Sunday, 1 March 2015

Well and truly trollied

Entertaining the crowds as we get Harry unstuck: spot the shopping trolley
If Friday was a bad day today was worse. And not just because it slashed down with icy rain and wind for a couple of hours.  No, the real problems came in the sunshine.
In the first half mile from Ogley we saw six shopping trolleys in the water. But the ones that caused the trouble were the ones we didn't see. I ran over one at the very first bridge but fortunately the boat slid off it and we carried on. To the next bridge where I ground to a halt on another one, reversed back (with difficulty) and pulled the muddly remains out of the canal.
It's the ones you don't see that do the damage
Another trolley and more junk held us up here for half an house
But that was just the start. Harry still wouldn't get through. I prodded the black depths with the boat hook and pulled out various bits of rubbish including a long length of cable that refused to detach itself from something down in the deep. Then the two of us tried pulling the boat through: no joy. Finally, after removing various other items from the drink including a rusty towbar we finally squeezed through past something very large and very solid that was buried in the edge.
All looked fine after the first lock; the canal was wide and only a footbridge crossed it. I went off to set the next lock a few hundred yards on, and waited for Vicky. And waited. And walked back to find her hauling the remains of another trolley onto the deck from beneath the footbridge. But still stuck.
Only with the help of a couple of hefty local lads pulling on the ropes did we finally work the boat back and clear. There's a retail park beside the canal so the local scrotes' pastime is to lob trollies off the middle of the footbridge. Local boaters know to 'keep right' apparently!
They also know that the Ryders Green flight of eight locks leak like the proverbial sieve. The pounds of water between the locks which had been full an hour before were now half empty. Fortunately a local boat was coming down and flushed water through as he came so we were able to get up and out of the flight with no more problems. But just to stop us getting too cheerful, it started to rain.
In half a mile we turned out onto the Birmingham Main Line, the through route from Wolverhampton that we'd left after the 21 locks a week or more back. The Main Line is wide, deep and largely straight. That's thanks to Thomas Telford who was called in to sort out Brindley's earlier, wandering route which had outgrown the numbers of working boats using it. Bits of the Old Main Line survive, mainly in small loops in and out of the new route but the best known is the old Wolverhampton Level which is reached by three locks at either end – a real bottleneck in the past.
Brindley's original route is left up three locks while Telford's goes right
The impressive cutting is spanned by several handsomebridges and a short tunnel
Telford by-passed it with a massive cutting whose scale still impresses today, leaving the old roue to entertain enthusiasts today. But not us: in increasing squalls of rain we opted for the fast, direct – if dull – line. It has its moments, notably in the big spans of the bridges that cross it, from Victorian to motorway. Finest of them all is the exquisite cast iron aqueduct that takes water to the old canal summit from the Engine Arm and Edgaston Reservoir. It was pumped there by a huge steam engine whose pump house, now restored as a heritage centre, stands nearby.
Finest of them all is the exquisitely detailed Engine Arm aqueduct
Toll houses on these narrows allowed loads to be measured and fees charged
After stopping briefly to defrost and put on more wet gear in one of the many toll house narrows along the canal we reached central Birmingham at last, mooring just short of Old Turn where the NIA and Sealife Centre face each other across the canal junction.
If we'd had any alcohol left on board I think we would have got well and truly trollied ourselves!

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