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Archive for May 31st, 2009

BCN Marathon Challenge (7th and final….) – Sunday 10am – 3pm

Posted by indigodream on 31 May, 2009

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.

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BCN Marathon Challenge (6) – Sunday 8am – 10am

Posted by indigodream on 31 May, 2009

Rushall Top Lock (8.10am) to Rushall Junction (10am)

We arrived at Rushall top lock at the end of a 3-boat convoy made up of nb Mawddach and nb Saltaire, who we’ve met on Friday and Saturday. We though we were in for a long wait, but Mawddach was mooring up – I don’t think they’re taking part in the challenge. Then Saltaire moored up at the water point leaving us the full and open top lock. What a bit of luck!

There’s a good range of services at Rushall Top Lock, as well as friendly boaters from the resident boat club.

We let the dogs off for a rummage at the top two locks – apart from parking for the boat club it’s very remote here and they enjoyed sniffing around in the still cool morning air. The paired bottom lock gates are so well-balanced that even the slightest breeze will shut them. A ground crew of two is useful here, though Richard managed very well by straddling the gates and legging them open while I hastened to get the boat’s nose in to stop them from slamming shut.

There’s a long gap of over a mile between Lock 2 and 3 – a perfect opportunity to enjoy the scenery. It’s richly wooded here, with the tangy smell of wild garlic. There were a lot of herons on the approach to top lock, and they gave way to flights of swallows all the way down. There was even the delicate cup of a swallows nest under Birmingham Road Bridge – fantastic.

This is a very scenic lock flight – as lovely as you could hope for.

We passed nb Black Beauty in the long pound, giving us the hope that the rest of the locks were set our way. And so they were, apart from one which was deliberately turned in front of us by an overenthusiastic narrowboat (also on the challenge). 😦

We kept the dogs on board through locks 3 and 4 – they’re too close to the road. It’s then safe for them to rummage round the next two but do watch out at the lock above Bell Bridge – it looks as if it’s gated from the road but the path just skirts round the gate. We bundles Blue back on board – Lou was already there! There looked be top dog-walking on the left after Bell Bridge though. We let them off for a rummage at the last few locks and they had a great time – we picked them up at the bottom, though with some difficulty – the lock moorings were in sore need of dredging.

There’s a short and delightfully green run down to the junction where we turned on to our next canal – the Thame Valley. It was our least favourite bit of the BCN last year. I wonder what we’ll make of it today.

But of course we were to hit something in a bridge hole ….

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BCN Marathon Challenge (5) – Sunday 5am – 8am

Posted by indigodream on 31 May, 2009

Pelsall Junction (5.05am) to Rushall Top Lock

When the alarm went off at 5am it was fully light and the mist was rising off the water like steam off a witch’s cauldron. The mooring had been quiet and trouble-free.

Richard leapt up and got us underway, stopping for a brief chat with a boater who was towing his broken down boat towards a boatyard. I got up on deck at 5.30am, having done the decent thing and showered first! Fulbourne had obviously caught up with us during the night and were moored nearby – I wonder when they arrived, there was no sign of them when we went to bed at 11.30pm.

Despite our fast getaway, we weren’t early enough to beat working boats Malus and Atlas, who must have started out from Sneyd Green in the wee small hours to get to the junction by 5am. We followed them for a while, taking advantage of their slow pace to give the dogs an early morning run down the towpath. Blue and Lou were surprisingly  cheerful given that they’d normally laze around in bed until 10.30am at home.

But it was a joyful morning with clear blue skies and the mist burning off quickly to give the promise of another fine day. It was chilly at first, but I’m gradually divesting the layers as the sun gently climbs towards its zenith. This may be the nicest time to cruise on a hot day, though I do love the treacle thickness of the twilight water.

We eventually walked forward and had a word, then overtook the working pair outside the giant Tesco at Brownhills, where enterprising locals had managed to foist a whole line of linked trolleys into the water – enterprising! There were good moorings here though.

Shortly after came the turn onto the next canal at Catshill Junsction. We were now on the Daw End Canal and very interesting it is too. We passed nb. Time Well Spent, who was moored up but obviously on the BCN Challenge as they had a very smart painted board advertising the fact. Their sign matched their boat’s livery and was decorated with traditional canal roses. Let that be our inspiration for next time.

We also passed nb Golden Eagle, ng Griffin and tug Joanna, who we’d last seen at Spon Lane Locks – it feels like an eternity ago, but it was only yesterday!

The canal’s tremendous here – light industry on the offside and dramatic views over the towpath – sometimes over the red rooftops then suddenly over the awesome drop into the local quarry which mines the vivid red stone/clay. We found out later that this VAST hole in the ground (we never saw the bottom, even from the boat roof) is attached to a brick-making works, probably Ibstock. We enjoyed the surreal sight of a positively medieval castle wall of brick pallets – if you’ve ever had trouble imagining what a million bricks might look like then come here and see them for yourself.

Daw End Marina was a welcome sign of boating life and the 48-hour moorings just beyond looked good. Definitely a good place to moor as the towpath side otherwise can be very shallow. It’s one of those dilemmas – why should BW dredge out the sides of a canal that’s barely used; on the other hand, if it’s difficult to moor because the edge is shallow then how can we encourage more boaters to come here?

There are some wicked skew bridges here with blind turns into and out of them – watch out for Latham’s Bridge, literally, keep a lookout and go slow, it’s quite a turn!

The canal’s reminiscent of the Kennet and Avon in places – lined with reeds and surrounded by verdant fields. It certainly matches the K & A for narrowness in places with thick reedbanks either side. Who’d have thought that part of the BCN could have anything in common with it’s rural cousin in the South.

Just past Daw End Bridge we caught up with Saltaire and had an incoming boat – Shropshire Lass who we last saw on thOld Main Line yesterday.

This is a very nice bit of canal!

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Pelsall Junction (5.05am) to Rushall Top Lock

When the alarm went off at 5am it was fully light and the mist was rising off the water like team off a witch’s cauldron. The mooring had been quiet and trouble-free.

Richard leapt up and got us underway, stopping for a brief chat with a boater who was towing his broken down boat towards a boatyard. I got up on deck at 5.30am, having done the decent thing and showered first! Fulbourne had obviously caught up with us during the night and were moored nearby – I wonder when they arrived, there was no sign of them when we went to bed at 11.30pm.

Despite our fast getaway, we weren’t early enough to beat working boats Malus and Atlas, who must have started out from Senyd Green in the wee small hours to get to the junction by 5am. We followed them for a while, taking advantage of their slow pace to give the dogs an early morning run down the towpath. Blue and Lou were surprisingly joyful given that they’d normally laze around in bed until 10.30am at home.

But it was a joyful morning with clear blue skies and the mist burning off quickly to give the promise of another fine day. It was chilly at first, but I’m gradually divesting the layers as the sun gently climbs towards its zenith. This may be the nicest time to cruise on a hot day, though I do love the treacle thickness of the twilight water.

We eventually overtook the working pair outside the giant Tesco at Brownhills, where enterprising locals had managed to foist a whole line of linked trolley into the water – eneterprising! There were good moorings here though.

Shortly after came the turn onto the next canal at Catshill Junsction. We were now on the Daw End Branch and very nice it is too. We passed nb. Time Well Spent, who was moored up but obviously on the BCN Challenge as they had a very smart painted board advertising the fact. Their sign matched their boat’s livery and was decorated with traditional canal roses. Let that be our inspiration for next time.

We also passed nb Golden Eagle, ng Griffin and tug Joanna, who we’d last seen at Spon Lane Locks – it feels like an eternity ago, but it was only yesterday!

The canal’s tremendous here – light industry on the offside and dramatice views over the towpath – sometimes over the red rooftops then suddenly over the awesome drop into the local quarry which mines the vivid red stone/clay here. We found out later that this VAST hole int eh ground (we never saw the bottom, even from the boat roof) is attached to a brick-making works, probably Ibstoick. We enjoyed the surreal sight of a positively medieval wall of brick pallets – if you’ve ever had trouble imagingin what a million bricks might look like then come here and see them for yourself.

Daw End Marina was a welcome sign of boating life and the 48-hour moorings just beyond looked good. Definitely a good place to moor as the towpath side can be very shallow. It’s one of those dilemmas – why should BW dredge out the sides of a canal that’s barely used; on the other hand, if it’s difficult to moor because the edge is shallow then how can we encourage more boaters to come here?

There are some wicked skew bridges here with blind turns into and out of them – watch out for

The canal’s reminiscent of the Kennet and Avon in places – lined with reeds and surrounded by verdant fields. It certainly matches the K & A for narrowness in places with thick reedbanks either side.

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BCN Marathon Challenge (4) – Saturday 8pm – 11pm

Posted by indigodream on 31 May, 2009

Sneyd Junction Bridge (8.10pm) to Pelsall Junction (via a trip up and down the Cannock Extension Canal)

Finish time 11pm

As we left Sneyd Junction Bridge, the sun rapidly sank below the horizon and the cold wind set about us. How quickly we went from T-shirts to winter fleeces – I guess it’s not quite midsummer yet.

It was a lovely evening though and we always enjoy twilight cruising, though rarely this late in the day.

The first stretch is light industrial but it soon gives way to a new housing development, still being built,  I guess on some old industrial sites. It must be because of local conditions, but the ground had been built up so that the houses were metres above the canal with no hope of access to the water. We thought this was a shame – it would be good for people here  to able to enjoy the waterway as so many other residents do.

We met three narrowboats going the other way – nb Tawny Owl looked like an ex-hire boat. Which led us to musing whether you could actually hire a boat to do the BCN Challenge? Do hire companies allow it? The next boat was nb Kersher followed later by a boat with no name. We might have asked him the name but we were too busy warning him about some stone-throwing tots that we’d just passed (between Forest footbridge and Coalpool bridge. They weren’t very expert and only managed a minor hit which clanged onto the side of the boat – just annoying really when the kids were probably less than 10 years old. Don’t be put off by this, we have seen worse on more mainstream canals.

There were loads of genial fishermen along this stretch – both on the towpath side and in back gardens. One had a tent set up in his garden with the intention of staying out the whole night. He’ll have a shock if Fulbourne, Atlas and Malus decide to come charging down later on!

After that we had the canal to ourselves, and very nice it was too. Tranquil and lovely, the suburbs soon gave way to countryside, proper countryside with open fields and cattle.

Because we’ve done so few locks today, it’s easy to forget how high the canal is. The vistas alternated between leafy green woodlands and sweeping panoramas into the valley below – stunning. As the night drew in, it became truly magical with the last of the sun’s glow in the west, the brilliant half-moon in the east and a crystal blue sky above. The yellow gorse glowed in the moonlight like a lantern to guide our weary travels.

Richard took the dogs for a last walk, but unfortunately there were fireworks in a town nearby (probably several miles away). Blue got spooked and had to come back on board at the next bridge – he’s refused to leave the boat since, just in case.

It was nigh on full dark by the time we reached the winding holes at the top of the Cannock Extension but it was well worth the trip. The canal is so straight and surrounded by the lush and beautiful countryside of Wyrley Common. Perfect rummaging for dogs but Blue wasn’t having any of it, but Lou came for a rummage with me. Those cunning people at the BCN Society had set a question about Pelsall Road Bridge. I’d assumed it was on the main canal, but it’s actually a short walk up from the winding holes on the branch.

With that mission accomplished, we set back for the junction with the fading glow of the sun still visible in the West. Although it’s not far, it was pitch black when we arrived at the end of the arm. It was shallow on the main canal so we tucked into the towpath on the arm itself. It’s exceptionally quiet here – Pelsall Junction has the reputation of being the best mooring spot just about anywhere on the BCN. We’ll let you know tomorrow, well in a few hours time if we actually keep to our schedule and start cruising at 5am!

Photos to follow when we get home.

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