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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.

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