Into Brum and Out Again

  We stayed at Fradley Junction, or just south of it, and moved on Wednesday 8th Jan, after picking up another couple of parcels from Fradley village. (With gloomy forecasts of snow and ice often in the news, we’d decided to make up our own pump out kit in case of being iced in over the coming couple of months. Hope we never have to use it! We now have spare diesel, a pump out kit and containers and water carriers, in case of being iced in and not being able to move – apparently in 2010 the canals were frozen and boats iced in for 11 weeks!!) We had a glorious cruise back down the Coventry/Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and moored in the beautiful part of the canal just slightly north of Hopwas. We had a very pleasant, if a little muddy still, walk around Hopwas Wood, which doubles as a military practice firing range. Thankfully, they weren’t firing that day!

We stayed on the mooring on Thursday and moved on Friday to Fazeley Junction, stopping just the other side of the junction on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

We had been through Fazeley Junction before on our way up to the Trent and Mersey but this time we turned right, heading towards Birmingham and onto new ground (water!) for us. It wasn’t the most picturesque of moorings but it was surprisingly quiet, with little footfall along the towpath. There was also the benefit of a Tesco Express and a bus service into a huge retail park in Tamworth; both were made use of! There was another lovely walk here, too, which we hadn’t done when we came from the other direction, alongside the River Tame and around the water park. Very wet underfoot, though, but a very pleasant walk. We also came across the Little Chimney Company along the towpath here – a chap making bespoke chimneys from his boat. We ordered a short travel chimney from him – will save Tony shimmying along the gunnels to take the chimney down when we come to a low bridge!

With supplies restocked, we continued our journey on Sunday (12th), albeit only a short distance, as the forecast was advising that the conditions were going to get windy. We passed Drayton Manor and the footbridge that crosses the canal is unusual – it has spiral staircases enclosed within turrets – very unique. We moored at Middleton Lakes Nature Reserve and stayed for Sunday and Monday nights. The walk around the reserve was a little disappointing in that a lot of the trails were prohibited to dogs, so it was a there-and-back walk rather than a circular walk around the lakes. We did manage to explore all of the available trails, though. The windy weather forecast wasn’t as bad as predicted, for us, at least. A couple of strongish gusts and a short heavy downpour was all we saw on Monday.

On Tuesday 14th, we set off early to travel a short distance, with the forecast predicting strong winds again in the afternoon, covering only about two miles and three locks and we were moored up and tucked up by 11.00 am. The weather wasn’t too bad – the wind was coming up the canal from bow to stern so, although it was quite strong, it wasn’t side on and so didn’t affect us as much. We were moored outside a pub, The Dog & Doublet, and we had a very nice meal in there in the evening, and boaters get a 10% reduction on their food – even better! Best pie I’ve had in a while, too. 

We moved on Wednesday 15th and had a longish day doing 8 locks and four miles, although we set off early and Tony walked Sal as he did the locks as they were all close together. The journey was starting to get more urban, being on the outskirts of Birmingham, but we still saw some kingfishers. In fact, we were playing tag with a pair – they would fly ahead, land but then fly again when we got closer. We managed to get some very good close up glimpses, if not managing to take any photos! We stopped at Minworth and moored opposite a lovely garden – they had chickens but also welcomed the wildfowl – they had put a “landing stage” out for the ducks, geese and moorhens. They obviously put food out for the wildfowl as well as the chickens (or maybe the birds just nicked the chicken food) but the geese would march up the garden in single file and glide back onto the water – all very organised!! There was definitely a pecking order (pun fully intended) between all the birds – the chickens gave way to the geese but saw off the pigeons and moorhens! It was all very entertaining to witness.

We managed to get a short-notice supermarket delivery to the towpath so stocked up on the heavy stuff. The weather was just as windy, if not more so, than the previous couple of days, so we stayed put for Thursday night, too. It was a little noisy, having a flyover nearly above our heads, but it was only when curtain sided lorries went over – they sounded like a jet taking off! Must’ve been the effect of the wind.

On Friday 17th, we cruised the last bit of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and moored at Star City at the top of the Grand Union canal. The rain came again and forced us to stop en route for a couple of hours, but we continued once it had abated. Whilst we were at Star City, we took the opportunity of being so close to Rhys and Ash to meet Ash’s family – Dad and brother, Nan and Grandad. We had a thoroughly lovely evening and it was a pleasure to meet them at last. Ash commented that she had been visiting Star City her entire life and didn’t know the canal was just the other side of the hedge! It was a good, secure mooring and surprisingly quiet bearing in mind it was right next to an entertainment complex.

Rhys joined us again on Saturday 18th to help as the next part of our journey included 10 locks. It was a beautiful clear day, but cold, and we ventured further into the city centre. It wasn’t the most attractive canal we’ve been on – unfortunately lots of rubbish on the banks and in the water, but interesting nonetheless. One of the locks at Bordesely Junction was troublesome – the lock landing wasn’t next to the lock; you had to reverse up after making the turn, but we managed to get the boat in near enough for Rhys to scramble off to open the gates! He also dropped his sunglasses in when he bent down to pick up the rope and had a go at magnet fishing once we were in the lock but no luck other than a few bits of odd and undesirable metal. Whilst he was fishing, Tony cleared the prop and filled a bucket with all the crap and detritus.

We moored in another secure spot, only accessible by boat or with our Canal & River Trust key at the top of the Camp Hill Locks. Rhys stayed with us for dinner but on going home, discovered his car was locked into the car park in which he’d parked whilst helping us! So we had an unexpected overnight visitor – fine with us as it was nice to spend even more time with him! The car park was unlocked at 10 on Sunday morning, so Rhys was on his way again.

On Sunday, after Rhys left, we cruised further down the Grand Union and back out into a more rural area but the canal still had a fair amount of rubbish in it. We had to stop once or twice to clear the prop and the water was thick with silt in one or two places, making steering tricky. Don’t think many boats come down this way – we seemed to surprise a few people who were walking the towpath! It was a beautiful day again and we had a pleasant cruise. We moored in the rather grandly named village of Catherine-de-Barnes. The only odd thing there was that the towpath had been updated recently – there were concrete edging stones, then a tarmac strip then a grass bank but they hadn’t installed mooring rings or bollards so there was no means of tying up the boat other than banging in mooring pins into the grass bank and stretching the rope across the towpath – clearly a trip hazard for passing walkers! We moored on a small section that had the hardcore substrate but had not yet been tarmacked and managed to bang pins into the substrate, thankfully. Hopefully, they’ll install rings soon!

We had a very pleasant stay at Catherine-de-Barnes – a nice spot, with good dog walks and a local shop (always handy!), although every time a plane landed at Birmingham International Airport, about a mile away as the crow flies, we could clearly hear the reverse thrust! Goodness knows what it sounds like if you are any closer! We met Giles, who was a boat mover, and, unfortunately, the boat he was moving broke down – brand new with only 44 hours on the clock! He joined us for the odd cuppa and accompanied us on Sal’s walk one day. We stayed there for three nights, Sunday 19th to Tuesday 21st inc. and Tony completed the 500 mile engine service which was due.

We had a Tesco delivery to the towpath on Wednesday 22nd before we moved on. We went a fairly short distance but descended the Knowle Lock Flight – 5 locks. There was an army of volunteers doing some maintenance, so we had an easy ride! We moored at the bottom of the flight. We reviewed our plans to decide which way to go next – we want to be in Edgbaston for Rhys’s birthday in mid Feb, so we had a choice of routes in order to use up a couple of weeks before then. We decided to continue along the Grand Union Canal and cruise the part which we hadn’t yet seen (and would have to do a big detour and redo canals already cruised in order to to it at another time) – to Napton Junction. This means a return trip, but I quite like going both ways on a canal – you can moor in different spots on the way back and you end up seeing more of the villages and towns. We also need coal – we haven’t seen any places to buy coal over the last couple of weeks – so we needed to find a coal supplier and we found that there is one a short distance away on the GU. This means, though, that we will be doing the Hatton Flight twice – 21 locks in each direction plus 24 other locks (twice)! I reckon we’ll be pretty good at locks by the end of that!

So, we moved from the small Knowle flight to the massive Hatton Flight on Thursday 23rd , a lovely cruise of about 8 miles – and again, we were playing tag with a kingfisher! Still no decent photo though! We also went through Shrewley tunnel – nothing really of note other than it was like going through a waterfall in places – should’ve had the brolly up!!

On Friday 24th, we started the day with a very good Full English in the lovely little cafe at the top of the flight. It stood us in good stead for what was to come! We did the flight in 4.5 hours – 21 locks. We had company – the broken down boat we met a couple of days previously had been mended and he caught us up, but the owner this time and not Giles, the boat mover. He was single handed so it was still hard work but we had a good system going – I went ahead and filled the locks and opened the gates, they drained the lock they were in, pulled the boats out with the ropes so they hovered then shut the gates and jumped on and cruised to the next already prepared lock. It all worked very well.  We were tired at the end of the day! 

Having done the Hatton flight, we moved from our moorings near the bottom of the flight on Saturday. We picked up some bags of coal from the Saltisford Canal Centre and cruised around the outskirts of Warwick and moored at the aqueduct over the River Avon at Emscote – an unexpectedly nice mooring, bearing in mind that we did stop on the “Tesco” moorings but didn’t get the right vibe, so moved on. These were literally round the corner but so much nicer! We stayed there for the Saturday (25th) and Sunday (26th), catching up with some sewing jobs on the Sunday – altering the zip in Sal’s suit so she could wear her harness underneath rather than over the suit (it had been rubbing against the harness and a hole had appeared), making the new duvet cover smaller (American sizing) and a couple of repair jobs. We also dodged the rain and had a very pleasant (and non muddy – yay!) walk along the river to Victoria Park.

On Monday, we cruised the very short distance – only half a mile – to the moorings bang outside Lidl – the closest we’ve been to a supermarket yet! We were delighted to bump into Mark and Debbie, who are YouTube vloggers – Well Deck Diaries, who were also moored outside Lidl. Tony had first met them on the K & A at Newbury, before we set off on our adventures, and again near Devizes, (the time when Sal took off whilst he was chatting and we chased after her for a couple of miles up the towpath!). I hadn’t yet had the pleasure, so we rectified that and invited them round for a cuppa. This led to further “beverages” 🍷🍺🍸 😁 and we ended up having a thoroughly lovely evening!! Mark pointed out that some of the locks we were aiming to do were going to be closed on the 3rd Feb (we had checked but hadn’t put a long enough date range in – lesson learnt!) so we double checked our plans and decided we still had enough time.

So, on Tuesday 28th, after a quick top up shop from Lidl, we set off and cruised 6.5 miles, with 10 locks, including our first staircase lock.

We completely by-passed Leamington Spa (we’ll stop on the way back) and moored on a quiet spot near Bascote. On Wednesday, we got an early start and traveled for 5.5 miles, but with 13 locks along the way. We also stopped for diesel at Calcutt Marina – a very odd arrangement – you had to reverse in to the wharf and just tie the stern rope on – the rest of the boat was swinging about in the breeze – there was no pontoon or other means of tying up! This was after we misread the (somewhat misleading) sign outside the marina and went into the marina basin itself looking for the diesel pump, only to be told it was on the canal on the wharf side. It was, at least, a marina with a lot of room to turn, so it wasn’t a problem, just took up a bit of time. It was actually quite a nice mistake to make, as this was the marina from which we had undertaken the first day of our Helmsman’s course nearly two years ago, so it was good to be in there again. We saw the boat that was used for the course, too.

Once we’d put in diesel and water, we completed the last bit of the Grand Union Canal down to Napton Junction, turned and came back up and moored at Calcutt locks, just outside the marina. The mooring required the use of pins but a boat that passed pulled our pins out causing the boat to bump, causing Sal to have a nervy wobble! She hates it when we bump!! The ground is so wet and soft – so we had to go back out and double pin – a neighbouring boater helping to pull us in again! Another long and tiring day!

We just now need to retrace our steps to Kingswood junction – 21.5 miles and 46 locks and then onto see Rhys for his birthday.