March 15th 2010 - Camp Hill
Its been an interesting day one way or another! We set off from Symphony Court this morning at about 10.00am and at Old Turn junction we turned left this time. Immediately after the turn was the first of thirteen locks in the Farmers Bridge flight. Adjacent to this lock is a British Waterways office so before we actually set off down the flight we nipped over and pressed the buzzer on the door to enquire about BW cards for use in BW service stations as we knew there were laundry facilities at Camp Hill. The lady that answered the door couldn't actually help us but her colleague, who was due to arrive in about fifteen minutes could so she took Clive's phone number and promised to ring as soon as her colleague arrived. Sure enough just as we reached lock number four his phone rang - she had arrived. I stayed with the boat whilst Clive jogged back up the towpath to the office. Eventually I saw him trotting back down again - he hasn't had this much exercise in ages! He had bought three cards, one £10 one for use at pump-out facilites and two for the Camp Hill laundry facility at £4.30 each.
The lock flight ahead of us was going downwards and from the top it looked as if it was going right underneath Birmingham - I suppose in a way it does!
Heading under Birmingham!
We continued down the locks, which I was finding quite difficult as they were the sort of gates that you have to climb up onto in order to cross to the other side, they wreak havoc with my poor old arthritic knees! After half a dozen locks I was really suffering. At one lock I took the opportunity to nip inside to the loo before opening the paddles, however when I got back up on deck I was in the bottom of a deep, dark lock and Clive was nowhere to be seen! A few minutes later he appeared at the top of the lock grinning down at me - "you're going to have to bring her out yourself" he said! Eeek - panic! I have never, in all the eighteen months we have been on board, ever steered the boat in or out of a lock - I've been too scared! Well now I had no choice! Clive opened the front gates and I very gingerley eased the boat out of the lock, across the short pound and into the next lock, which Clive had already set and opened the gates. I was very nervous but managed to do the whole procedure without too many bumps! Having done it once I then proceeded to do the next five locks - I'm very proud of myself! One of them was a bit hairy though - I had crossed the pound and was just entering the next lock when I realised that the arch of the bridge over the entrance to the lock itself was rather low, so low that I wasn't sure if the chimney was going to make it! I slammed the throttle into reverse and gritted my teeth - she just pulled up in time! Clive could actually reach the side of the boat at this point so he pulled her over to the left so that the chimney eased under the higher part of the bridge! Phew!
By this time we were underneath some of the high rise buildings and it was a bit surreal under here!
We soon arrived at the bottom of the flight and I managed to hold the boat as I left the last lock and waited for Clive to shut the gates and jump back on board. I was very happy indeed to hand the tiller back to the Captain! However I have now laid the ghost so to speak - it was quite scary doing the locks but at least I now know I can actually do it - I must say though, I need lots more practice, it certainly isn't as easy as Clive makes it look!
We had a bit of a cruise before the next flight of locks so I nipped inside and made a cup of coffee. I had just come back up on deck when we reached the first lock, so I opened the gates and Clive brought the boat in then we sat in the lock and drank our coffee!
We started down the next flight and this time I let the expert do it - perhaps as well because it was quite windy and I am not experienced enough to cope with strong winds as well. Even Clive struggled at one point as the wind was taking the boat right across the canal! A couple of locks further on and the canal went through a tunnel, a very narrow, low tunnel.
Very narrow tunnel!
I was walking along the towpath following behind the boat when I heard a horrible bumping, grinding sound! I asked Clive what he had hit - he said it was the chimney scraping along the tunnel! Oh dear! Sure enough when the boat was in the next lock we went to inspect the damage and it looks as if we might need a new chimney!!! Not only had it ground the top off the side of the chimney it had also broken one of the brackets that holds the TV aeriel!
Once at the bottom of the flight we had a bit of a cruise and then we reached the Warwick Bar Junction where we turned left onto the Grand Union Canal. A short time later we arrived at the bottom of yet another flight of locks. There was nowhere obvious to get off the boat in order to get to the lock, however on closer inspection we noticed a short flight of steps right before the lock. I managed to get off the boat then I had to traverse a very narrow ledge to get to the steps - they don't make it easy do they! I managed to get up to the top of the steps then I had to climb over a wall - honestly! Once up at the lock gate I looked down and realised that in front of the gates was the most obnoxious collection of rubbish floating right in the path of the boat! I managed to get the gates open and Clive started to bring the boat in. I had warned him about the rubbish but even so he had a struggle to get through it, then all of a sudden he wasn't going anywhere, the boat was jammed! I peered down into the lock and realised that there was a complete pallet in the water and that is what was jamming the boat on one side and on the other a large log!
It was at this point that I noticed a man with a large video camera on a tripod and one of those big hairy microphones - we were being filmed! Anyway, I couldn't really pay attention to him, we had to get the boat moving again! Clive put the engine in reverse and eventually the boat started to ease back. Then he came down to the bows with the boat hook to see if he could shift the blockage. He managed to push the pallett around so that it was in front of the boat rather than at the side in the hope that the boat would push it down the lock. It worked, initially! Then the boat jammed again! After much tooing and froing he finally got the boat into the lock so that I could shut the gates and start the lock filling. All this time the camerman was filming! He kept picking up his tripod and dashing up and down the boat to get a good view. When the lock was full I grabbed the boat hook and managed to hook the pallett and as I pulled it up out of the water Clive grabbed it and hauled it out onto the bank. We also managed to retrieve a couple of logs and a few branches but we had to leave the rest of the rubbish.
As Clive was leaving the lock I went over to the cameraman and asked him why he was filming us. He told me that he was making a documentary for the BBC about James Brindley, the man who had built the canal. He was one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. I commented that he would be horrified if he had seen the state of the lock we had just battled with but he replied that he would probably be delighted to see that it was still working! I have no idea when this documentary is going to be televised but we may well be featured in it - how exciting!
By this time Clive had reached the next lock. Once inside he told me to wait before starting to fill the lock as there was something not quite right with the way the boat was handling. It was vibrating a lot and even though he had the throttle well open the boat was moving very slowly. So he went down into the engine room and opened up the weed hatch. Oh my goodness, its no wonder the boat was struggling - look what he found wrapped around the prop!
What a load of rubbish!
We continued on up the flight and reached one lock which had the most amazing, colourful grafiti along the adjacent wall. I don't really hold with grafiti really but I have to admit it is very clever indeed and this lot certainly was very skillfully done. Mind you, I never seem to be able to read what they write - perhaps thats just as well!
There were still more locks and we continued on. At one point I noticed two more coconuts in the water - what on Earth is going on here? I still can't understand why there should be so many coconuts floating along the canal system!!!
We arrived at another lock and as I was waiting for the lock to fill I noticed there was a tyre and exhaust garage adjacent to the lock and I decided, on impulse, to nip over and have a word with them. The reason being that sometimes our fenders are no use whatsoever for protecting the boat against underwater cills. We find that we can't pull the boat right into the bank - this happened quite often on the Shroppie - but each time a boat passes by our boat it bangs up against the submerged cill. If you have a few tyres on long ropes so that they float horizontally on the water they act as a cushion thus stopping the constant banging. Well, I though, I can but ask - so I did! Sure enough they had exactly what we wanted, lovely little tyres off a Mini Moto motorbike - excellent! All we need now is some more rope!
Finally we arrived at the top of the flight and the Camp Hill Services. There is a lovely secure mooring space on the right, including a water point. It didn't take Clive long to spin her round and moor up. I quickly made some sandwiches for lunch and as soon as we had eaten them I got all my laundry ready and headed into the lovely, modern services building. I found the door which said laundry on it, unlocked it with the BW key and walked inside - er, hm, scratches head, puzzled - no washing machine, no tumble dryer - very strange! Just before I had gone inside the building a BW boat had arrived with two workmen on board, they were just mooring their boat around the back of the services. I went and asked about the lack of machines in the laundry. "They were stolen about twelve months ago - I reported it to BW" he told me! I was stunned! First of all the fact that somebody had just walked in and nicked them but more to the point the fact that the girls in the BW office back in Brum had happily sold us cards for the laundry!
So I had to bring my dirty washing back on board - not best pleased I can tell you! Anyway, we are staying put here anyway. We filled the water tank and Clive made use of the hose cleaning out the cratch, which was full of coal dust! We have discovered that there is a launderette only a short walk from the canal in a place called Olton, which is about two hours cruise from here, so we will be heading there in the morning!
So, as I said, its been an interesting day!