Sunday, 31 December 2017

New Year's Eve

Don't be fooled by the date given for this post - it was, of course, actually written the next morning but it is easier for later use if the date of the post relates to the day described!

After the late night yesterday, no-one was in the mood for an early rise today. In fact, the last of the 'getting up' occurred just before high noon.

Eventually we managed to construct lunch after which we planned to walk into town for some milk. However, having kitted ourselves out for a walk along the damp (aka very muddy) towpath, and getting out of the boat, locking the doors etc, rain arrived and in the sky it looked  as if there would be heavy showers for some while.

So Mike was dispatched back to the boat for the car keys - which also meant changing from walking boots into shoes for driving - and we drove to Morrisons. Alice had just finished all of the books she had brought with her, both hard copies as well as a load on Kindle, so she and Christine went off to WH Smith whilst Mike and Jess collected the various items on our list. Yes, we know that we originally said that we only wanted milk but lists grow. This time, Jess had written out the list earlier and came prepared with a pen to tick each item off as we found it. Naturally, there were one or two extras along the way as well!

After driving back to the marina, leaving Alice to make a start on her new and substantial book, the others went for a walk along the towpath down to the new locks towards the motorway. You see, that rain never really materialised - that's British weather for you!

Along the way we showed Jess how the new stretch of canal had been built and how modern techniques (ie reinforced concrete) were used to make the locks, both the double lock staircase as well as the single Lock 6.

We walked as far as the footbridge just before the culvert under the motorway. Today the water level had receded and was well down into the green section of the measuring board below the last lock.

Back on the boat and later in the evening, Jess set about making a pizza for tonight's meal - using some of the extra ingredients (olives and pineapple) which she had bought earlier. It also gave us a chance to try out the new pizza tray and to see if it bakes the  dough better than a solid tray. (It did)

When it came to loading up the top of the pizza, we had to make a map of the four quarters as everyone had different preferences for what to put on. More accurately, each of us had views on what not to put on! Christine put together a salad and, with some heated up hash browns from the freezer,. we had a good meal. The pizza was followed by eating up some of the left over dessert items that were still taking up space in the fridge!

The evening television programming was not that brilliant but we did find a very interesting documentary on More Four about the present restoration works on Big Ben (or more correctly the tower in which the famous clock and bell are housed).

This took us close to midnight and we tuned to the fireworks display from central London. Even though we could only see it trough the small screen, we could tell that it was a really impressive display. Each year the technology seems to move on to enable the designers to surprise even the most seasoned firework watcher.

We had drinks at the ready and saluted the New Year, just as Big Ben chimed - it was allowed to ring out today even though we knew from the documentary that it is currently normally silenced for the protection of the workers on the restoration.

Eventually we all drifted off to bed . . . but not before some of us had to cope with a small glitch with the washing machine. Fortunately, all is now well!

Welcome to 2018, folks!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

101 Dalmatians

Today saw our long-awaited trip into Birmingham to see the evening show at Birmingham Rep - 101 Dalmations. After brunch, or early lunch, we set out just before midday to drive into town and to the rail station. On the way we paused to pick up the weekend paper from Morrisons.

Whilst Mike parked the car - using the app he installed last week to pay for it - ours was the only car in the park - the others went to buy tickets and to check out that the return journey was not affected by the advertised engineering works or industrial action. Whilst we had just confirmed it from the on-line service, it is good to have it confirmed by a real person as well! We had arrived much earlier than expected so had a bit of a wait on the platform but at least there was a seat and a shelter.

When our train arrived it was already quite full and a good number of people were waiting with us - this was the fast train to Birmingham. Mike and Jess had to stand throughout and, after stopping at Bromsgrove to pick up more passengers, it became even more crowded. It seems that the service on this line is frequently well over-subscribed but still the operators do nothing much about it. Still, 36 minutes later we were on time at our destination.

After leaving Grand Central - the new name for the complex that has recently been finished and covers the whole station, replacing a worn our previous development - we walked up to New Street. We were heading for the Museum and Art Gallery but took time to check out the various eating places along the way to see if there was something suitable for an early meal before the show.

As soon as we reached the art gallery we headed for the Edwardian Tearoom for a welcome drink - tea made with proper tea leaves and needing a tea strainer!

After that we split up into pairs to take different routes around the many displays and exhibition galleries. Christine and Alice concentrated mostly on the Pre-Raphaelite section which is especially well represented here. This painting by Ford Madox Brown is one of the better known and uses the painter, his wife and his daughter as models.

One of the first items that Jess looked at was this modern piece that re-created techniques devised centuries earlier. The infinite array uses glass that is both reflective and transparent.

Jess wanted especially to follow the sheet of paper that we were given at the start that picked out a few Nativity or seasonal items around the different galleries. Alas, someone forgot to take any photos of these items (we were not too sure whether photography is allowed so most were taken surreptitiously, but others were doing likewise!) but there was plenty of interest in the rest of the displays.

This bust of  one of the 17C Doges of Venice caught Mike's attention - Francesco Molin looks as austere as the reputation that the Doges seemed to gain.

The modern art gallery had a wide rage of items but this one is by Halima Cassell, born in Pakistan but grew up in Lancashire. The sculpture is called Calliope and she says it is meant to be inspired by the shapes of Arabic lettering.

After completing all of the galleries on the main level, Mike and Jess climbed the stairs to the next level, looking at this stained glass window along the way. Great care was taken to ensure that it was not damaged during WW2 bombing raids which did affect the museum as a whole.

One of the main displays on the upper floor shows the way in which the present day city of Birmingham has evolved from a tiny medieval village. Its growth was sparked by an enterprising local lord of the Manor who bough a charter from the king that allowed him to hold a weekly market on his land.

One of the seasonal items Jess was looking for was a bust of Charles Dickens which took a little searching for. The reason for including this item was that the first public reading of A Christmas Carol took place here in front of an audience of over 2000.

We saw how the industrial explosion demanded lots of cheap labour and that included children as young as 9. W also listened to a number of folk songs that related the life of ordinary people - sometimes the only way of understanding what life was like for those whose lives are otherwise rarely recorded. One, about a Jack of All Trades, showed how many had to take work wherever and however they could find it - not for them was there a career (or trade) for life.

At the agreed time we all met together again and checked out the walking route to the theatre. The centre of Birmingham, where the old Brutalist library once stood, is now under extensive re-development and some of the older walking routes are blocked off.

Time then to meander back to New Street in search of an eating place. Jess was keen to have a burger whilst Alice much preferred something with pasta. Fortunately, Mike had spotted Wildwood earlier and, when we arrived, there were plenty of tables free. Just as well we did not leave it much longer as before long it was completely full.

We were able to take our time over the meal and were well fed - each of us having something rather different and the two girls were able to pick their favourites. If anything, the starters of garlic bread (which turned out to be large rounds of baked pizza dough) and bowl of olives were the real treats!

We then walked back to the theatre where the grownups were allowed to have a cup of coffee before we all went to take our seats in the main auditorium.

The show was an amazing version of the 100 Dalmatians story by Dodie Smith but made popular by Disney. The dogs and puppies were portrayed as puppets whose animators spoke their lines at the same time. We were just amazed at the skill that brought the puppets to life and at times it was difficult to forget that they were not real live animals!

Of course there were never quite 101 on stage at one time but it really did feel as if they were all there.

This was a show for all ages - many of the adults in the audience were not with families and everyone obviously enjoyed it. There was plenty of action and the small music group made a great accompaniment. The loud applause at the end was well justified.

For Mike a particular benefit was that all performances of this show are captioned so that "everyone, deaf, deafened or hard of hearing can enjoy the performance" as the captions before the show explained. The caption display was well placed and designed so that it did not interfere with the action for anyone not needing it.

The show finished around 9:20 so we had plenty of time to walk back to New Street Station for our fast train back to Droitwich. No stops this time and so we were back within 25 minutes.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Bicester but not by boat

First thing we had to collect a couple of bags of coal from the office as we used up most of what we had during our trip out. Keeping the stove going all day does maintain a warm temperature inside the boat but also needs frequent feeding! We were also low on logs but they are not stocked at the marina so we will have to look elsewhere later on.

At 11 o'clock we set off by car to drive over to The Trigger Pond, a 17C pub on the outskirts of Biscester where we had agreed to meet up with Adrian , Alice and Jess for lunch. (Andrew left for home just before we set out).

It was a friendly and popular pub with a range of meal options but three of us took the fish 'n chips option - the portions were huge, well overlapping the size of the plates. Surprisingly (at least for some of us) this meant that we had to forgo the sweet options. alas).

Eventually it was time to leave and for the girls to transfer their luggage to our car - they are coming to stay on the boat for the next few days. Tomorrow we take our customary theatre trip, this time not in London but Birmingham which is only half an hour on the train.

Although Droitwich seemed to be just a couple of miles south of the snow line, the motorways had been well gritted and salted and, apart from a couple of congested intersections,. flowed smoothly.

Before checking in at the boat we set about tracking down some logs, thinking that a filling station might be a good bet. However, this meant finding them as the only two we knew about were on the road to Worcester which we had yet to explore. The Texaco garage had cheaper diesel than the other garage opposite so we took the opportunity to fill up whilst Christine checked out the logs. They had just a couple of nets, were not especially good and very expensive but we took one, just in case.

The other filling station proved to be even more expensive so we then thought of B&M on the other edge of town. At first we thought that they only stocked solid fuel but Christine did find them eventually and they were less than half the price of the first net as well as better looking, so we took a couple.

Time then to complete the journey to the boat - although Alice and Jess have stayed on this boat during the summer they have not visited it whilst in this marina.

After settling in they both eventually decided that more food today was a requirement so they were given instructions on how to prepare their own. Alice made a good go at eggy bread - and only set the smoke detector off once, it always does so when frying anything! - and Jess put together a good open pate sandwich.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Back to the Marina

Today's Canals - Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich

It was a bright blue sky that greeted us as we awoke and which stayed with us all until nightfall.

However, this also meant that everything overnight had frozen and, somewhat to our surprise, we had to break ice almost all day. There were some gaps in the more sheltered spots and it was only a few millimetres thick so broke reasonably easily.

First came the two single locks, starting with Blackpole and followed by Tolladine.

At the edges of the canal the ice is caught in the grass or reeds and cannot go up and down as the water level changes - either in short pounds when locks are filled or emptied, or in longer pounds where the effect of the boat is to create a wave as the prop pulls water from under the boat and pushes it out behind.

After a gap we reached the bottom of the Offerton flight of six locks, all close together. With the sun still low in the sky, there were still icy patches alongside the locks to catch the unwary.

Alongside Lock 12 we could see this odd looking building and were unable to work out why it was there, unusually tall and thin. Later, looking at modern and older maps a hydraulic pump is marked here.

Unusually, the lock house is alongside the next lock to the top of the flight - normally it is found at one end of a flight or the other - sometimes both.

Once through the top lock and immediately under the motorway we had a level four miles until Hanbury Junction.

Along the way we passed through Dunhampstead Tunnel. As it is a comparatively large bore and only a couple of hundred metres in length, there is plenty of light - so much that we forgot to turn on the headlight until half way! We only passed one moving boat all day - typically that was as we both reached a bridge hole.

By the time we arrived at Hanbury Junction it was almost lunch time so we stopped on the landing above the top lock.

After lunch - the second part of yesterday's soup - we worked down the three remaining locks before turning into the marina. The ice on the canal here seemed not to have been broken at all today and so the turn was unusually difficult - the boat turning sideways does not break the ice easily, unlike when taking it head on. The marina itself was free of ice and so before long we were snugly tucked up on our berth and reconnected to the services.

After a cup of tea we drove into town to do some food shopping at Morrisons.

7.0 Miles - 11 Locks

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Worcester Return

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Overnight it had rained very heavily and Christine found reports that there had also been snow nearby with some power cuts. We were uncertain about whether we should expect to continue with our planned round trip via the Severn. Before setting off we called Gloucester Lock but this was closed leaving a message to call Martin on a mobile number - which we duly did.

Fortunately he was able to answer straight away and told us that he had been to Diglis first thing and then down to Tewkesbury. The river was already well up and rising quickly. He estimated that it was 90% likely that the locks would be closed by tomorrow and advised us not to continue with our plan. So we cancelled our booking for Bevere Lock - not to everyone's immediate delight, it has to be said. However, we could not afford to wait until morning to find out as, if the result was that the river was closed, we would not have enough time to make it back to the marina by tomorrow evening. So our revised plan was now to make it to Worcester for lunch time, use the services there and, after looking around, retrace our steps back up the Worcester and Birmingham.

The morning was generally dull and frequently there was light rain, often turning to soft hail. As we left our mooring we could see the snow covering on the Malvern Hills in the distance. (sorry about the very zoomed in photo!)

Shortly we arrived at the first of the six locks (in three pairs) down to Diglis Basin, just over two miles away.

The second pair of locks are called Gregory's Mill which, our research suggests, might once have been a brickworks. The BBC web site says, "The BBC erected radio aerials inside the Gregory Mills brickworks in Worcester, which had a very tall chimney. This was to work alongside the Droitwich radio masts, which were used to beam secret signals into occupied Europe."

This item also led us to realise that the open space where we moored, part of which is now occupied by a sports and leisure centre, was once Perdiswell Aerodrome, said to be the world's first municipal airport. During the second world war it was used to train large numbers of Tiger Moth pilots from across the Commonwealth.

Somewhat more amusingly, Clark Gable managed to crash land a Douglas Dakota here (well he was in the co-pilot's seat) whilst making a gunnery training film. In fact it came in too fast for a grass field and skidded into the city rubbish tip just off the airfield! Fortunately on this occasion no-one was hurt - except for the plane and some bruised egos.

We gradually wended through the suburbs into the city centre - the last lock is alongside the Commandery, now a museum and coffee shop - although today no-one was sitting at the tables on the grass outside!

The site was first built on in the 11C and for some time was a hospital but over the centuries it has had a very mixed career, including being used by Charles Stuart (later Charles II) as his headquarters during the Battle of Worcester during the Civil War. It seems most likely that the names dates back to much earlier and indicates a foundation of the Knights Hospitaller who called their regional administrative centres by the name commandery.

We arrived at Diglis Basin and moored alongside the facilities. We connected up to the water point but were directed top an elsan point in the marina as this one was out of order. We used space just above the upper Diglis Lock and the main entrance to the basin to turn around and used the nearest set of visitor moorings, almost by the water point. The photo below also shows, if you look very closely, that the red light had been switched on, indicating that the lock is closed.

It was a bit early for lunch and, in any event, Christine announced that she had, unplanned, started to make a new batch of soup but it would not be ready for a little while. Hence, Mike and Andrew opted to walk down to the river and to see for ourselves the conditions.

Below the lower lock we could clearly see that the water level was now firmly into the red - not much consolation that we could see the amber section just below the water. The flow was also quite fast and it would have taken us much longer than normal to reach Hawford Junction.

We continued along the riverside and passed the former Old Dock, currently looking a little forlorn with no present use at all. The surrounding site, once covered in industrial and dock facilities has been covered with somewhat anonymous blocks of apartments.

Just beyond is Diglis Lock on the River Severn. The river level does occasionally rise quite spectacularly and can inundate the lock itself. A reminder of the dangers can be seen on the flood level board - but this does not even show the record level of a few years ago.

After lunch, and with a little reluctance, we set off once more - by now there was a biting wind when on the more exposed stretches but bright sunshine then also made an appearance and lasted until sunset.

Who is this person? We never had a chance to find out and to thank them for waiting in the cold to welcome us pass by!

By the time we had completed the two Bilford Locks the sun was ever lower in the sky and darkness would have arrived before the next suitable mooring spot, several locks further on so we ended up mooring very close to the spot we used last night!

5.0 Miles - 12 Locks

Tuesday, 26 December 2017


Today's Canals - Droitwich, Worcester and Birmingham

Having opted to stay in the marina yesterday, today we got up with the plan to set off on a three circular trip via Worcester and up the Severn to re-join the Droitwich Canal at Hawford. We have already booked passage through the Bevere, the one lock on the river that we will need to come up, for mid morning on Thursday. We will then have the challenge of making it all the way back to the marina that day so that we can pick up Alice and Jess at lunch time on Friday!

It was a brilliant morning - the air was mild-ish but everything else that had been outside overnight was cold to touch! There had been quite a bit of rain so most things were also wet.

After filling up with water and doing the usual disposals we were ready to unplug from the mains and set off out of the marina entrance, turning left to ascend the three top looks of the Droitwich Junction Canal (to use its proper title).

As we were working through, the local hunt came down the road - as this is a busy road they created quite a queue of cars. Presumably this is a group that like to keep the tradition alive if only in costume (as kit were) since foxes are nowadays save from the hounds if not the marksman.

At the top of the flight we turned right onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. At the former wharf, the New and Used Boat Co have a sales base and prominently on display is a huge wide beam boat, no doubt great for living permanently aboard but a sales demonstration trip could not take them very far as the canals here are all narrow!

It was a pleasant sunny winter cruise as we continued towards Worcester, passing only one moving narrowboat - but we did also have to avoid a kayak with a couple of canoeists who were kitted out in some very expensive looking cold weather gear.

As out solid fuel stove was still alight this morning, Christine stoked it up but turned it right down. As a result we kept the chimney on, something that we normally avoid as bridges and trees can be low obstructions and we do not wish to lose  the chimney overboard! Today we had to be especially vigilant although the bridges are quite roomy compared with some canals.

However, when we came to the short Dunhamstead Tunnel we opted for discretion and took the chimney down, only to put it back up once through. In fact the tunnel too has plenty of headroom.

With the low winter sun in our eyes (when steering forwards) spotting the low hanging branches was much more difficult - this one was much easier to see once we had passed it.

It was too early for a lunch stop when we arrived at the top of the Offerton Flight of six locks so we continued on downwards. These locks were quite easy to work - they fill very quickly but the top and bottom locks had plenty of overflow water coming into the lock chamber which slowed down the emptying phase.

By the time we arrived at the bottom and tied up on the lock landing (there was room for at least one boat to use the lock without hindrance, even if none did come by. But it did mean that mooring to the bollards was much easier!

After lunch we continued - alas the bright sunshine had now been replaced by dull, overcast skies -  and soon approached Tolladine Lock. Andrew jumped off at the bridge just before the lock so that he could walk to a nearby Tesco Express for some milk and possibly a newspaper. He re-joined the boat as we arrived at the next lock, Blackpole. Just above the lock is a splendid milepost - we have not seen another markers on this canal.

A short distance below the lock, alongside the railway bridge we saw what looked like a loading wharf. It was not entirely convincing but we took a picture anyway. Later we looked up what had been on this site. It seems that from 1917 there was a vital munitions factory here and the 1925 OS shows a landing stage at the canal alongside Blackpole Factory.

After the war the factory was handed over to Cadbury for an altogether more congenial purpose. However, in 1940 it was again requisitioned for munitions work, returning to Cadbury and cake making once peace came. It finally closed in 1974.


The Imperial War Museum web site shows this interesting picture of two women at work in the Second World War, standing completed bullets upright in perforated trays. No doubt they were keen to be making a contribution to the war effort but it does look to be the most boring of tasks!

Soon after we looked for a mooring with a satellite tv possibility - we were now just approaching the edge of Worcester's housing estates. We thought that we had found a good spot with some proper piling edges but alas, after several attempts, we cold not find a place where we could get the boat within a couple of feet of the bank, it was so shallow. So we had to continue under the next bridge and then found a place where we could come alongside and, fortuitously, also allowed us a tv signal. As we tied up, light rain arrived and, with the temperature quickly falling, we were quite gald to retreat into the warmth of the cabin and our splendid stove!

7.1 Miles - 11 Locks