Karen had to pop into the office for a couple of meetings on Friday, but I knew she wouldn’t be tempted to stay too long as Chris and Sue were coming over for the afternoon. Chris and I worked together off and on for 15 years starting in the last century; they also have a narrowboat and are going to be moving aboard full time in the near future. Chris obviously hadn’t forgotten me as he brought over a bottle of port 😉 oh, and an azalea for Karen 😊
We had a pleasant afternoon talking boats and the pros and cons of living aboard full time and, hopefully, they picked up some tips from us. It was quite fascinating as, when asked the direct question, ‘What are the negatives of living aboard?’, we both found it hard to come up with anything. The answers were more around things away from the boat, like what to do with personal stuff that you don’t need on a boat but really don’t want to get rid of.
Heavy rain was forecast for most of Friday night but fading off by the early morning. That was fine for us as we needed to get a good cruise in on Saturday. The rain stopped about 10 and we set off at 11. Just as we cast off, Raymond and Marie came past on their boat, ‘Two Odd Nuts’. They moved aboard full time last year after retiring and we have bumped into them a few times since. They were on a mission like us but in the opposite direction. They needed to get down the Lapworth locks before they closed for maintenance on Monday morning whereas we had to get through the lift bridge at Shirley before it also closed on Monday.
We only had four locks to climb and as Raymond and Marie had just come down them they were all set for us. The sky was completely blue and we couldn’t believe it had been raining hard an hour previously – at least we didn’t have to water the plants before setting off which had been on the job list for the day.
Looking back at the first lock of the day
Karen showing why I shouldn’t attempt to wind lock paddles with my weak back – I don’t think she needed to have bent over that much to make her point though
It seemed no time at all before we were approaching the top lock and what would be our last lock for the next seven weeks.
Approaching the last lock of the day
Buddy in position at one of the locks
We are going to be trapped in about 28 miles of canals (in a sort of Y shape) due to closures for winter maintenance. Those 28 miles cover from Lapworth to the end of the Stratford canal at Kings Norton where it meets the Birmingham & Worcester canal which will be closed about 12 miles to the south at Tardebigge. We will also be heading north into the centre of Birmingham in a couple of weeks as we are seeing Deep Purple at the arena and, as luck would have it, we will be able to moor right outside.
Still, we will have plenty of places to cruise around and there are water points and boat yards for services, so I think we have it all planned out. We will probably spend most of the time moving between Birmingham and Tardebigge, taking in places like Alvechurch, Hopwood and Edgbaston, all of which have good parking and are not too far from Karen’s work.
Karen waving goodbye at the last lock for seven weeks
Just after the top lock is a house with a sign that always makes us laugh. The house backs onto the canal but seems to shut itself off from it:
Canal hidden by hedges (there are also great views across the farmland opposite that they have hidden away from too)
The sign on the house that really makes me want to moor there (they have no right to stop us mooring there by the way)
We then came to our first lift bridge of the day. It was one of those where the controls are on the opposite side to the towpath where the best mooring spots are, so it’s much easier when there are two of you. Otherwise you have all the hassle of mooring up on the wrong side, operating the bridge, moving the boat through and mooring up on the wrong side again before dropping the bridge back down again.
Lift bridge at the top of Lapworth
Next, we pulled up at Swallow boatyard to fill up with diesel, water and replace one of the empty gas bottles.
Buddy guarding the water hose as usual
After leaving the boatyard we arrived at the second lift bridge of the day. This one is called a drawbridge rather than a lift bridge but we’re still not sure of the difference.
Hockley Heath lift/draw bridge
We moored up at Hockley Heath for lunch and also popped into the village to get our Saturday paper.
Moored at Hockley Heath for lunch. To the left is the remains of an arm that used to run down to wharves (there is now a pub there called the Old Wharf).
Apart from getting a paper we had a nose in an estate agents window (as is our want) and a nose at the McLaren and Rolls Royce garage (as not is our want). Oh, we also bought fish and chips as the smell was irresistible which meant that the pumpkin soup Karen had defrosted for lunch would have to wait until Sunday.
Up market canal side garage
After lunch I set off again whilst Karen stayed inside for a while and carried on with her GBBO exercises – she had made some dough in the morning and it was ready to be converted into a cottage loaf.
The final result – the two sections stayed together and it wasn’t heavy inside 😊
We were soon going under the M42 which, to me, is the boundary that marks the outskirts of Birmingham; a bit like everything inside the M25 is London (as well as a lot outside it these days).
The M42 bridge across the Stratford canal
After another couple of miles or so we were approaching the lift bridge at Shirley. This is the bridge that was going to be closed for a few weeks from Monday – they are updating the control system and building a pedestal so the operator can see the road and barriers more easily.
The lift bridges we went through in the morning were wound up manually as they were just entrances to farms. The Shirley lift bridge carries a road so is electronically controlled by our boat key which sets off a sequence of turning the traffic lights red, lowering the barriers and then raising the bridge. The boat comes through and the reverse operations take place. Most car drivers are courteous and wave etc. even though they have been held up but we have come across impatient people in the past – fortunately not today.
Karen at the controls with cars queued behind her
We moored up for the day just past the bridge and were entertained for several hours by the many firework displays in the area. There were two displays in particular, one to the front of the boat and one to the rear, that seemed to have been located so the fireworks reflected in the water.
A quick update on my parents: Mum is coping really well at home on her own and has her independence back; Dad is improving but still has a chest infection which is debilitating him. He is getting plenty of physio in the hospital which will slowly bring his strength and mobility back.