Tuesday 7 June 2011

BCN Challenge 2011 plus one

BCN Challenge 2011 plus one
30th May 2011

24 Miles - 24 locks - 11 hours

Whilst the BCN Marathon was technically over on Sunday afternoon, for us there was another leg to be completed.

Lilly fringed Walsall Canal at Darlaston

Mr Truth was taking Wand'ring Bark the long way via Great Haywood, and we had to recross the city, retracing our route along the Walsall and Tame Valley Canals, and then down to the Dog and Doublet via Salford Junction.

Overnight the weather had turned and it had become a classic English bank holiday, rain lashed down right through till 5.00pm as we passed through Minworth. When I say it rained, I mean stair rods cascading down and causing all the weirs to discharge water into every river and steam we crossed. Normally this isn't a particular problem as I just dress accordingly, but that to you do when you catch the legendary monster matress of the Tame Valley. It can't stay on the prop and it won't come off of its own accord. I had to take off my waterproofs and get up close and personal with the weedhatch. 

The Tame Valley is my mattress nemesis. I have only travelled this way once before and on that occasion I picked up a huge sprung mattress which tore my hands to bits as I cut it loose. This one proved to be the mother of all mattresses - heavy felt with thick steel inserts. These steel rods wrapped themselves round the shaft twice and were the devils own job to cut free. I ended up cutting most off, loosening it enough to get a rope under it and then pulling it off. 45 mins of effort and totally soaked in spite of the brolly held over me by Mr Tusk who had joined us for a couple of days.

We paused at the top of the Perry Barr Locks to refill with water only to discover that the top pound was empty. Luckily the Walsall Level is long and pinching water to fill a couple of hundred meters had little impact on the canal, apart from moving a small Sagrasso Sea of weed to the head of the flight.

College Road Bridge - the closest point to home

The Perry Barry Locks are unusual in that they were built with high tech sluices which shut the bottom gates via small ducts. There don't really work anymore but some still spout water here and there.

Perry Barr's self closing gates

This flight was also served by an innovative back pumping scheme and telltale reminders like the No 2 reflux valve  housing can still be seen.

 Its hard to imagine this flight bing busy enough to warrant back pumping. One other feature is the wiggley lines on the backs of the paddle gear - which Halfie employed as a cunning "what is it" test a few days ago.

Halfie's wiggley lines

After the slow progress on the Tame Valley, the switch to the Birmingham and Fazeley came as a blessing and WB surged along, eating the miles and speeding through the remaining 11 locks arriving at the Dog and Doublet 11 hours after leaving Walsall. 

Tunnel at Curdworth

This trip had one last surprise - remember nb Victoria, the Napton Narrowboats hireboat we saw at Alderley and again near Walsall? Well here she was again and at last we could chat to the crew and swap notes about the murky waters of the Walsall.

For me that is the end of the trip. Belle came and picked me up with Jeff, leaving Messrs Truth and Tusk to continue the saga for a further three days. For me it was time to go home, get clean and some sleep and put in a few days honest toil for my employers. 

Curdworth Locks

The BCN challenge exceeded all expectations. It gave me a reason to revisit the BCN backwaters and we made a bunch of new friends along the way. What is more, these were the hardcore badlands and guess how much trouble we encountered? Nil, Nada, Zippo, Zilch. We had no hassle or strife whatsoever, no stones, no swearing, no hassle - just mile after mile of intriguing waterways crammed with atmosphere and interest.

Mr Tusk

The BCN Challenge is one of the living wonders of the waterways and it is something every boater should aspire to do at least once. So, as you start to make plans for 2012 mark the late May Bank Holiday in your diary for the BCN. Come and join us and have an experience that will last a boating lifetime.

Did we win? I havn't got a clue as the scores aren't out for another week. But in this event every participant is a winner.

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