Sunday, 10 December 2017

Hopwood (So it didn’t snow all day on Friday as forecast but its making up for it now)

Although Karen doesn’t work on Fridays, she has tended to either go into the office for a while or work from the boat.  Now she is managing to pass on responsibility for her work we were able to have a proper Friday for a change. That means that Thursday becomes Friday and we get a three-day weekend.

Being the festive one of the pair of us, Karen wanted to put up some decorations.  We searched high and low but could not find them. For some bizarre reason we must have taken them to our storage unit at some point during the year. This meant a trip to Solihull and, as we were out, we got some more coal and did a bit of grocery shopping.  The plan is usually not to use the car at the weekend unless we move the boat, but we had no choice apparently.

The poinsettia is standing in as our indoor Christmas tree, complete with baubles made by Karen's mum, Ann.  The photo was taken at ten past six in the evening by the way, not in the morning, and I obviously didn’t feel like being a scrooge as usual, as I had put on a Santa hat.

On Thursday, Lewis had FaceTimed me asking if he could marry my middle daughter, Lauren.  This has been a long time coming but, pleased as I was, I had to play around and ask him how long I had to make a decision etc.  They were off to Cologne for the weekend and he wanted to propose to her there – which, of course, he did 😊

During the day on Friday we walked into Alvechurch and were glad it wasn’t snowing as heavy as had been forecast as the wind was blowing the snow into our faces the whole way there and, for some odd reason, seemed to be doing the same thing on the way back.

The original plan had been to cruise back to Lapworth over the weekend but that became out of the question with the ice and snow forecast, but we moved the boat closer to the water point to be on the safe side anyway.

Moored just up from the water point at Hopwood

At about four on Sunday morning we were woken by the constant revving of an engine.  Looking outside, I saw a petrol tanker had become stuck in the snow on the bridge you can see behind us in the picture above.  It’s on a slight incline on the Redditch to Birmingham road and, as it was a bridge, I assume had iced up before other parts of the road.  Amazingly, within an hour, a breakdown truck had pulled the tanker free.  Not sure if it was a local truck or if BP have their own fleet but it must be a costly service.

The water in the canal hadn’t completely frozen before the snow started so, with the heavy snow, it was more of a gloopy soup that had frozen over by Sunday morning:

When I went to take Buddy out for his first run, Karen asked if I could switch on the lights on the outside Christmas tree we keep in a pot on the boat all year.  I must admit, that I didn’t see much point 😊


Thinking of Karen winding down at work reminds me she only has thirteen weeks left and she is having three of those off over the holiday period too 😊

Friday, 8 December 2017

Hopwood (bringing the inner child out – the first snow of winter)

We have a dichotomy; do we move or not over the next week?  Moored where we are at Hopwood has the distinct advantage that we are right next to a water point.  This could be crucial if the forecast for a fortnight of freezing weather is correct.  As much as it’s fun cruising in ice, if it gets too thick it will damage the blacking on the boat.  Also, when passing moored boats, sheets of ice slide across to the moored boats which in turn can upset the occupants because of their blacking.

We really wanted to get to Lapworth over the weekend of 18th December.  At least if the weather sets in really cold we have easy access to all services there.  At the moment, Sue is coming to visit on the Friday and Mike and Lesley coming over the next day to come down Lesley's favourite flight of locks with us.  Normally we could set off this weekend and easily get down to Lapworth, but we are stymied by bridge and lock closures which don’t open until the weekend of the 18th.  So, although we can get as far as the closures (the cut isn’t frozen over yet) we are in danger of getting iced in at the top of Lapworth with no access to services over the next few weeks.

Let’s just see what Friday brings.

Each morning this week, Buddy and I have had a five mile circular walk taking in Alvechurch and then gone for a walk in the other direction over Wast Hill tunnel in the afternoon.

At the permanent moorings at Lower Bittell is a relatively new boat that makes us chuckle.  Karen and I first came across it eighteen months or so ago when the owners had just picked it up from the boat builders.  We were chatting to them whilst waiting for a lock and asked what they were going to call it as it was nameless and just had a picture on the side.  They hadn’t decided but said they would keep the picture until they had.  Eighteen months later it looks like they still haven’t decided 😊

Stork carrying a new 'baby' boat

Every month or so we come across a Mandarin duck or two.  These are very colourful (well, the males are) and unlike most British ducks.  They live naturally here now having escaped many years ago when they were first imported from China as specimen birds.  There is a sole example in Alvechurch and I always feel sorry for him as he hasn’t got a mate.

Mandarin duck – try as I might he wouldn’t turn side on for me

Our mooring is next to a pig field which has all sorts of different breeds in it and all seem very friendly.  If we walk up to the gate they come bounding over expecting to be fed and also give Buddy the opportunity for a good sniff.

Moored next to the pig field

Snow was forecast to start during the early hours of Friday and continue into Sunday.  Both Karen and I still get excited by the prospect of snow just like when we were children; as much as we like snow we have long since given up skiing though.

Whenever we got up for the loo in the night we would open the porthole to see if it had started snowing.  By the morning we were laying there trying to ascertain whether we could hear the muffled sound of traffic – to our delight, we could but only just over an inch had fallen so it was surprising the road was covered.

Through the galley window this morning

When Buddy first saw snow (in Burton on Trent, on our old boat, in January 2015) he didn’t know what to do.  When I took him out first thing he just stood on the rear deck hopping from foot to foot.

Buddy having never seen snow before

This morning, he couldn’t wait to start playing and was soon tearing up and down the towpath.

Not a lot of snow yet but chance there may be plenty more this weekend 😉

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Hopwood (woken by blue flashing lights and the eeriness of no sound)

It was still cold on Thursday morning and the cut was frozen for the first time this winter.  It wasn’t enough to stop boats moving of course but it’s always exciting to see the ice and hear the noises it makes as it shifts with temperature change and water movement.

Iced over at Alvechurch

As I said in the last blog, it was time to get Buddy’s coat out and he does seem to be quite appreciative when he has it on.

Another first for the winter

Buddy and I went for a wander up the lane next to the pub where we are moored.  We haven’t ventured up that way before and were hoping, that as it was a dead end, that there would be a footpath to find.

The Crown where we have been moored for the last ten days and Karen has parked the car

The last house up the very narrow lane

As luck would have it, the lane stopped and turned into an old trackway.  When the lane was metalled during the last century they obviously decided to end it at the last house rather than continue along the track to the next village.

Nice unmade road

We were up early on Friday to spend a few days in Yorkshire to see my parents.  We were up there by nine in the morning so had a full first day.  We managed to get a few jobs done and take Mum into hospital to see Dad.  

We stayed in a cottage in Embsay just outside Skipton and my youngest daughters, Polly and Lauren, also stayed with us so it was good to get a bit of family time too.

On Saturday morning we walked across the local fell into Skipton for an hour before coming back and going into hospital again.

Walking through the woods to Skipton – Embsay in the background

There is an enthusiastic steam railway society in Embsay and most days they run steam trips.  I must admit that all steam societies seem to be enthusiastic, not just Embsay, and the word enthusiast really sums up steam train fans in my mind.

One of the steam trains setting out from the village – I still get a tingle in my spine when I hear one

After popping into hospital again on Sunday we came home to a cold boat but it didn’t take long to get it warm and we stayed in for the evening.

My plan for Monday was to cruise down to the boatyard in Alvechurch to get water and have a pump out followed by a day of washing and admin.  

As we left our mooring on Monday morning I could see into the new marina and it looks like they’re not far off flooding it.  The angled entrance can be seen in the foreground with mud forming a dam across it.

I winded the boat at the yard and, after they had moved a couple of boats, reversed back onto the wharf.  The pump out was fine but there was a problem with the water pressure, so I couldn’t get water.  This was a bit of an issue as we were nearly out of water so there was nothing for it but to cruise back up to Hopwood to the next water point.

Winding at the boat yard (where our first boat was built in the '90s)

At least it meant we were now heading back in the right direction for Leamington.  Karen wants to spend her last few weeks of work around there in February, so she can walk into the office.  

As it was Monday I had the car, so I could pick Karen up from work on our way to play bridge at Stratford in the evening.  This meant that once we got to Hopwood I would have to walk back and get the car.

It was a gorgeous day and even quite mild, so it was a pleasant cruise if only for two or three miles.

Typical blind bend with a bridge

Not wanting to make the same mistake as we did last time we were moored at Hopwood, I made sure we were next to the road rather than the pub car park (the car had been locked in one night and Karen had had to get a taxi to work!).

Moored next to the road at Hopwood

We will probably stay here until Thursday as there are strong winds forecast over the next couple of days.  On Thursday I’ll make our way back through Wast Hills tunnel (yet again!) and back onto the Stratford canal.  I hope to get to Shirley where the canal is currently closed.  It is due to open on Friday evening so over the weekend Karen and I can get through and moor either at Hockley Heath or the top of Lapworth.  The flight of locks through Lapworth are also closed and they are due to open at the following weekend.

This morning I was woken by blue flashing lights in the bedroom.  Well, the lights were on an ambulance and fire engine outside but we don’t have curtains at the front of the boat so it felt as if they were inside.  I had thought that it was very quiet outside, we are near a main road running into Birmingham; sadly, there had been an accident and the road was closed. 

By the way, my dad was moved to an assessment care home on Monday.  He will spend a few weeks there whilst he is assessed for the level of care he needs going forwards and whether that should be in a home or his own home.