After my previous 8 day stint on my own it was good to have my friend Debbie with me – she had at least been on a narrow boat before even if it was 20 years ago.
We arrived at lunchtime on Weds 21st October after only a 3 hour drive from Cardiff to find the boat where Amber had left it. A couple of problems were immediately apparent – the leisure battery for the lights and water pumps was flat (the fridge had been left on and had drained it), and the boat was seemingly firmly aground. The engine started fine though and once we had loaded all our bags and parked the car in the convenient layby, we managed to get going fairly easily, the boat not as stuck as it seemed at first. We had some locks to pass through, and so I was able to introduce Deb to their workings. We found a convenient supermarket in Leamington to stock up on treats, and after a while the leisure battery had enough charge to run the water pumps and lights. We stopped for the night on the western outskirts of Warwick, having been assisted through one of the locks by a boat moving in the same direction, who suggested we look out for them in the morning, as they’d be able to help us with the Hatton flight of 21 locks which was our treat for tomorrow. I had the fun of cycling back through Warwick and Leamington to pick up the car – this took me longer than expected due to slack map reading…
After a good night’s sleep we set off early the next morning – after 10 minutes we were at the first of the Hatton locks. By the time we’d got through, the boat we’d met the previous night caught up with us, so we paired up with them to go up the flight – the locks being wide enough for both boats to go together. Deb worked and chatted to their crew, and learned more about lock operation as we worked our way up. We stopped for lunch near the top where the locks spread out a bit, and there’s a convenient cafe. The afternoon was much easier, no locks and pleasant weather, enlivened by a 400m tunnel, much appreciated by Debbie, and a couple of hand operated drawbridges, which Debs wound up and down (the volunteer lockkeeper on the Hatton flight had said she’d not be able to). We moored for the night in the middle of Kingswood junction, and I cycled off to fetch the car (much easier, being largely downhill after coming up all those locks).
Next morning we had another flight of locks – having now moved onto the Stratford canal (from the Grand union), the locks are narrow so we had to do them all by ourselves. Only 18 of them, with a stop after the first few for a handy canalside shop. Again we had lunch near the top, and an easier afternoon heading up towards Birmingham along a long level section. We paused briefly to visit a bread and cake shop seemingly in the middle of nowhere (though actually surrounded by some extremely wealthy villages, who no doubt can afford their excellent produce). We parked up for the night next to a ghostly derelict house, and close to a marina, though we didn’t actually need anything – the boat was going well… The cycle back to the car again involved pleasant downhill sections due to the locks we’d come up, though the roads were full of Chelsea tractors, and other expensive, aggressively driven, large cars. We learned that evening that we’d be leaving the boat moored for Dave and Mal to carry on on Monday, so we could have an easy day on Saturday, going the last few miles to King’s Norton junction and then packing up and driving back to Cardiff.
Before we set off in the morning I managed to make temporary repair to the front light (which had let us down at the last tunnel) so we were properly equipped for another 400m underground experience before we got to our destination. It was a quiet morning’s run through the southern edge of suburban Birmingham, with the canal largely treelined, and just occasional views of tower blocks behind the vegetation. We did have to negotiate and operate an electric lift bridge on a fairly busy road – it proved straightforward and quick, so the traffic queues were not long. We negotiated the tunnel and arrived at King’s Norton where we found a suitable mooring where we could leave the boat for a couple of days. i cycled back for the car, this time through council estates and towerblocks at first, though out into the countryside later – no locks today and hills to get over, but the drizzle which had been on and off all morning let up till I’d got safely into the car. I found a convenient parking spot close enough to the boat and we proceeded to move all our stuff back to the car, and lock up the boat (remembering to turn off the fridge!). The drive back to Cardiff only took two hours – a measure of our progress over our few days aboard.