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.

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