Friday, April 25, 2014

Early start...early finish.

Quite an early start today. One, to beat the forecast rain and two, we moored in the middle of a rookery last night and they were having one hell of a shouting match this morning, although it beats waking to the noise of traffic by quite a distance. 

The weatherman said rain before lunch. The map said 3.5 hours to Tixall Wide and the bread maker said 3 hours 15 mins to bake a loaf. That's a plan then and we were off about 8am after the compulsory cuppa. 

First lock of the day at Park Gate always looks pleasant. Louise struck up a conversation with a chap loitering with intent. Turns out he was 'killing an hour' before going to a six hour meeting and that he would gladly swap places with us. We politely declined, especially when he predicted his lunch would be a turned up sandwich and we had a freshly baked loaf on the go. 
Park Gate Lock
This unusual post at the bottom of Shutt Hill Lock was once used to help turn boats into a small wharf at that location (thanks Nicholsons).

As we passed The Moat House at Acton Trussell the loitering chap was just getting out of his posh Mercedes in the car park and called across as we both waved politely (but quite smugly). There was quite a chill in the air today and we took it in turns to walk with Jasper and set the locks. 
Deptmore Lock
Rain must be on the way
This 'craft' was a bit of a concern as it wasn't tied up to stop it from drifting further into the channel although it had a patrol notice attached !!

I say 'craft' as I reckon it was more of a caravan/butty that we've seen before. Wonder if he realises he's lost it ??

As we approached Tixall Lock the rain started but we managed to get moored up before the heavier stuff arrived. The freshly baked loaf was perfect to make a sausage and egg sarnie which helped us miss a lot of the afternoon rain with a snooze. 

Hopefully we'll get out for a walk the pub. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stourbridge, Stowaway and The Staffs & Worcs.

We've had a good few days cruising since our last post and are now well into our stint on the Staffs & Worcs. Our guests have now all departed so some semblance of calm has returned.

Tuesday was a locking day. 28 locks from Merry Hill down to Stourton Junction, a drop of 262 feet no less. We had arranged to meet our friends Fiona and Rob again and they joined us as planned as we descended the Delph Flight. The locks were made easy by a willing crew even though all locks were against us.
Top of the Delph Flight
During the run to the top of the Stourbridge flight, Luke cooked a full English breakfast for everyone and we had a break at the top of the flight for refuelling. Very nice it was too and much appreciated by all concerned.
Breakfast for our locking guests
The Stourbridge flight, like Delph, was really pleasant, made even more so by the good weather. The remains of the once busy glass industry much in evidence as you descend the flight.
The Stourbridge Flight...lovely. 
We found our little 'stowaway' on the gunwale as we entered a lock. Not exactly sure how long he had been there, but it's a long time since I've seen a newt. Louise reckoned that I quite often take after one......not sure what she means !!! cute 
Once we reached Stourton we reversed onto the visitor moorings above Stewponey Lock and had a well deserved drink (or two). Before we knew it, it was time for our guests to leave. Fiona and Rob kindly ran Luke and Annabelle to the train station for us and we headed off to find a peaceful mooring for the night at Prestwood.

Fiona, Rob, Annabelle, Luke and Louise
The last couple of days have been leisurely and we have seen little boat traffic. We made our way up to Wightwick on Wednesday where we had arranged to meet our friends David and Sarah on nb The Hodmadod (East Anglian dialect for Snail). We bought Blue Moon from them three years ago and have become good friends, so it was lovely to see them. We enjoyed a good meal and catch up at The Mermaid.
Rocky Lock
Botterham Staircase
Having said goodbye to them this morning, we have had a relaxed day with some decent weather. We thought our eyes were deceiving us as we approached Aldersley Junction as it looked like there was a person 'flying' across the water. As we got closer it was a group of children enjoying activities at an outward bound centre.
Looks good fun
We started to see more boat traffic after we passed Autherley Junction. Gailey was all a bit tight with all the hire boats double breasted. We'd have thought there would be more of them out considering it's still the Easter holidays for some.
Breath in !!
Galley Roundhouse
With the weather forecast not as good for tomorrow we decided to continue a bit further than planned and have moored near to Tedddesley Park. I'm not sure what it is but Penkridge never seems to make us want to stop and spend the night there, although there were plenty there today that did.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Birmingham & The Black Country

We've spent the last couple of days in the concrete jungle of Birmingham and it's surroundings. Now that might not sound appealing to some, but we have to say that we actually enjoy the inner city area and what it has to offer. It can be hard work getting there, but the effort is more than worth it, especially when we had cracking company meeting us there too.

The weather forecast for Sunday was not great, so we made the early start about 7am. We were soon through the three locks at Minworth and onto Salford Junction and then started the 150 feet climb of Aston Locks and Farmers Bridge.
Salford Junction
Aston Locks are new to us, but they were in our favour and far more pleasant than we had expected. The paddles were well greased and some of the gates new with very little leakage at all. All we needed was the sun which had made a hasty retreat from yesterday.
Aston Locks
A brief respite before we continued the climb up the Farmers Bridge flight. Unfortunately we had to turn the bottom half of the flight, but when the locks are so close together it's easy enough to empty the lock ahead whilst the current one is filling. It is strange to be actually under buildings. We had quite a bit of interest from passers by which is always nice, especially when you can enlist the help of the younger ones watching to open and close the gates.
An unusual picture of James Brindley
Almost at the top of Farmers Bridge as the rain starts. 
As we were reaching the top of the flight we were joined by our youngest son Luke and his girlfriend who had travelled by train to join us for a couple of days. Great timing once all the work was almost done! We managed to moor opposite the NIA just as the heavens opened, so the early start was well worth it.
Our spot for the night. Plenty of boats here. 
Later we were joined by our very good friends Rob & Fiona, armed with wine and a freshly baked cake....oh welcome aboard. They live in Stourbridge and popped over to see us and join us for dinner which we had at The Malt House....very average at best. 

This morning we had a bit of time to spare and enjoyed an early morning amble around the area. It was so quiet with it being a bank holiday. Rob & Fiona joined us again about 10.30am before we headed off. They were aghast at where the canal travelled out of Birmingham on the New Main Line, and could identify so many landmarks having never realised that the canal was actually there at all.
Old Turn Junction
I've not quite worked this one out yet
Fiona & Rob taking the helm
We turned left and towards the Netherton Tunnel which we had never travelled through ourselves. We met several people walking through the tunnel which was a strange experience. The new tunnel light did a sterling job and about 40 minutes later we emerged into the sunshine at Windmill End where we had a brief stop for water and a leg stretch. Fiona soon realised where she was, as at the back of the Bumble Hole Conservation Area was a pub (now apartments) they used to visit each and every week twenty odd years ago and she never realised the canal was there.

Entering Netherton Tunnel
And out the other side into sunshine
Windmill End
The run up to Park Head Junction was pleasant and then the sharp left turn into Blowers Green Lock, our only one of the day. Tonight we have moored at The Waterfront at Dudley. Quite a nice mooring but what a shame nearly all the retail units are empty. The only two that are still in use are a Wetherspoons pub and The Brewers Wharf (2 for 1) pub which we decided to much better than last nights choice and we'll worth a visit. 
Blowers Green
The Waterfront, Dudley
Tomorrow we will drop down the 28 locks to the Staffs & Worcs. Rob & Fiona had such a great day today, they'll be back for more tomorrow. Ooh good, we never turn down some free lock monkey help....

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Curdworth Locks...It must be the air.

No rush to get away this morning. We weren't planning on a big day and were glad of a of a lie in as the natives were a bit restless in Hopwas last night keeping us awake until the small hours.

Jasper eventually persuaded John to take him for a walk in the nearby woods so he could do a bit of squirrel chasing (his favourite sport) before breakfast. The first 'craft' to pass us this morning was this chap paddling a surfboard....takes all sorts I guess. 

David and Sheena on nb Tombee Too then appeared and stopped off briefly for a chat before heading off towards Polesworth and we eventually got going about 11am. Where had the sun gone ? Very disappointing after the beautiful weather of yesterday. A brief stop at Fazeley services and then the
right turn onto the Birmingham & Fazeley where this artwork has appeared since we were last this way.

We were soon passing the ornate bridge at Drayton Manor, now of course best known for its theme park. The original Drayton Manor was once home to Sir Robert Peel, former PM and founder of the modern police force, but I believe the original manor is no more. 
Drayton Manor Swingbridge
We were soon at the bottom of Curdworth Locks and set about the ascent. The locks were in our favour which was great. Jasper is not much of a fan of locks. He can get a bit agitated if we as much as brush a gate or wall on the way in. Sometimes we will have him off the boat as we work the locks, but it is easier if he's inside. As Louise worked Lock 8 and we were almost about to leave, she took a quick look in through the window. With a big grin she looked at me and said 'Would you mind going inside and removing Jasper from the kitchen work top'. How he had got up there is a bit of a mystery, and very sheepish he looked too as he was lifted down. Okay win. 

Curdworth Locks are actually quite pleasant and just the one gate top and bottom. We came through a fishing match in the long pound between locks 8&7. The fishing couldn't have been much good. How men can look so miserable with one head is beyond me.

We then met our first candidate for 'selfish git of the day'. This was moored on a single rope right in the middle of the lock landing so that absolutely nobody else could make use of it. Fortunately we didn't need to as the lock was in our favour, but that's not the point. Totally thoughtless.

We could see that there was a boat coming down the locks ahead so we stayed put until we were able to pass in the pound between locks. We seemed to be waiting for ages and in fact water started to pour over the bottom gates of the lock above.
You can just make out the water coming over the gates
Strange we thought, but after some time, the boat came into the lock and descended. We passed in the  pound exchanging pleasantries and continued on. It was only after we got two locks further on that we could see the problem. The water coming over the gates was from the now half empty pound above as paddles had been left open top and bottom. Many thanks candidate number two !!
Low water levels
We ran some water down to refill the pound before we met our third and final candidate, (things really did come in threes today) nb Astbury moored on the lock landing above Lock 2. Why do people do it?
Named and shamed !!
Anyway, moaning over. We have moored just beyond Curdworth Tunnel for the night and are heading into Birmingham tomorrow, so lots of locks for us (and Jasper) to tackle. Early start on the cards, so an early night too. 

Friday wasn't just was fab.

We're finally out with the masses for the Easter break and what a lovely day we had. A Good Friday it certainly turned out to be.

John had made the short drive over to Hopwas to pick up our guests for the day, Mark & Jane. Mark is a work colleague of Louise and he has plenty of boating experience, albeit on rather larger vessels, namely The Royal Yacht and HMS Coventry, on which he served during the Falklands conflict.

We didn't hang about once everyone was aboard, fully expecting to find the usual bank holiday log jam at Fradley. However it was not to be as we sailed through without any hold up at all - why can't it always be like that. Let's hope our luck holds out for the rest of the trip.
Louise talking 'paint' with Stanley

The standard picture of the Mucky Duck
We passed countless boats travelling towards Streethay. Everyone was in good spirits with the lovely weather. Just beyond Streethay there was a boat moored and as we approached Louise jumped up out of the cratch waving her arms. It was nb Tombee Too who we had travelled with last September through Leicester. David and Sheena were aboard so we had to stop and say our hellos. It was lovely to see them again and we all had a very pleasant hour chatting away and enjoying a beer or two in the sun.
Sheena, David, Louise, Mark & Jane - Streethay Branch of AA

More meat on Niki Laudas ears
This chap got the girls talking, out for a run in his 'budgie smugglers'

That is what boating is all about, made all the more enjoyable being unplanned, and Mark & Jane could quite get used to the lifestyle I think.

There were a number of boats heading our way, so unfortunately time was such that we had to make a move as we had a table booked for dinner at the Tame Otter at Hopwas at 5pm.

Whittington Wharf looked resplendent with all it's bunting and flags. It looked like they had some sort of event on over the weekend.
Whittington Wharf
As we left Whittington and it's poly tunnels we joined the back of a convoy of boats, the first three of which were all travelling together. The pace of life almost ground to a halt. One of the boats suddenly found itself broadside across the canal for no apparent reason, but would they allow those behind to pass......would they heck as like. So it was a very slow, but not too painful journey into Hopwas. The embankment above the River Tame is a lovely spot amongst the trees. We were certain that the village moorings would be taken, so moored just short of the village and walked the short distance in to the pub.
We got ourselves a convoy...
We enjoyed a very nice meal and a few more drinks in the Tame Otter before saying our goodbyes to Mark & Jane and walking back to the boat past the entirely empty visitor moorings !!

Monday, April 14, 2014

All ship shape and ready for the off.

Well we're thoroughly looking forward to getting out of the marina for our first proper trip of the year later this week. We are going to head up into Birmingham via the Birmingham and Fazeley and then wend our way down to Stourton Junction via Netherton Tunnel and the Stourbridge Canal before heading back up on the Staffs &Worcs, which is where it all began for us a number of years ago when we hired a 'yellow peril' from Viking Afloat at Worcester, so we always have a soft spot for this canal.
Where it all began
We like to explore new bits of the waterways and the trip heading off from the New Main Line, through Netherton Tunnel and then down the Delph and Stourdridge Locks will be a new experience for us and we are looking forward to it and hope to have a bit of help along the way, if things go to plan.

In preparation for 'the off' Blue Moon has been treated to a bit of a spring clean. Cratch board sanded down and re-stained, a new tunnel lamp as the old one probably wouldn't have seen us through the season (or tunnels) and this one looked worth a try. The cratch cover has also had a good scrub with fabsil universal cleaner and it's come up a treat. Engine fully serviced and even the squirrel stove has been treated to a polish. We just hope we don't need to use it whilst we're out. Just a bit of varnishing on the rear doors to do tomorrow and the weather looks ideal for that, and then it will be time to chill and relax out on the cut. 
That looks better.
Can't wait.........

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Derby 10k Experience - Mo Farah watch out !!

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I had gone off for an early Sunday morning run whilst we were moored up at Shugborough as part of my training plan for the Derby 10k road race which I was running in memory of my parents. Well, today it was the real deal as race day arrived on what would have been my Dads 93rd birthday. 

I signed up for the race (one I was never going to win of course) six months ago and did my first training run on New Years Day when I struggled to do half a mile and regretting ever having the ridiculous thought of entering. I had also coerced our youngest son Luke to enter to give moral support and purposely made the fact known that we were doing the race amongst family and friends so that I was prevented from changing my mind !!

In return, we decided to do the run for charity - Sight Support Derbyshire as my Dad was registered blind from the early part of my childhood onwards and it would have been his choice of charity and Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of my Mum who we lost last year and who received fantastic care from them during her final days.
What the day was really about (taken on our wedding day).
So we were up bright and early this morning, porridge for energy and off to the iPro Stadium where the race was due to commence at 9am. 5,000 entries and lots of folks we knew with pre race nerves. The weather was kind to us and the crowds were great to keep us going. My concern was a slight injury I had picked up in training ten days ago to my calf, but it held firm up to 8k, so just the last 2k were a bit painful. The buzz of finishing inside the stadium to lots of cheering was great, if not a bit emotional.

Legends....oh and Cloughie & Taylor of course
In full flow with 2k to go
We were determined to enjoy the experience of our first ever 10k and we both really did that. I said the time didn't matter and, in the scheme of things, it didn't, but I had hoped to be able to run the distance in under an hour (I'd got close in training). All runners had a timing chip on their shoe to get an accurate time, so after a nervous wait and the results being placed on the internet, I was delighted to see my time as 58.55 and Luke just ahead on 58.16 and to round it all off our charities have benefitted in the region of £1,000. What a great day in memory of two great people.

If you would like to make a donation to either of our charities, please click on either of the links above.