Thursday 20 October 2022

End of Season Cleaning

Nothing of great interest to report for today! We spent all of it cleaning, especially those parts that do not get a lot of attention when we are away from base. It rained for much of the day so we would not have had a chance to tackle the outside but we had already agreed to leave that until a later visit when we can bring back the washing and polishing gear that makes a lot of difference to the effort and the result.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Back to the Marina

Today's Canals - Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich

Not far to go today - except that there were still 15 locks to negotiate. Again, all downhill. We realised yesterday that the last time we had done locks downhill without assistance was way back in June when we came down the Rufford Arm, ready for the fist attempt at a Ribble Crossing. The locks on the Ribble Link were downhill on the return but we had lack keepers with us all the way to almost all of the work. Similarly with the Poolstock Locks. Since then we climbed steadily up to the Birmingham Level and only yesterday began the descent down to the marina. When we are on our own with flights of locks we try to be as efficient as we can manage. Mostly, one sets the next lock whilst the other brings the boat out. Closing up the gates at the bottom is more work than at the top (two gates rather than one)

It was not as cold this morning when we first poked our heads out of the warm cabin, but a stiff breeze was with us much of the day. However, we saw none of the forecast rain (still very badly needed). That's the mooring back under the bridge next to the Queen's Head. (Do they all have to change to the King's Head? like QCs become KCs?)

After yesterday's exertions we were not quick off the mark (mind you a larger and fitter crew on the boat that followed us down and moored next to us were even slower away!)

Today the locks are broken up in to more manageable chunks - 6 Stoke Locks, 6 Astwood Locks and 3 Hanbury Locks. The first of the Stoke flight was only a few minutes away.

A fairly new liveaboard single hander was just ahead of us and was very keen to help us as well, opening the top paddles before leaving each lock. Christine discovered (he was quite chatty!) that he is planning a blog on cooking on the cut that will bring him some income as he cruises continuously. Good luck - we will keep an eye open for it. At this stage he was only going as far as Stoke Prior., the bottom of the first flight.

It was not yet lunch time so we made a start on the Astwood Flight. The last lock is a little separate and there is a moor-able stretch just below the penultimate lock. This was the chance for a break.

The afternoon added warm sunshine to the dry weather and it was a pleasant end to our cruising for this season.

We now had a 20 minute run to Hanbury Junction where we turned right onto the Droitwich Canal. Immediately we faced the three Hanbury Locks and, as there are often volunteers on hand here (it seems to be a priority as less experienced boaters can be a bit foxed by the side pounds which are unusually still in use and saving a bit of water each time. Would they be here today? As soon as we made the turn we looked carefully and, at least on tis occasion,m were relived to see that two very helpful volunteers were available and made our final flight just that bit easier.
The wind had picked up a little and changed direction almost completely since this morning so we were taking careful note where it was blowing when it came to reversing into our slot. We did manage to judge it just right as we eased the stern into the gap with the wind continuing to complete the turn. Alas, just as we were half way in, a sudden gust sent things a bit astray but we were by now able to complete the manoeuvre and then tie up.

4.6 Miles - 15 Locks 

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Stoke (Tardebigge Bottom)

Today's Canal - Worcester and Birmingham

We did not moor last night quite as close to Tardebigge as perhaps we should have done - we were getting too accustomed to stopping half way through the afternoon as the evenings draw in earlier. As a result we were prepared to start early and Mike was underway just after 8:30.

As forecast, it was a perfectly clear and sunny day through out. At first, everything was rather cold to touch but the air temperature

was already nearing 'comfortable' and before long it was pleasant indeed.

Back at the start of the season the house at Bittell reservoir was surrounded by scaffolding and intensive updating was in progress. Now it looks very splendid, free of the builders and resplendent in the sunshine.

In between moored boats we managed a good shot of the reservoir, fuller than we might have expected in the light of reports about others. 

In the garden of a canal-side house, just after the Crown Meadow Arm:

This unusual but fine looking hut (too solid to call it a yurt, we think) stands in the grounds of Withybed Moorings. It has a solid fuel heater so meant for sleeping in. Does it appear on AirBnB? Or is it the Marina Manager's Office?

Alvechurch Marina staff were preparing for a boat lift - not one of their hire fleet but a privately owned one.

Two tunnels today, both of similar length. As we entered the first we could see a boat going in the same direction as ourselves - oh dear, will we have to wait for them at the locks?

As we approached the start of Tardebigge Tunnel we could see the spire of the village church - the other side of the hill!

As we emerged from the tunnel we could see that the boat ahead had just pulled in at the service wharf and was preparing to fill their water tank, so we could go straight down to the top lock. However, as Christine went to fill the lock she spotted a boat approaching from below so we had to wait until they had come through. It was another 20 minutes before we were on our way.

The first lock is very deep but all the others are almost identical. Hence, this one photo is all that is needed - any more would just be repetitive! (The locks were, however)

Tardebigge Reservoir is several locks down from the summit and back in the Spring it looked healthily full. So it was a shock to see just how much depleted it has become in the interim. As plenty of water was being fed down from the Birmingham Level perhaps the reservoir is not being called on at the moment.

By 2 o'clock we had completed 19 locks and we were desperate for a food break, not having had much since we started. (No mid morning coffee!) There are no real stopping places in mid flight but with limited traffic we felt able to moor on a lock landing, so long as we kept a beady eye for any approaching boats (there were none). We were also alongside the cottage with all the radio equipment.

Our lunch break was about half our normal standard but it was good to be refreshed. Only 11 more locks to go. Just after we were descending the next lock a hire boat appeared from  above with at least three active crew. However, we largely kept our pace although they did offer to close up a couple of locks after us so that we could get a bit further ahead.

Alas, just after bridge 50, with six  more locks to go, the battery on the camera ran out, so no more photos!

The rest of the flight continued as before and it was 17:03 when we emerged from the bottom lock, 30 from the top. We were able to moor up just around the corner, far enough away from the pub to avoid noise and cooking odours!

Overall, all but three locks were against us and needed filling before we could descend. It dhad taken 5 and a quarter hours, not our best time but by the time we tied up we we felt quite tired but mentally very pleased with our achievement. Going down hill with just two of us is always a challenge, especially as closing up the bottom gates adds quite a bit of time to progress. Although the bottom gate paddles were mostly OK to lift, many of the top paddles were very difficult and in a couple of cases (including the last lock!) definitely a challenge.

7.1 Miles - 30 Locks

Monday 17 October 2022


Today's Canals - New Main Line, Birmingham and Fazeley, Worcester and Birmingham

After two and a half days in central Birmingham, it was now time to leave. But after this time we urgently needed services, especially water and the washing machine needed to be put into action.

When we set off from our mooring, it was obviously sunny somewhere but on the canal, the sun had not yet risen above the surrounding tall buildings.

Just after leaving we passed the GoBoats that we mentioned earlier on our stay.

Recently there have been problems with the services opposite the Mailbox and so we opted to go down the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (for about 200m) to Cambrian Wharf. It certainly took some time to fill the water tank - OK the tap is known to be a bit on the slow side but the washing machine kept depleting what we put in!

Cambrian House, where the services are located, just above the top Farmers Bridge Lock, is a local CaRT office - certainly there seemed to be a number of meetings taking place this morning. It is also supposed to be an information point for boaters and we have never been to look before. So, as we waited for the water, we looked inside but in reality there is not a lot to see. You could by a fluffy toy or an ice cream but neither quite appealed. There were a number of well-presented information leaflets, mainly for walkers and those wanting to explore the more well known spots on the canal.

We had wondered whether, although it is not marked on our maps, the entrance to Cambrian Wharf could be used for winding - we were now, of course, pointing the wrong way! However, it did not look a sensible option so we had to reverse back to the junction where we had to avoid a trip boat or two and several canoes. (In the picture, Cambrian Wharf is ahead and our mooring behind us. The way ahead leads off to the right)

We came under Broad Street and into Gas Street Basin. This canoeist overtook us three times but on each occasion diverted off to look at something to one side.

But at this point he just had to wait as we were now coming through Worcester Bar.

Now we are though and off he goes! We remember at one time the part of Gas Street in the photo was full of former working boats, mostly brightly painted. Of course, at one time the whole basin was used to deliver, collect or tranship the goods that were the life blood of the growing industrial and commercial city. Today, all those boats in the photo are trip boats!

Last year at this time, an apartment block just a short distance ahead was still undergoing remedial work to its exterior. At least it is now compete, no doubt much to the relief of the residents.

The redevelopment of University train station is nearing completion although the part that benefits rail passengers was opened earlier this year, in time as promised for the Commonwealth Games. Some events were held nearby.

At Selly Oak we saw for the first time the newly completed turning hole - it looks really smart and, to our surprise, mooring bollards have also been provided - mooring in such a place would not normally be allowed. However, this is part of a long term project to re-open this end of the former Lapal Canal.

We had heard from another boater that it is quite a walk to get to the Sainsbury store on the opposite bank so we opted for the older moorings we have long known that are just the other side of the bridge. After doing our shopping we had lunch and so this photo is just as we were setting off once again.

At Kings Norton Junction there as been a Toll House for over 200 years and was occupied until 2019. Shortly after it fell vacant, the building was badly damaged by an arson attack. The damage was more extensive then it might have been because there is no road access. See here for some more details. The restoration is now well under way and it will be good to see it back in its former glory. It has become a major icon for this part of the canal network.

We navigated Wast Hills Tunnel in just under half an hour - the tunnel entrance notices suggest it may take an hour! This tunnel is exceptionally straight and it is possible to see the other end even before you have entered it. If the above photo is enlarged it is possible to see a tiny white dot in the middle of the black hole. That is the other end not the headlight of another boat coming behind us.

We continued for a little further but we knew that by now we would not get as far as the top of Tardebigge tonight so found a mooring just after Hopwood.

10.0 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday 16 October 2022

Cathedral and Lazy Afternoon

Our plan was to go to the main 11 am service at the cathedral, about 30 minutes walk away (OK, faster walkers could do it in rather less). Our investigations yesterday of alternative routes to Centenary Square paid off and we arrived in good time.

In the churchyard outside, we were amused by this gravestone and its phrase that he had 'exchanged time for eternity' - yet another euphemism for 'died'.

We came here before in 2019 (see here for details) but then we went to the early morning service. Even so, one of the clergy on duty seemed to recognise that we had been before. Most people had yet to arrive.

The youngsters of the choir were on holiday so only the lower voices were on duty to sing. In fact there were only six of them but they certainly made a good ensemble and plenty of sound!

The congregation was around 100 and rather more mixed that sometimes. The service was conducted by two Associate Priests, that is not on the full time cathedral staff (presumably they were also on holiday!) It was well led and the atmosphere very friendly.

After listening to the final organ voluntary we had another wander around before having a cup of coffee with some of the regular attenders.

This wall mounted memorial is to a local artist who was well known in the area but failed to gain wider recognition. The lavish praise is a bit 'over the top ' even for its time and we wondered if perhaps he was also known as a bit of a pain! "Plain in Manner and frank in Disposition"

Leaving the cathedral, we walked down to New Street to pick up a few food items for today - we will probably do a bigger shop tomorrow when we can more close to a large Sainsbury store.

Back then to the boat for lunch and a rather laid back afternoon.

Saturday 15 October 2022

Roundhouse and Birmingham Rep

No cruising today.

Yesterday we booked tickets for a guided our of the Roundhouse, almost opposite where we were moored. We have been past this site for many years but not really had a chance to find out much about it. Now was the time.

There used to be water and elsan facilities here but they have been removed for some while and then it was also a base for Sherbourne Wharf which also closed some years ago (They still have the moorings across the other side of the canal on the Ouzells Street Loop).

The tour was at 11 for an hour and a half but we were asked to be there 15 minutes ahead. All we had to do was to go up onto Sheepcote Street (bridge beside us) cross over and then find the entrance.

At the appointed time our guide issued us with audio facilities intended to allow us to hear what she was saying in a sometimes rather noisy environment. Mike was offered a loop receiver but unfortunately his hearing aids did not cooperate. In any event he was able to hear most of what we were being told - they keep groups to a size of 10 it seems so no issue of being at the back of a crowd.

Although our guide was working to her own script for most of the time she was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic having been involved in architectural appreciation for many years.

The Roundhouse was opened as a Corporation Depot, one of around 30, in 1874 principally as a stables and store. The site was chosen because on one side lay the New Main Line canal and on the other a large goods station belonging to the London and North Western Railway.

At that time, horses were the only land based form of motive power and some 50 were stabled here and used in the work of maintaining roads, collecting night soil and supporting other functions of the Corporation.

Stone for road making, using the newly devised Macadam method, was brought here by canal but then had to  be broken by hand down in to small enough pieces for the road construction, This was, even for its time, exceptionally hard and gruelling work and the workers were amongst the poorest in society.

Of course, horses need caring for and so there were blacksmiths for shoeing and other work, including collaborating with the wheelwrights in maintaining the carts for carrying.

The buildings also provided secure stores. There were two houses, one either side of the main gate, to house the principal managers, one for the stores and one for the horses. At one time one of the managers and his wife had 11 children living with them in what were not exceptionally large homes.

Gradually technology changed and the last of the horses was finally sold in the 1950's. The needs of public works also evolved and eventually the site became largely derelict. Several attempts were made to find alternative uses, none of them especially adventurous and most simply took advantage of the storage spaces. For some years a well known pub, the Fiddle and Bone, operated in one building alongside the Roundhouse but that too went out of business. (The building is now occupied by The Distillery - a distillery and gin bar)

Eventually a project supported jointly by CaRT and National Trust was established, managed by an independent charity, which obtained substantial lottery funding to bring most of the site and buildings back to a usable condition, with a variety of spaces and expected uses. The work included added steel girder supports inside some of the structures - here it highlights just how bowed some walls had become.

When we came by here in 2019 we included a photo of the building surrounded by scaffolding - the work is now complete and the building stands as a proud reminder of the historical background to this area.

The ticket for the tour included a drink (tea, coffee etc) in the new Jonathan's cafe/restaurant, based in one section of the old stables. Whilst we were there we noticed that they have extended their lunch offering beyond the sandwiches which are mentioned on the web site. In particular they have a range of about 8 different hot pies (both traditional meat and some vegan), accompanied by Victorian Seasoned Chips. As we have to eat early this evening it seemed a good idea to have a main cooked meal this lunch time, keeping our usual sandwiches for later. This proved very successful choice as the dishes were excellent. To be recommended - even if not taking the tour.

The naming of the chips intrigued us and when we had finished we took the opportunity to ask the owner what made the seasoning different. It turned out that we had asked very much the right question as he has made a speciality of researching older and regional cooking and developed this recipe with the help of an early Mrs Beeton. It seems that when the British army began to operate in India, the soldiers found the local food too spicy for them so the cooks devised a milder but still distinctively Indian recipe to go with their potatoes!

We then had a break back at the boat - including time to finish yesterday's blog and to prepare the first part of this one, before getting ready to go back into the city centre for the theatre visit.

As dusk was gathering, several GoBoats, hired from just along the towpath from where we were moored, came past with groups intent on starting the evening in a lively way. One (not in the picture) seemed to think that they had hired a stand up paddle board and were keen to test its stability. Since we did not hear a splash nor the sounds of a rescue service, we assume tat they did not push the envelope too far.

We set off for the theatre in good time - the ICC, the way we have normally walked to the city centre, will be closed tomorrow morning when we plan to go to the cathedral, we wanted to test out an alternative route. It turned out to be no longer and we also spotted a quicker way to return.

Consequently, we arrived very early and even after a wait outside the auditorium, when we took our seats not many others had yet come it. Of course, once the performance starts we cannot take any phots so we are limited to just one beforehand.

The performance was by the Royal Shakespeare Company of their new version of  Tartuffe, originally written by Moliere. This adaptation of the tale is set in present day Birmingham amongst a largely Muslim community, rather than the French Catholics of the original.

The central character of Tartuffe is a seemingly religious man who wheedles his way into a family with devout parents but a sceptical next generation. He is, however, more than ready to take advantage of this situation and attempts to seduce the wife. Despite witness evidence from the sceptics, the believers  are unwilling to doubt the sincerity of Tartuffe. However, they agree to a further test, with the husband hidden whilst his wife entertains the holy man. He repeats his advances and is finally revealed for what he is.

In the meantime, the husband has signed over his house and business to Tartuffe and the resolution of  story has yet more twists and turns so that the family are not made homeless by the con man.

Overseeing events is the family's Croatian cleaner - although often ignored, almost invisible, she eventually sets up Tartuffe's final downfall and 'all's well that ends well' in true theatrical tradition.

It was an excellent production, as you would expect from the RDC although we both found it hard at times to follow the accented dialog, especially the punchlines of the humour as they tended to be almost asides. It may have been that in this way we missed them, but the warnings in the theatre foyer about the use of bad language passed us by! In any case, we enjoyed it and would recommend. 

Friday 14 October 2022


Today's Canal - New Main Line, Soho Port Loop, Hockley Port Branch

So, here is where we stayed last night, on an almost deserted stretch of the New Main Line, just after the Engine Arm bridge and a bit before Smethwick Junction. 

There was almost no passing traffic (cyclists or walkers) and we were shielded from the nearby main railway line. It took a little effort to bang in the mooring pins as the work to strengthen the bank of the towpath as well as to create the hard surfaced cycleway has left a very stony strip.

Looking back to the Engine Arm, the Old Main Line is at the top of the embankment to the right, very close indeed. It was a bright and sunny day as well.

Just after Rolfe Bridge we spotted this remaining disused former telephone pole. Why is it that one on the Coventry Canal and one on the Shroppie are on everyone's obligatory photo list but this one misses out entirely? Perhaps it is unconscious bias against poles in industrial areas!

Only a few metres further along is another one but it seems to be so ashamed of its context that it is all but completely disguised.

At one time there were very many short arms and wharfs - this one seems to have been just to serve one factory.

But this one led into a basin that was part of a large chemical works.

At Winson Green Junction we made a very sharp turn onto what is now called the Soho Loop. originally this was part of Brindley's original contour canal but later cut off by Telford's straightening work.

Just after the junction the loop passes alongside Winson Green Prison, now HMP Birmingham, built in 1849. According to old maps, this towpath bridge into a loading bay was built a long time ago, perhaps part of the original design - now it looks as if it is an invitation to an enterprising resident to build an escape hatch. 

On the opposite side is a Wildlife Trust project intended to create a haven in the centre of the industrial city. Alas, as is so often the case with similar ideas, more thought was given to creating it than to how it might be maintained and it looks a little forgotten now. However, behind the wall lies a much larger open area and the Birmingham and Black County branch have their headquarters building there.

About half way around the loop we came to Hockley Port Junction with an even tighter turn. We have never been down here before - only probably twice around the loop and we had thought that it was just a small residential mooring. However, up-to-date information indicated that there are good services at the end as well as a visitor mooring.

However, it turned out that there was plenty of width to navigate right to the end - there is indeed a visitor mooring but with no way out into the surrounding area it is of limited use, but could make a safe haven for an overnight stop.

There are two short interchange basins towards the end which also hold a number of residential boats as well as a dry dock operated by Sherbourne Wharf. Goods were transhipped between canal boats and the nearby GWR railway. (We heard tomorrow at the Roundhouse that in the early railway days the companies in Birmingham came to an agreement with the canal operators that long distance traffic should go by rail but that water was the better option for local deliveries - presumably this was why so many wharfs were constructed off the main line. The later arrival of powered road vehicles and tarmac changed the economic landscape yet again)

The arm comes to an abrupt end where the Customer Service facility has been built, and is well maintained. Originally the arm was twice as long and initially served a tinplate toy factory run by Boulton (of Boulton and Watt - their steam engine factory was close by) which later also made expensive jewellery.

We paused here whilst we filled and emptied. We also had quite a chat with one of the residents who is a keen participant in the annual BCN Challenge.

We returned back to the Loop and continued towards the other end and the New Main Line again. Just before the end is a very large housing development, creating 100 town houses and 650 apartments in about 10 blocks: very dense housing indeed! Only 300 parking spaces so most residents will have to use public transport or the canal-side cycleways. The project was given the go-ahead only two years ago and will transform this part of Birmingham.

We now had a short distance to go before our intended mooring. We passed the other large development (not quite on the same scale) on the island created by the Icknield Port Loop which we went around last year.

As always it is a bit of a relief to find a good mooring in the centre - we were fortunate that our particular favourite spot was free and we quickly bagged it, mooring up in time for lunch.

In the afternoon we walked into New Street and the surrounding shopping malls. Christine was keen to find M&S - which is about as far as it could be on Carrs Lane which gave Mike a chance to sit in the sunshine on a seat in the street outside, listen to a street musician and watch passers by.

We also went into the Vodafone shop where they had promised that they could organise a replacement contract for Christine's phone as the current one runs out tomorrow. Alas, after a wait and then lengthy personal details collection (and making sure that she really did not want to upgrade her phone!) they decided that it cannot be done ahead of Monday!

The Christmas skating arena is under construction in Centenary Square, outside the Birmingham Rep (where we booked tickets for tomorrow night)

About 30 seconds after we returned to the boat and shut the doors, rain arrived and stayed for most of the night. Lucky escape because we had not taken rainwear with us!

3.7 Miles - 0 Locks