Monday 27th July
Dimmingsdale Lock to Bridge 11 Shropshire Union
Having stopped early yesterday we needed to cruise this morning in order to meet our weekend target of Brewood. We all got up at around 8.30am but after the dogs had done the essentials (remember they’d gone to bed at about 7pm the night before, having refused a walk in the rain), we all went back to bed! Although the weather was a lot better we just couldn’t be bothered – the mooring really was very pleasant.
We lazed around until we’d finally drunk enough coffee to get us going.
I’d be lying if I said that this next stretch was a scenic as the lower part of the Staffordshire and Worcester, but it’s pleasant enough. The suburb of Wightwick was surprisingly attractive and well-maintained given its proximity to the dreaded Wolverhampton. There are fewer opportunities for dog rummaging here as the majority of locks are accompanied by minor road bridges but they still managed a few closely supervised bobbles. The weather was kind at first, a bit gusty but dry. We had our waterproofs to hand anyway – just as well. Quite abruptly the heavens opened and we were in for an hour of torrential rain and hail. The previously sun-warmed roof was steaming as the freezing rain hit it – what awful conditions. We soldiered on while Blue and Lou sniggered from the dry comfort of their sofa.
We thought that was it for the day, but we eventually got lucky and as we travelled north we cleared the clouds and had an afternoon of cold gales and hot sunshine in equal measure.
Note: There’s a narrow passage below the Tettenhall bridges with moored boats on both sides. It may be easier to give way to boats coming down the canal even if it is “your bridge” as they have slightly less room to lay by. Coming from the south you don’t see how narrow it is on the far side – the two moored boats on your side are nothing compared to what is on the other side.
We were used to the regular deep locks and their frisky bywashes by now, so there was no novelty until we got to Aldersley Junction – our last chance to turn back towards our beloved Birmingham! But there was a bit of chaos here – there was a boat coming down (there’s a lock immediately after the right turn into the Birmingham Main Line); but a boat wanting to go up onto the BCN decided to turn anyway and managed to create a 3-boat jam, preventing us from going up and the other boat from coming out – well done sir!
It gave us time to admire the junction though – it’s interesting and has a fine redbrick turnover bridge.
Shortly after, of course, there’s the excitement of the Autherley Junction, where we said a regretful farewell to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. The right turn onto the Shropshire Union is a hive of activity with its ridiculous stop lock (a fall of less than 6 inches), a Napton Boats hire base, a shop and a length of online moorings. It’s a friendly place, which also has useful services including a large rubbish point.
But after that bit of activity, the Shropshire Union was a distinct disappointment. Up to Bridge 3 it’s a suburban canal surrounded by a mixed housing estate – ok in places, run down in others. Probably not a place to moor overnight or to leave your boat unattended but let me know if I’m wrong. We did give the eye to some lads lurking suspiciously on Bridge 2 but they vanished as we approached, possibly because of the cheery
Community Police Officer wandering around. We saw three Community Police Officers today – I felt very reassured by their presence.
Our first target was Bridge 4, near the village of Bilbrook. Interestingly, there was a flock of workers near the bridge, wearing overalls with the ‘General Electric’ logo – it was good to see signs that some industry that has actually survived up here!
Bridge 4 itself is accompanied by a nasty narrow chicane followed by so-called 48-hour moorings. The sign says that they’ve been provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society so I feel a bit mean complaining about them. But really, why provide a fine hard edged bank with mooring rings then build an 18-inch ledge just below water level which means that you can’t pull right up to the towpath. The ledge is just at the right height to grind against the side of the hull (beyond the reach of our normal fenders) – it would have been an uncomfortable place to spend the night.
However, we didn’t need to be there for long. Bilbrook is useful because it has a train station which gave Richard a good chance of getting back to Kidderminster for the car. We’d left the locks behind us for now so it was my mission to get the boat up to Brewood and find a safe mooring near a road bridge, with parking!
How I cursed that d”£$%^ concrete ledge. Richard had dashed off to catch his train (they are only one an hour) so I had to get off the mooring myself – not usually a problem but I couldn’t reach over to push the boat out (and could only just step back on after untying the ropes!). I tried to shuffle her off but the wind kept pushing me back and going forward just grounded me on the even wider ledge beyond the ‘official’ mooring. In the end I managed to reverse off, with much cursing.
Well, that was me set to ‘niggle’ mode and I really didn’t enjoy the stretch up to Bridge 7. The canal is quite elevated here with lovely sweeping views across the plateau to the East. But I was really miffed by the metre-wide ledges that
had been quite deliberately built below the waterline on the towpath side; you’d have no hope of mooring on the mess of concrete ledges, rubble and paving slabs. Now why would the canal have been restored that way – was it a planning requirement? As far as I can see, the only dwelling that was close enough to object was a large farm, possibly an abattoir, which exuded the most evil stench of rotting meat (and associated flies).
In all fairness, though, there are proper 48-hour moorings between Bridge 7 and 8. There seemed to be a friendly community of boaters moored there – not necessarily overstayers, just people who seem to get along.
I was bemused by the behaviour of an oncoming boat along this stretch. There was a brisk wind and they had seemingly drifted into the trees on the offside and seemed to be having immense difficulty in getting off. The two crew were on the roof pushing against the branches and the boat was moving around erratically. I was about to offer to tow them off when I realised that they were picking cherries!
There’s a stretch of narrows after Bridge 8 – it’s a difficult spot as you don’t have a good line of sight – if you have the crew then do use a lookout. There is an apparent ‘passing place’ in the middle but it looked very shallow offside. I was almost out of the narrows when an oncoming boat decided not to wait where it’s wide. I charitably thought that maybe he advanced because he’s so familiar with the waters – with me pressed right up to the towpath (no ledges here!) and him in the trees we passed with a full 3″ to spare!
In my niggly opinion, the canal takes a turn for the better from Bridge 9 onwards. The steeply wooded embankments start to rise on either side and everything was washed in calming green light. A bit how I’d imagine the bottom of a lake really; no mermaids here though, but there were a couple of kingfishers.
I sighed with relief as I approached Bridge 10 – it’s such a handsome structure and the canal is lovely. It also meant that I was almost at my destination – Bridge 11. The towpath’s in a terrible state here – at best it’s a bit muddy, at worst it’s a peaty ankle-deep quagmire. It’s not surprising with the recent torrential rain and all the water draining off the embankment but the path really does need some TLC given the many walkers and boaters hereabouts.
I chose not to moor before Bridge 11 – there were several recently fallen trees there! I found a spot just beyond the bridge and moored up, helped considerably by the wind (for a change!). I banged in four pins (springs fore and aft) and moved them several times as I mused over which was the best spot in the soft ground. I finally got her secured to my satisfaction and started packing up ready for Richard’s arrival with the car. It’s a darkly beautiful mooring place under the shady trees but it’s not lonely – there was a steady traffic of boats both ways and I was pleased that Indigo Dream was stable with no signs of the pins moving. All of the passing boaters were very pleasant apart from one nuisance with three young teenage boys on the roof who were throwing bits of seeds and twigs at any likely target, including Indigo Dream’s open side-hatch (missed) and the bin on our back deck. The parents on the helm were laughing along with their boys – they seemed to think that it was great entertainment; I was cross!
Richard came back shortly afterwards and we made a remarkably quick getaway. Just as well, our route takes us down the M6 now, reminding us that we’re a long way from home……
Tuesday 28th July Boat Update
You might be forgiven for thinking that we don’t know how to tie a boat! Indigo Dream’s pins were ripped out of the soft towpath this morning and she was found adrift back towards the bridge (around 200 feet away from where we left her). A kindly boater had retied her and let us know where she was – thank heavens we’ve left our contact details on the boat window! Our rescuer had had her own boat set adrift (not sure where) and she’d drifted a quarter of a mile down the canal before someone retied her. Can you imagine arriving back at your mooring, finding no boat and with no clue where to start looking! Our rescuer also told us that she’d spotted a few speeders going past…..
So, Richard’s had to take the afternoon off to plod back up to Brewood to check Indigo Dream and find some way of securing her to the mushy towpath. Banbury has become something of a jinx for us as he managed to pick up a tyre wrecking puncture at possibly a delicate shade over 70 mph in the fast lane of the M40. His car has one of those silly space saver tyres no good for anything so he popped into Banbury to buy a new tyre resulting in an hour’s delay. I have to work next Saturday so we need a secure 14-day mooring; easier said than done here…..