Tuesday 31 March 2020

Goin' Nowhere!

Not on a canal

About time to update - when we left the boat at the marina we fully expected to be back in just over two weeks but it was not to be.

We returned home a couple of days earlier than originally planned as Mike had a date at the annual St Piran's Awards in Perranzabuloe Church. These awards, in the form of a small cross made from Cornish tin, are made by the bishop to lay people who have been nominated locally for their contribution to church life, often over long periods. The idea was that of the previous bishop, Tim, and I was part of the initial occasion. I have been involved several times - the Chair of the Diocesan Synod House of Laity**  reads each citation and formally presents each recipient to the bishop. It is a wonderful occasion and people who receive a cross are able to bring a number of personal guests who are then encouraged to be vocal in acclaiming the person they have come with after the cross has been presented.

We also asked Steve, the marine engineer that stays on the boat next to Alchemy, to take a look at our chimney. For a while we have had a leak down the side of the flue after heavy rain. Recently, we took a closer look - previously we have simply renewed the mastic around the junction between the flue and the roof - and spotted that when the chimney moves from side to side - in the wind or when being removed for cruising - the sealant can be seen to open up a very tiny gap.

A few days after we returned home we had a message to say that he had taken a detailed look, removing the ceiling cover inside and he could see that there was an issue with the roof insulation and also how the flue inside the roof is secured. He told us that after several days of testing it is now fully waterproof once more!

As soon as we returned home we were warned by our daughter - in the strongest possible terms - that a prolonged stay at home was most likely and, indeed, it was not long before we were having to practice something unheard of before: social distancing. With further restrictions on the cards, we made sure that our larder, fridge and freezer were able to withstand at least a week at a time! By now, supermarket shelves were starting to thin out.

However, by 24th March Boris had 'spoken to the nation' and we are all now under severe limitations on what we can do outside our own homes. Fortunately we have a couple of fields very close to our house that were provided by the developer of the estate for amenity purposes so we can take a short walk each day for exercise, but it does not feel the same as navigating a set of locks!

Last Friday we did go to Tesco for a 'weekly' shop in the hour's slot reserved for those 70+ or vulnerable. We had about a 45 minute queue, all marked out with the necessary social distances, before we were allowed in. No flour but we obtained most of what we wanted. The downside was having to accept that we are now labelled 'elderly'. Before this we were most definitely not elderly! The rest of the day was a bit of a downer as a result. It is also strange to realise how we have all succumbed to the 'just in time' way of life, topping up with small shopping lists every day or do. How much milk do we need for a week?

Our marina, along with all the others, is now shut other than for those living on board. Leisure boaters are not allowed even to visit. We have been assured that they will check the electricity meter and top up if necessary. Our main problem is that we left the Webasto heater on frost which we usually do during the winter. However, we are no getting a little concerned about how much diesel there is in the tank and when it might run out. We may have to ask for further help ere long! Not sure what will happen with the heater if it comes on with no fuel.

To think, when we left the boat we had never heard of social distancing or Zoom, now both regular parts of our necessary vocabulary. At least one good thing - it seems likely that there will be a massive re-think about the way the NHS has been treated and funded over the past decade now that everyone has discovered that we have no other agency to look after us when it really matters.

0 Miles - 0 Locks (!!)

** (Yes, that's still Mike for a little while longer - his planned resignation at Easter has been put on hold along with all elected office holders in many organisations)

Friday 6 March 2020

Back to the Marina - Again

Today's Canals - Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich Junction

It has been much colder overnight and we awoke to see a light frost covering everywhere. However, it was also a cloudless sky and the views were spectacular.

We only had an hour and half run back to the marina so we were in no hurry to set off - Christine did some of the packing ready for tomorrow's return to home, whilst Mike finished the book he had been reading this trip.

Mid morning we upped stakes (actually, released our mooring ropes from the chains we use to tie up to armco) with a great view across the field to the former farmhouse beside the church at Oddingley.

Before long we arrived at Dunhampstead Tunnel - fairly short, wide enough to pass a boat coming the other way and really quite dry.

There is a number of substantial houses close to the canal along the next stretch, each surrounded by plenty of space, no chance of being annoyed by noisy neighbours! This one was especially grand - it appears to remain a single property despite its unusual size.

This section of the canal has reeds left along the towpath side. Whilst they make a splendid photo at this time of the year, unless controlled they will soon become an obstruction to boats passing in opposite directions.

After turning left at Hanbury Junction we arrived at the top of the three locks down to the marina. These are unusual in having working side ponds which the lock keepers (mostly volunteers) are keen to see used. In drier weather they do save a certain amount of water - that is why they were built. Today we had two keepers still around and keen to help. Normally until the start of the main season they only come on in the morning for a short time just to check the water levels on the Droitwich. The warm conditions today meant that they were not anxious to leave early! The number of hire boats temporarily using the marina here for turn around have kept the flight unseasonably busy.

Passing through the middle pound.

The lock keeper at the last lock was commenting to Christine on how smoothly she steered into the lock. Alas, unused to such compliments she was completely distracted from making sure that she stopped before running into the bottom gates! The front fender, already in need of some TLC, came adrift and Mike had to effect a running repair as soon as we were back on our pontoon. We concluded that we will need to source a new fender ere ling but would like to find a shape that is less prone to slipping round to one side of the bow.

After lunch we had various tasks as well as cleaning ready for departure. Mike is trying to fit a supplementary bilge pump to dry out the sections not usually pumped by the existing auto pump - not quite sure how the rain gets in, but sometimes it does. He went up to the nearby garden centre at Wychbold for a short piece of pipe - he had obtained the pump and wiring items when last at home. However, the spare 12 v plug that he had hoped to use turned out to be incomplete so the project awaits completion next visit.

3.3 Miles - 3 Locks

Thursday 5 March 2020


Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

Today was grey throughout and, unlike yesterday, there was a very chilly breeze around but apart from a very few moments it remained dry. Before setting off, Mike walked to a nearby convenience store - they had the required paper (and accepted the token) but no feta cheese.

Shortly after we cast off, a boat came the other way - we have seen about five or six boats on the move each day on this trip.

Ten minutes later we arrived at the first lock of the day.

At Tolladine, the next lock, there was a large lump of weed that had come adrift from the bank and,whilst it looks benign in the photo, became a problem when the top gate was being opened to let the boat out. It was too heavy to lift out so we just managed to push it to one side.

After another short gap we reached the bottom lock of the Offerton flight of six. Immediately we could see that the pound above was very low, perhaps half a metre below normal level. We came lout of the lock very gently but at least did not catch on the cill - being stuck at the point can be rather serious matter especially of the bottom gates leak. Christine walked ahead to make sure that the next lock was ready for the boat to come straight in and Mike drove very gently and was quite pleased that he managed to reach the end without undue incident, just a few humps and bumps along the way. Alas, he rejoiced too soon as there was a particularly shallow part just below the lock, barely a boat length away and, despite several attempts, we were stuck. Christine then went ahead and ran some water down from the second pound and it did not take too much to give us sufficient depth to nudge gently into the lock. Phew!

The pounds became gradually fuller and by the time we were at the penultimate lock all looked normal. There was a CaRT lock lengthsman who had just arrived and we were able to let him know that there was action needed below! He, Graham, was particularly chatty and very keen to tell us all about his dog, a pure bred saluki whose grandmother had been a supreme champion at Crufts!

As it was still a little early for lunch we pressed on for about half an hour and moored at Oddingley, where we planned to visit the ancient church, set on a small knoll just a field away from the canal.

After ;lunch we walked the short distance to the church - we found a gate that gave us a short cut across a small paddock.

The churchyard is still active with several burials in recent years including one highly decorated, remembering a mother who died last August, aged just 30. From the churchyard we could look down towards the canal and keep an eye on the boat.

Inside the church us comparatively small although quite typical of those that served but a tiny community.

We spotted a couple of reminders that when the nearby Hadzor Church closed in 1970, some of its belongings were transferred here when this became their parish church. The lectern bible, as well as a large print prayer book, are inscribed a presented by Richard Holmden Amphlett, one time rector at Hadzor as well as Lord of the Manor. One of his sons, Richard Paul, became a very successful barrister in London and later a Conservative MP for East Worcestershire.

Another item from Hadzor is the small organ. Hadzor Hall dates from the late 18th C and was the seat of the Galton family until the early part of the 20th C. Hadzor Hall was previously owned by the Amphletts but the above Richard ran short of funds and sold it to the Galtons, moving to the nearby much smaller Wychbold Hall.

4.1 Miles - 8 Locks

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Worcester and Flooded Severn

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

It was a grey day when we awoke but at least the blanket of cloud kept the colder blasts away during the morning. Before we set off Mike walked to Asda for the usual paper, milk and bread (but he did add beans and wine to the shopping basket!)

On the way back he had a good view of our overnight mooring.

We set off and dropped down the final two locks - much deeper than those we came though yesterday which were much more uniform in size. The final lock at The Commandery is almost squeezed in between the buildings before the canal below dives under the road bridge.

We tied up at the service station. We connected up the water pipe, expecting to empty the elsan whilst the tank was filling. However the facility was padlocked shut with no notice about what other option there was. Fortunately a boater on the opposite side pointed Mike in the direction of the marina facilities just around the corner which were just being cleaned. The cleaner told Mike that there is a real problem with vandalism and the main one canalside has been out of action for some time after being totally destroyed. The marina facility has also been attacked - she understands it is all drug dealer related - and even the lock had glue put into it. They are awaiting a replacement lock!

After we had finished servicing we moved the boat back a short distance to the visitor moorings and locked up so that we could take a look at the river.

We walked across a swing bridge that crosses the entrance to the main part of the marina before arriving at the two Diglis locks that take the navigation down to the river.

The large amount of rain over the last couple of months have kept the river very full although just here the flood plain is just about able to contain the waters. Going by the debris it seems that the level has dropped about 300 mm from its peak.

The lower lock - in the distance of the above photo because we could not get any closer - is only just visible above the water level.

The middle pound is only a little below the marina basin level - normally the lock has a rise of over 2.5 m with the lower lock a further 2.2 m.

The automatic water level indicator board was showing both places unnavigable - an understatement!

We then walked as close to the river as we could - at least we could cross the entrance to the Oil Basin  - again this is normally well below the road level. The blocks of apartments in this are have all been designed to cope with flooding around the base of them but the signs are that it has nit quite risen that far (yet?).

We continued on the access road leading to Diglis Lock on the river. before long we could see that there was a limit to how close we would be able to get! That pontoon gangway normally points downwards.

The lock is well and truly inundated - the zoomed in picture suggests that the gates cause just a little backing up of the river which otherwise looks quiet calm.

On the way back we managed to photo the lower canal lock.

By the time we returned to the boat and had turned it around in the basin it was still not quite lunch time so we opted to go up the first two locks back to where we moored last night.

Just after the first lock we passed the rear of Fownes Hotel. This has been created by converting an old Victorian glove factory.

After lunch we continued back up the canal but before long rain arrived and with it the temperature became much chillier. As we approached the lower Bilford Lock we could see a boat attempting to wind in the space between the locks - there is a proper winding hole here. However, as we came up the first lock it was obvious that they were in some difficulty. Mike went to see if we could help and found that the couple, on a hire boat from Droitwich, had been there for half an hour trying to turn so that they could make there way back to the base. The problem was that they were trying to do so by reversing into the winding hole and then unable to turn the boat at all. They happily accepted some instruction - principally that the only way to make the manoeuvre is to point the bow in first and then use the engine to turn from the stern. before too long they were happily on their way having done something that they had never tried before!

Although the rain had eased a bit we pulled in for an overnight mooring not much further above the two locks, opposite the fields of Perdiswell Leisure Centre

3.0 Miles - 8 Locks

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Worcester - but not the end

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

The day started greyer than yesterday, but with plenty of sunny interludes. As a result there were fewer really cold blasts than yesterday and the afternoon turned really pleasant. Before setting off we managed to make contact with Martyn at Travelsat and it turned out that he had a job in Stourport this morning so would contact us again when he was finished there.

Not long after we set off we passed under the motorway . . .

. . . and immediately arrived at the top of the six lock Offerton flight. Blue patches in the sky. We made good progress down the locks - apart from one that had an auto closing bottom gate. Mike had opened both gates and then walked back to descend the lock ladder in order to drive the boat out. Just as he put the engine into gear he spotted that one gate was now closed so had to return up the ladder and walk around to shut it. Again, by the time he had walk part way back it was closed! Fortunately this time one of the crew from a boat coming down behind us arrived and was able to hold it open.

At the bottom lock there is a footbridge across the tail. From a distance it looks as if it should carry a public footpath but it ends at a locked and keypad protected security gate that leads into the adjacent rugby football ground.

At the next bridge there is a boundary stone marking the start of the city.

There are also three quite distinctive milestones on the way into the centre.

We had still not heard from Martyn when we arrived at the two Bilford locks and, as there was a helpful lock keeper to assist boats through, we continued. However, just as Mike was bringing the boat out of the upper lock the phone rang and it was agreed that we would wait here.

We started on lunch whilst keeping a beady eye to see if anyone arrived. Before long the phone rang again to say that the place on the bridge where he normally stops to meet up with boats was occupied by roadworks so he was parked 50 m away. Could we bring the dish to him? Of course.

He quickly sorted out a replacement base and fitted it to the main dish for us. As always we are very happy to give a plug for Travelsat - his reputation for helpful customer service is well justified and in the end he only charged us an incredibly modest amount which include him bringing the part to us! He delivers all over the canal network - the job he had just been to, a reported problem with kit which he had installed some while back, turned out to be a simple user error and did not require any new items to be sold!

With that we could finish lunch - whilst making himself to cheese on toast, the oven door came adrift and was unwilling go be refitted. Oh dear! Best to finish lunch first before looking more closely. The installation manual was of no help but later, fortified by sandwiches as well as the toast, Mike made a more careful and detailed examination and, after trying various manipulations, eventually found one that persuaded the hinge to pop back into place.Let's hope that it is not a more serious problem.

As we continued into the city the weather remained pleasant.

This is the bridge that carries the railway line into Worcester Foregate to and from Droitwich. It is surprising how sometimes the views from each direction look very different - on the train the view is dominated by the remains of the industrial past of the city, much now taken over by large sheds - light industry and out and out of town retail units.

We passed the end of the short arm that is now a hire boat base and then under several bridges close together. Just after Bridge 5 we spotted a space on a short official visitor mooring that said that it was only three minutes to the city centre. Rather than risk not finding a suitable space further on we pulled in, in the end next to the same boat as last night! Hence the title of today's blog -we are not quite at the terminal basin for the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

In the past we have been to an 'all you can eat' style buffet eatery on Cathedral Square so it seems likely that we will try that this evening, only 12 minutes walk away, the far side of the main shopping area.

4.9 Miles - 12 Locks

Monday 2 March 2020

Out of the marina

We drove up from home on Friday morning setting off rather earlier than we usually do. The journey was, this time, without incident and the traffic was remarkably free flowing. The reason for the early start was that Mike had a meeting in London overnight Saturday and Sunday but, with an 11 am start, it was not really sensible to travel by train that morning. So, he had already booked tickets and a hotel for Friday night.

Christine planned to stay on the boat whilst Mile was in London but not longer after we arrived she received an email from a friend who had moved from Wadebridge to near Ledbury. She was expecting builders to arrive on Monday to start work on installing a new kitchen but her sister had just been admitted to hospital for observation. Christine offered to go over and help clear the kitchen, an offer that was gladly accepted.

As a result, Christine caught a train from Droitwich to Ledbury where the friend picked her up by car, just 15 minutes away from the house. Not knowing how much of a task it would be, Christine was prepared for an overnight stay although they managed very well and, even with time out for a meal at the local community pub, she was able to head back to the boat late afternoon. The journey back was not quite as expected as a signal failure meant that a replacement coach was laid on to take passengers from Ledbury to Worcester where they could rejoin the railway for their onward travel.

Mike had a trouble free journey back from Docklands to Droitwich, via Euston and Birmingham New Street and Christine collected him by car from the station. She had also tracked down some special sausages from Waitrose - he had had a roast chicken lunch at the end of the conference!

Today we are able to break out of the marina and go cruising, even if just for a few days - we have to return home on Saturday. In any case our cruising options are a bit limited as the Severn is still non navigable, with Storm Jorge the latest to drop a mass of water on the river's catchment area. We did not feel like going up Tardebigge just for the fun of coming straight back down again so this leaves the route to Worcester. But that is only just over a day away so we may need to find other places to visit or just keep the fire in all day and settle down with a book!

One matter we do need go attend to is that the gales on Saturday left our satellite dish with a fatal crack in the base so that it can no longer stand and point in the right direction. Hence we will need to track down a replacement. At least we have Netflix via the mobile phone if books run out.

We moved off our pontoon just after 10:30 but only as far as the service mooring at first as we wanted to pick up a back of coat and complete other servicing. Because of the prblems with the River Severn and the M5 culvert, our marina has been doing well out of providing a couole of hire bases slightly further away, the facility for their hirers to pick up of leave their boats here, A couple were on the service mooring being prepared for this weekend. It seems that there have been a surprising number of hires over the past few weeks.

It was around 11:30 that we finally made it through the marina entrance and out onto the canal proper, turning left up the three locks to Hanbury Junction. As the picture shows, it was a bright and sunny day - quite a change from the almost non-stop rain for what feels like an age. At times it was surprisingly warm.

Our first lock this season
To our surprise there was a volunteer lock keeper on duty - he would normally have left by now but had been delayed - and he was not expecting boats either! Just the other side of the marina, down three different locks, is the culvert on the M5 and that is not navigable when the level in Body Brook rises.

As it happened, when we reached the water level indicator board above the top lock it was showing the culvert as currently passable, but we would still have had to turn around before reaching the Severn and that is even closer than Worcester!

Just after the junction we were rather surprised to see the canal somewhat narrowed by several widebeam boats -after all, this is a narrow canal! There is a boat sales base at the former wharf and we supposed that these had been delivered by road and craned in so that potential buyers can have a better inspection.

The weather continued to be great!

We moored up just after Dunhampstead Tunnel for lunch- Christine had already prepared one of her thick winter soups.

More sunshine but the temperature was falling rapidly and when the clouds covered the sun for a short while it was time for a thicker layer of clothes!

Oddingley Church is very close to the canal (or, perhaps more historically correct, the canal is close to the church since the church was here first!). It looks interesting and perhaps we will take a look on the way back.

We did continue a little further in the afternoon but stopped for the night at Tibberton moorings as we did not fancy the six locks of Offerton or the mooring opportunities (or lack thereof) immediately beyond. OK, so the boat in the picture is not us but the bridge made a better scene and, in any case, that boat is right outside a popular pub so we may well have a quieter spot a few boat lengths away!

4.2 Miles - 3 Locks.