Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Good signs

Some of my favourite signs of the trip.

This one tickled me for no apparent reason:

This one for a more obvious reason:

And this one, which has to be my top favourite, for its admittedly puerile charm:

In case you're wondering at the omission, I didn't get a photo of Black Cock Bridge - I was too busy trying to get Jim to photograph the jacking points in it that Captain Ahab had told me about, where it had been jacked up successive times to compensate for mining subsidence. Unfortunately Jim didn't have the first idea what I was shouting about, so I've no photos of them either. Also, I'm not that puerile...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 2: Tame Valley Canal

So we turned off the Birmingham and Fazeley onto the Tame Valley Canal at Salford Junction. From what we'd heard, the Tame Valley was very much a case of 'here be dragons', so with expectations suitably lowered, we were pleasantly surprised. We did start noticing serious amounts of rubbish though, both litter and more serious dumping. Not as bad as what was to come on the Walsall, but depressing nonetheless to be in an area where people still view their local canal as a rubbish tip rather than an amenity to be enjoyed. The fact that much of it is in cuttings, and shielded from sight, doesn't help - it's easy to understand how out of sight can be out of mind. One passing local was quick to blame 'immigrants' but I have the sense that it has been ever thus. No more than a few decades ago the canals round Birmingham (and indeed elsewhere) were viewed by almost everyone as a blight and an embarassment, fit for no better a fate than that of communal midden. The increasing tendency of local authorities to cut back on and charge for rubbish collection is only going to make things worse, as already evidenced by the recent rise in fly-tipping on a commercial scale in rural areas. On a more positive note, there are significantly fewer dead dogs in the cut these days.

Perry Barr locks was another place we had been warned about, but had no trouble either way from anyone. Indeed they were nice locks in mostly pleasant surroundings, marred only by the amount of rubbish - tyres being a speciality - fouling the gates.
We were getting a little short of water by the time we caught up with Stanton at lock 10, and when they couldn't get over the cill of lock 7 we stopped for lunch for an hour while some more water was magicked up (or possibly let down).

The cutting at the top of the locks was beautiful with spring flowers
 Although the water was still teeming with flotsam and (mostly I fear) jetsom, which I didn't photograph.
 Numerous brick piers have been inserted - seemingly at different times - to support the cutting.
While the trees that had been doing their best to destabilise it have recently been cut back significantly.

There were some serious cycle path works going on, for miles.
This appears to be being funded by Birmingham City Council.  I only hope that they become well used, and bring more people to the canal.
When we came back along this way on the Tuesday, from Walsall, the boats working on this were the only boats we saw all day.

On the way to Brownhills, we turned off at Rushall Junction
On the way back, we joined from the Walsall Canal at Tame Valley Junction.

No longer afear'd, we tied up by Piercy Aqueduct for the penultimate night of the trip. A lovely rural idyll...
 Or the periphery of England's second city...
Depending on your perspective.

And finally, a scene from Perry Barr facing downhill.
We had no problems with water on the return journey - there seemed to be plenty, although we weren't inundated like Flamingo.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Birmingham and Fazeley continues...

I have worked out how to resize photos in Windows 10 (you have to use Paint) so can now post them without fear of either overloading your bandwidth, or, worse, exceeding my Blogger allowance with unnecessarily massive photos. Should you require a massive version for any unfathomable reason, please do ask.

Now, rural idyll is all very well, but when I'm boatibng I do like a bit of post-industrial. I feel a bit bad about this, because post-industrial represents the graveyard of dreams; it usually - and definitely here - means poverty, unemployment and worst of all, loss of purpose. Buildings can be repurposed, but all too rarely are - and more rarely still, sympathetically. Can people be repurposed so easily? Ask a miner who's got to apply for jobs in a call centre.

First, here's one of my favourite bridge signs:
Here's a general sense of the more urban environs - graffiti, razor wire AND rivets. What more could you ask:
There was a lot of green-and-pleasant (also, of course, representing the Death of Industry) but not so interesting to photograph.

But here is another interesting bridge - Erdington Hall Bridge:
And a scene of colour-matched comfort:
And finally, the approach to Salford Junction, where we leave the Birmingham and Fazeley and turn onto the Tame Valley Canal:

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Aqua Incognita 1: The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal

Having passed Fazeley Junction more times that I care to remember, this time we finally turned off onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.
Jim had just taken over the steering at this point, for the first time of the trip, and I do have photographic evidence (although no recollection) of me doing at least some of the locks coming up Curdworth. Here is the rather cutesey Drayton Footbridge - which my mother would have been unable to use, such was her phobia of spiral staircases.
And here am I, in the distance (best way) at Curdworth:
The Curdworth locks all had nice little floral features, which I only noticed on the way back down
 Here is Ricky pointing them out
One good thing about Curdworth was that they were clearly numbered.
We got slightly stuck in Lock 9 on the way up - I think it was just something behind the gate. Had to give it a little flush to get back out and have a scrape around - it was fine on the second attempt, albeit with a bit more power.  Other boaters we spoke to on the way up were all quite nervous of what we might encounter above Curdworth, and the general consensus was that no one should stop anywhere between the top of Curdworth and Longwood. Well, the Tame Valley, Rushall, and Walsall Canals are stories for another day, and I heard some second hand stories about late arrivals in Walsall encountering 'youth' in some form, and Captain Ahab met some lately at Ryders Green (where we didn't venture) but our experience was very positive and trouble free. We saw motorbikes haring up and down the towpath in a couple of places (well, wouldn't you?) and met a few young people and even fewer drunk people, all of whom were friendly and willing to be helpful. I suspect there is something in the theory that they're all inside playing on their 'netboxes', as someone put it. Also I suspect it's very much a matter of luck. Despite high levels of poverty, deprivation and unemployment, there clearly still aren't enough feral youths available to be everywhere, so whether one encounters them - even in habitats where they have previously been spotted - is largely a matter of luck, and finding them is much rarer than not finding them.

Moored in the Dog and Doublet pound was this rather lovely converted BCN boat (a Bantock perhaps?)
Clearly a longstanding conversion and a boat with real character.

Curdworth Tunnel comes complete with all the warnings about wearing lifejackets, turning off the gas etc, despite the fact that I've been under bridges that were longer. It also says maximum beam 6'11", which I can confirm is on the conservative side. This is where we stopped at lunchtime on Tuesday April 11th.
And here I think I will leave the Birmingham and Fazeley for now, because I want to post a lot more photos and I need to find a way of resizing them first.

Friday, 21 April 2017


I don't think this really counts as Day 14, from the outside of the marina at Alvecote to the mooring behind the pub, seemed like a very long time, all in reverse... Having got the boat cleared out and cleaned up and the cars loaded, I undertook this final challenge and was helped rather than hindered by the breeze that had been worrying me all morning, and successfully tucked in and tied up next to Birmingham. Hmm, how appropriate. Last night was Curry Night in the Barlow and I for one was quite relieved after the previous night's mixed grill to have something a bit lighter (and to be relieved of the burden of too much choice).

I've downloaded and looked through my photos from the trip (well, the ones on the camera anyway - there are still the ones on the iPhone from when the camera wasn't to hand). I've enjoyed playing with the SLR again and I'm even considering getting another lens for it. At the moment I have an 18-55mm and a 75-300mm - but guess what - I really miss the 50-75 range. With my previous camera I used a 35-70 nearly all the time.

Just for starters, here is a photo of a stowaway who tried to join us on day 2, at Hopwas Wood.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Back in time for lunch (and pub of the trip)

Day 13, Dog and Doublet to Alvecote. 4 hours 20, 6 locks.

And we didn't even leave until half past nine! There have been hardly any pubs on this trip, but if we leave out the Barlow (because it is now our local and we're in there all the time, and we know what's good about it) the Dog and Doublet wins hands down, and would have done even against stiffer competition than the appalling Plough. The food was decent, the beer was ok, if limited (but so it is at the Barlow - in fact, only Doom Bar on tonight) but it was super dog friendly. When we were last in there the landlady asked if Ricky would like a meat pudding that a customer had left. This time they happily brought a dog dish so that Ricky could eat the fried egg that came with my mixed grill, and the landlady later insisted on bringing him some water - which he promptly made us look bad by drinking with alacrity. So from a very limited field, pub of the trip is the Dog and Doublet at Curdworth.

We had a trouble free final run back, tonight in the Barlow; tomorrow back in Sheffield having a bath and watching the snooker.

It's been another excellent trip - even Jim has enjoyed it, which I suspect is because of the shorted days. I shall write at greater length and in cool recollection about it all over the next few days.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A good day's boating (at last)

Day 12, Piercy Aqueduct to (nearly) Dog and Doublet, Curdworth. 8 hours 50, 23 locks.

For the first time this trip we've ended up in the pub at the end of the day and what's more, feel like we deserve it. It's been a good day's boating - no problems, plenty of water, no rain, no wind and relatively mild.

We fished a few bits of rubbish out of the cut, including a double air bed part way down Perry Barr. I have perfected my technique for going downhill in the locks like Curdworth where they have single gates both ends. The button and one of the tip cats are both lifted (as well as the front fender of course) and once in the lock I take the tiller bar off. Once the lock's empty and the boat starts to drift back, I pull the swan's neck right round so that the rudder's at right angles, an then hold on to the protective steel plate on the top gate (what's it called?) to stop the boat drifting forward again as Jim opens the gate. In some of the locks we need every inch; others seem a bit longer.

We stopped in the pound just above the pub because I thought there might not be any space there - I was misled because we'd see about four other boats today and after yesterday that seemed a lot! Anyway, my mixed grill has arrived so I must finish.

Location:Dog and Doublet, Curdworth