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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ahhhhhtumn Cruising! It's the Good Life

 "O suns and skies and flowers of June, Count all your boasts together, Love loveth best of all the year, October's bright blue weather." ~Helen Hunt Jackson, American poet, writer and activist, 1830-1885 

     We woke Monday to a brilliant blue sky and sunshine dappling the boat ceiling with the reflections of rippled water. Time to move! After breakfast we set off, heading southward again back towards the Lapworth Flight. I have another Physiotherapy appointment in Warwick, and I have been told I am being referred to an orthopedic surgeon for a consultation on my damaged left knee. I've registered as a permanent patient in Warwick now, so back down we go.
     We are leaving Dickens Heath, a lovely, safe spot to stop when coming out of Birmingham (Brum). It is named after farmer Thomas Dyckens who lived in the area in the 1500's. Only eleven miles for the outskirts of Brum and three miles from the large town of Solihull, a Manorial Survery of 1632 indicates Dickens Heath was ten acres of mostly common land, but it once was a part of the ancient Forest of Arden.
     A 1901 census shows that five families lived in the hamlet--all engaged in agricultural work to the surrounding farmers with the exception of the blacksmith. The fields had ancient winsome names: Hither Side Eight Acres, Round Leasow, Six Acre Piece, Maypole Piece, Three Cornered Close and Wren's Nest Close. Some of the modern roads still bear these titles. Up until 1997 nothing had changed in the hamlet. A time traveler from the 1500's could have been plucked up and set down on Round Leasow Lane and instantly recognized where he or she was standing.
994 The Council approved a detailed Master Plan. The Master Plan was to be implemented by the consortium of developers which included Berkeley Homes, Bryant Homes, Redrow Homes, Trencherwood Homes and David Wilson Homes. - See more at:
     In 1989 a concept for a new village was created to accommodate 8000 new homes in the borough. In 1994 the village council approved a master plan submitted by a consortium of five builders and in 1996 the plan was approved following legal agreements to secure the provision of roads, public footpaths, community facilities and open space which included parkland, the village green, canal walkways, and the nearby Dickens Heath Nature Reserve. From the start the Solihull Council established that Dickens Heath should possess the features of a traditional village instead of merely plunking down a vast modern housing estate in the middle of the hamlet, isolated from everything else around it.
       As boaters we found Dickens Heath a lovely quiet spot to moor on the upper Stratford-on-Avon canal just after bridge 14 (or before it depending on which way one is traveling), adjacent to the nature reserve. A walk into the village over the modern footbridge brings one to a large set of flats with a cascading water feature. Further on in the village proper there is a Tesco Express, a chemist (drug store), a library, and bus service to the nearby towns of Solihull and Shirley. It served our needs for a five days but it was time to cruise.
Cruising past the canal side flats of Dickens Heath.
This water feature is the central piece of this mixed use development of flats, a preschool, and other commercial endeavors.
This is the base of the footbridge over the canal that leads into the village of Dickens Heath.
Up on the top level after coming off the footbridge, one can see the water steps better. Walk forward between the main building and you will come out to the main street which leads to the grocery store, hairdressers, men's barber shop, chemist, library, charity shop and other businesses. The local pub named the Poison Chalice has very poor reviews and we wouldn't recommend it. The Italian restaurant, Giovanni's, has an excellent reputation.
Looking back down at the canal from the top of the piazza. The footbridge is just out of sight on the left and NB Valerie is moored about 800 feet down the towpath off to the right. Dickens Heath Nature Reserve is directly across the way. 
NB Valerie moored up at Dickens Heath. The foot bridge over the canal is behind us about 25 feet.  Leaf litter covers the canal and waits to snare the props of passing boats.
1996 The original outline planning application for the new village was approved following the completion of a legal agreement to secure the provision of roads, footpaths, community facilities and open space, including the parkland, the village green, canal walkways and the nature reserve. - See more at:

  • 1994 The Council approved a detailed Master Plan. The Master Plan was to be implemented by the consortium of developers which included Berkeley Homes, Bryant Homes, Redrow Homes, Trencherwood Homes and David Wilson Homes.
  • 1996 The original outline planning application for the new village was approved following the completion of a legal agreement to secure the provision of roads, footpaths, community facilities and open space, including the parkland, the village green, canal walkways and the nature reserve.
  • 1997 Building of the new village began towards the end of the year
  • - See more at:     Les and I both love being on the move any time of the year but autumn and winter are our favorite times. The canals are nearly empty of boats, the weather is crisp and refreshing, and this season has its own charms. The air is scented with the tang of leaf fall, ripe berries, and the slow death of summer as the wheel of the year turns onward toward the cold, dark winter season with its own austere pleasures.
         As we travel along, the leaves are a multicolored tapestry of shadow and light. Tossed by a gentle wind they fall, spinning to the canal surface where leaves of varying sizes and color float in large rafts and tangle themselves about our prop. This spawns one of the overwhelming canal sounds every Fall: boats glide by and suddenly the engine is revved in reverse as the person steering attempts to clear a mat of fallen leaves from their prop; the boats set onward again, cruising quietly along.
         Our plan for the day is to cruise to Hockley Heath and stop in at Wedges Bakery and Deli to top up our fruit and veg, then return to the next bridge on to score more of the Oak limbs from the tree someone had coppiced earlier in summer. We picked up a good amount on the way up to Birmingham when there was still loads of thick, heavy Oak limbs laying around after we took our share.
         While I walked into the Hockley Heath for supplies, Les stayed with the boat and sharpened the chainsaw. As I walked along the lane into the village, I passed four houses backed onto the canal. There was an open piece of ground next to the last house and I was shocked to see that in the three weeks since we had first passed on our way up to Birmingham, all the trees--over thirty of them--had been cut down, with stumps protruding from the muddy ground, and long lengths of branches trimmed and laying helter-skelter. I planned to mention this to Les when I returned to the boat, and suggest we knock on some doors to see if we might have some of the wood. 
    I walked between the posts, and turned right on the road. Wedges Bakery is 100 yards further along. The Birmingham Railroad Engineers Society mentioned in an earlier post of Les' is on the left down the road.
         At Wedges I picked up some farm fresh potatoes, a cabbage, plums, onions, a punt of beautiful ripe strawberries--the last good ones we will get until next spring. I also decided to splash out on a loaf of fresh baked seeded brown bread, three slices of oven baked Turkey breast, a wedge of Wookie Hole cave aged Cheddar and a wedge of Apple-wood smoked Cheddar. I thought I would surprise Dear Sir with a Ploughman's lunch.
         Back at the boat Les was chatting to a friendly young bloke with long dreads, smiling brown eyes, dressed in typical gear of old, worn but mended jeans, layers of shirts and a tattered cardigan--a fellow live aboard boater dressed just like us! His arms hugged a bag full of Wedges goodies. He and his missus live on the boat we had passed back around the last bend. The men were talking wood of course, and the young man told Les about the recently cleared lot. He mentioned he had spoken to someone at the weekend who was cutting down the trees, and that bloke said it would be fine to come 'round with a wheel barrow and take as much wood as he liked. He encouraged us to help ourselves saying there was plenty of wood for everyone. Of course I could hear Mo of NB Balmaha in my head, who once wrote on his blog, "Aren't boaters  lovely?" By and large they are indeed.
         Les helped me on board with my bags and then walked down the towpath to investigate. He didn't get far. An elderly couple in one of the houses was out gathering plums from their tree. They had a brief chat with Dear Sir, saying the land had been sold at auction and cleared of nearly every tree, with the wood free for the taking. We moved the boat along and moored up adjacent to the back of the plot, where there was a low, open spot and Les climbed over and began to hoik long lengths of wood onto the towpath. 
    There was Oak, Apple, Cherry, Laurel, Plum, Spruce, Holly, Hawthorn and it was clear to me that the plot of land had been someones much loved small orchard and garden plot.
    Dear Sir with his happy woodsman face.
    Watching Les work with wood is a thing of beauty. He revels in it and I love the security against winter's cold this wood brings with it. I look forward to stacking the cut lengths on the roof.
    We are so top heavy with wood NB Valerie handles like a round bottomed wide beam!
    Pigpen © 1954, Charles Shultz
         We took mostly Cherry wood lengths as they were large enough to provide good wood for burning but small enough for Les to carry on his own. My dodgy knee didn't allow me to help much. I did take lengths from the towpath and help stack them on the boat roof. Typically, Les barely broke a sweat and only had a bit of dirt and sawdust on the shoulder of his shirt; I was covered in mud, soaking wet, and filthy from head to toe. I looked like Pig Pen's older sister! Apparently the shorter one is, the closer one is to the mud and the more one is likely to be coated with it. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. 
         We cruised on to the next bridge thinking to pick up a bit more of the Oak but lo and behold there was none left. The site had been expertly cleared of wood and the smaller branches and debris had been piled off to one side. Never mind, NB Valerie is so top heavy with wood she is sluggish to move, takes longer to start, stop, and handles completely differently.
         As Les took us further onward I showered off all the mud, changed clothes and put a load of laundry on to wash. I love a near scalding hot shower. I relished the way it warmed me from the outside in, cleaning away the debris of the day. showers aboard a boat may be short--only 3 minutes by comparison with the five, eight, and ten minute showers I used to take back at Cloud House, but I relish them more. Every drop of hot water is precious and restoring.
    A lovely Autumn day cruising along in the dapples sunlight with a log loaded roof! Onward to fill up with diesel, water, dump the rubbish, replace an empty bottle of Calor Propane with a full one and Bob's your uncle!
         Smelling faintly of soap and rose oil, I climbed back up the stern, nestled in my down jacket. I was commenting with some satisfaction about the fact we had only encountered two other boats on the move all day, when we came round a bend to see two boats coming at us cruising side-by-side. Les slowed NB Val to a crawl while we waited to see what was happening. One boat dropped back though both kept approaching us, the rear boat with its bow practically up the stern of the vessel in front, driving the front boat into the tow path where it became grounded.     For some reason a Kate Hire boat out of Warwick was traveling with a rough looking boat of no visible name or license, roof rammed with doo-dads and a large flag with a red and black skull, helmed by a youngish man and woman and several children--all with dread-locked hair and knitted hats, running to and fro, hopping from one boat to the other like fleas between dogs.
    The clueless hire boater who was apparently being helped along by a family of live-aboards.
         The bloke on the back of the Kate boat appeared to be a late middle aged hire boater totally confounded about what to do with the boat at his command. It was now good and grounded. The younger bloke was moving along its gunnels working his way from the towpath side over the bow to the off side while the young woman at the helm of the rear boat decided she would back up and then plow on through between the Kate Boat and us, driving us into the mud on the off side!
         A chorus of "Sorry! Sorry!" ensued with young Dreadlocks shrugging his shoulders and instructing Les to just carry on and shove his boat out of our way with our bow! Les kept a cool head, held NB Val stock still while the young woman scraped between the two boats, then turned us in gently and came forward of them. Meanwhile the woman moved 'round to the front and promptly bottomed her vessel in the mud. The hire boater looked at us completely baffled and said, " It's just so shallow this canal--not enough water is there?" We shook our head in consternation, perplexed by the entire shebang, and finally made it past them.  
         Les let me off the boat at draw bridge 26 and I wound up the bridge while he took it through and moored up under a nearby Oak tree. I wound the bridge down and went inside to fix lunch.
         The sun was dipping low in the sky--especially as the clocks over here in the UK moved back an hour last weekend. We stopped at Swallow Cruisers to fill up with diesel, pick up a bottle of Calor propane for the kitchen range, and top up our water and coal. 
         We had the top four locks of the Lapworth Flight ahead to do and the air was decidedly cooler now that the sun was an hour away from sinking all together. We cruised on. As the sun slowly disappeared the cold began to settle in our bones. Smoke skirled from the chimney, filling our noses with the incense of dried wood. We  went down through the first four locks and I brought the boat into the side of the cutting above the next lock so we could moor up for the night. Small bats flitted around us in the gloaming and our solar powered deck lights on the roof lit up. 
         What a glorious day for cruising and so typical of this time of year when the canals are mostly empty of boaters except us continuous cruisers and a few pleasure boaters trying out the cut for a short break. Needless to say we both slept well, waking to an oatmeal sky and warmer temperatures. We were once again the only boat on the move and we started down the rest of the Lapworth Flight. 
         Since we had the locks to ourselves we took our time. Les set the lock ahead, raising the gate paddles to fill the lock and then he opened the gate for me. I cruised in, slowed the boat to a stop with its nose at the bottom gate, and while Les walked down to set the next lock, I closed the top gate behind me and wound down the gate paddles, then walked over and wound up one of the lower gate paddles to let water out and carry the boat down. We worked our way down 8 locks in an hour and three minutes--a very good time.
         We stopped for a tea break between locks 14 and 15. A hire boat came up and we knew the rest of the locks were in our favor so we carried on down four more locks where we topped up the water tank and disposed of our rubbish. Then Les locked me through the final two locks into Kingswood Junction Basin. I turned the boat, took it through the eye of the needle as I call the narrow connection between the Grand Union and the Stratford-on-Avon canals. I slowed to pick up Les and cruised past the moored up boats, turned NB Valerie at the Junction and we moored up to stay through Saturday.
         We will take the train from Lapworth to Warwick for my next Physio appointment, then walk into the village on Saturday for a Daily Mail weekend newspaper. then we will scarper off to a bit of quiet countryside with a broad, open view where Les can saw logs into rounds and chop wood into lengths and I will stack them on the roof. That's our winter wood settled!


    Dragontatoo said...

    Sounds loverly! Miss you both bunches and love you 1000 Swedish fish!

    Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

    Sounds idyllic - esp given it's raining here today!

    Nev Wells said...


    Again you rouse my passion for the canals and your way of life with your beautiful words....

    Nev NB Percy

    Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

    Hello sweetheart!! It would be even loverlier if you were here to share it. I miss you and love you more than 300.000 Swedish Fish!
    Ma xx

    Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

    Hi Marilyn,
    It was grand to have a couple of "normal" days given the chaos of our trip into B'Ham. We are looking forward to more hopefully.
    Keep you feathers dry!

    Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

    Oh thank you Nev! I actually had you in mind as I was writing as I know well how much you appreciate a good descriptive passage of prose. We hope you and Rachel are enjoying your share of the good life too!
    Jaq xx

    locheriboll said...

    Love these descriptions. It's almost like visiting 😊. Joe got another parcel! Thank you. Xx

    NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

    NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs