Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Five years later

What a difference a week makes. We've now definitely left urban Birmingham and for the past few days have been exploring the rural Ashby Canal.

First though we joined the Coventry Canal at Fazely Junction. We last passed through here in 2009 when we first bought Pas Mèche and moved her to her then home mooring of Ely in Cambridgeshire. In our defence there has been some redevelopment around the junction but we were surprised how little we recognised it.

We moored near the junction and set off on foot to do a bit of shopping in Tamworth but quickly thought better of that idea and came back for the bikes. Tamworth is a fair distance off the canal! Although there is a lovely cycle path all the way to the town centre.

Amazed how little we could remember from our trip of five years ago, we decided to cycle back the way we'd come that time (left in the photo above) to see if we could jog our memories. No good, we barely recognised anything that way either. Just to make sure we had a pint at the Red Lion in Hopwas to see if that would help us remember. We decided we must've been so terrified in 2009 having just taken charge of PM that we couldn't even take in our surroundings. Either that or we're getting old!

The following day we climbed the two Glascote locks on the edge of Tamworth and passed through Polesworth. The weather has turned really hot recently and once we moored up before Atherstone the temperature in the boat reached 33 degrees C. On days like this we're glad we painted the roof cream as it helps to keep the temperature in the boat down. Still, it was a day for sitting in the shade and pondering whether a cooling dip in the canal was worth the risk......

Saturday was wet but actually quite a relief from the heat. We followed a few boats up the 11 locks of the Atherstone flight, almost enjoying the rain as a break from the recent heat.

The Atherstone locks are pretty slow to fill but an interesting flight as the surroundings change from countryside to town as you climb. We'd pretty much given up trying to recognise sights from our journey in 2009 but the yard by Atherstone top lock did at least look vaguely familiar.

There are nice moorings as you leave Atherstone but we carried on to Hartshill on a recommendation from someone we met at the locks. We moored up just in time for about the biggest downpour we can remember. The rain was so heavy it even bounced under the mushroom vents on the roof and into the boat. Unfortunately our geraniums took some damage...

On Sunday we cruised through Nuneaton and turned left at Marston Junction onto the Asby Canal.

The Ashby is a contour canal so wiggles all over to avoid changes in altitude. It is also pretty shallow so progress is slow but at least that gives you time to enjoy the scenery. The canal is constantly rural, passing through some idyllic Leicestershire countryside, especially towards the limit of navigation at Snarestone.

Here there is a (crooked) tunnel followed by a dead end with a winding hole. We moored here but access off the canal is restricted due to works to reinstate the canal towards its original terminus at Moira.

Today we've headed back south and moored near the site of the Battle of Bosworth. Pas Mèche is high up on the aqueduct over Victoria's left shoulder in this photo. We cycled to the battle site and into Market Bosworth. Lovely countryside.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

...and then there was one

After our rain-soaked recce of the Stoubridge canal we made an early start from a lovely mooring about a mile before the town arm turns off.

We climbed the sixteen locks of the Stourbridge flight pretty easily, despite some of the gates being unbalanced meaning they try and open themselves as soon as you've closed them behind the boat. That aside, it's a pleasant flight with amazingly clear water and well maintained locks that even give the boat a bubble bath as you go up.

By the top of the locks the surroundings turn more industrial and a lot less scenic. We didn't explore the dead-end Fens Branch, but turned right to pass around the top of Stourbridge. The lovely clear water remains here, which is handy for spotting all the traffic barriers that lie just under the surface!

Half way up the next locks, the Delph flight, Victoria decided she'd done enough locks for one day so we swapped over meaning David got to appreciate the views showing how much height we'd gained.

The Delph locks are a quick and easy flight with very short pounds between the locks so we made it to our mooring at Merry Hell Hill in time for lunch, before venturing down to brave the vast shopping complex underneath.

The following day we continued on the Dudley No1 Canal to Parkhead Junction, where the Dudley Tunnel burrows under Netheron Hill, but only for very, very low boats which must be towed through by an electric tug due to ventilation problems for diesel engines.

We took the easy option and turned right onto the imaginatively named Dudley No2 Canal, wiggling through mixed surroundings all the way to Windmill End Junction. In preparation for the Netherton Tunnel David did our normal thing of taking the flowers and sack trolley down from the roof to allow us to see better and in case the tunnel turns low. As we approached the tunnel we realised this may not have been strictly necessary this time....

The 1.75 mile long Netherton Tunnel is more like the Channel Tunnel than most canal tunnels we've been through. It's dead straight, two way with a towpath each side and a huge high roof. So plenty of room for the flowers after all!

Emerging from the tunnel we were on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) and turned left onto the New Main Line to climb Factory Locks before turning south to reach the safe moorings at the Black Country Museum, just in front of the other end of the Dudley Tunnel we'd seen hours earlier.

The moorings beyond the winding hole where PM is in the above photo are free for museum visitors. We bought tickets online which give unlimited entry to the museum for a year so we could come and go as we wanted, coming back to the boat for a tea break when the museum was busiest!

The Black Country Museum is a unique recreation of a Black Country village with associated industries from the early 20th century. There are museum staff in costume to bring the history to life and live exhibits such as chain making and working steam engines. We really enjoyed it, especially the mine tour and the 1930's style fish and chips, which are second to none.

Back to boating on the Sunday and we crossed Birmingham, firstly on the Old Main Line, before dropping down three locks on the Gower Branch to join the straighter, more direct New Main Line. We helped some hire boaters with the Brades Locks staircase as they hadn't seen one before and were thoroughly mixed up, in danger of draining the canal and flooding Birmingham.

Disaster averted, we carried on, navigating our way through the maze of junctions on the BCN. We particularly like this one, where the canal we were on is crossed by another canal, with a railway next to it and the M5 ontop of everything.

We eventually arrived in the centre of Birmingham and moored near the National Indoor Arena. We had arranged to meet nb Leo here and they eventually caught up having done all the extra loops off the BCN main line on the way.

Having had a day looking round Birmingham when we were here in June we didn't hang around and left the following morning, retracing our route down the 13 locks of the Farmer's Bridge flight. This time we turned off at Aston Junction, avoiding the troublesome Ashted tunnel (see our earlier blog!), but leaving us another 8 locks to do down the Aston flight. This isn't the prettiest area of Birmingham but we made it down without incident.

We'd been aiming for Cuckoo Wharf secure moorings but when we arrived it wasn't exactly the idyllic city retreat we'd been hoping for. David walked over to Star City on the nearby Grand Union Canal to see if that was any better but in the end we decided to stay put.

We didn't have any bother and even managed to get TV reception to keep up with the Tour de France so not such a bad mooring after all.

The following day we said goodbye to nb Leo. We have decided to head South for our mooring this winter, while Leo had always planned to go North. Being in the middle of the country with a T-junction ahead it was decision time. We turned right at Salford Junction to head out of the city on the Birmingham & Fazeley canal, while nb Leo turned left to explore a lot more of the BCN on their way northwards.

We have enjoyed travelling with nb Leo for the past 10 weeks and it was a bit sad to leave them but we hope to meet and travel together again next year. Now we're on our own we will definitely have to keep the blog updated as we can't rely on Leo's blog to do it for us any more!

For our first night out of Birmingham we stopped near Curdworth. It was a really nice mooring and great to be out in the countryside again (even if you could see and hear the M6 toll).

Today we've had an easy day, coming down most of the Curdworth flight to moor near Kingsbury Water Park. We've heard tales from nb Leo of empty pounds and lots of rubbish on the BCN so far and can't help but feel just a little bit relieved that we made the decision to come this way out of Birmingham. Nevertheless, good luck to nb Leo on their BCN adventure and we hope things improve for you in the next few days.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Birmingham bound

We've had a very easy week this week steadily making our way towards Birmingham again. We're dawdling a little more than usual to allow nb Leo time to catch up with us after they went home for Le Tour.

We had a couple of days in Stourport, moored on the pontoons on the river before making our way back up through the canal basins and onto the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal.

Typically, we managed to set off from the river at precisely the same time as a few other boats left, and the same time as plenty more boats were coming down off the canal so the basins were pretty busy. This wasn't helped by a fuel boat forcing his way down the upper staircase, meaning there were two many boats in the small offset pound near the dry dock. Not sure why he couldn't wait but here is David rolling up his sleeves to play a game of 'narrowboat chicken' with the impatient boater.

Saturday saw us stopping in Wolverley and we were relieved to get decent TV reception (after about an hour of "left a bit right a bit, OK don't move!") for the start of the Tour de France. We don't watch much TV really but didn't want to miss Le Grand Depart in Yorkshire as we know the roads the race used very well. David was impressed that the solar panels could more than keep up with the demands of the TV and the new, more efficient inverter, allowing us to watch the live coverage without worrying about draining the batteries.

We moved on to Kinver on Sunday, choosing a spot in full sun (for solar energy) so we could watch day 2 of the Tour. Finally got good reception in our second mooring spot, except when a boat went past and the TV went off - maybe we should ban boats from moving while the Tour's on?

Yesterday we had a good walk up Kinver Edge, which is a great view point, before returning to the boat to, you guessed it, watch the final UK stage of the Tour.
Today we have had about our shortest day's boating ever, just about managing one mile and two locks. We made up for it by having a hilly ride into Stourbridge and up to Merry Hill to check out our route for the next few days; which certainly looks like harder work than what we've been up to this week. Our ride was made more interesting by the heavens opening and us both getting drenched. Soaked to such an extent that when Victoria dropped off the back of the Brompton Peloton David actually believed her when she said she'd fallen in. Only joking, just the rain, that goodness it held off for Le Tour!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Double Droitwich

In a return to blogging form here's an update on the past week's travels, rather than the past month as we have been doing so far this year...

We reached Worcester last Wednesday, dropping down the wide locks from Diglis Basin down to the river

We had hoped to moor on the floating pontoons downsteam of Worcester, which we reckon are the nicest moorings in the city, but unfortunately they were full by the time we locked down onto the river.

Instead, we went upstream and moored near the racecourse. No bad thing as we had a great view of Worcester cathedral, which is very close to the river

We moored up in time to make it to the race course (right by the public moorings upstream of the railway bridge) for the last race, but a rushed decision on which horse to back didn't pay off.

The following day we set off up the Severn before joining the recently restored Droitwich Barge Canal at Hawford Junction. The barge canal is nominally wide (14ft locks) but very shallow and reedy in places so passing two wide beams would be interesting to say the least.

Due to the reeds and shallow edges, there is virtually no opportunity to moor until you reach the basin in Droitwich but here there are excellent 48hr secure visitor moorings with a water point on the end.

We had a couple of days exploring Droitwich, including a swim in the open air pool which is filled with a brine mixture (Droitwich being a former salt town) so very floaty!

On Sunday we left the basin, passing through the pretty Vines Park, where the barge canal joins the Droitwich Junction Canal and becomes narrow-beam. The canal then passes under the M5 in a notoriously low culvert. We were glad the water level was low and we made it with several inches to spare

After climbing a further six locks we arrived back at Hanbury Junction (from where we last blogged) just in time to perform some reversing narrowboat ballet with a boat that was just leaving.

On Monday we said goodbye to nb Leo who are going home for a few days, leaving Leo in a marina near Worcester, but will catch us up again later in the trip. We backtracked to Droitwich, getting under the M5 safely but this time with much less room to spare due to higher water levels - watch for people dropping the lock above you as the clearance is pretty limited!

Whilst in Droitwich we invested in a new inverter (gadget that turns 12v battery power into 240v mains power for non-boaty readers) and had excellent service from Sterling Power Products who are based nearby - thoroughly recommended.

Today we have descended back down the Barge Canal to the River Severn and are now on a lovely mooring just below the bottom lock, albeit one with no land access.