Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Fun in Brum

Fun in Brum
(Double clicking on photos brings them up to real size)
It is estimated that over 20,000 people live on boats on the canal system.  So you can imagine our surprise last week when in the space of 48 hours, we met up with three boats and their crews that we knew. And this was even more remarkable, being in an area where if you pass one or two boats during the day, you are doing well.
First it was Mel and her husband Neil. I had met Mel at “The New Inn” in Shardlow on our very first time out with the boat back at the end of March. It was her last day working behind the bar there, and she had similar plans to us, cruising the network with her husband. We saw them at Dudley and then moored in Central Birmingham about 100 metres down from us. Opposite us was “Free Spirit”.  Ian and Eileen had been at Trent Lock over Easter, maintaining and blacking their boat, while I was waiting for Pat to return from New Zealand and we had kept in touch through our individual blogs. And a couple of boats down from them was “Jandai”, Kingfisher’s previous build before “The Cat’s Whiskers”. We knew Jan and Dai were south of the city, from their blog, but was surprised to bump into them in central Birmingham as well.
This called for a drink or two, and the picture shows us in “The Malt House”, at the very heart of the city network. Both couples are long-term live-aboards and teased us for being “fair weather” boaters, as we are not planning to over-winter on board TCW, at least not this year. But it was good to catch up with their news and see them both again.

Dai, Ian, Jan, Roger, Pat and Eileen in "The Malt House"

Our mooring under St Vincents Street Bridge. TCW is on the left

We had two days on a good, secure mooring and you really have to admire the way this bit of the network has been developed. Twenty years ago it was a rundown corridor that meandered through the city that nobody knew about. Now it’s a vibrant magnet drawing visitors to its bars and restaurants. Hotels and major visitor attractions complete the scene. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it seems to work.

A bit over the top, but very popular with tourists
The weekend saw us entertaining Paul, brother of my best pal John. Pat spent the weekend calling Paul, “John”, but he didn’t seem to mind. Paul had grown up in Birmingham and knew the city centre pretty well but readily admitted that he had never ventured on to the canal system as it was a dirty, unwelcoming place, and best avoided.
It certainly is an area of contrasts. Sure, there is plenty of evidence of Birmingham’s claim to be the “the countries engine room”, but turn a corner and suddenly you have a pastoral parkland with weeping willows and quacking ducks and then round another corner you are back to the rusty wharves, run-down industrial units and walls of graffiti.
Paul got “The Full Monty”. Dead animals, jammed gates; dead animals in jammed gates, and hand hauling and freeing TCW on several occasions when she got grounded. And then there was the Olympic torch relay. We walked into the city centre from where we had moored in Digbeth on Saturday evening, about 2 miles from the city centre. Had a bit to eat in Wetherspoons and then caught the cavalcade as it came around Paradise circus. So it was a good weekend’s cruising, though not typical of what we have experienced up to now.

Paul and Pat

One of the weekend’s highlights for me was Pat’s decision to take on a flight of locks at the tiller. She has been rather reluctant to do this and was quite nervous but she had no problem at all. In fact she went into nearly all the lock chambers without touching the sides. I decided to walk on to set up the locks so she didn’t feel like I was watching her every move. Despite this new found skill she still prefers to be on lock duty, but it gives us some flexibility.

Pat at the tiller on the The Farmers Bridge locks in central Birmingham

Pat pilots TCW through the centre of Birmingham. PO Tower in background

We dropped Paul off at Olton to catch a train back into the city to make his connection home, and carried on to Catherine-de-Barnes, just outside Solihull, the first official mooring we had seen since leaving the Gas Street area on Saturday morning.
Regular readers to this blog may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. Several have commented that I am a bit obsessed about it. Amazingly it’s been OK. When the flash floods happened last Friday morning, we were chugging out of Dudley. The water cascaded in torrents over the motorway that we were travelling beside, but we just cruised through it under a golf umbrella and waterproofs. It’s been dry since, though it did rain all day Monday and most of Tuesday, but we had already decided to stay put in the Solihull area to do our laundry, and do some shopping in John Lewis.
On Wednesday we cruise on to Knowle and then down the Hatton flight to Warwick where I guess we will be over the weekend. I’ve experienced this bit of the network before with the “Big Chins” boating crew two Octobers ago, so if any Big Chins fancy braving the showers and joining us, you know how to contact us.

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