Thursday 22 September 2016

Back to Bumblehole

Black Country Boating Festival 2016
Sept 2016

The Black Country seems to specialise in great place names : Lower Gornal, New Invention or Black Delph. But there is one which is especially lovely: Bumblehole.

 Leaving Pelsall Common at first light

Now I do appreciate that there is a Bumblehole on the Staffs and Worcester, but the one I am thinking of is at Windmill End (another place name to savour) which is in a country park near Netherton at the western end of the Netherton Tunnel. Bumblehole inspires images of bees buzzing to and from heads of honeysuckle of a balmy summers day. In truth its a huge local nature reserve which has grown up over an industrial site which was of epic proportions. 

The decades have softened the shattered landscape and even the brutally named Dudley Number Two Canal has mellowed as it weaves its way through the site, along with its numerous canal arms and loading basins. The end result is something a bit special, with the eastern horizon framed by Portway Hill and the gaunt remains of Cobbs Mill, with its leaning chimney.

OK, so that's enough of me going all misty eyed about the site! It also hosts the amazing annual Black Counter Boating Festival on the first weekend in September, this time celebrating 31 consecutive years. We are relative newcomers but this September was our fifth as a trade boat, always occupying the same spot just outside the visitor centre. Over that time our offering has grown from a tentative table on the back of Wand'ring Bark to the more extensive Jam Butty, but this year was a bit different. Whilst the boats and the produce were the same, this year I traded without Helen who was at home cared for by her mother as the comes to an end of a course of chemotherapy. Instead, I was accompanied and supported by my friend Dave, who whilst he has Helen's height, lacks her legs!

The limitations of the Chemo has meant that our travels have been much curtailed and we limited our trading to the few events we could reach from our Aldridge base, and which also fitted in with her relatively "good" weeks in the treatment cycle. This limited schedule has seen the boats limited to the BCN and have been just enough to turn the stock over and replenish it ready for next year when we will have another bash at reaching London.

Attending the festival meant nearly a week out on the boats and the outward journey was achieved in a serene manner, spending the first night at Pelsall Commen which we left at first light on the Thursday. Towing the butty does slow us down a bit but we reached Horsleyfields Junction six hours later and then arrived at the festival site after another four hours cruising, including a detour via The Brades as Factory Locks were being repaired.

The festival saw persistent drizzle on the Saturday which dampened attendance, but such is our loyal clientele our takings were average for a festival day, even if they were only 50% of last years record breaking tally, which was achieved with a full spread of stock in glorious sunshine.

The Reflections

Saturday night is usually spent in the Beer Tent and this year the main band were The Reflections, a hugely engaging cover band which we (the Roving Traders) have met elsewhere and love. They play an up tempo set of material from the 1960's to the 1990's with bags of enthusiasm and great skill. Their material begs to be danced to and it was great to see just about all the traders up and bopping for the second set. 

Sunday was clear and bright, making up for the dull Saturday. The crowds flocked in and trade was brisk, keeping Dave and myself busy replenishing the stall and swapping jars of preserves for tenners! The day was a blur of familiar faces but being without Helen meant I had very little time to chat - sorry if I didn't give you a lot of time!

The Roving Traders strut their stuff

And so dawn broke on Monday morning to see us winding the boats in the Bumblehole Arm and setting out for the Wyrley and Essington Canal, with the Cheese Boat hard on our heels through Netherton Tunnel. Our objective was to reach Pelsall but along the way we paused in Wednesbury where we had seen some Damson trees on the offside which gave us 9 kilos in about 20 minutes - enough for several batches of Damson Chutney and the ever popular Damson, Ginger and Tea Jam.

Dave helps with the foraging

Our only hiccup along the way was the acquisition of a nylon carpet on the prop in Harden. Its a situation we dread but I am glad to say its becoming much rarer. In the event it wasn't too badly wound on and a serrated knife saw it released within 15 minutes. The muddy fabric was hauled onto the bows of the butty and duly deposited in the skip at Sneyd.

As usual, we had the 30 miles of the W&E to ourselves and we navigated that  final fours hours home from Pelsall under a roasting sun, spotting fish flitting in and out of the weeds beneath us. 

I guess my thanks go to my mother in law for looking after Helen and Dave for offering help, support and endless cups of tea. Without the pair of them the trip would never have been possible.


Halfie said...

I'm sorry we missed you bopping along - or were you only taking photos? Our advanced years meant that we had to retire to bed after the raffle.

Andy Tidy said...

Well Halfie - it started with me going to the front to get photos.... but then I seemed to get sucked in. I understand that there are photos of me in action but they fall under the "what goes on tour stays on tour" rule!
Just another 30 minutes and you would have been rewarded with a spectacle like no other.

Richard said...

Hi Andrew

Have been enjoying your bits on Coltishall and area, then reading about the Granaries realised I probably knew your Mum if you lived adjacent to the station drive. My Great Aunt Doris retired to Westbourne Rd and she & her husband Albert and Bert (with the dodgy leg) who lived on the end of the terrace by the shop ran Central Garage until their retirement - Ring a bell ? I used to see your mum when I biked over to cut Aunties grass some Sundays and she was visiting.

You may not remember it but on the common the Mill side of the Garage there used to be allotments with hen runs and linen lines etc, well one day the post at the end of Aunties line broke so Albert went off into the undergrowth to cut a new one, duly set in and the line secured, the re washed stuff pegged out again - Well they are all long gone except in our hearts and minds, as is the Garage, the allotments (and Rhubarb Underwoods Whitsun Fair which appeared by magic each year) - BUT not the linen post, it struck and sprouted and is now that magnificent 80 ft Willow that stands between the road and former Sally Army Hall and takes three people to encircle the trunk ! Not a lot of people knew that :)

I'm Richard, live in Belaugh and often think about my childhood days at the garage absorbing the enormous wealth of engineering skills and now put to use restoring aged mechanisms the old fasioned way, sadly there is only one of the 'Island' era Central Garage crew left, David Wall who restores and maintains a bewildering array of truly ancient and classic cars at his works in Hoveton with old time skills.

email here is oldenginehouse aT btopenworld dot com

Back to fondling & sniffing me cats arse fruit - young tree - not enough yet :(