Wednesday, September 19, 2012

BYE, BYE, BIRMINGHAM!



(Warning: Long post – catching up) September 18, 2012

The day started out cold and windy. I even put a sweater on to go open the first lock. The lock, by the way, came as an awful shock. I woke up at 7:30 – In fact, we all woke up at 7:30, as if an alarm had gone off. We had our coffee and tea and ate our Weetabix, and I cleaned up while the men went through the morning routine out on the stern (checking the oil and such). Then, while they got us underway, I took my book and went back to bed, suddenly weary. I fell asleep, and the next thing I knew, we were bashing up against the bank. I got up to see what was the matter. We were just below a lock, and the wind was so high, it was blowing us sideways. Robin managed to get the boat straightened out, dropped David and me off, and waited while we walked up to empty the lock and open the gate.  When I reached the gate, I saw that there was another boat heading in the same direction, just one lock ahead, so I waved to them and they waited for us. That made the flight of five locks much easier than it would otherwise have been. At the topmost lock, there was a bit of a traffic jam. Two boats were coming in the opposite direction, so we left the lock full and waited for them to come through. There was standing room only, with crew from four different boats fetching up at the paddle controls, everybody trying to be more helpful than everybody else. One of the downward boats was a day cruiser full of young people. An older man, standing on the bank, was issuing orders to them. He turned out to be the owner of the boatyard from which they had rented the boat. It must be worrisome, day after day watching your valuable investment sail away, knowing that the people at the helm have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.
Catherine de Barnes
After that, we aimed for a place called Catherine de Barnes, south of Birmingham. We planned to spend the night there, as it was the last mooring place before Birmingham, but due to a misunderstanding (nobody is quite sure what happened), we floated right on through Catherine de Barnes and found ourselves in a long, gloomy cutting. There was no way to turn around. Consequently, we ended up in the back end of Birmingham, in an official mooring place incongruously tucked in behind a derelict factory. It felt for all the world as if we were sleeping in a doorway somewhere, except that we did have heat. That was especially fortunate in that it started to rain shortly after we tied up. We had already turned the heat on at that point, because the wind was still whipping us, and it was a cold wind indeed. It actually felt as if it might snow, but we didn’t even want to think about that. We have been lucky so far in that it hasn’t rained during the day. I’m almost afraid to write that out loud.
Our port in a storm
When we arrived at our ‘any port in a storm’ sleeping place, we were pleased to see that there were already two other narrowboats moored there. It didn’t seem like the kind of neighbourhood where you would want to be the only weary travelers. We took the one remaining spot. Shortly after we arrived, another narrowboat showed up. Its captain broke the rules by mooring up at the water point, for which we didn’t blame him one bit. Half an hour later, as the sun was going down, boat number five arrived and rafted up against the boat moored at the water point. All of a sudden, we were a village.
Another view of our luxurious mooring
I am writing this when I should really be in bed. I guess I shouldn’t nap during the day. Also, we played rummy again tonight, and I couldn’t do anything right, so I have to stay up and lick my wounds. David will be leaving us tomorrow; we have to find a coach to take him back to Napton, where he left his car. We are sorry to see him go, but we will see him again in a couple of weeks, when we’ve given up the boat and taken up our hotel room in the New Forest.
…………………………………………………
September 19, 2012
Scenic Birmingham
The morning dawned bright, if still cold, and we were on our way by 8:30. I must say that  the City of Birmingham has a lot to answer for. If they really want to attract tourists to their waterways, I would suggest that someone, at least once in a while, ought to go out and tidy up a bit. Our journey through Birmingham made me think that I now knew what dumpster diving must be like. The canal was full to bursting with plastic bottles and assorted other rubbish – even a deflated soccer ball at one of the locks. The walls surrounding the canal – of course, there were derelict factories on every side – were covered with graffiti, and one of the locks -- #3 in the Garrison Locks – was in such poor condition that I decided that we simply must notify British Waterways. It appears that whoever they have hired to look after that lock has decided he has better things to do. The paddles hadn’t been greased in so long, it was nearly impossible to work them.
What David missed
In spite of all that, we did make it through Birmingham and out the other side. Now it was time for David to be on his way. On one of our inadequate maps, there was a symbol indicating – we thought – that there was a bus station right near Cater’s Bridge in Minworth, so we aimed for that, only to find that there was no way to get from the canal to the road. On one side of the canal, there was a dirt path leading up the bank, ending in a wooden fence. On the other side, a fancier path led to the top, where there was a locked cast iron gate.  Back onto the boat we went, and away we sailed to the next bridge. Nope. At the bridge after that one, we found a pair of canal workers trimming trees. We asked them about the bus station. They said there wasn’t one nearby, as far as they knew, but we should inquire at the pub (here, at last, was street access!), and we could probably get a taxi from there to take us to the bus station in Birmingham. And that’s what we did – or what David did, at any rate. I went up to the pub (called The Boat) with him, and a man there kindly called a taxi for us. The taxi driver confirmed that the closest bus station would be back in central Birmingham. Off went David, and back I went to the Monaco. I called Sheila, David’s wife, to let her know what was going on, and Robin and I set off. No sooner was David gone than the urban blight we had been enduring for the last day gave way to fields full of hay. I felt guilty, somehow, as if it were my fault that David’s last day of narrowboating was such an unpleasant one. We’ll have to make it up to him next year.
We didn’t actually travel far after David left – just to Curdworth, where we moored just south of  a tunnel. Robin went off to explore the neighbourhood and, with any luck, find something for his dinner, while I stayed behind to catch up on The Turtle. We have put the hardest work behind us, with David’s help, so we can relax and slow down a bit now.

p.s. It's now 7:30 in the evening. I'm sitting in a lovely pub called the White Horse, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. Robin and I had dinner here; then he went back to the boat because he's nursing a nasty cold. I finally heard from Sheila just a few minutes ago. Apparently it took David something like six hours to get back to Napton by way of two taxis, a bus, and a whole lot of money. He's now in his car, and it will take him another two hours to get home. Did I say something about guilt?

2 comments:

The Bug said...

Poor David! But it is NOT your fault. And now you know & next year you can do it differently :)

I'm really enjoying your travelogue. I'm pretty sure I don't want to do the narrowboat thing now - too much work! So I'll just live vicariously through you.

Linda said...

The area you stayed in - in Birmingham reminds me of the Full Monty where the two main characters and a kid are using wood to walk across the water to a car, then are about to walk off to the other side but the kid gets mad, walks across the lumber and drops it in the water leaving our two main characters stranded in the middle of the water way on the top of a car......

Anyway, I am enjoying your blog and hope that Robin gets over his cold fast. Do they have Airbourne over there? That might help get more vitamin C into him. Or Umka which is an herbal remedy that I find really helps to cut a cold.

hugs to both of you and know that David had a good time probably and now you know how to do things a little differently, besides it sounds like he had quite an adventure with you two!

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