Rushall Junction (10.05am) to Tame Valley Junction
Here’s the final update – we’ll add photos next week when we’ve got access to our fast connection at home.
Now the Tame Valley canal was our least favourite bit of the BCN last year, so I was interested to see how we’d feel this year. It started out well; the canal’s surrounded by long green grass, spacious towpaths on both sides and friendly inhabitants. One cyclist slowed right down and plodded along with us, chatting about boating and asking about how we’d found the BCN. We were able to offer him lots of reassurance on that score. It turns out that he’s looking to buy himself a boat – probably around the 40 foot mark. Interestingly he said that there’s very few on the second-hand market – he reckons that even boaters are downsizing because there are plenty of 60 footers to be had.
Even though we’d dropped an awesome 65’ down the Rushall flight, the Tame Valley Canal still towers over the surrounding countryside. The aqueducts are impressive and the first we came across gave a fine view over the network of dual-carriageways and motorways beneath and around us.
I was starting to feel more well-disposed towards the Tame Valley. It was a lovely day – the heat waves were just starting to shimmer off the roof as the breeze shimmered through the grass. But as we went under the next road bridge the tranquility was disturbed by a solid clonk and the wild jump of the tiller in my hand. I kept her going for a little way but there was obviously something wrong.
We stopped on the ‘offside’ towpath (makes sense when you see it!) and got down into the weedhatch. There was plenty of garbage there, but that wasn’t the problem. We suspected that the rudder had actually been knocked out of its ‘cups’ – some brute force and spanners got us some steerage back but the tiller’s still not right. We suspect that the rudder’s also got something caught in it – we dislodged a large piece of plastic from the mechanism. The tiller moves well to the right but it takes my full body weight to move it to the left – so we’ll just be turning right for the rest of the trip 🙂
Nb Saltaire passed us here, after stopping to offer their help. We were also overtaken by a magnificently restored old BW tug Sickle towing a butty, though they slowed down later on and let us past.
The dogs enjoyed an unrestrained rummage while all this was going on, though they soon gave up on it – far too hot for running around. I have to say that there are worse places to break down – the sun was warm, the breeze was sighing sad songs through the grass and the birds were chirruping merrily in the bushes.
Needless to say, the Tame Valley went back to the bottom of my esteem after this little incident though I think I’m actually being very unfair. It really is a pleasant canal – maybe it suffers from being a bit straight and monotonous but appreciating the lush towpaths and peering over the aqueducts should be enough for any boater. Add to that the ‘lovely-maned’ horses grazing near the Tame Valley junction and you have all the right ingredients for a good cruise.
According to a local walker, the whole canal was dredged a couple of months ago. We heard later that it was a site of a BCN cleanup campaign, so very well done folks. I guess it was just a newly submerged fridge/car/washing machine that did for our rudder!
Tame Valley Junction (11.45am ) to Walsall Town Arm (2.45pm)
Yep – that’s 6 miles, no locks, no roving bridges, travelled in 3 hours!!!!!
This was new territory for us and started off promisingly. It’s undoubtedly an urban canal but the non-nonsense brick towpath is well-maintained. You can’t beat this stretch of the canal for variety – there’s the whole urban landscape of housing and light industry, retail parks and scrubby parkland as well as thickets of reeds and other wildlife.
However, as we cruised along the canal edges became blurred with vegetation and by the time we were just three miles down from the Town Arm, the canal was barely passable, both in width and depth. It’s not so much a lack of water as an abundance of mud, and all the life that it supports.
It was slow going. We’d caught up with nb Saltaire who, in turn, had caught up with the narrowboat in front. We made a slow convoy, as inefficient as a drunken conga line. No sooner had the first boat run aground and got free, than Saltaire was stopping to clear their prop (quite a performance on an old boat with no accessible weedhatch), then it’d be our turn. We’ve cleared more crud from our prop in the last three miles than we have in the entire rest of the trip round the BCN.
There were loads of cheery fishermen and friendly waves from walkers. Even the usually dour competition fishermen gave us a guarded welcome. Talking of fishermen, I’m not sure how it’s organised but there’s a line of houses with solid back walls keeping the canal folk out of their back gardens. There are numbers painted on the wall – at first I thought it was house numbers (which made no sense at all), but apparently it’s the numbers of fishing ‘plots’ or whatever they’re called.
We’ve been luck so far to only meet one boat coming the other way, and that, remarkably, in a place where they could get past. Goodness knows, there are plenty of places where you’d struggle to get two boats side-by-side here. It was slightly smug nb. May Sheridan who’d already completed the challenge, having been the second to hand in her cruising log.
We kept slogging on, stopping every 15 minutes or so to clear the prop. With our shallow draft we didn’t have any problems with grounding, but Saltaire at 2’ 6” hit a few mudbanks and the boat in front (didn’t catch the name) seemed to spend most of her time on the mud. My heart went out to Fulbourne, following along somewhere behind us. At 3’ 6” I have no ideas how she’s going to get through.
Things got worse when one boat overheated so they were then being towed by a deep draughted boat, followed by Saltaire, followed by us. The frequent stops meant that we picked up loads and loads on our prop including in one hit a high vis jacket, a bra (sign to be checked), a sari, an umbrella and something very sparkly.
Walsall Town Arm was a welcome and beautiful sight. It’s extremely smart, with good amenities and clear deep water – what a contrast. I feel terribly afraid for the Walsall Canal. I’ve had lots of ideas for how BW could regenerate the BCN (with an unlimited budget and worldwide goodwill between all parties involved, of course!) but I’ve shelved all my grand plans. The Walsall Canal has to be a priority – I fear it’s dying and will become unnavigable by the end of the year. Unusually, I can’t, in all conscience, recommend the stretch from the Tame Valley Junction to Town Arm when there is so much better crusing elsewhere on the BCN, so its recovery can only be in the hands of the professionals rather than enthusiastic amateus like us.
But let’s not end on a low note.
When we arrived at the Walsall Town Basin it was merry with boats and the good folk of the BCN Society who done such a great job of organising this event. You can’t run a marathon without a few blisters, and first aid was at hand in the form of nb. Away2service, who could not only fill us with diesel, but also sorted us a pump-out, fixed our toilet and put the rudder firmly back in its cups – the work of five minutes – what a relief!
It’s also a significant anniversary for us – we started writing a cruising blog on the 1st June last year – there’s been a lot of water under the counter since then, and what a way to finish our first blogging year!
Doing the BCN Marathon Challenge has been a thrilling experience. We’d heartily recommend it to all boaters out there. It has introduced us to some wonderful canals, well worth cruising. If you don’t feel you can risk it in your own boat then come and crew for us, because we’ll surely be doing it again next time.