Saturday, 20 May 2017

BCN. Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Hawne Basin To Cookley.

The last two times that Legend has come out of the water we’ve given ourselves far too much work to do, haven’t emerged from the shed all week and been absolutely worn out by the end of it.
This time we set our sights a little lower and restricted ourselves to just doing things that we can’t do while the boat is floating. In other words, blacking the hull and painting the back end. That meant we had time to look around Coombswood and Halesowen and have a day off on the Monday when Chloe, Shandy and Caleb came to stay.
That’s not to say we weren’t busy; after Legend had been winched up the slipway and pressure washed...


...the first job was to get rid of all the old flaky bitumen with a wire brush on the angle grinder.
That took two days and was very messy.
We then applied a coat of rust converter to the sides. We were only going to do a 6” wide stripe at the waterline but there was enough left to go right down to the base-plate.
That was followed by THIS. We’ve done quite a bit of research about blacking products recently and have decided to give Keelblack a go. Unlike traditional bitumen paint it’s water based, very quick drying and you apply it in thin coats with a paint pad.
As we found out, it’s also very quick and clean to use. It dries so fast that by the time you’ve completed one coat you can start again. We got 5 coats on in one day which meant that we then had 5 days for it to cure before we went back in the water.
It does seem to have adhered very well, but of course time will tell how long it lasts - we plan to be back out again in a couple of years so watch this space.
Like most other narrowboats, Ledgend's base plate has never been painted. the theory is that at that depth there is a lot less corrosion taking place and that the anodes should take care of what there is. Add to that the fact that most of it would be scraped off almost straight away and it makes it not worth the effort. However, when we're out of the water we do like to have a quick peek at the underneath to see how it's getting on. This time we found several thousand fresh-water mussels stuck to it.
We're not sure if they do any harm to the steel, but they most certainly add drag, so Dave borrowed a shovel and spent a joyful afternoon on his back scraping them off.
Living in a boat on hard standing is very weird when you’re used to it moving when you move; we keep bumping into the walls and we have to make do with a little electric radiator as we can’t have a fire in the shed, so we were a bit apprehensive about having Chloe, Shandy and Caleb on board, but it was fine.
Baby in a bucket, in a boat, in a shed. 
Caleb was lovely and comfy in the pole bunk and we found that, once we’d strapped it to the side of the boat so it didn’t wobble, going up and down the step ladder at the front was a lot easier than squirming through the engine room to get to the steps at the back.
We went for a walk into the little Mucklow Hill Nature Reserve; a green wedge of old quarry workings that give a breath of fresh air to industrial Halesowen.
After they’d gone home, we finished off the back end...
...then went for a walk along the unnavigable Lapal canal which used to go from the end of the Dudley No2 at Hawne Basin to Selly Oak on the Worcester and Birmingham canal. The Monarch’s Way long distance path follows the section from Coombswood to where the Lapal Tunnel Portal used to be. Walking along the first half a mile or so you get the feeling that it would take very little to make it navigable again.
The restoration society have been extremely busy rebuilding the banks and taming the vegetation and it actually looks in better nick than some of the more remote bits of the navigable network. However, before long the water disappears...
...closely followed by the towpath. You then come across a major road at or about water level, beyond which all evidence of the tunnel portal and its accompanying deep cutting have been completely obliterated. There is still a lot of work to do.
Once we were back in the water we moored in the basin for the weekend...
...which meant we were able to help out with the volunteer working weekend that was going on. On Saturday morning there were numerous painting and gardening jobs to do and it was really good to get stuck in and give a little bit back.
Later on we joined in for the annual barbecue and had a brilliant social evening getting to know some of the regulars and residents. Hawne has a really fabulous community spirit and it was lovely to feel part of it for a couple of days.
On Sunday we paid our bill and said goodbye to all our new friends before moving the car out to Bratch on the Staffs & Worcester and cycling back, then just after dawn on Monday we slipped our moorings as quietly as possible - which, with a Lister SR3 isn’t very - and headed off back through Gosty Hill and Netherton before turning left at Tipton onto new water.
We've not been this way before.

We’d heard there were some secure off-side moorings at the top of the Wolverhampton 21 which, ironically, had only served to make us a tad wary of going there, but we shrugged our shoulders and went anyway. Once we were tied up we discovered that although it is true that the boat is inaccessible from the towpath and in that respect secure, Wolverhampton is just as inaccessible from the boat. We pushed over to the towpath side, locked the doors and, just like we have everywhere else, went to have a look at the city.
We had to wait for a while in the morning before starting down the locks as the second pound had drained overnight and the local locky was busy sending water down to refill it. As we went down the flight we were amazed at how green and rural it felt. If you look at the map you see the Wolverhampton 21 climbing down out of the city through a continuous industrial area with railway lines and big roads criss-crossing all over the place. However what you see when you’re there is a tree lined green corridor with occasional glimpses of the real world carrying on with its business beyond the hedge.

At about lock 12 we were joined by our friend Elizabeth who helped us down the rest of the flight...
...including the notorious lock 20 in which the bottom gate won’t open all the way and in which we became stuck. After a lot of pushing, pulling and bouncing on the lock beam we finally got moving, only to be brought to a sudden stop again by the centre rope getting wedged in a crack in a wooden bollard. We couldn’t have done that if we’d tried! Eventually, and with Elizabeth on board, we were through lock 21...
...and able to leave the BCN at Aldersley Junction and turn left onto the beautiful Staffs & Worcester.
Goobdye BCN, Hello S&W. In the rain.

Elizabeth’s boat is a GRP river cruiser called Normal Bob. He’s moored at Wightwick so we thought it would be nice to moor Legend on the other side for a couple of days to keep him company. Pete and the girls were already there when we arrived and they all came on board for tea and cake before going home.
While moored at Wightwick it seemed only fair to go and visit the fascinating National Trust owned Wightwick Manor.






Our next mooring was at Bratch. Bob and Mandy came over for a visit; they’d recently got back from New Zealand where they’d been to most of the places we’d been to and quite a few more besides, and they’d had Matilda Blue out of the water and blacked her the same week as we’d done Legend, so it was fabulous to hear all about their exploits and experiences and compare notes. Before they went home they helped us down the unique Bratch locks.
At the bottom we tied up next to the car-park and packed all our camping gear into the Astra before pushing over to the towpath.
In the morning we set off for Lechlade and George’s third birthday party. It was our first night camping for a long time and although we had a lovely time with a load of mates we’d not seen for yonks, we’d forgotten just how cold it can be in a tent in April.

Perhaps packing the duvet might have been a good idea.
From Lechlade we went to Karen’s and, along with Karen and Andrew, had a day out at Polesden Lacey, another National Trust property.









Back on board at Bratch, we were up at the crack of dawn for a morning shift at Moor St Station in Birmingham after which, as we were just round the corner, we went to visit the Birmingham Back to Backs, again a National Trust place, and a fabulously interesting one at that.
On a beautiful sunny morning we moved from Bratch to a delightful spot just above Kinver.
20ft down at the bottom of Botterham Sataircase.
Guess what? – Yes, you’re right; there was yet another National Trust place to visit. After a walk along Kinver Edge...

we climbed down the steep path to The Kinver Rock Houses that have been carved into the rock by generations of families and were occupied up until the 60s.


Visiting four such diverse places in a short time was very eye-opening; we found the contrast between the opulent extravagance of the stately homes and the abject poverty of the back-to-backs and the rock houses astounding. We also found it rather amusing that we live in considerably less space than the occupants of either of the latter two and that, apart from the addition of a 1964 spin dryer, our approach to laundry is much the same.  
On a beautiful sunny Sunday we moved from our favourite mooring so far on the S&W to the visitor moorings at Kinver Lock.
Spud & Jill were on their way back to Carlisle from Anne’s in Bristol, and as we were en route and they’d never seen Legend, we’d arranged for them to pop in. At half past nine there was a garbled message on Dave’s phone, most of which we couldn’t decipher, but mentioning a village seven miles away. We looked at the map and figured that the ETA at Kinver Lock for both their motorbike and our boat would be about 10am. We got there a few minutes early so we dawdled around for a bit; slowly winding paddles and ambling about, expecting them to turn up at any minute. Eventually another boat came along so we left the lock, moored up and put the camping chairs out on the towpath. Ann-Marie made some scones. At eleven o’clock we had a cup of tea. And a scone each. Ann-Marie made some sandwich fillings. At twelve o’clock we gave up and decided they’d gone home. We phoned John and Cam and invited them over for the food that was going spare and an impromptu afternoon on the boat. They said they’d love to, and they’d be there by two o’clock. We couldn’t wait that long so we made a sandwich which we just started eating when Spud and Jill turned up. There had been some confusion between Churchill (a village that they shouldn’t have gone to, but did) and Church Hill (a road in Kinver that they should have gone along, but didn’t), but that didn’t really explain how it took them two and a half hours to travel seven miles on a big BMW.
Anyway, we had a lovely lunchtime with them, then, just as they were about to leave, John and Cam turned up we had another lovely lunchtime with them as well. John and Cam had left their car at Caunsall Bridge near Cookley which was our next mooring, so after a walk along Kinver Edge (mostly to work off our double lunch) we took them boating back to their car accompanied by some of John’s homebrew. Yum!