|Countryside ahead! On the Stourbridge 16 near the Red Cone|
It's been a hard couple of days work to get here – 31 locks (24 of them in one day), all downhill as we head slowly down to river level and every one of them set against us.
Leaving Merry Hill on a blustery morning that alternated sunshine and rain – usually just as I'd taken my rain jacket off – we very quickly reached our first challenge: the eight Delph Locks. These are one of the great secret gems of the waterways. If they were out in the countryside rather than one of the BCN's lesser used canals they would be thronged with gongoozling visitors as boaters queued to use them. Instead, there was just us; a few joggers and plenty of evidence of dog walking and spray can practising.
|The spectacular Delph locks and their side ponds|
|Our model yacht enthusiast shows off his hand-rigged yawl|
|As bleak as it gets: the Fens Branch and Stourbridge junction|
|Oddball home improvement by the locks: those angled roofs are dormer windows|
Stourbridge was a major centre of glass-making. All that survives now is the huge Red House Cone, a massive brick furnace, now part of a glass-making heritage centre.
Below Red House stands an imposing canalside warehousing which was a burned out ruin when we passed a few years back. It still is but is in the early stages of renovation into (the inevitable) apartments and a museum. And along the canal past here the wasteland is being re-developed as tidy looking houses. All part of what appears a gentle upwardly movement in Stourbridge's fortunes.
Ignoring the Stourbridge Town Arm (we've been there) we headed out into our first 'proper' countryside for some weeks and moored savouring the adjacent green hillside with its walkers and horses like a thirsty man savours his first pint.
|Entering the final lock with a pretty canal arm weaving off to the right|
And then we were on the Staffs & Worcs again – the same waterway we had left for the journey into the BCN some weeks back. And once more the sun shone on a pastoral picture as the canal swept a long arc towards the pretty Hyde Lock, where the lock cottage has just sold for £325k and then on into Kinver.
But even in these last couple of miles, some delving into the history books (Pearson's excellent Guide, that is) reveals that Stewponey Lock, the first we passed on the canal, was a significant staging post in working boat days with an octagonal toll office, stables, wharf, workshops and cottages (all of which are still visible) even post WW2 still catering for 50 boat loads of coal a week heading to Stourport Power Station.
|Hard to believe but for 200 years this picturesque sweep was a huge ironworks|