We arrived at Heathrow Airport 10:30 am on March 31st. A driver was there to meet us and he whisked us off to our B&B in Bromsgrove. Arriving at the Wellington Lodge at 12:30, we unloaded our bags, tipped the driver, waved him off and went to ring the bell. No answer. We are in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, no maps, no cell phone and no innkeeper. Also, no food and no toilet. After travelling for ten hours.... So we waited. And waited.
3:30pm, now almost 24 hours since we last slept, the car crunches into the gravel drive. Ros, our hapless host, is surprised to see us. "I wasn't expecting you till 4:30" she says. I am exhausted, so being nice is a challenge, but I do my best as I suggest that I may have made an email agreement with her for an early arrival, but perhaps there has been a misunderstanding. She immediately shows us to our (sumptuous) room and disappears. When I search her out to try and make a dinner plan, she is apologetic and completely mortified. Our email conversation had slipped under her radar. A taxi is arranged to a local pub serving food, she calls ahead to make sure that they actually are serving and we head off to find some eats. I can't say enough about how nice and friendly the driver was. But the good times were not to last. After being dropped off at the pub, Rob and I pushed our way inside and asked about having a bite to eat. "We don't serve food till 6" was the reply. I felt tears coming....
Another taxi was called and we ended up on the Bromsgrove high street. Our culinary options were seriously limited and we found ourselves at the Slug and Lettuce. I have no idea what I ate, Rob had fish and chips and we both had a pint ( Strongbow for me Guiness for him). The food was terrible, but the company was entertaining. I have to relate the conversation I had (remember, I am overtired, hungry and frustrated).
Bar Patron to me: "You look like you're from Redditch."
Me: "ummm, no, I am from a lot further away than Redditch"
"Really!! You look like you're from Redditch. Where are you from then?"
"Canada! Well, you look like you are from Redditch. Do you want to sit with us?"
"ummm no, I am actually here with someone." at this point I gesture to Rob sitting at the table.
"Oh, who's he?"
"really? is he from Canada too?"
"Well, he could sit with us too I guess."
Thank you, but we are really tired and wouldn't be any good for conversation."
"If you change your mind, we are sitting over there. You sure look like you are from Redditch..."
Back at the B&B, I was asleep before 6:30.
Up bright and early the next day, we enjoyed our full English Breakfast before taking a taxi to the Black Prince boatyard. The taxi driver was the same nice one we had from the day before. Our boat, Angela, was already for us and we got a quick tutorial from Tony the engineer before being turned loose on the unsuspecting English countryside.
Locks can be physically demanding to work and as I refused to drive the boat initially, I was stuck doing most of the grunt work. This would be a typical lock routine for me:
Check that the lock is in our favour. If it isn't, drain or fill lock as needed.
Open gates (gates could weigh anywhere from 1000 kilo to 4500 kilo, depending on their size).
Close gates after Rob pulls boat into lock.
Use my windlass to open paddles to drain or fill lock (this is a lot harder than it sounds, brute force was often required to get the paddles up)
Open top gate so that Rob can pull the boat out (see previous comment about weight of gates)
Close top gate behind him.
Repeat as needed. (after the first day, we had to rethink the routine so that Rob could help a little)
Our first day, we did roughly 37 locks. I spent more time on land than on the boat, as it is easier to walk from lock to lock when they are close together in a flight as they were that first day (Tardebigge flight and Stoke flight).
After finishing the lock push, we made our way through two tunnels and stopped at the town of Alvechurch around 5pm. Famished (breakfast was a long time and a lot of locks ago), we discovered the local pub didn't serve till six, so we hiked into the town centre first and bought some groceries for the next few days.
The pub meal was delicious, but I think the Strongbow went to my head a little faster than usual because I managed to throw some in my eye.... Don't ask.
Next installment: local butchers, simple lunches and the tunnel of terror, plus much much more....