We’re here again! I’ve nearly finished mapping out all the good bits of the sideways trees around here, at least it isn’t the severe BUMingham with only bricks! She says we might be here for a little while so I shouldn’t use this outside all up at once. Well I’d nearly done that the last time we were here!
But I do have extra bits to explore. This outside has grown a climbing frame, most unexpected.
There has been a group of Toms expanding it today. It’s going to take some calculations but I think it shouldn’t be beyond my abilities. The bottom bits have had nice spongy things added to them. These are not quite as good as tree trunks, but quite good to claw, a different texture. More importantly they should be able to give me good grip whilst I start my ascent up the poles.
My Feline Design Assistance is also going to be needed very soon. ‘The Garden’ is my kind of show, sideways trees and a fence to sit on. She has got the go ahead to make her model so I’m going to be busy helping. Apparently this model won’t have any poisonous chairs in it.
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.
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.
Angelsey Basin to Riddian Bridge, Daw End Branch BCN
Despite drizzle and a touch more wind than we’d expected we moved onwards today. Retracing ourselves back to Catshill Junction we passed the two Fountains men tidying up the towpath again. One trimming the hedge, the other cutting the grass and then blowing away the cuttings.
Along this stretch is a line of painted stones, done by the local school, I’d wondered what would happen when the chaps arrived at that stretch. It looks like the stones were just driven over by the first tractor which pushed them down so hopefully the second one will just skate over the top not affecting the painting.
At Catshill we turned left onto the Daw End Branch. For most of our miles today we seemed to be on an embankment above houses and light industry.
At Walsall Wood Bridge a group of volunteers were hard at work picking up rubbish, scraping the moss of the edging tiles and cutting back trees that were trying to take hold in the brickwork. All the time a very tall fisherman looked down on them. The sculpture is by Luke Perry (the same chap who did the sculptures along the Dudley No2 canal) and is part of a sculpture trail through Walsall Wood. Originally the sculpture had a fish hanging from fishing line, a lucky catch but sadly the fish is long gone.
There is also some heavier industry. Through the trees we could see what could only be a large mound of spoil, was it from the coal industry? Rubbish? A large hole alongside suggested something was being dug up. Further investigation suggests it was a clay quarry used for making bricks.
The large McKechnie Metals Ltd building now stands empty, no glass in the windows, just distorted skeletal metal framework. McKechnie Brass was the last brass extrusion manufacturing company in the country. They used scrap brass to produce brass rods and profiles for alsorts of products including pins for plugs, padlocks, lift tracks and overhead conductive wire for the railway industry. Sadly the firm went out of business in 2013, having accrued millions in debts. The site is set for redevelopment, but the 116 page document I found was going to take too long to read to find out what exactly the site will be used for.
We had our eyes set on mooring at Park Lime Pits Nature Reserve. If we found a space away from the car park and railway line Tilly would have a fine time. There are rings here, but there was also a cruiser tied to them. We tried a little further along with no luck.
I stood at the bow watching the depth of water as we went, hoping the bottom of the canal would drop out of view suggesting there was enough depth to pull in. We tried several times and eventually after half a mile found one spot that apart from the last foot was okay. Here we were surrounded by fields and not too many woofer walkers.
I really wanted someone to come out and play. I kept coming back to ask them, but they wanted to sit and finish off their smelly cheese!
A pot of butternut squash goulash was popped on the stove to bubble away all afternoon whilst I tried to do a bit of work collecting reference photos for costume designs for The Garden. Have to say emails from the Viennese English Theatre kept distracting me somewhat. Wonder if anything will come of them?
At sometime either last night or this morning we were joined by a third boat. The scum around Oleanna had been moving somewhat which suggested boat movement. After a slow start to the day we moved back to the water point, topped up our water, emptied yellow water and Tilly had her pooh box cleaned out, we were all ready to move onwards.
After half a mile of scummy cruising we arrived at Catshill Junction, it would be silly to go to the right without taking the detour up to Anglesey Basin first. So we veered left and skirted round the other side of Brownhills.
At Ogley Junction we passed what may one day be the restored Lichfield Canal which would join the Coventry Canal to the BCN at Huddlesford Junction.
Most probably not the first boaters to do this, but there was only one thing to eat whilst cruising today and Tesco had come up trumps, Curlywurlys! We’re sure they have shrunk since 1970 when they were first brought out. The internet was trawled for information, one chap collects the wrappers which in 1970 didn’t have to show the weight. Is it just that as you grow bigger everything gets smaller? Or have they shrunk? Certainly the adverts with Terry Scott must have had larger ones made to make him look like a young lad. A couple of years after they were first released the caramel recipe was changed to make it softer so that the chocolate didn’t fall off so easily. Maybe at this time they made the ladder of caramel have smaller holes, therefore making the bar smaller? Sadly they will be reducing their size soon so that they only contain 100 calories per bar.
Anyhow we enjoyed chewing our way along the Crulywyrley canal especially those extra 18 calories!
Fountains were out cutting back the hedges along the towpath, as the chap turned his mini tractor round we hung back, just incase he didn’t quite judge it right and ended up in the canal. Then under Watling Street, we always wonder how many times the A5 crosses the canal system.
Next we bobbed under the M6 Toll. Nearly at the end of the arm two old coal shoots still sit along side the canal, now redundant but once would have been filling boats from the local mines. Round a bend and up ahead we could see the bank leading up to the Chasewater Reservoir. Neither of us had thought of it being so high, but there it was towering above the canal.
We’d been warned that a chain had been put across the very end here. Before the chain two or maybe three boats could moor here side by side, but now only a short amount of hard edge is available. We winded and backed in for a closer look. On the northern side people have obviously pulled in, there is a ring at the stern and a bald patch in the scrub at around about the right position for most bows.
Mick hopped off with a spike, pulled us in with the centre rope.At last! somewhere that looked really rather great! Sideways trees, friendly cover (even if it is a touch spikey) and trees! What’s not to like? Well the amount of woofers! She came for a walk with me then left me to my own devices. Woohoo Bunnies too!!!
Tilly was occupied for quite sometime, the number of woofers didn’t seem to bother her, but after about an hour and a half she made a dash back to the boat. This then gave us the opportunity to go and have a nosy at the reservoir.
Chasewater Reservoir was built in 1797 as a feeder to the canal and the 160 miles of the BCN. In 1799 the eastern dam burst releasing a flood that headed downstream towards Shenstone after a summer storm had caused the reservoir to overtop and erode the bank. By 1800 the dam had been rebuilt, much stronger with a limestone lining.
In 1848 the feeder canal was made navigable due to the coal deposits in the area. In 1849 a colliery was opened right below the dam, would this be allowed today? The colliery only lasted to 1857 as it proved hard to contend with the local geology, but other collieries opened in the area and remained working into the 20th Century.
A railway was built to link the collieries, this is now Chasewater Railway, which is run as a heritage railway.
We walked along the banks, the reservoir now caters for leisure activities with sailing, water skiing and wakeboarding. Of course nobody was out on the water today, just plenty of walkers and bird watchers.
At Chasewater Railway we were able to have a quick look around before it all shut up shop for the day, no trains running. Several Pacer trains sat on the lines, presumably recent acquisitions, along with much older rolling stock, some in great need of some TLC.
0 locks, 2.94 miles, 2 lefts, 1 wind, M6, A5, 10th in the queue, 1 appointment, 1 full water tank, 1 empty wee tank, 1 clean pooh box, 2 curlywurlys, 118 calories, 2.5 hrs shore leave, 2 coal shoots, 4.4 billion litres of water, 1 very windy evening.
Being right next to a water point it made sense to get some washing done. Our bedding was first in the machine, followed by a load of clothes.
A block of butter was chopped up and left in a bowl on the proving shelf before breakfast to help soften it. Some baking was on the cards this morning. First a Dorset Apple Cake, this was then going to be followed by a Sundried Tomato and Parmesan Loaf, but a message came through putting that on hold.
Emma and Ted the other day had forgotten to hand over our latest post from my brothers, so they were going to call in on their way south. We’d be about half way so a good pit stop. But their time was going to be limited so no quick lunch just a cuppa and a wee break.
Then about an hour later my phone rang. Leaving York had taken time and if there were any more hold ups on their journey south they would end up having to pay for the hire car for an extra day, an expense they didn’t want. So could they post our post onto us?
Some thought of where to post it to is needed, my first thought being my brothers! The envelopes were gone through to check for anything time sensitive, nothing urgent it could wait a little. But the biggest shame is not getting to see them again this trip.
As the washing did it’s thing the wind blew the scummy scum outside on the cut back to surround us. A number checker came past. Tilly watched all the geese and moorhens with great interest, following them from window to window. And I got on with sorting costume references for The Garden. One question I have is should I make my own combat trousers as there will be plenty of off cuts when I buy trousers for two of the men?
0 locks, 0 miles, 0 shore leave, 0 post, 4 costume references sorted, 42″ waist, 19.5″ inside leg, 1 alteration of plans, 2 loads of washing, 1 pooh bucket, 1 big cake just for the two of us, what a shame!
Pelsall Junction to Brownhills Colliery Basins to Brownhills Services
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
We now wound our way along past houses and light industry. Evidence of old arms scarce now they have been built over.
Some places were more rural, Mick spied two huge deer in amongst the trees, they were the size of donkeys.
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.
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.
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.
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.