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

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Back on the canals

Monday and Tuesday 26th and 27th September; Worcester to Blackpole

There was a little group of fishermen nearby overnight, but they assured Dave they would be quiet and they were.  They had gone by the time we got up.  We let Meg out first thing, just before It started to drizzle.  The forecast was horrible so we had another cuppa as the rain set in, then Dave decided to bite the bullet and take Meg out – full wet weathers and golfing umbrella too.  Luckily he is over the worst of his cold or that would have been me!  I enjoyed my coffee, read and watched the rain teeming down.

The rain eased off over lunchtime but it was cloudy and humid.  NB Cockney Sparra, which we had seen in Birmingham, moored up behind us and we had a quick chat before setting off to return to the canal.

1 moored with cockney sparra near sabrina footbridge

There is a large number of swans round here – mooring and fishing are forbidden beyond the end of the moorings for the sake of the swans.  We did a rough count and estimated there were about 200, far too spread out for a single photo.

3 swans

The cathedral is visible all the way to the canal entrance.

4 cathedral tower

We stopped at the sanitary station before mooring.  We had decided to stop between the basin and Sidbury lock, as we thought it would be quieter than at the Commandery.  Last time we were in Worcester, Dave discovered Fort Royal park, not far from the Commandery, so we went there to give Meg another run.  During the Civil War, it was a strongly fortified Royalist position overlooking the city.  The young Charles Stuart – a mere 21 – had been watching the battle from the tower of the cathedral before leading an attack on the Parliamentary forces.  But his forces were beaten back and Cromwell gave the order to attack Fort Royal.  The surviving Royalists fled into the city and Cromwell took no prisoners.  It was the decisive battle at the end of the Civil War.

Now, apart from the interpretation boards and a replica cannon, there is little to see – apart from a lovely and well patronised park.  It is easy to appreciate the defensive position it must have been.  The slopes are steep and the views far-reaching across the Severn floodplain.

9 fort royal park

We had thought that our mooring, below the busy roads, would have been quiet.  We are at the end furthest from the basin.  Look ok, doesn’t it?  The building site was quiet by 5.30 and the factories above us had closed down by early evening.

10 mooring at diglis

Except that they didn’t fall silent.  An extractor fan kept cutting in overnight.  We will not moor here again if we can avoid it; the spots closer to the basin are much better, and they are nearer to the Anchor, where we enjoyed an excellent Thai green curry on Monday night.

We needed to be up early on Tuesday but that was not a problem!  Dave left at 7.15 to walk up to Shrub Hill station to travel to Nuneaton and Springwood Haven marina, to fetch the car and take it to Droitwich Spa marina where we have a winter mooring.  Meg and I had an early walk down to the Severn towards DIglis lock in the mist.

1 misty morning on the severn

Looking upstream towards the cathedral, with the signpost at the start of the canal in the foreground.

I went shopping to try and find a butcher (pre-packs only, too large for us), a greengrocer (ok) and a baker (bread not that wonderful).  Edward Elgar has turned his back on the city centre and is contemplating the cathedral, where his music was performed at the Three Choirs festival which this year took place in Worcester Cathedral.

3 elgar looking towards cathedral

Dave was back in time for lunch, then we got ourselves off that noisy mooring.  It took ages to get through Sidbury lock as only one top paddle is working.  This notice annoyed me with its poor grammar and proofreading.  It was tied over a flimsy bin bag with a bit of cord, with another length of cord on the ground, plenty large enough to cause problems if it got round your prop.  That went into the well deck for later disposal.

2 notice on broken paddle sidbury lock

There is a stoppage notice for repair on the morning of Friday 6th.  The Commandery mooring is plagued by road noise so we didn’t stop there, and moored briefly at bridge 5 for a quick Asda visit.  The water level was rather low and the rocks below the water made mooring awkward.  This seemed odd when the hire boat we met next, which had come down Tardebigge this morning, said that levels there were very high with water flooding over the bottom gates on the flight.

The sun was out and we had a pleasant cruise up through Gregory’s Mill and Bilford locks before mooring just before bridge 17 in the Blackpole area. Dave and Meg discovered excellent walks over the bridge in Perdiswell Park.

3½ miles and 8 locks over two days.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

A beautiful day on the Severn

Sunday 24th September; Oldrington Bridge to Worcester Racecourse

We had a sunny start for our trip down to Worcester.  The spot we chose last night turned out to have been the best possible between Kidderminster and Stourport – open enough to catch the sun, and away from traffic and industry.  There were even some lovely reflections opposite as we set off.

1 reflections as we leave

On the way into Stourport there is an aquatic centre on the offside, with fish in tanks visible as you pass.  I imagine the netting is as much to keep the herons out as water-borne human thieves.

4 fish tank

We had a brief stop at bridge 5 for a few things in Tesco, before dropping down York Street lock to the sanitary station – to attach the anchor and get the lifejackets out as well as the usual reasons.  Then it was right turn through the basins, then left to the first of the two staircases that bring you down to the river.  Luckily there was a lockie on hand which made life a lot easier.  There is a funfair here which, the lockie said, used to be a fairly small traditional affair.  Now, even mid-morning on a Sunday, the lights were flashing to tempt punters.  The old gallopers are arranged on the flat roof of the house attached.

5 old gallopers at funfair

There is an awkward turn to reach the second staircase, even if the gate is open for you.  If the wind is blowing in the right direction that is not a problem – otherwise, as today, it is a two-stage process to get round.  The lockie told us that the original entrance to the canal, via the double locks, is perfectly straightforward, and the single locks were built some years later to cope with the increase in traffic – but the best route had already been used.  Narrow-boaters are asked to use the singles rather than the doubles.  It became known as ‘Brindley’s Joke’, but actually he had died before the single locks were built.  The bottom staircase is beside a dry dock through which the funfair is visible.

6 funfair through dry dock

With the lockie’s help it didn’t take long to get down the locks, and then we were onto the river Severn as the lockie closed up behind us.

8 onto severn at stourport

Now it was time for a lovely warm, sunny and calm river cruise.  There were not many boats about.  We saw some kingfishers and a couple of cormorants.  There were no long waits at the locks either.  Here we are coming out of Lincomb lock.

9 leaving lincomb lock

There are a lot of mobile home parks along the Severn.  Their outlook must be wonderful, but it’s less lovely looking towards them!  There are some very attractive properties though …

10 desirable property

At Holt Fleet lock we could see activity high up on Holt Fleet bridge.  Cyclists, literally hundreds of them! It was the inaugural VĂ©lo Birmingham.  This is a 100-mile sportive (a non-competitive long-distance cycling event) in which 15,000 riders took part – and we must have seen a couple of hundred in the time it took us to approach and go past. We had noticed signs warning of road closures on our travels, so guessed what it was.

11 birmingham velo over holt fleet bridge

  13 velo

They were whizzing over very quickly and of course I missed the biggest groupings.  There was a drone above the river presumably filming the event.

We were not intending to try and find a spot to moor for lunch on the river; instead we munched the snacks I had bought in Tesco’s earlier.  We maintained a good speed even with canal-appropriate revs and were soon approaching Hawford junction, where the Droitwich canal meets the Severn.

14 hawford jct droitwich canals

The Viking cruiser just emerging joined us for the final lock before Worcester.  We let them pass and turned for our favourite mooring at the upstream end of the racecourse moorings.  But it looked so scruffy, with a derelict building and a flooded section, that we turned back into the flow to moor nearer to the Sabrina footbridge.  I took Meg off for a well-deserved walk round the racecourse.  Poor Dave has finally succumbed to the rotten cold which has been creeping up on him, and stayed tucked up inside.  We went up onto the footbridge to get this picture.  There were no other boats for hundreds of yards.

15 chuffed from Sabrina footbridge

11½ miles, 5 canal locks (including 2 staircases), 3 river locks

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Cliffs and sharp bends

Saturday 23rd September; Kinver to Oldrington Bridge south of Kidderminster

After doing a few jobs we left around 10.30.  It was mild and grey with just a little dampness in the air.  The canal is really pretty south of Kinver.  We soon caught up with a boat at the first lock, Whittington lock.  In front of him was a hire boat with a very slow crew.  He had locked then down – apparently only the steerer seemed to know what he was doing, and we found out later when we were the boat behind them that one of the crew lacked the muscular strength for the stiff paddles and the other wasn’t at all sure what he should be doing.

When it was our turn at Whittington lock we wondered whether the constant sound of water at the cottage might be a bit annoying, especially at night; the noisy bywash runs directly under the house.

1 whittington lock cottage

The red sandstone of the cave dwellings at Kinver outcrops in various other places along the canal.  Just south of Austcliff Bridge the canal bends sharply to the left around Austcliff Rock.  Of course that’s where we spotted the bow of an oncoming boat. The horn was urgently deployed –we saw him first - but we managed to pass each other without incident.

2 austcliff

The picture was taken looking back; as well as the lack of visibility on a sharp bend the canal is very narrow here too.  Shortly afterwards we came to Cookley tunnel, where the east portal has houses high up above it.  The canal turns through 90 degrees after the tunnel and naturally we met a boat there – both horns sounded at once.  The oncoming boat was a long one and needed to pass us on the ‘wrong’ side in order to get lined up for the tunnel.  The adjustment of our position didn’t take long and on we went. Debdale lock came next; on the offside is a cliff with a cave cut into it.

4 debdale lock

It is said that this was used as a stable but how a horse was persuaded to get over there I can’t imagine.  There is a footbridge over the canal (under which Chuffed is passing in the photo below) which leads to a steep path leading up the cliff. Maybe in earlier times the bridge had ramps rather than steps at each end.6 debdale lock

We stopped on the busy Wolverley visitor moorings, just above the lock, for lunch.  Then it was time for shorts as the sun had come out at last.  The pub beside the lock was busy on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The ground paddle on the towpath side is one of those which produces a fountain when you wind it up ….  well I do like to entertain the gongoozlers! anyway clothes dry quickly when the sun is out.   Wolverley lock is very hard work.  I needed help to get the top gate closed when it was our turn, and then the bottom paddles were very stiff too.  Next came Wolverley Court lock, which only drops a few feet unlike the deep one at the pub.  The gate paddles on the top gate were very awkwardly placed.  To reach the one on the towpath side I had to lean out across the water, and to operate the other one I had to stand on the footboard.  Your windlass goes down into the gap between the paddle gear and the end post as you hang on to the rail to save yourself from falling in.

7 wolverly court difficult paddles

At least closing the paddles is straightforward.  Now we were approaching Kidderminster.  Some of the tree stumps at the bottom of the gardens have been carved rather fetchingly.

8 stump carving

The slow boat we had been following pulled in on the visitor moorings and we went on to Kidderminster lock.  There is an obligatory photo to be taken here.

9 kidderminster lock

As we passed through the industrial area further along we could see a large group of the local yoof congregating close to the canal.  Our front doors were closed so we just kept to the centre of the canal but there was no need to worry – a police car screamed round the corner, lights and siren going, and the teenagers scattered like leaves before a garden blower.

We carried on for a while to get out of the town and pulled in on a sunny stretch of towpath after Oldrington Bridge and the last of the industry.  There is a good long stretch of piling there and it was a beautiful evening.

8½ miles 7 locks Cookley tunnel

Sunday, 24 September 2017

On the Edge

Friday 22nd September; below Stourbridge junction to Kinver

We started in sunshine, and soon discovered that we had picked the best mooring between Stourbridge locks and Stourton junction.  All the four Stourton locks were against us, though a passing walker helped out with one of the gates.

2 rounding stourton junction

Stourton junction where the Stourbridge canal meet the Staffs and Worcester canal

Stewpony lock, the first lock on the Staffs and Worcester, was against us too.  There is a restored octagonal toll office on the wharf, and there is a good example of the round bywash weirs of this canal.

4 cicular weir at stewpony lock

The canal was beautiful in the morning sunshine.  We passed through the rocky Dunsley tunnel.  This is the west portal.

5 Dunsley tunnel west portal

We stopped at Kinver sanitary station, then dropped down the lock to find the visitor moorings nearly empty.  I did some shopping before lunch;  I had forgotten what a good variety of useful shops there are here.

Then we donned our walking boots and set off for Kinver Edge.  We first visited Kinver in the 1970s, on a hire boat with 6 friends.  Our Camra member (hi Ron!) was very keen we should stop here as in those days there were reputed to be 14 pubs in the village.  I can’t remember how many we drank in but I am sure it was more than one …. 

This time we wanted to have a look at the rock houses, but now that they are run by the National Trust you can’t see much unless you pay.  instead we walked up Kinver Edge.  It was cold and windy up there.  The Edge is a high sandstone ridge, with a steep climb up from the village and a steeper drop the other side.  The views are huge.  Wenlock Edge is in the blue distance but you’ll have to take my word for it I think.

6 kinver edge towards wenlock edge

And in this direction is our destination for this trip; Droitwich, with the Malvern Hills beyond.

7 kinver edge towards droitwich and malverns

We followed the waymarks for the purple trail, which drops down from the summit through woodland.  Out of the wind it was quite warm, especially when the trail started climbing again which it seemed to do rather a lot.  The reason we chose this trail was that it passed Nanny’s Cave, which was occupied by a hermit a couple of centuries ago.

10 nannys cave

Unlike the rock houses the caves remain open to the elements and you can easily climb up and explore.

11 nannys cave

Even though it is a bit of a hike from the car park, plenty of people have come here and made their mark. It mostly seemed to be carved names (with a dearth of the hearts and arrows which you used to see carved into tree trunks) but the sandstone lends itself to the creation of faces.

12 face in cave  13 scream alien face

We couldn’t decide whether these were supposed to be aliens, or the figure from from Munch’s ‘Scream’. 

We completed our walk, about 6 miles in total, and returned to the boat in time to avoid the worst of the rain.

3 miles, 7 locks