Wed 29th July
Droitwich to Astwood Bottom Lock
Hazel went to Wilko for some Ibuprofen, while James went to dispose of some rubbish.
A hire boat crew was trying to close the gates of the Barge Lock, until we signalled that we were coming through. The water levels were equal, so the gates could be left open. We managed to get through, and under the swing bridge, without having to move anything.
The flood lock and swing bridge
For the passage under the M5, and another minor road the canal uses the course of the river, where there were culverts already. The tunnels are very low, and you have to steer kneeling down.
Approaching the M5
There is one more lock before a staircase pair, and then a new bridge that leads to a marina.
The final three locks are the original ones, and they have side ponds, which have now been restored since our last visit. These are intended to save half a lockful of water each time, but they have started to leak, so they waste more water than they save. There were two helpful volunteers providing useful assistance.
The last three locks
At the top of the three locks there is one final bridge before the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. There were a lot of brambles and nettles in the bridge hole, so James went to work from the bows to cut them back before we had scratches all along the side of the boat.
We turned left at the junction, and found a mooring before the first lock, where the reeds were high, shielding us slightly from the M5 noise a mile away. Hugo was delighted with the place, and soon caught two mice.
7 locks, 2 miles, 2 mice
Thu 30th July
Astwood Locks to Stoke Pound
Reeds by our mooring below Astwood Locks
Six Astwood Locks to begin with, where, at lock 18, the lock cottage has a garden on the opposite side of the lock.
Lock 18 Cottage
The locks were edged with large blocks of red sandstone, and it amazing to think that the canal was opened in 1815, and these huge blocks would have been put in place with little more than pulleys and beams.
Astwood Top Lock
Then a visit to the Elsan point at lock 23. This is not marked in my Nicholson Guide. There is nowhere to moor, so we kept the boat in the lock while we did the deed.
We noticed quite a number of fishermen around. We also met a guy who was sitting on a seat reading a book. It looked as though it might have been a Bible, and when asked, he told us it was a book of Masonic rituals that he was learning.
The six Stoke Locks took us to Stoke Pound, where there are visitor moorings and a pub. We moored beyond the visitor moorings, on some piling, where there is a better view. We hadn’t met a single boat.
Stoke Top Lock
Ready for the locks in the morning
Just beyond the Queens Head
A boat came down the locks, and we asked what time he had set off. “5.15am” was the answer. He was solo and had taken six hours. The next boat had left at 8am, had done very well until they came up behind the solo man, who slowed them right down. We should have asked them whether they had offered to help the guy.
Some solo boaters we have met have refused all offers of help, insisting on doing everything themselves, then hauling the boat out of a lock with a rope, which takes a lot of time and effort, and holds everyone else up.
We went for lunch at the pub, the Queens Head. Last time we were here in 2013, they were closed for refurbishment. They have now actually doubled the size, with a big extension, and they have increased the size of the car park as well. It was very noisy with lots of people including children. Even outside there was music playing through loudspeakers. Everything on the menu was very expensive, except pizza, which had a two for one offer, so we had pizza, which was very good. There was also an excellent salad bar. When we looked around, almost everyone had ordered pizza.
We met some BCF people there from Ragtime, Emma and Nick and family.
We tried to get an early night, but there was a live band in the pub until late. Three other boats had arrived, pointing the same way as us. A boat had come down the locks in the evening, meaning that all the locks should be in our favour for the morning. No boats had gone up since we had arrived. With 28 locks to negotiate, we didn’t want to be 2nd, as all the locks would be against us. We set an alarm for 6am.
12 locks, 3 miles
Fri 31st July
Stoke Pound to Tardebigge
The alarm woke us as planned at 6am, and we were away by 0625, on tickover to get to the lock without waking anyone. There was mist on the water, and we entered Lock 29, which was empty, at 0630.
Approaching lock 29
The first lock of the day
A new footpath bridge with a gap for horse ropes
We identified a possible place to moor just after lock 33, and if we do this route again in this direction, we will stay there instead of outside the pub.
Potential mooring above lock 33
Most of the locks were empty, as we had hoped. Lock 46 for some reason was full. It was probably due to leakage at the top gates. A CRT lady on a quad bike came down the hill towards us and carried on past.
We noticed several buddleia bushes, which should have loads of butterflies, but there were none. David Attenborough was saying something about that the other day. Pesticides and loss of habitat are the main factors.
The view from bridge 50
Looking back down the locks
Bridge 54 and the reservoir bank
Where did the bricks come from?
The first boat we met was about four locks from the top. It was a Canal Club hire boat, and all four crew members were at the bottom gate paddles. When the paddles were opened, the boat began to descend in the lock, and one of the guys ran back to get to the helm. He slipped and fell into the stern, obviously hurting himself a lot. We offered Arnica and Ibuprofen, but they said they had some.
The second boat, a Black Prince hire boat, and was two locks behind them. It turned out to be Hire Boat A from our experience on the staircase locks in Stourport the previous Monday. The real boat name was Layla. They were heading back to Stoke Prior the next day.
The locks had taken us 3 hours and 10 minutes. Last time, going down, it took 4 hours. James’ pedometer read 2.76 miles.
We moored on the 14-day mooring rings. There were very few boats moving. The CRT lady returned on her quad bike. Hugo caught a mouse
Moored on rings before the top lock
28 locks, 2 miles, 1 mouse
Tomorrow: 1 lock and 3 miles through two tunnels to Alvechurch, where we will go to the local parish church on Sunday. Next week: making our way down the full length of the Stratford Canal to Stratford-upon-Avon.