Cambrian Wharf comes complete with the strangest squawking noise. It starts about 6am, happens randomly but often and finishes about 8pm. For a couple of days we were looking skyward, scanning the balconies of the highrise towers for a parrot in a cage but nothing, eventually coming to the conclusion it‘s some sort of pigeon deterrent. The locals don’t seem to know what it is, some even claim they can’t hear it… giving the mystery sparrow hawk a sinister kind of a twist.
Waited for the naughty historic workboats to move off from a night on the waterpoint before filling the tank then leaving the city behind. We’ve warmed to the first hour or so of the main line, its raw and blatantly disused closed up look has a certain appeal. But on past Smethwick Junction we’re still not feeling the love. Grimy and dull it goes on, up past the Black Country Museum, on, through Coseley Tunnel, on, winding round scrap yards, on, through Wolverhampton where, finally through a flight of 21 locks requiring a conservation key a trillion times over things suddenly cheer right up. Even on a sunny Saturday in May there’s hardly a soul about, in 15 miles and 24 locks we only passed one boat and that was Black Prince looking lost. A far cry from the caravan of boats we were part of arriving in from Bournville.
Took a right, then a left through the stop lock and onto the Shropshire Union. Green and lush and full of boats.
We joined the caravan heading for Birmingham. Seven boats long, as far as we could see – everyone held their position as the waters turned murkier and the walls grew more colourful. Having only ever visited in the depths of winter we foolishly discussed which mooring we’d prefer… when we arrived… and were spoilt for choice. Hmmm, dream on.
Turning left at the Mailbox it was pretty clear we’d be lucky to moor at all. Nick wrestled with his conscience, ‘It’s only a little bit bad to wish the hireboat in front onto the trip boat mooring so we can sail by – isn’t it?’ No such luck. Everyone was out in force, walkie talkies deployed, crew sent to walk on ahead – ashamed to admit we joined in too, full on attack, double-handed with the phones. Mobile to mobile communication established two free moorings in Cambrian Wharf, a bit of reversing later, we had a home.
The Flapper is waking up to Tuesday night, perhaps not the quietest Brum mooring but judging by the breasting up going on out on the main line we won’t be moaning.
After iPad Grand Prix highlights and water point showers the washing machine went on and we headed in through Tardebigge Tunnel. A ubelievablly quiet run up through Alvechurch, a bit low on food we thought about stopping before figuring we had enough ingredients for another carbonara so sailed on by.
Lunch time when we reached Hopwood, plenty of visitor moorings free so we pulled over with just one other boat. And then the fun began. An explosion of half term hireboats arrived dumping masses of children all over the towpath, they wasted no time acting out Frozen, again and again and again – thanks (I think) Faith and Daisy, if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have had a scooby what was going on. Washed the boat and polished the mushrooms, things livened right up with boats T-boning each other along with a bit of yelling.
Walked up to Wast Hill Tunnel this evening and watched boat after boat disappearing into the gloom.
An epic 42 locks just sort of happened, we’d planned a fairly cushy 12 locks and four miles, but at lunchtime we topped with water and looked at the moorings next to the three wheeler rally, then up at the clear run ahead and thought, ‘Why not?’
Beautiful countryside, the locks are quaint – although the paddles are beyond stiff, according to Nick each one only involves ‘two seconds of pain and then you’re away’…which is true, if you can budge them at all. So it was a pretty long day for Nick who ended up doing practically all the flight of 30 (plus the previous 12). With a fair few Bank Holiday Sunday gongoozlers about we managed to recruit a bit of free lock labour, anyone who came near this boat today had a windlass launched their way.
Up past the Lock Keepers Daughter’s Lock House, setting of the enchanting autobiography by Pat Warner.
Originally a temperamental boat lift, at around 11ft the top lock is deeper than the rest. The weather improved throughout the flight and we finished the afternoon in sunshine. With an incredibly fortunate run of locks in our favour we emerged from Tardebigge Top Lock 3 hrs 18 mins after entering the bottom one.
There’s not much to say about today other than that it was very very wet. Oh and we found ourselves moored on a hireboat hotspot – we’ve been rocked, crashed into and asked which way the tiller needs to be pointed to turn the boat left. Joy.
Here’s hoping for blue sky tomorrow.
We’d got used to the speed of river travel and back on canals it’s shocking to see our slow crawl across the Nicholson pages. It shouldn’t really matter when the destination is nowhere in particular, but somehow it still does. ‘Progress’ wasn’t helped by low pounds and dreary weather today. The creep from Blackpole Lock to Offerton Bottom Lock was a painful slow go, with way too many boats (us included) heading up from Blackpole, the levels had dropped low enough for Canal and River Trust to put in an appearance.
Finally up through Offerton Top Lock the heavy skies closed in and we moored just before it hammered down. Leaving the rest of the day to poor soaked hire-boaters with little option but to push on with their Worcester/Droitwich/River Severn loops.
A fuel filter check as the engine sounded a bit dodgy through the shallow pounds – the filter was clear so we’re hoping the gurgling was due to alarming angles created by mounting bottom of canal debris along the way.
The sound of rain on the roof usually makes bed a lovely place to be, but last night it had us peering out the port hole. Warnings of rain in Wales combined with the deluge in Worcester played all sorts of tricks on our night time brains – flash flooding, rising up above the racecourse moorings etc… With plans to set off at first light we eventually fell asleep and woke again at 7.30.
Out on the stern feeling jetlagged we looked at the water and realised night time had conjured all sorts of horrific river conditions that were nowhere to be seen in daylight. Into Diglis Lock, where four Crayola crayons crossed the bridge, making an even more trippy start to the day.
Son of Henry VII, Prince Arthur”s birth symbolised the end of the Wars of the Roses, by the time he was three his marriage was in the planning and he was formally bethrothed to Catherine of Aragon at the age of 11. Then he died, aged 15, leaving lucky Catherine the job of marrying his brother Henry VIII. One of the most important monastic cathedrals in the country, the monastery continued until 1540 when Henry VIII wasted no time dissolving it, ordering some of the last monks to become Dean and Chapter.
…and we’re back in the room SFR.
Up a lock, pulled over for a quick Asda dash across the bridge. On and out, a stormy Worcester disappeared behind us as we crept up from the urban, out into the greenery.
After a still hazy start, today burst into life. Stourport’s mix of finest Georgian architecture, fun fair and maze like basin formation is a curious concoction that provides a great place to stay then kicks you out afterwards feeling slightly bewildered but happy to have been there.
The river looked like a mill-pond and the sun broke through making a beautiful few hours out on the wide water. The locks popped up pretty quickly downstream and in what felt like no time we were free wheeling, standing on the roof trying to catch a glimpse of the 5.40 at Worcester. The racecourse moorings scream narrowboat freebie. Tie up, stand on the rail for the first four races then enjoy free admission (programme included) for the remainder of the card. Nick thinks we should own a horse one day.
The dragon boats have disappeared, so have the rowers and the racecourse is plunged into darkness leaving just us and the river…and a dog in a garden not far enough away that is mindlessly barking non-stop. Word from the lazy boy is ‘Two ropes and we’re away’.
That Worcester mooring was a good thing. Reluctantly pulled the ropes and left a gaping hole just waiting to be swallowed up. Under Worcester Bridge, up past the race course and out onto long, big stretches of river. Gloomier today but still dry and hardly a breath of wind.
Effectively no official visitor moorings between Worcester and Stourport, we’re getting used to it but it’s a stark contrast to canal life where the chance to moor is pretty much round every corner. Locks are a breeze though, just roll up, wait for the flashing red light (meaning the lock is being prepared) then the green light followed by huge gates effortlessly opening like curtains. Easy as.
Three locks and twelve miles later, we began to recnognise the view ahead. It’s been a big loop – including Kinver, Penkridge, Great Haywood, Fradley, Sawley Cut, Nottingham, Leicester, Stratford, Tewkesbury, Worcester but we’ve come full circle ending up back where we were in January – the river looks alot calmer now.
Up through the narrow locks and into the Basin, lucky to find the last mooring, we wasted no time connecting water, electricty and getting an enormous thrill out of hearing the washing machine working without the sound of the engine. Even our water proof coats got washed, that’s never happened before.
The network seems to be joining up at a great pace now making narrowboat world seem smaller. Quite bonkers how many places we know how to find a supermaket in.
An early morning out with the old, in with new neighbour rotation – who it turned out we were moored next to in Birmingham during the winter. Worcester is an interesting mangle of streets with just about every shop out there, there’s still exploring to do.
Murk has become a complete pain to walk as he now thinks every outing involves a swim in The Severn. A loop along the river, through flower meadows, past the Cathedral bought us to Worcester Cricket Ground where we stumbled upon the training facilities, Nick sprung into his younger self and I struggled to leave the ground.
It took a walk up to Diglis Basin for us to realise how used to open rivery freshness we’ve become and how much we like it.