Monday 21 May 2007

BCN North - Brownhills to Tipton

Brownhills to the Black Country Museum Day 2
Another big day so up with the larks and through an interesting mix of industry and suburbia on the Daw (pronounced Doe) End Branch Canal, through Walsall Wood to Aldridge. The canal around Walsall Wood has subsided over the years due to mining and been progressively raised on embankments resulting in a water depth of about 10 feet!
Longwood branch offered another short stub for the collection, but the following water free pound was our first big obstacle. The 40 minutes it took to fill the pound to a navigable depth gave an opportunity to cook up another blowout breakfast.
The Daw End seamlessly morphs into the Rushall Canal passing through parks, wild woodland and golf courses, tumbling down 11 little used locks. We came across another empty pound and amazingly an Australian BW lengthsman who provided an assisted passage all the way to the M6 and Rushall Junction. He told us that less than two boats pass this way in a typical week seemed genuinely saddened that we were not going down the Perry Barr flight, which are his favourite. Instead we turned right onto the Tame Valley Canal, a windswept and wild “cut and fill” waterway which was built as a bypass for the overcrowded Birmingham Mainline.
There was no pressure of traffic during our passage, just another mattress round the prop but that’s par for the course in these backwaters.

A lovely surprise awaits as you turn onto the Walsall Canal and arrive at Ryders Green locks. A dead straight flight 8 of well spaces and well maintained locks making a triumphal entry up to the Main Line. But I am jumping ahead. As dedicated arm baggers we couldn’t miss Swan Arm, obscure by even BCN standards – and shallow too. It’s barely navigable with reeds reducing the channel to 7 feet in places and so shallow we made less that 1 mph. If you do venture here expect shouts of warning from local factory workers assuming you have lost your way. But don’t stop, there’s an all day pub opposite the final winding hole and whilst it lacks character, its beer is cold and refreshing.

It was as we joined the Main Line at Spon Lane that we finally met another moving boat – our first in two days travelling. Our sudden appearance from the Wednesbury Old Canal took them by surprise and, when apologising for being on the wrong side of the canal, they explained that they hadn’t seen any other boats for the last 24 hours.

At this point you could make a mad dash down the new main line, reaching the Black Country Museum moorings in an hour or so. But that would result in a missed opportunity to “bag” the Titford Canal, which rises a further 38 feet from Brindley’s winding Old main Line to the highest point on the BCN. This is usually the preserve if the enthusiastic die-hards and the Birmingham Canal Navigation Society have their headquarters in the beautifully restored Pumphouse, adjacent to the top lock. By all means go to the end of the canal but no matter how enticing the pools look, don’t be tempted to go into them. Whilst they once played host to an IWA National Festival, silt from the M6 has reduced them to shallow lagoons which regularly trap unwary boaters.
One of the snags of the BCN is a lack of safe moorings. If you find yourself in this area the stub of the Union Arm remains in water and secure moorings can be found alongside the pumphouse, and another arm to add to the list.

Our final run of the day was along the tree lined Old Main Line into Tipton and the secure Black Country Museum moorings. This is, without question, my favourite place to stop on the BCN. If you have time to spare take a trip round the living museum – it’s fascinating and provides a great insight into life in the Black Country when the canals were in their heyday. There is the added bonus of a trip through the Dudley Tunnel. Height restrictions mean that this probably wont be in your own boat (which would have to be towed by a tug in any case) but the Dudley Canal Trust run guided tours into the tunnel and caves, which well worth a look.
A full range of BW facilities are available here, including toilet, shower and even a DIY pumpout.
For food you have the option of a range of take-aways nearby, but my vote goes to Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory. It’s a 10 minute walk into Tipton but is well worth the effort. My tip – try the Cow Pie!

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