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.