Lower Ocker Hill Branch to Cast Iron Roving Bridge, Birmingham
We popped back out onto the canal shortly before 11am, heading eastwards towards Birmingham. The hope was to get up Ryders Green Locks before too many people were about, the area has a reputation.
Below the locks had far less rubbish than I remembered when we came through in June 2018, it being earlier in the day might have had something to do with it. The bottom lock was empty waiting for us, a good sign, maybe.
The first pound on the flight is longer than the rest and goes under several bridges before reaching the next lock. Mick took it steady under them. The middle bridge is a foot bridge leading across to Poundland and Asda. Asda may have a shortage of trolleys at the moment as most of them seemed to be in the canal! A few more stood close to the bridge awaiting their turn.
Wheels and legs of trolleys appeared just below the surface a couple just rising far enough to grasp a gasp of air. The sedimental trolley layers seemed thicker towards Asda, deeper water could be found towards the centre. However the depth wasn’t quite enough for us to just glide over the tops with the occasional bump or scraping.
A few attempts of forwards and reverse were needed to help settle the metal wheeled cages below to give us just enough depth to pass on wards. It took a little while but we made it. C&RT will be well aware of what lies below the surface here, but we’ll double check with them when the office is open.
At the next lock I walked through the boat to reach the bow to get off, not wanting to risk getting stuck on more trolleys. Here the local drinking club had already convened. As I walked up I said a jolly ‘Morning!’ to them. One chap congratulated us for having got through the last pound, but wanted to show me something. He walked me to the top of the lock and pointed across to a low wall by Poundland. Here a fence had been broken and part of it was floating just above the lock. ‘When we left last night it was dark, but the fence was still there’. ‘I’ve tried to get the wood out of the canal, but not managed yet’.
He was very familiar from when we came through last time. Chatty, helpful and on at least his second can of Scrumpy Jack of the morning! As I opened the gate he and his two mates managed to pull the fencing to the side and lifted it out. ‘I’ve looked for the rest of it, but it’s nowhere. Just be careful’ as he put his rubbish in a bin bag by the bridge.
Back in 2018 the locks were locked by C&RT over night and we’d arrived at this lock heading downhill just as it was about to be padlocked. The boys in blue helped us down, they were playing an everlasting game with the local youths of cat and mouse. Lock beams being lifted, pounds drained, trolleys, general vandalism, so none of what we were encountering was unexpected.
The chaps insisted on closing the gates behind us, meaning I could walk on ahead to the next lock. Here I found some more of the fence, now burnt by the bottom gate. At least it hadn’t been used to try to burn a lock beam, a foot thick of oak beam takes a lot of fire to get it going thank goodness.
As I started to fill the lock I found more of the fence, sitting by our bow. Once the level rose we lifted it out. No doubt tomorrow it’ll be back in the cut, we just didn’t have enough space on the roof for so much fence.
Each lock now was empty, apart from the very top one. I signalled to Mick that I needed to empty it, a touch hard when there’s a bridge right over the bottom gates. He pulled back a touch and I lifted the one paddle I could unlocked. The surge of water was doing it’s best to drag Oleanna towards the gate, but Mick would engage reverse and keep her away…. wouldn’t he….?!
I could hear the engine doing it’s best, but still Oleanna kept coming. I dropped the paddle as quickly as I could, but she’d got momentum behind her now. Luckily there was only a slight biff to the bottom gate, no damage done.
Oleanna had picked something up around her prop again, hence the prop not doing what was asked of it. Luckily the wind wasn’t going to affect us today as we were in a bridge hole. I held onto the centre rope to stop her from drifting back and forth too much whilst Mick got down and at one with the weed hatch.
The prop mate did it’s job, thankfully removing a length of twisted razor wire, the pond gloves would not have survived this. Plenty more came away from the prop and filled the stern deck. This was all put on the roof to dispose of later in a bin, if we’d just left it on the towpath it would only end up back on someone’s prop and they might not have a prop mate!
Now with power restored I could empty the lock safely.
At the junction we resisted the temptation to go down the arm, we’ll save that for another day if we feel brave enough. On to Pudding Green Junction where we turned towards Birmingham City Centre.
There was work to be done and as all Mick had to do was continue in a straight line I bobbed down below to bake some sundried tomato bread and finish off my costume reference for The Garden.
Familiar landmarks went past. Three central reservations and the round pillars holding the M5 above our heads. Then the Soho Loop and Oozells Street Loop, time to have a break and help moor up. We winded and returned to where we’d been a couple of weeks ago with the hatch on the towpath for Tilly to make a hasty return to the boat should she need to.
The bridges were full of people, plenty of youngsters all heading to the Arena to see Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live! Blimey they were a rowdy bunch, buying checker flags and horns. Think we preferred the Strictly Come Dancing Audience of a couple of weeks ago.
8 locks, 7.37 miles, 7 straights, 1 right, 1 left, 1 wind, 1 tunnel, 2 times under, 2 layers of trolleys, 2.3m razor wire, 2nd Scrumpy Jack by 11am, 1 coconut, 1 broken fence, 8 actors with reference, £20 over budget, 1 sundried tomato bread loaf, 1 pair socks finished.