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The Odyssey 2009: Day 23

Posted by indigodream on 6 June, 2009

Monday 1st June

Walsall Town Arm to Cambrian Wharf

Walsall Canal has its own unique design of boat.....

Walsall Canal has its own unique design of boat.....

We had a good night’s sleep at the Walsall Town Arm – it was surprisingly quiet and we had no bother at all. We slept late after our big two days. When we finally emerged we were amazed to find that the basin was nigh on empty – we’d only registered a small proportion of the boats that must have passed us by.

I felt a bit guilty about deserting Walsall – the basin had been so full of life yesterday. We’d had a sociable afternoon talking to other boaters and the friendly local passersby who seemed bemused by the sudden influx of boats.

The redevelopment round the basin does look quite recent. Big areas remain cleared ready for development but the town does look like it is thriving and ready for more development.

Next Development Site just north of the Town Arm?

Next Development Site just north of the Town Arm?

One little munchkin asked me

“Are the boats staying here?”

“No” I replied “we’ll probably all be moving on tomorrow”

She looked me plaintively and asked, in a quiet voice, “Don’t you like it here?”

We like it here very much and we, like all the good folk at the BCN Society, will be working hard to persuade other people to like Walsall too. But it’s a melancholy thought that this well-appointed urban basin might be largely deserted until the next challenge. I do hope not…..

View towards the Walsall Locks

View towards the Walsall Locks

Richard took advantage of the town centre to find a new charger for his camera. We’ve only had the big camera for a few weeks and how we missed it when the batteries ran out.

As we got ready to go we found that the clip we had been attached to belonged to our neighbours who had left at 6am. They had kindly left us tied to the ring bolt set into the quay. Thanks Folks!

We’d been discussing our route back to Cambrian Wharf. I really wasn’t looking forward to going back down the Walsall Canal, but tracking up to Birchills and round the Curly Wurley would have just taken too long. I set out with a faint air of dread for the slow journey to come.

Walsall Canal View

Walsall Canal View

But I was pleasantly surprised. I felt so much better disposed towards the canal after a good night’s sleep! It’s still dingy and overgrown but the canal had a bit more life today with the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding industry in full production after the weekend. We had the canal to ourselves, so we made a bit better time as we spent less time reversing to stop behind a queue of grounded boats. It’s a good idea to avoid reverse gear here – it seems to be the best way to suck garbage onto the prop. Mind you, we did have to clear the prop several times on this stretch and ground our way over the unidentified ‘stuff’ barely submerged under every bridge.

Unwelcome intruders on the towpath

Unwelcome intruders on the towpath

There’s a sudden change at Willingsworth Hall Bridge – we lost the overgrown vegetation, gained the hard towpath and lost the submerged debris. It’s a weird but welcome transition.

We stopped off at Ocker Hill (by the Tame Valley Junction) to visit the rubbish point – we had two bin bags full of prop debris to dispose of! This service point isn’t marked on our Nicholsons but it has waste disposal, a pump-out and elsan point as well as a shower block. All it lacks is a water point.

We were alternately amused and dismayed by other towpath denizens here. Amused by the small group of men perched under the bridge drinking Special Brew – they were a companionable bunch and had a strange etiquette where one side of the bridge pier was where they drank and the other side was where they wee’d (in full view). I was very tempted to give them a BW key so that they could use the proper loos nearby but they seemed to have an efficient  system on the go! Our dismay was caused by a quad bike and mini-motorbike racing down the towpath at speed – we locked the dogs away.

One of many bricks and rocks blocking the gate

One of many bricks and rocks blocking the gate

We moved on and soon caught up with a queue of narrowboats waiting to ascend the Ryder’s Green locks. They were all boats we’d met on the challenge and we thought the queue was just one of those things. We were soon to find out that there was a problem with the lock – Nb Nelson had entered the lock but couldn’t shut the bottom gate – it seemed to be getting stuck on something and no amount of prodding and poking would dislodge it. The boats waiting below – nb The cat who walked (by himself, I think) and nb Black Beauty had tried to help but to no avail. It took a little while for a BW crew to arrive but they soon used their intimidating long-handled fork to fish out several bricks, rocks and bits of garbage. They then kindly stayed on and helped all of the waiting boats through the lock.

We moved on to the next lock, resigned to being in a queue the whole way up. But there was another problem here,

View down the Ryder's Green flight - looks good from here

View down the Ryder's Green flight - looks good from here

this time the bottom gate wouldn’t open properly. Richard cycled back to get the BW men and this time they fished out a whole bin bag of garbage from behind the gate. Once again they helped everyone through. It was murderously hot for such heavy work and they were very grateful for the cans of cold drinks that we gave them.

This is a flight that we really enjoyed last year, maybe because we had such low expectations then. But this time we were a bit disappointed – the flight seemed more be-garbaged than we remembered. Despite the problems at the bottom locks, we still shot up the flight by a combination of help from BW and co-operation from our fellow boaters. The crew of the BW tug coming up behind us were especially efficient, working locks above and behind us to keep the convoy moving – there were a total of 6 boats toiling up the flight by this stage.

Chimney in disguise!

Chimney in disguise!

When we got to the top of the flight there was an unpleasant solvent smell in the air – presumably from the nearby chemical works. It was at the junction with the Ridgeacre stub which we’d been asked not to cruise because the far end is apparently horribly polluted. I hope that it’s not been ruined by industrial effluent.

We finally got to the junction with the new main line and turned right towards Birmingham Town Centre. We stopped immediately after the turn to do a final prop clearance and then we were ready to go. The mainline was a real pleasure after the confines of the Walsall Canal. We soon got to the junction at Spon Lane, again feeling that strange sense of discontinuity – the two days that had passed since we were last here felt like an eternity.

Smethwick Train Station and Galton Road Bridge beyond

Smethwick Train Station and Galton Road Bridge beyond

I dropped Richard and his bike off in the narrows just before the junction – he was going to cycle to Smethwick Station which soars over the new main line at the same level as the old contour canal. For future reference, he says that the towpath’s seriously rough in places – if he had to do it again he’d stay on the boat ’til we reached the station and scramble up the near vertical footpath linking the two canals. His mission was to get back to Lapworth by train then drive back to meet me at Cambrian Wharf.

In the meantime I set off down the new main line, enjoying the canal’s quiet gravitas. I waved at a train waiting at the platform of Smethwick Station, hoping that it was Richard’s train and that he’d get a buzz from seeing the boat passing beneath him. As it happens, it probably was his train but he was so busy sorting out the bike that he forgot to look down!

I met a few boats coming the other way, mainly hirers; this is one bit of the BCN that’s not neglected.

The magnificent M5. Note: The channel on the right's not the best place for mediating the ongoing sofa wars when you're cruising solo!

The magnificent M5. Note: The channel on the right's not the best place for mediating the ongoing sofa wars when you're cruising solo!

The most obvious limitation of solo boating is that you’re largely stuck on the helm. Nonethless, I’m gradually perfecting the art of running inside quickly when I need to; I’d only attempt it on a quiet canal – Indigo Dream’s a bit wayward when it comes to steering herself. I did manage to run aground beneath the M5 when I had to leave the tiller to sort out a territorial dispute over the sofa! No drama, I just reversed off and carried on.

I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise – the mainline is a grand piece of engineering. I resisted the temptation to wander down the Soho and Icknield Port Loops despite thier siren call. But I needed to get into the centre – I was worried that there might be a shortage of moorings in town what with the influx of boaters for the challenge. As I drew nearer to town I was pleased to see that many of the 48 hour moorings opposite the Oozells Street Loop were now vacant. I passed nb. Saltaire again – but the crew were obviously out and about somewhere. I wondered whether this was the last time our paths would cross this year – I’ve become used to seeing her every day!

View down to the Canal from Smethwick Galton Bridge Railway Station

View down to the Canal from Smethwick Galton Bridge Railway Station

When I got to Cambrian Wharf I was relieved to see that there was space on the 14-day moorings opposite the pub. I was equally horrified to see that there was a boat in front of me heading for the space. They moored right at the end of the wharf and I thought ‘well, that’s it then”. It took me a while to twig that they were waving me on – they reckoned there was enough space for me in front of them. I was a bit dubious, but with a bit of jiggling I bought Indigo Dream neatly into the mooring.

It felt so good to be back in Cambrian Wharf – it’s a very sociable place to moor. Richard joined me a bit later, having got caught up in traffic towards Birmingham. We found out later that this might have been the hordes coming into the National Indoor Arena for a ‘Girls Aloud’ concert.

Our BCN Marathon Challenge Plaque - may we collect many more....

Our BCN Marathon Challenge Plaque - may we collect many more....

By now it was gone 6pm so we decided to eat in town and revive ourselves before the long drive home. We ate at the excellent “Homemade Burger Co” in Brindly Place. We took the dogs with us – we found a table outside and they settled down to sleep on the sheepskins that we’d spread on the broad pavement (no, they weren’t causing an obstruction!). The multitude of people on their way to concert were gobsmacked and we got used to a constant chorus of  “look at those dogs ….. ” Blue and Lou were oblivious – they were tired after a very stimulating few days’ cruising.

Mind you, so were we. It was a good exhaustion though – the tiredness of having been part of something extraordinary – long live the BCN Marathon Challenge!

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