Thursday, 16 June 2016

Rain does not stop play

Paying CRT's Bradley lock gate factory a visit
June 2016

When I spent time with Outward Bound there was a saying that "its not the wrong sort of weather, its the wrong sort of clothes".

Well, yesterday was a time when the maxim rang very true. Yesterday was the second of three BCNS Explorer Cruises of 2016, chaperoned tours of the lesser cruised parts of the BCN canal system hosted by Stuart and Marie Sherratt, who also happen to moor next to us.

The dreary Moorcroft moorings (opposite the site of the Monway Arm)

Each day the cruise moves on for four hours or so, and the organisers try to include a visit or activity relevant to the place. One very popular activity is a visit to CRT's Bradley lock gate factory, which fits very nicely with a guided walk along the lost Bradley Locks and Gospel Oak branches - which is where I come in.

There is nowhere else in the country where there is such a concentration of lost canals, with no less than six almost parallel routes in just a couple of miles (Bentley, Bradley, Gospel Oak, Ocker Hill, Toll End Communication and Haines). This is therefore fertile canal huynting territory and the Bradley Locks Branch offers a bit of everything, which makes for an interesting 45 minute ramble.

The land drain with more water than usual

I don't claim to be a great historian as my passion is to pull my boots on and get out into the field and see things first hand, so I am indebted to the research undertaken by Ray Shill and the cartography of Richard Dean which together form the basis of my interpretations. I must have done this walk seven or eight times and long suffering Stuart has patiently listened to them all. I did ask if he got bored and was told that they were different each time, but its unclear if this is due to me playing fast and loose with history or having a bad memory for my script!

On this occasion the morning was both misty and raining. It was so bad I even packed my waterproof trousers. I hate walking in waterproof trousers but on this occasion I gave in and pulled them on arriving at the Moorcroft moorings at 8.30am, and wondered just how many people would attend from the 19 boats. In the event about 80% ventured out, all adopting a different strategy to combat the rain - some in full waterproofs and some under umbrellas, others opted for the "skin dries" approach and sported shorts and sandals.

I usually start my talk with an assurance that the path is well made and dry but luckily I omitted the dry bit - the paths were awash and we spent more time on the grass than the cinders. We also adapted the stopping points to take advantage of the shelter offered by the bridges on the route, and the occasional breaks when the rain slowed to a hard drizzle.

In the event we had good walk up to Bradley and on this occasion the land drain, which runs through the old locks, was in full spate. It was quite impressive given the tiny catchment area it is drawing on. Also, I hadn't realised the concrete wall at the bottom of the lock chambers was shaped to replicate a wooden gate. How could I miss that during my previous visits?

The Gospel Oak Branch from the Walsall Canal

The Bradley works have just installed a new gantry crane and cross cut saw which meant that all the finished gates had been moved outside and there wasn't a lot of work in progress to see. What I did see were the gates ready for filling to Ryders Green and Smethwick during the July stoppage plus a large set destines for the Staffs and Worcester this winter. Usually they are busy spraying the gates with water to prevent shrinkage, but at present nature is addressing this issue admirably.

The rain continued as re walked back to the Gospel Oak pub for a leisurely pint and then back down the Gospel Oak Branch to the mooring from which the flotilla will set out for Walsall. 

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