Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Aston to Fazeley, Fazeley to Mancetter, Mancetter to Wyken Basin

 Sunday 15th May

There was rain overnight, but by the time we left our mooring at 8.15, the sun was shining and it was already quite warm.

We had the remaining three Aston Locks to do and as two of them were set for us, we should have done them quickly, but the bottom gate of the middle lock wouldn’t open fully and Steve only just got through (probably removing a few millimetres from both gate and boat!). There had been two C&RT men around checking water levels, but they had already left when we had our problem.

We made our way through Salford Junction to continue on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, accompanied by the M6 today rather than the M5.

There were a lot of fishermen (I think they were all men) on the stretch around Bromford – 21 of them setting up for a competition. They were all remarkably cheerful about us, and a boat coming the other way, disturbing them.

Next were the three Minworth Locks at which we met a couple of boats. We also saw the C&RT men again and told them about the problem with the gate on the Aston lock. A man off one of the boats was using an electric scooter to lock wheel. As these are illegal to use on the towpaths, we wondered if the C&RT men would have something to say to him.

We saw four moving boats before lunch, but generally the last 2 or 3 days have been very quiet. We stopped for lunch before starting down the Curdworth Locks – a green and pleasant spot but accompanied by constant traffic noise (M6 Toll Road) as have a number of our moorings on this cruise.

The weather was duller than the early morning sunshine had suggested it might be. But we had also avoided all the showers which had been forecast.

After lunch we went down the eleven Curdworth Locks. These run through some lovely countryside – you just have to ignore the HS2 construction sites and the M42!

Just after 4.00, we moored up opposite Kew at David and Mary Litchfield’s. 

We had a cup of tea with them and collected display boards and other stuff to take to Crick Boat Show when we go there at the beginning of June. Later we went with David and Mary to the evening service at their church. Later still, we enjoyed a curry at the Ivory Tusk.

Today’s miles and locks – 12.75 miles  17 locks

Total miles and locks – 129.75 miles  119 locks

Monday 16th May

We left Fazeley just before 9.00 in light drizzle, but this soon dried up and we had a lovely sunny day. We soon reached Glascote Locks and then had a pleasant run towards Atherstone. 

Floral arrangement at Glascote - wisteria growing through a hawthorn tree.

We had lunch before starting the locks; we did 6 of them and then I deserted Steve to go to the Co-op for one or two things. He sent me a message to say that a VLK was helping him and that I should meet him at the top lock, but when I got there, he was nowhere in sight, so I borrowed a windlass from the three VLKs at top lock and wandered down the flight to find him. He and the VLK who was helping him were at Lock 4, but she was due to go home, so she left us, but would set Lock 3 ready for us on her way up the flight. We went up Locks 3 and 2 and the one remaining VLK at the top helped us through the last lock. We always seem to misjudge our arrival at Atherstone Locks – it’s either VLK lunchtime or going home time!

Tolson's Mill at Fazeley is now apartments ......

...... contrast with the old Hat Factory at Atherstone

I realised that if we went as far as Mancetter, I would be able to go to the Mothers’ Union Deanery Service in Mancetter Church which I had thought I would have to miss. We moored at Bridge 36 and after having our evening meal, we walked up the road to the service, Steve having decided to come too.

After the service (and refreshments), we walked back to the boat as the sun was setting.

Today’s miles and locks – 11.25 miles  13 locks

Total miles and locks – 141.00 miles  132 locks


Tuesday 17th May

Another hot sunny day – we left Mancetter at 8.30 and just over four hours later, arrived back at Wyken Basin. We had an uneventful journey with just the one lock at Hawkesbury. We had lunch on the boat and then moved stuff from the boat to the van and went home.

The Wyken Basin swan family

We have had a good trip, exploring new territory and meeting new people. The display of wild flowers in many places was stunning, we’ve seen lots of new coot, goose and duck families, though not many swan and no moorhen families. Other things missing were swallows – I saw one, but that was all.

Today’s miles and locks – 11.50 miles  1 locks

Total miles and locks – 152.50 miles  133 locks

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Oldbury to Aston

 Saturday 14th May

Yesterday was the official end of the Explorer Cruise and today we started our journey home.

Engine House and Oldbury Top Lock

We have a long day planned so we (or actually Stephen) started early. The first thing we had to do was go back down the Oldbury Locks. At 6.30, Steve moved the boat along to the first lock and then went down the flight making sure there was enough water everywhere. By the time he got back, I was up and ready to work locks. Because of Steve’s preparatory work, we were quickly down, off the Titford Canal and on the Old Main Line again at Oldbury Junction, turning right towards Smethwick. 

We crossed the New Main Line on an aqueduct and travelling very close to the M5 for much of the time, we made our way through Summit Tunnel to the three Smethwick Locks. 

Blakeley Hall Bridge and M5

New Main Line below Old Main Line

Just beyond these locks, the Old and New Main Lines meet and the canal leads into Birmingham. We stopped for water before starting to go down Farmers Bridge Locks – 13 of them. We had hoped that there would be volunteer lockkeepers on duty, but none were.  All the locks were set against us, so we had to fill them all. Nonetheless, we were pleased that we completed them in under two hours. 

We stopped for lunch and decided that as it was a lovely sunny day, we would carry on. Since the top of the Farmers Bridge Locks, we had been on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and we stayed on that through to Aston Junction and the Aston Locks. We just did 8 of the 11 Aston Locks before mooring at Aston Cross Business Park where we have moored before.

I think we’ll sleep well tonight having done 30 locks.

Today’s miles and locks – 7.50 miles  30 locks

Total miles and locks – 117.00 miles  102 locks

Tipton to Oldbury

 Friday 13th May

Off at 8.30, continuing on the Old Main Line. The weather was sunny and bright, but as on several other days this week, the breeze was chilly.

We’d all been asked to at least go into Tividale Quays, even if we weren’t going to moor. As it happened, Steve’s computer was playing up, so we did moor for a few minutes. This basin, like the one at Walsall, is a clean, tidy space with lots of moorings but is little used. It does seem that C&RT need to do a lot of work on the local canals (dredging, lock maintenance, weed clearing, graffiti and litter removal – the BCNS can’t do it all!) before more people are happy to travel to and moor in these basins.

Tividale Quays

Still following the Old Main Line, we crossed over the Netherton Tunnel Branch which leads to Netherton Tunnel, and eventually arrived at Oldbury Junction where we turned on to the Titford Canal and went up the six Oldbury Locks.

Entrance to Netherton Tunnel

The water level in the canal was very low, indeed it would have been difficult for some of us to proceed if those who had arrived much earlier had not let down some water from the top. We moored at the top near the Engine House which is the headquarters of the BCNS. 

Today's goose family - 23 goslings

Some boats explored the Titford Pools during the afternoon, others will do so tomorrow, still others have decided not to risk the shallow water. We belong to the latter group, so after lunch, we walked to the pools, though you can’t see a lot from the towpath. We also took the chance to pick up a few provisions from the nearby Asda.

Titford Pool

The plan for the evening was for everyone to eat on their boats and then gather in the Engine House for the evening’s entertainment provided by Billy Spakemon and the Busketeers. They were very good, bringing us stories and songs from the Black Country as well as a wider variety of songs.

There was an official farewell from the organisers of the Cruise and thanks were expressed to them – they did a really good job making sure everything ran smoothly and must have done a lot of work beforehand.

Today’s miles and locks – 4.00 miles  6 locks

Total miles and locks – 109.50 miles  72 locks

Friday, 13 May 2022

Bradley to Tipton

 Thursday 12th May

The basin and the moorings in the immediate area were becoming quite crowded as there is a BCNS rally at Bradley at the weekend and boats were already arriving in preparation for that.

Chyandour is seven in from left.

At 10.00, we had a guided tour of the workshops. Simon, the workshop manager, explained each stage of the work and gave us lots of information of all that goes into making new gates for a lock, given that each lock is unique. The old gates have to be measured in situ and plans drawn up before the new gates can be made. He also explained the difficulties of balancing getting value for money with the sometimes opposing claims of heritage and health and safety.

New gates for the Montgomery

There are photos, but you'll have to imagine the smell of all that lovely green oak.

Gates ready for Marston Doles and Oxford 24

A walk was planned for the afternoon along the line of the abandoned Bradley Locks, but we quite urgently needed a pump out, so we decided to do the walk ourselves before the visit to the workshops, and then leave as soon as possible.

A lock just waiting to be dug out

After another early lunch, we manoeuvred our way out of the basin (with the help and co-operation of fellow boaters), out onto the canal, back to Deepfields Junction and turned left onto the BCN Main Line, going as far as Factory Junction and then taking the Old Main Line. We got our pump out at the Black Country Living Museum and then moored up with two boats from our group whose occupants had also not done the walk. The rest soon joined us and we all went to Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory for a meal – great food and a great venue.

Today’s miles and locks – 5.25 miles  0 locks

Total miles and locks – 105.50 miles  64 locks

Wolverhampton to Bradley

 Wednesday 11th May

Broad Street Basin is not the quietest of moorings, but we didn’t sleep too badly. It was raining when we woke up so we decided to stay where we were until it stopped. We spent most of the morning reading, but we did walk to the railway station to see how it had changed since I used to catch a train to work from here 30 years ago. The answer is that it’s changed drastically – new entrance hall, ticket collection area etc. But there is a lot of work going on outside in the approach area; we think it is to do with the Metro.

Having decided the wind and rain made walking unpleasant, we returned to the boat for an early lunch and then set off as the rain had stopped.  We had turned round last night and now returned to Horseley Fields Junction, this time staying on the BCN main line. There was a very heavy shower soon after we had started, but no more rain after that. The sun came out but the breeze was still cool.

At Deepfields Junction, we turned into what used to be the Wednesbury Oak Loop, but which now only goes as far as the C&RT workshops at Bradley where they make new lock gates. (More of that and photos tomorrow.) We arrived about 2.15, others were already there and those delayed by the lock failure yesterday, arrived during the afternoon. Most people gathered later in the evening on an open area of grass in the Bradley compound – some with their BBQs, others, like us, brought their food with them, ready prepared, and some had already eaten and just came along to chat.

Today’s miles and locks – 5.25 miles  0 locks

Total miles and locks – 100.25 miles  64 locks

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Walsall to Wolverhampton

 Up bright and early – well, early anyway. The boat moored alongside us moved off at 6.30 and we didn’t sleep after that, so we were ready to move off before 8.00, as were two other boats. We led the way from the town wharf to the main channel and I hopped off the boat to go and prepare the first lock (today’s flight in the 8 Walsall Locks). I then realised something was wrong as the other two boats were approaching the lock and Steve was stationary at the side of the canal. He had picked up a load of rubbish on the propeller which took some time to clear. He ended up with a pile of heavy plastic, clothing and cable!

Leaving Walsall and its fishy mural 

So it was 8.30 by the time we entered the first lock. However, they didn’t take long to do and we were at the top at 9.45. We went on as far as Birchills Junction where we turned left on to the same section of the Wyrley & Essington that we had explored on Saturday. Almost immediately after the junction, we had to stop again – this time it was to remove a coat from around the prop.

We stopped briefly at Sneyd to dispose of the rubbish and then we moored further on at Wednesfield for lunch, shopping and another visit down the weed hatch.

Chyandour reflected in an art structure bridge .....

..... and a goose family in its shadow.

We have now learnt (via WhatsApp) that 4 of our number were stuck on the Walsall locks after a problem with the paddles on one of the locks made it impossible to fill the lock. C&RT were working to fix it, but the delay meant that 4 boats did not make tonight’s scheduled stop at Wolverhampton.

Meanwhile, after leaving Wednesfield we carried on to Horsley Fields Junction where we turned right back on to the BCN main line, but this is a section we haven’t done before on this trip. It didn’t take long to reach Broad Street Basin in Wolverhampton where we filled up with water before mooring with the other boats of our group who had made it this far.

Some of us moored at Wolverhampton

Today’s miles and locks – 9.75 miles  8 locks

Total miles and locks – 95.00 miles  64 locks

Monday, 9 May 2022

Pelsall to Longwood Boat Club and Longwood Boat Club to Walsall

 Sunday 8th May

We started off at 8.40, but we have some early birds in our group (which by the way is 12 boats not 10 as I said earlier). Seven boats left before we did, but 3 of them went up the Cannock Extension, so we are 5th in line as we do today’s trip.

We stopped at Brownhills for water and to get rid of rubbish (no recycling!) and soon reached Catshill Junction where we turned on to the Anglesey Branch which is about 2 ½ miles long and leads up towards Chasewater Reservoir but doesn’t quite reach it – in fact, you can’t even see the reservoir from the canal. 

Anglesey Basin

Nevertheless, it was worth the journey as it is an attractive stretch of water with good views of the countryside in places. Back we went to Catshill Junction and on to the Daw End Branch. Our destination for tonight is Longwood Boat Club where 12 boats were a snug fit in the available mooring space. We ended up as the middle boat of three.

After a day which had been cloudy and quite chilly, the sun came out and it was much warmer.

We have not had too much trouble with weed today – Steve just cleared the rubbish after we moored. We decided to go for a walk and discovered that the Beacon Way ran near by so we had a very pleasant way through Hay Head wood.

During the evening we all gathered in the Boat Club clubhouse for fish and chips and a quiz.   It was an enjoyable evening enabling us to continue to get to know our travelling companions. 

Today’s miles and locks – 12.25 miles  0 locks

Total miles and locks – 73.00 miles  55 locks


Monday 9th May

After 2 lock-free days, there are the 9 locks of the Rushall flight to do today and we are on the Rushall Canal as soon as we start off.

A hire boat went past around 7 o’clock – perhaps they had seen us all moored up and thought they would get a head start on us.

Boats from our group started moving at 7.30, but we didn’t leave until after 8.00 and were 6th or 7th in the fleet. Obviously, it was quite slow going down the flight, as each lock had to be refilled after each boat had gone through, but the weather was fine and everyone helped where they could. We were even joined by Richard Parry (C&RT’s CEO) who had been invited by the Explorer Cruise organisers to come along to get to know this part of the BCN.

Happy Families on the Rushall Canal

The Rushall Canal is very straight, a real contrast after the Wyrley & Essington; it’s not very long, having been built to connect the Daw End Branch to the Tame Valley Canal, which we joined at Rushall Junction. Unlike the contour canals, this one depends on cuttings and embankments to cope with changes in the terrain, before a straight section to Tame Valley Junction and we turned right on to the Walsall Canal (I hope you’re keeping up all these different parts of the BCN!).

Not only does this canal have its fair share of weed, but it is also very shallow. We didn’t have any real problems, just took things carefully and slowly.

Just about seven hours after we had started this morning, we turned into Walsall Town Wharf and moored with the boats which had already arrived.

Walsall Town Wharf

We had a quiet evening on the boat.

Today’s miles and locks – 12.25 miles  9 locks

Total miles and locks – 85.25 miles  64 locks

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Birmingham to Wednesfield and Wednesfield to Pelsall Junction

 Friday 6th May

It was another sunny morning when we set off just after 8.00 – a slightly earlier start because we had several miles to do today, though only 3 locks.

We left Birmingham, going through Winson Green and taking the New Main Line to Smethwick and Dudley Port and then up the 3 Factory Locks to Tipton.

Galton Bridge, Smethwick

At Horsley Fields Junction we turned onto the Wyrley and Essington Canal – the Curly Wyrley which follows the same contour line for miles. The water in this little-used canal is very clear and the wildlife is undisturbed. We saw swans sitting on nests, a few Canada goose families and we lost count of the coot families. On the other hand, there were not many ducks, no ducklings and although there were some moorhens, they were lone adults rather than pairs with chicks.

At 1.15 we arrived in Wednesfield and moored in what remains of the Bentley Canal, a short arm by a retail park and a pub. This is where we were due to meet up with the other boats doing the Explorer Cruise. 2 or 3 had already arrived and others arrived during the afternoon until we had the full complement of 10 boats.

After a late lunch, we wandered through the retail park, found Sainsbury’s (milk and chocolate) and returned to the boat. The weather began to change and it soon started to rain which continued throughout the evening.

In the early evening there was a meeting in the pub for everyone – a welcome chat and a short informative talk on Wednesfield’s history. After our evening meal we went to the nearby cinema to see the Downton Abbey film – very enjoyable if slightly silly, you get the feeling that several fine actors are just having fun!

Today’s miles and locks – 14.25 miles  3 locks

Total miles and locks – 53.25 miles  55 locks

Saturday 8th May

Another warm sunny day after yesterday evening’s rain. We had a leisurely start this morning as we were surrounded by other boats in the arm and had to wait for the boat behind us to leave first.

Chyandour is top right

We continued along the Curly Wyrley which has a surprisingly rural feel given that it travels mainly through built-up areas. 

We had been warned that frequent visits down the weed hatch might be necessary. As it turned out, Steve only had to do this twice – and it wasn’t weed that was the problem, but plastic bags caught round the propeller.

There were lots more coot families, a couple of sitting swans and (at last) a brood of ducklings. Plus a glimpse of a swallow – our first this year. We stayed on the Curly Wyrley at Birchills Junction through Little Bloxwich to Pelsall Junction where we were due to moor, but first we ventured along the Cannock Extension, about a mile and a half of navigable canal which doesn’t go anywhere! 

We turned round at the end and went back to the main canal where we moored along with the other boats of our party.

Some of the others set up a gazebo and had a BBQ, and we joined them for a chat and a drink later in the evening. 

Today’s miles and locks – 13.50 miles  0 locks

Total miles and locks – 66.75 miles  55 locks

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Aston to Sheepcote Street Birmingham

So pleased to see the sun today as we have a lot of locks to do. We left our Aston mooring at 8.30 and headed straight for the remaining 8 Aston locks. We were able to do these quickly as most of them were set in our favour and they are very close together so there is little travelling time between them. Just time for a quick coffee before arriving at the Farmer’s Bridge flight up into Birmingham.

13 locks and nearly 2 hours later we emerged into the centre of Birmingham. Although there were no volunteer lock-keepers on duty anywhere today to help us, we thought that we had been very efficient in accomplishing 21 locks before lunch!

We topped up our water supply, had lunch and then went to have a look at the Roundhouse. After many years of neglect, this building has now been restored. There is still work to be done on the interior displays, but the actual building is looking really good.

After doing some shopping we returned to the boat where Steve continued with his waxing and polishing.

We're the 4th on the right.

A welcoming bollard

Tonight’s mooring is a popular one, but at, this time of year, has the disadvantage of being close to trees which are shedding seeds – we now have fluffy cobwebs!

Today’s miles and locks – 2.75 miles  21 locks

Total miles and locks – 39.00 miles  52 locks 

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Bodymoor Heath to Aston

 Just a short blog today. We did 14 locks (the remaining 8 Curdworth locks, 3 Minworth locks and 3 of the 11 Aston locks). We got wet, then dry and then wet again, then dry again. We’re now moored in Aston before making it into central Birmingham tomorrow.

Today’s miles and locks – 9.00 miles  14 locks

Total miles and locks – 36.25 miles  31 locks

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Polesworth to Bodymoor Heath

 We set out at 8.45 after the overnight rain had stopped, though it was still cloudy and chilly. The moorhen family was out and about; the previous evening I’d seen an adult and one chick on a couple of occasions, but it looks as if there are two adults and three chicks.

Our first locks today were at Glascote, notoriously slow to fill – just as well there are only two of them. There were other boats in the locks, so we had coffee while we waited. BCF friends Trevor and Janet on nb Grace were on one of the boats coming up so we had the chance of a few words with them. (I forgot to say that we saw other BCF friends Derek and Judy on Firoza yesterday – only had a chance for a brief greeting as we passed each other.) There were 3 boats waiting to come up Glascote locks as we came out of the second one – it is good that more people and boats are venturing out.

Onward to Fazeley and as we turned off the Coventry Canal on to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, it was pleasing to see that something is being done with Tolson’s Mill - don’t know what is planned, but a lot of new windows have been put in.  (Google later told me that the mill will be living accommodation.) A little further on we stopped at Fazeley Mill Marina for a pump out.

It was on this stretch that we spotted a duck with rather a lot of ducklings. There was no hope of counting them as we sailed past them - I was only able to do so from my photograph. I think there are 16 which seems excessive for one mum!

We moored up for lunch before starting to go up the Curdworth locks. We were only doing three of these today so it wasn’t long before we were moored for the night near the Dog and Doublet. Our mooring is next to a field of rapeseed – very yellow and with a very strong scent.

Mooring up took a while as there is a metal strip running along the edge just under the water level. We didn’t want this to scratch our new blacking, so extra precautions were needed.

Steve’s job for the afternoon was to wax and polish the side of the boat. I did some tidying up inside the boat and then went for a walk – not a very peaceful one as much of it was alongside the M42.

There were not many boats around on this stretch, just 2 or 3 in the late afternoon.

Later in the evening we enjoyed a meal at the Dog and Doublet.

Today’s miles and locks – 8.75 miles  5 locks

Total miles and locks – 27.25 miles  17 locks