First time we’ve had a neighbour at Shirley
Mike and Lesley were coming over for the first part of Saturday but not to do some locking as they had hoped. We had been planning on getting to Lapworth by Friday evening and then they would have come down the first 20 locks of the flight with us. Instead, we stayed in and had a relaxing morning and lunch catching up on all the news.
Sadly, but to be expected as we’re on canal time, the delivery date of their boat has slipped until the new year. They had hoped to get it before Christmas, so they could live on it whilst their house was full of guests.
Karen had got some more go kart tyres so we gave them to Mike and Lesley when they left, so they at least had part of their boat for Christmas. Go kart tyres make really good fenders when the boat cannot be moored tight along the bank because of a ledge or some other obstruction.
After they left we went for a circular walk around Dickens Heath and popped into the Christmas tree farm to have a nose around. They claim to be the largest in Europe and it certainly is a massive operation. As expected the place was packed with the public picking up trees and the kids were entertained by various displays including a pen of reindeer.
Buddy was a bit apprehensive whilst the reindeer were inquisitive
On Saturday evening Karen and I were talking about Mike and Aileen, who are cruising in France on their narrowboat. We thought they would be back in the UK for a few days over the festive period, so we decided to call them up on Sunday to see if they could pay us a visit. As we were talking, my phone pinged and there was a message from Aileen asking if they could pop in and see us on Sunday!
Of course, we were delighted and thought we could cruise to Lapworth in the morning and they could meet us there. It also meant they could run us back to get our car from Shirley once they went on their way.
I set off to go through the lift bridge at Shirley and really struggled with the ice and took a while to get lined up to get through the bridge. I must admit that the ice hadn’t melted as much as I had expected so I moored up again and thought I ought to check what the conditions were like further along.
I took Buddy with me and it looked fine most of the way to Dickens Heath. When we got back I drove down to Hockley Heath to check the state of things there. As the guy in the boat yard there had told me on Friday it really was quite thick. The channel made by the boat that had made it through on Saturday had refrozen. Although we could have had an ice breaking cruise we weren’t that desperate to move so decided to stay put another day or so. It did give us the chance to have a good old gossip with Mike and Aileen and learn a lot more about cruising in France to help our planning for when we take Chalkhill Blue there in 2019.
Before they came over, Karen and I took Buddy for a walk. At one point we had to go under a railway bridge that had a large puddle under it. Every time a car came through, the water drenched the pavement and side of the bridge, so we had to wait until the road was clear before making a dash for it.
Karen making a run for it!
All the locks in France are operated by lock keepers (éclusiers) and the only part of the locking operation they have done over the last year is open the odd gate or two. Apparently paddle gear is for éclusier use only. A bit ironic really as on some canals there is so little traffic that most of the éclusiers have probably operated fewer locks than Mike and Aileen 😉 Because of their lack of operating locks over the last year, Aileen was desperate to do some locking with us, so was a little sad she wouldn’t be helping us down the Lapworth flight.
Sometime after five o’clock, when it was pitch black outside, we heard the sound of ice breaking – a boat was coming past. They crept past us carefully, but we couldn’t see anything as we had our lights on and their boat was in the dark. Mike and Aileen left a short while later and as we went out to wave them off we could see the boat had moored just in front of us.
Settling down for the evening I got a notification on Facebook from Issie saying, “Just moored up next to you!! Sorry if we scratched your blacking with the ice! ”. Mike and Issie have been cruising around the north this year but we knew they were coming back this way for winter. They have been having some long days to get down here in time for the festive period and had done well on Sunday to cruise from Wolverhampton, through Birmingham before mooring up next us. Issie’s boat is very distinctive - we have never seen another boat in the same attractive lemon colour – see picture at the top taken this morning.