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Archive for May 18th, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 15

Posted by indigodream on 18 May, 2011

Monday 16th May

Birmingham to Compton Locks

This weekend has been about moving the boat ready for the BCN Marathon Challenge at the end of May. Please click on the Greyhound in the top left corner for more information and our sponsorship page.

Looking back to our overnight mooring spot (on the right)..

We were up quite early today with the intention of getting to the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 by the end of the day. Richard set off on his bike to catch a train from Birmingham Snowhill (Richard says that the back entrance is much more convenient than the main) to Shirley to collect the car. In the meantime I set off along the New Main Line towards Tipton locks.

I really enjoyed my cruise – I find the New Main Line fascinating – there’s always a lot to see and the canal was entirely deserted as far as Pudding Green Junction, where I saw my first boat of the day turning towards the Ryders Green Locks. I didn’t catch the boat’s name, but the helm gave me a cheerful wave, as did the fishermen at the junction.

As I got closer to the junction with the Netherton Tunnel Branch, I suddenly encountered four oncoming boats – nb Hakuna Matata, nb Syrus, nb Alison and nb Just – we met nb Just on the last BCN Challenge. I did wonder how many of these boats were moving into place for this year’s marathon challenge – we’ll find out in a fortnight’s time!

Once I passed Netherton Junction I was what for me are uncharted waters – unfortunately the next stretch was pretty trashy and the prop felt slightly sticky but it was good enough! I spoke to some more cheerful fishermen along here – it was a very friendly cruise. I did curse though, the camera’s memory card had filled up about half an hour before so I wasn’t able to capture the interesting scenes from the aqueduct at Dudley Port. But I wasn’t without the camera for long – Richard had parked in Tipton and cycled back to meet me. We had enough time for coffee and to sort the memory card before we reached the surprisingly neat and attractive Factory Locks at Tipton. There was a boat coming down the flight, giving us time to moor up, walk the dogs and clear the prop of a very good collection of plastic bags. The oncoming boat emerged from the lock just as we got sorted – the helm warned us that the bottom gate of the top lock wasn’t opening properly so we’d need to take our fenders up – too late, our side-fenders have long gone!

Interesting landscape - I love the buddleia at the top of the chimney...

I used a spring to get the bow off the lock moorings against the wind – all was going well, but then the prop stopped as if a blanket had been thrown over it. With no steer, the bow headed straight for the lock wall – what a bang. I have to admit that I didn’t have such a good day on the helm today, though I’ll plead mitigating circumstances! I was wondering how I’d get her into the lock when suddenly the prop cleared and she was in. We filled the lock and Richard checked the prop again – there was a twig and a small amount of weed around the prop – we suspect that I’d just picked up a mat of weed which had washed/floated off as the lock filled, or was possibly it was shaken off when I crashed!

Ty got off for a rummage here, as did all the dogs – all on-lead though as the road is very close to the locks.

By the time we’d come up the second lock, a BW team was already tackling what was blocking the gate at top lock – the conclusion was that it was probably a brick but they also moved some of those concrete bases that you get under ‘heras’ fencing. We had a brief wait while they cleared the obstruction – it was all very efficient. As Indigo Dream reached the top of top lock I suddenly realised that Richard was getting his bike ready for the next stage of the car shuffle – cue some frantic preparations in readiness for more single-handing – trip to the loo, stock the deck shelf with diet coke and chocolate, put raincoat and hat within easy reach, likewise camera. When we were all ready I headed off along the Old Main Line while Richard took the car to somewhere in Wolverhampton (he eventually left the car in the vicinity of Compton) .

I am very fond of the Old Main Line – I’ve always wondered about overnight moorings here – there is abundant green parkland along the towpath, perfect for hounds, and it seems so quiet. I particularly like the stretch surrounding the Coseley Tunnel – it’s positively rural. There is graffiti around, but one group had helpfully dated their daubs – 2003 – where are they now I wonder?

You can find wildflower meadows in the most unexpected places 🙂

I was musing on whether we should do a recce one day, with the appropriate precautions of course – mooring chains, mooring pins and electric fence fittings to give a deterrent shock to anyone interfering with the boat! Of course, we’d need some sort of metal grilles over the windows and maybe we’d need to borrow some more demonstrably ferocious dogs as guards. I’ll let you know if we ever undertake this important research 🙂

I had the canal to myself, though there were signs that boats had passed this way. In many places, the water was clear enough to see the fish flashing through the fronds of weed growing in abundance in the deep water. But for long stretches blanket weed covered the canal, apart from a clear channel that some obliging boater had carved through for me. I was determined not to go down the weed hatch so the minute I felt the slightest resistance I cleared the prop using the reliable burst of reverse – burst of forward – burst of reverse. I also used two other techniques – coasting through the worst of it in neutral so that the prop wasn’t turning to pick up debris, alternating with bursts of high revs to get the boat moving and to turn the prop quickly enough to chop up any weed. I don’t know whether these techniques worked or whether I just got lucky, but I didn’t need to clear the prop at all – unlike a narrowboat that I overtook later on – they’d stopped three times to clear the prop and when I passed they were busy removing yet more handfuls of weed. I was amused and alarmed to see that the man of the boat was wearing the sort of long rubber glove that I associate with vets and cow’s bottoms!

The one thing that won’t trouble you on the BCN is having to slow down past moored boats – there simply aren’t any! I was therefore surprised to see two hire boats – nb Much Ado and nb Cymbeline moored on the tidy rings outside a new development at Coseley/Ladymoor. I think they were just stopped for lunch, but I’d love to know whether they stayed the night. Soon after I met another two hire boats – one Viking boat and an Away2 boat – both at bridge holes of course. The wind was very unhelpful but Indigo Dream is very responsive to the helm so there was no drama, though the hirers looked worried!

There are signs of brush fires at regular intervals along the new main line - hard to tell whether deliberate or accidental...

I was approaching the outskirts of Wolverhampton when Richard turned up. With the crew on board we got some food and coffee underway and soon passed into more new territory as we cruised past  Horsley Fields Junction. We stopped briefly for lunch at the Broad Street moorings – we had no idea that there were great moorings and services here. We met an old friend at Broad Street – nb Felonious Mongoose – sadly the crew weren’t on board but it was good to see her – I wonder if they’re taking part in the challenge.

We had a quick lunch and set off down the Wolverhampton 21 – the flight was busy – we benefited from two locks set our way as one boat came up, for the next nine or so we followed a boat down, though as came down there were rumours that there were five boats coming down behind us. I was very impressed with the flight – it’s far greener than I imagined and very dog-friendly. The first three locks are flanked by the railway and the towpath is well-fenced so perfect rummaging territory. Further down, the flight is flanked by extensive parkland – more perfect rummaging, though with a little more supervision!

Richard met a fascinating lady at lock 6 – a wiry retired working boater walking her dog. She carries her own windlass with her and set a lock for us. She reminded us a little of John, the gentle man who often helps boaters down the Delph and Stourbridge flights. But this lady is made of tougher stuff – she walks the Wolverhampton flight every morning and logs any damage done by vandals overnight and corrects it where she can, hence carrying a windlass. She may walk the flight several times in a day, helping boaters along with her ex-asbo but now completely reformed rescue dog.

I was feeling very well-disposed towards the flight when we met some nuisances – two lads, probably in their early 20s, who seem to have finished their education and mental development aged 3. They started off genially enough but soon they were sitting on the lock gates as Richard pushed them open, one hopped onto the front deck (but did hop off when Richard told him to), rudely stared through the boat windows, pushed at the lock gates while I was trying to get the boat through and were a general pain in the arse. I felt very uncomfortable with them around – they didn’t seem to have any boundaries and, like all three year olds, I didn’t know whether a “NO” would result in a tantrum!

The Engine Arm aqueduct - sadly defaced by graffiti but a fine structure nonetheless...

I was afraid that they would accompany us down the whole flight and I have an unworthy thought to confess – we were following nb Spangle down the flight but they stopped at one of the locks and let us overtake because they were waiting for their friends, in a following boat, to catch up. We still had our unwelcome hangers-on at this point and I heartily wished they’d go and bother nb Spangle instead – sorry! But the lads finally scarpered a few locks down when Richard finally got fed up with them and told them they were taking the piss when they were asking about how to get hold of a windlass, anti-vandal key and how to operate the locks. Richard brilliantly told them that you were only allowed to buy windlasses (for £25) and keys if you showed the shop your boat licence! In the end they did no harm but they really took the shine off the afternoon. I got flustered and did some truly dreadful lock entries – not helped by the dual forces of the brisk wind and lively flow from the bywashes.

But once I’d convinced myself they were gone I started to relax and by the time we got to the last few locks the canal changed character, as if the spirit of the Staffs and Worcs were reaching up towards the city. The surroundings became green and wooded, and the neat suburbs were replaced by wild meadows – more perfect rummaging.

We had a magic moment at lock 18 (two locks above Dunstall Park Bridge) – Lou and Lynx had gone rummaging in the wilderness off the towpath – Lynx emerged, got confused, and ran towards the next lock looking for the boat. We yelled at him to come back and he ran full pelt up the towpath towards us; at the same moment, a group of horses thundered by on the offside – accompanied by smears of colour from the jockeys’ shirts as they flashed past. We’d been fortunate to arrive just as a race was taking part at the adjacent racecourse…….

We soon got to the bottom of the flight where we faced a decision. It’s a long story but I’d contacted the local moorings officer for advice on safe moorings – he didn’t ring me back as promised, so chinese whispers ensued as the office relayed messages between us. We were advised to moor above Compton Lock, but when we got there we found that they were only 5-day moorings and we need 14-days. We went down the lock and started looking at alternatives – we found a nice spot just below Compton Bridge (59), where the permanent moorers on the offside (by Limekiln Chandlers)  invited us to moor opposite them – they promised to keep an eye on the boat for us – perfect.

There's great scenery along this canal - the juxtaposition of the various bridges is tremendous...

We had some entertainment at the moorings – Richard talked to the crew of nb Oasis Too – we’ve seen her a few times in our travels though we’ve never chatted to the crew (apparently she’s a share boat so we may never get to the know the crews). Later on a hire boat came in to moor – they did such a neat manouevre onto the offside bank that I thought they had a mooring there, but no, they’d just missed the towpath, by the width of the canal! As they finally managed to get into the towpath one of their crew fell off the front deck – between the boat and the bank – eek! It seemed to take him a long time to twig that maybe it was a good idea to get out of the canal and out of danger – he was dawdling about in the water looking for his contact lenses and flip-flops! He eventually got out and seemed to be unhurt, though I’ve no doubt he’ll find a few bruises later.

Richard cycled back to get the car and I packed the boat up – we’d decided to drive home that night and spend a quiet day at home for my birthday on Tuesday. But we were weary and hungry – luckily Compton is surprisingly well equipped with a pub, restaurant, Spar shop and, most importantly, a unique Thai/chinese takeaway. The Tiger Wok 01902 743242 (cross over the canal and it’s on the right behind the permanent moorings) is an eccentric place with an enthusiastic owner – we had a bit of a wait (for which the owner gave us a complementary bottle of beer) but we had a very good takeaway. With a few calories on board, we finally felt equal to driving home.

We had a ridiculous drive home – we got sucked into satnav hell and spent ages meandering through Wolverhampton and Birmingham – how could we spend so much time on minor roads in two cities so surrounded by motorways? We actually cheered when we found the M42!

We got home at 11.30pm, totally exhausted. But the effort was worth it – I spent my birthday loafing around in my pyjamas, apart from when Richard took me out to lunch and when I went to the singing group in the evening. Richard and the dogs were equally catatonic so we had a blissful day of doing next to nothing…..

Happy Anniversary Indigo Dream…..

We’re not ones for anniversaries as a rule, but this was worth marking – Indigo Dream was launched (well, dropped into the water) on the 16th May 2006. By chance, I had my 2006 log book on me over the weekend, so I was able to read my very understated thoughts – I can guarantee that I’d have had a LOT more to say if I’d been blogging at the time 🙂

“Indigo Dream was finally launched this afternoon at Hilperton Marina in Trowbridge. It was great to see her in the water after such an anxious slog to get her built. When we went aboard we found a lot of work to be done and spent the evening diligently cleaning . Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get her to a habitable state so spent the  night in a B & B.”

A quiet start to what has been the most amazing five years of cruising – we’re so delighted that we took the big step to buying our own boat – here’s to the next 5 years!

Photoblog:

Interesting fittings on the bridge columns - I assume they're reinforcement of some sort - oh and it is an attractive bridge!...

What a view - to arched road bridges, an aqueduct and the giant legs of the M5 motorway bridge...

Can't resist another view - it's not only the canal branches that have become defunct - this bridge now goes to nowhere...

I love these information plaques - there's still a small basin here which is home to a surprising number of narrowboats...

View down the Factory Locks in Tipton....

Talking about brush fires... there's be more than a few scorched leaves if this lot went up!

The Broad Street moorings with nb Felonious Mongoose.....

Wolverhampton top lock - it won a national 'lock and bridge' championship in 1999 - the lockside flowers give the place an unexpectedly 'cottage garden' atmosphere...

The monumental Stour Valley viaduct - the view from the previous lock was even more impressive but I was too distracted by our unwanted hangers-on to take a photo - next time...

I loved this lock bridge - the railings are so ornate...

Showing its age - ancient rope cuts on this lock wall....

The canal changes its character towards the bottom of the flight...

Aldersley Junction is really beautiful with its elegant turnover bridge...

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The Odyssey 2011: Day 14

Posted by indigodream on 18 May, 2011

Sunday 15th May

Hockley Heath to Birmingham

Christina and Rhodri sensibly staying in the warm - Lou graciously let them have some sofa...

Denise and company turned up at 9.30am after having a BIG breakfast at the B & B – I reckon they’d earned it yesterday, but today was an altogether different day’s cruising – no locks at all – we were finally on the Birmingham plateau.

The menfolk started the day with a car shuffle – Wyn would leave his car in Birmingham so that they could have a quick getaway in the evening. Richard would then drive them both back to Shirley – apart from the convenient canalside pub and car park, there’s also a train station nearby which would make it easier to pick our car up on Monday.

The rest of us took Indigo Dream down the canal – the waterway was quiet but a bit slow with moored boats and shallow shoals offside. The sullen red light had come on the toilet tank in the morning – oh no, down to our last 50 flushes! Our mission was to find a pump-out – quick. Stephen Goldsborough’s services are closed on Sunday, but as their advertised price for a pump-out is £18 we weren’t too bothered; the cruising club further along has a water point but I couldn’t see a pump-out so we carried on.

The plan had been for the men to meet us at Shirley drawbridge – they could have a quick drink while waiting for us to arrive. Alas, the pub doesn’t open until 11.30am and were left dry so they wandered down the towpath to meet us. We picked them up at Bridge 10, having had a close encounter with an oncoming boat at Bridge 11 – when I saw the oncoming boat I headed for the extreme right hand side of the navigation (towpath side) in order to give them enough room and was surprised when they did too – I hadn’t realised they were coming in to moor briefly before the bridge. There followed a confused couple of minutes during which a head-on collision seemed to be a possibility, but then we all got sorted and it wasn’t a problem. They’d stopped to drop off the lady of the boat, who gave me the filthiest of looks from the towpath – luckily the man of the boat was a lot more friendly!

With our own boat men on board we headed for the excitement of the Shirley Drawbridge – electronically operated and guaranteed to stop a few cars – the whole family got off for the event!

Lunch with the crew of Wanderin' Bark....

We cruised on, slightly bored by the wooded embankments surrounding us – trees are a wonder of nature, but after the first mile we did run out of things to notice (I know I know, there’s plenty to see really). So on many levels we welcomed the sight of Lyons boatyard with it’s open services and shop selling ice-cream. We got a very thorough pump-out here for £15 and the couple who ran the yard were the most pleasant people. Rhodri was hardy enough to have an ice-cream (the wind was cold) but the rest of us had some chocolate instead!

While we were moored up at the service point a passing boater gave us the unwelcome news that there were kids at the next bridge throwing bricks at passing boats – lovely. We bundled the dogs and kids inside and cruised on somewhat anxiously – but the towpaths and bridges were deserted so we started to relax a little.

It was getting towards lunchtime by now, and we’d planned to eat ‘on the hoof’, but as I was getting the food sorted in the galley Richard shouted “It’s Wanderin’ Bark’ – one of our favourite boating bloggers. We’d hoped to meet them on the BCN Challenge but that would have just been a quick wave and move on. We started with a quick chat in passing then invited them on board for lunch. We both moored up and had a merry half hour of eating and drinking coffee. It’s always interesting to meet bloggers in person – will we have enough to talk about? Well, there was no problem – we had boats, canals and blogging in common, then we found out that Belle was a Nespresso geek (just like us…and Greygal!) so we were well away! I’m afraid that pseudonyms are very powerful, so I’ll always know Wanderin’ Bark’s crew as Captain Ahab and Belle – but while Belle is as charming as her pseudonym would suggest, Captain Ahab is not all dangerously obsessive – well, not in our company anyway 🙂

I was very impressed by Belle’s cooking skills – she’s been foraging for wild flowers and had been making wildflower syrup on board – she kindly gave me a bottle – it smells divine. She suggested pouring it over ice-cream, but I think it would also be the perfect flavouring for home-made ice-cream – there’s a good recipe here which I tried out at Easter – I don’t have an ice-cream maker so I hand-churned mine – well worth giving it a go. Update: I got an ice-cream maker for by birthday!

Brandwood Tunnel....

We’d moored for lunch in a deep tree-lined cutting in Kings Norton – it was largely deserted but the two walkers that did pass gave us dire warnings not to stay there too long – apparently local youths like to stand at the top of the embankment and throw stones and stuff down onto the boats. We found out from Captain A that the brick-throwing youths were at the far end of the Brandwood Tunnel but they’d scarpered when the crew pointed a camera at them – this seems to be the most effective deterrent.

We could have sat and chatted all day but we really needed to get Denise and family back to Birmingham ready for the long drive back to West Wales. We bid Wanderin’ Bark a reluctant farewell but cheered up when we realise that we’d see them again soon on the BCN Challenge. They’re starting at the same place as us – the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 – if we set out at roughly the same time then we’ll be seeing a LOT more of them!

We approached the Brandwood Tunnel with some trepidation – I had wondered whether to call the police to alert them to the fact that there were stone-throwing youths around, but the consensus was that the authorities wouldn’t be interested and wouldn’t take action. That made me very sad – if we don’t tell the authorities, then how will they know when/where to take action. Mind you, how many times have the police been called and found no-one there? Despite inching our way carefully out of the tunnel with camera at the ready, there was no sign of trouble – indeed we didn’t have a hint of trouble on the whole cruise into Birmingham.

Christina is studying English at university so she was interested in the bust of Shakespeare carved on Brandwood Tunnel’s portal – she’d increased the boat’s literary quotient by bringing a copy of Othello on board!

View from the new aqueduct - looks like a big road being bult down there....

I do like the next bit of canal – it’s got an interesting mix of old and new industry and we were gobsmacked to pass over what seemed to be a brand new aqueduct. There have been enormous works here as a new road has been carved beneath the canal and a giant railway bridge built alongside. Suddenly there are wider vistas across the landscape. The works are ongoing – it’s a major new piece of infrastructure and I can only imagine what an effort it must have been to build it all without disrupting the 250 year old canal above.

We got to Gas Street Basin and marvelled at the whole Mailbox complex – I don’t think it was all finished the last time we were here. We cruised through Brindley Place and stopped at the water point at Cambrian Wharf. The menfolk got a bit disorientated here – they had thought that Wyn’s car was parked nearby but they couldn’t work out where the street was! In the end, Richard cycled off to find the car – it was actually parked back near Gas Street – we’d taken the boat a little too far. Denise and family set off on foot – they’d have still got there by 6pm so it wasn’t too late…..

In the meantime, I’d started filling the water tank – it takes ages here because the water pressure is very poor, however that suited us this evening as it gave Richard time to hoover out the bilges. We’ve got a mysterious amount of water in the two ‘bays’ flanking the central engine compartment. It was clean water so we suspect that it’s rainwater from the channels holding the deck plates – another thing to add to the to-do list!

Our favourite moorings on Cambrian Wharf were full so we thought we’d try a spot recommended by Sarah – the 14-day moorings just beyond Sheepcote Street Bridge bridge. There are mooring bollards all along here on both sides of the canal. We elected to moor on the left-hand side (on the island created by the Oozells Street loop). This seemed a little quieter with less foot traffic to disturb Ty.

By the time we’d moored it was time to eat – we decided not to take the hounds as it was just too cold for sitting outside. We had so many choices of eateries, but in the end we went to our favourite Handmade Burger Co canalside on Brindley Place and once again enjoyed an excellent meal.

It wasn’t late when we got back, but after a day’s locking yesterday, and an abundance of fresh air today we were ready for our beds. Predictably poor Ty wasn’t happy in Birmingham so we gave him his evening dose of valium and I stayed up to wait for it to take effect. About an hour later Ty was feeling confident enough to go out for a walk and have a wee – great! I went off to bed with fingers crossed for a quiet night but Ty was raring to go again at 1.30am – by then the mooring was silent – even the traffic noise had died down. We felt very safe here – the mooring was covered by CCTV – oh dear, now there’s photographic evidence of me walking the towpath in frilly pink pyjama bloomers, Richard’s oversized fleece and my walking boots!

Photoblog:

Great name....

The wonderful old guillotine lock on the Stratford Canal - shame its been defaced by graffiti - why do they do it?

Wine boat - wouldn't it be nice if this was part of the BCN challenge 'first aid' services 🙂

Major works ahead......

And the new railway bridge - it's all happening here.....

There's a new footbridge going in by the University as well....

The Mailbox - lots of potential restaurants to explore....

The amazing frontage of "The Cube" - described on its website as a "visually enchanting jewellery box" - http://www.thecube.co.uk/about

I hadn't realised that the "Away2" group was so extensive...

And they've got pole position on the waterfront at Brindley Place.....

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