Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Who would have thought a car is the best way to exercise...  

Well not me previously, I used to use my luxury company car to go the two hundred yards each way to the corner shop!  But having had a pleasant if grey trip up through the Stockton wide locks, we walked the three miles back to get the van drove to Napton on the Hill and walked about another three miles back to LJ. Honestly, if we didn't have the bongo to move I may well have not ventured out at all that day. Then two days later we walked the whole way from Napton back to Braunston having found a new hidey hole for Snoop.

It was a leisurely first part of our journey heading towards Braunston for our rendezvous with Pip on Monday, ambling up the three Calcut locks only disturbed/annoyed by another lock nicker. For any non canal boaty types what that means is that another boater traveling towards you has filled or emptied the lock in their favour even though you were on your way towards it and it was set ready for you As we were going up, if the perpetrator of this heinous crime had waited four or five minutes we would have filled the lock with us in it, motored out and they would have taken our place. Instead they had to fill the lock, enter it, empty it with them descending and we could motor in. So rather than one cycle of filling and emptying a lock it had to be filled twice so about 6000 cubic feet of water wasted. This was the third time this has happened in a week, every time by a silver haired male solo boater! If you're in that much of a hurry find a new hobbby!!  Never mind I set Deb on him, don't think hell forget that in a hurry.

Only a few locks and we are into quite a routine with only using one side

Hmm not my cupa tea, lovely big front deck hidden behind a metal wall

Although the locks and bridges are wide there aren't too many places to moor something this big

From biggest to smallest proper boat we've seen

Don't know where all this mud came from! - All the babies are ready to fly

Once through the junction at Wigrams turn the canal became predictably more busy. It was Friday after all so quite a few hire boats ending their holiday and I must say they have all been slowing down nicely for moored boats. We found a pleasant mooring twixt Napton and Braunston for the night and as it was nice and gusty put the wind gen up to try and top the batteries up a little.  During our stroll (8 miles ish) to where we had parked the van we saw jogging woman still jogging, star gazing man now sun gazing and walkie man sadly not walking cos he's got the flu. Nothing much seems to have changed in the last six months. I guess I should have been surprised to see walkie man here after all we left each other a few miles outside Birmingham neither of us knowing what direction we were going to go (at that time we were looking at heading towards north Wales) but I kinda 'felt' he would be here and I spotted his boat in amongst all the others from a good few hundred yards away. Spooky.

But not as spooky as a video I was trying to take whilst we were out walking. Nothing exciting I just wanted a quick video of the drying Autumn leaves and when ever I started the video of the leaves on the tow path the camera froze, completely crashed, I had to take the battery out and it wasn't just once I tried at least four times.  But when I took a photo and even a test video of deb it all worked fine  :- O  That's spooky! Something didn't want to be video'd.

You can take a photo but NO VIDEOS! 

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Bongo failed its MOT...

Although failing an MOT is never a good thing it was on a couple of things that were expected. None of those horrible things that you never see like bushes and bearings, or stupid things like immission tests. It failed on tyres and wiper blades (both well past their serviceable lives). What's more we now have a good central  contact in a mechanic that has owned bongos and he travels to do jobs as well. He charges a fair price  too. He only charged £14 labour for the driving around he did to get the MOT, sorting the wiper blades, fitting the tyres and investigating an oil leak that we have had for a while. The tyres did cost a few bob though as we have after market alloys that are quite big. That added to the fact that the bongo is a 2.5V6 with mid engine and rear wheel drive (not your average van) and weighing two tons the right spec tyres are few and far between. 

All sorted now though and ready to continue on our journey. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

No boats to share the locks with...

We left Leamington spa heading closer to Long Itchington as the guy sorting the bongo out was only about five miles from there. The countryside was very open and it was nice to be away from motorway noise and the hubbub of the town. 

We found a lovely mooring a lock below the staircase lock but walked the half mile or so to where we should have been mooring to see if it was any better. It wasn't a patch on where we were so we stayed put. Whilst walking up through the locks we saw a boat that was having difficulty near the bridge hole. They had a suspected failed clutch and had pulled their boat through the last of the locks but were now firmly aground. We helped push and pull the boat a few hundred yards to where the canal was wider so they could moor and wait for the river rescue guys on Monday.

Once back on LJ a pair of hotel boats came down through the locks just at the time that the afore mentioned idiot hirers came bumping around the corner breasted up. Luckily the hotel pair managed to squeeze through and moored up a few hundred yards behind us. Their clients were treated to a beautiful sunset on their penultimate day of their nine day one hundred plus mile Warwick to Warwick holiday.

The early morning fog and drizzle the next day soon cleared and we were left with a still and pleasantly warm autumn day. It was wood cutting day which, sadistically, we both really enjoyed. We even managed a quick foray to get another big branch from the edge of a field. When we stopped for a quick bite to eat of sarnies and spiced parsnip soup we realised that it wasn't that warm after all. A couple more hours saw the logs stored and all equipment cleaned and put away (I'm glad I haven't got a garage because it would all be in a big pile collecting cobwebs, waiting to be cleaned another day)

A few aches the next morning reminded us of all that hard work before we slowly plodded under heavy clouds to Long Itchington.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A brief stopover in Warwick and Leamington Spa...

We needed to be just the other side of Warwick/Leamington Spa by last Friday because we had an appointment to get the bongo MOT'd. Deb had found a guy who 'arranged' MOT's but was also experienced in the little idiosyncrasies of the breed. So we knew if anything was wrong it would be in safe (ish) hands. The guy also works on a mobile basis so could be handy in the future.

Problem was that I would have wanted to spend more time in these two interlinked towns. We had discussed coming back this way late winter next year as its only a few days away from where we intend getting iced in over winter (or hour or so by bongo!)  The only issue is that Warwick lies south of the canal main line, so its a good mile or so round trip to town, and the canal continues to the Old Leamington Spa area which should be pretty and quaint but well, it ain't. The moorings were OK but of the 10ish boats there 3 were hire boats with a group of lads (hooray Henry types) who we nearly bumped into a few days later as two of the three boats decide traveling in tandem is boring and decided to go everywhere breasted up with both engines running and two steerers. The rest of the boats, well I'd describe the average age of the boats to be over 30 years old, the average boater about 30 as well and all blokes, they kept themselves to themselves but the big group of hippy hutches kinda scene is one I'm keen to steer clear of.

The boat directly behind was quite well looked after and lived on by three brothers who had all hit trouble at the same time. One was going through a messy divorce, one lost yet another job and one had a vertebral artery occlusion that resulted in a stroke, the same as I suffered just before Christmas last year. Sadly he wasn't one of the sufferers who made a swift and full recovery. He is walking with a stick now but having difficulty with his speech and will only speak to his brothers and never in front of strangers. It happened to a friend of a colleague a week or so before me in December whilst he was at the gym.Whilst I was out of hospital on the road to recovery back to work and driving again this young lad was still learning how to walk.  Two of the unlucky 25%. If we do come back early next year we will probably pay to stay in the Saltisford arm which we passed through last year. 

Whilst in Warwick though we did manage to track down an old former maternity home. Actually it was a nursing home then maternity home and now a nursery (and probably a few other things along the away). It was here that my mum was born just over 70 years ago. I think the story was that whilst grandad was on active service nan got evacuated to Warwick to have the baby (maybe wrong there so expected an edit)

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A few Photos at last! ...

Visitor Moorings just before the Tardebigge flight

A few locks into the Tardebigge flight
Just closing the gate - haven't seen anyone all morning

Nice open view - lots of sheep again!!

Shrewley Tunnel, the smaller higher tunnel on the right is the tow path

Very wet in the tunnel 

Hatton Locks are the wide ones - James and LJ have left,
 I'm just opening the other gate for Free Spirit to go

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A week of locks, tunnels and even more locks!!! ...

Going back to Tuesday 9th October - I know it is a while ago but we've been busy!! Anyway we were moored at the foot of the Tardebigge flight ready for an early morning start, we had arrived at theThe Queen's pub moorings late afternoon on Monday and wandered round the corner to take a look at the task for us in the morning and were pleased to see the locks were in our favour, with the light fading fast we knew no-one else would be through today and James and I had planned an early start, so fingers crossed they would remain empty - and they did. We set off early on Tuesday and were over half way before we even saw anyone else, then, like buses, there were three all in a row, the first ones were pleased to see us as of course the locks had all been against them and were more pleased when we said we hadn't passed anyone else. James had made a cuppa at some point but unfortunately I didn't have time to drink mine as I was running ahead to get the next gates open and then running back to close after James and LJ had left the previous one, luckily it was a lovely day and the sun was shining for us. At the top of the locks we had planned to stop for water, the water point is not particularly obvious as it is at the end of a line of moored boats, but we spotted in in time and it didn't help that there was a small boat stopped there who decided it was time for a cuppa, anyway with James trying to squeeze 60ft LJ into a 50ft gap the other boater soon jumped out of his boat, quickly untying and shouting across "I'm just leaving so you can get in properly". 

Once through the locks it was then the Tardebigge tunnel followed shortly afterwards by the Shortwood tunnel and then onto Alvechurch. We had left the Bongo in Kidderminster and needed to go and collect it and then get to Birmingham City Hospital for James' MRI scan on Wednesday and Alvechurch has a very handy station close to the canal. So after a nice hot shower it was an early night as we were planning to get the 7:02am train to Kidderminster. 
So Wednesday 10th it was up and out early, it took all of about three minutes to walk to the station, we had two changes, the first at Barnt Green then Droitwich and arrived in Kidderminster shortly after 9am, it was then a couple of miles walk to the Bongo and off into Birmingham, we arrived in plenty of time for James' scan at 10:50am, afterwards pick up a few supplies in Lidl and then to Gas Street for a lunchtime treat at Jimmy Spice - Yum. 

Thursday 11th was a very rainy day so we stayed in most of the day, venturing out mid-afternoon to have a wander around Alvechurch and stretch our legs. 

Friday 12th was much the same, although we needed to find somewhere to get the Bongo MOTed, being quite a unique vehicle we wanted to take it somewhere where they had knowledge of Bongos in case something needed doing. We used a great garage down in Poole to do all our servicing and MOTs but that's quite a long way to go just for that. Anyway I managed to find somewhere that specialises in them just the other side of Leamington Spa and that's where we were heading so all booked in for Thursday 18th. We then left Alvechurch heading for the Stratford Canal, we were soon into the Wast Hills Tunnel, which is a long one at 2726 yards, it was really weird as I had a really funny feeling in this one, didn't feel very comfortable with it at all and was quite pleased when we saw other boats coming the other way, knowing we weren't in there on our own! Very spooky! Anyway we made it out safe and sound and shortly afterwards we were turning on the Stratford-on-Avon canal through the Guillotine lock, then past a swing bridge which our map book says in usually left open - when we passed the site there was no bridge and going by the remains there hasn't been for a number of years. On through another small tunnel, Brandwood tunnel and continuing on. This part of the canal is mainly in a cutting with lots of trees, very nice on a hot sunny day, but cold in October. We then had to negotiate the Shirley Drawbridge, which is an electrically operated road bridge - I was feeling a little apprehensive about this as  I was worried about holding up the traffic - James said I was being silly and that I didn't think about holding up the traffic when cross at Pelican Crossing, but this was slightly different and never having operated one before - what if something went wrong!! Of course it was so easy and yes we held up quite a few cars (well a lot actually) but hey ho I was being silly to have worried about it. We moored up at Dickens Heath in as much sun as we could (for the solar panels) knowing we would be there for a couple of days as we had to go back to get the Bongo.

Saturday 13th was cycling back to Alvechurch (about 7 miles) to get the Bongo and taking it to Hockley Heath where we would be passing tomorrow, then cycling back to LJ at Dickens Heath (about 4 miles) needless to say it was tough going - I thought I would be fit by now!!!

Sunday 14th, time to leave Dickens Heath with LJ and head for the Grand Union Canal. We went through two drawbridges, these weren't road ones and were hydraulically operated using the windlass, this time I was worried the bridge would come down on James and LJ as they passed underneath - yes I was being silly again!! The sign on them did make me smile though "Please close after use as this is a public right of way" if you don't close them you can't get back across the canal as they are operated on the non-towpath side. We passed by a couple of cute little cottages but I'm guessing the owners aren't particularly friendly people as, although they are on the towpath side I lost count of the number of "Private - No Mooring" signs - am I missing something, surely the towpath is not private! On we went and down through the first four locks of the Lapworth flight, passing by nb Sometime, complete with dog and cat, who we had moored with at Cambrian Wharf. 

Monday 15th, it took a while to get going this morning but eventually we were on our way and through the remaining 15 locks of Lapworth, which turned out to be very busy with boats coming both up and down , so all it all it took quite a while, then it was the turn off for the Grand Union. Once onto the main canal James reversed up a bit and we moored on the visitor moorings at Kingswood in the lovely open opposite a field of cows. 

Tuesday 16th it was a cycle back to Hockley Heath to get the Bongo and then we went to the National Trust house at Baddesley Clinton which is a lovely moated medieval manor house dating from the Queen Anne period with apparently little being changed since 1633. After coffee and a teacake in their tea shop it was a stop off at the coal merchants to stock up and then onto Sainsbury's for supplies. Leaving the Bongo near Hatton it was a cycle back to LJ with the fridge items leaving the remaining supplies for when we had the Bongo closer.

Today, Wednesday 17th we were on the move by 9am, not as early as we planned, after a few miles it was through the Shrewley tunnel and heading towards the dreaded Hatton Flight - I've heard so much about these locks with their unique paddle gear and thought it would probably be tough going - I was right. As we were back to the double locks, complete with their big heavy gates, I was hoping to be able to pair up with another boat, not only does it mean extra hands working the lock but also James and LJ don't get bounced around in the lock as two boats fit perfectly side by side. We had spotted a boat behind us as we came through the tunnel and as it was about a mile and a half to the top lock so were hoping they wouldn't stop - luckily they didn't and we paired up with Allison and Dave on nb Free Spirit and managed the flight in about 2 hours 45 mins (took this from your blog Dave as we didn't time it!!) It really does help when one of the crew can go ahead and prepare the next lock, leaving one to close up when the boats leave, what brilliant team work we had going. Hope to meet you both again on our travels. After the Hatton flight it was on through the couple of Cape Locks and through to Leamington Spa. We had to get back to Hatton to pick up the Bongo as we have to drop it off at the garage at 8am tomorrow, with it being seven miles back the just the thought of cycling made me ache, although I was actually aching from all those locks. James had spotted we were just round the corner from Leamington Spa Station so once moored up I was on the internet to check prices and times. Brilliant only £3.30 to get to Hatton, but the next train goes in 20 minutes and after that one the price is £9.80 how it pays to travel off peak. So without our much needed cup of tea it was off on the train to Hatton, then about a mile walk down the towpath to the Bongo. Back at Leamington Spa we transferred the coal and the remaining Sainsbury's shopping to LJ ready for the MOT tomorrow. Will try and get some photos on tomorrow.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Fallen superhero joins the team...

In the latest call-out the D.E.B. (earlier episode here) found herself in the unusual situation of not rescuing a fellow boater in distress but a fallen superhero of yore. 

The superhero in question has been out of favour with the populous of his birth country for some considerable time. In a recent, exclusive interview he sited the cause as being ageism saying "I couldn't believe it boyo, I'm only in my mid 30's, I'm in my prime". Other sources believe there could also have been  power struggle and a possible coup led by 'Spotty' the factory worker who rescued him from a reject's bin   and soon became no more than the jealous sidekick. 

His story began back in the late '70's when as a young ordinary Ted he was charged with conquering his owner's fear of the dark. With the whisper of one secret word, provided by mother nature deep in the Welsh mountains, he became SUPERTED....

SuperTed, in his native Welsh pronunciation - s  iwp  hur Ted - had been flying a low level mission over the Malvern hills when he finally ran out of puff and crash landed in the flood water of the Worcester and Birmingham canal. He was swept for days in the torrent of the flowing water which at times reached nearly 1mph! With the sides of the canal too steep to exit ST managed to summon enough energy to crawl up the edge of the canal water run off. Succumbing to the elements ST found that with lapses of memory loss he had completely forgotten the magic word to kick start his powers. 

We are pleased to report that the prognosis is good and ST is expected to make a full recovery aboard LJ. Sadly his strength hadn't recovered in time for the Tardibigge lock flight so the going was slightly slower than expected with the two man team managing a respectful 3h 35mins through the flight. 

'I couldn't go on. I thought I was done for'

'Then from nowhere I was plucked to safety thanks to the D.E.B'

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Weekend of visitors...

Kaela and Colin had met us at our mooring the night before having parked in Hanbury wharf and cycled the six miles or so to where we were. Harry the golden retriever paid a visit as well. He is a beautiful dog but he did pong a bit as he had decided to swim most of the six miles, only stopping for a quick lie down in the muddy puddles to catch his breath. We had a great evening catching up with a pot of vegi chilli that Deb had made and a bottle of wine brought by K&C. 

As we are a strictly two birth set up K&C had to bunk down on the lounge floor. Harry was barricaded in the kitchen but managed to keep C awake most of the night (well he had a lot of canal to clean off)

Saturdays weather was as forecast and soon developed into a beautiful autumn day. C has been a regular hirer in the past so we left him with a windlass, his bike and a smelly dog to set the locks for us. We had a gentle plod up through the locks and through the pounds at less than strolling pace. 

K&C are kinda 'good life' wannabes. They have a well stocked allotment (as well stocked as the abysmal weather allowed) and have just completed a days foraging course. I still had the crab apples and elder berries to sort out, destined for winter jelly. I was still on the lookout for damsons though and he only ones I have seen were in someone's back garden or in the markets for about £3 per kg. On one of the lock approaches I could see a few high up in the trees but no more than a handful really. Once in the lock we managed to bend a few branches and get about half a kilo. On the way out of the lock though was a tree on the off side that had a much more bountiful crop. I steered the bough into the edge so Deb and K could do the picking and within a few moments the bowl was over flowing, a good 3 to 4 kg :-) 

Harry soon got the idea that bridge holes made the towpath come closer and hopped off at every opportunity. Sadly as soon as he was off he decided that maybe the boat was the better option and made a desperate lunge in our direction. I didn't particularly want to mince the family pet up on its first visit to us so engaged neutral until Collins hand and Harry's neck scruff were reunited. Of course I abided by K's family rule (no.6 - the kids are not permitted to call harry stupid) and left it that he was 'challenged' by certain situations :-) 

Lock lessons

Crew ready for lock duty

I spy damsons (wish we could have a week of this weather)

A rural stretch of reeds, I mean canal

A beautiful day on the ditch 

"I am merely challenged by this situation - can you smell something?"

Sunday's dog was a bit more of a manageable size

Going back to Friday...

Seems a long while ago that we left Worcester. We have since had a visit from my sister and her partner, then Pip and John on Sunday before tackling the Tardibigge flight and arriving in Alvechurch yesterday afternoon. My trusty tablet and MiFi are now in Birmingham hospital with me writing this waiting for an MRI scan. Great this modern technology isn't it. 

Not hot and sunny but a pleasant trip 

Quite deep locks and narrow at the bottoms. A tight squeeze so  fenders were left up

This lock had had part of the brick work chiseled away to widen the entrance

We did manage a bit of foraging on the way though

 Not everyone was having a good trip though. A concealed bridge base took three boats by surprise. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Meanwhile in Worcester Cathedral...

"If I'm such a 'much beloved' Bishop then 







...holding these bloody chairs up day after s....g day! And where is that good for nothing Elgar, 'bout time he had his turn...I can't even feel my shoulder now...

 Day out in Worcester...

Thursday's weather was as forecast a nice cool, clear autumn morning clouding over by lunchtime. First couple of jobs for the day involved turning LJ back to canal mode, stowing away the anchor and chain and other safety gear and a quick tidy up before heading back to Worcester centre.

We headed firstly back to the cathedral for a proper look around. Of all the churches, castles and chateaux that we have visited this was the first time on a cool morning that I had to take my jumper off once inside. It was very comfortably warm and I wasn't that surprised that they quoted running costs equating to £5 per visitor. It was still a magnificent place though and gave a real insight into this historic and prosperous city.

Once we had picked up the few bits and bobs from our shopping list we popped back to LJ for a spot of late lunch and a cuppa before heading towards the local national trust property Greyfriars.

Another of the properties rescued by Elsie

Set on Friar street running parallel to the high street the property had been rescued by the Elsie and Malcolm Matley Moore from development and lived in as a family home. As other buildings had been earmarked for development later (one little terrace of shops due to be a '50s carpark) she bought them as well. "Shame on you generation x, knocking down all our heritage". There are a number of very pretty buildings in the city centre I think my favourite was the Hop Market which had a large open archway through to parades of beautifully courtyard fronted shops. Less notable were some of the older grand buildings that seem to now house chain pubs and caf├ęs across the country.

Archway to shops and cafes in the old market place - no the sun hasn't come out , it's another pic of t'internet

1902 - before being redeveloped to today's arcades 

An old tower that is now a Slug and Lettuce. And an old bank that surprisingly is now a bank.
The river was still flowing nicely today and a diddy boat that was moored with us in Stourport zoomed by on tick-over. You can see the height of the water level above the prom on the stones to the side. There are also several plaques with dates of the notable floods which kinda makes you wonder why the prom had low level bollard lighting. Never mind, once the prom had been jet washed the electricians moved in to dig all the mud out of the lights ;)

Hardly any water from the prop but he was flying

Water level last week on the wall to the right

2007 was about 3/4 way up the wall

Lights in the distance being tested

Only a couple of hours boating and half a dozen or so locks planned for tomorrow (Friday) so departure would be weather dependent  Forecast is for an OK morning and rain by mid afternoon. We will be mooring up and Sis and partner arriving some time Friday evening for Saturdays trip up to Hanbury wharf and staying here ready for Pip and John's visit on Sunday.