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.

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