Mick had his eyes tested a couple of weeks ago and today it was my turn. We always go to Boots, hoping that there will be some link to previous tests, but their systems still haven’t been sorted so that they can compare digital photos of the back of your eyes with previous ones. Certainly at the High Street branch of Boots they look like they keep everyone’s details on cards in a long line of filing cabinets.
I had all the normal tests, had difficulty with the periphery vision test as I did last time and had to redo it. The usual comment about high blood pressure came up, apparently I have wiggly veins in my eye which suggests this. The optician wanted me to get this checked out ASAP along with referring me through my GP for another test.
This is one of those moments as a boater that you don’t fit into the normal sized and shaped box. So you spend sometime explaining.
My GP is in Scarborough, I’m not likely to be there until the summer, maybe, unless I need to go there. My address is London, this is a correspondence address and I may not go there until December. I have also got a medical address in Scarborough, but my GP seems to have been able to work with my London address recently. I however do not live in any of these places as I live on a boat and constantly move around the country. I am currently in Birmingham, I refrained from calling it BUMingham as I didn’t want to cause offence.
Naturally I really don’t want to head all the way to Scarborough for my GP to do a blood pressure test which was likely to be normal, as it has been before. This was quite an easy one to solve as this Boots has all sorts of clinics in its basement, one being a Walk-in Centre. So I promised to go there. The referral, well we’ll have to wait and see. She asked where I might be next week, suggesting I may get an appointment in Birmingham, bingo! However when this happened to Mick a couple of years ago in Chester his refferal didn’t come through for weeks by which time we’d made it to Gloucester. So we’ll wait and see what happens with that.
No new glasses required, but my next test will be in 12 months not 48.
With a letter in hand I walked straight over to the Walk-in Centre, filled out the form and sat down expecting to have quite a long wait. After about twenty minutes my name was called, pressure checked in all of five minutes. Verdict all normal as I thought. But better to be sure, just glad I hadn’t booked a train ticket to go to Scarborough.
The day has been blustery and wet. At times it has been trying to snow, but not succeeding.
Back at Oleanna, Tilly had been allowed out today, not that she’s that keen.
At 17:44 I wrapped up warm and headed out to sit in the pram cover. Oleanna was about to hit a milestone. At 17:45 the digital engine hours clicked/flashed from 2999.9 to 3000.0.
0 locks, 0 miles, 0 straights, 0 lefts, 0 reverses,1 needless alley, 2 tortuous eyes tested, 1 needless blood pressure test, 2 discs, 1 lucky dip referral, 1 sleety day, 2 late to work, 2 wishes of a speedy recovery for Paul, 3000 engine hours.
Mick did venture out today in full waterproofs. He was convinced that the level of the canal had risen so walked down with some rubbish to the bins and then onto the top of the Farmers Bridge flight to see if the water was flowing over the top of the gates.
The wind and rain for much of the day wasn’t as horrendous as we’d been expecting. The occasional squally shower and big gust of wind, but certainly nothing as rocky as we had last summer when we were moored in Marlow. That storm made me a touch seasick, but today was nothing of the sort. I think we had chosen our spot well.
Mick thought he’d chosen well for his little walk, a lull in the rain. But of course things can change very quickly and he was very glad he’d put all his waterproofs on when the heavens opened. The level was up but nowhere near going over the top gates.
Tilly resigned herself to checking the insides of her eye lids for much of the day and I got on with some more model making. I made the main part of the set, I just need to think out how to change the seasons easily and how I want my sideways trees to look.
Late afternoon the boat in front of us started up their engine, turned on some load music and proceeded to untie. The wind did seem to have calmed down somewhat, but still it was a strange time to be heading off just as it was getting dark. A few days ago they arrived just after a comment was made on a Facebook boating group about a boat coming up Farmers Bridge with the crew pissed and leaving gates open. Maybe it was a coincidence them arriving twenty minutes later, but maybe not.
They reversed out of their mooring in front if us. It was very obvious that they would hit us and it soon became very obvious that they would also hit the boat opposite us at the same time! We watched as they continued to reverse back to Old Turn Junction the wind helping them to wind even before they wanted to. A half hour later there was a comment on Facebook about a speeding boat going through Gas Street Basin. The boat across the way piped up, then someone else around the corner, then the boat even further ahead of us. Everyone was keeping an eye on social media. Hope the boat got to where they were hoping without causing too much upset, but what a day to be cruising!
We rounded off the day with roast chicken and watched the new episode of Endeavour. The scene of the murder was at Church Lock near Leighton Buzzard on the Grand Union Canal which is quite some distance away from Oxford where everything else was happening in the story. Also a boat was mentioned going through Braunston, then it arrived at a very rural Gas Street Basin just a day later! Some speedy boating there. Not sure they can use artistic licence as an excuse, but at least they were continuing on from Morse where the canals in Oxford were always broad ones.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 blowy day, 1 wet day, 3 huge rain showers late in the evening, 1 soggy Mick, 1 bored Tilly, 12ft of garden fence, 3ft gate, 60 seats, 1 roast chicken, 2 speedy boats, 2 bumps.
A few days ago we decided to ask about our recorded sightings for the last year. C&RT have number checkers who walk the towpaths and record the position of boats along the navigation. Your position is identified to a particular kilometer. This is so that they can check you are moving in accordance to the terms and conditions of your licence. As Continuous Cruisers we need to move every 14 days to a new place and be on a bona fide navigation, not just going back and forth in one area.
We’ve never worried about covering enough miles to satisfy our licence. Last year we covered 1199 miles and so far this year we’ve achieved 120, some boats struggle to cover 20 miles in a 12 month period. So at times we get referred to as Proper Continuous Cruisers.
Our request was put in out of interest and returned a few days later, the last time we did one was when we were on NB Lillyanne in 2015.
It’s interesting where you don’t get number checkers. In 2015 we had no sightings at all on the Huddersfield Narrow or Broad Canals (even though we’d booked to go through Standegde Tunnel), yet we got spotted twice in one day on the Erewash Canal.
Our report this time misses out our trip up the Stainforth and Keadby Canal even though we booked to go through Cromwell and Keadby Locks. No sightings either on our way to or from Sheffield, the flight into the city also has to be booked. We were then picked back up at Goole.
Periodic sightings on our way over the Rochdale Canal to late April, but then nothing until we reached Rugby at the beginning of June. From here there are sightings down into London and then Hanwell before we headed onto the River Wey and Thames which are not Canal and River Trust waters, so we disappeared for a couple of months.
On the Kennet and Avon we were spotted at regular intervals, three times whilst cruising. I don’t remember the notes on whether we were moored or cruising back in 2015. The number of sightings on the K&A wasn’t surprising as it’s a popular canal with mooring difficulties. There were rumours when we were there, that the local boaters know when the number checker will be round, so they move onto a 48 hr mooring shortly after the checker has been through. Their number is checked the following week and they push off early the next week before they get checked again. This enables them to stay in one place for two weeks and not just the 48 hrs!
The next sightings were once Mick got off the Thames in November and we were stranded between Oxford and Thrupp for a while due to flooding. Whilst we were there we talked to the local Enforcement Officer and our over stay was allowed.
No sightings during December and we’ve only been spotted twice since we’ve been in Birmingham.
Over the last couple of days we’ve watched boats come and go. People have been choosing where to sit out storm Ciara. We decided to stay put. The lack of trees here is appealing although there is Tilly’s giant climbing frame outside. Here’s hoping the chaps have secured it very well!
The white card model for The Garden has been started and will be continued today. The theatre it’s in is a cellar which has a vaulted roof and maybe I’ve got a touch carried away recreating a suggestion of this. It may have been a waste of time as the pillars may end up just being covered by a black serge curtain, but it’s more fun to make.
Ballet shoes have arrived in Huddersfield for the actors, six months before the show. All fit apart from one actor who despite having size 6 feet in width they are around size 5 and 4 in length. This of course means his shoes are a touch dangerous as they are a bit like flippers. He has two pairs of shoes in normal life which have been made for him. Our budget will not spread to custom made shoes, so after asking various of my Costume friends for advice a few wider fitting pairs will be ordered in smaller sizes and maybe a combination of pairs will work for him.
Yesterday evening the winds began to build. Mick had tied all the planks and poles to the roof and brought the life buoy into the cratch to save it blowing away. We were then reminded about our ash can as we heard it’s lid blowning across the towpath! Thank goodness it wasn’t blown into the cut. It is now stowed under the pram cover.
Overnight the wind has blustered us on and off. The gusts increasing this morning. On Thursday we’d been to stock up on water and diesel at The Distillery and when we’d returned I’d used the fair leads on the bow to help us achieve ‘outies’ as the bollards are a touch too close together here.
There was concern for the fair leads this morning. So Mick has been out to brave the gusts and rain to retie us straight to the bollards. He’s also added a spring line with the hope that this will stop us from bumping around all day.
Unless anything else outdoors requires attention we shall all be staying inside for the day. Especially Tilly as we really don’t want her to get blown away.
Stay safe my friends, stay safe.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 boat remoored, 1 spring line, 1 model on it’s way, 2 pairs to make one, 3 years since broken ankle, 5 years since first contact from CID, 0 shore leave, 1 protesting cat, 1 flood siren sounding in Hebden Bridge, Aire and Calder closed, Calder Hebble closed, 1 boat under a tree on the Shroppie, 15 inches down on the Bridgewater level, 31 yellow 5 white reaches on the Thames yesterday, but will they survive the storm!
We’re here again! I’ve nearly finished mapping out all the good bits of the sideways trees around here, at least it isn’t the severe BUMingham with only bricks! She says we might be here for a little while so I shouldn’t use this outside all up at once. Well I’d nearly done that the last time we were here!
But I do have extra bits to explore. This outside has grown a climbing frame, most unexpected.
There has been a group of Toms expanding it today. It’s going to take some calculations but I think it shouldn’t be beyond my abilities. The bottom bits have had nice spongy things added to them. These are not quite as good as tree trunks, but quite good to claw, a different texture. More importantly they should be able to give me good grip whilst I start my ascent up the poles.
My Feline Design Assistance is also going to be needed very soon. ‘The Garden’ is my kind of show, sideways trees and a fence to sit on. She has got the go ahead to make her model so I’m going to be busy helping. Apparently this model won’t have any poisonous chairs in it.
Lower Ocker Hill Branch to Cast Iron Roving Bridge, Birmingham
We popped back out onto the canal shortly before 11am, heading eastwards towards Birmingham. The hope was to get up Ryders Green Locks before too many people were about, the area has a reputation.
Below the locks had far less rubbish than I remembered when we came through in June 2018, it being earlier in the day might have had something to do with it. The bottom lock was empty waiting for us, a good sign, maybe.
The first pound on the flight is longer than the rest and goes under several bridges before reaching the next lock. Mick took it steady under them. The middle bridge is a foot bridge leading across to Poundland and Asda. Asda may have a shortage of trolleys at the moment as most of them seemed to be in the canal! A few more stood close to the bridge awaiting their turn.
Wheels and legs of trolleys appeared just below the surface a couple just rising far enough to grasp a gasp of air. The sedimental trolley layers seemed thicker towards Asda, deeper water could be found towards the centre. However the depth wasn’t quite enough for us to just glide over the tops with the occasional bump or scraping.
A few attempts of forwards and reverse were needed to help settle the metal wheeled cages below to give us just enough depth to pass on wards. It took a little while but we made it. C&RT will be well aware of what lies below the surface here, but we’ll double check with them when the office is open.
At the next lock I walked through the boat to reach the bow to get off, not wanting to risk getting stuck on more trolleys. Here the local drinking club had already convened. As I walked up I said a jolly ‘Morning!’ to them. One chap congratulated us for having got through the last pound, but wanted to show me something. He walked me to the top of the lock and pointed across to a low wall by Poundland. Here a fence had been broken and part of it was floating just above the lock. ‘When we left last night it was dark, but the fence was still there’. ‘I’ve tried to get the wood out of the canal, but not managed yet’.
He was very familiar from when we came through last time. Chatty, helpful and on at least his second can of Scrumpy Jack of the morning! As I opened the gate he and his two mates managed to pull the fencing to the side and lifted it out. ‘I’ve looked for the rest of it, but it’s nowhere. Just be careful’ as he put his rubbish in a bin bag by the bridge.
Back in 2018 the locks were locked by C&RT over night and we’d arrived at this lock heading downhill just as it was about to be padlocked. The boys in blue helped us down, they were playing an everlasting game with the local youths of cat and mouse. Lock beams being lifted, pounds drained, trolleys, general vandalism, so none of what we were encountering was unexpected.
The chaps insisted on closing the gates behind us, meaning I could walk on ahead to the next lock. Here I found some more of the fence, now burnt by the bottom gate. At least it hadn’t been used to try to burn a lock beam, a foot thick of oak beam takes a lot of fire to get it going thank goodness.
As I started to fill the lock I found more of the fence, sitting by our bow. Once the level rose we lifted it out. No doubt tomorrow it’ll be back in the cut, we just didn’t have enough space on the roof for so much fence.
Each lock now was empty, apart from the very top one. I signalled to Mick that I needed to empty it, a touch hard when there’s a bridge right over the bottom gates. He pulled back a touch and I lifted the one paddle I could unlocked. The surge of water was doing it’s best to drag Oleanna towards the gate, but Mick would engage reverse and keep her away…. wouldn’t he….?!
I could hear the engine doing it’s best, but still Oleanna kept coming. I dropped the paddle as quickly as I could, but she’d got momentum behind her now. Luckily there was only a slight biff to the bottom gate, no damage done.
Oleanna had picked something up around her prop again, hence the prop not doing what was asked of it. Luckily the wind wasn’t going to affect us today as we were in a bridge hole. I held onto the centre rope to stop her from drifting back and forth too much whilst Mick got down and at one with the weed hatch.
The prop mate did it’s job, thankfully removing a length of twisted razor wire, the pond gloves would not have survived this. Plenty more came away from the prop and filled the stern deck. This was all put on the roof to dispose of later in a bin, if we’d just left it on the towpath it would only end up back on someone’s prop and they might not have a prop mate!
Now with power restored I could empty the lock safely.
At the junction we resisted the temptation to go down the arm, we’ll save that for another day if we feel brave enough. On to Pudding Green Junction where we turned towards Birmingham City Centre.
There was work to be done and as all Mick had to do was continue in a straight line I bobbed down below to bake some sundried tomato bread and finish off my costume reference for The Garden.
Familiar landmarks went past. Three central reservations and the round pillars holding the M5 above our heads. Then the Soho Loop and Oozells Street Loop, time to have a break and help moor up. We winded and returned to where we’d been a couple of weeks ago with the hatch on the towpath for Tilly to make a hasty return to the boat should she need to.
The bridges were full of people, plenty of youngsters all heading to the Arena to see Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live! Blimey they were a rowdy bunch, buying checker flags and horns. Think we preferred the Strictly Come Dancing Audience of a couple of weeks ago.
8 locks, 7.37 miles, 7 straights, 1 right, 1 left, 1 wind, 1 tunnel, 2 times under, 2 layers of trolleys, 2.3m razor wire, 2nd Scrumpy Jack by 11am, 1 coconut, 1 broken fence, 8 actors with reference, £20 over budget, 1 sundried tomato bread loaf, 1 pair socks finished.
With winds forecast to be over 40mph later today we aimed to get going, hopefully to miss the worst of it. Despite our aim we didn’t push off till 10am, would this give us enough time to moor up before the worst hit?
The sun was out, blue skies overhead as we pootled our way to the top of Rushall Locks. We could have moored above the locks last night but that wouldn’t have been half as good for Tilly. Signs on the outside of a building here tell you cruising times to both north and south. I think we’ve got plenty of time to get to York by mid July, via a lot of other places on the way.
The bottom gates on the Rushall Flight are doubles, not singles as is common on most of the BCN. The top lock had a nice wide walkway over the top gate and a handy bridge at the bottom, but this wasn’t the case all the way down.
The top two locks are closish together and then only just visible in the distance was lock 3 over a straight mile away. The first stretch of the long pound was filled with reddened dead scum, a slight aroma wafting from it as we parted it around Oleanna’s hull.
I hopped off at Moat Bridge and walked to the next, Sutton Road Bridge, where I joined the road to visit the handy Co-op. Quite a few things I wanted had sad gits labels , so loaves of bread and tomatoes joined our Saturday newspaper in my basket.
When I got back to the canal, Oleanna was taking shelter under the wide bridge. No other boat traffic so it didn’t matter that we were blocking the navigation.
Then the flight was upon us, some locks full others empty. We soon got into our rythmn I’d open up, then walk ahead to set the next lock whilst Mick brought Oleanna in above, closed the lock and lifted a bottom paddle. I’d be back in time to lift the second paddle and open the gates.
I tried my usual trick of kicking the gates open, but decided that the gates looked too chunky, so reverted to walking round instead. If I remembered to drop the off side paddle then Mick could close it from below using the boat hook saving me crossing the gates again.
Each paddle, bar one on the very bottom gate is locked with an anti-vandal mechanism which you get very used to around these parts, you just have to remember which pocket you put your handcuff key in to be able to unlock them!
The lower down the flight we got the more and more spongy the walkways got on the gates. Underfelt is used as anti slip across these, but the surface below some of it was very rotten and decidedly wobbly, I made sure I always had hold of the hand rail should anything fail. One of the gates was allowing water to bubble up from the bottom cill, guaranteeing a quick descent.
At the bottom lock, new gates sealed both ends and with new walkways I was able to cross with confidence once again.
Straight on to Rushall Junction, well at a slight angle now, the wind was building. A very long urban snake sat waiting to catch us out where the stern needed to swing. If it hadn’t been so windy we’d most probably have stopped to pick it up, but instead the engine was taken out of gear at the last moment to let us glide past, then engaged again to force the bow round to the west. Time to cling onto possessions and boat hooks!
The Tame Valley Canal sits high on an embankment and runs along the side of the M6 for a while to where the M5 joins it.
Roads intertwining high on concrete stilts, the River Tame curling it’s way slowly beneath.
Then once over the railway you are surrounded, the canal now in a cutting. A group were magnet fishing at one bridge, several items had been pulled out or just to the side. The chap said he was looking for mobile phones, so he’d most probably leave the trolleys where they had got dragged to.
Blimey it was windy, a touch more revs needed to keep us on our course, good job there are only a couple of moored boats about.
A rope swing distracted Mick at a bridge just for a second or two too long, the engine tone changed. A blast of reverse, still the same. Damn something round the prop. He managed to pull us almost in to the side and hopped off with a centre line. A spike was hammered in to help me keep hold of Oleanna against the wind whilst Mick delved into the murky waters of the weed hatch.
The wind was tunneling it’s way along the canal and Oleanna’s bow was being forced across the cut. The spike was pulling out, should I just let go. No I clung on, forced the spike back into the ground. In a two second lull of wind I rearranged myself to stand on the rope once it was through the spike loop, then I could lean back remembering my windsurfing days when I was just a teenager. I lent back thinking of heavy things like lardy cakes all the time my arms gradually getting that little bit longer. Surely Mick must have finished by now!!!
A large wet something hit the deck, hopefully that was all there was going to be. My arms were now stinging like Alan’s in A Regular Little Houdini, then they burned, at least if I let go I wouldn’t end up feet first in a tunnel of mud with the tide coming in!
As soon as Mick stood up I called out to him and Oleanna was just pulled in enough for us to get back on again with a jump. Blimey my arms throbbed. We now just hoped that the mooring we were aiming for was free and sheltered enough to be able to moor up with an amount of ease.
Still a while to go before we got to Tame Valley Junction, we’d most certainly had enough by now. We turned left and I could see round through the hedge that there was space. Reversing in would be easier we hopped than winding as the entrance to the arm was at an acute angle.
Luck was with us, the wind had dropped. Mick brought us round and started to reverse and as he did so a gentle little breeze pushed the bow round to the right angle to clear the bridge at the entrance of the arm.
Once tied up we could both breath again. A quick check round and the mooring was deemed suitable for Tilly. A late lunch was followed by a hair cut for Mick which was just interesting enough to bring Tilly out from the sideways trees to be picked up and returned inside just before dusk.