Friday, 24 July 2020

There and back again - 14th - 18th July 2020

A local round trip
16 miles, 20 locks, 2 tunnels

The time had come to escape our lock down at home and spread our wings and see how the solar panels were doing.

So fully stocked up we turned left out of the marina on Tuesday 14th July to find to our delight that the voluntary lock keepers at Hanbury are back on duty, so it was an easy trip up our first 3 locks.  For the first time in a number of years we turned right at Hanbury junction heading for Dunhampstead.   We have seen this light at Hanbury Wharf before, but have never been aware that it flashes - however trying to actually get a photo with the light on proved impossible!

Our aim was to go through Dunhampstead tunnel

go past the moorings, wind and return to moor overnight.  We were delighted to see that there was plenty of space so we could moor with good 'social distancing'.

Wednesday we returned to Hanbury Junction where we went straight on to the Astwood flight of 6 locks and lo and behold the bottom lock was empty all ready for us.  Would we be lucky all the way up?  As we entered the lock this boat appeared round the corner and held over to the side until we had risen and emerged, so no gate to close and the next lock should be empty.

Not only was it empty  but there was a boat that had arrived at the top to come down, they had spotted us and opened the gates before we arrived!  Onwards and upwards to our third lock and once again both gates were open waiting for us!   The mystery was that there was no sign of a boat coming down - was this a good Samaritan?  It turned out to be a young lady who had been out for a run with her dog and was heading back to the top to meet up with her parents who were coming down.  

She continued to lock ahead at locks 4 and 5 and as we approached the sixth and last lock her parents were emerging. So 6 locks and I did not have to wind a single paddle on the bottom gates and only had to make one trip round a lock to shut the bottom gates on the last lock!  We have never had such an easy ride and I am sure never will again!

Our preferred mooring here is just passed bridge 41 after the last lock.  Thursday we headed to the bottom lock at Stoke Prior to ascend, wind and descend before heading back to the Astwood mooring again.  

When we arrived at the lock we found the fire brigade in attendance

I checked if we were okay to use the lock and permission was granted - they were just doing some training.  Once in the lock I opened just one paddle and whilst Chris and the boat slowly ascended I got rid of our rubbish and 'yellow water', before Chris emerged, winded and re-entered to go back down.
On our way back to the Astwood mooring we stopped at the water point opposite The Boat and Railway to top up the water tank.  How is this for a great 'duck feeding station'?  They were doing good business! 

Back to one of what is becoming a favourite local mooring

Friday we were off down the Astwood flight back to Dunhampstead.  We passed one boat on the flight, but there was one ahead of us going down, so we only had one lock in our favour and no help. The advantage of going 'solo' is that it gives you more time to stop and appreciate the views

and the garden at the cottage at lock 18

We arrived at Dunhampstead and moored before winding this time as that means the side hatch is away from the towpath - it was hot enough to need it open.  There was just one boat on a long line of mooring, so we left a good three boat lengths space before we moored.  Another boat joined us and left a boat space between us and them.  Shortly afterwards another one arrived, now bear in mind that there was this space in front of us

why (at any time, never mind in the current situation) would you squeeze into the space behind us with even less space between their bow and the next boat?

Saturday we just headed back to the marina and then to home. 

Did we enjoy our little cruise?  Yes on all counts.  It was wonderful to be out on the cut, to just be somewhere different and we will go out again.  I think the big difference with any cruising we do this year is that there will be no 'sight seeing'.  We will try to keep ourselves to ourselves, try to keep getting Tesco deliveries - I already have our first one booked at Greensforge in August.  Slots are easier to find, but they still have to be done in advance, which does mean planning ahead and keeping to a schedule, but so be it.  It is certainly better than being confined to home.  Tow paths are narrow but all three of us have 'social distancing' off to a fine art - we tuck into the hedge with our backs to the tow path and let others go past us!  To be fair it is a manoeuvre that Monty has been doing since he was a young pup whenever we meet up with bikes or runners, so no new training required.

The solar panels amazed us - even without very sunny days we had more power in the morning than we usually do if we have run the engine the evening before.  We should have done it years ago!  

Monty has remembered all his boating drills:

Supervising the locking procedures to ensure I do it right

Admittedly he does sometimes lie down on the job - note his new 'boat colour' harness!

Where to stand when on the move
You would not think that Chris has not been to the barber since early February and that I have not trimmed it at all.  As for me - well the less said the better - I was definitely staying behind the camera!

Getting back on a 'moving target' (albeit a very slow one!)

To be honest I think he must be so bored with walking round our estate day in and day out that he was probably as relieved as we were to be somewhere different.

We will be back on the cut in August, post haircuts that are due on 29th July!

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Three Celebrations

Not surprisingly very little has happened since I last posted 6 weeks ago (having written the blog - maybe more has happened than I thought!).  We did go back to try to repeat our wonderful canal side walk the next day, but found it was suddenly too busy, so we abandoned it and went home.  
I have done one socially distanced walk with our daughter - I had my first sighting of her as she approached the car park in our local park, which was our starting point.

We walked along the grassed area at the end of the car park,

crossed a road to arrive in a large field that almost goes up to her house.  As you can see it was pretty deserted and Monty really enjoyed such a wide expanse to roam in.  There is just one downside - if you look to the far distance in the middle of the photo below you will see .....

yes it is a gantry on the M5, so it was not the most peaceful of walks!

To compensate somewhat we did come across this group of three alpacas who share a field with a couple of horses.
It was wonderful to spend some time with her and have a proper chat.  We will do it again (or similar), but she is working from home and has two boys to home educate, so does not have a lot of free time.

Another day I met up with a friend in the local park and we went for a gentle stroll before finding a bench to perch on to enjoy the flasks of coffee we had brought with us.  Who would ever have thought that meeting with a real '3D' person could be such a joy.  We took so much for granted before.

Chris and I have also taken Monty to the park a couple of times - it is so big that there is always room to keep your distance.  It is being well used - the last time I was there there were exercise classes taking place.  Just small groups with each participant at least 2 metres apart.

Apart from that we are still walking round locally, which is mostly okay.  There are always occasions when one is left flummoxed wondering why people stop to chat across the path rather than creating a line horizontal to it!   Thankfully that is rare and we are lucky to be able to walk along pleasant paths that are just around the corner from our house.

At one point on our route there is a small lake/large pond - I believe it is a balancing pond.  We have ducks, moorhens and just recently a Canada Goose arrived.  There are high trees all round the pond and we are wondering if the goose can get out again - does anyone know how much room a goose needs to take off and gain sufficient height to get above the treeline which must be at least 20 foot high?  The pond is fenced off for safety, but there is one area (at the front of the picture below) where people stop to feed the ducks.  Many a time we have gone past and stopped to look at the rats!  About a week ago official signs were erected that ban feeding the ducks.  We haven't seen a rat since.  

Although as C&RT volunteers we are not officially back at work it has been suggested that if we are out and about we might take our litter pickers with us.  This morning we decided to go back to 'our stretch' (Tardebigge tunnel southern end to B51/lock 41 on the Worcester Birmingham Canal) since our last official ranger patrol on 16th March.  It was so good to be back
Tardebigge New Wharf 
The reservoir
 At the other end of the reservoir is a dog box and last time we were here there was a general waste bin.  I guess it has been removed as with staff furloughed it is one less job for C&RT to worry about.  I am sure they hoped it would mean that people would take their rubbish home - sadly that is not the case.  They just fill the dog box and dump the overflow!

We removed all the stuff on the ground - there was evidence of a good party - four bottles of wine and a litre of vodka!

It was a job worth doing - we managed to fill two shopping bags.

So now to those celebrations.  The first was Chris' 70th Birthday, but how to make it special whilst in lock down.  We had planned a special dinner 'a deux', but I managed to add three Skype calls that he knew nothing about.  The first was the family (son and daughter, their spouses and the five grandchildren) at 5pm.  Actually our daughter in law and eldest granddaughter were missing as the latter was in A&E with suspected she had appendicitis.  Thankfully it wasn't within a few days she was fit and well - it was put down to a mystery virus, but thankfully, not of the covid variety.  They were both around for the last call of the day, albeit not for long for the patient who was keen to get to bed, but we did at least get to see them both.

Our youngest granddaughter decided to wear the party hats of her missing sister and mother, so they did not to waste!

Our daughter had made a cake for us and one for themselves. You may wonder if Chris was 10 or 70 - the jury is out on whether it is a 1 or a 7, but it was all I had in the cupboard and there were none available in Tesco! 

 She also provided each house with banners, balloons and party hats,

Chris opened his gifts from the family and blew out the candles on the cake, an appropriate song was sung (and no we weren't washing our hands at the time!) and we all enjoyed our own tea and cake.  At 6pm our son, daughter and four sets of friends from our RAF days joined us to raise a toast to the birthday boy.  Finally at 10:15pm our son and daughter joined us again along with Chris' brother in New Zealand (hence the late hour), our brother in law in Surrey and three cousins in Wales - a total of 8 Skype links.  Well that is not quite true - for some reason our brother in law could not connect via Skype so our son contacted with him via Whats App and then held up his phone so we could see Mike and he could see us! The wonders of modern technology.

It got a bit chaotic at times, but it was great fun.  All in all we managed to 'see' a total of 24 different people - far more than we would have done if we had not been in lock down. 

Our dinner deserves a mention - we started with a cold cucumber soup topped with prawns and a swirl of two sorts of oil - lemon and chilli.

Followed by a small piece of delicious lobster and a lot of salad.  This may look a lot, but it is only a small plate.

We finished with a strawberry semi-freddo. The starter and dessert were new to us and both have won a permanent place in our collection of recipes.

Now you may all be wondering what I gave Chris bearing in mind I could not go shopping!  As chance would have it I came across information about a young lady who paints miniatures of narrowboats.  They are only 4 inches square, but the detail is amazing.  I sent a load of photos, we corresponded by email and a plan was agreed about what I wanted.  She sent the finished article to our daughter (no awkward questions to answer!) and I managed to get a photo frame from Amazon.  It does need a different mount, but that will have to wait until I can get to a photo framing shop to choose the right colour - we think the blue of the water.

This is the actual size on an A4 sheet of paper.  

This is it in its frame - it is hard to take a photo to show much more detail, but I promise you every letter is there.  We even have the Worcestershire flag fluttering away.

The artists name is Jessica Duncan and here is her logo and email address - just in case anyone else is interested in taking advantage of her skills this is her contact details.
So that was celebration number 1 - what about the other two?  We celebrated our 47th Wedding Anniversary on 23rd June.  Inevitably it was a quiet day with another dinner 'a deux'.  We did, however, get the best present we could have wished for that led to celebration number three.  

Just prior to lock down Chris had been for an MRI scan, seen a consultant who said there was an area for concern and sent him for a bone scan (all clear) and ordered a biopsy.  Lock down put an end to the latter and it was a very long wait until 10th June when Chris attended a local private hospital as an NHS patient for the biopsy.  Then we settled in for at least a two week wait for the results.  They arrived on our anniversary with the news that he was all clear - no signs of cancer or abnormal cells.  He will be reviewed in 3 months.  The relief was immense.  

We will now wait patiently until we can resume normal life.  Chris is still vulnerable, so we have to be very careful, but we are nothing if not patient.  We have been to see the boat once and she is still there and okay. We will go again to do some jobs, particularly when we can stay over.  The first of those will be to fit the new loo!  Will we cruise?  Well maybe, but we won't be going far from home. The only shop I have been to is the chemist for prescriptions.  Everything else is done online.  

My only other outing apart from taking Chris to hospital for his biopsy was to the dentist.  I was in the middle of a course of dental treatment when lock down started and I was one of their first patients when they returned to work on Monday 22nd June and I will get my final crown and bridge on 6th July.  All the precautions they have in place meant I felt as safe as houses.  I was escorted in from outside, had to walk along red tramlines to stand in a yellow box.  I had completed some questions and an online update of medical and personal details on line before I got there.  There were a few more questions whilst I was in the yellow box and I was then told which of the three plastic chairs to sit on.  The dentist called me through and I found him and his nurse in much the same kit as usual - the plastic visor was the main difference.  They were both wearing plastic aprons, but neither of us can remember if that is normal gear or not.  He did explain that if they had to use the drill, I would have to leave the room whilst he and the nurse put on their full PPE.  Thankfully for all of us that was not required.  My temporary crown and bridge came away with just a touch - I had been aware for a while that it was unstable!  All that was required was a scan of my mouth now everything has settled down since the front tooth was extracted - or what was left of it.  I broke my front teeth whilst in the local swimming baths when I was just 12.  Do you remember those metal bars around the edge to hang on to?  Well that was the guilty party.  Sadly one of the front teeth had developed a deep seated infection and the only guaranteed cure was extraction.

We do have one ongoing battle which keeps us on our toes - a mole!  Some years ago when we were off boating our daughter fought a losing battle with mole hills in our back garden.  We only have a small garden with grass (thankfully not a lawn or we really would be tearing out hair out) and the whole thing is designed to be very low maintenance as we are usually away all summer.  I think we ended up with about 50 molehills in our small patch of grass!  We were told that if you put windmills (the sort you buy at the seaside for children) into the ground that the vibration keeps moles away.  We did and they did until a few weeks ago when after cutting the grass Chris forgot to put the windmills back.  We woke one morning to find 4 mole hills.  We put the windmills back, but sadly it is too late (or it was just a coincidence that the mole kept away) - we are now back up to about 33 or so and one completely surrounds a windmill!

I do dip in and out of various blogs.  It is an odd world we are all living in.  I hope you all continue to remain safe, well and are able to enjoy some cruising.