Friday, 12 September 2014

A week on't cut

Today Ivan, Peter, Malc, and myself returned from a superb week on a hired narrow boat. Starting from Autherley Junction north of Wolverhampton our route took us down the Staffs & Worcester canal via Kidderminster to Stourport on the River Severn, down the Severn to Worcester, up the Worcester & Birmingham canal via Tardebigge Locks and Alvechurch to Gas street Basin in City Centre Birmingham, and finally along the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigation) New Main Line to return to pass our starting point via Aldersley Junction, for a brief run up the Staffs & Worcester to Coven for the last night before returning the boat to Autherley Junction yard this morning.

It was a pretty full week of cruising as progress on the narrow canals isn't rapid, and there were many locks to be worked. But the weather could not have been better and we had a fantastic week.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Malc prepared this map of our route

Unpacking the car after arriving at the boat yard last Friday morning. Our sixty four foot narrow boat, the 'Aquarius', is in the background. She's an 8-birth boat so very comfortable for 4, as we each had a double cabin to ourselves. She has two bathrooms, one with bath / shower, central heating by radiator (not needed on our trip), WiFi, and a large kitchen / dining area as well as ample seating outside in the bow and the on the stern.

Looking forward from Aquarius' cockpit 

Malc and Ivan sorting out the galley before departure 

Stourton Junction direction sign (picture copyright Ivan)

In Bratch locks

The last lock at Bratch 

Leaving Bratch bottom lock 

Me driving as we head towards our Friday evening stop at Wombourne (picture copyright Ivan)

The Round Oak pub at Wombourne 

Malc and Ivan study the menu over a pint for our evening meal.... 

....While Pete stuck to tea and a book on the boat 

He did join us later. Malc and I are enjoying a pint of lovely, hoppy, Banks 'Sunbeam' bitter 

Me and Malc discuss tomorrow's route (picture copyright Ivan)

We planned to start the day with a good cooked breakfast (thank you Ivan - most excellent they were!), perhaps a cheese and cracker at lunchtime so we could keep on the move, and a pub stop overnight for beer and evening meal 

Malc on the tiller. We generally took a turn of an hour each at driving, except Ivan who preferred to oversee the victuals.

Leafy cut, on the way down to Kidderminster on the Saturday (picture copyright Ivan)

Sandstone in the Kinver area, north of Kidderminster

Ivan and Pete work a lock 

Malc and St Mary & All Saints church, Kidderminster 

An unobstructed view of the fine building 

We saw plenty of Herons fishing the canal banks, and a lot of lovely iridescent blue Kingfishers, too (picture copyright Ivan)

Peter's turn on the tiller 

The cut south of Kidderminster meanders gently as it approaches the Severn Valley at Stourport 

Our Saturday evening stop at Stourport. Good food and good beer! 

There was a festival on at Stourport with a lot of moored boats, and some may have wanted to depart on the Sunday morning through the single locks from the basins onto the Severn. To avoid any chance of getting stuck in a massive queue we set off early. Above, Stourport in early morning sunshine. 

The lock down into the upper basin at Stourport 

The upper basin was packed with multi-parked boats. Thankfully their crews were either staying for Sunday or hadn't got up yet and we were the first boat through, though there was another immediately behind us. We initially headed for the 'broad' locks (90 degrees to the left, just beyond the green boat in the above picture) aiming to descend them to the lower basin together with the narrow boat that was behind us (the broad lock can accommodate two narrow boats, side by side), but the lock keeper refused that plan. I had to reverse the boat out of the approach channel for those locks, and regain the position above, to get to the narrow locks instead (past the white boats in the above picture, and then 90 degrees left in front of the brick building). Not easy in the confined space with so many moored boats (all of which I avoided banging into!).

The lower basin at Stourport. It was quite tricky steering the boat out of the lock from the upper basin (visible below the tree above) into the lock (in the foreground) down to the Severn, with the easterly wind blowing from right to left as one looks at this picture. The exit from the broad lock into the lower basin is just off the picture to the right; if we had been allowed to use that it would have been easier as it's far better aligned with the outlet lock to the Severn than is the narrow lock.

The Severn was wide and slow-flowing, and we could motor along making good progress 

The locks on the river are wide, and power-operated by a lock keeper with red and green lights to control the entry of boats into the lock 

Leaving a Severn lock 

Heading downstream towards Worcester 

A narrow boat heading upstream 

Worcester Cathedral on the skyline. Chris and I were last here in June when visiting Claire and Dave (see here)

'Shooting the bridge' at Worcester, I decided to go for the second arch from the right 

The Cathedral framed by the arch of Worcester bridge 

These swans seem to know where to get Sunday breakfast! 

The entrance to the Worcester and Birmingham canal is beyond the Cathedral on the left, and will require us to perform a 180 degree turn to access the upstream-facing entrance lock 

I completed the 180 with no drama, and held the boat pointing upstream against this quay to allow the locking crew (Pete, Malc, Ivan) to alight to work the lock 

In the second of the two locks up from the Severn to Worcester basin at Diglis 

The unusual railway bridge between Worcester's Foregate Street and Shrub Hill stations. The bridge has featured in many shots in rail publications over the years (picture copyright Ivan).

This long day finished late, at Hanbury Wharf, near Droitwich. We'd cruised the Worcester & Birmingham canal through Tibberton locks and alongside the main Birmingham to Cheltenham railway to moor here about twelve hours after we'd left Stourport. 

Another view of 'Aquarius' at Hanbury. The pub here, the Eagle & Sun, is up by the road bridge (as nearly all canal pubs are).

Monday was an easier day, in preparation for the daunting Tardebigge flight on Tuesday. There were just a few locks to negotiate to a late lunchtime mooring at the Queen's Head at Stoke Wharf. 

The weather all week was idyllic; warm, sunny, with not much wind. Here is a windmill spied across the fields from the boat. 

Malc and Peter mooring the boat at Stoke Wharf, with the pub garden and Tepee of the Queen's Head on the other side of the cut  

Malc and I by 'Aquarius' at Stoke Wharf, the Queen's Head across the cut (picture copyright Ivan)

Malc and Ivan with late lunchtime pints at the pub. My pint (Wye Valley HPA - not up to the usual standard for this normally hoppy and fruity ale) in the foreground 

We stayed on this mooring all afternoon ('Aquarius' in the foreground) 

Another view of the boat at Stoke Wharf 

Later, we moved the boat up a couple of hundred yards to be further from the quite noisy pub 

This lock at Stoke Wharf, just beyond our mooring, prefaces the extensive Tardebigge flight, 30 locks comprising the longest flight of locks in the UK. 

Looking back to the boat from the first lock 

Ivan went shopping. Here he returns to find the boat had moved! 

Tuesday morning presaged another glorious day, but the mist on the cut and the fields was a reminder that this was September, and the beginning of autumn  

....A season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Looking to the Stoke Wharf lock from 'Aquarius'

'Aquarius' about to ascend the Tardebigge flight, Tuesday morning 

Looking back down the flight 

About half way up the flight, with many more locks ahead of us 

A delightful farm and church near the top of the flight (picture copyright Ivan)

At the top of the flight is Tardebigge tunnel 

Looking back to Tardebigge tunnel.... 

Just before entering Oxleasows tunnel 

Inside Oxleasows tunnel 

We made an afternoon stop at Alvechurch to do some shopping. There was a good pub (the Weighbridge) next to the cut, but it doesn't do food on Tuesday or Wednesday, so we had to move on to Hopwood. Here, with the boat moored for the night, Pete looks towards the Hopwood Inn (just before the bridge, off to the right so not visible from here). 

Two friends from Kings Norton, Birmingham, Pete and Liz joined  us at the Inn for a meal on Tuesday night...

....And on Wednesday morning Liz joined us for a cruise through the Wast Hill tunnel to Kings Norton, and on to Birmingham, past Bourneville of Cadbury's chocolate fame.

Peter was by now nicknamed 'Captain Slow', and Liz brought him a special 'Captain Slow' hat that made him look like an extra in South Pacific 

Me, Captain Slow, and Liz on 'Aquarius' (picture copyright Ivan)

The cut from Kings Norton is in a built up area, but looks quite rural in the cutting 

At Selly Oak, Pete (Liz's husband) joined us for the rest of the run into central Birmingham 

Birmingham city centre, Wednesday afternoon, we make a stop to top up our fresh water tank, as we did every day 

The distinctive Hyatt Hotel, where I stayed on business some years ago 

Cruising through busy lunchtime Gas Street Basin looking for a mooring  

After passing through the central city area without finding a free mooring, we turned back and eventually found one up the canal to Fazeley through the bridge on the left of this picture 

Before we turned back, still looking for a mooring, the new Birmingham Library in the background, and the Sea Life Centre 

'Aquarius' (furthest from camera) safely moored for the night up the Birmingham & Fazeley canal off the BCN main line 

We went for a look at the city centre. Here, Peter and Liz pass the new Library. 

The Town Hall

 We stopped off for a pint at a real ale pub's roof terrace; Malc, Liz, me

We said our goodbyes to Pete and Liz, and sought a Wetherspoons for some ale and an evening meal. £2.35 a pint in the city centre is pretty good - nice pint, too! 

Ivan steps out of Wetherspoons as we head back to the boat 

On the way we passed 'The Floozy in the Jacuzzi' (there's one in Dublin, too)

Evening light at Gas St Basin 

Peter has quite specific dietary preferences. One item on the typical pub menu that meets his exacting specification is Fish & Chips, so I thought the above picture quite appropriate!

Ivan by the boat. I think that's his camera bag, not a handbag. 

Thursday was a long day and our last to cover the distance back to base, so we left Birmingham early following the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigation) main line. Picturesque it isn't.

Brindley's original cut from Birmingham to Wolverhampton (the Old Main Line) became congested and was supplemented in 1830 by this new cut, by Thomas Telford. In typical Telford fashion it is wide, straight, and engineered to eliminate the 3 locks up and 3 locks down of the Brindley cut.

Ivy hangs over the mouth of Coseley Tunnel 

Smethwick Galton Bridge railway station on a bridge (furthest from camera) over the cut 

At Aldersley Junction at the foot of the locks down from the Wolverhampton level, we turned north, past our boatyard at Autherley Junction, to moor at the Fox & Anchor at Coven Heath for our last night after turning the boat in a winding hole. As Malc secures the stern mooring line, Ivan heads for the pub.

This morning  we retraced our steps to Autherley Junction to hand the boat back by 09:00.

Here's a short video I took of Aquarius on the Severn:

So ended a great week. The super weather was a factor of course and if we repeat this next year we may not be so lucky again! But then again, we just might!


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