Monday, 7 August 2017

We are off - a plan that worked - well almost!

Friday 4th August
Droitwich Spa Marina to Stoke Pound
4.5 miles, 15 locks

We loaded the boat with clothes etc on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday with the fresh food and last bits in the late afternoon to find that the pull-out larder cupboard had failed.  It was too late to do anything that night, so it meant a trip to Homebase in the morning.  The necessary was bought and the cupboard fixed, but it did mean our departure was somewhat delayed.  We did not leave until around 13:00, however it was a route we knew well and had a fair chance of finding a mooring whenever we got there.

First comes the Hanbury three – we knew that two voluntary lock keepers were on duty and low and behold they were, even though it was lunch time.  They certainly eased our passage and we were very grateful for their help.

As we got to Hanbury Junction we sounded our horn and there was an answering blast from our right. Not only was a boat coming through from our right, but it was travelling in reverse!  We were turning left, so proceeded to get out of their way.

A lovely sight – a working boat and butty.

We arrived at the bottom of the six Astwood locks to find two Black Prince boats ahead of us – yes we had hit ‘Black Prince Friday’ again, but at least these would stop before the Stoke flight.  We ended up with another one behind us.  This lock on the Astwood flight is one of my favourites – the garden always has something different to look at – sunflowers this time.

Last time we came this way C&RT were working on the lock landing at the top lock and a really good job they have made of it

As we travel towards Stoke Works this espalier has always amazed us – just how many years did it take to get to this?

As we arrived at Stoke Works to find a very, very slow boat ahead of us – would they go up the six locks at Stoke?  Thankfully no, they just went up the first lock, winded (turned round) and came back down again.

It is good having Chris back on both feet – it means I can prepare the locks for him to enter, open the paddles at the top and then move on to prepare the next lock whilst he finishes off the one he has just come up - it saves me a lot of shoe leather walking backwards and forwards all the time.

We managed to moor just before the lock landing for the bottom Tardebigge lock – as far away as possible from the pub.

The weather has been pretty bad over the last few days, but today was lovely – warm and sunny, so Pimms on the back deck was the order of the day.

Saturday 7th August 2017
Stoke Pound to Alvechurch
5.5 miles, 30 locks

There were three boats moored behind us last night all pointing towards Tardebigge, so we decided we would make an early start to avoid following as tail end Charlies.  The alarm went off at 06:30 and we pulled pins at 07:10. The plan worked – we were first.  We were, however, lulled into a false sense of security when we found the first two locks were empty – all the rest were full!

Just a quick shot of us at the bottom lock

Monty back on locking duties.

A rather battered sign which must be no longer valid

As I cannot imagine many bulls inhabiting this field

I do love this flight – lovely open views

Peaceful and serene despite all the effort required to work
30 locks one after the other for just over 2 miles

The only thing I hate about this flight is what I call ‘the dog house’.  

The two dogs are on chains and they bark ferociously at any dog that passes.  Monty feels the need to reply and the only way to avoid him putting his feet on one side of the wall with the other two on the their side is to put Monty on his lead.  I have a fear that the teeth will clash if he is let loose.  

As locals one of the nice things about working this flight is meeting people we know – first Kevin from C&RT on his quad bike who kindly opened up a few locks ahead of us

And a lady we meet regularly whilst our walking with her border collie, Tilly

We made pretty good time – around 4.5 hours.  I had walked ahead for the last 700 odd metres from lock 57 to the last one at 58.  As I arrived a wind appeared from nowhere and the sky darkened.  

A couple out walking had stopped at a bench to don full waterproofs as rain appeared to be inevitable. 

Chris arrived just in time to pass me my waterproof.  Thunder was rumbling to be followed by lightning.  We made it up the last lock with just a few spits of rain.  We were aiming for the water point to fill the water tank, empty the rubbish and the ‘yellow water’ (thanks to nb Oleanna for a useful phrase to describe emptying the wee pot!), however there were two boats on the water point albeit about to leave.  This is where the plan started to unravel.

We held off whilst they battled the wind to get across to the other side of the canal to moor up to sit out the storm.  By the time we were moored we were both soaked to the skin, so much so we decided to just carry on and empty and fill as required as we could not get any wetter!  The decision was decided to just keep going.  I blame it all on Chris as his plan had been to stop and use the C&RT facility and have a shower – I think he envisaged a somewhat warmer one than he experienced.

Monty and I retreated inside (I don’t ‘do’ tunnels).  He had to suffer the indignity of his (in the words of Oakley the guide dog on nb Sola Gratia) ‘numpty coat’.  It does, however, do a good job of drying out a very wet border collie.

By the time Chris emerged from Tardebigge tunnel the sun was out again.  The plan was to moor at Alvechurch, but when we arrived it looked to be full, but I spied a man coiling ropes – was he about to leave?  The answer was ‘yes’.  It was a boat the Sue and Ken from nb Cleddau will recognise – nb Pondlife.  We inquired whether he was anything to do with the Metropolitan Police – the answer was no, but he assured us the boat used to be owned by some members of the Met.  It is our understanding that a group of them bought the boat with the proceeds of many hours of overtime chasing ‘pondlife’!

We were grateful for the space and settled down to enjoy a quiet afternoon and evening.  The weather was very varied.  We were rewarded with a wonderful rainbow

In fact, we got two for the price of one!

Quite what the evening sky meant remained to be seen ......

Sunday 6th August 2017
Alvechurch to Earlswood
12.5 miles, 1 drawbridge

The sky had not lied – the morning dawned dry and bright.  We had another early start and pulled pins at 07:30. Monty and I walked the 2 miles to Hopwood and arrived 7 minutes before Chris.

Just before we left Alvechurch

On the way we went past Bittel Reservoir – another of my favourite spots

The moorings were full at Hopwood outside the pub and not much better the other side of the bridge

Sadly, there are a couple of real eyesores outside the pub that don’t look as though they are likely to move anytime soon

 This was spotted as we left Hopwood – quite a clever name

Having done this route several times before I decided to knuckle down and get some serious internal cleaning and tidying done – there were still things lying around we had not found a home for.  Today was just one long putt with no locks – just the one drawbridge at Shirley.  We arrived at Earlswood and as always here we could pick our mooring spot.  

We spent a quiet afternoon before taking Monty for a walk.  I had made Spag Bol for dinner whilst we were travelling, so it was a relaxing Sunday afternoon and evening.

Tomorrow (well today now as I lost the internet last night and could not post this!) we are expecting a very important visitor……

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