Category Archives: Bridges

Twenty One Down. 7th March

Top of Wolverhampton to Hunting Bridge No 7, Shropshire Union Canal

Lock 1 Wolverhampton Flight

The chaps at Oxley Marine had warned Mick of a pound a few locks down the Wolverhampton flight that empties itself overnight. They suggested after locking down the top lock to leave a paddle cracked open at both ends of the lock to send water down. We however didn’t like the idea of leaving water coming down the flight.

Star t Wars

So whilst I popped to Sainsburys for some milk, a newspaper and to see how their stocks of loo roll were doing, Mick sent some water down the flight. The first pound had been a couple of inches low, so that was topped up and another couple of locks worth of water flowed down and around the bywashes of the flight. Hopefully this would be enough.

Sharing the work

We entered the top lock at around 9:45am and started to work our way down. We’ve been up three times, the last time Mick single handing as I’d broken my ankle, but today was to be our first time going down the flight.

Rubble and Industrial past

The second lock was a touch too far to walk ahead to set to then return to let Mick and Oleanna out, after all I’d be doing that on the majority of the flight so I saved my energy.

Date stones

We made steady progress downhill dropping into our routine quickly. Each and every lock was empty so required filling. Back and forth I walked, Mick closed top gates and lifted a bottom paddle.

Giving the M a clean

There were several gongoozlers. A man of very few English words watched and tried to express how interesting it all was. Then a young chap with a can of cider started to ask questions. He offered to open and close gates, lending a hand. Even though I explained how things worked he didn’t get it. He asked if I wanted any more help, ‘Only if you want to’. Was I going to have an assistant all the way down the flight? No, as I walked ahead to set the next lock he wandered off down a path, at least he’d saved me walking round to open gates on a lock.

Handrails!

All bar one of the flight have double bottom gates and only three have handrails on them. At these I could kick the bottom gates open, but the ones without a handrail I walked round.

A couple walking up the flight (about halfway) stopped and chatted, on their way back down they opened and closed some gates for me. They asked how many locks there were, 21. Over what distance are they, at the time I didn’t know this, but I know I’d already walked 4.5 miles!

Viaduct. The towpath has improved since we first came up, no wading through mud

Some biscuits and water kept us going. Under the viaduct, where trains head to Birmingham from Shrewsbury. The sun was now out making it quite a pleasant day.

Then the aroma of horses, loads of horses. Looking through the hedge on the offside I could see horse boxes parked up at Wolverhampton Racecourse. A Mum and young boy walked past, he was trying to stand and watch, but Mum kept pushing him along, the same at the next lock. Sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to ask if he’d like to push a gate. However Tilly stopped them dead in their tracks, wooing them sat in a window.

Get on with it!!!!

Never mind them! Will you two please hurry up and stop moving the outside. This one has plenty of trees , will you tie it up now! Yes NOW!!!

At lock 18 a muscle in my left arm decided it had had enough. Blimey it hurt. Mick suggested that I drove, all well and good but as I couldn’t lower my arm without it hurting I wouldn’t have been able to operate the throttle. I continued winding paddles and keeping my left arm raised. Thankfully it wore off and was as if nothing had happened.

Just look at all those trees!

Really, this outside fitted the bill. She’s been singing Saturday, Saturday, Saturday is Tillys day, for days now, but it didn’t seem to be my day. She’d been and got a newspaper so I knew it was Saturday! No matter how much I pleaded from every window and door they just kept on going.

21!

At 1:15pm we pulled out of the bottom lock, biped the horn to announce our imminent arrival at Aldersley Junction. But which way would we turn?

Right please.

Right please

There was a gap in the moored boats so we pulled in and had some well earnt lunch. A couple of Norbury Junction hire boats came out from Autherely Junction each in turn headed north. This meant the stop lock, all of four inches would be in our favour.

Blossom

Whilst descending, Mick disposed of rubbish at the bins, then we moved up to the water point and topped up the tank. Just gone 3pm we pushed off again to reach our chosen mooring for the day between Bridges 7 and 8 of the Shropie about an hours cruise ahead.

There it is and only one boat

This was a very strong contender for a Mrs Tilly stamp of approval two years ago, except Mrs Tilly stamps hadn’t come about at that point. Would the mooring meet Tilly’s exacting standards?

Can I come out now?

A touch too blowy to find out properly. Tom had to remove things from the top because it was so blowy. She stayed inside and mixed floury things together and put a chicken in the oven. Today wasn’t Saturday after all it was going to be Sunday.

That way or…
that way?

22 locks, 5.52 miles, 1 newspaper, 4 rolls not 100, 21 empty locks, 84 paddles working, 1.8 miles, 2 helpers, 1 can cider, 1 can beer, 1 right, 1 left, 1 full water tank, 1 clean pooh box, 0 rubbish, 1.5 hours shore leave, 0.5 taken, 2 much fresh air, 1 loaf started, 2 much discard, 1 Tilly fan email, Hello Guy! 1 roast chicken, 2 pooped boaters, 68 days on the BCN, 1 Oleanna has left the plateau.

Day 9.

Starter fed in morning and evening.

Flours, oil, seeds and water mixed and left overnight ready for tomorrow.

What A Load Of Cr*p! 26th February

Ocker Hill to Walsall Town Basin

Opening up the side hatch Mick exclaimed, ‘What a load of crap!’ The gunnel was covered in white splatterings. Something hadn’t agreed with one of our feathered friends last night. It would get sorted the next time we could reach that side.

Blimey!

Oleanna had obviously been a good target as when we came outside the roof was covered in it too. We both looked over head, not an obvious tree branch or cable to shit from! The roof got a scrub down with canal water, well as much as I could reach. This would do for now.

Just as we untied ready to push off a lady from the nearby offices decided that it was a good time to come and have a chat. Mick had just got rid of his rope, luckily it wasn’t too windy! But when it started to sleet she headed back inside to leave us to get on with things.

Oh s….t!

Back out on the canal we pulled in at the services at the junction to top up the water tank. The tap took a bit of finding hidden away behind fencing. But one thing wasn’t so hard to find, more sh*t on the port side. More scrubbing down as the possible offender watched from on high.

Bet it was him!

Straight on to new water again and the Walsall Canal. Not the most pleasant day for cruising as sleet wind and rain managed to come and go in between the odd bit of sunshine.

We’d been warned that the Walsall Canal is the least respected in the country with the most amount of rubbish. So we were prepared for our two hour cruise to be a long one.

Nearer Ocker Hill
Nearer Walsall

Plenty of graffiti to look at, not much artistic flair in most, just tags. We were definitely in the area of Ghost EA though. A few weeks ago I’d taken a photo of his tag on a bridge on the Tame Valley Canal, just white spray paint. Today we’d see his progression through the years to silver, then a touch of orange, followed by an array of colours and far more intricate designs the closer we got to Walsall.

Holyhead and Darlaston Road Bridges

The rubbish in the most part clung to the edges in amongst the reeds. Plastic bottles, aerosol cans, beer cans. At most bridge holes the banks were covered with unwanted items just dropped over the wall and out of view. Every now and then a fire extinguisher would bob along. Why, where had they come from? Today the fire extinguishers way outnumbered the coconuts. Most probably stolen, set off and then thrown into the cut once the fun was over.

Two more

A chap walking his dog warned us that there were trees down ahead. Not unusual at the moment after all the storms. But he said that it had been kids chopping them down, right across the canal.

Would this impeded our progress? Was the chaps version of ‘right across the canal’ the same as ours would have been, we could only find out.

Ahh trees

A few miles on through Porket’s Bridge we knew this is where he’d meant, plenty of branches in the water, but it didn’t look too bad. Under the surface however lurked numerous shopping trolleys. Mick put the engine into neutral and with the wind behind us we coasted through very slowly.

Poor trees

The branches weren’t too bad, coasting meant they didn’t entangle themselves around the prop. A little bit of engine was needed at one point to realign Oleanna to avoid the next felled tree, then we could coast again. Those poor trees. Splintered stumps standing to three four foot the rest pushed into the cut.

Pes planus

A double take as two flat feet drifted past with jewels on their fallen arches. A doll no doubt.

More coasting to be done here

Where the canal narrowed crap would have collected, one such place with a steel overhanging edge and wind. Was the overhang such that it would get the cabin sides as we coasted through? The wind certainly didn’t help! But we managed it in the end.

Here we go!

By one bridge a group of four chatted, two lads ran up onto the bridge and hung over. Here we go! Time to be sitting ducks. No chance to say hello before we might have to duck. But then they dashed back off the bridge to join their mates again. Cheery Hellos, Phew!

Cemetery gardens

As we approached Walsall Junction new buildings rose from the ground, the chimney at Majorfax reminding the area of times gone by.

Nearly there

We followed the canal round to the right, the locks can wait for another day, and headed in towards the basin.

Buildings matching the sky

A narrowing with a yellow boom across it to stop the rubbish, as we’d been told the boom just pivoted out of the way and allowed us entrance.

In we go

Two pontoons to choose from, no other boats. We pulled into the one furthest out and then battled against the wind to tie up. What should have been around a 2 hour cruise had turned into 3.5 hours. Time for a late lunch as Tilly quickly realised she preferred to explore the inside of her eye lids once more. Soon we’ll be back in the countryside Tilly, I promise.

Not a Ghost EA

0 locks, 6.1 miles, 1 reverse, 2 straights, 1 right, 1 boom, 2 lemons (no longer needed after Shrove Tuesday), 3 coconuts, 18 fire extinguishers, 6 broken trees, 5682 trolleys, etc, 1 near miss, 1 huge splattering, 1 resigned cat, 2 Walsall schnitzels.

Turkey Schnitzel

Bumping Into The M5. 22nd February

New Inns Road Bridge to Titford Pools to New Inns Road Bridge

Langley High Street

From our mooring we walked to Langley High Street where a length of shops greeted us. A Londis and Post Office which both looked like convenience stores, we were after our Saturday newspaper and some longer dated blueberries. There were few papers in Londis and the smell of disinfectant a touch too much trying to mask the bad smell at the back of the shop! The Post Office had a sweeter aroma but only copies of The Sun to be had. So much for trying to support the local shops!

Lamp shades, dog beds, rollers
Art department

One of those stuffed full hardware shops caught our eye, here you squeezed between the stuff for sale, on the floor, shelves, walls and ducked the goods suspended above. Everything from paint rollers, felt tip pens, dog chews, to large tasseled lamp shades. There was only one thing missing, a collapsible bucket. We’ll have to wait for a chandlers.

A walk further up the canal to Asda and Aldi. Here there were three copies of our newspaper but none had the good bits making it worth buying. So we left empty handed and underwhelmed with Asda as usual, but glad Aldi are still selling stove top fans. Facebook boaters pages will be kept happy for weeks.

In Aldi now

The wind wasn’t too bad, but by now it was too late in the day to head very far. One thing we could do though was wind ready for departure in the morning.

Slow the only option

We’d been warned at how shallow the canal was and where to take extra care so as not to go aground. So we took it steady, managing to ride over the lumpy bottom of the canal on several occasions. After a very narrow bit Oleanna refused to be steered setting her own course, suggesting the depth was very very shallow, but shortly afterwards she responded.

The Rock Driller

Just after Jarvis Bridge the torso of a man high up on a precarious ladder signalled our arrival at Titford Pools.

The pools were constructed in 1773-4 by James Brindley, originally designed as a reservoir to help feed the Smethwick Summit Level of the Old Main Line. In the early 20th Century they became a place for leisure activities attracting fishermen and parties to enjoy one of the prettiest spots in the Midlands.

We could go that way, or that way

During the 1st WW it fell into disuse but come 1933 it was reopened as Titford Pleasure Park. The lakes were restocked with fish, a buffet built along with a bowling green, 18 hole putting green and a shooting range to go with boat hire. It proved a popular spot until the 2nd WW came along. Hard to think of it being a tranquil mecca, as now the M5 passes right over the top on concrete legs which dip into the pools. Yet birds flock here. We surprised a vast gaggle of geese and pigeons and gulls swirled over our heads.

Under the M5

There are two pools one on the far side of the M5. To reach there you need to hold your concentration as despite the pools having recently being dredged, under the motorway is very very narrow as we discovered! We headed to the far end before winding with ease in the large triangular pool to head back.

Spinning around

The pools had become so silted up from run off from the M5 that the Highways Agency has recently dredged them. A thin L shaped island gives you a route that once you had to back out of, but now with greater depth you can glide round in a full circle back into the large pool by the motorway.

Back under the M5

In 1889, 21 year old Joseph Harvey, a horse driver, and 20 year old Lizzie Bates committed suicide by drowning themselves in the pool. At the inquest, Lizzie’s sister explained that the pair had visited Stourbridge on the Sunday and returned that night, she’d left them both downstairs in the family house. The next morning Lizzie was missing and her father found a note which read

Lots of trees have been felled some carved into toadstools

‘Dear Father, you must not grieve over me, for I have done this with Joe, because he could not have me in life, so I thought he should have me in death. He said that he should never see me again in life when he left me, so I thought I would go with him; and, Father, when you find us, please bury us as close together as you can. Give my love to all my friends, and tell what has caused it, through having a miserable life at home, and for the one I love. So good night, and God bless you all. Be kind to the children.’

Turning off the thin long side of the L into the main pool

A second note to Joseph’s father was also read out. ‘July 21st, 1889. Dear Father, I leave you forever on earth, so now you will see what has been done by trying to keep me from Lizzie, the only one I could love, and I hope you will learn a lesson from this, and when you find my body you will find a glass pipe in my jacket pocket. Please give it to William James, my fellow workmate; and I wish to be buried me and Lizzie together, and I wish for my brother James to have all that belongs to me. You will find some money in the box upstairs – give it to Jim; and the pair of braces that Lizzie made me, give them to Joseph Stanfield. So I give you my best love, father and brothers, and all enquiring friends.’

Turning in

The couple had been courting for three years but Joseph’s father had objected to their marriage suggesting his son should find someone who would do him good. The lovers bodies were found tied together.

On a lighter theme in 1938 a tale of a monster in the pools was banded about, most probably a stunt for Oldbury Carnival. The scientist investigating the Loch Ness Monster was to fly down from Inverness to try to capture the monster and return with it to Scotland.

We didn’t manage 50 mph round the bend

The sculpture by Luke Perry (my how he gets about), The Rock Driller, depicts a miner drilling by hand at one of the thick seams. A hard gritty life stood on top of a ladder in pre-mechanised mining days. Down the side of the ladder there is an inscription.

Birdies

“The Devil made coal. Made it black like his heart and hid it in the deepest recesses of the earth that he would drive man mad in the finding of it.”

Towpath freedom

We returned to our mooring taking our time and once tied up the cat health and safety committee convened. Today being Saturday the car park alongside was deemed to be safe, so Tilly was granted a couple of hours shore leave to explore.

Free blueberry muffins

0 locks, 1.16ish miles, 0 magazine and food supplement, 0 newspaper, 1 hr 20 minutes pootle, 1 bump, 2 pools, 3562 birds, 3 toad stools, M5, 2 hours shore leave, 1 happy cat, 12 blueberry and yogurt muffins.

When In Birmingham. 19th February

BUMingham

All the boats around us moved off this morning, some that way others the other, they were all getting or going to get a touch damp as the rain came and went for most of the day.

Tilly about to adjust the seating for a better view

I spent much of the day taking photos of the model for The Garden and persuading our new printer/scanner to actually scan my costume drawings. Not just part of them, but the whole drawing and in the format I wanted. It took forever, maybe I need to read the instructions! Or maybe it is just contrary!!

Rainy BUMingham days mean toy box days

Tonight is our last night in the centre of Birmingham for this visit, so we decided to head out for a curry. It would have been rude not to.

Having done a little bit of research before venturing out we looked at the menu in one restaurant on Broad Street and decided that our boaty shoes would show us up, even if the lighting was subdued, also our bank balance would appreciate us going elsewhere.

View down to the canal

In the end we chose to climb the stairs up to Barajee which sits on top of the canal. We’ve had a takeaway from here before. Their website has a legend for allergy symbols, although no symbols showed against any of their dishes. But inside the restaurant the menu had the reverse, so I knew I’d be avoiding anything that wouldn’t agree with me. We’d chosen Indian as I knew I’d have a lot to choose from rather than just Hunters chicken, steak or gammon all of which get a touch boring.

Curry

We chose a Murgh-e Achari and a Lamb Pista Badami, both of which we’ve never had before along with a sag bhaji. They were all very tasty, good choices and we only just ate a touch too much whilst being able to look down onto the canal. A good way to end our visit.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 last smiley man, 38 photos edited to 12, 1.5 hours scanning! 10 days early for white card, 1st pay cheque, 1 agent prod, 2 glasses wine, 2 new currys, 1 bowl of sag, 2 full contented boaters, 1 last night in BUMingham.

Wading Through Trolleys. 2nd February

Lower Ocker Hill Branch to Cast Iron Roving Bridge, Birmingham

Heading back out onto the canal

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.

At the bottom of the locks

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.

Here we go!

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’.

The drinkers

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.

That’ll have been some of the fence

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.

There’s some more

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….?!

The flight behind us

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.

Stopping her from drifting back to the lock below

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!

Rusty razor wire and a couple of shirts

Now with power restored I could empty the lock safely.

To Pudding Green Please

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.

You’ve just got to love some of the names round here

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.

Elongated Arms. 1st February

Riddian Bridge to Lower Ocker Hill Branch, BCN

Sun straight ahead a touch blinding

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?

To the South
To the North

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.

Back to double gates

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.

Eerrrk!

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.

Handy long bridge hole so you can go shopping

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.

Heading down, the rest of the flight through the bridge

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.

Mick bringing Oleanna down the lock above

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.

No anti vandal lock on the bottom paddle

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 roofing felt may be new, but the wood underneath is showing that it’s been there 24 years

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.

Urban Snake waiting to catch a prop

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!

High on an embankment

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.

Loads of concrete

Roads intertwining high on concrete stilts, the River Tame curling it’s way slowly beneath.

Magnet fishing

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.

Quite Ghostly

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.

Now who can I find here?

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.

Top O’ The Map. 28th January

Pelsall Junction to Brownhills Colliery Basins to Brownhills Services

Tilly just in the sun

Another beautiful morning despite the wind. We wrapped up warmly and pushed off backwards to the junction. Here Oleanna was turned to face almost due north and onto the Cannock Extension Canal.

What looks like two houses made into one
New or converted?

The cottage at the first bridge looks like it was once two houses, 211 and 212 plaques on the wall. The railings also have a gap in them, presumably where a front door used to be. Across the way is what looks like a new build with a Rayburn and gym on view to the canal.

Straight, then straight some more

The Cannock Extension, well what is left of it is straight and keeps on going straight until it reaches the A5 and M6 Toll. This is now the limit of navigation, but the canal used to turn west and continue up to Cannock Chase to a colliery, it is known locally as Top O’ The Map.

Local wild life
The old side slipway

Today we saw more boats than we’ve seen in weeks. Moorings fill the end of the canal. Norton Canes Boat builders used to be based here before moving to Glascote. You can still see where boats used to be launched sideways into the cut, now parking for moorers.

Winding hole

We pootled up to the winding hole where a sign suggests that 70ft boats should put their stern in towards the dry dock, lift the planks against the door and wind without using their engine. We put Oleanna’s stern in and winded, but using a touch of our engine and bow thruster to help against the breeze.

Tilly would have loved this stretch plenty of trees, but we suspect it would have been hard to get into the side.

Back to the junction

Back at the junction we turned left eastwards. Passing The Fingerpost Pub, under the bridge we could see the big hole that the car accident had left. Good job the car stopped when it did!

That’s a big hole

We now wound our way along past houses and light industry. Evidence of old arms scarce now they have been built over.

Deer

Some places were more rural, Mick spied two huge deer in amongst the trees, they were the size of donkeys.

Brownhill Services

The services at Brownhills were clean and very warm. We topped up the water tank and decided what to do. There are plenty of bollards to moor to just outside Tescos, across the way was far more cat friendly. We could moor up, go shopping then move across to moor.

Birdies lined up against the wind

But even if we found somewhere deep enough Tilly still wouldn’t be allowed out as the canal along the next stretch was covered in scummy stuff, making the surface look solid to a cat. With plenty of bird life floating along it was too risky to let her out. So we pulled up infront of another boat. Well we tried to, but things under the scummy surface made this hard.

The chap from the boat behind came out to see if he could lend a hand. We managed to get close enough in the end, perhaps just sitting on the bottom. The chap gave us the basic lie of the land and warned us that the nearest gate into the services has got a none C&RT padlock on it, but you could still get in round the other side. Presumably this is why his stern is tied on the other side of the railings.

Goaty mountain cheese from Vienna

After some of the smelly goats cheese for lunch we headed to Tesco to do a little shop. This ended up being a touch bigger than planned as they had a special offer on barbecue briquettes. Well we had to stock up.

I know it’s still January

0 locks, 4.42 miles, 1 mile one way, 1 mile back again, 1 wind, 1 reverse, 2 straight ons, 1 chilly blowy day, 1 full water tank, 1 bag charcoal, 1 smelly cheese, 0 shore leave, 1 shallow mooring.