Thursday, 20 August 2015

Tunnels, Tardebigge and a tree-tache

Boating is never a speedy affair but we didn't make it far from Kinver before having to stop again. As we came round a bend near Caunsall we found 72' of ex-working boat stranded across the canal. A nearby boater explained that too many speeding boats had ripped the mooring pins out. David was dispatched with the long pole to push her back in to the bank. After some scavenging on the stricken boat for a spare pin we had her moored up again and were on our way.

Cookley Tunnel is only 65 yards long but we love the houses sat ontop of it. I wonder how many flower pots from the end garden have finished up in the canal below...

Kidderminster provides a handy shopping spot on the Staffs and Worcs with a choice of two canal-side supermarkets. If you don't need shopping, the view of the church is about the highlight!

We had an unusually long day to Stourport - which has a real seaside feel to it, complete with funfair and seagulls. The canal joins the river via two narrow staircase locks for narrowboats or two broad locks for fat boats so you have to watch where you're going to make sure you end up at the right set of locks.

These are the staircase locks, with the second set next to the arched roof of the dry dock.

The canal builders must've had a sense of humour as they built the two pairs of staircases offset from each other. Getting from one pair of staircase locks into the next must be one of the most awkward lock approaches on the system (Keadby and other tidal locks aside I suppose). Fortunately we made it perfectly due to no wind, no cross currents and, more importantly, nobody watching.

We had a good trip down the River Severn, the levels were low so we didn't break any speed records as we headed downstream to Worcester, passing the cathedral on the river bank before stopping for the night on the floating pontoons near Diglis lock.

That evening and the following morning it rained really heavily. The river had definitely come up, just nudging into the 'amber' on the level guage. After sitting tight for the morning's rain we made a move up into the Diglis canal basin to get off the river. This was a selfless act for the good of all river boaters as we have a history of making rivers flood when we go on them.... one of our boating friends nicknamed Dave 'Noah' for this talent.

Leaving Worcester the heavens opened again and we were drenched by the time we made it under the M5 to a pleasant if soggy mooring at Tibberton. So much for the summer!

The following day dawned bright and sunny and we had a pleasant cruise to the top of the Stoke flight. The Worcester and Birmingham is a narrow canal so it was a bit strange squeezing through two enormous widebeams at Hanbury Wharf. There is a broker here which cranes wide boats in to a narrow canal, presumably to then be craned out again when someone buys them.

The moorings at the top of the Stoke flight were pretty busy, the reason being that if you go beyond this point you then can't stop for another two miles and 30 locks. This is the bottom of the infamous Tardebigge flight, the longest flight of locks in the country. With this in mind we made an early start today, setting off at an almost unheard of time of 7:15.

This proved to be a good move as we *just* beat another couple of boats to the first lock, meaning most of the locks were empty for us (ready to go in) whilst they had to reset them behind us. No hard feelings we don't think and we worked quickly so as not to hold them up - the early bird caught the worm!

Despite its length, Tardebigge is a lovely flight - all the gates and paddle gear work well and the views as you climb just get better and better. This is the top lock, which is deeper than the rest at 11'.

The engineers of the Worcester & Birmingham obviously got bored of locks by the time they got to Tardebigge Top Lock, as a 600 yard tunnel lies just beyond, saving any more windlass wielding as it burrows under the hill.

Thanks to our early start it was barely coffee break time when we got to the summit level so we thought we'd better keep going. We passed through Alvechurch, having forgotten how pretty the canal round here is from when we did it last year. We particularly liked Lower Bittell Reservoir but unfortunately you can't really moor here as the towpath is so overgrown. The long term moorers on the otherside have got a great view all to themselves though.

After 38 lock-miles (our longest day ever I think...) we stopped at Hopwood. Progress for the last half-mile or so seemed to be really slow which we had thought was due to shallow water in a cutting. When we stopped, we discovered PM had acquired an enormous submerged tree-moustache which spanned most of the width of the canal! Here is the offending item when we'd dragged it out from under PM - we hadn't even noticed this but it's been a long day!

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