Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Homeward bound

I am well and truly behind the drag curve!  We got home on the 13th October, but it has been all go since then and shows no sign of slowing down, but I am going to try to finish off the blog before the trip is a long forgotten memory!!

Sunday 9th October 2016
Autherley Junction to Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham
16.5 miles, 24 locks

There is always a degree of sadness when the end of a cruise is in sight, but all good things must come to an end and we knew we would have a few more days of fun even though today was an test of endurance rather than one to be savoured.

We crept off just after 7am when it was light enough to see safely to negotiate the first of the 21 locks of the Wolverhampton flight.  As much as we both love Birmingham the arriving/departing can be arduous. Coming from the south on the Worcester Birmingham Canal is just a long run with no locks after Tardebigge, but from Wolverhampton we always start at Autherley and do the run to the centre of Birmingham in one go as we have never felt we wanted to stay in Wolverhampton.  Two towns so close together, but with very different atmospheres as far as boaters are concerned.  Birmingham is clean, safe and vibrant with a great selection of moorings to choose from.  Wolverhampton - well the less said the better.  I am sure there are good things about it, but as we have never felt tempted to stop there I really have no idea.

To start with the flight is quite rural and pretty, but you are always aware that 'real life' is not far away.

Every paddle (4 at each lock) on all 21 locks has to be 'unlocked' using this conservation key.

It is inserted in the hole and a quick twiddle unlocks the bolt on the right of the mechanism

When locked the bolt (number 1) is over the top of the paddle gear (number 2) thus preventing it from opening.  These are found elsewhere on the canal system in any area where 'trouble' (ie vandals) can be expected. This must be one of the few places with so many and all to avoid wanton abuse and hence a waste of water if they are opened and just left.  Locking them is just a question of pushing the bolt back in place once the paddles have been closed.  It does not take long, but obviously adds to the time it takes to work each lock. I have never timed it, but by the time you have got the key out of your pocket, inserted it, twiddled to open the bolt and put it back in your pocket (four times at each lock) and then closed the four bolts per lock I reckon it adds a couple of minutes to each lock operation, so around 40 minutes over the entire flight!  The one good thing about this flight was that the paddle gear is in good condition and well greased, so easy to open and close.

Other than that there is not a lot one can say about this flight - it is just a question of getting ones head down and going for it.  An attractive railway viaduct gives a point of reference and shows that once again we were blessed with blue skies.  We did this flight with friends a few years ago and it poured non stop from bottom to top, now that was dire.

On we continued up past the waste management site.  When we came this way two years ago we set off just too late and were following another boat all the way, hence having to empty every lock after they had passed through.  Today we had the flight to ourselves and virtually every lock was empty, which was a great help.

We made it to the top in just under 4 hours of hard graft, broken only by a pleasant 15 minutes of so when we stopped to chat to a group of Canadians at the penultimate lock.  They are over in the UK for an extended holiday.  Their plan for the day was to walk to the bottom of the locks and then back up again.  I can think of nicer flights to walk!  They were delighted to be able to watch us work a lock and then take a tour round the boat. They had a lot of much more exciting plans for the rest of their trip and had already been all over the place before we met them.

Just after the top lock is this small basin with some mooring on the right where there was a boat who had stayed overnight and had no trouble, but we have never felt we wanted to risk it.  Under the bridge there is mooring for about two boats which is perfectly safe as you cannot access it from the land, but it is no good for us - there is no where for us to take Monty and there is a limit to how long he can cross his legs!

So there is no choice for us other than to just keep going.  It is a long mostly straight and very uninteresting stretch of canal with only a few points of interest to break the monotony.

There are, of course, always fishermen.  I do wonder if poles can get any longer?

But you don't usually see youngsters fishing for bikes!

Nearly 9 hours after we set off we were nearly there, both of us very tired, but were both instantly on the alert as we had to dodge paddle powered craft

The paddle boards and canoes made it safely past us

So into Birmingham where we turned left and I jumped ship to go and see if there was a space in Cambrian Wharf which is our mooring of choice when visiting Birmingham.  There was - just the one which was all we needed!

A short time later we were moored - it is very safe here, but more importantly there is grass nearby for our four legged friend.

A trip down the weed hatch

A goodly haul round the prop, but not as bad as the last time we did this particular route when we had to stop before we got into the city for an emergency clearance.

And so we both collapsed in a heap for a well earned cup of tea followed by a G&T, dinner and bed!

Monday 10th October
Cambrian Wharf to Hopwood
9.5 miles, 0 locks

Once again it was dry and bright and we set off mid morning for the relatively short trip down to Hopwood.  There was a party of volunteers busy clearing this space near the C&RT offices in Cambrian Wharf.

Once out of the city Monty and I went off along the towpath until we came to this obstruction.  Chris was about to pull over and pick us up when a workman came along, moved the barrier and told me we could continue on our way.

We did - the working boats were indicative that something was going on further along the cut.

On past Birmingham University

Until we could go no further when we were picked up by Chris

to continue on past the very extensive towpath work

Apart from the enjoyment of yet more blue skies that was our only excitement of the day as we made our way to the visitor moorings at Hopwood which were empty!  We picked our spot at the far end away from the bridge and settled down for a quiet night.  Still too tired to think about writing a blog!

Tuesday 11th October 2016
Hopwood to Tardebigge New Wharf
5.25 miles, 0 locks

A really easy day in preparation for the Tardebigge flight of 30 locks tomorrow.

We were preparing to set off when we heard a lot of revving going on outside, so popped out to see what was afoot.  We were moored close to the winding (turning) hole where we discovered this working boat and butty breasted up (tied together) executing a perfect turn.

It took some doing and they only just had room to execute the manoeuvre -we did offer to move, but they said we were fine where we were and sure enough they made it without any contact.  It was a joy to watch.

Once round they untied and the boat went ahead

to hitch the bow of the butty to the boat's stern

and off they went past a long line of moored boats - when we saw these as we arrived yesterday we thought we might find the visitor moorings full.

To Kings Norton to pick up some steel.

The walk from Hopwood to Withybed Green is one of my favourites, so Monty and I headed off ahead of Chris.  Past Bittel Reservoirs on the right with the fishing lake on our left.

On past this cottage that featured on a TV programme some time ago - the couple were trying to decide between a house on the Canal du Midi plus boat, or one closer to home - Alvechurch won and here they are, now complete with narrow boat.

To these wonderful dwellings at Withybed Green where Chris collected us for the trip through Shortwood and then Tardebigge tunnels to moor at Tardebigge New Wharf where we had a Tesco delivery booked for that afternoon.  Why did we need a re-stock, so close to home?  That will become apparent in the next blog, which I hope won't be too delayed!

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