Sunday 30 June 2013

Chesterfield Canal Festival 2013

Chesterfield Canal Fesitval 2013
July 2013

Wild Side came of age this weekend, as we returned to the site of our first proper canal festival of 2012.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon on the Chesterfield Canal

Maybe its the local geography but on both occasions the wind has blown strongly over the Staveley Basin site, but this year there was no rain and the temperatures were much higher bringing in the crowds. Last year's winds strained our cheapo Tesco gazebo which finally bit the dust at Pelsall, so this was the first outing of a shiny new heavy duty replacement, one which should provide sterling service for several years to come.

Wild Side in its new gazebo.

The atmosphere of Chesterfield is different to most canal festivals, mainly attributable to the absence of boats and the limited number of boaters. This is due to the fact that it is a restoration project on a disconnected section of canal, and the festival is all about giving a positive experience to the local people of Staveley, as well as making a much needed bob or two for the hyper active local canal society.

Boats bustle to and fro on the Chesterfield Canal

Like most restoration societies, their role is a mixture of public relations, facilitator for redevelopment projects and in a small way as a constructor. All three elements were at work over the weekend.

Perhaps the element which captured my imagination the most was the little band of volunteers who were laying the first concrete blocks of what will become the side walls of Staveley Lock, gateway to the next stretch of canal to be restored. Of course, this small working party attracted little attention but it does underline exactly what the Chesterfield Canal Society is all about.

Street entertainment at Chesterfield Festival

As usual, I didn't get to see the bulk of the festival on account of our preserve selling activity. However, the elements we saw were well organised and entertaining. The main marquee was right next to us so we were able to enjoy all the bands, even if we couldn't actually see them!

A great wheelchair friendly trip boat brought in from Sussex

Our visits to Staveley are always combined with a visit to stay with some friends who plied us with excellent ale and an equally excellent home made curry so all in all it was a great event. My best guess is that attendance was up about 70% on last year which must encourage the organisers.

Maybe not the biggest canal festival on the calendar, but one of our favourites.

Friday 28 June 2013

Psst - we have a new baby!

Proudly announcing the arrival of The Jam Butty
June 2013

What can I say? We went, we saw and we agreed to purchase!

Some of you will know of our medium term plans to take extended cruises and our idea to combine these travels with the burgeoning preserves business. We flirted with the idea of buying a longer boat but the more we thought about it the more we fancied a short butty which, taken with Wand'ring Bark, would fit into a single lock.

Maybe we were swayed by the name but "The Jam Butty" does have a lovely ring to it. She will sit nicely in the firmament already occupied by the Fudge Boat and the Cheese Boat.

And so the seeds of a dream were planted in our imaginations and once visualised these things have a way of taking physical form. The form started with the stern in the shape of Montgomery's back cabin which we spied stacked on top of a container at Stretton Wharf. Enquiries revealed that Montgomery had been looking for a new life for years and when the purpose was explained the stern was soon introduced to the bows of a BCN day boat and hey presto - the Jam Butty is born.

We went to have a look at the components today and were both surprised and delighted to see that Keith had not only laid the bits out in the yard, he had actually rebottomed her and welded it together! He was clearly as taken with the end result as we were, observing the symmetry of the bows and stern which both rise with the same subtle curve. A bit of a gamble on his part though!

Ok, it still needs a bit of imagination when you look at the shot blasted and blacked stern contrasting the bare rusty metal front end but believe me, this cut and shut will be one cute little butty when we are through with her.

The bare bones specs are 11ft of Montgomery, about 20 years old and built by Keith on the wharf mated to 15 ft of a 1911 BCN Day boat with more rivets penetrating her antique plating that a body piercers fantasy!

I think you can safely expect to see a long series of posts on this topic as we bring The Jam Butty / Montgomery to life and prepare her to be one of the more unique and memorable boats on the network.

Go on - admit it, you are smiling as you read this post!

Thursday 27 June 2013

BCN Explorer

BCN Explorer B
Balls Hill Branch walk
June 2013

I had a very boaty sort of day in a "not afloat" sort of way.

The day started with a visit to Wand'ring Bark and seeing our friends off for a weekend aboard. They have been out with us before so they know the ropes but they still needed showing around.

Goodbye Wand'ring Bark

My plan was to go with them to the first bridge and then walk back and get out at Misty's. Good plan but Misty's is closed and so is the access. I then had to walk and extra two miles round via the next bridge in high sun and even higher humidity. It wasn't long before the first sighting was noted and reports sent back to us about the boat's progress.

But that wasn't me done with boating for the day. 4.00pm found me at Ocker Hill and meeting up with the Explorer B cruise for a guided walk of the lost canals. The problem was the options open to me - there are so many old canals I could chose from. In the end I settled on the one I recently wrote for the Boundary Post which is approx 6 miles, takes 2.5 hours plus as long in the Ridgeacre Pub as is needed.

Explorer B moorings at Ocker Hill

We walked up the Ryders Green flight of 8 locks and crossed to the Wednedbury Old Canal, the northern end of Brindley's original canal otherwise known as the Ridgeacre or Swan Arm.
There was much speculation about the navigability of this polluted backwater but all plans for an attempt were fitmly squashed when they saw the reed bank mid way along. The reeds are advancing rapidly and it wont be many years till the WOC is covered all the way to Ryders Green Junction.

Crossing the top lock

We had some old photo's with us so we could see how things used to be and then made a welcome stop at the Ridgeacre Pub where pints of Doom Bar were downed and thirsts slaked. Then it was off along what became the Balls Hill Branch to Golds Hill, picking out the line of the canal wherever possible before dropping down to the moorings next to the Danks Branch.

Charlie - I got through there in 2009!

This is a good walk as it covers navigable canals, a canal which is just being lost and a couple of completely in filled ones where the route is only identifiable by the tell tale clues left behind. There is the added benefit of the number of pubs en route - The Eight Locks, The Ridgeacre, The Beehive and the Miners Arms. 

Rope marks on the Walsall Canal

The explorers seemed to enjoy the walk and for my part it was a great excuse to revisit a favourite area of the BCN and meet some great people along the way.

Not a bad "then and now" pair at the foot of the Ryders Green Locks

Tuesday 25 June 2013

In the long run

Back from Pelsall
June 2013

Its a long road back from Pelsall, four hours to Wolverhampton, three on the "21" and another two on the Staffs and Worcester.

 Dawn breaks over Pelsall Common

So an early start was planned and with Helen still asleep in bed I wound up the engine and was off at 5.30am, casting off simultaneously with Mike Rolfe ahead of me and we proceeded in tandem all the way to Sneyd. It was a glorious start to the day with an orange sun rising behind us transforming the Wyrley and Essington into a place of real beauty.

An early escape in Mike Rolfe's wake

I know that I have referred to the ever present suburbia along this canal, but its defining characteristics (apart from being twisting) are the profusion of water lilies and wild irises which line its margins. You don't get that on the much used staffs and Worcester!

The mirror arch in Wolverhampton

A self portrait in the mirror arch

Miles passed beneath our base plate and by 9.30 am we emerged at Broad St Wolverhampton where the constituent elements of the Explorer B cruise were assembling. We made our way down the 21 passing at least half a dozen Explorer boats on the way up, crews I will see again on Friday when I meet them for a walk around the lost canals of Ridgeacre.

Ghostly side bridges on the Wyrley Essington in Wolverhampton

We were in idling mode when we stopped at Lock 10 to have a bacon butty from the Crown Cafe stall - just below the incinerator. There we were, siting in the lock munching on mounds of fluffy white bread laced with crunchy bacon when another crew showed up behind us. We zipped on down the rest of the flight unsuccessfully looking for some late wild garlic but were more successful in finding some new growth nettles to make nettle cordial, which has proved to be very popular.

Along the way I tried to resolve an emerging problem with the boat. At very low revs the engine shakes and rattles and whilst I did find and fix loose engine mount, I suspect that the rubbers are failing and new mounts are a job for the coming winter.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Pelsall - the boats

Pelsall Boating Festival
June 2013

From my last post you wouldn't think that this event is about boats! Actually its all about Pelsall really, but the boats are certainly the stars of the show.

 Tony Phillips Trent 5 looking good

The weather was kinder on Sunday and the crowds arrived but, as usual at such events, Sunday is a day out and trade is never as brisk. The lower winds allowed us to present our best ever stall, in my opinion. Bunting was added and an extra table used to create a three sided stall for an impressive display. 

Bunting bedecked Wild Side stall

It was also a day to catch up with friends and contacts and, of course, a day to photograph a few boats.

 The Atlas / Malus combo operated by BCNS / Coombswood Trust

"Three little joshers from Pelsall are we"

All this sociability was lubricated with copious quantities of ale from Ma Pardoes and having sampled the range extensively I have settled on Bumblehole as my favourite (but can be persuaded to quaff Entire or Black Swan if called on to do so).

 From chaos....

... to end of festival calm.

And so the festival came to its conclusion at 4.00pm with the site effectively clear by 6.00pm - very impressive. It just left us with a quiet evening to reflect on a great event and wander round the old industrial site savoring the atmosphere unique to this location.

Out with a bow, or four.

Well done BCNS and all who contributed to the success of the festival.

Friday 21 June 2013

Pelsall come rain or shine

Pelsall Boating Festival 2013
June 2013

As a trader as canal festival we become a bit obsessed with the weather. When boating a general overview of the day is fine but as we start to set out our stall we want an hour by hour forecast to give is time to protect our rain sensitive stock.

Pelsall Boating Festival 2013

Today the ides were not too promising - a ruck of heavy rainclouds bowling up from the south west. We have played this game before and its almost inevitable that one will hit sometime, and so it was.

Wild side sheltering in the lee of the IWA

The first debate was to trade off the boat or from a land based gazebo. Our mooring was  bit uncertain and no one was sure if our overnight spot opposite the Cannock Extension junction was ours to trade from or the spot for the Ikon trip boat. We never found the harbour master to resolve the conundrum so after discussions with the interested parties resolved it ourselves.

Wand'ring Bark at Pelsall

With rain threatening and strong wind blowing into our faces a boat based stall was not a great idea. What was more, the trip boat needed a good bankside location for safety so we swapped after unloading and we moved to the offside of Andrew on an ABC demo boat.

Setting up the festival

No sooner had we started than Helen was struck by a migraine and went off to have a sleep leaving me to man the fort for a few hours. It was during this phase when the rain struck. I had been watching the arrival of a big black cloud and had sorted out a side panel just in time. The rain hammered down and about 10 souls crowded in to get some shelter. The poor old £40 gazebo from Tesco's was stretched to its limits, flogging in the wind like a serpent held by the tail. The deal was : you are welcome to stay, but you have to hold onto the gazebo! The storm passed but its clear that this is the last outing for the canopy - the only place for the frame is the skip.

Cannock Extension Canal

I would like to pay a particular thank you to the IWA who were our greatest supporters on the day, quite literally. With the winds threatening to blow our gazebo away we anchored our supports to their sturdy cabin which really saved the day. Many thanks IWA!

Can I adopt him as my grandad please?

The day was marked by the appearance of many blog readers, who dropped by to make our acquaintance. Several of these were land based locals who have enjoyed my posts on the lost canals of the area which was particularly gratifying. My apologies for not listing you all, there were a lot!

The wind continued to blow but the afternoon was drier and from what I could tell in the bar afterwards, trade was good all round.

Wild Lupins

This is a great location, a real gem of the BCN backwaters. Its hard to believe that this green area was once a hive of heavy industry. Blast furnaces have given way to bats and foundries to ferns - what was once a vision of hell is now a place of much peace and tranquility. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Pelsall bound

Pelsall Bound
Playing tag with Saltaire
June 2013

This is the third of our four business boat trips this year, taking the preserve stall onto the water road, so to speak.

As the bedraggled Midlands crow flies it is only about six miles from out mooring at Calf Heath to Pelsall, but with the Churchbridge lock having bitten the dust in the 1950's we are condemned to take the long way round via Wolverhampton - a staggering 11 hour diversion.

 Saltaire at Aldersley

But boating is more about the journey than the destination and this roundabout route includes long stretches of the Wyrley and Essington, covering the best and the worst that this undervalued waterway has to offer.

As is so often the case, just as I was untying my ropes a boat came past. On this occasion it was Peter Baldwin's Saltaire, chugging its way towards Pelsall to attend the BCN Society's bi annual bash in the north BCN backwaters. 

Saltaire turned into the Wolverhampton 21 and got as far as lock 20 when it stuck fast. The lock gate wasn't opening fully and Slataire's beamy 7ft was having none of it. Twenty minutes of bouncing the lock gate and we pulled Saltaire in, storming away up the locks with her crew of five.

Stuck in lock 20

Sadly the heavens opened and we made a slow and very soggy ascent, condensation battling it out on one side with the rain on other side of my waterproofs to ensure I was completely soaked through. Never has the 21 seemed so long...

Then it was onto the Wyrley and Essington at the unprepossessing Horsleyfields Junction, sharp left under a low bridge and through the remains of a stop lock and so into suburbia - a state which clings to the canal for most of its length. On this waterway the houses seem to shun the canal, with brambles and delapidated fences dominating the margins, sometimes dropping back and then crowding back in again with a few public open spaces to relieve the claustrophobia.

Classic architecture on the Wyrley and Essington

The cut itself is in good shape. True, its a remiandered waterway but recent dredging by the Trust and grappling by the WRGies plus the recent movement of boats on the BCN challenge, the Explorer A cruise and the recent influx to the Pelsall festival have given it a good stir up and it is massively cleaner than when I first ventured into these remote waters a decade or more ago.

We had leapfrogged ahead of Saltaire at Wolverhampton, but as we stopped at Sneyd to re water and empty our cassettes she nosed round the Sneyd but slowed as we entered the shallow Leamore stretch. We were waved past at Birchills and pressed on through what have been the area's badlands ever since the days of the working craft had their cargoes of coal remorselessly lifted by the locals.

We almost made it through unscathed. Then, right at the last bridge a hoard of disaffected yobs hurled stones at us. I retaliated with my camera and they hid behind the parapet which prevented a second salvo.

Arrival at Pelsall Festival

Then we were there, creeping past nearly 130 boats to our berth beside the finger post ready for unloading tomorrow. Wet, weary but present!

Monday 17 June 2013

Gilpins Arm - Wyrley and Essington

Gilpins Arm
Wyrley And Essington Canal
June 2013

Its funny how things emerge from chance meetings.

This map is from Richard Chester Browne's "The Other 60 Miles"

I have just returned from the BCNS Pelsall Festival (more of that in another post) and during our time there Paul came to make my acquaintance. Like several others, he confessed to being an enthusiastic reader of my blog and in particular my exploration of the lost sections of the Wyrley and Essington.

We reflected on the lost sections of Sneyd  (Sneed) and then he mentioned an old tributary to the east of Pelsall. It was only his follow up comment on the blog which made reference to Gilpin Crescent that it all made sense - he was referring to the remains of the 1794 Gilpins Arm which is so redeveloped that there is nothing to see on the ground today.

But thats the joy of the blog. It becomes a shared resource so whilst I cant shed much light on Gilpins Arm from my contemporary investigations, here are Paul's memories:

 I mentioned a strange little tributary which used to spur off the Wyrley & Essington canal in Pelsall. If you head from Yorks Bridge to Yorks Foundry Bridge, then continue a short distance until the canal bends sharply to the left, on the outer edge of that bend there used to be (around the early 60s) a small brook which ran off from the canal, crossed by a small bridge. This brook then ran parallel to and between the present day Dovedale Avenue and St.John's Road, following the line of the present day Gilpin Crescent, ending at Norton Road. Even back then, this tributary was mostly dried up. This was before the Ryders Hayes estate was built. Within a few years, the small bridge had gone, and the out bank of the bend rebuilt to remove all trace of where the tributary used to run off. Probably because of the planned Ryders Hayes estate. Anyway, I hope this makes sense - it's been surprisingly tricky to describe! Just another piece in the jigsaw of lost bits of waterway! 

Paul - I hope you don't mind the verbatim quote! 

Richard Chester Brownes commentary indicates that it was built by a landowner George Gilpin and ran beside Newlands Colliery with and extension  beyond Newton Road into common land, which had disappeared completely by the 1880's.