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BCN Marathon Challenge (1) – Saturday 9am – 12.45pm

Posted by indigodream on 30 May, 2009

Hawne Basin (9am)  to Windmill End Junction


Hawne Basin

We had an extremely quiet night on the moorings just outside Hawne Basin. We like it here – there’s great dog-walking, there’s giant B & Q on the top of the hill opposite and there’s the wonderful people who moor in the basin. We talked to more people in an hour here than we did in 6 months in Packet Boat Marina – ho hum!

We came to Hawne Basin for the BCN Challenge points – you could come for the interest, the good company, the walks, and the panoramic views.

By 8.55am we were ready to set off, engine running, pins out – but we virtuously held Indigo Dream in place until the dot of 9am and then we were off. We’d also resisted opening the sealed envelope until 9am and were dismayed to find that the first of the quiz questions was “what is the name of the statue at Burton Bridge?”. Now we saw the name hung on a laminated card around the statue’s neck – what was it?

It was a salutary reminder that we’d need to pay attention on this trip!

Our departure would surely merit a bit of Norse saga – “Bright the sun and high our hearts as Indigo Dream cleaved the clear water……” –

Good dog walking in there!

Good dog walking in there!

it’s that sort of day. Blue skies, brilliant sunshine with a refreshing edgy breeze to keep us awake!

We passed along, marvelling at the rich embankment where we walked the dogs last night – all lush grass, thorny thickets of gorse and the broom’s bright yellow blossom – a real harbinger of summer when the seed pods will dry up in the heat and explode as you walk past.

This gave way to the castle fortifications of the old tube-making works that line the bank just before the Gosty Hill Tunnel. Like many an old castle wall, they’ve been the bulwark of industry against agriculture for many a year, but it’s mother nature that wins every time as the Buddleia gradually creeps over all.

Stewarts and Lloyds, Steel tube Pioneers 1903 - 1967

Stewarts and Lloyds, Steel tube Pioneers 1903 – 1967

I always mourn the passing of our manufacturing industry. This plant was owned by Stewarts and Lloyds – a famous firm which pioneered the art of tube-making and apparently manufactured the first seamless tube. It closed in 1967, but Richard has met people who used to work for them and who still speak highly of the company. All gone now……..

But it’s impossible to be melancholy in the Gosty Hill Tunnel. There seem to be several spellings – ‘Gosty’ in the guide books; ‘Gorsty’ on the BW sign; but it’ll always be ‘Ghosty’ to me, with it’s low roof and large portrait of Dracula on the centre arch where the roof sinks down. There was an added frisson today as the old music of an accordion drifted down the tunnel – it was from the working boats behind who we knew were also doing the challenge today.

Past Gosty Hill Tunnel watch out for the low headroom on the bridges – Richard wasn’t watching his head, he was watching his shoulders!

Site of last night's Girlie Party

Site of last night’s Girlie Party

I must mention Totnal Footbridge where a gang of local girlies were having a picnic last night. Not the obvious location, but if the main provisions in your basket are cans of strongbow then maybe it doesn’t matter where you are!

There’s a real ‘top of the world’ feeling to this canal, even though you’re surrounded by suburban houses and light industry – Worcestershire falls away at your feet, bringing the far Malverns almost within reach. It’s a quality that you only get at the summits of contour canals, perched delicately on high hillsides.

Garbage is, sadly, a feature here, though no more so than through the Hanwell flight on the Grand Union. I thought it was a bit chilly for skinny dipping, but the life-size and very pink inflatable doll with the impossibly large breasts floating in the canal seemed to disagree 🙂



There’s also a bit of graffiti around – I wondered whether youth could be persuaded to use facebook to inform us that “C was bummed by Y” in future…..

We got to the Delightful Windmill End Junction in good time – it is lovely here. We got a good view of the old pumping station up on the hill , still keeping watch despite its roofless dereliction. It kept the local mines dry for years but it was turned off during a strike, the shafts filled with water an it never could empty them again. It’s eerie to think of the silent and water filled shafts that must run beneath our feet here.

Blue was expecting his usual walk at the Bumblehole and came up on deck ready to leap off. But we’re on a mission so onwards we went – never mind Blue, we’re bound to find some locks later.

Is this cornwall?

Is this cornwall?

Windmill End Junction (9.50am)  to Dudley Port Junction

It’s only a short hop from Windmill End Junction to the vastness of the Netherton Tunnel. The Gosty Hill Tunnel has something of the otherworldly feel of a cathedral; the Netherton rejects such fancies – it’s a businesslike piece of work – big because that’s more efficient; wide because it makes sense to have two towpaths. There are several large ventilation shafts (wet!) but several more have been lost – there are apparently warning signs on the hill above.

Dudley Port Junction (10.30am) to Bromford Junction

The New Main Line

The New Main Line

This is the main line – probably the finest ‘highway’ of its day and still looking good even now. Every now and then the magnificent broad canal is cut in half by some mean and curious ‘narrows’; they’re reminiscent of old lock chambers but they are, in fact, old gauging points where tolls were levied on the various cargoes that flowed this way. It’s an incongruous feature – the canal’s so wide you could imagine big commercial barges here, but the architecture, bridges, tolls and locks ensure that it’s narrowboats only.

We met nb. Saltaire here – we’d passed them yesterday going the other way – that’s

nb Saltaire

nb Saltaire

the beauty of the BCN challenge – it forces you to take all these interesting twists and turns. We also passed a fuel boat ‘Awaytoservice’. I’m not sure whether they were on the challenge – Richard asked them “will we see you at Walsall Town”, to which they said “yes, please” in a desperate for business sort of way. I don’t doubt we’ll be ready for a bit of diesel by the time we get there!

Bromford Junction (11.10am) to Oldbury Junction

The Spon Lane locks are characterised by tarry black waters full of ancient petrochemicals, their smell and the mercifully unidentifiable garbage coated in black gunk. It marks the transition from the new main line to the old line with its now meaningless meanderings that once led to each and every factory along the canal.

We will need their services tomorrow!

We will need their services tomorrow!

As we went up the first lock, nb. Waterways Routes passed along the main line beneath us.

The dogs hopped off for a rummage but it’s so hot that they soon got back on board – Lou looked like she regretted getting off the boat at all. Let’s hope we find somewhere interesting for them to run around in the cool of the evening.

We shot up the locks – the bottom two were set our way and we met nb. Api

What sise were those trousers?

What sise were those trousers?

Wanderer here. They were a cheerful crew – they’d come down from Titford and warned us that it was slow going – shallow and be-garbaged (they’d picked up a pair of trousers in their prop – size unspecified!). At top lock we crossed over with nb. Joanna, who’d also come down from Titford.

Another Titford Survicor

Another Titford Survicor

It was an awkward turn back on ourselves to head towards Oldbury Junction  – Richard tugged me round with the ropes and managed to lose both the front and centre as she swung out (at least he had the sense to let go!). This is one way of finding out whether your mooring ropes are long enough to snag your prop – the answer’s ‘no’ by the way 🙂

We travelled for ages beneath the M5 – it’s a much longer stretch than I remembered and quite creepy in places under the dark Anchor Bridge with it’s strangely squashed down arch and low roof. I was musing on many things when I quite suddenly noticed the signpost for Titford and did a hasty turn into the junction. I needn’t have bothered – there was a boat moored at the bottom lock who informed us that people were turning at ‘Uncle Ben’s Bridge’, well before the end of the navigation. He himself had unfortunately broken down, but a tug and butty were just working up the lock flight in front of us. They’d apparently taken 20 minutes to get through the first lock. We decided to abandon our trip to Titford and headed back to the old main line.

Oldbury Junction to Dudley Port Bridge

We soon cleared the M5 and were back into the brilliant sunshine. This next bit is great – although it’s the old main line, the canal is deep

View down onto the New Main Line

View down onto the New Main Line

and improbably wide in places. We passed the Chemical Arm and the cheery coffee shop nearby. We’ve had a great welcome here, even from the fishermen, who must be despairing at the sight of so many boats. We passed nb. Solatium here with its crew of 6 precariously perched along its rather short tug decks.

We passed Brades Hall Junction at 12.10pm but instead of turning back down to the new main line (as we did last year) we carried on. We’re glad we did as it ‘squared the circle’ for us as we passed over the Tividale Aqueduct which crossed the cut leading to the Netherton Tunnel!

Past the aqueduct the canal broadens through a very tidy new housing development between Kiers Bridge and Dudley Port Bridge with fine moorings and even a small (but empty) marina. It’s lovely – a real hidden gem. We’re hoping to find many more during our meanderings…..

More Photos:

Fascinating bit of canal under the M5

Fascinating bit of canal under the M5

Final Competitor for this Blog

nb. Solatium

View down onto Netherton Tunnel

View down onto Netherton Tunnel

Old Main Line east of Netherton

Old Main Line east of Netherton

Old Main Line just past Kiers Bridge

Old Main Line just past Kiers Bridge

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