Playing tag with Saltaire
This is the third of our four business boat trips this year, taking the preserve stall onto the water road, so to speak.
As the bedraggled Midlands crow flies it is only about six miles from out mooring at Calf Heath to Pelsall, but with the Churchbridge lock having bitten the dust in the 1950's we are condemned to take the long way round via Wolverhampton - a staggering 11 hour diversion.
Saltaire at Aldersley
But boating is more about the journey than the destination and this roundabout route includes long stretches of the Wyrley and Essington, covering the best and the worst that this undervalued waterway has to offer.
As is so often the case, just as I was untying my ropes a boat came past. On this occasion it was Peter Baldwin's Saltaire, chugging its way towards Pelsall to attend the BCN Society's bi annual bash in the north BCN backwaters.
Saltaire turned into the Wolverhampton 21 and got as far as lock 20 when it stuck fast. The lock gate wasn't opening fully and Slataire's beamy 7ft was having none of it. Twenty minutes of bouncing the lock gate and we pulled Saltaire in, storming away up the locks with her crew of five.
Stuck in lock 20
Sadly the heavens opened and we made a slow and very soggy ascent, condensation battling it out on one side with the rain on other side of my waterproofs to ensure I was completely soaked through. Never has the 21 seemed so long...
Then it was onto the Wyrley and Essington at the unprepossessing Horsleyfields Junction, sharp left under a low bridge and through the remains of a stop lock and so into suburbia - a state which clings to the canal for most of its length. On this waterway the houses seem to shun the canal, with brambles and delapidated fences dominating the margins, sometimes dropping back and then crowding back in again with a few public open spaces to relieve the claustrophobia.
Classic architecture on the Wyrley and Essington
The cut itself is in good shape. True, its a remiandered waterway but recent dredging by the Trust and grappling by the WRGies plus the recent movement of boats on the BCN challenge, the Explorer A cruise and the recent influx to the Pelsall festival have given it a good stir up and it is massively cleaner than when I first ventured into these remote waters a decade or more ago.
We had leapfrogged ahead of Saltaire at Wolverhampton, but as we stopped at Sneyd to re water and empty our cassettes she nosed round the Sneyd but slowed as we entered the shallow Leamore stretch. We were waved past at Birchills and pressed on through what have been the area's badlands ever since the days of the working craft had their cargoes of coal remorselessly lifted by the locals.
We almost made it through unscathed. Then, right at the last bridge a hoard of disaffected yobs hurled stones at us. I retaliated with my camera and they hid behind the parapet which prevented a second salvo.
Arrival at Pelsall Festival
Then we were there, creeping past nearly 130 boats to our berth beside the finger post ready for unloading tomorrow. Wet, weary but present!