Saturday 11 November 2017

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all.

The Stourton and  Stourbridge flights were mostly in our favour, despite one set of gates refusing to open and another refusing to stay shut, then we were round the wiggly bit and up the beautiful Delph flight. We moored pretty much where we’d been before overlooking the shopping centre. In the morning the forecast rain hadn’t arrived so we cast off straight away. After the previous day’s exertions, working Legend through the one lock at Blower’s Green onto the Dudley No2 was breeze.
After that it was a simple cruise to Windmill End, a right turn to follow the canal to Gosty Hill tunnel and then on to its current terminus at Hawne Basin. We pulled onto the service wharf in the increasing drizzle, got diesel, a gas bottle and two bags of coal on board then did a very professional looking reverse onto one of the pontoons just before it really started to rain.
The following morning we were off again at the crack of dawn, back through Gosty and Windmill End then into the grand Netherton Tunnel while all the local kids were still asleep. There seems to have been a spate of trophy hunting going on in Netherton since we last went through; all the reflective distance markers have disappeared, no doubt they now adorn some teenager’s bedroom wall.

At the end of the Netherton Tunnel Branch we turned right onto Thomas Telford's big straight Main Line and were moored up just round the corner from Gas Street by lunch time, giving us plenty of time to visit the markets in the afternoon. Without trying very hard, we appear to have got into a habit of coming back from Birmingham’s exciting-but-slightly-scary bazaar-like street market weighed down with cheese and fruit. Today was no exception, however stopping off at the library on the way home with two very ripe Camemberts in our shopping bag was probably not the best idea we’ve ever had.

Over the next two days we stayed put and let Storm Brian do its worst.

While the boat was being rocked about, Dave spent the time doing a few little jobs on the boat. In order to save a bit of our precious electricity, we now have a 80mm hole in the floor behind the fridge, into which is fitted a 12 volt computer fan wired into the fridge controller. When the fridge motor is running, the fan sucks cooler air from the bilge and blows it over the back and sides of the fridge so that it cools down quicker and the motor runs for a shorter time. The motor takes about 2 amps and the fan about 0.2 amps so if it reduces running time by more than 1/10th then it’s a win.
Of course we didn’t time the fridge before we installed the fan, and we haven’t got the patience to time it afterwards, but we have a plan. At some stage we’re going to get an engine hours meter so that we can tell more accurately when to do an oil change. Before we fit it to the engine we’re going to wire it up to the fridge for a couple of weeks; one week with the fan on and one with it off. That should tell us if we’ve done the right thing and we’ll let you know the result.

He also fitted a plug on our mag-mount tunnel light and a corresponding socket just inside the engine room, making lighting up the bit of tunnel between the headlight and the tiller a much simpler operation.

After Brian had blown itself out we were off again, down Farmers Bridge locks under the skyscrapers...
...with a right turn at the bottom onto the Digbeth Branch; new water for us, but not a canal we would recommend. Halfway down the Digbeth branch are the Ashted locks. Half way down the Ashted locks is the Ashted tunnel. The locks are lovely,...
...but the Ashted tunnel is a nasty thing.
There is a towpath through it with a safety rail which severely restricts the headroom on the off side. We’d heard it was low, so we’d emptied the big box and folded it flat, and moved all the plants into the well deck. However, it’s not the height that gets you, it’s the curvature of the roof, especially as said roof bulges in places. No doubt, when the tunnel was built the roof wouldn’t have had bulges, and the towpath wouldn’t have had railings, making navigation a whole lot easier. Dave knew he’d been close;  the solar box was a hair’s breadth away from scraping the bricks, but he thought he’d got away with it. However in the next lock we discovered this.
We’ve since heard that the best way to get through is to bow haul the boat, sliding it along the towpath coping stones. It also helps if you empty the pound a bit, or at least make sure the by-wash for the lock below isn’t bunged up with debris. We're a bit gutted, because after nearly seven years of doing this we should have worked that out for ourselves. And we should have undone the front corners of the cratch cover. 

We’d planned to stop at Camp Hill, but there wasn’t any room and the weather was still ok, so we filled up with water, emptied the loo, put the roof box back together and carried on. Camp Hill is a useful, secure off-side mooring, but it’s not a particularly pretty place to be, so we weren’t that disappointed.
Through the afternoon we gradually shook off the graffiti covered urban sprawl of the West Midlands and sank back into the countryside...

...mooring up at Kixley Wharf near Knowle just as dusk arrived.

If you’ve been paying attention, Dear Reader, you might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned moving the car of late. That’s because we’d left it at Stourport and come all the way through Birmingham without it. Getting it back was simply a matter of Dave getting the train from Widney Manor, (just outside Knowle) straight to Kidderminster, and then walking down the towpath to Stourport.

Understandably, we stayed at Kixley Wharf for the full 14 days.

While we were there Dave did a few wood wombles, we thinned out a couple of cupboards to the local charity shops and painted some non-slip pads on the roof either side of the rear hatch, making it easier to get on and off the boat when it's in the bottom of a lock.

At the weekend we drove down to Bristol to stay with Anne for a couple of days in her new flat. She took us for lunch in a cafe in a cemetery, which sounds strange, but was really brilliant. If you’re ever in Bristol with a spare afternoon, Arnos Vale Cemetery is well worth a visit. After lunch we went for a walk around the “Southern Skyline”; a route that takes you around the edge of Bristol with some fantastic views over the city

The next Friday we were booked to go to the WRG Bonfire Bash on the Uttoxeter canal, so it was a bit of an inconvenience when the Astra had a catastrophic MOT fail on Thursday afternoon. By Thursday tea-time we’d got a short-list of local cars that fitted our criteria and appointments to see two of them on Friday morning. The first one was a Kia Rio, and the second one was a Citroen C3. We never got to see the C3 because the Rio ticked all our boxes so we bought it there and then. By lunch time we’d taxed and insured it on line and taken the Astra to a scrap yard.
By tea time on Friday we were in a pub in Upper Tean drinking Doombar with a bunch of other WRGies, and by seven o’clock we were in the accommodation eating fish and chips. Quite an exciting day.

Over the next two days we helped transform about a quarter of a mile of jungle into recognisable canal bed and towpath. We had at least five bonfires along the line of the canal, with about half a dozen WRGies feeding each one. Ash, holly, ivy, alder, ferns, brambles and masses of rhododendrons were pulled, slashed, sawn or hacked and unceremoniously heaped on the fires all day long, apart from when we were all under the gazebo eating cake.
 Saturday morning. Jungle.
 The first fires getting going
 Ann-Marie tackles another Rhododendron.
 Dave starts fire number five.
 An hour later.
 Sunday morning and they're still alight.
 Ann-Marie and Malcom wishing they'd brought marsh mallows
Just add water.

After two nights on an airbed in a hall full of snoring WRGies it was lovely to be back in our cozy quiet boat, but despite our aches and pains we had to move the next morning. 

We stopped just before Knowle services to pick up some firewood that Dave had stashed before the weekend, but someone had already taken half of it. The cheek of it! Never mind, there’s always plenty more.
We were over half way down Knowle locks before we realised that working them from the off side required about half the walking back and forth that Ann-Marie had been doing.That’s something we’ll have to remember next time.

We stopped at Kingswood Junction at the end of our new bit of water. Our previous visits to Birmingham have always been via the Stratford canal, but we quite like the GU way and now we know how to get through Ashted without wrecking our boat we’ll certainly use that way again.         

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