A visit to the Kinver Rock Houses

We’ve visited Kinver before on a couple of occasions but each time the Holy Austin Rock Houses were shut. This time we made sure we timed our stay for when the houses were open.

It’s a bit of a trek uphill from the village, but there’s a cafe when you arrive and the view is wonderful.

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The houses are on three levels. Nobody quite knows when they were first inhabited but their hey day was in the 18th and 19th centuries when industry flourished in Kinver and housing was at a premium. Even when the industry died out there was a brief flourish of prosperity for the inhabitants, who took advantage of the influx of tourists brought to the area by the Kinver Light Railway. On Whitsun Monday 1905, 16,699 visitors were transported to Kinver and business for the cafe run from the house below must have been booming.

Porch

Houses on the middle level are unrestored and cannot be visited by the public as the sandstone is crumbling.

On the upper you’ll find the cafe. These three houses were the most recently occupied on the site, having been forcibly abandoned in the 1960s after the gable wall of the end cottage collapsed when the front door was slammed! Despite the appalling dereliction of the houses, the owners were extremely reluctant to leave.

 

HousesCafe

The insides of all the restored houses have been returned, as closely as possible, to their original state using paintings from the time and accounts from people who actually lived there.

 

When we left the rock houses, we headed up to Kinver Edge…

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…to experience the incredible 360 degree views before heading back down to the boat…

 

…for a well earned drink.

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All in all a lovely day out.

 

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A change of scene

Last week we said goodbye to the BCN (for now) and headed south. We’re doing a chunk of the Avon ring – down to Stourport, out on the Severn along the Avon and then back towards Birmingham on the Stratford Canal.

This time we used the New Main Line which passes under the Old Main Line and the M5…

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…turning off at the Dudley Port Junction through the Netherton Tunnel and onto the Dudley No 2 Canal at Windmill Hill.

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At Park Head Junction we met our only lock of the day

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…before we moored up for the night at Merry Hill. Here we stayed for a day while a storm passed through.

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The rainbow over the shopping mall lived up to its promise and the following day was much better. A touch breezy but with plenty of sun and, most importantly, dry. It was as well really – we had twenty nine locks to do before getting to Kinver on the Staffs & Worcs canal.

The start of the Delph flight of locks, just below Merry Hill, is urban and unassuming…

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…but by the second lock you feel more like you’re the middle of the country. It’s an absolutely beautiful flight, specially when the weather is as pleasant as it was for us.

After the eight locks of the Delph flight we carried on to do the sixteen Stourbridge locks. Again, another lovely flight, although, like other boaters over the years, I had problems at lock 15. The bottom lock gates will not stay shut! Shut one, rush round to the other side and by the time you’re half way across the first gate is wide open again. It’s definitely a two person job. As Gordon was finishing off lock 14, I dragooned a passer by into holding one of the gates shut for me as I went round and shut the other. The flight goes past the Red House Glass Cone, which is now a museum. No stopping this time as we’d had a good look around a few years back when we passed up the locks.

There was a brief respite when we finished the Stourbridge flight…

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…while we nipped up the lockless Stourbridge Arm to take water…

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…before starting down the four Stourton Locks…

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…that take you onto the Staffs and Worcs Canal. This marked the point at which we were well and truly off the BCN. We had an amazing two or three weeks in and around Birmingham and the Black Country and we will definitely be back but for now …

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…just Stewpony Lock to do…

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…before we stopped for the night at a beautiful rural mooring just outside Kinver.

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The end of a wonderful day’s cruising and a great few weeks on the BCN.

 

 

 

 

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Farewell to Atlas and Malus

On the day after the BCN Marathon Challenge, Atlas and Malus were heading back to their home at Hawne Basin. Gordon and I volunteered to join the crew. The boats would be taken via the Gosty Hill Tunnel through which Ewn Ha Cul would not fit – a great opportunity to spend another day on these amazing boats and to travel a piece of the canal that would be otherwise unexplored by us.

 

There were five crew – Paul Smith the skipper, Phil Wild, Colin Wilks, Gordon and me. Aided by Kirsty and Tug along with ever helpful Phil Barlow we headed off down The Crow. Only nine locks today – a doddle after the challenge!

 

The weather was a bit miserable but nobody seemed to mind. When we reached Factory Locks Gordon and I swapped places. He hopped off to do the lock wheeling while I steered Malus – an incredibly easy job as the pounds are short and there’s not a lot of actual steering required.  Phil did his usual sterling job of hauling the boat from lock to lock while Colin and Paul went ahead with Atlas.

Factory Locks

There was a minor mishap when Atlas went aground at the bottom of Factory Locks…

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…but Colin and Paul soon managed to get her back on track.

OffAgain

By this time the rain was really coming down and I hid in the cabin as we went through Netherton Tunnel. I must admit to having a quick nap but I woke up before we went through Gosty Hill Tunnel.

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The entrance to Gosty is actually quite roomy but the tunnel shrinks about half way along. It’s here that Ewn Ha Cul would have problems. White paint and this painting of dracula warn of the impending reduction in height.

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Phil had let me know to look out for this ventilation shaft, the chimney of which is now situated in someone’s garden. The greenery you see at the top is a tree that has been planted in a vain attempt to hide the structure. I think if I owned this house I’d be making a feature of it instead.

AirShaft

Heading towards Hawne Basin, at the south end of the tunnel,  the boat passed the remains of the massive Stewart and Lloyd Steelworks that closed in 1967. It must have been incredibly busy back in its hey day but is now crumbling and covered in greenery.

SteelWorks

All in all it took about six hours to get to Hawne Basin from Titford. The journey back was considerably quicker as we were lucky that Phil and his wife Anne gave us a lift taking just 15 minutes or so.

The weather had cleared by the time we got back so we were able to sit down outside the Pumphouse with Phil Barlow and his dog Charlie and have a relaxing drink.

Phil&Charlie

We’d like to thank Phil for his welcome to us and for all his help during our stay there. He’s an absolute star! We’d also like to thank Paul Smith for allowing us to join the crew of Atlas and Malus both for the Challenge and the trip to Hawne Basin. It was an absolutely amazing experience!

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Crewing on Atlas & Malus for the BCNS Marathon Challenge

Last Saturday saw the commencement of the 50th Anniversary BCNS Marathon Challenge in which around 50 boats travelled as much of the Birmingham Canal Navigations as possible in 24 hours with an added compulsory 6 hour break.  Points are picked up for locks done, miles covered, obscure destinations reached and various other achievements . Luckily, as crew, Gordon and I didn’t have to worry about any of this. All we had to do was turn up and pitch in wherever we could help. Boats can set out from wherever on the BCN that they choose but this year’s finish was at the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society headquarters at Titford Pumphouse.  Atlas & Malus were built in the 1930s and are owned jointly by the BCNS and Coombeswood Canal Trust.  It was a real privilege to have the chance to take part in the Challenge on them. Paul, the skipper of Atlas & Malus, also chose this as our starting point. Wonderful for us as we were moored up there and only had to crawl out of bed, dress and wander up the pontoon to join the boats for the off. The start was a bit damp….

…but started to clear up as we headed down the  locks known locally as The Crow and onto the Old Main Line.

By the time we’d gone under Summit Tunnel…

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…past Smethwick Pumphouse…

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…and into Smethwick Locks, the weather had cheered up completely. The sun was shining for our encounter with Charlie on Felonious Mongoose.

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We picked up some points for heading round the Soho Loop…

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…and past Hockley Port Junction…

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…before making our way into central Birmingham where we encountered Annie and Colin on nb Eli who kindly took these photographs of our progress past the NIC.

We turned left at the ’roundabout’ and headed down Farmers Bridge Locks.

I got to steer the butty down Aston Locks with a fairly stiff breeze and a varied amount of success! Thanks to Kirsty for the photos of me steering.

I enjoyed it but am much happier just plodding along doing locks.

Gordon took over the butty steering as we passed on under Spaghetti Junction and met our first, and luckily only, real problem. There were a group of about 20 or so kids, obviously well organised as they had masks and hoods, who started chucking stones at the boats. They followed us on bikes for a short while, aiming mostly at people. Gordon took a stone to the head which caused a minor scratch as he was protected by his ‘happy hat’ but it could have been an awful lot worse. The incident was reported to the police and we headed on through Salford Junction not too much the worse for wear.

It was getting on to evening by this time and it was around 8 o’clock by the time we got to the top of the Perry Barr Locks.

By 11pm we were safely moored up at Ocker Hill for the night and appreciated a great bean and sausage stew that had been lovingly made by Tug. The two ladies were lucky in that we were given the boatman’s cabins to sleep in – not much use for most of the blokes as the bed space is way too short.

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Very snug but even a bit too short for me! I did manage about three hours sleep.

We set out again just after 5am the next morning for a much easier day lock-wise. Just 18 to be completed before the 2pm finish. Jeff did a grand job of cup washing before we set off up Ryders Green locks.

We had originally planned on taking the longer route through Factory Locks as it’s an easier turn but unfortunately the wind chose differently as it blew Malus past Atlas at Pudding Green Junction forcing Paul to turn left and head for Spon Locks instead. It was a lovely day and a relaxed one as there was no time pressure.

SponLaneLocks

The turn out of Spon Lane Locks is a tight one but we eventually managed to get both boats round and headed towards home at Titford.

By the time we headed up the Crow we were all pretty knackered but our challenge was not quite finished.

We still had enough time to moor up Malus…

MooringTheButty

…and take Atlas up to Titford Pools for a few extra points. Not much for the non steerers to do so time to enjoy a celebratory beer.

With Atlas back in it’s spot and the log handed in on time (after a slight panic where it couldn’t be located) the crew posed for a photograph kindly taken by Phil from nb Petula whose dog Charlie muscled in on the action.

TheCrew

The crew were, from left to right, Jeff, Gordon, Paul, Colin, Kirsty, Phil, me, Tug and Mike and a better bunch of people I couldn’t have hoped to crew with. A challenging but incredibly enjoyable experience!

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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.

TheCrow

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.

ShadyBand

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.

TightTurn

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

FinchStuck

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!

AtlasMalus

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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.

LockFlight

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.

TiptonSunset

 

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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.

Anglesea BasinChasewater Reservoir

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.

Deer

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.

WalsallTopLock

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.

WalsallBasinFromAbove

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