Thirty four locks and a hand grenade

There’s a fair drop from the Birmingham level down to Fazeley  Junction – thirty eight locks worth in fact and our intention was to do thirty four of them. Our plan was to stop  in the pound above the Dog and Doublet for the night and do the last four the following day.

We started out from Birmingham on a misty morning and the Farmer’s Bridge flight of thirteen locks proved lucky for us. All but the first lock was set in our favour which, along with the cooler weather, made the flight a doddle. The locks are close together so it was fairly straightforward for me to nip down to the next one, open the gate, before coming back to close the gate of the lock above after Gordon had taken the boat out.

Farmers Bridge locks

The Aston Flight of eleven locks was almost as easy. One pound was a bit low but CRT were there and sorted it out before it was an issue for us. It was only just after lunch and we were congratulating ourselves on our speedy progress. Shouldn’t have done that!

Our problem started when, close to the top of the Minworth flight of three locks, a chap came running towards us up the towpath waving and shouting to us to pull in and stop. There wasn’t anything obviously wrong but we took him at his word and pulled in to the side. He explained that there was an unexploded hand grenade in the next bridge hole. He’d apparently ‘magnet fished’ it out of the canal and hammered it a bit to get the crud off the outside before seeing the classic pineapple shape with the pin still in place. We kept a respectful distance back from the bridge and waited. The police were on the scene in no time to assess the situation and told us to expect a long wait for the bomb squad.


In the meantime we were joined by Nick and Liz from nb Beatty, who dragooned the police into helping them secure their boat.


As it turned out the bomb squad arrived in double quick time and removed the offending hand grenade in a bomb proof box, in order to take it to be blown up. They were so quick that I missed them altogether. Still, with just over an hour or so’s delay, we were on our way again.

It always amazes me that, within walking distance of central Birmingham, you can get such rural canal views.


The Curdworth flight is particularly lovely. I think it must be looked after by a local group who keep the locksides looking amazing.


We easily made it to the Dog & Doublet, despite our enforced stop, and headed down for a swift pre-dinner drink. I’d decided that this was to be my last alcohol for a month so treated myself to a nice large gin. It had been a tough day!



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Clearing up and saying goodbye

I’ve been way behind myself with the blog recently. If I’ve had the time to do it I’ve not had the phone signal and vice versa. Excuses, excuses! Today I’ve got time, phone signal and I’m going to try to catch up a bit.

After the last few boats had left Titford, it was time to clear up a bit before we too headed down the Crow and on with our summer’s travels.

Gordon volunteered to clean the floor behind the bar.


I washed the aprons and towels from the tea stall and hung them out to dry. The horse looks like it’s got a bib and a nosebag!


Tug dog sat and enjoyed the last of the beer – mind you he’d just spent an hour or more, on a boiling hot day, seeing the last few boats down the Crow so he deserved it.


Kirsty ran around sorting things out like one possessed but she moved too fast for me to photograph her efforts!

Kirsty, Tug and Paul hauled the mud weight that had been fished out of one of the side ponds in the Crow, off the back of Phil’s boat. It’s going to be cleaned up  in preparation for it being displayed as an ‘historical artifact’ along with the rest of the collection in the pumphouse. It has been christened the ‘BCNS Anaconda’.


Just some shopping to do before we set off.  Kirsty kindly took us to Asda and, along with Phil, waited patiently while we finished making our purchases…


…before seeing us down the Crow for the last time this year – probably.


Bye bye and thanks for a great week, full of work and laughs, sprinkled with copious amounts of alcohol.

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BCNS 50th Anniversary Rally & the end of the 24 Hour Challenge

The day after we helped out on the Explorer Cruise life got a bit hectic! On Wednesday morning Gordon discovered that he had a hospital appointment down in Penzance on Friday – in two days’ time! He hastily arranged for a hire car, drove down on the Thursday and stayed with his sister Heth.

This meant that he missed the visit of Phil Jones Hammersley from Black Country Radio, dressed in his spectacular test card print suit. He interviewed Bob Fox, the Editor of the BCNS magazine, Boundary Post and Martin O’Keefe, the society President. Tug and Kirsty, cowering in the corner were trying, unsuccessfully to stay out of shot. To be fair, the official photographs were being taken from in front so none of the photo bombing here would have been visible.


Gordon got to his appointment in Penzance and drove back to Titford on Friday evening in order to meet up with Atlas and Malus on Saturday to do the 24 hour challenge. The boats were leaving from Hawne Basin at 8am and he couldn’t drop the hire car back until 9am. Phil Barlow came to the rescue and offered to follow him to West Brom to drop the car back, then drive him to Windmill End to meet Atlas on the way through. Should have been easy except that his car wouldn’t start! Not an issue, he got Dave Dent’s permission to use the BCN van as it was on BCN business. Half an hour later, having dropped off the hire car, Gordon was back at the Pumphouse. The van had also broken down. In the end Kirsty braved the run of bad luck and risked carrying the Jonah, along with all the food and drink for Atlas and Malus, to Windmill End, this time without incident. What a palaver!

I didn’t manage to get many photos of the Rally as I was busy running the Tea Stall and helping out on the Burger Bar, which is why I too wasn’t on the Challenge on Atlas & Malus. I was very lucky to have had a load of wonderful cakes donated to sell and also a group of great volunteers to help me run the stall. Without them I’d have been lost. Thank you very much to everyone who helped or donated cakes and to Kirsty for taking me shopping for supplies. Shame I didn’t get around to taking any photos of it.

There were plenty of tugs doing runs to and from Titford Pools…


…and at 11.30ish on Saturday (just three and a half hours after the start of the challenge) the crew of the first boat reported in. Apparently they do this every year in an attempt to come last then enjoy the rest of their time visiting the beer tent and the burger van.


On Sunday, I managed to squeeze some time off to meet Atlas and Malus coming back up the Crow.


They were fairly near the head of a growing queue of boats…

…making their way slowly but surely up all six locks.

…to reach the finish at the top.

Jeff took a well earned rest…


…before posing with the rest of the mob for the obligatory crew photograph.


There wasn’t really any room for them at the top so having finished the challenge they proceeded to cause mayhem and confusion by turning around just above the top lock…

…and mooring up below it just outside the Pumphouse.


Several drinks were then consumed to celebrate them having got back in one piece.


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Tidying & Locking – a busy lead up to the BCNS Rally

Saturday 19th May saw a small army of volunteers busy round the Titford Pumphouse, preparing it for the 50th Anniversary BCNS Rally. This year nearly eighty boats were expected as the rally coincided with the end of the 24 hour Challenge as well as the Explorer Cruise.

The BCNS butty, Crow, was full of scrap that had been collected on various work parties and this had to be emptied and taken off for sale to a scrap merchant.


The ‘lawn’ had to be mown, tidied and ‘Crow’ put out of the way at the end of the arm. The BCNS tug, Phoenix, was taken down to clear up some greenery that was blocking the entrance to Titford Pools.


A LOT of boats would be heading down that way in order to earn their brass plaque. Here’s the one we earned last year. Still haven’t managed to find anywhere to display it!


Monday saw six of us heading off to Rushall Locks to help the 21 or so boats on the Explorer Cruise down from Longwood Boat Club on their way to Walsall town basin. It’s a very pretty flight of locks…

Rushall Locks

…but when Kirsty and I wandered down to check that all was well we found this in the last pound. Word was passed up the flight, Phil let some water down and in a relatively short time this…


…became this…


…and the boats could get on their way.

Brenda’s boat departing the last lock around 1pm was the signal for us to pack up and head back to Oldbury to celebrate Kirsty’s birthday in Wetherspoons.


Not too much of a celebration though as we were going to have to do it all again the following day to see the Explorer Cruise boats up the Walsall Flight.


Only four of the bunch from Rushall were available for the Walsall flight as Kirsty and Tug were having a go at printing T Shirts, but luckily we were joined by Brian Holmes who arrived early. By the time we got there, at 7.30am, he’d been down the flight, set all the locks and was already dealing with the first boat. What a star!

No problems with empty pounds on this flight – the day’s issue seemed to be rubbish and plenty of it! Gordon had to leave the top lock to help the first boat to deal with an obstruction under the next bridge. This turned out to consist of a sofa, a mattress, some tyres and a shopping trolley!

When the top lock gate was sticking a bit, this was fished out from behind it.


Despite the issues all the boats were through by around 1pm again. Brian left his car at the bottom of the flight so was not available for the ‘team photo’ at the top lock. Just Phil, Mike, me and Gordon…


…who then repaired to The Pretty Bricks, a Black Country Ales pub in Walsall.


This was our first ‘official’ taste of helping out at locks and while it did prove to be hard work, both of us had a great time doing it. I can imagine that if, for some reason, our boating life was curtailed and we still had our health, we’d be volunteering somewhere or other on a regular basis.

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Five go up the Wolverhampton 21

It feels like a lifetime ago that Gordon and I went up the Wolverhampton 21 with Roly and Bev from nb Klara but it’s only actually been a fortnight. We’ve crammed a lot into the last two weeks! It was a really misty day (my favourite kind of locking weather) when we set off from the junction with the Shroppie and headed off up the 21 with the help of Robert, a fellow BCNS member. He’d got up at a ridiculous hour that morning to catch the train to Wolverhampton and walk down the locks to help us back up again. Thanks Rob!!


Robert seems to have a very similar sense of humour to Gordon when it comes to bunny ears on photos.


With two boats and five crew it was no time before we were at the top of the flight and heading for Tipton.  The next day we waved goodbye to Roly and Bev in glorious sunshine. They were heading through Birmingham to meet Sue and Andy off nb Festina Lente….


…while we were off up the six locks known as The Crow to the Pumphouse at Titford, the headquarters of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society.


We’d volunteered to help out with the lock wheeling for the BCNS Explorer Cruise. We did the cruise ourselves last year and really enjoyed it so thought we’d come back to help. Our first task was an arduous one – catch the train back to Wolverhampton with our pal Phil to meet the Explorer cruisers and join them for a drink in The Great Western.

It was a relaxing start to a frantic few days, with lock wheeling for twenty boats, the BCNS 50th Anniversary Rally and the 24 hour Challenge to come!

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A well travelled route

Once we left Manchester we were back on very familiar waters. We headed for one of our favourite moorings on the Trent and Mersey,  a wonderful quiet spot, with views over the river Weaver.


Spring is a wonderful time to be on the canals, there’s so much new life


and the floral displays are amazing.



There are a fair few locks to traverse starting at Middlewich…


…with the assistance of a hungry heron…


…up Heartbreak Hill …

…to Red Bull and the junction with the Macclesfield (I love this pimped up shed opposite the Red Bull Services)…


…before you reach Harecastle Tunnel.


I remember how intimidating this tunnel was when we first went through it on a hire boat. We’ve been through so many times now that it’s become familiar, but it’s an experience that’s just enough outside your comfort zone to make it exciting each time.


On the other side of the tunnel we moored at another favourite spot, Westport Lake. On a walk around, we spotted this chap who’d persuaded some passers by to photograph him proudly holding a massive carp that he’d just caught.


We were heading for a get together with our friends Roly and Bev at Great Haywood so we passed through the industrial landscape of Stoke-on-Trent, stopping off for a night in Stone for a beer or two in the Royal Exchange and The Swan. The next day we passed Aston Marina, where we have overwintered six times now.

Who knows if there’ll be a seventh? We certainly don’t!


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A few days exploring

The day after we got into Salford Quays proved to be a bit of an anticlimax. So much planning had gone into the trip across the Mersey and up the Ship Canal; so much anticipation and now it was all done and we were back to reality.  The mooring at Salford Quays is a good one but is underused I think. To get to it you either have to negotiate the Ship Canal, or come down through Pomona Lock. Boats with a Bridgewater Licence can transit Pomona Lock without cost but CRT licensed boats have to pay £30 which puts many people off I think.

We had a wander around the complex and came across the site of the new Marina. It currently holds a large barge and a couple of narrow boats, but according to one of the canal magazines, will soon be expanding.

We also took a trip up the River Irwell past Old Trafford, some serious graffiti, the bizarre Gnome Island and into the centre of Mancester. There’s supposed to be a mooring up there but we didn’t spot it. It turns out that to have moved off our mooring we should have informed Eastham Port Control as they need to be kept aware of all boat movements in the area. Oops. No harm done though, the only other boat moving was the Waxi (water taxi) and he didn’t seem put out by our presence.

On Tuesday at we set off through Pomona Lock at our booked time of 8am and managed to get ourselves a mooring in Castlefield Basin.


It’s a great base for visiting Manchester but it is really popular so it’s not always possible to find a mooring. We had a great couple of days wandering around. There are some amazing buildings in the middle of Manchester including the Town Hall, the Prince Albert memorial statue and the old Campfield Market Halls. The upper hall is used by the Science and Industry museum to house their aeroplane collection but the lower hall is still empty. Such a waste of a beautiful building.

Near the Castlefield metro station you’ll find the remains of a Roman fort which are worth a look.

After a quick stop off for lunch in a nearby pub, we headed off to the Museum of Science and Industry. I’ve always had a fascination with virtual reality – I’d love it if the Star Trek Holodeck was a reality. For £6 we thought it would be well worth while to visit the Virtual Reality descent to earth from the Space Station narrated by Tim Peake. It was! Lying back in a comfy chair with headphones and a virtual reality headset, you’re treated to a 360 degree tour of the Soyuz space capsule and amazing panoramic views of the earth as the capsule descends from space, through the atmosphere and lands in Kazakhstan. When the experience finished it took me a moment or two to orient myself back to normality again. It was brilliant! It seems to be on in the Science Museum in London as well as in Manchester and we would really recommend a visit.

We didn’t manage to visit the whole of the rest of the museum – we’ll go again when we’re next in Manchester – hopefully in September or so. We did manage to visit the Power Hall with loads of  large steam driven stuff that I really don’t understand – and some trains. Gordon was in his element!

Unfortunately, while we were doing all this (and visiting the odd hostelry) we missed a visit from Doug and James who used to own nb Chance and now have a city pad overlooking the canal in Manchester. Such a shame we missed them but I do hope we can arrange to get together when we visit again later this season. We did manage to have a brief chat with Roger from nb Artu. We met Roger last year when we did the BCN Explorer Cruise and have bumped into him again here and there. Like us, he’s hoping to crew on historic working boats Atlas and Malus for the BCN 24 hour challenge later this month so hopefully we’ll get together again then.


We left Castlefield on Thursday morning. The trip across the Mersey, up the Ship Canal and into Salford Quays and Castlefield had all been new ground for us but once we got to the junction at Waters Meet we were back on familiar territory.

There aren’t many bits of the system we haven’t seen now and we’re hoping to travel them all before the end of this season. We had hoped to go up the Rochdale 9 on this trip as we’ve not done these locks yet. Unfortunately our route south would have been blocked by continuing problems on the flight of locks up to Marple so we had to abandon that which is why we’ll be returning to Manchester towards the end of the season.

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