Thursday, 31 March 2016

Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Tunnel

Today's Canals - Old Main Line, Dudley Canal

We awoke to a bright, sunny day and it remained the same right through to the evening.

Before setting off, Mike and Jess walked a short distance to a Co-Op store, mainly for a paper but also they picked up a couple of reduced items: hot cross buns and Warburtons Thins. (The former were partially demolished with coffee and the latter disappeared at lunch time)

Back at the boat they took a quick look at the Tividale Quays Basin - well laid out complete with mooring rungs but totally devoid of any boats. No doubt there is a story behind this but perhaps it looked good on the developer's plans.

It was only a half hour cruise to the Dudley Canal Museum where we initially tied up at the service point and completed all of the usual. We then moved back a boat length to a 48 hour mooring. Fortunately this remained available as there were three boats that arrived almost immediately after us, two hire boats together which took up all of the space on the opposite side. The third was looking for room when a boat further on left the only other space at this end of the canal. Of course, there were plenty of spaces just the other side of the bridge.

Eventually we set off to explore the Black Country Living Museum, an amazing collection of old buildings which have been transported here from where they originally were built, all within a few miles of the museum. We were here last spring, before the new Dudley Canal Trust building had opened and the swing bridge was still being built. Whilst Mike finished off the servicing and re-mooring, Christine and Alice went along to the centre and booked tickets for the final tunnel trip this afternoon at 4 o'clock.

Off then to the main museum - there is more than enough to fill a whole day so we had to be selective. It was very much busier than when we last came (that was a cold day during school term time!) As a result we missed out those things that had a long queue but still found more than we had time to see.

We walked up to the main entrance to buy our tickets (only later spotting that we could have avoided that!) but we began by taking a look at a collection of really old cars, including this two seater from 1903. The rear two seats were a later 'improvement'.

Our next stop was at the education centre where Easter Crafts were available. Jess coloured and stuck together an Easter Bunny whilst Alice constructed an egg figure, carefully following the sheet of instructions.

Much of the museum comprises ordinary working class homes, some dating back to the mid nineteenth century but most set out as they might have looked in the 1930's. The first we looked at (actually brought forward to war time) was one of an experiment in cheaper housing built from cast iron with a concrete layer added outside later. Unfortunately it was both expensive and liable to rust. Most of the buildings have people, dressed in period costume, describing the lives of the people who lived there. This gentleman said quite a bit about how restricted food was during rationing.

Here is another house, with the room where all the domestic chores were carried out.

This single storey building was originally a toll house on a turnpike road, being sold later for a modest family home.

Not only houses, but shops as well. This one was originally in an area where there were no others and so developed as a very general store, food, household goods and clothes to mention some of the range on the shelves. This 'shopkeeper' explained about the types of shoe most poor children wore - the main sole made from wood but the toes and heels tipped with metal.

This lady is demonstrating how to make spills from yesterday's papers - Christine looks on knowingly as she regularly makes paper sticks instead!

Whilst Christine and Alice walked back to the craft place to collect the earlier work via the boat dock and came back down on a tram, Mike and Jess went to the old cinema where they watched a 1920's silent film. Just as well it was not a full length feature film as the seats were hardly plush

Christine and Alice went to look around the separate Tunnel Museum whilst Mike and Jess watched a couple of industrial displays. At one time, blacksmiths were small family businesses and often specialised in certain types of work. In the first case they saw how a rose-headed nail is made. The shape of the head is designed to ensure that when in place it does not catch and cut passing fingers.

The other smithy specialised in chain making and we saw one link being added. This took several minutes but in the days when this was someone's way of living they had to make sixty links of medium chain every hour

Very heavy chains were needed for ships and special hammers that took either three or five men to wield would be used.

Time now to meet up for the boat trip. We had seen fully laden boats setting off and returning from earlier trips so it was a bit of a surprise to discover that we were they only people booked on this last trip. Before boarding the special boats we had to don hard hats.

Our photography underground was not very competent but at least we did catch the highlight of Mike and Alice trying their feet at legging the boat through a narrow part of the tunnel.

And so the long (50m!) walk back to the boat or the night.

1.3 Miles - 0 Locks

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Titford and Back

Today's Canals - Gower Branch, Old Main Line, Titford canal

We awoke to a bright sunny morning and it remained this way all day. By lunch time it was pleasantly warm, only becoming chilly again later in the afternoon.

Our main aim to today was to fulfil a meet with Joanna and Adrian so they could drop off Alice and Jess whilst the parents take a short break in the Peak District.

Andrew and Mike set off in good time. On the opposite bank they saw this huge retaining wall being constructed - at first it looked like a competitor for the Berlin Wall. Later investigation suggested that an area of wasteland is being prepared for new developments.

They quickly arrived at the three Brades Locks. The unusual feature here is that the upper two are formed as a staircase.

Alongside the locks stands the Hindu Temple Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) which is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Immediately above the staircase is the junction with the Birmingham Old Main Line (Wolverhampton Level). Here we turned left towards Birmingham. The Valencia Wharf Coffee Shop is a little unusual as it comes with its own mooring pontoons! At least the cafe seemed busier than the moorings.

The Chemical Arm is all that is left of a longer branch that gained its name late in life when it connected to several works processing noxious chemicals, especially during the last war. Much of it was built over when the motorway was created but the after effects of the pollution continue.

In a fairly short distance we arrived at the junction with the Titford Canal. This junction cannot be seen on the OS Map or on Google Sat View as it is hidden underneath yet another elevated motorway section.

The once-derelict flight of six locks was restored in the 1970's and are very easy to work. Mike and Andrew reached the top 35 minutes after starting at the bottom.

Alongside the top lock is the restored former pumphouse which now houses the offices of the BCNS.

A little further on is the former Langley Maltings which supplied a local brewery for many years. However it closed in 2007 and has been proposed for conversion into apartments since then. Now, its current condition is rather poor with many of the roofs having fallen in.

We continued on, passing under the motorway once again, as it strides across the Titford Pools reservoir.

The further Pool is the other side of the bridge and is surprisingly wide, with plenty of depth to turn and well kept.

We tracked back a short distance to where we had arranged to meet. By then we were informed that they expected to arrive by 11.45 and it was now just after 11 so we felt that there was not really enough time to go shopping first. They did indeed arrive bang on schedule.

After a mug of coffee and a little chat, Joanna and Adrian left for their holiday hideaway. Andrew also set off to catch the train from the nearby station to pick up his car from Berkhampsted. After lunch Mike walked back to Asda for the few items we needed - alas he failed to find a newspaper as they did not stock the right one. He explored the street close to where we had moored and found Langley Village, a collection of small shops where - although it was half-day closing (did not realise anywhere still kept that!) - he did track down the paper.

Time then to set off with the girls to go down the locks. Alice promptly buried herself as usual in her book but Jess was very effective at opening and closing lock gates.

This time we could see rather more clearly the state of the Maltings. Apparently it suffered an extensive fire in 2009, just after we first came this way

Alas this diesel supplier was not close enough for boats to take advantage - regardless of price! But one wonders which members of the public around here can legitimately fill up with red diesel?

We were doing quite well at first until Christine looked as if she was doing a trip boat excursion around the wide pound. In fact she had lost all forward power as a result of something caught around the prop. From where she ended up, Mike could not get aboard so we had to take a line ashore, not as easy as it might have been because of a protected gas pipeline with spiky guards sticking up. Eventually we managed to pull the boat into the lock where Mike and Jess tackled the weed hatch. This time it was principally an industrial bag of thick material but it came off reasonably readily along with the usual assortment of plastic and weeds as well as fishing line.

We were then able to complete the flight and turned back onto the Old Main Line. It was a pleasant warm late afternoon as cruised along, looking for somewhere to moor and be convenient for Andrew to park his car to load up.

We eventually settled on some moorings listed in the guidebook close to a housing development complete with its own small marina, sadly not used for boats.

We then awaited news of Andrew's return. Jess assisted Mike in preparing the evening meal.

7.0 Miles - 15 Locks

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Albion Junction via Drained Pounds

Today's Canals - Birmingham and Fazeley, Tame Valley, Walsall, Wednesbury Old and Birmingham Main Line

The day began bright and sunny and we made a prompt start with the short distance back to Salford Junction. (Our mooring was on the opposite side of this ;picture, just behind the long term moored boat) Just before the junction we crossed the River Tame which was flowing quite fast.

The section we took yesterday from here is about 50m away from where we joined so Andrew reversed back just so that we could say that we had completed the loop!

The signpost has had its distances altered - perhaps CaRT's tape measure has stretched. In any event it is now not so far to Perry Bar as it once was!

We now turned northwards onto the Tame Valley Canal with the first part under the mesh of motorway and other roads, all on elevated sections above us. A footbridge and railway were thrown in for good measure.

At times it felt as if we were in the middle of a giant roller coaster.

Before long we were at the bottom of the Perry Barr flight of locks. The first two are somewhat separate from the main flight.

An unusual feature of these locks is that they have ladders either side just below the bottom gates. They appear to be original and many of the rungs are badly corroded - in one case at least so badly that all the rungs have been removed. However, most have had the missing steps replaced.

Under the first of two M6 crossings, repair work had been carried out and a temporary walkway installed. This was being dismantled but was pulled to one side to make sure that we could pass by with just enough room to spare.

At this point we noticed that recent work has been done to improve the towpath especially for cyclists. At least the specification here leaves enough of a strip for boats to hammer in mooring pins - too many other places have the hard surface right to the edge.

Just before the fourth lock, Andrew signalled to Mike who was steering to slow down as he had to pull out a floating sheet that would otherwise had prevented the boat from entering the lock.

At times, if you ignored what was behind you, the view of the next lock could almost have been in deepest rural Shropshire.

The last locks are close together and give quite splendid view from below.

Things were going well until we reached the sixth lock from the top where Andrew came back to report that all but one of the remaining pounds were completely drained. He had seen two CaRT staff who were going to report to Customer Services but suggested that we should also do so. Mike rang and then received a call back a couple of minutes later to say that staff were now on site to begin filling up the flight. The person who came down to talk to us was very friendly - he was not entirely sure what had been happening but it seems that the towpath contractors have not always been especially helpful. Between us we came to the conclusion that they had emptied the pounds for reasons far from clear and had done so earlier that morning.

Gradually enough water was let down to provide sufficient depth for us to poke our nose tentatively out of the lock to see if we could clear the top cill. Yes we could and then we continued happily to the top of the flight. Overall it had added just over an hour to our journey time.

A deep cutting followed and the banks were beginning to turn blue.

Well away from the locks we eventually caught up with the crew who are making the new towpath.

This is what the towpath looks like before the improvements.

We continued long the very straight sections until we reached Rushall Junction where the line up to Brownhills and Anglesey Basin at Chasewater joins in.

Shortly afterwards we crossed a motorway on a narrow aqueduct. Narrow enough for Mike to hop off, walk ahead, take photos and hop back on again before the boat had reached the end!

Up to now we were enjoying bright and warm sunshine but as we neared the end of the Tame Valley Canal at Doebank Junction, grey clouds gradually took over and by the time we moored at the service block at the junction light rain was beginning to fall.

Close to the service block the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch joins in. This was originally a feeder for one of the first bumping schemes that took water back up a level to keep the higher pounds filled up. It finished work in 1948 having opened in 1784. The remaining short section is home to a number of residential boats.

However, as we set off once more, the light rain was replaced by much heavier stuff and at times it was less than pleasant.

Just before the Ryders Green flight, Christine set off to visit Asda - we had already made several unsuccessful attempts to locate a newspaper and she wanted just a few more larder items as well.

Mike and Andrew began the ascent but progress was again brought to an abrupt halt with the discovery that the pound above the second lock was completely empty. This was strange as a boat had come from this direction whilst we were moored at the junction. Further puzzle came with a passing cyclist who reported that it had been like this at six o'clock this morning. However, we found that both top and bottom gates were not making a good seal - perhaps because rubbish was blocking the cills. In any event, we ran the water down ourselves this time (probably too late for a service team!)

By now we were getting thoroughly soaked but just as Christine returned we were able to move the boat out of lock 2 and into the faulty pound. Gingerly we motored through.

Two locks to go and we discovered a very large log wedged underneath the bow of the boat. It took some effort to persuade it to let go!

By the time we were ready to exit the top lock our minds were very much fixed on mooring for the night - our plan was to stay overnight at Albion Junction just twenty minutes away. But the day was still not ready to let go. As we engaged forward gear to leave the lock, the engine came to a halt and it was clear that we had picked up quite a substantial amount of rubbish around the prop. Down the weed hatch and out came a child's fleece jacket, some netting, assorted string, plastic and weed!

As we completed this task, the rain cleared and the last few minutes of our day were back in bright sunshine once more. We turned onto the main line - this heron was enjoying the sunshine too.

12.1 Miles - 20 Locks