Saturday 2 December 2023

Car Shuffle and Home

We arrived in the marina last night so no cruising today, but we did still have the car to retrieve from Alvechurch. Today was one of several train driver strike days but schedules were supposed to be published by yesterday - with some indicated that way. Mike found that the last trip of the morning using the 3 train route (in reverse) that he used when unexpectedly collecting the car from the marina just after the slippage at Shortwood was still due to depart just after 10 am. He booked etickets. (Droitwich->Bromsgrove->Barnt Green ->Alvechurch in 45 minutes) and a taxi from the marina to the station at 9.30.

We awoke to find a very different day, weather-wise, from the previous two days. There was a significant fog/mist with freezing temperatures. Just the conditions for chilling the lungs when doing anything energetic outside. At least we had made the right call on days to come down all those locks.

The taxi arrived on time but when Mike was dropped at the station he immediately saw that his train was CANCELLED! The schedule on the display was sparse and the next after the 10:03 only showed the destination, not the route. The further complication was that Three, the provider for Mike's phone, still did not have any data service - the outage had started some time yesterday, Fortunately Christine's is on a different network so we could book the tickets. The ticket office at the station was not manned this morning, either! Luckily a lady sitting next to Mike on the platform thought to look up his route and showed that the recommended option was to take the next train (actually a little earlier) into Birmingham Moor Street, walk to New Street and thence down to Alvechurch, 

Of course, all trains today were extremely busy with limited standing room at times. As the phone network still had data outage, Mike was not able to display the QR code of his ticket but the train manager accepted the email. 

This train was actually going to Stratford-on-Avon, on a long loop through Kidderminster, around Birmingham and  then southwards. Just before we arrived at Smethwick Galton Bridge there was an announcement that suggested passengers for New Street could change here. A lot did! And there was a train ready and waiting at platform 4 on the lower level.

At last this meant not having to do the walk from Moor Street to New Street (which always seems to take longer than the five minutes officially allowed) and so there was time to pick up a warming cup of coffee.

The train to Alvechurch, the stop before the end of the line at Redditch, was on time and arrived as scheduled, just an hour later than the original plan. It could have been a lot worse.

Mike then drove back to the marina - the motorway was not busy, luckily as by the M5 the fog was thickening and the overhead signs warned drivers to slow down. Christine, meanwhile, had done a good job in making sure that what we needed to load into the car was ready for immediate collection. This was soon transferred before lunch. Then time to empty the last few drops of water in the tank (we had not taken on a full tank to avoid wasting more than we needed), empty the elsan and go through our pre-departure checklist.

We were away just a few minutes after 2, which is what we had hoped so that we could reach home whilst there was still daylight - sunset was just after 4. Again, traffic was moderate and not too much fog until we were about two miles from home. The fog bank, with a sharp 'edge' to it , was rather impressive.

When we left home on  Wednesday we were still expecting not to be back until Sunday with at least one day of rain  forecast. Since we had set the heating to Holiday and to come back on on Sunday, the house was really, really cold and it warmed up very slowly. We were very glad that our menu plan was to collect fish 'n chips from a local chippie - and boy, was it good!

We will need to return to the boat for some maintenance before the start of next season's cruising but w do not yet have a plan - just a growing list of things to attend to! The next fixed point on the agenda will be the boat painting, starting at the end of May 2024. 

Friday 1 December 2023

Back to the Marina - at last!

Today's Canal : Worcester and Birmingham, Droitwich

After the coldest night yet - although tonight is forecast even colder - we awoke to find that the canal was covered with ice! What was this going to do to our plans - we hoped to be back on our marina mooring by sundown.

A quick poke with a stick revealed that although it was extensive, the ice was only about 10 mm thick which we hoped would allow us to proceed.

By the time that we were ready to leave, one of the boats that came down after us last night and moored a short distance ahead, had already left, so we assumed that progress was possible (unless it turned out to be a narrowboat shaped Tardis!) Casting off was interesting as the mooring ropes were frozen solid. Eventually we were on our way, accompanied by a gentle crunching of ice.

It was only a short distance around the corner to the start of the Stoke Locks - with a very wintry look. We knew that we would have to be especially vigilant working around the locks, to avoid slipping. As another boat was just ahead of us, finding all them empty and set against us was a no-brainer.

At this time of the year, with the sun low in the sky, parts of the landscape in sunshine are brilliant bit strong shadows are cast elsewhere.

Another wintry landscape. really quite picturesque.

Just above one lock, the ice was right across as these ducks discovered. However, there were enough of them that they soon started to sink and they found a gap where they could paddle away.

At the last Astwood lock we caught up with the boat ahead and discovered that they too were heading for the same marina.

The pound below the Atwood flight was long enough to serve up mugs of soup and chunks of bread to eat 'on the go'. It was already 2 o'clock where we turned onto the Droitwich canal at Hanbury so we needed to press on if we were to be tied up in daylight.

Just after we arrived at hanbury Top Lock another boat arrived, having come up from Worcester after yesterday an 'interesting' run up the Severn from Tewkesbury. They too were heading for the marina.

The marina did not have much ice - we called at the service wharf first to fill up with fuel and to buy an electricity card. Then, with the sun setting fast, we cruised across the marina to our berth - no wind so it was somewhat easier than it can be to reverse into our slot.

We hooked up to the electric and stoked up the fire to ward off what promises to be a very cold night. Mike booked train tickers and a taxi for the morning so that he an collect the car. Despite the strikes, some trains are still running - we hope!

It has certainly been an eventful year of boating and it is rather later than 'normal' that we return to a winter mooring in December. Despite the cold, we have enjoyed these last three days with some quite special views.

4.7 Miles - 15 Locks 

Thursday 30 November 2023


Today's Canal : Worcester and Birmingham

We awoke knowing exactly what we had to do today: 29 locks to the bottom of the Tardebigge flight! Not only is this the longest flight on the system (30 including the Top Lock which we did yesterday) but does not, except perhaps in an emergency, have anywhere to stop overnight between the next to top and the bottom locks.

It was was wonderful, bright autumnal - well wintery - day with cloudless skies throughout. It was also pretty chilly, there was a coating of frost and our ropes were quite solid. We wrapped with as many layers as we cold manage - almost Michelin Man! - gloves, scarf and wooly hats.

We also needed to be especially careful around the locks as it was slippery in places. The first lock was full, with the gate open but this was rarely the case and all but six of the locks were empty, needing to be filled before we could start down them.

Some of the locks in the flighty, by by no means all of them - have their number carved into a wingwall below the lock, as well as having the usual cast metal place on the balance beams.

Tardebigge Reservoir was much fuller than we have sometimes seen it but kit could perhaps still take a bit more to be sure of lasting through next summer.

Someone may have been magnet fishing (but perhaps just fishing if it was made of aluminium) or was this left behind by the volunteer lock keepers, now stood down until the start of the 2024 season.

In some ways, at this time of the year the trees and bushes are more interesting as they show their structure, which during the summer is hidden under their cloak of leaves.

The house with the aerials is an obligatory picture, never looking better with the almost cloudless blue sky in the background.

Eventually the end was close and at the penultimate lock we could see how close it was to sunset with the long, low light and shadow.

And the bottom lock now appeared - hooray we might make it before sunset.



So, here we are at the Bottom Lock. Last year we came down in 6 hours 13 minutes - but 6 weeks earlier, well before the clocks went back and a much later sunset. (We did make it up in 4 hrs 38 minutes in April but we had a lot of help from a large gang of volunteers. You only have to save just a bit on each lock to make a real difference overall) And this time? 6 hours 47 minutes which we though not bad given how so many were against us and that we did not encounter a single boat coming up.

Needless to say we moored immediately after exiting the last lock. To our surprise two more boats arrived down a little later, the second by now in the dark.

2.4 Miles - 29 Locks

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Leaving Withybed Moorings

Today's Canal : Worcester and Birmingham

After a long wait whilst the land slip was being repaired just south of Shortwood Tunnel, eventually at the end of last week it was announced that navigation would resume at the end of last week. Given the scale of the task, that does seem to be good progress and a bot faster than originally suggested. However, we could not leave instantly (!) as Christine had an appointment at Salisbury for a routine ear check on Tuesday afternoon.

That meant the the earliest departure would could manage was 9 am today although we did as much as possible of the packing and car loading yesterday. We were away as planned and had a good run up to Swindon, across to the M5 and thence to Alvechurch. We stopped first at the bridge by Alvechurch Marina and the railway station, just to check on mooring space for unloading. Just as well we did check as there was no room at all! Most of the visitor mooring was taken up by pans that CaRT had been using to remove the landslip spoil.

At Withybed we loaded up a trolley and a wheelbarrow, about three quarters of what we needed to unload, and walked around to where our boat had been moored - right at the far side! All seemed to be well although the credit on the electricity had expired, but going by the State of Charge it must have been very recent.

By midday we were able to cast off and cruise across to the service wharf to add a bit of fuel to our tank as well as to retrieve out boat keys - the annual RCR service had been done whilst we were away. Both marinas were very helpful and pleasant, getting us out of our difficulty with having to leave the boat and return home. Thanks everyone and we recommend them both for their service.

Finally we were able to commence the remaining part of our 'Back to Base' trip that had been frustrated by the land slip. It was a bright and sunny day even if, when out of the sun, it was really rather chilly. It is definitely turning into winter. 

Christine drove the car to the station car park so that Mike can come back by train from Droitwich to collect it at the end of this trip. Mike picked her up at Bridge 69, close to the station.

ABC are continuing to update their fleet with several new boats nearing completion. Some already named and indicate that they are for Kings Orchard but others are still to be sign written.

About 20 minutes later the entrance to Shortwood Tunnel came into sight. From this end we could not yet see any sign of the repairs.

However as soon as we emerged back into daylight we could see what has been behind our delay. As we understand it, trees on the steep bank to the tunnel portal were loosened by storm conditions and then excess surface water running down the towpath cause the land to slip into the canal. CaRT (with their contractors) have removed all of the spoil from the canal and re-opened the navigation. Obviously this was a priority but it seems that they have yet to come up with a plan for the bank, For the time being, large bags (of aggregate?) have helped to stabilise the bank but as yet the towpath remains unusable. The emergency drainage has been left in place to help prevent further damage from any more winter storms.

We continued on  towards Tardebigge with yet another tunnel to transit. It was still very sunny but we paused on the lock landing for Tardebigge Top Lock just long enough to have a quick, but late, lunch.

Still only a bit after 2.30 but the temperature was dropping quickly so we dropped down the lock to the visitor moorings in the pound below. These have rings to tie up to (those above the lock do not) and also this will give us a little bit more time to reach the bottom of the flight before dark tomorrow - sunset is now just before 4.

3.5 Miles - 1 Lock

Monday 6 November 2023

Moving Mooring

Now that we have the estimate for the length of time to clear the Shortwood landslip, we can make further temporary arrangements for the boat. Alvechurch have been very supportive - they are now not only storing their own fleet for the winter but also a number for other places whose hire boats have not been able to make it home. At the outset they could only promise a couple of weeks. They could have stretched it a little but we needed to sort something for the duration.

Withybed Moorings is a small marina about half a mile away and they had just one space available, a month at a time. So, we have taken that, initially for a month and then we can see how CaRT are progressing and whether they have a clearer estimate for re-opening navigation.

We planned to  drive up on Thursday but were put off by the forecast conditions from Storm Ciaran. Driving on a motorway with lots of spray is not our idea of fun! Fortunately we could go on Friday instead and the drive up was actually quite pleasant.

We settled our account with Alvechurch and then Christine set off with the car, hoping to establish where we were to moor before Mike arrived. In the event, Mike did not take long and the marina person was down at the entrance to lift the footbridge when he arrived.

Everything went well and Mike even managed to reverse onto the mooring without touching the sides! (Not even the boat alongside) We did not have much to unload which was fortunate as it is quite a walk and the trolleys were all at the car park.

The journey home was uneventful - the first part was in pleasant weather but by the time we passed Swindon promised rain turned up and stayed with us for the rest of the journey.

Monday 23 October 2023

Back Home

 An update - might add a photo later

Later on Friday, after we had posted blog, it became apparent that the blockage is serious and not likely to be cleared quickly. Indeed, CaRT did not promise an update until after the weekend - still nothing on the Stoppage list (end Monday).

The location is quite remote with no nearby road access. just outside the south western tunnel portal. Unless a repair can be effected by boat (which we suspect is unlikely) then an access agreement with the adjacent landowner is going to be needed. If it is a major landslip and not just a tree fall, then it may well be necessary to re-stabilise the bank to make it safe.

We also understand that several other Droitwich Marina moorers are similarly held up. 

The staff at Alvechurch Marina have been incredibly supportive and we thank them for that. They have managed to find us a temporary mooring for the next two weeks which is most helpful as we have a number of items in the diary that do need attention - we had been planning to return home today or tomorrow before all this happened.

Yesterday we walked down to Alvechurch Parish Church for the 9.15 service. There were about 35 people there and it was a less formal 'family' service, even if the congregation was generally typical of its overall age profile! It was led by a lay worship leader and helped by a small music group, with use of slides projected on a screen (A new modernised AV system is about to be installed) Everyone was very welcoming and keen to make sure we stayed to have a cup of coffee - and a biscuit - afterwards.

Friday 20 October 2023


Today's Canal : Worcester and Birmingham

It had rained substantially overnight and we could see that the level of the canal had definitely risen. This stretch is part of the very long pound that forms the Birmingham Level, so changes in level involve a lot of water!

At first it was still raining heavily but by mid morning it cleared enough to persuade Mike to make a start. It was not far to the entrance to Wast Hill Tunnel - at least we should be just about dry there - little did we know.

All of the channels that drain surface water into the canal were running at max - some were so strong that they pushed the boat sideways even  more than a strong bywash. Others were doing their best to fill the canal to capacity.

We did not notice it at first, but as soon as we were in the tunnel it was obvious that we were going much slower than usual. After about four minutes another boat came into the tunnel behind us.

Juts before the mid point we still could not see the other end - a bit of a surprise as the tunnel is dead straight. However, it soon became apparent that there was a deluge coming down one of the ventilation shafts which was blocking the view. It was so strong that it covered the whole width of the tunnel and so we could not avoid it. Mike was very wet! About 400m from the far end another deluge, if anything even stronger. It was quite some physical sensation being hosed down so effectively, even if for just a few seconds. We cannot recall any other tunnel being anywhere near as wet as these two shafts.

We emerged 32 minutes later and the drain at the southern portal was equally fast flowing and we could see more clearly that there was a definite flow northwards. (That is not the other end of the tunnel, but the head light of the following boat)

The rain had now returned but Mike decided that as his trousers were already wet, he would continue for a while. In fact, the rain soon eased off and was only a light drizzle for the rest of the morning - at least until just as we eventually decided to moor.

There was not enough room for us at Withybed mooring (the towpath in this section is generally not very good for mooring at will) and it was a bit disappointing that the same proved to be the case at the net mooring just before the bridge at Alvechurch. Fortunately we remembered that there is a very short section designated as 2 days, just opposite the Marina base - most is No Mooring - and to our surprise it was entirely empty.

As Mike was tying up, a chap from the marina opposite called to Christine to tell us that the canal was blocked just ahead with a landslip an tree fall. As soon as we could we checked the Stoppage Notices and less than an hour ago CaRT gave out exactly that with, of course, no estimate at this stage of how long we are likely to be delayed. It had also bee announced that the Tardebigge flight was considered not safe to use with the risk that boats descending might flood the towpath, so it too was closed. So it looks pretty definite that we will not be progressing further today. Indeed, if the tree is substantial it can take a day or so to celar and if the landslip has blocked the canal then it is not looking good for a while. In addition, the weather forecast now shows rain every day until the end of the month! Even collecting the car from Droitwich is hampered with flood closing the rail line!

Time to light the stove.

5.8 Miles - 0 Locks

Thursday 19 October 2023

Kings Norton

Today's Canal : Worcester and Birmingham

The forecast was not good for today (and the next two) but the chance of rain on the morning was quite low. The temperature was warmer than the last few days.

We began by reversing to Old Turn and then back down to Cambrian House to fill with water and do the usual disposals. A hire boat was already there but they were close to finishing. Nevertheless it was an hour before we could be on our way.

Next to the Sea Life Centre we saw what we think is a new visitor attraction :  the Park Experience. Sad to admit, but neither of us has had any experience of VR and so we can but imagine what you get for your money here (Around £40 each and you need groups of 4 or 6). We leave it to their web site to introduce themselves: Embark on thrilling adventures with friends, family or colleagues as you tackle challenging quests together. Afterwards, unwind over a refreshing drink at the bar or enquire about our catering options.

After coming under Broad Street Bridge we passed through Worcester Bar. The pub here (no connection with 'bar' in the title - at one time the different canal companies insisted that goods had to be transhipped across a bar here) is usually very busy but perhaps the weather put off the early morning customers.

We think that this is the first time we have noticed the striking architecture of The Cube, a multi-function 'destination', next to the rather older Mailbox. A hotel, bowling alley, a Marco Polo White restaurant and other features including residential apartments are to be found somewhere on the 16 floors.

Passing the Five Ways Station with a view that illustrates to diversity of a modern inner city.

The new University Station, with its rust-coloured footbridge to the main university campus, is all but complete - just a little final landscaping to go.

We have often stopped at Selly Oak for shopping but this was the first time we could use the new Whitehouse Wharf - we spotted that we could moor quite close to the new footbridge and walk across to Sainsbury. Eventually this will provide a turning circle for boats joining this canal from the yet-to-be restored Lapal Canal. Progress is inevitably slow especially as it involves cooperation from large scale developments but the Trust seem determined to open up as far as a new marina at California.

By the time we returned with our shopping we had lunch before setting off again. By now rain arrived and at first it was just a light drizzle. However, by the time we reached Kings Norton it was very much heavier and so we opted for an early finish to today's cruising at the mooring rings just after the Toll House.

6.6 Miles - 0 Locks

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Car Shuffle Day

Both Mike and Andrew needed to collect cars from the start of the trip. Andrew's was at Apsley whilst the other was next to the boatyard in Watford. After considerable discussion it was decided that they would both travel by train down to Apsley, Andrew would then drive them both to Watford after which they would separately drive to Droitwich Marina and finally Andrew take Mike to park his (Andrew's) car for a couple of hours close to where the boat was moored in the centre of Birmingham. After an evening meal he would then drive home. What could go wrong?

They left the boat in good time to walk vua the ICC to New Street Station. Arriving in good time they were able to buy coffees before boarding the first train. This was the medium fast train to London Euston via Northampton. They alighted at Milton Keynes to change to a slow stopping train to Apsley. This all worked well and they arrived on time.

It was only a short drive to Watford where the other car was still safely parked in an unmarked space next to a recreation ground. It was all going so well!

Just as he was setting his SatNav for the next leg of the journey, Andrew spotted that there was a lengthy delay on the M40 so they decided to take an alternative via Aylesbury and join the motorway further on.

Andrew managed to persuade his satnav to take him to Junction 10, just where the problem (road down to one lane for crash barrier repairs) - Mike thought he was headed towards Banbury after a food and comfort stop at Aylesbury Tesco, but after a while found himself heading resolutely to Bicester and Junction 9. The intersection was a nightmare - it was almost gridlocked as southbound traffic was largely all leaving because there were other delays after that, and the traffic lights were quite unable to cope, changing frequently to no purpose! Finally, Mike made it onto the M40 which was moving at a snail's pace - at least it was moving but it was perhaps it was perhaps 90 minutes later than expected when he finally left the motorways (M40, M42, M5) just outside Droitwich. 

Mike's delay was communicated to Andrew who was able to make use of the time to top up his new electric car, which he would anyway have needed to do before he could safely drive back from Birmingham. 

They met up at the marina where Mike left our car ready for when we get there in a few days time. Although it was now dark and rain started to fall, eventually rather heavily, they had little problem navigating to the chosen car park and the short walk to the boat where Christine was already preparing the meal!

Tuesday 17 October 2023


Today's Canal - Birmingham and Fazeley

A challenge lay ahead of us for today: to get as far as Old Turn Junction in the centre of Birmingham to moor for the night! Only 27 locks to go . . . 

As a result we started reasonably promptly, with thin high level cloud slightly covering what would otherwise have been a bright clear blue sky. Interestingly, it was less chilly than the last two days.

Shortly after Cuttle Bridge and very large new industrial unit looked on the skyline. As we came closer we could see that it is a new Amazon Fulfillment Centre. Located within a very short distance of two motorways and other dual carriageways, it seems to be well suited for this purpose. We found the Development Master Plan (here) which shows potentially nine other units on this site.

Just three locks at Minworth. The land to the north of the canal is an established industrial area but has undergone extensive redevelopment. The old ¬Kingsbury Road (now replaced by the A38) is close on the opposite side and it seems that a number of access points across the canal were closed off when the dual carriageway was created. 

The bridge just below the first lock was apparently a substantial vehicle access (but not perhaps for modern large artics) but has been closed for some time.

Another footbridge now closed was part of the former Cincinnati Works which has now been replaced by housing development. All that remains visible of the bridge are parts of its two footings.

As we came up the top lock we made a quick trip to the elsan unit just below. We opted to leave filling with water, if we run shirt of time then we could manage until tomorrow morning. The rubbish disposal has long been removed with a sign directing boaters to Cuckoo Wharf after Salford Junction.

Eventually the elevated M6 started to dominate the skyline, not to mention our ears. 

As we neared the junction we spotted this advertising sign opposite the motorway level. Given the appearance of its age it is little wonder that no-one has decided that it is an effective selling device!

The canal junction is right underneath the motorway. One canal leds off to nechells and Bordesley Junction bypassing the city centre en route to the Grand Union southwards, which the Birmingham and Fazeley continues over the River Tame. Straight ahead is the Tame Valley Canal.

The Aston flight has 11 locks - the first few are spread out with long intervening pounds, before gradually bunching up towards the top. The bottom lock is underneath one of many rail bridges on this route into the city.

The former lock cottage and the next lock has been painted a pleasant blue shade recently - five years ago it was bright red!

There are innumerable hump bridges in the towpath that spanned the entrances to short arms or wharves. The coping stones are almost all unnamed but just after the second lock we spotted a few bricks with their manufacturer stamped into the clay. They are not very clear - we think it says Cannock Colliery Walsall. we have not been able to pin down exactly who this was but there were several brick works that grew up alongside coal mines as a business diversification. In some cases they seriously undercut more traditional brick works.

A splendid turnover bridge heralded the arrival at the top lock. Just after the junction we moored to some bollards for a timely lunch break - another new soup from Christine to fortify us for the next flight. The flight took just under an hour and a half - including cruising the longer pounds near the bottom of the flight.

After lunch we continued on the Birmingham and Fazeley with a level section before the main flight. We have not spotted this building before - the former Cliveland Road Flour Mill. A little bit of its history can be found here, but we have not discovered its present use - even Google Street View does not help. the main flight arrived and all the locks are very close together.

The canal gradually becomes overwhelmed by surrounding development -some well established some very new.

Here it seems as if an existing building is being re-purposed with several new storeys being added and the whole block made into apartments.

The canal then almost disappears underground below Brindley House, part of the BT Tower complex.

The sky was now bright blue but we only saw glimpses amongst the tall blocks all around.

Islington Place Footbridge should be gleaming white - as it has in the past - but alas it has not been cleaned in a while and is now a dirty grey.

Eventually we arrived at Farmers Bridge Junction where, to the right in  this photo, the Birmingham Newhall Branch used to go. Only the short basin now remains. The rest has long since been built over. The thirteen locks has taken us 70 minutes.

We paused at Cambrian House above the top lock to fill up with water. This took took time. When full we continued through Old Turn Junction (sometimes mistakenly called Farmers Bridge but also known as Deep Cutting Junction!) to find a mooring outside the Birmingham Arena where we frequently have found a space. As Mike was tying up he was greeted by Debby from nb Bonjour (see blog list right). They were moored just a few boats away and are also now heading back to Droitwich Marina for the winter,

9.3 Miles - 27 Locks