My First Canal Boat Holiday -day 1 and 2

A UK Canal Boating Article

Category : Blog


We arrive at Alvechurch Marina at about 3.30pm on Monday 7th April, in the drizzle, not really knowing what to expect.
Cathy shows us how to operate a lock, which looks reasonably easy (this would come back to haunt me!), and then we are shown to the boat – Galah, a brand, spanking new boat which we were being entrusted with to deliver safely to Worcester Marina.

The boat is well set out and has everything we need. There is a tea tray on the table with teapot, cups and saucers and teabags, and also a welcome pack containing cloths, matches, bin bags, sewing kit, washing up liquid and tea towels. The bed is made up and there are towels and loo rolls in both bathrooms. The floors are carpeted except in the bathrooms, of which there are two with toilets and sinks and one with a shower. The galley is well equipped with fridge, cooker, microwave and most importantly – corkscrew and wine glasses! I like the mugs so much that I end up buying two to take home!

We are taken around the boat and shown where everything is and how it all works, inside and out. We are given instructions on how to steer, moor, do safety checks and what to do and what not to do. We are also told to take the actual tiller off at night and if we leave the boat, because it's made of solid brass and could be stolen. That is something we would never have thought of if we hadn't been told.

As we are staying in the marina for the night, due to the fact we know we have the Tardebigge Flight to tackle tomorrow, we unpack, make a cup of tea and re-read the Boaters' Handbook.

Afterwards, we go for a walk around the marina, meet a few 'residents' and then walk to the village and back. By now we are getting hungry, so we go to The Weighbridge, a nice little pub/restaurant right on the marina. Dogs are not allowed in the pub, but there is a warm covered area with tables and chairs where they are welcome, so we sit in there and have a very nice meal, while chatting to a local man who had popped in for a pint with his two dogs.

Fed and watered, we walk the two minutes back to our boat, turn on the heating and settle down for the evening to watch a bit of TV. Except the TV won't work. For a short time it picks up BBC but then it gives up the ghost. We try re-tuning it but to no avail. So we give up and go to bed to read.
The very gentle intermittent swaying of the boat is somehow comforting and lulls us into a good nights sleep.

Today starts off quite promising with sunshine by 7.30am, which was just as well because I don't fancy tackling 30-odd locks in the rain. walked, all three of us fed, we are ready for off. Except getting out of the marina isn't as easy as we had thought. In a car it would have amounted to a six-point turn I think! Anyway, we manage it in the end, and we are on our way. Then it starts to drizzle...

We pull on our waterproof coats and try to look as if we aren't bothered and that we know what we are doing. The surrounding countryside is pretty and very soon we approach Shortwood Tunnel which is 613 yards long. I have the pleasure of honking the horn and turning on the headlight. I don't like tunnels, so I go inside the boat and put some lights on whilst asking every few minutes 'are we there yet?' It takes longer than I think to get through it and it is very wet. Oh, the relief when I finally see daylight again, despite the drizzle!

Next is a winding bit of canal, very scenic, all you can hear above the chug of the boat is birdsong, and before we know it we are approaching the 580 yard long Tardebigge Tunnel. Great! Horn honked and headlight on, I make my way inside the boat again. It is very dark in the tunnel – even darker inside the boat if you don't put the lights on in time!

Not long out of the tunnel, and we spot the first of our locks – Tardebigge Top Lock. 'This doesn't look too bad', we think. We had already agreed I would do the locks as I was sure I wouldn't be able to steer the boat, let alone get it into the lock, so once we are near enough to the bank, I jump off and eagerly trot off towards the lock...
Galah Canal BoatHmmm. So what do I do now? And what's the other bit with the paddles on for? There's no-one else around, Baron, my husband can't hear me above the engine and I'm stood there like a lemon not knowing what on earth I'm supposed to do. I hear a noise, and looking up I see a lady coming towards me with a thingy like I've got (a windlass). She can obviously spot an amateur a mile off and instantly offers to show me the ropes. Together we manage to open the gate and wait for Baron to navigate the boat into the lock. It looks to me like putting a square peg in a round hole. That done, I just stand there looking daft, when the nice lady says we need to open the other bit. Huh? What does she mean? She shows me what to do and I see the water gushing out of the lock, lowering the boat, Baron and Maisie (our dog). All the while, I'm terrified that the boat is going to get stuck on the cill, so I keep shouting to Baron 'watch the cills!', but he can't hear me anyway. Water even on both sides, we push open the gates and Baron steers the boat out and towards the side for me to jump back on.

Off we go. That wasn't too bad, was it? All too soon, we can see the next lock, so feeling a little more confident, I get dropped off again to go and get the lock ready. There is a boat coming through it the other way, and again a lady operating the lock. I go over to see what I can do and we help each other until both boats are through. I think I've got the hang of it now, which is a good job, as all I can see into infinity is more locks.

After about 8 or 10 more locks (it felt like a hundred), I want to go home. It is hard work operating locks when there is only two of you on the boat, because one has to steer the boat, and you have to keep going from one side to the other of the locks to be able to open and close both sides. I know there are 30 in total so am counting them down – only 20 more.

There is a place to moor here, so we stop and have a cup of tea. We must be tired because it feels like the boat is slowly tipping. Oh, it is, because now our mugs are sliding down the table. We look towards the door, where Maisie is bracing her paws on the deck so that she doesn't start to slide off the boat. Quickly, we make our way outside to see what is happening. A man is coming towards us saying something about gates being open and the canal draining. We ask him what this means and he tells us that the people on the boat behind him haven't shut the gates for two or three locks and consequently we end up being grounded. Crikey, it's only our second day!
Onward and upward (eventually), and we carry on with our lock marathon. Before we left the marina yesterday, I bought myself a badge which said 'Lock Labourer'. How right that was proving to be! Counting down the locks is slowly addling my brain and we seem to have 12 left for about 3 hours. Some of the locks are so stiff, that I think I will never be able to move them, but I persevere. One time we ask a man outside his cottage if he will help me, which he does, and he tells us that rarely do the locks get oiled, and that is why they are so stiff.

Never have I ever been so pleased to see something, as when we see the sign saying 'Tardebigge Bottom Lock'. It feels like I have walked for at least 20 miles – so much for a sedate cruise up the river, glass of wine in hand! We moor up and have another cup of tea and congratulate ourselves on our achievement. I am absolutely shattered, I can't walk properly and I ache all over, but I also feel proud that we have done the Tardebigge Flight – the longest flight of locks in the UK. We have also seen some beautiful countryside along the way, lambs and rabbits frolicking in the fields, fishermen, pretty cottages, and best of all, we can reward ourselves with a nice meal and a drink at The Queens Head, just across the canal, at Stoke Pound, on Sugarbrook Lane.

The restaurant here is lovely, and for a Tuesday night it is really busy. Luckily, dogs are allowed in, as long as they are well-behaved, and we are shown to a nice table by the windows overlooking the canal. Maisie sleeps while we enjoy a more than welcome drink and some lovely food.
We are both now more than ready for a good nights sleep, so, we make our way back over the bridge to the boat (glad we brought the torch as there's no lights), and we're asleep as soon as our heads touch the pillow.



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