Sunday 18 September

On Friday morning we had a relatively short trip back from Barbridge to our mooring.  We were glad that we’d covered a big distance on Thursday as it was a chilly morning and there was a strong breeze blowing across the canal.  In fact we wore coats and hats rather than shades and shorts as we’d done the day before.

At Bunbury there was a volunteer lock-keeper on duty and he helped us through the staircase lock.   As we came into sight of Tilstone Lock we were just in time to see a boat heading our way starting to empty the lock.  When we pulled up on the lock mooring they spotted us and apologised that they hadn’t looked back.

There was another boat waiting to come up in the lock and so we  helped them.  We then spotted that the overflow boom from the weir beside the top gates, had come untied at one end and was effectively blocking the canal.  The boom was made of wood and was about 12 feet long. This wasn’t a problem to the boat coming out of the lock as they pushed it to one side but by the time they’d cleared the lock it had refloated back across the canal and was preventing us from getting into the lock.

Storm, armed with nylon cord and scissors, laid down on the bank and managed to tie some cord round the offending piece of wood and then he climbed onto the front of the boat.  I then moved the boat away from the bank while Storm pulled the cord with the wood attached back to the other side of the canal and he managed to climb off the boat onto the lock side and attach the cord to the guardrail beside the overflow weir.   I then moved the boat into the lock and made a call to CRT advising them that we’d made a temporary repair but that a more permanent fix was needed.

After that we managed to share the next three locks.  We shared iron lock whilst keeping a close eye on the boats to make sure we had plenty of water all around.  Neither boat had fenders down.  [The sides of the lock here are bowed and it is recommended that boats travel through one by one.]

We were back on our mooring by lunch time and we’d had a request to hurry round to Laura’s as someone had missed us.

Since we’ve been back on the mooring the sun has shone continuously.

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Summer was so excited to see us and had lots to tell us and show us.   Joseph has grown quite a bit too while we’ve been away and he’s still smiling.

We managed to return to the boat before tea and promised that we would see them again over the weekend and offered to babysit  to make up for being away for a month.

Yesterday afternoon and this morning we’ve had fun with Summer and Joseph and this afternoon we said ‘goodbye’ again and drove back to Beverley where we’ll be  until  Saturday as we’ve quite a few things to attend to.

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Thursday 15 September

We were awake very early and after our slow day yesterday, we wanted to get a flier today.   Looking out though we discovered thick fog.   Having had breakfast it was starting to lift slightly and by now we could see two boat lengths ahead.   For the first couple of miles we knew we’d be passing moored boats at tick-over so we decided to set off (still before 7.30am!)

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By the time we reached the Shebdon Embankment visibility was much better and we started to pick up speed and make progress.

Our progress was relatively short lived though.  As we entered Woodseaves Cuttings I couldn’t see the end.   A large ash tree had succumbed to ‘Die Back’ and masses of foliage were blocking the canal.

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With our engine still running, but by now in neutral, Storm went to the front of the boat with a saw, and was sawing and breaking branches.   I then turned the engine off and I could hear voices coming from the other side of the foliage and they too were trying to clear branches away.   They were hire boaters and their inventory doesn’t include tools so they were glad we’d got a saw.  They confirmed they had a phone signal and that they’d called the CRT.

Eventually another boat came up behind us and he too had a saw on board so he climbed on our boat to help Storm with some of the bigger branches.

Two guys from CRT approached from opposite ends of the cutting, armed with only a mobile phone.  They took photos and said they would ring back to base once they got a phone signal.   Their mobiles didn’t work in the cutting and off they went again.

Eventually after about an hour and half of vigorous exercise the canal was sufficiently empty of foliage to risk trying to pass by and we were pulled through using our ropes, after which we continued on our way.

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Tyrley Top Lock

In contrast the rest of the day’s journey was a doddle.  Five locks at Tyrley (where you could buy home grown vegetables at the top lock), four locks at Adderley, (where you could buy fresh farm meat), 15 locks at Audlem (where there were fresh cakes to buy at the top lock).   That was dinner sorted!

By the time we reached Audlem top lock in the early afternoon, the sun was shining.

As it was such a nice day we decided to make the most of the good weather and keep motoring as long as possible.   We’d done about four locks of the Audlem flight when I spotted that the bottom paddles were up on the lock below which suggested that someone was coming up the flight.  Storm went to investigate and discovered a boat two locks below coming up and whose wife was working the locks.   Now it is possible to ‘lock wheel’ (set locks ahead ready)  but only when you can be sure no-one is coming down.   The wife said said she hadn’t seen us, but didn’t apologise. We waited half an hour for them to come up.

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Canal house, Audlem Flight Lock 13

Now sunny days are all well and good but unfortunately it encourages some people to wear skimpy clothing and it is often people who really shouldn’t.   The man steering the boat had a pair of swimming trunks on and really he should have worn shorts.  I’m now scarred for life.  The box of vegetables advertising courgettes and tomatoes was empty two locks further down the flight.

Enjoying the warmth, we carried on through the two Hack Green locks and through Nantwich, making it back to Barbridge Junction before dusk.   A good day at 25 miles, 27 locks and one tree.

Wednesday 14 September

(Delayed posting as no internet signal for much of the way on The Shroppie!)

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We didn’t get the same flyer we did yesterday but were still away by 9am.  After last night’s red sunset it wasn’t a surprise to wake to another beautiful sunny morning, although as we passed other boaters, last night’s dramatic thunderstorm was the main topic of conversation.

‘The Shroppie’ as the canal is affectionately called, is a series of deep cuttings followed by a series of embankments that Telford carved through the landscape and today we enjoyed the shade that the overhead tree canopy provided in the cuttings.

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We passed straight through Brewood, that apparently had been without electricity for two hours after last night’s storm, and the visitor moorings there were muddier than usual.

Our single lock of the day at Wheaton Aston was set in our favour and we pulled in to fill up with water on the right at the bottom of the lock, and then again on the left just under the bridge to fill up with diesel at just 51.9p/litre.

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After that we continued on through Gnossal and on to Norbury.  Kingfishers continued to elude capture by camera – there were more than we’ve seen for a while.

At Norbury we stopped for a while in the sunshine to hang out the washing, and use the nice hot showers there before we moved off late afternoon to Bridge 42.   The Anchor Inn has always been closed before when we’ve passed as it keeps unusual opening hours but as we’re passing between March and October this time we thought we would stop and investigate as the pub seems to be part of canal folklore.

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The pub seems to be run by a mother and daughter team, is a free house and it has one beer on draft, Wadsworth 4X.  The pub occupies the two small front downstairs rooms only and  is simply furnished with unpolished/unpainted wooden tables, chairs and a couple of old settles.   The large garden outside is very well maintained and the pots of flowers were in glorious bloom.   On a warm sunny Summer’s day we can imagine that it will be extremely popular.  The toilets are also outside.

At least we’ve satisfied that itch!

Tuesday, 13 September

Early on Saturday morning we moved the boat to beside the Barclaycard Arena (formerly the NIA) where moorings are quieter than in the Gas Street area and where we would be closer to where our friends were staying.  Thankfully the wind of yesterday had disappeared again and we woke to sunny skies.

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Barclaycard Arena

We’ve had three fun days being tourists in Birmingham which has changed quite a bit since we were last here last year.

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Paradise Square photographed from the steps of the Birmingham Art Gallery

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The tram system is now finished and you have to look left and right before passing streets that we’d become accustomed to being pedestrian only. Paradise Square has disappeared for the time being behind huge hoardings while the old library opened by Harold Wilson in 1974 is demolished. This is a vast development site and appears to be causing traffic chaos as drivers’ Satnavs are trying to take them down roads that are currently blocked off.

We’ve eaten well and drunk plenty while we’ve been out on the cut and now the time has come to try to tighten our  belts again, and resume a more frugal lifestyle and head back to Chester!   We’re not going to be hanging around though and hope to be back on our mooring before Friday.

Today we were up early and away by 7.45am.  The skies were cloudless and the forecast was for a warm day with possible thunderstorms later in the day.

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Birmingham Main Line

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Tipton Locks

We travelled along the long and straight Main Line before arriving at Tipton Locks where we climbed up through the three narrow locks before joining the Wolverhampton Level, with the hot sun on our backs.  Train lines accompanied us for much of the way.

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Top of the Wolverhampton 21

We arrived into Wolverhampton at lunchtime and as there were boats heading up through the locks towards us we decided to carry on down the locks.  There are 21 locks here over a distance of approx 1.5 miles.

Even though most of the locks were set in our favour, they were leaking so badly, that if the top gates had been closed by boats coming up, we had to top them up a foot with water or so before we could enter.

We were about halfway down the flight when it started to rain and while it was heavy, it was a short lived shower thankfully and the sun soon came out again helping us to dry out.

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Autherley Stop Lock

We reached the bottom of the flight by 3.30 pm and carried on towards Autherley Junction, while the skies overhead grew blacker by the minute.  We turned onto the Shropshire Union Canal and passed through the Autherley Stop Lock, stopping to empty out our rubbish and pick up some chilled medication before motoring on to the visitor moorings just north of Bridge 4.  We were just about to moor up when the heavens opened so we got soaked all over again while we made the boat secure.   We’ve travelled 17.5 miles and passed through 24 locks today.

A dramatic thunder storm and torrential rain raged for about an hour and for a while the bangs and almost simultaneous flashes frightened Max who cowered at our feet.

By 6.30pm the sun was shining again helping to dry our wet clothing.

Friday 9 September

Yesterday we had a bit of a dawdle morning doing admin and reading and in the afternoon we walked along the towpath to Wedges Bakery at Bridge 20.  Sadly we were disappointed with our purchases this time.  When we first visited in 2010 the scale of the operation was much smaller, and in our opinion much better.  Their custard sides might be huge, but they were tasteless and their pork pies far too salty.

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Anyone who has followed our travels since 2010 will not be surprised to learn that we’ve spotted more of Brunel’s wide gauge railway being used as mile post markers.  We spotted this just beside Bridge 25 at Hockley Heath.

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In the evening we got changed into our glad rags and headed out to meet Annis and Dennis who picked us up and took us back to The Boot for an excellent meal and a lovely evening that passed far too quickly.

They dropped us back to the boat with promises that we would see each other again soon.

This morning we left Hockley Heath and  pootled slowly towards Birmingham, taking care past many of the moored boats along the way.

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Dickens Heath, a rather pretentious canal side village, looms large and out of character just before the village of Shirley where at the  lift bridge  I was accosted by four policeman brandishing  ID and asking if we’d passed a certain boat.   We hadn’t!

At the guillotine lock at the end of the Stratford Canal we ran aground – we hope that CRT will dredge here soon.

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After poling our way through the lock, we turned right towards Birmingham, resisting the temptation to call in at Bourneville for chocolate rations, and carried on to Selly Oak where we stopped at Sainsburys to stock up with groceries as its been more than a week since we did a serious shop.    We delayed shopping for  twenty minutes while we listed to the Archers episode that we had missed last night.   Far too gripping a story line to wait until Sunday’s omnibus!

We arrived into Birmingham just as the wind got up and we really struggled to moor.   At one point we had four people hanging onto our centre rope to try to prevent the wind pushing the boat across the canal.  Once securely tied up we filled with water before moving and mooring up on the first two day gap  we came across.   The towpath here is quite busy and I think we’ll look for somewhere slightly quieter in the morning.

Wednesday 7 September

Last night we had a very pleasant evening with Annis & Dennis in the beer garden of The Boot and they invited us to join them for a meal in the pub there on Thursday night.

We explained that we would need to move the boat a little nearer to Birmingham as we’re meeting friends there over the weekend.   The village of Hockley Heath though is just 2.5 miles, 13 locks and two lift bridges, north west of Lapworth and is also on the route that Annis & Dennis would take to drive there and so they said they’d pick us up.  From Hockley Heath to the centre of Birmingham is an easy day’s cruise that we could do on Friday.

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With another warm and sunny day forecast today we set off early to climb through the 13 locks that remained of the Lapworth flight.  In total there are 21 locks in just two miles, north of Kingswood Junction.  We set the washing machine going as we left.

We passed two boats coming down and so all locks were set in our favour.  We had a bit of a problem with the bottom gates refusing to stay closed and to save both of us being on the tow path, Storm began opening a top paddle slightly to create a flow through the lock before closing the gate so that as he closed the gate, the water was already starting to fill the lock.

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Awkward bend

There are also a couple of locks on a bend that seem designed to remove paint as it is impossible to manoeuvre the boat without scraping the brick wall on the outer curve.

We made good time up through the locks and then had the two lift bridges to open with the windlass before we reached Hockley Heath.  The moorings here are in a cutting overlooked by housing and mature trees and we managed to moor with our stern in the sunshine so that the washing would dry on the rotary airer.

The village of Hockley Heath is an unusual village in that the first shops you see as you first come up off the towpath is a McLaren show room selling some very expensive cars, a shop that announces it is a ‘Cleaner of Fine Clothes’, and a shop selling Swimming Pools.  We had to walk a little further to find a shop within range of our budget.

We popped to the village shop for some bread and passed a bike shop called ‘Dynamic Rides’.   Storm popped back later, once he’d checked exactly what he needed, to see if they had a gear cable for my bike.  Success, so that kept Storm busy during the afternoon.   I now have a bike back in full working order.

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Tuesday 6 September

The shop at Bridge 78 provided us with the fresh vegetables we needed before we lifted our fenders, untied and headed off down the Grand Union Canal towards the five double locks at Knowle.

 

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The first lock was set in our favour but after that all were empty.  This means that there was someone heading the same way as us but we didn’t catch them up and so went down the locks on our own.

It was a lovely sight to see a boat coming up through the locks though after I’d filled our second lock.  These locks are deep and the gates and paddles are heavy to operate and I didn’t fancy crossing the locks so I just opened the paddles and gates at one side.  This meant that our passage through the locks was slightly slower than if I’d opened paddles at both sides.  I was perspiring heavily by the time I’d finished the locks and I tried to blame it partly on the heat of the morning!  Refreshments were served up as I worked.  Max helped the skipper today.

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We  continued on and passed the Cruising Club between Bridges 69 and 70 which seems confused about its name as some signs announce ‘Black Boy’ and others ‘Black Buoy’.

At Kingswood Junction we turned onto the Stratford Canal heading north and we went through the first six locks of the Lapworth Flight before mooring on the visitor moorings there.

I spent some time speaking to family and friends on the phone and arranged to meet two friends for drinks in The Boot tonight.   I then did some cooking to try and preserve some of our vegetables before they go soft.  My ice-box in the fridge is packed so tightly there is no room for air.