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Archive for May, 2011

BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: Photoblog 1

Posted by indigodream on 30 May, 2011

7.54am: Wanderin' Bark getting into postion on the starting line... Sue was meant to put laxatives into their coffee..

7.59am: Great expectations - the cruising log..... Still unopened but you can see that hand twitching. Mind you our first rest break was from 8am to 8:10am....

8.21am: starting to work the crew - that's Graham on the towpath - at this stage he didn't appreciate my saying "cheer up only another 90 to go...."

8.39am: High viaduct and low pound.... Worryingly this is one of the big pounds, hard to drain, hard to fill!

8.39am: Our Greyhoundhomer banner and two greyhounds - Lynx and the tiller pin - does our pin need a name?

10.18am: Hurrah - the relief crew is here.... but who is that they are helping through?

10.22am: The relief hound crew came too....

10.40am: Broad Street Basin at the top of the Wolverhampton flight...

10.44am: I like this structure - now what/where is it - who took this photo?!!

11.00am: I love this reflective bridge on the Curly Wurly.....

11.40am: nb Victorious on the BCN marathon 'drinking' challenge - they were a cheerful bunch....

11.57am: We're in Birmingham - honest!

12.09pm: We only met a few boaters but whenever we did there were wonderful greetings....

12.42pm: Sneyd Junction....

12.43pm: Graham, Andy and Sarah - TOP crew - taking bookings for the next challenge.....:-)

13.20pm: Yep, we're still in Birmingham.....

11.46am: Ranger and Lynx taking it all in their stride....

11.55am: Henry and Archie on lookout duty - this is Archie's first time on a boat - he took to it straight away!

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 12noon to 1.45pm

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2011

12 noon – 1.45pm

We were pleasantly surprised by the Walsall Canal, which has improved beyond all recognition since we cruised this way two years ago. We’d heard that the BCNS had worked hard to clean and dredge the canal and they’ve done a great job. Once again we had the canal largely to ourselves but as we approached the Town Arm boats were starting to funnel in towards the finishing line – aah, so we did have the right weekend after all!

A lady from the BCNS was greeting boats as they came in and logging their finishing time – we came in at 1.45pm so we’ll get the maximum bonus points, as well as the points for the 93 locks and over 50 miles cruised – I think we got a few of the ‘treasure hunt’ questions right too.

We moored up just outside the basin – there are over 20 boats here this afternoon and it’s a grand sight. There are smart new housing developments alongside the canal now, where there had been dereliction and the whole place has a carnival air. We greeted Captain Ahab and family as well as meeting other old friends and making new ones, such as the owners of greyhound Poppy (that’s Princess Poppy to you!), who themselves own a share in a boat and happened to be in Birmingham for a mini-break this weekend. They heard us going through Aston flight this morning and actually got out of their beds in the adjacent hotel to take photos!

Sarah and Andy went to get their car from Wolverhampton, leaving the hounds with me, then there was more excitement as the mayor and his retinue came down to chat to the visiting boaters. We found out that they had a greyhound connection as one of his close relatives has a retired greyhound – they were persuaded to contribute to our collecting tin. In total we’ve raised £35 in contributions from visitors at the basin, so that definitely takes our total over £2000 with gift aid (we were a little short but I have a few sponsors left to chase).

So that’s it for now, we’ve done an epic cruise and putting it towards a good cause has added a whole dimension of pleasure and excitement to the venture.

We have some HUGE thanks – firstly to our gallant crew of volunteers, Graham from nb Matilda Rose, Sarah, Andy, Ranger, Henry and Archie from nbs Greyhound and Henry H, who have left footsore and weary after doing a sterling job at the locks. Secondly but by no means the lesser thanks, of course, to the BCNS – it’s impossible to underestimate the amount of effort it takes to organise such a big event and we’re very grateful, as is our nominated charity – Greyhoundhomer.

I may have to update some of the details later as I’m a bit weary (!) so do expect an update/errata over the next few days. In the meantime I’m off to the pub for a celebratory shandy…

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 8am – 12noon

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2011

8am – 12 noon

Oldbury Junction – Walsall Canal

Ooh, it’s been a while since I’ve done an update but we’ve been very busy and I have an achievement to announce – we have finished locking – hurrah – AND we have reached the magnificent total of 93 locks in 24 hours thanks to our tremendous team.

So, we were a bit worried about going up the Oldbury Locks – we’ve heard that it was shallow and slow, but I’m sorry now that I used the verb ‘flew’ to describe our passage up the Farmer’s Bridge flight because it leaves me no words to describe the speed of our passage up and down the Oldbury flight – “Supersonic” maybe! This arm is what you might typically expect from the BCN – more derelict and certainly the least beautiful of the sections we’ve cruised so far. Yet the towpath and locks seem well maintained and the few walkers we met were very friendly. The Titford pumping station at the top is interesting and Richard, who cycled on ahead, reported that the Titford pools themselves were charming, though we winded the boat before that point.

We then went down the Spon Lane 3 with their petrochemical tainted waters shimmering in the weak light. There was a dead fox decaying by the middle lock and alongside was a lawn edging tool – you could make a story of that, allbeit not a nice one….

We then had a brief respite along the New Main Line – just time for a round of coffees and some croissants before we turned at Pudding Mill Junction and headed down the  Ryders Green locks.

The hounds have been getting increasingly tired as the day wears on – they walked up the Aston flight and down the Oldbury flight then they had a bobble down Ryder’s Green locks – they are now all fast asleep – three on deck on their sheepskins and wrapped in blue fluffy blankets against the cold (sooo cute) and one stretched in blog central i.e. the sofa!

We haven’t seen another boat all morning so it was surprise to see nb Yeoford at the bottom of Ryder’s Green Lock – they’d already finished their challenge but had found the shallow canals a bit of a trial in their deep draughted old boat. The only other boat we’ve met was Napton hire boat nb Victoria who we last saw around 20 hours ago moored behind us at the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 – it feels like a lifetime ago.

So, we’ve blown our original target out of the water – we have a lock-free pound ahead of us (though it was an exceptionally slow trip the last time we came this way 2 years ago). We may even arrive at our destination, the Walsall town basin, a little early, but I won’t say that because there’s many a thing that could foul our prop between now and then, but we have plenty of time – as long as we arrive by 2pm we’ll still accrue maximum points for completing the marathon.

Right, time to look at lunch – we would have done well if people had sponsored us by the number of calories imbibed! The next post will hopefully be at the end of the challenge – what a trip, what a crew!

I have to report that the crew have just reached that point of hysterical exhaustion where they’re actually looking for more locks to do – it’ll soon wear off!

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 5.30am – 8.25am

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2011

5.30am – 8am

Aston Top Lock to Spon Lane (via the Old Main Line)

We flew up Farmer’s Bridge Lock flight with not another boat in sight – it’s the first time ever that we’ve not met a boat in the tiny pound beneath the BT Tower (ok, the tower next door to the BT tower). Strangely, we’ve not met another boat all morning, travelling in either direction. It’s a bit eerie – did we get the date wrong? Did we oversleep and it is, in fact, Monday already? Ah well, if we’ve got it wrong then Captain Ahab has got it wrong too!

We had a brief stop at the slumbering nb Matilda Rose, moored on the new Mainline; Graham dropped his rucksack off under the front cratch but didn’t venture any further into the boat – it was far too early to guarantee a welcome! It felt late to me, but then we have been up for hours!

As we set off along the New Main Line, the campaign team had a meeting on the back deck while I saw to the domestics – to think that 20 pints of milk seemed like a ridiculous amount yesterday but we’re down to the last six pints now – our BCN challenge has been fueled by lattes…

The consensus was that we were making such good time that we should explore the old main line and pop up and down the Oldbury Arm (lots of points) though the instructions recommend turning at Uncle Ben’s Bridge so we won’t get as far as the Titford Pools. Then we’ll come back down to the New Main line via Spon Lane (lots of points) and head down the Ryders Green towards Walsall.

I’d forgotten how nice the Old Main Line is – the Smethwick Lock gave the dogs another good rummaging opportunity and we enjoyed, again, the sight of the tremendous pumping station. Beyond that there is a green corridor leading to the unique grey corridor under the M5 – marvellous, really….

We’re at the first of the Oldbury Locks now and there are still no boats on the move – we met so many on the last challenge – where IS everyone……?????

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 4am – 5.30am

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2011

4am – 5.30m

Cuckoo Wharf to Aston Junction

Oh yes, 4am and we’re all up and about – even the dogs, well, not quite the dogs – Lynx and Henry colonised the bed vacated by Sarah – they and Andy seemed set for a lie-in; Ranger dog was very relaxed on his duvet and Archie dog couldn’t get up on account of being stuck under the sofa!

We got off the mooring by 4.20am, noting in passing that Wanderin’ Bark had arrived there some time after us last night (or this morning) but pointing the other way.

By the time we reached Aston Bottom Lock everyone was up and dressed – the loyal crew was doing the locking and I was on coffee and pastry duty – the main lesson I learnt from our first Thames Tideway pilot – keep your crew warm, fed and hydrated – I take it very seriously!

As I write we’re approaching Lock 2 with just one more on the Aston flight to do, then it’s onto Farmer’s Bridge before we decide how to meander the rest of the way to Walsall Town Basin by 2pm.

It’s a cool windy morning but the fresh air is slapping us awake nicely and Sarah is wearing the dogs out by walking them right up the flight – poor Lynx has never had so much exercise!

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 9pm – 9.45pm

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2011

9pm – 9.45pm

Perry Barr Lock (2 from bottom) to Cuckoo Wharf

Well, I’m afraid that we’ve wimped out and decided not to do the two great Aston and Farmers Bridge flights this evening – we’re a bit jaded after 14 hours of cruising and the hounds are beyond of exhausted and won’t rest while the boat’s moving.

We had a bit of a drama at bottom lock when there was an obstruction behind one of the bottom locks – Graham managed to dislodge a bit of it with a pole then Andy and Graham managed to slam the gate open enough for Sarah to push the boat through – phew, what a relief!

Spaghetti junction looks even more surreal by dark……

We recall a good chinese takeaway near here so that’s the next step – we need a good savoury meal after pigging out on an all-day-breakfast menu and cookies!

At this time, the towpaths are deserted – whether the lowlife comes out later we hope we’ll never know – Cuckoo Wharf is a very secure mooring indeed.

Of course, no decisions without consequence – finishing early means that we’ll need to set the alarm for 4am and get off as soon as we get a glimmer of daylight at 5am – will I blog then – well, only if you promise to get up to read it 😀

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 7.30pm – 9pm

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2011

7.30pm – 9pm

Rushall junction (-ish) to Perry Barr Lock – 2 from bottom!

Well, that’s the main Perry Barr flight done – big debate on ambient energy levels as we cruise to the last two locks before we turn towards the Aston flight.

We had no incidents on the flight, though a group of lads were very curious about the locks – Andy is very good with lads and just engaged them in conversation – all very civilised. The lads were canvassing his views about graffiti – they were horrified that their locality was being defaced – interesting.

I’m not sure what the decision will be – we still have light for now and we’ll make a decision at Cuckoo Wharf…..

Right, better go, next two locks approaching.

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 5pm – 7.30pm

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2011

5pm – 7.30pm

Daw End to Rushall Junction (-ish)

Well, that’s another 9 locks done so we’re up to 30 locks and 30 miles in our first 11.5 hours – oh dear, there’s still a long way to go! But at least we still have daylight and the crew seem to have plenty of energy – I’m having a little sit down with the blog – if the typing’s off it’s because I’m occasionally resting my eyes 🙂

The canine crew is restless – I think they’d quite like us to stop now so that they don’t have to be on watch any more! They really need Lou on board – she just sleeps regardless!

We met another boat coming our way above the Rushall Locks – it was “the cat who walks by himself” – also on the challenge and producers of the amazingly useful online guide to the BCN Challenge.

Apart from that it’s been very quiet. We found that the genial folk at the boating club at Rushall Top Lock were having a 60’s fancy dress gathering – they looked great, if a little surreal!

We shot down the Rushall flight – the crew was very efficient, though we need a change in personnel halfway down – I was on board at the helm (with the hounds on board), Richard was cycling ahead and Sarah, Andy and Graham were working the current lock and closing behind. But Archie’s too new to be left without his hu-mum and although he was locked inside, his face suddenly appeared above the hatch – I honestly thought he was going to bounce right out of the boat! Sarah took over the helm, the hounds all settled and I had the unusual experience of pushing some lock gates!

The Rushall flight was suitable pastoral, though there were a few lads starting to congregate on the towpath – they didn’t give us any trouble (being fascinated by the hounds on board) though one did jump right over the lock as it emptied – foolish yes, but undoubtedly athletic. The only noise was the loud chirping of the birds, oh, and the annoying buzzing of a moped being driven along the towpath – he soon turned off onto the road and peace reigned again, though Richard did cycle straight for him to make him slow down before he ran over 2 small dogs on the towpath.

We got to Rushall Junction at 7.20pm and turned right towards Perry Barr – we have to get down the flight tonight. Now, we’ve heard from boaters previously that BW chain up this flight after a certain time. However we couldn’t find any mention of this in Nicholsons’ or the online boater’s guide so we’re going to go for it. After that there’s the big decision – moor at Cuckoo Wharf and climb up the Aston and Farmer’s Bridge flights to Birmingham at 5am or push on and do it all tonight, or do something in between – we’ll see how we feel when we get there!

The section down to Perry Barr is very green and leafy – unfortunately with a few fallen branches following the recent high winds – but it’s very pleasant in the remnants of the day’s sunshine…….

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 3.30pm – 5.10pm

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2011

3.30pm – 4.45pm

Pellsal Junction to Daw End

After Pelsall Junction, the Curly Wurly passes through some civilisation, including a handy Tesco with canalside moorings. We saw two moored boats – one at the junction and one at Tesco – other than that the canal has been largely deserted – we certainly haven’t seen any boats on the move.

Note: there’s a large shoal offside opposite Tesco – we were scraping the bottom even in the centre of the channel.

All the hounds have given up now – it’s all too much effort to stay awake, proving that greyhound olympic looking is more than rigorous enough a sport to be included in the houndie games next year 🙂

We’re still a few miles from Rushall top lock, so I’m just sneaking a quick post in before it’s all hands on deck again – a fisherman said that he hadn’t seen another boat on the move for 3 hours so with a bit of luck there won’t a queue.

The canal remains shallow – in places there’s hardly enough water to draw back so we’re a bit slow; having said that, it may be time for another prop inspection as the water here is very reedy.

There’s a very fine mooring Basin at Daw End (with many moored boats) – it’s more sophisticated than we remember and the visitor mooring past the bridge look good, though there weren’t any visiting boats there.

We did our good deed opposite the Daw End visitor moorings – Graham spotted a young crow (or maybe a jackdaw) floundering in the water – his feathers were sodden and he couldn’t get up the hard bank out of the water. We stopped and Andy deftly netted him up onto the towpath – result! The bird was exhausted and flopped into the adjacent undergrowth – I hope s/he survives.

The water is crystal clear around here, causing much frustration of angler Graham – the large pike were visibly laughing at him without his rod!!

The Daw End branch is a great bit of water – not only is it very rural but it also soars above the surrounding landscape, offering glimpses of the valley below – in places the quarried ground below the canal seems to sink as low as the canal is high (if that makes sense!).

As I type, we’ve just cleared the prop – this time some industrial looking ‘webbing’. Sarah, Andy and the hounds have got off for a walk – they’ve carried windlasses with them but I don’t think they realise it’s 2 miles to the Rushall Locks – we may need an emergency pick-up at the next bridge hole!

Ooh a bit of excitement – a working boat approaching – it’s nb Yeoford with a crew of young folk including the Lucky Ducks, and Mike Askin who we think is from nb Shoestring (we met on a Thames convoy a few years ago) – fantastic!

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2011: 1.15pm – 3.30pm

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2011

1.15pm – 3.20pm

Birchills Junction to Pellsal Junction

There was much debate at Challenge Central i.e. the back deck, as to whether we should cruise up and down the Cannock Extension but it was just too many points to miss – the points for the trip and the points for correctly answering question – which is quite devious! We think the answer is on the towpath – look out for the post at the narrowing before the turn; but don’t take out word for it – we might be wrong!

Anyway, we’re cruising to schedule at the moment and the crew is in good spirits, but then again, it is a normal Indigo Dream cruising day so far – just over the 7 hours. The canine crew is looking a little weary – it’s so stimulating for them, though the excitement is starting to wear off now – the more experienced boating hounds, Lynx and Ranger, are asleep, new boy Archie is snoozing and Henry, well even Henry’s looking a bit jaded now, though he’s nowhere near ready to lie down yet.

But back to the Curly Wurly – it is the real hidden gem of the BCN – so rural – there are even cows in the adjacent fields and abundant flowers including huge mats of wild water lilies and vivid purple orchids. There were great swathes of lupins – escaped from adjacent gardens presumably, though I’ve seen lots of lupins along the New Main Line as well. We did meet another boat – last year’s winners nb Muskrat – some cheerful banter ensued – largely along the lines of “go slower and give us a chance to win” – I don’t they will though!

We met some more interesting characters here – three very young boys (8 years maybe) wandering down the offside path with a spraycan – they looked too young for graffiti or glue-sniffing but what do I know! They were friendly enough and were fascinated by the hounds, as was a character further down the towpath – a man who looked as if his nose had been bitten off at some time. He offered to toss a coin for the ownership of our dogs – no thanks!

Having enjoyed the twists and turns of the Curly Wurly, the Cannock Extension was amazingly straight, its uninterrupted vista giving the impression of great length. But it is short – just 1.5 miles – a nice distance to walk the hounds and for us to get the answer to the question! We cleared the prop again – a few plastic bags and a bit of tape – nothing too significant – the big bag that had fouled the prop enough for us to stop floated off before Richard got the weed hatch open.

We’re having a last bit of relaxation now before the serious locking starts at 4pm-ish!

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