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Archive for June 12th, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 16

Posted by indigodream on 12 June, 2011

We are a week behind – yet again – sorry!

Monday 30th May

The morning after…..

Leaving Walsall Basin....

On the Monday after the marathon we woke full of half-hearted intentions involving moving the boat, the car but firstly ourselves. The many boats that had moored overnight had mainly disappeared by the time we emerged – at 7.30am! I was impressed, it was seriously persisting with rain – a perfect day for sitting indoors drinking coffee and reliving the previous 48 hours!

After discussing and rejecting many plans we went for the simplest – move the boat from Walsall Town Arm into the basin proper and leave her there for the week. Richard had talked to some of the remaining boaters and found that a few, including the BCNS vintage work boats Atlas and Malus, were also mooring in the basin for a week. This made us feel more secure. We moved into the basin against an adverse wind (aren’t they all!?), Richard got a cab back to the bottom of the Wolverhampton flight, where he’d left the car, and I packed up. It was all very efficient and by lunchtime we were on the road, heading for home along the spray-laden motorways. We hoped that the torrential rain had reached our parched garden, but as we approached London there was line in the sky – sodden rain filled clouds on one side and a sun-kissed veil on the other – the garden was left gasping for a drink! I was glad to get home – I was working in Belfast on Tuesday so it was turning out to be a rather busy week!

Saturday 4th June

Walsall Town Basin to Pelsall Junction

Last Sunday we expressed regret that we hadn’t encouraged our guests to shower – not that they were smelly (!) – but it is a refreshing thing for tired minds and bodies; by Monday morning we were delighted that they hadn’t, because our taps started to stutter. With no water point at the basin, our decision to come back on the Saturday was entirely driven by our boat’s water supply (or lack thereof)!

However we were to have one of those days that made the relentless efficiency of last week’s challenge seem like a distant dream!

View up to Birchills Bottom lock...

We were slow to get going on Saturday morning, and, after a crawling drive, arrived at the boat around midday – we were relieved to see that she was absolutely fine – no sign of damage or molestation of any sort. The nearby path was strewn with broken glass but we carefully picked our way around it with the hounds – not carefully enough as it transpired…..

The weather in Birmingham was unseasonably wet and windy, unlike the heatwave we’d left behind in Surrey- I had to rush to put on extra layers and my waterproof boots. Richard had spotted a car valet place near to the town basin and treated my car to a thorough valet inside and out – this meant that the car was in a secure place while we moved the boat – good plan. He then took the dogs for a bobble before we decamped to Costa for lunch. So far so good-ish….

After filling up with Costa coffee, we got back to boat in good but slightly soggy spirits – I walked through the boat to open the front doors, all oblivious, then as I walked back I noticed a 3-inch puddle of thick red blood on the floor, then I noticed more blood splashed across the sofa sheepskins – the ones that I’d just washed and put back clean an hour previously (not that it matters!). A hurried inspection revealed a nasty cut on Lynx’s foot – I couldn’t get it to stop bleeding – even with all the first aid available on board. So we found a vet that was open and got Lynx an appointment. Of course, the car was unavailable, so poor Lynx had to walk a mile to the vet, though the cut wasn’t bothering him half as much as the bandage and protective boot he was wearing! The vet was running behind so we had almost an hour wait, with Lynx getting increasingly anxious – uncharacteristic for him. We were relieved to see a very pleasant vet – he knew our local Surrey surgery very well, having once applied for a job there (and turned it down for complicated personal reasons!) – he’d also been to college with Lynx’s home vet – small world! Anyway, he did a thorough investigation of Lynx’s foot and we were relieved when he decided not to stitch the wound, instead he applied a big pressure bandage, administered a painkilling injection and an antibiotic – the latter stings, so Lynx decided to give Walsall his best greyhound death screams…..

View down from Birchills Bottom Lock - actually, the area looks pretty good in these photos - you really have to be in the mood for Birmingham!

(Vets were at 58, Lichfield St, Walsall , WS4 2BX Tel: 01922 622280, this could be the start of a guide to Vets to be read alongside the guide to moorings)

By the time we got back to the boat, Lynx was thoroughly fed up and we were a little stressed – we HAD to move today and it was almost 4pm by the time we set off from the basin. The unhandy wind gusted up, making it difficult to get off our mooring and it made for some interesting passages through the narrows. As I took the helm I thought the prop felt a bit sticky; as I turned toward the Birchills flight and dropped Richard off onto the towpath I remarked that the prop had picked up some debris but it could wait until after I’d gone up the lock. How wrong I was – as I came in to moor the prop stopped dead and the brisk wind blew me off the moorings towards the shallow offside. Frantic shouting brought Richard back from the lock and with some effort I finally got a rope to shore so he could pull me in. There followed something of a pantomime – Richard went down the weed hatch – I went to set the lock – shutting the top gate and fishing a panel of plywood out of the top paddle sluice – then I had to I walk back to the boat – I’d forgotten the anti-vandal key – when I got there Richard was pulling a classy (NOT!)  red chiffon scarf with gold tinsel edging from the prop –  I walked back to set the lock then I walked back down to the boat – I’d picked up the wrong anti-vandal key –  Richard was still pulling out metres of red chiffon scarf, a jean skirt, some underwear, some rope and plastic and a bit of net and fishing line (in fact almost as much in one hit as we picked up on the whole BCN challenge – I walked back up and finally set the lock – as I opened the gates, Richard finally finished unwinding the scarf from the prop!!

By now I was NOT well disposed towards the Birchills flight – it seemed dismal and rubbish-strewn. That’s a shame because this was the last frontier – the only flight of locks on the BCN that we hadn’t travelled (not counting the three up to the southern portal of the Dudley Tunnel – currently closed). Unfortunately at this stage I was weary and worried – about Lynx’s foot, about our ambitious plans for Sunday, about taking the boat up the flight so late in the day. Here’s the spoiler – it turned out that there was nothing to worry about, but I didn’t know that then!

I wasn’t in the mood, but Richard thought that the flight was “really nice with good gates, properly greased mechanisms, nice towpath and interesting views – a delight to work up”.  I will agree with him that Walsall Town Basin is well worth a visit – cheap beer in Wharf Inn, decent Weatherspons nearby (head for the Bus Station) and a convenient town centre with a mix of modern and historical features.

We met some lads hanging around the middle lock – I’d seen them from a distance and was worried – but they were fine and very curious about the boat – they hadn’t seen one on the flight before!

We reached top lock and its water point just after 5.30pm – just enough time for Richard to cycle back to recover the car. He set off, leaving me to dispose of our marathon rubbish and fill the water tank. The water pressure was very low so there was plenty of time for Richard to get the car and meet me back at the lock, but he was back in a surprisingly short time – ah, he’d forgotten his wallet and hadn’t realised until he reached the valet place – he’d had to cycle back uphill to the boat then cycle back down again! I settled down to some more tank watching – anxiously awaiting trouble – but there was none – it was very quiet at top lock and with a nearby pub, social club and residential moorings there were plenty of refuges around if there had been any bother. It was funny but Ty felt relaxed enough here to have a very long wee….

View down the Birchills locks - the new build and old canalside conversions work well together - I like to see old canalside building being used...

I did have a very wry thought – Lynx was lying on deck on one the bloodsoaked sheepskins – I did wonder whether the sight of it would scare any local lowlife – ” see, that’s what happened to the last trespasser!” 😉

Richard soon came back with a car that I didn’t recognise as my own – it was gleaming inside and out – a huge achievement as my car has been used as a dog-mobile since I bought it and, through lack of use, has been known to grow a flourishing ecosystem of moss and algae on the window seals! If you’re tempted, the valet place is immediately south of the basin on the corner of Navigation Street and Marsh Street, they did a fantastic job and their charges are exceedingly reasonable. Shame they don’t valet boats really!

We waited and waited for the water tank to fill – in the end we gave up – there was enough for a couple of days. Richard gave the boat a wash and we parted again – Richard was taking the car to the Finger Post pub in Pelsall – he’d cycle back to meet me, and I’d take Indigo Dream along the lock-free stretch. Our timing was perfect – as we got the boat ready to go, some more youths turned up at the lock and started the inevitable questions – “is that your boat” (yes) “can we have a lift?” (No!) but they were amiable enough and not at all threatening.

As I set off I noticed that there are 48-hour moorings here – I would doubt the ones on the towpath side, but there is one space on the offside (on the same side as the services) – it is gated and secured with a BW padlock – useful.

I set off along the Walsall Canal – another unexplored stretch – luckily I hadn’t gone far before I got a phonecall from Richard – I’d got the car keys – it really was one of those days! He walked up to meet me, keys were exchanged and on I went. The Walsall Canal was quiet and flanked by reeds, yellow irisis and waterlilies – you could easily forget where you were!

I soon reached the junction with the Wyrley and Essington and turned towards Pelsall. Now I was on very familiar ground, but I had a fancy that the canal was sliding back into sleepy dereliction after all the activity last weekend. There seemed to be more trash on the water and the vegetation had started to creep across the surface again. Well, almost, I knew that nb Atlas and butty Malus had come this way earlier in the day – the channel that they’d cleared through the turbid surface made a great path for me.

The bywashes below the locks are a bit fierce...

There were a few people out and about on the towpath – mainly cheerful dog walkers and fishermen, all very surprised to see the boat (bet they got a shock on over the next few days as 124 boats made their way to Pelsall!!); there were a few lovers walking hand-in-hand and a few teenagers walking ‘hand down girlfriend’s jumper’ – all very innocent. There were a few hard-eyed youths around but they didn’t offer any impertinence – some even relented enough to ask questions about the dogs (Lou usefully stood guard over the injured Lynx, who was being extremely pathetic on deck). Despite my imagination populating the towpath with every manner of desperado, I had no bother at all – I mused that boats are such an infrequent sight along here that the local troublemakers hadn’t thought to get equipped for mischief!

By now it was getting cold on deck – although it was dry, and the unheated cabin was very warm, the wind just cut through the helm and chilled me to the bone. When I checked the Nicholson’s I realised that I was only 2 miles from my destination – had I missed Richard cycling back? I gave him a ring – he’d been distracted by the kind offer of tea from the crew of Atlas and Malus, moored at Pelsall Junction. The canal was so quiet that it would have been daft for him to cycle to meet me, so I told him to have another cuppa while I cruised on to met him. I actually had a very good trip – the canal seemed deeper than last weekend and I got some decent mile-eating revs going (while staying within the speed limit of course…).

I met Richard just beyond Pelsall Junction and we moored up by the pub – it was a bit shallow but we were able to get within 6 inches of the bank so no need for a plank (essential with our accident-prone hounds). It’s a good spot – the canal is flanked by generous parkland – perfect for dog-walking, though the road was too close for us to let scaredy boy Ty off the lead.

I’d moored up just after 8.30pm and we dashed off to the Fingerpost pub before last food orders at 8.45pm. We had a great pub meal here – very generous portions! A little later we were joined by the crew of Malus and Atlas who regaled us with tales of their very interesting cruising life, both on the BCNS boats and their own nb Tiger Cub. We had a great evening, especially as we’ve had an unofficial heads up on the BCN Challenge results and spent some time comparing our strategies and plotting for the next challenge.

The influence of good food, good company and a few beers put us into a better frame of mind and we went back to the boat rather less stressed than we’d left it…..


Circular bywash reminiscent of those on the Shroppie...

What a great vista....

No problem.....

Leaving Birchills Top Lock - see that mooring on the right - that's secured by a padlocked gate - handy!

Fishley Lane Bridge on the Wyrley and Essington - it has the look of a turnover bridge but the towpath doesn't cross over here - quite a monumental design for a footbridge...

This photo is very blurred but these are 'early purple orchids' growing on the Wyrley and Essington Canal - how unexpected is that.... (The Jameisons have photos of another one of their blog

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