MAL AND DAVE RACE AGAINST TIME: BATTLING PUNCTURES, SCOTSMEN AND (ANOTHER) STEAMING ENGINE HATCH

The start at Kings Norton

Day 1: ‘Sail’ or ‘No Sail’?

Arrived at Kings Norton in the car after a journey from Cardiff. Found the boat OK and loaded it up with all our gear from the car.

Were advised to move that afternoon as the area was a bit dodgy!! So we put the key in the ignition, said a prayer, turned the key and whoopie the engine started.

We set off for our first “sail” since our previous “no sail” when the boat broke down at Elton. What a baptism we had, as we were quickly approaching the Wast Hills Tunnel, built in 1796 and is 2726 yards long (one of the longest in the UK !!) with large bats in the roof and three boats coming towards us in the dark – frightening to say the least.

Wast Hill Tunnel

Anyway, we survived and eventually moored up outside The Hopwood House Inn. We decided to have a meal at the pub and on getting off the boat Dave’s foot went through the wooden decking at the stern of the boat into the engine compartment, fortunately no damage was done. Had a nice meal and returned to the boat finding the gas had run out, not to worry, but a bit of a struggle to change over to a full cylinder in the dark. Lit the lovely log burner and snuggled round the fire with a nice mug of coffee.

Day 2: The night club of nostalgia..

Dave cycled back to Kings Norton first thing to collect car and then drove to Hopwood Inn and left car in car park.

Tried to start the engine and… Shock horror…. Nothing! Checked everything but still no good. Rang Lewis in desperation and it turned out you need to ensure the cutout knob is pushed back in after using it to stop the engine – simple when you know how…Set off for Tardebigge top lock and went through Shortwood Tunnel a mere 613yds long.

Shortwood Tunnel

Called at Anglo Welsh marina to fill up with fuel and water. Matt who helped us there was great, he managed to fit a piece of wood where the broken deckboard was and told us that the flight of 30 locks we have to go through next could take up to 7 hours!

30 locks at Tardebigge

Matt was an arts graduate from Goldsmiths and in his spare time renovates old canal hardware with roses and castles design. We went through Tardebigge Tunnel (580yards) and then moored up by Tardebigge top lock. We went to investigate and realised that the old canal engine house that is there used to be a nightclub which we had been to in our youth and Dave’s cousin used to be a DJ there! Dave fetched the car with some difficulties. Eg closed paths and rain and we settled in for night. We soon realised the lights were fading fast and the fridge wasn’t working – aaaaah the leisure battery was flat..great. All was not lost as we met a resident canal bargee and he offered to give us a 240volt electric hookup off his boat for the night. What a saviour!

Day  3: Tardebigge Locks – The longest set in the U.K!

Up at 7am had shower courtesy of the Canal Trust facilities at Tardebigge and set off by 8.30 on the longest flight of locks in the UK! The first lock (the deepest in UK) went well..then on with the next 29.. Only passed 1 boat on our way up, who said they had seen our boat before on the Grand Union canal and recognised orange netting. About lock 40 met a guy called Bernie with dog Bosun and he kindly gave us a hand by opening locks up ahead. He lived on a boat at Stoke Pound where we stayed overnight by a really smart pub called ‘The Queens Head’. Dave cycled back to Tardebigge for the car and met a couple in the car park who had just got permission to turn their boat into a gallery -both artists!

We did it 30 locks!!

Day 4: Electricity failure and Dave has a puncture!

Set off in misty rain about 8am, we have 12 locks today (easy peasy). First drama of day was the bike was nearly pulled off the top of boat by overhanging trees, all ok in the end. Raining properly by 11.00, nearly at end of locks so press on before coffee. Arrive at Hanbury junction by 1.30am and decide to stay here overnight with an electrical hook up as battery still not holding power nor is the starter battery, tested both batteries and think that the alternator is not working properly. Dave went off on bike to collect car but has a puncture half way, so had to walk the rest of the way.

Day 5: Bowman: 2679

Underway by 8.30 with batteries fully charged , no locks today – plain sailing . Just approaching Dunhampstead tunnel (only 230 yards long) when we noticed steam coming from engine, fortunately the other end of the tunnel was Brookline boat holidays so Dave cycled to see if they could help.

Engine problem

 Internation rescue

15 mins later he came chugging back on a barge with Paul who then towed us through the tunnel to his boatyard. They did not have the right hose to fit the engine so we contacted international rescue who promptly came and supplied a second hand part that did the job. Paul and Dave gave us some antifreeze to top up engine and were on our way by 3pm.

Also we had met Andy of the Forge Studio who painted canalware beautifully. Stopped at Tibberton overnight and dined in the Speedy Plough it was curry and a pint for £6.50 – very nice!

Day 6: Will we make it?

Started about 8.30 am. 6 locks to do today and pressure was on to get through the locks before they were closed for winter maintenance (you can almost see this as being a challenge for Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear!!) We were getting into really urban industrial areas and now reached lock 4 which was about to close for repair – only one paddle and one gate working, a very victorian lock keepers house with a bridge nearby. Now into outskirts of Worcester and nearing Diglis Basin.

Good steering Mal

Arrived at basin which was full to capacity. We were unsure what to do about mooring. Following advice from one guy, Dave performed a very skillful reverse manoeuvre, but was immediately hailed by Scottish bargee who told us that if we stayed there we would run aground as the water level was going to be lowered for maintenance. The only thing to do was go through locks 1 and 2 and moor on The Diglis River floating pontoon on the River Severn. Managed this through two massive locks opened by volunteers. Phew we made it! We then checked with the river lock keeper to ensure it was ok to leave FC there. Arrived home late that night tired but thrilled that we had got so far, looking forward to the next time! 

The end of the canal

 

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