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Monday, 2 November 2009

Sunday 11th to Sun 25th October Back to Debdale

Sunday 11th Still moored in central Birmingham it started cool and damp, ideal for the 15000 runners taking part in the Birmingham half marathon which started & finished near Symphony Hall. I saw many low order runners as I went for the papers, and in early afternoon we saw more as we walked to the Birmingham Back to Backs. These are several old basic houses, built in the early 1800’s around a court, each of them 3 storeys high by one room wide and with very steep spiral stairs. They are back to backs because there is a single brick wall between houses, one facing the road, the other the court. As restored they show a house as in 1820, 1870, 1920 and 1970.

They are National Trust properties and only viewable on a guided tour which was excellent. They are alongside the Hippodrome Theatre and we must have parked our car by them on our trips to see pantomimes there over the years.

Monday 12th was a fine bright day but cool and I set off to the Museum/Town Hall and joined a queue at 8.45 to see the newly discovered Staffordshire Hoard of Saxon gold and garnet treasure found earlier this year. I met a charming couple in the queue and Carol joined us by 9 and we chatted away merrily whilst waiting to get in. It was the penultimate day on display in Birmingham before the treasure is sent to the British Museum for full conservation and documentation and there had been immense queues despite the museum staying open till 11 on two nights. It was interesting, but Carol & others wished they had washed off more of the mud, and only a very small pert of the hoard was displayed. The craftsmanship was brilliant, and the treasure hunter will be over £1m better off!
We had a coffee with our new acquaintances & exchanged email addresses before we returned to Lily for lunch & then off to Sea World which, being none too busy we enjoyed.

Tuesday 13th we did some shopping with Carol looking for an outfit, and failing, before we went to watch “Up”, the new Pixar movie in 3D. It was excellent.

I knew of Boulton & Watt, but not William Murdoch but this freshly re-gilded statue caused me to look in Wikipaedia. It’s worth a look, but briefly he wanted to work with Boulton & Watt so walked down from Glasgow. Boulton was so fascinated by the wooden hat Murdoch was wearing that he gave him & job & he made great improvements to the working efficiency of the Boulton & Watt engines. He also invented gas lighting and was a significant force towards the development of the dyestuffs that were developed from the coal tar by-product. He would have been fabulously wealthy if he wasn’t employed on a contract where his inventions became the company’s.

Wed 14th started bright & warm for the time of year. We cast off at 10.30 & met a new fuel/pump out boat coming through the Worcester Bar and reversed back to tie alongside to get a new gas bottle and add diesel. Note he seems to be alongside Sea Life every day. We stopped at the services at the Mailbox and were off. We came across this work starting half way to the Stratford Canal where they are constructing a new bridge to facilitate work to the railway alongside the canal. An interesting way of using tyres.

Steady cruise meeting perhaps 10 boats and stopping near bridge 15 on the Stratford. 12miles

We passed this boat that seems to be being fitted out. The hull sides are almost as high as Lily’s roof so how will it ever be able to cruise?

Thursday 15th Overnight rain and very damp and misty as we got up, but it wasn’t cold. It got wetter as we cruised towards Kingswood Junction and after 4 locks and 2 lift bridges we’d had enough at 1 and stopped for the day. Having worked the lift bridges with Carol I asked how a single handed boater we met at a lock how he coped……with difficulty as there are no landing areas on the operating side of the bridges. 5 miles & 4 locks

Friday 16th A fine day though not warm and we had a pleasant cruise through the Lapworth flight having a pleasant chat at lock 19 with a waiting boater as we filled with water at the slowest tap imaginable. After filling & emptying we passed through onto the Grand Union and tied up having done 1 ½ miles and 15 locks.

At the bottom of the locks is this old telegraph pole with notches for about 14 cross pieces. Not things of great beauty and part of our canal heritage, but I reckon we are better without them, though my erarly memories of roads is of them lines with these poles.

Saturday 17th Another fine day but we were not cruising much but just did 5 miles to a winding hole and returned to moor at bridge 66. After and early lunch we walked to Baddesley Clinton (NT) and viewed this historic house with a history from the 1400’s. It had several priest holes within it & despite numerous searches, no priests were found. If you visit, catch the talk about the house, and be aware that there is a very good restaurant on site. We only had drinks there but the food looked good and it was busy.

Brazilian GP qualifying finished off the day. 5 miles.

Sunday 18th Cool overnight, we have been using our boiler/heating for the last few days. Away around 9 after filling at the nearby water point we reached Hatton Top Lock about 11.30. Here we met a couple from New Zealand who were ready to go down, but they had a problem with their heater not working. We lent them one of our phones to call Kate Boats and I dipped their fuel tank to find barely 1 inch of fuel there. The handbook with the boat talked of a gas heater but there was none to see, Kates said they would bring fuel and meet us down the flight.

2 boats exited top lock before we entered and another 2 entered as we exited. We had struck up a great rapport with Rowan & Suzanne and shared sandwiches they had made and coffee and biscuits Carol had made. Though we worked well as a team we had a slow trip down having caught up with a very slow boat and also with the fuel stop & work to get their heater working, but the weather was fine and we were enjoying the company. We stopped below bottom lock just after 4 when the GP was about to start. Rowan & Suzanne were behind & we agreed we would try to eat together at The Cape of Good Hope & they walked there to see what time they finished serving as the GP was not likely to finish much before 7. They hurried back to say she wanted to finish at 6 as the cook was going out so we hurried off, recording the race. We were glad we did as it was not just excellent food but brilliant company, they are a couple much like us, and they have come over the last 3 years for a 10-14 day cruise on the canals.

We caught the race later on after they had left after coffee and more nattering and what a great ace it was! 7 ½ miles & 21 locks.

Monday 19th A fine morning & we set off with our friends to return through 2 locks & then to Kate Boats, but not before they had insisted that on our trip to New Zealand we should cancel our hotel booking in Wellington and stay with them! Incredible! After waving goodbye we moved on to tie up outside Tesco to provision for Sally, John, Sam & Hannah joining us on Thursday. A big bill later we set off after 1 in sun, but the day got worse as we cruised through Leamington and on to the Radford locks. After 4 of these locks we tied up just past 4 as it was cool and drizzling. 7 miles & 6 locks

Tuesday 20th Threatening weather but it was only damp. We were away around 10 and cruised to The Cuttle by 12.30, mooring near The Two Locks pub where we had such good meals last year. We shared locks with Harebell, a beautifully painted boat but one suffering from a very iffy gearbox. I was not surprised to hear it was a Hurth, considering on our previous boat we got through 3 gearboxes in just over a year. I insisted that the engine/gearbox supplier (Beta) should change it to a PRM box and never a scrap of bother afterwards. The poor chap on Harebell had bought the boat (used) just over 4 years before, had a gearbox change by Calcutt Boats. After just over a year it failed again, they repaired it & then it lasted just 60 miles, and they refused to do any more work on it!!! He got another engineer to sort it, but after only about a year the trouble was back! I think he was interested to hear our experiences.

After stopping and lunch and letting the engine bay cool I went into the weed hatch. I had been putting it off as the water has cooled, it seemed to clear at times, but then was back rattling the tiller. I found a cycle tyre nicely wrapped around it, but fortunately something had cut through the metal reinforcement & my knife was able to do the trick, though one of the wires embedded itself into my finger. I celebrated by working on our tax returns!!!

We rewarded ourselves with the incredibly excellent Steak & Kidney pie at the Two Boats, plus an enjoyable treacle pud for me. We had an interesting chat with Chris, the landlord. He & Michelle have only been there 3 years and he loves it, finding it a pleasant change from covering 48000 miles a year working as an engineer for car insurers. 2 miles & 5 locks

Thursday 22nd After staying put and completing the returns & Carol cooking hard on Wednesday at lunchtime on Thursday, Sally, John, Sam & Hannah joined us for our last few days.

Weather fine in morning but showers during the afternoon as we worked up locks and onto and round Napton junction. It was a pleasure to have a good team working the locks and we tied up about a mile past the junction in a lovely mooring. 6 miles & 13 locks

Friday 23rd was a glorious day, sunny & little wind. We stopped in Braunston to deal with services & to collect some side strings from Tradline Fenders and we entered Braunstom locks about 12 and almost immediately caught up with a boat with many in its crew & a real novice on tiller so we stopped for lunch below the 3rd lock.

After lunch we collected another pair of slow boats but cleared the locks in good time. We met 2 boats in Braunston tunnel but were very excited about a mile the top side of it to see something swimming in the water. It looked too big for a mink & it looked tan in colour, so we reckon we saw an otter!

We carried on to Watford locks, arriving at about 4 & with me thinking we would have missed the opportunity of clearing the flight that day, but on Fridays, I was told, they are open till 6. The locks were clear & most were set for us & I think it only took us about ½ an hour to work up the 7 locks. We carried on in the still lovely weather to moor opposite Crick Marina at about 6. 13 locks & 11 miles.

Saturday 24th was wet overnight and continued that way with intermittent showers through the morning, but the forecast had been far worse! Carol & the girls stayed below doing arty things whilst John, Sam & I enjoyed dodging rain and wind. It brightened after lunch and we continued until stopping about a mile past Husbands Bosworth tunnel, where we met 2 boats. Summit pound down about 4 inches and very shallow in places with us rubbing over something at bridge 28. 13 ½ miles

Sunday 25th A beautifully sunny day, but with a strong wind. It took much pushing to get Lily off the mud and against the wind as we cast off. Third day with Sam in charge of the tiller.

Approaching Foxton.

Laplander, a steam powered ice boat built around 1830 was moored at bridge 60.

We arrived at Foxton at 12 with flight empty & water being run down to the Kibworth pound. I must have been barely 40 minutes before we were out, we had a large crew & plenty of willing helpers in visitors.

We decided to have Sunday lunch at Foxton Locks Inn (a mistake, the meat was overcooked & dry). We had pudding & coffee on Lily before setting off for Debdale where we arrived at about 3. 6 miles & 10 locks.

6 months and 4 days after setting off we have run the engine 573 hours. I have yet to tot up the miles & locks covered, but it has been a wonderful 6 months, but we had to get home as Carol’s social diary started up on 26th!! We have met some wonderful people, seen some wonderful places and had some unique experiences. Roll on 2010!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Worcester to Birmingham via Tardebigge

Tuesday 29th we arrived at Diglis locks on another lovely day and locked up out of the river into the Birmingham & Worcester canal, a mere 30 miles and 51 locks to Gas Street basin.

Having used the services we climbed up the next 2 locks we found a good mooring with easy access to the city centre and the railway stations. Very dusty towpath and poor dog fouling control, but not aywhere near as bad as in Bishops Stortford. We did more sightseeing around the centre, including me visiting a very impressive closed church & the Guildhall (not a patch on the one in Bath last year).

Wednesday 30th a simple train journey to Narborough, but one where a ticket from Worcester to Narborough was quoted at about 3 times the cost of a ticket to Birmingham plus one to Narborough. Be aware. The journey the next day Thursday 1st was much more interesting! We travelled from Worcester to a small place called Barnham near to Chichester in West Sussex. I couldn’t believe it when the Trainline search showed there was one train we could use all the way with no changes, who would have imagined someone deciding a train should run from Gt Malvern to Brighton! We boarded at 11.02 and got off at 15.30….. a 2 car train, it had toilets but nothing to slake the thirst, fortunately we had bought a sandwich before boarding and had taken water. Very scenic route with the train changing direction twice we went via Gloucester and Bristol, plus Trowbridge, covering part of our cruise last year. Good to see the family again, but our journey back was to be via London, but as we arrived at the platform in Barnham we were told there had been a fatality (a jumper) a few stations away and our train was cancelled. Eventually we were put on a train to Brighton, where we changed to a bus replacement service (engineering works) to Hayawards Heath, on to Blackfriars on a very full train past Gatwick. To Paddington by tube and then a busy train via Oxford where we had to move forward 2 carriages as they were being dropped arriving in Worcester via every halt you could imagine over 6 hours after arriving at Barnham. Fortunately the Tesco Express by the station was still open to let us get some milk. Trains can be great, sometimes not so.

Monday 5th and we thought a work colleague & his wife might appear for coffee, but when there was no sign by 11.30 I called & they were still packing away their caravan, so a brief shop & we were off up locks. Weather was fine and it was a lovely warm afternoon. We covered 7 locks and 3 ½ miles in the day stopping close to the brand new Worcester Warriors rugby stadium, a bit before we crossed the M5.

Tuesday 6th and after overnight rain it was dry as we rose and were away by 9.15 (early for us) and up through 5 locks with some fine drizzle, fine afterwards. We stopped below bridge 36 and after lunch walked across fields to Hanbury Hall (National Trust). House was OK ish but had virtually no original furniture. Gardens were interesting including the accurately recreated parterre. 5 miles 5 locks.

Wednesday 7th and we had heavy overnight rain and I washed off the rest of Worcester’s dust. It was bright at first but cooled. We stopped for water at Stoke Works where the pub opposite does a weekday carvery lunch at just £3.99. We didn’t try it as Carol had prepared something but it looked busy.

We then carried on through Stoke Wharf where we found the much needed Elsan disposal point that did not appear on our Nicholson map. The Black Prince base there had around 21 hire boats in, including 3 brand new ones and it looked as if there were 3 more under construction so they must see a future in hiring.

Many bricks on the flight show their maker's mark.

We carried on through the Stoke flight and moored opposite the Inn at the bottom of the Tardebigge flight.
This lovely house is close to Stoke Top lock.
The locks had been simple to operate and quite fast and water levels were good, but before we turned in for the night we had gained a list and were aground. I pushed Lily off, but at 2.30 Carol woke me, she could hardly stand as she got out of bed, I reckoned we had a list of at least 20 degrees and were firmly aground. It was cold and very dark as the moon had yet to rise and it took much pushing from the bank with the pole with Lily in reverse to get free. We then moved forwards to the lock bollards, getting the bows in fairly well but with the stern well out. I then set off back the 200yards to the lock below us & found the top gate wide open. I pushed it shut, there was not a great amount obviously flowing through the bottom gates, I even had to draw a paddle slightly to get the top gate to close tight. A boat had come up behind us in the late afternoon and obviously the gate had opened and let the water out.

Back to bed & eventually to sleep, but at 7.30 there was a crashing & banging as water was let down from the lock above. A BW chap had fortunately done a trip down the flight first thing (using his mower as transport) and started moving water down.

Thursday 8th dawned cold.

Very misty and damp but clear and brightened to a glorious day. We were off at 8.30 and for the whole flight had every lock for us! Having started in sweatshirt & fleece before I’d got 2/3rds of the way up I was in T shirt.
nearing the top.

We met 2 boats just over half way up and cleared lock 57 at 12.45 & stopped for lunch having done 29 locks and walked around 6 miles (to-ing & fro-ing opening & closing gates) in 4 ¼ hours. Rested we moved on the our last lock before Birmingham at the Top Lock which is quite deep, and was against us. When I’d emptied it & Carol had got Lily in I couldn’t close one of the gates, resorting to probing the cill with our pole to see if we could find a rock, but to no avail. There being 2 BW chaps at work in the yard just above the lock, I asked them to come & look. They used their long handled flat tyne rake to scrape around, the cill was very deep, I’d guess about 6 feet, bad we were still faced with a gate that would not close. Eventually we reversed Lily till her prop was above the cill and gave it some welly in both forward & reverse, and the gate closed!

Tardebigge church.

Plaque at the top of Tardebigge commemorating the meeting that gave rise to the Inland Waterways Association in 1946

These hulks are all that remains of some old boats.
After filling with water at the yard we cruised on through Tardebigge and Shortwood tunnels and tied up in Alvechurch. Alongside a pub, but again not going in!! I walked in to the village, some interesting old buildings but not a lot else, but got a paper and some tomatoes. 30 locks & 6 miles in 7 hours cruising.

Friday 9th started overcast and cool and basically stayed that way. We cruised on easily to Wast Hills tunnel, meeting several boats including one chugging along happily with its Bollinder sending up puffs of exhaust smoke and giving its special sound. As we reached the tunnel a boat was just entering and OH BOY!! We went through in neutral much of the way, the 2726 yards taking 70 minutes and the boat in front zig zagged from side to side. I walked to our bows and called out to them to see if they were in trouble but got no response other than me hearing a foreign language. In fairness to them they did manage to get straight and let and on-coming boat pass, and he told us it was a CanalTime boat!

Before we left the tunnel two other boats had caught up with us and gave us a toot, and as we left the tunnel our leaders were still wobbling to and fro at far below our tickover speed. We spoke to them and in broken French English he said it was very difficult, they had just started from Alvechurch. What a poor place to set such boats, either an enormous lock flight one way, or one of the longest tunnels the other way. They let us past, but the following boats had longer to wait.

We reached Gas St around 2.30, tried to moor in Cambrian Wharf but no room and reversed back to moor alongside the NIA. Just 11 miles.

Amazing things have happened to us this year, and this day was to give us another. We walked around the city a bit and decided to have a curry as it was Friday. We went to the Celebrity restaurant right alongside Broad St Tunnel. We had been there many years ago, and this time it was even better. Nowhere near as cheap as our tremendous Vishal in Leicester, but our two dishes were fantastic. Coming out at around 7.30 we saw throngs heading for the NIA and I asked who was on to be told it was Michael McInver who is someone Carol had been going on about for weeks & who I had seen very briefly on TV. We walked to the box office and got tickets on the third row (Carol’s birthday approaches, its part of her present) and had a great time. Even greater was the fact that 10 minutes after curtain down we were back home.

Saturday 10th a lovely warm day and we needed a big shop, we had emptied out pretty well so it was off to Tesco at Fiveways and later we went to the Museum & Art Gallery. During the afternoon we went to Symphony Hall and bought tickets in “the gods” for the evening CBSO concert which feature Tchaikovski’s 4th. It was magical, and then when we came out there was a band playing live, and pretty well, at Brindley Place, so we stopped there, and then did a bit of a wander to the Birmingham Festival of Light event.

We are stopping here a few days more.

Monday, 28 September 2009

22 - 29th Sept to Worcester

22nd Sept started coolish and overcast as I started to T Cut and polish the starboard side of Lily, previous polish a few weeks ago didn’t look good hence drastic action, the paint is now 6 years old. Wandered into Kinver again for a coffee and a few bits before setting off after lunch. Day had brightened and warmed up with glimpses of sun. Pretty cruising including through areas of rock cutting, a very soft sandstone made this an easy option for the builders, including this rock hewn horse stable at Debdale lock.

After just 6 miles and 4 locks we tied up in Kidderminster outside Sainsburys. We had the most minute shower of almost mist for perhaps 5 minutes before brightening again. Good mooring point and polishing re-commenced, unfortunately the towpath alongside was gravel surfaced and very well trafficked. With the dry weather the boat son became covered in dust, all along the starboard side!

Wed 23rd we did no cruising but instead had a lovely day on the Severn Valley Railway from Kdderminster to Bridgenorth and back, stopping for an exploration of Bridgenorth first. What a lovely old town, loads of interesting buildings, different shops, a great array of pubs (not visited) and this interesting cliff railway from the Upper Town to the Lower Town.

This incredible old house at Bridgenorth Lower Town was built by a barge owner in 1580 and was one of the few buildings to survive the Civil War.

A view of Bridgenort High Street

This old fashioned butchers had its display window open to the street in the old style, though all the meat was under a clear plastic cover.

The railway runs alongside the river on a lovely route and has a surprisingly frequent service most days of the year, and we were amazed at how busy the trains were. Highly recommended at £12 a head for oldies. Bewdley was the stop we used on the way back and this town presents a lovely front to the river, though a front that all too often has been subject to flooding over the years, though a de-mountable flood barrier now protects these buildings.

Bewdley river front.

We didn’t stop too long, Carol’s back was very tired, and we caught a bus back to Kidderminster, saving us the fairly long walk down from the station.

It being Wednesday we tried our 2 for 1 Orange film vouchers in the tiny cinema. The film was saw was atrocious, or at least the half hour we watched was! I carried on with the rubbing & polishing.

Thursday 24th dawned misty but bright and we had bright sun all day from 10. Staff from the Sainsburys store were seen on a litter picking patrol along the towpath and in the undergrowth. We were horrified to see how many syringes they collected in a 200 yard length, what a sad reflection on the lives of some people.

I finished off work on the starboard side and we set off late morning. Arriving for the second lock I saw a kingfisher fly up and land, and then set about working the locks which had an interesting locking mechanism to inhibit vandalism. Carol had the sight of the kingfisher emerging from the water with a fish in its beak. We arrived at Stourport at 2.30 having covered 4 miles and 4 locks. We got a good mooring above the lock with the towpath on the port side, this time a nicely tarmaced surface, though used as a dog loo too much.

This interesting crane was on the opposite side of the canal to our mooring.

As was this interesting boat which I seem to recall is powered and steered by vectored thrust through two tubes at each end.

We had a wander round the historic basin and bought some new waterproof/breathable jackets at a “factory shop” before I started cutting and polishing the port side, but not for too long as it being a Thursday and there being A Wetherspoons in Stourport we were off for our curry & a drink for £4.99, and excellent it was, but I did need a second pint!

Friday 25th was supposed to be lovely and sunny all day, but it was overcast and coolish much of the day until the sun eventually arrived in late afternoon. I finished off polishing, and then set to touching up small damaged areas on the navy paintwork using a fine artists brush. When it has hardened I’ll see how well it polishes up, but even as it is it has improved the look. Lily looks much better after our work on her outside and in, and the fine weather ensured the laundry got a good airing.

Sat 26th and we were off down the Severn to Worcester, but not before we filled with water and incredibly, just as we were about to set off two boats passed us, including a very smart “trad” T.S.Element with a lovely Gardiner 3 cylinder engine. We not only had to wait for them to descend the lock, but then found they were both filling with water, just what we needed to do! I found another water point on the new mooring pontoons on the opposite side of the basin & used that, and we set off a few moments after they did, again!

Coming out of the Stourport basins there are two 2 lock staircases, and after one of these boats had gone down, a boat came up. Eventually we got to the top of the locks, and stopped to fill with diesel, needing nearly 200 litres. I declared 60% propulsion at £1.07, 40% at 62p. Incredible that we get red diesel at a greater cost than road fuel, despite the fuel being not so good! I initially understood that HMG was not wanting to introduce the removal of derogation on this tax imposition, but I have heard during this summer of enquiries being made of retailers as to why peculiar levels of propulsion fuel had been declared.

Anyway, £175 poorer we emerged from the final lock at 12.30 and set off down stream on a lovely afternoon. We thought we had found a nice spot to tie up and watch qualifying for the Singapore GP, but the pontoons were still under construction & the publican didn’t want us to tie up, so we carried on through the 3 manned locks down to Worcester and tied up alongside the Race course in a section that was nominally closed for refurbishment, and at a charge of £3.20 per night. We cruised all the length through Worcester and the recommended moorings below Diglis locks looked ideal, except the developers of the new apartments had fenced off access and they were barred.

Part way between Stourport & Worcester is this, the entrance to the Droitwich canal which is nearly ready for re-opening we believe.

The river was pretty and with hardly a boat moving. We shared one lock with a cruiser and both he and another one, both with fly bridges etc, had very smokey exhaust. He gave me a very odd look when I asked him if he would cut is engine whilst in the lock – obviously he has never been in locks on the Thames where the lock keepers get everyone to cut their engines.

After watching the re-run of qualifying I set off walking to have a quick reconnoitre of the city, with Carol far from the best at walking I decided I needed to eliminate wasted walks. There are some lovely bits to the city, and some not so lovely bits from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Carol wanted to go to Communion at the Cathedral, but she also wanted to watch the GP, they clashed so she will catch an Evensong sometime.

Sunday 27th I walked around the city to suss out where we can moor on the canal. We are off to Narborough by train on Wednesday for the official opening of a car park I designed and supervised and over the weekend are off down to see Clare. Ideally we would like to get into a marina so we can plug into mains power to leave the fridge & freezer on. After a phone call and a chat with someone on his boat, I’m not so sure we will be able to so are likely to have to cart the frozen food with us, though fortunately there is not too much in it.

After the GP we had an amble round, which we also did on Monday, including a visit to the Cathedral, which is a lovely place and interesting. On Tuesday we are visiting a National Trust property in the city, and when we leave we will catch another as we pass Droitwich.

Monday, 21 September 2009

On to Kinver 14th to 21st Sept

Monday 14th started overcast and coolish and after attention to cash via the Post Office we moved on a bit from Fradley to the edge of Tamworth & bought things we need for a visit by friends on Friday as we don’t think we will be close to other decent sized shops. We didn’t set off till 1.30 and cruised slowly to Fradley Junction, but before we got there I noticed there were no instruments working, a repeat of the earlier electrical problems. I waggled the wires I’d tweaked before but nothing worked and as we reached Streethay Wharf we pulled up after Carol had hailed a chap on the side to see if they had an electrician. He came and touched this to that, and then the other and declared we had no live feed to the engine alternator, and stripped open the junction block I had checked previously, to no avail. As he knew what he was after, he then pulled at the red wires into the connector block, and lo and behold, one wire had broken. Obviously when I had “solved” the problem before all I had done was waggle the bits till they made contact. £25 later a connecting wire had been installed and all was well and we stopped, short of Fradley, but we had been told it was as close as we would get. 10 miles, 0 locks

Whilst at Streethay Carol started talking to a chap who was blacking his bottom. She looked and saw it was Helen’s bottom, Helen was the narrowboat fitted out lovingly by an old friend Bill Turnbull who had sadly died of cancer a couple of years previously. Bill’s partner was an old school friend of Carol and we knew that the boat ad been sold to one of Bill’s friends, so she had a good natter.

On the way this day we had passed these enormous poly tunnels full of strawberries. I reckon the tunnels were about 300yards long each and about 5 yards wide, and there were 21 tunnels. Imagine how many tons of strawberries they produce.

The farm also had a large field of asparagus growing with its lovely foliage.

Tuesday 15th Overcast and windy, put shorts away and donned jeans. Boats coming from Fradley started before 8 and when we set off at 9.30 there were umpteen moorings available at the junction. We had to wait at each of the 3 locks for boats descending and met loads of boats coming the other way. The Shroppie is closed because of a breech and there is also a boat gathering towards Tamworth next weekend. A stop for lunch at Handsacre before we followed 2 other boats through the “tunnel” ( it nearly was one but they opened it to the sky) cut through rocks and only just over one boat wide. Weather improved through afternoon with wind easing and clouds breaking. We carried on through to Gt Haywood junction before we left the M25, sorry, Trent & Mersey, and set off southwards on the Staffs & Worcs canal, stopping shortly afterwards on Tixal Wide, overlooking the gate house to, I assume Shugborough Hall (though as there is a canal between the two and no road between them I wonder why) a lovely spot.
13 miles and 5 locks

These Alpacas were grazing in a field as we approached Gt Haywood and this Swan resort appealed to us, though only host to a moorhen.

Wed 16th opened as breezy & overcast, making it cool, but then we’d get bits of bright sun when it was very hot! Very little traffic, only waited at one lock, it usually worked us entering as another left, brilliant. We met President & Kildare (see Braunston & Watford Locks 4 weeks ago) at Penkridge lock where there was a sanitary station that had appeared since our copy of Nicholson’s was produced. We tied up for the night past Gailey, so much quieter now the M54 has taken the traffic away from the A5. Our cruise was shallow in places, and sometimes very narrow but we covered 13 miles & 11 locks.

Gailey lock

Thursday 17th was overcast all day but there was less of the breeze but it was still cool. Several boats passed the other way but we had no locks and it was easy cruising. We followed 2 other boats through the narrow stretch up to Autherley Junction, where we turned in and stopped. Problem, visitors due tomrrow and no Elsan emptying facility despite it apparently being shown in Nicholson. 8miles and just one tiny lock. This Heron showed us the way. It was very shallow in places, we even ran aground going through a bridge hole, I must check how deep Lily draws.
This heron pointed the way.
I had told our guests where we would meet up from looking at the excellent Phillips Navigator map, as well as Google maps, but still needed to check as Geoffrey is not too good on his pins so I walked the ¾ mile to the bridge. It looks OK, but not too good for mooring so we’re staying put.

Friday 18th and it dawned bright and brightened and warmed up through the day. Our friends had an excellent run to meet us, arriving early as the M6 was behaving itself. We cruised very gently to Brewood, and noticed that branch cutting and chipping on the off-side, and came upon the boat responsible part way along blocking the cut, the stern mooring line had come adrift. A few minutes work fixed it, and it was still secure as we returned.

We found a good mooring on the visitor moorings and enjoyed a fabulous lunch courtesy of Carol’s skills. Both Stephanie & Geoffrey were felled by the lunch & wine and were grateful to be asked if they’d like a few minutes snooze, whilst I walked into the village to see if it was worth a visit. It was and three of us set off a bit later, Geoffrey excused himself as he said he would only slow us up. Brewood has some interesting bits, worth a visit and showing a big range of architectural styles.

Friend Mo keeps going on about mason's marks, well here are carpenters marks showing how the joints should be assembled.
This house was supposedly build out of the winnings on a horse.

This house is said to date from 1350.

Does anyone else remember these signs from the 50's, showing the Cyclist Touring Cub recommended this pub. I havent seen a sign in many years.

Our gentle cruise home showed several shallow and surprisingly narrow places, especially surprising as at water level it looked wide, but about 6” down it was a rocky ledge. When we stopped we had a light tea of fresh scone, clotted cream and my homemade damson jam which surprised everyone as I had managed to remove all the stones!!! This was followed by Tea Loaf, Lemon drizzle cake and flapjack. They departed full! The day had been lovely with it sunny all the way from around 11.30, and they had an equally good journey home.
We checked our draft. I had assumed it would be around 22-24 inches, it is 30 inches, plus the skeg!

Sat 19th cloudy but warm to start and after a wander to get papers we were off, and shortly afterwards I put my shorts on, Carol was a bit slower. After 3 miles & 3 locks we reached Wightwick and we stopped to visit the National Trust house, Wightwick Manor which is only a few yards from the canal.

It was a lovely house, a Victorian fake old house, decorated with much from William Morris and the Pre Raphaelites. What made it so wonderful was that the whole house and its contents were made over to the National Trust so everything is of a piece. The family that built it was the Mander family of paints and varnishes fame, and the chap that had it built married a Miss Paint!! The house, while large, is not enormous and was built to be lived in by the family, and the family still has some private rooms upstairs where the many branches stay frequently. It’s gardens were pleasantly laid out and maintained, it is worth a visit. Our mooring above Wightwick lock was pleasant and quiet and we stayed the night.

Sun 20th was a fabulous day from start to finish, sunny & warm with barely a breeze. With wonderful timing we set off at 9 and caught up with a family who had just cast off at our second lock and their slow pace dictated our progress. We had no need to hurry and there were plenty of locks and interesting things to see. This really is a lovely canal, despite passing close to Wolverhampton and other Black Country centres it is in glorious countryside and has some lovely little features of canal engineering.

The bywashes have some lovely circular weirs, as well as other shapes, no bare channels.

Locks have a simple bridge across the top, but this one had a delightfully cast iron treat., and notice the way the wall of the bridge has been constructed into pillars.

It also had this interesting cut through for access to the bottom of the lock.

Most of the locks have two ground and a gate paddle, but beware of the jet of water that shoots up from many top ground paddle channels as they are raised, many get soaked.

We stopped for lunch at Wombourne bridge. Carol asked a chap on the towpath if there was a newsagent nearby and after a moment’s thought said over the bridge, first left, second right, first left, spoken quickly and absolutely spot on, so I was able to get my Sunday Times fix. Avoiding the pub we were off again, catching up with a boat that was just setting off before the next lock!! These women were slow, but it was a lovely day, I had my shirt off and Carol had her bikini top on.

This new lock bollard shows wear & tear, but not from ropes, from the strimmer.

Bottom lock gates on this canal are made of several 6" thick planks of timber with no framing.

We were getting a bit anxious to find somewhere to empty our toilet tanks, two were full and our emergency reserve was in use, and at Greensforge lock we were able to sort them out. Needless to say after our longish stop to fill with water when we set off we caught up with another boat that was also setting off! Below this lock alongside the canal was a bungalow with a large and absolutely fabulous garden. It looked as if they ran a nursery or garden centre, but even so it was delightful. Anyhow around 4.30 we called it a day, a wonderful day for weather and also for sights, we covered 8 ½ miles and worked through 16 locks.

The Bratch was an interesting set of locks, nearly a staircase but not quite. We dropped in lucky, straight in, often there is quite a queue.

Along this stretch some joker has decorated many posts and trees with happy faces. We asked fishermen if they knew what they were for, but they didn’t know.

Monday 21st dawned overcast and cool and stayed that way till mid afternoon, but by that time we had reached Kinver and stopped to look around. Threw another alternator belt, put last spare on so need to search one out soon. We met Barry and Kathy on Goldie2 below Stewpony lock, not having seen them since early April. 3 miles & 3 locks.

At many places along this canal the side is straight rock.

A lovely mix of buildings can be found in Kinver.

We walked to the church on the top of the hill, but it was locked!! Good view though, and our amble through the village revealed 3 Indian restaurants, 2 Fish & Chips, 4 pubs, 2 tea/coffee houses, 2 small supermarkets, a greengrocer, 2 butchers, baker plus plus…..basically a well sorted place. Our coffee was good and I had said to Carol the other day I really fancied some fish & chips, I don’t think I’ve had any since February. I bought some for lunch and they were lovely!

We stopped for the day and Carol got her paints out for the first time since heaven knows when and created one lovely painting and completed another one. I walked up hill to view the troglodyte houses on the escarpment that are owned by the National Trust. They are only open from 2-4 on Saturdays and Sundays, but I thought I‘d be able to see something anyway. It was a good long uphill drag but worth it as I met a caretaker who was doing some gardening and he let me up to the upper level and explained about the buildings which had been rebuilt since the’80’s but an interesting visit.