Monday, February 28, 2011

Looking for a dry bit of towpath….

And here’s why…..

Leaving “Glastonbury”

We’ve put up with this since arriving on Saturday, but we had to move today. Fed up with having to bath the dogs after a walk, with scrubbing their feet and legs after only going out for a pee, with having to wash boots every time we get back onboard.

The towpath doesn’t improve much until the canal approaches Lapworth.

We would have moved on yesterday, but the wet and windy weather was off-putting. A case of the lesser of two evils….

The canal is pleasantly rural, only coming close to Hockley Heath on the way to Lapworth. We left our options open today, getting off early in case we wanted to press on down the Lapworth flight of 20 locks (to the Grand Union), but keeping our eyes open for a likely mooring spot part way down.

In Lapworth Top Lock.

We dropped down the first four locks (numbers 2 to 5, Lock 1 being the guillotine lock at Kings Norton) and pulled in on the ½ mile pound before the thick of the flight. The towpath is pretty dry here. It’ll do for tonight, we’ll drop down the rest of the locks tomorrow.

I’ve cocked up the route planning. When we get to the Grand Union Canal we were heading down to Hatton Locks, expecting to get through them and into Warwick by tomorrow afternoon. But Hatton Locks are closed for gate replacement, and won’t re-open until 11th March. So we’ll have to potter about till then. Ah well.

Locks 4, miles 4

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Change of canal, and TREES!

Carol and George went to see Willy Wonka this morning, so we dogsat Molly till they came back. We didn’t fancy it, don’t mind eating the stuff, though! We didn’t get away till gone 1, but it was a good plan as it turned out. The morning has been pretty grim. Wet and windy. But the rain stopped about noon, and we even had a bit of sun this afternoon.

It was about 1¼ miles to Kings Norton Junction, where we made a left turn onto the Stratford On Avon Canal.

Kings Norton Junction

There’s a fine house overlooking the junction, the old toll house.

In the days before Nationalisation, each canal company charged the carriers for the use of their water, so toll houses were often to be found near junctions.

There’s a board on the wall listing mileages and cost per ton per mile for different cargos. For example, a pair hauling maybe 40 tons of coal to fire the boilers at Cadbury’s would have paid 4/2d (about 21p) for the 1¼ miles.

Toll Board

Stop locks were also sited here, to prevent loss of water from your canal if the connecting one sprung a leak. They also acted as a lockable barrier to prevent unauthorised (unpaid!) use of the canal.

A lot of these stop locks are still in use, those at Autherley Junction, Hawkesbury, and Preston Brook for example. Some are now left open, and the one onto the Stratford Canal falls into this category. It is unusual though in that the gates are of a guillotine design, wooden gates sliding vertically in iron guides. The gates were raised by means of a chain pulley system, but have not been used for years.

Stop Lock No1, under Bridge 1

The lifting gear is easily seen against the sky.

Brandwood Tunnel is next, at 352 yards long a mere blink compared to Netherton, but well built, brick lined and broad allowing two boats to pass.

Brandwood Tunnel

Is this a representation of the Bard of Avon himself? The canal does end up at Stratford On Avon, after all. Old Willy Waggledagger would have been pleased….

The canal winds around the southern suburbs of Birmingham, heading generally east towards Solihull, before changing it’s mind and turning south-east into open country.

Wooded cutting leaving the built up area.

Or at least we thought so. The city had a last surprise to throw at us. The area around Dickens Heath appears to be open country on the map….

But this little lot has sprung up like a masonry mushroom!

New development near Dickens Heath

A little further on we ran the boat chicane at Lady Lane Wharf, and moored a bit further on near Bridge 19.

Busy at Lady Lane

It’s good to be out in the country again after several days of urbanisation. But the towpath is very muddy. Decent all weather surfaces are one of the benefits of city canals, but then you have the Chris Boardman wannabe’s to contend with…

And then there’s the wildlife.

I didn’t think this guy was going to move when he spotted us coming along…..

But then his nerve broke and he dived into the undergrowth.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the bare patch of Seyella’s roof in the foreground of the earlier pictures today… then a couple of logs appear…. and a final one after Dickens Heath. Yes, another good day for firewood foraging. The chainsaw isn’t to be packed away just yet.

Locks 0, miles 9

Friday, February 25, 2011

Birmingham to the Chocolate Factory.

After our couple of days in the city, it was time to head out.

Sunset over SmethwickWe left around 10:00, turning right at Deep Cuttings Junction (thanks Neil!) through Broad Street Tunnel and onto the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Worcester Bar.

Exiting Broad Street Tunnel, Worcester Bar ahead and Gas Street basin on the left.

After the sharp right turn in front of the Mailbox, we pulled in to fill with water and empty a loo tank, then set off towards Edgbaston.

The railway is a constant companion all the way to Bournville, and at Edgbaston there are twin tunnels, one for rail and one for water.

Two Tunnels at Edgbaston.

Two miles further on, at Selly Oak, a major reconstruction has taken place on the canal. To enable a new road to be built, an aqueduct has been built to carry the canal over the route. A temporary diversion was dug so that the canal wasn’t closed during the works.

Selly Oak New Aqueduct.

There’s an interesting set of photo’s here. Click on “slideshow”.

Looking back at Birmingham University’s campus from the aqueduct.

Suppressed artistic flair or just plain vandalism?

Mags, practical as ever – “It must have cost a lot for the paint….”

We pulled in on the secure moorings opposite Cadbury’s at Bournville after just 2 hours.

Moored at Bournville

It’s been a grey, cool day, but at least the rain held off till we’d got tied up.

Locks 0, miles 4½

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birmingham Canal Area

A lot has been done here to transform a run-down post industrial area into an amenity that can be enjoyed by all. Other cities should take notice. Even Manchester’s Castlefields, once such an optimistic development, now looks jaded and tired in comparison.

Our moorings, near Oozell’s Street Loop

There’s no litter on the paths along the canalside, the water is clean (here at least) and the properties are occupied and well looked after.

Just a couple of hundred yards from where we are is what was the busiest canal junction in the country.

Old Turn or Deep Cuttings Junction

Here the BCN meets the Birmingham and Fazeley canal heading east and north, and the Worcester and Birmingham heading south starts at Gas Street Basin just to the right.

Where we are is overlooked by the NIA, just alongside of the junction is the Sealife Centre, then past the bars and restaurants is the Mailbox and The Cube.

Just through Broad Street Tunnel, only a few yards in length, is Worcester Bar. Until 1815 this was a physical barrier, as the 2 canal companies couldn’t agree to connect the canals. An Act of Parliament was required to resolve the problem, and a stop lock inserted. The companies still wanted to exert control over their own water!

Now though, the stop lock has been removed.

Worcester Bar, with Gas Street Basin on the right and Broad Street Tunnel in the distance.

Heading now on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, the navigation does a sharp right turn, and on the bend are The Mailbox and The Cube

The Mailbox

The Cube

I’m able to live with the architecture of The Mailbox, but I’m afraid The Cube isn’t to my taste!

From here the canal runs under Granville Street Bridge, then out through a surprisingly green corridor towards Edgbaston (home of the Warwickshire County Cricket Club), and ultimately to Worcester, 30 miles and 58 locks away.

Back to Old Turn, and the line to the left, the Birmingham and Fazeley, heads almost immediately downhill, down the 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge Flight.

Farmers Bridge Top Lock, with Cambrian Wharf moorings to the right and the BT Tower beyond.

This is the start of the long descent to Fazeley, 15 miles and 38 locks away, and the junction with the Coventry Canal.

Looking down on Lock 2, Farmers Bridge Locks.

Another couple of weeks and we could have taken this route, heading north from Fazeley to Fradley on the Trent and Mersey. But with winter maintenance work still going on at Curdworth, we’re going the long way around, down the Worcester and Birmingham, Stratford Canal, Grand Union from Lapworth and on to the North Oxford at Napton Junction. We’ll be leaving George and Carol at Braunston as we head north, up to the Coventry and then Fradley.

Locks 0, miles 0

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Into Brum

It’s been a day of aqueducts and bridges, broad straights and narrow wiggly bits, open country, factory walls and new high rise developments. Quite a lot of contrasts, in fact.

After watering up we were away from the museum moorings near Dudley Tunnel at around 10:30.

Away from the museum.

We left the moorings empty, but no doubt there’ll be other boats arriving, it being half-term.

Instead of returning down the Factory Locks onto the New Main Line (Birmingham Level) we decided to head east along the earlier Old Main Line built by Brindley. This hugs the 473 foot contour and is known as the Woverhampton Level. Telford’s later New Main Line is 20 feet lower.

New developments alongside the Old Main Line

Going this way we crossed back over the Netherton Branch leading from Netherton Tunnel.

Over Tividale Aqueduct.

At Brades there’s another branch linking the old and new lines, dropping down the 3 Bradeshall Locks, then the next major landmark is Oldbury Junction, the branch leaving on the right climbing 6 locks through Oldbury to it’s terminus at Titford Pools.

Oldbury Junction

Overshadowing the junction the M5 stalks along on long legs, and is an oppressive presence for the next mile.

Old and new; Blakeley Hall Bridge under the motorway.

Another aqueduct, this time Stewart, still under the motorway and railway.

Spon Lane Locks climb up from the Birmingham Level joining at the junction of the same name.

Spon Lane Top Lock, and that motorway again.

The motorway veers off north just before Summit Bridge.

Summit bridge and Summit Tunnel make a pleasing symmetry.

A little further on, approaching Smethwick, the New Smethwick Pump House is passed. This returned water to the upper level, lost when the locks are used.

New Smethwick Pump House

The New Main Line is just below the building, but 20 feet lower. Both routes are side by side at this point, and just above Smethwick Locks the Engine Branch ducks under a towpath bridge, launches itself over the NML on an elegant iron aqueduct, then turns parallel again for about half a mile. The branch was a feeder from a steam pumping engine at the terminus.

Engine Branch Aqueduct

I couldn’t understand why the bridge and tunnel we’d passed earlier were called “Summit” when this section isn’t a summit level. The answer lies on an information panel alongside Smethwick Top Lock. This stretch between Spon Lane and Smethwick Locks was originally 20 feet higher, fed by 2 more pumping engines returning water to the short summit.

The locks at either end were initially flights of 6, but they were reduced to 3 and the canal pushed through a cutting, now at the Wolverhampton Level errr… level.

Gets confusing, all these levels.

Smethwick Locks

The Smethwick Locks are set in open-ish countryside, and we dropped down quickly.

These are the first downhill locks we’ve come across since leaving Stourport.

Below the bottom lock is one of those rubbish traps, where water flows and wind conspire to accumulate all the detritus in the canal.

Rock’n’Roll fell foul of the rubbish, the prop snarled up as they left the lock.

George, head down in the weed hatch.

Apart from several square yards of thick plastic, he had to wrestle a tyre off the prop. Unfortunately it wouldn’t come up through the hatch, so it’s still down there lurking, waiting for the next unsuspecting narrowboat.

We joined the New Main Line below the locks at Smethwick Junction and from here on it was wide straight cruising, past disused arms and branches and several old loops, the remains of the winding earlier route.

Smethwick Junction

Old arms to nowhere

The Soho Loop comes back in on the left, after swinging around Winson Green Prison, and the Icknield Port Loop goes off on the right.

We took the next loop, Oozells Street, to have a look at Sherborne Wharf.

Oozells Street Loop is just under the next bridge, to the right.

Sherborne Wharf is a busy boatyard and mooring, quite congested in places.

Sherborne Wharf moorings, with NB Waterways Routes, Paul Balmer’s boat, on the left.

Giving way to a pink waterbus coming through the gap.

With no place to moor along here, we pulled over briefly to confer, before heading back towards St. Vincent Street Bridge to pull in on the 14 day moorings.

Not sure how long we’re staying, but there must be plenty to see and do in England’s second city!

Locks 3, miles 8½