High House Wharf, Nether Heyford

On Tuesday October 14th we made the last part of journey moving Albert to High House Wharf where she will be staying while Colin & Kevin from Spideworx carry out some painting work on the bow flairs and cratch. The weather was fine and breezy.

We arrived at Braunston Bottom Lock to find that a boat had only just gone up ahead of us and was waiting for a boat to come down the locks. The descending boat was Jubilee with Mike Partridge who works the trip boat at Stoke Bruerne. Mike was taking Jubilee into a dock to carry out the usual routine maintenance.

When we got up to the second lock we found that the boat going up had waited for us and was somewhat familiar to us - Jarrah from Aylesbury. We had seen it several times in the basin at the terminus of the Aylesbury arm and it has appeared in some of my photographs. We worked the rest of the Braunston and Buckby flights with Nigel and Rosemary from Jarrah which turned out to be powered by a Kelvin and had a good turn of speed in the tunnel.

We moored up for lunch at Whilton and then made our way to High House in the late afternoon. Nearly "home" for Albert but not quite. We will move Albert back to Kingfisher Marina sometime in the next few weeks when the painting job is finished.

Braunston

Last Monday, October 13th, we continued south towards home waters. The weather was not good all day.

Leaves all over the roof after just one night
We had moored overnight in a wooded section just before the Two Boats. In the morning we realised that it was probably not a good spot to moor in autumn. Albert's roof was covered with wet soggy leaves that took a couple of days to remove completely.

We set off up the locks to the Stockton flight in rain. As a passer-by said "not a good day for doing that". I responded with "no but we have been along here in driving snow".

Stockton flight

Steerer's Lunch near Calcutt


It rained on and off until just after Calcutt locks when there was a short break in the rain. The wind then got up and the rain started again. Between Wigrams Turn and Braunston the weather was plain awful and unpleasant. Mid-afternoon we moored up in Braunston opposite the Boathouse. We had an early dinner there and turned in for an early night. 


Itchington Bottom

We left Saltisford after a leisurely start on Sunday October 12th. Our plan was to drop Anne & Edward at Lemington Spa station so they could get back home to Sheffield; Edward had a squash match.


Lock feature built out of old mechanisms and gates from Lapworth, Saltisford

The journey through the locks at the Cape was straightforward and we moored up opposite the station just after 12:15 in good time for the Sheffield train. Maggie & I said goodbye to our "extra crew" and travelled on towards Radford and the first of the locks going out of the Avon valley.


Station drop-off, Leamington Spa
We got to Radford just after two boats who had moored up for lunch just below the lock. As a result all the locks for the rest of the day were set against us. This didn't bother us as we made quite good time on our own. We got to Welsh Road Lock before another boat arrived behind us and we continued as a pair from Splash Bridge Lock until we moored up at Itchington.

Mumble a well-known short boat, Warwick


The other boat was a hire boat crewed by four. The steerer used to work for many years on trawlers. He was finding narrowboats "another kettle of fish" but they were coping well. It was particularly helpful to have two boats going up Bascote locks together.

Going up the Bascote staircase

As the day wore on the weather deteriorated and it got quite cold. We were quite pleased to moor up for the night below Itchington Bottom Lock and get the fire burning bright.


Saltisford, Warwick

We tackled Hatton on Saturday October 11th. The run down from Turner's Green was pleasant and we arrived mid-morning just as another boat was leaving the top lock. They had been helped by the CRT volunteer lock keeper so he turned his attention to us.

Remains of the single locks at Hatton Flight
(too busy working the locks to take photos!)

Because no other boats were coming up the flight the lock keeper began to set the locks in front of us. We got to around Lock 34 (the 13th down the flight) before we met another boat coming up.

We made Saltisford Arm by late afternoon and Ian, the centre manager, sorted us out a very handy mooring with power and water to hand. We had a pump out, two bags of coal and replaced a gas bottle that had handily just run out; set for some time

That night we went to the Lazy Cow for what turned out to be a delicious but expensive meal. We took comfort from the fact that we don't often push the boat out when dining with our dear friends Anne & Edward.


Tom o' the Wood, Turner's Green

On Friday October 10th the weather was decidedly autumn again as we travelled towards Lapworth. We passed Earlswood where the feeder joins from the reservoirs and there is a thriving boat club.  At Hockley Heath I pointed out the stretch where in 1968 Maggie and I hired a canoe for the afternoon. The two lift bridges interrupted our cruising, the hydraulic gear on the most southerly made some graunching  noises and was stiff.

Just below Lapworth Top Lock Jeremy Scanlon came out to help and chatted to us. We last met Jeremy in the late 1990s at Worcester when we moored up outside the Commandery. He was on board his boat the Unicorn and had just written  Innocents Afloat: a Yank Discovers The Cut. I purchased a copy from Jeremy, read and enjoyed it, and them promptly lost it! A couple of years ago I bought a replacement; I don't like having gaps in my waterways books collection. Jeremy has recently (2013) written another book, Hotel Boat: An Innkeeper Afloat, which is  a sequel to his first book. We had a good chat as we operated the locks and I purchased a copy of the new book. I will have to review it when I have finished reading it.

We had planned to lunch before tackling the thick at Lapworth but that didn't happen and, since the weather was by then good, we ploughed on. At the top of the thick there was a volunteer CRT lock keeper. As we left lock 7 and boat coming uphill was leaving lock 8. The lock keeper helped organise the manouver since there is a sharp corner between the locks, that is presumably why there is an old roller mechanism mounted on the bridge.


Roller mechanism, Lapworth Lock 7

Lapworth Flight, negotiating the bend between Locks 7 & 8



We took lunch on the move as we went down the flight and the sun shone. Because no other boats were on the move we took our time.



Lapworth Flight

We picked up water by Lock 19, where there is a large side-pond. As we waited for the tank to fill a gull caught a large fish. Unfortunately for the gull it was so large it couldn't take off carrying it. It decided the best approach was to eat it intact while it was on the water! It was a futile exercise but the gull did manage to devour some of it before giving up and flying off.

Gull trying to dispatch a large fish

We branched off at Kingswood and joined the Grand Union - our first wide canal for over six months. it felt quite different. 

Kingswood Junction

Our overnight mooring was at the Tom O' the Woods mooring at Turners Green. We were opposite some goats who were waiting for their evening meal. 

Where's my dinner?

We visited the eponymous inn (I always wanted to use that word) and had a great meal. They appear to like dogs at the Tom O' the Woods because as we left we noticed that the conservatory area was crowded with dogs and their walkers. They also have lots of pictures on their Labrador called Boris on their web site. I had wondered why they asked if we had dogs on board when we booked the table earlier that evening.  




Major's Green, Solihull

On Thursday October 9th we returned to Albert at Sherborne Wharf and our friends Anne & Edward Winter joined us for a short trip south. In the afternoon we headed out of central Birmingham along the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.  The weather was autumnal but dry. Edward steered for most of the afternoon and found the journey alongside Birmingham University and Cadbury's particularly interesting. Passing the university the Ross Barlow hydrogen powered boat was on the move. It was travelling very slowly, if that was intentional or because of because of some technical issue we probably won't know, but it took ages to clear a bridge hole. Hopefully it wasn't intending to go far.


Unique slow-down mechanism near Bournville

We turned off the Worcester & Birmingham at Kings Norton and headed down the Stratford Canal. It was getting dark as we approached The Drawbridge at Shirley and the evening "rush-hour" was in full swing. I waited to operate the electrical bridge to try and upset as few car drivers as possible but the road is obviously a rat-run and the queues rapidly built-up. Edward took Albert through the bridge without much delay but driver frustration had obviously built-up and as the road barriers each side of the bridge lifted two cars (an Audi and a Mercedes) "went for it" and faced each other across the bridge. The Audi backed down, but not after some confrontation. It then faced another Mercedes and an even more aggressive stand-off ensued. By this time we had nearly left the scene. As we looked back into the distance they appeared to have sorted themselves out and traffic was flowing freely.

We stopped just around the corner at a nice quite spot between Major's Green and Dickens Heath.

Sherborne Wharf, Birmingham (football hero and bouncing bombs)

On Tuesday October 7th we woke to heavy rain and it continued all morning. I made the mistake of forgetting that to get to Birmingham via Netherton Tunnel there was one lock to negotiate at Parkhead before we branch off along the Dudley No. 2 Canal.

Heavily-laden Tench moored at Withymoor Island and flying the Black Country Flag

We left the modern area around the Waterfront at Merry Hill and once more travelled along the "post-industrial" landscape of the Black Country. When we arrived at Parkhead, not only did I discover the lock that I had forgotten about, but in coming to a halt just outside the lock we picked up a mass of tangled electrical cable around the propeller. A lengthy trip down the weed hatch with a pair of wire cutters ensued. Luckily the water was not too cold but it was raining. After about 3/4 hour the prop was free, we negotiated the lock and turned onto the Dudley No. 2 Canal. The bridge above the lock was appropriately named the Dudley and Lye Waste Bridge.


Approaching Bumble Hole with Cobb Engine Chimney

Junction with the Boshboil and Netherton Branches and the Dudley No.2 main line to Hawne Basin

The Dudley No. 2 has great views across the valley towards Brierley Hill and is really quite rural in places with the former industrial sites now long since covered in vegetation and a number of nature reserves. The interpretation boards placed along the canal by the Dudley Canal Trust were fascinating. I was particularly taken by the board describing the foundry that cast the enormous casings for the Barnes-Wallace bouncing bombs that destroyed the  M√∂hne and Edersee Dams  dams in Germany during World War II. At the time those working in the foundry would have had no idea of the function of the cylinders they were casting. There was also a plaque under Primrose Bridge commemorating Jeff Astle, the England and West Bromwich centre forward who scored the goal that won the 1968 FA Cup. As a Baggies fan who saw Jeff play several times I was quite excited to discover it.

Entering the Southern Portal of Netherton Tunnel
(Note the two towpaths and you can just see the far end)

All morning we only passed one boat on the move. By the time we got to Netherton the weather had brightened up. The passage through the tunnel was rapid with no boats in sight. We turned onto the Birmingham Main Line and headed for central Birmingham. 

Bromford Junction - Old Main Line to the left

Under the M5 with a large electronic advertising panel
The magnificent Galton Valley bridges 

A hire boat from Stone on the Main Line towards Wolverhampton

The wonderful neo-Gothic architecture of  Engine Arm Aqueduct

In late afternoon we reached the Oozells Street Loop and moored up at Sherborne Wharf. Because we had appointments at home, we moored up Albert for a couple of days and late afternoon we headed home on the train. The plan was to return and continue our homeward journey.


Merry Hill, tricky lock gates and crazy numbers

On Monday October 6th we continued our "Back of the Map" cruise by going up the Stourbridge Sixteen and the Delph "Nine". The weather in the morning was dreadful - wind and rain. As we got to to the second lock of the sixteen and began to open the top paddles, Maggie called from the boat to let me know that both of the bottom gates had swung wide open. With more crew we could have held the gates closed whilst the paddles were raised but there was just me on the bank. We tried stage one of our usual method to keep badly balanced gates shut - running Albert back and using some prop wash. This failed so I resorted to stage two - cracking open a top paddle. This also failed and it was at this point a man called from the upper floor of a neighbouring house "open both paddles full!" I didn't particularly like this idea but on the principle that there was little choice I opened both paddles fully and then rushed back to the bottom of the lock to shut the gates. The gates held tight and the water rose.

It was then that I remembered what I had read the night before in the relevant Pearson's Guide. Our copy is at least 10 years old, and I am sure that is was written in the 1990s, but Mike Pearson describes their journey up the flight and finding that the bottom gates of lock 15 would not close! Are they still unbalanced after all these years!

The Red Cone at Stourbridge

By the time we got "into the thick" of the flight the weather had eased a little and we decided to stop for coffee and respite and the Glass Museum site. We moored overnight outside the museum in the 1990s with our first boat Bertie. That time it was summer and we were going down the flight.

A double lock on the Stourbridge Flight 
(not staircase)


Stourbridge Locks, Black Shed and Red Cone

By the time we reached the Delph the rain had stopped and the weather was tolerable. I had had a discussion with a shopkeeper at the Red Cone who asked if we were going up the "nine" at the Delph. I pointed out that there were actually on eight locks at the Delph but that paradoxically they continued to be called the nine by boaters long after they had been modernised and one lock removed. It was therefore with some amusement that I noticed that the pub at the bottom of "the thick" which had for many years had been called "The Nine Locks" had also been modernised and renamed "The Tenth Lock". This is a bit of a conundrum given that there are only eight in the flight! I presume that following the fashion of naming golf clubhouses "the nineteen hole" the brewery had decided that it would name the pub as the extra lock, not checking that in fact there were actually only eight!

I like the locks at the Delph. They are not difficult to operate and their large overspill weirs, that flow and then stop as you go up or down the flight, provide a great accompaniment to sounds of winding the paddle gear.


Heron at Delph Locks

As we went up the locks a heron perched on a wall close to one of the lock chambers. It was not bothered by our presence and only moved to try a little fishing in the nearby side pond. Maggie took some good photos of it as we passed by.

We finally moored up at Merry Hill above the shopping centre just as the sun, which had finally made an appearance, set for the day. We chose a spot near some hotel boats and Maggie took the opportunity to go the M&S. They provide dinner and some clothing.

Unusual view from a mooring - Merry Hill Shopping Centre

Regents Canal Restoration

Since making my post about the Regents Canal, Kevin Too one of our blog readers, has pointed out there there is a BBC item concerning the work which, like Matthew's comments emphasises the rubbish dumping.

Try it - it's interesting.




Stourbridge

We don't often try selfies - here is our attempt from the lock side at Swindon - Staffordshire. Emily, our daughter, lived for some time at the Wiltshire town of the same name - well that's our excuse for the picture.

A selfie!

On Sunday October 5th we left Compton and made our way towards Stourton Junction and the start of the "Back of the Map" - the Stourbridge Canal. The weather was bright and really pleasant. 




Going down Bratch Locks

It was quiet on the canal and the volunteer lock keeper at the Bratch was very helpful. We only had to wait for one  boat to come up the flight.



As we approached Stourton, Janet & Mike Kinnings called us and suggested they help up first four locks on the Stourbridge Canal - the start of the BCN. We gratefully accepted and moored up in the countryside after a long day.

Regents Canal Maintenance

Our nephew Matthew, who lives near Limehouse, has sent us some images of the Regents Canal which has been drained for maintenance.




As Matthew puts it "More cones than the M1, more tyres than Kwik-fit, more trolleys than Tesco, a vacuum cleaner and a few office chairs".

Canals are still dumping spots for unwanted material - was it ever thus?

Bridgnorth

Our boating friends Janet & Mike Kinnings live close to Compton.  They came to Albert on Saturday morning (October 4th), and along with Sandy the lurcher, we had day out in Bridgnorth

River Severn at Bridgnorth

It is a favourite day trip spot for the Kinnings. They thought we would enjoy it and that I would particularly like the cliff railway.  They were right.

Wonderful sign writing

The weather was fine and walking around the town on the banks of the Severn was a delight.
The two sections of the town, high and low, are connected by a series of paths and a cable driven funicular railway. The trip up the railway was a must. This piece of vintage engineering provides great views over the river and across low town.

Bridgenorth Cliff Railway

The town has many Telford related features including a church, St. Mary Magdalene, reminding me that Telford was initially an architect. The other, older and more historic church, St Leonards, is no longer used for worship but as a community centre. It was a collegiate church and the area around it is reminiscent of a cathedral close.  

Presumably Telford was at Bridgenorth for only a year?

Bridgnorth Castle Keep - civil war damage

After a good lunch and a long walk around the town we went back to Albert. Maggie and I ate at the Oldfellows Hall. It was very busy and we got the last available table. The food was good and service spot on.

Compton


On Friday October 3rd we only had two locks to operate, one at Gailey and one at our destination, Compton so we had a relatively easy day. Our plan was to meet up at the weekend with our friends the Kinnings who live near Wolverhampton.

Gailey Round House

We don’t often pass along the Penkridge to Autherley section of the Staffs & Worcester Canal and I had forgotten how rural and pleasant it is.

Hatherton Junction Calf Heath

Pendeford Narrows - no oncoming boats - luckily

Autherley Junction


We moored up for lunch just past Autherley Junction in sunshine. Our quiet lunch was somewhat interrupted by a scooter with a boy and girl on board (of course not wearing crash helmets) riding along the towpath at high speed. We have seen mini scooters on towpaths before but this scooter was dangerous, particularly since a school party on a “fun run” passed by some minutes earlier. I tried photographing the bikers – but to no avail.

Scooter on the towpath - no licence plate

We saw another kingfisher near Tettenhall and yet another at Compton as we moored up. The next boat, Pensax was running its Gardner engine. I had a very interesting chat to its owner, Don Grey, whose background in boating was long and varied. It included owning a Bollinder and converting a BCN working boat. His details on how to reverse a Bollinder were particularly fascinating. I also liked his story of going from Wigan to Leeds on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over a weekend!
Although at lunchtime I had good internet coverage, again on Friday evening, I couldn’t make a post – hey ho.
Fig tree in allotments, Compton


The 48 hr moorings at Compton are very handy for local shops. In the evening we took the opportunity to stock up on groceries and had some fish & chips from the local chippie. The queue was long and their portions very generous.