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Tuesday 31 May 2016

Lowering down the Lapworth.

We set off at the normal time and had an hour or so before we got to the top of the Lapworth Locks. For some reason both of us forgot that there were two lift bridges in this length.

The sun was struggling to come out and there was a bit of a breeze too, but it was a pleasant trip through some tree lined corridors.

We passed this small basin at Hockley Heath where we had stopped for a little shopping at the start of the month but now seems ages ago,

We had just lowered the first lift bridge when a boat came round the corner following us. At the next one we let them through. This one is very close to the top lock of the Lapworth Locks. When they came through I wondered what was happening as they were full astern and bow truster 'wanging' away. They said it would be rude to overtake us so close to the top of the lock. As it turned out it would have made no difference as there was a boat going down any way. This is Helen in the pound between locks 1 and 2 I think.

I thought we had come across Prunella and Tim at the next lock as the lady was struggling with the paddles and the gates. She was only 4 ft nothing but we had a good chat and I said that she should just leave the bottom gates open and I would shut them for her when I got the lock ready for us. It worked quite well and occasionally I was able to go ahead and set the next lock for them too. 

 I saw this last time we were coming down these locks. It seems that many of these locks are approached on a bend and not only are there these split bridges but I think that this roller is to get a straight pull out off/into the lock when on the bend. This is the only one that still has the roller on it.

By Lock 14 there is a little shop and last time we passed this way we had an ice lolly. This time we passed the shop by as we were helping the boat through ahead of us.

Helen has developed a skill of multi tasking when coming up/down locks. When she has to wait she readers her book as well as sorting the socks etc from the washing, spotting birds with binoculars and making the very occasional cup of tea. Here she is at Lock 15.

As we were at Lock 19 and there was nobody on the water point we stopped and filled up. As we left 19 two volunteer Lock keepers arrived. Where had they been since we got to the top. As we were going over to the Grand Union we turned left to the link with it. Whilst waiting for the lock to fill I took the rubbish over to the offices. I think that it is almost only this year that C&RT have started to but recycling bins at the waste facilities. I am getting used to seeing a mess at these sites and the bins being full. I wish that people would use the recycling bins and not just dump it in any bin. The recycle bins are marked 'mixed dry recycling' but they are the same colour as the other bins. However everybody in this country has to recycle at home in their bins so they must be used to doing it and should be able to sort this out as it isn't rocket science. I think C&RT must make signs clearer and I would suggest a different colour bin would help. I would also ask that hire bases inform their holiday makers to sort it too. I'm not too sure if having everything mixed up means that C&RT actually have to pay more to have the rubbish collected too.

This is the link between the Startford upon Avon Canal and the Grand Union. To the left down to Stratford and right to Kings Norton.

We threaded on to the Grand Union and turned right towards Warwick. We passed this way last year. We were heading for the bank by Rowington and just before we got there it started to drizzle. By the time we got moored up it was getting heavier so perfect timing.

Helen set to baking and we now have a victoria sponge and some oaty biscuits so that will tide us over for a while. We could stay here another day I reckon.

Monday 30 May 2016

Deja vu.

We set off at the normal time for us, round about 1000 and we had only been passed by one boat. Mind you one had gone past in the night somewhere around midnight I would say and there was a walker on the tow path at 0400. It was just getting light and if we hasn't up to no good it would be a great time for a walk.

We were soon up to the Kings Norton junction and back to where we had been on May 4th. It seems a lot longer than that mind.

When ever you see tables of tolls it is always interesting to see that those products that improve the lot of the population directly are always the cheapest. Manure and lime to fertiliser the soils and improve crop production and bricks tile and stones to build homes always seem to be the lowest toll. Is this caring capitalism?
Helen says that she wouldn't mind living in the Junction House. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal was started in 1791 from Gas Street Basin and the Worcester Bar. The BCN were very anti the new canal so prevented through traffic. The W & B stopped here for a time due to finances and the Junction House was built. The junction was formed when the Stratford upon Avon Canal was constructed from 1793. In their turn the W & B argued against it and even after the Act of Parliament was passed they insisted on the Lifford Lane Stoop lock to protect their water.

This is the lifting roller of the guilotine stop lock that was used to ensure that the Stratford upon Avon Canal was one inch belwo that ot the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

This is the site of a swing bridge that the caused much protest from the fledgling IWA when the Great Western Railway, who owned the canal, sealed it shut after it was damaged. The IWA pushed the right of navigation and organised boats to pass through until they relented and fixed it. It is interesting to see that it has disappeared now and doesn't look like it will be replaced any time soon. One nil to the canal I would say.

As we approached Brandwood Tunnel it was still a little chilly but there wasn't any wind to ruffle Shakespeare's ruff.

All this length of the canal is through the outer conurbation of Birmingham but is very green indeed. It is only occasionally that you pass the bottoms of gardens or see blocks of flats peeking over the trees that you realise you are not alone.

We stopped for a top up of water next to this sign. It was interesting to see as there is much working going on all the way from Kings Norton Junction at the moment so it seems that the pathway was lasted 23 years so far.

We had both forgotten the Shirley Lift Bridge so it was a bit of a surprise when we came up to it. I had to roust Helen out to press the buttons. It was a change for her from the ironing and cleaning. I know how to show her a good time on a Bank Holiday!!

This photo was purely accidental but it does show our footwear that is new for both of us this year. Once past Dickens Heath we were really back in the countryside. Dickens Heath seems to have had a great number of homes built so I assume it is a new dormitory village for Birmingham that has 1600 houses for 4000 people.

This is the church at Salter Street and was locked when we last passed this way.

The other day I was talking about the May (hawthorn Blossom and here is a good picture of the mix of pink, pink tinged and white flowers on the same tree.

Half way round the walk was the Blue Bell Cider House. It would be rude not to stop, (I told you I know how to give Helen a good time). There didn't seem to be much cider though. There was a band on and a barbecue and a meeting of many chapters of bikers. I think that the pub is the meeting place for one of them. After a drnk we set of back to the boat down the tow path and as we got close we could hear loud music from the Blue Bell fade a way and a little further on loud music was coming from the Lady Lane club house!

Sunday 29 May 2016

Tunnel time.

Before we set of this morning we decided to have a walk up to the church in Tardebigge. By the way the name Tardebigge is thought to come from the Saxon 'tyrde' Bicgan' which means 'big tower' or 'big tower on a hill' so could have referred to a previous church. The current St Bartholomew's was built around 1777. The new church was built entirely in Worcestershire but previously the nave had been in Warwickshire and the rest of the church in Worcstershire.

The very elaborate memorial to Lady Mary Crookes and her husband Sir Thomas, raised by Sir Thomas on the death of his wife in 1693. It was moved to this position when a side chapel was demolished. There is a story that Lady Mary kept her husband alive when in prison by suckling him. This may have come from the fact that her breast is uncovered as was the fashion on memorials for some reason. There is also a story that Sir Thomas killed his butler with a knife. The coat of arms at the top bears an arm holding a dagger. Was this why he was in prison??

There was a service due at 1100 and we were lucky enough to have the organist practicing his pieces, and excellent it was too. It had a lovelly church and the graveyard was well used too and there were several Earl's of Plymouth laying there as the local landlords

The church looked well kept and well used and had a school next to it we met the lady vicar as she arrived for the service too.

The church is on a high point in the area and commands a good view similar to Braunston. The view is to the north.

We set off after getting back and as I passed under the bridge before the top lock I noticed these insulators below the arch. I wondered if it was an electric line for a tug as I couldn't see why a telegraph line would be run under the bridge and not on poles down the towpath?

The top lock was originally a boat lift that wasn't reliable and didn't last long before being replaced with this 12' lock.

The first tunnel of the day is the Tardebigge tunnel and at 580 yards is the shortest.

Next came the Shortwood Tunnel all but hidden in the above photo. It is 613 yards long.

The west entrance to the Shortwood Tunnel

On a lovely day like today the countryside round here is pleasure to trundle along through. There are plenty of hire boats on the move and we have had the stag and hen parties pass, separately of course, and not the same couple either.

 We stopped at Alvechurch to go and find milk and a paper. It wasn't until we set off and walked towards the church that we realised that we had been here before for the same reason, but neither of us could remember when. Is that a sign of age or just that we have too many good memories to store? We stopped and had lunch before setting off again.

When we passed the Lower Bittell reservoir another memory came to me. When we passed it was blowing a gale and there was a boat pinned to the side. We were going sideways down the cut at a fair lick to try and avoid the same fate and couldn't stop to assist in any way. I think we were on a hire boat with our kids and my younger brother's family so it would have been a 70' boat too.

The third tunnel of the day was the Wast Hill Tunnel that at 2726 yards is the 6th longest still in use and is still just a little under half the length of the Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield! As we passed through there were three heading north and we passed three heading south. We haven't passed a boat in a tunnel for ages it seems.

We were soon through and had decided to moor up before the King's Norton Junction. There was a spot with a bit of sun and there we plonked ourselves in it after a nice steady day of recovery for us after our exertions yesterday.

I almost forgot that Hull are not only the UK City of Culture but we have a Premiership football team again. Well done to Hull City on Saturday. It was a shame it was another Yorkshire team that had to lose out. Hull FC are top of the table in the Rugby League at the moment too.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Tackling Tardebigge.

Things didn't start well today as when we approached the very first lock at Stoke wharf the engine ground to a halt with something obviously stuck in the propeller and rudder. On inspection, or rather by feel, there was nothing round the propeller. Delving deeper I could feel something stuck between a blade and the rudder. I managed to turn the prop shaft by hand and had another feel. It felt like on of those solid rubber fenders that dangle over the side. Unfortunately it fell away and I couldn't recover it so I hope that somebody else doesn't find it today. We have those type of fenders but we only use them when mooring up. I don't understand why folk travel with any fenders down and in locks as you are bound to lose them at some stage.

Any way it was soon sorted and we penned up. There was a group with some heavy duty film gear. I thought it was something to do with the Black Prince hire base as there were cute kids and blonde Mum's and hirsute Dad's. I thought we were to star coming up the lock, but no, they weren't interested in the boat or lock. They weren't interested in the cute kids and definitely not in the hairy Dad's, just the blonde Mum's running down the tow path!

Th weather this morning was great for lock wheeling, not raining, overcast but warmish. The Stoke locks are in nice country and we only had to turn the first and last so we sped up.

Even Helen was starting to peel off a few layers as the temperature rose.

This is the post mill at Avoncroft Museum of Buildings that is near Stoke Prior. It was built in the early 19th century and was originally from Danzey Green in Warwickshire and was reconstructed in 1971.

Her we are at the bottom of the Tardebigge flight with 6 locks done and 30 still to do. The flight is quite good as the locks aren't too far apart so it easy to walk ahead and set one ready for entering when coming out of the last one.

I love the walls round the lock cottages on this flight. They don't make them like that any more.

The landmark of the reservoir looms ahead as Helen lines up for lock 49. Our method is that I open the top paddles to fill the lock and walk ahead to get the next lock ready. We have been lucky today as the majority have been our way. I then open the gates and walk back. Meanwhile once the lock is full Helen has dropped the offside paddle and opened the gate and set off to the next lock. I walk back and drop the tow path side paddle and shut the gate. By the time I get back to the next lock she is going in and I can close the gates after her and repeat the operation, 36 times!!!

The reservoir was actually built 50 feet lower than the summit pound so water needs to be pumped up to the top. The palce is popular with fishermen and walkers and there has been a steady stream of folk asking about boats etc, and one had just come from buying a share in a boat at Alvechurch Boats and were quite exited about it all.

Here we are at the top of the flight. The top lock is actually quite away further on but all the hard work has been done now and I got a ride to the next one.

There was a nice mooring with a good view and sun for the panels before the top lock so we decided that that was enough for the day and pulled in. This duck wasn't giving up his nice warm spot very easily and didn't want to move. I think I could have picked him up. He only begrudgingly vacated the spot when a dog came sniffing. So we were moored up before 1500. We had a 15 min break on the way up for a sandwich so all in all we did 35 locks today in a very creditable exact 4 hrs 30 mins.

As I suggested yesterday I did keep my eye open for interesting marks on the engineer brick work copings and this was just one of those spotted. Coneygre meant rabbit warren and the Earl of Dudley had coalmines there, just east of Dudley Castle. There was also an iron foundry that continues to this day. One of the Coneygre pit shafts is actually the one that you can go down at the Black Country Living Museum, now named the Racecourse Colliery. They made these blue bricks and as the canal passed very close to the works they are found all over the area.

Friday 27 May 2016

Back on the move, upwards and onwards.

Last night we walked back to the Gardener's Arms for a meal. Once again we were surprised when Sally turned up to 'do' a musical turn. We had a great night and a good chat with the locals too.

It is said that the Droitwich church is blackened by all the smoke over the ages from the fires that were  used to make the brine close by.

 We have enjoyed the Gardener's Arms during both our visits to the town.

 Coming into the main body of Vines Park with the church above.

I think the River Salwarpe would have to be well in flood to even think about not going up the lock. 

I keep thinking of taking photos of the blue engineering bricks that appear on old locks and see what I can find out about the brick works of old. I like this touch from the Droitwich Restoration team. I wonder if they were sponsored or something.

No trouble today ducking under the M5 motorway. In fact the headroom gauge is actually lower than the tunnel it's self. The north  bound motorway was going very slowly when we passed. I am thinking that the south bound will be chocker now as everybody heads south for the Bank Holiday.

We were soon up the staircase locks and then turned into the marina to fill up with diesel. Not as cheap as I would have liked  at 69p but needs must. We were in and out very quickly. I was told that they sold there last mooring 10 days ago so they are now officially full.

Helen working hard at the locks this morning.

 We have made it to the top of the Droitwich Junction Canal with these three last locks that have side pounds. The instructions aren't very clear and so there are voluntary keepers there to help.

Once we turned into the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Hanbury Junction the traffic didn't get any busier and we decided that the may blossom is more abundant that last year. 

There were a few trees with pink tinged blossoms with white on the same tree. We thought that it may be a different species. On checking it isn't the Midland Hawthorn but just a common that occasionally does have the pink tinge.

At Astwood Bottom Lock this footpath looked inviting, as it should as it leads to Hanbury Hall. That is for another day though. We soon passed up the flight and filled up with water at Stoke Works and then moved on to find a sunny mooring to dry the washing.

To us this looked like a shelduck but we thought they lived on the coast. Can any twitchers confirm it is a shelduck and if not what is it?

Once moored and fed we set about a few jobs. Helen set to baking and I cleaned up the bow to make room for Helen's chairs now the weather is getting warmer. I had collected a few bits of timber from the canal in locks etc. As they were now dry I decided to cut them up to the right length and then chop them for kindling next winter.