Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Up the hill towards Birmingham

Our last posting was on the River Severn just before we came up the Droitwich Canals.  We are now on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal heading into Birmingham, so now for the update of how we got here.

Sitting on the pontoon on the River we watched the water levels come up a total of 17 cm by Wednesday morning.  We managed to get off the pontoon, not altogether easy as it is on a bend of the River and the flow of water was pushing us back on again.  Soon we were off up the Droitwich Barge Canal.  The Droitwich Canals consist of a wide canal up 8 wide locks to the railway bridge before the town and this will take boats up to 14 feet wide.  From there the Droitwich Junction Canal is only for narrowboats and continues through the town and up more locks to join the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Hanbury Wharf.

This is a peaceful early morning picture from the pontoon on the River Severn.  It is a lovely spot and, being on the bend, you can see both ways along the river.

This fine brick arched bridge is one of the original bridges built by James Brindley 250 years ago.  As you can see the Droitwich Barge Canal is lined with tall reeds so mooring is only practical at designated places and there are not many of these.

Much of the Barge Canal looks like a river.  I liked the cloud reflections in this shot.

In Droitwich there is a fine secure (locked with a CRT key) mooring at Netherwich Basin where Leo is shown in this picture.  You are allowed to stay for 48 hours which we did.  The "Project Boat" next to us had apparently been there for much longer.  It is for sale if you want a challenge!
 In Droitwich is a Roman Catholic Church called the Church of the Sacred Heart.  The outside is fairly plain brick (though even that has some nice touches) but inside is a glorious mosaic made of Venetian glass.  The church is an unsung treasure which should be better known.  If you want to find it, it is about three quarters of a mile out of town down the Worcester Road.

Here is the mosaic over the altar.

Here is the exterior of the church which was built in 1921.

The mooring basin is on the edge of Vines Park which was a salt works but is now a fine local park by the canal and the River Salwarpe.  This sign was new since we last came here two years ago.  It points to the furthest  canal points to North, South, East and West from Droitwich.  Furthest North was Tewitfield on the Lancaster where we were in May - 127 miles and 106 locks from Droitwich.

On Friday we set off up the locks to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

Vines Park has three swing bridges to keep boaters on their toes.  Here Helen is operating the first swing bridge to let Leo through.  After Vines Park a stop lock (another wide one) takes boats up onto the River Salwarpe for a short way before a narrow lock leads to the passage under the M5.

Here is Leo about to go through the tunnel under the M5.  There is not a lot of clearance and if someone empties the lock above while you are going through then things can get even tighter.  But we got through without scratches, though you'll notice there are no flowers on the roof today!

A single lock follows the M5 tunnel and then a double staircase - there is plenty of variety on this short canal.

The top three locks have functioning side pounds. You can see the two paddles in the middle of the lock which link to the side pound.  In going up you first fill the lock from the side pound, then close those paddles and finish filling from the pound above.  The effect is that you only use half a lock full of water each time because the side pound takes the other half.  It's more complicated to explain than to do, but does take longer.

Here we are at the top going through the last bridge before turning left on the Worcester and Birmingham.  Right goes back to Worcester.  This last bridge is ridiculously narrow, barely an inch of clearance.

Once beyond the junction we moored fairly soon and on Saturday we visited the nearby National Trust property of Hanbury Hall, built as the country pad of a wealthy London Solicitor, Thomas Vernon, in the early 1700s.

Here is the house, a fine looking country retreat.  

One reason the National Trust took the house on was the fine wall paintings by James Thornhill.

The gardens were laid out by George London and are pretty spectacular.  The National Trust grows produce here for many of its properties in the Midlands.

Yes this is what you think it is!  It seems that the Earth Closet almost became the loo of choice in the 1860s rather than the water closet we know today.  The square plate to the left of the hole has a handle which dropped a measured dose of ashes or earth over the contribution and these toilets were apparently pretty well odourless in operation.

On the way back from Hanbury Hall we walked over to Hanbury Church which is on a slight rise and has a fine view.  Here you can see the Malvern Hills from near the Church.

I couldn't resist this one.  Here is cuddly Leo guarding our flowers, geraniums on the left and fuchsia on the right.  They are lovely but we are not sure that the pink of the flowers goes with the raddle of the roof.

As all boaters (but perhaps fewer 'normal' folk) know - Birmingham is at the top of a hill.  So sooner or later we had to ascend the 30 Tardebigge Locks to the Birmingham Level.

From Hanbury to Tardebigge Bottom Lock you first have to climb the six Astwood Locks then the six Stoke Locks and in fact we moored below the top Stoke Lock so on Monday we climbed 31 locks - quite a task.

This photo is taken looking down the flight to lock 44 and below.  The flight starts at 29 and goes up to 58.

Here Leo is waiting to come out of lock 45 while another boat comes down 46.

As you get nearer the top you begin to see Tardebigge Reservoir on the right.  You can see the embankment behind the bridge which holds the reservoir.  This supplies water for the canal, though now the top level is supplied by the Bittel Reservoirs higher up.

If you look closely you can see that the straps that hold the gate hinge are cast with "W & B  C Co" for Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company.

This building is now converted to apartments but was originally an engine house to pump water from Tardebigge Reservoir up to the summit levels.  Once you see the reservoir there are a further 7 locks up to the summit.

And here we are at the top!

Tardebigge Church is a bit higher than the canal on the top of the hill and is well worth a visit for the view, though the church is rather fine too.

Tardebigge Reservoir was looking very peaceful in the heat of Monday evening and some lads were even swimming.

To Alvechurch where we are now moored is but a short hop of three miles or so, but there are two tunnels, Tardebigge and Shortwood.  We passed a boat in Shortwood which is always a bit nerve wracking.

Tomorrow or Friday we will carry on into the centre of Birmingham.  We plan to visit the Black Country Museum and probably take in some bits of the Birmingham Canal Network that we have not done before.  So after a long spell in the country we will be enjoying urban scenery for a while.

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