Monday 8 April 2019

Help with locks? Me?

Er, yes. Me. I had to have help with a flight of locks today on account of my bad back. Richard responded to our plea and turned up slightly earlier than we were expecting. Still, we made good progress down the Curdworth flight, even stopping for coffee below Lock 7.

I don't know what they're laughing about.

When we got to Fazeley we filled the diesel tank and emptied the Elsan at Fazeley Mill Marina and returned to our mooring. As we had to drive Richard back to Curdworth we decided it would be a good idea to eat at The White Horse. Mary came along too - David had a meeting to go to so couldn't join us.

Mary, Jan, me, Richard

Sunday 7 April 2019

Brades Staircase

I filled yesterday's blog post with photos of our Dudley Tunnel trip and didn't say anything about what else we did, which was to return to central Birmingham.

I thought it would be fun to go down the BCN's only staircase pair, at Brades Locks. Having seen very little traffic since we left Tipton I was surprised to find a boat coming up the staircase. Apparently there was an emergency stoppage affecting Factory Locks, so boats were being diverted via Brades. I hadn't received an e-mail alert from CRT so I guess whatever it was had happened very recently.

The intermediate gate of the staircase wouldn't close easily - there was a coconut in the way. You see a lot of coconuts in the water in areas of high Asian population. Hindus (or is it Sikhs, or both?) use them in their funeral rituals, putting the deceased's ashes in them and floating them off down the canal on the basis that all waterways lead to the Ganges.

After three weeks of boating without needing to visit the weed hatch we caught a bag round the blades on the New Main Line. I pulled in to the bollards at the foot of the Smethwick New Pumping Station to remove it, and caught another one as soon as I pulled away. Grr. I removed that one sitting between the bank and an old toll island ... and caught another large bag round the rudder.

First bag: Sainsbury's

Second bag: Tesco

Third bag: insulation packaging
We tied up at Cambrian Wharf in the one remaining space, and went to bed with the rowdies making a terrific racket at the Flapper and Firkin. Why do they have to SHOUT so much? All was peaceful by 0030 ...

This morning we went to St Luke's, Gas Street for their 0930 service. A gap near Worcester Bar leads directly onto Gas Street; the church is opposite.

The building used to be a gas producing factory.

After church we set off down the Farmer's Bridge and Aston lock flights, staying on the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal to Minworth Greaves, descending Minworth Locks on the way.

At Aston Top Lock a curious flying insect perched on the balance beam handle. I don't recognise it, do you?

Saturday 6 April 2019

A passage through Dudley Tunnel

Ever since fellow BCFer Tim organised a trip through Dudley Tunnel I had been looking forward to it.

51 members of the Boaters' Christian Fellowship and guests - and one guide dog - boarded the Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust's boat Richard ...

... donning hard hats as instructed.

We had gathered at the Trust's new visitor centre opposite the Black Country Living Museum and been transported by coach to the Parkhead end of the tunnel. After some brief health&safety instructions we were off, heading for the southern portal. It was this profile gauge which prevented us from entering on Jubilee a couple of years ago, but now here we were going in to the last major canal tunnel on my "list".

The trip boat had excellent lighting: a powerful forward-facing tunnel light and strips of LEDs along the central top plank steel beam.

I was surprised and pleased to see that I was able to take reasonable photos using just the trip boat's light (we were asked not to use flash, not that I would have done).

Most of the tunnel is brick lined, but there are some sections which were blasted through solid rock and some which have been relined in precast concrete segments. Our guide and steerer kept up an interesting running commentary the whole way through, despite the PA system being rather temperamental.

Towards the Tipton end of the tunnel there were interesting-looking side tunnels and caverns, some of which we were to return to.

The extra tunnels and caverns got quite confusing as there are so many of them, some with video and light shows.

We emerged into Castle Mills Basin where we encountered another trip boat before winding.

At least four tunnels radiate from this basin; this is the unnavigable Wren's Nest Tunnel.

I believe the tunnel on the right here is the tunnel we came out of after the long passage from Parkhead; we were to enter the one on the left ...

... which took us to what I believe is the Singing Cavern. This has been lit for effect, but I would have preferred to see it au naturel.

Some of the time we were now reversing out of dead-end caverns/tunnels, adding to my confusion. This hole above us was not a construction or ventilation shaft. I think our guide told us it was where digging out the limestone broke through to the surface.

Did we go through here? I can't remember.

Some of our party got the opportunity to have a go at legging.

I would normally have leapt at the chance, but I had done it on a previous short trip into this tunnel some years ago so I let others do it.

Then we were in Shirts Mill Basin, the other large opening. Neither this nor Castle Mill Basin is accessible from the outside world.

In the centre is Lord Ward's Tunnel; the two bricked up portions either side were loading bays.

Another intriguing tunnel entrance - I don't know which.

We entered Lord Ward's Tunnel ...

... and emerged back at the Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust's visitor centre.

As part of the trip we enjoyed a buffet laid on for us in the visitor centre.

I acknowledge there is a lot I haven't said, and I apologise for any errors, but the Trust has lots of information on its website. Possibly the most useful page is here.

A very good trip, well worth doing. Thanks again, Tim.

Friday 5 April 2019

Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory

Mark and Catherine drove from south Wales to see us this afternoon. They are staying on Jubilee tonight, ready to join the party of 52 BCF members and guests for the full Dudley Tunnel trip tomorrow. We went to Tipton's famous pie pub, Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory, for our evening meal.

I had been hungry for quite a while (so much so that I ate a hot cross bun before we went!) so I took on the Desperate Dan's Cow Pie challenge.

This consisted of an enormous beef-and-veg pie. When ordering I asked whether it came with chips but was told not. I'm glad it didn't!

I can report that I ate it all, and was well and truly stuffed by the end.

Well, not quite both horns. But enough to get the certificate (although the staff had to discuss among themselves as to whether the horns counted). The pie was very good with vast amounts of tender beef and the occasional piece of kidney. All washed down with a pint of Sledge Hammer.

Before this mad meal out we were visited by Lindsay and Beth from Australia, also here for the tunnel trip.

Catherine, Mark, me, Jan, Beth, Lindsay

Thursday 4 April 2019

Leonardo's boat; when is a crocus not a crocus?

Yesterday we went by train to see our grandsons and their parents in Bedfordshire. We travelled from Birmingham New Street to Wolverton, where we were picked up by Ally.

I made possibly a small error in trying to get the cheapest advance tickets for the journey. Going was fine; we got the £6 fares (before railcard discount). But I couldn't find a £6 fare for the return journey, so we got £6 (before railcard) tickets from Wolverton to Berkswell, and £2.50 "evening day single" from Berkswell to Birmingham. No railcard discount seemed to be possible for the evening tickets. The actual journeys were fine - it was only after buying the tickets that I remembered that we could probably have got "£6" tickets from Wolverton to a station beyond New Street, such as Yardley Wood, a station I have used several times in the past. Then, of course, we could have just not bothered with the New Street to Yardley Wood part of the journey.

Today it has been raining a lot. We went to the city's Museum and Art Gallery to see the Leonardo 500 exhibition, a display of some of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings from the Royal Collection. In one he sketched a boat.

When is a crocus not a crocus? When CRT thinks it is a daffodil?

There were no crocuses to be seen. OK, they might all have finished and died back, but it does seem odd.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Well-known canal junction cottage burnt out

We moored at Kings Norton Junction for two nights and moved on today to central Birmingham. It was sad to see that the cottage on the junction has suffered a devastating fire. The roof has gone and, I imagine, much of the interior. Fortunately it seems that the table of tolls on the first floor wall has been spared. I was told it happened a couple of months ago.

There's still no space in Brindleyplace ...

We tied up in Cambrian Wharf alongside the stone bank with its metal rail at water level. Bonglers were deployed.

The adjacent top lock of the Farmers Bridge flight had evidently just had the bottom gate replaced.

The rather flimsy-looking Portagantry was still in place, straddling the lock.

We went to the Wetherspoon in Broad Street for tea and walked back past Gas Street Basin.

Monday 1 April 2019

Changing the bed

I don't know how often one is supposed to replace one's mattress, but we thought it was probably about time. The old one was getting slightly saggy in the middle, and there was at least one slightly sharp bit which I could occasionally feel prodding me.

I mentioned that we'd ordered and paid for a new mattress; yesterday it came. First we had to get the old one out ...

... and wait for the new one to arrive.

Getting it in through the bow doors was the best way ...

... but it was a bit of a struggle.

We pushed ...

... and twisted ...

... and HEAVED ...

... until, finally ...

... it was IN.

That, as I say, was yesterday. I expressed a small doubt about the wisdom of buying a cheapo mattress but, having slept on it, I can report that it seems absolutely fine. Comfortable, not too bouncy - and no sharp bits. It doesn't sag - if anything, it tends to roll us to the edges, so does it have an in-built anti-sag bias? No, I don't think so either.

All photos were taken by Ben; he, Ally, Josiah and Micah came to visit us for the afternoon.

After tea they drove home and we moved on to King's Norton Junction.