Saturday, 21 February 2015

We are not alone!

We are not alone: Nb No Problem comes into view
We are not alone out here in the distant waterway galaxy that is the Wyrley & Essington. Today we met another boat on the move – the first we've seen in the two days we've been here. And it was a fellow boating blogger – Sue of Nb No Problem who seems to have been curley whirlying the opposite way round the outer BCN to ourselves.
We met them just as we burst out of the seemingly endless housing estates that throng the canal and into open countryside with trees and birds and grazing cows, as bucolic as you'll find anywhere on the system. Ironically, half a century ago most of it would have been dusty collieries and smoking steelworks.
Pelsall in the sun - a chance to put the washing out
We are moored behind a solitary winter moorer tonight at one such spot, Pelsall Common, a huge spread of grass, bird filled pools, and wild heathland on which once stood the huge Pelsall Ironworks. The day ended in bright sunshine; bright enough for Mrs B to hang the washing out to blow dry in the light breeze.
Sneyd Junction where we moored last night
The first old lock of the abandoned Wyrley Branch canal
This morning we had woken to find a dusting of snow on the ground and a sharp chill wind blowing. We went to see where we'd arrived at in the dark last night. The tight bend we'd turned right and gone round is actually a junction where the Wyrley Branch left straight ahead. Now it ends in a few yards at the remains of a lock and beyond it a boggy ditch that's sadly now a local fly-tipping site.
After boat hooking various plastic bags off the prop we left Sneyd for a rather soulless stretch of water past fenced off factories and floating rubbish of every sort. But at last the water was deeper and by coasting in neutral through bridgeholes we kept the prop free of most mess.
Birchills Junction where the Walsall head off to the right
After a couple of miles we arrived at Birchills Junction where the Walsall Canal heads off to the right into the town. We veered left on the Curley past large modern industrial buildings on sites that were once Staffordshire Ironworks and Peter Keays wooden boatyard. The canal is not at its best beyond here, hemmed in by untidy housing estates and with a depressing amount of rubbish about from bottles and cans up to wheelie bins and fridges.
Far distant views once the canal is clear of housing
Ruins of the vast old copper refiners at Goscote
A brief respite saw the view open out into a distant panorama, revealing just how high above the far countryside the canal actually runs. Then we dived back out of the greenery and were passing tumbledown brick walling and a loading jetty behind which was eventually revealed a huge industrial site now razed to the ground. Apparently it was Elkington Copper Refiners Goscote works.
We could be anywhere on a quiet country canal but this is the Black Country
A few twists and turns later and Nb No Problem suddenly appeared round a bend, just as we were admiring the country views that had suddenly arrived. The old rubbish strewn urban Wyrley was gone and we were out in the wilds on a wide, handsome waterway that brought us to Pelsall and our night stop.
Pelsall Junction where the Cannock Arm leaves
The short remains of the arm once full of collieries are now quiet, countryside
Boatyards at the end of the Arm just before it is chopped off by the A5 
A few hundred yards before mooring we'd passed Pelsall Junction where the Cannock Extension Canal runs a mile and a half dead straight to its end at Norton Canes and CTS boatyards and the A5 main road. Until the 60s it continued on to Hednesford Colliery and was thronged with working boats – as many as 70 were simply abandoned there when the section was shut after subsidence. Now the remaining canal is a peaceful and utterly rural length that we walked with Brian in the afternoon sun.
It's salutary to see how little is left of the old industries after such a short time and how they have simply been absorbed back into nature. There's industrial history all around but so little of it left to see.
And this is how Pelsall was: Steve Dent's evocative painting of the ironworks


  1. It was good to meet you albeit briefly, but we did have a few smiles and waves before we went our different ways.. Had I been reading boaters blogs over the last few days I would have known that was going to happen but I have not been on the computer much since coming back from France as we have a visitor travelling with us.

    Hopefully we will meet with you again and perhaps have a few more words and a bit more time!

  2. Hopefully so. Enjoy the rest of your trip. We continue on our clockwise circuit of the W&E with a visit to Angelsey Basin then Daw End, Rushall and back to the Walsall to get down to the Main Line. Perhaps they will have got the Gas Street stoppage problem under control by then. But I'm not optimistic.