Oleanna V Tunnel. 15th April

Star City to Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham

Last nights mooring was very quiet, well apart from the air conditioner unit on the side of the cinema. Only one boat went past us and despite the padlock being no more we felt safe, C&RT did say someone would be out this morning to fix it.

Time to explore, well tick of another stretch of the BCN that we’ve not cruised before. Now when I say BCN, it is actually part of the Grand Union Canal. The working boatmen used to call this the ‘Bottom Road’. Coal was needed for the power station at Star City, there were gas works and numerous goods sheds along the 2.6 mile stretch. Fellows Morton and Clayton had a boat dock where boats such as President were built. On the Alarum talk the other evening Kate had suggested it was one of those arms where the grime and dirt from years gone by still seeps out from the silt at the bottom of the canal. So we expected a lot worse than we actually got.

No single bottom gates on the Garrison flight, so the double gates would all need kicking open. Thankfully all the top gates had held the water back so each and every lock opened without any fuss.

Bottom Lock

Alongside the bottom lock was what looked like a side pond. Drawing from the side pond before drawing water from the pound above would save water, similar to the Hanbury Locks at the top of the Droitwich Canal. None of the other locks seemed to have the same arrangement, but we did notice something we’ve not seen elsewhere.

Grandeur overgrown

At the second lock as I lifted the top paddles Mick heard gurgling behind him, then bubbling up by the bottom gate recesses. This lock not only filled at the top but also the bottom a bit like some Thames locks. Maybe that was what the side pond had been for at the bottom lock.

A few more of the locks also filled at the bottom end on one side or the other. We made good progress up the flight and then ducked our way under numerous bridges before reaching Bordesley Junction where we came back onto familiar water.

Bordesley Junction looking the way we’d come

Towards the end of last year we’d come down the Camp Hill Flight which continues the Grand Union on towards Knowle and Hatton. Today we turned right and onto the Grand Union Digbeth Branch.

There are works of art in amongst the tags

Here just about every wall has been covered in graffiti. boards on posts have been put up and these now obviously are covered too, painting in front of a mass of painting.

Through Warwick Bar where building works are still on going and past Minerva Works all shades of blue.

At Digbeth Junction we decided to turn left and go down into Typhoo Basin, new water again, not much of it. Here three arms used to spread out and Typhoo packaged tea here from 1925 until 1978 despite being badly damaged in WW2. There was just enough room give or take a tree or two to wind.

Curzon Street Tunnel

Once through Curzon Street Tunnel we faced the Ashted flight. The locks here also pretty water tight, but these were all set against us. We soon got into the swing of working an uphill flight, the locks here closer together than on the Garrison flight.

University and HS2

Today all around us was quiet, nobody working on HS2 and most of the students away on their Easter holidays.

Ahead lay Ashted Tunnel, today we were going to win the battle against it. So far the tally stood at Tunnel 2, Lillian 0, Oleanna 0. Lillian lost a nav light on our first trip through, then last year Oleanna gained extra gouges out of her grabrail, all patched in now but not a pretty sight.

Ashted Tunnel ahead!

We remembered the advice others had given us so as soon as the lock below the tunnel was filling I walked ahead to empty the lock on the other side of the tunnel. This we’d done last year, you most certainly don’t want to be part way through the tunnel when the lock empties!

Mick busy filling the pound below

Last year we’d waited for the levels to settle before going through the tunnel. This had been our mistake. Today Mick opened the gate to the lock below the tunnel then lifted a paddle at the bottom end of the lock, letting water flow through it to lower the pound through the tunnel.

I returned and gave up dates on the level, 4 inches below, 5. That’s when we thought we should drop the paddles, the short pound below the lock now really quite full. I took the centre line and as Mick drove Oleanna through the tunnel I kept her towards the towpath side.

Safely through

No bumps or scrapes, the lower level doing the trick and the rope just incase. This time we’d won! Tunnel 2, Pip and Mick 1! Thank you for your advice Brian and Adam it worked a treat.

We paused on the bollards for lunch which meant we were overtaken by another boat. They and the boat a distance behind them most probably taking advantage of the new lower pound through the tunnel, possibly not even aware of the possible trouble that we’d averted.

Words from on high

With a cuppa and refuelled we were ready for the Farmers Bridge flight. We knew we’d be following another boat so every lock would have to be turned.

We started at a steady pace, Mick closing up behind and me going on ahead. Then a volunteer arrived, the boat ahead had four crew so he’d come to offer his services to us.

After one lock we got a rhythm going. The volunteer heading up to the next lock to empty it, open and close the bottom gate. I would then lift the top two paddles, as Oleanna came up Mick would step off and be ready to open the top gate allowing me to close the off side paddle before crossing the gate which he then opened. I then closed the other paddle and closed up behind.

The lock in a tunnel

Through the dark, under the buildings. Then past all the scaffolding on the tower blocks having their cladding removed.

Entering the tourist attraction

On reaching the top three locks we were now a tourist attraction, gongoozlers watching our every move. Mick enlisted a German lady to help with the gates, then I had a Japanese chap help with another.

At the top

At the top a space sat waiting for us right alongside the lock, a 14 day mooring at that. Mick brought Oleanna out from the lock and then reversed her back into the space. Job done, we’d reached our destination.

Our mooring right by the lock

The sun had been out all day, so we made the most of sitting on the bench by Oleanna and watching the world go by. Tilly however was a little bit perturbed as other people seemed to be moving the outside with all of us in it!


24 locks, 5.08 miles, 1 right, 2 lefts, 1 straight on, 1 victory, 1 reverse for a mooring, 1 sunny day, 1 disgruntled cat.


2 thoughts on “Oleanna V Tunnel. 15th April

  1. Dimitrios Theologitis

    Great to read your travels. A pity we can’t cross, we left Birmingham just a week ago. When approaching from Fazelay we prefer to take the northern branch and moor at Rock Lane, lovely tidy mooring by the office blocks. Happy cruising, Dimitrios & Carine

    1. Pip

      A shame we’ve missed you, I’d been keeping an eye open for you.
      We only went via Star City as we’d not been that way before. Not stopped at Rock Lane, maybe next time. Happy cruising too

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