Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It's downhill all the way.

We slipped away from Birmingham on Tuesday morning. Louise wandered around to the top of Farmers Bridge locks whilst I untied and headed around the Oozells Loop, but not realising how tight it was going to be to turn right back onto the mainline. Discretion being the better part of valour, I headed out of town to find a suitable winding point, leaving her to wonder whether she was actually waiting in the right place. I tried to ring her, but of course all I heard was her phone ringing inside the boat !!

Anyway, once I finally arrived, she had the top couple of locks set, and was chatting up the volunteer lockie, Dave. She must have done a good job, as once he had done the most important job of the day and got himself a coffee, he joined us all the way down the flight and his help was very much appreciated. 

We soon arrived at Aston Junction and descended the Aston flight of locks. We were in luck again as all the locks were in our favour. We passed a couple of boats on their way up into Birmingham, including Debbie & James on nb Lois Jane heading for this weekends floating market. 

As we approached Salford Junction, the heavens opened and Louise disappeared inside to make a well earned brunch which we enjoyed on the move after the rain stopped. We then descended the three locks at Minworth and arrived at the top of Curdworth locks by 2.30pm. The sun was now out and having negotiated the top two locks on our own, we were helped through the next five locks by a team of three lock keepers which was most helpful. 

We finally arrived at the bottom of the flight and met Barry from The Homebrew Boat, who we last met at the bottom of the Macclesfield about a year ago. He was also heading towards the floating market this weekend. We had a quick catch up and talked rugby, as you would with a Kiwi. It was also nice to learn that he and Sandra will be wintering at Mercia Marina, so that's a few Xmas presents sorted !!

So in total yesterday, we negotiated 38 locks and descended 244 feet, which sounds a lot, and I suppose it is, but most were in our favour and we had a lot of help along the way. We enjoyed a very peaceful evening moored next to Kingsbury Water Park which is a lovely spot. 

Today has been far more relaxing. Just three hours and no locks. We made our way down to Fazeley Junction and turned left onto the Coventry. The house at the junction looks a little more loved  than it has in the past. 
Cruising the Birmingham & Fazeley

There have been lots of boats on the move, especially on the Coventry. In fact three working boats passed us in convoy at 10pm heading towards Fazeley. We have spent the afternoon watching the rugby and hoping Japan could cause another upset against the Scots, but sadly it wasn't to be. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Great time in Birmingham.

We've had a busy few days since our last post, so I'll try and keep it pretty brief. We left Netherwich Basin in the centre of Droitwich on Friday morning in beautiful sunshine. We were soon passing under the busy M5 with plenty of room to spare !!

Then into the very deep staircase locks towards Hanbury Junction. The restoration of this canal is tremendous and we will certainly return sooner rather than later.

We turned left at the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and were soon at the Astwood flight of six locks, followed by another six at the Stoke flight. All very pleasant and we ended up mooring below Stoke Top Lock as we fancied a quiet evening away from the noise of the pub above the lock. 
Astwood Locks
Saturday was locks all the way as we ascended the Tardebigge flight, the largest flight of locks in the UK, totalling 30 in all. We  didn't set off until about 10am and the mist soon lifted to give a lovely sunny day. 

We took it in turns to steer and operate the locks, and met several boats coming down the flight, so only had to turn 4 or 5 locks as there was a boat a few locks ahead. 

One pound was very low of water between pounds 48-49. Infact later in the day we heard it was actually empty, so there must be a leak from somewhere??

We eventually reached the penultimate lock adjacent to the Engine House, a magnificent looking building dating back to around 1800 and originally used to pump water back up the flight to ensure sufficient water for all. It is now a block of four luxury flats, one of which is a holiday let. It has also been used as a nightclub. The information board was made a very interesting read indeed.

Yesterday (Sunday) we popped up Tardeigge Top Lock onto the service area for water whilst waiting for our good friends Fiona & Rob to join us from their home in Stourbridge. We finally found them at the Anglo Welsh yard at the other side of Tardebigge Tunnel !! and then we were away heading for Birmingham. They both love coming out with us as they know the area well and are always interested to see it from a boaters eye. It was slow going as the pound was down by several inches and a couple of visits down the weed hatch were necessary, but we eventually arrived and moored on Oozells  Street loop a couple of boats behind nb Chance
Primary Colours - Louise, Rob & Fiona
Not a moments rest and we were soon joining Doug & James together with Russell and Julie from nb Nauti Lass for drinks and a meal in The Malt House. It was lovely to catch up again as boaters do, but  to our surprise, we had an unplanned meeting around the corner. 

Good old social media told us that Amanda and David (you may know them as the 'boat sharers' from nb What a Lark) were also in town and enjoying a meal in a nearby establishment, having deposited their youngest son at Birmingham University. So a quick message and hey presto we meet up for drinks and another catch up, followed by a guided tour of Ploddin' Along. There just isn't enough time in the day for all this social activity !!
Amanda & David
Today we woke to heavy rain and a poor forecast (actually accurate for a change) so decided to stay put in Birmingham. Doug & James came round for coffee and cake this morning and a good old natter.
Doug, Louise & James
No sooner had they gone that we got a message to say that there were strange goings on outside. James May of Top Gear fame was driving his amphibious car around the 'roundabout' at Old Turn Junction with a film crew recording the goings on. Now I have to say at this point I'm not a Top Gear fan at all and was quite hoping for a hire boat (or any other boat for that matter) to do its best and make contact, but it wasn't to be. 

We then welcomed our friend Lisa on board for a brief visit during her lunch hour form her job in 'The Cube' before we set off to explore the sights of Birmingham in the sunshine. We went for a look around the re-vamped New Street Station. £750 million pounds !! You're having a laugh !! TV cameras all over the place. Its a bloody railway station for goodness sake. Can you tell we weren't that excited by it all. 

We then passed the Birmingham museum and art gallery which was far more impressive and then onto the new library building, another example of modern architecture !! The interior of the building was magnificent. We eventually found our way to the 'Secret Garden' on level 7 and enjoyed a good look out over the Birmingham skyline which was very impressive. 
Museum and Art Gallery
New Library

So our brief stay in Birmingham is nearly over. We've enjoyed it and, as always, have felt very safe here. Tomorrow we will start the descent home by tackling Farmers Bridge and Aston Locks.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Henri goes AWOL as we head up to Droitwich

We were up at 'the crack of sparrows' on Wednesday and watched the local weather forecast to hear that the dregs of tropical storm 'Henri' were to descend on us by 1pm. Torrential rain said the weatherman, localised flooding and strong winds. Worcester was covered in green on the was going to be bad !!  Having heard the bad news and our early morning cuppa still steaming, we were away by 7.30am and into Stourport Basin just after 8am to water up and empty the loo tank. The sun was shining and all was well. 

We had to wait for a boat to come off the river, but the two volunteer lockies were very efficient and soon had us out onto the Severn and heading south. Not a breath of wind and the river pretty much to ourselves. 

We only passed two boats all the way down to Worcester. We spotted numerous kingfishers including this little chap as we exited Holt Lock. 

We travelled down as far as the cathedral before turning and mooring up by the racecourse just after 1pm. 'Henri' was late, so late in fact that we enjoyed a good afternoon walk with the dogs on the racecourse followed by some excellent fishing, another walk with the dogs, dinner on board and another hours fishing and even a police helicopter circling overhead and not a spot of rain. Maybe the cops were out looking for 'Henri' too. Now don't get me wrong, we're not complaining, but how can they get it so wrong.

Today we headed back upstream and through Bevere Lock before joining the Droitwich Canals. These are new territory for us and it's always good to explore new ground. Originally built in the 1770's the route has been recently restored and opened again in 2011. 

Hawford Lock

The route has been very pleasant, if not a little narrow due to the reeds. The locks are in good order but surely some could be cut back to make some mooring spots which are sadly lacking. Luckily we knew what to expect, but some boats we met clearly didn't. 
Ladywood Lock. 
We headed for Netherwich Basin and found there to be plenty of spots on the secure 48hr moorings. We also found a real gem in The Gardeners Arms, closeby on Vines Lane. Great choice of real ales, superb food, freshly cooked from the largest menu I think I've ever seen and dog friendly too. The stagger home to the boat was most enjoyable !! If you're up this way, it's an absolute must. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back to where it all began.

We've had a lovely few days travelling down the Staffs & Worcs. There have been plenty of boats out  and about and the weather has been pretty kind to us.

We travelled through Gailey on Sunday morning and onto the summit pound. We soon found ourselves travelling through the chemical works which had plenty of new looking signs prohibiting mooring adjacent to the site. Was it because of Health & Safety, instances of vandalism and theft or are narrowboaters the latest threat to national security ?? 

Turning right at Hatherton Junction, we soon passed nb Tycho, an ice breaker originally built by WJ Yarwood & Sons. 

We are soon at Pendeford Rockin, a narrow channel hewn through a seam of sandstone. Luckily there are a few passing places as we met an oncoming boat towards the far end and tucked ourselves in to allow it to pass.

We spent the night out in the country alongside Dimmingsdale Reservoir. We were passed by John Jacksons coal boat nb Roach, loaded to the gunwales with solid fuels and looking and sounding magnificent.

We were away quite early on Monday as we had a rendezvous arranged for dinner. We arrived at Bratch Locks behind another boat, but we were both allowed to pass through straight away. The lock keeper on duty happened to be a fellow retired cop, so he appreciated our boat name straight away. The top gate of the middle lock had been damaged over the weekend whilst there wasn't a lock keeper on duty and was now leaking very badly. In fact a 70' boat would have had 'fun' due to the amount of water pouring in. The lock keeper thought that if it got any worse the flight would have to be closed.
Bratch Top Lock 
The stretch down to Kinver is very enjoyable with the locks coming at regular intervals. The cottage at Hyde Lock is particularly quaint. The front 'gate' has been very tastefully replaced by lock gates and paddle gear.

We moored at Kinver just as the heavens opened. Our friends Christine & Alan on nb Tickety Boo arrived an hour later from Stourport, looking rather wet. Having dried off, they came aboard for drinks along with their lovely new dog, Cameo, who Jasper took an instant liking too !! We then adjourned to The Vine pub for dinner, which was most plentiful and then back to Tickety Boo for coffee. A most enjoyable evening which was a mini celebration as they had received the all clear from their surveyor on a house in Evesham.

We said our goodbyes this morning to Christine, Alan and Cameo. The stretch between Kinver and Kidderminster is probably our favourite stretch of canal. It holds a lot of memories as it was part of our first ever canal experience when we hired a yellow peril from Viking Afloat in Worcester some ten years ago. Some of the properties along here are stunning and the sandstone cliffs are spectacular.

Whittington Lock
We stopped at Kidderminster for a quick visit to Sainsburys, located very handily next to the towpath. The church at Kidderminster has formed the back drop to many photos in its time, to which we added today.

There has been a lot of regeneration since our first visit here in 2005, but sadly today the area alongside the canal is clearly a haven for the local drug dealers who blatantly ply their trade.

Once out for Kidderminster the scenery is once more picturesque again. We passed under the Severn Valley Railway hoping to catch a glimpse of a steam train, but sadly not today.

We have moored above Stourport tonight and will head down onto the river tomorrow. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pubs, friends and good to be back out.

It's good to be back out and so far so good as far as the stern gear work is concerned. We've made some good progress, making the most of some decent cruising weather.

We left Mercia on Thursday morning having filled up with diesel and headed towards Burton. Every little noise from the engine bay was analysed closely and this will take a while to be put to the back of our minds. Bridge 36 always appears too small to fit through, even though we know we will.

We made it up to Fradley for the evening as we had a arranged a meeting in The Swan. We'd hoped to moor below Junction Lock, but it was full, so we went through the lock and surprisingly found the mooring at the junction to be free. Known locally as 'Posers Point' we reversed onto the space and had prime viewing of all things going on at this busy location.

We enjoyed a good meal in The Swan with our friends and old 'neighbours' at Kings Bromley, Howard & Sue. It was great to catch up with them again.

We left Fradley just before 9am on Friday before the traffic really got moving. The house next to Shadehouse Lock is still for sale, as it has been on and off for years.

Wood End lock is one of our favourites and one we have passed through countless times. Happily, now safe from the proposed route of HS2. 

We soon passed the entrance to our old home at Kings Bromley. It's early days, but we feel we miss our time here.

On through Plum Pudding tunnel where this strange statue stands guard.

We eventually moored below Great Haywood overlooking Shugborough Hall. Jasper loves it here as he can go swimming in the shallow River Trent adjacent to the packhorse bridge. We enjoyed a lovely meal at the Clifford Arms (as we always do). Well one has to support the local economy and the food here is cracking value and always a good choice of real ale. 

We sat out the rain on Saturday morning and left about 11am. Turning left at the junction to join the Staffs & Worcs and soon crossing Tixall Wide.

The gatehouse looked splendid and you can actually stay here. Built in around 1580 by Sir Walter Aston, it has survived the house it once served. If you fancy it, check out availability here

The water through Stafford was very shallow and in need of dredging, especially under some of the bridges. Stafford Boat Club always looks neat and tidy and is very dependent on member participation. Apparently there is currently a three year waiting list to get in. 

We followed the route of the M6 up into Penkridge. We decided to carry on through as it never really appeals as a place to stop and we ended up below Boggs Lock for the night. Despite the close proximity of the motorway, we really didn't notice it at all once we'd settled down. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fingers crossed.

It's almost three months since our last post, but we are still here and preparing to get out on the water again tomorrow after a bit of an enforced lay off. On the plus side it's meant that the golf course has had plenty of attention.

I've purposely not blogged for a while as I may have vented my frustration and said things I may have later regretted, but having returned from our very enjoyable Thames adventure in June, we have encountered boat problems which needed to be sorted once and for all. 

You may recall that earlier this year we had a slight leak from the Vetus stern gear. Well, this didn't improve despite replacing what we thought was wrong, and, although manageable, it wasn't going to rectify itself. Now we are at Mercia, I enlisted the help and opinion of Justin and the gang at Aqua Narrowboats. After some head scratching, investigation and considering of options, we have ended up having new seals, new shaft, new engine mounts and the engine moved and re-aligned.

In brief, the issue has been caused by the engine being 'put in pissed up' as it's been described. Now thats the sort of technical speak I understand !! Fingers crossed that our troubles are now behind us and that we can get back out and enjoy ourselves on the water again. It's certainly been a frustrating period, but the service we got from Aqua was absolutely first class. I just wish I could say the same for others, who will remain nameless at this stage !!!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Through Leicester and almost 'home'

We departed Kilby Bridge around 7.30am on Wednesday for the trip through Leicester. Our companions from Tuesday, Roger & Linda on nb Cheviot, had passed us a good half hour earlier, but as we rounded the corner for the first lock of the day, there they were finishing off breakfast, so we were happy to be paired up again. 

A couple of the pounds were about eighteen inches down on water so as the girls set the locks, we hung around in the middle rather than risk getting stuck. The 'team' got into a good rhythm and were helped by quite a few boats travelling the other way. In fact, of the occasions we have travelled through Leicester, this was by far the busiest.

We were soon into Leicester, passing the football stadium and onto the straight mile. The water was quite free of litter, in part no doubt due to the presence of this litter picking crew. It was also good to see the moorings at Castle Gardens full although I would have had a different view had we wanted to stop!

nb Cheviot following us along the Straight Mile
Roger picked up a prop foul as we exited Abbey Lock. The water here was black and absolutely stank, so we pulled into the side and I went to give him a hand and offered him the use of some long sleeved gloves I use for such occasions, for which he was most grateful.

National Space Centre
Obstruction cleared and on we went, passing the National Space Centre below Belgrave Lock, and then on through Birstall and Thurmaston locks where we saw this well known 'bloggers boat' moored up at MGM. There looked like a good dollop of pigeon sh@t on the roof boys - James will not be impressed.

We all stopped for well earned refreshments at the Hope & Anchor, which turned into an evening meal...well you know how it goes once you're settled in !!

We arranged to muster at 9am on Thursday, as Roger & Linda asked if we minded them travelling with us. We were happy to oblige and, as agreed, we were off on the dot of nine. It was a lovely day for cruising (if not a little too hot - we're never happy us Brits). 

Sileby Mill always looks attractive, and today was no exception.

I had to remember I'd retired as we arrived at Mountsorrel Lock and a young chap was sat in the beer garden of The Waterside Pub, quite blatantly smoking a good brand of wacky backy. He then went inside to start work. Just hope he's not the cook.

This was an unusual sight as we approached Barrow on Soar, with a farrier fitting out a horse with a new set of shoes in the field. We moored up abreast at Barrow Services and the ladies went off shopping whilst we filled with water etc, before meeting them down at Barrow Deep Lock which was manned by three volunteers.

We couldn't pass The Albion in Loughborough without calling in for a pint. Maybe not the most appealing from the outside, but the landlord certainly knows how to keep a good pint in this traditional boating establishment, and a warm welcome is guaranteed.

Fully refreshed, we made the short trip on to Zouch Cut for the night, passing the delightful church and properties along the way in Normanton on Soar. 

Today has been the homeward stretch for us and we're now moored above Weston Lock on the T&M. We have travelled once again with Roger & Linda. It was billed as the hottest day of the year, but it was very much a misty and cool start. We were soon down at Kegworth Deep Lock where you can clearly see the remains of the old lock alongside.

As we descended Ratcliffe Lock, we came across the hire fleet from Avante Leisure (formerly Shakespeare Line) who were based at Mercia Marina. They have gone into receivership I understand. Eighteen boats in total means many disappointed people who now appear to be without a holiday, plus they are involved in other forms of holiday too.

Onto the wide River Trent and then Sawley Locks, which were manned by lock keepers and we were three to a lock as we were joined by a boat emerging from The Erewash Canal. We shared the next couple of locks with them too which made light work.
Clock Warehouse Shardlow
Shardlow Lock - all very cosy
So our mini adventure to The Thames is almost over, which is sad. We will be going into our new 'home' at Mercia Marina tomorrow (weather permitting) but when we look back, it's hard to believe that it is just under six weeks since we set off from Cropredy. It seems so much longer, which indicates how we have escaped the usual hustle and bustle of life, and I can confirm this retirement lark is pretty good. Sadly for Louise, she gets back on the hamster wheel of life on Monday, but hopefully not for too much longer. What this trip has certainly done is to re-emphasize how much we love the waterways and all that they have to offer.