My First Canal Boat Holiday -day 3 and 4

A UK Canal Boating Article

Category : Blog


The day dawns bright and sunny, and we are woken up by the dawn chorus, which is a pleasant change from traffic noise and seagulls.
Leaving Stoke Pound, we now make our way towards Stoke Locks, although I'm not sure I have the strength or enthusiasm to open them today! My legs ache so much, as do my shoulders, and just about everywhere else, but we have to do it so we will soldier on.

Our aim is to get to Stoke Prior by lunchtime – easy! So we navigate our way slowly through the six Stoke Prior locks. As we approach the last one, we pass by the Black Prince boat hire base, so we must be careful navigating through here as there are a lot of boats, and it's not easy.

The last lock here is just before a bridge, and immediately after the bridge we moor up near the water point as we haven't filled up yet. Moored and secure, I go to the front of the boat and throw the water hose out to Baron who is trying to unlock the water point box, and get wet in the process as there is some water in the hose. The key we have been given doesn't fit, however, it looks like the last person has left it unlocked, or it has been broken into, so at least we can attach the hose. It takes ages for the water tank to fill and suddenly I hear Baron shout out 'Oh no! There's a hole in the side of the boat!' Panicking, I go and have a look, and we see water leaking from the side of the boat. I climb back on the front and have a look from the inside, where we find a matching 'hole' the other side. Turns out it's water draining off the deck that had come out of the hose before we attached it to the tap! Panic over.

That done, we untie Maisie and stroll (we couldn't walk any faster if we wanted to because we ache so much) along the towpath and over the bridge towards some shops, where we see a sign with an arrow pointing us in the direction of The Navigation. Lovely!

10 minutes later we go and sit in the sunny beer garden with pints of lager, waiting for our all-day breakfasts, which are brilliant value for money, and very welcome.
After leaving the pub, we cross the road and wander around the little arcade of shops, then make our way back to the boat.
As we cast off, a swan swims slowly towards us, hisses a bit, then swims off again. Maisie is a bit miffed and looks from one to the other of us, then lies down with her head on her paws to go to sleep. If only!

We're now making our way to Astwood Locks – another six locks. I'm beginning (!) to dread seeing the black and white of lock gates coming into view. Anyway, we manage to navigate them without too much bother, and continue along a relatively straight bit of canal, past Hanbury Wharf and towards the dubiously named Coffin Bridge.
To the right of us we see the reasonably newly opened Droitwich Canal, which looks pretty, and we are not entirely sure if we are to turn into it or not. We choose not, and carry on.

A little way in front of us, we can see a swan whose wings are up in the classic defence pose, so we try not to spook him too much, but as we near him, he swims towards us, hissing. There must be a female or eggs somewhere close by. He's so close, I think he's going to try and get on the boat and Maisie is nervous too. He is really big close up and I know they can be quite dangerous when they are antagonised. He goes to the back of the boat (far too near my ankles for my liking!) and hangs onto the round rope thingy near the rudder. Now we're worried he will get injured if he doesn't move, so Baron goes inside and gets some bread, which he throws for the swan, who clearly is not interested. Great! Now what do we do? A fisherman further up the canal is watching but shrugs his shoulders, so Baron throws more bread, which eventually the swan decides he will eat after all, just as we pass another swan on a nest. But he doesn't let up, and follows us for quite some time before giving up and going back to the nest with his partner. That was an experience I wouldn't like to happen too often. It's lucky that Maisie isn't the sort of dog to go nuts or we could have been in real trouble.
We reach Coffin Bridge (No.34), and know that there are three more bridges before we reach Dunhampstead Tunnel. Oh, joy! But this tunnel is only 230 yards long, and I almost, but not quite, think I will stay on deck. Feeling brave, (after honking the horn and switching on the headlight), I go to the front of the boat (through the inside) and open the door to take some photos because I can see the end, which is quite close, so I'm not so scared. Once the other end, we pass a couple of moored boats just beyond Bridge 30, find a space and moor up for the night.

By now it is around 7pm, and we're getting hungry again. I remember that there is supposed to be a nice pub near here called The Fir Tree, which when we Google it, is only about 600 yards away. We decide to ring them first to make sure that dogs are allowed in. A lady answers and tells me that the pub is shut. 'Oh', I say, 'is it not opening time yet?' 'We're shut until Friday', she says, and hangs up. It's only Wednesday today. Ok, Plan B. There's a Dominos Pizza delivery place about a mile away according to the internet, so, as we're far too tired and achy to walk there, we think that if we arrange to meet them on the bridge, they could deliver, so I ring them. An Asian man answers the 'phone and asks me to hold the line. Next, and English man comes on the line and I explain, again, that we are on a canal boat, moored by bridge 30 on Trench Lane, and if they would be so good as to deliver a pizza to us, we will meet them on the bridge and pay on the 'phone now. 'Hold on', says the second man, then yet another man comes on the line and tells me 'We don't deliver that far out', and hangs up. What??? It's only 0.99 miles away and says it's pizza delivery for Heaven's sake! The only saving grace, was that we had had the all day breakfast earlier that day, so we will have to make do with sandwiches and crisps, with the few bits we had brought with us. So no hot food, no TV, the DVD we brought with us is diabolical, there is nothing for it but to go to bed, but we're too tired to read, so another early night.

LocksWe have woken up to another lovely sunny day, although it's a little chilly in the shade, and Maisie enjoys her walk along the towpath.

Having not eaten much yesterday, we are starving, so we have some cereal and then vow to find a supermarket today and stock up a bit.
We had hoped to get back to Worcester by this afternoon, but it's not looking likely. Still, it's better that we take our time, rather than rush. Unfortunately, we haven't gone far when suddenly we hear a really worrying, metallic clunking sort of noise coming from the engine area of the boat. Baron turns the engine off, then restarts it, but it's still doing it, so our only option is to moor up and check it out.

We get as close as we can to the towpath and I jump off so Baron can throw me the rope, and I try my hardest to pull the boat in far enough to tie the rope and steady the boat. That done, we tie the front as well, but the boat is about two feet from the side. Baron fiddles around in the engine area and eventually comes out with some barbed wire, which had been tangled around the propeller. He closes it all up and tries the engine, which now sounds fine again. I untie the ropes and Baron puts it into gear to move off and helps me aboard. But there is a problem – the boat is not moving. Seems we are grounded again. There is a pole on the roof of the boat, so I get it down and we try and try to lever ourselves away from the side, but it's not happening. Now what do we do? We're in the middle of nowhere and stuck! Then we hear a sound, and around the corner we see a boat coming towards us. It's a miracle! The man steering the boat can see we're in trouble and asks if he can help. We tell him what the problem is and he takes a rope and ties it to his boat and we tie it to ours and he pulls us free from the side. We can't thank him enough, but he's pretty blasé about it, and tells us that it happens a lot, and with a wave of his hand, he's off.

And so are we. As I have operated all the locks up 'til now (due to not feeling able to steer the boat, and feeling claustrophobic in the locks), we decide that I will try it so that Baron can operate the locks and give me a break from it. So, as we move away from the mooring, I take the tiller and try to steer. It's difficult, as the tiller seems very sensitive – just a little nudge in either direction and I'm either in the trees on the right or hitting the bank on the left! Not a good start. I slow the boat right down and practice, and eventually it becomes easier. It's a bit like driving a car, you just need to get used to its unique ways.

Just before the Tibberton (or Offerton) locks, we stop and moor up near the Tibberton Motorway Bridge No. 24, because there is supposed to be a Tesco nearby (according to Google maps). There are a few people walking along the towpath, and we ask a man how we get to Tesco. He tells us to go through the caravan park and across the roundabout to the trading estate. Funny place for a caravan park, we think, but carry on anyway. As we go along the footpath off the towpath, two small, yappy dogs come towards us, with two men who say they're not their dogs, 'they belong over there', gesturing to our left, where we see the 'caravan park'. It's a gypsy camp, and the rest of the footpath is littered with rubbish, all the way along to the main road. It makes me feel a little nervous, and I'm glad I'm not on my own. I remember now how important it is that we were told to take the brass tiller off when mooring.

We reach the main road and ask again for directions. About another half a mile and we find it, but is's not the superstore we expected, it's a little Tesco express. Never mind, we do a bit of shopping, mindful of the fact we have to carry it for about a mile back to the boat.

Across the road, on the trading estate, is a big sign that says 'Sheila's Hot and Cold Food and Drinks, in Travis Perkins Car Park', so we decide that a greasy burger is in order. Off we trot, across the road to the car park, and find . . . a closed takeaway van. We feel a bit stupid now, especially as there are some men there watching us, with our Tesco bags and our dog, who probably think we're a couple of residents of the caravan park. Oh well, we'll just go back and eat our sandwiches before setting off again. And maybe some chocolate . . .

Now it's my turn to navigate the boat into the lock, whilst Baron goes on ahead to open it for me. Slowly, slowly, and very carefully, I make my way towards the lock, checking both sides as I move closer, and it goes in first time, no bumps! I'm well impressed because I was sure I wouldn't be able to do it without bumping into something. I am very conscious of the cills and the fact that the boat is slowly lowering. I focus on keeping the boat forward, away from the cills, forward a little, out of gear, keep it steady. The boat tends to drift back a little, so just a bit of throttle forward and we're ok. Before long, Baron opens the paddle gates and I slowly steer out of the lock. Success!

Gaining in confidence, I manage to navigate through the next five locks, then slowly to the side to pick Baron up, and it's a pleasant and peaceful journey until the next lock – Tolladine Lock No. 10 – and then on towards Blackpole Lock No. 9.

Another two locks and we decide to call it a day, because if we try to go on to Worcester, it will probably get dark before we make it, so we find a nice little spot just above Gregory's Mill Top Lock No. 6. It looks quite busy here, but there's no traffic noise and it's mostly dog walkers along the towpath.
Google maps shows a MacDonalds not too far away, so we lock up the boat, and make our way back to the footpath near Astwood Cemetery Bridge No. 14, where we ask some people which way we should go. They point us in the right direction and we set off. What seemed like a good idea is now looking like a bad one, as it is at least a mile before we reach Blackpole Road Trading Estate where MacDonalds is situated. Even Maisie is starting to drag her paws. We try to console ourselves with the fact that it may be uphill now, but it will be downhill going back. As we get closer, we see a Lidl, so pop in and buy a bottle of wine, then across the car park to get our MacDonalds, which we wrap up and put in the cool bag (without the ice blocks!) to keep it hot 'til we get back to the boat.

Feeling like zombies, and looking like we're just run the marathon, we make it back to the boat for our reward. MacDonalds and wine have never tasted so good! And cake for pudding – I think we have earned it this week, and we've certainly worked it off!

Another early night for us, as tomorrow we deliver the boat, then have to get the train back to Alvechurch to collect our car, before driving home. It's going to be a long day.



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