The day started off in the usual fashion, but didn’t remain that way for long.
We introduced Harry to the now legendary breakfast food Eggs Washington™, and then set off on our final day of travelling on the canal.
We knew we had quite a long journey ahead of us, as we wanted to explore a little more of the local area before heading south, back towards the marina to return the boat.
We were making great progress, going strong on our first and only staircase of the day at Ryder’s Green locks up to Pudding Green junction when, well there’s no other way to say it… disaster struck.
I was walking between the front lock gate and the rear lock gate when before I knew what hit me I was on the floor, ankle twisted awkwardly and a slight graze on my knee. All deeply embarrassing. However, I can confirm that my injury was well attended, and I spent most of the rest of the day with my foot elevated, compressed, and wrapped in frozen peas (bought especially for me when the Captain and Elaine visited Asda (“Asders”) for a few last minute essentials (no, not cider this time).
Being laid up meant that I was essentially just a passenger for the rest of the day, although I did attempt to get up and about whenever I could get away with it. Nurse Captain kept me in my place though.
Jerry also decided to make sure I stayed put, stretched out on the sofa in the saloon. His technique was to sprawl on top of me and fall asleep for hours at a time. He did a good job.
Not being out on deck, or working any locks, or really participating in anything meant that the day could’ve dragged – however, I had regular visits from my fellow crew mates, who all worked hard to make sure I was still included.
I also got to be an independent witness to their shenanigans, such as rescuing a boat that was stuck in a lock. Trevor and Harry had to help a couple of lads who weren’t strong enough to open the lock gates by themselves. The two bearded youngsters were very grateful for the assistance.
Our first real mission of the day was to get water for the boat, and the only tap we could find was at the end of the very long Netherton tunnel (2786 metres, the last canal tunnel to be built in England).
I sat out on the deck, perched with my foot up, I didn’t want to be left inside for this.
We got through the tunnel, and came out the other side slightly damper than when we went in. There were quite a few cold droplets falling from the slimy wet ceiling.
Filling the boat with water is always a slow job, often there’s very little to do but wait. This time we were moored up outside a popular little community centre, which had a shop and a museum of sorts, and it was bustling with volunteers, locals drinking tea and coffee, and about a dozen dogs. Usually in this scenario Jerry, in his Security Officer capacity, would start to defend his water-bound castle from all of these infidels. Today he simply sprawled out on the deck, soaked up the sunshine and closed his eyes. Not a care in the world.
Once the boat was full of fresh water, we had to reverse the boat, partly with the engine, mostly by pulling the ropes (I must admit I only saw Elaine actually pulling the rope, I’m not quite sure what Trevor was pulling) to get it back to the nearby junction and perform a 180° manoeuvre to get us heading straight back through the Netherton Tunnel again.
This time Elaine drove, Trevor sat on the deck, whilst Jerry and I stayed in the saloon (Jerry isn’t really keen on tunnels). The Captain took her Officer Cadet Harry by foot through the tunnel. By all accounts it was pitch black and wet in there. I’m afraid I can’t comment, as Jerry and I both had a snooze).
Not long after the tunnel our boat was attacked by what looked like wooden bullets. They were being fired at us by a local man strimming the undergrowth next to the canal. He had no idea he was sending out lethal projectiles at high speed across the water. Fortunately, we didn’t sustain any further injuries, although I should point out yet again that Harry’s deck shoes were damaging his feet. Even with double the amount of plasters applied.
This took us to about lunchtime.
The Captain had pre-prepared sausage rolls for us, and enlisted Trevor’s help to warm them up in the gas oven. Trevor also volunteered at this point to make a coffee for the Captain. Like a good crew member he switched off the gas after he’d finished with it, delivered the hot drink and carried on about his duties.
It was only later, when the Captain came to check on the sausage rolls that she learned Trevor had switched off the oven, and left the kettle ring on!
Our return journey was planned around going beneath an interestingly designed aqueduct. It was expressly referenced in our guide book, in fact it contained quite the sales pitch. It turned out to be smaller than we expected, and possibly not worth the effort. Ah well.
We estimated that we had 5 hours of travelling time left in the day, to get us to within a reasonable distance of Alvechurch Marina. That way we could have a more leisurely start to tomorrow morning. There also happened to be a pub within strolling distance of our intended mooring location.
We motored along, and both the miles and the hours ticked by. I was down in the saloon, watching the world go by, Jerry still firmly sat on me. The rest of the crew doing all the work.
There were no more locks to get through, but there were still plenty of opportunities for hopping on and off the boat.
We made our way back to Gas Street Basin in Birmingham, a very narrow and very busy place. At one point Harry, who had long given up on his painful deck shoes, was holding the centre line to keep the boat close to the shore when he disappeared from my limited view, then sprang back up trying to act all cool as though nothing had happened. The truth was that his flip flop had dropped into the water and he had to recover it rather quickly.
We also spotted someone quite familiar walking along Gas Street.
“Look, there’s Boris Johnson!” Shouted Trevor, loudly and repeatedly as we slowly stalked by this poor, unsuspecting member of the public, who looked a lot like but was definitely not, Boris Johnson.
We passed through Wast Hill Tunnel for the 3rd and finally time this week, a clear indicator that we were almost “home”. Just before we came out of the tunnel both Harry and Trevor (who were the only ones on deck at this point, the rest of us were inside the boat) dashed in to get their rain coats. It was raining, seemingly quite hard. Which just goes to show how quickly the weather can change, in half an hour, it had gone from glorious sunshine to a heavy downpour.
We actually left the tunnel to discover that the “rain” was nothing more than thousands of insects bobbing harmlessly on the surface of the water, causing it to ripple just as raindrops do when they splash into the canal. We have not had any actual rain all week, but Harry and Trevor kept their coats on for a bit, this is England after all, anything is possible.
The maximum speed limit on the canal is 4mph. That doesn’t sound like a lot, because it isn’t. But, it is surprisingly difficult to actually reach this speed. You often spend long stretches at tick over, just bobbing along. Especially when passing moored up boats.
We were all quite surprised then, when a very irate woman, a half drunk beer can in her hand, yelled “slow down!” at us. Harry responded with “we’re at tick over, do you want to come onboard and check?” For some reason this response was not well received. Clearly we hadn’t made a friend here.
Still, we maintained our dignity as we left this angry woman behind, determined not to let the experience taint our trip. Everyone else we’ve met has been jolly and welcoming, from fellow holidaymakers and people who live on the canal, to fisherman who have to constantly pull in their rods as we approach, and even foreign visitors who seem fascinated by the whole thing. The canal is most often a friendly place to be.
Elaine has spent all week collating new research data for the great duck study, a truly epic piece of scientific research designed to once and for all conclude exactly what ducks like to eat.
Unfortunately, her efforts in this area have been somewhat hampered (or sabotaged if you prefer) by the handling of the boat – it’s hard to feed a duck (or swan, or any water bird), when they’re concentrating on not drowning in the wake of the boat. It’s as if some people don’t believe in the importance of this study.
However, there has been one major success story in this study, as one of the swans Elaine fed after we’d moored up for the night kept coming back to the boat for more food. In fact it would not leave her alone.
We moored up for the final time, had our last meal (moussaka), packed up our belongings (whilst Harry and Trevor went to use the facilities at the pub, including sneaking in a pint that they still deny they had), and played a few rounds of Uno.
Then it was time to hobble to bed.
It has been a fantastic holiday, we have all had a wonderful time, and cannot believe how quickly the days have flown by.
The Captain worked out a few statistics for this journey:
We have travelled 162 miles this week
We have completed 182 locks (including drawbridges and swingbridges)
We averaged 12.7 hours travelling time per day, which gave us an average speed of 3mph
I have walked 36.5 miles this week, though sadly only 822 steps on the last full day.
Until next time,