Thursday, 21 June 2018

It's all downhill!!

In the last few days our average number of locks per day has gone up quite a bit.  We've come down the 19 Lapworth Locks and the 21 Hatton Locks and here is the story of those descents:

Last Sunday our friends Maurice and Carolyn cycled to us on their tandem and then helped us down the Lapworth Locks:


Before they arrived we came down the first four locks which are further apart and there is then a gap before the work starts in earnest.  Here we are looking back to the second lock in the flight.

Once down the first four we boiled the kettle and waited for the tandem to arrive.  We found room for the bike on the roof and for the riders inside.  Much cake and biscuits were eaten on Sunday.

The Lapworth Locks are narrow ones and each only averages about 7 feet deep so they are fairly easy, especially with two extra crew.  In this photo at lock 18 near the bottom before Kingswood Junction, Helen is on the left and Carolyn on the right.  Maurice has gone ahead to set the next lock.

Here is Kingswood Junction.  To the right leads on towards Stratford where we went a month ago.  Our way this time lay to the left where one final lock dropped us down to the Lapworth Link which connects with the Grand Union Canal.
We enjoyed our day with Maurice and Carolyn and hope they did too.  We were certainly grateful for their help and the descent of the locks was surprisingly relaxing.  We moored on the Lapworth Link and later said our goodbyes as they left on the tandem to go home.

We could have done the Hatton locks the following day but decided to have an easier day on Monday and stopped a mile short of the top of the locks and carried on down on Tuesday.
On the way we cruised through the surprisingly wet Shrewley Tunnel.  If you look above and to the right of the canal tunnel entrance you can see a separate tunnel for the towpath.  The towing horses had to go through this dark hole.  The inside of the canal tunnel is lined with stalactites and water pours through the roof onto poor unsuspecting boaters at several points.

On Monday a walk from our mooring took us to the Hatton Locks Cafe near the top of the flight, so more tea and cake.  On Tuesday we met Kieran and Christine on Ellisiana at the top of the locks and shared the flight with them.  Being on the Grand Union we are now on a wide canal and two boats fit in each lock.  In this photo Ellisiana is coming out of the top lock as we start our descent together.

This view is looking down the straight section of the flight.  The tower seen below is that of St Mary's Church in Warwick.

The Hatton flight is sometimes called the "Stairway to Heaven" and this gives you some idea of why.

Kieran and Christine decided to moor four locks from the end of the flight but were kind enough to continue on foot to help us down the last of the locks.  A very kind gesture and we were thankful for their help.  We turned off the canal at the bottom onto the Saltisford Arm and this view is taken from our mooring there.  The Arm is owned by a charity and mooring costs £6 a night but it is a lovely spot and the moorers and the manager, Ian, are very welcoming.  It is also closer to the centre of Warwick.
We stayed two nights in the Saltisford Arm and spent Wednesday visiting the sights of Warwick.  It is a lovely town though perhaps has too much traffic going through.  It has innumerable corners full of fine historical buildings.
We  started our day by climbing 160 steps to the top of the tower of St Mary's Church.  Here is the view looking towards Warwick Castle.  We had visited the Castle before so we went instead to other sights.

If you go to Warwick do visit the Lord Leycester Hospital.  This is not a hospital but a home for ex servicemen founded in 1571.  Ex servicemen still live there and show visitors round.  It is a wonderful collection of medieval buildings which date back a further century before its foundation.

This is the Great Hall where James 1 was guest of honour at a banquet which nearly bankrupted the town.  He sat in the chair seen on the left.  The Hall is still used for banquets, usually for weddings.

This is the Courtyard with the Master's House beyond and a galleried landing to the right.



Left is the Guildhall where the town's worthies discussed how the town should be run and organised its government.

The Hosptal has a lovely garden.  The Norman arch was found on the site and re-erected as a garden feature.  The urn is from ancient Egypt.
Part of the Lord Leycester Hospital site includes a chapel over the West Gate to the town.  At the other end of the High Street is the East Gate shown here which also has a chapel on top.

The building on the left is Thomas Oken's House.  He was a major benefactor to the town from the 1500s and a charity he founded still supports the town and its people.

I like the roof lines in this photo taken from the town walls which is also within the Hospital site.
So, we were really impressed with Warwick and after touring the sights, sat down to rest on a bench by the River Avon.  Perhaps one day we'll be able to navigate up the Avon from Stratford, saving a lot of locks up to Lapworth and back down again!

Even more surprising was that we found a proper ironmonger's shop in Warwick - Torry's on West Street.  We have been looking for a 4 inch chimney flue brush for ages and they actually had one in stock!!

So do visit Warwick it is well worthwhile.

Today (Thursday) we've come through Leamington and have moored in open country near Radford Semele.  But more about that in our next posting.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Nearly to Birmingham and out again

Since our last posting we have climbed the Tardebigge Locks, all 30 of them, but we decided not then to cruise into Birmingham, but turned off down the North Stratford Canal, escaping the suburbs and heading south east.  So first last Wednesday when we climbed the Tardebigge Locks.  This is the longest lock flight in the country but as they are narrow locks and, apart from the last one, rise only 7 feet each they are not too difficult.
Because the lock flight winds back and forth as you climb you do not get the impression of a long line of locks ahead or behind you, unlike say the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet and Avon.  Here we are meeting a boat ("Our Elsa") coming down.

As you get up near the top the canal passes Tardebigge reservoir which supplies water for the canal.  In this picture you can see the canal and one lock just to the right and down below the reservoir.

Only one more lock to go at this point and to the right is the building which once housed a pumping engine to pump water up from the reservoir to the summit level of the canal.  It is now a private house.

There is a bit of a gap before the final lock which, unlike the others, rises 11 feet.  When built there was a boat lift here but it was soon converted to an ordinary lock.



We moored above the top lock and later walked up to the church on top of the hill.  It has a fine tall spire and is very open, light and spacious inside.
The church recognises its proximity to the canal too as this cushion shows.
After our exertions on Wednesday we had an easier day on Thursday going through two short tunnels and mooring at Hopwood:
Here is a view of Tardebigge Tunnel.  This is a mere 580 yards but is partly cut through solid rock and has some wet bits too!

We stopped in Alvechurch to do a little shopping.  It is a good half mile walk to the centre and the shops but it is an attractive village.

After mooring near Hopwood we went for a walk round the Upper Bittel Reservoir which is supposed to supply the canal with water.  The green field beyond the hedge is the reservoir.  We discovered they had drained it to fit a new valve.  There is a sailing club on the reservoir so they must be a bit peeved.  It looks as if it has been drained for months.  Perhaps this is why the canal is a bit low.  We tried to rescue a boat stuck fast under a bridge before our walk.  No luck with Ian and Helen power but an Anglo Welsh hire boat going the other way managed to pull the boat through.

This is the River Arrow passing through a lake.  This is the same river that brought us too much water where it joins the Avon but it looked pretty peaceful here.
Friday took us through the mile and a half long Wast Hills Tunnel and then we turned right onto the north end of the Stratford Canal:
Here is the last bridge before the Tunnel and in the distance you can make out a spot of light which is the headlight of an boat coming through the tunnel towards us.  We met and passed the boat in the tunnel which is always fun.

This is Kings Norton Junction where the Stratford Canal goes right and the Worcester and Birmingham carries on under the bridge towards Birmingham.  We went right.  It is an easy turn going this way but less easy turning onto the Stratford from Birmingham direction.

Here the photo is looking back as we make the turn.  The house is a toll house built with the canal.

A couple of hundred yards up the Stratford Canal the route goes through a narrow stop lock with guillotine gates at either end.  It is not used now as a lock and you just drive through but it was built to make sure that one canal company did not lose water to the other at the junction.

A further short (350 yards) tunnel follows.  This is the Brandwood tunnel.  The chap on the plaque is William Shakespeare who of course has connections with Stratford upon Avon where the canal is heading.

There are a number of lifting bridges on the North Stratford and this one is the first and called the Shirley Drawbridge.  There is quite a bit of traffic over the bridge and we even held up a bus.

Friday night we moored just beyond Dickens Heath near Shirley.  This seems to be a newly built village and has some fine architecture.  A lesson to developers and local councils how to undertake developments.  It has flats and houses but also has a school, a library, shops and a fine variety of styles of buildings.  We really liked it.  Also for the benefit of passing boaters it has a Tesco Express.

Today we carried on a few miles and moored above the Lapworth Lock flight.  On the way we passed through a couple of lifting bridges.  Here you can see Helen winding the bridge down after we had passed through.  Quite a lot of turns are needed to lift the bridge.

This afternoon we cycled a short way to visit Packwood House.  This Tudor house was saved from dereliction in the 1920's by Graham Baron Ash, heir to a steel fortune who gave the house to the National Trust in 1941.

There are some fine specimen yew trees in the garden.

And some lovely roses.  We liked this one with a mix of orange and pink colours.
So tomorrow is going to be another day of locks with the 19 locks of the Lapworth flight ahead of us.  Once down to Kingswood Junction we plan to swap onto the Grand Union Canal and head for Warwick and Leamington Spa.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Down and Up to Droitwich and Back

You may wonder why it is a while since we last posted on this blog.  Well Ian spent a long weekend in Snowdonia on a walking challenge event and left Helen minding Leo in the basin in Droitwich.  So here is the tale of our descent down the Droitwich Junction Canal into the town and back up again yesterday.

We left the Worcester and Birmingham Canal turning off at Hanbury Junction.  The mile long canal down to Droitwich wins our prize for the most varied canal anywhere.  It starts with three narrow locks each of which have side ponds that are still in use to save half a lock of water in every use.  Then follows a double staircase of locks and a single one down to the River Salwarpe.  Boats join the little river to pass through its very low tunnel culvert under the M5.  Another single lock follows before you reach a wide stop lock into Vines Park in the town.  Going through Vines Park there are three swing bridges to operate too.  What fun!!
This is the view looking back up the first three locks

Below the three locks there is a curious tunnel under the road that leads into Droitwich Spa Marina.  The floats are there to make sure that you don't bump into the arch.



This shows Leo moving from the top to the bottom locks of the staircase.  In case you think the lock looks as is if it is made of concrete, it is!  This canal was only restored recently and opened in 2011 so it is made of modern materials.


As you join the little River Salwarpe below the single lock, there is a depth gauge which, as you can see, is well down on green.  If it were on red this is a signal not to try to go under the M5 as there will not be sufficient headroom.

Here is Leo waiting above the single lock.  You can see the double staircase lock behind.


Once down that lock we approached the M5 tunnel.  In fact we had plenty of clearance but we had taken the precaution of moving the plants down off the roof.

And we are now passing through the stop lock into the green surroundings of Vines Park.

At the far end of Vines Park through all the swing bridges you come to Netherwich Basin where there are secure visitor moorings on floating pontoons.  When we arrived we were the only visiting boat (there are also some permanent berths), but the basin filled up later.
Droitwich is an interesting place whose origins are based on salt (hence '-wich' as a suffix).  Brine has been pumped out of the ground here for centuries.  Over the weekend Ian went to Snowdonia.  His team,  London Rock, came 15th out of 49 teams so pretty good for a bunch of (mostly) old fogies!  Helen was left to explore the delights of the town.  When Ian returned we left the basin in the afternoon to go back up the locks the way we had come onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
This is one of the swing bridges in Vines Park.  We were lucky that another boat crew were passing and opened the first one for us.  Helen commented that it was the first time she had boated through Vines Park.  Normally she walks and opens each of the bridges in turn.

The River Salwarpe was so low that we managed to open both ends of the stop lock at the same time to allow Leo to simply drive straight through.  You might notice that one of the swing bridges is over the lock.

After a few bends of the river there is a lock which you can see on the right.  The little River Salwarpe comes down to the left of the lock.  We were lucky that another boat was coming down and left the gate open for us.  This river section was however a bit too shallow and we went aground, going through the previous bridge at a tilt.

Here is the M5 Tunnel.  Once again we had plenty of clearance.

And here we are in the double staircase.

It really does stay light very late now and this picture of the silhouette of the vegetation opposite our mooring was taken about ten pm.  We moored below the Astwood Locks in a favourite spot.

We loved the silhouette of the grasses in particular.

Today we have come up the 12 locks of the Astwood and the Stoke flights and we are now moored at the foot of the Tardebigge Locks.
The second Astwood Lock has a cottage beside it and a wonderful flower garden on the other side of the lock.

The cottage itself is covered with climbing roses.

At Stoke Prior the Black Prince hire boat base was full of boats.  Close to the lock they were four deep, making it difficult to pass other boats using the canal.

These cottages are just below Stoke Top Lock.
One advantage of mooring here is the Queen's Head opposite.  We went there for lunch.  Our food was pretty good, though we heard from others that the pizzas are not worth eating.

So guess what tomorrow holds.  There are 30 locks in the Tardebigge flight taking boats up to the same level as the centre of Birmingham, though the city is about 13 level miles from the top.  We are not planning to go into the centre of Birmingham but intend to turn right at Kings Norton to cruise the top half of the Stratford Canal.  We travelled the bottom half of the Stratford last month.