BCN Challenge 2011
Part Two - Tipton and Smethwick
29th May 2011
After we parted company with Indigo Dream at Horsleyfields Junction we had wildly different experiences of the Challenge. They set off into the empty backwaters whilst we pressed on into an area containing a good number of other competitors.
The canal from Wolverhampton to the Coseley Tunnel is weedy and shallow, making progress slow but the clarity of the water allow you to see the endless shoals of fish beneath the surface. We had debated making a trip up the Bradley Arm from Deepfields Junction, but our experiences were one of impregnable weed and a previous Marathon competitor spent a reputed four hours getting in and out last time. There was a bonus question at the end but as I happened to know the answer from my exploration of lost canals in the area, we added the answer and gave the arm a miss.
We passed our first Challenger at Deepfields - Amphora followed at 11.35 by a very heavily crewed Atlas and Malus, a working pair, at Bloomfield Junction (the lost end of the Bradley Arm), just south of Coseley Tunnel.
New Main Line
We hit our first major underwater obstacle in Tipton, a big holdall which has been chucked in from a bridge. Now I have a particular affection for Tipton as, in my eyes, it is the centre of the canal universe. Today there is not a lot to see apart from the northern junction of the Old and New Main Lines, but there was a time when the place was a honeycomb of cuts: the Tipton Green Communication, The Toll End Communication, the Bradley loop and many arms beside. Its a canal historian's wet dream!
Speed restrictions on the Old Main Line
We spun round in the Black Country Museum , meeting nb Firefly as we did so, and then back to the Factory Locks and down the New Main line nearly cashing into a boater who emerged from the Netherton Tunnel without so much as a glance in our direction. With nearly an hour in hand we considered a side trip to Windmill End but the 6 points on offer just wern't enough to tempt us. Instead be blatted on beyond the Gower Branch in search of the "Vertically challenged near king" and claimed an easy 6 points for a mere 15 mins of our time. Back to The Gower and up Brades, the only staircase on the BCN. We were flying so having regained the Old Main Line we launched and unsupported attempt on the north face of the Titford - racing up the six Oldbury locks, winding at the Titford Pools Junction and returning having answered the clue - this was triple points so we emerged with another massive haul of points for an investment of just over an hour.
Guelrose in the Oldbury Locks
Silted Titford Pools - strictly a no go area!
The Spon Lane arm with its three locks was also offering triple points so down we went, spinning round onto the New Main Line at Bromford Junction, only to climb back up again at Smethwick Locks to grab the Engine Arm just before the 6.00pm curfew.
Engine Arm entrance and locum
I think you can see how points and time obsessed one becomes in this game. No points for the trip back down Smethwick, but we did pass a number of Challenge crews going the other way.
Smethwick top lock
Smethwick marked a watershed in our marathon. After 10 hours with plenty of Challenger sightings we were to enter a secluded period - it was to be another 11 hours cruising before we saw another! But more of that another day...
The last crew for 11 hours