Warwick Ring, Day Seven

Day Seven, Kingsbury Water Park to Atherstone, 8½ hours, 15 miles, 14 locks = 29 lock miles.

We didn’t realise on setting off at just after eight this morning just how important it was to get moving and then maintain that momentum.

All became clear at Atherstone locks just after one o’clock, when we learned that because of the current desperate water shortages, this critical flight opens only at 0830 in the morning – and closes, more crucially for us, at 1600, to preserve water in this driest canal year since the legendary English summer of 1976 (when we read, in a local newspaper, that at Foxton Locks not far to the East one could walk across the dry canal bed.)

As it happens, the angels are smiling again, and we contrive to begin the Atherstone locks at pretty much the precisely perfect time to reach the top on the dot of four. In fact, with literally 60 seconds to spare, although the charming couple who occupy the Lock Cottage at lock one tell us that British Waterways do do a last-minute sweep of the locks before the top gates are padlocked for the night, to make sure that no-one is just tackling the final five locks above number six. Continue reading

Warwick Ring, Day Six

Day Six Wednesday Sept 28, Birmingham to Kingsbury Water Park, 46 lock miles (11 miles, 35 locks), 9 hours.

From Birmingham along the Brum and Fazely canal, dropping away from the town centre along the Farmers’ Locks under Birmingham’s distinctive BT tower, we now have the canal system virtually to ourselves.

It’s a hard, delightfully but also disturbingly warm early autumn locking day, one of our busiest yet in 10 years of canal boating, and it also reminds me how dangerous it is to lower one’s guard even for a moment on matters of safety.

I’m aware as we set off from Birmingham how slippery my plastic Croc shoes are on the wet brickwork of the lockside, so I quickly nip into the cabin to don my much sturdier walking shoes. Lulled into a sense of greater safety, at the next lock I decide to take a short cut across the front of one of the gates, and I lose my grip. Thankfully, my responses are quick enough to catch my fall, and it’s only my legs that get a soaking up to the knees before I manage to catch myself and pull myself back onto the lock gate. Continue reading

Warwick Ring, Day Five

Day Five,  Tuesday September 27, Waring’s Green to Birmingham Gas Street Basin. 14 miles, no locks, 5 hours.

Quite how I thought we might be able to make it all the way to Gas Street in Birmingham yesterday, I’m not sure, as today we found ourselves moving surprisingly slowly through the southern suburbs of Birmingham past Cadbury’s Bournville  headquarters (how sad that the company is no longer British-owned) with its uplifting odours of chocolate.

Before reaching Birmingham, the character of the canal changes quite sharply, and moored boats suddenly have solid window protection against vandalism. There are shopping trolleys abandoned in the water, and nylon cables that wrap themselves around our prop shaft, reminding me that it is indeed important EVERY morning to check the prop for debris.

I do sometimes despair of human beings, ready to chuck anything into the canals and anywhere else without a thought for other users. Continue reading

Warwick Ring and the Molly May, Day Four

Day Four,  Monday Sept 26, Rowington Hill Bridge to Waring’s Green, 26 lock miles (seven miles and 19 locks) in six hours

The ducks may stay slim, but that’s not very true of homo sapiens on the canals.

Have you noticed just how many of our fellow canallers are becoming obese? (OK – the photo here is from last year – see below – but I just love it…) Perhaps it’s the evening beers and sausages and chips. Perhaps it’s all that sitting at the back of the boat while the girls do the hard work on the locks. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of our modern civilisation – obsessed with consumption and unable to say no to that extra-large glass of wine and extra plate of chips.

But, that’s not the point of this blog, which is to enthuse about yet another magnificent day cruising gently towards Birmingham.

If last night’s mooring point was one of our favourites on the Grand Union, the Lapworth flight is certainly our favourite locking experience on the Warwick Ring, or indeed (perhaps with the exception of the Tardebigge between Birmingham and Worcester) anywhere on the canal system. Continue reading

Warwick Ring, Day Three

Day Three , Sunday Sept 25, bottom of Hatton Flight to Rowington Hill Bridge, 27 lock miles (21 locks and six miles) in seven hours.

After a first-class night’s sleep – our guests on Molly May’s huge cabin bed at the front of the boat, and Sue and I at the back in what we agree is one of the most comfortable beds we sleep in anywhere – and on Sunday morning for Day Three, we gird our loins and head up the Hatton flight, teaming up again with a charming family who’ve had their boat for 25 years.

From my locking partner at the other tiller as we work our way up the flight side by side, (our guests under Sue’s expert guidance are doing the hard raising and lowering of paddles), I learn that the Matriarch of the family with which we’re sharing the locks unilaterally decided on the very early death of her husband to mortgage half the family home and invest in a narrowboat as a shared family resource. They never looked back.

Snatched conversations at the locks are priceless.

At this end-of-season time of year and with four of us working the locks, we’re able to set the gates perfectly as we glide up, and we complete the Hatton flight in an amazing two-and-a-half hours, feeling exceptionally pleased with ourselves. We’re we’ve been only 15 or so minutes slower than the record, apparently set by a group of Boy Scouts some years ago. Continue reading

Molly May and the Warwick Ring, Day Two

Day Two, Saturday Sept 24, Long Itchington to bottom of Hatton Flight. 21 lock miles (10 miles and 11 locks) in five hours.

Day two, Saturday, and after what Sue and I – doffing our hat to an American friend’s pronunciation  – like to call a lee-jer-ly breakfast, it’s down the short Bascote Staircase (how odd, we always think, to emerge from one lock straight into another) with our London teammates, pairing up nicely with other boats and their friendly crews sharing the locking as we head slowly westwards towards Warwick.

In late September, with the leaves turning gold and yellow before our eyes,  the Grand Union at this point is surprisingly busy. More than on any of our previous trips with the Molly May, we keep bumping into (well, not literally) other boats from Kate Boats in what’s clearly been a much better hiring year for the company than recession-hit 2010.

We lunch on board. Sue used to cater professionally, and does the best soups I’ve ever tasted. Towards the end of the afternoon, we wave cheerily to the Kate Boats team at their Warwick yard just as they’re packing up after a busy day turning guests around. Continue reading

Round the Warwick Ring with our canalboat Molly May

Day One, Friday Sept 23, 2011, Stockton Marina to Long Itchington, 1.5 miles, 10 locks = 11.5 lock miles, 2½ hours.

Stockton marina is perfectly positioned for a (reasonably) leisurely week-and-a-bit-long meander round the Warwick Ring, so we allow ourselves an easy early-afternoon Friday start on the Molly May, which since spring 2010 has been our sponsored narrowboat with Kate Boats of Warwick.

The temptation, heading left and West towards Warwick, is to simply emerge from the pound and moor up even before the first of the Stockton locks, and enjoy the Molly May’s spacious kitchen and mega-comfortable lounge, with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Believe me, we’ve done that before, within a  couple of hundred yards of setting off.

But this time, we have friends to pick up in Long Itchington who are joining us for the weekend from London, so Sue (whose passion is the Molly May) and I head off down the 10 locks of the first flight, nice and broad as they are but at this time of this very dry year, very short of water. Continue reading