Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Goodbye Birmingham

Modern flats overlooking the canal at Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton top lock
Another long day in mostly sunny weather.  First job in the morning was to walk the short distance to Sainsbury's to stock up with groceries again.  At 9:30 we set off south on the Wyrley and Essington and turned right at Horsley Fields Juction onto the Main Line which took us into Wolverhampton, all at about 500 foot above sea level. The attractive top lock located only a short walk from central Wolverhmpton marks the start of the 21 lock Wolverhampton flight dropping 132 foot from the Birmingham hills.

As usual one of us drove the boat and the other did most of the work on the lock, roles which we swapped over every three locks.  The flight was hard work as we had to fill almost every lock before we could enter and some of the time we were working the locks for a single handed boater in front of us. Fortunately we were helped by the crew of the hire boat behind us which enabled whichever of us was working the locks to walk on ahead to get the next lock ready.  We finally reached the bottom at around 3pm and moored up half a mile from the end of the flight near Autherley Junction on the Staffs and Worcestershire Canal.

Statistics 4.13 miles, 21 locks, 5hr 56min

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The Festival is over - on our way home

After a very tiring weekend culminating in a solid 3 hour session yesterday evening packing the contents of the IWA stand into vans we are ready to start on our journey home.  We left Pelsall shortly after 9am and cruised west on the curly Wyrley for 5 1/2 hours including a stop to fill up with water.  The journey was pretty slow thanks to the shallow, narrow and weedy canal but in the bright sunshine it looked very attractive for much of the way.  Another boat had warned us that they had to stop to clear weed around their propellor about 7 times when going to the Festival by this route but we only needed to stop once and there wasnt a lot of weed.

At 3 pm we moored at Wednesfield where we had spent the night on our Explorer cruise 9 days ago.

Statistics - 11.04 miles, 5.5 hours, 0 locks

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Working at the IWA Festival of Water at Pelsall

IWA Festival of Water at Pelsall
We were working at the Festival of Water for most of yesterday behind the counter on the IWA stand.  Business was steady though the tent got very crowded when a very heavy rain shower with some thunder and lightning passed by.  It was good to meet both boaters who ahd travelled here for the Festival and local residents interested in what was going on.  Today we just worked from 11am to 2pm and were able to spend the rest of the time looking around the festival and enjoying a rather good curry meal and a glass of beer.

Tonight we will be meeting up with our fellow Explorers at the bar and watching the illuminated boat parade where people who have decorated their boats with lights and bunting will cruise in a line up and down the canal past the festival site.

Friday, 26 August 2016

We arrive at the IWA Festival of Water at Pelsall

Oggley Junction

The countryside from the Anglesey Arm
We were on the move by 7:45 because we needed to fill up with water before the festival.  We know we can survive for a week on a tank of water but we last filled up on Monday on the Walsall flight and wont have another chance until Tuesday next week.  The journey back down the Anglesey Arm was much more pleasant than yesterday as the weather was warm and sunny.  The pictures show the rural scenary and Oggley Junction where one day the Lichfield Canal, currently under restoration, will join the Anglesey Arm to provide easy access to the northern Birmingham canals.

The curly Wyrley between Brownhills and Pelsall
We rejoined the Wyrley and Essington (curly Wyrley) Canal at Catshill Junction and half a mile later cruised into Brownhills.  Denise left the boat to visit the local supermarket whilst I waited for the water tap to become free.  This didnt take long and by the time I had refilled the boat with water Denise had arrived wth the shopping. We immediately set off to Pelsall for the festival.  At that point there was a phone call from one of the other explorer group boats to say that the canal was blocked by a fallen tree near Pelsall.

We travelled down the very attractive couple of miles to the blockage and waited there with 4 other boats.  CRT were already working on the tree and soon had sufficient branches removed to provide a clear passage.  By 11am we were moored up at the festival site.

During the afternoon we worked setting up the IWA stand and in the evening we will be joining in with the supper of traditional Black Country faggots and peas and a boaters quiz.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Anglesey Basin and Chasewater reservoir

On the Daw End Branch
The weather was grey, misty and cool as we set off at 9:10.  Today's lock free journey took us north from Longwood Boat Club along the Daw End Branch through very attractive rural scenary.  It was a surprise to realise that the centre of Walsall was less than 2 miles away.

Blackcock Bridge
 4 miles on took us to Blackcock Bridge where the effects of subsidence caused by the collapse of coal workings is obvious from the metal column protecting the brickwork from the ropes of horse drawn boats being about half the normal height with the cut grooves going down to footpath level.  As the ground fell it was necessary to raise the canal banks to retain the level of water.  Further evidence comes from the slots below the bridge where jacks were placed to raise the bridge to keep the required headroom above the canal prior to adding new courses of bricks.
Anglesey Basin
We turned right a mile later at Brownhills onto the Angelsey Arm which passes beneath the M6 Toll
to finish in a lake, formerly a busy basin where narrowboats were filled with coal from the many nearby pits.  We turned round there and moored along the canal side in heavy rain.
Chasewater Reservoir
Once the rain stopped in the late afternoon we walked the short distance to the impressively large Chasewater Reservoir from where water flows down the Angelsey Arm to help supply the whole of the Birmingham canal system.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Rushall Canal and Longwood Boat Club

On the Thame Valley Canal
Last night after dinner on the boat we enjoyed a pleasant canal side get together for everyone on the cruise.  This morning we set off just before 9am and cruised south on the Walsall Canal for about a mile to the Thame Valley Junction at Ocker Hill.  Here we were able to dump our rubbish before turnng left onto the Thame Valley Canal.  Constructed in 1844, this canal provided a route around the congestion of central Birmingham and was one of the last Birmingham Canals to be built.  According to our guide book, the section we travelled between Ocker Hill and Rushall Junction is the dreariest canal on the whole Birmingham network.  Harsh but certainly arguable.  It follows a straight course, apart from a couple of minor adjustments, for 3.5 miles through undistinguished countryside dominated by electricity pylons.  In places it is rather shallow and there is a lot of floating rubbish.
Meeting a boat on the Rushall Canal
Approaching the bottom lock on the Rushall Locks
At Rushall Junction we turned left onto the much more attractive but slightly later Rushall Canal.  A couple of our fellow boaters saw a kingfisher here, sadly we missed out.  The canal is lined with trees and is surprisingly rural passing through an area of what looked like rough pasture fields completely surrounded by Birmingham housing.  On the negative side it is shallow with a lot of water lilies and waterweed which leads to slow progress and the potential for visits down the weed hatch to clear the propellor.  There were 9 locks to ascend before we reached our overnight mooring at Longwood Boat Club.  On most of the locks we were helped yet again my members of the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society.

This afternoon we were treated to tea and cakes provided by the Boat Club and this evening we will be dining together at a fish and chip supper.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A walk down the Bradley Canal

Bradley Canal

Route of Bradley Canal - note the "steps" indicating the locks
We left Walsall Town Basin at 9:30 and arrived at Moorcroft Junction at 12:00 after a slow but lock free journey.  Here the now closed Bentley Canal joined the Walsall Canal.  After a quick bite to eat we set off on the organised walk up the line of the Bentley Canal.  Part of it is in water but heavily overgrown but the remainder just exists as a footpath.  However the locations of the presumably buried locks can clearly be seen from the topography.

Bradley Workshop

Plastic paddle
Next on our itinerary was the CRT Bradley workshop, one of two in the country devoted to making lock gates.  Each lock gate is unique, being built to exact measurements made on location and is the responsibility of one carpenter. One of the people showing us around said that after working there for 23 years he had started to build replacements for gates he had built in his youth.  It was interesting to compare an 18th century plan for a gate with those used now - there was virtually no difference.  The design was the same even down to the shape of the paddle operating gear.  There is one technical difference - the lock paddles are now often made out of plastic rather than the traditional elm.  This makes them lighter and easier to operate as well as lasting longer.  We returned at 5 pm after a short diversion to a local pub - after several hours out in the sunshine we were all getting very thirsty.

Statistics 4.99 miles, 0 locks,2 hours 35 mins
The convoy moored at Moorcroft Junction
RCR engineer in the canal

The tyre is removed
On the way down the canal one of the boats had managed to get a tyre firmly stuck on her propellor and had to be towed into the moorings.  Despite efforts by other boaters the tyre had proved impossible to remove.  RCR (the RAC/AA of the waterways) were called out and one of their staff arrived soon after we got back to our boat.  He put on a wet suit, went into the canal and after perhaps 15 minutes energed triumphant with the badly damaged tyre.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Into Walsall

Travelling along the curly Wyrley

The day started with a meeting with a local councillor who gave a brief talk and some photos were taken for the local press. There followed a briefing by the cruise leader after which all 16 boats set off in line along the curly Wyrley.  Progress was slow initially as the distance between each boat was increased but after 15 minutes settled down to a moderate pace.  The canal meanders through he suburbs of Wolverhampton but these are frequently hidden by the rampant vegetation.  The canal is shallow with a fair amount of litter, mainly plastic bottles as the plastic bag ban seems to have helped considerably.

About half way into the journey several of the boats stopped to take on water but we had sufficient to last a few more days.Soon afterwards we found one of our boats stopped, partially obstructing a bridge hole.  They had picked up a large amount of tarpaulin around their propellor and were having some difficulty removing it.  We moored and I went round to help and was able to remove the last few pieces.  We were then both able to go on our way, leaving the curley Wyrley at Birchills Junction to travel down the Walsall Canal.

Descending the Walsall flight

Moored at Walsall Town Basin
 A short cruise brought us to the top of the 8 lock Walsall flight which took us down into the town.  We were helped by the same group of BCNS members who had assisted with the passage through Tipton Locks on Sunday.  At the bottom of the locks a sharp left turn took us onto the Walsall Town Arm terminating at the modern basin near the main shopping streets.All bar one of our boats are now moored there filling it completely.

We went for a walk into Walsall town centre which has useful supermarkets and the normal shops found in any town centre but little else of interest. Sadly the Leather Museum is closed on Mondays.

Statistics - 7.76 miles, 8 locks, 5 hours 15 minutes

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The curly Wyrley

On the Main Line

About to enter Cosleley tunnel
 The boats on the cruise set off at different times during the morning.  Those wanting to explore one of the now blocked canals left early whilst we waited until 10am as we were happy to travel directly to our destination.  A short distance down the canal the old and new main lines merge at Tipton Junction.  The subsequent journey was slow but pleasant with much of the surrounding industry and derelict land hidden by trees.   We passed through the 360 yard Coseley tunnel and 4 miles later reached Horseley Fields Junction in Wolverhampton where we turned right onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal which follows a very winding path around the north of Birmingham hence its nickname of the "curly Wyrley".

From here on the boat felt heavy and sluggish although the GPS indicated a speed of 2.5mph which is reasonable particularly if the canal is shallow.  Our designated mooring was about a mile up the curly Wyrley next to a large shopping and entertainments retail park about half a mile from Wednesfield, a town that now forms part of the Birmingham/Wolverhampton conurbation. After mooring there I opened the weed hatch to clear any rubbish picked up by the propellor during our journey and found what turned out to be sufficient torn plastic to fill a kitchen rubbish bag wrapped around the propellor.  How the boat managed to move at all, let alone reach a moderate speed, I dont know.

Boats moored in the short stub of thr Bentley Canal
Sadly the retail park was constructed directly over the Bentley Canal and so what would have been a useful route across Birminghham has been lost forever.  All that remains at this location is a short stub where 7 of our group's boats were able to moor.

After lunch we spent some time in the adjacent Sainsburys to stock up again with groceries and while I took the shopping back to the boat Denise explored the other shops. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Old Main Line to Tipton

Last night we attended the Explorer Cruise kick-off meeting.  There was a firkin of cask beer from Ma Pardoes, a local brewery, and a talk about a particular mother and daughter who operated a canal boat during the 2nd world war delivering assorted cargoes all over the country, with particular reference to the area where we are now moored - Tipton.  It was interesting to see the old photographs which showed a stark heavily industrialised landscape with chimneys billowing smoke and little evidence of any plant life.  Now there are trees everywhere, the old heavy industry has been replaced by light industry and warehouses and many of the large old factory sites have been replaced by modern housing.
The Explorers moored at Tipton
We set off in a gap in the rain at 9:30 and were helped back down the Titford locks by members of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society who had organised the trip.  The rain never really returned and our boating wet weather gear protected us from the few occasional quick showers as we travelled west on the tree-lined old Main Line to the Black Country Museum where pumpout and water facilities were available.  Soon after leaving the museum we moored at Tipton at around midday.  By mid afternoon all 17 narrowboats had arrived some of which have had to moor alongside other boats.

A lock on the Tipton Canal
During the afternoon we walked to Tipton town centre, a somewhat sad place with many boarded up shops and on to the nearby New Main Line canal.  On our way back we took the footpath along the filled-in Tipton Canal which closed in the 1960s.  Sadly over a third of the Birmingham canals have disappeared, many of these being branches to now closed mines and  factories. Others such as the Tipton Canal were major links in the system.  The only remains of the Tipton Canal one can see here is where the footpath passes through an old lock chanber that rises a few feet above ground level.

Prresident steams by
Soon after we returned to the mooring there was a shout of "President", and that famous steam driven ex-working narrowboat pulling it's butty Kildare came around the corner.  Fortunately I had my camera to hand and was able to get a couple of photographs.

Friday, 19 August 2016

A wet day on the Titford Canal

10 boats moored in the rain ready for tomorrow's the Explorer Cruise
 Our decision to move onto the Titford Canal near Oldbury yesterday proved to be correct as it has rained almost the whole of today.  One gap in the weather around lunchtime gave us the opportunity to travel the half mile to the winding hole near the end of the canal and turn around so we are ready to set off on the Explorer Cruise tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

It was only a quick visit to central Birmingham

Our plan was to spend today in Birmingham and then to travel tomorrow to the Titford Canal, our rendezvous point for our Birmingham Explorer Cruise.  However the weather forecast for tomorrow looked terrible so after shopping in the morning we left central Birmingham and set off for the Titford Canal at 11:50.

Telford's Birmingham Main Line

Smethwick Junction
A hour's cruise along Telford's Birmingham Main Line brought us to Smethwick Junction where we turned right onto Brindley's old main line, up the three Smethwick Locks and back over the top of the Telford Main Line.  This area is surprisingly attractive,it was difficult to believe we were in inner Birmingham.

Smethwick Locks

Under the M5 - Spon Lane Junction on the Old Main Line

Soon afterwards we joined the M5 travelling beneath the motorway which formed an dominating feature of most of the rest of the journey until we turned left at Oldbury Junction onto the Titford Canal. We were soon faced by the 6 lock Oldbury flight.   Luckily Stuart, one of the organisers of the Explorer Cruise was on hand to help us up the locks.   We have moored with a couple of other boats just above the top lock.

The Titford Canal marks the highest pound on the Birmingham Canals at 511 feet above sea level.  It is a dead end terminating in the Titford pools which we may visit tomorrow.

Statistics - 5.55miles, 9 locks in 3 hours 10 minutes.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Up the hill into Birmingham

Todays ascent into central Birmingham is likely to be the hardest day of our Autumn voyage.  We left Curdworth at 8:15 in sunny weather, but light cloud soon obscured the sun making for a more confortable journey. After a couple of miles we reached Minworth which marks the start of the Birmingham conurbation.  Here 3 separate locks provide a gentle start to what follows.

Passing beneath the factory at Erdington

Salford Canal Juction beneath Spaghetti Junction
The tower blocks of central Birmingham seen from the Aston flight
After Minworth locks the canal the passes through a lengthy stretch of light industry, underneath a factory at Erdington and on to Salford Junction which lies beneath the rather better known M6 Spaghetti Junction.  Here the canal turns left and soon starts the 11 lock Aston flight. We were able to climb the flight quite quickly as all the locks were set empty for us to enter.  Also the design of the locks is worth noting.  When one goes up a lock it is normally prudent to operate the top paddles very carefully as an excess flow of water can push the boat backwards and forwards with some force.  However the locks on the Birmngham and Fazeley are remarkably gentle.  One can raise both top paddles straight up and the boat barely moves.
Cambrian Wharf 

 Having reached the top of the Aston flight around lunchtime there was just time to eat a quick snack on the move before we reavched the bottom of the 13 lock Farmer's Bridge flight which took us to Cambrian Wharf near Brindley Place, the ICC, and Birmingham's magnificent Symphony Hall.  All are within easy walking distance of the city centre shops.  We have moored just beyond Cambrian Wharf and will stay here until Friday morning. 
Statistics for the day - 8.7 mile 27 locks 6 hours 45 minutes on the move

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Birmingham & Fazeley Canal

A young duck visited us

On the Birmingham and Fazeley
One of the Curdworth Locks

On the main Curdworth flight
 Another warm and sunny day.  We left our Ventura Park mooring at 9:50 and about a mile later turned right at Fazeley Junction onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.  This is a useful canal to pass through rather than a scenic one on which to linger but the section we did today was very pleasant.  Leaving Fazeley there is open countryside with large lakes appearing on the left hand side.  These were formerly gravel workings but are now nature reserves owned by the RSPB.  Shortly afterwards we reached the start of the attractive Curdworth locks where the canal begins its climb into Birmingham.

I guess that it is not widely realised that central Birmingham is high up in the hills with the canals reaching over 500 feet above sea level.  Generally all other major English cities are on rivers but in Birmingham the canal system formed the major link for industry to the outside world.

Back to the Curdworth flight, there are 5 isolated locks followed by a flight of 5 and then another isolated lock.  We moored for lunch just before the main flight and an hour later restarted our journey.  At the second lock we had a problem, we couldnt fully open the top gate.  Fortunately there were a couple of CRT volunteers managing the flight who let some more water down which floated the gate over the obstruction. They assisted us through the remaining locks and we moored near the village of Curdworth in a shaded cutting at 15:25.  Overall a total of 7 miles and 11 locks in 4.5 hours cruising.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Coventry Canal to Tamworth

Last night's moorings near Fradley

Travelling through Hopwas Woods

Hopwas Woods Bridge
We set off at 10am and cruised east along the Coventry Canal towards Tamworth.  The journey was slow as parts of the canal were shallow which limited our speed to 2.5mph and we were also held up at bridge holes and passing moored boats by the number of boats travelling in the opposite direction.  The canal looked very attractive with the scenary much enhanced by the bright sunny weather. Perhaps the best part of this section of canal is the passage through Hopwas Woods with the mature trees on both sides of the waterway providing welcome shade.  We arrived near Ventura Park shopping centre just before Tamworth at 2pm after lunch on the move glad to stop as we were feeling jaded from the 4 hours out in the sun having travelled 9.5 miles.

After a rest we walked the short distance to Maplins to buy a new pair of 2-way radios. At times these are very useful in lock flights, and our old ones had stopped working.  Denise carried on for more retail therapy whilst I returned to the boat.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Out for our Autumn voyage

We are on our travels again for a few weeks.  This time we are going into Birmingham to join the Birmingham Canal Society's Explorer Cruise for a week visiting some of the out of the way sections of the city's Canals.  After the cruise we are attending the IWA Festival of Water at Pelsall in the northern outskirts of Birmingham.

After a quick pack we were on the boat by lunchtime.  Then followed a visit to Waitrose to buy provisions for the next few days.  Back on Densie we put everything away and at 3pm left our moorings.  At 5:30 we moored just beyond Fradley Junction on the Coventry Canal, a journey of 2.9 miles, 3 locks and 1 swing bridge.