Wednesday 30 October 2019

Back into the Marina

Today's Canals - Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich

Our final cruising day of the season and another bright and sunny one, although a little more cloud cover meant that it was not quite a cold as the previous few days.

Overnight we realised that the old Pump House building appears to have been demolished. So, unusually for us, these two pictures are from an earlier visit in 2014. No doubt someone felt that they did not fit in with the new housing developments. Pity.

We set off in good time, with just a short distance before the Astwood Flight.

The trees provide a colourful display alongside John Corbett Way.

This cottage has just been sold - looks interesting with what appears to be the old privy intact (or was it a coal house?)

We arrived at Astwood Top Lock and began our descent.

A hire boat from Worcester arrived soon after and as they had a good crew they kindly closed the gates for most of the locks which speeded up our timings.

The previous blog claimed that a bridge like this was perhaps unique - today we were easily proved wrong!

There is a short run from the flight to Hanbury Junction where we turned right onto the Droitwich. There were three volunteers on duty today, one at each of the three locks before the marina. These all have working side ponds and the volunteers enjoy helping crews use them and so save a bit of water - even if today there was plenty coming down the Worcester and Birmingham.

There were several boats coming up and the boat which had been behind us at Astwood turned down here. However, we were a bit puzzled as the automated indicator clearly showed that the conditions on the Severn were unsafe for navigation. We did later see, as we drove into town, that the boat going down had had to turn around as it was now making its way back up to Hanbury.

We turned into the marina and found our berth - pone or two people including our pontoon neighbour, recognised so it felt a bit like returning home! As well as mooring we had to set up the long term services - water and electricity.

However, we have committed ourselves to a thorough clean of the boat especially as the outside is looking rather mucky. As soon as lunch was over, Christine started on the inside and completed the front cabin and the bathroom. The cleaning water looked very unhealthy by the time she had finished! Well, it has been rather muddy on the towpath of late!

Mike tackled the roof which he gave a preliminary wash and scrub but it will take more effort yet before we are at all satisfied. The non-slip surface holds dirt especially well and we have found that by far the best tool for the job is a cheap foam sponge combined with lots (and we mean lots) of elbow grease. A good dollop of Flash in the cleaning water also helps. We find that this way removes the dirt much more effectively than a scrubbing brush or similar.

Also during the day Christine has been tracking down a replacement glass screen for the multifuel stove. There is a retail agent in Pershore, about ten miles away, who has been very helpful but it seems that the smallest parts (the clips) are just not in the UK at the moment and on two weeks delivery! However, he hopes to be able to tell us tomorrow that he has the rest and so long as the old clips still work we may be OK. The event has prompted us to read the instruction manual again and it seems that we may have fallen into the wrong way of using the stove and so, having been advised that we can still use the stove so long as the crack does not leak smoke, we have a much hotter cabin tonight!

By 3.30 the light was fading and the outside temperature falling so we called a halt to cleaning and popped into town for a few items at Morrisons.

3.2 Miles - 9 Locks

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Stoke Prior

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Another brilliant late October day - chilly at first but not impossible. We set off just before 9 - the only question was just how far could we get today with just the two of us? We have made it all the way to Droitwich before but that was with the assistance of Andrew. A crew of three can work two or three minutes faster per lock.

With nothing but lock after lock there is not too much to put in this blog but here is a series of random photos, all of which ask the question "What is there not to like?"

Oh, look! There were two volunteer lock keepers just below - would they come to our assistance? Hopes faded when we were firmly told that they were helping a single hander and rules meant that had to have two of them in such cases! It looked very much as if the boater had a very easy ride as the volunteers did all of the work . We saw another volunteer a few locks later but he was already working another boat up the flight. Now we don't want to carp as we are grateful for volunteers when they are available but have no expectations about then being there. We also realise that their base (an hence start point) is some way down the flight and they tend to work boats uphill but actually it is going downhill that their help is most useful. (Shutting the two bottom gates is the more time consuming for the steerer to do especially those who have given up stepping across the gap between the gates)

We guess that this unique design of footbridge (which carries a public footpath)  dates from horse drawn times - it certainly intrigued a group of youngsters who were following that footpath.

 We had both lost count of the locks as we raced down the final few locks of the Tardebigge flight - and lunch as the reward at the end - so the sudden appearance of this sign was very a welcome.

We did indeed moor below the flight - there is only the shortest of gaps before that start of the six lock Stoke flight.

The windmill, restored in 2013, is part of the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings.

 At Stoke Bottom Lock we made a quick excursion to empty the elsan before completing the flight and then stopping at the Visitor Mooring alongside the former Stoke Works site - now a new housing estate, well advanced and partly occupied.

After the single marked coping brick we included in Sunday's blog we took note of other makers. We assume that so many bricks were needed that the canal company engineers had to source them from several brick works. Also, one or two were dated and it did ,look as if they were introduced during a major repair to the lock side. In some places the bricks were used to fill in gaps between the original large stones. Here are two.

Joseph Hamblet, West Bromwich (we saw several different dates). David Kitching says Joseph Hamblet founded the Piercy Brickworks in West Bromwich works in 1851 and it came to specialise in blue bricks.  They were much in demand in the latter half of the 19th century for railway and other industrial construction.

The Earl of Dudley's Brick Works, Coneygre, Dudley Port, Tipton. The Black Country Living Museum used the pit head at this site as an exhibit.

We also saw this one marked P W Bennitt - the one we included on Sunday was P Bennitt whilst the  David Kitching specifically lists  Pynson Wilmot Bennitt from a Worrcestershire Post Office Directory for 1876.

3.8 Miles - 36 Locks

Monday 28 October 2019


Today's Canals - Stratford, Worcester and Birmingham

We awoke to another bright autumnal day. There had been a touch of frost overnight.

Alongside our mooring we noticed a very large field of what we presumed would be another year's Christmas trees. They looked a little too small for this year. We would see another, even larger, field just a bit further on.

We wanted to give ourselves a possible chance to reach Tardebigge Wharf by the end of today - so that we can get as far down as possible tomorrow - so we set off around nine but, as there was a lift bridge immediately beyond our mooring it needed bot of us to get going. This one proved to need a lot fewer turns than the similar one yesterday.

Whilst there was a chill to the air, especially in places exposed to the wind, it was beautiful cruising day. We stopped briefly at Bridge 20 so that Christine could pop to Wedge's Bakery for some cakes and bread - they are well known in the area for the quality of their produce and this is not the first time we have called here. In fact it is becoming an obligatory halt whenever we come this way.

There is quite a substantial building project underway at Lady Lane Wharf, home to Earlswood Boat Club. The moorings are very much still in use but the club house business had become very run down and we heard around a year ago that it had closed and was being sold for demolition. We have nit yet discovered whether the new building will re-open the club house or whether it will be a private residence.

Shirley Drawbridge carries a public road and so is much heavier than the accommodation bridges. Fortunately it is now electrically powered - but we only caught two vehicles, disappointing.

We suddenly realised that we were passing Annamarie and Kath's boat (The Narrowboat Experience). As they vlog, rather than blog, we do not always manage to catch all of their updates when we are on the boat so it was a bit of a surprise. We paused to say a brief hello but we are not sure whether they recognised our boat! It was not an ideal place to stay alongside and we needed to move along so it was very brief.

The morning remained bright if chilly as we continued on the way towards Kings Norton. We stopped to fill up with water at Bridge 5. There is a handy Co-Op close by where Christine went for a paper and a few food items.

As we passed Lyons Boatyard we were amused by this notice - Beware of Golf Balls. In fact, on the opposite bank is the Cocks Moors Woods Golf Club so perhaps some moorer had had an unfortunate experience with a shot that went very wrong.

This towpath bridge at the entrance to a short arm beside Limkiln Bridge seemed to suggest that there might have been something interesting lurking behind. However, our later study of old maps shows nothing special so perhaps it will just have to be 'an interesting bridge'.

Brandwood Tunnel, like all four of today;s tunnels is both straight and wide. The figure above the portal is said to depict William Shakespeare - not sure why!

Again, we hoped that we would find that this building had a particular use - its architecture is very different from the houses around and is curved to follow the line of the canal - but it seems that it is 'just' yet another apartment block. Some of the flats have great view of the canal.

The unusual guillotine lock just before he end of the Stratford Canal maintained only one inch difference in the level of the water but prevented one company from stealing the other's water! Although it was restored in 2012 it is now only decorative and boats pass straight through.

The former Toll House (owned by CaRT) at the junction suffered a major fire at g the start of this year. It is a listed building but it is not accessible by road. This made the task of the firefighters much more difficult but also limits the potential for the building which has been empty for some time. We could not see whether the scaffolding was merely protective or whether some repairs are already in hand.

Next came the longest tunnel today - Wast Hills - which took us 27 minutes to complete. It is just possible to see a pin point of light at the other end.

A little further and we noticed a sign on the towpath warning us of dredging works and that we might have a 30 minutes delay.

Just as we were coming to a stop beside the towpath (and discovering why dredging is needed!) the digger operator waved us on as he moved everything out of the way. It was amusing to see him move the boat just with the excavator bucket looking like some very weird giant insect!

Later we passed an empty pan on its way to the dredge site.

And then, just before Alvechurch, where the pans are emptied into waiting lorries where the waste silt will be taken away to a controlled tip. Altogether, it is quite an expensive process, especially when the dredgings cannot be left alongside the canal.

Mike was allowed a spell inside to warm up whilst Christine continued, taking us through the two mid length tunnels, Shortwood and Tardebigge.

The wharf at Tardebigge is immediately after the tunnel - we pulled in very briefly just to empty the elsan and dispose of rubbish before loving to the visitor moorings above the locks on the other side. We know what faces us tomorrow . . .

18.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday 27 October 2019

Hockley Heath

Today's Canals - Grand Union, Stratford

Last night the clocks went back which heralded a remarkable change in the weather from yesterday. We awoke, body clocks a little confused, to clear blue skies but a sharp edge to the temperature.

The foliage had white frosty edges and a nearby field looked, through the trees, as if it had a covering of snow, rather than frost.

We aimed to go to the morning service at Rowington Parish Church, a short distance away, across the other side of the canal.  However, it was not until 11 so Mike filled the time by preparing the evening meal. With the clock change it would be ark soon after 5 and our aim was to be above the Lapworth flight or as much of it as possible) by tonight.

Just after 10:30 we locked up the boat and set off along the towpath. The church cannot be seen from the canal, but is just behind the trees in the centre of this photo.

The church looked even smarter today in the sunshine.

Inside it is quite substantial - with only a small number (there were 11 of us all told) it was only planned to use the choir stalls - but reasonably light and open.

The east window has a modern stained glass which was created for the millennium.

A group interested in studying icons as well as spending time writing their own, meets regularly at the church and quite a number, or reproductions of famous ones, were on display.

We were made very welcome and the service, Morning Praise, followed a distinctly Celtic pattern.
We chatted for a while afterwards but wanted to get back to the boat so that we could make good time to our target for tonight.

After a quick change into 'boat' clothes we set off and arrive at Kingswood Junction about 20 minutes later. Here we turned sharp left and then moored briefly so that we could empty the elsan. W id niot intend to fill with water as ewe know that the tap is quite slow - just as well as another boat was filling up and looked to be there for a duration!

We came up the by-pass lock which is now back in action after a period waiting for repair (an alternative route is available via another link)

It was also good to see that the footbridge below lock 19 has also been replaced - it was in a poor condition when we last came through here.

For the first few locks we manage to persuade a couple walking the towpath to help close up the top gates - they suddenly disappeared so we could not thank them.

Sometimes the coping stones are marked with he maker's name. These were from W Bennitt Oldbury. Of course there were many small independent brick works at the height of the industrial period and we have found only a couple of references  - one in a thesis about the impact of industrialisation on Oldbury mentions a Captain William Bennitt who owned four blast furnaces whilst another web site about coping stones shows a similar marking but refers to a Pynson Wilmot Bennitt in the 1870's so we are not really much wiser! However , the bricks seem to have lasted well.

We were assisted by a volunteer lock keeper for much of the flight - he was very efficient and effective so we flew up the flight - overall we took little over two and a half hours.

He left us to complete the last four on our own as two hire boats arrived and would need to make good speed to find somewhere to moor  before it became too dark to continue.

Beside one of the locks we saw this tree which seemed to make an interesting picture.

Almost at the top we noticed this modern house which has a very striking appearance.

A woman was sitting in the sunshine outside the cottage below the top lock busy spinning wool on her treadle machine.

Soon after the top lock we were hoping to moor but some unfriendly signs on the adjacent properties deterred us (even if they were not official) so we had to work through the first of the lift bridges - 53 turns on the windlass to raise it! There followed a long line of permanently moored boats but there was a convenient spot just beyond them - fortunately before the next lift bridge!

4.3 Miles - 19 Locks