Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Freedom at Last

‘Futurest’ and I are now at Warwick, having made the journey safely from Stretton Wharf to Kate Boats before any adverse weather conditions prevented it.
Suddenly after three months or so, it’s as if I’ve been released from gaol, so long have I been totally reliant on other people’s plans. The passage down was wonderful and the vibration of a large throbbing engine beneath my feet was magnificent. Wow! To be able to make my own plans and decisions again and under my own power is too heady for words.

Goodbye Stretton Wharf

However when I left Stretton Wharf on the Shropshire Union on Monday afternoon just over a week ago, heading for Warwick, I still had the anxiety of the winter weather, which had been good to us so far but couldn’t be relied upon surely for much longer. Originally I had decided to travel to Warwick via Stourport-on-Severn and the new Droitwich Canals in order to avoid the conurbation of Wolverhampton and Birmingham, even though it would have taken much longer.

The fisherman with his dinner in his mouth.
Though of poor quality a unique shot for my camera

A policeman on point duty at Autherley Junction?

However it was getting so late in the year by the time I left that I decided to brave the shorter Birmingham route, come what may, and in the end I didn’t regret it. I laid on the power a little too, so for most of the time my average speed was well above two mph, which is much faster than my customary cruising speed.
Because of a reputation for antisocial behaviour, the City of Wolverhampton was one place in particular that I had been warned not to stay at overnight. But by the time I had negotiated the Wolverhampton 21 Flight completely during Tuesday, daylight was failing and it was obvious that I would have to moor there somewhere.
I passed the recognised visitor moorings but they were very open and accessible to anybody in the centre of the city and though it was off season the fact that they were totally empty of any boats, warned me that they weren’t that popular.
I pushed on and found the British Waterways’ Basin a little further ahead. There is enough room here for just one 57 foot boat to take on fresh water and notices around boldly pronounced ‘Mooring restricted to 1 hour’ and ‘No overnight mooring’. However there was nobody around and the yard was locked up making a very secure mooring indeed, accessible only from the water. Furthermore it was unlikely that any other boat would require water at this time of the day since it was now quite dark, so I decided to break the rules and stayed there  snugly overnight.
I left the following morning as it was growing light and, as it happened, just as the BW staff was coming to work. They looked at me perhaps a bit oddly but didn’t say anything; I didn’t give them much chance anyway as I had reversed out and was away like a flash.

Sunrise on the Birmingham Main Line at Wolverhampton

The run across Birmingham along Thomas Telford’s New Main Line was as uneventful as it was straight and we finished up in the heart of the city, mooring quite safely for the night right outside the great National Indoor Arena.
Without succumbing to the exotic pubs and restaurants along this line of the canal, I had another early night and passed through Broad Street Tunnel and the much changed Gas Street Basin the following morning as it was getting light. We pushed on through gusty conditions, past Cadbury's at Bourneville, towards Kings Norton Junction and the northern end of North Stratford Canal.

Entering the guillotine lock on the North Stratford Canal

At the end of the useable day we tied up at Lapworth Top Lock, not quite on the lock landing and it took me all of Friday to navigate through the twenty locks down to Kingswood Junction.
There was a sharp frost on Friday night and at first light the next morning with great difficulty I let go the mooring lines which were behaving like sticks. They wouldn’t coil up at all and looked a mess as I tried  to manouevre them so they would  safely stay on the roof.
It was still a calm morning as the Sun rose and the exposed stretches of the Grand Union Canal were covered with quite a thick layer of ice as we made our way towards the infamous Hatton Locks.
It was here at the top that Janis met us. She had travelled all the way from Newark on Trent and volunteered to help with the passage down through the locks. She worked solidly at the heavy locks herself and in four hours with her help we had passed all the way down. Then another hour brought us safely to Kate Boats, for which I was very grateful. ‘Futurest’ and I had done the forty eight miles in thirty two hours; a very good passage. The weather had remained fair too for which I was most thankful.

Janis manning the heavy Hatton Locks

The expressive urban landscape of Birmingham