Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Birmingham Canal Network BCN

Tuesday 1st May
Today we left our moorings at Gas Street Basin heading northwest towards Wolverhampton. After utilising the facilities at Cambrian Wharf we set off down the mainline of the BCN, this is the same route we took just before Easter. After Smethwick, we continued on the new line to reach the three locks at Brades Hall junction. These locks lifted us onto the old line taking us through the junction for the Black Country Museum at Tipton. As we entered Wolverhampton we passed the junction with the Wyrely and Essington canal at Horsely Fields, this was to be our next canal following a days stop over at the moorings above the Wolverhampton locks.
We spent Wednesday exploring the town following our very brief visit earlier in the year.
We awoke to a lovely sunny morning on Thursday and reversed back to the services, Wolverhampton services are located on a short arm close to the railway station, it was quite a tricky manoeuvre to get the boat into the arm not helped by our encountering our first batch of ducklings of the season. They were obviously newly hatched and their mother was frantically trying to keep them together and avoid the boat. The situation was made more complicated by the presence of three drakes and two Canadian geese all further stressing the mother trying to protect her chicks.
Whilst manoeuvring the boat three of the chicks became separated from the rest of the brood, they swam over to the geese who started pecking them and pushing them under the water, all very distressing. It seemed to take an age but all ended well with them all being reunited.
Following all this excitement we headed back towards the junction to turn left onto the Wyrely and Essington, nicknamed the Curly Wurly.
Start of The Curly

It was with some trepidation that we entered this canal as everyone we had spoken to said it was full of rubbish and that they had to make frequent visits to the weed hatch to clear the propeller, some with horror stories of mattresses and wire being entangled.
One person had advised us to take it steady and glide under bridges as these are the most likely places to encounter obstacles, so this was our plan for the trip.
The canal was a pleasant surprise, through Wednesfield, most of the industry has now been replaced with housing developments mostly designed to enhance the canal scene and for the most part, this was successful.
An example of the rubbish, far less
troublesome than it looks if you take it steady

For most of the length of the canal, the banks were full of reeds and in places, some of these were floating on the surface trapping all the other debris, these were the areas  that had to be treated with care as there were all sorts of branches, logs etc trapped and hidden beneath the junk on the surface. Passing through Wednesfield and the junction with the Walsall Canal, the canal twisted and turned, faithfully following its contoured route until we passed beneath the busy M6 motorway, the southbound traffic travelling more slowly than we were! 

The busy M6 ner Sneyd
A little further on we reached the little canal community at Sneyd Junction, here a branch canal went to old mine workings, all now sadly disused. Our course necessitated us making a sharp right turn and, incredibly, we met our first boat of the day right on the turn, luckily the other boat was a bit shorter than us and we both successfully navigated around the corner without incident. 
Sneyd Junction

By now the canal had taken on a much more rural aspect, belying its very industrial past. It is easy to forget why these canals were built through the post-industrial areas as nature very quickly hides the desolation that must have been all around. Even though the area feels rural you are never very far away from some fairly depressing built-up areas, with lots of housing presumably put there to service the now, largely defunct heavy industry. Care still had to be taken through seldom boated waters and it was here I had to make my first visit to the weed hatch. Fortunately nothing more sinister than a couple of plastic bags and some rag, so we were soon underway again.
It wasn't long before we arrived at the open aspect of Pelsall Common and its junction with the Cannock Canal Extension. 
Pelsall Junction

This arm used to form part of a link to the Staffs and Worcs at Hatherton, some thirty locks below our current level. The arm now terminates,  after a dead straight 1.5 miles, at the A5 (Watling Street) at Norton Canes, halfway along we passed the old basins for the large Grove Colliery, remembered, sadly, for a disaster in the 1950's in which 14 miners perished in an underground explosion.
Some of the surface buildings still stand surrounding, the basins, but, unfortunately, are now very derelict.
Grove Colliery Basin

Grove Colliery

We had downloaded the BCN safe mooring guide from the BCN Society website, this is invaluable for any boaters planning to explore this area. The guide listed this arm as a safe overnight stop so we turned around at the winding hole at the boatyard and moored up some 50 metres from the terminus.
Friday morning brought another lovely day, somewhat unexpected as we were beginning the May day bank holiday weekend. Our plan for the day was to head back down to the Curly Wurly and we soon arrived at the junction at Pelsall, turning left to continue our journey along the BCN. Our route brought us to the town of Brownhills, in the past there had been large ironworks and coal mines, again long since demolished. We pulled up at the services here, they share a new building with the local canoeing club built with lottery funding. Whether it is because they are so little used or just well looked after we both remarked that they must be the best on the network. Just beside the services are extensive moorings and a large Tesco just over the road. Having stocked up with provisions we continued to reach the Anglesey Branch just around the corner, this branch leads up to the Chasewater Reservoir, built to keep the BCN supplied with water.
The branch winds through beautiful scenery with views across to the Tame Valley and to Lichfield just a few miles across the fields. Up here you can appreciate just how high the BCN sits, on its plateau above the surrounding area.

After a mile or so we reached Ogley Junction, here the Litchfield canal started its descent down to its junction with the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford. This canal is currently undergoing restoration by the Lichfield and Hatherton Canal Restoration Trust with some impressive engineering works underway to bring the route back to life. I can see this being a very busy route when it finally reopens, and it will bring much needed new life to the northern BCN. The size of the project can be seen by exploring the trust's website at
We continued to the basin at the end of the branch with the intention of mooring here for the night but there were no other boats around and discovering shopping trolleys and traffic cones dumped in and around nearby bridges we felt more comfortable retracing our steps and headed back down to the main canal.
Coal Chutes at the end of the Anglesey Branch

 On our return to the junction we turned left and headed down the Daw End branch to the top of the Rushall locks and the start of the Rushall canal.
The moorings here are pleasant and safe as they are adjacent to the Longwood boat club, all facilities are available here too.
After a very peaceful night we awoke to blue skies and warm sunshine and soon began our descent down the nine chambers that make up the Rushall flight. This is a picturesque flight of locks and again they are little used. At lock 8 we caught up with a boat that had set off an hour or so before us, they were stuck in the chamber with an empty lock pound in front of them. They were waiting for CRT to come out and let some water down the locks. Being a bank holiday we were concerned that it could be along wait so we let some water down from behind us, just as we started three CRT guys arrived and helped us through.
The Rushall canal terminates a mile or so from the bottom lock, meeting the Tame Canal at Rushall Junction.
The Tame Canal is relatively modern, built to bypass the centre of  Birmingham, we turned left at the junction and were making good time along the impressively straight waterway. Being a modern canal it is built more like a railway with deep cuttings, high embankments and aqueducts. 
Tame Valley Canal

We had another visit to the weed hatch, again only finding plastic, soon getting underway to reach the impressive thirteen lock flight at Perry Bar. 
Perry Bar Locks
We had been advised to moor at Star City close to the junctions where we met the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, our route for the next few days.
Star city moorings are a pontoon on the off side of the canal and are secured by a CRT key. We didn't bother to go and explore Star City, however, it consists of a couple of large buildings housing cinemas, restaurants, bowling alleys and a fun fair.

Star City
Under Spaghetti Junction at Star City 

After a brief overnight stop, we were up early making our way down the Birmingham and Fazeley through Minworth locks. We hoped to use the facilities halfway down the locks only to find it all closed down and the doors welded shut presumably due to vandalism. Towards the bottom of the locks, over to the right is a great view of the enormous Jaguar Land Rover factory.
Moored at Curdworth

Curdworth Church

We soon left the suburbs behind, passing through some lovely open countryside, in glorious sunshine, arriving at our mooring for the evening at Curdworth.

We visited The White Horse pub, just a short stroll from the towpath, sitting in the beer garden, we found it difficult to resist the delicious looking Sunday lunches coming from the kitchen, so we put our order in and had a very enjoyable lunch.
Later in the day after the heat had subsided a little, we took a walk around the village, the centre of which is quite old.
The sun was shining again on Monday morning and we moved on to descend the eleven locks of the Curdworth flight, we were helped along by a volunteer who came down the whole flight with us enabling  a rapid progress to the bottom lock at Kingsbury water park.
The flight of locks at Curdworth

The moorings between the locks and Farmers Bridge are extensive and in a wonderful setting with lakes and woods to each side.

For those interested in wildlife there is plenty to see here and it was at these moorings that we heard our first Cuckoo of the season. The weather was at its best with warm sunshine and clear blue skies providing a stunning backdrop to the new leaves and blossom on the trees.
We took a walk along the canal to Farmers bridge, crossed over, and followed a path through the woods to Middleton Hall. We had no idea what to expect but were amazed to find a very picturesque old building, surrounded on three sides by a moat. Parts of the hall and the stable buildings dated back to Tudor times, the latter now containing craft shops and a handy cafe. The place was extremely busy presumably due to the weather and it being bank holiday Monday.

Middleton Hall, Drayton
Stables at Middleton
We retraced our steps back to the boat and enjoyed a towpath barbeque on a beautiful spring evening. The weather stayed fine and we remained at the moorings for another night before moving off to rejoin the Coventry Canal at Fazeley Junction. Turning left at the junction we headed north stopping overnight at the Huddlesford junction. This junction marks the eastern end of the Lichfield canal referred to earlier.
We had arranged to call at Streethay wharf on Thursday morning, to have a bit of work done on the tiller, the boatyard is only a short trip from Huddlesford and by lunchtime, we were back underway with the repairs completed. Our next stop was at Fradley junction for a couple of nights before moving down to Alrewas, one of our favourite places to stop.

We are currently heading for Mercia Marina below Derby where we intend to leave the boat for a few weeks whilst we return to Leeds.
The next week or so will bring our first anniversary of being on the boat and in that time we have covered just short of 1000 miles and passed through over 650 locks.
Spring has finally settled down and we have been blessed with some great weather, the countryside is at its best and new birth is all around.
We hope to resume our adventures in the second half of June, so for now, thanks for reading and I hope you have enjoyed following our first year.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Back to Brum

28th April
Saturday brought more sunshine but unfortunately the weather was showing signs of a change to that more typical of April.
We moved off towards Stoke Prior climbing through the first six locks of the Ashwood flight before tackling the next six at Stoke. 

Approaching Stoke Prior
The canal through this area becomes a little more industrialised but the former large salt works at Stoke is now been cleared, presumably for more housing. The last six locks of the day up from Stoke brought us up to our mooring for the night outside the incredibly busy Queens Head pub. The moorings are quite pleasant and make a good stop over prior to the accent of the thirty locks of the Tardebigge flight.
I decided to do some more fishing, this time landing two Bream and three Roach within the space of an hour. 
First of two Bream

During the early evening I noticed the water level in the pound had risen significantly so I wandered up to the lock to see what was happening. The water was pouring down the bottom three locks, with one of them flooding over the towpath.
The reason soon became apparent, there were three boats coming down the locks, the leading boat proceeding as normal but  being followed by a very impatient boater who was opening paddles before the leading boat had left the lock, clearly wasting loads of water and causing the flooding.
We awoke early on Sunday to make sure we had a quick getaway to take advantage of the fact that the locks would all be in our favour,  the thought of thirty locks was somewhat daunting,  however we soon got into our stride and following three and a half hours we reached the moorings just below the top lock at Tardebigge. 
Tardibigge Locks

Once moored up we sat back and reflected on our ascent of the longest lock flight in the country. The locks fill quickly as the paddles are reletively large making for quick filling, the scenery always had something to offer with views back down to the Malvern Hills and beyond. Getting close to the top we passed the reservoir built to supply the summit pound, the water had to be pumped back to the top and this was done by a large steam powered pumping engine,  sadly now dismantled. The large engine house has now been converted into apartments.
Tardebigge is a lovely spot although very quiet. The canal scene here has lots to offer,  the wharfs are still inhabited by crt and full boater services are available. There is also a partially restored steam tug sat outside the crt offices,  these were used to pull boats through the three tunnels that have to be negotiated between here and Birmingham. The tunnels are wide enough for two boats to pass but the tow path goes over the top hence the need for the tugs.
We had a walk up past the church and onto the New Tardebigge pub, this is built within the old stables of  Hewel Hall, it's a large place with a wacky warehouse attached,  however we sat outside under the intense blossom of two large Apple trees. The food is typical large chain fayre but was ok and satisfied our hunger following a busy morning on the locks. 
Beer Garden of the New Tardebigge

The whole area is watched over by the imposing church with its slender spire.
Tardebigge Church
We stayed over through Monday and took a walk down to the outskirts of Bromsgrove, passing close to the Rugby club, another impressive set up. Our route took us down through the fields of a small valley then along some achingly beautiful country lanes,  enhanced by the spring weather. Worcestershire certainly is a beautiful county. We made our way back to the canal and followed the locks back up to the boat. 
Near Boundary Farm, Tardebigge

The following morning brought heavy rain, lasting for most of the day, so we spent a third night here before setting off towards our next stop.
Passing through the two short tunnels at Tardebigge and Shortwood we soon covered the short distance to Alvechurch, we moored opposite the large marina with its impressive fleet of hire boats.
The centre of the village of Alvechurch lies about a mile downhill from the canal, but using our Alyesbury Laundrette guide we managed to locate the laundry, leaving our washing with them for a service wash. Due to the laundry taking most of the following day we stayed for a second night.
The weather was still wet but we managed a couple of walks between the showers. The temperature had  dropped significantly and were back to keeping the stove lit.
Saturday morning brought yet more rain but we decided to make an early start, moving across to the marina services before the hire boats started to move in and out, Saturday is change over day so can be very busy. We were soon under way towards our destination at Bournville to visit the Cadbury factory.
The journey towards Birmingham is pleasant enough with the added highlight of the 2500 meter long tunnel at Wasts Hill, at the southern end of the tunnel the canal enters a deep cutting surrounded by open countryside, emerging at the northern end we were plunged straight into a suburban canal, passing Kings Norton junction, where the Stratford canal heads off to the river Avon, we soon arrived at the visitor moorings at Bournville. 
Southern Portal of Wasts Hill tunnel

The moorings are secured by gates with access via a CRT key, the moorings are long enough for two or three boats.
Following the journey I went below to warm up, I had got really cold at the helm and it seemed a distant memory to the week before when I had been in shorts and t shirt.
The enormous Cadbury factory overlooks the moorings and railway station, the latter being painted in Cadbury purple. We walked down to Bournville Lane and through the factory grounds, the area around the factory has an airy feel as there are sports fields and parks surrounding the works, for this reason it is known as the garden factory.
Not a Munchkin or Charlie to be seen

The Cadbury brothers moved their factory here from the smoky centre of Birmingham, in 1879, they then decided to purchase the land surrounding the factory and intersected by the Bourne brook hence the name Bournville. They built a village for the factory workers and, due to their Quaker ideals, they ensured that they were provided for with parks and sports facilities. 

Bournville School and Carillion
The village comprises of houses of varying sizes and architecture, each with a large garden as well as churches and schools. 
The Garden factory
Cadbury Dental - must be kept busy with all that sugar!
Selly Oak Museum

We called at the very busy Cadbury World but decided not to do the tour as there was a two hour wait, however we visited the factory shop, spending rather too much on chocolatey treats!
This place is another must see particularly for families as the whole set up is geared towards kids and the young at heart. You can pre book the tour avoiding the long waits.
Sunday morning was another cold start, but the sun finally came out providing a little warmth for our short trip to the end of the canal at Worcester bar in Gas Street basin. The bar is a narrow spit that originally seperated the canal from the Birmingham network, due to concerns that water would be lost from the BCN to the river Severn. Eventually a stop lock was provided allowing the passage of boats and eliminating the need for goods to be transhiped across the bar. The gates are no longer there but the narrow passage through the bar makes for an interesting challenge to pass through.
We intend to spend a couple of nights here before heading across to Wolverhampton and the northern BCN.

Monday, 23 April 2018


End of the Staffs and Worcs in Stourport
Well, it turned out to take 9 days for the river to drop to a point where we were happy to move on. We used the time whilst here to get a few jobs sorted. 
In Flood

Lime Kiln Chandlery who are located in the upper basin kindly allowed us to use their shop as a point of delivery for a few things. I decided to replace the boat batteries I bought last June as the long miserable winter has all but wiped them out. They were only cheapies but living aboard puts a lot more strain on them. Hopefully the new ones, proper deep cycle, should last a bit longer.
Stourport is an interesting town, owing its existence to the canals as before they arrived there was nothing here. The town boasts several basins spread over two levels and in its day it was an important and very busy inland port, linking the Trent and Mersey and Birmingham Canals to the Severn. The basins have two connections to the river, a pair of large barge locks and two pairs of narrow staircase locks, all designed by James Brindley. The basins are looked after by a team of volunteers working with Denis from CRT. He and his team take great pride in keeping the basins and canal neat and tidy, always busy cutting the grass and picking up litter, ensuring a pleasant stay for any boaters. They are always on hand to give advice and instruction as well as provide info about the local area. They are a credit to CRT and I hope that the hard work they put in is appreciated.

Stourport Upper Basin

The town became a magnet for visitors from the Black Country and soon developed into and inland resort,  it still has the feel of a seaside resort with fun fairs and parks and shops full of the things you would normally associate with the seaside.
Monday 16th April
At last we were under way, Denis and his team appeared as we approached the locks helping us through to the river. Leaving the upper basin via the first staircase one enters the lower basin, it is an awkward manoeuvre in to the second pair as they are not in line, fortunately I managed to get into the lock without too much scraping of the hull!
We were into the final chamber and as the gates opened we made our way onto the river, the flow was still high and we soon settled into the fast journey down steam with Stourport quickly shrinking into the distance behind us. 
Leaving Stourport

I called the first lock, at Lincomb, on the radio and was informed that the lock would be set ready for us, and passing the large weir on our right we made our way into the lock channel. The locks on the river are all traffic light controlled and as we approached we got a green light telling us to proceed into the lock. We were instructed to keep a loose line attached as the lock emptied and very soon the large tail gates opened in front of us and we were off again. 
Lincombe Lock

I really enjoy travelling on rivers, the boat responds well to the deep water and we soon covered the four miles to the next lock at Holt Fleet. Again using the radio ensured swift passage through the lock,  and again we were given helpful advice about rejoining the main steam after the lock and also about the approach to the next lock at Bevere. Just before Bevere lock we passed the junction with the Droitwich canals at Hawford, somewhere we would visit in the near future.
Radio contact with Bevere lock proved fruitless as it transpired the lock keeper was cutting the grass, however he saw us as we approached and soon got us through.
A couple of miles downsteam we passed Worcester racecourse and on into the picturesque city, passing the magnificent cathedral before arriving at the locks at Diglis.

Diglis Locks
Approaching Worcester

Making our way up the locks, we passed through the basin at Diglis and made out way up to lock 1 on the Birmingham and Worcs canal, mooring just above the lock next to the Commandary Museum. This museum is dedicated to the English Civil war that began and ended in Worcester.
We decided to spend the following day exploring the town, we have been before but I wanted to go and see the tomb of King John who was laid to rest in the cathedral in 1216, John was the brother of Richard I (Lionheart) both sons of Henry II. He came to the throne on the death of his elder brother and is most notable for the signing of the Magna Carta, forced upon him by the barons of the land and somewhat limiting his royal powers. 
King John's Tomb

There is also the tomb of Prince Arthur here,  he was the elder brother of Henry VIII and would have been King if he had survived longer than his fifteen years,  dying on his honeymoon at Ludlow in 1502.
Worcester is always a pleasure to visit with its attractive riverside and elegant buildings.
Wednesday 18th April
We decide to move on climbing through the 12 locks taking us up to Offerton top lock where we passed under the busy M5 motorway. At the start of the accent we passed through the home of the Worcester Warriors Rugby club, the Sixways stadium on one side of the canal and some impressive 4g facilities on the other.
The canal above Offerton passes through idyllic Worcestershire countryside, the weather had also become very sunny and warm making for a very pleasant journey. The sun had encouraged the leaves on the trees to burst out with the Hawthorn now in full leaf, the canal banks here are lined with Blackthorn in full blossom. 

On the way to Dunhampstead

We moored up at Dunhampstead, a tiny hamlet with a lovely pub, The Fir Tree Inn, we sat out in the beer garden enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

Up early the following morning and more lovely sunshine, we were soon on our way to the junction with the Droitwich canals at Hanbury. The left turn on to the Droitwich is tight coming from our direction and it took a little care inching round and through the narrow bridge. We very soon arrived at the first lock of the 6 taking us down into the town. 

Hanbury Junction
Top Lock on the Droitwich
From this first lock you can appreciate the descent you are about to undertake with fine views down the hill over looking the Droitwich marina and Rugby club. All that you see here is new, the first 3 locks of the descent are the originals restored on the reopening of this canal but below here the canal was completely rebuilt, a testament to the enthusiasts who had the vision and drive to see the project through. 
The top three locks are unusual in that they still have working side pounds,  these are used to reduce waste usage,  the principle being that the lock is emptied into the side pound first so only half a lock full is lost to the locks below, the side pounds are then used to refill the lock for the next boat.
The next pair of locks are a staircase and were rebuilt along with the lock below dropping the canal down to the culvert under the M5, it was this culvert that enabled the restoration of the canal, it being built to allow a brook to pass under the motorway. It is a very tight fit, fortunately the level of the brook was low giving us a couple of inches clearance above the roof. 

Leaving the culvert behind we arrived at the lock, below which the canal joins the river Salwarpe for the run into town. The entrance to the town is via the busy Vines Park, here we encountered the Barge lock,  the first of seven wide locks taking the canal down to the river Severn.
We had planned to travel  down to the river, turn round and return to moor in the town, however time was running out so we decided to find somewhere below the town and return in the morning.
The section from barge lock down to the river is known as the Barge Canal, it is a lovely trip down to the river, through beautiful countryside made all the better by the warm sunshine.  We did not find any moorings en route and we started to consider our options, do we go back down the river to Worcester? or make our way back through the six locks to town?
We arrived at the last two locks and were relieved to find that new moorings had been constructed, presumably to provide a safe haven when the river is in flood. 
Droitwich canal junction with the Severn

We had to carry on down to the river to turn round, Lucia let me through the locks and I pulled out onto the river, there was still a strong flow and as I made the turn the boat was carried downstream requiring full throttle to get the boat round and heading against the flow. As I approached the lock entrance the flow pushed the boat hard against the lock pontoon requiring several attempts to get the boat of the river. We climbed back up the two locks and onto the moorings. 

These are lovely moorings out in the open countryside and apart from the prep school on the opposite bank it felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. This feeling was soon removed on the arrival of the local running club on a training run along the tow path with close on to a hundred runners hurrying past.
I decided to have a go at fishing as there seems to be a lot of activity in the water. It has been 45 years since I last cast a line and I really didn't expect to have any success,  it was a nice surprise to land a couple of small Roach.

Friday 20th April
We awoke to another beautiful morning with warm sunshine,  the trees are coming into full leaf and the bluebells are beginning to make their presence felt with their heady scent mingled with that of the wild garlic. Another noticible thing in these parts is the amount of mistletoe in the trees,  easily mistaken for birds nests from a distance. 

We made our way back up to Droitwich and moored at the small marina close to the town centre. We walked into the town to take on supplies, the shopper is well catered for here,  with a Morrisons, Waitrose and Aldi as well as a range of local shops. The town is very picturesque and has many old buildings some of which sit at jaunty angles due to subsidence from the extensive salt mines that had provided for the area since roman times. 


Whilst Lucia was in the shops I met a lady busker who was playing a hand wound pipe organ. This was a fascinating instrument the music being produced by cards passing over a series of valves with the individual pipes sounding whenever the valves were covered. It must take great skill to cut the cards as they are cut in reverse i.e.  the holes represent gaps in the sound, it was an interesting way to spend the time waiting.
We made our way back to the boat then continued the climb back to the junction at the top of the hill. On our way up we called in to Droitwich marina to empty the cassette and get rid of the rubbish, the marina wanted to charge £5 for the toilet and £5 for a bin liner. We protested and manage to get both for £5, we don't mind paying a small fee to empty the cassette but this was a bit steep and we will avoid this place in future.
We arrived back at the junction and moored just beyond, heading towards Birmingham.
I am really glad to have made the trip along the Droitwich canals and would suggest it is a worthwhile diversion from the mainline,  it really is a credit to those determined enough to have persevered to get it reopened.
New Locks

Close by to the mooring is a household refuse site and I was able to dispose of the engine oil I had been carrying since the oil change in Worcester.
From here we will be climbing up the locks to the Birmingham plateau,  42 in total! Our intention is to head back up into the basins in the city centre before heading south east on the Grand Union towards Warwick.

The Birmingham Canal Network BCN

Tuesday 1st May Today we left our moorings at Gas Street Basin heading northwest towards Wolverhampton. After utilising the facilities at ...