Sunday 31 May 2009

Rugeley to Armitage (kayak trip)

Rugeley to Armitage
Kayak trip - Royal Sutton Coldfield Canoe Club
31st May 2009

My boating trips extend beyond those experienced on Wand'ring Bark, and from time to time Jeff and I set off to explore new waterways in our kayaks (canoes are those open boats Indians and trappers used to use).
This trip was organised by the Royal Sutton Coldfield Canoe Club, who include regular river and canal runs in their itinerary. The sun shone from a clear blue sky and it was a joy to take to the water at 10.00am from the slipway at Ash Tree Cruising Club.
When the trip was mooted on Thursday, we hoped to have about 10 boats on the water but in the event we were inundated and put out a fleet of 24! We made our way northwards through the centre of Rugeley and then out to Brindley Bank Aqueduct where we ported our craft down onto the River Trent, launching on the north bank about 100 yards upstream.

The journey downstream was very pleasant, although maybe not as pretty and the reach down to the aqueduct from Great Haywood, with which we are familiar from previous trips.

The route takes you down past the Rugeley coal fired power station, which, till 1990, was fed from the adjacent Lea Bank Colliery. There was, at one time, a couple of locks down to the Trent near the aqueduct but I have yet to find any remains.
The river maintains a fairly straight course behind the power station, till its cuts under the railway near Armitage. At this point the channel is constricted and sets up a small set of rapids, which adds interest.

We finally exited at the Armitage footbridge, porting the kayaks through the subterranean footpath under the railway, and then back onto the Trent and Mersey Canal for a gentle paddle through the narrow remains of Plum Pudding Tunnel, and so back to the Ash Tree pub. The absence of a good bankside led to many of us attempting a dolphin entrance (straight in off the bank - nose first). Most of us made it but we did have one swimmer!

All in all a gentle four hour paddle taking in a mix of canal and gentle river. A great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon at the end of May. Mind you - its strange being in the company of others who refer to narrowboats as "barges" and know that it would be impolite to correct them!

Canal Mania - book review

Canal Mania
by Anthony Burton

My good friend and boating companion, Mt Truth gave me a copy of this book for my birthday. He had been scouring the contents of a remainder bookshop and came across the item. Having read the first 30 pages he thought of me, and hurried back to buy a second copy.
A lovely thought and an excellent purchase.

This book is far from new and was first published in 1993. However, given the timeless nature of its subject matter is has dated very little and remains as informative as the day it was first released. Anthony Burton hangs the book around the fact that 21 new canals were auhorised by Acts of Parliament in 1793 - the most ever passed in a single year. He reviews each canal and then uses this platform to explore the wider canal network. An interesting approach.

This list of waterways includes the good bad and the downright ugly, and therefore provides a good cross section of the canals, including well known names such as the Brecon and Abergavenny, Grand Junction, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Warwick and Birmingham. It also includes obscure navigations of which few traces remain, canals like the Nutbrook, Ulverston and the Caistor.
The book considers why some were successful and why others were unmitigated disasters, concluding the the one overriding feature of a successful canal was a demand to haul heavy bulk loads, usually coal.

But the book goes further than delivering a fairly heavyweight history lesson. It also includes archive photographs and a superb selection of waterways based colour images by Michael Taylor. These photos don't pretend to relate to the surrounding text, they operate independently and are truly magnificent.

Less impressive are the architectural drawings supplied by Peter White, former Chief Architect of British Waterways. The drawings in themselves are of a high quality but they add little to the overall book.

The only aspect of the book which has dated is the forward looking section at the end. Anthony isn't far off the mark, but it seems strange to read of the Rochdale and the Huddersfield Narrow as restoration projects with completion dates way in the uncertain future, and the Grantham Canal as a waterway of the cusp of reopening!

If you are hungry for a detailed perspective on the construction of the network we love, this is a book for you. It's cover price of £18.99 is a bit steep, but as Mr Truth demonstrated - reasonably priced copies are available. A must have item for any enthusiasts waterways library.

ISBN 0-7537-1366-7

Friday 29 May 2009

President and Kildare

President and Kildare
The President's touch

During a visit to the Black Country Museum in Tipton on Saturday 16th May, we happened upon narrowboats President and Kildare being readied for a run out. Wand'ring Bark was tucked in against the wall of the museum, and President therefore use her stern as a hinge to rotate the 130 degrees needed to vacate her mooring, followed by the ever dutiful Kildare.
The following photo sequence captures their departure and progression down the Old Main Line to wind at the top of Brades Locks.

Steaming up

Winding up the bridge

Making an entrance

Followed by Kildare

WB having he bottom felt by the President
(maybe more of a Lewinski moment than an Obama one!)

Lining up for the off

Crossing the Tividale Aqueduct

Waiting to wind at Brades

Monday 25 May 2009

Dimmingsdale Lock to Calf Heath

Dimmingsdale Lock to Calf Heath
Monday 25th May 2009
9 Miles
3 Locks
4 Hours

Dimmingsdale Lock is one of my favourite moorings, away from the towpath and accessible only across the lock. Whilst we shared the mooring with Eliza Rose, she was up and away very early and we barely noticed her passing and slumbered on till gone 10.00am.

Hovever, it was a veritable paddys market going up the cut. There had been a boating meeting at Bratch over the weekend and we were teated to a parade of craft, incliding a steam powered launch, a Stewart and Allen tug and a working pair, Aquarius and Ilford. This latter pair were partially loaded with wood for next winter, sourced from the Shugborough Estate. It was really good to see classic working boats loaded down, with Ilford being towed on a long line as far as the inlet above Dimmingdale Lock. Aquarius is a genuine 1935 working boat and the pair were making for their home berth at Stone.

No sooner had they passed than a fishermen came jogging down the towpath clutching a six pound carp. This was clearly "our" fish - the one which got away last night! He had caught it between the pair and was hugely relieved to have got it to the towpath side before Ilford could cut the line.

Jeff, usually so sure footed, slipped on the roof of the boat in Compton Lock and so nearly fell between the boat and the lock side. He crashed on the the roof but manged to cling onto the handrail without loosing the windlass, or breaking the ipod in his pocket. He returned to the stern with nothing damaged, save his ego.

Belle has an occasional interest in identifying wild flowers in the hedgerows, and we have a book on board to help this process. Todays plant was, we think, Common Comfrey. It certainly looked like the illustration and it was rampant in the wet ground alongside the lock, which is its favoured habitat.
A great mini break with all four of us on board, a first for many months. Lets hope that this marks a watershed from which we can progress.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Calf Heath to Dimmingsdale Lock

Calf Heath to Dimmingsdale Lock
24th May 2009

9 Miles
5 Locks
4 Hours

Nine times out of ten a bank holiday means rain. In stark contrast to last weekend's wintry weather, this bank holiday weekend offered the prospect of wall to wall sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, with a possibility of showers on Monday.

We had no particular plans to go boating, but as our commitments evaporated, we thought why not? So, after church on Sunday morning we chucked all our stuff onto the car and set out for a family boating trip down the Staff and Worcester.

The sun shone from a clear blue sky, turning us red and causing us to reach for the sunscreen for the first time this year. We were not alone, as the fishermen, cyclists and walkers were out in force, enjoying the weather. Whilst there were a lot of boats out from the marina, most seemed to have reached their various destinations and were tied up and just idling in the late afternoon warmth. We passed Dave and Pam, moored up in their favourite spot above Compton Lock, and then passed nb Eliza Rose near Wightwick lock, probably visiting Wightwick Manor, a National Trust property near the canal.

It was great to see such pleasure being taken from the canal, and possibly the most surreal was a couple sharing a champagne picnic, complete with mood music and a wicker basket, on the spit of land which extents into the lock pool above Wightwick Mill Lock. I don't know what they were celebrating, but it certainly looked memorable.

This stretch of the Staffs and Worsceser is very pretty, skirting Wombourne and Tettenall and features some unusual round weirs.

Our target was the offside mooring just above Dimmingsdale Lock. The absence of a winding hole meant a descent of the lock was necessary, turning where one of the Dimmingsdale Reservoirs feeds into the canal and then back up the lock.

We whiled away the dying rays of the day with a spot of fishing, but in spite of a couple of big bites, failed to catch anything. I took a stroll across to the reservoirs, over the gate marked Sankey Angling Club, No Trespassers (I am sure they don't mean me!) and had a look at the lower of the two lakes. It is clearly a well stocked fishery and the scene looked idyllic. There has been a lot of work done on the dam and its associated water spillway.

As we settled in to watch Memphis Belle (fitting given today's clear blue skies) when Eliza Rose puttered up and slipped into the mooring between us and the lock.

Not a long day, but bettered by few.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

BCN Southern Section, Tipton to Calf Heath

BCN Southern Section - Tipton to Calf Heath
Tuesday 19th May 2009

13 Miles
21 Locks
6 Hours

The moorings at the Black Country Museum were, as usual, excellent. We availed ourselves of the facilities and took our leave just before 9.00am.

We surprised two large Anglo Welsh boats sporting German flags and containing about eight bavarian looking lads in each, who had moored just above the factory locks. A strange choice of mooring but they seemed cheerful given the number of Fosters cans littering the deck!

I was struck by the cleanliness of the BCN this year. The words BCN and floating debris are regular bedfellows, but not anymore. As we approached Wolverhampton I found out why.

A community service initiative has been set up which involves a tug pulling an open Joey Boat filled with young people (nostly lads) all carrying a long pole with an office paper tray nailed to the end. These contraptions are then used to skim off any surface debris, which is then returned to base for disposal / recycling. This is a great idea as it takes the kids who create the mess back to clear it up! They have been so successful that they are now struggling to find anything else to remove. Perhaps a trip up the Wyrley and Essington would offer a more bountiful hunting ground!

We descended the Wolverhampton in the rain (again), this time pausing at the half way point to get some tea from Matthew's Crown Cafe. Whichever way you travel, the Wolverhampton flight is a long slog of between two and three hours. I always relish the sight of the rail and road bridges which marks the half way point, and a trip to the trailer diner has become something of a habit.

Matthew does a mean line in bacon butties - aka death in white bread. Naughty but nice! If you are really organised you can phone Matthew on 07866 042880 a couple of locks before you reach his diner at Lock 10 (Fox's Lane Bridge) and have your butties and hot drinks ready and waiting. This picture fails to do the diner justice, but his van was doubling up as a windbreak on this wet and windy Tuesday.

There has also been ongoing work around the Wolverhampton flight, with by washes relined and lock furniture painted.

All in all, we found the water channels in fine fettle. We had very few trips down the weed hatch, and when we did it was to remove stray poly bags rather than ropes, cones, trousers, bags, trolleys and carpets witch were a feature of earlier journeys. Yes, we picked up the odd bit here and there and the prop was rarely completely without an adornment of polythene dreadlocks, but there was little of any real substance, and what there was could wait until we came to a scheduled stop.

A very good, if somewhat damp four days which included 80 miles of water travel, 98 locks in 37 cruising hours. Whilst much of this trip covered known ground, we did add a few bits of additional BCN to our tally, which now stands at 95%. The last remaining stretch is from Salford Junction, through the Perry Barr Locks to Rushall Junction on the Tame Valley Canal. To have this as the last unexplored stretch is perverse, as it is a mere two miles from my home and I pass over is twice a day going to and from work!

Next year.....

Huddersfield Narrow Canal - A Towpath Guide - Book Review

Huddersfield Narrow Canal - A Towpath Guide
By Dr Bob Gough

This guide was described in a recent edition of Canal Boat as "a labour of love" on the part of its author, Bob Gough - administrator of the Huddersf
ield Canal Society.

One thing you will notice on the Huddersfield Narrow is the amount of foot traffic which moves up and down the towpath. Whilst boats may be few and far between, walking the line of the canal is a very popular pursuit with the locals, and probably plays a large part in engendering the sense of community ownership we experienced. The Huddersfield Canal Society clearly appreciates this body of canal stakeholders and commissioned a pictorial guide with pedestrians in mind.

I purchased my copy from the Canal Society's offices at Dobcross, and in the process met Bob Gough who rather humbly acknowledged his authorship. He somewhat coyly admitted to not being a boater himself, but rather being a very keen walker with an absolute passion for the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, both past and present.

So why is a boater waxing lyrical about a towpath walkers guide? Well, this particular canal has a few locks on it - so many that at times my usually trusty Nicholson descends into a blur of black chevrons, leaving me confused about where I am, let alone informed about what surrounds me.

This guide delivers the detail others guides leave out. The book contains 36 information packed maps of the canal and its surroundings, each covering about half a mile - except the section over Standedge Moor which jumps to two miles per page, and very nearly caught us out! You might think that at a rate of one page to half a mile the guide would leave a boater forever turning its thick card pages on the spiral spine, but with a couple of locks on each section reaching the end of a page feels like an achievement in itself.

ISBN 978-0-9514270-1-9

As well as the maps, the facing pages contain over 400 photos, illustrating what you will see with all the vantage point indicated by little camera symbols. I nearly convinced Jeff that they were actually speed cameras to slow traffic down on the canal! This innovative layout is great when you get used to it, with the top photos looking east towards Huddersfield and the bottom ones facing west to Ashton-under-Lyne. The middle zone is then reserved for photos of things of a topical nature, accompanied by a short explanation.

If I have a complaint it is that the guide lacks a proper commentary about the history of the areas you pass through. That said, how many walkers would stop and read narrative whilst they are out and about?

This book is a must buy if you are planning a trip across the Huddersfield Narrow. It will enrich and inform, enhancing the pleasure you will get from this most delightful of canals. Get hold of a copy and "feel the love"!

It is worth every penny of its £4.99 price, and can be obtained from:

Huddersfield Canal Society
Transhipment warehouse
Wool Road

Or ordered from
plus £1.50 p&p
ISBN : 978-0-9514270-1-9

Monday 18 May 2009

BCN Southern Section, Kingswood Junction to Tipton

BCN Southern Section
Kingswood Junction to Tipton
Mon 18th May 2009

27 Miles
33 Locks
12 Hours

After a peaceful night, away from the motorway and rails, we started the return leg of our journey at 6.30am in reasonable weather. The rain clouds had blown over and the sun shone intermittently. After the narrow and shallow Stratford Canal, the Grand Union seemed very wide and deep, but in the main featureless. Linear mooring came and went, breaking the monotony, including two nice looking pubs near the Black Buoy Cruising Club, with their diminutive slipway.
The five locks at Knowle came as a pleasant interruption, built to the same design as the Hatton Flight, with reeded up square side pounds and attractive lock keepers houses. Parts of the six old narrow locks are visible on the towpath side, some with just one wall showing and others serving as weirs.

The Knowle summit pound strides across the Warwickshire countryside, burrowing under the M42 and Copt Heath Wharf, before reaching the prosaically named Catherine de Barnes with its oh so English cricket ground alongside the canal. From here the navigation starts to edge into suburbia, diving through deep tree lined cuttings only to emerge to reveal an ever increasing amounts of urbanisation. With the housing comes the surface debris, and unidentified clonking objects under the bridge holes.
The suburban towns come and go, Olton and Ackocks Green before the industry starts in the form of the Birmingham Incinerator (sorry, Waste Energy Reclamation Centre) followed by the sprawling Ackers Trust Adventure Centre where a huge climbing wall looms over the canal and a volunteer work party form Barclays Bank was hard at work. The canal then starts to penetrate an inner city scene including Small Heath and Sparkbrook, before reaching the top of the Camp Hill Locks. The top lock is the site of some very impressive and underused BW facilities, paid for as part of a development project which never happened. A good sized basin exists which, at a pinch, could offer a safe mooring if you were tucked away at the back and were not averse to isolation.
Camp Hill marked the end of the 1930's widening scheme and from here on it's back to the narrow canal. The flight carries relatively little traffic and dodges around Birmingham's inner city ring road with St Andrews Football ground perched on the hill above - soon to return to top flight Premier League action. Whilst this is inner city, the locks remain unlocked which is a good sign.
Bordesley Junction sits at the foot of the six Camp Hill locks, splitting the Grand Union with one arm heading north to terminate at Salford Junction (Spaghetti Junction) via the Saltley Cut and the other continuing to Warwick Bar and the junction with the Digbeth Branch of the BCN. This short stretch is packed with interest for canal historians, including The Bond, The Banana Warehouse, Fellows Morton Clayton Warehouse, the Rea Aqueduct, plus the Proofing House, all in about 400 yards.
Our dedication to the backwater bagging cause remains undimmed so we took our lives in our hands and tentatively nosed through the barriers and into Typhoo Basin. Much to our surprise the two arms were devoid of rubbish and we are able to wind without fouling the prop. Apart from a few scratches form the trees at the entrance we emerged unscathed.
We then made our way up the six Ashted Locks, which were also clean and rubbish free. We glimpsed a pub called The Moby Dick, which held a fascination for Captain Ahab but like the real whale, was tantalisingly out of reach. Instead we settled for beans on toast and a bottle of beer in the chamber of the top lock at Waterlinks. Farmers Bridge locks followed, all set in our favour and were cleared in little over one hour.

As we entered lock 13 (bottom) I noticed a couple of vagrants sleeping in an alcove. I took great care to be quiet and not disturb them, only to look up and see the upper windows of an adjacent building flung open and a rock band start a practice session. We could hear them clearly three locks away but I needn't have worried about the vagrants slumber - they slept on!
On reaching the top lock I nipped into the lock keepers office to try and buy a copy of Geo Projects map of the BCN. Albert told me that he didn't have a copy but try the BW shop 100 yards further on. No problem, and off I trotted. The snag was that BW only open the shop when two or more staff are present, and only one was! My frustration was short lived when Albert, spotting my predicament, wandered over and lent bodily support and facilitated my £5 purchase. I like my much abused copy of Pearson, but the complexity of the BCN means that seeing it as a whole is difficult. In this respect the Geo Project map is very good, covering all the BCN and associated regional waterways.

We passed Old Turn Junction (National Sea Life Centre) at 3.15pm and were aiming for the Black Country Museum for the night. This meant running the mainline gauntlet with the kids out of school - not ideal, so we kept our eyes peeled for trouble. We made it through Smethwick without nothing more substantial than a banana skin being aimed in our direction, and took great care to watch out for activity on Galton Bridge as we exited Galton Tunnel. The northern reaches of the Old Main Line are rather remote and exposed so we nipped up the Gower Branch and through the three Brades Locks, two of which comprise the only staircase pair on the BCN. It was then a fairly straight forward run along the Old Main Line to Tipton.

We very nearly made it, but a bunch of teenage lads saw us as we approached the railway bridge half a mile short of the museum entrance. They scuttled off into the woods to find ammo, and then emerged onto the bridge ready to launch an assault. Time for urban cruising mode: so Mr Truth disembarked armed with his camera and walked on ahead. In the event, God smiled on us in the form of a massive downpour of biblical proportions, which appeared out on nowhere. I simply hung back and let the water do its work. The would be attackers quickly realised that in addition to being caught on candid camera, they were getting soaked to the skin and melted away.

After a 12 hour day and over 30 locks we decided to pass on our usual pilgrimage to Mad O'Rourkes and instead sampled the delights of the nearby Chinese takeaway, washed down with a couple of bottle of Stella watching Sliver. A good end to a varied but tiring day.

Sunday 17 May 2009

BCN Southern Section, Gas Street Basin to Kingswood Junction

BCN Southern Section - Gas Street Basin to Kingswood Junction
Sunday 17th May 2009

18 Miles
20 Locks
9 Hours

Our mooring alongside Symphony Court was excellent and the offer of a return visit will utilised, many thanks Nick.

Jeff had departed the previous evening, leaving just Mr Truth and myself on board. We slept reasonably well, but the occasional shouts and cries from late night revellers echoed along the canal, never enough to wake us but repeatedly causing us to rise close to the surface of our slumber.

We were both awake at 6.00am so we rose and slipped the mooring lines at 6.30am, taking care tot to wake local residents and exiting Sherborne Wharf at the northern end. The canal was wide enough to allow WB to turn, but only just. There was something magical about Brindley Place, Gas Street Basin and The Mailbox in the first light of dawn. We moved almost silently across the still waters with smoke curling up from a re stoked fire, talking is lowered voices without a soul to be seen - such a contrast to six hours earlier!

The Worcester and Birmingham Canal takes its leave from the BCN at Worcester Bar, and immediately plunges into the leafy suburbia of Edgbaston, initially tracking Broad Street, and then on out beyond Five Ways and the playing fields of Jeff's school. The railway is a constant companion as you move south, past Birmingham University complete with its Hydrogen Boat, and then on to Bournville Station painted out Cadbury's purple. This five mile stretch to Kings Norton Junction is quite pretty, but repetitive, reminding me of the looped TV scene in the film Speed.

The scene today...

... and circa 1913 then the stop lock was operational

By the time we reached Kings Norton Junction the joggers, cyclists and dog walkers were out in force, congregating at the junction and keen to watch Wand'ring Bark pass by. This section is rich in canal structures, with a picturesque Canal House on the Junction, followed by the unique guillotine stop lock and the 275 yard Brandwood Tunnel sporting an image of Shakespeare on the northern portal. I say and image, but in reality no one knows what he looked like and there is considerable debate as to who he actually was. Another interesting structure, or should I say "non structure" is the famed Lifford Lane Bridge, cause celebe of the pioneering IWA. The fixed bridge was replaced with a swing bridge which has itself been removed and the road (actually called Tunnel Lane) blocked to through traffic.

The good weather gave way to incessant rain for an hour and a half, as we made our way past the thriving Lyons Boatyard and a number of very substantial developments, which looked for all the world like inner city redevelopments, but were located way out in the countryside. The Waterfront at Dickens Heath was a case in point. Its huge blocks of apartments centred around a water cascade would not have looked out of place in Cabot Square, Docklands.

The wisest comment of the day was heard at Ladys Lane Wharf, where an elderly boater jumped from his craft as the rain started, saying "well that's it for me, its too wet. I'm stopping for the day". We pressed on through the rain, eventually mooring just beyond the Wharf Tavern at Hockley Heath. The tavern has a small inlet in front of it and it was all we could do to stop ourselves trying to insert WB under the towpath bridge. Its a good job we didn't try, the water is shallow and the last boat to attempt the manoeuvre had to be towed back out!

We played cat and mouse with Alvechurch's Mountain Thrush through the lift bridges and passed them after the first couple of locks under yet another downpour. Our progress down the Lapworth flight was further hindered by Anglo Welsh's Osney, who's crew decided it was OK to leave the bottom gates open and the paddles up! We take most things in our stride but this was laziness on a big scale! Mr Truth trotted down to them and put a stop to this antisocial practice for the last six locks. Osney turned at the bottom and its crew slunk away inside, ashamed to show their faces as we passed.

We reached Kingswood Junction at 4.00pm, turning onto the Grand Union just as the rain got going again, giving us one final soaking as we moored close to The Navigation Inn. We dipped our rods in the water but there was little action, save one good bream hooked by Mr Truth, so we retired to the pub and supped a few pints in the company of the Kingswood regulars.

DIY narrowboat gangplank / pole rack

DIY narrowboat gangplank / pole rack

I never know what to call the rack on the roof of the boat which holds the gangplank, boat pole and boat hook in place. I had a good look on Midland Chandlers website before entering this post in the hope of finding a pithy name for it, to no avail.

Some boats have racks welded to the cabin roof, but Wand'ring Bark is deficient in the rack department to the tune of one!

The boat came with a couple of brass gizmo's but sadly I lost one in the cut at Autherley which prompted the construction of Mark 1. In conception and construction is was great. It was light, inconspicuous and most of all it did its job perfectly - for two years. The problem was my choice of timber for the ends. I used some rather nice thick beechwood left over from a kitchen worktop project but the trouble was that it was laminated, which is to say that it was made up of lots of strips of wood all glued together.

The wood was up to the job but the glue wasn't. Within twelve months the wet had got in bits were breaking off, and within 24 months not all the screws on the world could put this Humpty back together again.

So, a Mark 2 has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes. The dowel poles have been recycled and fitted into new ends, this time constructed out of a plank of solid hardwood with a tight grain which should, hopefully, resist the weather much better and live out a long and unnoticed life of the roof of Wand'ring Bark.

Saturday 16 May 2009

BCN Southern Section - Calf Heath to Gas Street Basin

BCN Southern Section
Calf Heath to Gas Street Basin
Sat 16th May 2009

Index of posts in this series:
1. - Calf Heath to Gas St Basin - this post
2. - Birmingham to Kingswood Junction
3. - Kingswood Junction to Tipton
4. - Tipton to Calf Heath

22 Miles
24 Locks
10 Hours

This is an account of our third annual trip to explore the BCN and its associated waterways, this time taking in the canals to the south of the city. The usual crew were assembled, being Mr Truth, Jeff (for part of the journey) and myself, Captain Ahab, with just four days to achieve two crossings of the Birmingham plateau. Our route was to be in via Wolverhampton, through central Birmingham and on out to Kingswood Junction, using the Northern Stratford Canal for the outbound leg and the Grand Union for the return.

Prior engagements prevented a Friday evening departure, so we merely slept on Wand'ring Bark in the marina, setting off bright and early at 6.30am with the cold finding its way through thermal trousers and insulated gloves. We reached Autherley at 9.30am and were surprised to find Piston Broke moored up at the junction.

We found the entire Wolverhampton 21 set in our favour (courtesy of Piston Broke's descent in the rain on Friday?) and reached the top in a creditable two hours ten minutes, including a bacon buttie stop at the diner half way up. We passed a solitary narrowboat in their way down and were advised that they had moored on the offside in Wolverhampton, opposite the BW yard. They had no trouble but reported a night interrupted by incessant sirens - the very reason I have never used the spot myself.

In spite of a very poor weather forecast, the rain held off for the locks and beyond as we traversed the no mans land between Wolverhampton and Tipton. All along the route old factories and works have been reduced to rubble, transforming the landscape and wiping away the last traces of the industry that used to line the route.

We made good time and decided to lunch is the Black Country Museum. Having run the meteorological gauntlet all morning, our luck finally ran out in Tipton. The heavens opened and we had to seek shelter under a bridge for half an hour or so while the downpour passed over.

With most of the moorings taken, we made use of the ring in the wall next to the winding hole and watched all the hustle and bustle in the museum. We were particularly interested to see President being steamed up and, in due course, the lift bridge being raised to allow President and its ever faithful attendant, Kildaire, out for a run. This departure was a real bonus and it is safe to say that Wand'ring Bark had an Obama moment. By this I mean that she was touched by the President as she rotated out of her berth!

After some lunch we set off for central Birmingham following the course of the Old Main Line, which is a bit longer but much more interesting. Before long we found ourselves coming up behind President and Kildaire and so, to kill a bit of time, we stopped on Tividale Aqueduct to allow me to get some photos for my associated blog, Aqueducts of the UK. President and Kildaire pulled over at the top of Brades Locks to wind, letting is continue on our way.

Weekends in the BCN often throws up snags, and this trip was no exception. As we approached Brasshouse Lane Bridge we spied two kids scrambling up onto the parapet but were relieved when we passed under without incident. The incident came as we exited - they hurled washing up liquid over the wall, most of which missed but some hit WB and Mr Truth. Better then stones I guess, and it did result in a very clean cockpit! A strange weapon of choice... Our would be attackers were clearly disappointed with the impact of their performance so hung around behind us till we cleared the lock beside the Engine Arm. They suddenly disappeared so, on reaching Smethwick Bottom Lock I strolled down to the towpath of the New Main Line - scaring the wits out of the lads who were trying to sneak round the side! They fled, I made a show of a chase ,and we escaped. Smethwick is a troubled area and its a shame to see the lovingly restored toll house at the top of the Smethwick flight reduced to a charred shell.

Given the rate of change in the area, we took in the Icknield Port Loop to view the stalled redevelopments. There are many BW barges moored in the loop alongside the remains of the factories which used to rise sheer out of the water. The BW yard remains a busy hub, but the rest of the island site sits in suspended animation, waiting for the return of better times.

Rather than moor in Gas Street Basin, which can be very noisy on a Saturday night, we were offered a private mooring alongside the Symphony Court home of Nick and Vicky. Their hospitality was much appreciated extending to beers, showers and in the evening some excellent company at the Blue Mango Indian Restaurant. Not cheap at £30 per head, but excellent quality. There are a few public moorings just inside the southern entrance to Sherborne Wharf, a bit away from the noise of Broad Street and covered by the area's security cameras. This is a good spot for weekend layovers, but don't tie up to the pillars outside Bannatynes Health Club - they are insubstantial.