Escape to the Country
The back mooring at the Black Country Living Museum is always peaceful and this time was no exception, it even has its own tap for total convenience, which is handy when you are doing the laundry.
We set off at about 9.30am, passing a gathering array of trade boats preparing for this weekend's Tipton Canal Festival, which we have decided to skip favouring a leisurely 10 days to get to Huddlesford and hopefully some autumnal foraging along the way. The run to Deepfields was uneventful but Deepfields to Bilston was thick with floating weed.
Coal Boats Roach and Triumph
Along the way we passed coal boats Roach and Triumph deeply laden and making slow going in tricky conditions. Just getting the butty round them was a challenge as both the coal boats and the butty draw three feet and both hulls naturally searched for the same deep water channel. We kind of swung round each other in a ponderous pirouette and slipped by without so much as a kiss - with enough time for a few shots which captured both craft in action.
I think I have got a bladefull!
Then it was on to Wolverhampton with a hire boat on our tail. They were catching fast but became ensnared in the Bilston weed trap and resorted to the weed hatch, letting Peter Baldwin's Saltaire to pick up the chase. I had a mile or so to go to the top of the "21" and I decided to wind it on a bit and so take the locks first. We held out lead and arrived at the top lock with maybe three boat lengths lead, closely followed by the unfortunate Anglo Welsh craft.
With the early locks in our favour we set off, me resorting to running back and forth to pre fill the lock ahead, where the gaps were small enough. With a bit of effort we managed to stay a clear lock ahead of Saltaire till the locks space out near the race course. At this point we realised that they were operating with a crew of three with our friend Richard Alford, a Waterways Chaplain, undertaking lock wheeling duties. When the finally caught us at lock 20 the considered opinion of Saltaire was that we had put in an impressive show, especially with only two on board. Our time was just under three hours with about 14 locks set against.
One of the nice things about boating is the ability to change plans as we go. As we came down the "21" we debated our schedule to Huddlesford and in the spur of the moment decided to spend a couple of days on the Shroppie. Having just completed the 21 we were weary and moored up north of the M54 bridge, sheltered by a thick hedge from the high winds which were forecast. And did it blow! The wind raged all night and was so hard the boat shook and shuddered.
The morning dawned clear but there was still a very strong cross wind which caught several hire boats out as they emerged from the cuttings and banged down our side. Towing in high winds can be a tricky exercise, but when moving the butty is pretty steady and no mishaps ensued. We paused at Wheaton Aston services and then moved on to Turners where we refilled with Diesel at 57p per litre. We have used about 80 litres since Stratford three weeks ago, which isn't bad.
One snag about Turners when approached from the north is the absence of a winding hole, and reversing with a butty to the one the other side of the bridge is a non starter. We therefore pressed on north to the winding hole at High Onn, Along the way we remembered an open offer to harvest a boaters quince crop. We had seen an unharvested canal side tree for several years before we met the owner and sadly we have never been in the area at the right time since. However, this year the tree was heavily laden with fruit and a swap of fruit for jam was conducted - a good swap which will supply us with Quince Jelly for next season.
Quince, glorious quince
All that wind played havoc with the trees and we encountered a very early case of "Shoppie leaf soup" where all the cuttings are full of floating sycamore leaves. Individually they are not a problem but en mass they clog up the blades and you have to reverse every half a mile or so. Oh the joys of those wooded cuttings.