Monday, 6 July 2015

Wolverhampton 21 and Oxley

Today's Canals - Birmingham Main Line, Staffs and Worcs

Before setting off, Mike headed back up to the shops to post the birthday card and also to pick up today's newspaper. Following that he completed the usual round of servicing - we could have turned into the basin, as we have in the past, as the fuel boats all left very early. However, we now know that there is a second water point accessible fro the towpath outside the basin which we opted to use. It does mean a slightly longer walk (at least 50m!) to the sani station and refuse disposal . . .

Believe weather forecasts? By last night they had changed so that today was now expected to be wet all day from 11 onwards! So much for our plan yesterday. It was, however, still sunny and warm as we left the mooring we had used for the last couple of nights.

We only have under 2 and half miles to go today - just that there are 21 locks! The Wolverhampton 21 as it is often known is actually quite a pleasure to operate, despite many stories of it being a bit of a dangerous area.

By the time we had descended a few of the locks, the rain gradually arrived but stayed warm enough as we worked our way down the flight. Having seen so few boats for the last four days, it was a surprise to encounter about six coming up the flight - which was a help.

Taking photos in this rain does not work well!

There is not a lot to report about the flight other than that we just about managed to make it in our target of three hours!

From the bottom of the flight at Aldersley Junction it was only five minutes up the Staffs and Worcs to Oxley Moor where we tied up on the towpath for an immediate lunch break.

We have to make final arrangements and pay some money for the engine refit. We also plan on a trip to a supermarket to re-stock the on-board larder.

In the event, Christine did not have her magic box of tricks to set up the planned bank transfer - that will have to wait until tomorrow but we did make it to Morrisons.

Later we walked down the towpath, beyond the junction to take a look at Tunstall Water Bridge. After we had passed this way a week ago, Mike discovered that this carries Smestow Brook, said to be an important tributary to the Rover Stour and one which runs alongside the canal for some distance.

The structure was complicated (two water channels and a footpath) but we were surprised at the small amount of water flow. The bridge was clearly designed to carry rather more but one half looks like it may only be effective in storm overflows.

2.4 miles - 21 locks

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Car Shuffle Day

Today we stayed put - except for moving across to the towpath side from the secure mooring. The weather forecast for the afternoon was that it would be wet whilst for tomorrow it would be sunny. Who believes weather forecasts?

We walked up to the city centre - Christine wanted to make a quick call to Boots and also to find a birthday card for Ellie, the eldest grand daughter.

We opted to go to St Peter's Collegiate Church in the centre of Wolverhampton for the 11 am service. This church maintains an extensive choral tradition with several choirs and around 100 singers. Today it was the men and boys choir with around 10 boys and 20 men. The main organ (they have three in total) dominates the nave as it sits high up in the roof over a screen that divides the church into two.

There were around 80 people in the congregation and although the liturgy followed a traditional pattern, albeit in modern language, it did not feel unduly formal or stiff. We did not stay for coffee afterwards as Mike wanted to make a prompt start on the car shuffle.

After a quick lunch back at the boat he set off for the station - we were actually moored alongside but the pedestrian route is quite convoluted!

After one train to Birmingham and a second to Burton-on-Trent, both of which were on time, he had quite a wait before being able to proceed. The remainder of the journey was by V3 Villager bus which on Sundays only runs every two hours. He walked into town with the sun still shining. However, as he located the bus stop, the promised rain arrived.

So, it was back to Sainsbury for a pot of tea in their otherwise empty restaurant - only £1! By the time he had wandered through the shopping centre the sun had returned and there was a chance to sit in a small park area until time to return to the bus stop.

There were around 6 or 7 people waiting, none of whom regularly use the service so there was a certain amount of nervousness when it failed to show for around 8 minutes after the due time, during which it disappeared from the display panel!

In the end it did arrive and finally dropped Mike right at the pedestrian entrance to Mercia Marina. The car we quickly located and Mike set off to drive to Oxley Marine where we are leaving the boat for the next four weeks whilst we are at home and a new engine is to be fitted. During the journey the heavy rain storm that added a bit of spice to the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone also deposited the wet stuff on the road back to Wolverhampton! Fortunately, Mike did not have to make a pit stop to change tyres on his car!

We had been told that it was easy to get a bus from the boatyard into Wolverhampton and, indeed, the stop was very close at hand. However, Mike then discovered that the service is hourly! Even more surprisingly was the fact that the next service was due in 4 minutes - which it did and took him back into the city centre, just a five minute walk back to the boat.

Christine had been cleaning and packing and had started the roast dinner which Mike then completed - hence missing out on uploading this blog until the next day!

Early evening, four fuel boats arrived up the lock flight and all found an overnight mooring in the basin.

Saturday, 4 July 2015


Today's Canals - Wyrley and Essington, Cannock Extension, Main Line

As forecast, today was generally bright and sunny although not quite as hot as earlier in the week. In the afternoon a pleasant breeze also arrived.

We intended to make a reasonably prompt start as we hoped to reach Norton canes at the end of the Cannock Extension Canal, somewhere we have not been for a long time. The last time we had the opportunity it was raining so heavily that we at out a long lunch break at the junction before opting out of the diversion!

However, Mike thought to check the prop as part of his checks, thinking that we were going rather slowly as we neared our overnight mooring. true enough, there was quite a bundle mangled around, mainly a tough hessian style plastic carrying bag with heavy duty handles. It did not want to be removed!

As a result it was nine before casting off.

The Wyrley and Essington is mostly a pleasant cruise but, of course, with a contour canal there are plenty of tight and blind bends but no locks! As a result, there is not a long story to tell today as we just cruised and cruised, carefully re-calculating the time at frequent intervals!

With a clean prop we managed a much better speed than yesterday afternoon and kept ahead of our schedule - the calculation last night was that we needed around nine hours.

We passed a number of junctions. The first was Sneyd although the other canal that once joined here has long since been abandoned with just the remnants of the bottom locks. Just beyond the junction is a service block and a number of moored boats. Given the pressure on mooring spaces in London, it is quite a surprise that along this canal there are hardly any moored, either at permanent moorings or as continuous cruisers.

We did meet two moving boats today - the first came as a surprise to both of us, not least as we met at a blind bridge hole! the other boat was just five minutes later. Apart from that we had the canal to ourselves - apart from plenty of people fishing, walking and cycling along the towpath.

There is a lot of new house building on sites adjoining the canal - mostly large sites packed with incredibly minute properties. The design quality varies but here is one that we definitely did not appreciate! as we first approached them this row (the rest of the site was even more unharmonious - spell check says I cannot use that word, but I am going to invent it if necessary!) looked as if it was intended to resemble a factory building that it no doubt replaced.

Next came Birchills Junction where the line to Walsall goes off and eventually meets the Main Line where we had to turn around a couple of days ago.

The white water lilies now dominate entirely. Close up they are pretty but at a distance they look too much as if they are more of the detritus that sometimes clogs urban canals, with lots of floating polystyrene! As it happens, most of this canal was mercifully clear of rubbish, although the space around some bridges appear to be general dumping grounds.

The landscape became at times quite rural although we then returned to more urban sprawl.

Just before Pelsall Junction, a sturdy bridge gives a reminder of the long lost reason for the canal at this point and the once highly successful manufacture of cast iron bridges installed right across the network.

Commonsense would have suggested that we turned around at this point and headed back to Wolverhampton but our calculations showed that, so long as we did not stop for lunch, we should be able to go down the Cannock Extension and still be back at Horseley Fields for a few minutes after six o'clock.

The bridges around here look as if they owe something to the railway builders.

The next bridge looks very similar and by now we could see that this canal runs dead straight for about a mile and three quarters with no 'curly wurly'.

At one time this canal went much further but it now comes to an abrupt end in front of the A5 and the M6 Toll roads. As a result we failed to take a photo to show this non event! However, it also means that there is no historical winding hole at the end but, fortunately we did not have to reverse half a mile to the last official point as CTS kindly allow boats to turn at the entrance to their dock.

So now it was time to re-trace our steps. At the junction there are two buildings one of which appears to be the toll house of cottage. The other, we are not sure about its history, but it seems that someone is doing a lot of work on it to create a new house from it.

At least we now know how far we have to go today! Sadly, it is not possible to reach Hatherston along this route although the northern end of it at least is actively being restored so one day it may just be possible to not have that finger painted out!

A patch of the much more delicate small yellow lilies . . .

and one small clump of pink ones, perhaps escaped from cultivation!

The bridge at Goscote indicates that this works site was once important - how long before it too succumbs to the inevitable march of the housebuilder?

Christine spotted on the way out this painted local map underneath one of the bridges. Alas, at speed, we did not manage to capture all of it but at least this gives a taster.

We made a lightning stop at Sneyd Junction for the full range of services. It is three days since we last took on water so we were a little concerned to fill up even though it took a little while.

The afternoon continued bright and sunny . . .

We also stopped at Wednesford where Christine had spotted a Sainsbury very close to the canal. proper mooring was not possible as the bank was shallow so Mike pulled the boat onto the mud and held it there whilst Christine went shopping. We later discovered that had we gone under the bridge we would have found a much better bank for stopping!

As we approached the sculpture shortly before Horseley Fields we spotted this young chap using it as an alternative bridge! He slid down the final section to join his mate on the motorcycle!

A short while later - on our original timetable despite the two short stops - we turned back onto the Main Line and found an overnight mooring on the secure site in the centre of Wolverhampton. The only problem with this mooring is that it is so secure it is not possible to get out other than by water! However, we will deal with that in the morning - we plan to go to church in the town centre. the weather forecast is for heavy rain in the afternoon so it seem s likely that Mike will do the car shuffle then, rather than on Monday. We shall see.

23.2 Miles - 0 Locks

Friday, 3 July 2015

Dudley tunnel, Bradley Workshops and Curly Wurly

Today's Canals : Old Main Line, Wednesbury Oak Loop, Wyrley & Essington

Another hot day - at the outset the sky had quite a bit of blue but with high level cloud and haze. Mid afternoon a light breeze arrived as scheduled and gradually more overcast lower cloud dominated the scene. The later part of the day was kinder on steerers!

We did not have any need to be off quickly as we planned to make a visit to the Dudley Tunnel, if only in a trip boat. Whilst waiting for the first trip of the day - 10:30 - Mike found a paper shop not very far away (it took as long to get through the gate as then to walk to the shop!) Fortunately they did have the right one, but only one (and then there were none!)

We took the opportunity of moving the boat across to the service block and then to turn around in the awkward space formed by the former entrance to the dock which is now part of the Black Country Living Museum.

The new visitor centre, courtesy Lottery money - is still expected to open this September!

When Christine booked the trip tickets as they opened at 10, it seemed as if we might have been only us but by the time of departure, there were around fifteen of us on board.

The trip lasts 45 minutes and takes visitors into three caverns. Originally this was a limestone and iron ore mine rather than a through route and miners dug down from the surface to extract the rock, creating large caverns as they did so. To simplify the removal of the rock, tunnels were driven horizontally and filled with water so that boats could be floated in.

Although the once-abandoned tunnel was re-opened in modern times, some of the original was in too bad a condition to restore and so some new lengths were driven using up-to-date techniques. These use pre-cast concrete sections but to make the tunnel look a little older the inner surface was sprayed irregularly with concrete.

After a short distance we stopped and watched a video about the geological history projected onto a large screen.

Two of the caverns were opened out by the miners but the third is indeed cavernous. As well as being part of the tunnel route, it is also used as a venue for concerts, weddings and other events!

From the open caverns we could see entrances to other tunnels in what was a complex network when working at full capacity.

A new video show - a little history but mainly music and light. It has only been in use for a few weeks.

The boat has to reverse out but uses an alternative tunnel for the first part, in which the modern tunnel sections have been left for us to see.

At the end of the trip we returned to our own boat and set off on a day with no locks!

At first we headed north west along the Old Main Line, passing the top of Factory locks which is where the New Main Line joins. The Birmingham and Wolverhampton levels are three locks different - linked in several places one of which is the Brades flight we came up yesterday.

Much of the canal today is lined by recent housing development, replacing large swathes of disused industrial waste land. Some if the developments are attractive, others very bland. In this case, it looks as if an older building has been Incorporated amongst newer blocks.

The short Coseley tunnel is built to much the same standard as the much longer Netherton Tunnel.

About the only boat we saw moving today was just setting off as we passed it.

We continued until we reached Deepfields Junction where we turned onto the Wednesbury Oak Loop. Today this only runs for nearly two miles to a dead end where the Bradley canal Workshops are located. Originally the line, one of the older through routes, continued to Doe Bank, just below the locks whdere we had to turn around yesterday.

It was quite slow but the water was clear and only occasional patches fully covered with surface weed. Nevertheless, about two thirds of the way along we had to stop to remove the usual detritus from the propeller. We made a little better progress then but it was still not speedy!

The workshops a

t the terminus are less than interesting so we quickly turned around and set off back again. At a guess, all the gates and other items made here are transported by road.

With a cleaner prop - and perhaps having cut away some of the weed in the central channel - we returned to the junction about ten minutes quicker!

Is this a sculpture?

The traffic and the Metro cars might be speedy but we certainly were not!

We were now back on the main line once more and another hour brought us to Horseley Fields junction and onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal, generally nicknamed Curly Wurly, with good reason! At the junction a cyclist asked which was was towards Birmingham. Just as well as he had failed to see the sign right behind him and he was going totally the wrong way and would soon be in Wolverhampton!

Again, although the canal was not especially weedy, it is known for not having a lot of depth so progress was gentle. We took a look in the small arm which was once the start of the Bentley Canal but the space available was right outside a pub and, on a Friday night, we opted to carry on.

There are few obvious places to moor although we did not feel that the surrounding urban areas presented too much of a threat. (we were passed by a patrolling police officer on her bike who waved cheerily at us. She was making much faster progress that we were!

We felt that it was perhaps just a bit too far to aim for moorings at Sneyd Junction and also did not want to be within too close a range of the M6 so we eventually called a halt for the night in Rough wood Country Park. Although we were able to come alongside reasonably easily, we still have the defensive moat of water between us and the bank!

Along this canal there have been plenty of the white floating water lilies - elsewhere we have seen plenty of the more common and less distinguished yellow ones.

17.1 miles - 0 locks