It must be spring – hawthorn leaves are out

A week ago we went through Gosty Hill tunnel which was the tunnel whose headroom got lower and lower and we had to remove our chimney and bikes.  I was reading about it on the web and came across this picture of a ventilation shaft for the tunnel.  Seems rather strange that a house was built so the shaft sits in its front garden.

We left our ‘private’ wharf at seven on Friday morning as we wanted to get to Solihull so Karen could catch a train to see Catherine in Nottingham for the afternoon.  It was frosty and the skies were completely clear.

Our route took us all the way through Solihull which does appear to be one of the better suburbs of Birmingham.   

Saying that, we were still disappointed that we had to remove rubbish from the propeller several times.  Once there was a bandage wrapped round it – I can only wonder where that had been before and whether it was used or not!

Our stopping point was between Solihull and, the delightfully named, Catherine-de-Barnes and we could finally see open countryside.

Buddy and I walked Karen to the station which was about two miles away.  We came back and did odd jobs and some log cutting.  Buddy and I went for a longer walk in the afternoon and he went mad as this was the first field he had seen for ten days.  He just ran round in large circles even though there were no dogs to play with.


Very run down areas today

We had spent Wednesday night moored at Star City on 24 hour moorings so we had to move off on Wednesday.  It was raining hard first thing so we left it a while before setting off.  We decided to leave at 11 come what may and the rain stopped as soon as we got outside.

We were still cruising through really grotty areas, in fact, this was probably the worst stretch we have been on around Birmingham.  These gas meters seemed to be everywhere in the locks and pounds and on the towpaths,

We ascended  the five Garrison locks.

When we stopped for lunch at Bordesley junction we were keeping a constant eye out of the windows to make sure locals weren’t untying us.

We turned left at Bordersley junction and were then heading south east on our way to Solihull.  We ascended the six Camp Hill locks running by the A41.

At the top of the flight was Sampson Wharf where there was a mooring for a boat of our length.  It felt vulnerable but really was secure as it was fenced off and the only access is by boat or using a CRT key to open the gates.  It was rather fun having our own private wharf to moor in.

Just 24 locks today

We headed off on our roundabout route to Stratford On Avon on Wednesday morning.  We stopped for water at Cambrian wharf.  It took a record 1 ¼ hours to fill up so we had plenty of time for breakfast.  This was the first day for what seems like ages that hats, coats and gloves could be dispensed with.

Our first task was to descend the 13 locks on The Farmers Bridge flight.  These are on the BT Tower side of the city and in one place there was even a lock in a tunnel.

Many of the locks were under office blocks and all were covered in graffiti.

Three architecture uni students watched us for a while.  Their project was to design living space under a bridge across the canal.  They had never seen boats moving on canals before so were really excited.  We let them have turns having a ride on the boat.  At least they learnt that their designs won't have to leave much clearance for narrow boats.

After the 13 locks we moored up for lunch at Aston junction.  The Digbeth canal goes off to the right but is closed at the moment for maintenance so we had to head north.  This means we have to make a further diversion of 16 locks and seven miles.

Some of the locks had bridges that are only fixed on one side.  This was to allow ropes to pass through the bridge so the horses did not have to be unshackled when going into the locks.

After lunch we had another 11 locks to descend on our way to Salford junction.  As both flights had locks very close to each other we could get into a good rhythm.  I would steer into a lock and close the gate and paddles behind me.  Karen would be at the next lock getting it ready for me to go into.  I would open the bottom gate paddles to drain my lock, open the gates, and steer out straight into the lock that Karen had got ready.  While I was doing that Karen would go back to the previous lock to close the gate and paddles.

We hit the M6 again with a four way canal junction underneath it; we had come up from the south west on the Birmingham & Warwick canal.  The Tame Valley canal goes north west.  The Birmingham & Fazeley off to the north east and we swung round to head south east on the Grand Union canal.  I couldn't help smiling as there must have been an edict to convert signposts to kilometres and someone had made a bit of a cock up of it.

Considering this was the start of the Grand Union there were no signs to welcome boaters, just more graffiti.

We went over two aqueducts over rivers whilst we were going under the M6.

We moored outside Star City (apparently the largest entertainment centre in the Midlands).  Not really our sort of place but the moorings looked safe and we fancied watching The Theory Of Everything.  For some bizarre reason it was only on at 11.00 and 14.00 so we missed it.  Anyway we’re more than happy staying on the boat for the evening especially after such a brilliant day in the sunshine and the hard work involved in descending 24 locks.

Excluding the lock in the tunnel here are the other 23 locks we went down today.

We need to get back out in the country

My sister, Judith, and her partner, Nigel, came up to Birmingham to stay with us for the weekend.  We met them at the station on Saturday at lunchtime and they suggested we stop for a couple of beers at a pub they knew on the way back to the boat.  It was one of the Brew Dog real ale pubs so plenty of choice of good beers.  Fortunately they allow dogs in which is unusual for city pubs - city centres aren’t really the place for dogs.  We stayed in on Saturday evening and Karen cooked a really good Jambalaya.

On Sunday morning we walked back to the station to meet my Dad who had travelled down from Yorkshire.  On the way back we had a look at the fish removal that was being carried out in the drained section of canal at Gas Street. 

Monday dawned a bit windy and wet but we still decided to have a cruise as that is one of the reasons my father was staying.  

We started by going along the three main loops near the centre.  These loops were made when the New Main Line canal cut through in a straight line into Birmingham.  Buddy decided to sit patiently on a bridge whilst we got the boat ready and cast off.

The first loop was Oozels loop where nearly all the old wharves and warehouses have been removed and replaced by city centre apartments.  This loop has no tow path so we all had to stay on board.

The second loop was Icknield loop which runs around the edge of Edgbaston reservoir and, again, it has no towpath.

The final loop,  Soho loop, has a towpath and the first half goes past many derelict warehouses and wharves.  It then runs through Winson Green residential area and then right alongside the Winson Green prison walls.

We stopped for lunch at Smethwick just as the weather turned and we had heavy sleet for a while.  We then went up the three Smethwick locks and turned round at the entrance to the Engine Arm.  The entrance to the arm is actually an aqueduct over the New Main Line.  

Dad went for a quick walk across the aqueduct while I was turning the boat round.

We went back down the three locks and Dad walked back part of the way to warm up.

We had noticed that nearly all the brick bridges in the Birmingham area have 3’ square red doors in the parapets.  Apparently these were installed in World War II and are used by the fire brigade to put their pipes through when they need to extract water from the canal when fighting fires.

My Dad left on Tuesday after we walked round Birmingham for a while.  We didn’t cruise anywhere as it was too windy but the outlook for Wednesday is better so we should get on the move again.  We went for a long walk and also went round Edgbaston reservoir so Buddy could get a good run.

When walking across the dam at the end we could see down to the Ickneild loop that we had taken Dad along the day before.

We are both desperate to get out of the city and built up areas as it makes us feel claustrophobic.  The plan is to start heading for Stratford, albeit by a rather roundabout route due to the Gas Street closure and various other locks closed for winter maintenance.