Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Birmingham and on

To compact the last few days, would be to skip some interesting and hopefully non-repeatable incidents.

On Sunday morning we proceeded on our way to Birmingham, leaving Merry Hill behind (much to my dismay but Andrew's delight) and looking forward to a day which consisted of only 1 lock (phew, especially after the previous days flights). It was not the best of weather, really chilly and overcast.

After passing through the Netherton Tunnel, we arrived at the very interesting conglomeration of canals around Birmingham which give a real indication of how this was originally the center of the industrial revolution in the 1800's ??.  There is both a New Line Canal and an Old Line Canal running virtually parallel to each other but 1/2 mile apart. The New Line Canal is almost straight for quite a few miles while the Old Line followed the contours of the land.  But this is not a history lesson but something that I found quite interesting.  At some point I would like to go back and travel the Old Line Canal just because we can :)

The canals though the center of Birmingham were a very pleasant surprise.  After the sometimes depressing view of a city that one gets from the canal side, Birmingham is way ahead and the re-development of the canals into a really nice residential and entertainment centre makes it a place that we will definitely return to.
The only problem we had is that just as we were entering this lovely area it started raining, by the time we were moored up, it was positively wet and cold. We hunted out a coffee shop for some warmth and sustenance, we did not have to look far !!  Shopping though on a Sunday afternoon was not really on the cards after Merry Hill the day before so we retired to the cosy boat and had some good old reading down time.  Andrew came up with the idea of going to the movies, considering everything was so close at hand, so after hopping on the internet and finding that the movie theatre was only a 10 minute walk away we trotted off to go and see Skyfall.  Great movie which we both really enjoyed.  A quick burger and then a good nights sleep.

Monday we decided to continue rather than spend a day in Birmingham.  I think that Andrew was quietly pleased because he knew that I would go and spend money !!
And here is where the fun really started....the Farmers Bridge flight (another 13 locks) of which 3 are actually under the BT building, or that should probably be the building was built over the top of the canal ! Really hard work but made a lot easier by the volunteer lockers who helped set the locks for us all the way down the flight.  At the bottom our intention was to go down the short flight of the Ashted locks through the Ashted tunnel after lock 1. This would take us on the Grand Union Canal which is where we are planning on spending most of winter. Well the first lock went fine, set already by a boat which had just come up the flight.  I trotted off through the tunnel to open the gate while Andrew proceeded to steer the boat through. I waited patiently watching the light on the front of the boat approach. After a short while though it seemed to stop getting any nearer. I went back to check and discovered Andrew in a bit of a tizz, seems the boat would not go forward....we were stuck in the middle of the tunnel...hard up bottom left on the towpath and top right on the roof of the tunnel. Even with me sitting on the right bow did not help!  At this point Andrew REVERSED out of the tunnel, back into the short space between tunnel entrance and lock gate. Luckily for us there was another way around, being Birmingham this was the short side of the triangle and a winding hole just 1 lock and 1 bridge back the way we had come. It must have been quite a sight, unfortunately I did not get it either on video or photo but Andrew reversed the boat into the lock we had just come down, back up the canal, through the bridge and turned around at the winding hole. For anyone who has steered a boat before, they will realise what a feat this is. Even I was amazed!  This now meant though another flight of 11 locks and then a short time later another 5, with another 5 to follow once we were back on the Grand Union. What did not help was a very, very low pound half way down the 11. This meant the boat only just cleared the bottom of the canal and we also managed to pick up masses of debris around the propeller in each lock we went through. It ended up being a very slow and exhausting day, with us finally mooring up long after the sun had set and not where we were expecting to be. At least it was reasonably quiet and to exhausted to not get a good nights sleep. Monday was definitely a day for our record book!

Today, has gone a lot better until we reached the Knowle Lock flight! The flight of locks had been rebuilt back in the 1930's. The 6 narrow locks were scrapped and 5 large double locks replaced them. From my point of view as the locker, bloody awful to say the least. Very tough paddles, lots of walking and not an experience I would like to repeat...I will need to figure out another way north when we come back. The scenery though was quite spectacular but I had left my camera on board!!  Obviously others think the same way, as there are a large number of permanent moorings along this section of the canal. We have passed all these and moored up before the Hatton Flight, another 21 locks using the same paddles as the Knowle Locks. I am planning on a really good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast !

A P.S to this post.

What I forgot to mention previously was that on our re-route around the Ashted Tunnel, Andrew realised that rather than going this long way around, we should have thought about it a bit more. As the tunnel was in the middle of two locks and we were travelling 'down' the locks, what we should have tried was lowering the  water level in the 'pound' that included the tunnel. We should have flushed a couple of lock fulls down and in the process lowered the water level in the tunnel and in the process lower the height of the boat roof and as such stop it from catching on the lowered tunnel side. But hindsight is a great thing and next time (??) we will be prepared.

We also happened to see two foxes on this same day. One around the factories of Birmingham, but a very sad looking specimen he/she was and another closer to Solihull, which had actually swum across the canal and was hopping out on the tow path side.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Our previous week (or so)

So we have had a varied 12 or so days.  After taking 8 days to get from Loughborough to Stourbridge (including our rest day), it took us only 4 hours to get back by train and that was including waiting between links.  Gives you some idea of the speed at which we travel on the canals, absolute light speed of snails :-)

After picking up the car, saying some goodbyes to new friends (for Michele anyway) we headed back towards Stourbridge, by way of Hartlebury to return the car. Thanks to Margaret and Neil for the loan of a car for a few months and dropping us back at Stourbridge.

The Stourbridge Canal Boat Rally was something to see, I believe there were almost 100 boats at the rally, a real sight.  There were also some historical steam engines, cars and motorbikes on display and some original fairground organs.
The Stourbridge Rally was also a meeting point (banter) for a fair number of Canalworld Forum Members. Andrew and I were glad to finally put actual names and faces to some of the forum members that Andrew has been chatting with over the past 5+ years. I can't believe that there were 22 people on Tawny Owl on Saturday night for fish and chips. Who would have thought that you could fit that many bodies into a narrowboat dining area at the same time!

Monday after the event we started making our way to Stourport, to pick up the washing machine still stored at Neil and Margaret's, as this was the closest we could get by water. While on our way we were told that the excess baggage we had sent from NZ was also going to arrive on the Wednesday, perfect timing as we arrived in Stourport on the Tuesday afternoon. So we were able to get everything tidied up and sorted and now we can really get started on our extended holiday. Although there was some interesting 'manouvering' on the towpath as Andrew worked out how we were going to get the washing machine from the towpath and into the boat, never mind once in the boat into the correct place :-) For now it is on and sitting in the front of the cupboard door, until we get enough energy back to actually fit it in the cupboard and plumb it in.  As for me I can't wait to not have to work out where I can next get the washing done and not having to lug it all too far!

But for now we are on our way back from Stourport and heading towards Birmingham and the start of the Grand Union Canal where we will spend most of winter. Oh, I forgot to mention that we have decided not to spend a small fortune on an annual mooring but will remain as CC'ers ( Continuous Cruisers) for the year. So instead I spent half the money on a new lens to go with all my other new camera gear.  So I am more than happy, Andrew not so much, with the new lens that is ;-)

So tomorrow we head for our first long flight, the Stourbridge 16 Locks and then not long after that the Delph 8. I guess at some point I will just have to take the tiller, or we might end up stuck somewhere in the middle !  With 0 degrees forecast for the morning, could be some great photos !  Or I might just stay snugly under the duvet

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Day of Rest

Today we are taking some time out. A bit of cleaning and some food shopping.
It really is great when you don't have to be anywhere too soon.

Yesterday was a busy day, 12 miles and 10 locks, 5 of which were at Fradley Junction.

At the first lock of the morning in Alrewas, we were pleased that we had pushed on the night before, as the River Trent section between Wychnor and Alrewas was closed in the morning. If we had stopped at our original planned stop, we would have been delayed a day or so.

A beautiful misty start anyway, at 10am no less!

Between Alrewas and Common Lock -

nb Ashdown coming up in Common Lock -

The approach to Fradley Junction -

A short stop at Fradley to fill up the water and a longer stop waiting on the locks, very busy junction on this Saturday.  Once through the locks though, a very pleasant trip through to Rugeley, Little Haywood and Great Haywood.

Some lovely views from Rugeley to Little Haywood -

Bishton Hall between Rugeley and Little Haywood -

Shugborough Hall coming in to Great Haywood Junction -

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Educational Day

Today has definitely been a fun day and I have certainly learnt quite a few things, but again no photos as I was steering quite a bit, for me anyway and Andrew wouldn't pick up the camera :(

Firstly, NEVER assume that you can walk (20 minutes) into a shop in the UK and buy what you need or want. It seems in this day and age of the internet only the bare basics are readily available, everything else can be ordered in for the next day, or preferably order it online for pickup in the next 2 days or so.  Not the best option when on a narrowboat and only in the vicinity for a couple of hours. Now we need to work out what we want, where we will be in the next few days, check that the store we want is in walking distance and then place an order for pickup.....not really an option that I am happy with.

Secondly, I am very, very unfit. After the 2 hour walk !! I was so tired that I couldn't even be bothered (read 'bovered' for the UK accent) to cross a busy road to Burger King for a burger that I really wanted !

Thirdly, also never assume that you are going to find a mooring in the spot you want !! everyone else seems to have the same idea as you !

Not to be put off though, the fitness will come, years of sitting at a desk 8 hours a day will eventually wear off.

I definitely saw a turtle in the canal today, not soon enough to get a photo or for Andrew to see, so you will all just have to believe me. It was at least 8 inches long, sunning itself on a branch out of the water until we cruised by, at which point it slipped into the water and out of sight.

We also passed the boatyard where our boat was originally built, Midland Canal Centre, Stenson Boats, close by to Stenson lock, funnily enough :)

The last part of our day, was spent on a rising River Trent between Wychnor Lock and Alrewas Lock. A very strong flow, thank goodness at that point Andrew was steering and ENJOYING it, I was holding on tight and trying to sound unconcerned. No photos I'm afraid cos the sun had already set, catching us a bit on the trot.

We have arrived safely though and found a spot eventually in Alrewas. Now for dinner and resting of feet !

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Journey Begins.....

Well we have finally made it, we have started our first leg of the journey.

After some discussion yesterday between Matty and Andrew, Andrew thought that he might be able to reverse the short distance from where we were moored on the Loughborough Canal to the Chain Bridge.

He did try, but the breeze was not in our favour, so change of plan and a short trip to the winding hole by Pillings Marina and back (added an hour to todays trip).  We popped into the Basin and stocked up for the next few days, at Tescos. On our way out of town we stopped by Matty to say our goodbyes until we meet again in a week or so, somewhere on the Staff's and Worcestershire, if things fall into place that is.

St James, Normanton on Soar -

I was having so much fun I forgot to take some more pictures until we go to the Kegworth Deep Lock, at which point by the time I realised I wanted my camera Andrew was too deep in the lock for me to be able to get my camera from the boat, so I am afraid that this picture taken as we were leaving the lock was all  I could do.

So we continued slowly (or not so slowly) along the River Soar and we have stopped for the night opposite the Redhill Marina with a not so lovely view of the Ratcliffe Power Station. 

Ashdown in and exiting the Ratcliffe lock:

Redhill Power Station at night

Monday, October 1, 2012

Michele's first impressions...

Yay, my first night on the boat with Andrew.  It was wonderful. Feels odd in the morning though, not pulling up the moorings and moving on to the next stop but I will get over that very soon.  Andrew was really sweet and made dinner for us, including dessert.  I have missed being cared for so well :) made for a perfect night.
Now I just need to get used to the new bed, a normal occurrence when no longer sleeping in my usual bed.  I am sure that it will not take long though.

So I am writing this while waiting for the water tank to fill, doing this very slowly as Andrew is busy moving cars in preparation for the move up to (not sure which way is up, could be down?) Loughborough, where we will stay for the rest of the week while Mattie helps, actually that should be Andrew helps Mattie, install some solar panels. I have high power needs !!!  Also waiting for my camera to arrive on Wednesday, can't wait to get my hands on all that new gear.

Our own boat, it feels wonderful, and after all the prior angst, I love it.  Just a couple of things we would like to 'improve' but otherwise almost perfect.

So this morning was my first Robin

and then breakfast and tea with Andrew sitting at the front deck, deciding what we might just do today ! 
Andrew tidied up some of the excess paper and cardboard which will be used in the fire 

and the narrow corridor in which I have stubbed my toes twice and bruised both my back and arm because I forgot about the rail at the bottom of the curtain :(  but planning on maybe removing those and replacing the curtains with wooden blinds. 

and then of course there are the obligatory duck photos, but I will only add the one. I missed the opportunity to take some of the swans, was just enjoying watching them swim by, until they saw me at the window and swam on over expecting a feed.  They were wrong, I did not give them anything.

So a quiet few days on the plan.  I have a cross stitch kit that I found while clearing out the house, the invoice shows I bought it back in 1998, so probably a good time to get it done.  Just need to get myself some embroidery hoops and then I can get started.

All up a lovely slow start to the year ahead :)