Wednesday 31 August 2016

Weed mountain

We set off reasonably early from Longwood Junction - at about 0815. The top lock of the Rushall flight was set for us; apart from two where work boats were coming up this was the only lock out of today's 25 which we didn't have to turn.

Passage down the Rushall Canal was slow owing to the large amount of weed, exacerbated by the low pounds.

The Tame Valley Canal wasn't much better, despite an initial increase of speed of 0.5 mph (from 2.8 ish to 3.3 ish). Our bow kept collecting vast rafts of floating weed which I kept having to dislodge with a batten. The next time Jubilee is in dry dock I must get something welded on which will smooth off the bow and remove the tendency for things to collect there.

I was encouraged to see mountains of weed removed from the canal at Perry Barr Top Lock. If it's all here then there can't be any left in the canal. Yes?

Well, no, actually. There was so much of the semi-submerged blanket weed that getting out of locks was a slow process. I had to bow haul out of one; a boat two in front was bow hauling down the entire flight. I expended a considerable amount of energy cycling down and up setting locks and opening gates etc., not just for us but for two boats in front.

At last we got to the bottom of the Perry Barr Locks and came to Salford Junction. Or Spaghetti Junction as motorists know it - or Gravelly Hill to give it its proper name. It's difficult to get a shot which gives a good idea of the complexity of the structure; this is my attempt.

A team was painting the supporting beams.

Why is this necessary? Is it for protection?

We considered mooring on the bollards just before Butler's Bridge, but I saw that the piling the other side of the bridge looked to be a better location. Unfortunately, when we moved the boat there, we discovered that the edge was much too shallow. We continued down the Minworth three locks and tied up past Dicken's Bridge on some handy piling. Our friend Helen was there so we invited her to join us for a meal. We had a very enjoyable evening.

Now I must get some sleep!

Tuesday 30 August 2016

On the move again after a busy festival

We left Pelsall today, but not before I'd done some more marquee dismantling, bar dismantling, fence dismantling etc. It's good to help out, but I'm now feeling quite tired. As we went past the site after winding it looked a lot emptier than yesterday, when the sunshine brought large numbers of people to the festival.

Just before the above photo we went under Pelsall Works Bridge with its cast iron arch and brick parapet.

The date is 1824.

We stopped at Brownhills for the facilities and an Aldi shop. We had lasted a whole week on one tank of water and two loo cassettes, one of which was only half full.

On the way to Aldi I took a front view of the massive miner statue on the roundabout.

When we got to Longwood Junction the moorings were full; two boaters there invited us to tie up alongside them. We had a barbecue, making the most of the marvellous weather. Tomorrow we should be the first down the Rushall locks on our way to Fazeley.

Monday 29 August 2016

Winning a seriously big IWA trophy

At the back of my mind when we got to Pelsall was an e-mail which listed the various awards and the entry conditions. Two days before the deadline I decided we could enter for a couple of categories, namely the most "meritorious route", that including little travelled waterways, and the longest route. We'd certainly been to some out-of-the-way places, such as the Grazebrook Arm, the Fens Branch and the Ridgeacre Canal, and I thought we stood a chance in the "most meritorious" category. I calculated the miles and locks we'd covered since 1st May this year, the start date for the "journey", and made a document with these figures, some photos and a detailed diary of where we'd been before arriving at the Pelsall Festival of Water.

This morning I got a phone call from one of the organisers of the event suggesting we might like to be in the marquee at 1215, so I thought, "That's interesting". We were, nevertheless, surprised to be announced as the winners in the Longest Route category and were presented with the most enormous trophy.

This is the A.P.Herbert Market Harborough Challenge Trophy which has the engraved names of the winners since the historic 1950 rally at the Leicestershire town. The first winner was S.V.Offley, Esq. MBE. There was another MBE winner in 1953; it wasn't until 1990 that people dropped the use of "esq". We will now have to get our names engraved on the cup - and find somewhere to keep it until next year. I'm struggling to think of anything on the boat that's older!

Oh - our totals were 521 miles and 372 locks since 1st May.

Other things which happened today include: a two-hour stint by me handing out programmes to visitors arriving by car; Kew returning in the afternoon having finally successfully winded at Birchills Junction; Jan doing a two-hour stint working with children in the WoW tent (photo below); helping our neighbour on the next-door stand to dismantle her gazebo (we have commissioned her to paint our coal shoot); helping Captain Ahab dismantle his gazebo; me helping with the dismantling of two large IWA marquees; going for a meal in the Finger Post pub with David, Mary and the aforementioned Captain; jamming along on my recorder to some folky-type stuff in the entertainment tent this evening.

There'll be more derigging tomorrow, then we'll have to get to Fazeley sharpish.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Getting a full length narrowboat stuck in a winding hole ... in the dark

We had some adventures this evening. We were assisting David and Mary on Kew, their 71' 6" "River class" boat, in the illuminated boat parade. I had helped David rig his lights, all 240V, earlier in the afternoon. They were mostly strings of Christmas lights, with two floodlights of probably 300W each. This was powered by a (noisy) generator running from a gas cylinder on the cabin top. The floodlights illuminated a simple wooden cross with a mechanism for lowering to pass under bridges.

The parade started at 9 pm, when all six participating boats set off at short intervals from Pelsall Junction. As the Boaters' Christian Fellowship boat Kew carried a small group of musicians and singers in the open hold at the front. We sang hymns and choruses - to applause - as we travelled past the moored boats.

All went well until we tried to wind just before Fishley Lane Bridge. This is marked as a winding hole in Nicholson's, with no restrictions as to length of boat, but after an hour of heaving on ropes etc. we had to give up. There was no way a full length boat could wind there. All this time we were trapping another of the illuminated boats; when we gave up trying to wind the other boat was able to return to its mooring, taking one of the singers. The rest of us walked back: it was only about 1/4 mile for most of us. David and Mary will go on in the morning to try the next winding hole.

This is Kew jammed across the canal, not that you can really see it.

The day had started with a service in the entertainments marquee for boaters, traders and site staff.

In the afternoon a piper playing Amazing Grace heralded the start of the open air service for the public.

I counted 64 people at this short service.

Jan and I fitted in two hours of volunteering each; programme dishing out for me and children's work in the WoW (Wild over Water) marquee for Jan. Tomorrow should be slightly less busy!

Saturday 27 August 2016

Steam and working boats at Pelsall

Today the finishing touches were applied to the trade stalls and the public were invited in. This is the IWA Festival of Water at Pelsall North Common by the Wyrley and Essington Canal to the north of Birmingham.

This exhibitor was polishing his 30 year-old steam engine.

He has owned two full size traction engines and a half-size engine in his time.

On the Cannock Extension Canal are these old working boats.

And looking through Friar bridge from the other side:

This morning I spent two hours with a plastic bag and a litter picker. Unfortunately - or should that be fortunately? - there was hardly any litter to be picked. Martin of Erin Mae took a photo.

Friday 26 August 2016

Filling holes in Pelsall Common

Volunteering at the set-up stage of a festival is a lot more interesting than volunteering during it. As well as sign erection there was more fencing to assist with and a considerable number of chairs to move. Here the team - three WRGies and I - are filling holes in the grass where some of the trade stands are ging to be.

Earlier in the day Swallow came past to boost the number of historic boats.

This afternoon Kew arrived with a new throttle cable after the attentions of RCR; we had a barbecue and invited David and Mary with John and Sue, their crew for the past fortnight. It got a bit rushed towards the end as we didn't want to miss the start of the quiz, hosted as always by Martin Ludgate. We made up a rather large team of ten and managed a creditable fourth place out of about 20 teams.

Tomorrow the festival opens to the public; I'm on programme duty for a couple of hours in the morning while Jan is going to help out with the children in the WoW stand. And then there's the BCF stand to manage.

Thursday 25 August 2016

How to bury an electric cable under grass

More marquees, more fencing. Plus I erected a couple of signs, helped to pull a heavy trailer and assisted in the laying of an electricity cable under the grass. It's good fun volunteering! The cable laying was made easy by a mini-tractor with a plough attachment. This carved a single furrow, flipping the turf over such that a cable could be placed in the soil about 4" deep. Once the cable was in the turf was flipped back and pressed back into position by the tractor wheels, leaving little evidence and no trip hazard. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera to hand; I'll try to get a photo tomorrow.

We still haven't had to move away from the bank. We are expecting a boat to come on the inside and one on the outside of us -perhaps tomorrow.

Andy (Captain Ahab) came for a meal on board this evening - yes, he's here with Wand'ring Bark and the Jam Butty. He supplied a chicken curry which we "beefed up" with other bits and pieces to make it go round the three of us. We had a good evening together; we look forward to seeing Helen tomorrow.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Pointing the way in Pelsall

I spent the afternoon fixing metal fencing, shifting more panels and blocks and helping to erect a marquee. This was at the site of the IWA's Pelsall Festival. There will be more to do tomorrow and Friday in preparation for opening to the public at the weekend.

This evening we treated ourselves to a curry in Pelsall, at the Sultan Cottage (OK, not super-dooper). On the way I took my only photo of the day, of the unusual finger post sign just down the road from the Finger Post pub.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

A thousand amps

At Anglesey Basin it seems the thing to do is cycle round Chasewater Reservoir, so we got our bikes out and did just that. We didn't get all the way round as we called in to the Chasewater Railway at Brtownhills West Station.

The driver of the diesel loco was very chatty; once he'd wiggled it over the tracks to the platform I was asking him all sorts of questions.

The ammeter in the cab is impressive, reading up to 1000A. That would be a little over the top for Jubilee!

I had a good coffee in the station buffet. Perhaps one day we will travel on the train.

After spending longer than we had intended at the railway we returned to the boat and set off for Pelsall. We had lunch at Brownhills and found Aldi. Nearby is this impressive tribute to the former local mining industry: a larger-than-life Brownhills miner on a roundabout. (Next time I'll take a photo from the front.)

After making use of the facilities we carried on to Pelsall Junction where we tied up for the festival.

We are early, but we have offered to help with setting up.

Monday 22 August 2016

Fishy goings on

We had a pleasant stay at Longwood Junction, just above Rushall Top Lock, but it was time to move on and cruise the five miles of the Daw End Branch. This is looking back at the junction, with the curtailed Longwood Arm on the left.

After skirting round Aldridge we came to Catshill Junction, where the Daw End Branch meets the Anglesey Branch and the Wyrley and Essington Canal. We turned left on the Curly Wurly in order to visit Tesco's, less than half a mile from the junction. Again, the photo below is looking back at the junction. Anglesey Branch on the left; Daw End Branch on the right.

The water here is very clear, enabling many fish to be seen. This one has red fins - anyone know what it is? This is not the fishy goings on of the title, by the way. That comes later.

After lunch and Tesco's we retraced our route to Catshill Junction, this time carrying on along the Anglesey Branch. Here we saw yet another motorbike being ridden along the towpath.

I have their faces, but I don't think I should publish them.

In a mile we came to Ogley Junction, where the yet-to-be-restored Lichfield Canal heads east to join the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Junction. This route would be exceedingly convenient for us to get to Fazeley after the Pelsall festival; we will, however, have to take a longer way round.

At about 1630 we tied up at Anglesey Basin next to Two Jays.

I popped up the bank to look at Chasewater Reservoir before starting a barbecue. The drizzle held off and the BBQ was another success.

The fishy goings on of the title? As we came to Walsall Wood on the Daw End Branch there was a group of four anglers. They didn't have keep nets; instead they had black plastic bags and buckets which they picked up and took with them as we passed. They seemed to have fish in them. One of the fishermen spoke to me, but I didn't understand a word of what he said - and it wasn't merely a Brummie/Black Country accent. To me it sounded eastern European.

Apologies for the poor photo. And stop that sniggering at the back there. I'm sure there's a perfectly good historical reason behind the name of the bridge.

What's that? You can't read it? OK, here it is.

Tomorrow we'll go back past the Brownhills Tesco's to Pelsall Junction to help with the setting up of the IWA festival.

Sunday 21 August 2016

How did this get round the prop?

Mixed in with the weed which attached itself to the prop as we came up Rushall Locks yesterday was this medical-looking tube.

I think it's what people have up their nose if they need oxygen.

We stayed put at Rushall Top Lock today, or rather, the boat did. Andy picked us up in the morning so we could go to church with him (Helen was minimising thr risk of infection by staying at home). We went to Aldridge Parish Church for a lively, Olympics-themed, communion service. After this we went to Andy and Helen's house for lunch, to which we contributed, and saw their amazing new kitchen (and Andy's shed). We hope we didn't tire out Helen too much. It was great to see them both; we'll see Andy again in a few days' time at the IWA Pelsall festival.

When Andy dropped us back at the boat he did a bit of blackberrying; I helped when I'd taken a photo or two.

This evening we walked to the White House, a Sizzling chain pub, for a meal. My sirloin steak was fairly bland - I think I'll stick with the cheaper rump steak next time. Jan's enjoyed her chicken. They had run out of the Sunday roasts which we had initially tried to order.

Saturday 20 August 2016

What the motorbikes on the towpath did next

Last time I steered along the Tame Valley Canal we encountered motorbikes on the towpath, so I wasn't entirely surprised when a loud noise nearby got even louder and gained the form of two motorbikes joining the towpath in front of us.

This illustrates the antisocial side of what the riders presumably think of as jolly japes. As they approach a pedestrian at speed ...

... she has to get out of the way as the bikes roar through a deep puddle.

At Rushall Junction we turned left onto the Rushall Canal and immediately found ourselves in a much weedier environment. Today I must have been down the weed hatch half a dozen times. I suppose blanket weed makes a change from plastic bags.

The first seven of the nine locks are close together; one pound was very low. I had to steal water from the pound above, and then top up that pound from the next one.

Despite the obvious lack of traffic on this canal the locks were mostly in good condition. One paddle rack has slipped out of position ...

... and this anti-vandal device was inoperable owing to the presence of what looks like a socket someone has lost trying to work it.

The long pound leading to the top two locks shows how little used it is.

We tied up on the 48 hour mooring by the facilities block at Longwood Boat Club, which has the best, cleanest Elsan disposal point I have had the pleasure to use.

After tea we walked to the Manor Arms pub where I had an excellent ale in the unusual bar.

There is no bar as such: drinks are dispensed from one wall of the room where customers are sitting.

David and Penny left us before we set off this morning, David having cycled back to Park Head to get their car yesterday.

Friday 19 August 2016

I didn't think I'd get this far up the Ridgeacre Branch

We moved on from central Birmingham today, but not before visiting the Ikon Gallery with its modern art installations. You have to wonder what whacky ideas artists will think of next. We engaged fully with one particular work; details coming up.

First a summary of our travelling today. We set off after lunch, taking a quick spin round Gas Street Basin (winding at the 90 degree bend at Holliday Wharf) before returning along the New Main Line as far as Pudding Green Junction. Here we turned right along the Wednesbury Old Canal heading for Ryder's Green Locks and the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch.

Just before the locks is Ryder's Green Junction where the Ridgeacre Branch, er, branches off. The last time I passed this way, three years ago I think, reeds were blocking the entrance. This time the way looked clear, apart from a notice advising against navigation.

The sign talks about reeds and silt but doesn't actually forbid entry, so I took Jubilee in on tickover.

Well, if boats don't navigate a canal it will be lost, so I was only doing my bit. Has anyone else been up there recently?

At one point we ran over something a bit hard, but we got through Hadley Bridge and almost up to the marked winding hole. Here the reeds closed in and it seemed prudent to stop and go back.

Up to this point neither silt nor reeds had impeded our progress. Nor had the plastic bags I removed from the prop when we got back onto the main line. The prop did stir up a lot of evil black stuff from the canal bed, especially when making correction thrusts when reversing. David at the bow with a cabin shaft helped to keep the boat pointing the right way going backwards, and it all went smoothly. I removed a decent amount of plastic from the weed hatch after that little excursion.

All the Ryder's Green Locks were against us and we stopped twice more for plastic bag removal, but the run down was reasonably pleasant. Some local lads were friendly and helped with gates at a couple of locks; a group of older people with drinks cans under a bridge looked rougher but exchanged greetings and warned Jan about the submerged trollies.

We tied up in the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch and I got inside just as the heavens opened. Phew!

I mentioned the art in the Ikon. One piece was interactive and involved the participant climbing onto a wooden board and then propelling him/herself out of the window 20 or 30 feet above ground! Naturally I volunteered first.

I was hoping that I'd be sticking out a long way, but it was only my head which got drizzled on. And one is looking up, not down.

Here's Jan enjoying the experience.

Tomorrow we have the delights of the Tame Valley and Rushall Canals to look forward to. And a rendezvous with the Tidys. Excellent.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Spon Lane Bridge

Apart from the unusual name Spon Lane Bridge is remarkable for something else. It is one of a small number of bridges with a dividing wall separating a road from a turnover route for horses.

The first bridge going west from Braunston Turn on the Oxford/Grand Union is similar, being a combination of turnover bridge and accomodation bridge.