Sunday, 10 July 2016

Rosie's Walk, Aldridge

The Jam Butty at Rosie's Walk, Aldridge
July 2016

The Jam Butty will be making a pop up appearance along the route of what will be the very last Rosie's Walk in Aldridge this coming Sunday (17th July).

Rosie's Walk, or more accurately Rosie's Helping Hands, has been a local charity inspired by the tragic and senseless killing of Rosie Ross in Birmingham on 12th May 2001 when she was just sixteen. Each year a large crowd gather near Longwood Boat club and walk a three mile circuit in her memory, raising about £15,000 pa which is used to benefit local children's works.

As well as a canalside walk, the route takes you through the Hayhead Local Nature Reserve which is itself one of the more fascinating lost sections of the BCN canal network.

This year will be the last and with the blessing of the event organisers (Rosie's mum) The Jam Butty will be open for preserve tastings and sales on the visitor moorings at Longwood Boat Club and Rushall Top Lock.

As an extra bonus the Homebrew Boat will be on the canal at the same time so you can sample locally made preserves and learn more about the subtle art of fermentation, as well as getting some exercise on what promises to be a lovely summer day.

The Jam Butty and The Homebrew Boat will be open from late morning till late afternoon and the walks themselves will start at noon and the last start for both the three and one mile routes will be at 2.30pm (Satnav WS9 0QQ).

See you there.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Bostin in Brownhills

Bostin in Brownhills
June 2016

I spent last weekend on the waterfront in Brownhills, taking nearly three hours to get there along the shallow and narrow Daw End Branch of the Wyrley and Essington canal on Saturday. I arrived in time to set the butty up ready for the Brownhills Canalside Festival and to go and chat the a couple of the other boaters for an hour or so, putting the issues of the EU to rights in the process.

Brownhills Canalside Festival 2016

This event is really a canal side fete put on by the local residents (The Brownhills Peoples Association to be accurate) and whilst a smattering of boats was needed to bring the water to life, it is not a boating festival by any stretch of the imagination. There was the Ikon art boat, the BCNS workboat Phoenix offering trips, two local boats in for the day, two permanent moorers who simply sat it out and then there was me, the first trading boat to appear at the event and a novel addition which went down well with the attendees.

The Jam Butty in action

The organisation is a bit hit and miss with limited direction and supervision, but there is a team spirit about the while thing and everyone just seems to muck in an it all comes together. There was no booking system for boats and no harbour master, so we all discussed the options and then made it happen. The limited number of boats should not come as a surprise when you remember that  Brownhills is at least a full days cruising on remaindered canals from any main waterways.

Lots of canoeing

There is something rather special about these small local events, organised by local community activists for the local community. From a trading perspective I never have high expectations but am so often pleasantly surprised, and Brownhills was no exception. I was trading solo with Helen staying at home with a friend so I scaled back the operations a bit, dropping the cordials and offering a more limited range which I can manage on my own.

Local musical acts

I woke to the sound of rain hammering down in the night but it had moved on my the morning and instead we had an unseasonal northerly breeze with a forecast of rail for late afternoon. These conditions called for the gazebo plus a couple of sides but come 10.00 am I was set up and by 10.10 I had covered my stall fee - not a bad start! The day continued in a steady fashion, never overrun but rarely quiet. I had some company over the lunch period but in the main I served alone and it surprised my just how many people I know, both locals and visitors. And so the day passed in a very sociable manner and by the time the rail arrived at 3.30 the table was looking a bit light on stock. In the end we have a good day with takings which would not have disgraced a big event like Droitwich.

But, as we have seen before, a late rain shower is the final curtain for outside events and the crowds just melted away and the stallholders trying to set gazebo dismantling records. I plodded on steadily and just after 5.00pm all was packed away and the Jam Butty was both weatherproof and ready to move.

And then a dilemma - do I stay or do I go? Well, I was already more than a bit damp so I pulled on my waterproofs and made a start on the return journey. The temperature plummeted and as I passed through Walsall Wood my breath was coming out as steam - great for the end of June! My destination was to stop at the offside mooring next to Aldridge Marina, only half a mile from home but a full two hours cruising from or mooring so with no plans for Monday morning I stopped for the night and was rewarded with a bright and dry end to my short trip out.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Brownhills Becons

Brownhills Canal Festival
June 2016

Brownhills, or Brownshill as one of my dear friends calls it, plays host to an annual canal festival but as you can imagine, its not high on most boaters itineraries. As a result its a one day event which is more to celebrate the Wyrley and Essington Canal which runs through it than about the boats.

There will be some boats in attendance, including a historic and the BCNS workboat Phoenix to offer boat trips, plus the IKON boat for an artistic dimension, as well a full compliment of land based stalls (the pitched sold out weeks ago) plus canoe displays and live music near the canoe club. All in all a nice little community event.

I passed through the Brownhills waterfront today and the area was alive with bunting and a big banner had been erected on the roundabout. However, the advertising alteration squad is active in the area, subtly changing the message which has triggered masses of interest on social media - a bit of a bummer!

If all had gone according to plan we would have been somewhere around Tamworth and making for the Grand Union when the festival is on. Given our limitations of movement at present and the fact that Brownhills is just 2.5 hours cruising away, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I contacted the organisers and asked for a trade boat slot, but we seem to be the first trade boat to make such an approach and we therefore made up policy on the fly. I guess I could have just arrived and set up the Jam Butty, but that seems wrong so we decided that paying the standard stallholder rate would be fair and I was delegated trade boat harbour master duty (for myself).

And so The Jam Butty will attend its very first Canal Festival this coming Sunday managed by just yours truly and any other friends who show up. 

If you are in the area its opposite the Brownhills Tesco's front door, and will run from 10.00am till 4.00pm on Sunday 26th June.

See you there!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Passport to Pelsall

Passport to Pelsall
June 2016

Right now the stars seem to be in alignment. Its the day after the summer solstice, the sun is out and most crucially, Helen is feeling well - so we seized the day and grabbed a night afloat.

The Fingerpost on Pelsall Common

There is an ill founded misconception that its all a bit grim on the northern BCN but nothing could be further from the truth. Tucked out in the far reaches of the remaindered section lies the village of Pelsall and with it a rather wonderful canal side common. This semi rural location has to be one of the gems of the BCN which, if it was anywhere else, would be rammed with boats moored bumper to bumper (think Tixall Wide).

Cannock Extension Canal

But because its in one of the remotest sections of the BCN - a full days cruising from the Main Line - it attracts few visitors. And so here we sit, moored next to the rather good Fingerpost pub in glorious isolation having had the ten miles of cruising without meeting a single moving boat.

Not that it has always been this way. The common used to be home to a enormous ironworks with blast furnaces blazing away 24 hours a day, fed by dozens of Joey or Day Boats bringing coal, ironstone and limestone and taking finished product out. But those days of industry are long gone and the sounds of birdsong seem to have eradicated even the echoes.

Of course, others do know of this spot and periodically the common is the venue for canal festivals. BCNS tend to hold biannual events here but this year its the turn of the IWA's big festival which will attract over 150 boats over the August bank holiday weekend. Given our change of plan this summer it seemed daft not to take advantage of the IWA gathering so Wand'ring Bark and The Jam Butty will be attending and offering as fine a selection of preserves as you are likely to find.

As this spot is three hours cruising from Longwood (not towing the butty) it is a regular destination and one which photographs well through the season. I attach a selection of tonight's images to let you see what you are missing. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Rain does not stop play

Paying CRT's Bradley lock gate factory a visit
June 2016

When I spent time with Outward Bound there was a saying that "its not the wrong sort of weather, its the wrong sort of clothes".

Well, yesterday was a time when the maxim rang very true. Yesterday was the second of three BCNS Explorer Cruises of 2016, chaperoned tours of the lesser cruised parts of the BCN canal system hosted by Stuart and Marie Sherratt, who also happen to moor next to us.

The dreary Moorcroft moorings (opposite the site of the Monway Arm)

Each day the cruise moves on for four hours or so, and the organisers try to include a visit or activity relevant to the place. One very popular activity is a visit to CRT's Bradley lock gate factory, which fits very nicely with a guided walk along the lost Bradley Locks and Gospel Oak branches - which is where I come in.

There is nowhere else in the country where there is such a concentration of lost canals, with no less than six almost parallel routes in just a couple of miles (Bentley, Bradley, Gospel Oak, Ocker Hill, Toll End Communication and Haines). This is therefore fertile canal huynting territory and the Bradley Locks Branch offers a bit of everything, which makes for an interesting 45 minute ramble.

The land drain with more water than usual

I don't claim to be a great historian as my passion is to pull my boots on and get out into the field and see things first hand, so I am indebted to the research undertaken by Ray Shill and the cartography of Richard Dean which together form the basis of my interpretations. I must have done this walk seven or eight times and long suffering Stuart has patiently listened to them all. I did ask if he got bored and was told that they were different each time, but its unclear if this is due to me playing fast and loose with history or having a bad memory for my script!

On this occasion the morning was both misty and raining. It was so bad I even packed my waterproof trousers. I hate walking in waterproof trousers but on this occasion I gave in and pulled them on arriving at the Moorcroft moorings at 8.30am, and wondered just how many people would attend from the 19 boats. In the event about 80% ventured out, all adopting a different strategy to combat the rain - some in full waterproofs and some under umbrellas, others opted for the "skin dries" approach and sported shorts and sandals.

I usually start my talk with an assurance that the path is well made and dry but luckily I omitted the dry bit - the paths were awash and we spent more time on the grass than the cinders. We also adapted the stopping points to take advantage of the shelter offered by the bridges on the route, and the occasional breaks when the rain slowed to a hard drizzle.

In the event we had good walk up to Bradley and on this occasion the land drain, which runs through the old locks, was in full spate. It was quite impressive given the tiny catchment area it is drawing on. Also, I hadn't realised the concrete wall at the bottom of the lock chambers was shaped to replicate a wooden gate. How could I miss that during my previous visits?

The Gospel Oak Branch from the Walsall Canal

The Bradley works have just installed a new gantry crane and cross cut saw which meant that all the finished gates had been moved outside and there wasn't a lot of work in progress to see. What I did see were the gates ready for filling to Ryders Green and Smethwick during the July stoppage plus a large set destines for the Staffs and Worcester this winter. Usually they are busy spraying the gates with water to prevent shrinkage, but at present nature is addressing this issue admirably.

The rain continued as re walked back to the Gospel Oak pub for a leisurely pint and then back down the Gospel Oak Branch to the mooring from which the flotilla will set out for Walsall.