Friday, 2 June 2017

A wet end to this trip – flaming June!

Friday 2nd June; Netherwich basin to Droitwich Spa marina

We have been waking early with the daylight and today was no exception.  Dave was straight out of bed and away well before 7 to the railway station to go and fetch the car from Calcutt.  As Meg and I returned from her early walk in the park two hot-air balloons rose into the sunny skies from somewhere to the west.

1 hot air balloon 12 hot air balloon 2

The second one is advertising the Trentham estate which you can walk to from the Trent and Mersey near Stoke on Trent.

During the morning I did a bit of shopping before I started cleaning the boat.  I took a couple of snaps on my phone as I walked through the park.  The mosaic depicts the history of salt extraction …

2a mosaic in vines  park

and the statue of St Richard presides serenely over the park.

2b st richard

Remarkably Dave was back before lunchtime having driven down from Calcutt.  Unfortunately the bus service to Napton is very poor outside commuter times and he had to get a taxi from Leamington.  But did you know you can negotiate your taxi fare when they are not busy?

He left the car at the marina and walked to the boat, just avoiding the rain which started as he got back.  We had some lunch then got ourselves togged up with full wet-weather gear and set off through the park.

3 vines park in the rain

After the second swing bridge I was hot enough to remove my jumper.  My jacket sleeves felt unpleasantly clammy against my bare arms but the rain was too heavy to be without it.

4 swing bridge

St Augustine’s church rose impassively against the cloudy skies.  I hope the raindrops haven’t damaged the camera.

5 church on the hill

By the time we had reached the staircase locks the rain was easing somewhat and I could appreciate the wild-flower planting between the canal and the motorway.

7 wild flowers nr staircase  8 wild flowers

Red Campion, ox-eye daisies and a yellow vetch of some kind, but it’s too wet for butterflies to be out;

9 wild flowers

and teasels, not yet in flower, will be good for insects and finches later in the year.

Dave reversed neatly into our berth and we packed up the car between the intermittent showers.  We had to keep a strict eye on Meg;  the local swan family has very young cygnets and they were all on the grass nearby.

11 dsm swan family

I was pleased with the success of my little tub of salad plants; loose-leaf lettuce, coriander, salad onions and some nasturtiums too though they were not yet in flower.  Tasty leaves though.

10 salad bowl

But I don’t think I’ll be in the running for an award in the CRT ‘Boats in Bloom’ competition this year!

We had a few delays on our journey home down the M5, but they were trivial compared with the heavy traffic and lengthy queues for the poor souls going home to the Midlands at the end of half-term.

2 miles, 5 locks, 3 swing bridges, M5 tunnel

Trip stats; 70 miles, 118 locks,  days.

48½ miles narrow canals, 21½ broad canals;  73 narrow locks, 45 broad;  8 swing bridges; 8 tunnels (Shrewley, Brandwood, Edgbaston (twice), Wast Hills, Shortwood, Tardebigge, M5 tunnel (twice).

Grand Union, Stratford north, Worcester and Birmingham, BCN Main Line with Icknield Port and Soho loops, Droitwich Junction and Barge canals; River Salwarpe.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Droitwich Spa

Thursday 1st June; Astwood bottom lock to Netherwich basin

We cruised gently down to Hanbury Junction in the cool of the grey morning, and moored above the Hanbury locks on the Droitwich canal.  Before we went on to Droitwich itself Dave wanted to call in at the marina to confirm our mooring for tomorrow.  There is only a short stretch of Armco piling here, where Dave secured the stern; no rings, and the ground is too hard for a mooring pin; but there are small holes in the other kind of piling so I used the odd-shaped mooring hook for the first time.  I have absolutely no idea what its proper name is or whether I have used it correctly!

3 odd hook is it right

There was a bit of rope someone had looped through a hole further back so I ran my line back through that too in case a boat came by and pulled the hook out.  But no-one would have been able to come up the lock; Dave was soon back to get a windlass with the news that the top pound was completely empty.

1 top hanbury pound

He started the top lock filling before going on down to the marina.  Meanwhile I got the dog, closed up the boat and went to start running water through.  The second lock was as empty as it could possibly have been without using a pump and the top gate had swung open with no water pressure to hold it closed.  And yet every paddle was firmly closed.

  2 top hanbury pound

I thought I’d better call CRT to let them know but while I was on hold the first volunteer turned up and took over.  He confirmed there had not been any paddles left open and there were no leaks that would have caused the pound to drain.  He said that every now and then someone with a windlass is coming along overnight and draining the pound deliberately before closing the paddles again.  They are pretty sure they know who the culprit is, but as yet have no proof.

By the time Dave returned it was all back to normal and we were ready to leave.  Hanbury locks is one of the few flights where the side ponds are still in use. 

4 volunteer and side pound operation

One of the volunteers fills the side pond.

You enter the lock and then empty the water into the side pond until it is full, before closing the side pond paddles and continuing with the bottom gate paddles as normal.  This saves half a lock-full of water, which is then used to half-fill the lock when the next boat comes up.  There are side ponds on the Grand Union, such as the ones on the Stoke Bruerne flight, but they fell out of use may years ago.  The bottom gates on Hanbury top lock will not stay open on their own, so a piece of wood is kept on the balance beam on each side to use as a prop.

5 prop to stop gates closing

With the help of the lovely volunteers we were down very quickly.  Here is Chuffed on the way to the bottom lock.

6 entering bottom hanbury lock

We had to wait for two boats coming up the staircase and while I helped them up I found this evidence of why you should never try to use your boat pole as a lever.  I just hope the other end didn’t injure anyone when it snapped.

7 why you shouldnt use boat pole as a lever

It’ll make a nice bit of firewood though.  We dropped down the staircase without incident.  This is the lock where there was a fatal accident last year.  A paddle has been chained up to reduce the rate of flow when the bottom lock is emptied.  We are always careful here as the locks are very deep; even more so now.

8 staircase

Rather different from the tunnel under the M5 where headroom is very low, even today when the river Salwarpe, which flows in the canal bed for part of its course, is also low.

9 approaching m5 culvert

We had to put the painted can on the deck and it wasn’t really safe to look over the roof during the transit.  We had forgotten to lower the DAB radio aerial which ping-ping-pinged against the tunnel roof all the way through.

The river, here where it joins the canal below lock 7, was so low that the water didn’t even reach the green band on the depth indicator.

11 as is the salwarpe

And the Barge lock, which normally has a drop of a few inches, had no drop at all.  But you still have to open the swing bridge across it before you can go through.  There are two more swing bridges in Vines Park before you reach Netherwich Basin, where only one other boat was on the visitor pontoons when we arrived.  After some lunch and a bit of shopping we took Meg and went off for a walk.  It took nearly ten minutes to get her off the boat and onto the pontoon; she could see the water under it and refused to move.  The last time we were here we still had old Tess who coped fine.  Once Meg was off the boat she quickly overcame her fear and was fine when we got back.  Two hireboats and a share had arrived in the meantime but there was plenty of room for everyone.

Droitwich was renowned for its brine springs, which were first exploited by the Romans.  The suffix ‘wich’ (as in Northwich and Middlewich further north) indicates a town where salt was extracted.  Here is one of the springs, rather prosaically at the bottom of someone’s garden, debouching into the Salwarpe.

12 in droitwich

As the concentration of the brine is ten times that of seawater, it must make for interesting conditions in the river downstream.  I would guess there is different life in the water where the salinity is higher.  I wonder how far downstream the effect lasts?

Following Jennie’s recommendation (NB Tentatrice) we followed the footpath beside the Gardener’s Arms which leads up to St Augustine’s church.  The churchyard is large and the more modern graves especially are well-tended.  There were glimpses of the view but with the trees and hedges in full leaf it was largely obscured.

We had a lovely meal in the Gardener’s Arms that evening.  It was warm enough to be comfortable outside in one of their curtained marquees which had the side rolled up.  It reminded me of Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden on the South Oxford.  Very pleasant indeed.

13 gardeners arms

It has the comfiest pub chairs I have ever sat in.

3½ miles, 8 locks, M5 tunnel, 3 swing bridges

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A warm and lovely day

Wednesday 31st May; Stoke Pound to Astwood bottom lock

Another warm day though rather cloudy to start with.  We made our way down the Stoke flight, dropping off rubbish at the skips by Black Prince at the bottom lock, before pulling in at Stoke Works visitor moorings.  Along the way the fields were being cut for hay or silage.

1 hayfield

We needed milk so I walked to the little shop on the Ryefields Estate.  I would have cycled, but the tyres needed air and the bike pump wasn’t working.  It’s not really that far – less than 15 minutes' walk – but for some reason it always seems a long way.  The butcher next door had very little on display and I wonder how long he will be able to keep going?

Dave had been tidying up the rubbing strake on the port side.  We had lunch then trickled through the bridge onto the water point where we filled up and disposed of glass bottles in the recycling bins by the social club.  On our way again, we passed a boat with an interesting name.  Now how do they pronounce that at the flights where you have to check your boat in with the lockie?

3 good name

As we approached the top of Astwood locks I hastily revised my plan of getting off at the bridge to prepare the first lock as the towpath was a little congested.

4 towpath lock mooring works

The towpath and lock moorings had been collapsing and the work has been going on for a month to put in piling all the way to the bridge.  Having had to dig  out the edge before starting they are now remaking the towpath.

5 works

Over the next two weeks they will be placing coping stones along part of the stretch too.  There are no signs to say the towpath is closed so I suppose they must have to move the digger every time someone wants to go by.

6 works

There were several CRT workers coming up the towpath but none with a windlass - unfortunate as the locks were all empty.  They had been painting; by the time we reached him the last one was just putting in the finishing touches as I went to fill the lock and he kindly opened the gate when it was ready.  I hope the paint is quick-drying otherwise his work could be wasted!

7 cill marker new paintIt looks as though more work will be needed below the bottom gates; it all looks most attractive – or it would be if it was an effect in a Chelsea show garden – but the brickwork underneath is in a very poor condition.

8 ropy lock tail

We pulled in about 200 yards below the bottom lock.  We love mooring here – a good edge, wide enough towpath, reeds, fields and hedges, birdsong, and away from roads though the railway isn’t far.  But that doesn’t bother us and the M5 is far enough away to be tuned out.

14 lovely mooring

And super walks too; we went round the footpaths near Hanbury Hall in the sunshine.  The route took us through fields of oilseed rape, now taller than us and stinking of cabbage, as it does.

11 walking through oilseed rape

There was one field which looked to have been sown with a wild flower meadow mixture.  The most numerous flower seemed to be yellow rattle, which is parasitic on the roots of grass.  I didn’t think to get a picture, but it looked attractive and I think it’s what we need along motorways and verges – and towpaths?  It would reduce the need for mowing as it restricts the growth of the grass, while allowing wild flowers (and therefore insects and all the wildlife that feeds on them) to flourish.

Further on I could see a characteristic brown shape in the distance – a roe deer.  He was well away from the path, but still moved away as we got closer, though not in any great hurry.  Luckily the dog couldn’t see over the grass, which was high in this field, or she might have given chase.

12 roe deer

Anyway her focus was on a ball she had just found so there was no need to put her on the lead.

When we got back to the boat I did some baking and Dave continued his inventory of what is in the various lockers.  The previous owners had all sorts of things squirrelled away and we are still, after 5 years, finding things we didn’t know we had.

12 locks, less than three miles.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017


Tuesday 30th May; Alvechurch to Stoke Pound

It was grey and cool when we set off – ideal weather for a long flight of locks.  First we stopped at the hire base for some fuel (that was a mistake – it was expensive, won’t go there again) and a replacement piling hook as one (not mine) had inexplicably gone missing.  NB Back of the Moon which had been moored opposite the wharf last night had already left and was therefore ahead of us down the flight.

I finally got a snap of some new goslings.  My first attempt the other day was thwarted because there were too many adults around; this time the babies were so new that the adults were still shielding them from boats.

1 goslings

Shortwood tunnel was quite wet, but Tardebigge was dry.  Apart from the brick-lined ends, the main part seems to be rough-hewn out of the rock and this made the shape look very irregular.  The bright bit is the end of the tunnel and the orange blob is the headlamp beam; I think I may have got the wrong setting on the camera!

2 tadebigge tunnel

The Anglo-Welsh hire base had a single boat moored which went in this morning; the rest must be out with half-term holidaymakers but we haven’t found the canals to be particularly busy this trip.

Before we started locking we stopped at the facilities wharf but didn’t bother with water as we will be fine until tomorrow when we can water up at Stoke Works. There is some unusual wildlife in one of the canal-side boat gardens.  It looks as though it might have had a previous life as a hot-water cylinder.

4 hippo on way to locks

The feeder reservoir is not at the top of the flight and an engine house was built to house a pumping engine.  It is now a private residence but quite a striking place to live I would think.  And quite annoying with people taking pictures. 

5 old engine house

All the locks were against us for the top third of the flight.  By the time we reached the reservoir we were well into our ‘downhill’ routine, and taking it steadily as there were 30 locks to be done, when to our delight two volunteers appeared.  It was Jennie and Chris (and Monty the dog) of NB Tentatrice. They were actually litter-picking but Jennie had her windlass – so not only did progress improve markedly, we had a jolly chat too until they had to go off, but by then we were nearly half-way down.

6 jennie chris and monty tentatrice

It was lovely to see you both and many thanks for all your help!

Just over half-way down is a house with a variety of large aerials in the garden – and two dogs which bark manically at any passing dogs.  We call it the house of the noisy barkers.  Meg prefers to stay on the boat for this one.

7 the noisy barkers

Today the owner of the house was doing some work on one of his aerials and kept shouting at them to stop them barking so much.

8 man with the aerials

We did meet a few boats coming up, which eased the work, but many of the locks were quite leaky so it was a lot of hard work.

9 one of the lower locks

This was a very welcome sight! we finished soon after 2 o’clock, the descent having taken just on four hours.

10 down at last

There was only one boat on the Stoke Pound moorings and we tied up at the end furthest from the pub.  After a late but much-appreciated lunch we did some sorting out of the lockers in the bow and well deck, and relocated the anchor to one of the stern lockers where it will be much easier to get out when we go onto rivers.  We went to the Queen's Head to eat, taking advantage of their money off offers on food and drinks as we went before 7.  But we weren’t terribly impressed – our local chippy does better fried fish and the chef was one of those who thinks your steak should be rarer than what you asked for. 

Five and a half miles, 30 locks

Monday, 29 May 2017

Just a bit of rain …..

Monday 29th May; Hopwood to Alvechurch

It rained overnight and was overcast in the morning.  The boats around us had mostly gone by 9; several were hire boats from Alvechurch and needed to be back by 10.  We weren’t intending to go far today, just to the long pound between the top two locks of Tardebigge, and as our mooring was so lovely we delayed starting off and got on with a few jobs.  Dave began staining and varnishing the new veneer on the wardrobe yesterday, so he did another coat of that, and I cleaned through the boat.  We had a leisurely coffee listening to the larks, thrushes, wrens, etc before getting going late morning.  There are towpath works starting in the long cutting between Hopwood and the Bittel reservoir.  You can see how shallow the edges are here.

1 shallow edge past hopwood

The little fishing lake which was looking very new and stark a couple of years ago is now established and a match was taking place.

2 match at fishing lake bittel

There was a boat with no name at the reservoir moorings but it certainly had interesting artwork.  Perhaps the boat’s build had been rather difficult?

3 no name but interesting artwork

We pulled in at the empty Alvechurch visitor moorings for a spot of lunch and got chatting to a chap called Ian.  He had helmed NB Cecilia yesterday on the BCN 24-hour challenge and was waiting for the rest of the crew to bring her along.  As Cecilia is a community boat, CRT will be allocating them a designated mooring here but it is not marked out yet.  They were busy having a chat and a coffee at Hopwood when we passed so he would have had to wait a while!  Apart from having to remove a large tarpaulin from the prop at an early stage of the challenge they had had fun although Ian loathed the Walsall canal.  But it soon started raining and he decided to go home. 

It tipped down for several hours and put paid to our notion of getting to Tardebigge. 

5 pouring at alvechurch

But boats were on the move in spite of the weather.  We felt very sorry for the Anglo-Welsh and Alvechurch hirers who were starting or ending their holidays in such dire weather.

6 soggy hirers

Cecilia arrived while it was still raining.  They unloaded their stuff and had disappeared before it finally gave over, well after 5. Meg eventually got taken for a decent walk.  During the evening we watched a heron trying unsuccessfully to catch his tea.

7 heron

This morning I saw a crow try to take a fish from the middle of the canal but couldn’t say whether it was successful.  It’s not something we’ve seen before – the closest was a crow hopping along the offside edge with its eye on a newly hatched brood of ducklings.  That failed too I am glad to say (though clearly the crow was only behaving naturally, it didn’t have the ‘fluffy factor’ so of course we were inclined to take the ducklings’ side).

2 miles

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Countryside again

Sunday 28th May; Birmingham to Hopwood

I didn’t get much sleep last night – the traffic continued till well after 3 and revellers from the clubs and the Pride gigs were still walking home over the bridge at a quarter to four.  That’s a Saturday night in the city for you!  The blackbird which has been singing solo most beautifully from the other side of the canal started up at 3.45 too.

Quite a lot of boats went by at first light.  We thought they must all have been doing the BCN 24-hour challenge - NB Tawny Owl was moored on the other side yesterday evening bedecked with bunting and a ‘Team Tawny Owl’ slogan prominent.  We were up by 7 but took our time over breakfast, getting the paper, disposing of some recycling and then going down to the facilities block at Cambrian Wharf, which we could see was free.  As we were on our last cassette we didn’t want to risk not being able to moor at Holliday Wharf.

After filling the rather depleted water tank as well we were on our way not long after 9.  A CRT crew was collecting rubbish in the sunshine.

1 rubbish collection

The decision to use the Cambrian Wharf facilities was a good one; someone had moored overnight on Holliday Wharf completely blocking access.  Our next plan was to visit the Barber Institute, the art gallery at the University, and we tried to moor near the University station.  But with the water levels being rather low at the moment we couldn’t get in close enough and then had a bit of trouble getting off again.  But there was depth just before the aqueduct a few hundred yards along so we moored there and walked back.  The campus was very quiet as term has finished.  We enjoyed our visit and on the way back took a moment to look at this massive sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi of the 19th century scientist Michael Faraday.  The coils the figure is holding represent electromagnetic force.

   3 faraday

Back at the boat we had some lunch before another stop at Selly Oak for some supplies at Sainsbury’s and a tin of red-ox in Halfords.

It was very hot by the time we got going again.  At King’s Norton junction there was a sudden kerfuffle and a lot of noise from geese; a dog had jumped into the canal to chase them.  He wasn’t gaining on them at all and was completely ignoring his owners calling him out.

4 chasing geese

Wast Hills tunnel was straightforward (though rather wet) and we were through in half an hour.  We took the first suitable spot on the approach to Hopwood, a few hundred yards before the visitor moorings.  A beautiful quiet spot after the roar and bustle of the city.  Lots of birdsong and just lovely.

6 pleasant mooring before hopwood

Before too long there were four or five other boats nearby but there was plenty of space for us all.  After the beautiful day there was a bit of rain during the evening just as the boat in front of us were having a barbecue.

8½ miles, Edgbaston and Wast Hills tunnels