14 miles - 50 locks - 11 hours
Today was a lockfest by any standard. If 100 locks is typical for a weeks cruising, 50 in one day is a bit excessive and this lockfest was played out beneath a scorching sun.
Droitwich Rugby Club bridge
We knew we were up for a bit of a challenge so 7.30am found us motoring out of Vines Park, slipping through the Barge Lock on the level with the gates open at both ends, and then on up the river section where the banks are being colonised by new undergrowth.
We crept through the M5 culvert and into the new narrow locks, Jeff using his extensive canal knowledge to chat to locals and surprising himself at his emerging canal nerd status. Before we left the top section we passed a huge new marina, its banks still raw earth and its basin home to a sprinkling of craft - 30 at most. Its early days yet.
New locks at Droitwich
The lock keepers garden at Astwood bottom lock was at its spectacular best, a true labour of love. We had the place to ourselves as boaters seemed to have deserted the area, probably beaten back by the heat, but at least they were all set for us as we started into the thick of the Tardebigge flight. It was no record ascent, into the locks at 1.00pm and out at 5.00pm enlisting the help of a lock keeper for about 10 in the middle. It was a slow and methodical climb, finding shade wherever we could.
The weather brought the gongoozlers out in force, the towpath busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. One elderly gent caught my eye and I made it my business to engage in conversation. It turned out that he was a contemporary of Tom Rolt, and had met the great man on a number of occasions. He confirmed my suspicions when he summed him up in one word "curmudgeonly".
Tardebigge bird house
We were joined by friends at the Reservoir and they rode with us to the top lock. Strangely they seemed more interested in drinks than working locks in the heat - but at least they brought a good supply of muffins.
We need to be in Tipton tomorrow so we pressed on through the tunnels which seemed unusually gloomy till I realised that I was wearing my prescription sun glasses - what a Wally! We saw Starcross moored at Alvechurch, but no Jim and pressed on to the Bittell Reservoir, mooring in the shade of the cutting to the north, protected from the sun and with an earth barrier deflecting the rumble of the M42.