Tuesday, 2 October 2018

We made it! 29th September to 1st October

Saturday 29th September 2018

A day we went in different directions.  First job was to move across the canal to the water point to fill and empty as required and to take delivery of a Tesco shop.  Mid afternoon our daughter, Sarah, came and collected me to take me home where there were jobs to be done - mail to go through and grass to cut to name but two.  She returned early evening and we went out for a Mum/Daughter meal out.  It was good to catch up with her and even better that she stayed over.

Sunday 30th September 2018
Tardebigge to the Queen's Head, Stoke Pound
2.5 miles, 30 locks

Sarah followed me to the Queen's Head and then returned me to Tardebigge. Kiera's owners, Jane and Chris, arrived mid morning to collect Kiera who was over the moon to see them both.  They had just one small task to do before they left - there were 'kennelling fees' to pay - a mere 30 locks to negotiate!

The four of us work well together - very few photos were taken. One is always just busy when doing this flight.  Chris was working ahead whilst Jane and I worked the bottom paddles and gates for my Chris.  Monty and Kiera just kept on supervising,

Most locks were against us, but with four on the job it did not present much of a problem.  The reservoir is, as you would expect, quite low.  It still proved an irresistible draw to Kiera who just had to have three swims!

We met a couple of boats coming up and one voluntary lock keeper who was working with an ascending boat - we certainly did not need help

Then there was a group of Bromsgrove Asda employees doing a sponsored walk. If you see this - I hope you all escaped blister free and made a good sum of money.

We stopped at one point for a quick sandwich eaten whilst we were in a lock - we needed to eat early as we were booked in to have dinner at 5pm at The Queen's Head.

There is always what we call 'the dog house' to go past.  The dogs seem to be permanently on chains and kept outside.  The noise when dogs go past is deafening and Monty feels he has to answer back, so has to be kept on a lead as we go past.  There have always been a lot of aerials on this house, but we think the one at this end is new - it is huge

Jane and Chris worked really hard - I only managed one shot of Jane and none of Chris as he was always ahead of us.

Just to prove I do exist - Jane took one of me at work!  We were obviously both in the pink today!

We made the trip in just over 3 hours - not bad for 30 locks.  Mind you the second boat we met ascending, the crew of three were taking their second boat up Tardebigge that day.  Apparently they did the first in 2.5 hours which is pretty amazing.  They were younger than we are by quite a lot of years, so I still think our effort was pretty good.   We managed to moor just past the lock landing at the bottom of the locks.  It is well away from the pub and, more importantly, from noisy boarding kennels.  I took Jane back to Tardebigge to get their car, she followed me to Droitwich and then took me back to The Queen's Head - an enormous bonus to have our car in the right place for us tomorrow.

The meal in the Queen's Head was excellent - they failed on the delivery of the glasses of wine we had ordered.  They arrived as we had nearly finished our meals, but to give them their due, they were full of apologies and did not charge us for the wine.  It is not the cheapest pub around, but we have never had a bad meal their since it became one of the Lovely Pubs chain.

We had a great day together and we are very grateful for their help.  Thank you both.

After our meal together they left to head home with Kiera.  Monty slept all evening, but we are sure he is missing his friend.  The two dogs are really good together.  What has always amazed me is that they never try to take the other's food. Kiera is welcome anytime - she is a good 'ship's dog'.

Monday 1st October
Queen's Head, Stoke Pound to Droitwich Spa Marina
4.5 miles, 15 locks

A boat had arrived down the Tardebigge flight whilst we were away having dinner yesterday evening.  They were moored on the lock landing, so we assumed they were going to go for a quick getaway.  It must have been preying on my mind as I woke around 05:00 having had a bad dream where we were racing with them trying to get to the first lock - the result was we crashed and our boat turned right over.  Chris did pop up, but the boat was lost!  It was one of those dreams you cannot get past and that was it for sleep until about half an hour before the clock went off!  We both heard a boat heading off around 07:30 and assumed it was the boat on the lock landing, so we did not hurry ourselves.

 When we emerged about 08:00 the boat was still there and we moved off about an hour later with no signs of life from the boat on the lock landing.

Never mind that the boat had not got ahead of us - the first five locks in the Stoke flight were all against us, so it was never going to be a quick final journey.  The sky was blue, the sun was out and we settled down to enjoy this very familiar journey.

A first for us - some very different gongoozlers on the Stoke flight!

 Just as interested as their human counterparts

Once down the six Stoke locks we go past Crafted Boats (formerly known as J Pinder and Sons)

where there is a new paint tunnel to reflect how busy they are

This was the place of Tentatrice's birth

A bit further on there is a huge housing estate going up.  The line of buoys is narrow,

but we obeyed the instructions to keep between them

 More buoys as you move along, but this time you have to keep to the right

It is an enormous site and will be interesting to see how it progresses

 Here we are approaching the first lock at Astwood having just passed a boat, so hopes were high that the locks might be full.

The first was almost full, the second full, the third about two thirds full, but the last three were empty.  It is another rural and very pretty flight

Lock 18 is always a welcome sight with the lock cottage's lovely garden and three jolly gnomes to welcome us home

Monty has to either stay on the boat at this lock or be on a lead - he stayed to supervise Chris

At the bottom lock a boat arrived, so one less set of gates to close

We turn right at Hanbury junction onto the Droitwich canal - we are nearly home!

As we are very occasional volunteer lock keepers at Stoke Prior which means we have access to the volunteers' calendar, so we knew there would be two VLKs on duty at Hanbury.  This flight of three are very deep, have side pounds and have at least one, usually two VLKs on duty every day.

Peeking through the bushes is our marina. Nearly there!

We are always grateful for help with these very deep locks and it was not long before we got back to our mooring.  A quiet afternoon was on the cards. Tomorrow we start to pack up, load the car and transfer back to our 'winter life'.  This is not quite the end for the year - we have to take the boat back to the top of Tardebigge to have her bottom blacked for the week beginning 22nd October.  Then back again - just another 90 locks to go!

It has been an amazing summer (maybe with the exception of the Wash crossing).  The stats are as follows:

793 miles
406 locks
4 swing/draw bridges,
10 tunnels 
19 Aqueducts (I am sure there may be a few small ones I missed)
under 7 motorways (definitely better than being on them).   

Before we do the trip back up to Tardebigge and back (we are looking for volunteers!) I will work out how many nights we have been on board, the waterways travelled and maybe even the counties.  I do know that we have now visited the furthest east on the system (Brandon, Suffolk) having already done the furthest south (Godalming) and the furthest west (Llangollen) - just the furthest north to tick off!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Nearly There! - 26th - 28th September

Wednesday 26th September 2018
Hockley Heath to Earlswood
2.75 miles, 0 locks

As you leave Hockley Heath this garden across the cut has had a face lift - at least we don't remember such grand decking in the past

 with a rather fetching clock that does tell the correct time - I was walking the dogs the previous evening!

The main feature of this trip is the low water levels

Every time we pulled over to the towpath to pass oncoming traffic we grounded - it was slow going, but the sun was shining and

the sky was blue, so all was well with our world.

 We are getting back to reality - our local motorway - the M42.  We will go under once more before we get back to the marina.

We moored briefly at bridge 20 - somewhere we always stop to pay a visit to

Wedges, but oh what a disappointment as they are no longer selling fruit and vegetables.  They have extended the cafe which I am sure is more profitable.  The meat, pies, cheeses, bread and cakes are all available, but this is the wrong end of the trip for us to be stocking up, so I left empty handed.

It is almost two weeks since Kiera joined us and she is as laid back as ever!

Just a short journey for us today, but we like Earlswood and with the sun shining it was perfect.

Thursday 27th September 2018
Earlswood to Hopwood
10.5 miles, 0 locks, 2 tunnels, 1 drawbridge

Once again we woke to brilliant blue skies and another very warm day  - definitely an added bonus and a welcome change from the rain and wind.

The question going through Dickens Heath is always the same - will the fountains be working?  Not today - we wonder is that is due to the lack of rain this summer?

A very well 'decked' out back garden

 Despite the fact that we are nearing the outskirts of Birmingham this is still a very rural and pretty bit of canal.

Autumn colours are beginning to appear

The one bit of excitement at this end of the North Stratford Canal is the draw bridge at Shirley and today was just that little bit more interesting than usual.  Quite a while before we left Earlswood a hire boat had gone past us at a very considerate slow speed.  One is always grateful when people show respect for moored boats.  We found out as we approached the draw bridge that 'tick over' is their top speed!   I had jumped ship with the dogs and overtook the hire boat before Chris was even in sight.  They had landed crew to work the bridge - there appeared to be at least 5 ladies!  Now this bridge is electrically operated, so all you need is one person and a key to access the control panel.  A buddy for moral support is an added bonus, particularly if you have never done it before. From there you just read the instructions and press buttons.

The lady in charge of the box was issuing all sorts of instructions - she wanted one of her party to ensure the boat did not stop and two more to stand in the road to stop the traffic!!  I am glad to say that this is not necessary as once the button has been pressed, lights flash, sirens wail and two big barriers descend to block the road.  Mind you I will admit that when one is new to these bridges that involve stopping traffic it can be a bit daunting.  Thankfully traffic was light (just one car), so we slipped through on their tail (they had invited us to do so) and were able to pass them as they collected the crew.  I think we would have lost the will to live if we had had to follow them, especially through the 2726 yard long tunnel at Wast Hills.  You really need to keep a bit of speed on to maintain steerage, especially if you have to pass an oncoming boat.

  The first tunnel at Brandwood is just a tiddler at 352 yards long - we all stayed on deck for that one.

 At Kings Norton Junction we turned left towards Worcester and so re-joined our home canal - Worcester - Birmingham.

I am not a fan of tunnels, so once we arrived at Wast Hills the dogs and I went inside with all the lights on and left Chris to it.  I jumped ship with the dogs at the first bridge after the tunnel to make our way to the moorings at Hopwood.  I could see a lump of some sort on the towpath, but from the distance had no idea what it was.  I was a little surprised to find a man face down, fast asleep wearing a t-shirt and his underpants!  Thankfully the latter were good stout ones - Chris spotted another man on the bow similarly attired, but his were the white/grey baggy aertex ones - affectionately known as Shreddies in the military!  I am glad I did not look back! It was amazingly warm and they were certainly making the most of the weather.

 As we approached our mooring at nearly 3pm, the sky was still clear and blue.

We were far enough away from the road for it not to bother us, although most places in this part of the world it is hard to get away from the sound of motorways.

We also had a not too shabby side hatch view

 Hopefully this sunset will mean a good day again tomorrow, although the forecast does say it will be chillier.

Friday 28th September 2018
Hopwood to Tardebigge
5.5 miles, 0 locks, 2 tunnels

The day dawn dry, bright and sunny, but decidedly colder.  We had to break out the gloves, but not for long.  The dogs and I walked ahead and waited at a bridge hole to catch the boat.  Kiera is getting the hang of alighting a moving target and is quite adept at it now.

The sky was blue with just a few fluffy white clouds

On past Bittell reservoirs - one of my favourite views.  There were a few boats out, so there were some open vistas to enjoy.

On past this lovely cottage in Alvechurch - the owners appeared on a television programme called 'A Place in the Sun'.  They were trying to decide between a house in the UK with a narrow boat mooring or one on the continent with a sailing boat.  The UK won.  Sadly the man died suddenly a while ago, but I am glad to say the boat is still there and looking good.  We met the lady of the house out for a trip with her family sometime last year.

Since we left in April the new marina at Withybed Green has opened for business. It has space for about 54 boats - today there were just three.  We may go and ask them for their tariffs.  It looks a little exposed, but it would save 45 locks every time we want to head north.  We are, however, both rather fond of Droitwich, so we shall see.

At present we can get the car to within a few feet of the boat - a great help when loading and unloading.  I am not sure that we would be able to do so here, but we will go and look.  There is nothing like a good 'neb'!

We have not noticed this pair of patient souls trying to get boats to slow down - they appear to have had a long wait.

This must be one of our more unusual sightings this trip - a very lifelike chimpanzee sitting on someone's garden wall!

And so to Tardebigge where we will wait until Sunday when Kiera's owners arrive to collect her and pay their 'kennel fees' -  a mere 30 locks!!   The ground here is quite soft, so

we have cross pins at the stern, the bow and the middle.  Tomorrow there is likely to be a lot of hire boats setting out from the Anglo Welsh Basin, Tardebigge and Alvechurch Boats at Alvechurch and we have been left adrift once before.  Belt and braces this time!

A late afternoon walk around Tardebigge was the order of the day for all four of us.  I think we consider Tardebigge to be Tentatrice's 'spiritual' home.  The scenery is stunning and with such a glorious blue sky I just had to capture the moment for posterity.

The evening ended with yet another stunning sunset

And Kiera made herself at home on her penultimate night on the boat - definitely a dog under severe stress!