Friday, 11 August 2017

The Hatton Flight.

Friday 11th August 2017 in Royal Leamington Spa.
Before dawn, the view was breathtakingly beautiful. The mist was still lingering over the water and in the valley, and the reflections in the still water were lovely.
M watched the sunrise over the horizon; it was a truly magical morning.
MM looked lovely too in the early morning sunlight less than an hour later.
We set off at eight o'clock, heading for the 23 locks that will take us down into Warwick. Before the lock flight is the 433 yard long Shrewley Tunnel, which is unusual in that there is a horse tunnel above the boat tunnel.
M decided not to walk over the top, knowing that there would be a lot of walking to do later today. In fact, by the end of the day, she grizzled that she had very tired feet!
A notice by the top lock of the Hatton flight gave instructions and we obediently waited for another boat to share the lock. This was also partly out of self interest because it is a lot easier to do the flight with at least three people.
We decided to have "second breakfast" while we waited but (predictably!) no sooner had we started to prepare it than Arthur turned up on nb "Gordon Bennet" and so we started through the locks.
It was quickly clear that Arthur was very experienced and so we breasted up the two boats, Arthur drove them both with MM's engine switched off, R worked each lock and M walked ahead to prepare the next lock.
Close to the top, there was a view through the trees of the old lunatic asylum, which is now fashionable upmarket apartments.
This view down the Hatton Flight is a famous one, with Warwick Church in the distance at the bottom.
Looking back up, the locks seem to bristle!
The Hatton locks are all wide locks; originally they were narrow locks but in the 1930s wide locks were built next to the original narrow ones to increase capacity as a government funded make-work project during the Depression. The original intent was to provide the ability to allow wide 100 ton barges to trade all the way from London to Birmingham, but the project was never completed. The old narrow locks can still be seen next to the wide locks and they are used as the bywash for the excess water flowing past the locks.
A familiar sight and a memory of the Birmingham canals, but it does look rather forlorn!.
We moored up in Royal Leamington Spa. The town is renowned for its handsome Regency architecture, yet sadly it is heavily industrialised and does not present its best aspect to the canal.
Today: 9 miles, 23 locks and 3.0 hours (plus 3.5 hours with MM's engine switched off!).
Trip: 186 miles, 187 locks and 136.2 hours.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Festina Lente.

Thursday 10th August 2017 near Rowington.
"Make haste slowly", which sums up our "dash" down to Enslow at 3 mph! Only 79 miles and 108 locks, "Piece of cake", said M. In 2011, we had toyed with the idea of calling MM "Festina Lente" but we found out that there are 28 other boats with that name and it turns out that "Many Meetings" has been the perfect choice of name for her as we meet so many nice people on the waterways.
So, an early farewell to Cadbury World, bathed in early morning sunshine with the first train of the day already approaching Bournville Station at 6am.
At King's Norton Junction, the Stratford & Avon Canal branches off the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, which has been our companion for several weeks - we were sad to say farewell to the W&B, its been a truly lovely canal. The, now derelict, house at the junction was once the offices of the W&B Canal Company.
Almost immediately after the junction is the first lock, but it was a stop lock with just one inch of difference so it is now left open. It is an unusual "guillotine" lock that looks very intimidating. Wouldn't want to be under that if it came down!
Now we are leaving Greater Birmingham behind, the canal becomes even more rural.
Along the towpath we saw many trees laden with greengages.
The Lapworth flight consists of 20 narrow locks, the paddle gear is listed, so they can't be updated and they are very stiff and hard to turn; but we make a good team. M sets each lock and then R takes MM through while M goes on to set the next lock. We got into a good rhythm and did all 20 very quickly but we also stopped to look at the views because it is such a pretty canal.
How lovely to live in this house - the lucky lady on the bike was just cycling home!
A curious family engaged R in conversation at one of the locks, so we invited them on board to go down to the next lock. They were so excited to be on a narrowboat going through a lock!
Happiness is a Magnum half way down the flight (it was a lovely hot day and we were working quite hard!)
Kingswood Junction and MM emerging from the last lock. Phew! They were tough.
Tom o' the Wood Moorings. That name must tell a story.
We paused here for tea and then moved on to Rowington, where we knew there were moorings with a splendid view.
As the sun set, we had our supper outside on the towpath and R relaxed outside reading with a well deserved glass of wine.

Today: 16 miles, 20 locks and 8.5 hours.
Trip: 177 miles, 164 locks and 133.2 hours.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

All Change!

Wednesday 9th August 2017 at Bournville.
A change of plan has led to a change of itinerary. Back home, Elly and Matt are in the process of converting a former ironmonger's shop into a new premises for their "Idol Hands" guitar school. There is a huge amount of renovation work to be done and we have decided to go home for two weeks to help. M can help by looking after Eva and Tilly while R can help with the building work. But we still need to get MM to Guildford by the first week of September to get ready for our own kitchen extension. We have booked MM into Enslow Marina with Tiffany and Richard just north of Oxford, where she was launched - but we need to get MM down there as quickly as possible.
So, we set off from Sherborne Wharf in Birmingham as soon as we arrived there by train.
It really is very attractive - and interesting - these days in the centre of the city.
The Worcester Bar, the junction between the Birmingham Canal Navigation and the Worcester & Birmingham canals, is busy with people, caf├ęs and restaurants.
We were fascinated by what we called the "jigsaw" building; it looks like a child's puzzle pieces have been stuck on the outside.
Everyone waves from the many bridges across the canal.
Finally leaving the built-up area behind, it looks like we are already in the countryside - but we are less than a mile from the centre!
We moored up again at the secure moorings opposite Cadbury in Bournville - but no time to do the tour again as we must get on.
To get to Enslow Wharf, the trip is 79 miles and 108 locks and we want to be back early next week so we are going to have to do some long days, not our normal way of travelling!
Today: 4 miles, 0 locks and 3.4 hours (including power).
161 miles, 144 locks and 124.7 hours

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Telford's New Main Line and a Working Narrowboat Pair.

Tuesday 1st August 2017 at Brindley Place, Birmingham.
Another lovely morning. We left early, having promised our mooring space to a hire boat which had moored up on the water point next to us last night.
The Dudley Black Country Museum is on the old Brindley Main Line and not long after we left, we turned on to Telford's New Main Line, which meant going down through three locks as Telford's canal is some 20ft lower than Brindley's.
Yesterday, we met up with this young coot that had made itself very comfortable on a discarded mattress. As we approached the top lock, we saw the same mattress had found its way to the lock - but this time without the resident coot. R removed the mattress and put it out of harm's way.
Just a few minutes later, coming out of the bottom lock, R was down the weed hatch again to clear the propellor. This time the culprit was a mass of plastic tangled up with weeds.
These concrete island in the middle of the canal were originally guaging stations where tolls were calculated and they appear alongside every junction on the canal.
M decided to walk the towpath for a while. The blackberry crop looks like being a bumper one this year. M tried them and declared them delicious. If she had thought to carry a bowl with her, we would have had blackberry crumble for supper!
MM looked beautiful in the morning sunshine.
A watery grave for a green wheelie-bin. One of the many partly submerged hazards to be avoided.
This is the point where Brindley's Old Main Line crosses above Telford's New Line, with the railway on the left and the M5 above. This time all supervised by a very haughty looking heron perched on the railing of the aqueduct!
This deep cutting is crossed by a number of bridges, but this one is unusual because it is actually a railway station platform!
Closer to the centre of Birmingham, Brindley's Old Main Line drops down to the same level as Telford's. In places, Brindley's twisting contour canal still exists. On this map, Telford's New Line runs in a straight line east west, while the twisty loops are Brindley's Old Line.
We decided to explore these two loops. The first large loop is called the Soho loop and we turned into it.
Almost immediately, we passed alongside HMP Winson Green, which looked very forbidding.
Then we crossed the New Main Line on to the shorter loop, where there is a C&RT base.
It was very overgrown and the land on both sides was just abandonned industrial sites, which could be made into a very attractive waterside housing estate!
Finally we arrived back into our mooring close to Brindley Place. Reversing the engine to back into our mooring we picked up something big on the propellor again. It was a huge mass of heavy plastic, so large that it was clear that it could not be removed up through the weed hatch so R, with M's help, got a rope under the boat and up into the weed hatch so that we could tie the rope on to the plastic and pull it out to the side of the boat. It turned out to be a complete "cratch cover"! Our biggest haul ever - 'haul' being the appropriate word, given the effort to pull it ashore.
After a quiet evening, we retired - only to be woken up at midnight by the arrival of a loaded working boat and butty, which moored up right in front of us. We thought that we had gone through a time warp or were dreaming, but it was real and a beautiful sight to see.
In the morning, we talked to the guys on baord, who are all volunteers but the cargo that they are carrying down to the Thames is real - 30 tons of coal. Wonderful to see real boats doing a real job!
It is now Wednesday morning and we are putting MM into Sherborne Wharf just around the corner and going home for the weekend - so we will be back next week.
Today: 9 miles, 3 hours and 3.9 hours.
Trip: 157 miles, 144 locks and 121.3 hours.

Monday, 31 July 2017

A Visit to the Curly Wurly.

Monday 31st July 2017 moored back at the Dudley Black Country Museum.
A lovely sunny morning at the Dudley Black Country Museum.
On Wednesday, we have to go home for the weekend as we have booked to visit the Shuttleworth Collection. MM has been booked into Sherborne Wharf Marina in the centre of Birmingham, which we used four years ago, so we had a spare day today and we decided to go and visit one of the less popular canals in the Birmingham Canal Network (BCN). We are going to explore a bit of the Wyrley & Essington Canal, colloquially known as the Curly Wurly because it is very twisty!
As we left the Dudley Museum moorings, the reflections in the water made a pretty picture.
The water on this stretch of canal was still crystal clear, but the downside was that it was full of reeds and lilies, which kept on getting caught on the propellor - just like the leaves in autumn.
The entrance to the Curly Wurly is about six miles west, very close to the top of the Wolverhampton Flight of 21 locks. On the way, we passed through the Coseley tunnel. Once again, it is hard to realise that we are in the middle of a huge industrialised city.
At Horseley Fields Junction, we turned on to the Curly Wurly.
It was not picturesque! It was pleasing to see the proliferation of water lilies, both white and yellow, but sadly the lilies were losing the battle with plastic and tin detritus in the water - bottles and cans by the thousands.
After a couple of miles, we arrived at Rookery Bridge where there is a very large retail complex and the site of one of the few places where we could turn MM round. Halfway through turning around, the engine cut out as we picked up something on the propellor and we drifted helplessly into some sycamore trees on the far bank. R grabbed the long pole and poled MM around and back to the towpath side.
Once MM was tied up, R went down the weed hatch to remove an upholstery cushion and its evicerated stuffing from the propellor - although M said it looked suspiciously like a Womble!
On our way back to the main line, we passed an unusual "bridge" sculpture made of stainless steel that reflected our passing underneath - literally!
Back at the junction there was another reminder of the juxtaposition of the different forms of transport as we watched the train crossing above us with a road bridge in the distance.
The junction is less than half a mile from the top of the Wolverhampton flight of locks, which we haven't yet done but have long wanted to. There is a short canal "arm" marked on the guides - but not a turning point. So, M walked along to the top lock to see if there was room to turn MM, as we would have liked to go down there and turn around. On her way, she passed this example of the old architecture alongside the new - which seemed to work well together, unlike some of the examples in the city centre.
At the top lock, M concluded that it would be very tight to try to turn MM in the space available, but at least she did get to see the Wolverhampton top lock, which looked very pretty. We will save that lock flight for another time as, for now, it would take us in the wrong direction.
We had planned to do this flight in 2013 but it was closed for repairs as one of the lock side walls had collapsed.
There are acres and acres of abandonned industrial sites all around Birmingham. If you wanted to build two hundred thousand homes, you could build them all here without encroaching on any greenbelt or flood plain. Most sites are just flat - this one had the skeletal remains of a mobile crane, stark against the sky.
If it wasn't plastic bottles and tin cans floating in the canal, it was semi-submerged shopping trolleys, this one had one leg sticking up like a periscope.
Two former working boats passed us, a motor and a butty with what seemed to be Scouts and Guides on board. It appeared they were camping in the holds - the boys on the motor and the girls on the butty. It looked like they were having fun!
As good safe moorings are not common around here, we went back to the Black Country Museum and moored up there again for the night.
On board, we toasted the Curly Wurly with one of Cadbury's free gifts!
Today: 16 miles, 0 locks and 7.2 hours (2 days).
Trip: 148 miles, 141 locks and 117.4 hours.