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The Odyssey 2011: Day 18

Posted by indigodream on 23 June, 2011

Sunday 19th June

Star City to Fazeley Junction

The river Tame - flowing forgotten under the motorways...

The mooring was very quiet overnight – there hadn’t even been any noise from the towpath opposite. We’ve previously sought reassurance from other boaters who’ve moored here, but now we’ve found out for ourselves – the Star City mooring is a good spot for an overnight stay. It’s only 24-hour but I’m not sure you’d want to stay here longer unless you have kids on board – they’d find plenty of entertainment in Star City.

We were the only boat on the mooring, continuing the feeling that the BCN was our private waterway. Hence we were a bit surprised when a boat cruised past the mooring at 8.30am – they must have had an early start – the nearest ‘safe’ mooring is over an hour’s cruise away. The sound of movement on the water motivated us to shift and we got away around 9.30am.

So we were leaving Birmingham at last, and not without a few pangs – I’ve always maintained that the BCN is a canal of the mind – if you can come here with an open and positive mind then you’ll find plenty to delight the senses; but if you set your mind to the negative then you won’t see past the urban front to what lies beneath. Literally beneath – once again I marveled at the turn under the motorway – the first impression is that it’s totally barren – yet there’s the river Tame “just rollin’ along” and there were bright patches of colour from the wildflowers wherever the light penetrated the web of roads. There was also the melodic sound of birdsong, echoing resonantly under the distant rush of the traffic above.

Now, we’ve had one trip along the Birmingham and Fazeley canal in our share boat Dragonfly, many years ago, but we’ve never cruised it in this direction and not in Indigo Dream, so it really felt like new territory. Funnily enough, we have vivid memories of visiting Cuckoo Wharf on Dragonfly, but we have no memories of the canal leading to the junction – this is where the blog come in so useful!

Erdington Hall bridge - feels like a tunnel as the canal travels beneath an enormous factory - there are still doors on the offside linking building to canal - firmly locked now!

The first stretch through Minworth is admittedly  less scenic than some parts of the BCN – I think that many boaters come into Birmingham via this route and it’s a shame because this approach doesn’t reflect the nature of the rest of the navigation. However the towpath is in good repair and the surrounding industry is an interesting mix of old and modern.

The Minworth locks seemed to mark the boundary between city and rural navigations – Minworth bottom very markedly so, with the M6 crossing on a monumentally large and ugly bridge above and a traditional red brick footbridge below. It seemed to encapsulate all the contrasts inherent in the canals hereabouts. Funnily enough, Lou and Lynx were able to get off for a rummage at the locks – the canal is often flanked by various motorways but access to them is limited. Ty, of course, could not be trusted off lead, though he did have the odd bobble.

It was a lovely day – breezy with a mix of sunshine and cloud, though we had none of yesterday’s sharp showers. Both the weather and the scenery got better and better as the day went by. I’m amazed that I don’t remember it from our previous trip on Dragonfly. The Curdworth flight is great, with towpaths and locks that seem to have been rebuilt/restored/maintained over the last 10 years. We wondered whether the new landscaping at Curdworth top was part of a deal with the builders of the M6 toll – if so then it was worth it!

We had two dramas today – both on the Curdworth flight. It was lunchtime and in the distance there was that archetypal english sunday pursuit – yep, a huge car boot sale just winding down. As we descended the flight, there was a sudden billow of black smoke at the site, followed by the bright orange flare of flames – instead of organising a bucket chain, the remaining cars scarpered, leaving whatever it was to burn. It all looked very dramatic and I was amazed that there was no sign of the fire brigade – a forensic examination of our photos revealed that it was a rubbish skip on fire – was it an accident or is this how they dispose of their rubbish every time?

The view from the towpath at Fisher's Mill Bridge....

The other drama was with Ty – he seemed a little more settled today and the Curdworth locks are very rural, so where the towpath was well-fenced we could let him have a rummage – mainly on-lead. We got lulled into a false sense of security and we let him off at one lock – so far so good, he was calm and when he got spooked by a boat coming up the next lock he just ran back on board and hid in his bed. But then he came out again – all was well until I think he got scared of the two crew members walking up from the lock – Ty trotted back towards the boat – I didn’t grab him because he seemed to be heading back to his bed. Uh, unfortunately he carried on in a straight line, completely deaf to our calls (though his recall is pretty perfect when he’s not panicking). I was afraid he’d go right back to the previous road bridge (which we had thought was a safe distance away until we saw a greyhound heading for it at a steady but determined pace!) but he turned off the towpath into the adjacent field. Richard went after him and after some time he managed to catch Ty and bring him back – sadly this involved Richard quite literally dragging himself through a hedge backwards – Ty was fine but Richard was a little ragged around the edges!

We so enjoyed the Curdworth flight – the further down we went the more we enjoyed it as the scenery seemed to whirl around us, with new perspectives at each lock. As we moved out of Birmingham we started to encounter more boats – moored and moving, but the canal was hardly busy.

It’s amazing how far down you have to go get away from Birmingham – I’ve always known that the city is on a plateau but it’s not until you do the locks that you realise just how high it is. When I look back along the locks (be it here or at Stratford) I’m always surprised that Birmingham doesn’t stand out from the landscape like an urban Mount Fuji – now that would be a sight!

Once we got down the flight we decided to stop for a late lunch just beyond Fisher’s Mill Bridge. What a magnificent spot – the towpath is lush with wildflowers and I was very sad that we had to move on and couldn’t stay here a night or two. Not only is the towpath itself very attractive, but there are acres of lakes and meadows adjacent to the canal which seem to be criss-crossed by footpaths – great spot for the hounds. Predictably, our hounds were exhausted after rummaging down the flight and weren’t in the least bit interested in this fine spot we’d chosen for them!

The famous Fazeley folly....

After lunch we reluctantly moved on towards Fazeley junction – we needed to leave the boat for a week and were wondering where to moor when we decided to ring ahead to Fazeley Mill Marina. We checked their opening hours and availability of services and made arrangements to pop in for a pump-out and diesel.We weren’t desperate for a pump-out but we wanted to clean out the tank before giving our new (to us) toilet solution “biomagic” a good try – we’d used it last weekend but weren’t sure if we’d got the dosage right as we were adding it to a half full tank. We didn’t seem to have added enough because the tank was still a bit whiffy this weekend. So now we’ll start from scratch – with these organic types it’s hard to know whether the different solutions that we’ve used interact to cancel each other out. With the tank as clean as it gets (the boatyard obligingly rinsed the tank very thoroughly), Biomagic can hopefully get to work uninterrupted – we’ll let you know how we get on. We haven’t forgotten the ‘brewer’s yeast’ suggested by Bruce – it’ll be the next option if this doesn’t work.

The man in charge of the boatyard was helpfulness personified and we found out that, for the first time ever, they’ve decided to keep a short-term mooring space – £6.50 per night with shore power available for a little extra. So we became their first short-term moorer and Richard deftly reversed Indigo Dream into her temporary home. It’s a friendly marina – the denizens waved and said hello and we had an extended chat with our neighbour on nb Metal Molly – a 32′ boat which she is doing up as a project to sell; though she’s already falling in love with the little craft and wondering whether she’ll have the heart to sell her!

Richard got a cab back to car in Pelsall and I washed the boat and started the somewhat arduous task of giving her a coat of polish – the paint on the bow was looking particularly tired. She’s a long boat so I didn’t get the job done before Richard returned so he helped me to finish. Despite the somewhat battered gunwhales I have to say that Indigo Dream looked fantastic after being polished – she gleamed in the last of the afternoon’s sunshine and we could see our reflections in the paintwork – nice to know that the paintwork is still in good enough condition to take a shine. If you spot us on our travels then you must only look at out left hand side, don’t look at the unpolished, dusty, dirty right hand side.

Having been caught out in traffic jams so often recently, we decided to get a chinese takeaway and eat before we left – good decision. On his way back, Richard was ambushed by some of the marina moorers who wished to advise him that there is a local tax on takeaways, particularly if you have pancake rolls. He was lucky, he forgot to order pancake rolls. We left the marina around 7pm and there was relatively little traffic on the road so we had a good trip home.

We’d been very worried about Ty’s mental state over the weekend and were afraid that there might be long-term trauma, but we needn’t have worried – the second his paws touched the “green green grass of home” he transformed into “Ty the brave” and trotted around happy and confident – we were so relieved…


Looking back towards the Star City moorings...

Fearsome defences here - it is a rough area but we had a quiet night on the nearby moorings...

Typically industrial landscape through Minworth - remember canals were built for industry!!!

This factory looks old but also looks as if it's in use - wonder what happens there. If I ruled the world, canalside industries would have signs to tell nosey boaters what their business was!

Fishing competition in Minworth...

I wondered what Tyburn House was - it looks so gothic, but it's a pub, built in 1930 in a tudor style. The Tybrun area was believed to named after London's notorious Tyburn - apparently Birmingham's Tyburn was a lawless place, famous for it's highwaymen!

Is this an old pit wheel, now used for decoration? Hard to believe that coal was the big industry hereabouts...

View down to Minworth top lock...

The frontier - the view up from Minworth bottom lock....

The frontier - view down to Minworth bottom lock..

Lou was unusually active today and kept a lookout from the deck for most of the day...

There are little windows in quite a few of the bridges around here - you'd think there was a room behind but there are no doors! The locals we asked about them were, sadly, too cheerfully inebriated to give a sensible answer 🙂

Broad Bulk Bridge - those are the first boats moored on the towpath that we've seen since leaving Pelsall...

View from Curdworth Top Lock - it's all so immaculate here - the gate are dated 2001 - I wonder whether there was a big improvement programme here at that time...

Curdworth Top lock - immaculate!

I wonder where this arm used to go to? It's totally built over now....

Approaching the second Curdworth lock - we were surrounded by fields of oilseed rape - now covered with tiny grey green 'pods' ...

View down the main Curdworth flight...

Lou found a comfy lockside bed and stayed there - her ears show that she could hear us calling but she wasn't going anywhere - two locks further down and Richard had to cycle back to get her!

Fire Fire! Photo 1 - watch how the position of the 'car boot' van changes in the sequence....

Fire Fire! Photo 2 - things are getting a bit hot....

Fire Fire! Photo 3 - oops, bit out of control - just as well it's rained recently....

Fire Fire! Photos 4 - all burnt out - well, that's one way to get rid of the rubbish 🙂

What a lovely flight - and so beautifully maintained...

English landscape....

Useful pub - especially if you've just run/cycled between locks - see Richard, Lynx and Lou on the towpath...

Curdworth bottom lock with its picturesque swing bridge (left open)....

Poppies at Curdworth bottom lock...

The rare sight of moored boats - the front boat hailed us from their side hatch and offered us Sunday dinner - the lady of the boat told Richard that her yorkshire puddings were marvellous - oooh errr missus!!!

Idyllic mooring spot just past Fisher's Mill Bridge - the bank is very even so no plank needed....

Two swallows - so why doesn't it feel more like summer? 🙂

3 Responses to “The Odyssey 2011: Day 18”

  1. Andy said

    The little windows in the bridges were, I believe, for storage of stop planks.
    Curdworth top lock was relocated when the road was built, the original was just the other side of the bridge and parts of it can be seen on the offside.

  2. indigodream said

    Thanks Andy, it looked as if the lock had been moved – nice to get confirmation. They did a good job of the rebuild….

  3. Andy said

    I have just been looking on Google Earth and they have a nice selection of aerial photos of the area, including one taken during construction of the lock. I now see why there is that nice wide area on the offside (which I find useful for letting Lyra have a good run about without risking losing her toy in the canal), it was where the cut was diverted into when they were building the lock.

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