Monday, 31 August 2015


Today's Canals - Engine Branch, Old Main Line, New Main Line

It was a generally wet day with the heavier rain early on as we made our way into Birmingham. First we went down the Engine Arm to use the services at the far end. Along the last part of the towpath is a set of around a dozen secure moorings, mainly residential. They did seem rather better than we recall from our previous visits but the service block is kept very clean and tidy.

A couple of the 'locals' chatted to us and were most helpful - others waved. This meant that this time we found out what to do about drinking water and one person offered to help connect us up. Although we were only there for a brief time, it really did feel that we were welcomed as part of a boating community.

Before leaving Mike cleared the prop from a bunch of heavy duty plastic and bits of string and wire. We went back along the arm very much quicker and smoother than we arrived.

We crossed back over the aqueduct just as a couple of boats were going through on the lower level.

Immediately at the junction are the three Smethwick Locks that took us back down from the Old Main Line to the New Main Line. At one time, to alleviate a bottleneck, new locks were built alongside the original flight but later they were filled in. At the top it is just possible to spot the entry to the parallel Lock, But only if you have been forewarned.

As we arrived at the flight a boat was already just going down ahead of us. They kindly drew a paddle to refill the other two locks after they had passed through.

Alas, the lock keepers office by the top lock has been hit by arsonists and looks in a sorry state. A pity as it is quite a well proportioned structure.

Beside the pound between the middle and bottom locks a large site is being cleared for re-development. No doubt next time we pass this way there will be houses here.

Alongside the bottom lock there used to be two pubs - the name of one has long since disappeared as the building has been turned to other purposes but the New Navigation is sadly being left to become derelict. At one time it must have been quite an operation as the building is rather sizable.

Back then onto the New Main Line and we sped along, passing the turnings to arms that were once the Old Main Line before Telford straightened out the canal. Three of the loops are still navigable and one of them is now used for the moorings at Sherborne Wharf where we are planning to leave the boat whilst we return home.

There was plenty of space at Brindley Place and we moored up. Mike went to check in at the new offices for Sherborne Wharf. Earlier this year they moved alongside the main line and re-opened the Fiddle and Bone pub/restaurant.

After a quick lunch Mike set off to collect the car from Napton Narrowboats at Autherley Stop Lock. He was fortunate that a train to Wolverhampton was leaving within a few minutes after he arrived at New Street Station and when he reached Wolverhampton and found the stop for the Number 4 bus he only had two minutes to wait for the next service. Fortunate as, being a bank holiday, the Sunday hourly frequency was being operated instead of the normal weekday 7-8 minute timetable! At Oxley Moor it was a short walk to the boatyard and then a drive back to park the car at Sherborne Wharf for the night. We will move the boat around the corner in the morning. Meanwhile Christine had continued with packing and cleaning.

Christine had also spotted on line that Cotswold Outdoor were having a good sale so she persuaded Mike to go and see if he could replace the pair of boots which were rapidly disintegrating.

As we walked through to the shopping are we saw most of the Great Hoot owls on display. An urban art project on show during the summer, they will be auctioned for a charity this October.

Not only did Mike manage to find a suitable pair of boots - the sales person insisted on doing a full foot measurement - but Christine also bought a new lightweight rain jacket.

On the way back to the boat we looked at almost all of the eating places trying to decide where we might eat out this evening. At the moment it looks as if we will be having tapas.

Yes we did! Sorry, but forgot to take photo until we were half way through. The food was very tasty and we were served by a very pleasant young lass, working here to help pay for her car whilst she studies law at Birmingham University.

3.6 Miles - 3 Locks

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Engine Arm Junction

Today's Canals - Main Line, Wolverhampton Level

We chose to moor last night on the basis of access to a church for this morning. The road from Hill's Bridge looked quite straightforward and a quick glance last night indicated a walk of around 16 minutes. However, this morning on looking at the routes more carefully they seemed a bit strange as they all would take us along the towpath to the next footbridge. Mike went to check and it seems that there is no official exit from the towpath at Hill's Bridge! However, there is a set of steps, almost hidden, an a very short way across a piece of scrub land, to get to the main road.

The walk did indeed take us the 14 minutes that was estimated from the bridge (once we had found the way up!) The first part is through a former industrial area although much of it looks as if it has ceased operation. Definitely not the tidiest area but one wonders why it has not been re-developed. Seeing brown field land like this makes one question the supposed lack of land for meeting the housing demand. is it just because developers will not take on the extra challenge and prefer to fight legal battles to be allowed to build on green sites?

The second part took us through an area of mid 20C sprawl - later we discovered that the village of Coseley really developed only in the 40 years after 1920 when local councils built or encourage the building of acres of suburban housing.

However, Christ Church where we were heading was an 1830 development, presumably built as were so many in cities at that time, to provide for the spiritual well being of the new industrial work force (in other words to keep them from be revolutionaries!) Whether it ever regularly attracted a congregation to fill the church , with its spacious gallery as well, would be interesting to know. Sometimes the provision of such churches represented ambitions that were never likely to be met. Today, it is well maintained and much lighter than the photo on their web site suggested.

There were around 60 people in the congregation, mostly making us look youthful. A new vicar, who arrived last year, is obviously trying to make a difference but it will be a long haul before it is certain that the church will not die of natural causes in 15 years time. The service was conventional and competently led. Why is it that some organists/pianists manage to play the first verse of each hymn at a good pace but then gradually get slower and slower?

However, there was little attempt to ask who we were and we emerged at the end without having had a single conversation.

Back then to the boat, re-tracing our steps. It was too early for lunch so we set off to go through the fairly short Coseley Tunnel and then down the three Factory Locks.

Alongside the top lock was a site with a number of narrowboat shells - none of them seemed to be very advanced in their completion to a usable boat!

We moored below the flight for lunch - a considerable number of walkers passed along the towpath on a 26 mile bank holiday special! Not sure whether the design of the small bridge below the bottom lock was originally so that it could swing or whether the gap at one side was to let a tow rope pass underneath.

Off again and we continued along the Main Line. At Watery Lane a boatyard occupies a short arm under a typical bridge. The plaque explains that a now lost canal used to cross the main line at this point - hence the roving bridge across the main canal.

A railway line follows the canal closely here but was strangely quiet today - the indicator board at Dudley Port station showed no trains were due. A strike! Back to the Seventies . . .

At Bromford Junction where we ascended the three Spon Lane Locks. Slightly to our surprise, a boat was just coming down the bottom lock! Indeed we saw another couple of boats along this often boat-free section ahead of us.

The top lock is right in the shadow of an elevated motorway with its many 'legs' striding across the landscape.

Let's hope that no-one uses the signpost to decide which way to go as someone has turned it so that the fingers point in the wrong directions!

The Summit Tunnel is preceded by a road and a rail bridge - the closer almost joins onto the tunnel but a small gap shows that it is actually separate.

We came this way as we planned to go down the Engine Arm Branch as being the nearest place with a sani station. In the end we opted to moor at the junction - hopefully with a tv signal and about an hour and a half top go tomorrow into the centre of Birmingham. We are booked into Sherbourne Wharf from Tuesday morning.

6.7 Miles - 6 Locks

Saturday, 29 August 2015


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

We were booked in at Oxley Marine for first thing this morning - just across the canal from our overnight mooring. By the time we arrived, about 9 am, they were already hard at work on a couple of other boats needing attention. David was set to work to remove the existing throttle/gear control to see if it could be repaired. Once examined, it seemed that a pin had sheared and that the unit is so constructed that it is not intended to be repaired. Other parts were also worn.

So, a new unit was advised and David despatched by motor bike to Penkridge to collect a suitable replacement. It was not long before the bike, rider and part were back. Whilst it was being fitted, we walked to Morrisons for a paper, milk and one or two other items. By the time we returned to the boatyard, the work was done but coffee was a priority. Once the mug was empty we could pay and prepare to leave.

Now that looks exciting, doesn't it?

Whilst we were moored Mike chatted to Stephen Carter, the owner of nb Chyandour, until last year vicar of Netherton and member of an internet group to which Mike subscribes. We knew from previous emails that he was planning to have work done on his boat at Oxley later in the year. What we did not previously know (or had forgotten) is that in retirement he is now one of the new team of waterways chaplains who are doing some really useful work in many parts of the canal system, mainly with people who live permanently on the water.

Initially we thought that we would stop before the Wolverhampton 21 for lunch but it was still a bit too early so Plan B was to go up a couple of locks first. Still too early so it looked on the map as if another three was needed for a suitable mooring but Plan C was to stop after another 2!

Just a pretty picture of the turnover bridge just above Aldersley Junction.

After lunch we set off once more and were soon followed by a boat coming up behind us who, we eventually, discovered was a scout group from Dulwich (the part of London where Mike spent his teenage years). They seemed mainly to be university age but with a common factor that most went to Dulwich College, the big brother to Alleyns, the school that Mike and his younger brother attended.

In the end some of the lads (there were ten altogether on the boat) helped do our locks - mainly so that they had something to do! The one that mainly helped Christine go ahead and set the locks is currently studying law.

Our net time, omitting the time for lunch, to come up the 21 locks was around 2 hours 45 minutes, which is not bad. Anything over three hours is hanging about!

After we had set off up the flight, Mike noticed that increasingly there was a large clunk (technical term) when reverse gear was selected, most times anyway. He phoned Oxley when we were at lock 14 and the problem recognised. A small adjustment is needed and 'I will send someone as soon as possible'. By the time we reached lock 10, Phil was marching down the towpath. Match day for Wolves meant that he had had difficulty parking and had walked down from the top lock. As the pounds are short and not convenient to pull in (which is one reason why we had kept going) Phil made the adjustment as we came through a couple of locks - a flying repair if ever there was! He departed, satisfied that it was now all OK and reported that this can easily happen as a matter of settling down after installation (the problem was not happening immediately on leaving the boatyard)

At the top of the flight we stopped briefly at Broad Street Basin to use the sani station and to dispose of rubbish. After some debate we eventually decided to move on but it was not immediately clear where we might find a church for the morning and left with research still to do. It was a pleasant late afternoon and as we cruised along, Mike made a quiche for the meal tonight. We will report tomorrow on whether out church search proved successful or not!

We did notice that the towpath has had some careful attention this year and in many places the edging grass is almost up to municipal park standard! (Actually quite a bit was more impressive than this photo captured!)

Even though we were on the Main Line and the water is remarkably clear, the reeds have grown well and our progress was surprisingly slow.

6.1 Miles - 21 Locks

Friday, 28 August 2015


Today's Canals - Shropshire Union, Staffs and Worcs (just)

We moored overnight just a few minutes from Norbury Junction where we needed to stop for the full range of services. It was a bright sunny day but occasionally sufficiently windy to cause some people a problem.

Our schedule today was based on needing to get to Autherley Junction by 16:30 in order to hand back Alice and Jess. Our estimate gave us an hour's free space for delays, shopping or whatever.

At one time, a branch left the junction to link with Newport and from there to Shrewsbury. Sadly it was one of the victims of precipitate closure in the immediate post-war period. Only this short arm is still in water although a restoration trust has recently been formed. The first lock was converted into a dry dock.

The wharf is now a thriving boatyard (we hired from here a couple if time several decades ago!) using some of the original workshop buildings. It also claims to have the cheapest red diesel on the network - but only by 0.01p on the base price!

Today proved to be extremely busy at times and we could rarely take a photo without someone following behind as close as they could manage. Fortunately we did not have to make too many sudden stops at blind bridge holes.

Almost all of today's stretch was either an embankment or a cutting. The embankments are usually protected with stop gates at either end, just in case of a breach. With very long level pounds, this could otherwise result in the loss of an enormous amount of water which would cause great damage and also take considerable time to replace.

Cowley Tunnel is very short, just over 60m in length, and hewn out of rock. No doubt the original builders found this easier than removing it all as there is a rock cutting on either side.

Yes that boat is still there!

Wheaton Aston not only has a single lock but also, it seems, a good pub. Certainly several of the boats both ahead and behind suddenly pulled in at the mooring. Nevertheless there was a long delay, nearly an hour, before we could ourselves go up the lock.

As we neared the waiting area, a boat decided to use the winding hole to turn around. The boat coming the other way was most impatient and made several attempts to dodge through the gap as the other boat moved forward and back in its manoeuvre. Summer Wine, however, was giving no quarter and frustrated it at each attempt!

Having joined the queue, Christine gave Alice and Jess some lunch and suggested they sit outside in the sunshine to eat it. They were joined by Fran, the girl from two days ago with whom they came up Audlem locks.

Eventually it was our turn. We were so diverted by other things while we waited, that we almost failed to notice that we should be emptying the lock. Fortunately several people from boats behind were keen to see us through as quickly as possible so set it for us!

Mike and Alice hopped off for a short distance to take a look at Telford's structure over Watling Street. It was easy to see how straight the Roman roads often were.

Small but beautifully formed - a reduced version of the standard narrow boat - in this case narrow-narrow boat!

We timed our passage through Brewood just wrong - quite a few boats were setting off (perhaps after lunch a at the popular canal-side pub) including this one who came out right in front of us and then pootled along at half speed. After about 45 minutes, several pulled in to moor, again without warning

We were following our computer estimate and still expected to arrive at Autherely just on schedule . The final turnover bridge and then the stop lock until we could moor just around the corner. That was the total distance on the Staffs and Worcester!

Adrian had been a bit delayed on the way but eventually arrived, had tea and crumpets before loading the girls and their luggage int his car and they were away.

We walked to the nearby shops for a paper before setting about preparing dinner. wine tonight!

16.1 Miles - 2 Locks