Today we had a rest day, eating in town and then travelling gently the four miles to the Black Country Museum. On the way, we emptied loo holding tanks at the CRT basin near Broad Street. Once at the museum, we winded in the entrance to their arm and backed into the 24 hour mooring behind the museum pub! Liana's sister Alison arrived with son Scott, to begin her holiday with us. Liana won at Settlers of Catan!
Sunday 5 August through tunnels to Hawne Basin
Blue skies augured well for the day: We had pain au chocolat with coffee for breakfast (tres delicieux!) and set off through Brindley's Old Line Canal, avoiding the yellow water lilies filling the margins, as we moved towards Brades Locks, to drop three locks onto Telford's Main Line, and the Netherton Tunnel (you have to do four sides of a square!). Liana persuaded John not to enter the basin before Tiverly Aqueduct, as it was choked with lilies. Joggers and cyclists were enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine. We passed a fast moving modern working boat with a digger on board, before pausing to view Netherton Tunnel, looking down from the aqueduct. Alison and Liana worked the double staircase at Brades Locks, the only ones on the BCN, before crossing over with a boat coming up the single lock.
The sun is very hot! Soon we passed into the 3200 yard long coolness of Netherton Tunnel, wide but dripping and now unlit. We moored for lunch in the park just after the tunnel, enjoying our bagels with salmon, cream spread and lemon juice..... and beer.
The four miles to Hawne Basin had changed radically in the last fifteen years! Lots of house building had made it much less isolated and more suburban. Twisty turns and clear water kept up interest! We had lowered the planters ready for Gosty Hill Tunnel, which has two low sections and is about eight feet wide, but John managed the 500 metres without incident, emerging into what once was a brick canyon at Stewart and Lloyd's pipe works. Now, buddleia and birch are rampant, and new warehouses peek over the high parapets. There is a much larger resident community of boaters using the canalside as you approach Hawne Basin now: It was just weeds years ago. Funnily enough, we were welcomed with the same advice as then: " moor alongside the diesel point, you'll be fine there!" - so we did. The basin had plenty of spare spaces, as many owners were on their travels. The AWCC flag flew, and the newish community room has wifi, and closes at 6pm. All the services are available for boaters, too. It has a ramp and undercover bay for boat blacking, a feature we envy!
Liana and I had a walk around the basin / marina, which has members of the Coomberswood Canal Trust, adopter of this part of the Dudley No 2 Canal. Just past the basin, the navigable canal ends.
Monday 6 August: Hawne Basin to near Castle Bridge on the Wyrley & Essington Canal
Hawne Basin is, like many places on the BCN, looking better than years ago. The residents have a good community room with all the facilities, they are building and fitting out boats, plus the slipway is being used for diy hull lacking, etc. It is now at the end of a modern commercial development, with plenty of new houses nearby. The large forge behind is still working: We were told it was where the Iraq Big Gun was made. It also sells the cheapest fuel in the BCN.
Poor Alison tripped on kerbs as she went for a shower and scraped herself badly.
Using a rear rope and reverse gear, John sprung Annie around, with help from the wind. We passed through the tight arch, turned and set off for Gosty Hill. Knowing there was enough head room, we passed through a little more quickly. Liana and Ali regaled us with songs. Oddly, the two low bits are not in the middle, which is maybe ten feet high: The lowest bit is nearer to the North portal. The old tunnel tug berth by the tunnel mouth is silted and weeded up. Again, that isolated feeling on this waterway has been lost, as new houses look down on the old canal. Here and there, old brick warehouses still prevail, for the moment. Past old mine basin and pumping engine house, we reached Windmill End and turned into the 3027 yard Netherton Tunnel, behind another boat. Half way through, two workmen lifted a wire above Annie as we passed: They said they were measuring the tunnel.Turning left at Dudley Port Junction, we headed NW towards Wolverhampton. The west towpath was being improved for cycling, we guessed. Past Caggy's boatyard, Liana and Ali helped others up the locks while John tied up a loose CRT dumb barge. The first lock was quite violent, but the others were fine, if slow. We were ready for the ham and cheese sandwiches when we moored before Coseley Tunnel! We enjoyed the sun and tolerated the cool air during the five mile trip to shops by the Wyrley & Essington Canal in Wednesfield, a mile from Horseley Fields Junction. Turning up Horseley Fields, we passed between housing estates all the way to the large Sainsbury's commercial centre by the stub of the Bentley Canal. The water lilies filled both sides, leaving a boat sized gap in the middle. We didn't hurry, as it felt a bit shallow. We had a look round this excellent shopping mall, which has bollarded moorings on line (worth considering for overnight mooring) and in the basin/stub. After shopping and getting Liana a third Birthday card (the others left at home!), we took the trolley back to the boat to unload. As we left, NB Enigmatic passed, saying we were the first boat he had seen today, and that the canal was difficult in places. We passed under a shiny reflective curved arch sculpture, and saw the modern pedestrian bridge which makes the canal narrower, now completed. The few hundred yards before the Devils Elbow Bridge and just after were shallow, as was the canal after Olinthus Bridge.
After Castle Bridge, we decided to stop, as it seemed quiet and woody, despite hidden estates on both sides. We had a pleasant evening and undisturbed night.
Tuesday 7 August along the Wyrley & Essington to Chasewater
Our sunny morning saw John clearing weed from the propeller shaft – there was some, so it was worth doing. Depth was deeper around Lane Head: John just had to go into reverse to clear the prop, every so often. Lots of back gardens were kept quite well, the water was very clear and we saw loads of fish, including a pike and large dark grey carp, plus perch, orange finned chubb and char (we're not fishermen!). Rough Wood Chase was rough parkland. We passed under the M6 to stop at Sneyd Wharf to use the services. Here, Ali and Liana spotted a shoal of huge dark carp, some over a foot long! We discussed whether to head past Walsall to Gas Street Basin to celebrate Liana's birthday on Thursday, but she decided it was too much of a rush, and we would miss seeing Chasewater Reservoir, which we have never visited.
The canal is relatively deep and free from lilies between Sneyd Wharf and Birchills Junctions, probably due to boats moving between Sneyd and Walsall, but there is a lot of floating rubbish. John had to clear plastic from the propeller every so often. We were surprised to find the canal to be so urbanised, as our memories recollected waste ground and isolation. Through Harden, there was another shallow, weedy patch around Hildick's Bridge. Little Bloxwich was pleasant, and after Teece's Bridge we saw open farmed countryside on the left side for the first time: Hoorah! We passed the overgrown Hays Branch, due to become reused if the Hatherton Canal restoration ever proceeds. Pelsall Junction is a pleasant place to moor, with the option of investigating the two mile long Cannock Extension Canal.
Wednesday 8 August
Another beautiful day, if cool. We walked up to the dam and around the resevoir towards the Chasewater Steam Railway Station, past a shopping barn complex and leisure park. There were mini golf, pedal carts, zip wakeboarding, water skiing, speed boats etc. There were no trains until 1100 Thursday, but we had a good look around the excellently kept station area. Elderly enthusiasts showed us around the modern engine shed, bought with money from the M6 Toll developers, who bought land from them. They had plenty of rolling stock, including shunters from the old Burton on Trent breweries. The tearoom had no scones, so we repaired to the shopping barns for coffees, then spent a pleasant day reading, doing puzzles and playing Settlers of Catan. Jo rang from Australia to wish Liana happy birthday (Perth is 7 hours ahead!). She told us that a consultant had emailed pointing out, in a rather arrogant manner, an error he had found in her book: When she explained why it was not wrong (very politely), he pleaded overwork. “Sorry” would have done. We all make mistakes!
Thursday 9 August
Liana's Birthday! After breakfast and card opening, we repeated our walk around the scenic reservoir to the steam railway station, before setting off for Brownhills. Mooring by the bridge at Ogley Junction, we left Ali and walked past the neglected top lock basin, which had a couple of liveaboard boats moored amidst the detritus. John had been advised to join the canal down the hill at the third lock, but we could not do so at the garden centre and the main road was too busy to walk down without a footpath, so we carried on to Catshill Junction. We decided to use the good services at Brownhills (at the canoe club) and moor nearby. The arm beside it had two liveaboard boats moored, and we got a wave: They don't see too many visitors. There were two boats moored, surprisingly! Tesco is close by the excellent wharf frontage, which is a great credit to the town. Fishermen told us big Tench abound here! We visited the town main street, which has seen better days, had a Costa coffee, shopped at Tesco and pushed the trolley the short distance to Annie. While awaiting daughter Sarah's flying visit, we sorted the boat. Pug Nomi was in tow, a rather sweet dog, so we drove to a dog friendly pub at Chasewater and had good steak meals and drinks for only £45 for the four of us! We ate Sarah's tasty cakes back on the boat as dessert, before we waved a fond goodbye to our eldest baby.
Friday 10 August Brownhills to below Rushall Locks by Shustock Bridge
Cloudy and much cooler, we had to get the jumpers out after a while. Rain crept up on us gradually as we moved south along the Rushall Canal, raised high above the surrounded subsided land as claypits and coalmines did their worst. It must be more stable now, one hopes, as new housing has filled quite a bit of the rough, derelict wasteland which once characterised this area. John needed his yellow fluorescent waterproof jacket plus umbrella, at times. Reaching Rushall Locks, John cleared the prop shaft once again while Ali and Liana set the top lock. Longwood Boat Club have their base here. A young man driving a push tug dashed past to see his boss: His rudder was caught in the bottom lock bottom gates!They lowered the lock, released the rudder and came up while we waited and helped. Apparently CRT are renewing some Rushall lock gates next week, so it is good we will be through! A lady and her daughters watched us operate a few locks, warning us of an empty pound near the bottom. All the top pounds were low, so Liana was kept busy letting water down, while John set a few locks. Liana had to flush Annie out of lock 4 by opening a top paddle, leaving it a while to raise the level in that pound. Liana found the last pound WAS empty, so we let water down from several locks above, much to the interest of two teenage boy cyclists. The rain started in earnest as we operated the bottom lock, so we moored up for the night just beyond, playing Settlers before AND after tea!
Saturday 11 August: Tame Valley Canal, up Ryders Green Locks to Gas Street Basin
Cool but dry weather saw us turning right at Rushall Junction and cruising more easily along the wide, fairly weed-free and deep Tame Valley Canal. With the M6 (by junction 8) on our right, we soon travelled high over the M5 on one of several impressive aqueducts. Workers were laying a new asphalt cyclepath on the right hand side. John emptied loo tanks while Liana got rid of rubbish at the neglected but secure and operational CRT services at Tame Valley Junction (ignore the rampant Buddleia!). This has an large CRT office building, unused after a grand opening some years ago!
Reaching Ryders Green Locks past fishermen involved in a competition, we saw a number of shopping trolleys in the canal. The bottom lock went well. The next pound was low, and John had to reverse, tie up and get his boat hook out to clear the entrance to the next lock 8, under a bridge. With the help of a strong chap from a friendly group supping cans of beer and proffering advice (!), he extracted a shopping trolley plus another type of trolley, allowing him to scrape over the silt and debris into the lock. We were told various things, including that the pounds were all low (true); “the CRT guys come each day to sort out the levels” (not today!); “must be stupid bringing a boat here!”; and that only one boat a month used the locks (I hope not!). Liana was busy letting down water from higher pounds and lockwheeling, opening lock bottom gates, to deepen each pound and allow Annie to progress. Alison was operating each lock for Annie, helped by John when possible. John idled the engine up the middle of each pound to avoid picking up rubbish, but still needed to open the weed hatch a couple of times to cleat plastic, wire, etc. It was slow work, but we got there! Liana and Ali were able to rest while John took Annie the last six or seven miles to Gas Street Basin. Liana steered while John ate a tasty late lunch of bacon and eggs: Yum! After the quiet, long straight of Telford's New Line Canal, the sudden arrival at the Old Turn, the modern towers, flower bedecked bridges and restaurants of Brindley Place and Gas Street Basin is a real shock to the senses! Suddenly, Annie was surrounded by hundreds of people, families, office workers, tourists, pointing, waving and taking photographs. Passing through the tunnel under Broad Street, John turned and backed Annie into Gas Street Basin, breasting her up against NB Saoirse (thank you!). This was great, as the kind gentleman was staying until Monday and was happy to let us leave Annie alongside his boat. We were taken to Nottingham with Ali by her son Scott (many thanks), where we popped in on Flo and drove home for a brief visit.
Monday 13 and Tuesday 14 August: Gas Street Basin
It was good to see neighbours Carolyn and Scott at their teatime BBQ on Saturday; John rang bells and saw friends at church on Sunday; Liana attacked the vast pile of washing we brought home using bags and our fold-up trolley; and John weeded. Leaving the car with Flo again, we took the train to New Street Station, Birmingham. Once unpacked, we visited Zizzi's at the nearby Mailbox complex for pizzas – tasty. TV and reading completed our day.
Wednesday 15 August: Touring the loops
After tea, toast and marmalade, we decided to move Annie, as we had overstayed. John idled Annie through Brindley Place to the Oozells Loop, now surrounded by blocks of luxury apartments but still with Sherborne Wharf trip boats and copious moorings. We continued to the Icknield Port Loop, flattened in the middle with redevopment just starting, finally. We idled past a dammed section of canal side being repiled, to see the busy CRT yard below the Edgebaston Reservoir dam, where working boats were being cleaned.
Continuing, we crossed over the Main Line at a rare canal crossroads, with Liana at the front to check for traffic. The Soho Loop takes you past some remaining warehousing, with old brick side bridges which once spanned arms, and artistic graffitti. Past the Soho Arm (Hockley Port), where there are visitor moorings and services, NHS hosppitals occupy the left bank, followed by the site of the old asylum. A sadly neglected 1980s bollarded mooring needs dredging: we could not get withing four feet due to silt, etc. Winson Green Prison looms on the right as you complete this loop and return o the main line. We turned left and covered the two miles back to Gas Street, where we moored just beyond the Worcester Bar, before the Mailbox. After bacon and eggs, John caught up with this blog: He still has lots of photos to add, though …..
We both had a leisurely breakfast and walked across town beyond New Street Station to the indoor markets, to look at bolts of material for boat curtains and clothes. £1 or £2 a metre but not always great quality, we did see some decent tartan curtain material, but not quite the colour we want. Our daughters Sarah and Rachel popped over with dog Honeypie, a lovely Golden Doodle (Golden Retriever - big Poodle cross (sweet temperament, intelligent, will do lots of tricks for food, good with children, does not moult). They left all too soon, leaving us to watch TV (Vera is quite compelling) and read (Angie Sage's "Septimus Heap" magyk series, like Harry Potter, has got John's interest!).
Friday 17 August: