Friday 19 December 2014

Hawne Basin to Hatton. BCN. Stratford upon Avon Canal. Grand Union Canal

With Legend tucked up safely in Hawne Basin we had a brilliant couple of days in and around Hereford. Our reason for going was to help celebrate John and Camilla’s wedding, but we fitted a visit to Adrian & Ellie’s while we were at it. About three years ago Adrian & Ellie followed our lead and took off round Europe in a camper, except that where we had three months out there and went to France, Spain and Portugal, they took a year out and explored a whole host of other countries as well. They wrote a fascinating blog while they did it.
Anyway, when they came back they bought a cottage in deepest Herefordshire. We’ve been meaning to go and visit them ever since they moved in and the wedding was the perfect way to do it. They were in the middle of having the base for a three-car garage put in at the time, which included a lot of muddy upheaval and the felling of about 30 trees, but that didn’t stop them being the perfect hosts and making us feel like royalty. In fact the building site in the garden just added to the excitement as they showed us around their new home.

We left on Saturday morning amid farewell hugs and promises of more visits, drove into Hereford itself and booked into a B&B, where we got changed into our Sunday best before heading for Lyde Court, where the wedding was to be held. We’ve known John since we were all relative youngsters in the 2cv club over 20 years ago, we borrowed Nb Andante, which he owned at the time, 

and took the kids for weekend jollies up the Staffs & Worcester long before we thought we would ever end up living the dream, and it feels like we’ve been mates forever. So we were enormously happy to join him and Camilla as they celebrated their marriage.
It was a really good wedding. Posh enough to make everyone feel spoilt and laid back enough to make them feel comfortable. Every good wedding needs a good band; this one had a special performance by The Rhythm Thieves, featuring the Groom on rhythm guitar – very rock and roll.
John and Camilla are talking about selling up and moving aboard a boat of their own in the next couple of years; we’ve offered to do a week’s swap with them before they commit themselves so Camilla can see what live-aboard life is like.

We had to thin out at about 10:30 but the party was still going full swing when we left. We’d booked breakfast at 7 so we could be back aboard in time to do our Escape from Birmingham trip. The reason for the rush was because there were planned maintenance closures on all the routes through and out of Brum, and the only way left open for us was back through Netherton, down to Gas Street,

then through Edgbaston to King’s Norton and east on the Stratford. Even going that way we had to do it all in one go because of a closure for towpath upgrading at Edgbaston starting at 7:30 on the Monday morning. We had phoned up to check that this was going to mean a real closure to boats, and had been assured that there would be definitely no passage after 7am. It's not that we're sceptics, but it came as no surprise, when we cruised through the cutting, that there was no hint of any impending navigation closure, no equipment, no signs, no hi-viz fencing, nothing. Which meant we could have gone later, but we would have really been kicking ourselves if we’d left it and been wrong.

We kept going towards Shirley into the evening with the headlight on until we couldn’t see anymore, then the next morning we moved up to moor just the other side of the drawbridge. In the afternoon, after Kim had done a stirling job of re-uniting us with our car, and we'd returned the electric radiators we’d borrowed from Norm & Jude, we were off again, but not very far. There’s a very useful little lane that ends at bridge 11 on the Stratford canal on the outskirts of Dickens Heath. Dickens Heath came as a bit of a surprise; on the map in our brand new Nicholson guide there appear to be a few houses and one or two farms scattered across the countryside, so we thought we’d be in the middle of nowhere. However, in the short space of time since the guide was printed, a huge (albeit very posh) housing development has sprouted up inside the canal bend. We very nearly didn’t stop, but the lure of convenient parking was too much; we’d agreed to three weeks work in Worcester with 6:30 starts, so having the car nearby was very important.

During our stints of interrogating the bus passengers of Worcester we got time to have a look round the city. This is the basin at the end of the Birminghan & Worcester Canal.
This is where it meets the River Severn. 
And this is a very strong willed woman giving the swans their dinner.
We'll be back to visit Worcester in Legend one day and it was a nice opportunity to check out the moorings and facilities.

In between our bus passenger surveys Mum and Dad came to stay. They were helping out on the Citroen Specials stand at the Classic Car and Bike Show at the NEC and had brought their 3 wheel Lomax, so we were perfectly placed to offer accommodation. They gave us Sunday tickets for the show which we enjoyed very much. The standard of exhibits was spectacular; as well as all the beautifully restored labours of love, there were some more bizarre examples.
Meanwhile, Luke had come across a free Citroen Dyane chassis, so Dave volunteered our big ratchet straps and his muscle to assist in getting it from London back to Nuneaton.
Luke is building a car to go to the International Meeting of 2cv Friends in Poland next year, and he’s determined to do it for a little money as possible. So far he’s got a bodyshell, doors, wings,bonnet, running gear, engine and gearbox, and now a chassis. There’s still a lot of work to do but, now that he and Dave have dug the footings for a concrete sectional garage that he got of freecycle, it all looks possible. 
Our next mooring was a one night stop at Hockley Heath in order to pick up David & Kate who were staying for the weekend and helping us down the Lapworth flight. The weather was fabulous and the locks looked lovely.
We turned the boat round at Kingswood Junction and backed onto the water point, before backing through the next lock to moor up pointing uphill. Kingswood is one of our favourite places; we stopped there on our way to Stratford, and it felt like home.

From Kingswood we walked up the Grand Union Canal to Knowle. We’re not going that way in the boat this time, so we thought we’d have a look.
The locks are exactly like those at Stockton, Hatton and elsewhere on the GU where the canal was widened and modernised in the 1930s. There are hydraulic paddles and big side ponds, and the whole thing has the air of a proper grown-up waterway.
At Knowle we saw this boat moored up.
We met Kate & David on their new boat “Bosley” at Tarleton, then spent the next day powering our way over the Ribble Estuary just ahead of them. We saw them a couple of times on the Lancaster, and we’ve met up with them on the Peak Forest where they have a permanent mooring. They're a lovely couple, “Bosworth” was their previous boat and it was nice to see it, although it was looking a bit scruffy.

We travelled to our final weeks work in Worcester from Kingswood then, at silly o-clock on Monday morning we left the car at Birmingham International and boarded a plane for Belfast. We went for 3 days to see Chloe & Adam’s new house and to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Belfast Christmas Market was in full swing on the first evening, so we indulged ourselves with mulled wine and big sausages.
On Tuesday, after Dave had opened all his cards and pressies, we all piled into their car and went to Glenariff National Park. We took paddy and had a fabulous day walking down through the valley alongside the waterfalls, then we had a picnic while watching an amazing rainbow develop behind us.
Dave pronounced it his best birthday ever.

Back at the boat over the following two days we stocked up with coal and gas, then went back up the lock, filled the water tank and turned onto the Lapworth Link; the short cut that joins the Stratford and the GU. Within 100 yards of turning onto the GU we stopped again; CRT contractors had been busy clearing overhanging and off-side vegetation on this stretch, and there was a fair amount of wood sitting around. Most of the time this sort of stuff isn’t much good for firewood as it’s all still green and we don’t have enough room to season it, so we generally don’t bother picking it up and look for fallen deadwood instead. The exception to this is Ash. Like all other wood, Ash burns better when it’s seasoned, but it will burn quite well when it’s green; it’s got a very low moisture content, especially in autumn when the sap isn’t rising. There were some big lumps of Ash at the bottom of the bank so we spent half an hour humping it up onto the roof, trying to get it all onto the pallets and not onto our still vulnerable paint. We stopped near Tom o’the Wood at Rowington for a week or so. During that time we saw our first ice of the year; just a bit of “cat ice” on a couple of days, but it was more than we had all last winter and we were a lot further south.
Dave cut up some of the wood we’d collected but left the bigger bits for a later day when he could get the chainsaw out. We went with Kim & Luke to Hartshill to collect wreath-making materials then covered their kitchen table with a huge mound of Holly, Ivy, Yew, Spruce and Willow. Luke won the Best Wreath competition, and Dave made a couple of woven stars, one of which, quite coincidentally, fits perfectly in our kitchen porthole.
Ignoring the crack in our Morso Squirrel hadn’t made it any smaller, and although it was still working perfectly well, we knew it would only be a matter of time before we needed a new one. We’d decided that, although we could get a cast iron multi-fuel stove from Machine Mart and other places for less than £200, we’d then have all the problems of getting a back boiler in it and re-engineering our flue and plumbing to fit it. It would have to be the genuine article. With this in mind we’d been keeping an eye on chandler’s promotional adverts in Towpath Talk, and on the small ads. We picked up the December edition about 3 weeks after its publication date, so we weren’t expecting much when we phoned the number on an ad for a “new, unused Morso Squirrel 1410”. However, it was still for sale so the next day we found ourselves loading our birthday and Christmas presents to each other, in the shape of a brand-new-in-a-box stove, into our boot. Of course, we couldn’t get the car anywhere near the boat at that time, and wouldn’t for some time, so we’d arranged with Dave’s sister Judith to store it for us until we could. After we’d humped it out of the boot into their flat, as a treat in celebration of our birthdays, Judith and Vince took us out for a delicious meal at one of their local restaurants.

Our next move was through Shrewley tunnel to Hatton Station, so we’d asked Kim and Luke to join us. George turned up in festive garb,
as well as this little number he also has an elf, a Christmas pudding and a penguin with a scarf. Luke steered Legend through the tunnel and we pulled up on the far side to go and have a look at the horse tunnel that goes up at an angle at the side of the main one. While we were stopped we noticed some really big tree trunks right at the tunnel portal. Not wishing to miss out on free wood, we backed the boat up and, as they were too heavy to lift, rolled them both onto our small trad stern. Luke and Dave took it in turns to sit on them while the other one steered. Unfortunately, when we moored at Hatton Station, although it was very convenient for solar and parking, and had a nice wide bit of towpath for wood cutting, it was rather shallow so we couldn’t get the back end in. luckily we didn’t go on to Johns Bridge at the top of Hatton locks as, on the Saturday night, this happened.
It’s not quite where we’d thought of mooring, but it’s not far off. We phoned CRT about it on Monday morning; on Tuesday afternoon, a boat came past us and reported that it was all sorted. Impressive!

On Ann-Marie’s birthday Elizabeth and Sarah came to visit, Kim took us out for afternoon tea and, as she was working in Coventry the next day, Anne came to stay in the evening. Not quite as epic as a trip to Northern Ireland, but quite good fun all the same.

We've taken steps that pretty much determine what we're doing next year.
We've applied for a Gold Licence, which means we can navigate both CRT and EA waterways; namely the rivers Nene and Great Ouse. This has meant sending off our CRT licence for a refund as gold licences only run from January and we've got a six month overlap. We're planning to go down the Northampton arm onto the Nene in March or thereabouts, that gives us time to go up the North Oxford to Hawkesbury junction, then into Coventry, before retracing our steps to Braunston.

While we were outside Hatton Station car park, Dave was outside wood chopping and Ann-Marie put all the Christmas decorations up and started on her annual bake-fest.
For the next few days our beautiful boat was all twinkly lights and wonderful festive aromas. We like to think that, when they came home from a hard day’s work, we made the commuters smile.

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