Thursday, 19 April 2018

Getting Ahead Of Ourselves. 18th April

Alvechurch to Queens Head

The alarm went off early again for me to turn my phone on, just in case there was a text message from Ricky saying that he was on his way. We rolled over and had some more sleep knowing very well that a text wouldn’t arrive.

After breakfast we gave Ricky a call, we knew that the rest of this week they were busy but wanted to have an idea of when the next opportunity for a visit might be so that we can find a suitable mooring where we want to be. Tuesday was suggested, so we decided that we should press on and get onto the Gloucester Sharpness Canal by then as we have other commitments next week.

We’d timed our stay in Alvechurch well, as in not over a sunny weekend. Three years ago we’d been here for Mick to attend two RCR courses on boat maintenance and to have Lillian blacked. We’d moored in the same space over to weekends and witnessed hire boats heading out for a weekend in Birmingham, stag and hen dos. Most would come through the bridge and aim straight at the visitor moorings! Pirates brandishing boat poles that by the time they reached Hopwood were broken in two. This time there have only been a few boats pass us all on good behaviour.

P1270836smP1270840smThe schedule we’d set out with from Birmingham had us not moving far today to the top of the next flight of locks, just over an hours cruise away. Wanting to get a couple of days ahead of ourselves and the weather being good we decided to press on further. We passed a Black Prince hire boat at the marina and soon passed Kate Saffin’s boat NB Morning Mist. Alarum are touring their Idle Women show again this year following the journeys of Daphne March and  Nancy Rideway, cruising from Worcester to Tipton and Cannock then further north on the Leeds Liverpool. We’d been hoping to catch the show again this year, but sadly due to the Severn getting too fat we’ve missed it.

P1270858smApproaching Shortwood Tunnel we could see a light coming towards us, so we held back before entering. The rapeseed fields are just starting to get a hint of colour and it looks like the number of bluebells along the wooded stretch will be a mass of blue next month.

P1270859smThe sun was out and our layers started to reduce. The sight of Tardebigge church as you come through the tunnel was wonderful, such an elegant spire.

P1270869smP1270873smWe pulled over to dispose of our rubbish deciding to leave filling up with water until we reach Stoke Wharf tomorrow. Keeping our eyes peeled for NB Tentatrice we moved on to the top of the locks. Not having met Chris and Jennie I didn’t recognise Chris and I only realised it must be him when he started to reverse Tentatrice out from between other boats. Hopefully next time our bows will cross properly and we’ll have time for a chat.

P1270871smThe Black Prince hire boat had just beaten us to the top lock, just as well as they had a crew of four and would have caught us up quickly. Once they were through we refilled the lock and brought Oleanna down the first of the thirty locks that makes up the Tardebigge flight the longest flight in the country. Here’s hoping my twinging back was going to be okay.  A chap from NB Drekely pulled up behind us and came to help with the gates. .

P1270877smI walked down to the next lock knowing that it would need filling, but handily enough there was a boat coming up in it so we waited our turn. The couple on board looked a little bit pooped and the lady was so relieved to hear that they were going to stop now for the day. On we carried the hire boat in front meeting another coming the other way a couple of locks down hill. I went ahead to set the next lock in our favour leaving Mick to empty the one Oleanna was in. Returning to open the gates I was fooled by the bywash bubbling away below the gates thinking the lock was still emptying, this only happened once! Mick moved Oleanna into the next chamber as the hire boat coming up was just opening their lock gate, they brought their boat out and waited for us.

Everyone does things their own way, we’d have stayed in the lock below with the gate open and then passed the other boat in the pound. But the chap clung onto their boat with the centre line whilst the lady closed the top gate. A good fault to have, but it did mean that she then had to raise a paddle so that she could open the gate again.

P1270886smP1270904smThis was the last boat coming up hill and sadly this was the only lock we had set in our favour for the remainder of the flight. The Black Prince boat ahead with their four crew vanished into the distance whilst we settled into our routine of working a flight downhill. Surprisingly my back eased with all the pulling, pushing, winding, kicking gates open and walking there and back and there again.

P1270929smP1270933smP1270920smWe’ve only done the flight once before, three years minus three days ago. Then we had the assistance of Bridget and Storm from NB Blackbird, we moved her down the flight the day before. Today wasn’t quite as hot as three years ago. I found myself taking the same photos as we worked our way down hill.

P1270940smBy the last few locks we could see that NB Drekely was catching us up, I don’t think we held them up as they hadn’t quite reached the bottom lock as we exited. The Black Prince boat ahead had come down the flight competently, one paddle had been left open a fraction half way down the flight. However their relief was obvious when they’d reached the 30th and final lock of the day, both paddles fully open, I could almost hear their cheers as they ran down towards the pub after closing the gates.

P1270950smP1270953smWe pulled in, let Tilly survey the outside and then remembered the down side of mooring here. The pub was very busy hardly a seat left outside and there was a birthday party going on in the teepee, so there was music and a lot of hubhub going on. This we were expecting, a shame we’d forgotten about the barking dogs locked up in the field next to us. Maybe Tilly walking past didn’t help, certainly the kids howling in response only added to the racket! Next time we’ll move a bit further on even if it means one more lock.

DSCF7114sm30 locks, 5.32 miles, 2 tunnels, 0 visit, 1 blue boat spotted, 1 Monty sensible woofer, 1 boat ahead, 2 coming up, 2 set for us, 28 against us, 2 gates help with, 30 yarn bombed locks, 0 beers at the cottage, 1 woofer in a sink, 5 volunteers on tomorrow! 1 beautiful sunnyday, 3 hours of me time, 1 stupid noisy ugly ridiculous woofer, 40th birthday, 1 extra glass of wine each.

Severn River level at 9am today (at Bewdley a mile upstream from Stourport) 1.175m.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Winner! 17th April


As the title of this post isn’t All Powered Up, AMPS! 150!! BATTERIES!!! AT LONG LAST!!!! you may have guessed already that the text message we awoke to this morning told us that Kris was still off work, therefore we’d not be seeing our boat builders today. We’re starting to wonder if the lithium batteries were a figment of our imagination all along.

The message did however mean that we didn’t need to rapidly get dressed and try to have breakfast before they arrived, so we rolled over and had a few more zz’s instead. The last few days we’ve been cruising much longer hours than we’ve been used to for some months so a day off was allowed, the chaps might be with us tomorrow, so there was no point in moving on from such an ideal place.

P1270821smMick set to cooking us a breakfast whilst Tilly made the most of being allowed to come and go.

The forecast for the last few days has suggested that we’d be waking up to days where the temperatures would be starting to rise, so we keep leaving the fire to go out. Today with not much activity going on the boat felt cold, so a new fire was light and we settled down for the day. An episode of Inspector Morse and the next Breaking Bad episode were watched as the weather outside got more and more blustery.

P1270823smP1270825smA walk down the hill into the village broke up the day. Alvechurch has a couple of butchers, barbers, post office and a bakers, if you can find it! As we approached the cross roads we started to look out for the secret bakers, was it that building or the next? No it’s the one that just looks like a house with a granary bread sticker on the front door. We walked over to have a closer look only to find a sign in the door saying that they had closed in February. We stocked up on milk, bread and lunchy bits from the Co-Op and headed back to Oleanna waiting to hear if Kris was on the mend or not.

P1270826smLate afternoon a message came through saying that it was unlikely that Finesse would be with us tomorrow, the remainder of the week now wouldn’t be possible. We decided to stay put overnight just in case we woke to a message saying they were on their way, but if not we’ll push off and start our descent down to the Severn.

Today we received two good bits of news. According to C&RT the river is now fully open, so when we reach Worcester we will be able to make it down to Gloucester without hanging around.

30726200_2048488845412655_9174647269264195584_n30590639_127752261411700_2004090955027709952_nThe other, I have won some mayonnaise! Our friends at Charlie and Ivy’s (Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil) had a facebook giveaway last Friday. All you had to do was tell them what your favourite Friday night meal was to be in with a chance of winning. That night we were going to have what we I call Mysteron Lamb. This was a recipe I came across when we were in Misterton on the Chesterfield Canal. You roast small potatoes, maybe with some other veg, sear seasoned  lamb steaks in a hot hot pan, pop these on top of the potatoes in the oven for five minutes, then drizzle over some balsamic vinegar and leave to cook for a further five minutes before resting and serving. I suggested that I was going to try doing it with one of their bread dippers, Juniper Lemon and Balsamic. This turned out to be the winner, not sure if Jennie had anything to do with choosing me, certainly the lady who got in touch had no idea that I know them quite well. Have to say using their dipper did make the lamb extra tasty. So we know have a mayonnaise filled summer to look forward to, hopefully with new batteries!

0 locks, 0 miles, 6.50am text, 30 mins extra, 2 cooked breakfasts, S2 Ep3, 1 Morse, 1 lost forever secret bakers, 1 giant bank to play on, 2 stupid diddy woofers, 1 knitter stuck for what to do next, 4 jars of mayo, 0 batteries.

Severn River level at 9am today (at Bewdley a mile upstream from Stourport) 1.283m.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Sneezing In Tunnels. 16th April

Sheepcote Street Bridge to Scarfield Hill Bridge 61, Worcester and Birmingham Canal

P1270700smMick popped out to stock up on bread and milk after breakfast and was back in time to greet Noel and Carolyn who’d popped over for a cuppa and guided tour of Oleanna before we headed off in different directions. Yesterday was really the first time we’d chatted to Carolyn and today she and I discovered each others crafting habits. Noel had had a look round Oleanna when we’d reached Crick last year, boxes of stuff piled high as we moved boats. Today he got the more homely version still with things piled high in places, but that’s just where those things live now. It was lovely to have met up with them and for Noel not to have been at work. Hopefully our paths will cross again later in the year.

P1270709smAs we pushed off we could see Noel just about to clear Leon’s prop before they set off back towards Crick.

P1270713smNo locks to do today, just a flat run out of Birmingham. My navigation duties would be much less today as we only had one right and one straight on to do. The sun was out to start with but a chilly wind blew down from all the high rise buildings as we made our way through Gas Street.

P1270740smAt Edgbaston Tunnel works on broadening the towpath were on going. The tunnel used to be wide enough for two way traffic, but the towpath was narrow causing problems with cyclists and walkers. So the decision was made to broaden it, reducing the canal to one way traffic. We don’t see a problem with this as you can easily see through the tunnel and when ever we’ve been through we’ve not see another boat, but others have been up in arms about it all.

P1270752smP1270759smPlenty of building work was going on around the University. Plenty of cranes and rubble all around.

P1270772smP1270777smThere were a few more moored boats than I remembered, Sainsburys moorings were full (no need to stop, we’re still okay for wine!), an H2 powered boat. Yet there was only one boat on the secure off side Bournville moorings, a rarity.

P1270783smP1270803smAt Kings Norton Junction we carried straight on and headed to Wast Hills Tunnel. Another long one at 2493m straight. When we saw a tunnel light near the north portal Mick slowed Oleanna down, the tunnel is two way traffic, but why bother when pausing for a few minutes means we would both have the tunnel to ourselves. Seeing that their roof was a flood of water I quickly bobbed back inside for my waterproof coat, a good job as in some places the drips were hard to avoid.

Sneezing mid tunnel is really quite amazing. The height and length must alter what happens to the sound. My three sneezes were amplified and echoed around our ears for sometime. It’s worth a go if you ever feel the urge.

Coming out into sunshine we hoped to warm up, but the temperatures seemed to be having difficulty reaching double figures. Not far to where we wanted to moor today at Hopwood where there was plenty of space. Despite being the only boat we pulled further along past the pub to where there is a layby on the narrow road. Tomorrow we are due to meet Finesse and here was a possible mooring where they could get the van close.

Tilly went out to roam whilst we had a late lunch. Possibly a good mooring, but there were strange things in the field that I was cautious about.  We weren’t worried about the pigs, just the amount of traffic including some very big wagons! The layby was obviously well used because of the wagons. Another look on google earth and I noticed a join between the towpath and road which looked big enough to park a van. But sadly there were large barrels of flowers strategically positioned to discourage such parking. After lunch and lighting the stove we decided to move on to our second choice of mooring. However Tilly was still out!

Coaxing a cat back indoors is hard enough normally, but after weeks of very little shore leave it’s even harder! There’s nothing worse than walking a few paces behind her hoping for that split moment you think you’d be able to catch hold without her sprinting off! Luckily for me a hire boat was just pulling up in front of us. They were hammering in spikes so that they could walk up to see if there was any space on the moorings. I saved them the walk, they pushed off again  and had the whole stretch of rings to themselves through the bridge. Their presence had pushed Tilly back towards Oleanna and then the local farmer pulled up to chat, which encouraged her to jump in through the side hatch, which was quickly closed behind her.

P1270811smAll back on board we pushed off again. The fishing pond by Bittell Reservoir looks more established than it did three years ago, only one solitary fisherman sat round the grand prix pond. The M42 got louder and louder until we bobbed under it then the sound almost vanished straight away.

Ricky rang from Finesse. He was needing a measurement from me and then everything would be ready for their visit tomorrow, well except for one thing. Kris their carpenter had called in sick this morning, very unlike him. Ricky could come out on his own to install the batteries, but the other jobs would then necessitate a second trip. Much better if everything could be done in one day, we agreed. It was decided that we would carry on as planned as Kris might be at work in the morning. If not we’d wake to a text message.

P1270816smComing into Alvechurch a new marina looked about ready to have it’s stop planks removed. Full of water, electric and water points on the pontoons all that was missing were boats. Withybed Moorings first applied for planning permission back in 2007 and was to have 75 berths. This has obviously taken time and the number of berths has been reduced to 54.

Around the next bend and there was a perfect sized gap for Oleanna. Just before the bridge and Alvechurch Marina there is a track that comes down to the towpath. We checked the gate and we could unlock the padlock, a perfect place for Finesse to meet us, being able to get their van so close. We just have to hope that Kris is well enough in the morning.

P1270820smIt turns out that three years ago Lillian had just been blacked and was put back into the water at Alvechurch. We then headed up to Hopwood where we joined NB Blackbird for the evening. Funny how we find ourselves back in the same places.

Thank you to Tom, Mike and Paul who pointed out that the islands on the BCN are toll islands, where the boats were gauged as to the weight of their cargo and charged a suitable toll. I did know this, I’d just omitted an ! and a Winking smile.

DSCF7114sm0 locks, 11.14miles, 1 right, 2 straights, 2 visitors, 1 sofa, 1 tunnel, 3 sneezes, 1 roof washed thoroughly, 2 soaking boaters, 1 mum, 3 baby piggies, 1 noisy mooring, 2 outsides, 3 hours shore leave, 16:54 to Redditch, 1 gate, 2405 long, 59.5 wide, 1 poorly chippie, 2 boaters hopeful for a speedy recovery, 3 batteries sat in Sheffield!

Severn River level at 9am today (at Bewdley a mile upstream from Stourport) 1.44m.

Monday, 16 April 2018

The Last 11ft 6” To Birmingham. 15th April

Merry Hill to Sheepcote Street Bridge, Birmingham

P1270531smAs we sat having our breakfast the sound of fishermens trolleys kept passing us, we were going to be in the middle of a match. The start time was confirmed by the chap sat just behind us, luckily we had enough time to get past them all before they started. A far greyer day than yesterday and we soon wished we’d not let the stove go out over night. We dressed back in waterproofs and plenty of layers which we were grateful for.

P1270539smJust short of a mile and a half further on was the last lock up to the level of Birmingham, Blowers Green Lock. A couple walked up and offered to help with the gates. They were on their Sunday morning walk and always stop for a little rest at the lock, each having their own lock beam to sit on. Gradually the lock filled and Oleanna had finished the climb up to the New Main Line level. We pulled up round the corner to top up with water and dispose of our rubbish.

Another boat appeared and proceeded to wind above the lock. There is plenty of space here but they managed to get very close to the off side where two fishermen were sat. Using the throttle a great deal the poor chaps sat on the bank must have got wet legs!

P1270542smP1270575smNow on the Dudley NO 2 Canal we wound our way around Primrose Hill making our way towards Bumble Hole. The towpath has informative steel sculptures along the way. Some inform you of distances other about the history of the Black Country. The bouncing bomb shell casing, the anchor for the Titanic, and how graffiti changed the name of one of the bridges.

P1270580smP1270586smWe pulled in opposite the cafe at Bumble Hole for lunch. If ever there was an M mooring here was one. But try as I did they wouldn’t let me out, I could have stayed for days and not run out of trees to climb.

P1270588smFed and watered we were ready for Netherton Tunnel. P1270608smAt 2776m long it was the last canal tunnel to be built in the Canal Age, opening in 1858. Being 27ft wide it allowed two way traffic and has a towpath on both sides which helped greatly with the bottle neck that occurred at the Dudley Tunnel. You can see straight through and the only other traffic we encountered was walkers paddling their way along the towpath. It must a thing to do with the kids on a Sunday afternoon, but very damp and extremely cold today.

P1270626smPopping out the other side it had taken us 30 minutes. Under the Old Main Line and four picturesque cottages sit by the canal. One is for sale, but I’m sure the anti-theft shutters would put quite a few off viewing it! Straight on until we had to turn at Dudley Port Junction, here we chose to go right, just as well as to the left the canal is closed at the moment!

P1270633smThe New Main Line is straight for what seems like miles. It’s depth and lack of moored boats mean that the miles get ticked off relatively quickly, just as well as it was now raining!

P1270636smMy navigation duties were hard trying to keep Mick on a straight course, so many junctions and loops. Every now and again you came to a central island forcing you to go right to the side. Were these the canal equivalent to speed bumps, designed to slow boats down? Several Canada Geese were making use of them for nesting sites, keeping a beady on us as we passed.

P1270651smP1270683smWe were getting quite wet and chilled to the bone by now, familiar landmarks passing us by. The Spon Lane locks taking the canal up to the Old Main Line level and it’s pretty bridges, Steward Aqueduct the M5 and railway all crossing each other, Galton Bridge with it’s high span followed by the short tunnel, Engine Arm on it’s ornate aqueduct.

P1270687smRelieved to see the signs for Sherborne Wharf we had reached our destination for the day, we just needed to find an Oleanna sized gap. A familiar boat loomed out before Sheepcote Street Bridge, NB Leon. Only a few days ago we’d been wondering if ever we’d get to meet up with this boat on the cut and here she was. We could just make out a waving hand at the front doors. But before we went to tap on the roof we found a mooring, got the stove alight, and warmed up. Sorry, but new crew are required! The outside earlier on was where they should have moved us to, not here and this brick wall!

NB Leon belongs to Noel and Carolyn, Noel used to work at Crick Marina and we’ve got to know him over the last few years. He kindly let us moor Oleanna next to Lillian last year for us to move from one to the other. Invited in we were given a full guided tour of NB Leon. A Tyler Wilson Northwich shell built to Noel and Carolyn’s spec, she had arrived at Crick as a lined sailaway with a few extra bits, this is when we last saw inside her. They have done a beautiful job with the fit out and Noel certainly has mastered scumbling for the back cabin. A very handsome boat indeed.

P1270694smWe finished off the day by treating ourselves to a burger and chips each at The Handmade Burger Company around the corner. When we were in Birmingham about three years ago they had no gas so we’d been given two vouchers for future use. Today we at last got to use the second voucher. They also do Gluten Free bread buns which is great, I can actually enjoy a burger as it should be.

DSCF7114sm1 lock, 12.9 miles, 2 tunnels, 7 mysterons, 1 right, 10 straight ons, 1 rightish, 25 fishermen, 2 soggy chilled boaters, 1 miffed cat! 1 familiar boat, 1.5 hours boaters chat, 1 pretty back cabin, 2 glasses wine, 2 burgers, 2 chips, 0 Torvil and Dean for us.

Severn River level at 9am today (at Bewdley a mile upstream from Stourport) 1.719m.