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Monday, 31 August 2015

Lost waterways, soon.

It was chucking it down first thing but I had confidence that it would at least let up later in the morning. Helen didn't waste the time and baked a coffee and walnut cake. By 1100 the sky brightened and the rain stopped so we made a start. Helen gave a slice of cake to Phil who we had a chat with and told us to moor where we did.

Fence art at the top of the Oldbury Locks

By the time we had reversed out of the arm and set the top lock it had started with a light drizzle. It was that rain where it is hard to decide whether your body heat would be enough to keep you dry or it was just enough for a waterproof. That is how it stayed for the rest of the day. Occasional donning of the waterproof when it got a bit thicker. This is looking down the flight from No.2 lock and towards the M5.

At the bottom of the flight at Oldbury Junction we turned left under the motorway on the Old Main Line. We passed to boats moving and of course one was at a bridge. We were soon at Brades Hall Junction and turning on to the Gower Branch. The first two ,locks are a staircase

I checked that the second lock was empty but it really didn't look as though there was enough room for all from the top lock. Of course there was. The middle gate is quite big.

On the way down the Gower Branch I had a glimpse of something behind the fence. It turned out to be the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Hindu Temple. The land was bought in 1995 ans the site has been slowly developed since then with fountains added in 2011.

This is what the whole thing looks like. Who would have thought it in that location.

When we got to Albion Junctio at the New Main Line we turned right towards Birmingham. I boat passed just before we turned out. When we got to Pudding Green Junction we turned left on to the Wednesbury Old Canal and headed into the unknown. It was quite shallow from the beginning.

We then got to Ryders Green Junction and despite the dull day decided to have a look up the arm towards Swan village. A nice sounding name, but that on the sign post was actually more appropriate, Black Lake.

The canal got more shallow and there were floating reed islands to contend with. Heaven knows what this is on the bottom of the canal that is getting churned up.

We had got just about half way, past the second roving bridge that we came across this. There was no chance of getting through this so  we had to reverse out. I used the pole at the stern to guide us as we came slowly astern. Surprisingly the bottom was very firm, after you got through the silt.

We got back to Ryders Green Junction with not too many problems and then headed down the Ryders Green Locks.

 There was a couple walking the canal who seemed mesmerised by us as we approached as she said they had never seen a boat on the canal before. She also said that she didn't know that the 8 locks here existed as they normally walk the other direction! We are now on the Walsall Canal looking down the Ryders Green Locks.

Helen was getting cold by the time we were half way down so I suggested she take over on the lock wheeling to get her circulation going and she gladly accepted.

Looking back up the locks from No.7.

After tyhe locks it wasn't too much further to our overnight mooring. Just before the Tame Valley Junction the Ocker Hill Branch left the Walsall Canal. The start of it is residential moorings and was C&RT offices. These are shut up now but there is water and rubbish here. The Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch was in use to pump water back up to top of the locks. The water ran through the tunnel. A pumping station was built in 1784 and worked for 164 years until 1948. There are a couple of moorings just inside the bridge along with the residential moorings.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

To the top of the BCN.

After meeting Helen from her train last night, and dropping off her stuff we went for a meal out at Bella Italia. I think we both slept better once we got to bed, and I'm not sure it was to do with the bottle of wine consumed.

Cambrian Wharf was looking good this morning. We popped back into town for a paper and a few comestibles before setting off. Of course we were a little delayed by the shops not opening until 1100!

We topped up with water by the wharf before setting off. It was quiet at Old Turn and we passed the Fiddle and Bone, Sherbourne Wharf's new pub. It looks like it will be worth having a look as something is going on every night.

Nothing seems to have started on Icknield Island (formed by the canal loop) where a new 'village' has planning permission. This photo looks down the westerly entrance and as there is no towpath it always looks quite tropical. 

We carried on the New Main Line until we arrived at Smethwick Junction where we left to go up the three locks on to the Old Main Line summit. The cast iron roving bridges were relatively un-daubed and make a nice scene on this section of the canal.

A boat was catching is up and as it happened they turned in after us. Just as we approached the bottom lock a boat left so they would be all our way. This photo is from the middle lock and shows just how green the Gault Valley is. Unfortunately as you leave the line of the canal it doesn't look quite so nice. A boat coming down turned the top lock on us just as we arrived so we were a little delayed. The local pyromaniacs had torched the rebuilt toll house at the top lock which is very disappointing.

This is the second time I have seen a heron take a mouse or rat and this time I managed to snap it. Some where after passing the pump house and the Summit Tunnel.

This always looks strange to me with the original canal bridge and the M5 going over head. There are huge quantities of scaffolding on the underside of the road deck for remedial work. I wonder how much has been spent on Blakely Hall Bridge over the years. Then again the M5 has carried many more vehicles that the older bridge hasn't it. The passage under all the motorway sections were useful today to keep us out of the slight rain that was falling.

We soon turned left at Oldbury Junction and headed up the Titford Canal which is now the highest level on the BCN. This is the second of the locks in the flight of 6 that are also known as 'The Crow' after the owner of a chemical works next to the canal. At first there were no locks and it was just a feeder for the canal below. The locks were put in in 1837. They had become derelict but were restored in 1974.

Once at the top we carried on and passed the Langley Maltings. These belonged to the Wolverhampton and Dudley and now appear to have been left to ruin and arsonists. I would have liked to think that they would have made very nice apartments, but maybe in another place.

The canal continues to Titford Pools. From here the Portway Branch went off to some coal mines and Causeway Green Branch separated. In theroy you should be able to navigate round the centarl island by running up to the M5 that you can see on the right, turning left just before it and then heading down the arm coming in on the left. Neither of us fancied our chances of completing it as there was rubbish, trees and lots of mud!

We managed to spin round and head back to the top of the locks. I had spoken to a bloke, Phil, at the locks and he said that we should moor up on a free space on the pontoon moorings down the Tat Bank Branch on the right. The building is the pump house that returned water from the bottom of the locks The building now houses the sanitary station and is the headquarters if the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society.

Saturday, 29 August 2015


When Helen left Hull to return to the boat here in Birmingham there was a ten coach train on the platform heading for London. They needed the carriages down there to bring all the Rugby League fans of Hull Kingston Rovers who were playing Leeds Rhinos at Wembley in the Cup Final. The last time Rovers were there was for the famous final when Rovers were playing the other Hull team Hull FC. Back then in 1980 the city was empty and on the day Rovers won 10-5. I'm afraid I wouldn't really want to be on the train back to Hull as they have been beaten by Rhinos 50-0! I much prefer rugby union anyway.

Today has been a cleaning day as I make the boat habitable for Helen coming back. If it was untidy or mucky I have a fear that she may take one look and get back on the train. It is a good excuse to go right through anyway. When there are two of you aboard you tend to get in each others way too.

I have been reading Canal and River Trust's up date and was reading about where the money has been spent. There is a lot of work going on on the towpaths and I think a lot of it is funded by third parties. There is a lot of chatter about cyclists not been responsible enough on the tow paths speeding along and not being aware of other users. My point of view is that in cities and urban areas there may be a case to get cyclists off the roads so upgrading the tow path is a good thing. Of course cyclists should not use it as a race track and realise that pedestrians have the right of way. I am less happy about less urban tow paths been converted for bike use. The majority of the bikes you see going up and down are not racers but off road hybrids and they should be well able to take a normal grass towpath. I am very aware of boaters calls to cut all the tow paths like a Wimbledon court, chop all the trees back so that there is unimpeded passage and dredge the canals so that they can make good headway. I for one really don't want this to happen too much as the canals would become more like a motorway and lose loads of character. When I see photographs of the old working days of canals I see that there are no hedges and trees by the canals despite the fact that they have been in place for well over a hundred years. I assume they were kept clear so that it was an unimpeded passage for working boats and to keep maintenance costs low.

Trent and Mersey Aston by Stone in 1916

Who would guess that this is the Grand Union at Berkhamsted.

Having said that I would like the occasional longer view rather than being kept in a tunnel of hedges and trees. trimming them wont achieve this though. When ever I pass trees that stick out or down I break a small branch off that would be in the way. If everybody did that it would be fine. (okay not the hawthorns or black thorns but they don't normally encroach. I do like it to be like swimming in a river rather than lanes in a pool.

As far as the bank side of the towpath goes I assume that in places they have to leave some areas uncut to fore fill their environmental criteria. There is nothing to stop you mooring and cutting a swath for your selves to get on and off and use a plank if required. I'm not sure who 'owns' the hedges on the off or towpath sides. If your neighbours trees overhang your garden you are entitled to cut them back to the border as I understand it but not chop them down. I had read somebody with an idea that C&RT use their potential timber as a resource and sell it to all those with log burners, on land and canal. It may be an idea for a subcontractor to tended for the work and look after a stretch. That way they could pollard certain trees and so obtain a crop regularly whilst maintaining the fencing properties etc. But then again it would make the cut a bit barren of bird life etc. Oh well there is no real answer to it. We will just have to enjoy the variety of towpaths and trees and live and let live with other users I suppose.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Bits and bobs again.

I slept better last night but that may well because I went out for a couple of pints before bed. I wandered over to the Wellington pub in town. It isn't too far from Cambrian Wharf as it is just past the Town Hall. It is a real ale pub and has 16 beers on at any one time and a few ciders too. I had a Black Country Brewery BFG (Bradley's Finest Golden) which was a nice hoppy beer. One the way back to the boat I remembered that it was open mike night at the Prince of Wales pub that is even closer, as it is just behind the International Conference Centre. I Had a Golden Sheep from Black Sheep Brewery which turned out to be very similar to the BFG. They were late starting on the mike but it was good to have a bit of live music. The pub seemed to have loads of Spanish in so I wonder if there was a Spanish artist on after I left.

This morning I did a few odd jobs like undercoat over the areas I had worked on on the bow, fix the pipework in the calorifier cupboard where I had to replace the motorised valve earlier in the year, get rid of the squeak on my wardrobe door and then took the bristle doormats off the bed box and swept up the loose fibres and washed the top of the box. I also swept out under the steps at the stern and checked out the void space/bilge and found it all dry as usual. I then cleaned up the shifting spanner I had found on the Kennet and Avon.

I went fishing with my magnet one day when I was a little bored and the only thing I found was a Bahco spanner. It was covered in mud and rust and was seized up. A gave it a quick clean and then just placed it in a bottle with diesel in. It has just been sitting there until now. The diesel had worked through and I was able to get it moving and cleaned. I managed to scrap all the accretions off and then wire brushed it up. It looks fine now. Mind you I hope I don't have to use it on anything in anger just yet.

This was the the deck after a coat of anti rust undercoat and then another normal undercoat.

I was going to paint it tomorrow but having consulted the weather forecast I went for it this evening to ensure that it had plenty of time to go off and harden.

Helen is due back tomorrow but not until latter. I will have to go through the boat and make it all spick and span.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Hats off.

Well today has been a bit of a lost day. I didn't get much sleep last night so I haven't had much energy for anything today. I did go for a walk when the sun came out and wandered down through Brindley Place.

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Brindley Place looking north in around 1970's. Old Turn Junction is at the end.

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Roughly the same photo taken 30 odd years later. You can see the roving brick bridge in the centre of the photo.

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This is the top of the Farmer's Bridge locks with Cambrian Wharf in around 1970's.

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Same location 30 years later with not a lot changed on the whole.
These photos are taken from 

I walked to the Bull Ring Markets via Brindley Place and the Mail Box. We have moored down here so I was having a look to see what it was like. It years since we passed that way. The Mailbox has loads of places to eat and seems to be a quick route through to New Street Station.

There seems to be a steady stream of boats going down the Farmer's 13 in the morning and coming up in the afternoon. I have a bit of fun watching boats coming in to moor at Cambrian Wharf. Today the hirer boaters have been much better at the task. A couple of privateers have made to come and moor in the corner. They haven't really assessed the length of their boat and when they have threaded their way there they have found there isn't enough space for them. I don't mean to say that they have banged and crashed about but that was maybe only that they were using the thruster a lot. I have also seen loads of people wearing gloves! I really couldn't wear gloves to do anything as I always seem to be having to take them off to do anything at all fiddly. Same as I couldn't wear a leather that, not because they are horrible, but that everybody else wears them if you see what I mean. There are some things that seem to be a boaters uniform so that is the sort of thing I would shy away from.

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This is the sort of thing I mean.

I do have a bit of a dilemma with hats as when we are underway I wear an old cap that the kids bought me years ago when on holiday to stop my bald head getting burned. I wouldn't ever walk around in a baseball cap though. When it is cooler I wear a flat cap but I need to find a style of hat that I can wear in the sun for 'best'. It has to be easily folded away and stuffed in a pocket so none of the above, or a straw hat type thing as it would get mucky also. I will have to keep looking. Or find a lightweight flat cap. As much as to protect my pate from the sun a hat is useful to keep the sun out of my eyes.

It is always difficult to get used to being on my own at night so with luck I will do better tonight. I'm not really sure why this should be as a must have been apart from my wife for around half of our married life!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

250 hours.

Before getting into the heart of Birmingham I had about a kilo and a half of blackberries. I then just boiled them down, strained the juice and saved the liquor for until I had got some other ingredients. I found a recipe on line that needed a minimum amount of extra things so last night I made the syrup up. It was just a sugar, a juice of a lemon and a cinnamon stick. I just used a teaspoon of cinnamon which I think was a little too much. I must say that it isn't too bad at all. I reckon that more sugar and less cinnamon would make it better. I got about a litre and a half of squash out of it so worth doing really.

It will be next week that I can go and get some more brambles to experiment with.

I read a little more on the Baskerville Basin in my blog yesterday. It seems that the canal that lead off from Cambrian Wharf to the terminus at Newhall Street had a lock going up that accessed the Gibson and Baskerville Basins. In looking I found an old photo of  the Farmer's Flight of locks.

This is a view from 1913 down to Newhall Bridge. You can just see the two arches of the bridge.

This is how it looks today. The buildings have completely changed. The lock looks just the same and the roving bridge that lead to a company's arm has changed to a cast iron bridge. Oh, and the horse has gone too.

After the rain finally decided to depart and it brightened up a little I set to to do the 250hr service. I ran the engine for a while to heat the engine oil. I also left had it in gear to warm up the gear box oil as that also needed changing. I still haven't managed to suck the oil directly out of the gearbox but by dropping it into a tray and sucking it up from there is almost as quick. I replaced the oil filter without spilling too much and I must say that the puppy training sheets cut up into squares make great rags for catching any spills. I have wondered what the numbers on the oil are all about. The Beta takes 15W Sae 40 oil. Apparently the first number stands for the viscosity of the oil when cold and the second figure is for the viscosity when the oil is 100C. Everything went well and I checked the connections and tightness of bolts etc. I had a bit of a scare when I turned the engine on as the oil pressure alarm wouldn't go off. I turned the engine off and checked that the oil just hadn't been dumped in the bottom of the engine hole. All was well so I tried again, and luckily all was well as the oil had now got round the system I suppose.

As the sun came out I went to the bow and set about ridding the deck of the remaining rust. I had bought some Fertan rust converter to use in the engine hole so I thought I would give it a try. It certainly seems to make the bare metal shiny so we will see how it goes when I need to paint it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Owl's of the Baskerville's

Last night I went into town to meet our friend Steve Barr who was popping over to see us from Ward End. Steve and I were in senior scouts together and after a reunion a couple of years ago we have kept in touch when we pass through Birmingham on the canals. He soon settled in and we were catching up with a couple of years chat. Helen did us proud with plenty of grub and tea and the time flew past. It was great to see him again and hopefully it wont be so long until the next time.

It seemed to be quite nippy this morning, compared that is to the last few weeks. We weren't up very early as we had no where to go today. When I did get up to make the tea there was plenty of revving of engines and it turns out that there was a boat towing a butty starting down the Farmers Bridge locks. They were obviously penning down one at a time but the towing boat was waiting for the butty to tow it to the next lock. I would have thought that it would have been much quicker for each of the two lads to move their own boat by hauling as the intervening pounds are very short on this flight. Later still the procession of boats was starting down. The first inline was a hire boat with a couple. The bloke was working the locks and the lady was supposed to be steering the boat. All I could hear coming over the wall was 'Oh, I'm not liking this. I'm not liking this at all'. Her husband helpfully told her that she is doing fine as she collided with the lock knuckle and 'any way there is no bloody turning round now!'.

Yesterday on our travels we saw that the city centre was scattered with large plastic owls that had been painted. They were drawing large crowds to have their picture taken with them too. It was largely Mum's with their children but lots of adults were getting their phones out for a selfie with them. Over the last few years we have seen this sort of thing in a few cities. In Hull we had large toads, inspired by a poem by Philip Larkin a hero of Hull. In Birmingham that have 89 not only in the city centre but spread out to the suburbs too. Each one is sponsored and painted by artists from all over. At the end of the period they are all auctioned off to make more money for the chosen charity which this time is Birmingham's Children's Hospital. When they did a similar thing in Liverpool they made over £500,000. You can by a map and go and try to 'bag' them all. (or get an app for your phone). In Bristol when they had Gromitts instead of owls they reckon it brought an extra 1.2 million extra visits to the city. It is a great idea but I can't really find out why they chose owls?

Inside the Museum and Art gallery.

Helen has had to go home today so I am once more 'boat alone'. I set her to New Street Station which is still very much a building site, and then made my way to the open and closed markets before settling on a few purchases. As I once again passed over Centenary Square where the Hall of Remembrance from yesterdays post and the new Library are I looked at Baskerville House and wondered about it. It seems that there is a bit of a story behind it after all.

Baskerville House.

Originally this was the site of the home of John Baskerville. He was a printer and a Member of the Royal Society of Arts. He set the printing world aflame when he produced a book Virgil's writtings in his own type face, Baskerville. He became pinter to the University of Oxford. When he died in 1775 he had prepared a conical tomb in his garden where he wished to interred. His wishes were carried out. However in 1821 a canal branch was built over the land. The owner of that land dug up the body as found it perfectly preserved so put it on show! That was until his family and friend could arrange to have it moved to Christ Church. That church was then demolished in 1897 so the body was moved once more to Warstone Lane Cemetry. In 1963 a petition was raised to once again move the body to unconsecrated ground as Baskerville had originally wished. It stayed put this time. The side of the canal where Baskerville house is now built was taken by the Birmingham Aluminium Company who built a basin for them selves. Near by was Gibson's Basin to serve a rolling mill. In 1919 the council bought the for a new civic centre and filled in Baskerville Basin. How ecver it wasn't until 1936 when the Gibson mill relocated and that land could  be obtained and the basin filled in.

In 1926 the Council had held a competition to design a new Civic Centre. the winner had then been deemed too ambitious and the council engineer asked to design something! The whole are was supposed to have important buildings around it but only the Civic Centre was started in 1938. Obviously the WWII intervened and the it wasn't finished. The back wall was hurriedly finished in brick, and it is still so today. The council vacated the premises in 1998 and all sorts of plans were drawn up for it but eventually in 2007, after £30 million had been spent it opened as offices.

Baskerville House under construction in the 1930's.

Industry and Genius, by David Patten, a sculpture dedicated to John Baskerville was placed outside the building in 1990.

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In case you didn't know this is what the Baskerville font looks like.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Back to Birmingham.

We started off at our normal time and were soon at Aston Junction. It seems ages ago that we were coming up that flight into Birmingham.

 Looking at the Top lock of the Aston flight from the junction. We are leavinbg the Digbeth Branch and turning to make for the Farmer's Bridge flight.

 It always looks like there is no way to get up to the top through the buildings.

As if by magic a crack appears in the buildings and you head for it. The crack soon closes though and you are left to borrow under the buildings to head up to the light.

We met four boats coming down, all hire boats doing the Warwickshire Ring. The Voluntary Lock keeper that there would be no boats coming up the flight that he had set the locks for them with out checking and so had to reverse a couple of them when we appeared. 

By a couple of locks from the top we have emerged into the sun, well we would have done if there had been any. The flight has been the usual easily worked set of locks it is. It has been even cleaner than the last time we headed up. Even at the bottom there were no unsavoury smells in the darker parts of the bridges.

We got to the top in an unhurried hour and 15 minutes and headed to the water tap to fill and drop off the rubbish. We decided to get moored up in Cambrian Wharf when a C&RT rubbish boat went and moored there. I had a word and he quickly moved again, to the water point we vacated. We are moored in the space on the wall two boat down.

We went for a walk into town to get some stores and a little look see and as we passed in front of the new library there was a bit of  a blockage so we  walked round the other side of the War Mausoleum. We don't normally go round that side so as we saw that it was open we went in to have a look. The mausoleum was started in 1923 and was opened in 1925. I think it is a very nice idea to have an indoor space for remembrance rather than just a monument.

There are three Art Deco bas-relief plaques with scenes from WWI , the Call, the Front Line and the Return. All were made by William Bloyne who, like most of the other craftsmen involved in the project were from Birmingham.

On the sarcophagus shaped dias are the books of Remembranbce of the those lost in the two world wars, including civilians. There is also a book for those lost in conflicts since WWII.

The flowers and planters are always of a high quality in Birmingham and the red chrysanthemums have the colour of poppies. Until the reorganisation of the square there was a colonnade of Portland Stone. The doors of the mausoleum are massive and impressively made of bronze. The new Library is as eye catching as ever in the background.

We got back to the boat with our purchases and no sooner had the kettle on than it started to rain. Good timing once more.