Friday, 27 February 2015

The BCN strikes back

Lockie Baz shepherds us down the low pound
I guess it was too good to be true. A week of largely enjoyable cruising with no more minor incidents and issues than you'd find on any canal – a bit of rubbish, a bit of shallowness, the odd dubious kid, that sort of thing.
But today the BCN struck back! It took us five hours to do five miles. Well, to be more exact, it took us two hours to go one mile and the remainder to do the rest. We tore ourselves away from our affable and convenient mooring by Longwood Boat Club to tackle our first locks since Wolverhampton nearly a week back.
The nine locks at Rushall are the start of a gradual descent into the centre of Birmingham. There are two at the top, then a mile long pound, then the remaining seven in a close flight. We were greeted at the top by Baz, one of the lockies from CRT's Wolverhampton team who gave us the glad tidings that the mile pound was "very low". They actually keep it low because it leaks badly, so no point wasting water – until a boat turns up and wants to go through. "Stay in the channel, we'll get you through" smiled Baz.
Where's the driver? Up at the front, poling off
I dropped down the lock, moved a few feet...and got stuck. I was in the channel but the channel wasn't deep enough. Behind us Baz was dropping through more water. I went forwards, backwards, then sideways with the pole to slowly scrape and grind a path forwards. For a while we were okay until the channel disappeared in the silt again. More poling, more to-ing and fro-ing and we were off again.
Scraping the bottom means churning up all the plastic bags, rags and other rubbish that lie buried in the silt, no to mention listening to the clonkings as the prop bashed half sunk objects and ominous underwater scraping noises as we ran over more. Then there were the mysterious humps and bumps – little hump bridges of silt that Harry lurched over in clumsy jumps or ran along the edge of at a whacky angle until dropping back level.
Dragging rubbish off the prop
And this is what we found

All the while we were edging slowly, so slowly towards the distant lock until we finally made it and I stopped to clear a tangled assortment of plastic bags, polythene, rope and rang off the prop. 
The remaining locks were a doddle: we dropped down through them in no time and onto a long dead straight length of canal where we found ourselves back in rubbish-ville – black bags of the stuff chucked about everywhere as if the canalside was an extra waste disposal site. Not to mention another floating fridge.  On the other side of the canal was a huge expanse of rugby and football pitches in perfect order. I didn't see any plastic sacks and old fridges there so why do local people think it's alright to chuck it in the canal?
Headings down the locks toward distant Birmingham
Turning onto the Tame Valley: look at the rope score marks on the metalwork
The Rushall ends at a T-junction with the Tame Valley Canal where we turned right just as boats had for more than a hundred years – as the score marks of ropes across the metal bridge on the corner bore witness to. Ironically the junction is right alongside the M6 motorway, today's transport corridor (and not much quicker just here for much of the day!).
The Tame Valley is universally described as 'very dull' in the guidebooks. I didn't think so, at least not to start with. True it's pretty much straight but for much of its length it runs in high embankments so there are some fine views across B'rum. And none finer than the spectacular crossing of the M5 just as it means the M6, the two motorways carried on concrete stilts across the landscape yet still lower than the far older canal.
Soaring over the M5 with the M6 coming in from the right
After that the Tame does pall. As the houses close in so the rubbish appears again as well, this time, as kids on motorbikes and quads. But then we're past them and for the final mile running through industry – ugly on the eye perhaps but scrote and rubbish free.
The remains of the old toll stop where working boats paid their dues
Not before time we reached the ruined remains of Goldshill Stop where working boats paid their canal tolls and then Ocker Hill junction where we met the Walsall Canal and snuck into our own quiet mooring spot, reversing under a low bridge into the dead-end Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch.
Journey's end – Ocker Hill ahead in the setting sun

1 comment:

  1. Well that has been a very interesting few days of travel through our Midlands is a shame that there is little respect shown for the local canal side environment. But just like the Town Centres they need much more thought given to investment and just how they can all be linked to the community. Looking forward to your next series of exploration.