Sunday 30 April
It’s been a while since I wrote; so long that I was beginning to question whether we would ever set off from Tardebigge again, thus I was becoming a little stir crazy and grumpy – as was Leigh, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
We are on a small adventure just now, setting off last Friday just for four weeks or so. Friday was one of those days where time appears to fly by. Leigh started working the wonderful flight of locks at Tardebigge ( wonderful in appearance AND as an amazing feat of engineering) around ten-thirty a.m. By lunchtime she had worked twenty-one of the thirty locks so needed a quick break.
After lunch an old schoolfriend of hers – Cheryl – joined her. As they worked the remainder of the flight they realised that they had led parallel lives in some ways. Both had married sailors, both had lived in Plymouth in nineteen-seventy-six (Cheryl as a navy wife and Leigh as a Wren). As they chatted and reminisced it came to light that Leigh had enjoyed a bitofafling with Cheryl’s cousin, Alan, (a ‘tiffy’ [Artificer] in the Navy at that time)! This revelation came about as Leigh struggled to remember Alan’s surname, (she did have quite a lot of boyfriends in her teens). Cheryl asked, ‘Is it, XX?’ and a relieved Leigh (she hates not remembering names) said, ‘Yes, that’s it…’. Before she could ask how Cheryl had guessed the surname, Cheryl said, ‘That’s my cousin!’ Oh Lordy, they did laugh at this disclosure….
Now, these two chums hadn’t chatted since their schooldays some forty-three years back, so they had a great deal to talk about. Tom steered, Rosie and I enjoyed the beauty of the north Worcestershire countryside, and the ‘girls’ worked well together; Leigh told me that Cheryl made a great lock-labourer – it not only reduces travel time when two are working the locks, but Leigh enjoyed the company lots. I am sending a big kiss of appreciation to Cheryl, on Leighs behalf…mwah.
After Cheryl left, Leigh worked the six locks through Stoke Pound and Prior then we stopped off in Stoke Works for a well deserved dinner at the local pub – the ‘Boat and Railway’. ‘Good food, good prices’, is all Leigh wants to say. Rosie and I stayed homealone and we were ‘fairly happy’ to do so!
Yesterday was a great day, weather-wise, but Leigh felt the labour of the previous day was affecting her performance! Setting out for Worcester she worked the first five locks (with a couple of ‘whatamidoing’ moments – where she tried to push the gate the wrong way, or open paddles that ddin’t need opening as the lock was already set for us…Yelp!!) but late morning things went a bit downhill and she became a tad grumpy. Why? Read on…
After chatting, and putting the worldofcanals to rights, with the retired lock-keeper at Astwood Locks, my humans decided to divert through Droitwich – where a boat festival is in progress (this means a chance to shop for scrummy chutneys whilst supporting boat-traders). Turning right, at the junction of the Worcester and Birmingham/Droitwich canals, we came upon six or seven boaters and a jolly parrot.
The locks here have side-pools (there are very few working side-pools on the canal network of the U.K.) which Leigh hadn’t encountered before; luckyforher there were two volunteer lock-keepers, one of which would work with her and explain how to work side-pool locks.
Now, this was great in terms of learning something new -as in how to work these locks – and it was great to have help, but in labouring terms it means you have double the work as you empty, or fill, the lock to enable your boat to enter. That didn’t particularly phase Leigh, but the next ‘encounter’ did.
Staircase locks are the bane of Leigh’s life on the canals. I won’t explain how they work, but suffice to say they add to the work load and can be confusing. Between her own brain and Tom’s ‘direction’ (ouch) she got us through the staircase and the next normal lock safely and then we reached the ridiculously low M5 tunnel. At this tunnel is a ‘measuring device’; if your boat won’t go under the device then you can’t go through the tunnel. You can guess the rest…
Note: That is not our boat – possibly a ‘hire boat’ – hence no need to use the roof as storage!
Tom did a great job of reversing through the lock – his first experience of what is a rare thing to have to do! Reminded me of when I got stuck in a rabbit hole and had to back out – needs concentration eh Tom?
Leigh almost wept at the thought of having to go back and work those six locks that she had laboured in the last hour and a half but there was no alternative. There is a story here…
Pre-M5 the Droitwich – a spa town – canal had been used for carrying salt on working barges. When the motorway was being built, the canal fell into disrepair and it was thought that it would never be used again; the height of the tunnel was pretty much disregarded. Now that canals are back in fashion this tunnel is journey-limiting for live-aboards who need to use their roofs to carry bikes, buckets, coal, wood, etc. Tom took the chimney off, took the satellite dish down and took some of the stuff out of a roof-box, but even the tunnel light made the tunnel unnavigable so we cruised back up to the junction, explaining why we were back so soon to the lock-volunteers (who, in hindsight said they should have mentioned the low tunnel).
Feeling weary and grumpy Leigh did a spot of Internet shopping – via Fiona Joseph who sells Phoenix cards – during the lock-free cruise in the direction of Worcester. We moored last night in Tibberton, which is a pretty little village with two pubs – although the chef was on sick-leave in one and the other doesn’t offer food. Rosie and I enjoyed an early evening walk around the village with Leigh, which enabled her to feed/free her mind whilst admiring some lovely old cottages, pretty lanes and simple countryside.
For those who can’t quite understand why we don’t particulary plan ahead – and cannot always commit to precisely where we will be for a meet-up – maybe after reading this you will start to see the predicaments of a travelling boaters life? You simply can’t plan as you don’t know what you will come across. It’s a fun, frustrating, flexible life and it suits us…well it does as long as Leigh keeps the grumpiness at bay. Yelp!
PS Although chronologically ‘out of order’ I will blog later to tell you about Leigh’s ‘swim’ in the canal last week!
PPS I though this was a nice touch…a dedication to the man who played a big part in the restoration of the canal