Monday, 31 August 2015

Off down the Stratford

Summer 2015
Longwood to Hockley Heath
August 2015

Its August Bank Holiday Monday and here we are at Hockley Heath, two days into our summer trip..... and its chucking it down!

When towing The Jam Butty we are constantly asked where we are going and its amusing to say "Windmill End", a look of confusion crossing their faces as they think "isn't Windmill end on the BCN?.... but you are going south".

It is true that we are making for the Black Country Boating Festival, but that's not for two weeks so we are paying Stratford and Tewkesbury a visit along the way. With the summer fruit a bit late this year we should also be able to stock up on wild ingredients and come to the festival armed with some very fresh produce. 

Day one was abandoned before we even started. The thing is that we are off to New York in a few weeks and will be returning in the Queen Mary 2, which dictates a level of sartorial elegance neither Helen or I can really achieve at present. So it was a case of load up the boat and then hit central Birmingham and give the credit card a good old work out.

From a boating perspective day two was more productive. The mile pound below Rushall Locks (why were they called "Moshes"?) has been fixed and we are back to normal water levels - ie shallow - and then onto the long slow Tame Valley. With the temperature at about 22 it was perfect boating weather and as you would predict, the northern BCN was heaving (not). In fact we travelled on the backwaters for seven hours before we saw another boat - its like having 40 miles of personal canal which is great. 

The northern BCN canals are much cleaner these days and whilst we had to make half a dozen trips down the weed hatch they were all for its given purpose - to clear weed which does build up an late summer. Nothing nasty, not even many poly bags.

As we passed through Smethwick I got to wondering. When the old Brindley summit existed it was fed by Smethwick Great Reservoir, which was drained in the mid 1800's after Rotton Park Reservoir came on stream. My question is "where was it". My research suggests it was the site of today's Victoria Park but I am not sure. Answers in the comments box please.

A very pleasant day ended at Symphony Court where we moored on the private moorings and shared a few glasses of wine with Nick and Victoria.

As we move towards out summers aboard the boat phase in 2016, we are trying not to hurry and move as we fancy. It was therefore a 10.00am departure from central Birmingham, the butty being the focus of a great many photos, as usual. Then it was the two and a half hour pull out to Kings Norton Junction where we dropped off a jar of jam to the guys who live in the old junction house as a thank you for putting up with us during the recent festival.

Leaving the Worcester Birmingham and transferring to the North Stratford also meant we left most of the hire boats behind and for the next five hours no boats came up behind us. That's a real bonus because trying to facilitate an overtaking maneuver on a shallow, narrow waterway is a real challenge.

Just before we set off I decided to tackle the stern gland problem. It was repacked a couple of years ago but it had reached the maximum adjustment and water was coming in steadily - and the auto pump was kicking in every three hours of travel. I was fearing that new stern gear was needed but before going to that expense I decided to repack it myself using some thick gauge packing I had in reserve. I extracted the old packing with a curved bradawl tool I found in my grandfathers shoe repairing box and then discovered that the new square profile packing was too thick to get into the stuffing box. Undaunted, I compresses it a bit with a hammer and then pressed it home using the stuffing box adjuster plate to drive it home. All seemed ok till I ram the engine in gear and the stern gland warmed up!

I was therefore more than a bit nervous when we started off on our two week trip with a very uncertain stern gland. However, I forced plenty of grease into it and hoped for the best. The grease did the trick and it soon bedded in and guess what - two days of travel and not so much as a drop of water! I have even mopped out the drip box to check and so far it remains stubbornly dry!

And to here we sit, planning our New York itinerary, practicing our dance moves on the towpath (almost as funny as it was romantic) and waiting for the blinking rain to stop. Hopefully we will be off down the Lapworth Flight this afternoon and arrive in Stratford on Wednesday.

Sorry, no photos so far. Will do better next time!

Happy bank holiday one and all.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Blistering Blisworth

Blisworth Canal Festival 2015
August 2015

Its the first weekend in August so it must be the Blisworth Canal Festival, an event which has entered its seventh year and this time it was bigger and better than ever before.

Blisworth Wharf on festival weekend

Last year the Saturday was good but the Sunday welcomed the entrails of a tropical storm which washed the event out completely. This year the weather was kinder to a fault, with the thermometer hovering in the high 20's and barely a breath of wind to rustle the Gazebo.

This represents a landmark event as it is the last time we will trade from the gazebo on land - next year we will trade from The Jam Butty - so its goodbye to our pitch behind the allotment society and goodbye to the lovely studio B&B near Roade.

Ice Cream and shade

We were invited to spend Friday night with Sandra and Barry (Homebrew Boat) so we rocked up in late afternoon and were just setting up the stall when Areandare slid through the bridge. The evening saw the sampling of wine and beer and the conclusion of a very satisfactory game of Six handed Rummy (a game of great skill which saw the girls roundly trounced and me stalking Barry only to steal the lead in the last round).


This event grows and grown and every year we seem to see the fields given over to car parks grow in number. With good weather forecast for the whole weekend the crowds turned out in force - an estimated 23,000 on day one only to be eclipsed on day two when the overall weekend total approached 60,000! 

Festival overspill

From a trading point of view Saturday is normally the busy day and Sunday being more relaxed, but in this case the Saturday was just too hot and the huge crowds milled around listlessly more interested on shade, water and ice cream than buying stuff from boats. Hey ho, Sunday was fresher and more inspirational for the buying public many of whom are repeat customers who beat a path to our stall each year for their jammy fix.

Heritage Boats at Blisworh

All in all this is an extraordinary event which just grows and grows, a village fete on steroids which in the realms of canal festivals is in some ways unique. We don't want to get locked into a fixed cycle of events, but come August 2016 we will be back.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Leasowes

Lapal Canal
July 2015

Tracking down the western portal of the Lapal Tunnel is very tricky All trace has been covered but the maps suggest it exited just west of Lapal Lane South, close to the fishponds of St Marys Abbey. 

Map of western end of Lapal Canal - courtesy of Waterways Routes

Fishpond dams with manhole cover

There is a footpath from Lapal Lane to the fishponds which offers a great view of the remains of St Mary's. There appears to be a vent / manhole cover in one pf the fishpond dams which clearly is not medieval and may be a tunnel vent inserted after closure.

Canal at Mucklow Hill

The canal swung north at this point and crossed what is now the A456 just below the  Black Horse Pub, an old boatman's pub.

From here the canal track becomes obvious heading north just to the west of Cloister Drive with the towpath turned into a cinder footpath. The canal bed is full of weed cut clearly visible as it contours round the hill eventually reaching a narrows which was reconstructed in the 1990's. 

Then suddenly the canal is in water as it crosses Leasowes Park on one of the biggest embankments have ever seen. I had been wondering where all the tunnel spoil went and I guess the embankment offers a likely solution to its absence from the fields around the western end.

The canal is largely empty over the embankment with just a foot or so of rainwater offering a canal like appearance but it offers a great circular walk right up to Mucklow Hill and then back again on the other side, the path flanked by the remains of a minature railway track with amazing views over the trees surrounding Breaches Pool in Leasowes Park. A spectacular sight even in the pouring rain!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Selly Oak to the Lapal Tunnel

Lapal Canal
Selly Oak Park to the Lapal Tunnel
July 2015

It has to be said that the exploration of the BCN's lost canals can often lead me to the dark and dingy back end of the Black Country but this walk turns out to be quite a delight, jumping from public park yo open space and linked by  a nearly continous thread of an long lost canal. If ever there is a route worth walking its this one.

Footpath on the Lapal Canal Route

You dont need fancy maps apart from something to help you find the locations of the two tunnel portals which are not immediately apparent.

Lapal Canal western end - courtesy of Waterways Routes

The route out of Selly Oak Park is clear with the canal infilled but its bed remains as a path which proceeds in a straight line alongside Reservoir Road as far as Bourn Brook and then alongside Swinford Road to the now buried portal at California.

Somery Lane Bridge

Along the way the track runs under a tunnel of trees. Mostly its a pleasant walk but here and there it lapses into a tip with burnt matresses and abandoned motorcycles in the verges. 

At the California end the lad starts to rise and the canal used to run in a deep cutting. Today Somery Lane Bridge remains the cutting filled to the brim and the line beyond built on by an industrial site.

Beyond Somery Lane

At  the very end, where the tunnel dug under the hill, the portal was buried long ago. Today the entrance area is public open ground, built on a landfill site with just the stubs of old ventilation pipes to show its boundaries. There is just one telltale built fragment remaining - a wall which was a bridge parapet over the tunnel portal which isn't recognisable as such unless you know what to look for.

Bridge parapet over tunnel entrance

  1. Same place in the 1950's

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Selly Oak

Lapal Canal
Selly Oak
July 2015

Posts in this series:
1. Selly Oak - this post
2. Selly Oak Park to Lapal Tunnel
3. Lapal Tunnel to Leasowes Park

At last, after a long break I have been back on the trail of the lonesome canal.

Lapal Canal courtesy of Waterways Routes

The prospect of "family church" was not an enticing so in spite of a very suspect weather forecast I was up and out by 6.30am, initially visiting Kings Norton to pick up a bagful of Himalayan Balsam flowers to try out their potential for a jelly, a vinegar and a cordial and then on to take a look at what is now referred to as the Lapal Canal.

Hamalayan Balsam in Kings Norton Park

Now lets get this right. What I am actually talking about is the abandoned section between Hawne Basin and Selly Oak which includes and infamous Lapal Tunnel with its tendency to collapse.Technically this is part of the Dudley No 2 Canal that went all the way to Blowers Green where it met up with the Dudley No1 Canal but the Lapal Canal has a nice ring to it..

Junction with the Dudley No2 Canal

This six mile stretch is the last significant chunk of the abandoned BCN which I have yet to explore and afterwards there is just an assortment of odds and ends so this was something of a landmark walk.

Lapal Canal - Battery Park site under construction August 2015

I started at the Selly Oak end, parking at the Park and Ride but as an alternative there is a good car park in front of the Scout Hut in Selly Oak Park. This starting point offers a good vantage point to view the old canal junction where the Dudley No2 joined the Worcester Birmingham Canal, now visible as just a rise in the towpath.

Harborne Lane Bridge in Selly Oak

The canal route behind the new Homebase store is not accessible but its route emerges beneath the new Harborne Lane bridge which was built with a navigable channel beneath. 
However, the canal route become much more apparent as it enters Selly Oak Park. 

Selly Oak Park Bridge

There has been a lot of time spent of this section, through to the extant Selly Oak Park Bridge which still stands astride a dry channel.