Welcome to the story of Hale and Hearty travelling the canals of Great Britian

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The end of our first month

We have reached the end of our first month. Things have settled down, we don't seem to be trying to do quite so much and we have covered fewer miles and locks and enjoyed more of the restful countryside and taken time to visit places, the purpose of our trip. We enjoyed a delightful few days travelling the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal to Great Haywood - stopping overnight at Coven and attending church there, reached by walking across a field. Near Great Haywood is Tixall Wide, where the canal is more like a lake, overlooked by the wonderfully Gothic Tixall Gatehouse (Landmark Trust property), with lovely scenery and bird life. We went to yet another National Trust property, Shugborough Hall, which we found strangely cold and lifeless and also felt very odd being shown around the late Lord Lichfield's private appartments. The exhibition relating to his photography, however, was very good.
We enjoyed a bus trip into Stafford, which is lovely, and did some shopping (relacing specs lost overboard)and loved to see the beautiful collegiate church full of youngsters doing crafts like brass rubbing and pyrography during their open week. At Penkridge, by contrast, the church, also collegiate, was locked. But the village was nice and very friendly people. Our journey then took us back to the juction with the Shropshire Union canal where the huge signpost was topped by a heron - I think they get quite annoyed with the boaters disturbing their fishing! Telford's canal is wide and straight with very few locks, he used civil engineering to level the route so there are deep cuttings and high embankments. Saturday bought us to Brewood (pronounced Brood) where we have been made very welcome by the library, from where I write. We met up with sisters Diana and Juliet on Sunday after attending the morning service, again we have been made very welcome and Martin is 'in' with the bell ringers and rang for evensong and has been invited to attend practice tonight. The weather has been very mixed - it's hard to acclimatise to 28C from 13 and back again in such a short time. Weekends tend to be busy on the canals and it is fun to moor up and then watch the other boats arrive and settle in. We have met lots of lovely dogs and their owners and enjoyed conversations with experienced canal travellers. Sometimes we moor out in the country although until now we have been able to hear the hum of motorways even in what seem to be the remotest places. So onward and northward for the next adventure.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Birmingham to Stafford week 3

Birmingham continued to reveal its delights to us, we could so easily have spent a week there, who would have thought it? It was lovely to see our friends every day and to go to choral evensong at the cathederal together on Sunday, a very welcoming service. On monday we did some more of the lovely museum, and now have a better understanding of the Pre Raphaelite artists. We had lunch at our favourite oriental buffet and then had a brief exploration of the jewellery quarter and the wonderful Pen Room. Birmingham was the centre of the pen and nib making industry before fountain pens and then biros took over. The little museum, run by volunteers, is just a delight.
We decided that we would leave on Tuesday and had a very long and heavy day going all the way out via the Netherton tunnel, 3027 yards about 1.75 miles, long and dark, quite an adventure, then 25 locks to get into the countryside over another 12 miles. I managed to give myself a severe smack in the face with the windlass and nearly lost both front teeth so poor Martin had to do all the hard work whilst I nursed my shock. Since then the damage has mostly healed and we have continued in some delightful countryside. On Friday we visited Wightwick Manor, (National Trust) the home of a fellow who was a great fan of William Morris and had a son who loved Pre-Raphaelite art so a real arts and crafts haven and a great visit.
We have also savoured the delights of a laundrette as the weather has been rather drippy and we have not been able to use our little washing machine as we could not get stuff dry. In total this week we have done 33 miles and 46 locks, we have seen ducks, geese, swans, moorhens and coots all with their young and passed by fishing herons within 15 feet. At times the water has been so clear that we have been able to see the bottom, canals aren't very deep, and at times teeming with fish - which explains why there are so many fishermen (and a few women). In urban areas it is good to see how the canals provide a recreation place and the towpaths are well used by walkers, runners, cyclists and meanderers.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Week 2, the excitement continues!

This week we have travelled just 33 miles and gone through 30 locks, but don't think that means we are not getting any exercise. We left Stratford on Sunday and met up with Martin's sister and family, who bought a picnic and labour force for some of the locks,  we had a lovely day. Stopped overnight near Preston Baggot. On Monday we went through Kingswood Junction and on up the Stratford canal and the Lapworth Locks, stopping near the top for two nights wo enable a visit to Packwood House, National Trust property, a sensible walk from the canal. Clearly here is an area of high property prices. We collected firewood and more quilting and china painting took place in the bits of sunshine. The weather all week has been variable with some lovely sun and some cold rain, if we don't like what it is like one minute we only have to wait to see what it will do next.
Wednesday took us on up to Earlswood, where we again stayed 2 nights to enjoy a lovely day walking around the lakes and birdwatching; lots of little terns and black headed gulls, crested grebes and many ducks and geese. A peaceful haven yet very close to the city. The people in the boat moored next to us were from Bude!
Friday saw our approach to Birmingham, filling up with water and diesel at a great little boat yard, Lyons, where we were able to replace missing and broken handles on the engine covers. We were going great guns when we heard a great crunch and hit a submerged log that caused the drive shaft coupling to break. So there we were stuck in the middle of the canal with no power. We were helped to the side by a friendly boater and Martin set off to see what he could get from the not too distand boatyard. He effected a temporary, as it turned out VERY temporary, repair and we continued only to stop again near Kings Norton Junction. A very nice man, with a striking resemblance to Freddie Flintoff, came from Alvechurch Marina and fitted a new one. A costly mistake but we were able to progress on into Birmingham and moor at Brindley Place.
Saturday saw Martin try to go to Tyseley Railway museum, but it was closed. The markets were great and we also enjoyed the museum and art gallery. Later we took in a Bollywood Movie - brilliant fun! Have met up with my old nursing friend, moored close by on her live aboard, much smarter than ours, and caught up on the many years that have passed since we last spoke. Everywhere along the way are duck and geese with young, and even here in the middle of the city we have been visited by a family of Canada Geese with 2 goslings, lovely.
Now sitting in the rain with a fire to keep out the wet.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

First week's excitement!

Well, what a first week it has turned out to be, so full of experiences. Seen off by Juliet and her friend Angela, we did 49 locks in the first three days, including the Hatton flight of 21. Big, heavy locks on the Grand Union, we were beginning to wonder what we had let ourselves in for. But we also managed to have a lovely walk into Leamington Spa, where we visited the gallery in the old Pump Rooms, which is really good, very friendly and with several Cornwall schools paintings, and a very good mix of other. On Monday it rained, a fine time to discover that the waxed hat is no longer waterproof, but we lit our little stove and were dry in no time. On Tuesday we visited Baddesley Clinton, a medieval National Trust house, with priests holes, about a mile from the junction with the Stratford canal. From there things began to feel more as we expected. The Stratford canal is a pure delight, rural, narrow, single gate locks and those lovely bridges that I remember from childhood with a gap in them for the rope to go through. Tested the little washing machine that we got at Maplins and topped up with water at Lowsenford. We met up with friends and sister at Wilmcote and then on into Stratford. (Via a loo pump out and a walk to the  lovely old church at Wootton Wawen, where I was bought up, and over the aquaduct at Bearley - scarey). A big treat of lunch at Jimmy Spices international buffet and then, oh joy, the canal basin in Stratford. What a tourist attraction we turn out to be! But the excitement continued, with late tickets (restricted view so cheaper) for the Merchant of Venice, with Patrick Stewart. It was brilliant, set in modern Las Vegas, but still in the old language, funny, clever and very dramatic, it even had Elvis. For the first time we were up after 10pm!
So, a first week to remember, don't think we can keep this pace up!