Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Birmingham, Hopwood and Tardebigge 19th – 29th September

This is a big catch up – mainly because the boat was left at Tardebigge for a while and I did not want to post until she was in dry dock. 

Thursday 18th September
Autherley to Cambrian Wharf
16.25 miles, 24 locks

We knew we should start early in case we did not fancy stopping in Wolverhampton at the top of the locks – we decided that a 07:30 would be early enough to pull pins, but sadly for us it wasn’t – a boat sailed past at 06:45 which is just a tad too early for us.  It just meant all the locks (21) were against us.  When we got to the first lock we discovered we had a problem – our ‘water conservation’ cuff (or 'anti vandal key' whichever you choose to call it) would only open some of the locks (arrowed item 1 in the photo).  For those who are unfamiliar with this piece of equipment it is used to open a ‘bolt’ (arrowed item 2) on some locks that are in towns where vandals are likely to come and open locks to let the water out just for fun. 

As we finished the first lock a C&RT employee arrived, took one look at our cuff and declared that as it was aluminium it was too soft and therefore slipping.  It had only ever been used once before, so learn from us and don’t buy aluminium.  At the time of purchase it was the only one on offer. We were lucky that he had a steel one in the van and sold it to us - £5 well spent and timely too.  So, on we went up, and up and up.  It really is not the best flight in the world – one to complete asap and continue on.  A means to an end.

To start with it is relatively rural and there is a large railway viaduct to go under.  

This sign at lock 17 (you start at 21 and work your way up to 1) probably says something about the area, but why it is pasted on the lock beam I have no idea!!

Right next to it is an advert for the Cider House which is more understandable.  Mind you with the warning about the sort of customers they get it does not make it very inviting prospect for a quiet night out however much you like cider!!

Chris made good use of the time waiting for locks to fill polishing!! 

We work the system when going uphill that I open the lock, he takes the boat in, I close the bottom gates, open the paddles on the top gate and then off I go to the get the next lock ready.  Once the lock is full Chris opens the top gate, moves the boat out, closes the gate and proceeds on – it seems to work for us.  I tend to do most of the narrow locks from land as I can step across the two bottom gates (Chris does not do heights).  Unfortunately I could not step across on this flight as there are no rails to hold on to and I don’t trust to balance alone!!  So a lot of walking round had to be done.

Some of these locks are in need of a lot of maintenance – this is lock 14.

The rubbish started at lock 11. It was so bad that I could not open one of the bottom gates.  Thankfully The Captain from nb Cleddau, had given us a ‘spare’ (he has a goodly selection of spares!) lightweight extendable boat hook which I was able to use to scoop it all out of the way.   Without it we would have had to re-fill the lock to move the rubbish out and then start again, so thank you Captain – you did not know it, but you saved the day!

We have only done this flight once before and that was on a hire boat with friends in May 2008.  That day the weather was very different – it hurled it down from the bottom to the top of the flight and we got very wet. I have a photo of our friend looking very miserable (they live in Spain, so are not used to this sort of weather)
We think this was her tree, but as the photo is taken from a different perspective it is hard to be certain, but it is the only one that looked vaguely similar!

There is a huge recycling centre – note how small the very large dust cart looks!   

It took us 4 hours, but we did eventually make it to the top to see the boat that had started 45 minutes before us just disappearing under the road ahead. 

There are safe moorings on the non tow path side at Wolverhampton, but there is no access to anywhere, so no good for us with a dog.  As for the rest – well we did not fancy the area at all, so decided to go for it, accept a very long day (we try to stick to 3-4 hours a day) and head for Birmingham.

Just three more locks and here we swapped places and Chris did the manual labour!  As always, supervised by Monty. 

There is little to say about this stretch.  It is not pretty for the most part, nor does it have much of industrial interest – it just has to be done.  One incident to ensure we were not too bored.  I was hanging out washing in the bow when we ground to a halt – the engine nearly stalled.  Something was definitely round the prop.  We managed to shift to the towpath side and Chris went down the weed hatch and this is what he found! 

Somewhat bigger than the previous poly bag and easy to see why it stopped us in our tracks.

There are lots of ‘islands’ to negotiate to ensure you keep awake.  Does anyone know why they appear to have mooring bollards?

Junctions a plenty to pass as you approach the city 

The M5 to go underneath 

With very serious struts to keep it up there 

Through Galton Tunnel – the hanging ivy is lovely 

Just before we arrived we saw this ice cream boat going the other way – sadly he did not stop and sell us one 

Graffiti everywhere at Rotton Park Junction is a certain sign that we are near the city centre

And then suddenly we are there with a great view of the new library straight ahead of us

We were lucky enough to get the last mooring in Cambrian Wharf by Farmers Bridge Locks – we like it there as the gates are locked at 8pm

But more importantly for us – there is a good area of grass nearby for Monty.  It is large enough for a game of ball and even has a few trees that just might house the odd squirrel.

Just one word of warning – unless you are going down Farmers Bridge locks if you are more than 60 foot long you will either need to reverse in or out or don’t try.  At 59 foot we can just wind before the Wharf and then we reversed in. 

It was a very long day – 8.25 hours of locking and motoring and none of us needed much rocking that night!

 Friday 19th September

Having done the trip in one go yesterday it meant we had a day to spare in Birmingham which is our local city, but one we rarely visit.  Having had a wander round today – we must go back.  The centre of Birmingham is fabulous.  There is so much to see and wonder about (I have done a bit of googling since we have been home!).  Wolverhampton is so close, but we found it completely unwelcoming, whereas Birmingham has made a huge effort to make the very best of their canals.  Never worry about mooring in this city – it is welcoming and safe. 

Chris and Monty headed off to dispose of rubbish first thing and found this working party on the Farmer’s Bridge locks.  They were certainly out in force. 

It was a very murky day

We started our exploration by walking to Gas Street Basin.  There are a lot of permanent moorings, but at the back tucked away are some visitor moorings which were all empty.  Each one had a sign attached stating that there was to be no mooring there from 26 September for a week – they were reserved for boats for the Conservative Party Conference.

Then of course there is the Worcester Bar

 There is graffiti around in this area, but perhaps mainly discreet with maybe a bit of interest

I am afraid that both Chris and I have a pointless talent!
 Then it was through Brindley Street and out onto Broad Street where we found they have a ‘Walk of Stars’ – all people who have past or present links to Birmingham.  Even our daughter who has lived in and around Birmingham for around 18 years did not know it existed!

 Roy Wood, Chris Tarrant, Joan Armantrading, Nigel Mansell, The Archers, Norman Painting, Noddy Holder and Gil Merrick.  There are many others - some we knew and some we didn't.

We hung a left and found ourselves in Centenary Square 

Where we found the new Library (we need to go back without Monty to have a look inside one day)

The Rep

The ICC (where the Tories are having their conference) and the Symphony Hall

A War Memorial

Which was originally built to commemorate those who lost their lives in WWI

And now includes those who fell in WWII 

There is a rather magnificent statue of Edward VII

Who it appears was a revered monarch by the citizens of Birmingham

Baskerville House is an imposing building

And the floral displays are worth taking time to admire

Across the road back on Broad Street there is this magnificent statue of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), James Watt (1736-1819) and William Murdoch (1754-1839) all influential men of their day who worked together on the invention and production of steam engines.  It was re-gilded a few years ago to very good effect.

There is a lot to see, look at and read in this area and we only touched a very small part of the city which we think is definitely worth a visit.

We ate at Tin Tin – a Chinese restaurant in Brindley Place that evening – somewhere we would recommend.  Being right next to the Pub in Cambrian Wharf it was a little noisy on a Friday night, but not sufficient to put us off mooring there again.

Saturday 20th September
To Hopwood
9.25 miles, 0 locks, 2 tunnels

We had a rather interesting visitor first thing this morning.  Thankfully he/she did not leave any presents behind.

Our first stop was for water which took for ever – we think it must be a slow tap as we should not have been that empty.  There is a house near the water point with a rather unusual curved wall.

Then it was off out of the city.  This is a route we have done a few times before, so there is not a lot to say about it.  The first part is for the most part straight, and fairly boring. 

As we were in Edgbaston tunnel a cyclist kindly stopped to warn us that there was a working barge floating free just round the corner.

We managed to edge past and I then phoned C&RT to report it.  I am delighted to say that I received a call back fairly quickly to thank me and say they were sending someone along to re-secure it.

I am struggling for things of interest! Maybe this fairly new bridge at University station counts?

Then there is the aqueduct over the main roads near Selly Oak

Once you get to Kings Norton Junction it does become more countrified.  Before long Wast Hills tunnel (2726 yards) is reached and we discovered why going through on a Saturday afternoon is not a good idea – the hire boats from Anglo Welsh at Tardebigge are heading out towards Birmingham!  One was very noisy and somewhat boisterous; another had small children on the front swinging the tunnel light around not realising that it was blinding Chris making it impossible for him to see!  I am glad to report that his request to desist was polite and was heeded!  We made it safely and arrived at Hopwood in time to secure a good mooring before the bridge.

Sunday 21st to Monday 29th September
To Tardebigge New Wharf and into dry dock
5.75 miles, 2 locks, 2 tunnels

Our last proper day on this, our first big adventure, so we woke with very mixed feelings.  Sad that it was all coming to an end, but glad that we were about to catch up with the family.  We met our daughter and her family in the pub at Hopwood for Sunday lunch at 12:30.  The food is adequate and it served it’s purpose (no one had to cook that evening), but I would not go out of my way to re-visit!

Then it was off to the boat for the final leg.  The boys were kitted out in life jackets and we were off. 

George is getting very confident, but note that Mum was not far behind him!!

When we went past Bittel Reservoir in October 2013 they were building something

Now we know – it is a fishing lake! 

When we left Tardebigge on 25th May the family were with us then, so it seemed very fitting that they should join us again.  When we were on that journey we saw this television crew filming for ‘A Place in the Sun’.  We did wonder if we might appear, but sadly no, we hit the cutting room floor.

 Our daughter had recorded the programme, so we now know that the couple bought this property in Alvechurch rather than on the Canal du Midi.

This is where we had dropped them off on 25th May – so long and so many miles ago!

 We saw our first Mandarin duck of the trip

George had a go on the helm

Before we knew it we were out of Shortwood tunnel – one of my favourite spots.  We walk here regularly as it is one of our litter pick routes, but we rarely see it from the water.

Into Tardebigge

And out the other side

We moored at the water point and whilst Chris dealt with filling and emptying, Sarah and Paul went to collect the car they had left at Hopwood I supervised George and Jamie whilst they did a bit of cleaning

Once all was done and Sarah and Paul were back we moved across to the tow path side to moor up for the night.  George and Jamie were employed holding a rope – we seem to have acquired a pirate, but why Jamie elected to wear a woolly hat (Mother came prepared for all eventualities!) on such a warm day is anybody’s guess.

Inside for tea – sandwiches first

Followed by scones and cake!  A very rare treat, but very much enjoyed.

Paul headed off with the boys to go home whilst Sarah was going to take me to our house to collect my car.  As the two of us headed up the tow path some people on a hire boat asked us if we were local.  We said ‘relatively’, expecting them to ask the way to the nearest pub.  No, they wanted to know if we were local enough that they could swap a glass of wine for a garlic clove!  That was easy – just go to the boat one behind you and ask and you shall receive and I will claim the glass of wine on my way back!  By that time they had decided to send for takeout pizza, but I was still welcome to the glass of wine as long as I brought the collie with me!  I took Chris as well and we spent a very convivial couple of hours enjoying some good wine and great company.  Thank you and we wish you well with your plans to take to the water in due course.

We moved back to the water point on Monday morning where we unloaded and took a couple of loads of 'stuff' home.  Then it was back across to the towpath for the night. Tuesday we were back to the water point (always ready to make way if need be, but it is very quiet round here and the only boat that did arrive was small enough to get in ahead of us). One more load made it’s way home and we then winded, went down lock 58 backwards and reversed under B56 to the 14 day moorings where Tentatrice was left until Monday 29th September which was a very still morning

We pulled pins went back up the lock to Pinder’s dry dock.

We have developed a few odd patches that look like rust above the water line and they wanted to examine them and check below the water line as well, which turns out, thankfully, to be okay.  
You can see two of them on the bow – there is only one more half way down the port side. The cause is a mystery, but they have agreed to sort them.  We have made the decision that as bottom blacking is due in 6 months to get it done now whilst she is out of the water, especially as we have no docking fee to pay! 

She is there for a week, but is not alone – this little family were still in attendance.  I wonder how long it will be before they get hungry and fly off?

We have resumed our litter picking duties and did the stretch from Upper Gambolds Lane (B51) to Tardebigge New Wharf on Friday – we collected a dustbin bag full of rubbish, so a job worth doing.  Mostly drinks containers and dog bags. 

We found the reservoir is very dry - I thought it was dry when we went past last October
But now it is the lowest we have ever seen it

This is it full on a lovely sunny day in January 2014 

We also found that the cottage by lock 53 is sporting a new sign

But does it sell anything?
That remains to be seen.

Also we were told that this appeared on B56 overnight a couple of weeks ago 

The trip will not be finally over until we return to Droitwich Spa Marina – just another 45 locks to go!!  For now, however, I will give the total statistics to date:

634 miles, 361 locks, 9 swing bridges, 14 tunnels, 19 aqueducts and under 6 motorways (much the best way!). 

When we are back at the marina I will work out the total waterways, counties etc to match the data supplied by Boatwif and the Captain (http://boatwif.co.uk/boat-update/how-farve-you-come/) who were our travelling companions for so much of this fantastic trip.  I do know, however, that we only used 2 launderettes – Oundle and Sawley!