It was a bit warm walking to the Old Olive Bush at Fleknoe but very pleasant walking back when it was cooler and down hill.
The pub was OK but not as special as some of the reviews seem to imply.Peter had a steak which was very good but Romy’s turkey and mushroom pie, a stew with a short crust pastry top was as advertised on the menu but a bit disappointing.
A very early start today.We were awake at 6am and weren’t going to sleep again so we set off at 7:30.Amazingly we met four boats coming towards us in the first 15 minutes.Braunston Junction always looks most attractive with its lovely cast iron bridges and especially so early, 8:15, on a bright summers day.It was however extremely crowded and we could not spot a single free place for anyone to moor.
At the bottom of the first lock we met an Aussie who was single handed and very pleased to have company.I don’t know if it’s my age or that of the lock gates but they seem to be getting heavier and Braunston was no exception.Our Aussie friend, on “Spirit of Freedom” had very little experience and had never been through a tunnel before so he asked if he could follow us.We met four boats coming in the other direction so this, coupled with a tunnel with two S bends, was a good introduction for him.
We moored between bridges 8 and 9 after a bit of a struggle to find a spot with deep enough water.This is the first mooring of the holiday where we have used stakes and had to deploy the wheelbarrow tyres!
A walk to the junction persuaded us that we were better off where we were, but the beer was good.
Our mooring in Leamington Spa was in the industrial area by Rangemaster and as there was an outcry yesterday about the absence of pictures here is one of the mooring.This can be compared with the place we moved to in the evening, just before Wood Lock.
We departed at 07:30 this morning and had the locks all to ourselves, no surprise there, and nearly all were set perfectly for us.We reached the top of Bascote in good time using one gate and one ground paddle and continued in this manner through Stockton and Calcutt.The locks on this stretch may have some heavy gates but they are all very well behaved when treated properly.
We met another small boat going up at Itchington and they stayed with us for just the two locks.Half way up Stockton Locks we met one other boat coming down.Then at Calcutt two lots of two boats were coming down out of locks 1 and 2 making our passage very easy.
We turned left at Napton and started to pass a few more boats.The scenery opened up to the left and right and in places we could see for several mile across the countryside.
On one of the boats the owners were jumping up and down with glee and pointing at us.We wondered what was going on then they pointed at their dog and said he’s called “Oliver”.Boats then started coming thick and fast, including a fuel barge, the first we have seen this trip.As we got close to bridge 102 where we had planned to moor the banks started to become crowded and we decided to stop well short of the bridge.This was a decidedly good move.When we peeped around the corner there were boats lined up all the way to the bridge.We chose this spot especially so we could walk to the “Olive Bush”, at Flecknoe, for our evening meal.The online reports all look excellent.We’ll add our review to the blog tomorrow as obviously we’ll be too tired tonight as it’s about a mile and a quarter walk each way and we’ve already gone up 17 locks today.
While we sat and had lunch – smoked salmon sandwiches, glass of white wine, strawberries, meringue and cream – we saw more and more boats going past in both directions.We reckon we have seen more boats on the move between 10am and 4pm today than we have seen in the whole of the rest of the holiday!
We had a special treat today meeting Ros and Robin Aston in Leamington Spa.Although we have kept in touch at Christmas we hadn’t seen Ros since our time in Miri nearly 30 years ago and Robin a little more recently when we lived in Prestbury between 1990 and 1993.My goodness how the last thirty years have flown by!It was lovely to see them again and enjoy a very pleasant lunch at Rosie’s Tea Rooms.
We walked back to Oliver after replenishing our victuals and decided to move out into the countryside for the evening.After the somewhat poorly maintained locks at Radford and Fosse we moored a little way before Wood Lock on our second attempt.On our first try we found very shallow water close to the towpath but after a few hundred yards we found an ideal spot.
We started today at 7:45 with the intention of stopping at the top of the Hatton Flight.We got there at about 11:50 having stopped at Shrewley to visit the post office store for some milk.So we decided that if there was another boat going down and some volunteers present we would tackle the flight today and moor somewhere near the bottom.This turned out to be an excellent decision as a boat in front of us had decided to wait to see if we wanted to join them and there were four volunteers on duty.We later learned that there were no volunteers on tomorrows roster!We reached the bottom of the flight at 14:20.Romy steered all the way gliding into most of the locks in tandem with Brian on one of Kate’s Boats, called Rebecca.He and his wife have been hiring boats for thirty years so it was all old hat for him but a new experience for Romy.
Earlier we had passed through the remaining Lapworth Locks and the picturesque Kingswood Junction. It seems a very tight turn for a 60 foot boat after lock 20 so we were glad not to be 70 foot.
We also spotted an interesting plant in one of the side ponds that we have so far failed to identify. Any suggestions will be welcome.
We were chased down the locks for some time by a large black mass of cloud which looked quite dramatic and very threatening but it never came to anything.
We are undeniably a bit particular about where we moor and couldn’t find anything to our liking near or even remotely near the bottom of Hatton so we pressed on and on and….Eventually we stopped in Leamington Spa just after bridge 42 but it was next to the main road and very noisy.The bike came out again and a quick recce indicated that there was a much better place after bridge 40 so we decided to move there.Rebecca followed us.So here we are moored outside what I thought was an office block but turns out to be student accommodation.
As we chugged along after leaving our mooring at 07:50 we realised what a good spot we had chosen for our overnight stop.After bridge 15 the moorings became a lot more undesirable.Around Lady Lane Wharf we found row upon row of terraced permies and this more or less continued through Warings Green.There were a few spots with detached permies scattered here and there but it was not until we passed bridge 21 that we found other potential places that we would have chosen.
We started down the Lapworth Flight at 10:07 and were moored up in prime position for the Boot Inn at 12:16 so we had taken approximately 14 minutes per lock on this flight.We thought that this was pretty good given that several of the gates were far harder than any we met at Tardebigge.The boat following us said he would rather tackle Tardebigge any day rather than Lapworth!
After a snack lunch we walked back to bridge 31 and on to Packwood House.We had a great afternoon there in an NT property that was really unusual having been remodelled to represent a Tudor House.
On our walk we spotted a small plaque explaining the cotton reel (more like a bobbin) on the top of the bridge (bridge 32 lock 7).
We also spotted a lovely water plant which we had seen in one or two of the earlier side ponds on the flight but had never seen anywhere else.We later learned that this is Butomus Umbellatus, or Flowering Rush.
We returned to The Boot Inn for dinner which was excellent but we won’t be able to afford any more food this holiday.
As we walked back to Oliver there was a very short and not too heavy shower.
Another 8am start but today we were ready with Paramos and life jackets.We weren’t expecting rain but several drippy tunnels.
Our first task was to rise up the last of the Tardebigge Locks and it was a deep one.At the top we stopped for about 25 minutes to top up the water tank.Not vital but we now know we have enough to see us home.
We very much enjoyed the scenery as far as bridge 68, just past Hopwood, but after that it became rather less attractive and somewhat industrial in places.
After the fairly short Tardebigge and Shortwood Tunnels we had to travel through the longest tunnel on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Wasthill Tunnel, which is 2762 yards (just over 1.5 miles) and this took us 34 minutes.We were very surprised to find that we could see all the way through to the far end until a boat came in the opposite direction.Happily we passed without incident.
The now defunct guillotine stop lock just after Kings Norton Junction is an interesting sight but somewhat spoiled by the graffiti.
We had read of others having problems at Brandwood Tunnel so we took careful note of the sign at the entrance.In this short (275 yard) tunnel we did meet another boat coming the other way and playing quite loud folk music.Thinking the worst we proceeded cautiously but all was well and they were as careful as we were.
We carried on, as advised, past the electrically operated bridge 8, which was very kindly opened by a retired lock keeper who was there to show his grandchildren how it worked.
We moored at 14:40 between bridges 14 and 15, probably in the same spot that Toby and Sarah had moored.This gave Peter time to check that there were no better spots round the corner and then to set up the aerial for the final of the world cup, a great plus for this mooring being the very good TV reception.
He also had time to remove some quite tough plastic coated cable and a few bits of thin rope from the propeller.
Our first misty morning and we could hardly see the lock although we were only around 50 yards away.
We were joined on Oliver at about 11:30 by Toby, Sarah, Simon, Anne-Marie and Joel and at 12:00 we set off up the Tardebigge Flight.With such a numerous and skillful crew we made cracking good progress.
We met one other boat that also had a crew of 7 so we had the unusual sight of fourteen people crossing at one lock.
We stopped for lunch in Lock 41 where there was a nice shady area for us to sit and enjoy a lovelyleisurely picnic all prepared by Sarah.
We had a good system that meant that as soon as Oliver had cleared one lock the next one was ready and waiting, while we made sure that no water was wasted down the side channels and we only had to stroll slowly between the locks.
It wasn’t until we were close to the top that we met any other boats and then there were three all coming down at the same lock – one of them refusing to co-operate and filling an empty lock rather than waiting for us to go up.
We stopped at the visitor moorings below the top lock and had an excellent BBQ, beautifully prepared once more by Sarah with Toby acting as assistant cook.
Joel had enough energy to try his hand at fishing while the rest of us just sat.Perhaps this was a result of his short snooze on the lock arm?
If we ignore the 1 hour and twenty minutes we sat by Lock 41 for our lunch the 29 locks took us almost exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes.This is as impressive average of only just over 7 minutes per lock.
After doing stalwart work on the washing up our visitors all departed and we were once again left to tackle tomorrow’s one and only lock all by ourselves.
We only saw one heron today and that was after we had moored. He obligingly caught a fish (more than Joel did) while he allowed me to get quite close.
We did a bit of cleaning this morning so as to impress Oliver’s owners who arrive for an inspection tomorrow.The Avoncroft museum which we planned to visit didn’t open until 10:00 anyway.So today’s blog has nothing much to do with the canals.
One of the first things we saw was a police box.Younger readers may think it is a Tardis but no, it is a police box.They were a bit frightening for many of the population when they were introduced.If unmanned the door in the side could be opened and one could speak into the round grill and a policeman would then reply.This was the height of technology at the time.
We then toured the grounds looking at the reconstructed buildings from several different eras.
Pre-fabs were introduced after the war to meet the increasing need for new housing after so many properties had been destroyed.There was big shortage of wood and the exterior was asbestos and the window frames metal.They had a kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms and the luxury of inside bathroom and toilet, small gardens and a coal shed.
The showman wagon, which cost £1,000 in 1910 was drawn by a traction engine which cost £3,500 so this was far from a poor man’s home.It even had electric light supplied via batteries when most homes still had no electricity.
The town house dates from medieval times but has been modified later.Romy found the warmest spot to sit by the fire with its enormous chimney.
Just close by she greatly admired the construction of the truck-framed barn dating from the 16 century.
After a sandwich lunch we visited the local supermarkets and then headed back to Oliver to sit out the expected evening rain that has just started at 18:00.It has has also become quite a lot cooler and there is a fresh breeze.
We are looking forward to seeing our extended crew for tomorrow’s climb to the top of Tardebigge.
We started up the Astwood locks just after 8:00 and stopped just past bridge 41 at 9:30.We wanted to check to see if there were spaces available at The Queens Head moorings and if we could stay there for 48 hours.Yes to both and only two boats had passed us both aiming for the Tardebigge Top Lock.We started up the Stoke locks at 10:30 and after the first two met up with three volunteers who helped us up the remainder.By 12:15 we were moored just before the Bottom Lock of the Tardebigge Flight.
We enjoyed the two for one Pizza offer of at the Queens Head and had a nice relaxing lunch.
We had a gentle stroll along the tow path and were surprised to find all the locks empty.Two more boats came down later but we only saw one go up and that was around 17:00.Lucky chap.
During our walk we took a detour from the tow path and met up with a local farmer who kindly gave Peter permission touse his field, marked with a “NO PUBLIC ACCESS” sign as a drone-adrome.It just goes to show if you’re polite, friendly and a bit cheeky people are often very accommodating.The farmer also pointed out that he had smeared the top two rails of his gates with grease to stop intruders.Newspaper wrapping worked well as an antidote.
Peter walked back to the “flying field” at about 18:00 and took a few aerial pictures of the canal.Warnings of high levels of radio interference, from the drone software were not too unexpected given the array of large masts in the area.
Not the most spectacular pictures and the sky was a dull grey but with tomorrow promising rain they’ll have to do for now.
Our 8 o’clock departure this morning was timed to allow us to be the first boat through the swing bridges and all the locks before Droitwich Spa Marina.It worked a treat but the hire boat next to us at Vines Park, aka Netherwich Basin, was not too pleased as they had to follow us all the way.
Our passage under the M5 bridge was uneventful. We didn’t touch the roof or the sides.
The Marina office was actually open when we arrived at 9:45 and so we were able to complete our pump out and be on our way again at 10am.In the intervening fifteen minutes three boats got ahead of us and there were several boats coming the other way so the passage through the next three locks, before the junction was slow.These were the first locks we have been through with side ponds, an interesting experience and one that reinforces the ingenuity of the Victorian engineers.
The scenery changed for the better after the junction.There were no other boats in sight and pleasant countryside on both sides of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
We found an excellent countryside mooring just below lock 17, the bottom lock of the Astwood Flight.
The first task after stopping was to check the TV reception which turned out to be excellent.
We then walked to Hanbury Hall where we spent an enjoyable few hours looking around the house and gardens.The front of the house was not looking its best however as it was being scaffolded in preparation for a new paint job.