Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Birmingham and back

We've had another extended blogging break recently but have now had our laptop repaired and should be back to more regular updates again (no promises though!). This is quite a big catch up blog but I'll try and keep it brief....

We left off in Gloucester, from where we had to retrace our route up the Severn as far as Tewkesbury, where we joined the River Avon.

We bought two week licenses from Bob the lock keeper who was also a mine of useful information about river conditions and moorings as well as photos of the terrible flooding this area suffered from last winter.

We enjoyed our first few days on the Avon but noticed that even with low water levels the flow around some of the bridges and wiers was pretty lively.

As we approached Evesham the weather turned and we had around 18 hours of constant rain. After mooring on one of the many flood safe moorings along this river there was nothing to do but watch the river rise and rise. We were breasted up with Leo and another boat nb Abigail and had three days in Evesham waiting for the levels to drop.

The photo below shows the river at its highest - when we arrived in Evesham you might've just about spotted the roof of the boats from this view point. Note the scaffold plank kindly provided by the Avon Navigation Trust so we could get off to avoid total cabin fever!

After three days the river had dropped into amber (safe to proceed with caution) in Evesham so we set off. Above the next lock the flow was really fast and we crawled along, barely making progress against the flow. We made it to Offenham Lock and a safe mooring but by this point the river was well into the red. Beware of the Avon after heavy rain!

Fortunately with a decent dry spell the river continued to drop and we eventually made it to Stratford upon Avon. This is a lovely place with a fantastic riverside park area and a beautiful basin where the canal meets the river. We were lucky to get prime spots in the basin so had a couple of days exploring Stratford.

We enjoyed the climb out of Stratford for being back in narrow locks and calm waters. Victoria's mum, Sue, met us by train at Wooton Wawen, staying for a couple of days and helping us work the locks all the way up to Kingswood Junction where the Stratford canal joins the Grand Union.

From Kingswood junction we headed north towards Birmingham on a section of the Grand Union we've not done before. We climbed the five broad locks at Knowle, swapping with other boats as they descended.

David carried on with nb Leo to Catherine de Barnes (last recommended mooring before Birmingham) while Victoria took her mum into Birmingham to catch her train home.

We had an early start the following day, and our longest boating day ever with 25 locks and 9 miles to cover to Birmingham. The journey was surprisingly pleasant, clearly urban but not as bad for rubbish in the canal as we expected.

We did have a bit of an incident in Ashted Tunnel as the towpath is so wide it forces boats over to the edge of the tunnel. I'd read about this and the recommended technique seemed to be to pull the boat over towards the towpath as far as possible using ropes. The water levels were so high when we went through that this wasn't enough. In the end we had to drop the pound several inches and borrow a burly CRT man who was nearby to ballast Pas Meche down enough to clear the tunnel. We made it through with a very light scrape on the handrail but things could've been a lot worse. Why the towpath is so wide I don't know!

After that excitement we flew up the 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge flight, passing under towerblocks much like on the Rochdale 9 in Manchester.

The surroundings get progressively nicer as you climb, reaching the redeveloped area around Cambrian Wharf at the top lock

This then leads you into Birmingham's canal showcase area of Gas Street Basin and Old Turn Junction. We found a couple of mooring spots on Oozels Loop, which seemed a lot quieter than the moorings in Gas Street and along the main BCN route through the area.


We stayed in Birmingham the following day doing some sight seeing as well as seeing a physio for David's neck which has been painful for a few weeks.

Reversing out of Oozel's Loop (no, you can't turn a 57' boat and yes, I did try....) we left Birmingham via Gas Street Basin to join the Worcester & Birmingham canal

This way out of Birmingham is a bit shallow and slow going but otherwise pleasant and easy with no locks to work. We waved at the trains, getting them to hoot their horns, and saw Cadbury World and its purple station at Bournville before reaching the 2726 yard long and very drippy Wast Hill tunnel.

You emerge from the tunnel into rolling green countryside and the Worcester & Birmingham has been like this ever since. After a stop in Alvechurch we overnighted at Tardebigge top lock, timing our departure the next morning perfectly to slot in behind a couple who were very new to boating and a single hander. Having heard of people completing the 30 lock flight (the longest in the UK, dropping 217' in just over two miles) in two or three hours, we realised we would not be breaking any records today.

Still, it was an enjoyable flight with all paddle gears and gates working well. We took the descent steadily, helping the people in front where needed to speed things up and in the end got to the bottom in about five hours, including a tea break or two along the way.

After a day off at the bottom of Tardebigge we spent last night at Hanbury Wharf, where the newly restored Droitwich canals join the Worcester & Birmingham (turn right for Droitwich).

We are now on our way to Worcester, where we plan to rejoin the River Severn.

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