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BCN Challenge 2017: The Results!

Posted by indigodream on 20 June, 2017

June 2017

First of all a big “Thank You” to our faithful and diligent crew – none of whom jumped ship during a very busy weekend – humans Kristel, Ian and Christine and greyhound crew Archie, Henry, Alex and Freya πŸ™‚


Secondly, a massive thank you to the BCN Society who keep this wonderful event alive – they work so hard to keep every section of the BCN open , even when certain locals are working hard to turn them into linear landfills!

And thirdly a big “Thank You” to everyone who sponsored our good causes – we were very late getting our JustGiving pages set up but you are all amazingly generous and raised ALMOST Β£500 (that’s before Gift Aid!) for three Birmingham Greyhound Trust branches – Hall Green, Perry Barr and Wolverhampton. We really appreciate your support – knowing that we can help a good cause keeps us going, despite the lure of a few fine canalside pubs along the way πŸ™‚
In 22 hours (we got to the finish line a bit earlier than expected!) we cruised 48 miles and did 51 locks. Now that’s a LOT, but fewer lock miles than we’ve covered in previous challenges because it’s all about the points! The BCN Society are very canny when writing the scoring rules (they change every year) – we have a convoluted spreadsheet which plots different routes and on this year’s scoring system, a lock-heavy route yielded fewer points. This felt counter-intuitive as our super-crew means that we are phenomenally fast through locks, but the shallow-sided areas of canals such as the Wyrley and Essington mean that we simply can’t get any faster than 2.5mph on some sections. When we totted our totals at the end of the Challenge we were convinced we were nowhere in the running….

The lovely commemorative plaque – we’re still trying to work out the significance of the hand and the sword but it looks impressive!

So to the results –Β  the diligent BCNS scoring team spent days counting and recounting the points – there were fewer than two points between the top three boats and the top six have never been closer…
  • In first place – nb Tawny Owl with 293.225 points
  • In second place – nb Firefly 292.85 points….
  • In third place – nb Indigo Dream with 291.8 points
Wow, we’d done so much better than we’d anticipated and had come third for the third time!
Either of the followingΒ  would have won us the challenge:
  • Cruising an extra two miles (or two locks) anywhere on the BCN!
  • Cruising up to the Titford Pools above the finish line


We did get one quiz question wrong at Birchills Junction – that was worth 3 points – but having seen the answer I don’t think we’d have got it in a million years!

There’s a life lesson here – we defeated ourselves because we deliberately passed by opportunities to gain one or two points because we thought we were more like 50 points adrift of the win!
Now we’re super-motivated for next time because although we doubted our strategy of chasing the points rather than the lock miles, we were actually spot on! We WILL win this challenge one day πŸ˜€
Note: Although we compete for the overall challenge there are two hotly-contested trophies that we’ve never aspired to:
  • The Trolley Trophy – for the extensive and inventive debris dragged from the canal and brought to the finish line – won by nb Maxwell
  • The best dressed boat – won by nb Giddy
Here’s the full results table:
TAWNY OWL 293.225
FIREFLY 292.85
TATY LUCY 286.425
TALISMAN No3 281.025
DOVE 266.1
MISBOURNE No3 240.575
WILLOW 237.55
DODGY 235.05
SQUIRE 226.425
CHARLEY B 218.25
A J FELGATE 217.675
REARSBY 211.25
DORA VENUS 208.875
MIKA 201.35
GIDDY 188.05
JOANNA & No37 185.275
AMPHORA 182.275
RED WHARF 170.65
VULPES 164.5
ARTU 161.235
CRANE 142.7
CECILIA 106.75
BEAU 93.925
NOTOS 82.5


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BCN Challenge 2017: Day 2 in detail

Posted by indigodream on 19 June, 2017

Sunday 28th May

4am start? No thanks!

Because we’d had an indulgent 10pm finish on Saturday, we needed to be up and cruising by 4am. We set the alarms for 3.45am and although the human crew got up willingly enough, the greyhound crew were deeply unimpressed and snuggled down in the duvets, hoping that we weren’t actually serious!

We had deliberately overnighted on a lock-free pound so that the first up could single-hand while the rest of the crew got organised. Richard took the helm and got us away at dead on 4am. Although we had calculated that sun wouldn’t rise until 4.55am-ish, I had thought a false dawn might give us some light for cruising but it was far darker than I expected. The weather was cool and a little overcast and we didn’t have the benefit of moon and starlight as we’d had on previous dawn excursions.

Sunrise πŸ™‚

Once we got moving, the hounds consented to get up – it was easy enough to drop the dog-walking crew off at one bridge and pick them up at the next without losing any time. No-one fancied any breakfast at 4am, but we topped up on warm danish pastries a little later so that the crew would have enough energy for the Rushall flight.

Although the Anglesey Arm had a fair few points attached, by the time we got to Catshill Junction we figured that we were managing less than 3mph and we’d be too pushed for time if we ventured up the arm so we turned, with some reluctance, towards the Rushall flight. By the time we got to top lock the sun had risen and it was promising to be a glorious day. There was a boat going down in front of us, which meant we had to turn every lock, but we still moved quickly and smoothly down the flight.

A magical dawn on the Curly Wyrly πŸ™‚

I looked out for the swallows that used to inhabit the shaded eaves of low bridges along the flight, but was disappointed not to see any – I wonder whether they just decided not to migrate back to Birmingham or were the nests removed – I hope it was the former.

We participated in a wildlife rescue at one lock – the lock was almost empty, with Indigo Dream getting ready to move out when the shore crew far above called out that there was a hedgehog in the water. We sadly assume it was dead, but then the crew saw it move! I reversed Indigo Dream to the back of the lock (we were well below the cill by then) and ran to the front of the boat with our little children’s toy fishing net. I crawled onto the bow and managed to get the hedgehog into the net and by doing so I learnt three things:

  • Hedgehogs are very strong swimmers
  • Hedgehogs are very heavy for their size
  • A child’s toy fishing net is only just strong enough to lift a sodden hedgehog from the water!

It took some effort to lift the little animal up to the shore crew, but we made it! The poor little thing seemed exhausted and shock – we put it in the shelter of a nearby hedgerow and moved on. Luckily the hounds weren’t around, though for the life of me I can’t remember where they were – the Rushall is good for dog-walking once you get past the road bridges so they might have been lock-wheeling with Richard.

The supremacy of canal over road πŸ™‚

We were soon at Newton Junction and turned right onto the Tame Valley canal. Because we are so efficient at locking we had wondered whether to change our strategy and go the other way – down the Perry Barr flight, up Aston and Farmer’s Bridge then on to the finish line. But we had calculated that was a high effort/low point route so we stuck to our plan.

I love the Tame Valley canal – in the bright sunshine it was hard to imagine that the overnight cruisers had been stoned by youths along this lush waterway. I was pleased that we hadn’t run the gauntlet, because by day the Tame Valley canal showed its best face to our BCN newbies, Kristel and Ian. The views from the Tame Valley are spectacular – from the aqueduct soaring above the M6 to the long view across to the centre of Birmingham, perched high on its plateau. With the awareness of just how many locks there are between the outside world and Birmingham, I think that boaters have a unique understanding of the city’s complex geography.

We soon caught up with another Challenge boat who were taking it easy – absolutely their prerogative, but we’re contenders! We sighed, then we gnashed our teeth when I realised, on turning the page of our cruising log, that we’d missed a quiz question at Newton Junction – aaargh! Christine volunteered to cycle back to find the answer, in the meantime Richard cycled ahead to find the answer to the question at Ocker Hill Junction. I took the helm and pootled along behind the boat in front – we had asked whether we could overtake but they declined – their prerogative also!

We picked Richard up at Ocker Hill junction and did a time check. Would we have time to turn right and do a there and back high value trip up to Walsall Junction or should we turn left ensuring that we could get the bonus for finishing early? Hmmm. We needed three hours for the trip to Walsall and we only had an hour and a half of slack with no hope of making up time as we know from experience that the Walsall Canal is slow, so we turned left to join an unexpected queue for the Ryder’s Green flight.

Rushall Top – 6.10am and we’ve already been cruising for a couple of hours!

We’re never going to cheer when we see a queue at a lock flight but on the other hand, it does mean that there are lots of crew around to set locks. There was a good atmosphere up the flight. With all the boats going the same way it was inevitable that every lock would be set against us, and every other boat behind us! But all the crews got into a rhythm and we worked up the flight efficiently enough. The sight of 10 or more boats filing the flight from end to end was quite extraordinary – local walkers expressed their astonishment at the sudden stampede of boats on an otherwise unregarded stretch of the BCN!

We’d gone up a few locks when Christine caught up with us – she’d got the quiz answer and was now in locking mode, helping us and other boats up the flight – her stamina is awesome and she knows everyone!

With plenty of crew around, Richard cycled ahead to the Wednesfield Old Canal (aka the Ridgeacre Stub) to get a points photo. Back in 2009, we recalled that the stub had just been closed because of a heavy pollution event. Sadly, it has never opened again and so another stretch of canal was lost. Cruising up the stub is forbidden (disqualifiable action on the Challenge!), but this year’s rules allowed crew on foot/wheels to go up the stub as far as the road bridge and get a points photo. I imagined that the stub would be a stinking midden, but the photos show a lovely canal that belies the rot beneath its surface.

Wildlife rescue πŸ™‚

There was a certain chaos at the top lock – one of the deep drafted historic boats was badly aground and no amount of effort seemed enough to shift her. The crew was busy with the pole, Christine tried to help from shore and I offered a bit of water from the prop as I took Indigo Dream past. I was going to offer a snatch but in trying to push some water back I realised that Indigo Dream was in danger of grounding herself on the offside so I had to move on. I felt awful leaving her there, but Christine reported that a tug coming up the flight behind us was primed to give them a snatch. We met both boats later at the finish line so all ended well.

The canal between Ryder’s Green top and Pudding green Junction was a bit of a shock – well, to me at least – I don’t recall it being so derelict. The channel was narrow with rubbish strewn reed beds encroaching on all sides. There was some impressive trash, including a gargantuan tractor tyre which was almost big enough to encircle the boat let alone the prop! It was dispiriting as I’ve always enjoyed our trips down Ryders Green. I mused again on the wisdom of the BCN Society whose clever points system meant that the best part of 50 boats would visit the stretch during the challenge and give it a boost.

Archie supervising at Ryders Green…

On previous challenges, we’ve had a plan at the start and stuck to it rigorously, but this challenge was full of choices. We hadn’t realised how critical these choices might be – but I’ll explain that when I publish the next post which reveals the results!

At Pudding Green Junction the choice was to cruise over to the Smethwick Locks and visit the Engine Arm on our way to the Oldbury Locks or go straight up the Spon Lane locks. We chose the latter – the boats that had travelled up Ryders Green before us had vanished, swallowed by the vastΒ  canal network and its myriad cruising options. This meant that we had Spon Lane to ourselves.

I like the Spon Lane locks – although the water is full of trash and the prop stirs up black tar and the smell of heavy hydrocarbons, the flight has a unique charm as it feels so removed from modern Birmingham. Despite being overshadowed by the M5, the flight has no road access so the dogs could come out for a bimble (they weren’t that interested) and although Spon Lane top lock is gateway to a concrete wasteland, the flight itself is surrounded by lavish wild hedgerows.

There is an acute turn at the top of Spon Lane locks – there are many ways to get around, but we’ve found that the fastest is to have a crew member on the point of the path by the top lock giving the boat a tug around while I’m busy on the tiller. The only tricky bit is picking the shore crew up after this manoeuvre!

The next stretch of the BCN is one of our favourites, not because of its beauty but because ofΒ  the sheer fascination of how this ancient canal survived the erection of the M5 above it. The waterway quietly passes beneath the motorway, giving an unparalleled view of its supporting structures. Very little grows in the shade, but here and there old brick bridges take the footpath across the canal, looking as incongruous as kittens at a heavy rock concert!

Wednesfield Old Canal – if we hadn’t been told you wouldn’t believe that this water was so polluted the BCN Society have declared it a no-go area 😦

We soon arrived at Oldbury Turn and the last flight up to the finish line at Titford. By now it was around 11am and the queue that we’d feared simply wasn’t there! There was a boat going up the flight ahead of us but there was none of the frenetic activity we’d experienced at Ryder’s Green. We flew up the Oldbury flight and soon joined the colour and bustle at the BCN’s headquarters at the old pump house. There must have been 15 or so boats moored up already, as many had decided to cruise a continuous 24 hours and finish 6 hours early. We mooched up the canal and took the first mooring place adjacent to the towpath – bresting up doesn’t work for us with four hounds on board. We thought about doing the last four-point leg up to the Titford Pools, but because we were so convinced that we were out of the running we chose to moor up early and get a good houndie mooring- this had truly been the challenge of choices!

We’d moored up at 12.30am – 90 minutes early! This gave us time to check our cruising log and make a note of the photographs that we’d need to submit later. Half an hour later we pootled down to the Pump House to submit our cruising log and collect our BCN Challenge Plaque. The Pumphouse was a merry meeting ground – the BCN Society had laid on cake, beer and burgers. Crews and their dogs slumped on the sunlit grass and smiled with the slightly hysterical glaze of people who had worked hard on too little sleep!

I was weary and it was a bit too hot for the hounds, so we wended our way back to the boat – it took ages as we stopped to chat with boaters along the way and the hounds got a lot of attention! But back at the boat we turned the fans on and chilled. I was soon joined by Ian, who stretched out with Freya on the dog bed nearest to the most powerful fan, The rest of the crew joined us an hour later. Christine needed to travel back to London, but she’d managed to get a lift to the station with another boater – she was still full of beans! The rest of us slumped, had supper, and by 8pm everyone was in bed apart from me (I’m a night owl).

And another of the Wednesfield Old Canal – slowly going back to nature…

Obviously there’s no time to fill the water tank on the Challenge, but we have a huge water tank so it wasn’t a worry. But when we got to the end of the day we realised that the tank was nigh on empty – oops! We didn’t have the energy to move the boat to the water point at the pumphouse so we made an agreement not to shower, ignore the smell and fill up in the morning!

However, we’d also gone through our drinking water, and that couldn’t be ignored. While everyone went to bed, I walked back to the Pumphouse to fill a 5l water bottle. The canal was very mellow, with tired boat crews now sitting on deck contemplating their reflections in pints of ale. I chatted to a few and fretted over the gang of youngsters who had congregated on the canal bridge and the derelict warehouse across the canal from our mooring. But apart from gradually dismantling the warehouse wall and mindlessly throwing bricks into the canal, they bore us no malice and left the boats alone.

I got back to a boat full of snoozing crew – apart from Henry and Freya hounds who’d heard fireworks in the distance and were cuddled up in a trembling heap in the close, but safe, confines of the front cabin. Archie and Alex were already on the bed with Richard, leaving me a human origami challenge to find some space for myself. If course, this all meant that we now had two humans and four greyhounds squashed into the front cabin in the in the heat and humidity of an English summer, with no water for showers – no wonder we pick crew for their tolerance rather than their stamina!

We had a peaceful night’s sleep, though I woke up in the wee small hours to close the side-hatch, which we often leave open on hot night if it’s on the waterside. I’d been woken by a torrential rain storm which was giving the kitchen floor a good wash!

Apart from that brief awakening the crew slept the sleep of the righteous having cruised just shy of 100 lock miles in 22 hours!


A bit of help on the acute turn at Spon Lane Junction…


This aqueduct has it all – the new main line canal below, the train line just above and the M5 puts the concrete lid on the whole lot!


It’s not pretty but it is fascinating – it would have been so easy to lose these canals when the motorway was built – their very existence here is a miracle πŸ™‚


The official finish – although boats were moored for a mile along the canal, BCNS central was where we handed in our challenge logs and picked up a well-earned beer!


Graffiti written for tarty Archie πŸ˜€


That “end of challenge” feeling πŸ™‚




Archie and Henry wanted to spend the evening on deck watching the world go by but it was too much effort πŸ™‚


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BCN Challenge 2017: Day 1 in detail

Posted by indigodream on 17 June, 2017

Saturday 27th May

No sneaky peeking! This year’s rules stated that we could open the envelopes with the cruising log and all-important bonus questions at 7.55am πŸ™‚

With the crew assembled on Friday night, we were well-placed for an early start on Saturday morning, which was just as well as we had a little bit of juggling around to get to our official starting point at Parkhead Junction on the Dudley Canal.

We’d had endless debates about where best to start the challenge, and although we strongly fancied starting at the bottom of the Delph flight, we simply couldn’t fit an extra 8 locks into our day so we decided on Parkhead Junction (high points!). But we’d taken the advice of the BCN Society, who recommended mooring overnight at Merryhill as the youth around Parkhead were known to be troublesome. This gave us around half an hour’s cruise (including one lock) before we got to the starting line. Inevitably, great minds think alike and we were second to our start line with two boats locking up behind us!

Our first challenge was shutting the bottom gates of Parkhead bottom lock – there was a considerable something blocking the bottom gates and no amount of shoving with poles and gates would shift it. Luckily for us, Indigo Dream’s powerful engine made short work of flushing the object away and we’d hoped that would be that! We proceeded up the locks, a bit more slowly than if we’d been first in the queue, but were soon at the tunnel portal where we divided our labours – crew with the boat for the points photo at the Dudley Tunnel portal and shore-base crew to look for the first of the treasure hunt clues (it was cunning!).

We were up the first three locks so quickly we didn’t have time to take photos! Here we are at Parkhead Top – during the day it looks like an idyllic place to moor with wonderful dog-walking, Shame it has a bad reputation for overnight stays, not sure if that is still the case.

Then we hot-footed it down the locks, except we couldn’t – the boat that had entered the bottom lock behind us was stuck – whatever object we dislodged had made its way back and was blocking the bottom gates again – no amount of work would shift it until the heroic crew got in the water. I was surprised at the depth of the water – I ‘d always thought of the Dudley No 2 Canal as being shallow, but there are obviously deep pools (the area is surrounded by disused mines and subsidence often leads to hidden depths in the canals). We came down top lock and waited in the pound below – the canal here is really pleasant, surrounded by lush parkland, hard to imagine “unquiet slumbers” here as it would otherwise be a perfect overnight mooring for hounds. We took advantage of the delay to walk the dogs, who luckily don’t really do mornings and failed to spot the cat hunting on the fringes of the woodland nearby!

It took a good half an hour to clear the bottom gates – the chaps in the water managed to shift whatever it was – hard, heavy, L-shaped but otherwise unidentified. They must have done a good job because we didn’t have any more problems with it and were soon on our way.

The BCN is extraordinary on many levels, but I’m always amazed at its vastness – although we started in the company of three other boats, they soon vanished and for the next several hours we hardly saw another boat – yet we knew there were 48 others on the Challenge – we’d been subsumed by the city’s marvellous maze!

Dudley Tunnel (South Portal)…

Now we had a long lock-free section so it must be time for breakfast! I got busy in the kitchen – the downside of cooking with bottled gas is that it seems very slow compared to mains gas, so while I was there I laid the foundations for lunch and dinner as well. Although our crew had been very worried about whether they’d be physically fit enough for the challenge, in truth, we select crew based on their ability to get along in a confined space for 30 hours straight and not throw a hissy fit when they get tired! As we all know, such goodwill is based on good nutrition and hydration – that’s my role on board, oh, and driving into locks at insane speeds!

There were points to be gained at the Bumblehole winding hole, but there we had a technical hitch – Indigo Dream, with the bikes on the roof, wouldn’t fit under the bridge at the entrance to the arm. We did a quick strategic calculation – would the points we’d gain by the photo outweigh the time we’d lose taking the bikes off? Answer – no! So on we went, having also made the calculation that the points/time balance didn’t justify a trip to Hawne Basin, much as we love it down there.

Brrrr – the dauntless crew of nb Giddy going above and beyond (under and in!) to remove n obstruction from the lockgate at Parkhead Bottom Lock…

The Netherton Tunnel is a special place – the headroom of a cathedral, the width of a motorway and superbly resonant. Christine and I are both musicians, so we took advantage of the acoustics to pipe (Christine) and sing (me) our way through the tunnel – it was a magical experience! Three years ago, we sang our way through Ghosty Hill tunnel and had resolved to learn some songs that we could perform together – we never did get round to that, but nonetheless we found our music in Netherton..

We met one (non-challenge) boat near the far end, who apparently hugged the side as Indigo Dream steamed towards him,though there really is ample room to pass!

There is a short length of dead straight canal at the far end of the tunnel which joins the magnificent mainline – another Telford Canal, straight and deep. But watch out for the almost hidden narrows where the money men of the original commercial canal levied their tolls on passing boaters. With the Brades flight and Gower Branch closed by emergency works (National Grid), we needed to find an efficient route up to the old Mainline that wouldn’t mean retracing our steps later in the challenge. The only feasible option was the Factory Locks at Tipton – another hidden gem of the BCN. We met a non-challenge boat waiting below the locks and he, very gallantly, let us pass. My crew had gone ahead to set the locks, though they were amply manned by volunteers from the “Friends of the Tipton Canal” group, who were doing a great job of clearing rubbish from the water. My lock entry was delayed as Indigo Dream was soundly grounded on a hard shelf just shy of the lock moorings – it took a bit of jiggling to get her off, all the while being aware of my crew watching their watches above me!

Got to love the New Main line…

We were soon through the three locks and were now on an enormously long lock-free Wolverhampton Levels which lead to the equally lock-free Wyrley and Essington Canal.It was a great opportunity for the crew to relax (we took turns on the helm) and graze for lunch (my signature boat lunch – fajitas!)

We had a side-trip up and down the Wednesbury Oak Loop (no longer a loop!), to the CRT Bradley Workshop with its mountains of lock gates under construction for the winter maintenance period. There were points both ways on this leg, plus points for a photo at the end and a bonus for visiting the loop – it had to be done! We had some doubts about the time/points balance as, in 2009, it took us hours to get up and down the arm because the super-abundant weed meant that we needed to clear the prop every 10 minutes. The water is still clear and weedy, but we were less troubled by it, though we did pick up a rather colourful sari which held us up for a short while. Richard’s sisters were off in a few days time to the Wedding of the century II in Mauritius so he took a photo and zapped it across to them in case they wanted us to keep it for them . . . .

The mainline and Wolverhampton levels are deep, well-suited to Indigo Dream’s powerful engine/prop combination. We arrived at the Wyrley and Essington all too soon. We love the Curly Wyrly, but it is shallow and it was almost impossible for us to make any headway as it is all to easy to generate a breaking wash on the shallow edges. We might have been tempted into an afternoon torpor, but there were treasure hunt questions to be answered and we needed to find Hollybank Basin. It’s a stub of canal between Horsley Fields and Birchills Junction and clearly marked

Quick photo stop at Bradley Workshops…

on our BCN map, but the three BCN veterans on board had no recollection of it; when we checked with a local boater who moors nearby he had no knowledge of it either! I let three of the crew off with the hounds to scout ahead and I soon spotted their frantic gesticulations – there was the narrow but perfectly visible entrance to Hollybank Basin. Two fishermen at the junction seemed bemused – they’d seen more boats on the Curly Wurley that day than they’d normally see in any month, and their apparent fascination with the apparent disused stub of Hollybank was a mystery! We’d agreed that I would drive Indigo Dream into the stub and reverse out while the shore crew would take the points photo from the towpath. I cruised a few boat lengths into the stub, just enough to spot a chain/rope across the canal which presumably marks the limit of navigation. The stub was deserted but looked wonderfully green and tranquil – is it a potential mooring spot? Who knows!

By now it was late afternoon and we had some locking to do this year, there were points for a there AND back cruise of the Walsall canal. It had been our intention to cruise all the way to Ocker Hill and back before finding a place to moor overnight on the rural Curly Wyrly. Our plan was looking good as we met a stampede of boats coming up the Walsall flight, meaning that all the locks were set our way and we had the benefit of help from the upcoming crews – sweet! We flew down the flight, but as we did so we started to get some disturbing reports from BCN Challenge Central. Groups of stone-throwing youths were gathering along the Tame Valley canal from Ocker Hill to Salfords Junction – two boats had broken windows and one crew member had been injured.Β  I know that some boats kept going with bulldog spirit of the undefeated; I favour “discretion as the better part of valour” so we visited Walsall Town Basin and turned back up the locks. It’s a risk assessment – we take the BCN Challenge very seriously and by missing the stretch from Walsall Junction to Ocker Hill we probably scuppered any chance of being on the podium; but we didn’t want to risk our human and canine crew either. Loads of photos were taken the the Authorities all notified and apparently responding well to what is a really unusual incident, we have never had any nastiness on the BCN.

Nice sari – took some unwinding from the prop but it will be fine after a good wash πŸ˜€

We flew back up the Walsall flight in something silly under 20 minutes, though our hearts sank at the top lock as there was a group of youths throwing stones at the residential moorings on the offside. We took photographs of them and then, amazingly, Christine engaged them in conversation and had them helping her to open and close the lock gates! It was a brief accord, as we cruised away they’d started to mess around with the lock again, but at least Indigo Dream was unscathed and the boats opposite had a brief respite.

We were a bit chastened as we cruised on – the 7pm mark is tricky – on a normal cruising day we’d be moored up and in the pub, but we had at least three or four more hours to do. Aha, must be time for a bracing dinner to lift everyone’s spirits – my second signature boat dish – tagine – lamb for the carnivores and chick pea for the veggies. Needless to say, in between feasts the boat runs on doughnuts and cookies!

We encouraged everyone to try to relax as we took turns on the helm – we were lock free for the rest of the cruising day. But once again, we had questions to answer as we headed up the Cannock Extension Arm for a points photo at the Colliery Basins. It is a lovely stretch so a great opportunity to give the dogs a good walk before dark while we took the boat up to the turn. It was all going to plan when the prop stopped dead under a bridge! Of course, as Indigo Dream slewed across the canal, another challenge boat approached! We hastily pulled her out of the way while Richard got busy down the weedhatch. This time it is was a five foot length of sodden stair carpet – it would have matched the piece we “found” at during the last challenge. I had a wry thought that maybe we could furnish a house for impoverished boaters and clothe them entirely from lucky finds on the BCN! Actually, we could probably provide them with transport too – push bike, motorbike, car – it’s all been found in these waters!

Hollybank Basin – a hitherto unknown to us branch of the Curly Wyrley….

We can laugh, you have to, but it’s very strange that on one hand you have dedicated societies working hard to preserve the canals as a valuable asset for the city; then you have the “idiots”, who seem to be equally intent on filling them with rubbish.

It was a darkening dusk by the time we got back onto the main Curly Wyrly and we might have looked forward to a starlit cruise, but the clouds had gathered and a gloomy drizzle had started to fall. We pondered how far we could get that evening – we had decided in advance that we wouldn’t lock after dark so the plan was to stop at 11pm and tackle Rushall at dawn. In the end, we decided to moor up outside the giant Tesco store in Brownhills. We’d always heard it was a safe mooring, though we’d never stopped there before. It did give us the opportunity to run into the store and get some extra milk – we would definitely be needing coffee for Day 2!

Because we’d moored up at up 10am, we had the alarms set for 3.30am for a 4am start. This was essential – we were so behind on our schedule we knew we’d have to cut swathes from our cruising plan, but we weren’t ready to give up! We hastily made the beds and got settled, though we heard a few challenge boats singing their way along the canal and mooring up briefly. Alex puppy and Archie joined us on the bed -Alex sighed with contentment as he squiggled between us – he’d actually coped very well with the rigours of challenge boating, but he loves a quiet bed the best πŸ™‚


Winding at Walsall Town Basin – and a god shot of Indigo Dream’s new paintwork!


It was only a fleeting visit to Walsall – having decided not to cruise down to Ocker Hill, we had to hot foot it back up the flight in order to get round as much of the Curly Wyrley as possible before dark…


Our super-efficient crew in action…


Newlyweds Amy and James on Severner Willow – so lovely to see them on their way to their new life in Bollington πŸ™‚


The Curly Wyrley – a wonderful bit of Birmingham countryside πŸ™‚


When I was growing up in very rural Wales, I was taught that children living in big cities in England didn’t know what a cow looked like – but Birmingham has them πŸ™‚


Winding at Colliery Basin on the Cannock Extension of the Curly Wyrley – and a fine shot of our new “greyhound” themed artwork πŸ™‚


We were doing very well, but as we headed back down the Cannock extension this 6′ length of carpet stopped us dead! It took some time to extract from the prop :-p

New crew members, Alex and Freya, set up their command centre on a nest of six dog beds inside, in front of the fan – they’re not daft!





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BCN Challenge 2017: the morning after…

Posted by indigodream on 29 May, 2017

So Titford bloomed with colourful narrowboats as briefly as the desert after rain…

We’re among the last to lock down Oldbury – the pound above was shallow when we turned, I guess it’s down to mud now!

The 49 boats that can together in a spirit of harmony and co-operation will soon be swallowed by the vastness of the BCN and it’s many connecting waterways…

I’m sure we’ll meet again on the cut πŸ™‚

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BCN Challenge 2017

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

All credit to the BCN Society, who work so hard to keep the canals of Birmingham alive.

The Challenge is a truly unique and wonderful event – we’ll be back!

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BCN Challenge 2017

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

Oldbury Locks and the “race” to the finish line πŸ™‚

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2017

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

The view from Spon Lane bottom

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2017

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

Slow going up Ryders Green as the Challenge boats bunch up…

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BCN Marathon Challenge

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

Tame Valley canal – almost at Ocker Hill πŸ™‚

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BCN Marathon Challenge 2017

Posted by indigodream on 28 May, 2017

Always time to rescue a hedgehog from a lock!

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