Riddian Bridge to Lower Ocker Hill Branch, BCN
With winds forecast to be over 40mph later today we aimed to get going, hopefully to miss the worst of it. Despite our aim we didn’t push off till 10am, would this give us enough time to moor up before the worst hit?
The sun was out, blue skies overhead as we pootled our way to the top of Rushall Locks. We could have moored above the locks last night but that wouldn’t have been half as good for Tilly. Signs on the outside of a building here tell you cruising times to both north and south. I think we’ve got plenty of time to get to York by mid July, via a lot of other places on the way.
The bottom gates on the Rushall Flight are doubles, not singles as is common on most of the BCN. The top lock had a nice wide walkway over the top gate and a handy bridge at the bottom, but this wasn’t the case all the way down.
The top two locks are closish together and then only just visible in the distance was lock 3 over a straight mile away. The first stretch of the long pound was filled with reddened dead scum, a slight aroma wafting from it as we parted it around Oleanna’s hull.
I hopped off at Moat Bridge and walked to the next, Sutton Road Bridge, where I joined the road to visit the handy Co-op. Quite a few things I wanted had sad gits labels , so loaves of bread and tomatoes joined our Saturday newspaper in my basket.
When I got back to the canal, Oleanna was taking shelter under the wide bridge. No other boat traffic so it didn’t matter that we were blocking the navigation.
Then the flight was upon us, some locks full others empty. We soon got into our rythmn I’d open up, then walk ahead to set the next lock whilst Mick brought Oleanna in above, closed the lock and lifted a bottom paddle. I’d be back in time to lift the second paddle and open the gates.
I tried my usual trick of kicking the gates open, but decided that the gates looked too chunky, so reverted to walking round instead. If I remembered to drop the off side paddle then Mick could close it from below using the boat hook saving me crossing the gates again.
Each paddle, bar one on the very bottom gate is locked with an anti-vandal mechanism which you get very used to around these parts, you just have to remember which pocket you put your handcuff key in to be able to unlock them!
The lower down the flight we got the more and more spongy the walkways got on the gates. Underfelt is used as anti slip across these, but the surface below some of it was very rotten and decidedly wobbly, I made sure I always had hold of the hand rail should anything fail. One of the gates was allowing water to bubble up from the bottom cill, guaranteeing a quick descent.
At the bottom lock, new gates sealed both ends and with new walkways I was able to cross with confidence once again.
Straight on to Rushall Junction, well at a slight angle now, the wind was building. A very long urban snake sat waiting to catch us out where the stern needed to swing. If it hadn’t been so windy we’d most probably have stopped to pick it up, but instead the engine was taken out of gear at the last moment to let us glide past, then engaged again to force the bow round to the west. Time to cling onto possessions and boat hooks!
The Tame Valley Canal sits high on an embankment and runs along the side of the M6 for a while to where the M5 joins it.
Roads intertwining high on concrete stilts, the River Tame curling it’s way slowly beneath.
Then once over the railway you are surrounded, the canal now in a cutting. A group were magnet fishing at one bridge, several items had been pulled out or just to the side. The chap said he was looking for mobile phones, so he’d most probably leave the trolleys where they had got dragged to.
Blimey it was windy, a touch more revs needed to keep us on our course, good job there are only a couple of moored boats about.
A rope swing distracted Mick at a bridge just for a second or two too long, the engine tone changed. A blast of reverse, still the same. Damn something round the prop. He managed to pull us almost in to the side and hopped off with a centre line. A spike was hammered in to help me keep hold of Oleanna against the wind whilst Mick delved into the murky waters of the weed hatch.
The wind was tunneling it’s way along the canal and Oleanna’s bow was being forced across the cut. The spike was pulling out, should I just let go. No I clung on, forced the spike back into the ground. In a two second lull of wind I rearranged myself to stand on the rope once it was through the spike loop, then I could lean back remembering my windsurfing days when I was just a teenager. I lent back thinking of heavy things like lardy cakes all the time my arms gradually getting that little bit longer. Surely Mick must have finished by now!!!
A large wet something hit the deck, hopefully that was all there was going to be. My arms were now stinging like Alan’s in A Regular Little Houdini, then they burned, at least if I let go I wouldn’t end up feet first in a tunnel of mud with the tide coming in!
As soon as Mick stood up I called out to him and Oleanna was just pulled in enough for us to get back on again with a jump. Blimey my arms throbbed. We now just hoped that the mooring we were aiming for was free and sheltered enough to be able to moor up with an amount of ease.
Still a while to go before we got to Tame Valley Junction, we’d most certainly had enough by now. We turned left and I could see round through the hedge that there was space. Reversing in would be easier we hopped than winding as the entrance to the arm was at an acute angle.
Luck was with us, the wind had dropped. Mick brought us round and started to reverse and as he did so a gentle little breeze pushed the bow round to the right angle to clear the bridge at the entrance of the arm.
Once tied up we could both breath again. A quick check round and the mooring was deemed suitable for Tilly. A late lunch was followed by a hair cut for Mick which was just interesting enough to bring Tilly out from the sideways trees to be picked up and returned inside just before dusk.
9 locks, 6.79 miles, 1 straight, 1 right, 1 left, 1 reverse, 1 newspaper, 2 sad gits loaves, 1 giant snake, 1 padded coat, M6, M5, 1 battle with the wind, 2 inches longer, 2 relieved boaters, grade 3, 1 key, 1.5 hours shore leave, 2 coconuts.
Thank you to Paul (Waterway Routes) we now know how many times the A5, Watling Street, crosses the navigable canal network. Fifteen times, more if you include the disused canals.