Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gloucester 2010 - Tardebigge to Tipton

Tardebigge to Tipton
30th August 2010

21 miles - 4 locks - 8 hours

The moorings below Tardebigge Top Lock are to be recommended - deep and quiet. After yesterday's 55 lock marathon we slept late and each waking with differing degrees of stiffness, but today offers respite with just four locks on the 21 mile journey.

Phil, Corin and Jess (the collie) at Tardebigge

We (I) set out under wall to wall sunshine, with Jeff and Belle still tucked up in their respective pits so that left the very deep lock at Tardebigge to be negotiated single handed. Luckily a Phil and Corin were out walking their dog Jess and watched proceedings with intense curiosity, explaining that they are thinking about a canal holiday next year - whats it like?. I started to explain and then guided them to this blogsite - and lo and behold they left a message to say they will be getting afloat in 2011 for the very first time. Enjoy it, and savour it - there is nothing quite like that first experience of life afloat.

It was then up the rural Worcester Birmingham Canal and through it's secession of tunnels, with each one trying to out do the last as we approached the big daddy of them all at Wast Hill.

Bittell Reservoirs
We came up behind a super slow Black Prince Craft who pulled out of the Alvechurch Visitor Moorings, and then crept along at a pace that didn't even raise a ripple from the bows. The progress was such that I was continually disengaging the drive, a situation which became seriously annoying after 30 mins. 'Captain Slow' had no intention of letting us past and seemed determined to force us down to his preferred snails pace, but then fate intervened. He spectacularly misjudged bridge 61, failing to turn as he passed through and drove his boat deep into the trees opposite. I don't pass up golden opportunities like that and was past in a flash, but gained only a stony stare to my cheery "thanks".

New aqueduct at Selly Oak

The sun was out transforming the Bittell Reservoirs to a glittering Mediterranean blue and then on to the 2726 yard Wast Hill, one of four major  tunnels in Birmingham, piercing the same range of hills (the others were / are Netherton, Dudley and Lapal). For some reason the tunnel was very misty inside - maybe due to a boater passing with a wood fire going an hour or so before. I was under dressed for the occasion and emerged from the northern portal chilled through and through, to find a couple of boats waiting for me. They were unaware that there is plenty of room to pass inside. We were almost immediately regaled by kids who luckily threw nothing more objectionable then insults - much better than stones.

Birmingham city centre was bustling on a sunny bank holiday afternoon, the bars were full and live music was being played outside at Brindley Place. All very cosmopolitan. Robert, one of Belle's thespian friends joined us at Worcester Bar, bringing with him chocolate cake and good cheer. He and Belle nattered away in the bows all the way to Smethwick where he caught a train back.

Robert at Smethwick

One of our emergency plans had been to get WB to Nick and Victoria's at Symphony Court and leave it there for the week. In the event this offer was unnecessary but we passed through the loop to give then a toot on the off chance that they were in. Not only were they in but they were busy cleaning out nb North Star having been down to Worcester themselves. In the short time we hovered next to them and swapped boating stories a plan was hatched to have a go at the Avon together, a really good idea.

Heron at take off

The trip from Old Turn Junction to Tipton is unusual in that you have to rise through three locks between the Birmingham level and the higher Wolverhampton Level, but there are four options open to you. There is the early departure to the Old Main Line at Smethwick, a doubling back at Spon Lane, the staircase at Brades or the Factory Locks at Tipton. This choice is a real dilemma because they all have their attractions, but in the event Robert's departure at Smethwich would be best achieved from the pumping house so a right hand turn at Smethwick Junction was called for.

To my mind the winding Old Main Line is infinitely preferable to the remorseless straights of the New Main Line but I always wonder what this costs in terms of time. This trip allowed be to conduct a scientific experiment to test it. As we passed over Stewart Aqueduct two boats were pushing north beneath us, presumably also making for Tipton. Who would arrive first? We had the longer journey, but they has three locks to work. End result - we arrived about 15 minutes sooner than those on the main line but my guess is that if we both started at Smethwick Junction they would arrive about 15 mins before us. Not much of a time penalty for the more interesting journey.

Maggot boy behind bars - where he belongs...

There is one final incident worthy of mention. If you are going to get any hassle in the Tipton area it will probably be at the old railway bridge half a mile before the entrance to the Black Country Museum. We have had skirmishes at this spot before so are hyper vigilant for any unusual activity. Today's passing was something of a classic.

 As we approached a couple of kids were packing up after fishing. Being a suspicious character I watched them closely and saw one twitch as if he had just had a brainwave - ah, Captain take note thought I. His hand dived into a maggot pot on the ground and he scampered round to position himself on the bridge immediately above us with his snickering mate still standing on the bank. I knew as well as his mate exactly what he was planning - a shower of maggots on my head. I slowed, he turned to see why I was altering speed and found himself staring down the lens of my ever ready camera "click - gotcha". I could sense his mental turmoil - to drop or not to drop, that is the question. I think that his initial flash of inspiration had done him in because his period of indecision was enough for us to pass beneath his feet leaving him fuming and hurling Anglo Saxon expletives at our quickly dissipating wake.

Black Country Meseum moorings

And so into the moorings at the Black Country Museum, my favourite on the BCN. As a last day celebration we decided to pay Mad O'Rourkes a visit, but that justifies a post all of its own.

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