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Archive for June 21st, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 24 and 25

Posted by indigodream on 21 June, 2009

Saturday 13th June Cambrian Wharf to Catherine de Barnes

With Indigo Dream safely moored in Cambrian Wharf, we took some time off from boating last weekend. It was a chance to reflect on our overwhelmingly positive experience of the BCN Marathon Challenge and to catch up with our sleep, of course.

By the time we got to this Saturday we were well into boat withdrawal syndrome (characterised by lack of concentration and long sighs). Nonetheless we delayed our trip to the boat until after we’d enjoyed the company of greyhounds at the Stifford Village show.

When we arrived in Birmingham early on Saturday evening, Indigo Dream looked fine. Cambrian Wharf is a hidden gem of a mooring, tucked away from the busy-ness of Gas Street and has a full 14-day mooring allowance.  Shhhh – don’t tell everyone about it……

Starting down the flight

Starting down the flight

As we had the car with us, we found the large Tesco Store in Edgbaston (BH16 8HA), just a couple of miles from the mooring before settling the car into the Brindley Drive Car Park which is secure, close to the mooring, and has the phone payment system which means that you can renew your parking without needing to go back to the car. Richard had just paid when another boater told him that on a Sunday parking is free on he road just below Farmers Bridge Top Lock – just below the towpath.

By the time we got all this done it was far too late to start cruising so we went back to our favourite ‘Handmade Burger Co’ restaurant on the canal in Brindley Place. We had truly great service there and they were particularly thoughtful and attentive towards the dogs (stretched out on the pavement on their sheepskins). We ate well, dogs ate well.

Although it wasn’t even 10pm by the time we got back to the boat, we were all so tired. The rest of the crew were soon comatose in their beds; I stayed awake a bit longer, bothered by the babble from the pub opposite. Fortunately the pub closes at 11.30pm and from then on Cambrian Wharf is as peaceful mooring as you could hope for.

Sunday 14th June

We had a quiet night on Cambrian Wharf and set off from the moorings at around 9.30am-ish. We didn’t go very far – just to the

View back up the fantastic Farmers Bridge Flight

View back up the fantastic Farmers Bridge Flight

waterpoint opposite! We reported last year that the water pressure was low at this water point – I’m afraid to report that thing’s haven’t changed. Our tank was running very low, but nonetheless it took over an hour to fill.

Note: the mooring bollards just behind the waterpoint are discreetly marked as a disabled mooring spot.

Never mind, it worked to our advantage in some ways. We got to chat to passing boaters including one man who’d walked from the other side of Gas Street in order to use the BW showers here. He told us that the pressure’s much better at the waterpoint in Gas Street Basin, so that’s a top tip for the future.

I think we also persuaded one muscular runner from Dubai to take his family on a boating holiday. He was fascinated by the boat, as were many of the passersby. We could market the canals but we had no success in interesting people in owning a greyhound. Our two were absolutely flat out asleep –

New architecture facing onto the canal

New architecture facing onto the canal

they could have come out for a rummage but chose not to. This trend continued right through the day – Blue had the odd desultory wander round one or two of the locks; Lou stayed in bed nigh on all day and had to be dragged off for the essentials. We knew they’d be knackered after all the stimulation of yesterday’s dog show!

We were being joined by some very old friends today – Liz, Pal and children Nathan and Sasha. I’ve known Liz and Pal since my first day in university – a frighteningly long time ago. Their son, Nathan, has developed an obsession with canals and boating – we heartily approve! He also likes trains, so maybe we should introduce him to Khayamanzi some time. They all came for a cruise last year, when we did the trip from Merryhill to Cambrian Wharf. This time they’d do the next leg down from Cambrian Wharf and out through Solihull.

We set off down the Farmer’s Bridge flight with the promise that they’d meet us a few locks down. All the locks were set our way and we passed down the flight at a fearsome rate. We must have been four or five locks down by the time they caught up with us – never mind, plenty more to go!

This is such a great flight - go out of your way to experience it

This is such a great flight - go out of your way to experience it

One reason for our speed was a BW worker who had the rotten job of clearing rubbish from the lockside towpath. I think he does it on a daily basis – the lock flight is immaculate. I thanked him profusely for clearing up some broken glass that I’d encountered with the dogs on our morning walk (fortunately without injury). I’d picked up some of the more jagged bits and vowed to come back with a broom later. It was a relief that it was being done – our dogs are accident-prone enough as it is! Anyway, I don’t think that the towpath sweepers are thanked very often and the kind man opened many of the lock gates for us on his way down.

Birmingham is a fascinating city – I’m way to lazy to actually read a history book but I did wonder at the mixture of architectural styles here. I understand that the city was bombed during the war but didn’t suffer the wholesale destruction of its neighbour, Coventry. You get a sense that Birmingham’s a city that’s constantly being rebuilt and redesigned, as though the town planners haven’t yet found the style that will leave an indelible mark on future history books. In the meantime, old redbrick gothic churches tuck themselves into the corners of modern developments and the ancient canal flows beneath all, maybe Birmingham’s most enduring feature.

Yes this is a lock under a skyscraper

Yes this is a lock under a skyscraper

I was really encouraged when Liz said that the local people are really proud of their canals. They may be hidden from sight, but not from the people’s minds, where the canals are apparently still cherished. It was notable that when we drove to Tesco last night, there were prominent signs wherever the roads crossed a canal – you wouldn’t know the waterways were there otherwise.

The Farmer’s Bridge flight was stunning as ever. We’ve been up it three times but we’ve never been down before. It felt surreal to drop out of the blazing sunshine of the basin into the deepening shade of the buildings, finally being buried under the mountain of the BT tower and the cavern under Snowhill train station. It’s a great experience.

We actually had the flight to ourselves today and didn’t meet another boat until we got to the longer pounds past Snowhill. Hurrah!

Pal is a very able crew member, equally adept lockside and on the helm. With his

Yes the lock really is just under the brown building

Yes the lock really is just under the brown building

help, we got down the flight even faster and we were on for a great cruise.

We did see one sad sight on the lockside – a ragged man leaning heavily on a walking stick came out of nowhere to help with one of the locks. From my brief chat with him, I think he was hoping for some money in recognition of his help. None was forthcoming, but he told me that he and two others live under the canal bridge by the lock. I think he was telling the truth – there was heap of quilts and blankets under the bridge concealing at least one person. Liz, who is a child psychologist, was desperately worried as she suspected that one of them might have been a child. She’ll be on to the authorities later.

Snow Hill Railway Tunnel

Snow Hill Railway Tunnel

It was locks all the way today. We left the Farmer’s Bridge flight behind just to run straight into the Ashtead flight. I was a bit gloomy about this flight last year, but I thought it was quite pleasant today with much less garbage than I remembered. My view of any waterway is closely related to the time of the cruising day – if it’s late and it’s been a long day then even the most sylvan waterway comes in for a whinge; if it’s early and the sun’s shining I can see merit in just about any old manky puddle 🙂

Going through the Science Park

Going through the Science Park

We didn’t take our guests for a spin into the Typhoo Basin – although it’s open there’s nothing left of its heritage and lucrative relationship with tea, which used to be more precious than gold. The fishermen casting their lines just outside the basin seemed very grateful that we were turning away from them!

So, we were back on the broad and businesslike Grand Union, though the locks remain narrow until you get out to Knowle. The Grand Union’s commercial past was reinforced where we stopped for lunch. We moored up opposite ‘The Bond’, presumably an old warehouse now sympathetically developed with a few moored boats in a small basin. They’d kept the old loading gantries in place, though they were now converted into fine balconies overlooking the canal.

Quick rest before starting the next lot of locks

Quick rest before starting the next lot of locks

At Bordesley Junction we entered yet more new territory. We’ve never been along this part of the Grant Union before.

The first bit of excitement was, you’ve guessed it, yet more locks – going up this time though. This whole stretch from Cambrian Wharf is great if you want to introduce guests to locking. The Camp Hill locks are very urban, though strangely enough, isolated from the roads so dogs could have come out for a rummage if they’d been interested – they weren’t! There is obviously a danger for less loved pets here, whether by accident or design, we did see a dead dog at one lock and a dead cat at the next. That’s the trouble with these steep-sided canals – if an animal falls in then they have no hope of getting out without human intervention. There simply aren’t any ramps here – I think there should be.

Note: There are useful services towards the Top of the Camp Hill Flight but they are not shown on our Nicholsons.

Just not enough room for all the photos we want to put in.

Just not enough room for all the photos we want to put in.

The air of urban desolation soon gives way to richly wooded embankments and the green tinge of dappled sunlight through the leaves. It’s quite a remarkable transition. Only the ever-present garbage and graffiti remind you that you’re actually still in the suburbs and the ‘real’ countryside is still half a day’s cruise away.

We tried to tempt Blue and Lou for a rummage here. There are some good spots along the towpath by Bridge 86. There are even better spots in the offside woodland which looks as if some effort has been made to put in decent paths and steps leading to the water. It seemed to be a popular picnic spot.

Pal's first lock entry of the day

Pal's first lock entry of the day

I think this stretch would be worth another visit. We’d certainly like to stop and wander around the Tyseley museum some day. Apparently there’s also a brilliant science museum nearby. Nathan was asking whether we could stop and have a wander around – what a sensible child. I think he sees a future in getting the right balance of cruising and sightseeing. We still tend to stay on the move – maybe when we feel we’ve done the entire network then we’ll do it again, but with more stops along the way.

The reason for pressing on was practical. There were advantages to reaching our target of Catherine De Barnes reasonably early. Pal had parked his car in the pub car park (with their permission), ready for the trip home. We’d decided to eat there as well so it was all starting to look like a late night. More alarmingly, Nathan had a weekly French test on Monday and I can honestly say that he had no hope of passing based on the accumulated

Top of the Camp Hill Flight

Top of the Camp Hill Flight

language skills of the adults present!

The Boat Inn at Catherine de Barnes (walk back to the canal bridge, cross over and there’s the pub) is yet another ‘Chef and Brewer’. The dogs are only allowed in the garden, but it was a lovely evening so that wasn’t a problem. The service was efficient and pleasant, the food reliable, reasonably priced and plentiful (especially the puddings); what’s more, the chef wasn’t too proud to cook four sausages for the dogs!

We said goodbye to Liz and Pal with some reluctance – it’s been wonderful to meet up. The fact that Liz and I spent most of the day gossiping explains why Indigo Dream has acquired a few more scratches, especially in the Ashtead Tunnel, which I swear has sagged even more since last year. We’re heading south to Stratford next but when we head back north for the rest of the summer we’ll inevitably swing past Birmingham again, giving us the perfect excuse for another get-together. Nathan thoroughly approved!

Photo Blog

Going through Birmingham by canal is just so interesting. This has been such a great day’s cruising, we took loads of photos but how do you fit them in? How do you select which are worth keeping? Well here are a few:

Looking back up the Farmers Bridge Flight

Looking back up the Farmers Bridge Flight

Looking down the flight

A457 Bridge - Looking down the flight

I think this is lock 6

I think this is lock 6

There are useful Interpretation Boards on the flight

There are useful Interpretation Boards on the flight

Emerging out from under the BT & Brindley Towers

Emerging out from under the BT & Brindley Towers

This time we managed to pass boats in sensible places

This time we managed to pass boats in sensible places

and another easy place to pass a boat

and another easy place to pass a boat

Fantastic mix of old and new on the Farmers Bridge Flight

Fantastic mix of old and new on the Farmers Bridge Flight

We have just been under that!

We have just been under that!

In the pound between Aston & Farmers Bridge

In the pound between Aston & Farmers Bridge

Aston Junction

Aston Junction

Old Photo: Top of the Aston Flight in 2005

Old Photo: Top of the Aston Flight in 2005

Old Photo: Aston Junction in 2005

Old Photo: Aston Junction in 2005

Turning into the Digbeth Branch

Turning into the Digbeth Branch

We safely moored on the Digbeth Branch

We safely moored on the Digbeth Branch

Ashtead Tunnel

Ashtead Tunnel

More Locks!!

More Locks!!

Aquaducts, railway bridges, road bridges - this short branch was it all!

Aqueducts, railway bridges, road bridges - this short branch was it all!

Bordesley Junction

Bordesley Junction

First of the Camp Hill Locks

First of the Camp Hill Locks

Heave .....

Heave .....

Lock 55

Lock 55

Big Bend below Lock 54

Big Bend below Lock 54

Lock Crew at Work

Lock Crew at Work

Canal silently slips past, unseen from the railway above

Canal silently slips past, unseen from the railway above

Camp Hill Top Lock - useful services on the right

Camp Hill Top Lock - useful services on the right

Old Industry by B91

Old Industry by B91

Did you have a good day?

Did you have a good day?

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