Saturday, 3 October 2015

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love
October 2015

For those of you of a certain age the title of this post will send a 1980 Dire Straits song wizzing round your head, recalling the joys of a now closed funfair at Whitley Bay near Newcastle.

The happy couple in Castle Basin

But this post has nothing to do with fun fairs.

Today I notched up a first, which is something of a rarity. Helen and I attended the wedding of Mark and Justina in the limestone caverns of the Dudley Canal Tunnel. To be technically accurate it was a pagan handfasting ceremony, and whilst the elements may be different to those we usually witness, the end result was still the marriage of two friends and fellow Roving Traders.

I dunno what happened here - my camera threw a surreal wobbly!

Fifty guests gathered in the car park of the Tunnel Trust and were duly ushered down to a trip boat which was preceded by the groom on a decorated tunnel tug. We were togged out in the obligatory hard hats and were treated to the updated audio visual presentation before reaching the singing cavern where we disembarked and formed a circle, organised by Wendy, the Pagan celebrant (I am not sure what her actual title is). 

You don't see this in the CofE!!!!!

 ... and the altar was not quite the same... (but I rather liked the chocolate muffin ;-))

The ceremony from handfasting to broom jumping

Justina arrived aboard the tug and so the most unusual of ceremonies unfolded. 

The whole event was very chilled and laid back, with lots of humour, personality and spontaneity offered by all parties, all held the dark shadowy space beneath Dudley Castle. 

The guests

Whilst the darkness made photography challenging, the subject matter offered a target rich environment. 

And so Mark and Justina completed the handfasting ceremony and jumped the broom, stepping into a new era of married life together. 

Thank you for inviting us and accept our best wishes for your future.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Super Moon

Super Moon
September 2015

I like astronomy, but not enough to get myself out of bed for a lunar eclipse. 

But that said, I did find myself up and getting ready for work at 6.15am and as I busied myself making some porridge for breakfast I saw the final moments of the moonset with the moon looking larger than I have ever seen it before.

Of course, I grabbed my camera (cant find my tripod since we moved) and did the best I could from the back wall of the yard.

Not as stunning as many images of there event but there you go, a memento of the occasion.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Explorer B to Bradley

Explorer B to Bradley
September 2015

Last week saw the second formal BCNS Explorer Cruise of 2015 make its way around the lesser travelled sections of the BCN, led by Stuart and Marie Sherratt.

Rotten Park Reservoir Autumn 2015

This time there were about 24 boats which I met up with twice. Firstly I met them during their stop at Longwood Boat Club, our home mooring which was a flying visit and then a longer visit when I met them at Broadwaters two days later to lead a walk along the abandoned Bradley Locks, Rotten Brunt and Gospel Oak routes.

A new lock gate nearing completion

This is a good "lost canals" walk because its passes through the thick of the abandoned routes and it can be linked with 1. A visit to the Bradley Lock Gate factory  and 2. A visit to the Gospel Oak pub for liquid refreshment on the way back. I am a cheap date - my price for the walk is a pint!

The dry dock storage area

But I had started out early because as part of an ongoing bit of research into the reservoirs of the BCN, I wanted to take an early morning photograph of the Rotten Park Reservoir. Rotten Park and Broadwaters are not exactly close, but I managed the two locations even through the rush hour traffic.

Heel posts - not Mills Bombs!

The Bradley factory are always well worth a visit, with all those big boys toys on show and carpentry projects underway which are of epic proportions.

 The huge bandsaw - with my Blackberry to indicate the size

Did you know that each lock gate is made by just one carpenter and the process typically takes about a week. A small gate may cost circa £10,000 and a large one £25,000 and will have a life span of 22 to 25 years. The oak used is not treated in any way and wandering around the yard is like reading the winter stoppage list - with the name of each lock to be re-gates painted on the balance beam.

I love the kit they use, particularly the bandsaw with huge teeth - see my Blackberry in comparison.

The 2015 vintage gate plates

I did leave the factory with a souvenir courtesy of Stuart's intervention. I have long hankered for a spare lock gate construction date casting. I saw Stuart pull one out of the skip a year or two ago and this time he emerged from the store room with two plates dated 2013 clanking in his ruck sack. Let me be clear that they were given to him! Anyway, one of these was handed over and is destined to adorn my new shed, which will confuse visitors who will assume that it was "Built at Bradley 2013".

Always something of interest in the skip!

On my way back I stopped off at the Smethwick Heritage Centre in Victoria Park as part of the reservoir project, a place I had assumed was the site of the Smethwick Great Reservoir built to serve the original Brindley summit. In the centre I found a good map from the 1840's which clearly showed the reservoir on the other side of the road, a site which was decommissioned and then built on in 1900.

The Great Reservoir - Smethwick

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Black Country Boating Festival

Black Country Boating Festival
September 2015

Where have the two weeks gone since the BCBF event at Windmill End?

Helen and Andy manning the stall.

Photo courtesy of a certain Mr Maslin

This year was the 30th anniversary festival and the event was bigger and better than ever, helped along the way with some very kind weather. It rained hard as we set up on Saturday morning and again as we made our way home on the Monday, but for the event itself the sun shone down on us and encouraged the crowds to return to this atmospheric location.

A heaving main drag

The lead in to the festival was not without its traumas. As you will recall, our propshaft coupling had all but failed and the engineer from Oxley Marine showed up to offer a terminal prognosis. Two studs had pulled out of the casting and the other two were loose. We debated the possibility of helicoiling them till we saw that the rubber was parting company from the casting in four places. There was no option but to fit a new unit. Hey ho - it has given good service for 13 years and for the last 5 it has been running with a dodgey pinned stud, so I guess it didn't owe us anything.

As for the festival... what can I say?  From a trade point of view it was an absolutely stinking success with sales breaking all records. Our regular customers come back thick and fast so that on the afternoons we didn't sell - we just took £10 notes and filled bags. Attending this festival is a no brainer for us.

But there is so much more to this festival than the trading. From a social perspective it has to be my favourite. We have been going so long that the organisers are now friends. Then there are the other traders who we see every year and we make the most of the opportunity to share a bevvy or three and indulge in a game of cards. Of course, this activity seems to centre on The Homebrew Boat with Sandra and Barry.

The Jam Butty in fighting trim

One facet I really like about this event is the local participation which manifests itself in the Church in the Beer Tent where the local churches come together to worship. The preacher was a bit long but delivered an interesting take on the Syrian refugees, likening then to the Good Samaritan parable. The other local angle was the inclusion of a second entertainment venue complete with bar and burger van. The stage was populated with local talent some of which were very, very good.

The second stage

All in all an excellent 30th anniversary event. 

Will we be back next year? You bet we will - all booked and paid for!

Our journey home was helped by Chris Dinsdale who met us outside the Netherton Tunnel. In spite of the rain we still gathered Blackberries and Elderberries, yours truly losing a fork in the top lock of the Rushall flight. The Sea Searcher came to my rescue and after a minute or two the gleaming implement emerged much to the amazement of Chris and Helen. Halfie will appreciate this!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Up the Cut to Windmill End

Up the cut to Windmill End
September 2015

On our return to the canals we were immediately greeted by Smiffy who helped us up the locks into Stourport Basin and the much needed facilities.

From there it was a steady plod up the Staffs and Worcester, pausing at Kinver to have our new cratch cover repaired after an unfortunate altercation with Evesham Lock.

 Passing Morgana at Primrose hill

Scenes from Stourbridge Locks

Along the way the Centaflex coupling, which had been running on 3 bolts, started to show signs of terminal decline so we took it very easy as we entered the Stourbridge Canal, playing leapfrog with a couple of Roving Trader boats which were returning from Stourport Floating Market. 

The Stourbridge locks were very attractive and surprisingly productive from a foraging perspective and there is an interesting twist at the top lock where evidence of mining settlement become apparent in the lock walls.

Settlement repairs - mining subsidence!

An inspection at Merry Hill revealed we were down to just two studs and they were on borrowed time! We therefore made a very slow approach to the Windmill End site of the BCBF on Thursday evening followed by a "help" call to RCR!

 Delph Locks

Lodge Farm Reservoir