Sunday 5 June 2011

BCN Challenge 2011, Part Four - Salford Junction to Walsall

BCN Challenge 2011
Part Four - Salford Junction to Walsall
Sunday 29th May 2011

Day 2: 16 miles - 13 locks - 7 hours

After a restless few hours I became aware of lightning, an ominous development for day two. But it wasn't accompanied by rain or thunder and then all became apparent, it was Indigo Dream setting off at 4.15am and Graham was photographing us by flash.

Perry Barr Locks, Tame Valley Canal

Sleep had eluded me so I wrote up my notes and waited for the alarm to ring. Time for a shower at 5.45 and some quick breakfast,  before casting off at 6.15 and heading out under Salford Junction with the crumbling ramparts of Spaghetti Junction soaring above us. Whilst we had dodged in and out of the remaindered canals now it was backwaters all the way to Walsall, 17 miles and 13 locks away. Negotiating these routes is rarely without incident, its just a matter of how bad and when.

Sargasso Sea at Perry Barr

Our early start took us straight onto new waters. In all the time we have been exploring the BCN we have never passed through the Perry Barr Locks to the Junction with the Rushall Canal. I have biked most of it and I pass the bottom of the flight on my way to and from work every day, but its location has always made it difficult to reach. This is made all the more galling as it is the closest bit of canal to my home - a mere 2 miles!

Scenes from the Tame Valley

This missing bit of the BCN was one of our primary targets for the challenge, and its inclusion means that we have covered every last mile of the system. I suppose that's not 100%  true because we havn't, and never will, pass through the Dudley Tunnel and there is the small matter of Bumblehole, which has been visited on foot but never explored by boat. But thats being pedantic. To all intents and purposed we can now safely say that we have "done" the BCN.

Some of the Perry Barr Locks are a bit rickety with tops leaning in and notices telling boaters to leave the chambers empty. Taken as  whole they are quite picturesque, four in a row leading up to the Walsall Road bridge. You wouldn't think you were deep in suburbia. This was home territory for Mr Truth and at 8.30am we were met by his uncle who emerged from his canal facing house to wish us well.

Birmingham from the M5 aqueduct

Above the locks the Tame Valley throws in a surprise or two in the shape of deep cuttings spanned by huge bridges followed by soaring embankments as the canal is ushered into the path of the M6 and M5. This section could be compared to the Shroppie but for the distant views of the Wrekin you must accept glimpses of the BT tower.

Crossing the M5 is like a border crossing into downtown Beruit. One one side all is lush and attractive and on the other it - well - isnt! The canal is dead straight for miles, narrow, shallow, weedy and contains some horribles for the propeller. We were lucky, nothing rose to grab us from the murky depths and even the dodgey gang of boys were easily distracted by a post match analysis of the Manchester United Game last night.

Tame Valley in bleak mode

After the Tame Valley we fully expected to join a procession of boats slogging their way into Walsall but we were left to our own devices for several miles. The canal is narrow, shallow and weedy but the work put in by BW and BCNS has ensured that we could at least pass through the bridge holes without too many ominous bumps and bangs. We were surprised to pass nb Victoria, a Napton Narrowboats hire craft, a crew we had seen at the foot of the 21, a day and a half ago. 

Sarah and the Book Barge

Then there was the Book Barge making a dash for Hatton, followed by Yeoford. Yeoford really surprised us - going the wrong way. Mr Truth was steering and trying to give them plenty of space and I was so busy with my camera that I failed to spot James and Amy (nb Lucky Duck) sitting in the bows!

Yeoford and the Lucky Ducks

We slogged in in the thickening weed between Pleck and Walsall, finally catching Tardebigge, an old tunnel tug? and the Atlas / Malus pair we last saw at Coseley.

Tardebigge, Atlas and Malus nr Spink Bridge

These deep drafted boats made slow progress in the difficult conditions and we were forced to move at a snails pace picking up huge amounts of crud on the prop, arriving in the basin a bit ahead of schedule at 1.00pm.

Our BCN stalker - we saw him 3 times - who is this guy?

The scene of about 25 craft packed into Walsall Town basin was something to behold. More of that tomorrow.


Mark said...

Where was Bob Marley? Impressed.

And do I hear you say you've now "done" the BCN?

Is Bumblehole part of another waterway then? ;)

Andy Tidy said...

I think Bob was under Walsall Road Bridge. As for Bumblehole... it will get done next year.