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

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Up through Penkridge

Two short days have seen us head a bit further uphill, stopping overnight at Penkridge.

Up Shutt Hill Lock at a quarter to ten.


Midland Chandlers used to run a shop next to Park Gate Lock, but recently sold it. I got chatting with the new owner, Dan as we came up the lock.

It turns out that his grandfather used to own the house, the land that the chandlery is built upon , and the boatyard next door. The family has managed to acquire the business and the house, but not the yard - yet.

It was a bit slow going, we were following a single-hander and caught up with him at every lock even though I was running solo too. But we got to Penkridge after just over an hour. We didn't stop at the services, we'll use those at Gailey on Monday. Filance Lock was the last one for the day, and be warned, there are no rings or bollards below the lock to tie to.

After seeing Patty-Ann up I nosed up to the bottom gates, stayed in gear and emptied the lock. It works quite well but is quite hard on the bow fender.

We tied up around noon on the moorings above the lock, surprised that we were the only boat there. But by evening that had changed, there was barely a space to be found in the village.

There were a lot of early risers amongst the overnighters, though. I took Amber out at 07:30 and there was only us and one other left on our stretch! At least half a dozen boats had left already! Must have been queueing at Otherton Lock...

We left it a while to let the congestion ease, then got off soon after 10.

We'd had rain yesterday afternoon and evening but the morning was fine, sunny and warm. 

We were followed to Otherton Lock by a family outing...

The small dog was quite at home! 

Above the lock the canal is flanked by the M6 for the ¾ mile to Rodbaston Lock, but then it turns away.

The canal passes under a disused railway bridge which once carried the branch line from Littleton Colliery, 2½ miles to the east.

Gone now of course. Opened in 1877 it was the last deep shaft mine in the country and one of the largest in the Midlands. In 1902 it had reached a depth of over 1600 feet and employed 1900 miners in 1982. It met the fate of many other collieries, closing in December 1993 with the remaining 800 losing their jobs.

Pastoral scene above Rodbaston Lock, but the M6 luks beyond the tree line...

Coming up the unfortunately named Bogg's Lock...

Our last for the day was Brick Kiln Lock. I don't think there's a canal in the country that doesn't have at least one Brick Kiln Lock.

Constructing the locks and bridges of a navigation took bricks. Lots and lots of bricks. Whenever suitable material was found on or near the route a brickworks was hastily built and equally hastily dismantled when no longer needed. There are also Brickyard and Brickworks Locks to be found up and down the canals. The same applies to lime kilns used to supply slaked lime for the mortar to hold it all together.

We moored below Gailey Lock and will stay here till Monday. The distinctive outline of the Round House can be seen on the other side of the A5 bridge.

A rather splendid lock-keepers cottage!

We moored in pretty much the same spot in December 2010, after a rather more eventful trip!  

Locks 7, miles 5.    

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Southbound now...

 Dave got held up on Tuesday so didn't get to do our Boat Safety examination in the afternoon, but he was knocking on the cabin side at ten past eight yesterday morning. Good job we knew he was coming!

Anyway, all was well, I'd have been surprised if it wasn't to be honest.

So at ten we were on our way back towards Great Haywood.

Identity crisis or squatter?

Cannock Chase rising to the south of the Trent Valley.

We had a short wait at Colwich Lock for a boat ahead of us, and the same again at Haywood Lock. But the longest queue was for the water point just past the junction.

Busy here...


It was about an hour before we'd finished and were able to reverse to the junction and duck under that fine arched bridge to join the Staffs and Worcs Canal.

New pedestrian signpost going up...

The weather had looked more and more dodgy through the morning and then it let go as we approached Tixall Wide. Busy here too on these popular moorings.

Tixall Gatehouse on it's low hill.

It used to guard the entrance to Tixall Hall, but the hall, the second to carry the name, was demolished in 1928. The gatehouse, built around 1580, fared rather better and is now a holiday destination managed by The Landmark Trust.

The rain had eased by the time we were heading up Tixall Lock, it's still an attractive spot though even in the damp.


We pulled in above the lock for the night.

Today dawned dry, bright and sunny. We were ready to go at half-nine, so started up, untied and set off.

At this point the canal follows the valley of the River Sow, having crossed and left behind the Trent at Great Haywood Junction. Although it's ultimate destination is south, it's heading north-west at the moment, skirting the northern flank of Baswich Hill, the western extremity of Cannock Case.

Pretty along the Sow valley.

What you can't see though is the busy railway line off to the left...


Stafford was once served by a short river navigation, based on the Sow. This fell into disrepair and was officially abandoned in the 1920's. But work is afoot to restore the route, slightly amended and running from a small basin linked to the Staffs and Worcs Canal near St Thomas Bridge, No.101. https://www.stafford-riverway-link.co.uk/

Work commences...

At this point the canal turns sharp left around the end of the ridge and heads steadfastly south (ish).

Radford Bridge is the closest the canal gets to Stafford until the link is finished.

By this time we were following one boat and being followed by another. At Deptmore Lock I offered the hire boat crew behind us the opportunity to go up first. They usually like to get on, especially if they're doing the Four Counties Ring. But they declined, they had a fortnight's hire so plenty of time. In fact they were so pleased with the offer they actually worked the lock for me! 
Deptmore Lock

We passed through the dormitory village of Acton Trussel, now much enlarged from the small hamlet recorded in the Domesday Book, and moored just beyond, a half mile from the next lock.

It's pleasant here, and the continuous hum of traffic from the nearby M6 is soon ignored.

Locks 4, miles 10¾