Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Most Locks We Have Ever Done in a Day.

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

There are excellent moorings in Droitwich.
After an excellent night in Droitwich, it was time to press on on the remainder of the restored canals to join the Worcester and Birmingham.  We had arrived yesterday via the Droitwich Barge Canal, with wide locks, that allow you to share with another narrow boat, but were now moving to the Droitwich Junction Canal, where the locks switch to narrow, so we could no longer share locks with our friends, although we had decided to travel with them.

We pass through one of the swing bridges in Droitwich.

Entering the culvert under the M5

It's nothing like as tight as Froghall Tunnel !

However, after a number of swing bridges, one of the first things you encounter is the very restricted tunnel that allows the restored canal to pass under the M5 motorway.  Apparently it was a major coup that when it was first constructed, they were persuaded to make it big enough for boats, (just!), but it is not overly generous.  Even in our shallow draughted boat there did not seem to be much depth of water either, and I can well believe reports of more deeply draughted boats getting grounded in it - based on experiences with Chalice, I'd not be too keen to try with Sickle!

View from the bottom of the new staircase lock
The first locks on this restored section are brand new ones, as a new stretch of canal has replaced the original ones.  They are fairly stark structures, built in concrete, although do have gates and paddle gear that follow tradition.  Certain features could be better thought through - the approaches into the locks are completely square cornered, meaning that if you fail to align perfectly you would strike them, and it is obvious boats are already doing this regularly, (typically older locks have an angled approach that helps "funnel in" anybody who has misjudged their approach).

One of the locks is a two lock staircase, and as we arrived there a hire boat had become firmly jammed as it was completing its ascent of the bottom chamber.  A lot of brute force was being used to "unstick" it.  I arrived too late to be certain, but the cause seemed to be it had jammed under a ledge above a weir at the side of the lock.  Initially this didn't seem likely, but when we subseqiuently ascended the lock, we could see we could ourselves have got jammed, with the boat at a slight angle across the lock.  We later made a BW lock-keeper aware of this problem, and he promised to check it out.

David puts the side ponds to good use.
The final three locks up to the Worcester and Birmingham are deep, and don't have the foibles of the new locks.  Better still the "side ponds" here are fully restored, and, unlike most of the rest of the canals, where they have been abandoned, here you are actively told to use them, supported by a helpful lock-keeper.  These water saving devices can save up to half the water used in working locks, and could have proved their worth elsewhere in the current drought conditions, had they not been deemed redundant some time ago.

We would endorse what we have read elsewhere - the prettiest its of these canals are on the Droitwich Barge Canal, with its reed lined channels and attractive bridges.  The Droitwich Junction Canal is full of interesting features, but less picturesque.

Early in the long ascent on the Worcester & Birmingham.
Once we joined the Worcester and Birmingham at Hanbury Junction, you knew that it is a long hard slog of locks that ultimately take you to the summit at Tardebigge.  There are fourty of them, in fact, and we never thought we had either the time, or the stamina to get anywhere near the top this day.  I did, however, have my doubts about really being able to tie up in the very short pounds in the middle of the 30 lock Tardebigge flight itself.

Climbing the 30 Tardebigge locks.
We were still travelling with our friends Dave and Jan, with their boat following ours.  We got a good run at the Tardebigge flight itself, with locks in our favour, but as David had turned out as a third crew member, we were trying to reverse all the locks as we left them, ready for Dave and Jan to go straight in to follow us

Some very serious radio amateurs live up this flight of locks!
Everybody was tiring, I think, but on several occasions I suggested to our friends they might like to stop, but they said they were still OK to keep going.  Finally Dave said to me "having got this far, lets finish the bloody thing!", and ultimately we did just that.  Well, being completely accurate, we stopped one lock from the very top, as the best moorings are there, and if stopping, it is best to leave the final lock for the following day.

This party of youngsters asked lots of questions!
We have never done this many locks in a single day before, but I must admit that I didn't find it as bad as expected.  Last time we did Tardebigge I had really struggled with top paddles - sometimes I still did this time, but to nothing like the same extent.  I may even be getting a bit fitter!

Getting towards the top of the flight.
There is no pub here to celebrate your hard work, so we agreed to meet later on Dave and Jan's boat for a few beers and maybe a glass of wine or two.  By the morning they were complaining their recycling bins had become over full.

Dave and Jan follow us up the final locks.
Droitwich to top of Tardebigge
Miles: 8.0, Locks: 48

Total Miles: 302.2, Total Locks: 273

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