Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Passage to Birmingham

On Monday last at ten thirty in the morning we let go our lines at Kate Boats. For the first time ever we left as planned and on schedule.

My friend Jenny had arrived at ten and was ready to leave as soon as she had parked her car in the yard and stowed her case aboard ‘Futurest’. She was thrilled at the prospect of going through the Hatton flight, no matter what hard graft this entailed in working the total number of twenty three double locks in one day and clinging on for dear life at the stern of ‘Futurest’s unsociable traditional stern in between time.

She had also asked me whether she could travel through the Shrewley Tunnel a bit further north, which is where her grandparents used to take her for a walk while she was staying with them years ago when she was a little girl and when they lived at Shrewley Common just above the tunnel.

It would be a long day ahead of us with all the locks to work even though we would only cover a total of five miles before we tied up for the night at the northern end of the tunnel, so we set off in good spirits.

I was happy to be cruising again, I know Janis in ‘Roots and Wings’ close behind was pleased to be on the move too and Jenny was as excited as a little child out on a treat. We were all inspired too by the warm Spring sunshine on our faces and looking forward to the trip.

So when thick black clouds began to lean on us, blocking out the Sun an hour later, just as we were about to enter the Hatton Bottom Lock, we weren’t particularly bothered; even at the few specks of rain that soon followed. We were warm and we were working hard; nothing could daunt us.

But very quickly so that we weren’t at all prepared  it started to rain hard. We were ashore without waterproofs working the lock and the ship’s hatch was wide open.

It came down in sheets.

Never mind! This would be just one of those showers so prevalent at this time of the year (especially this year it would seem) and be over as quickly as it had begun.



A wet Monday afternoon on the Hatton Flight


Five hours later as we came out of the Top Lock, though it had eased slightly, the rain was still coming down very consistently to make life most uncomfortable for us all by this stage. I had early on during the flight breasted the two ships together to make the passage through the locks much quicker but by the end we were all very wet and cold. However we had to carry on for a further hour up to and through the tunnel where the following morning (Tuesday) Jenny had arranged a rendezvous with another friend to take her back to Warwick to collect her car.

The inside of the tunnel was wet too and dripped on us profusely as we passed through its darkness but we were thankful for the tunnel’s relative respite as this experience was a positive relief from the unrelenting wetness of the rain outside.



The North Portal of Shrewley Tunnel



The exit from the towpath tunnel in Shrewley Common


Now in my experience I have found that tunnels behave generally like magical mediums in that when I exit at one end, the weather is usually completely different from how it was when I entered. So many times this has happened to me and this time was no exception. On bursting into the daylight on Monday evening at the end of Shrewley Tunnel, the rain had lifted completely and we experienced at the end of the day a lovely quiet sunset. But the towpath was a soggy quagmire in that place making the mooring up very difficult and quite dangerous.

On Tuesday morning Jenny left early and Janis and I set off afterwards towards Birmingham. We had decided to travel the Grand Union route via Knowle Locks arriving at the city by way of the strenuous and almost subterranean Farmers Bridge Locks. But early on Tuesday afternoon we tied up just to the north of Kingswood Junction so that we could walk the half a mile across the fields to view Baddesley Clinton, the ancient and moated National Trust Property. Again the ground was wet and boggy and it was beneficial that we had remembered to wear our waterproof boots. The authorities let us in though, so long as we covered our muddy footwear with the plastic covers that they supplied.



Baddesley Clinton House

It was a lovely afternoon even though on that day due to repairs we could only see the ground floor. But the rain kept away for us and our visit was most memorable.

On Wednesday we found our way blocked at the bottom of the Knowle Locks with an unscheduled stoppage halfway up the flight by a lock gate being replaced. So we turned round, retraced our way to the junction and tackled the Lapworth bottom Locks instead.



The Guillotine Lock at the north end of the Stratford Canal


The following morning we worked our way up the Lapworth Top flight of locks and then the six miles of top pound to a wonderful rural mooring just south of the Shirley Drawbridge alongside a portion of towpath slightly less boggy than the rest we had experienced so far and the following day we spent an uneventful passage cruising the lock free ten miles to the centre of Birmingham. Yesterday evening we arrived here at the city moorings adjacent to the NIA  well pleased with our effort so far.



Birmingham City Centre from the roof of the Library


Our mooring is close to the Crescent Theatre in Sheepcote Street and tonight Janis and I have booked tickets for a play there. I don’t know ‘Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance’ at all but from the flyer we collected with our tickets the First World War is involved.

In spite of the fact that my spell check keeps throwing back at me the way I have spelt ‘Sergeant’ the play is definitely advertised in the way I have written it.



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