Monday 11th to Wednesday 13th April 2022
Leaving Brewood we came to Autherley Junction where there is a former canal toll office. The stop lock here marks where Telford’s Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal [now part of the Shropshire Union Canal] joined Brindley’s older Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The fall is only about six inches and to Robert’s amusement both the people on the boat going through in front of us and Matilda struggled to work out which way the paddles needed to be opened to level the water. It is much easier when there is an obvious difference in the levels.
From here we turned left onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and passed the Wolverhampton Boat Club, with an attractive bridge where a lock once was – the gates could still be seen in the open position at both sides of the canal.
We also passed a man skilfully towing another narrowboat.
After a short distance we joined the Birmingham Canal Navigations [BCN] at Aldersley Junction and Robert smiled quietly as knew he had returned to his homeland.
Lock 21 is right at the junction and is the start of the flight taking you up into Wolverhampton. After the vandalism and lack of water going into Manchester both Matilda and Robert were unsure what to expect from this more urban stretch. However, although the BCN passes through an industrial landscape the towpath is well cared for and seems almost rural with lots of verdant grass and brightly flowering bulbs at this time of year. We also saw a coot with lots of chicks.
We both agreed that the climb into Wolverhampton was an altogether more pleasurable experience than the descent into Manchester. It was also possibly helped by the fact that all the paddles on these locks have security bolts that only canal users have the key too, unlike Manchester [where some have them, but not all].
Between Locks 12 and 11 we crossed paths with the narrowboat Reed Warbler who had not passed any other boats so we knew the locks ahead of us should be in our favour for the final half of the flight. They did however, warn us that the lock coming up had wet paint. [Thank you Reed Warbler crew.]
Matilda’s job was made much easier by the fact that several of the lock gates were so finely balanced that they had swung open of their own accord. All she had to do was make sure both sides were open rather than raising any paddles. However Ralf seemed rather unsettled on this part of the journey and we had to keep getting him off The Duke. This meant, in a change from the usual routine, it was Robert who was expending the most energy by climbing off the boat, closing gates and opening and closing paddles.
The flight finishes at Broad Street Basin in Wolverhampton where there are some very picturesque lock-side cottages.
Broad Street Basin has obviously been regenerated and landscaped. Two sculptures, apparently inspired by transport, entitled Round the Wrekin and There and back again by Nick Lloyd were originally at Wolverhampton Bus Station. Carved in 2000 they were relocated to Broad Street Basin in 2017.
The Moon under Water was the name George Orwell gave to an ideal, but fictitious, pub which he described in a newspaper article for the Evening Standard in February 1946. Wetherspoons has used this name for several of its pubs including a one-time local of ours, near to our old house in Penge, and the one in Wolverhampton where we arranged to meet friends who had travelled up from home [Downe] in order to share in a small part of our narrowboat adventure.
Before they left for their hotel, a departure time was agreed for the morning.
11/04/2022 – Miles: 7.31 – Locks: 21 – 6h0m
When that departure time came, unfortunately, the forecast was for rain all day.
Most of us had appropriate clothing to wear. Paul decided that shorts would dry more quickly than jeans and Dave had opted to wear a jacket which proved not to be completely waterproof. Alan, although an experienced sailor, had left his waterproofs behind [because Dave said it wouldn’t rain].
The route included just the three Factory Locks at Tipton and under Matilda’s experienced eye, the crew for the day addressed the tasks in hand.
Paul tackled winding the paddles with gusto.
The three locks took us down 20 feet. The floating bridge at the second lock. . .
. . . allowed Matilda to stand directly in front of The Duke gliding into the lock chamber.
Additional crew members means that both paddles can be opened more easily.
The crew entered into the spirit of the adventure wholeheartedly and Michelle was enthusiastically photographing the day and we have her to thanks for many of the images included here. After a while the rain eased off. Dave decided that he would push or pull rather than put his back into opening the gates as he did not want to get any wetter than he already was.
Between Oldbury and Smethwick you can choose between two sections of canal which run in parallel: the Birmingham Canal Old Main Line built by Brindley and Telford’s New Main Line. Brindley’s Old Line is said to be the more interesting of the two but Telford’s waterway lies 20 feet lower and runs between cuttings and embankments and so uses fewer locks. We opted to use Telford’s lock free route.
Islands in the middle of the canal once housed toll offices but these have now all gone.
The route took us through Coseley Tunnel, which is 360 yards long and unusually has a towpath on both sides. There is heavy bracing to support the right hand side of the northern entrance to the tunnel at Ivy House Lane.
Some of the crew were more active than others. Fortunately Robert had recently managed to reset the central heating [after 10 days of trying…] so we were no longer dependent on the unpredictable diesel stove, and could now turn on the heating for a one hour boost for Lynn to warm up and dry out.
The infrastructure and industrial buildings along the canal, although some are now derelict, were nevertheless impressive. The three bridges, going over us in the canal, in the photo below [and the feature image] are from top to bottom: the M6; a railway and another canal.
Ralf is still not quite his old self and exhibited varying degrees of enthusiasm throughout the day.
Cruising into the centre of Birmingham, Robert and Matilda noticed that mooring places have significantly reduced over the years with many of the spots which they remembered mooring up at in the past now being reserved for restaurant or tour boats, none of which seemed to be operating on a wet Tuesday.
Having reached Birmingham we refreshed ourselves at the Tap and Spile in Gas Street Basin. Built in 1821, it now serves tapas which comes in quite substantial portions and represents very good value for money providing you do not over order.
Afterwards, Robert felt the need to show our visitors some of his favourite Brummie pubs, including the splendid interior of the Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre, and The Colmore, both of which have been featured on our previous trips to Birmingham.
12/04/2022 – Miles: 14.28 – Locks: 3 – 5h30m
The following morning, Matilda was particularly grateful to Michelle who offered her the chance to have a hot shower in spacious surroundings with the added luxury of the use of a hairdryer. Matilda did note that the hotel room had more floor space than The Duke.
Before we left Birmingham, Robert initially misread the name of this bridge as Savage Turn Bridge, but took the photo anyway.
The route out of Birmingham runs parallel with the railway for much of the way.
It passes through Edgbaston, a leafy suburb of Birmingham where Robert went to secondary school.
Some of the passing scenery was unexpectedly colourful.
At King’s Norton, we turned onto the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal straight into the King’s Norton stop lock. This is effectively Lock 1 and unusual as it has two wooden guillotine gates mounted in iron frames balanced by chains and counterweights. With no further need to protect valuable water supplies from rival companies, this guillotine lock is now permanently open.
The Brandwood Tunnel has no towpath but the west portal features a portrait of William Shakespeare as this direction leads to Stratford-upon-Avon.
As so often happens, the most dramatic or amusing events are not caught on camera.
We came up to a lift bridge where a couple were standing carefully considering the instructions for use while their narrowboat was moored the other side. The instructions are clear and easy to follow but as they seemed to be having difficulty, Matilda offered to explain and they kindly said we should go through first. What Matilda failed to grasp was that if she opened the bridge using her key she would not be able to remove it until the bridge had closed again. When she realised her predicament, it seemed easiest simply to let the other boat though before recovering her key although this would not necessarily prepare them for the next lift bridge they encountered.
However, Robert thought the people waiting in cars would get impatient and gestured for her to reopen the road. So the bridge was closed and the traffic flowed. Matilda explained how the bridge was operated but as she re-boarded The Duke and looked back she saw the bridge starting to rise then shudder to a halt in mid-air. Matilda held the boat and Ralf while Robert went back to the lift bridge to investigate where he found that the barrier had closed on top of a car and the elderly driver was shouting aggressively at the woman operating the bridge. Robert did not think the man would react well to having his photo taken at this point. Instead he and a customer from the pub adjacent to the bridge went and lifted the safety gate so the car could reverse.
This canal-side development features attractive waterfall steps and we both liked the green balconies in the middle.
When we arrived in Hockley Heath we planned to have a refreshing drink in the garden at The Wharf Tavern. However, the skies were threatening and we had to retreat inside.
13/04/2022 – Miles: 15.31 – Locks: 0 – 5h30m
Days: 57 – Miles: 447 – Locks: 437