Thursday, 31 December 2009

Smotherfly section of the Pinxton Arm

Smotherfly section of the Pinxton Arm
Cromford Canal
Decenber 2009

Maybe it's fitting the the last post of 2009 covers the last section of the Pinxton Arm, and the section which has been completely obliterated by open cast mining.

Panorama of Smotherfy opencast mine looking south

An old year is behind us but we stand on the brink of something new, a future which is uncertain but not without hope. The same could be said for this ravaged length of canal whose line is irrecoverably lost, but which has scope for rebirth in a new format.

With the deep shaft mines played out, the area was subjected to the final ignominity of having all it's overburden scraped away, and the last remnants of coal torn out in the brutal opencast fashion. This geological rape included the loss of the canal, collateral damage which was seen as insignificant at the time.

Central section of the new canal channel

However, a substantial drainage channel was built across the site at more or less the level of the old canal, and planning permission has been granted for it's retention as a navigable canal linking the watered section bat Pinxton Wharf with the infilled but intact section between Smotherfly and Ironville.

In inspection of the site reveals few clues about the original line of the canal, which may have wound round the northern periphery of the mining area, or more likely, cut a path right across the middle. Either way, the old channel is no more and the future of this canal is to be found in the form of the diverted River Erewash, and thank God for it's presence, and for the willingness of the local authority to preserve it as part of the restoration work.

That just leaves the locked section between Ironville and Langley Mills. How hard can it be!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Boat Inn, Pinxton

Boat Inn at Pinxton
Cromford Canal
December 2009

Our visit to Pinxton was supposed to include a pub meal, and I had considered sampling the culinary delights of the Boat Inn, an old boating pub which stands a couple of hundred yards down the canal.

Library pictures on Wikepedia revealed a very run down looking pub which didnt' look too exciting, and contingency plans were therefore laid in case it wasn't up to scratch. In the event the Boat Inn was both worse and better than we expected.

Worse, in that the old building has been demolished and now exists only in the form of a large pile of rubble.

Old Boat Inn at Pinxton

Better, in that a whole new pub has been built on the site.

The snag is that the pub isn't finished and stands as an empty shell, with progress seemingly stalled. It will be a lovely spot when it is complete, but I have to wonder about it's location. If you know where to find it, it would be great but I fear that there is insufficient local trade to support it and it is too remote to bring custom in from elsewhere.

New Boat Inn at Pinxton

Now, if the canal were restored, which is far more than an outside possibility, the place would make a delightful interim destination pending full restoration of the whole Cromford Canal up the Amber Valley. The section of canal in front the pub is still in water, and it is easy to visualise a line of boats moored up against the old stone edging, smoke curling from their chimneys whilst the boaters socialise in the warmth of the nearby canalside inn.

Canal at Pinxton

In the meantime we had to look elsewhere for our lunch!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Pinxton Wharf - Cromford Canal

Pinxton Wharf
Cromford Canal
December 2009

Pinxton is an interesting little place in Derbyshire, located at the far end of the Pinxton Arm of the Cromford Canal, which is itself an abandoned extension of the little used Erewash Canal. That is a long winded way of saying that the place has a canal heritage, but it is currently well off the beaten boating track.

Regular readers will know that I have a longstanding interest in the lost canals of Nottinghanshire and Derbyshire, and the proximity of Tilly's boarding school makes on the ground exploration both possible and the basis of a good day out in the fresh air.

I last visited the start of the Pinxton Arm in the autumn, but managed to lose the line of the canal as it entered the Smotherfly opencast mine. This called for a return visit but expediency demanded that the exploration of the northern mile and a half be started at Pinxton Wharf end.

PInxton, it seems, was little more than a hamlet which scratched away a bit of surface drift mining before the canal arrived. The construction of the waterway transformed the place, which exploded in size, fuelled by extensive coal deposits and spawning a substantial pottery industry. Even today the southern half of the village is given over to large industrial sites, which dwarf the place.

The impact of the canal cannot be overstated, as evidenced by the residual road system. Instead of a high street Pinxton has Wharf Road and its centre which leads, unsurprisingly, to Pinxton Wharf.

I had fully expected a weeded up but of boggy bit of ground, surrounded by a stand of trees. The reality was quite different. Pinxton has taken the Wharf to its heart, with a well dredged pool complete with a path round its perimiter and an ample supply of fish to attact fishermen to its numerous jetties.

We found the place to be very pretty, on a clear winters day with blue skies overhead. The scene was enhanced by a pure white swan gliding over its oily smooth surface, and half a dozen fishermen attempting to catch the substantial pike which inhabit its murky depths.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Anson Branch, Reedswood

Anson Branch, Reedswood
Birmingham Canal Navigations
December 2009

The Anson Branch canal terminates at Reedswood Park, site of an abandoned coal mine.

Anson Branch beside Reedswood Park

The canal remains in water, running along the estern edge of the park and terminating in a large reed filled basin. A short walk to the north reveals a substanbtial reservoir which continues to feed the canal via a large concrete pipe.

Reedswood Reservoir

Mid way along this section an impressive arm leads off to the east with a bridge carrying the towpath over the entrance. Whilst the basin beyond the bridge is in water, the entrance itself is reeded up to the point that it is possible, with a little care, to walk across the entrance. Strangely, the whole basin is railed off whereas access to the equally dangerous canal is easy to reach. Probably health and safety gone mad, as usual.

Reedswood Basin

The park is surrounded by cast iron railings, which probably date back to the days it was a colliery.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Anson Branch North of M6, BCN

Anson Branch - North of M6
Anson Bridge to Reeds Wood Bridge
Birmingham Canal Navigations
December 2009

The remains of the Anson Branch emerges like a mirage beyond the M6 having passed under  Junction 10.

View south from Anson Bridge

When I say under the junction, I mean literally UNDER it. My last account of the southern part of the Anson Branch left the route high and dry, facing the towering embankment of the motorway. The whole junction was built over the 1830 canal, including two slip roads and the edge of the roundabout itself.

Anson Bridge

It is quite amazing to park up on Bloxwich Lane and peer over Anson Bridge, seeing not only a canal, but one which contains the clear free flowing water of Sneyd Brook. It is quite possible to climb over the parapet and have a mooch along the narrowed towpath, watching the canal run true and straight towards the northern side of the motorway junction to the south and away into the distance between a long line of trees to the north.

South from Reedswood Bridge

With the towpath completely overgrown, the next access point is at Reedswood Bridge, which carries Bentley Lane over the canal on the southern extremity of Reeds Wood Park, the ultimate desitnation of this canal.

Reedswood Bridge

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Anson Branch Canal south of M6

Anson Branch Canal
Southern Section - Walsall Canal Junction to M6
December 2009

Index for Anson Branch posts:

1. Southern Section - this post
2. North of the M6
3. Reedswood

My exploration of the Bentley Canal led, inevitably, to the Anson Branch which was it's link into the Walsall Canal 'mainline'.

Reed filled bed of Anson Branch Canal

Whereas the Bentley is completely dry and largely obliterated, fate has treated the Anson more kindly. It can be argued that it remains in water throught although I use the phrase 'in water' somewhat guardedly. What that actually means is that the canal bed is wet, but filled with reeds.

Anson Branch Junction with Walsall Canal

The junction with the Walsall Canal is recognisable and the length up to the M6 remained navigable till at least the mid 1970's. The first 400 yards are now clogged with reeds, but not so choked that you can walk acress the canal bed, if you know what I mean.

Bentley Canal Junction with Anson Branch Canal

This short canal has two aqueducts along its length, one over a tributary of the River Rea and then a larger associated bore, which used to contain  a railway track but is now used as part of the Monarch's Way cycle track.

Bentley Mill Way bridge over Anson Branch Canal

The junction with the Bentley Canal is dignified by a stretch of open water with a pipe bridge behind, but this illusion of a living canal is short lived. The watered section comes to an abrupt end at Bentley Mill Way bridge, which has it's northern portal bricked up.

Beyond Bentley Mill Way the line of the canal enters the Junction 10 Retail Park, it's exact route visible by a line of trees and a stand of ventlation shafts. One can only assume the the canal bed and cutting was used for infill. This line is emphatically terminated by the towering embankment of the M6 but I was delighted to find a photo of Tony Clayton's boat Linton pressed up against this obstacle in 1974. It is believed that this was that last time any boat made it this far.

Anson Branch Canal track next to Showcase Cinema J10 of the M6

The Anson Branch does have more to offer beyond the M6, but time and light was against us, so we beat a hasty retreat back to Wednesfield Junstion. The remainder of the Anson Branch will still be there for another day's exploration.

I leave you with a photo of one of the last boats to reach the M6 Culvert sometime before 1977

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas boaters

Happy Christmas boaters
25th Dec 2009

Wow, its Christmas once again. I am always amazed how the hurly burly of life caries us from the tail end of autumn to Christmas in one huge bound.

Captain Ahab afloat

Well, to those of you that log on today let me wish you a great day.

God bless you all and thank you for your friendship over the last year.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Excitement in the Captain's Cabin

Excitement in the Captain's Cabin
24th December 2009

There was much activity in the Captain's Cabin last night, and none of it nefarious!

Little was I to know that my recent quote from The Reverend Cleophus James (of Blues Brothers fame) would prove to be so prophetic:

And now people. When I woke up this morning, I heard a disturbing sound.

Last night I woke of in the middle of the night and was quietly pondering on the well being (or otherwise) of the water pipes on board Wand'ring Bark when I did indeed "hear a disturbing sound". On this occasion it wasn't a "thousand lost souls" but merely the one who had managed to plough straight into the parked vehicle which had, till 2.30am, stood in front of my neighbours house.

The scene form the Captain's Cabin - 3.00am 23rd December 2009

The impact sounded like half the roof falling off and I was up and at the window within 10 seconds. The scene that greeted me was surreal. The parked car was stove in at the back and had been shunted 100 yard down the road, and the other vehicle had slewed round, destroying all four sides and ending up in my neighbours drive with steam trailing from the front and red blood like coolant dribbling away down the curb.

The most alarming bit was the discovery of the unmoving form of the driver slumped across the passenger seat. We dashed down to find a very stunned driver hauling himself unsteadily to his feet and unable to communicate anything beyind a denial that he had been driving! Yeh - right.

And so began a procession of officialdom, starting with the police, then the ambulance service and finally the recovery waggon, which rolled up and did its noisy stuff at about 4.00am.

The final score:

Two written off cars
One sorry individual hauled off to face D&D / substance abuse charges
One destoyed front wall
A nights sleep lost for the residents.

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day............. not.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

My friend Jim

My friend Jim
6th December 2009
Staffs and Worcester Canal

I have a friend, let's call him Jim, who has a particular fondness for Rosie and Jim and has expressed a long held desire to take a trip on a narrowboat. I have known Jim since he was a toddler but never knew of our shared passion for boating, so it was a delight to spend a blustery December afternoon in his company taking Wand'ring Bark to Coven and back.

Sunset at Moat House Bridge

I made a day of it and spent the morning doing a spot of fettling, refixing the wardrobe doors with newly attached mirrors on the inside, touching up a bit of paintwork here and there plus giving the boat a good vacuum after all the carpentry that has being going on. My early arrival also meant that the stove was lit and the sausages and onions cooked and the and soup heated before the hungry hoardes arrived at 1.30pm.

Jim is a lovely young man of few words, but his delight at the boating experience was apparent from the huge smile which was fixed on his face for the whole trip. There was a very cold wind blowing and it did cross my mind that his smile was actually frozen on, but it remained in place when he decamped to the front deck under the cratch cover, where a bit of warmth from the stove was able to reach him.

As cruises go it was short and over very familiar water, but after two months of poking around abandoned canals, it was a huge joy just to be moving freely on a 'real' canal again.

Given the heavy clouds and poor light I had virtually given up hope of any decent photos but then, as if by magic, the skies cleared for the last ten mins before sunset, and we were treated to a spectacular winter scene. So spectacular that I failed in my supervisory duties with Jim and ran the boat aground, twice!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Jake and Elwood Blues, Tribute where it's due

Jake and Elwood Blues – Tribute where it is due

22nd December 2009

I took Jeff to see Jake and Elwood’s Christmas Party at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena on Sunday, or at least the end of it that represents the NIA Academy. By way of a contrast I also experienced ‘Thank you for the Music’ last month with Tilly in Derby, a performance featuring the ‘BeeGees and Abba’, so I feel that these two encounters with the tribute genre provide sufficient perspective to pass comment.

Jake and Elwood with the Black Rhino Band

The artists at both events threw themselves into their roles with passion, delivering very convincing performances. Jake & Elwood had Belushi & Ackroyd’s act down to a tee, including the cartwheels, the excessive beer consumption and those strange robotic movements which characterised Elwood’s stage persona in the classic 1980 film The Blues Brothers. The ‘Bee Gees’ and ‘Abba’ were similarly accomplished, producing sounds which were uncannily close to the originals.

And it wasn’t just the artists. The audience threw themselves into the event, overrunning the NIA with middle aged men in black suits, white shirts and a myriad of pork pie hats. To say that Jake and Elwood were singing to the converted would be an understatement!

So what is a tribute novice to make of it all?

Well, firstly I have to question if it is fair to classify Jake and Elwood as a tribute act, as the original Blues Brothers band only existed in the celluloid world of Hollywood but hey, that’s semantics. I really like Abba, the Bee Gee’s are ok in modest doses and I can’t get enough of the Blues Brothers, my favourite film of all time, so the shows had great entertainment potential.

In reality, the sound is there, the moves are there, even the ‘in character’ patter is there, but somehow there is still something missing. In the end I concluded that even on their very best days, a tribute act can’t be as good as the original artists were at their worst. But a strange phenomenon was apparent within these performances. After the initial ‘wow, they sound / look realistic’, and a subsequent period of scepticism, you find yourself being swept along in a tide of nostalgic good humour. We know that they aren’t real, they know that they aren’t real buy hey – it’s a whole lot of fun, so let’s sing along and enjoy ourselves for two hours of make believe.

Tribute bands do have their place in the musical constellation, letting us experience the music of the stars in a context similar to the original. And yes, they may be a mere echo of what went before, but so what. In the midst of these dark times an echo is better than silence.

I will finish with a quote from The Reverend Cleophus James (Brown):

And now people. And now people. When I woke up this morning, I heard a disturbing sound. I said when I woke up this morning, I heard a disturbing sound. What I heard was the jingle-jangle of a thousand lost souls, departed from this life.

Life is too short to take everything so seriously. Jake and Elwood are all about fun and when you get right down to it you have to remember that ‘they are on a mission from God’.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Bentley Canal, Anson Junction

Bentley Canal
Anson Junction
December 2009

I would like to report that after 3.5 miles of near total obliteration, the eastern end of the Bentley Canal comes to a glorious conclusion. Sadly, that would be quite untrue, although it does end in water.

The new Black Country Spine Road slices across the eastern extremity of this waterway, leaving less than half a mile of track to it's conclusion on the Anson Branch Canal. The course is picked up again, but this time overlaid by a patchwork of allotments running down the back of Wrexham Avenue.

Bentley Canal's eastern extremity, under allotments at Wrexham Avenue

Access to this stretch is tricky, and whilst you can't wander across the potatos and runner beans, you can exit at the bottom end of Wrexham Avenue to reach the Anson Canal embankment at the site of the Rea Aqueduct. From the Anson towpath you can backtrack and identify the entrance to the Bentley Canal as it passes under a lonely pipe bridge set amid the reeds.

Bentley Canal's junction with the Anson Branch 2009

I guess that the saving grace is that there is still water in the Anson Canal at the old junction, which adds some scope for a final reflection filled photo.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Clarke's Lane to Black Country Spine Road, Bentley Canal

Clarke's Lane to Black Country Spine Road
Bentley Canal
December 2009

Clake's lane to the Black Country Spine Road covers about three quarters of a mile, of which the first half a mile is pleasant open greenway  part of which skirts Willenhall Cemetry.

The route involves a number of shallow (20ft) cutings which make for a boggy path, arriving first at Farm Bridge and then an embankment which now carries the Wolverhampton Road over the line.

Hopyard Bridge

Next up is the crumbling remains of Hopyard Bridge which serves as a barricade to travel along the line, with the ground given over to school playing fields. This school is called County Bridge Primary so I am guessing that another bridge existed in it's vicinity! Eric Richardson suggested that this name belonged to the Wolverhampton Road crossing to the west, but that seems very distant.

East from Hopyard Bridge

With the Black Country Spine road roaring in yours ears you can follow the line along Anson Road to the point where the old Bantley Canal route is emphatically terminated, dangling over the edge of a deep cutting.

Jeff, my expedition supporter

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Bantley Canal, Fibbersley Cycleway

Bentley Canal
Fibbersley Cycleway detour
December 2009

As part of our expoloration of the area we took a trip down a well made cycleway, which starts at Fibbersley Nature Reserve. The route follows an abandoned railway line through some very pleasant cuttings ending up near Clarke's Lane where one can rejoin the obliterated line of the Bentley canal.

The cycleway is paved and continues to follow the route of the railway, tracking through the Temple Bar bridge and then on through the wide span of Cemetry Road Bridge.

Temple Bar Bridge

Cemetry Road Bridge

An interesting detour if you fancy making a circular route of it.

If the going is soft underfoot, this well maintained route is a good alternative to the heavily overbuilt and boggy section of the Bentley Canal to the north.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Monmer Bridge to Clarke's Lane, Bentley Canal

Monmer Bridge to Clarke's Lane
Bentley Canal
December 2009

Monmer Bridge to Clarke's Lane is one of the most frustrating stretches of the old Bentley Canal, with it's line fairly apparent but mainly built over and almost totally inaccessable for about three quarters of a mile.

Remains of Spring Bank Bridge

It started off well enough  from Fibbersley, but with no formal access point at Monmer, the climb onto the embankment which replaced the bridge involves an ascent up a 45 degree slope and then a squeeze through an impossibly narrow gap. If that wasnt bad enough, the very boggy treck along the open strip of grass to reach Monmer was punctuated by an assortment of very angry dogs hurling themselves against the back fences of the adjoining properties. Thankfully, the planking held and we escaped, leaving a chorus of canine howls and snarls behind us.

Monmer Bridge (site of)

The curving line east from Monmer is very clear but is now given over to lorry storage, with the canal heading for the chimney in the distance. Progress along the line becomes impossible at this point and a diversion through the Ashmore Lake Industrial Park is called for. With a bit of searching you can recross the line of the canal at Spring Bank Bridge, which carries Sharesacre St, or what remains of it.

Views between Monmer Bridge and Spring Bank Bridge

Spring Bank Bridge remains intact, but completely buried and securing a photo of the parapet involved sinking waist deep into rubbish to the west. The view east over a large area of concrete hardstanding includes an old pipe bridge to the right of the line, spanning an infilled side arm now covered with a car repair works.

East from Spring Bank Bridge - two locks between here and the grey factory in the distance

The rest of the line to Sandbeds Bridge, which carried Charles Street, is completely obliterated and built over. No amount of poking and prying in the area offered any more glimpses of canal track, which is a shame as there used to be two locks in this length.

Beyond Charles Street the line of the canal pushes on into yet another closed works site, this time securely locked and resistant to light trespass. Another diversion to the north and then the line can be found emerging as a stretck of open grass, which includes the site of the bottom Sandbeds Lock, before climbing over yet another embankment built to replace Clarke's Lane Bridge.

West from Clarke's Lane
Whilst this is not the most spectacular stretch of canal to follow, a number of the old industrial sites which line the canal will have been there in it's heyday, and therefore what one loses on the route one gains in atmosphere.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Neachells Branch, Bentley Canal BCN

Neachells Branch, Bentley Canal BCN
December 2009

This lockless three furlong (0.5 mile) branch canal exited the Bentley Canal just below the six lock flight, following a slightly curving line off to the south.

Neachells Branch from (just east of) the site of junction with Bentley Canal

Here is a mouth watering image of the Junction as it looked in 1980:

My thanks to Laurence Hogg for this photo.

The branch was built two years after the 1843 opening of the Bentley Canal, serving mines and foundries along it's short route. The navigation lasted for 98 years before being abandoned in 1953, closely followed by the Bentley itself. A contemporary visit to the site will yield a total absence of structures, but there is plenty of evidence of it's course, particularly along the middle and southern end.
There are no tell tale traces of the location of the junction with the Bentley main line, but a close examination of the maps and aerial photos suggest that the Neachells Branch started beneath the Bearing Drive / Steelpark Way road junction. (I have been since been advised that the junction was in fact 200 yds to the right of this photo , with the cabal crossing the foreground to the corner of the building in the middle distance - thanks Steve!) From here the waterway passed the eastern corner of a new retail shed (deserted at the time of our visit) and went over it's car park and out into the wilderness beyond, keeping west of the filtration beds which remain an enduring feature of the area. By peering through the car park railings the blue brick foundations of a canal type structure is apparent, probably the base of an aqueduct carrying the Neachells Branch over a small stream.

Line of Neachells Branch beyond abandoned discount outlet

Neachells canal bed looking north to Watery Lane

By retracing our steps we were able to circle round and get to the far side of the stream, picking up the line as it crosses Watery Lane. The next 400 yards are the richest historical section on the whole arm. The canal bed has been cut into and a small stream has been diverted along its course, thereby preserving it's profile for a short length. After all the obliteration up to this point it was quite exciting to be able to jump down into the old canal bed and see the actual line from a boaters perspective.

Neachells Branch south of Watery Lane

Neachells Branch continues behind Noose Crescent

This excitement is short lived as the channel soon becomes infilled once again, but with the line retained as an area of open grassland and trees topped off with a paved path, right up to the terminus where roads and railways hem in the buried basin.

Neachells Branch Terminus Basin 2009

Whilst this branch contains few tangible remains, the canal has left its mark on the landscape. Buildings avoid its danp channel and instead the route is given over to public spaces and human powered modes of transport.

Update October 2014

Laurence Hogg  provides a more accurate description of this arm:

Andy has made a mistake. The Neachells branch remains as described seem to be wrong.
I believe he followed the remains of Waddens Brook which has a public footpath roughly along its route but is east of the old canal.

The junction of the Neachells branch was discernible in the days of the Bentley being extant but is now buried beneath the southern edge of Tata's steel stockholding park. The arm ran arrow straight passing under the ex Midland railway (now completely obliterated, lowered and is the road "Steelpark way") up to Watery Lane, today that stretch has no remains, it is obliterated by the road and then filled in with Edward Howells galvanising factory and yard covering the remains. At Watery lane there was a short basin (Howells car park) but the bridge here was not removed and is still partly extant (a hump in the road with no discernible reason!) but is heavily under filled, viewed from the factory estate yard which is at the old canal level it is easy to see it was a bridge, from here it curved right through the industrial estate terminating before Neachells lane in what today is the Mercedes truck dealership premises.

Laurence - my thanks for this insight.