Friday, 20 February 2015

Too many hours in the day

Turning off the Staffs & Worcs into the Wolverhampton 21
Today was a day that went on for too long. If we'd moored up at five, fine but we went on another hour and moored in the dark – and I mean the dark, even the moon was just a slim crescent – tired, cold and hungry.
The day started well. It was cold; very cold but an hour's run down the Staffs & Worcs, including the infamous narrows carved through solid rock, brought us quickly to the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 and a chance to warm up.
The huge chimney of the local incinerator plant soon looms into view
The first couple of locks on the flight are silent and secretive, tucked sleepily among trees and hardly shouting 'Welcome to Wolverhampton'. After that, things start to open out, past the racecourse and then edging up through industry, Wolverhampton's refuse big incinerator plant and urban dishevelment towards the town itself. The locks are somewhere local folk like to go: plenty of people were walking the lock flight at lunchtime but the broken glass and rubbish around some of the locks was depressing.
Gavin, our enthusiastic and capable local lock-wheeler
The locks were all set in our favour - hooray - and worked smoothly and easily, especially after we acquired a helper. Local 'yoof' Gavin has a mate with a boat and so has done a fair bit of boating in the area; he was happy to see us up it in return for a steak and ale pie en route and a beer 'thank-you at the top. Halfway up the locks another boater happened along: "is that the boat that caught fire and you rebuilt? I've got a boat and I follow the mags; I've read about it." Nice to have a boat people recognise. BTW he's selling his rather nice narrowboat here.
The canal ducks under the main railway line
The locks all continued to be in our favour and we motored in and out at a steady speed, only held up when – just as Gav predicted – we found the pound between locks 3 and 2 was half empty. Lock 3 leaks, you see – always has; even the local walkers know that so the short pound above it steadily drains. Why don't C&RT fix it? Search me.
Leaving Gavin at the top of the flight
A quick pit stop at the handsome Broad Street Basin
Three hours after we started up, we parted from Gav at the top lock and made a brief pit stop at the handsome old Broad Street Basin then a half mile along the Birmingham Main Line to Horseley Fields Junction where we turned off onto the Wyrley and Essington and another world.
Heading into the unknown at Horseley Fields Junction
The 'Curly Wurly' was built to serve the multiplicity of collieries that used to exist in the northern reaches of Birmingham. Originally it ran from here all the way to Huddleford near Lichfield. As its nickname suggests, it's a wriggling contour canal without a single lock along most of its length. And that's quite a feat when you look at a canal map of the area and the number of locks that had to be built on other local canals to accommodate the hills and vales of Birmingham.
Beyond these arches were once large working boat basins
The Curly Wurley starts amid some remnants of its origins: the entrance portals to long gone Midland Railway basins. But aside from the odd brick ruin, canalside industry now operates in faceless corugated steel 'units' that turn their backs to the water.
Passing the start of the old Bentley Canal, now surrounded by a retail park
A mile or more on comes the stumpy remains of the Bentley Canal, one of many derelict arms and canal stubs along the BCN. The Bentley, complete with handsome roving bridge, now offers a few moorings for the massive retail and leisure park adjacent – cinema, bowling alley and multiplicity of chain restaurants and take-aways offering suitably safe and predictable dining experiences.
It was shortly after the Bentley that the Curly Wurley showed us its darker side. We were briefly stuck in the silt on a tight S-bend and I then spent several miles trying with varying degrees of success to clean off the prop with bursts of reverse. (Each to the accompaniment of agitated yapping from Seadog Brian). A conglomeration of plastic bags, mysterious rubbish, the occasional clattering thump from underneath and plain old sludgy water slowed us to less than walking pace, save for short spells when the engine burst back to life.
The Curly Wurley spends much of its route winding through housing like this
By now it was getting towards twilight and the prospect of mooring in what we could politely call an urban canal where every dog seemed to be a doberman, alsatian or Staffie (usually muzzled) was not encouraging. Secure CRT were ahead so we made for them, only to find a boat was already parked and there wasn't room for us.
We went on, heading for Sneyd (pronounced Sneed) Junction where more moorings were listed, meandering through former coalfields, now a country park. But twilight had turned to darkness as we made the hairpin turn (with Mrs B pulling the bows around by rope from the bank to help get us through the silt) and finally, finally moored up.

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