Monday, 22 September 2014

Oldbury Loop BCN - part 2

Oldbury Loop BCN - Part Two
Brimingham Street to Old Main Line Via Bromford Road
September 2014

We pick up the trail of the Oldbury Loop as it emerges from beneath the Health Centre and Primary School.

Oldbury Loop Canal near New Meeting St

Undertaking this sort of field work does carry its risks. Fortunately my wanderings were conducted at 9.00 am on a Saturday morning but mooching around a school with a camera isn't generally very advisable and I was glad that I wasn't picked up for some sort of illicit or undesirable activity. That said, a delivery driver saw me marching round in purposeful but erratic circles and asked me if I was lost. He seemed genuinely interested in my quest for a canal which was filled in 60 years ago and suggested that I may find some remains neat Sandwell Council's offices to the north of the town.

The Oldbury Loop Canal from Bromford Bridge

I skirted round the school playing fields and managed to pick up the line of the canal just beyond New Meeting Street, an area occupied by modern housing. The line of the canal has been left as public open space and I laughed out loud when I approached Bromford Road. The canal may have gone but the bricked up arch stands clear and proud, probably the best built remains on the 2.5 mile waterway.

Bromford Road Bridge

Beyond Bromford Road the canal bed can be found in an overgrown stand of trees (behind the fence marked "Dangerous - no access"). It's course then either tracks beside or lies under the Oldbury Ringway, but the wide bit of open ground to the north of the road and the off set location of the foot bridge support (probably on the site of Cockscroft Bridge) gives credence to the canal route being to one side of the road. Certainly the 92 year old gentleman and long time local resident I stopped seemed to think that is where it used to lie.

Probable line of the Canal near Sandwell Council's offices

For the remainder the course is a matter of conjecture. The line appears to track just to the north Newfield Road, running behind an electricity pylon, behind the loading bays of the new retail outlets, and in the grounds of a now abandoned factory. The site was closed at the time of my visit but reference to Google Earth reveals a very short length of canal as it approaches the New Main Line, and still in water being used as a cooling pond.

Irregular concrete coping marking the northern junction with the Old Main Line

The northern exit to the Old Main Line is even more obscure that its fellow to the south. There is no trace of a roving bridge and the only clue as to its whereabouts is a gap in the bull nose engineering bricks which edge the towpath, replaced by a rather crude stretch of concrete.

To be honest, I never expected to find a lot of remains here but in the end the route more than justified two hours of my time and a soaking when the heavens opened on an ill prepared canal historian.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Oldbury Loop BCN - part 1

Oldbury Loop BCN
Part One - Old Main Line to Birmingham Street
September 2014

I have had some unfinished business in the Oldbury area.

Other posts in this series:

1. Old Main Line to Birmingham Street (this post)
2. New Meeting Street to the Old Main line via Bromford Road (click)

The Old Main line may be a bit remote to some but even this ancient waterway was subjected to some shortening and straightening over the years. The section which has been nagging away at me for years is the loop which wound its way round the centre of Oldbury but ceased to part of the main line in 1820/1821, which itself became bypassed by the later construction of the "Island" New Main Line.

The Oldbury Loop - from The Other 60 Miles

The loop was about 2.5 miles long and operated to serve local industry until well into the 1950's.

Southern entrance to the Oldbury Loop

It had its southern entrance opposite what was Allens Boatyard and near Whimsy Bridge, now a mere  shadow of its earlier self with just one short stub of several fingers of water which used to exist. Not that there is a lot to see of the junction with the original roving bridge first dropped to a platform a few inches over the water and now only distinguishable by a just discernible indentation in the towpath.

A road following the canal line to what is now The Ringway (previously a railway)

The canal was in water as far as far as the Oldbury Ringway till the 1980's at which time the old railway and its bridge was replaced by the new road. Today the route is covered by an access road to the rear of a Mecca Bingo Hall. From here the canal crossed The Ringway skirting by Judge Close where a road sign reassuring proclaims "Canal Street". 

Proof that a canal went this way!

The Birmingham Street crossing represents something of a challenge. As far as I can tell the old canal bridge still exists but I would need an excavator to prove the point. Reference to Richard Chester-Browne's The Other 60 Miles indicates that the bridge and the buildings it carried were visible in the 1970's. The canal went under the road at the point the buildings are at their thinnest and when viewed from Judge Close, a canal width gap exists to the rear of the buildings.

 The two sides of the obscured Birmingham St Bridge

When explored on foot there is a very distinct hump in the road, often suggesting a canal bridge, and opposite a footpath descends behind some newish sheltered housing, tracking the old towpath. The northern portal must now exist behind the garage of the housing with the canal track continuing north beneath the new Health Centre and adjoining Primary School.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

A Star is Born

No we havn't been on Strictly - but close!
September 2014

If you were wondering why we made a mad dash to Wigrams Turn over the bank holiday, all can now be revealed.

With Tim amd Pru - after the "its a wrap"

Thanks to a comment by Maffi, we were asked to take part in the next series of Great Canal Journeys with Timothy West and Prunella Scales. And so we spent the better part of Friday afternoon miked up and trying very hard to ignore the presence of huge cameras in the confines of Wand'ring Bark.

Filming in a narrowboat has its challenges

The brief was to do a spot of foraging with them as they explore the South Oxford Canal so Helen was off with Pru making jam whilst I paired off with Tim to pick Sloes and make Sloe Gin.

The Jam Butty attracts attention - as usual

I have to admit that the whole experience was great, certainly a highlight of 2014 and Tim and Pru were a delight to meet and spend time with.

Fun with foraging

Hopefully the snatched photos give a flavour of the experience.

Tim - a lovely gentleman!

My big apology is to all the boaters using the Napton Flight who found both out boats tied up on the lock landing - it was their idea, not ours - honest!

Friday, 29 August 2014

A quick cruise to Calcutt

A bank holiday bonus
August 2014

There has been more than a touch of Groundhog Day about our boating just recently.

There we were idly planning a trip on the Shroppie over the bank holiday weekend when out plans took a dramatic turn to the south. Instead of a leisurely cruise on the flat we did a tough 3.5 days over the Birmingham Plateau and on to Calcutt via the North Stratford. At the end of this trip the boats have been left in the unfamiliar surroundings of Calcutt Marina for a couple of weeks. There is method to this madness - but I would have to kill you if I told you why - so I wont! All will be revealed.

Friday was a 7.30 start from Coven, passing The Jamiesons and Free Spirit by the pub and then making a rather slow ascent up the Wolverhampton 21 which offered some great blackberries. We seem to have made this trip a lot this year and once again we were to be found towing down the New Main Line and arriving at the back of Symphony Court at 6.30pm. We were fortunate to fine a freshly vacated mooring but maneuvering into the gap with the butty attached attracted lots of attention.

The Jam Butty is becoming a well known sight in the area - having been in several Waterways World event reports recently. Thats about to get a whole lot worse with a three page spread in the October edition (out 1st week of Sept).

Then it was another early start down the North Stratford where we met out friends Dave and Pat who helped us down the Lapworth Flight along which we picked several kilos of Damsons. The night was spent in the short arm connecting the Stratford with the Grand Union. Which canal is this?

Sunday was the trip to Hatton and along the way we stopped for water, making a fresh acquaintance with Tyseley / The Mikron who were resting after an evening performance. Hatton was busy at the top and in spite of 6 volunteers being on duty none seemed inclined to offer any assistance! The butty causes some confusion in these locks. Oncoming boats cant see the butty behind us and are confused when I don't indicate which way I will be maneuvering round them. The fact is that I need to keep moving in a more or less straight line and have to wait for someone to move out of the next lock and make a space I can aim for. An odd stalemate can ensue as we both wait for someone to make the first move... I never blink first!

A bonus of travelling this way in late August is the supply of plums - red ones, Pershore Yellow Egg and Damsons - kilos and kilos of them.

With the Sunday forecast predicting heavy rain we pressed on till dark, reaching the foot of the staircase in last light.

Sunday was a run up Stockton Locks - wet all the way but only soaking for the last two. Eventually Calcutt was reached at 2.00pm and our temporary home found in the driving rain.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Blisworth Festival filled to overflowing

Blisworth Canal Festival
August 2014

We have been attending Blisworth Festival for three of the four years it has been running, watching it grow from a large village fete to the monster it became this year. Sadly Blisworth is too far to reach by boat so we fall back on the good old gazebo and a night in a bed and breakfast.

A busy Blisworth waterfront

Exhibitors have been quick to spot the free festival and this year there were over eighty stall holders and the number of trade boats doubled as well. But all this extra size puts a strain on the village infrastructure with last years nearly empty Festival Field becoming a sea of tents. This year every nook and cranny of the village was occupied and with the best of the weekend forecast for Saturday over 20,000 visitors flocked in.

The ever popular face painter

But all this growth isn't entirely good news. Not only do a lot of stall holders and trade boats find themselves in less than great positions, the event is in danger of losing the "villagey" aspect which has made it all so special in the past. That said, the people of Blisworth have come to know and appreciate our preserves, coming back to buy more year after year. As a result we had a near record day with preserves flying off our stall all afternoon.

Our long association with Blisworth has also provided a great source of ingredients. One customer bought two jars of Meadowsweet with Mirabelle Plum jam and told us that she had a tree laden with these yellow plums in her front garden, and we were welcome to pick them. Half an hour up a ladder resulted in 14kg's of fruit ready for more jam and chutney. And then there is the allotment society who had some surplus fruit so we returned home with raw ingredients for our next few batches.

An night in Stoke Bruene

It would have been nice to follow this up with a second day of busy trading but the remnants of hurricane Bertha had other ideas. For once the forecasters had it right - rain, serious rain all morning followed with storm force wind. We returned to a dripping gazebo at 9.00 am and it was clear that even if we did set the stall up there would be few customers wading along the towpath which had more than a passing resemblance to the canal it tracks. 

So along with most of the other stall holders we threw in the towel, folded up the dripping canvas and headed back to Birmingham. 

The Willows and Moomins

But all was not lost as we discovered that the Willows and Moomins were moored in Cambrian Wharf so we all trouped over to the Piano and Pitcher for a chat and coffee whilst we watched the rain fall one a sodden Brindley Place. Its better when viewed from the warm and dry!