Monday, 12 October 2015

The last leg

Sunday 11th October 2015
Tardebigge to Stoke Pound
2 miles, 29 locks

The day dawned dry, bright and sunny.  Chris was on the mend and I had to hope I could work through with my cold.  We had a secret weapon in the form of a friend of ours, Thalia.  Two extra hands and legs are invaluable when you have 29 locks to do!  Thalia is an experienced boater and an excellent helmsman.  An added bonus - she is also great company, so made the day a lot easier for us.

We all saw a lot of the inside of the locks - the blue sky got bluer and the weather warmer as the day drew on.  We only met one boat coming up the locks - there were 2 ahead of us going down, so all but one of the locks were empty and needed to be filled before we could enter.

We all pulled and pushed gates, wound paddles up and down - many hands really do make light work.

The tow path was busy all day including a couple of very large groups of hikers.

We had made a late start as we were babysitting two grandsons on Saturday night, so by the time they were collected (09:45), I had dropped Chris at Tardebigge and then driven to The Queens Head, Stoke Pound (more miles than by boat!) to collect Thalia and then got back to Tardebigge and the boat, had a cuppa it was around 10:30 when we set off.

We took our time and enjoyed the weather and views.  Lunch was had in a lock just after the half way point.  We were catching up on the boats in front, so a short stop made sense in more ways than one.

We caught up with the boat ahead of us two locks from the end, so well timed on our part.  Monty had run hither and thither all day.  We had help opening and closing the tow path gates on a few occasions on the way down - I am never backwards in coming forwards with a request for help!! Mind you if we were to get a pound for every time someone suggests that Monty be trained to work locks we would not have to worry about paying for the next tank of diesel!!

At the very last lock we met with a family who used to be neighbours. Their two girls along with other youngsters (and the not so young!) were eager to help with the gates.  Help is always welcome, but even more so when it is the last of 29 locks!  'The flight took us about 3.5 hours, which is not too shabby.  It was a really good day and we both felt much better for being out in the fresh air with the sun on our backs.

We moored opposite the Queens Head right by one of the new mile posts.  These are being carved by members of the Worcester Birmingham and Droitwich Canal Society and the work is part of an ongoing project.  Apparently they have a new supply of sandstone to work on.

Once we had moored and had a well earned cuppa, Thalia drove me back to Tardebigge, then followed me (and our car) to Droitwich Spa Marina and then took me back to the Pub.  As we were leaving a very large party of hikers were being ushered off the towpath with instructions to change shoes in their cars and then meet up for a meal in the pub.  The organiser mistook Thalia and I as part of the group - I should have asked if he was paying before admitting we were interlopers!  Our turn did come after all the car moving - our long awaited Sunday roast.  The big question 'would it be any good?'.  The answer - a resounding 'yes'.  Not the cheapest roast, however the beef was the best I have had for a very long time - perfectly pink and it melted in the mouth.  No room for dessert, so after coffee we bade farewell and thanks to Thalia and returned to the boat for a quiet night in.

Monday 12th October 2015
Stoke Pound to Droitwich Spa Marina
4.75 miles, 15 locks.

Normally a day with 15 locks would be seen as a challenge, but after 29 yesterday we thought it would be a sinecure.  The weather was perfect - blue sky, warm and sunny with very little breeze.  It was so chilly first thing that when Monty made his first trip down the garden as he lifted his leg his donation was 'steaming' as it hit the ground!!  We let the sun warm things up before leaving just after 10:00.

After the first Stoke lock we got our first view of the windmill at Avoncroft - one of our favourite visiting places when we are at home.  Apologies for the slightly out of focus photo - I was steering and trying to line up to get into the lock.  Neither the photo or the manoeuvre were my best!

There was a single hander in front of us, so once again all the locks were empty and had to be filled before we could enter, however at lock three along came two of our fellow C&RT litter pickers that we know quite well.  Quite a while was spent chatting and catching up on all the news - time enough for the single hander to get well ahead, and then John and Dave stayed with us and helped us through the last four locks.  We bade them farewell at Stoke bottom lock.  Their help was much appreciated.

We stopped at Pinders for diesel, a couple of bags of coal, to order some paint for touch up jobs and say hello to the workforce.  I popped out and bought a couple of sandwiches from the Priory Cafe (easy access from the lock - cross the road onto the trading estate and you cannot miss it).  We tied up at the Stoke visitor moorings to eat our sandwiches (they were very good) before we continued on. This part of the canal is full of wide open country particularly round the Astwood flight of 6 locks. We were both beginning to flag - was that due to 29 locks yesterday, the fact we are both a bit below par, that we had a bad night last night or due to a sense of anti climax as this is the end for this year?

The lock cottage at lock 19 is as pretty as ever, but no flags flying this year - just lots of washing blowing in the gentle breeze.

We reached the end of the Astwood flight and the next challenge - the three big locks at Hanbury.  Would there or wouldn't there be an Voluntary Lock Keepers?  Sadly no.  It is the end of the season, so not surprising. The locks are deep

I don't think I had ever been at the helm going in or out of the top lock as I am sure I have never seen this plaque before.  It must have been a sizeable legacy, but what a good job there are people out there who do have the wherewithal to fund such worthwhile projects.

Another reason for no lock keepers - the side ponds are all taped up and out of use and the main reason for VLK's here is to ensure people manage the side ponds correctly.  We are not sure why, but this is the bottom lock and Chris said there is a sink hole behind that orange fencing, but he did not have the camera, so no photos.  I am sure we will find out what the problem is in due course.

So out of the last lock for this year, a few yards along the cut and turn right into the marina.

This is one of Monty's favourite positions when he is on the boat and one of us isn't - today someone suggested that he looks like a periscope!

And so back to our mooring.  Safely moored nothing more to look forward to other than the big clean and touch up inside and out before Tentatrice is winterized until next spring. Tomorrow we will start unloading stuff we don't need and take it home.  I have WI tomorrow night, so we will stay at home, but will be back here on Wednesday and plan on staying until all the jobs have been done.

But for now the full stats since we left will follow and that is likely to be that from us until 2016! Shall we wish you all a Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year?!!

Stats for the 2015 summer cruise:

Start - 11th June.  Finish - 12th October 2015

Miles - 496.5
Locks - 430
Swing bridges - 38
Tunnels - 9
Aqueducts - 14
Motorways - we passed under these on 16 occasions
Visitors on 14 occasions
Waterways - 14 different ones - Worcs & Birmingham, R Severn, Gloucs/Sharpness, Severn Estuary, Bristol R Avon, Kennet & Avon, R Thames, R Wey, Grand Union, GU Paddington Arm, Regents Canal, Tidal Thames.
Counties - at least 15, but I have to do a bit more research to check this.  Did we go into Hampshire is the question.  Back to Nicholsons - where would we boaters do without their guides?!

In summary - The best bits - the Tidal Thames from Limehouse to Brentford, the Severn Estuary and going under the Bristol Suspension Bridge.  Also in the best bits has to be the joy of catching up with friends and family, some we have not seen for many years and one we have never met before - our youngest great nephew, Teddy. There were 'wet episodes', but no so many to mar the summer. Sometimes we holed up, others we got wet!  Overall it has been a wonderful cruise.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

To Tardebigge

Wednesday 7th October 2015
Alvechurch to Tardebigge
3.25 miles, 1 lock

As the run from Alvechurch to Tardebigge New Wharf is only about 3 miles with no locks and just a couple of tunnels it was decided that Chris would take the boat and I would move the car.  A sound plan, but the one time he had been left completely alone, he really could have done with some help. Shortly after he set off, he had to pull over for another boat and afterwards nasty noises emanated from the prop area!  My services as a mobile mooring pin would have been most useful, but as it turned out he went gently aground, so managed to do the necessary without having to tie the boat up. It was almost certainly the worst trip to the weed hatch this summer - a bag full of 'stuff' including a lot of wire that took a lot of cutting and unwinding to come free and allow Chris to continue with a clean prop.

We met at the water point at New Wharf and filled and emptied as appropriate before moving on towards lock 58 and the start of the longest flight of locks in the country.  There is more information about this and the other locks a bit further down.

The plan was to moor below the lock for a few days to allow Chris to recover from his chest infection.  In the meantime I have developed a cold, so we may not be that fit to complete the last 44 locks, but it cannot be put off for ever!  We have help for the remaining 29 at Tardebigge with the promise of Sunday lunch (well at 5pm is it lunch, tea or dinner??) to look forward to.  Will it be our first and last good Sunday roast since leaving home in June - we hope so!

Now as we are Tentatrice from Tardebigge I thought it was about time we had a really good look at the history of the place.  We have looked at all the relevant details over the years, but not all in one go, plus there have been some changes over the summer.  If you are passing this way, I would urge you to allow time to stop and explore - the history is fascinating.

Opposite the C&RT offices at New Wharf there is the shell of The Birmingham - one of the old tug boats that were used to haul boats through Tardebigge tunnel.  She and her sister ship The Worcester were delivered to Tardebigge in 1912 to replace two old steamships used for the same purpose.  The Birmingham had several other owners as well as other names (Tyburn, Perseverance and Percy to name but three) before being abandoned and then acquired by British Waterways in the 1990's.

Moving on - with the C&RT offices on your left walk around behind JL Pinder's dry dock and you will come across work in progress.  Some members of the Birmingham, Worcester and Droitwich Canal Society are restoring the lime kilns.  There is much to do - some work has to carried out with great care.  It is a job they are determined to finish and to do the job well.

From there move round to the canal, so you are on the non tow path side and you will come to this plinth

which marks the spot where Tom & Angela Rolt first met Robert Aickman and decided to found the Inland Waterways Association

Along with the second plaque unveiled by Sonia Rolt in August 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the meeting along with an addendum to the date of the meeting - it was 1945, not 1946!

Looking across the canal from the top lock and we spied something new since we were last here - a red wheel plaque.  This was only unveiled on Tuesday 6th October, so we were only one day late! When I first checked the website Tardebigge had not been included, but it has now!  Have a look here for more information about the locks and the experimental lift that, sadly was not deemed strong enough to be allowed to continue.  I am sure the lift would have been more interesting than a very deep lock!
We thought we had never come across one of these before, but on researching on the web site we found that we have been through many places with these plaques
and even have a photo of the one in Gas Street Basin.  There are many others we have missed and maybe we should try to find them as we travel the system in future.

We continued on our walk under bridge 56 - sometime last year this appeared overnight

I am glad to say that over the summer it has been cleaned up and is once again pristine.

The next point of interest is the Engine House - this information has appeared over the summer and is worth a read, but I cannot get it any larger than this, so I think it needs to be seen in the flesh, so to speak.

The engine house was used to pump water - more information can be found in the link for the Transport Heritage site above.  It is, however, no longer a restaurant, or was it a nightclub - it depends which site you read, but is a grade II listed building converted into luxury apartments one of which is available for rent as a holiday cottage with Cottages4You

A bit further along there is another lock cottage just before the reservoir
In the garden is a statue of a bull terrier (they own a real one too!). It used to face the gate, rather than the house.  When Monty was very small he was very wary just in case it came and got him!

And so on to the reservoir. If you are going up or down the flight, do stop long enough to climb up on the wall of the reservoir to admire the views.

I do love the autumn colours that are everywhere at present

But a certain sign that it is getting chillier - horses are all wrapped up in their coats.
Hats and gloves are on board should they be needed over the next couple of days!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

To Hopwood and Alvechurch

Sunday & Monday 4th and 5th October 2015

Sunday 4th October 2015
Earlswood to Hopwood
10.5 miles, 0 locks

Another glorious day dawned dry, bright and sunny.

Just miles to travel today rather than locks, but it was a good job we had plenty of time as every time we met a boat it was always just at a bend or where there was a moored boat.

They say a good crop of autumn berries heralds a harsh winter - are we going to have to batten down the hatches?  The hedgerows are heavily laden.

We passed this house with a very neat canal side area - a great use of astro turf in our opinion.

Turn left at Kings Norton Junction once you are through the stop lock.  For those who are not familiar with canals - a stop lock was purely a way of stopping boats leaving one waterway and entering another - charges were often applied, so they needed a way to stop the traffic.  In addition, water was a scarce resource (yes, even in the UK!) and by this stop lock is an interpretation notice which states that the stop lock-keeper in 1810 had to maintain a one inch difference between the Birmingham / Worcester canal and the North Stratford canal.  This was so that the Stratford canal owners could not be accused of stealing water from the Worcester / Birmingham canal.

We moored safely at Hopwood at the end of the visitor moorings.

Our daughter came and collected Chris to take him home to collect our car and move it to Alvechurch and she then delivered him back to Hopwood.  During that time Monty and I walked along the tow path to Bittell.  The fishing lake was busy - a warm and dry Sunday.

This is the view across the canal to one of the reservoirs

and this a view the other way.

Monday 5th October 2015
Hopwood to Alvechurch
2.5 miles, 0 locks

A very different day - there had been a lot of rain overnight and it was still raining as we set off.  We all dressed accordingly including Monty.  However, as we pulled pins the rain stopped, but we were committed and in wet weather gear.  Monty and I walked to Bittell - unfortunately his determination to shout at every possible squirrel in the trees led to him ripping his coat.  No biscuits for month to pay for a new one!!

The fishing lakes on a chilly, wet Monday were empty.

I took a distant shot of the reservoir yesterday with what I thought was a fisherman, but on taking a close up today I found it is a dummy.  Today's walk was marred by the ever present thunder of
 the M42.  Something I was not as aware of yesterday when it was dry.

This house featured in the television programme "A Place in the Sun" last year.  The couple were looking for either a house near the Canal du Midi or one in the UK - the one thing they had in common - they had to have a mooring for their boat, They chose the UK and this property in Alvechurch. Last year when we went past the boat was not present - now it is.

We noticed this new mooring at The Crown Inn, Withybed, but no sign of mooring rings as yet.  We will watch this space.

We have booked into Alvechurch Marina, so Chris could see a doctor which was done on Tuesday and yes he does have a chest infection.  He returned with antibiotics and steroid tablets as he suffers from asthma.  We are taking a short break to allow the pills to work.