Monday 30 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 22

We had a very nice evening last night, with Helen and Andy from the Jam Butty visiting us for dinner.  There was lots of boating chat and it was great to catch up with them.  Sunday night in Birmingham is pretty quiet too, so we slept well.  This morning was bright but much cooler than of late.  We set off just after 8, heading round the corner and through Gas Street Basin and Worcester Bar, the start of the Worcs and Birmingham Canal.

We stopped at the water point — well, just beyond the water point as there was a boat which had moored on it overnight — at Holiday Wharf.  We got a wash load going and while the tank filled I went to the little Tesco at the Mailbox for perishables.  It was around 9.15 when we set off again.  It was 2011 when we last came along here on Briar Rose, so a few things have changed.  Edgbaston Tunnel is now single way working, thanks to a widened tow path; I don’t begrudge the tow path users the extra space — it’s very busy with walkers, runners, and cyclists, and it’s not as though boaters are being hugely inconvenienced.

Last time, the road under the new aqueduct was just being built.  Now it’s not only busy, but surrounded by new buildings which rather block out the views of the university.

At King’s Norton Junction, we turned sharp left onto the North Stratford Canal. The Junction House, which was damaged by a fire, is enclosed in scaffolding and sheeting, undergoing repairs.  As we did the turn a boat was coming through the former stop lock, and as we got closer another one appeared.  Then it was our turn.  These days, there’s no actual lock.

The North Stratford seems like pretty slow going, with even bridges in short supply at times.  We were even denied the excitement of stopping the traffic by lifting the Shirley Drawbridge as it’s currently stuck open, and the road is closed.

We were being caught up by an old motor and butty, so we waved them past.

In the end, it meant they did the next lift bridge and also let us through.  It had begun to rain, pretty much on schedule, so we stopped at around 3, just past Swallow Cruisers and before the lift bridge at the top of Lapworth Locks.  We have lit the fire for the first time this trip.

16 miles, 0 locks.  (229 miles, 216 locks)

Sunday 29 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 21

We knew we had a few miles and three locks to do to get into Birmingham, and we thought we’d probably get wet doing them.  It rained all yesterday evening, on and off through the night, and early this morning.  But it wasn’t actually raining while we had breakfast, so we set off.  At which point it started again.  We went through Tipton Junction and over the aqueduct over the Netherton Branch.  The plan had been that if it wasn’t raining too much when we got to Brades Hall Junction, we’d turn off and go down the Brades Locks.  It had stopped, so we made the turn.

The top two locks are a staircase pair — the only staircase on the BCN, but the sixth we’ve done this trip.  Between the staircase and the third lock the canal was covered in flowers.  We suspect the nearby temple might have something to do with it.

At the end of the Gower Branch we turned right onto the New Main Line.  The route takes you under the M5 and the Stewart Aqueduct carrying the Old Main Line.  Then there’s Smethwick Pumping Station.

I was enjoying the journey, so at Winson Green Junction we turned onto the Soho Loop.

We passed Winson Green Prison, then a long fishing match during which the rain returned, and finally a wall with some rather impressive graffiti.

We crossed the New Main Line and went round the Icknield Port Loop, where the first phase of a big new housing development is being built.

Arriving in central Birmingham we turned off round the Oozells Stree Loop, and slotted into a mooring.  This is our favourite place to stay n Birmingham, as the towpath is a dead end and it’s pretty quiet.  We walked into town, finding that the square outside the library now has new fountains, and there are massive roadworks where the new tram tracks are being laid.

On the canal front, CRT has made the most of the prime location to display its new branding in prominent locations.

Since we got back to the boat, it has been raining and blowing a gale.  We’re expecting visitors for dinner this evening.

10 miles, 3 locks.  (213 miles, 216 locks)

Saturday 28 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 20

We’d been promised that a CRT guy would be with us at 8am to try to sort out Compton Lock, but it wasn’t until 8.45 that he turned up.  As it’s a deep lock, we took the boat in so he could stand on the back with his keb and feel along the cill for whatever was stopping the gate closing fully.  He couldn’t feel anything, yet the gate still wouldn’t close.  As there was plenty of water about, we tried opening the top paddles to flush off whatever was there, but that didn’t work either.  Soon a boat from the moorings above the lock arrived wanting to go down, then another CRT man turned up too.  We took Briar Rose back in the lock so the second guy could have a go.

Eventually, after lots of prodding with a shaft and raking with a keb, we could all hear that there was something wooden down there, rather than metal or brick.  Then suddenly the gate closed properly.  Whatever was on the cill had moved, but we still don’t know what it was because it’s probably still down there somewhere.  We filled the lock, said thank you to the CRT guys, Chris and Kev, and were on our way.  It was 10.15, so our hopes of getting up the Wolverhampton 21 early were not going to happen.  It was very nearly 11 when we got to Aldersley Junction and turned onto the BCN.  The first lock is right there, but fortunately was empty.  In fact 19 of the 21 locks were in our favour, and many at the lower end had their gates open.  We suspect someone coming down, probably single handed, had got bored of walking back to shut the gates when the locks were further apart.  It’s really very rural at the bottom of the flight, with more industry closing in as the locks go up.

Not only were the locks in our favour, but the top gates are in such good condition that no water had drained through, so no bottom paddles needed to be raised.  Where the locks are close together we got into a rhythm where I would start the lock filling, then walk up and open the gates of the next one, while Adrian would drop the offside paddle and open the gate of the lock the boat was in.  I’d then walk back to shut the gate.

We were going really well until Lock 4, where the pound above was pretty much empty.  I went up to the next lock and ran plenty of water down.  Fortunately the pound above Lock 3 is a decent size, so it could afford to lend us the water.  The delay wasn’t too bad, and after 2 hours and 40 minutes we had completed all 21 locks, and were at the top one, with it’s row of neat little cottages.  We are also at our highest point of the trip, at 473ft — which is 204ft 6in above Thrupp Wharf, if my maths is correct.

The stretch from Wolverhampton to Birmingham is always much longer than I remember.  At Horsley Fields Junction a train was waiting at a signal across the junction.

A bit further on a new housing estate is going up.  We can’t remember what was there before — probably a scene of some dereliction.  There are more newish houses on the towpath side just a little way on.

At one point we saw a new tram.  Then at Coseley Tunnel I always like how the houses above have a great view straight down the canal.

We moored for the night at Tipton, on the ‘John the Lock’ moorings by the health centre.  At one time, we wouldn’t have even considered stopping here, but things seem to be much improved.  The trip boat from the Dudley Tunnel visitor centre has been going back and forth.

9 miles, 22 locks.  (203 miles, 213 locks)

Friday 27 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 19

For some reason we were up and about early this morning, and set off at 7.45.  The first few locks were against us, and Marsh Lock at Swindon was looked over by a flowerpot fisherman at a nearby house.

The Botterham Locks are a staircase pair, and look very imposing.

Bumblehole lock comes next, followed by The Bratch.  These are three locks very close together — but without being a staircase.  The pounds in between are just four or five feet long, but actually extend off to the side.  Going up, you have to start filling the lock you’re in before you start emptying the lock above; the little tiny pound gets very rough.  There was a volunteer lock keeper on duty, who was rather bossy and not very friendly — maybe he was annoyed about being extracted from his turret office in the rain, which had not long started.

After three more locks we moored up at Wightwick so we could go the the National Trust property, Wightwick Manor.  By now the rain had cleared and the sun was out, so as we walked up the path I made sure I took photos of the outside in case such conditions didn’t last.

We went to the cafe first for lunch, then had a look round this very lovely house, decorated by William Morris.  We last came here some ten years ago, and it seems a lot more of the house is open these days.  It even has a Turkish Bath.

While we were in the house, it began to rain and by the time we had finished looking around it was lashing it down.  As it wasn’t the weather for looking round the gardens, we headed back to the boat, getting soaked on the way.  We made a cup of tea, then saw from the rainfall radar that a break in the weather was on its way.  With the mountain of the Wolverhampton 21 in line for tomorrow, we wanted to be up the last locks on the Staffs and Worcs, so when the rain had pretty much stopped we set off.  We knew there was a boat in front of us, because people we’d seen yesterday had been sheltering under the bridge when we returned from Wightwick Manor.  As we were leaving Wightwick Lock a boat came round the corner, so we expected the next lock to be in our favour; inexplicably it wasn’t.

At Compton Lock, our final lock on this canal, we suddenly came across a queue.  The boat from earlier was going up in the lock, and a hire boat was waiting.  Adrian went to help them both, then it was our turn.  However, I noticed that the bottom gates were’t shut properly, so we tried to clear whatever it was with a burst of water from the prop.  They closed more, so we tried going up but it was clear that the lock would never make a level.  We emptied the lock again, and had a poke about on the cill with the boat pole.  Again there was a slight improvement so we tied again — but again we got six inches from a level but no more.  There was as much water going out as coming in.  We emptied the lock again, reversed out, and called CRT.  After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, because the local office closes at 4pm on a Friday, and our call was at 4.01, the duty manager phoned back and said a team would come out to us.  After a couple of hours it was agreed they’d be here in the morning.

8 miles, 14 locks.  (194 miles, 191 locks)

Thursday 26 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 18

We have done some pretty short days during this trip — but today was a much longer one.  After breakfast we got a wash load going and filled the water tank as the tap was close by our mooring.  We were ready to leave by 8.30 and I went to set York Road Lock, to find a boat just coming in to go down.  The next couple of locks needed turning.  Falling Sands Lock is in a very pretty location.

On the way into Kidderminster, we went under the steam railway viaduct just a couple of minutes too soon, as a train went over after we were through.

We stopped outside Tesco in Kidderminster for a shopping trip, then continued to the lock.  A boat was coming down, with another waiting, so there were plenty of people about to help with gates and paddles.  The approach is under a road bridge with the murals now defaced by graffiti, but once you’re up you have the classic view of the church.

At Wolverley, I couldn’t remember having such a clear view of the church up the hill before.  Maybe some trees have been taken down.

After the lock there’s been a landslip, where half the road above has collapsed down the bank.

This is one of my favourite canals, and I really like the sections where there’s sheer rock on one side of the canal.  The builders must have really struggled to get through some parts.  At Debdale Lock, Adrian investigated the cave next to the lock.  I can’t believe the theory that horses were kept in it; how would they have got across the lock?

We passed through the 65 yard tunnel at Cookley, and shortly afterwards crossed from Worcestershire into Staffordshire.  Apart from a couple of hours in Gloucestershire on Saturday, we’ve been in Worcs for a week.Between Kinver Lock and Hyde Lock there was a brief but heavy shower.  Hyde Lock is very pretty, and the lock cottage has one of the most photographed sets of garden gates in the canal world.

Dunsley Tunnel is hewn out of the rock, but just 25 yards long.  It still has all the signs about extinguishing naked flames etc.  The following lock, at Stewpony, has one of the Staffs and Worcs trademark spill weirs.

At Stourton Junction we carried straight on.  Last time we came this way we turned right up the locks of the Stourbridge Canal, so we actually haven’t done the section of the Staffs and Worcester between Stourton Junction and Autherley Junction with this boat, only in a hire boat and on Debdale.

We carried on to just above Greensforge Lock, mooring up at gone 5pm.  I can’t even remember the last time we stopped so late!

15 miles, 14 locks.  (186 miles, 177 locks)

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Autumn Cruise: Day 17

There was lots more rain in the night, but the forecast promised a dry but dull day.  We set off from Netherwich Basin at 8am, the first boat to leave.  There’s a couple of miles through the outskirts of Droitwich and then the tiny village of Salwarpe before the first lock.

As we progressed down the locks, which all needed to be turned, we encountered increasingly grumpy fishermen.  Some of them told us the Severn was shut; we suspect that really they just didn’t think we should be disturbing their fishing.  The lady who lives in the cottage by Lock 4 was worried by the amount of water above the lock — it was pretty much level with the lock landing.  While in the lock, I phoned the lock keeper at Holt Lock on the Severn, who said conditions were normal and the river very much open.

At Mildenham Mill Lock a boat was approaching the come up as we left.  It turned out it was a hire boat we’d also crossed with the other day as we came out of Worcester, because they said exactly the same today as then: they looked at the Lord Vernon’s Wharf on the side of our boat and told us they live near there.  It makes a nice change from people asking where it is, which happens very frequently.

At the bottom two locks, the electronic boards said the Severn was in the green in the direction we were going, but had rising levels in the opposite direction.  This changed to falling levels while we waited.  The Severn had more of a flow on it today though, as it was a bit of a job to get off the side and turn up the river from the bottom lock.  Adrian likes the house which overlooks the lock and the junction.

Of course we could have come past here on Sunday — Hawford Junction being just four miles and one lock up the river from where we turned off at Diglis in Worcester.  Instead we have done 16 miles and 32 locks.

Once out on the Severn the sun came up, much to everyone’s surprise.  I fired up the VHF radio and called the lockie at Holt Lock as we approached, so he could set the lock for us.  Just before it is Holt Bridge, which had some nice reflections underneath off the water.

Above Holt Lock we passed the Edward Elgar.  It’s a strange looking boat — it’s not immediately obvious which is the back and which is the front.

The Hampstall Inn looks pretty smart, but the elaborate sign on the front sports a good example of a greengrocer’s apostrophe.  For some reason, though, only the real ales get one while the wines and spirits have to do without.

I radioed Lincombe Lock, and the lockie there said we were already in sight.  There is a camera pointing down the river, because the lock itself is round a corner.

We arrived at Stourport and stopped on the pontoons on the river so I could go and set the locks up to the basins.  There are two staircase pairs, and you have to check there’s no-one coming the other way because there’s no room to pass in the middle.  Having done that I set the bottom lock and signalled to Adrian to bring the boat in.

The two staircases are strangely aligned and it’s a job to get cleanly from one to the other.

As the boat came into the top lock the heavens opened, and we got drenched again.

I walked round to the other side of the basins while Adrian brought the boat.  We’d decided that if the one visitor mooring was free we’d stay in the basin, but if not we’d go up the lock.  A boater was looking on nervously; it turned out he’d set York Road Lock but then waited for the rain to pass, and was a bit worried we were going to go straight into his lock.  We moored up with a great view from the galley window, and the new tv aerial also works here.

14 miles, 14 locks.  (171 miles, 163 locks)