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The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 23

Posted by indigodream on 22 July, 2008

Aston Science Park to Merryhill

The fine apprach to the Farmer's Bridge flight

The fine approach to the Farmer's Bridge flight

As I mentioned in day 22, we had an untroubled night at the Science Park mooring and woke refreshed and ready for the day’s cruising. I had a last look at the signboard and made a resolution to cruise the Digbeth Branch & Saltley Cut again – I missed so much yesterday.

Out first adventure today was the Farmer’s Bridge flight – we last did this three years ago in our share boat, the Dragonfly – we were impressed then and we were impressed now! This flight is well known – it must be – there was a positive stampede of boats going down the flight. This was pretty amazing considering how little traffic we saw yesterday. Surprisingly, the flight is safe for the dogs – it wends its way among the buildings in splendid isolation – there are roads around but there’s no access from the water. The canal and city seem to be quietly going about their separate business without in any way encroaching on each other. Lou particularly enjoyed the flight as she foraged for the remnants of Saturday night chips on the towpath (much yelling from us to stop but I’m sure she scoffed a few). Blue joined her but for some reason he can’t digest potatoes so they came back on the tide later – is there anything more horrible than a retching dog?!

I can live with this sort of graffiti!

I noticed that the imposing Snowhill Tunnel had the lurid violet lighting – it didn’t detract from the scale of the place. Just above the tunnel I heard the evocative sound of a steam train – up on the railway bridge behind us were the classic puffs of smoke and the soft squeal of the steam whistle. It felt as if we’d gone back in time – the modern city seemed a million miles away.

As you approach the BT Tower, the locks become closer together and the buildings start to close in around you. This makes for awkward passing places – my least favourite being the lock pound that goes right underneath the tower block that’s been built above it. I hate passing boats here and, of course, both times we’ve done the flight that’s exactly what’s happened. It’s just about the only time I’ve regretted not installing bow thrusters!

Under the tower!

Under the tower!

The buildings formed a brisk wind tunnel on this stretch – I needed Richard’s help on the rope to get me past the couple of boats in the short pounds. The boaters coming down seemed very surprised to see us – one was setting up 5 locks ahead and it didn’t seem to have occurred to him that someone else might want to use them! But it all makes sense – the Farmer’s Bridge is a transit flight – people will try to escape from Birmingham in the morning hence the downward traffic; in the afternoon boats arrive from the North and rush up to the security of Gas Street Basin.

One boater looked a bit surprised when Richard asked him not to open a paddle till I was ready in the lock. After all the lock dramas that have been reported recently I was glad that Richard was in charge lockside. After watching me struggle with the wind, Richard decided to take a turn driving for a change (the locks here aren’t particularly heavy). He was beginning to forget how to drive into locks but I thought he did ok!

Although the flight is dog-friendly with a convenient dog mess bin by the top lock do watch out at lock 4 – there is access to the road at just behind the lock. It looks as if it was secured at one time but the gate’s long gone. We did let our two carry on rummaging around but we had to keep a close eye on them – Blue sees forbidden territory as a challenge!

View from the top of the Farmer's Bridge flight

View from the top of the Farmer's Bridge flight

I’ll leave the Farmer’s Bridge with the classic view down the flight – we may post more photos later – we’ve taken nigh on 300 since we’ve arrived in the city!

Thank heavens we’d pre-booked our mooring at Merryhill otherwise we might have negotiated another week’s mooring at Cambrian Wharf! It was here that we parted company briefly – our backwards route meant that we were now conveniently placed to pick up the car and take it to Merryhill ready for the drive home later. I took the car and left Richard to commune with the mainline – he doesn’t often get the chance to go boating alone (he normally does the car shuffle). I was pleased that he had the chance – I’ve enjoyed my solitary cruises.

? Bird's Foot Trefoil

? Bird's Foot Trefoil

I’m going to leave the water for the moment because I drove down to Merryhill then caught a taxi back to the canal. Although I’m a great advocate of the waterways I can really recommend seeing Dudley by road. It’s got the most tremendous sculptures on the roundabouts – a giant winged horse, a larger-than-life bronze foundryman, great crucibles and bells – all signs of a rich industrial heritage. We had a very smooth pick-up, proving to Richard that the bike is not the only way to get back to the boat!

Rosebay Willowherb

Rosebay Willowherb

As we cruised down the mainline toward the Netherton Tunnel I realised that I hadn’t taken any plant photos on the BCN. I took some immediately – I took loads on the Aylesbury arm and really the BCN is no less beautiful! Admittedly, it’s colonised by flowers like perennial sweetpea and rosebay willowherb – all great survivors on waste ground – but flowers are flowers, and colour is colour – the BCN is far from a concrete grey waterway.

Back we went through the Netherton Tunnel – sharing it with three other boats this time! Then we were out into the sunshine of Windmill End Junction.

Perfect dog-walking at the Bumblehole

Perfect dog-walking at the Bumblehole

This was our third trip here in as many weeks and I’ve developed a real soft spot for Dudley No 1 canal. The Bumblehole has perfect dog walking, the moorings today were full of boats and the visitor centre was open – I felt so at home here. There is another large chimney on the hill overlooking the junction. There’s a poignant story behind it (according to the canal society’s excellent leaflet) – the chimney belongs to a pump house that was used to drain the mines that honeycomb this area. In 1926, the pump was stopped during the general strike – when the strike ended the pump couldn’t clear the water that had accumulated so mines and pump were stilled forever. I was softly haunted by the thought of the water creeping into every crevice and reclaiming the land beneath our feet.

As we lingered at the bumblehole we were overtaken by two hire boats – absolutely not a problem but they were slow. I had to send Richard indoors for a lie-down – the sight of the rev counter as I loitered around at 600 revs was too much for him. But if I’d gone any faster I’d have been a menacing tailgater! Still, it’a lovely canal to take slowly – there’s plenty to see and lots of people to talk to on the towpath.

I did have a philosophical muse when we reached Blowers Green Lock – being an experienced boater doesn’t only mean that you can do difficult manoeuvres – it also means that you know when not to bother! As there were two boats queuing for the lock ahead of me I just stayed out of the way in the narrow bridge hole, watching novice drivers trying to hover in the basin in a strong, gusty wind. Don’t ask me why they didn’t tie up to the bollards – it would have been so much easier. Richard did assist them through the lock – after all, we did need to get on – we had the big drive back to Surrey ahead of us! For both boats it was their first lock and they had not realised that they needed a handcuff key. The first boat crew (possibly Danish) asked questions and were really keen – Richard reckoned that will have a great time. However he managed to refill the lock and open the gate before the teenage crew off the second boat joined him! How much help and advice to offer ‘novice’ boaters is always a dilemma – back when we were hirers I sort of appreciated help but I also wanted to take my time and work things out for myself – I found that experienced boaters sometimes rushed me too much.

We eventually got to Merryhill and moored at the pontoon – the noise doesn’t matter as we’re not on board! We brought the car right up to the boat (only possible on a Sunday when the office parking is empty) and offloaded a month’s worth of debris that had accumulated on board. As usual, it took us ages to leave – we can never say goodbye to the Indigo Dream but at 6.30pm we were on our way and we finally left Birmingham!

Prop memorabilia

Easifit - the felt you can rely on!

Easifelt - the felt you can rely on!

We did have to clear our prop a few times – we had the usual plastic bags but we also had a pair of trousers and a dress – we didn’t see the resulting naked people on the towpath – shame, it would have been a bit of entertainment on the lock-free stretches!

I have a fantasy about making my living from the blog (dream on!). However, we can do a great plug for Dupont Easifelt underlay – non-breathable and unbreakable – even with 1200 revs from a BIG prop. We tested a 5 metre sample and it didn’t give in. Richard is going to add it to his specifications. How much do you think we should charge for this product placement? Dupont is a BIG company – maybe £2000 per metre tested 🙂 A big thanks to Redrow (nearest housing development but no direct evidence that it was them, yer honour!) on the Tame Valley Canal for providing the sample.

Reviving the BCN

When we moored on the pontoons at Cambrian Wharf we chatted with some of the residents there and were impressed at how they’d built relations with the local BW staff and with the community police officers. The residents said that they’d worked hard to make their bit of canal into a great place to live.

Ivy clad industry on the BCN mainline

Ivy clad industry on the BCN mainline

I was thinking that maybe this is the approach that we should take to the whole of the BCN. Maybe if more of us cruised there we wouldn’t be so alien to the locals. At the very least, we’d add life and colour to the waterways and the sight of boaters on the water would instill confidence so that other boaters would give it a go. At the most, more boating traffic might encourage the police to take an interest in the towpaths and would encourage BW to spend more time clearing and patrolling the outlying regions.

I know that the BCN has a fearsome reputation but there are some fine canals here and I’m glad that I didn’t let my paranoia put me off. In my zeal for the BCN I wondered whether I was, in fact, exhorting other boaters to be martyrs for the cause – putting life and boat at risk for the sake of an old puddle! I don’t think it’s that bad – nothing happened to us, maybe we got lucky, but I think that luck is a more common commodity here than you might think! We’re now keen to find out more about the BCNS – these good people have been promoting the wonders of the BCN for years! Unfortunately we can’t get the BCNS website to work but hopefully it’s a temporary glitch….. There is a nice write up on the bbc web site here

Cute doggie photos to finish…


Blue resting after a run at the Bumblehole



One Response to “The Odyssey – Summer 2008 Day 23”

  1. Greygal said

    Another corker of a post! Perhaps we could set up a fund that would allow you to cruise full time in return for a daily epic blog entry? Seems like a fair trade to me…Those cute dogs are still stealing the show though…

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