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.