Saturday, 30 June 2018

Spaghetti! 29th June

Perry Bar Top Lock to Minworth Arm, Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Alarm set this morning, not too early but with the hope of setting off at 8am so as not to be doing too much at the full heat of the day. Our yellow water tank needed emptying before we left, holding us up a touch, which was maybe a good thing!

P1350296smWe got ourselves and Oleanna ready, opened the top gate of the lock in front of us at about 8:15. A C&RT van arrived with the two chaps we’d seen yesterday at Ryders Green, one hopped straight out with windlass in hand, walked over and lifted a bottom gate paddle on the top lock, Mick was just closing the gate, we were instructed to stay put whilst he walked down the flight to check levels. Oleanna began to lower in the lock, Mick opened a top paddle as we realised they were letting water down the flight.

P1350299smP1350300smA quick look into the pound below and the level was obviously down by a couple of feet. This was also the case down through the next few pounds in the flight. Paddles and gates had been left up at every lock in the flight by the chaps who came past late last night. Maybe they couldn’t read the big signs telling you to close everything up behind you! Yes there is a case of leaking gates not helping, but an extra minute per lock to close up would have saved a lot of water being lost overnight! Today because of the dry weather some canals around the country have put into place time restrictions on lock flights to help preserve water levels, the fellas last night certainly wouldn’t help.

The chaps in blue were on the case, they must have known before they arrived with us. They’d been to open up at Ryders Green letting the guilty boat through at 8am, the chaps on board had said that they had just bought the boat and were new to boating. The Lockies laughed at the thought of them trying to reach Kidderminster by the end of today when we told them, no chance!

P1350308smOne chap went ahead closing gates and paddles where needed and lifting others to let the water down in a controlled manner whilst we sat in a lock with water flowing past us, all being let down through the paddle gear. This stops the build up of silt which would stop you from being able to close gates if they’d been left open. Once the pound ahead had recovered enough for us to get over the cill we were locked down to repeat at the next lock as the pound below filled up. This gave us plenty of time to chat with one of the Lockies. They didn’t blame us for not having walked down to close up last night in the dark, apparently we could have called the Hit Squad out who would have turned up with torches

At the end of May the level on the Wyrley and Essington Canal had dropped, this is a huge pound possibly over 40 miles. The two chaps who were with us today set off on foot to walk the towpath to see if they could work out where the plug had been pulled. They both could see the direction the water was flowing and walked towards each other until they came to where there was a collapsed culvert, this was the culprit. The culvert is one belonging to Severn Trent water so they are in the process of sorting it out. We asked if the canal was likely to reopen in a weeks time as hoped, or did they know if works would over run. We didn’t get a yes or no, most probably because it is out of C&RTs hands and Severn Trent are needing to do other things at the site other than just the culvert.

P1350312smThe chaps gradually worked us down one lock at a time constantly letting water down the flight. At lock 5 we were given the go ahead to carry on on our own, one pound was still a little low but we should be fine to get over the cills. They waved us goodbye and headed off to check further down in case last nights boat had left every lock to happily drain overnight.

P1350319smWhen we reached Lock 10 we could see that the bottom gates at Lock 11 didn’t leak that much as the long pound here looked more like a lake in an ornamental garden of some stately home, full to the brim it was.

P1350332smSure enough when we arrived the top gates were open and both paddles up. The next two had closed gates and one had nicely drained as a paddle had been left open just enough. On leaving every lock today we made sure gates were closed and paddles were where they should be, closed.

P1350380smUp ahead behind a canal bridge we could see the start of all the concrete bridges that make up Spaghetti Junction.

P1350433smP1350412smCurling around each other, layer upon layer above our heads cars and lorries wove themselves in directions they hoped were the right ones.

P1350425smP1350438smI’m not sure I’ve ever driven this stretch in a car and now that I’ve been under it I’m not sure I ever will! Some of the roads are held up so high by so little structure and other sections have so much scaffolding beneath them. Quite an amazing sight which my photos don’t really do justice to. Link to video

P1350458smEmerging out the other side we reached Salford Junction where the Grand Union Canal meets the Tame Valley, both joining with the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal . The Birmingham and Fazeley towards Birmingham is the section that is closed at the moment, so we were surprised to see a boat coming down that way.P1350462sm At the junction he was able to turn straight onto the Grand Union as his boat was only short, this would have taken some negotiating for us.

P1350480smP1350486smAs the roads over head subsided a large electricity sub-station takes over followed by a factory which was built over the canal. This creates a kind of tunnel but with light coming in from one side thankfully as our tunnel light is still out of action.

P1350496smHot and hungry now we sought out a shaded mooring for some lunch. Bollards appeared under plenty of trees and we pulled in just before Butlers Bridge. We still wanted to get further, even the Lockies had suggested getting through Minworth before stopping for the day. So with a second coat of sun cream we pushed on down through the next three locks and then started looking for some shade. We’d hope to reach the Dog and Doublet today, but the sun was too strong for us to work our way through the remaining locks. A few canalside pubs with moorings came and went but none had shaded moorings. Then there was a length of armco with several big trees, time to pull over, there was just enough depth for us.

Here there were trees, she took her time in letting me out! Freedom at last in what looked like a good outside, lots of trees, sideways trees and friendly cover. The only problem was getting to it! There was a big green mesh fence that was hard to see from the towpath, how rude to have such a playground and then put it out of reach like this! It took some time, but I found a way through. Climbing began, both up and down as I was joining the trees halfway up, unusual. There was lots to explore on the lower level and this kept me busy for quite sometime, no friends though.

Up above I could hear her calling for me, so I replied. I looked around. How had I got here? She was up there and I was down here! MUM!!! MUMMMMM!!!!!! I walked this way and that shouting all the time so she could hear me. She then walked the wrong way, could she hear me?! Was I going to be stuck here?! It had seemed interesting to start with, but now I didn’t want to stay here the rest of my life!

All she kept saying was ‘You got in there!’ ‘Numpty bum!’ Not helpful.

Then I spied a tree, quick calculations for a climb, jump, scrabble up a bank avoiding the fenced cages, a bit more tree and was that a gap in the fence? It was worth a try, my calculations were correct and I popped out of the friendly cover as if nothing had happened, she’d never know that I’d got quite concerned down there.

P1350507smRelived to have a cat back, and not have to find a key holder for a factory that had closed for the weekend, we had a quiet evening in the shade over looking a field that stretched off into the distance as the sun set. We like big cities for a while but it was nice to be back in the countryside with the summer breeze rustling the branches.

no go pawDSCF7114sm16 locks, 7.82 miles, 2 straight ons, 24367 unders, 5 pounds way down, 2 heroes in blue, 1 tepid tea, 2 shady spots, 0 pub, 1 stuck cat, 1 challenged cat, 1 panicked cat, 1 communicative cat, 1 tunnel light bodged together, 1 big field, 1 sunset.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Moving Goal Posts. 28th June

Sheepcote Street Bridge to Perry Barr Top Lock, BCN Tame Valley Canal

Yesterday an email changed all our plans for the rest of the summer, this years goal posts had been moved, we’re not sure where/when to yet. But the next few months we are free to cruise where we want. The question now was where? Last night we’d talked about routes  but not come up with a definite plan. Overnight whilst Mick snored away in bed the canal planner in his brain had got to work, he awoke with an idea. With the forecast set to continue being hot for at least the next week, did we really want to be in Birmingham where all day long the heat reflects off the concrete surfaces whilst also soaking in only to be released overnight? Or would we rather head out into the countryside where shade is easier to find, cats can pounce to their hearts content and barbecues are easier to have sitting on green towpaths. Our cruising is limited to the midlands as I’ll still need to able to get to Chipping Norton and London for meetings every now and then and would rather not spend too much time on trains. Mick’s canal planner had come up with the idea of heading to the Ashby, the canal we’ve passed many times but not had enough time to turn into.

P1350270smOver breakfast he set about finding us a suitable mooring for tonight. Getting out of Birmingham no matter which way you go involves locks, lots of them and areas you wouldn’t really want to moor up. Our most direct route has a closure on it, we could head round the closure one of two ways. One way meant few miles but a lot of locks, the other fewer locks but more miles. It was already getting hot outside and we still needed to go to the Post Office, so we opted for the fewer locks and some new water.

P1350266smSadly neither of our parcels were waiting for us at the Post Office, we may have to have a day trip back for them. The Victorian Street was no more, having been brushed aside now for the new tram extension.

DSCF4505smIt was rather hot outside, setting off or waiting whilst we had lunch wasn’t going to make much difference so we had a quick butty, slapped on the sun cream before rolling back the covers and pushing off towards Pudding Green Junction. We’ve come into Birmingham quite a few times along the New Main Line but we’ve never left this way and we’ve never been along this stretch when it’s been so green and sunny! There are 2,000 miles of waterways to explore, but then there are four seasons to see them in, there and back again, so that’s 16,000 miles to cover.

DSCF4526smUnder the Engine Arm.

DSCF4550smUnder the M5

DSCF4559smPast Spon Lane Locks, all familiar sights to us.

DSCF4568smAt Pudding Green Junction we turned right onto the Wednesbury Old Canal, the atmosphere of the cut changing almost instantly, new water narrow and reedy. We refrained from trying to carry on up to the terminus and turned left onto the Walsall Canal where Ryders Green Locks waited for us. A chap moored at the top said the locks had been chained earlier in the day, they were open now and in our favour. The penny didn’t drop with either of us until we met a battered cruiser being bow hauled up the flight, they mentioned something about the flight being locked at 4. Ryders Green has had a spate of vandalism over night, so now it is locked from 4pm to 8am. We knew about this but had forgotten, it was now 3:30pm and we still had at least four locks to do!

DSCF4590smDSCF4591smNot the most picturesque locks, with flattened warehouses to one side with barbed wire fencing we didn’t mind not taking our time and tried to be as efficient as possible. Below at Lock 7 we could see a couple of C&RT blue t-shirts, paddles were being wound up to fill the lock for us and we were still one lock away, it was 4pm and there was still lock 8 to go. We apologised to the two chaps who helped us into the lock and then they vanished through a hedge to go and unlock the bottom lock.

Chatting to the Lockies at the bottom lock they said that they are playing Cat and Mouse with three youths at the moment, regular drinkers at the previous lock have passed on information about what the kids get up to, they are all known by the Police. But sadly emptying pounds, breaking antivandal locks and lifting lock gates out from their seating causing thousands of pounds worth of damage isn’t worth following up. So the Lockies are hoping that the youths tire before they do. As soon as Oleanna was in the lock the top paddles were chained shut and the chaps headed off only twenty five minutes late.

DSCF4603smNot quite a mile further on and we reached Ocker Hill where the Tame Valley stretches off to the east. Far straighter than the Walsall Canal the Tame Valley was built around 50 years later, a long stretch on the flat built on embankments and through cuttings.

DSCF4632smRoads cross over and then pass under the canal. The M5 splits here and lanes pass under the canal heading to meet up with the M6 which runs along almost level with the canal.

DSCF4641smDSCF4649smThere were views back towards Birmingham to where we’d started, the BT tower not even four miles away, we’d done a big loop round. Then we were into cuttings with bridges high above again, a great mixture reminiscent of the Shroppie, just far more urban.

P1350281smP1350287smPerry Bar Top Lock came into sight, we decided to top up with water before pushing over to the 24hr mooring saving us time in the morning. Apart from a couple of motorbikes that sped up and down the towpath once our mooring was quiet. At around 9:30 we could hear noises, a boat was coming up the locks. Mick went out to check we’d left them enough space to moor, not imagining they would be pressing onwards at that time. A request for a Nicholsons guide to show them the way to Stourbridge. They were delivering the boat for someone and they needed to be in Kidderminster by the end of tomorrow! They were without a guide and hoping to negotiate their way around the BCN where there seems to be a junction every mile or so. They pressed onwards to moor below Ryders Green Locks so that they could be there when they open in the morning, not a place we’d moor.

Mick came back into the boat as the chaps said thank you for his help. We then heard a paddle being dropped and the boat came past us. Only one paddle had dropped, what about the other? It was still wide open for all to see along with the gate! Mick wound the paddle down and closed the gate, it was too late to walk down the flight to see if all had been shut up, here’s hoping we’ve got water in the morning.

DSCF7114sm8 locks, 12.92 miles, 3.73 miles as the crow flies, 2 goal posts moved out of view, 1 big change of plan, 0 parcels, 37 minutes before they lock up, 25 minutes late sorry chaps, 2 motorways, 1 over and under, 1 alongside, 7 straight ons, 3 rights, 1 left, 2 unders, 3 professional drinkers, 5 practicing drinkers, 0 shore leave! 1 armchair, 2 coconuts, 2 motorbikes, 9:30, 2 men, 1 boat, 19 hours cruise!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Why Are They All Dead? 27th June

Sheepcote Street Bridge

Our post hadn’t arrived this morning, so we decided that staying put another day would make sense. What to do with ourselves though?

P1350146smVictoria SquareOn leaving the post office there was a crowd gathered by a netted gap in the hoardings around the building site in Victoria Square. I’d noticed the gap yesterday and that there was what looked like an old cobbled street that had been revealed during the works. Was this possibly Roman? Today high-vis clad people stood around, one with a camera as a digger scraped away at the stones and surface. Surely if this was Roman a digger wouldn’t be being used? Every now and then the digger was stopped for someone to have a look and take photos, the crowd joined in clicking their cameras. Later on I found an article in the Birmingham Mail which says that the road/path dates back to Victorian times. Various items were recovered from the surface, clay pipes, porcelain which all date from post medieval times. We left them to it and decided to go and see something older!

P1350220smAt the Museum and Art Gallery they currently have Dippy visiting. Dippy is a full skeleton cast of a Diplodocus and he is standing tall and long in the Gas Hall of the museum a rather wonderful setting for such a dinosaur. For a chap so big, Dippy looked weightless with his neck stretching out towards the entrance and his tail sweeping round at the other end of the hall. He’s well worth going to see and will be continuing his tour for the next two years. Details here.

P1350165smP1350210smP1350197smSurrounding Dippy the museum has put together a display about modern day dinosaurs, birds and how they evolved into 10,000 species.

P1350181smP1350186smA large range of different shaped and sized eggs are on display.


P1350215smNumerous stuffed birds ranging from the smallest Hummingbird to an Albatross, along with skeletons including one of a Dodo.

P1350167smThere was a lady who’d brought her grand daughter to have a look. They were having one of those conversations, as she put it ‘interesting yet difficult’. as they were looking at all the stuffed birds. ‘Why are they all dead?’ In days gone by the answer would have been easier but today stuffing an animal or bird for scientific study and accessibility to all isn’t quite what it once was, conservation and filmed footage are more suitable for todays youngsters. The exhibits could be flying around in their natural habitat accompanied by a David Attenborough commentary. To show scale a Hummingbird could be shown buzzing around the head of an Albatross or Ostrich even though the two would never meet in nature. We left Granny trying to explain.

P1350226smP1350230smWe then had a wander around the rest of the museum. There’s a lot to look at, so I shortlisted rooms that I thought would be interesting. The top floor hosts an exhibit on the history of Birmingham. We skimmed through this, stopping to press buttons. The history of trade in medieval times was amusingly re-enacted around the modern day markets, selling cloth in bubonic times in short films. Local industry such as pen making and buttons (not silk covered like in Macclesfield) and of course chocolate. An interesting display worth more time.

P1350236smP1350238smAcross the top galleries we passed through the ages to the Egyptian gallery, interesting for me at the moment. A beautifully wrapped mummy lay on it’s back in one display, the wrapping more important at that time in Egypt than the embalming. A cat also sat bound up below, it’s ears pointing upwards suggesting it was happy to be passing into the next life.

800px-Edward_Burne-Jones_Star_of_Bethlehemedward-burne-jones-study-for-the-garden-court-1889Last judgementThen on to look at the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the Edward Burne-Jones room. The gallery has the largest watercolour in the world The Star of Bethlehem, however I prefer his designs for the stained glass windows Last Judgement and his studies for Briar Rose.

0 locks, 0 miles, 0 parcels, 1 ancient Victorian road, 20,000kg, 26 meters, 155-145 million years old, 4 dippy feet, 20 dippy toes, 2 heron chicks, 101 by 152 inches, 1 bound cat, 2 Egyptian chairs, 1 frustrating email, 1 more hot day, 1 porthole removed.