Friday 30 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 11

Last night’s mooring was particularly quiet — we wondered whether their might be early morning goings on at the farm yard over the hedge, but no.  It was a very murky morning, and our view has disappeared in the mist.  We set off about 8.15 and while the sun made an attempt to break through, it never really managed it.

The good thing was that it wasn’t raining, in fact the forecast now said rain from about 2pm.  We were soon at Braunston Turn, and took the right hand bridge towards the locks.

A boat on the water point by the Stop House made frantic efforts to set off as we approached — then waved us past once he’d got to the wide bit by the marina entrance where he wanted to turn around.  Not sure why he didn’t just wait for us to pass before setting off.  At the locks, there was a boat to come down the bottom lock, then we could go up.  The lady lock keeper remembered us from back in June, when we helped a hire boat with Canadians on board.  I went to set the second lock, which was almost empty, and a boat moored in that pound was then ready to go down.  One of the volunteer lock keepers came up the flight with us to lend a hand. The penultimate lock was full with one of the top gates swung open, and I could see a boat going into the top lock so I left it for them.  It was a Clifton Cruisers boat, which the helmsman was complaining was very difficult to steer.  It turned out he’d forgotten to put the tiller arm on!  Before long, we were going up the top lock.

It was only just after 10.30 so we’d made remarkable progress.  We moored above the locks and walked back down to go into the village.  After buying a couple of things at the village store and the butcher, we went into the Community Cafe for tea and cake.  They had a much wider selection of treats on offer today, after a MacMillan coffee morning yesterday.  Anyway, it was a lovely friendly place, with excellent tea and cake.

We walked back up to the boat and set off, thinking that if we went now we’d have more chance of beating the rain.  As we approached the tunnel entrance I could see a headlight coming the other way, so held back.  That boat came out and said there was another behind; then there was another, and then a fourth!  One of the privateers at the back said it had been a painfully slow passage, behind two Black Prince hire boats.  We moored just before Norton Junction, a little further back than we’d have liked so we don’t have the view across the valley this time.  We walked to the post box to post a birthday card bought in Braunston, at which point it began to rain.  But we got back before the really heavy stuff.  This afternoon I have refilled the stern greaser, and made an apple crumble (minus blackberries because they all seem to be over already this year).  My cousin Catherine and family are coming this evening, with fish and chips from Norton.

7 miles, 6 locks.  (147 miles, 148 locks)

Thursday 29 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 10

When I looked at the remainder of our trip on CanalPlanAC last night, it turned out we had 45 miles and 45 locks to go, to get back to base.  Today looked as though it was going to be ok weather wise, while tomorrow looks wet, so we thought we’d get a decent chunk of the journey done today.  We set off at 8.15, straight into the two Cape Locks.

In Warwick, the Kate Boats base, from where we hired twice years ago, looked deserted; they are doing all their hires from Stockton Top this year.  There’s also a lot of building work going on nearby.  In Leamington, the cat mural is still there, and there was a very stiff man steering a moored boat.

We were following a Napton hire boat, and at RadFord Bottom Lock we went in with them.  The crew turned out to be four American guys who’d been hoping to do the Warwickshire Ring, but had been thwarted by the Curdworth closure.  They did do a mini loop through Birmingham, though, going in via the North Stratford and out via the Grand Union.

With extra crew on the ground, I was able to walk up to the next lock each time to set it, and we soon caught up with boats in front.  The HS2 works are huge, and there’s now some sort of bridge over the canal, I think carrying some sort of conveyer.  At Welsh Road Lock, one of the uphill boats stopped, and the other was in the lock when we got there.  It had just left and we were about to turn the lock when downhill boats appeared.  One of them turned out to be Bonjour, the new boat of Debby and Dave, formerly of Chuffed.  We’ve been following each other’s blogs for years, so it was great to finally meet.

There was very little water at the four Bascote Locks, with the pound below the staircase about two feet down.  The boats just managed to scrape their way across.

Our locking companions were stopping for a walk into Long Itchington, so we pulled up at Bascote Wharf to top up the water tank, dump rubbish, and check the weedhatch, where I removed a load of plastic from around the prop shaft.  We also had lunch.  Long Itchington had been our first option for stopping, but we’d made such good progress that we carried on to the Stockton flight.  It also helped that the sun had come out.  A boat had just come out of the bottom lock, so that was in our favour, but we had to turn the rest as a boat was going up ahead, although almost out of sight.  It’s a very pretty flight though, and another of our favourites.

We were at the top at 2.30 so again decided against another possible stopping point, opting instead to go up Calcutt Locks.  As we approached we could see a boat in the distance, which was going up the bottom lock when we got there.  We thought they might wait for us at the middle lock but they didn’t, but it turned out not to matter much as we benefitted from hire boats needing to be back at Stockton Top in the morning.  Two came down the middle lock, and two more at the top one.  We carried on to Napton Junction where we turned left onto the GU/Oxford shared section, and moored up before Bridge 102 in a very quiet spot.  It was almost 5pm, so a very long day for us!  Our new American friends have just been past, calling out to us as they went by.  With a bit of luck they’ll leave a comment here.

16 miles, 25 locks.  (140 miles, 142 locks)

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 9

We had a great evening yesterday with Bob and June.  Bob picked us up at the bridge near where we were moored, and took us back to their house, where June had cooked a lovely dinner.  We had plenty to catch up on over the past year, and then we were delivered back to the boat.

This morning we were up early, on a nice sunny day.  We were on the move at 7.40, starting down the remaining 15 Lapworth Locks.  It’s a very pretty flight, one of our favourites.

In the thick of the flight we met two boats coming up, but at least they were in pounds where passing each other wasn’t too tricky.

At the bottom, we met a volunteer lock keeper who lives on a boat there, and has a Braidbar on order, so we had a good chat about that.  A boat was coming up the bottom lock, so that was one of the few we didn’t have to turn.

We got to the Lapworth Link in just under two hours, which we thought was pretty good going.  We turned right out of Kingswood Junction, with bright sunshine in our eyes.  The scene as we crossed the Rowington Embankment was glorious.

The sunshine also made some great reflections at the far end of Shrewley Tunnel, which was extremely drippy inside.

We got to the top of Hatton locks just before 11.30, and Adrian set the top lock.  While the boat was going down, he went to set the second lock, and then a volunteer lock keeper who’d gone to get a coffee from the cafe came up and offered to help.  He started setting ahead, which was great as each lock was ready by the time we got there.  About six locks down we had a few minutes pause, as a boat was on the way up and the lockie with them had set ahead perhaps slightly too many locks.  We made use of the time by having lunch, which Adrian had prepared in the lock-free section, and admiring the view down the hill to Warwick Church.

Our lock keep stuck with us all the way down to two locks from the bottom, but because he was setting ahead we hardly saw him.  His help was really useful, though, and he really knew what he was doing.  It also helped that the weather was beautiful.

We completed all 21 big locks in two and three-quarter hours, which again was good going.  We moored up along at the Cape, where there was only one other boat; a couple more have arrived since.  Adrian had a call at 4pm, so while he did that I walked up to Sainsbury’s for some shopping, so we don’t need to stop tomorrow.  It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable day’s boating, and with 36 locks in the day we know we’ve done some work!

9 miles, 36 locks.  (124 miles, 117 locks)

Tuesday 27 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 8

It chucked it down with rain yesterday evening, just as more boats arrived in the Oozells St Loop.  But apart from the rain on the roof we had a very quiet night, for the centre of a city.  It was still lightly raining this morning when we set off at just after 8, through Old Turn Junction, Broad Street Tunnel, and Worcester Bar.

We only went as far as Holliday Wharf, where we stopped at the water point.  While the tank filled we got some washing going, and popped to the little Tesco at the Mailbox for perishables.  It’s not the fastest tap, so it was getting on for 9am before we set off again.  There’s now a bridge over the canal from the new University Station.  I was surprised it wasn’t more finished — but I’ve looked back at when we passed last year, and the station building was just a shell then.

At King’s Norton Junction we took a sharp left onto the North Stratford Canal.  The Junction House has emerged from the wrap it’s been under since being burnt out, but there still seems to be quite a lot of work to do.

The guillotine lock still has plenty of graffiti.

It was a while before we saw any boats coming the other way, but when we did the shallowness of the canal made even passing each other a challenge.  In addition, the weather alternated between raining and sunny, and it’s been pretty chilly all day.  We lit the fire yesterday evening and got it going again this morning, so at least it was warm inside.  We held up three or four cars at the Shirley Draw Bridge.

There are quite a few long sections of permanent moorings on this canal, so going can be a bit slow.  But we soon got to the two lift bridges, which Adrian worked, and then the start of the locks.  We did the top four and moored in the pound below, as we’re seeing Bob and June this evening.

18 miles, 4 locks.  (115 miles, 81 locks)

Monday 26 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 7

The water level went up by several inches over night, so we were no longer so far from the bank this morning.  It also rained during the night, and was trying again when we set off at 8am.  The bottom of the three Minworth locks needed emptying, but the other two were ready for us.  At the top lock, there was a rainbow over the A38.

The next section doesn’t have a huge amount going for it, and we also caught up with a boat travelling on tickover.  He eventually pulled over and let us pass, while at the same time surveying the damage a bridge had done to his pram cover.  We got to Salford Junction, and turned second-left to stay on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.  The M6 is above, and spaghetti junction is a little further along.

We entered the bottom lock of the Aston flight at 10.20.

After a few of locks we met a boat coming down, at which point there was a torrential downpour.  No photos, it was just too heavy.  There was another boat coming down at the next lock too.  The locks towards the top of the flight are closer together, so things pick up pace.  We left the top lock at 11.45, so the eleven locks had taken an hour and 25 minutes.

There’s then the briefest of breathers before the Farmer’s Bridge locks.  We entered the bottom chamber at a couple of minutes to 12.

There’s always plenty of interest on these locks, with one being under the railway line, and a couple under the BT Tower.

At lock 7 we had a brief pause while a boat came down the lock above.  The pounds are really short, so we pulled into the side to let him pass.

We seemed to be a source of fascination for the locals, with one man videoing the whole of one lock operation, and a woman being flabbergasted by the water entering the lock.  I’d have thought these were reasonably busy locks, so it’s surprising people haven’t seen lots of boats before.  We got to the top of the 13 locks in an hour and 25 minutes.

The centre of Birmingham is pretty quiet, so we reversed into the Oozells Street Loop, where our favourite mooring was free.

We decided to go out for lunch, and then walked into town to see what’s changed since we were last here.  Lots of the building work has been completed, although there’s always more.  We were hoping to see the Commonwealth Games bull, but he was apparently moved on Thursday — Centenary Square is being filled with marquees for the Tory Party Conference next weekend.  The PoliNations garden in Victoria Square was being dismantled, but we were glad that the Floozie is back in a jacuzzi rather than a flower bed, and that Anthony Gormley’s Iron Man is back.

Looking at the stoppage emails, we noticed that the Curdworth flight was closed again today (it had been shut on Friday as well) because of water leaking through broken paddles.  It’s just as well we got up the flight yesterday, but does explain the lack of water.

8 miles, 27 locks.  (97 miles, 77 locks)

Sunday 25 September 2022

Autumn Cruise: Day 6

We had a lovely evening with Andy and Helen last night.  They picked us up from the bridge and we went to the Wolferstan Arms in the next village.  The food was good enough, but of course the company was exemplary!  We had a lot to catch up on.

This morning we set off at 8.30.  A corner in Amington marked the most northerly point of our cruise.  Just before Glascote Locks, Adrian jumped off the boat to get some milk from the Co-op; a boat was coming out of the top lock, so I went straight in.

A boat was also coming up the lower lock, so that was easy, and as we went down a boat arrived below.  Before Fazeley Junction, we made a brief stop to remove a load of reeds from the weedhatch.  We also discussed whether we have ever done the Curdworth Locks going up — and didn’t think we had; we’ve always come down them, heading away from Birmingham.  The turn at the junction onto the Birmingham And Fazeley was much tighter than I’d expected.  It confirmed our suspicion that we hadn’t done that particular turn before, and I was so busy making it that I didn’t take any photos.  However, a towpath walker said “you’ve done that before — well done”, and I didn’t argue with him!  Work to convert the mill at the junction into flats appears to have been completed; a boat was turning at the winding hole straight after the Coleshill Road Bridge, which confused me for a moment, and then it was through the Drayton Footbridge.

I’d forgotten how lovely the next section of canal is.  Once the road has veered off it’s quiet, surrounded by gravel pits, and very serene.  There are long straight sections, and after the final bridge before the locks I could see a boat ahead, arriving at the lock landing.  When we approached several minutes later, we could see it was a single hander, who was taking his time.  So we decided to moor up and have a walk around some of the lakes of the Kingsbury Water Park, to give him a head start.  We walked around two of the lakes, and popped into a couple of the hides to see what was about — which was mostly swans, Canada geese, and coots.  It’s still a rather lovely area though.

Back at the boat we had a rather early lunch — Adrian had checked the dates on the tins of soup in the cupboard, and found one with a best before of 2016, so we had that!  We set off up the locks at 12.15.  The bottom few are a good distance apart.  When we got to the fourth lock up, the single hander was there.  He looked in quite a bad way, puffing and blowing as he climbed up off the boat.  I closed the bottom gate for him, and he opened a top paddle.  His boat had a push tug, which is a little workshop for welding and cratch cover repairs.  But he said he’d recently been diagnosed with a lung condition, and this was his first set of lock, to see how he got on; he’d decided four was enough (which we were quite glad about).  As we left the same lock, a boat was coming towards us, so we could leave the gate open — but the steerer told us there was almost no water above the next lock.  When I got up there, a lady was just about to fill the lock for her boat coming down.  There was very little water, and I wondered about the wisdom of taking another lock full out of the pound — but she pointed out that if we went up, it was unlikely the two boats would be able to get past each other.  I said I’d go and run some more water down, as as I passed he husband on the boat I could see he was aground in the middle of the pound.  Pounds were low all the way up the flight, so I opened bottom and top paddles on all locks all the way up to number 2, where I waited.  The pound between lock 2 and lock 1 is about half a mile long, so I didn’t mind pinching its water.  I waited for about 20 minutes, then had a phone call from Adrian saying he’d come up the lock and was edging towards the next one.  I walked back down, closing paddles as I came.

Above the next lock, there are massive workings on both sides of the canal for HS2.

At least the next few locks are fairly close together, because more water needed to be run down.  I ended up walking up and down that part of the flight many times, but those pounds are also shorter, so quicker to fill.

The whole flight feels as though it’s on the edge of failure (which it actually did on Friday, while a paddle was repaired).  Several locks have a paddle out of action, and gates and cills leak like nobody’s business.  It’s no wonder the flight is short of water.  By the time we got there, even the pound between locks 2 and 1 was a bit low.  We eventually got to the top, having taken just a few minutes shy of three hours to do the 11 locks.  And we’d been warned that the levels above the flight were also pretty bad — down by about 8 inches I reckoned.  It meant that when we went through the diminutive Curdworth tunnel, I thought I was going to have to get off and push, it was such a struggle.

We were aiming for the moorings by Wiggins Hill Bridge.  We’ve previously stopped by the Cuttle Bridge Inn’s car park, where there have normally been loads of boats and spaces were at a premium.  Today however, there was no-one moored there.  We’ve also seen people moored the other side of the bridge, where the road is further away and there are fields over the towpath bridge — so we went through.  This proved to be a mistake, as the lack of water meant it was impossible to get the stern anywhere near the bank.  So we’ve moored with a moat round the boat, the stern several feet out.  We just hope the levels don’t drop any further.  We now have a chicken roasting in the oven.  For the past few days the gas has had the telltale smell that the bottle is running out, and sure enough it’s just run and and we’ve had to change it.  The bottle has lasted a year and a day.

11 miles, 13 locks.  (89 miles, 50 locks)