Saturday, 16 December 2017

Shirley (changing cruising plans yet again)

The Lapworth flight of locks was due to reopen on Friday so our plan for the weekend was to get down the flight and moor back at the ‘marquee’ field for a couple of weeks.  The marquee field is one lock below the basin at Lapworth and we call it that as we watched the build up to and the actual wedding in the field opposite last year. 

Sue came over for lunch on Friday and we had a pleasant time chatting for a few hours.  We couldn’t believe it was two years since we last got together so there was plenty of news to catch up on.  Sue had mentioned to friends that she was visiting us on the boat and they had warned her it would be really cold.  Quite rightly, she pointed out that as we live on the boat we would make sure it was cosy.  As it happened, it was a sunny day and, coupled with the stove, meant we had to have windows and hatches open for most of the time.

We were going to have a cruise after Sue left but the ice was too thick so we stayed put and went for a good circular walk with Buddy instead.  I also rang Swallow boatyard down at Lapworth and they said the ice was still thick down there and they wouldn’t take a narrowboat through it.  The trouble being, that with the locks closed, no boats had come through since the cold snap.  With the weather warming up over the rest of the weekend we decided we could always cruise over the next few days.

Mike and Lesley were coming over for lunch on Saturday so, on Friday, I asked if they could pick me up at Lapworth where I would leave our car ready for when we get the boat down there over the next few days.  Unfortunately, it was another sharp frost on Friday night so with ice still a problem I rang Mike and said we’ve changed plans yet again and are staying put.

Saturday morning - all the ice I had broken up on Thursday had reformed

On Friday evening we often watch the Graham Norton chat show, but we are now finding that we know hardly anyone he brings on to interview; mainly because they are film actors and as we don’t go to the cinema or watch films we are oblivious to who they are.  Last night was no exception, and we knew none of the four interviewees – it turned out that they were all Star Wars actors and were being interviewed because a new Star Wars film is on the way (apparently).  Mharie, who lives with her family on a boat in Warwick had said during the day that she was going to be a Star Wars widow this weekend which didn’t mean anything at the time but, of course, it all fell into place after watching the show.

We’ll see what the next couple of days will bring.  As usual, we’re in no rush and at least Karen is off work for the next three or so weeks 😊

Friday, 15 December 2017

Shirley (yes, at the drawbridge again but only a few hours from Lapworth)

On Thursday morning I’d resigned myself to staying at Hopwood for the next couple of days whilst the ice melted.

When I took Buddy for his first walk, I checked the water point (that had burst on Tuesday) and it was completely off.  At least CRT had stopped the leak but there was no indication of how long it would be out of action.  The channel that Steve had made in the ice when he left for Birmingham yesterday hadn’t frozen over so whilst having my coffee I rang Lyons boatyard on the Stratford canal to ask about the ice situation there.  They told me it was all clear so, coupled with the fact that there was no water at the water point I decided to set off just before 10 o’clock.

All was clear on the Worcester & Birmingham canal and as I approached the 1 ½ mile long Wast Hills tunnel, for the fourth time in as many weeks, there was hardly any ice.

Approaching Wast Hills tunnel

As you may well know, I’m a bit bah humbug about Christmas and could quite happily ignore it.  Karen, though, does like to put up lights and a few baubles.  At least the lights are LED and battery powered so are not a drain on our boat batteries.  I have to leave myself a note every day to make sure I turn the lights on just before Karen gets home 😉  She has also rigged up lights on our outside Christmas tree so, just to prove I do have them on, here’s a picture taken when going through the tunnel.

Once we were out of the tunnel I knew we were back in the outskirts of Birmingham as the bridges have the red doors in them.  If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you’ll be bored of hearing about them, but for new readers, they were installed during the last war to enable firefighters to have easy access to water.

About ½ mile after leaving the tunnel we arrived at Kings Norton junction where we turned right onto the Stratford canal.

Turning right onto the Stratford canal

It wasn’t long before I realised that only a few boats had been along here over the last few days.  The ice was still quite thick in places but, strangely, in others it had completely disappeared.  Just short of Brandwood tunnel I stopped and moored up as the going was getting so difficult.  It’s amazing how breaking ice can make a boat swerve off direction quite alarmingly.  Apart from potentially damaging the blacking, I kept getting moved onto one side or the other, often ending up on a silt bank.  That meant I had to reverse off and then try and carve a different channel.

After mooring up I had a look around the local estate for places for Karen could park the car after work.  It wasn’t a particularly nice estate and I was half inclined to cancel Sue who was due to come up on Friday.

I got back to the boat, had lunch and then rang the boatyard again.  They assured me that it was only a hundred yards or so and the ice disappears, so I got togged up again and carried on.

Approaching Brandwood tunnel just after lunch

I finally made it to the boatyard and filled up with diesel and water.  I also got rid of the rubbish and recycling that had been building up for the last couple of weeks.  I had a good chat with Sarah who served me and realised we sort of knew each other as we had seen each other around before.  She and her husband live on their boat, Stealth, and work four days a week, spending the other three cruising the system.  

All was clear for a while after leaving the yard, and the ice was relatively thin, but about ¼ mile before where I wanted to moor at Shirley liftbridge, it started getting thick again.  This time I had to keep reversing to give myself clear water to enable me to have power to cut a channel through the ice.  I arrived at the aqueduct just before where I wanted to moor and was completely stopped.  As I had done several times already during the journey I got the bargepole and went ahead breaking the ice.

A couple were out walking their dog and they stopped to watch my shenanigans but at least they were also giving me active encouragement.  They were saying things like, ‘you can make it’ and ‘go on really rev that engine’.  I got moored up in the end and couldn’t believe it had taken six hours to cover seven miles, and that was without any locks

Last of the sun at our mooring for Thursday night

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Hopwood (will we get to Lapworth this weekend?)

Due to the weather we’ve had two more quiet days not doing much other than getting our tax returns almost completed (early!).  Just before the snow came we got neighbours, Steve and his wife on their boat Frayed Knot.  They moored up next to us so they, too, could be by a water point if the freeze set in.  They had a rather ambitious plan of getting to Chester by the 21st December – I imagine it will be more like 21st January 😉

They’re a pleasant couple and we’ve had a good few chats over the last couple of days, but we also kept ourselves to ourselves.  On the way back from a walk on Tuesday, I saw that Steve was trying to get water out of the frozen tap by pouring boiling water over it.  Stupidly and/or cowardly, I didn’t point out what a bad idea that was.  Although, in retrospect I could have likened it to being in a house and said something like, “Would you pour boiling water on a frozen pipe in your house?”.   

Anyway, the inevitable happened, the pipe split, and water started gushing over the towpath and spreading across the ice on the cut.  There was so much water that it looked like the canal wasn’t frozen any longer.  Steve rang CRT and they have now stopped the flow; hopefully, they will get it fixed today before people start getting inconvenienced.

Buddy trying to work out why the thawing snow keeps falling on him near Wast Hills tunnel entrance

Scenic view but the road was treacherous to walk along so we didn’t go far on Tuesday

On Wednesday morning I heard the sound of ice being smashed and looked out.  Steve was breaking the ice round his boat and looked like he was getting ready to move.  He had three attempts to pull out past our boat but had to keep stopping as he was heading straight for the back of us.  By the fourth attempt he reversed back and had a good run at it and managed to get alongside us.  He got about another boat length along before coming to a grinding halt; the boat wouldn’t cut through the ice, so he reversed back and moored up again.

Thawing snow from the roof forming an ice flow
It had been raining or sleeting most of the day thus giving Steve hope that the ice was being melted.  He set off again at about three and this time he got away towards Birmingham.  At least, if we decide to move over the next few days, we will have a channel to follow as it shouldn’t freeze over again now the temperature has lifted.   It’s a shame that he was going through Birmingham as it means when we turn off onto the Stratford canal at Kings Norton, we probably won’t have a channel to follow.  Because of this we will leave it another day or so just in case.

Mike and Lesley, who are having their boat built and fitted out by the same people who built our shell, heard yesterday that it won't be finished until the new year now.  This is a bit of a blow for them as they had hoped to live on it over the break whilst their Cropredy house was full of guests.  We are due to see them on Saturday so are looking forward to getting all the latest news on the boat build.

It’s Karen’s last day in the office today for over three weeks, so we have a mini holiday ahead before she starts her final few weeks next year 😊 😊