Friday, 20 October 2017

Down Hill All The Way Home

Saturday 14th October
Tardebigge to Queen's Head, Stoke Pound
2.5 miles, 30 locks

We were expecting yet more willing crew!  We moved across to the water point and they duly arrived complete with a small Tesco delivery.  A quick cuppa was supplied and we were off - a day of many locks and what a day - sunny and hot. T-shirts are not normal attire for mid October, but we were not complaining.

We got a really good system going with me going ahead and we had a fast and uncomplicated trip down in 3.25 hours (not including a stop for lunch) - possibly the fastest time we have ever done.  Gill and Lawrie (as all our friends have done) both worked hard and made the trip so much easier and more fun.  

We knew a couple of boats had gone ahead of us and we met five boats coming up, so quite a busy day for this flight - we have seen fewer boats in high summer.

My plan was to stop for lunch after lock 43 which is half way, but when we got to 42 I heard the unmistakable sound of pins being bashed in below 43 - someone coming  up had beaten us to it, so we stopped after 42.  Then it was off again and all hands to the pump - well locks.  Past what I call 'the dog house', but for once Monty did not get shouted at by the inhabitants.

It was such a lovely day there were plenty of walkers around and here we are nearly at the bottom of the flight.

Looking across from lock 30 (29 is the bottom and last lock) we noticed a change to the view - this is it when we went up the flight in August

and today - no surprise really that the tree has gone

The two boats ahead of us must have gone on down the Stoke flight as there were no boats below the bottom lock and we were able to take our pick of where to moor at Stoke Pound - as far away as possible from the Queen's Head as it can get noisy on a Saturday night.

We had a table booked for 18:45 and it was just as well I had booked as it was heaving.  We all had a great meal and repaired back to the boat for coffee before bed.  Chris and I definitely need to go onto starvation rations at the end of this cruise!

The day dawned dry, but slightly murky.  It was, however, still very warm for the time of year.

The six locks at Stoke Prior were dealt with expertly - it is all so much quicker with extra crew to help.  Between there and us arriving at the top of the Astwood flight we all had a cuppa and I made the lunch - it is essential to ensure the crew are fed and watered.

The locks at Astwood are in wide open country

and also contain one of my favourites locks - number 18 with its pretty garden

and cottage

We were following another boat, so all the locks had to be turned for us to descend.  'Henry James' usually lives outside the owners house near Stoke Works - it was on its way to Droitwich Spa Marina to come out of the water to have the hull inspected prior to being sold.

As Henry James left the last lock I could see another boat approaching in the distance, so we waited and helped them through before descending ourselves and heading on our way along the last lap to

Hanbury locks. There in the distance I spied a volunteer lock keeper - always a welcome sight.  There are only three locks here, but they are all big and they have side ponds.  It is a rare day in the season from Easter to the end of October that there is not at least one VLK on duty.

Today we had two VLKs and a permanent member of C&RT staff plus a young lad keen to show off his muscles - he opened and closed all three bottom gates for me.

Whilst his Dad and little sister looked on.  I asked the question the other day 'where have all the boats gone?'  Well now I know - they were going through Hanbury - we discovered at the end of the day they had seen no less than 21 boats through - 10 in the hour before we arrived!  We know most of the VLKs who man this flight, so it really is like coming home.

Out of the last lock, travel a few yards and turn right into the marina and the end of our summer cruise part 2.

In the distance we spied our neighbouring boat up on blocks

making mooring up that bit easier with no other boat to worry about.  The visiting crew were fed before Chris drove them back to Tardebigge to collect their car and wave them farewell.  Thank you Gill and Lawrie - it was great to see you both again and we were very grateful for your help.

Meanwhile I started to pack and tidy up, so we could start the big clear out of 'stuff' to be taken back home on Monday and what a weird day Monday turned out to be.  This was the sky just after 10am - dark with a red sun all due to storm Ophelia, sand from the Sahara and debris from fires in Portugal and Spain.

Two car loads of stuff were taken home and the washing machine was put to work.  On Tuesday morning I filled our very large rotary line before Chris dropped me at the station to get a train to London - no rest for the wicked!  It was for a date I could not miss - for the first time in 49 years, six of us who spent five years together at boarding school were meeting up for lunch! We had a brilliant time and plans are afoot for a repeat in 2020 when another of our number will be over from Australia.

So here we are back to 'winter life', but we have so many things in the calendar we are not going to be bored.  We will be off to a cottage in mid Wales in November as Chris has relatives there and it is easiest way to visit them all.  All being well, friends will be joining us, so it will be a bit of a holiday with the added bonus of wonderful beaches for Monty to enjoy with his friend, Kiera.

Before then all the 'stuff' we brought home needs to be packed away, the boat needs a thorough clean inside and out, paint needs to be applied to the battle scars and we then have to deliver her to Crafted Boats (formerly Pinders) before we go to Wales as there are a few little jobs to be done.

We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise 'down south'.  There was some new water to us and to the boat, but most places we had been to before.  We did not do much sight seeing - this trip was really about visitors - we had 39 in total!  Not all cruised with us, but without a doubt we would not have met or caught up again with them if we had not been out and about on Tentatrice.

What will next year bring for us?  Well plans are afoot for a repeat journey to Bedford River Festival with nb Cleddau, but in reverse, so we will traverse The Wash from Boston to Kings Lynn this time.  On that note a communication from Kings Lynn Tourist Office dropped through our letter box a couple of days ago - it was a survey asking about our stay on their pontoons!  The wording makes it seem as though we were there a few days ago, when in fact it was 28th July 2014!!  I wonder if the crews of nb Cleddau and nb Chouette also received one?

Total stats for the trip:
404 miles, 436 locks, 8 swing/lift bridge, 14 tunnels, 9 aqueducts and we went under motorways on 9 occasions.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Squirrels Have Their Revenge!

Thursday 12th October
Catherine de Barnes to Birmingham
10.25 miles, 25 locks

We woke to a wonderfully still day - a huge relief after the wind of yesterday. 

 An early start was called for as we had a long day ahead.  The general advice is to do this route in one go as there is nowhere desirable to moor on the long haul into Birmingham.  

Today I was spoilt for choice for blog titles, but the squirrels won the day.  Monty and I headed off on foot as we frequently do, but things did not go entirely to plan.  The tow path is relatively wide and good underfoot, but there are a lot of trees.  To Monty trees only mean one thing - squirrels!  All went well to start with, but in the end he must have decided he needed a better view, so the only answer was to back up.  Unfortunately he went just a little bit too far and in he went!  This is a dog who does not like water and barks at any dog 'stupid' enough to go swimming, so he panicked.  He was a good 100 yards from me and he set off swimming away from me.  Nothing for it, but to do a 100 yard sprint (I don't think I would have won any races!) shouting encouragement and blandishments to him to wait.  He did and must have managed to get his back feet on the canal bottom as he had one front leg on the edge of the towpath and was completely stationary with wide staring eyes waiting for rescue.  

Thankfully he was wearing his boating harness with a big handle to aid rescue from murky waters
He is light enough to yank out easily, but I am not that quick at getting up off my knees these days, so had no chance of escaping before he shook that long hair all over me!

Chris was round the corner behind us and was blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding ahead of him and was surprised that we had turned round and headed back towards him.  Once on board Monty had to submit to the disgrace of his drying coat, or as Oakley (guide dog from nb Sola Gratia) calls it, his 'numpty coat'!  It does the trick and dried him fairly quickly, but the biggest bonus is that it stops him shaking and sending muddy wet splashes all over the place!

Before we set off again Chris made the first trip of the day down to the weed hatch.

The plan was to travel about 3 miles where we were picking up two friends - extra crew to help with all the locks.  Weed hatch trip two was made as we collected Steve and Dee with one more before we arrived at the first of the locks.  There was time for coffee and biscuits before we got there - fuel required for the work ahead.  The canal is secluded and quite pretty - it was hard to imagine that we were approaching a major city.

As we neared Birmingham the 'red doors' in the bridges became very noticeable - these are fire doors for the fire brigade to use to extract canal water in times of need.  

They are even in modern railed bridges

Just before the first set of locks at Camp Hill is a service area where we stopped to empty and fill as required.  In the elsan building is this sign
I guess at some point in time someone has tried to get rid of a sleeping bag in an elsan disposal unit!!

And so to the first lock of the day

and the beginning of my second choice of title - 'Graffiti Alley'.

It was everywhere - I guess they write hanging upside down to 'adorn' bridges

On and on it went

Some more far more artistic than others

Nowhere even vaguely accessible escapes

As you get to Typhoo Basin there is some point to it and it could be called artwork, but even here others have defaced what should be a pleasure to look at

Thankfully most has escaped untarnished

 but sadly, not all - why do people feel the need to make their mark?

The artwork continues for quite a while at Typhoo Basin showing various aspects of life in this city.

I don't think any brick wall or bridge that can be reached in the three miles from the first lock to Birmingham centre has escaped.  It was relentless.

Then there is the amount of litter to contend with

Despite all of the above we had a really good day.  There is plenty to look at - not stunning countryside, but some of the buildings and views have a charm of their own.  Then there was the sight of a traffic warden making someone's day - mind you the car had been 'abandoned' in a very inappropriate place, so they only had themselves to blame for picking up a ticket.

The second set of locks, University Ashted Locks, are well named as they (see comment at the bottom of the post) pass right by Birmingham City University

The locks keep coming and the crew kept at it.

There are a couple of short tunnels on this flight, the second of which we had been warned about some weeks ago (thank you Adam from nb Briar Rose) - Ashted tunnel is narrow and we had been told to ensure someone walked through with the middle rope to keep the boat well over to the towpath side.  We only met one boat all day coming towards us just before we got to that tunnel and they told us they had got stuck.  Was it time to worry?  Well yes, just a bit as we are quite high at the front and they weren't!  When it came to it, Dee and Steve sat in the bow and I walked through with the rope and all was well.  We survived with room to spare. However, we should have sent a runner ahead to prepare the lock as it is immediately after the tunnel and had a boat been coming down, I think we might have to have reversed back before we could have passed.

One more lock in that flight and just time for us all to get back on board and have a quick lunch - the sandwiches had been made prior to arriving at the first flight of locks.  We did feed our 'volunteers', but they did't get much time to digest their food before getting off to tackle the last and longest flight of the day - Farmers Bridge Flight.  New water to Tentatrice, but Chris and I did them the other way some years ago on a hire boat with another set of friends.

At the bottom of this flight Canal and River Trust welcome you to Birmingham

There is nothing pretty about this section, in fact it can be quite unsettling - I certainly would not want to be around here late at night!

The only pedestrians we met today were all upright citizens and presented no reason the be alarmed.  Go through here early in the morning, as we did last time, and there are many prone bodies sleeping in all sorts of nooks and crannies - not that they presented a threat.  You just have to feel sorry for them that they have no roof over their heads whatever the weather.

As you near the city the canal actually goes under some buildings - a very weird experience

What a view from these apartment balconies - a good place to 'gongoozle' (watch people locking)

 and downstairs they have a very convenient Indian Restaurant

Monty supervised me all the way

 Then there was the lady busy at work overlooking a lock - I am sure I would never get any work done if I was in her shoes

and another lady enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the sun

It may not be scenic countryside, but it does have a different sort of charm

The crew kept working

Just before you arrive at the top it becomes more attractive with the PO Tower in the distance

 All the locks in this flight (13 of them) had been against us, but it was not until three from the end that we became aware of the boat we were following

Suddenly you are there - Birmingham has done a great job of making boaters welcome and the waterways around the centre of this city so safe.

We always try to moor in Cambrian Wharf as it is secure and there is grass nearby for the dog.  We were in luck with a couple of spaces to choose from.  I am not sure if Chris is laughing with relief or about to expire!

We had made it in 7 hours.  A very long day for us and we are eternally grateful to Steve and Dee - without them it would have taken a lot longer.

After a bit of a rest, a wash and brush up, we headed off to Brindley Place to get some dinner only to find it heaving.  A show was about to start at the Indoor Arena, so we had a bit of a wait to get a table, but we ended up at Café Rouge and we all had an excellent, well deserved meal.

Thank you both for your help.  It was great to see you again and we are really grateful that you were there for us.

Friday 13th October
Cambrian Wharf to Tardebigge
14.75 miles, 0 locks

When we returned to the boat last night this was the sky, so we hoped for a good day today.  Well Chris and Monty did!  I was jumping ship again and they were doing the trip alone.

Dee, Steve and I travelled on the boat the short distance past Gas Street Basin to The Mailbox where (after Chris made yet another trip down the weed hatch to clear the propeller) we left Chris and Monty to it.  I did not have the camera, so you will have to imagine the black and white face of a very confused dog sailing off into the distance without me.  The journey, I am told, was uneventful and they made it safely - I had made Chris a sandwich for his lunch, so I had not left without some thought for his needs!

So why did I go off again?  Well I was going back to the NEC.  It was our daughter's birthday and she had won two tickets to the Grand Designs Show, so how could I turn down such an opportunity for a Mother/Daughter day out?  We enjoyed our time together and left with a few goodies, but nothing massively exciting!  Sarah drove me back to Bromsgrove and dropped me at Tardebigge where Chris was on the service point filling the boat with water. 

We moved across to the other side for a quiet night before the rigours of the Tardebigge flight next day.