BCNS Titford Rally

Immediately after the end of the BCNS Explorer Cruise we were offered the opportunity to head straight for the BCNS Rally at Titford. Not all the boats involved in the cruise turned up but there were a fair few and we headed up the six Oldbury Locks – known as The Crow because of the chemical works there, owned by Jim Crow.  The Jim Crow Arm is long gone but it’s entrance can still be seen between locks three and four. The top of the flight marks the highest point on the BCN.

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Most of the ‘prime’ spaces had already been taken by the time we arrived and the Explorer Cruise boats moored together just a little bit along opposite the ruined malthouse. It was a lovely mooring, actually a great deal quieter than those nearer the Pumphouse where the festivities were centred.

We indulged in a visit to the beer tent on the Friday evening but didn’t stay late to save ourselves for the main event on Saturday evening. I had also volunteered to work on the Tea Stall on Saturday afternoon so needed to be fresh for that!

Saturday proved to be a pretty horrible day. A few late comers were helped up the locks but nobody particularly wanted to spend any time outside in the rain.

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This meant that the tea stall was very popular…

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…and the bar even more so.

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I’d made Saffron Buns for the cake stall and, those, along with just about all of the other cakes on offer, had been snapped up. Before heading out to the evening’s entertainment, I had to bake a fresh batch for the following day.

By this time the weather had improved and we managed to walk to the entertainment tent dry shod. The beer was excellent – from The Olde Swan Brewery at Netherton. We particularly enjoyed Bumblehole and Dark Swan.

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The entertainment was provided by The Shady Band, who put on a great couple of sets that got (almost) everybody up singing and dancing. It did help that we were all of a ‘certain age’ and knew the words of everything they played. They certainly knew how to target their audience.

The morning of the next day was given over to visiting Titford Pools, the reservoirs that act as one of the feeders of the BCN. I had volunteered to do a stint on the Burger Bar that afternoon and Marie kindly offered to cover for me if I was late back from the pools. I really didn’t expect that the offer would need to be taken up as we’d allowed ourselves over two hours for a trip that would normally take an hour. Shows what I know!

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It’s inadvisable to visit the pools without the assistance of someone who knows  the area well. They are generally pretty shallow but in some spots far too shallow for just about any boat. Stuart came with us to make sure we didn’t stray into the shallows

Three other ‘explorer cruise’ boats followed in our wake.

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We all successfully negotiated the larger of the two Titford Pools…

…even though one or two turns were a touch tight.

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When we got into the smaller pool we came across the tug Finch, which had strayed into shallow water and was firmly grounded.

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We threw them a rope and attempted to pull them into deeper water but unfortunately we were unable to do this and were blown into the shallows ourselves. At this point Roger and Rob on Artu attempted to come to our aid but also got a bit stuck. They eventually freed Artu but the boat was too deep drafted to be of any help. Finally Dave and Sue on nb Destiny’s Dream came to everyone’s aid. We threw a rope to their bow and they managed to stay in deep water and reversed, pulling both boats off. This whole procedure took rather a long time so it’s as well that I’d organised for Marie to take over my shift.

I eventually arrived at the burger bar 20 minutes late. Gordon and I worked there, selflessly, right the way through the duck race and hence missed seeing our ducks coming in last. We also missed the last of the beer (which is probably as well as we’d drunk enough the previous evening)

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We did manage to catch what seems to be a big spectator sport – watching the ducks being counted and put away for the following year.

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We also managed to arrange something a bit spectacular. We’ve always toyed with the idea of doing the BCN Marathon Challenge, where boats of all kinds travel the BCN for 24 hours picking up points for lock flights, inaccessible corners of the network etc. It’s the 50th Anniversary of this event and we were lucky enough to be invited to compete on the working pair Atlas and Malus. I’m not sure whether I’m more excited or scared but I’m sure it won’t be dull!

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BCN Explorer Cruise – the last two days

On Wednesday, we left Walsall in the pouring rain. Ellie had left us and headed back to Cornwall so it was just Gordon and I (with the help of the wonderful lock wheelers from the BCNS) who worked our way back up the Walsall flight to moor up at Moorcroft Junction for our planned visit to the CRT Bradley Lock Gate Workshop.

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It was a mile and a half walk up the unrestored Bradley Arm, lead by Dave Pearson of the BCNS and IWA. On the way up, Dave told us about the Arm in it’s hey day and also gave us an overview of the prospective restoration. I don’t think we’ll see it come to fruition in our boating lifetime but it does look like an achievable objective, and would link up with the remaining navigable section of the Wednesbury Oak Loop which currently serves the Bradley Lock Gate Workshops.

The first three locks of the original flight have been partially restored but are nowhere near usable yet….

…while the position of the rest of the flight can be clearly seen in the undulations of the path that leads up the line of the flight towards the Bradley Workshops.

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There are only two workshops in the country that produce lock gates for CRT. The Bradley Workshop is responsible for lock gates and beams for narrow canals, while the workshop at Stanley Ferry builds the bigger gates needed on wide canals. It’s all reassuringly low tech but the craftsmanship levels of skill involved are world class.

Repairs are undertaken as well as new builds and the replacement balance beam for Lock 10 on the Wolverhampton 21 was ready to be transported to its new home.

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I was particularly interested to see these finger posts that had been removed and replaced with new. It took me a moment or two but I eventually figured out that they came from Great Haywood.

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I don’t think it’s in use any more but this ‘boat turner’ looks like it could still do the job of upturning a hull so that the underside can be worked on.

BoatTurnerTowards the end of the visit the humans were still enjoying themselves but  Mabel and Dylan, Chris and Penny’s two beautiful Italian Spinoni hunting dogs were slightly less enthralled.

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After a wet walk back, the planned evening barbeque and fund raising raffle looked increasingly unlikely. We were lucky though, and the weather dried out in time for us to have a gathering on the tow path and draw the raffle. (No prizes for us I’m afraid).

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The next day was the last of the cruise and the weather was very much better. On this occasion we chose to go the long way around as we headed back to Tipton and go up the three Spon Lane Locks to get back onto the Old Main Line. The contrast as you go up is marked with the bottom two locks having a distinctly rural feel…

…while the top lock drags you kicking and screaming back into the urban world as it passes under the M5.

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Our final get together was held in the Pie Factory in Tipton. Not an actual factory but a pub that, as the name suggests, specialises in pies. Before the dinner we were all given commemorative brass plaques showing a map of the BCN.

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It was a lovely evening, spent in the company of a great bunch of people. We only spent a few days together but I’m sure that some friendships have been forged that will stand the test of time.

Back at the moorings we were greeted with a wonderful sunset. A very fitting end to an extremely enjoyable cruise.

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BCN Explorer Cruise – Pelsall & Walsall

When we left Longwood Boat Club, on Tuesday morning, the weather had begun to deteriorate a bit but we were lucky for most of the day. It was a bit misty but it didn’t actually rain as we turned onto the Anglesey Branch from the Daw End Canal and moored up to take a look at Anglesey Basin and the Chasewater Reservoir.

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We didn’t have a great deal of time but we’d very much like to try to make it back here to take a walk round the reservoir. The moorings are incredibly peaceful with some lovely woodland. On our walk back to the boat from the reservoir we spotted this fellow who wasn’t at all shy and posed for photographs.

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The bottom of the Anglesey Branch marks the junction between the Daw End and Wyrley and Essington (commonly known as the Curly Wyrley on account as it’s a very bendy canal). As with much of this area on the BCN the canal has a rural feel. Signs of the original busy industrial heritage, that the canals were built to service, are never very far away. Fenced off flattened areas that once housed factories and coal mines provide a constant reminder of the past.

We moored for the night at Pelsall Common but, unfortunately, the rain had well and truly set in by then and I didn’t take any photographs of what was a very pleasant mooring. There was a small settlement of travellers on the common but they didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them. We popped into the Finger Post pub hoping to get an evening meal but were out of luck as the chef had gone home ill. Shame.

Our next destination was the basin in the centre of Walsall town. It wasn’t a long cruise and we got down the locks and moored up in the basin before lunch.

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We went to the Black Country Arms for lunch in the middle of town. It has 15 real ales and a pretty good menu. I had my first try of the Black Country specialty Grey peas (pronounced peys) and bacon. Very good it was too!

After lunch Ellie visited the Art Gallery and managed to persuade someone to take her up to the top of the building to a floor that is normally out of bounds so that she could take this wonderful photograph of some of the boats in the basin. It’s not often you see your boat from this angle.

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BCN Explorer Cruise – the first couple of days

On Saturday morning we set out from the mooring on the Old Main Line at Tipton, surprisingly fresh after our evening in The Fountain. We were heading for Ocker Hill at the start of the Tame Valley Canal.

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Ellie and I walked the couple of miles to the first set of locks – Brades Locks on the Gower Branch which includes the BCN’s only staircase.

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One by one, the boats arrived to make the descent.

Leaving the Gower branch, we turned briefly onto the New Main Line, then  onto the Wednesbury Old Canal at Pudding Junction, on to Ryders Green Junction and down the 8 Ryders Green Locks. The flight was manned for us by several BCN Society lock wheelers. This is Charlie, the BCNS Chairman. His wife, I discovered, went to the same school as me in Belfast and was in the year below me. Small world.

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Our mooring at Ocker Hill had a rural feel and very peaceful it was too (at least it was when the local youths stopped speeding up and down on their motor cycles!)

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The next day we set out along the Tame Valley canal heading for Longwood Boat Club. As with most of the BCN, there’s a fair bit of rubbish to negotiate but, so far, we’ve been lucky and haven’t needed to visit the weed hatch between stops.

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This stretch of canal is incredibly straight and has aqueducts over spaghetti junction….

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…and the River Tame.

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We joined the Rushall Canal at Rushall Junction and headed up the 9 locks (again ably assisted by helpful lock wheelers and our Ellie).

There was a brief holdup while we waited for a blockage to be sorted out in one of the locks above (apparently it was a bin lid that had been caught between a boat and the side of the lock). Time for a chat with Steve and Cheryl on the  beautiful nb The Lady Hannah.

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Our welcome at Longwood Boat Club was spectacular. One by one the boats were  shepherded through the last lock, given mugs of tea, and shown into moorings. Sheila Bowen made some amazing cakes and we were welcomed like royalty.

It was a beautiful day and, on advice from Chris and Penny we took a walk down the canal and through some lovely woodland – to walk off some of those cakes!

The day was rounded off with a Chinese Meal, delivered to the Club House.

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Gordon, assisted by Penny and Alison, gained himself a fair few brownie points by heading into the kitchen to do the washing up in time for us all to enjoy Phil Clayton’s presentation Joeys Joshers and James A Birmingham Canal Miscellany. It was a wonderful illustrated talk punctuated with original songs and it was enjoyed immensely by everyone there.

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Briefly into Brum

Last Monday we positively flew up the Wolverhampton 21 in just over 3 hours. Most of the locks were set for us which made my job very much easier.

We also got a fair bit of help opening and closing gates from some friendly passers by and no sign of any ‘yoofs’ to give us bother. Perfect.

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Wolverhampton has a reputation as an unsafe place to moor so they provide secure mooring for about three narrowboats. Unfortunately it’s so secure that you can’t get off once you’ve moored up so no chance to explore the city on this occasion. There was a boat moored there already and he would seem to have been there for a while as he rushed up when we were mooring up to clear up the mess from his multitude of little pooches – and there was quite a lot of it!

Our aim was to get to Tipton for the start of the BCN Explorer Cruise on Friday 12th but first we had to head into Birmingham to pick up my daughter Ellie from New Street Station. Any excuse – I love mooring in Brum!

The journey into Birmingham from Wolverhampton is fascinating. There are several stretches that takes you under the M5…

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…over other canals…

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…through some surprisingly pretty scenery…

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…and up close and personal with some of the wildlife.

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The criss crossing canals, like the Engine Arm, tempt you to stray off the straight and narrow. I think we’ll definitely head up here before we leave the area.

On Wednesday we spent the day wandering around the markets, meeting my mate Nigel for a coffee outside the Cube where he works, getting my hair done and generally having a mooch around before going to see ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2. All in all a very relaxing day.

On Thursday Gord  headed off for a hossie appointment in Wigan and I met Ellie from the station. We adjourned to the Bacchus Bar underneath the Burlington Hotel and spent a lovely hour or so drinking Hendricks while waiting for Gord to arrive back from Wigan to help us back to the boat with the suitcases (our Ellie isn’t known for travelling light)

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Friday saw us retracing our steps to the mooring at Tipton where we were meeting the other boats for the explorer cruise. Ellie had her first steering lesson and did very well too!

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Gathered on the bank by the John the Lock Moorings in Tipton, Stuart and Marie gave the assembled boaters some information on the cruise before we headed off to the adjacent Fountain Inn for some refreshment.

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A trip down the Shropshire Union

We’ve finally set out on our travels again. We headed down Heartbreak Hill with the sterling help of Sue and Andy from nb Festina Lente….

…before heading along the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch and onto the Shropshire Union proper. It really is a very beautiful canal, although it is a touch cold on the embankments when the breeze blows.

The by washes at the locks can also prove a touch challenging!

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At the bottom of the Audlem Flight we were unexpectedly joined by Carol and Stuart from nb Kathleen May. We moored beside them in Saul Junction marina for a couple of years and haven’t bumped into them for a while so it was great to catch up and to meet their delightful, if mischievous, new dog, Becca.

 

After Audlem, our first major stop was at Nantwich, where we spent a couple of days. The weather was glorious and we headed across the fields to the village of Acton where there’s a beautiful church with Anglo Saxon origins.

We wandered across the fields taking a rather circuitous route into Nantwich town.

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There’s another St Mary’s church here and although younger than the one at Acton is almost cathedral like. It’s octagonal tower reminded me of the one on Ely Cathedral

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It’s a wonderful building with some beautiful stained glass….

and some exquisitely carved misericord seats.

When we bought the boat our first mooring was at Norbury Junction. We had always meant to go and visit the nearby Anchor Inn but somehow never got around to it. We weren’t going to miss the chance again and we moored right outside it. The pub is run by Olive and has been for over 40 years, having changed very little during that time. It was a freezing cold day so Olive’s coal fire and excellent beer were very welcome.

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We’re off the ‘Shroppie’ now and heading for Birmingham where we’ll be joining the BCN Society spring cruise – really looking forward to it!

 

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Living the good life on the Grand Union Canal

Living on a canal boat certainly means that you’re lucky enough to get up close and personal with wildlife every day…

OK, the cat’s not exactly a wild animal but it was lovely that it paid us a brief visit from its own boat moored nearby.

Even some of the lock gates get in on the act. I know these plants are not very good for the gates as they destroy the wood, but it is very attractive to look at.

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There are also multiple opportunities for forraging. Gordon is happiest in autumn when he finds a good supply of wood that we can use for the winter.

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There’ve also been loads of pickings in the hedgerows this year….

…I’m going to have to put in a fair few hours making jams, jellies, cakes and crumbles over the next week or so!

The London Bit 

One of the excursions we enjoyed while we were in London was a guided walking tour arranged by Fun London Tours. It was called Hidden London and it was included in the two for one brochure if you had a train ticket so it was amazingly good value. It lasted for about an hour and a half, had a fascinating commentary and took in, amongst other things, a cabman’s shelter erected in around 1875 for London Cabbies to shelter while staying close to their horse and carriage, a disused tube station (outside only unfortunately), Samuel Johnson’s house, St Clements Church, one of the dragons that mark the entrance to the City of London and the church that inspired the design of the tiered wedding cake.

We passed by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub which was allegedly Samuel Johnson’s local. The lower levels of the pub are in the old cellars of the long gone Carmelite Priory. When the tour finished it would have been rude not to take a look.

Very atmospheric and rather reminiscent of cellar bars in Krakow in Poland.

 

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