Sunday 21 April 2024

Cathedral and Shop

Today's Canal - BCN (even if we did not move!)

We did not have to make an early start today as we planned to walk to the cathedral for the main 11am morning service, about half an hour away.


Crossing Centenary Square, we could see the new Octagon Tower is gradually dominating the skyline. With 49 floors it will be, for now, the tallest building in the city. It is expected to provide 364 apartments of varying sizes.

We were in good time for the service. Although not everyone comking was here at the start, eventually the cathedral was quite full. The choir was a small all-female adult choir who nevertheless made music that filled the building. The atmosphere generally was friendly and there was a good mixture of ages, gender, ethnicity and, as far as we could tell, socio-economic. Almost no children, however but plenty of what seemed to be students.


This evening there will be a celebration of the completion of a three year project to restore the four splendid Burne Jones windows to their original glory. With sun shining, they were an impressive sight.


Afterwards we wanted to walk down i to the Bull Ring shopping centre to return one of the items bought yesterday and to give Christine a further opportunity for look for items not found yesterday. As we walked through New Street station concourse we had a close bullish encounter. This mechanical sculpture was originally created for the 2022 Commonwealth Games but has been retained by popular demand. (It could do we a little better presentation)


Eventually we were able to start to walk back to the boat, trying out different routes to see which is the best - they are all nearly half an hour from the start of New Street, but it was highly suitable weather for strolling. By the time we reached the boat it was well past out normal lunch hour!


Not a lot else happened, save for preparing tonight's roast dinner. Did take a moment to take a further view of the Octagon Tower that even better shows how it will dominate and how most of its residents will have a wide panorama.


And finally a view of our mooring - still not too busy. The new four day mooring rules are perhaps having some impact.

0.0 Miles - 0 Locks

Saturday 20 April 2024

Central Birmingham

Today's Canals - Worcester and Birmingham, BCN


The weather today was very similar to the past few days, with bright spells and high winds. Although we were awake early, it was around 9.30 when we cast off. We wanted to get to the centre of Birmingham in good time to make sure of a mooring but also we needed to stop on the way at Selly Oak for a supermarket shop.


This may look like the obligatory snap of the restored former toll house at Kings Norton Junction, but actually the main feature is meant to be the sky (OK, just kidding!)


Just after the junction are indications that this was once a wharf, the industrial buildings behind were originally Sherborne Mill, a paper mill and printing works founded in 1829 and lasted until 1972. Its main products were wrapping paper and paper bags for the retail grocery market. See here for more information with a picture of the works in 1881 here. The wharf was known as Sherborne Wharf - not to be confused with the same name in central Birmingham where we have left the boat on several previous occasions.

The sun was in just the wrong direction for taking photos as we continued northwards to Selly Oak. Here we were able to moor in the new basin opposite Sainsbury (but we did have to negotiate around a group of novice paddlers) Once we had completed the shopping we decided that there was too much to lug across the footbridge back to the  boat so Mike went unloaded to bring the boat across to where Christine waited.

We continued on then into Birmingham but paused as soon as we rea ched the water point at Granville Street. Our tank was quite low it took a while to fill. As we set off again, a chap on a boat moored two along said that there was very little room, if any, to moor - he had just  walked along to check it out. However, we found there was a long space, room for two, around the corner. As we were tying up, another boat - with a very newbie steering - arrived and was determined to fit in.  To manage this Mike had to move up to share a ring with the nearest boat. In the meantime, Christine walked along to outmore normal mooring spot outside the Arena and 'summoned' Mike by mobile phone to bring the boat along while she chatted up one of the musicians supporting the Jethro Tull event tonight.



Mike came through Worcester Bar and under Broad Street. What is usually called Broad Street Tunnel as it is so wide and under various buildings now has an alternate name of Black Sabbath Bridge. In 2019 a bench was installed on the bridge to honour this band which has its roots in a nearby part of the city.


The famous junction where the Birmingham and Fazeley joins the BCN Main Line followed . . . 


. . .  and just after, Old Turn junction. Here the original Brindley line followed what is now called Ouzells Loop. Just after we pulled onto the almost empty moorings opposite Legoland Discovery Centre.

A father and small boy walked passed, the latter clutching his Lego bag. On asking him if he had enjoyed his visit - yes - the father remarked somewhat ruefully that it cost a fortune!

Mid afternoon - around 4 o'clock - Christine suggested that we still had time to get to the Body Shop and M and S before they closed. We quickly shut up the boat and walked through ICC and across Centenary Square to the start of New Street. First up was Body Shop where Christine had very friendly service to assist in her choices. Very different was M and S where it feels almost as if it is an automated warehouse. Very few staff to assist and even the checkouts are now largely self service. But then, one chain is hanging on by the skin of its teeth and the other is still surviving. There is a real danger that we might just whisper "Not like it used to be in the old days!" Best keep quiet . . .

Friday 19 April 2024

Three Tunnels to Kings Norton

Today's  Canal - Worcester and Birmingham


This milestone, almost opposite our overnight mooring, is dedicated to Rev Alan White. For some time he was both Chaplain and head of Mathematics at Bromsgrove School and later became priest-in-charge of Tardebigge Parish. He became a popular historian of the local area, the canals in particular and published a number of books.


As we prepared to set off there was still a light drizzle but it quickly cleared and most of the day was quite sunny but the stiff breeze meant that warmer layers were still needed.

Just a short distance to the last lock in the Tardebigge flight, much deeper than all of the others. As Christine steered the boat into the lock it came to a dead stop, half in and half out. No amount of forward or reverse would shift it (and, no we had not left a fender down) Eventually, Mike was able to flush the boat out with a short burst through a top paddle. The boat, once free, came in smoothly,  but to be safe Christine kept it moving forward and backwards as the lock was filled.


However, with the top gate open, the boat only moved a couple of metres before once again stopping, this time very firmly, with no opportunity for flushing. We pushed and pulled, tried the engine and muscle to no avail. We identified the point at which something was caught but it was about 300 mm below the surface. We tried forcing it down with long pole but as soon as it was a little bit loose it floated back up enough to re-establish the blockage. The final trick, before ringing CaRT, was to get several people to step on and off the gunnel to see if rocking it would help. Surprisingly, this did loosen it enough to reverse a bit further and to make sure that the obstacle - probably a piece of wood but we never saw it - did not catch again. Despite taking what felt like a long time, the boat ahead of us had still not quite finished with the water point.

As, by now, there was a queue for the service point, we did not completely fill the water tank and left as soon as we had dealt with the various disposals. At least the washing machine had completed its task - Christine set it going as soon as we turned on the engine.


The first tunnel is only a very short distance beyond the wharf. (This maintenance base, still used today, was not the original wharf which is the other end of the tunnel and now used by Anglo Welsh as a bhore base)


The towpath at the site of the bank slippage that delayed us at the end of last year, is still closed but it seems that there is no advance warning or even explanation. Two walkers were frantically consulting their maps and smartphone to find an alternative route.


Little has changed since the canal was cleared and the bank made safe, if not yet passable on foot.


Shortwood was the second tunnel - neither remarkably long, 8 or 9 minutes each.


We continued through Alvechurch and found a lunch mooring opposite Withybed  Moorings who kindly found us space to moor for the weeks while we had to wait for the canal to re-open, allowing us to return home instead.


This stretch of towpath looks uninteresting, save for that it seems to have been re-built more recently than the adjacent sections.


However, this was where line of the canal re-joined at one end of a short diversion that was created when the nearby motorway was built. Seemingly it was cheaper to do this that raise the elevation of the road which was otherwise too low to give sufficient clearance for  boats - the road is on an incline at this point (even if our photo does not  make it very clear!)


We were now on the Birmingham Level with a long cruise uninterrupted by locks. Just after passing Bittell reservoir we spotted the place where a fallen tree closed the canal for a couple of days last week. Surprising that no liveaboards have yet taken advantage of the neat pile of logs.

I


t did not look as if the tree was as substantial as some and only minor damage to the offside bank resulted from the fall.


And so to Wast Hill Tunnel, very much longer than the other two - about 2500m. Despite it taking a little over half an hour to navigate, we did not have to pass another boat coming southwards.

Just after the tunnel we stopped for the night on the moorings a little south of Kings Norton Junction, a spot we have stopped at several times before.

9.1 Miles - 1 Lock

Thursday 18 April 2024

Tardebigge Top (almost)

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

There were several other boats that had arrived after us yesterday that we anticipated would be making the ascent today. The flight seemed to be set in our favour (that is, all the locks empty) so we wanted to be first up! This might also mean we could have help from any volunteer lock keeper on duty!

As a result, Mike made a start single handing the first two locks. (No photo of the start as, for some unknown reason, the camera battery was almost flat) It was a brilliant morning, bright skies and the con trails high above us were not being blown away. A little chilly to start with but the effort of working locks so close together soon helped with that. We entered the bottom lock at 8:02.



As we were about to exit the third lock, Christine emerged and so we continued at a better pace. Six locks up we met a volunteer walking down the towpath from their start point close to the middle of the flight. He was not only a very pleasant and cheerful person but also knew just how to give us the right level of help in a smooth and efficient manner.


Here the fields growing oil seed were at their most striking, enhanced by the bright weather.


At lock 44 we took a break to have a mug of coffee each and a chance to hear more of the volunteer's story. He has been doing this for some time and covers several mornings a week before then taking on grandparent duties with a 12 year old grandson after school! 


By 11:30 high level cloud started to gather, ready to create the grey cover that was forecast for the afternoon.


Just an ordinary top ground paddle but whilst waiting for the lock to fill . . .


. . . we wondered why two of the nuts were square and two hexagonal? Trivia!


The reservoir was in a much healthier state that many times we have passed here. However, it usually is like this at the very start of the season - how well will it last this year? We read a couple of days ago that some water companies are already suggesting that hosepipe bans will be inevitable in the summer . . .


We had expected that our volunteer would turn around at the mid point when we met with a team coming down. In the end, they decided to stay with the boats that they were already helping so we had the same person right to our last lock. We eventually thanked him, bade farewell as he closed up and started to feed some water down the flight as a few pounds were fairly low even though we were the first boat of the day.

We have found in recent years that the moorings in the long pound below the top lock are better than those right at the top, opposite the wharf. There was plenty of space when we arrived there was only one other boat already moored. We exited the penultimate lock (57) at 12:17, four and a quarter hours after entering the first, including a half our coffee break. The help meant that we completed the marathon in much better shape than we had feared - it was actually a very enjoyable day (well, morning anyway!) However, we certainly did not attempt to make any further progress today.

2.1 Miles - 29 Locks

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Tardebigge Bottom

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Today was somewhat colder but still mostly sunny. In the sunshine there was warmth but this was lost when exposed to the biting wind. There was no point in making an early start as we do not have enough time (and probably energy!) to do both the Stoke flight of six locks in the same day as Tardebigge with its 30 locks. The pounds in the latter flight are all too short for mooring, apart from the one next to the top.


Firstly we cruised the slightly longer pound before the first of the Stoke locks. This area was once heavily involved in the production of salt from brine pumped from underground. In between some older buildings,  modern housing has now taken over, even losing the previously only surviving building from the salt works. (See our blog from 2014)


This now unused bridge once formed part of a short branch from the main railway line (to the right of the picture) into Stoke Works on the opposite side of the canal. Another example of how the railways undermined the once- profitable canal traffic.


We stopped for a short top up to the water tank before starting the first lock in the Stoke flight. Once the lock was filled we paused long enough to empty the elsan and dispose of some rubbish. Alas, the plastic bottle containing new elsan blue sprang a leak - we will have to clean out the bow locker later! The wharf here was once important but seems to pre-date the industrial developments which are about a mile to the south. Many of the wharf buildings are now used as the hire base for part of the Black Prince fleet.


We were now into the main part of the flight. At this stage we had not seen any other moving traffic but a little later we did see another boat following behind. They did not catch us up until well after we had moored. 


Christine was now on the towpath, wielding a windlass - she went ahead to open the bottom gates as the locks were already empty.


We keep an eye on the bricks in the locks to see it we can spot ones we have not seen before. Not sure about this one but a lot of interesting detail about Joseph Hamblet can be found here. After declaring his business insolvent on two occasions he later took on a side trade of running a pub. What we had not realised before is that in the mid 19C, brick making was seasonal and so it was often necessary for small brick makers to have another source of income. Joseph Hamblet specialised in blue engineering bricks, known especially for their extra strength. He eventually became quite successful with Hamblet's Blue Brick Works showing on the OS maps at the turn of the 20C. They later merged with another brick company.


Eventually we arrived at the top of the flight and it was only a short distance to the moorings at the bottom of the Tardebigge flight. We had hoped that our timing would mean that we could moor as far away from the pub as possible - we know from previous visits that this is 'a good idea' as the smell of catering can be a tad oppressive. Indeed we were able to moor in exactly the same spot as two occasions last year!

We were also in time for lunch and a slow afternoon - apart from laundry and cleaning the bow locker. We now have a tastefully blue shaded mop!


2.0 Miles - 6 Locks

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Astwood

Today's Canals - Droitwich, Worcester and Birmingham

Steve arrived (from  boat next door!) just after 9 and set about fitting the new fan unit which eventually arrived late yesterday afternoon. It was not long before there was further bad news! He spotted a fault with the burner tube. Whilst just putting it back with the new fan might have worked, we were concerned that another issue might thus be awaiting us just around the corner. Steve telephoned the nearest source of spare parts, Evesham Marina, and yes, they did have one in stock. We opted to delay our departure yet further whilst we sorted out the heater 'properly'.


Christine and Mike drove down to Evesham - around 40 minutes each way and a friendly member of staff in the Chandlery quickly relieved us of £262 (and we were relieved to have it in our possession!) The satnav found a slightly quicker route back so it was well before noon that Steve could start to re-assemble the heater and to re-install it.



The layout of the engine bay, never an easy place to work at best, meant that the least accessible spot was chosen for the heater! Well, something has to go there, not all can be close at hand. Meanwhile ha  , Mike went back into town to charge up the car but, alas, another car had just started a very long charging spell so Mike returned with nothing more than the loaf he was tasked to buy whilst the electrons poured into the battery (or not).

Once back in place the heater turned up trumps and worked almost immediately - thanks so much, Steve. Hooray, we could now set about casting off. Actually, lunch took priority and it was 2 pm when we were finally underway. Huge sigh of relief. (Still have the oven  burner to get fixed . . . )


Here is the offending burmer tube and, if you look very closely, you will see two tiny pinpricks of light through a hole that should not be there. It seems an added bonus is that the heater is now much quieter than it was, at least back in January when it was last on.


The pair of local swans were nesting in their usual place. OK, so we have included a photo of this before but tradition rules.


Shortly after turning out from the marina entrance we arrived at our first three locks. We were treated to a very easy ride as three very friendly volunteers were most keen that we should step back on board whilst they did all the hard work. (Do not fret, there will be plenty more for us to do ere long!)


After Hanbury Junction we had about half an hour level cruise before the start of the six Astwood Locks. Fortunately they were all set for us (except the last which had partially re-filled itself)


The after noon was very pleasant even if the wind had not abated much - made crossing the marina 'interesting'. The one or two rain clouds kindly dropped their water just a short distance ahead of us so we also kept dry.

By now it was 4.30 so we deemed it a bit too ambitious - in the circumstances - to tackle the next flight of six which would have left us with the Tardebigge flight tomorrow. Instead we will have a easy day before the marathon on Thursday.

3.2 Miles - 9 Locks