Sunday, 23 April 2017

Heigh ho for Hanbury Hall

Our choice of mooring has proved to be very good indeed. Although the railway line is not far away, the train noise didn't penetrate our sleep at all. Boat traffic has been sporadic – it was much busier yesterday, which is probably to do with the ebb and flow of hire fleets. As so often, the hirers have been well-behaved as regards passing speed; it's the privateers that tend to zoom by, especially one advertising the Droitwich Festival on behalf of the Worcester, Birmingham and Droitwich Canal Society. Although we've moored Sanity Again in our usual thorough manner with bow, stern and spring lines, we fairly banged against the piling as they went by :(.

We spent the morning doing a bit of internal boat cleaning and tidying. It was cool enough first thing to need the Squirrel lit, but it's fairly warmed up now.

This afternoon, we made an expedition to Hanbury Hall, about 15 minutes walk away across the fields. This was indeed a bit of an expedition. The route is easy enough, a couple of obvious field paths then a track from the boundary of the National Trust property to the house. There are, however, a number of substantial stiles and two of the fields are currently occupied by six foot high oil-seed rape plants. I was irresistibly reminded of the verse in that scurrilous song "The Wild West Show" about the three foot high pygmies and the nine foot high elephant grass, but this being a family blog, I won't repeat it here.

Once at the house, we wandered round looking for somewhere to show our NTS membership cards, but eventually just presented ourselves at the front door where the stewards checked us in without further formality. The car park and reception hut are over on the other side of the grounds from where you arrive from the canal if you want to go and get a map of the place.

It's an interesting house and well stewarded. The Vernon family were politically active in the stirring times of the late 17th and early 18th centuries (that is, the Glorious Revolution, Queen Anne and then the accession of George I) and the house was re-modelled internally a couple of times with the changing tastes of the period. It's presently been dressed as an example of Baroque style.

In addition, the grounds are of great interest, including a very formal parterre garden.

Back at the boat and feeling well exercised, we've been sitting out on the bow drinking Alpro coconut milk and watching the world go by. Tomorrow, we'll work up the Astwood flight and tie at the foot of the Stoke Locks.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Up the Junction and round the bend

It's been a very successful day. I don't know if it was worry about the route, but neither of us slept terribly well, which at least meant that we were able to get going in good time. At ten to eight, Sheila backed Sanity Again off the pontoon and swung her bow towards Vines Park. The first swing bridge was straightforward, but, as Jennie had warned us, the second one in use,19, is problematic. These bridges are locked in the open-to-pedestrians position by a bar which slots through a hole in an upstand made from a bit of RSJ. There's a tongue on the end of the bar with a hole in it to take a BWB padlock.

On Bridge 19, the tongue isn't quite long enough so that the bridge has to be held firmly across to enable the padlock hasp to be removed or inserted. I was able to recruit a passer-by to help me open it, but Sheila had to hop off to help close up.

The Barge Lock, broad but not accessible to wide beams any more, also has a swing bridge across it. This one is no problem, not least because only the hasp of the padlock is now left. The difficulty with the lock is the fact that none of the gates will open properly because of silt in the recesses. It makes moving round the lock quite complicated and especially frustrating on a day like today, when the low level of the river means that the two ends could have been opened at once.

No matter, we got through and I re-boarded to view the approaching M5 tunnel/bridge. Hilariously, CRT have put the standard tunnel notices at either end, including the advice to wear life jackets for what's essentially a long bridge hole. With the river so low we had about 5" clearance – there are suspended height gauges at the smaller bridges at each end, so plenty of warning if you are not going to make it. The scale showed 2.1 metres – at that level, if you can get through Harecastle, you can get through this bridge.

Relieved to be past it, we were soon heading up the remaining locks. 4 and 5 are a standard staircase, empty the lower chamber and fill the top one regardless of your direction of travel. I was using the long throw windlass for many of the paddles and certainly needed it for the middle paddles of the staircase.

The top three locks are the originals and have side ponds, all of which were empty today and so of no use to us. Steve the volockie joined us for the top lock and proved to be both helpful and chatty. It was just after ten when we reached the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham (or Booster and Wormingham if you're in the mood for a Spoonerism...) We'd planned to stop there but Sheila had meanwhile clocked that some mooring was shown on the Pearson's just below Astwood Bottom, from whence a path leads to Hanbury Hall, a National Trust property. Steve had confirmed to her that these were good moorings, so we carried on and have tied here.

There was a boat here when we arrived, but they've since set off and we're comfortably on our own in the middle of the Spring countryside. In fact, it's so pleasant, we plan to stop for two nights, so as to be able to appreciate Hanbury Hall tomorrow, when we're rested. The afternoon has been spent putting stuff back on the roof, stowing the anchor, chain and warp, cleaning up the well deck and sawing up some firewood we've collected. (Actually, Sheila does the collecting, she has a sharp eye for odd bits of wood lying about.)

After that, it was warm enough to sit out on the towpath for a while, though a rising and chilly breeze has driven us back indoors now.


Friday, 21 April 2017

Loitering in Droitwich

It has indeed been a day for pottering, though to some effect. After a lazy start, I did a few jobs in the engine room which had been hanging round. A couple of fuel joints had started weeping a touch, so I nipped them up. I topped up the engine start battery and got out the stock container of phosphoric acid. I dilute the 80% concentrate down to 10% to use as descaler in the toilet, much cheaper than buying the pre-diluted stuff from the toilet supplier. (As in £20 for 5 litres of concentrate rather than around £18 for 1 litre of dilute.)

Admittedly, you have to be sensible with the concentrated stuff – I do the dilution in the shower tray, wearing nitrile gloves, of course. But then I wear gloves for pretty well any work in the engine bay, diesel or used oil not being good for your skin either.

Having done this and tidied up, we popped into town for a ream of A4 copier, since we'd run out, and another loaf of bread to keep us going for a few days. It's a classic irony that, having searched about in a bit of a hurry yesterday for either a bakers or a shop selling pies, not finding one and getting bread from Waitrose, we've now found two independent bakers and a specialist pie shop.

Back at the boat we sorted some admin jobs like applying for new bus passes which were waiting for us to have the paper supply. This involved a bit of a wrestle with the printer. Although the ink cartridges were quite new, the black one had stopped working, presumably dried out with lack of use, and no matter how much cleaning we gave it, it wouldn't come back to life.

It's the problem of having a printer that's only used for a few months of the year.

Office work all sorted, we then sallied forth to the Gardeners Arms for lunch. Many thanks for the recommendation, Jennie, it was indeed excellent, especially the pies. There's obviously something about Droitwich and pies.

We had a bit of a recovery sit down in the boat after that, then at two o'clock took a walk up the Junction canal. The Salwarpe is very low and there's 2.1 metres headroom under the M5, so hopefully we should be ok – Sheila's taken the plant pots off the roof as she does for Harecastle which is about that height too.

We'll have a quiet evening, then tally ho for Hanbury Junction tomorrow.


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Arriving in Droitwich

Today's weather was indeed rather better than forecast, though still not very special. It was cool, cloudy and damp and drizzled from time to time, but never enough to spoil the boating. This was indeed special along this very pleasant bit of canal. We have to differ from the Pearson's evaluation of the locks as "not too onerous", though. Sheila, whose turn it was to lockwheel, found them hard work. The gates are heavy to swing and the paddles hard to draw. Some of this is about the preservation of the original style of fittings, but some of it must be about the balance of the gates and the maintenance of the paddle racks and slides.

It will be interesting to see how the Junction Canal, which is largely new works, compares. The fly in the ointment of our pleasure was concern about finding a mooring here in Droitwich when we got here. In the event, there was no problem at all. There must be about a dozen visitor pontoon slots in the Netherwich basin and half of them were vacant at just after eleven o'clock after nearly three and a half hours cruising. They are very short pontoons, though, so Sanity Again's stern is sticking well out. We've tied with the bow and centrelines and seem secure enough.

The moorings are themselves behind a locked gate which requires a BWB key to open. It's about ten minutes walk to the town centre and a bit less to the prominent Waitrose. Droitwich is a town of contrasts. The outskirts which you pass in the final half hour's cruising look deadly dull, a conglomeration of uninspired modern housing, "and they're all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same". The centre is a striking preservation of the old salt town, with many of the buildings at strange angles where they've subsided as a result of brine pumping, very reminiscent of the area around Middlewich.

We've had an explore and a shop. The moorings are 48 hours, so we may well stay here tomorrow to have a bit of a potter and relax after the exertions of the last couple of days. We've still got over two weeks in hand on the basis of our cruising plan to Crick. We'll take the opportunity to walk up the Junction and suss out its navigational challenges, especially Bridge 5 under the M42.

Final note: it's now half four and the moorings are starting to fill up.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Down the Severn to Hawford Junction

It's been a better day for the weather than expected – we just hope that I'll be able to write the same thing tomorrow, as the forecast is for rain in the morning and we've got half a dozen locks to do.

Today went generally well and to plan with one minor adjustment. Rising at our usual time, we pulled back onto the water point before breakfast, having failed to fill the tank yesterday as a) the tap was slow and b) there was a big demand for it. This morning, the pressure was much better so that we barely had time to finish eating before we'd filled up.

Sheila steered us through the maze that is the Stourport basins, another situation where experience of Mercia was a great help. I hopped off above the first staircase and filled the top lock. The gate paddle was hard work at that time but the rest of them proved less troublesome. As warned, the transit from the bottom of the upper staircase to the top of the lower one is very tricky in a 70 footer, there's only just room to get round, but Sheila accomplished it with her usual aplomb and a gentle hand on the throttle.

Off we went down the wide, wide river. I rang Lincomb Lock as soon as we were on our way and the lockie had it open and ready for us when we got there – I'd just had time to get a wash load on the go. The Severn locks are all keeper operated and a doddle after the Thames or Trent ones. Although the Pearson's doesn't say so, they are on VHF channel 74; I'd have rigged ours if I'd known.

We'd planned to moor for the rest of the day below Holt Lock, where the Pearson's showed visitor moorings, but these proved to be some rather decrepit pub moorings, very unattractive. So we activated Plan B which was to carry on to Droitwich today. The entrance to Hawford Junction points downstream, but there's loads of room to turn below and, of course, approaching from downstream is better anyway, giving more control.

The first of the Droitwich Barge Canal locks had heavy gates but reasonably easy paddles, as had the second which follows almost immediately. The towpath between vanishes into some bushes on the right but does re-emerge by the lock. Rising up this one, we saw some excellent moorings above, not marked on the guide: they do look very new with good piling and handy rings. Not all the rings in the right place, naturally, but handy even so.

Accordingly, we knocked off for the day and have been tied here all afternoon. It was calm enough to get the whirligig out and get the towels out to dry. After lunch, we took a walk up the towpath to see what tomorrow has in store. This truly is a beautiful bit of canal once you are clear of the A449 road noise, well meriting Pearson's favourite adjective, "bosky".

Back at the boat, now well exercised, we've been sitting around and chatting to passers-by. Boats have come and gone, though this mooring is now pretty well full. We had a particularly long conversation with Simone off a Canal Club boat, Naretha Blue, before they decided to move on down to Worcester.

Tomorrow, another six of these broad locks will take us up to the visitor moorings at Netherwich Basin in Droitwich. There is a Waitrose in Droitwich, hooray!


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A glorious potter in Stourport

It's been a very good day for pottering-type boating as opposed to navigation. After a lazy start, we sorted out the anchor and the life jackets, then worked down York Street lock and found both the short length of visitor mooring and the service wharf occupied. However, the boat on the service wharf was wanting a pump out but didn't have a card, so needed to wait until Limekiln Chandlers opened at half nine so that they could buy one. Accordingly, they pulled back onto an odd bit of unused wharf and Sheila shoe-horned Sanity Again in in front of him.

The pump out hose was ludicrously short and we ended up pulling forward and overlapping with the boat on the VM. This boat was filling with water and crewed by very friendly folk so a good bit of canal chatting went on between the three boats as all this was going on. Once we'd pumped out, I nipped into Limekiln myself to buy an up to date Pearson's Guide, no problem there, and a replacement pump out card for the one I'd just used. Of these, they were sold out...

Fortunately, Starline Cruisers were now open and our new friends pushed over there to get their pump out – at a better price of £14 rather than £16 for the brief CRT option. The other boats duly moved off and we've pulled forward onto the VM for the night. Whilst all this was going on, an ex-CanalTime boat, City of Durham, came down the lock and onto the pump out. Her steerer, Nick, is a follower of this blog, excellent chap, and he came over and made himself known to us.

It was good to meet you, Nick, it's always nice to have the reassurance that there are people out there reading my witterings!

After coffee, we made an expedition to the Co-op and Post Office. There was a Photo-me booth there, so we've finally been able to get out passport photos for our new bus passes. Back at the boat, it was just nice time for lunch. It's very pleasant indeed here, especially as the sun has returned today. We've washed the roof and one side of the boat, removing the evidence of having been tied under trees for the last three nights, thank you birdies.

The clock on the Clock Warehouse rings out the hours and there's a general feeling of living heritage. The Tontine Hotel has found a new purpose as upmarket apartments. Pearson rightly says that a tontine was an odd Victorian financial gamble whereby a group of friends each contributed to an investment, in this case an hotel, and the last survivor won the lot. He comments that it would make an excellent basis for a thriller.

Clearly hasn't read The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson, then, nor seen the 1966 film which starred John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers...


Monday, 17 April 2017

To the end of the Staffs and Worcs

The weather wasn't quite as bad as had been forecast last night – it only rained on and off rather than all the time. It meant that a waterproof jacket was sufficient rather than the coverall rain suit but wasn't terribly cheerful even so.

Having worked down Wolverley and Wolverley Court locks, we changed our minds about stopping at Sainsbury's to shop. Although Kidder seems to have improved a bit since the bad old days when there were signs on the visitor moorings telling you not to leave your boat unattended, it's still not a comfortable place to hang around. That said, there were a few boats which had clearly stopped overnight at Sainsbury's and a few more at Weavers Wharf. But then, boats stop overnight at Shobnall Fields in Burton and the last Braidbar that stayed there was attacked in the late evening by a gang of youths wielding an iron bar.

We recalled that there's a Lidl beside the towpath in Stourport and, although you can't take a trolley to your boat from it, it's close enough to do more than one trip.

We locked down Kidderminster Lock to the tune of the church carillon and carried on out into the countryside via Caldwell and Falling Sands locks. The final run into Stourport is a bit of a plod, not horrible but not exciting either, especially in a cold drizzle. Sheila did attempt to liven things up by announcing as I was approaching a bridge hole on a blind bend that a boat was coming the other way, only to correct herself immediately, before I'd even got my hand on the throttle.

She later confessed that she'd mistaken a swan's wing briefly glimpsed for a bow flash...

We arrived just before eleven to find plenty of space between Bridges 5a and 5. It's all filled up now, though only just. We had a coffee and a warm beside the relit Squirrel, then ate lunch.

This afternoon, we've had a mooch round the basins, being gongoozlers for once, then made two trips to Lidl. There are a few bits and bobs we couldn't get there so will visit the Co-op tomorrow. The cunning plan is to lock down into the basin and get a pump out first thing, then find a mooring either in the basin, just onto the river or, if all else fails, we'll lock back up backwards and tie on the York Street moorings again.

That will give us a chance to get an up to date guide for the Droitwich from Limekiln chandlers (closed today) and to do the top up shop. I'll also get the anchor out and rig the VHF antenna ready for going down river on Tuesday.