Monday 18 December 2017

Shirley (plans changed for the fourth day on the trot)

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.

Saturday 16 December 2017

Shirley (changing cruising plans yet again)

The Lapworth flight of locks was due to reopen on Friday so our plan for the weekend was to get down the flight and moor back at the ‘marquee’ field for a couple of weeks.  The marquee field is one lock below the basin at Lapworth and we call it that as we watched the build up to and the actual wedding in the field opposite last year. 

Sue came over for lunch on Friday and we had a pleasant time chatting for a few hours.  We couldn’t believe it was two years since we last got together so there was plenty of news to catch up on.  Sue had mentioned to friends that she was visiting us on the boat and they had warned her it would be really cold.  Quite rightly, she pointed out that as we live on the boat we would make sure it was cosy.  As it happened, it was a sunny day and, coupled with the stove, meant we had to have windows and hatches open for most of the time.

We were going to have a cruise after Sue left but the ice was too thick so we stayed put and went for a good circular walk with Buddy instead.  I also rang Swallow boatyard down at Lapworth and they said the ice was still thick down there and they wouldn’t take a narrowboat through it.  The trouble being, that with the locks closed, no boats had come through since the cold snap.  With the weather warming up over the rest of the weekend we decided we could always cruise over the next few days.

Mike and Lesley were coming over for lunch on Saturday so, on Friday, I asked if they could pick me up at Lapworth where I would leave our car ready for when we get the boat down there over the next few days.  Unfortunately, it was another sharp frost on Friday night so with ice still a problem I rang Mike and said we’ve changed plans yet again and are staying put.

Saturday morning - all the ice I had broken up on Thursday had reformed

On Friday evening we often watch the Graham Norton chat show, but we are now finding that we know hardly anyone he brings on to interview; mainly because they are film actors and as we don’t go to the cinema or watch films we are oblivious to who they are.  Last night was no exception, and we knew none of the four interviewees – it turned out that they were all Star Wars actors and were being interviewed because a new Star Wars film is on the way (apparently).  Mharie, who lives with her family on a boat in Warwick had said during the day that she was going to be a Star Wars widow this weekend which didn’t mean anything at the time but, of course, it all fell into place after watching the show.

We’ll see what the next couple of days will bring.  As usual, we’re in no rush and at least Karen is off work for the next three or so weeks 😊

Friday 15 December 2017

Shirley (yes, at the drawbridge again but only a few hours from Lapworth)

On Thursday morning I’d resigned myself to staying at Hopwood for the next couple of days whilst the ice melted.

When I took Buddy for his first walk, I checked the water point (that had burst on Tuesday) and it was completely off.  At least CRT had stopped the leak but there was no indication of how long it would be out of action.  The channel that Steve had made in the ice when he left for Birmingham yesterday hadn’t frozen over so whilst having my coffee I rang Lyons boatyard on the Stratford canal to ask about the ice situation there.  They told me it was all clear so, coupled with the fact that there was no water at the water point I decided to set off just before 10 o’clock.

All was clear on the Worcester & Birmingham canal and as I approached the 1 ½ mile long Wast Hills tunnel, for the fourth time in as many weeks, there was hardly any ice.

Approaching Wast Hills tunnel

As you may well know, I’m a bit bah humbug about Christmas and could quite happily ignore it.  Karen, though, does like to put up lights and a few baubles.  At least the lights are LED and battery powered so are not a drain on our boat batteries.  I have to leave myself a note every day to make sure I turn the lights on just before Karen gets home 😉  She has also rigged up lights on our outside Christmas tree so, just to prove I do have them on, here’s a picture taken when going through the tunnel.

Once we were out of the tunnel I knew we were back in the outskirts of Birmingham as the bridges have the red doors in them.  If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you’ll be bored of hearing about them, but for new readers, they were installed during the last war to enable firefighters to have easy access to water.

About ½ mile after leaving the tunnel we arrived at Kings Norton junction where we turned right onto the Stratford canal.

Turning right onto the Stratford canal

It wasn’t long before I realised that only a few boats had been along here over the last few days.  The ice was still quite thick in places but, strangely, in others it had completely disappeared.  Just short of Brandwood tunnel I stopped and moored up as the going was getting so difficult.  It’s amazing how breaking ice can make a boat swerve off direction quite alarmingly.  Apart from potentially damaging the blacking, I kept getting moved onto one side or the other, often ending up on a silt bank.  That meant I had to reverse off and then try and carve a different channel.

After mooring up I had a look around the local estate for places for Karen could park the car after work.  It wasn’t a particularly nice estate and I was half inclined to cancel Sue who was due to come up on Friday.

I got back to the boat, had lunch and then rang the boatyard again.  They assured me that it was only a hundred yards or so and the ice disappears, so I got togged up again and carried on.

Approaching Brandwood tunnel just after lunch

I finally made it to the boatyard and filled up with diesel and water.  I also got rid of the rubbish and recycling that had been building up for the last couple of weeks.  I had a good chat with Sarah who served me and realised we sort of knew each other as we had seen each other around before.  She and her husband live on their boat, Stealth, and work four days a week, spending the other three cruising the system.  

All was clear for a while after leaving the yard, and the ice was relatively thin, but about ¼ mile before where I wanted to moor at Shirley liftbridge, it started getting thick again.  This time I had to keep reversing to give myself clear water to enable me to have power to cut a channel through the ice.  I arrived at the aqueduct just before where I wanted to moor and was completely stopped.  As I had done several times already during the journey I got the bargepole and went ahead breaking the ice.

A couple were out walking their dog and they stopped to watch my shenanigans but at least they were also giving me active encouragement.  They were saying things like, ‘you can make it’ and ‘go on really rev that engine’.  I got moored up in the end and couldn’t believe it had taken six hours to cover seven miles, and that was without any locks

Last of the sun at our mooring for Thursday night