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Archive for June 21st, 2011

The Odyssey 2011: Day 17

Posted by indigodream on 21 June, 2011

Pelsall to Star City

Friday 17th June

Leaving Pelsall - the Curly Wyrley is well worth a visit...

Richard got out of work early so that we could drive up to the boat in the afternoon, hopefully missing the worst of the M25. We got the car packed and got as far as our local filling station when we started to debate the wisdom of the trip – we’d just heard an adverse traffic report on the radio. We couldn’t face going home and unpacking so we carried on and got snarled up in a monstrous queue – after 1.5 hours on the motorway we’d travelled around 15 miles – the only trouble was, we couldn’t turn back because there was a 3-hour delay on the other carriageway so it was actually faster for us to drive the remaining 130-odd miles to Birmingham rather than the 20-odd miles home!

On we toiled – stopping for a reviving coffee at the Oxford services – at least the M40 was in better condition than the M25. This may have been a mistake because Ty got frightened – even staying in the car (we thought a walk near so many cars would be too much for him). But the caffeine did us good – Richard was driving so as the rain abated and the traffic improved, he put his foot down – even so we arrived 5 minutes too late. As we pulled into the pub car park there was a suspiciously organic explosive noise – we hastened to get the dogs out – too late – Ty had had a small but dramatic bout of the dire rear – in the boot – euuww! Richard bundled the dogs off and I cleaned the car – luckily there wasn’t too much damage – the worst of it was on Ty’s duvet – which, after a quick sloosh in the canal, was condemned! Richard was downhearted – Ty was a jelly boy bag of nerves – we haven’t seen him so bad since we first got him. It’s a shame because it set the tone for the weekend – once Ty is in a state it’s very hard to get him out of it (short of taking him home, which wasn’t an option).

When we left the house just after 4pm we’d joked that our only deadline was to get to the Fingerpost pub by 8.45pm in time for the last food orders -as it happened we only just made it! We had a good meal at the pub and a few beers made the world a better place – it’s a comfortable pub with fine food and pleasant service. The boat had been perfectly safe and unmolested on the moorings – even though they were now deserted – only Indigo Dream and one other boat (that had moved in that afternoon) were left to show that this is a working navigation.

Lynx relaxing at the Brownhills Services ...

Despite the therapeutic effect of the beer, we were still a little frazzled when we got back on board (thankfully no more dire rear!) – we were too tired to do anything useful, but not sleepy enough for bed. I was wandering around aimlessly, picking up books, jobs, laptop and then putting them down again, when a sharp rap at the galley window gave my heart a kick start! It was Captain Ahab with daughter Susie – they were in the area and had popped in on the off chance that we were still moored here. I can’t tell you what a delightful hour we had over coffee – Susie quickly grabbed a small slice of sofa next to Lou and proved to be a competent hound-fusser – she can call again! Captain A is always interesting company with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the canals. The BCN marathon challenge results were chewed over, again, together with some strategies for next time – this will be a hot topic for the next several months! We compared summer cruising plans and there is a chance that we will meet up again later in the year – though that may be on the Trent, with our boats being swept along too fast for other than a hurried greeting!

We’re so glad that they called – it completely turned the evening around and when they left we were contented enough to have a good night’s sleep.

Saturday 18th May

What a mooring! It was a silent and peaceful as any we’ve had, with the bonus of fantastic dog-walking all around – I could imagine having a weekend here (well Richard did!) just to rest and relax. We were up early (by our standards) and I took the hounds for a long walk – Ty had to be on the lead but he wasn’t quite the nervous wreck of the previous night. There is a good circular walk here – cross over the canal at Pelsall Junction then cross over the arm and follow a meandering path along the rough heath until you get to the next canal bridge – cross over and walk back along the canal. The heathland is part of Pelsall nature reserve and apparently deer are a common sight – luckily the greyhounds didn’t spot any!

The towpaths are rich with wildflowers at the moment - I guess that the plants are making the best of the rain after the dry spring...

We set off at 10am-ish along a deserted canal – we didn’t see another boat on the move until we got to Rushall Junction in the late afternoon. We dragged our heels a little bit – we were sad to be leaving Birmingham and the friends that we’ve made here. Still, we had the rest of the Curly Wyrley to enjoy, the Daw End branch, the Rushall Canal – a real treat, especially as we could take it a little slower than on the challenge and take time for photos!

We stopped off at the excellent services at Brownhills – the service block is well-fenced and once we’d checked that the gate was secure we could even let Ty off for a rummage. We got rid of the stricken car duvet here and filled the tank with water. The entrance to the Tesco store is just behind the services so I wandered off to top up our supplies while Richard sorted the boat out. Unfortunately there isn’t a pump-out here but we weren’t desperate so not a problem. When I got back from Tesco a family had inhabited the picnic tables at the service point – I think they were waiting for someone – Lynx and Lou were suitably tarty and got their fair share of fuss! Ty was back on board – he spent his moment of freedom trying to get into the facilities block – I think he hoped to find his home duvet there!

With the boat stocked up, we moved along to the accompaniment of hot sun and cold showers – the canal was ours to appreciate and we did! The Daw End branch is great – surprisingly rural with great views across the surrounding landscape – we’re so high here. We passed the boatyard at Daw End and enquired about pump-outs – they do have a facility here but you have to use their card – standard BW cards don’t work. Unfortunately the office is closed at weekends so we carried on. A little further on there’s an aqueduct over the railway and the scenery to the right become even more lush as the canal passed the Park Lime Pits country park/nature reserve – it’s a lovely spot with a useful canalside car park.

We soon got to the top of the Rushall flight (no pump-out here either but there is a water point) – time for the dogs to have another bobble. Lynx soon found his way onto the adjacent golf course, followed by Lou – they both enjoyed a good rummage. I followed with Ty on the lead – I bundled the other two back onto the towpath (there were golfers about and a racing greyhound on the green might have put them off their stroke). Ty seemed reasonably relaxed so I did a quick risk assessment and let him off for a run down towards Richard at the second lock – so far so good, though Ty seemed to be walking/running a bit awkwardly – time to review the dose of valium that we’re giving him (at weekends only when on the boat). Ty ran back to me and I got him back on the lead – no problem, until I wanted to get him back on the boat – no way! We had to manhandle him on board, but he wasn’t happy and managed to wriggle back past us and jumped over the deck doors – he ran along the towpath looking for a car to leap into (there’s a boat club car park here). Luckily a cyclist came down the path at this point and Ty turned back towards Richard and was caught.

nb Widdershins - the only other boat on the move...

Ty was locked on board for the rest of the flight, though it wasn’t such a hardship – the lower locks in the flight are criss-crossed by roads so all the dogs were confined indoors – Lynx was not impressed!

There was plenty of water in the flight until we got to the pound between locks 5 and 6 which was, essentially, empty – we couldn’t see any reason for it but Richard sluiced enough water down so that I could inch the boat into the next lock. The ducks seemed to be enjoying the exposed mud in the low pound – maybe they’d let the water out 🙂

As we cruised along the stretch between Rushall bottom lock and the junction I got a sudden view across to the Tame Valley Canal and its attendant motorways – we were still at an awesome height, despite having descended 65′ via 9 locks.

As we approached Rushall Junction we met nb Widdershins – the only boat of the day – we exchanged cheerful greetings and took photos of them – another boat was such a novel sight!

There were some cheerful fishermen at the junction – a bit awkwardly placed so I came out too straight for the right turn and did an unintended winding manoeuvre with the bow pinned to the far bank – oops!

So now we were on the Tame Valley canal – not my favourite bit of the BCN, but at least this stretch is a bit more interesting with its deep cuttings and high bridges. There is also an incongruous shore base here, complete with a model cannon – “training ship leopard” – home to the local branch of the sea cadets.

View from the Rushall Canal looking over to the various viaducts and aqueducts carrying transport across the Team Valley..

We reached Perry Barr top lock in the late afternoon – we’d planned a long day’s cruise so we pressed on down the locks. We had an incident-free passage – there a path on both sides so we were able to let the hounds out for a rummage on the less busy “offside” – we daren’t let Ty off the lead here! There were a few walkers around – one couple had moved into the area some months previously and regularly walked along the canal – we were the first boat they had ever seen – what a shame.

Well, when I say ‘incident-free’ we did have a duck drama – as the boat was going down one of the locks a woman, her dog and a quacking duck came charging up to the lock. We hadn’t realised but there were seven tiny ducklings in the lock with us, no idea how we missed them as we do try to stay alert for stowaways in locks. I looked down the length of the boat and there were two duckling paddling down between the boat and the lock wall – I tried to push the boat away so that they wouldn’t get squished, but I hadn’t realised that there were five ducklings proceeding down between the lock and the boat on the other side. I had a net out, hoping that they would come close enough for me to catch, but they stayed at an inaccessible point throughout. Richard closed one paddle completely, half dropped the other and we waited for the lock to gently empty but I daren’t move the boat – Richard opened the bottom gates and the ducklings finally got the message and swam out of the lock to rejoin their mum in the pound. All seven ducklings survived their encounter in the lock – we were amazed!

It was quite late by the time we got to Spaghetti junction – a barren mass of concrete and brick with new transport routes build over old until the original river and canal feel as if they’re lost to the world.

We had a bit of bother here – a group for eight asian lads saw us coming and went up to the footbridge over the canal – the youngest was perhaps eight, the oldest in their mid-teens. They waved and were a bit cheeky and we thought we’d get away without any bother but then as we’d almost passed, a still lit cigarette butt came wafting down onto the boat roof. As we pulled away, they got ready with the stones, though we were out of range by now. Richard got the camera out and took a photos of the boys – one pursued us a short way down the towpath, but as Richard took many photos of him, he just gave us an expletive-laden finger and wandered back to his gang. It could have been a lot worse – the canal is narrow here as the mighty pillars supporting the motorway encroach on the navigation – we would have been very close to the towpath if they’d decided to pursue us. But then again, as I mused in the pub later, if they were criminal masterminds capable of working these things out then they wouldn’t be chucking stones at boats – they’d be international bankers :-). Do not be put off, this could and does happen anywhere, we were not in danger!

The incident took a bit of gloss off the day, but couldn’t dent our fascination for this stretch – it’s quite unique to cruise unregarded under the multiple layers of motorways and to look down at the river Tame – flowing cowed but undefeated beneath us.

Secure moorings at Star City...

By now it was gone 6pm and we wondered how far to go. Cruising ’til dark would take us to the centre of the alleged bandit territory of Minworth so we decided to stop at Star City. Getting there was it’s own entertainment – we’d decided to reverse from the junction to the moorings – simple on paper but considerably complicated by the sleeping bag that got wrapped around the prop along the way. We stopped off in the convenient narrows to wrestle the sleeping bag from the prop and the people from the adjacent cottage came out to offer their help. They were charming, but really there’s only room for one person down the weed hatch. The cottage was protected by a fearsome amount of razor wire – apparently they get angry locals banging on the door thinking that it’s a BW property – the locals get very agitated when they can’t get through the gates further down the canal (if I understand it rightly). They warned us that the area was very rough but reassured us that the Star City moorings, now tantalisingly close, were safe.

With the prop free of encumberances, Richard brought her neatly into the mooring – we were very impressed – the pontoon looks brand new, with good access to the shore. The mooring place is securely gated and the fence encloses a good area of mown grass and a few trees – just enough to entertain three tired hounds. We set off to the Star City complex – there’s a wide range of eateries and entertainment opportunities here – we were tired and settled for the Old Orleans restaurant – pricey but just what we fancied.

We felt very secure at the mooring and it was surprisingly quiet – there was a bit of traffic noise – inevitable with the huge car park on one side and spaghetti junction on the other – but that soon died down and we had a peaceful night’s sleep…..

Photoblog:

There's a mixture of old and new bridges on the BCN...

This iron trough would look mighty fine with a lick of paint...

looking back towards Brownills with Tesco on the right...

These platforms were spaced our regularly along the canal - you'd think they were for fishing apart from the tidy picnic sets and benches on them!

Looking up the Anglesey branch - we'll get up there one day...

Look at that view - it would be even better in early spring/late autumn when the surrounding trees are bare...

Brawn's bridge - named for John Brawn - the engineer who mainly constructed the Wyrley and Essington canal...

The boathouse pub by Daw End bridge - we liked the 'lock gates' feature in the garden - it looked like a tidy pub but the Manor Arms a little further on has a better write-up in the guides....

View back to the aqueduct over the railway and the path to the adjacent lime pits nature reserve..

Waterlilies on the Rushall Canal...

Picturesque cottage at Rushall lock 3

Vintage plane - it looked as if it was coming in to land - I wonder where....

Rosebay willowherb - a weed of the wastelands - a colourful replacement for the old canalside industries...

Boat wash....

Looking across to the BT Tower in the centre of Birmingham - it's a long climb down the valley and back up again to get there....

Perry Barr top lock...

The lock cottage is for sale - a reasonable £335k - mind you the adjacent canal services have been closed due to vandalism 0 hmmmm...

Historic structure at Perry Barr top lock...

mum and ducklings after their narrow escape....

Richard removing a bit of tree from the approach to Perry Barr lock 3...

View up the main flight at Perry Barr...

The old grid house at the bottom of the Perry Barr flight - we both thought that this building had deteriorated since we last passed this way - or is that our memoeries failing...

Charming - luckily the missile was small and his aim atrocious - this photo (and a couple of others) are going off to the local police. Hopefully they will tell his mother who no doubt will have a lot to say about being dumb ....

Approaching the monumental spaghetti junction...

More bridges and columns emerge as you get deeper into the tangle of spaghetti junction..

It's very barren under spaghetti junction yet wildlife always finds a way - this heron was fishing right underneath the whole pile of motorways...

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