17 miles, 29 locks
A good day’s cruising, mostly on a length of canal we hadn’t been down before, and finishing up in places where Willow came when working.
We were determined to stop tonight in the centre of Birmingham, and so we made a fairly early start at 7:30. The sunlight was streaming through the trees, and there was a small amount of mist on the canal, with the boat covered in dew. A fine morning to be boating!
As we came to Knowle locks, the wind started to strengthen, and it was fairly strong across these locks, situated as they are in an exposed position. This made entering some of them interesting, and at one point Willow headed off sideways from the lock mouth into a side pound, but we made it up, letting NB Free Bird, who we saw at Langley Mill last year, catch up at the third lock, to share the last three.
Once above the lock, we stopped at Copt Heath for diesel, at 92p per litre plus duty- not great, but we wouldn’t be passing anywhere else for a bit. After enjoying bacon sandwiches in the sun, waiting for the staff member to return from instructing the crew of a day boat how to handle it, we set off into the long, tree lined cutting through Catherine De Barnes and Solihull, towards the city.
The cutting itself was lovely- sheltered from the wind, and full of dappled sunlight.
We ran over several submerged objects in bridge holes, and had a bit of a faff getting around a sunken, burnt out narrowboat on a corner, but we made it to the top of Camp Hill just before 2pm, passing NB Trundle on the way (hi!).
This would be our first descent of small, BCN style locks in Willow, and we knew that- at 72′ long- it would be tight. Luckily, experience on 71’6″ boats on the BCN challenge in previous years had shown us what to do- boat into the lock, let the fore end touch the bottom gates, and then tiller bar off and rudder held at 90 degrees to the boat, and then run down the gates to stay clear of the cill. The cills themselves were quite neat, and the markings put on by CRT quite conservative, so we descended with no problems.
Once past Bordesley junction, we passed the entrance to Typhoo basin, where Willow once delivered tea from Gloucester (probably- that was a Severn and Canal carrying company regular traffic) and reversed down it a small way, tout didn’t go into the basin itself as we’d heard it was shallow and full of detritus.
We then had to ascend Ashtead locks. These are true BCN locks, with single top and bottom gates. They’re slightly longer because of the single bottom gate, compared to those with double bottom gates, but here we encountered a slight snag. To get the bottom gate to close, we had to lift one of the rear tipcat fenders, and put the boat in gear against the cill, turn the rudder to 90 degrees, and push the stern end away from the wall to just get the gate closed. It was very tight- if the boat was an inch longer, we’d have had to take the rear fenders off completely- and it often took several attempts to get the bottom gate closed, but once that was done, we ascended them swiftly. We lost a little bit of paint in the very low Ashtead tunnel, from the front corner of the cabin, but this will be easily touched up.
Then we had the fun of the 13 Farmers Bridge locks. This is our favourite lock flight, and I particularly like the differing surroundings of all the locks, from lock 12 in a huge, cavern-like arch, lock 9 under a block of flats, and lock 8 in a dark and dingy tunnel.
These too had single bottom gates, and so although it took some time to get the gate closed and get into each lock, we were soon moving up well, following a boat up which slowed us down a bit, having to set the locks ahead.
At lock 7, we met Steff and Mike of NB Wychboy, whose clamp-on handle for Nene lock wheels we had returned to them last year, and so who repaid the favour by helping us up. We soon caught up with the boat ahead, and had a long wait in Lock 3 for a descending boat, but made it to the top at about 6pm. There were spaces in Cambrian Wharf, but we thought we would have a nice cruise around in the evening light, and see if any quieter moorings were available.
Unsurprisingly, everywhere was full- no moorings to be had along the main line, or at Brindleyplace where we enjoyed mooring before. By heading out along the main line, we decided to go around the Icknield Port loop to turn us around, as there’s always interesting and historic boats moored there. We eventually made it back to Cambrian Wharf and moored on one of the pontoons.
A phone call to Simon and Ann on Melaleuca revealed that thaey were only a couple of miles from Gas Street basin, having come the other route into the city up the Lapworth flight, and so we walked down to meet them at Worcester bar, before they moored next to us. We all had a nice dinner at a burger restaurant, and are now being regaled by classic rock hits from the Flapper pub by the wharf, ranging from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to 80s pop. Hopefully they’ll stop soon! Definitely a lie in tomorrow, and find indoor things to do around the city, looking at the forecast.