Friday, 3 November 2017

That’s probably it for this year

Monday 30th October 2017; Vines Park to Droitwich Spa marina

The first frost of the season – at least the first we’ve seen.

1 first frost of the season

The sun was coming up but I always prefer not to work locks if it is frosty - far too slippery and dangerous for my liking.  So the packing up and cleaning out of cupboards began.  After a while the frost had gone so off we went, and the sun was shining as we came through Vines Park.  I had hoped to take a few photos, but a local couple was taking their grandson to the playground and the Grandad helped with the swing bridges – very useful too, as the padlock on the middle one is an absolute bugger nuisance to get locked again, as the bridge wants to swing back.  So we were through the park like a dose of salts with no time for photos.  Next time I do that swingbridge I’m going to try leaning on its end to hold it closed (rather than pulling it shut from below) and reaching over to deal with the padlock.  It might be easier to do it that way round.

The gates at both ends of Barge lock were ajar – the Severn might be running fast but the Salwarpe, whose bed the canal shares at this point, was quite low.  As of course is the bridge under the M5.

2 motorway bridge

In the wait for Chuffed to come up the staircase pair, I had plenty of time to watch the goldfinches searching for seeds in the teasels.  There were quite a few but only one remained by the time I got focused.  The feathers on their faces protect them from the prickles as they probe the teasel heads.  Pretty little things, and I love their tinkling fairy bells call as they flit about.

3 goldfinch on teasel

And time also to take in the view back down towards Droitwich.

4 view back towards droitwich

Eventually we were up the last lock and Dave opened what will probably be the last gate of the season.

5 last lock of season probably

We topped up the fuel tank before reversing onto our pontoon and after a quick lunch cracked on with the packing and cleaning.  All the contents of the food cupboards, apart from some tea bags and a few tins, had to come home, along with all the bedding.  The fiddliest job was to sweep out the well deck.  Foolishly we hadn’t got around to doing this on the good towpath at Hawford Junction – we have two wooden lockers which need to be emptied and removed, along with the folding bike, before the matting can be lifted to get to the grit and bits underneath.  Extra mess was caused by breaking up and bagging the collection of ash twigs we had amassed for kindling, which had been drying in the cratch.

We hadn’t planned to spend so long out this time as we both had commitments on Tuesday morning, and really needed to get going before dark.  So it meant we didn’t have time to meet up with Jennie and Chris (NB Tentatrice) as we had hoped.  Neither have we done all the outstanding jobs, nor winterised fully; we (or more likely just Dave) will be up again before Christmas to check everything is OK, and there is unlikely to be a big freeze before then.

1 mile, 5 locks, 3 swing bridges and the M5 tunnel.

Trip stats; Worcester and Birmingham, River Severn, River Salwarpe, Droitwich Barge canal, Droitwich Junction canal

Narrow canals: 20 miles, 7¼ furlongs, 33 locks

Broad canals: 5m 7½f, 11 locks

Rivers: 4m 3¼f, 1 lock

3 swing bridges, Dunhampstead and M5 tunnels.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Sunday 29th October; Hawford junction to Vines Park

The clocks went back last night so there was no excuse to lie abed this morning – besides which we wanted to get to Droitwich in time for Sunday lunch somewhere!  It was cloudy and breezy to start with, though not particularly cold.  We could see this attractive brick arch carrying the road over the river Salwarpe from our mooring

1 old bridge over salwarpe

but the modern one over the canal was so ugly it was not worth a picture, though I took one of the towpath under it which was surfaced with metal panels.  Meg took one look on her walk yesterday, turned round and went back to the boat!  probably because it looks too much like a dodgy pontoon.

2 new canal road bridge no go for meg

According to CanalplanAC the canal passes under the A449 in a tunnel but it’s really just a big bridge.  Nicholson’s informs us that bridge 3, Linacre bridge, is ‘worthy of close examination’.  It is a ‘rare surviving example of one of Brindley’s original structures’.  So we slowed down and admired its graceful lines.  3 lovely linacre bridge

The marks left by the tow-ropes are clearly visible.

4 stone supports with rope marks

It’s elegant from the other side too.

6 elegant brindley bridge

We were joined on the mooring late yesterday afternoon by a hire boat, so the locks were in our favour.  As I crossed the road over the bridge at Ladywood bottom lock I spotted a box containing water and a box of jelly babies.  Ah-ha, I thought, jelly babies, essential fuel for a long run.  One of the runners confirmed it was a local training run of 10 miles.  A cyclist was enjoying his elevenses as he watched them go by.  In terms of spectacle our ascent of the lock was a poor second.

7 ladywood bottom lock

There was a flurry of hire boats coming down this morning so we found every lock empty and waiting.  We found out later that the canal had been closed yesterday at Vines Park as unfortunately a body had been found in the canal, so this probably explains the number of boats – if they had been delayed on their trip they would no doubt catch up some time on the river.  At one of the locks a spindle tree had a good crop of fruit.  The berries are very poisonous to us, but the birds will enjoy them.  They are bright pink and will split to show orange seeds inside.

9 spindle tree

One of the bywashes of Ladywood locks has been cleared of vegetation, clearly showing its circular shape.  One set of bottom gates has had metal extensions added, and the extra length makes the gates much easier to open.

10 circular bywash ladywood locks  11 handy beam extension ladyood locks

Now there were nearly three lock-free but leafy miles to Vines Park.  We had to go into neutral several times to allow accumulated leaves to drop off the propeller.  And kingfishers too – Dave spotted SEVEN, though I only managed two. This blog post by Adam (NB Briar Rose) explains why there seem to be so many about this autumn.

By midday we were tying up on a pontoon at Netherwich basin.   Last time we were here Meg took fright at the scary pontoon and had to be bodily hauled off the boat so she could be taken for a walk.  This time she hopped off with no problem – she obviously recognised where she was and was impatient to get Dave to the park for a game of ball.  The sun was out by now and it was a very pleasant walk through the park to get the paper from Waitrose.

We had an excellent Sunday lunch in the Gardener’s Arms, after which we relaxed with the papers as the sun streamed through the windows.  But the clocks have gone back so it wasn’t that long before it was time to light the fire.

5 miles 6 locks

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Slow going on the Severn

Saturday 28th October; Diglis Basin to Hawford Locks

Considering we were only a few steps from the pub, it was remarkably quiet overnight.  After a clear night it was chilly first thing and overcast with a cutting wind.  I set off at 8.30 to trot along to Pitchcroft Park, aka Worcester racecourse, where I joined the Saturday Parkrun.  A carthorse performance today rather than racehorse but never mind.

After a lovely hot shower and a cup of tea we got the anchor and lifejackets ready.  Before we left the marina we hadn’t anticipated coming all the way down into Worcester but with the weather set fair we decided to extend our trip to encompass the Droitwich Ring.  Before we set off down the Diglis locks to the Severn, Dave checked the weed hatch.  He had to pull a load of cut reeds off the day before, so thought it wise to check again.  In the pic below I had the bottom lock all ready but Dave was otherwise engaged with members of  Meg’s worldwide fan club.  They were on holiday from somewhere in Europe. 1 megs fan club diglis locks

We were warned when we first got her (she is a rescue from Blue Cross) that she was obsessive about balls and sticks.  If there is no ball she will find a stick and pester people to throw it for her (we never do, but it doesn’t stop her trying other people).  When there are no sticks she tries bits of reed instead and today she found a bit of dried-up leaf, which the children happily ‘threw’ for her.  She brought it back on the boat with her.

2 with her silly bit of leaf

At the bottom lock the river level indicator was just above the green. 

3 just in the green

In the summer the volunteers tell crew to get back on the boat and then they look after the the bottom gates.  This is very useful as if no volunteer is on duty, crew must be picked up from the pontoon which is a way downstream from the lock.  It would be a real nuisance for a single-hander.  With normal river flow Dave would have headed downstream before turning back to collect me.  With the stronger flow at the moment he would have been carried a long way down towards the weir and river lock, as had happened to a boat yesterday, so he turned upstream straight away and the current brought him downstream as he made the turn.  He was thus able to get to the pontoon relatively quickly.

It was just after midday as we passed under the main road bridge, and we stopped for lunch on the racecourse moorings a bit further on and for Meg to have a comfort break before the long slog against the current up to Hawford junction.  The scullers were out for our lunchtime entertainment.

4 scullers

It is less than two miles to Bevere lock from the racecourse but the flow held us back to canal speed.  The current was noticeably faster on the outside of the bends so Dave had to keep his wits about him to select the slowest flow while ensuring he kept to the channel.  We saw several kingfishers and some posh properties.

5 posh property

About half a mile from the lock an enormous cruiser swept by, followed quite a while later by a narrowboat, much slower but still zooming long with the flow.

6 big cruiser

The lockie saw us in good time and we didn’t have long to wait.  Above the lock was a narrowboat waiting against the wall on the west side and another who hadn’t realised there was a boat coming out, and he was all over the place trying to pull in on the east side.  But that was a mistake as the flows towards the weir made it very difficult for him to get off again.  But I was happy as Hawford junction was in sight and we could get back to the calm of the canal.  And the sun was shining too.

The Droitwich Barge canal (from the Severn to Droitwich) has broad locks and those gates are very heavy.  I had to get Dave to help close the bottom gate of the first lock.  Here he is on the way to the second.

8 back on canal betweem hawford locks

I had help at the second lock too; a family was out for a walk, all dressed up in Halloween costume and make-up.  So I had three chatty little ghouls helping with the gates and their witchy Mum nattering away.  It was three o’clock by now and we decided to stop on the good moorings here; there is virtually no other mooring all the way to Vines Park which is about 3 hours away.

9 mooring above hawford locks

There is some sort of holiday place on the other side with a large tepee, but we didn’t see anybody about.  It soon got cold once the sun started to go down so we lit the fire.  It was however a beautiful clear evening.  My sunset picture isn’t too impressive – it was much pinker than this - but I was quite pleased with the one of the moon I took a couple of hours later.

10 pink sky

11 half moon

Quite a nice one for Halloween, though it is dead leaves in the tree rather than bats.

3½ miles, 4 canal locks, 1 river lock.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reed cutting in Worcester

Friday 27th October; Blackpole to Diglis Basin

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but no sun for us until we got away from the shade of the trees.  Even at ten o’clock it was pretty chilly in spite of the sun and we needed woolly hats for a while.  As we got nearer to the city centre we were cruising directly into the sun and it was difficult to see what was up ahead.  Bridge 12 has artwork commemorating Worcester City FC’s famous victory over Liverpool, two goals to one, in the third round of the FA Cup – in 1959.  As they have spent most of their history playing non-league football, this appears to be the pinnacle of their achievement (so far anyway).  They moved from the St George's Lane ground in 2013.

1 fa cup win

Half-obscured in the vegetation was this strange figure.  Waving, or signalling his intention to leap into the water?

2 taking a dip maybe

As we approached the high railway bridge we espied the first of the reed-cutters in the dazzle ahead.  It was difficult to see what was happening as the low sun was reflecting off his little boat as it moved in and out of the reeds on the offside.  it was impossible to get a picture until we had passed him, because of the sun, and of course he didn’t start working again until we were well past.

3 reed cutter

He didn’t seem to have anywhere to put the cut reeds, and neither did the second boat.  This one was bigger and was driven by paddles on either side.  Judging by his grin he gets photographed a lot.

5 reed cutter

The paddles seem to be involved with steering too.

6 reed cutter

If they have been merrily chopping reeds up but not collecting them, that would explain the floating debris we have been picking up.  At Blockhouse Lock we met a chap who had been reading up on the history of the canal.  When the Act of Parliament was passed to enable the building of the canal, the whole of the first year after that was spent sourcing the pick-axes, barrows, shovels, horses and carts before any digging could start.

The Commandery moorings were empty so we stopped for lunch before moving down to stop for water just before the basin.  Dave got a gas bottle at the little shop next to the Elsan point and discovered we were allowed to moor just in the basin against the towpath.  So we did, right in the sun and it was lovely.

Dave had to go up into town for some shopping so I took Meg for her walk along beside the river as far as the racecourse.  According to the electronic indicator board at Hanbury Junction the day before yesterday, the Severn was on amber but the level was decreasing.  The racecourse moorings weren’t flooded but the river seemed to be flowing quite fast.

We had a good meal in the Anchor this evening.  The sky is clear and it is getting very cold so we were glad it was only a short walk back!

6 locks 4 miles

Friday, 27 October 2017


Thursday 26th October; Dunhampstead to Blackpole

We weren’t intending to go very far so didn’t slip our moorings till nearly 10.  The morning was very dull and overcast with damp in the air, though for a little while the sun almost managed to get through the cloud.  Some of the bridges along here have netting covering some kind of rough-cast over the brickwork, we assume to stop bits dropping on boats and walkers.  The white spots are the attachment points.

1 misty morning

We stopped in Tibberton to get the paper from the little shop.  It takes me about 15 minutes there and back, so Dave started cleaning the brasses.  But the cloud had thickened and it started to drizzle so that didn’t last long! but by the time the tea was made it was dry once more, so we carried on towards Offerton locks. 

At the top lock a boat was just leaving but the elderly gentleman we assumed was waiting to come up was just there to help!  I think he must live in the cottage by the second lock.  He said when the volunteers aren’t there he liked to help with the top two locks and had seen four or five boats already this morning.  We met a hire boat near the bottom of the flight who confirmed there are lots of boats about - they had arrived in Worcester from the river after 5 o’clock yesterday and been unable to moor until they got to Asda at bridge 5.

We stopped for lunch below Offerton bottom lock.  There are some bits of cut reed floating around, not apparently very much but every time we stopped there was a clump of the stuff on the bow. Yesterday Dave had to pull a load off the prop when we stopped for the day.  The chap at Offerton locks said a gang had been clearing reeds and were currently down nearer to Worcester.  But we didn’t see many places that showed signs of work.

2 lots of cut reeds

We moored for the night a couple of locks further on at Blackpole (bridge 17) at about 2.30.  We went through Blackpole lock, which is being prepared for work; the stoppage isn’t till 6th November but they have already removed most of the coping stones on the towpath side.

3 blackpole lock preparing for work

It seems a bit premature as the earth is exposed; wouldn’t lock operation cause erosion?  There is bound to be some turbulence when the lock fills, and then some earth would doubtless be carried away as the level falls when it is emptied.

5 coping stones removed

They are also repairing the bits where your feet go when you are opening or closing gates.  I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of a lock but I don’t know it.  The bricks are laid, and cut to shape where necessary, but not yet mortared into place.

4 work in progress

We are moored by the access point to the lovely Perdiswell Park.  By the time we had got onto the bridge Meg was waiting in the park entrance for us to catch up.  She remembers all the good walking places even though she’s only been there once or twice.  It’s a beautiful park especially with the autumn colours.

6 autumn colours perdiswell park

Then it was back to the boat to finish the brasses and have a cosy evening in.

7 mooring bridge17

Just over 4 miles, 8 locks.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Summer’s last gasp?

Wednesday 25th October; Droitwich Spa marina to Dunhampstead

After perusing the medium range forecast for the Midlands we decided to grab a few days away while the weather looked reasonable.  We even had sunshine as we unpacked the car and set off up Hanbury locks to join the Worcester and Birmingham towards Worcester.  Someone had just come out of the bottom lock, and by the time I was closing the bottom gates again the volunteer had arrived.  We were up shortly before 4, when he clocks off, so it was good timing!  The paddles for the side ponds are nicely set in sandstone with a firm non-slip surface to stand on.

1 paddles for side ponds

We left the flight munching some flapjack – as was the volunteer, as he waited for his last boat of the day to approach.

2 lovely volunteer

The tea was brewed as we passed the permanent moorings and we enjoyed the last of the sunshine, accompanied by a kingfisher shooting along just ahead of us.  Along the way to Dunhampstead is a little boathouse – the tarp is kind of cruiser-shaped but it doesn’t look as though whatever it is has been out for a while!3 hasnt cruised for a while

It would seem to be owned by the big house in the distance.

4 owned by posh place

The sun had gone as we moored at Dunhampstead and it started to get cold.  Dave fitted the new controller for the heating – on our last trip the Mikuni failed and he found that the batteries had split and damaged the terminals.  Thank goodness that’s all that needed doing and it is working again!

2 miles, 3 locks, Dunhampstead tunnel

Monday, 2 October 2017

I got a little damp ….

Thursday and Friday 28th and 29th September; Dunhampstead to Droitwich Spa Marina

After all that rain on Wednesday night it was a beautiful morning.  We had failed to notice any noise from the railway during the night, so everything was good apart from the rush-hour M5 grumbling away in the background.

We only have to go the short distance to the marina today, so Dave took the opportunity to touch up the blacking on the starboard side.  I pottered around inside cleaning and deciding what to leave in the galley cupboards and what to take home, as we will probably only be back for a short cruise before we winterise.

1 blacking at dunhampstead

It was well after 10.30 before we tootled up to Hanbury junction, enjoying the sunshine and the start of the autumn colours.  Kingfishers were flashing up and down the canal too.

3 autumn colours

We turned at the junction and reversed back to moor for lunch.  Now with the port side by the towpath Dave could finish touching up the blacking.  Strangely the port side always seems to need less work than the starboard side.  I got the bike out and cycled into Droitwich for some shopping in Waitrose.  Then we waited a while with a cup of tea – there were volunteers on the Hanbury locks but a boat had been coming up the staircase locks when I cycled by, so we judged when they should be coming into the top lock before we rounded the junction.

4 hello droitwich canals

We had judged it well!  They were half-way up the lock as we arrived.  We were soon on our way down.  The top two locks have side ponds in operation, which are used to conserve water.  You start by emptying the lock into the side pond, and when that is full you close those paddles and then finish emptying the lock as normal.  The half lock-full that is sent into the side pond is used to start filling the lock for the next boat up, rather than being lost to the lower level.

5 side pond paddles

The volunteer operated the top side paddles; when the side pond was full he closed the paddles, then we opened the gate paddles to finish emptying the lock.  I did the side paddles for the second lock while the other volunteer did the gates.  At the bottom lock, the volunteers always suggest the crew gets on board so the steerer doesn’t need to pull in to pick them up.

6 third lock

We pulled into the wharf at the marina to refuel and settle up for the winter mooring fees.  As it was already late afternoon they suggested we moor next to the wharf for the night; there is an electric hook-up, the elsan point is conveniently close, and you can bring your car almost alongside to load up your bags – a real bonus as the forecast is poor for the morning.  The view from the side hatch is better than on the pontoons too.

7 view from side hatch on wharf

I switched on the Mikuni for some hot water, but it failed.  Dave discovered that one of the batteries in the controller had leaked, but after replacing them it still didn’t work; it is likely that the leakage caused damage.  We walked up to the Eagle and Sun for a carvery.  The man in front of me made a bit of a scene because the Yorkshire puds were cold, but that didn’t stop me having one.  It was tepid, but gravy soon sorted that out.  The meal was OK, but nothing special.  2 miles and 3 locks today.

The following morning we loaded the car – luckily the rain had stopped – and sorted the cassette, rubbish and recycling before moving to our pontoon.  Oh yes, about the title for this post; it was not the rain that got me wet.  With the slight breeze pushing us towards the wharf, and us needing to get out past moored boats, I elected to get off and use my short pole to push the bow out.  There is a nice little spot below the gunwale where the pole fits snugly. But …. in the micro-second I started to step back the pole slipped and in I went.  Right down – my feet didn’t touch bottom.  There was no danger of being crushed by the boat and I got to the side unaided but by golly wet clothes are heavy!  Now I know why we always use lifejackets on rivers.  Within seconds Dave and the chap from the office were there to haul me out so we didn’t need to find an alternative rescue method.  Luckily the water was almost warm and I didn’t get at all cold – though I would have done if I’d gone all the way up to the marina showers.  So it was tepid water in our shower for me!  After a sit down and a cup of tea I was fine but still I did the sensible thing and let Dave move the boat on his own.

Unfortunately all my clothes were packed apart from the trousers and top I intended to travel in.  So it was flying commando all the way home … or is that too much information?

Trip stats

95 miles 2¾ furlongs (82m 3½f narrow canals, 1¼ furlongs broad canal, 12m 6¼ f large river)

130 narrow locks, 2 broad locks, 3 large (river) locks

9 tunnels (Curdworth, Factory, Curzon St, Ashted, Summit, Netherton, Dunsley, Cookley, Dunhampstead).

1 swing bridge

20 nights on board

Waterways (new waters in bold); Coventry canal, Birmingham and Fazeley, B&F Digbeth branch, Grand Union (Birmingham and Warwick junction canal), BCN Main Line, Gower Branch, BCN Old Main line, Engine Arm, Tipton Canal, Dudley canal no 2, Stourbridge canals (main line), Staffs and Worcester, River Severn, Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich Junction canal.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Runners, gardeners and greasers

Wednesday 27th September; Blackpole to Dunhampstead

We got up to a quiet, grey morning.  We weren’t planning to have a long day today, so took the opportunity for a good walk round Perdiswell Park.  It seems to be a continuation of the sports field at Bilford Top lock, and consists of tracks for walking through rough meadow ….

1 perdiswell park

and mown areas with trees …

2 perdiswell park

and you suddenly realise you are walking around and through a golf course.  At first glance I thought these golfers were parents with baby buggies.

3 perdiswell park

We returned to Chuffed over the bridge.  We met the lady with the dogs as we came off the bridge.

4 moored at blackpole

She had five dogs with her, and it was her third walk of the morning.  She breeds pointers for show and runs a boarding kennel as well.  The one not on the lead is a retired stud dog – a beautiful boy with lovely manners.  The boat that tucked in behind us last night was crewed by a couple who don’t like mooring on their own, especially round towns.  We slipped our moorings at 10.15 and found the first few locks against us.  At Tolladine lock there were some late blackberries, enough to pick a good bowlful.  With them were some gleaming privet berries, good food for birds though they are poisonous to humans and dogs.

5 privet berries at tolladine lock

At Offerton bottom lock it was annoying to find a flat laden with something – didn’t notice what, as I was too busy grumbling to myself about CRT (or contractors) who plonk their boats right in the middle of lock moorings leaving just one bollard at either end.

6 moored on lock mooring

If you look closely you will see a green flag attached to the post at the bottom of the footbridge.  At the next lock, where we met a boat coming down, there were more and then we met a chap with a high-vis waistcoat over  a Macmillan T-shirt.  We were about to witness the employees of Npower participating in a 5k run for the cancer charity.7 macmillan 5k

The turning point was below the top lock.  The first to pass us were of course ‘real’ runners, as opposed to people who had not run before who came along later.  They clearly had the morning off and it sounded as though they were getting lunch provided when they got back.  I hope they had enough showers – some were very hot indeed.  Near the top of the flight we encountered a large band of volunteers, hard at work edging the grass and removing weeds from the lock surrounds, as well as greasing the paddle gear.  They didn’t have windlasses but helped with the gates.

8 volunteers and runners

The runners were still passing and there was a near-collision between volunteer and runner at one point.

The paddle gear on the top lock was nicely greased and very easy to operate.  We pottered on to Tibberton, where we stopped for lunch and I managed to catch the little shop before it closed – early closing on a Wednesday.  I got the paper but they only had 4-litre bottles of milk, which are too big for the fridge.  We should have enough milk to tide us over so I wasn’t too bothered. 

With the leaves beginning to fall, clumps of mistletoe were becoming obvious.  This tree looks as though it’s on the way out though.

9 mistletoe

We had hoped to stop at the little mooring opposite Oddingley church, but someone had nabbed it.  As we wondered whether to squeeze in behind him, a train blasted its siren and zoomed over the level crossing, and we changed our minds.  We don’t mind trains at close quarters, but not when they nee-naw for level crossings.

The Dunhampstead moorings were nearly empty.  We stopped right at the beginning, just past the permanent moorings, on a patch unshaded by trees.  There was a little sun to be enjoyed by now, but we wanted to be away from trees as it’s prime acorn-drop season and there is rain forecast.  In fact Dave was just about to start touching up the blacking when it started.  It was fairly light though, so I still went for my run.  I thought I’d go over Dunhampstead tunnel but somehow failed to find the path down to the far portal and found myself on the road to Shernal Green.  Meanwhile Dave took Meg out, to scope out the pub as well as for her walk.  He found the Fir Tree was closed till the weekend.  Boo! I used the last of the milk for a lasagne.

The rain turned heavy and we were glad we had stayed in after all.  We could hear the trains passing the Oddingley level crossing but the noise ceased to register after a while.

4½ miles, 8 locks