassette across a lock gate!  But with no other boats moving we could sit in the lock while we dealt with it, otherwise one of us would have had to take the boat down the lock and the other empty the cassette and then walk over the lock and down the towpath to catch up.

Fresh supplies were running a bit low, so we planned a stop at Stoke Works.  There is a lot of new housing along the way, which you can see in the photo below.

The figure in the foreground had just caught a good-sized fish, which he had landed carefully and unhooked speedily before easing it into his bag to weigh it.

About 10lb Dave guessed, and that’s what the man shouted to the workers having a break at the factory opposite.  He speedily returned it to the water.

The sun came out as we moored up at bridge 42.  We had to pick our spot carefully, as you do once autumn weather hits.

I strode off for the half-mile to the convenience store in Ryefield Road.  The butcher next door, which had looked on its last legs a couple of years ago, has changed ownership and is now called The Butcheress.  The butcheress herself wasn't there, but a very nice young Irishman served me.  I bought a couple of their ‘hotty’ sausages (local pork) to add to a bean casserole - they turned out to be very hot!  But I was glad I’d taken my waterproof, as I had to walk back in the rain.  I blame Dave – I left him finishing the gangplank painting!  That will need rubbing down and re-doing, though he did finish most of it yesterday.

We had lunch and then got going again pretty smartly.  Although we had bright sunshine, dark clouds were gathering and the forecast is frightful.  We were soon down Astwood locks, with the thunder rumbling as we reached the last but one.  Dave saw an impressive bolt of lightning strike something low in the distance.  We moored on the pleasant stretch below the bottom lock at about 2.30, as the thunder rolled, and closed up, expecting an imminent downpour.  A CRT workboat pushing a pan came by, well wrapped up against rain and wind.

Threatening skies
It wasn't listing quite that badly - I was leaning out of the side hatch, that's my excuse
We learned later they would have been on their way to prepare for some dredging.  But in spite of strong gusts of wind and lowering skies, we had not a drop of rain, though clearly other areas were getting a drenching.  Dave took the chance we would stay dry to unscrew the mushrooms and check the sealant.  Now all we need is some heavy rain to check they are watertight, which they weren't, quite ….

2 miles, 12 locks

Saturday 5 October 2019

Top (almost) to bottom

Monday 30th September; Tardebigge flight
We needed an early start today, so we could reach Stoke Pound before the forecast rain arrived in the early afternoon.  So by 8.30 Dave had cast off and I was walking to lock 2 (we came down the top lock last night, of course, to get to the good moorings).  Along the way I passed a milestone which has been dedicated to the memory of Alan White, a canal historian as well as a man of the cloth.

Although a boat had come up yesterday afternoon, so leaving the locks full, and we were the first boat down today, there is a lot of leakage and many of the locks were against us.  Most were completely empty, but some mysteriously were nearly full – I wonder if those were the ones that had work done on them last winter?

I took a couple of photos near the top, but I worry that my phone will fall out of my pocket, so I put it back on the boat to avoid any mishap.  This is the first, or maybe the second, lock.  I do seem to be having trouble holding my phone level.  I must get my camera fixed.

We saw no-one but dog walkers and runners for a long time.  Then at about half-way we met a hire-boat, which had left Worcester on the Saturday afternoon.  We were the first moving boat they had seen in nearly two days!  The lovely chaps on boards had fished a punctured football out of the canal, which Meg was very glad to receive.  She had a lot of fun with it, but unfortunately lost it later – there is a sharp drop on the landward side of the towpath all the way along here, and eventually, after having forced her way through undergrowth once to retrieve it, she abandoned it when it rolled down a second time.  One thing the crew said though was how clean they were finding the canal – they hadn’t seen a single plastic bottle - so congratulations to the local volunteers (including Jennie and Chris on Tentatrice) who keep it that way!

As we dropped down towards the little car park at about half way we spotted a volunteer donning his lifejacket.  He offered us help, but we were doing really well so sent him up to help the hirers, who were struggling a little.  Our system was great – I’d walk down to set the next lock and open the gate, before walking back to where Dave had entered the previous lock, closed the top gate, and opened  the bottom paddles.  He'd open both gates too if I hadn't got back in time to do the towpath side.  Then I'd close up while he was on his way to the open gate of the next one.  These locks are gentle and not too deep, and we always find it easier to share the work when we’re going down.  We are quite slick at this now.  I did step across the bottom gates today, though not yesterday; at the top lock it just ‘feels wrong’ – and anyway it was raining, and I don't step across in the rain.

After a while we started to meet more boats coming up.  At the Noisy Dog house, the one with all the aerials, we’d already got Meg back on board at the previous lock.  She won’t walk past as she feels so threatened by them when they shout at her over the wall. They ignored me completely, the Alsatian curled up in his sink and the other one lying in the doorway as usual.  They also ignored a little spaniel that walked past – beneath their notice perhaps – but leapt up and yelled at Meg as she sailed past looking sideways at them with her nose in the air .  I’m glad they are always chained up as they could probably clear that wall with a single bound.  It's not much of a life for them, so no wonder they react so vigorously to passing dogs.

Someone was coming down behind us, and with all the recent rain there was a lot of water coming down the bywashes and over the gates.  By the time we reached the last two locks the water had been over the towpath.

Lock 30
 I certainly wasn’t going to bother opening the offside paddles on these locks – I’d have needed wellies to get across!

Bottom lock
We moored in time for lunch, just less than 4 hours after we had started.  We were quite pleased with ourselves.  After eating I went straight out to pick blackberries, as there were still some good ones about.  Luckily I turned back before I reached the best spot – the drizzle started as I got back to the boat and it didn’t stop.  Along the way were these glowing strings of rubies threading their way through the hedge – bryony berries which I always love to see at this time of year.  It’s a shame they are poisonous to humans – they look very juicy.

Dave had brought the gangplank in before it rained, and had spread newspapers to protect the bed so he could repair the paintwork which was beginning to peel in places.  He got most of it rubbed down, masked off and painted while I made some gingerbread and cleaned round a bit.  We felt we deserved a night off from cooking, so went to the pub where we enjoyed cheap beer (happy hour) and then 25% off our main courses as it was still before 7pm.  Dave’s chicken portion was so huge we took half of it home for sandwiches tomorrow AND there were plenty of scraps for Meg. 

The rain didn’t really stop all evening, though it was only drizzle while we were navigating the puddles and muddy bits on the dark towpath.  Then we lit the fire for a cosy evening.

29 locks, 2 miles

Friday 4 October 2019

A day to dodge the downpours

Sunday 29th September; King’s Norton to Tardebigge
It didn’t rain all night – I woke during the night and it was very quiet, not even tree-drip.  But it had started again before daybreak.  As we sat having breakfast, and the rain hammered down, an ABC hire boat from Alvechurch pulled in at the water-point near the bridge.  The downpour eased a bit later, so I grabbed the opportunity (and the brolly) to go up to the little shop for the paper.  The hirers were laughing and taking photos in the rain – a merry bunch, taking it all in their stride.  I went on to the shop, only to discover that it didn’t open till 10.  No matter – the rain was heavy again and we weren’t going anywhere!  Didn’t stop the happy hirers though, and off they went with a cheerful wave.

Before we left I took the opportunity to snap our quiet but rather gloomy mooring.

The rain was definitely easing off by 10, so up I went again to the shop for paper and milk.  We kept our waterproofs on and had the brolly at the ready for Wast Hills tunnel – the hirers had said there was a waterfall inside!

It wasn’t too bad to start with, but soon the brolly was deployed.  We met a new and tentative hire boat part way through; they had stopped - not a good idea in a tunnel – but they had bow thrusters, so kept themselves by the side and there was no contact.  Then we came to the waterfall cascading down the southern ventilation shaft.

We got through in less than half an hour.  It wasn’t raining as we left the tunnel, but there was a very strong outflow from the stepped drainiage channel on the west bank, enough to push us around a bit.  My phone was safely in a dry inside pocket, so I couldn’t get it out in time to get a photo.  This more modest one will have to do.

Bittel reservoir permanent moorings were amost empty; a new pipe or cable is being laid along the edge of the roadway and the spoil from the channel is piled quite close to the canal.   It looks as though many owners have opted to go cruising while the work is in progress. 

Rain doesn’t stop fishermen – their brollies had sprouted like mushrooms around the fishing lake opposite.

There are some stretches of offside moorings as you approach Alvechurch.  We were amused by the waving skeletons on the boat with a prominent ‘slow down’ sign.

Slow down - or else!
We unfortunately had to shell out for a set of new batteries;  Alvechurch chandlery stocks the right ones, but we had to float about a bit while a hire boat was moved off the wharf before we could tie up, which the wind made a bit tricky.  Dave’s wallet duly emptied and the batteries cluttering up the well deck, we moved on, getting very hungry by now – all the visitor moorings, where we had hoped to have our lunch, had been taken.  We stopped in the woods before Shortwood Tunnel, where we found a single ring and a little bit of piling so could avoid having to bang in pins in the soft ground.  The wind was blowing straight through the tunnel and it was freezing cold as we went through – glad it’s not as long as Wast Hills!  Tardebigge tunnel has a different orientation and was much warmer less cold.  This one is hewn from the rock and the walls and roof are very uneven.  The headlamp produced some odd effects, making the walls appear to undulate, almost like a hall of mirrors in a fairground.

We were glad to see the facilities mooring empty, and filled and emptied as necessary.  The wind was very strong up here, and it was raining too as we made for the top lock.  But the rain eased, and once down the lock the canal was more sheltered.  The weather was too grotty to go and visit the pretty church.

Leaning tower of Tardebigge - or a n inept photographer?
Tentatrice was moored on the long pound between the top two locks, and we followed suit a little further along.  Jennie had been walking Monty so stopped for a quick chat on their way back.  They are not going down for a couple of days.  The drizzle started as we chatted and then carried on for a while.  Tomorrow’s forecast looks OK for the morning – we’ll try to get an early start to do the locks before the rain comes.

The Mikuni went on this evening.  Thee boat feels damp and cold, and there were were several damp towels to be dried, not all ours – looking at you, Meg, with your wet fur and muddy feet!

8 miles, 1 lock, Wast Hills, Shortwood and Tardebigge tunnels.

Thursday 3 October 2019

A somewhat frustrating day

Saturday 28th September; Birmingham to King’s Norton
We were woken by the first boat leaving at 6.30.  There was bright sun once full daylight came, but a strong wind.  It didn’t stop us turning easily at Monument Hill bridge, where the towpath crosses a short stub of canal, but the stretch of canal down to the Mailbox acted as a wind tunnel which was uncomfortable to say the least, especially with the sun in your eyes.  We pulled in behind a boat on the Holliday Wharf facilities and waited while he finished filling his water tank, before we filled ours. 

As we approached the Vale, where there are mooring rings, I spotted a gaily painted cruiser for a photo opportunity.  Oh dear! The lens on my camera was making a nasty rattling noise and wouldn’t come out.  I wonder if there is a spring that has broken.  By the time I got my phone sorted we had gone quite a way past and so it’s not a good photo.

Cruiser Bob Marley
Its name is Bob Marley, and it is painted partly in green, gold and red, the colours of the Ethiopian flag as used by followers of the Rasta faith – Bob Marley, of course, being a well-known adherent.

The wind remained cold as we pottered on to the University railway station, and moored for a visit to the Barber Institute, Birmingham Uni’s art gallery.  There is some armco here for mooring but the bank is steep and I couldn’t reach down to it without kneeling – two muddy knees later, we were on our way over the bridge and walking down through the university grounds, only to discover the gallery was closed for maintenance of the air-conditioning!  Just a bit fed up, we went back for lunch on the boat before moving on.  There was light drizzle in the air now.

We didn’t want to go through Wast Hills tunnel today, so moored at King’s Norton playing fields, a few hundred yards from the junction.  There are bollards, but a boat was already there.  Anyway, they are right outside a cottage and we needed to run the engine – the batteries have been showing their age and we haven’t gone far today.  But before we did that Meg needed a walk.  She knew exactly where we were and remembered which way to go to the park, even though we haven’t been here for over two years. 

The recent rain meant that the overflow opposite the park entrance was running strongly – and noisily - so we moored further back.  Unfortunately it is under trees.  But the rain this evening was so heavy and prolonged we didn’t notice any tree-drip!

6 miles

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Our very own parade

Friday 27th September; Birmingham
We were still having breakfast when we felt the boat move gently.  The distance between the bollards here is so similar to the length of our boat that it is hard to tie up so that we don’t move a little bit when boats pass.  There was also a very slight change of direction halfway along so we had a pivot point too, and we were in for a rocky half-hour while five historic boats passed on their way to Dudley.

There was another, but I didn’t get a picture and I’ve forgotten its name.  The forecast was bad so I made a point of getting down to Cambrian Wharf to dispose of rubbish and get the paper, hoping to catch Jennie and Chris (and Monty) on Tentatrice before they set off.  Success!

I got back to Chuffed just as the first drops fell.  Poor Jennie and Chris!  Their blog tells the soggy story  It was a while before the rain eased off, and then I strode off to Spring Hill Tesco with my trusty trolley, hoping not to get drenched.  I didn’t, though it was raining gently on my way back.  The route is through Meg’s third favourite park (1st – Spiceball, 2nd – King’s Norton) which you enter from round the back of the Roundhouse – the steps down to it are opposite the back of the Arena.  It’s a good park for local families, with a basketball court where little ones learn to ride their bikes and older ones their skateboards.  But unfortunately a circle of large motorhomes and caravans is now arranged around the hard standing, making it unwelcoming for anyone else.  The grassy areas are getting chewed up by motor vehicles, and the rubbish starting to build up suggests that this could be a group of travellers.   I wouldn’t want to take my children to play there at the moment.

It rained heavily till after lunch.  The heron which had been hanging round earlier returned, plodding past in the rain.  It is very tame – I was standing a mere three feet away when I took the first pictures.

What's so interesting about our stern, Mr Heron?

Another dry spell saw Dave take Meg out for a walk up the towpath.  Luckily for him there are strategically placed bridges so they didn’t get too wet when the rain returned!  Meg seen to, we grabbed waterproofs and dashed to the Art Gallery for a couple of hours.  It’s nice getting to recognise some of the pictures you like, and we enjoyed seeing new stuff.  One of the rooms was focused on Op Art, with works by Bridget Riley and some people I hadn’t heard of.  This was where visitors stopped, laughed delightedly, took photos and selfies, and talked!  It was great.  This one was amazing.  It is 3-dimensional, which is not apparent from the photo. 

It’s called Superduperspective.  What looks like the far-away end of a corridor actually projects towards the viewer, sticking out of the front of the picture.  I wish I’d taken a pic from the side!  To achieve the effect of a corridor stretching away from you, the artist – well, read the following for the explanation.  We loved it.

We also had another look at the Staffordshire Hoard, which we have seen before.  Then it was closing time and we were gently ushered towards the exit.  Our way home led through Symphony Court.  Parts that were fenced off last time we were in Birmingham have been completed, but work still goes on.  There used to be lovely patterned paving here but that’s all gone and the new patterns are much less interesting.  There is another large water feature though, behind which can be seen more works.  

It started to rain but we were back in the boat before it really got going.