Still can't get motivated, I'm afraid my joints just don't work in sub-zero conditions. The frost this morning was quite dramatic and canal is now completely solid, we don't even rock about now. The frost is now growing like a fungus, everything is just white, never seen my strings that white.
It's that cold our Robin hasn't been for breakfast yet!
While in Gas Street last night I was having a tour round Google Earth and found that the time clock allowed me to go back to 1945. You can see clearly the duplicated locks at Smethwick. After hunting round I found quite a few canals that are no longer here, such as, the Toll End, the canal that extended out from the Cambrian Wharf and lots of arms now filled in. The other interesting place to visit in 1945 is London, seeing all the docks full of ships.
After a couple of days on the arm with a few boats about and the beer tent to ourselves virtually, things started to happen on Saturday morning, boats arriving from all directions, lighting masts going up and the bonfire being built. It was all hands on deck for the transportation of pallets and various lumps of wood from the arm to the lock side at Smethwick top lock. About 4:00 bonfire was completed then guarded to stop the local numpties putting light to it. We sneaked off for pint in the tent, then Andrea had to do her stint in the Burger bar and I went to get scrubbed up. 7:30 the blue touch paper was lit and up she went, then followed a superb firework display. I tried taking photos and video but it was impossible trying to keep track of it all. We finished the night off in you know where... and drank them dry. Sunday morning we wandered down to help pack everything away but when we got there, it was all done. Don't know what time they all got up, must have been bright and early. After a few had moved out of the arm we then set off. Only going to Gas Street and all day to do it in, we went for a BCN tour, we haven't done this for a while. So following the old way into Brum doing all the loops. First we headed off down Spon Lane Locks, turning left at the bottom in the mud and 100 years of industrial sludge. Next left turn into Soho loop passed the prison. A lot of the industry has gone from this area being replaced with park land and houses. However, towards the end of the loop there are one or two bits left. Like this... and this...
oh! and this
Crossing the main line and into Icknield port loop, bringing back memories of my pipefitting days with the steam and condensate mains on the wall complete with expansion loops, wonderful stuff.
Passing the reservoir and the BW yard and then passed all the dereliction and back onto the main line then just a short way to Gas Street.
Just thought I'd take a few more pictures... This is looking down from the Engine Arm.
Looking at what industries were round here at one time you wouldn't want to fall in here. There is one thing, weed and reeds can't grow here.
At the top of the Smethwick locks there's a board hiding in the bushes giving the history of the place, makes good reading. The picture shows the duplicated locks and if you dig around in the grass you'll find remnants of lock brickwork still there.
This link is full of all sorts of stuff about the area, it's a bit hard to follow. There are 8 sections on the industrial canals.
Leaving Merryhill this morning and we're back in the land of blue brick, cast iron and rivets, all the stuff of the Black Country Canals.
The thing about the BCN, is all the now unused bits that makes you wonder what it was like in 1925, when Dove was brand new and doing it's first runs through Birmingham to Preston Brook.
When all the arms busy with boats and Bridges busy with rail traffic even if it was the GWR
Canals passing over canals and toll islands at every junction
Going up Factory locks where the bottom gates are single and the cast iron foot bridge has the tow line gap at the side.
On the way round to the Engine Arm we called for a pint or two at Glass and Bottle in the Black Country Museum and very nice it was too.
Up the Engine Arm you'll find the proper BCN, the backside of Birmingham, where not a lot has changed.
The water is black with shiny bits in it, the buildings are well used and full of history. They have bits of ironmongery bolted on the walls that used to serve some purpose at some time, but now redundant and rusting away, leaving you guessing as to their use.
There are Bridges made wider using riveted iron section supporting blue brick work to accommodate the industrial growth of the day.
We're now tied up opposite this building, which is still working by the way.
As far as I'm concerned, this is real boating, not poncing about on the posh bits, this is where it all started, the industrial heart of England, moving manufactured goods and raw materials by boat. Use it or lose it
We left Kinver this morning, a little late, but no matter, we're only going to Merryhill to team up with a friend of ours. Soon up Stewponey lock and turning right up Stourton locks. I think it was the third lock up where the tow path changes sides across this little bridge. The railings look as if they were designed to catch the tow line and drop it through the slot in the bridge. In this picture you can see where the cotton tow line has cut it's way through the cast iron. This explains why some of the cantilever brackets on other bridges have disappeared, the cotton line has cut right through.
As we motored on to the bottom of Stourbridge locks we past a little boat yard and sat on the side was Helen, a Leonard Leigh tug. The shape and depth of hull really caught my eye and would love to have a closer look one day. Sorry rivet counting.
On the way up Stourbridge I'm pleased to see this building still standing. However, not to my surprise it has been on fire and looks ready for demolition. Funny how many buildings go through this phase so developers can build new houses instead of renovating a perfectly good building.
Going up passed Dadfords yard, I like this clever piece of engineering. The locks look like a staircase but there is a pound between them, it's behind the house and tunneled into the gap between the gates
On reaching the Delph, a friend of ours joined us to do a bit of locking. At the top the weather turned a bit damp, rain coats back on for the last bit.
The funny thing about our friend, his boat is called Hector, who wasn't that friendly with Achilles. All we need now is a boat called Paris, then we better watch our heel.
Achilles and Hector laying side by side at Merryhill, we've never stopped here before, nice spot.
All set for a blast down the river this morning, but as we're going down the locks a BW chap comes along asking if we're booked to go on the river? Didn't know we had to says I. Apparently in winter season you have to book a passage through the river locks. So BW chap gives us the number to ring. I ring the number and in true BW fashion I get an answer machine and another number to ring and then another answer machine. So I leave a message stating name, number and where we are, thinking the chap on the other end just might be busy! well you never know. We waited in the the lock a while then set off down the river. About 15 minutes later we're approching the lock, there's another boat waiting on the moorings, as we get closer we see the crew all fishing and waving at us to go back, I don't think so! On pulling along side, it's a Canal Time boat waiting to go through the lock. They tell us they have to wait two days, the locks closed. So the first photo of the day is Achilles going back up the locks to Stourport. Plan "B". We'll go up Stourbridge and the Delph spend some time at the Black Contry Museum. So today we just re-traced our steps and had an early stop at Kinver. But on the way I spotted one or two things that puzzled me, first, why would they build stone steps into a wall you can walk round?
When they cut through the rock why did they leave the little lump on the right?
And what's the hole for, looking at the opening it used to have a door frame set in it. Inside it opens up into quite a large room. It 's on the off side with only foot access.
...via Worcester? Well, you know us by now, we can't do anything straight forward. We haven't been down this end for about six years, so we thought we'd make a bit of a detour and do the Stourport ring. Just see if anything had changed. We set off Saturday morning in no great rush to get to Penkridge for the night. It was a bit of a bland day, nothing much happened. To quote young Albert "there were no ship wrecks and nobody drowned, in fact nothing to laugh at all". Sunday, got up nice and early thanks to GMT. On the way up through Gailey the trees are now taking on that rusty iron look, at lot more pleasing than green.
After Gailey, we're on the summit pound and the twists and turns, like at Coven, are no problem now we're on Achilles, it handles like a toy compared with Dove, so if you do have a senior moment or a brain fart, call it what you will, you're soon back on track and not up the bank. While travelling this section there seams to be a lot of maggot downers, is it the start of the fishing season? I've never seen so many happy smiling faces. On the down hill side, the canal seams to have a different flavour, as in lock bits, like the little foot bridges. The one pictured below is of cast iron section and one single span and unusually with no gap for the tow line to slot through. Most of the others have the slot or the remnants of.
Passing through Bratch and Wombourn and the very deep Botterham staircase and stopping at the top side of Hinksford lock.
Waking next morning and it's November. And looking out of the hatch it certainly is, Trees covered in browns and yellows wrapped in a fog, damp and cold, in the distance a lock, ghostly and gray. After a pot of tea things start to look a little better and we set off. Soon passing Greens Forge and into the quiet of the woods, you could be anywhere, turn the corner to Gothersley lock and you're reminded by the bloody graffiti that you're not far from the Stourbridge brainless brats. This part of the canal must have been the hardest to build due to the solid rock it has to go through. The canal in parts, is a stone trough carved in the hillside and must have been sole destroying for the men on the ground.
Arriving at Kidderminster and looking at picture below, you'd think what a wonderful place to stop...This is where a friend of ours was arrased by a group of fourteen year old brats at 4:00am and then attacked. On passing through I did notice a lack of boats tied up.
Back on the foot bridge theme, here's the one at Kidderminster lock complete with slot and line guards. It's been modernised some what but the main bits are still there.
Passing through Kidderminster I was glad to see this old mill building still standing and being used. I was going to take another photo of the other side but, I was gob smacked to see Debenhams had stuck a glass carbuncle on the front, are these architects blind or just daft.
Yet another bridge, sorry. But I really like this one
The last bridge of the day, shame there's no steam loco on it.
We're now tied up at Stourport, River Severn tomorrow.
Sunday morning 4:30am, Yaaaaawn...Breakfast...Light the oil lamp so I can see the engine and surprisingly it started. It's a bit like me, it don't like frosty mornings. Anyway, we set off and it looks like we're leading the pack. But in the first bridge 'ole the blade grabs something, we lose all steering and head for the green stuff, we've got Victoria up our backside with no brakes, I slaps into reverse then back into forward before Victoria smacks us one. From the off I was having problems, I just couldn't get going, so at Hartshill I had to pull in and let the others pass while I tried to clear the blade. We finally got on the way but it's still not right but we were making progress. As the sun came up as we passed the bottom of the Ashby and on the long straight down to Charity Dock, there was sign of the others.
We tried to crack on best we could and caught up with the chaos at "Sutton's Stop" it was total mayhem, boats everywhere.
Just as it was our turn through the lock, a boat came the other way so that put us back again. By this time Ling had caught us up and proceeded to chase us, in the end I had to let them pass, it was obvious they had to be somewhere quicker than us. However, we caught them up again at Hillmorton locks but due to one lock being busted, again! progress was slow with other boats coming down. It wasn't long before we bumped into them again, just before Braunston due to a cow taking a bath in the cut. This caused a lot of confusion and we finished up back in the middle of the pack.
At Braunston Locks we paired up with Renfrew
We blasted through the tunnel and it wasn't long before a plate of stew and dunking bread came out of the hatch. This is not unusual, I regularly have my tea on the slide. When we arrived at the top of Buckby locks we let Archimedes go with Renfrew, they had no grub and had to get to the pub and we went down on our own. It was now going dark and was a bit lonely, just me on the bank and Andrea steering. We arrived at Weedon about 8:30ish tied up and met the others in the pub. Monday, 4:30am, again! trying to keep up and being chased by the Grand Union greyhounds round all the tight bends. Thrashing through Blisworth tunnel and on to Stoke locks. Here we paired with Stanton, what a cracking boat, the pride of the fleet. Andrea was steering and I went on to set the locks. At the third lock down I receive a message, Andrea has fell in, bottom over bussom, straight in the lock. My first thought was, I wonder if she checked the blade while she was down there. (joke sorry) She was dragged out by two gentlemen and nothing hurt, only pride.
We all re-grouped at the bottom of Stoke locks to take on water and take off...you know what. Pressing on to Cosgrove and now at the lowest point of the canal where it wiggles through Wolverton and Milton Keynes. Here the canal is very shallow and at this time of year, just make it worse, full of leaves. With a boat as deep as ours you are forever dropping into reverse to clear the blade and getting round some of the bends is damn near impossible. Soon at Fenny Stratford and we rise 13 inches, lot of effort for little height. Next is Stoke Hamond Lock then the Soulbury Three Locks. This is where we start to get hold ups, with hire boats freshly out of Wyvern Shipping not knowing exactly what to do with these windy up thingies and these swingy gate things. through Leighton Buzzard lock and just Grove Lock in the dark and stop for the night.
Tuesday, 4:00am there's a funny ringing noise in my ear, then an elbow in my ribs, is it time to go again? We left Grove surrounded by the stars, Orion very clear and the plough stood on end. First lock of the day wasn't far, Church Lock and we paired with Mike on Victoria, Andrea steered the boat in and came to an abrupt halt when something grabbed the blade, she slowly floated in. At the top I got to work with the shaft, I hooked something but it took two of us to yank off, it was a coil of barbed wire with a rope fender tangled in it.
By the time we got to Marsworth it was light. I went on ahead setting the locks and Andrea steering. At the top I stood and watched Dove and Victoria hugging each other across the pound and into the lock, not bang or a scrape, what a sight and no video camera on me, damn.
Across the Tring summit and on to Cowroast, where we start the long descent through Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead to Rickmansworth.
This is where the bikes came out, Victoria's crew, Julie, on a fold up electric model and me...
...on our 1956 model which got me the nick name "ET". Thanks Andrea. On the way we came across BW jobsworth who took exception to us using Thumb lines, 10mm cotton line is going to bend 1 inch solid bar and 5/8ths bolts, I don't think so! We told him to go and talk to the bloke on the boat in front, Ron Withy!
At Apsley Basin, Victoria picked up Ara and we went on with Mike's dad and Ron Withy on Kissmet.
This was good for me as Ron worked this area on his parents boats and later, with British Waterways, so it was quite an education. We worked on down to Ricky in the dark and the rain, not a pleasant experience. Finally arriving at 8:00pm, a long hard day.
Leaving Ricky at 7:00am and arriving at Cowley in brilliant sunshine ready to go en mass to Bulls Bridge
Boats all together at Cowley, Renfrew, Dove, Victoria, Stanton, Archimedes+Ara, Corona
At Bulls Bridge we had time to re-stock the food cupboard and tidy the boats. With Dove now fully clothed, the best way to get from one end to the other is by way of the top plank, probably not the safest especially when someone rocks the boat.
Here's the bow line up at Bulls Bridge, Purton joined us here but not pictured.
We then moved on to where the Jam 'ole used to be 40 years ago, coal delivered, speech made, flowers placed and champers drunk.
Then on to Willowtree Marina for the night. A meal was on the books for us all here thanks to Braunston Marina. However, packet soup, Pukka pie, frozen veg and oven chips all cooked by master chef "Ber Ding" wasn't my idea of a nice meal especially when gravy had to be asked for.
A couple of pints then off to bed, early start tomorrow.
4:00am soon comes round and it's time for off to re-trace our steps back to Braunston. This was the longest day and when you're paired with a boat that's in no rush it got even longer. We were heading for Bulbourn that night but due to several groundings in shallow pounds and prop fowlings, time drifted on and we only made Cowroast by 9:00pm. A 5:00am start saw us in the lead and paired with Stanton, after a frosty start the sun came out and the girls took the tillers
I think it was Church Lock we were met by photographers and they appeared at every bridge and lock all the way to the Soulbury Three. I'm used to having festoons of photographers on the railway, but never on the canal. On reaching Milton Keynes the trouble started, evey bridge 'ole we picked something up and finally had to pull in to have a ferkel round the blade. I found a load of that red white barrier tape wrapped round the shoe plate support bar. After that we soon caught the others up ready to ascend the Stoke Locks and some how, still paired with Stanton.
By the time we got to the locks it was dark, Victoria and Kismet were in front and Renfrew and Corona were somewhere behind. We didn't bother breasting up but boats stuck together all the way up and our team of four worked very well together. Once again we had tea on the move so on reaching the top it was quick wash then pub.
7:00am, the last hop to Braunston paired with Victoria arriving at 5ish and finished the trip with a meal and a few pints in the Plough.
The next morning we said our goodby's set off back to Fradley. We've really enjoyed the trip and would do another, but not for a while.