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Friday, July 25, 2008

Rowington to Alvechurch.

Monday 21st July.

Rowington to Hockley Heath. 4.6 miles, 19 locks and 2 lift bridges.

Having spent a pleasant weekend on the moorings, we were off and running by 8.50 am. Destination Lapworth Flight first of all on the North Stratford Canal.
We started off with a wooded cutting, which was bathed in sunlight.

It really did look quite glorious in the morning sunshine. The variety of trees was quite breath taking, with some very old oak and ash trees still standing tall and proud. I can imagine that in the autumn they put on quite a show.
We turned onto the Stratford Canal, at what is a pretty tight corner. Lucky nothing was coming the other way.We pulled in to empty the toilet, and I then walked ahead to set the first lock on the Lapworth Flight. We were lucky with some of the locks going up due to the fact that other boats were coming down.It certainly makes life easier, and it gave me a chance to chat to other boaters. One such boat was in the capable hands of a couple of elderly gentlemen, we had quite a conversation about boating. He told me of a cruise he did on the Trent and Mersey Canal in a hire boat some years ago, and they were coming up to a lock, when a private boat took the lock from them despite the fact that she had seen them coming. When the gentleman walked up to the lock to tackle the woman over lock pinching, her reply was “We do not give way to hire boaters”. Has very little changed today I wonder?
I wished them well and we were both on our way.
There really are some stunning views on the flight, which is not really that heavy going as they have double bottom gates.Another interesting thing we have noticed are the old cast iron split bridges. These bridges were built in two halves, with an inch gap so that the towing rope between horse and boat could be dropped through the gap, so the boatmen did not need to disconnect the horse.All the way up we were followed by Autumn haze, so as we were leaving locks, if there was no one coming down, I was setting the locks for the couple.
We finally exited the top lock of the Lapworth Flight, which is numbered number 2, as the old stop lock at King’s Norton is number 1.Now we would carry on to Hockley Heath and see if we could find a mooring, but before getting there we had two lift bridges to get through.They are not difficult, you wind them up with the windlass and then wind them back down again. I was beginning to feel like I had done enough work, and it was not even lunch time yet. We found a mooring just past The Wharf Tavern which overlooks the canal; it sits above a small arm that once served a coal wharf. Having tied up, we enjoyed a well deserved lunch. The weather and the locks have been kind to us today.
Not having visited Hockley Heath before we thought we should investigate the place. Firstly we discovered that the Wharf Tavern does a carvery meal for £4.25 each Monday to Saturday. The Nicholsons Guide tells of a useful garage, well it could not have been that useful because it has closed down and is all boarded up. There is a useful One Stop convenience store, Dentist, Post Office, small Hardware Store and hair dressers, so some useful places if you are in dire need. We were going to make use of the Post Office, by having our mail sent Poste Restante to them. As we need the information from the IWA about the National Festival, which we are attending in August. Tina at Roger Fuller’s boat yard was very kindly going to post all mail for us, she is a diamond, and she really is. We count ourselves lucky to have her as a friend. So not much to see or do in Hockley Heath historically wise, but as I have had it pointed out to me by a fellow boater from N.B Nanshe, Hockley does have more to offer than I first wrote. Apart from the garage that is now closed there is another old fashioned one just a short walk away opposite the 2nd pub, the Nags Head which does a varied menu every day. There is a very good butcher that I did not mention and they also sell veg & cheeses. There is a Chinese take away and an Indian restaurant that also does takeaway. So Hockley Heath is a place to stay if you are in need of any of these facilities. I would like to thank N.B Nanshe for the in put, and we look forward to meeting them on the BCN Cruise. It is always lovely to get feedback.

Tuesday 22nd July.

It is 6.40 am and we are woken up by the start of a boat engine, my guess was it was the Black Prince Hire boat moored in front of us. I stupidly imagined that they must be making an early start, so tried to go back to sleep, only to fail miserably as the engine continued to strain into life. So I got up and made us a cup of tea and settled back into bed. The engine was eventually turned off two hours later, only to start up again after a further 10 minutes, with the sound of their mooring hooks being pulled from the barrier. Now I have a lot of respect for people hiring boats for their holidays, after all some have been hiring for many years and they pay a lot of money for their holidays. But to charge batteries up at 6.40 am and wake us and probably the home owners lining both sides of the canal as well, was a little to much. We did eventually climb out of bed to a cloudy morning, the sun had not put in an appearance yet, but the forecasters promised us a warm sunny day. So before the sun drove the clouds away, I wanted to get the starboard side of the boat T Cut and Polished, so it matched the Port side. Keith set about painting lettering on my board for selling coal. I found the plastic board hiding in a hedge on the way to Hockley Heath and immediately saw its potential. After a couple of hours of hard work Hadar was now gleaming. Our For Sale board was looking good, so all was well with our world. It has been a day of lots of activity on the canal, most of it from hire boats, most of the boats carrying families who are now in the school holiday mode. So we look forward to 6 to 8 weeks of busy waterways no doubt.
With the sun finally putting in an appearance late in the afternoon, it meant that we could get the paint dry on the notice board. Paddy and Marmite have been sat out on the back deck watching the world go by, and as I speak Marmite is sitting on the gunwale by the galley window. She still wears her harness and lead, when we are on busy towpaths; I have a fear of her wandering off and not knowing how to find her way back to the boat. We prefer to play safe, as we would hate to lose her. Tina sent us a text saying she had sent our mail, so with luck it may arrive tomorrow and we will be on our way. I took the opportunity to finish reading ‘Birmingham Friends’ by Annie Murray. I am a huge fan of her books and have her complete collection. Having finished reading the last two chapters. I then picked up a book which Merleen gave me. ‘The Water Road’ by Paul GoGarty. It is the story of Paul’s four month journey onboard NB Caroline, around the waterways of the UK. So far I have got to page 21 and find the book very entertaining and informative. He has been on the Thames and came back through Brentford, which we did as you may have read a few weeks ago. I am now looking forward to reading about other places we have been too through his eyes, and see what his thoughts are on the places he visits.

Wednesday 23rd July.

A beautiful start to the morning, after we got a really good nights sleep. There were more boat jobs to be done and they included varnishing the galley windows and painting the hand rails on the roof. Keith finished the notice board for selling our coal. That now takes its place on the cratch board on the bow. The post that Tina kindly posted for us yesterday arrived safely, so we now have an up to date licence ready for the IWA Festival in Wolverhampton, we also received confirmation from the festival organisers of our mooring for the event, we have E8A which is somewhere past the Wolverhampton Boat Club. So we now know where we are going to be moored for the weekend. We are both looking forward to the event. Also in the post were our arm bands for the Shackerstone Festival which is a week after the IWA Festival.
I know your thinking; they are going to be busy. Yep we sure are.
The very best part of getting the post was a letter from the Environment Agency, which included a refund from the agency for our time on the Thames. We can now afford to eat out tonight ha ha ha. There have been many boats moving today, some stopping for lunch and others stop for some shopping, the only boat to stop for the night was Tam Lin. Keith and I enjoyed a carvery at the Wharf Tavern, it was well worth the £4.25 each. We even found room for a pudding as well. Debbie and Wayne certainly make their customers feel welcome, I would say one of the best pubs we have eaten at. The perfect end to a good day.

Thursday 24th July.

Hockley Heath to Alvechurch. 15.1 miles, 0 locks and 1 draw bridge.
An early alarm call at 5 am, so we could leave at 6 am. Our Destination would be Alvechurch. The morning began misty and cool, so I felt a little chilly in my shorts. We spent much of the best part of the trip in wooded cuttings, edging the canal were many large oak trees, which made me think of the tree beards in the ‘Lord of the Rings’. They really looked very imposing bowing over the water.We were soon heading underneath the M42 for the first time today and onwards past Waring’s Green. Just after the M42 road bridge, at bridge 20 you can walk 100 yds up onto the road and find Wedges Bakery, which supplies fresh bread, cakes and some boater’s supplies.
Although we were heading for the outskirts of Birmingham, you really would never have known it due to the wooded cuttings and open farm land. We saw plenty of wildfowl, including a couple of Herons, a tufted duck with her two young and plenty of Mallards, again with young families. We arrived at Shirley Drawbridge, which is operated by the BW Sanitary Key. That was the only real work I would have to do for the day.Alongside the drawbridge is the pub of the same name.
We were once more on our way, through a more built up area. There are many more new buildings than Keith came through her last, many of them new waterside apartments.
We arrived at Brandwood Tunnel 352 yds long, and had only seen two other boats moving and they were BW boats off to do a days work.After the tunnel there is a swing bridge which is left open as is the King’s Norton Stop Lock. The Stop Lock is unusual as it is a guillotine lock; it has two wooden guillotine gates, mounted in iron frames, and is balanced by chains and counterweights. They are now never used, so we could pass underneath without having to stop. When private canal companies were in operation the stop lock was very common, as the companies would wish to conserve water on their stretches of the canal from any newcomer who may pass through.We arrived at King’s Norton Junction at 10.10 am and we actually saw our third boat of the morning wooooooo.We turned onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, where we stopped to empty the loo cassette, before heading on towards Wast Hill Tunnel, which at 2726 yds long, is one of the longest tunnels in the country. It is also known as the King’s Norton Tunnel.We made our way past Hopwood and enjoyed views over the Lower Bittell Reservoir. There are two reservoirs Upper and lower, they were built by the canal company, the upper one feeds the lower reservoir, which was built to keep mill owners happy, after the loss of water due to the construction of the canal. For the second time today we then past under the M42, with its loud traffic and congestion. Just after the motorway we meandered past the Crown Meadow Arm, which is not accessible to boats anymore as it has been turned into a nature reserve.
We arrived in Alvechurch and found a mooring near the Crown Pub, tied up had lunch and then took a stroll into the village. The town is below the canal and is a little bit of a walk, if you are not walkers like Keith and I. It has some nice old buildings, along with a Co-op, butchers, post office, hairdressers, pub and St Lawrence Church which sits on top of the hill, it is of Norman origin, but was rebuilt by Butterfield around 1861. We walked back to the boat along the towpath having visited Alvechurch marina. Having enjoyed a nice natter with other boats owners, I then set about rubbing down the Port side galley windows ready for varnishing on Friday. With the sun out now it was extremely hot, so we called it a day and tried to chill out, until bedtime.

Friday 25th July.

With another beautiful day weatherwise, we stayed put at Alvechurch and did some more boat jobs, paintwork and varnishing. Then enjoyed an evening sitting watching the world go by.

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