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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Back to Base

We came across this lovely tree as we cruised towards the Foxton locks.

Wednesday 15th October Overnight rain and not a very pleasant day. About half a dozen boats passed us on their way to Watford locks before we cast off, and this was followed by about another 20 boats crossing through the day. I took the tiller and of course met 2 boats as we went through Crick tunnel, Carol seems to avoid meeting boats when she is in charge. The umbrella kept most of the water off us and as we emerged I remarked on the very sad looking boat about 50 yards from the north portal. It is nearly new but covered in green slime and leaves & I'm sure it hasn't moved since we went South in June. Just past it and approaching the bridge I crossed the next 2 boats, before tieing up at the Wharf to fill with water. Exchanged waves with Barry in ABNB, we'll see him back in the marina.

The day carried on much the same, but the canal was incredibly shallow north of bridge 26 for a mile or so and if BW don't do something about the reeds in other places there will be no clear channel, and of course silt will be building up around their stems and forming a load of stuff that will need dredging soon. I reported this to Derek at Foxton when we got there, and he asked how water levels were, there had been a problem over the weekend. We moored up near bridge 47 for our last night out.

Thursday 16th dawned much brighter, but much cooler. We set off much earlier than usual, being under way by 9 as we wanted to collect our post from Sally as we had some urgent stuff to deal with. The sun shone and there was not too much breeze and there were some lovely sights, including a lovely pony & trap passing alongside a nearby road. Unfortunately the gaps between the hedges were very small but I managed this snap.

We also noted that some of the fields had started to get their winter colour and nature, but the cows and sheep seemed pretty content.

We reached the top of Foxton just after 10 and were told we could go straight down. Approaching the top lock there is this lovely new statue that has been erected as part of the new interpretation scheme.

Carol loves the Bennetts ice cream the Top Lock Cottage sells and despite the cool day considered she deserved to lick one as we descended. Ice cream cones and a windlass don't go together too well, so I didn't have one, and anyway it was a bit early and cold for me. Our traverse was pretty quick and we saw Mary & Tony by their home at the bottom lock and exchanged news and views.

We cruised on to Debdale and were securely tied up by 11.30. All I need to do now is work out our total journey details.

As our winter is going to be even more boring that my blog, with me probably going back to work for Blaby District Council part time and Carol being highly social, I don't intend to return to blogging until something interesting arises.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

From Birmingham back to Debdale for the Winter

Wednesday 8th October After spending an interesting few days in Birmingham it is time to head back to base and rekindle our social life.

Whilst in Birmingham Carol did a bit of retail therapy, freshening bits of her wardrobe for the coming winter. We also visited the Jewellery Quarter which is quite close to Cambrian Wharf where we moored. I went to see the Museum of Science an Technology which now rejoices in the title "Think Tank" and is about 500 yards from New Street station. I last went to Birmingham's Science Museum about 45 years ago and it was located in a building alongside the Farmer's Bridge locks. It is now in a very new building, the other half of which is part of Birmingham City University. It has lots of interactive displays covering the whole range of subjects. I was very brave and watched a video of a hip replacement without fainting once! I went on Monday, reckoning that it would be busy at weekends.........but forgot there would be school parties! I must say I was disappointed with it. There were dozens of displays where the integral lighting was not working, loads more where the "action" buttons didn't do anything, and a video display of reminiscences of earlier years and in particular the war & rationing was spoiled by the sound being drowned out by sounds outside. I will be writing to them with suggestions, but it is worth a visit. I spent about 4 hours there!!

Much to my surprise, and needing to stock up for our trip home, I found a large Tesco store quite close the Gas St basin. There is a small Sainsburys just up Broad St from the canal, but if you walk on about 1/4 mile just as it intersects with one of the ring roads a Tesco is buried under a multi storey building and it is a quite large one, even running to clothing, electrical goods & pharmacy. So on Tuesday I loaded up for our return journey & then Carol cooked a few dishes that we froze for future use. Then at 7 we went to Symphony Hall to hear Mahler's 3rd symphony. It was not a piece we had heard before, and when we looked at the stage and saw an orchestra of 100, plus Soprano soloist plus about 130 choristers, perhaps that is why it is not often heard. It is different from most symphonies too in that it took about 100 minutes to be performed, with the first movement running to about 35 minutes it alone was as long as most symphonies. We enjoyed it, but it neither of us can remember any of the "tunes" in it now, perhaps we need to get a recording & listen again.

So Wed 9th October the forecast was good & we were to be off in good time to get through the locks & out into the country, but first we needed to put water in. As I got on deck at 9 to back to the water point there was a boat there already. It was well past 9.40 before they moved off and we ran the tap for about 30 minutes before we gave up, I could .......... faster! We set off down the locks in lovely sunlight and it was getting warmer.

Working Farmers Bridge locks

Looking back to the National Indoor Arena

The railway bridge by Snow Hill Station

We finished the first 13 in barely 90 minutes passing two boats in the process. As we reached Aston Junction we tied up as I needed to get new alternator drive belts & Google Earth showed a motor factors based there....... not any more!

So we continued on and made good time through the Ashsted Locks. The short tunnel on this flight is very tight. Handrails for the towpath edge are bolted onto the water side of the concrete towpath, reducing the width by several inches and despite Carol keeping the boat tight to these posts we scraped the top of the boat on one particularly low bit, possibly not helped by the water being a bit high, and the water tank being fairly empty.

As Carol brought Lily into the first of the Camp Hill locks, something was wrong. With great technical detail she told me the boat had broken! She could not engage forward, and in fact she was slowly going backwards. Turning off the engine I hauled Lily into the lock and popped down into the engine bay & found the gear cable had broken. I knocked it into neutral and rang the boatyard where I was advised to haul the boat through the locks and then engage forward and cruise on out of the less than savoury area we were in. We enlisted various people who were around the locks to give a heavy, but the big basin between the third & fourth locks nearly defeated us as we were running out of rope. Carol used the bow thruster to guide Lily into the locks. I rang Stephen Goldsborough at Knowle to see if he kept a stock of these cables and was pleased to hear he did.

We cruised on through the afternoon sunlight reaching Catherine de Barnes around 5 & tied up before popping in to The Boat for a restorative pint. We then had a most enjoyable fish pie Carol had made the other day. The Boat is a Chef & Brewer pub and had a pretty good menu, but not cheap, nor was the "English Restaurant" on the opposite side of the road, but at least they had a 2 courses for £10 offer if you ate before 7. The menu looked interesting.

Reflections at Catherine de Barnes

The next morning dawned bright and clear and we pushed off, I scrambled into the engine, engaged forwards & we were off the the boatyard, arriving around 10.30 and getting horribly stuck on a ledge that runs most of the length of the towpath side from the bridge to the water point. I had removed the old cable earlier & was not relishing trying to thread the new one in, but took the old thing to Goldsboroughs, and duly found they had nothing as long as we needed! Two of their chaps came to help us off the ledge & haul us to the water point, and the new one is due on Friday morning. We then amused ourselves with washing and painting things, it would have been so much better cruising! During the day 3 boats passed us, two going down & one up, and all in the space of about 20 minutes, a busy place!

Autumn colours and side pond gear at Knowle Locks

Friday 10th Another lovely day and boats start passing fairly early on, but not one had wanted to use the water point we were tied up to. At 12 the cable arrived and the struggle to get it to fit started. I must have tried pushing it down the narrow tube it had to go through dozens of times but it kept getting stuck near the bottom. The tube had the other, throttle, cable in it together with two bundles of wires. Keeping amazingly patient I tried and tried again and suddenly it went through, only to get to the next problem due to narrow gaps and thick fingers. After I suppose an hour or so I bolted the pieces in place, started the engine and was delighted that both forward and reverse engaged beautifully.

As I was putting things back in place at about 2 a boat arrived to descend the locks, so we rushed to be ready to share the locks with them. We made reasonable time, not helped by the fact BW had just painted the bottom gate balance beams! We cruised on to moor just above bridge 58. It had got breezy during the day and we were disappointed to see several more large clumps of Floating Pennywort. The mooring was not ideal as the M40 and the railway were close, we had managed 7 miles and 5 locks.

Saturday 11th was a lovely day and we set off entering Hatton Locks at 10.15, exiting 3 hours later.

We crossed several boats on the way and had the help of a family on a walk with the locks, he being a boater and an engine man on President, the steam powered historic boat mentioned at Foxton in June. About 15 locks down Carol rang her sister & I heard her talking & realised it was bother in law Mike on the phone ( See Caen Hill locks in August ). Mike is a gadget freak, and I suddenly thought "CAMERA". At the second lock down the flight I took some pictures, put the camera down to work the lock, a boat came up, I talked to the crew & walked off leaving the camera. This was by now over 1 1/2 hours earlier but with hope I set off up the flight. About halfway to where I'd left it I saw a boater and asked if he had seen it, I was hoping someone would have seen it & possibly given it in to the cafe by the lock. He said I should speak to the couple on the boat just behind and the good folks on Wyndale had recovered my camera. My thanks to them.

Carol had spoken to people she had seen walking down the locks and they asked if I had been successful. When told I had been one couple said I should definitely buy a lottery ticket that day. We cruised on and stopped & shopped at Tesco as we approached Leamington. I was leaving the store when I suddenly remembered Lottery, I'm glad I did, 3 numbers came up, the first time in about 10 years, not that I buy them often, but at the Post Office in Aylestone if I bought any I always asked for Unlucky Dip!

We had stopped briefly at "The Cape of Good Hope" lockside just after the main Hatton flight for a restorative pint, and ended the day at 5 past Leamington and just before our next set of locks in a lovely mooring, the bright sun we had enjoyed all day continued until it set. we has managed 9 miles and 23 locks.

Sunday 12th If Saturday was lovely, Sunday was fabulous. Shorts and Tee shirts were worn and we took a gentle cruised to the Two Locks here we had eaten two weeks earlier, tied up outside again and ate delicious Steak & Kidney pie and a very good treacle sponge. I set to afterwards to repaint the bottom of the gas bottle locker. The steel bottles had bashed the life out of the original paint & rust abounded. I got thoroughly filthy as I used a wire brush on the electric drill before Hammerite completed the job. As I finished it a chap came up asking questions and advice (from me!?!). He is fitting out his own 70 foot boat, having never owned one previously. What he and his wife thought of me as I spoke to them I wondered later when I saw myself in the mirror. Despite using a face mask I was covered in rusty dust!

Monday 13th and the weather has turned, I started off in shorts but changed by lunch. Only slight drizzle for a short while but lots cooler. At Calcut we filled with diesel for only 76p!! On the way up the Stockton flight we picked blackberries again, and lots of delicious apples, all going to waste. We ended the night back on the Oxford Canal just past Napton Junction having covered 4 miles and 13 locks. The mooring was OK but a bit noisy, we made a note in future to carry on a couple of miles further in future.

Tuesday 14th Another day much like Tuesday. We reached Braunston and turned towards the locks, and there were Mo & Vanessa off Balmaha. We had last seen them at Foxton but had kept in touch through blogs & email. Rapid stop and coffee and biscuits (home made of course) and a lovely long chat. They had to go the collect V's mother, and as we headed off to the locks a boat joined us, making the flight quick work. It started to drizzle as we left the locks, but within the hour it had stopped, but it was getting colder. We managed to clear the Watford flight before it closed for the night & moored up where we had done on our return trip last Autumn. 101/2 miles and 13 locks.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Into Birmingham

Thursday 2nd October and the day dawned breezy but bright after overnight rain. After two days working lots of locks this day there were just 3 lift bridges and one of those was electrically powered. It was a longish trip and part of it was behind a boat that was moving forward almost as fast as a snail, I didn't know hire boats could move so slowly! The wife appeared from below, they pulled over and let us past, with him saying they seemed to be scraping the bottom. I reckon she po-pooed the idea & they soon picked up speed. The run into Birmingham is very rural to the end of the Stratford, even though the map shows buildings alongside the owners of most of the homes we passed were obviously gardeners.

This was taken at the water point by bridge 5, I guess about 4 miles as the crow flies from New Street Station.

We use a copy of Nicholson's guide that was published in 1997.....well the canals don't move much and they cost..... and it showed the stretch between bridge 15 and 12 as countryside. Not any more, it is expensive housing but as the canal is mostly in a slight cutting it doesn't intrude much.

As we approached Kings Norton Junction with the Worcester & Birmingham canal we passed through a pair of guillotine gates.

The day continued bright as we cruised slowly into Gas Street basin. We passed the Cadbury Works and I fixed for us to return the next day as I am a chocoholic. The distance from Kings Norton to Gas Street is marked as 5 miles in Nicholson, modern cast iron mile posts at one point showed 5km to Kings Norton & 5 to Gas St, which isn't 5 miles! Anyway we kept the railway company as we chugged on and used the sanitary station at Holiday Wharf before turning the corner and mooring exactly where we did many Easters ago in 1998 when we enjoyed a cool but sunny week around the area whilst others were battling the terrible floods of that year. It being a Thursday we sought out a Wetherspoons to get our Curry Night fix on Broad Street, and very good it was too.

What wasn't so good was the crashing and banging around in the wind overnight that woke me at 4am when I found our bows had been cast loose and we were broadside to the canal. I must say that at that time of day it was lovely to be able to simply fire up the engine and use the bow thruster to restore our position with no pulling of ropes or other messing around. The next morning I walked to BW Cambrian Wharf to ask if we could moor in Gas Street and also about where we could moor for more that 48 hours, and was pointed to the wharf basin opposite and which is in a much more secluded area. We set off for it sharpish and exchanged a few greetings with Simba Dada whom we last met at Foxton last Autumn & who were just setting off. We will see there again soon I believe.

The mooring is conveniently placed but is pretty quiet. Carol's back is objecting to even the distance from here into the shopping centre, but she battles on with rests at frequent intervals. On Friday we used a train to get to Bournville to do my chocolate thing. It was pretty good, but very much aimed at children. I wandered off to have a bit of a look at the Bournville village and saw that trees are clearly reckoning Autumn is coming. I never remember seeing such lovely colours when I was a child, whatever the case the colours are tremendous and with luck our cruise back to Debdale should be glorious, if only we get some sun!

We will be staying here till Wednesday morning when we will get mving back to our home base. Whilst here we will go to SeaLife and are going to a concert in Symphony Hall on Tuesday and will probably go to a performance in the newly refurbished old Town Hall on Wednesday lunchtime. Carol has already done some reverse shopping, returning a jacket she bought from M&S in Banbury when the promised long length trousers she was to pick up in Birmingham failed to materialise. Till next time.