Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Getting there...

We're continuing our gentle cruise down towards the Severn. A quiet night at Gothersley on Monday led to a fine, sunny day yesterday.

We had about an hour at not much more than tick-over speed before we got to the first lock at Stewpony (or Stewponey, depending on which map you look at...) It's quiet bendy along here, but that's only the prelude to later...

Just around the corner we passed the strange wooden door set into the base of a sandstone outcrop.

No-one seems to know what it was built for, or how far the tunnel extends into the rock face. It's known as the Devil's Den.


We've been following the course of the Smestow Brook for the last couple of days, but after crossing over a small aqueduct the canal starts following the Stour instead.


We passed Stourton Junction and the route up to Stourbridge, then arrived at Stewpon(e)y Lock to find a boat just leaving.




Another was waiting to come up so I was invited to get back aboard while the lock was emptied for me. 
Sort of settles that debate, then!

A little further on and Dunsley Tunnel takes the canal through that sandstone ridge.


It's stable enough to be self-supporting, with just brick arches at the ends.


Hyde Lock is picture-postcard, with a well preserved lock-keepers house alongside. 

Below here the canal skirts along the edge of Kinver, a popular stop and well worth the visit. But not for us today although there was plenty of mooring space to be had. Instead we pushed on and moored below Whittington Lock, with another cottage that has lasted well - much like the lady on the tiller!
Rain in the afternoon and overnight cleared by morning and we had a quiet night until Amber went ballistic at 6 this morning. Nothing to be seen when I got up to investigate, but outside I noticed cat pawprints all over the fore-deck...

Sunny spells came and went, slowly warming the day as we wound our way generally south. We crossed the county boundary near Caunsel, following which the canal gets seriously bendy!

Splendid, eh!

Heading into Cookley, around and almost under Austcliffe!


The village is built on top of Cookley Tunnel...

Debdale Lock had boats coming up so that made life easy...

Followed by some more tight bends which made life interesting.

Lovely spot just before Wolverley.
We called it a day after dropping down Wolverley Lock. There are good moorings on the straight below.

Into Kidderminster tomorrow.

Locks 6, miles 8

Monday, May 16, 2022

Steady Descent...

The Staffs and Worcs Canal drops steadily down towards the Severn, currently following the Smestow Brook, but shortly to meet up with the Stour valley. We're mooching around the western fringes of the Black Country, avoiding climbing up onto the massive dome of coal and ironstone-bearing hills that give the area it's name. It was contemporary with the Trent and Mersey that it joins at Great Haywood, being completed in  1772. Indeed, it was surveyed by the same chap, James Brindley. 

It remained financially viable and in private hands until nationalisation in 1948, mainly carrying coal, ironstone and the production of the potteries. Some of the place-names reflect it's industrial heritage, for example Greensforge. 

As it skirts the built up area it's mainly delightfully rural, often with heavily wooded banks.

We had a short day on Saturday, mainly to leave the busy towpath at Wombourne behind. Our first locks were the double staircase at Botterham.

Unlike Bratch Locks this is a "proper" staircase, with one chamber dropping directly into the next. Only two chambers though.

The village of Swindon is growing outwards, both Marsh Lock and Swindon Lock now close to housing. There are moorings below Swindon Bridge but we pushed on a little further, mooring above Hinksford Lock.

Sunday is usually the day when we catch up with family on the phone and by video, so we stayed put, moving on again this morning.

Below Hinksford Lock and wharf a large Victorian pumping station was opened in 1900.


It was constructed as part of an ambitious project to provide fresh drinking water to the still expanding homes and industry to the east.

Canal boats supplied coal for the pair of steam pumping engines that lifted water from Smestow Brook to the reservoirs. 

We needed to use the services at Greensforge, past the long line of permanent moorings. There was a hire boat on the wharf but enough room for us too. We'd filled and emptied while they were still showing no signs of leaving so pushed on ahead of them.

Greensforge Lock and the Navigation Inn.


It was a good move, with boats coming up I didn't have to fill another lock.

Below Greensforge a branch led off to the northwest, formally Ashwood Basin, now Ashwood Marina.


It was opened in 1829 to connect to a mineral line servicing collieries and ironworks over towards Kingwinsford.


A little further on is Ashwood Nursery, with then splendid John's Garden alongside the canal.


 


Rocky Lock and Gothersley Lock are close together, the former named for the sandstone outcrop which had to be excavated for the construction.

Rocky Lock

We intended to push on a bit, maybe to Stewpony, but the towpath below Gothersley Lock looked inviting so we called it a day there.


Locks 8, miles 3¾

Friday, May 13, 2022

Down Past Wolverhampton

We took Wednesday off to avoid the rain, then set off yesterday planning to get to Bratch Locks by early afternoon. In fact we were there before 12:00...

It's a very pretty stretch along here, now the outskirts of Wolverhampton are behind us...

Leaving Wightwick Mill Lock, our first for the day.

The locks along here are set in fine wooded country, watered by the Smestow Brook, a tributary of the Stour, running alongside the canal.

Leaving Dimmingsdale Lock after being helped down by a hire boat crew.


Ebstree Lock

Fine decorated parapet on Awbridge Lock tail bridge.
A half hour below this lock we pulled in on the moorings above Bratch Locks. As it was earlier than I expected and the sun had appeared Amber and I had a walk around the locks before lunch.


 
The locks here started life as a conventional triple staircase where one chamber drops directly into the next. The waste of water this causes was addressed by building side ponds to temporarily hold the overspill when the chambers are emptied. Each chamber is separated from the next by a very short pound to control the levels. 
  
It looks complicated, but it ain't, not really.
This morning we motored the short distance to the top lock, to find a volunteer lockie in attendance which made my job a lot easier!

Bratch Top Lock

Very deep chambers...

Those steps have seen a few boots over the years!

We popped out of the bottom lock after only 30 minutes, and 5 minutes more saw us arrive at the delightfully named but slightly care-worn Bumblehole Lock.

By half-eleven we were tied up in  Wombourne, just before Wombourne Bridge. Handy for the shops here.

Our neighbours...

We're stopping here tonight, then moving on a short distance tomorrow to wait out the rest of the weekend.

Locks 8, miles 4¾

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Heading downhill towards the Severn.

 We went up Gailey Lock yesterday morning, the last uphill one going this way.

From here there's a 10 mile level pound to Compton where the first downhill lock is encountered.

The Four Ashes waste incinerator takes 34,000 tonnes a year of household waste and generates around 23Mw of electricity for the national grid. It also grows some green stuff on the roof...

A little further on the Hatherton Canal branched off to the west. It linked with the Wyrley and Essington at Fishley Junction, then the Lichfield Canal at Ogley Junction and on to join the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Junction. Sadly most of this east-west link has been lost to mining subsidence.

  Geese and goslings at Hatherton Marina.   

We called it a day just outside of Coven, it had got steadily more gloomy, and rain was imminent.

This morning was brighter but breezy after overnight rain. We decided to up sticks soon after 9, not sure where we were going to finish up.

The Anchor, Coven, a popular boaters stop.

About an hour on the canal builders encountered a ridge of hard rock running east-west, right across the route. Too hard to construct a full-width channel through, they settled for a one-way narrow passage with passing places. We had to pause for a few minutes to allow a boat to emerge, but then we could go through ourselves.

Pendeford Rocking


After successfully negotiating the narrows there's fifteen minutes of wide, deep canal, almost in apology for the narrow, shallow section that precedes it, then the Shropshire Union Canal joins from the right at Autherley Junction.

 

It's been several years since we've been south of that signpost!

Twin railway bridges near Oxley Marine.


I wonder how many blue bricks were used here?




The next junction is at Aldersley and brings the Birmingham Canal Navigations down the 21 Wolverhampton Locks

Wolverhampton Bottom Lock


  Although the canal runs through the suburbs of Wolverhampton it's in a green tunnel with only glimpses of the conurbation either side.

Another railway bridge, this one with lots of rivets instead of bricks. 


At Compton the cutting opens up at Compton Lock, with good moorings above and below. 

We dropped down the lock and moored up somewhat precariously just before Compton Bridge. I'd hoped to moor a bit better, but a hire boat just beat me to it. Anyway, we had lunch and the hirers still hadn't moved on so we did instead. 

Just one lock, though, Wightwick Mill, and we found a fine sunny spot just below.

Splendid little brick tail bridges at these locks...

...and unusual circular by-wash weirs.


 I'd forgotten just how attractive this canal can be.



Locks 3, miles 11