Saturday 14 May 2016

BCNS Explorer Cruise - Bradley to Walsall

BCNS Explorer Cruise - Bradley to Walsall
May 2016

Today was the real reason for joining the cruise. If available I like to join the cruise at Moorcroft Junction and lead a guided historical walk up the old Bradley Locks Branch to the CRT works at Bradley and then back down the Gospel Oak Branch taking in a swift pint of bitter at the Gospel Oak pub and making a round trip of it.

 Moorcroft temporary moorings

I woke in the back cabin of the butty with the rain thrumming on the roof. Not a great day for a canal walk but the leader can't very well back out. Anyway, as they used to say at Outward Bound "it's not the wrong sort of weather - its the wrong sort of clothes". So I resigned myself to a full set of waterproofs and tucked into my breakfast.

Fortune smiled on us and ten minutes before the off the heavy rain shifted down a gear or two and settled for a very fine drizzle. Enough to demand a hat and waterproof coat but not enough for waterproof trousers.

Climbing the Bradley Locks Branch

You would think that Stuart, who must have heard this talk six times, would be bored with my patter but he assures me that it seems to cover different things each time. Maybe that is testimony to my spontaneous wit and depth of historical knowledge - but I suspect its because I am forever going off the script and have yet to cover the whole thing complete! Anyhow, the boaters all seemed to enjoy the walk and I am always delighted to take the group to just above the old turnpike road and show them the lock flight climbing the hill like a series of giant steps. This experience is enhanced by showing a painting made from what was the end of the Scott Foley Arm in the mid 1800's showing the smoking vista of collieries and blast furnaces. All very evocative stuff.

The branch is currently under consideration for re-opening, am initiative let by the wildlife sector and supported by the three local councils. This would be good news for boaters and would probably represent the most surprising reinstatement in the country, but it does not have the universal support of the locals. One lady buttonholed me after my talk to the group and seemed to hold me responsible for the while idea - wanting me to report her feelings back to "my people" - whoever they may be! (I admit that I failed to mention my position on CRT Council or even my association with BCNS - it seemed best).

The Rotton Brunt Line at the top of Bradley Locks

The lock gate factory is always a pleasure to see. It contains some a serious set of woodworking tooling and on this occasion I was particularly pleased to find the new gates for Rushall No 1 ans 2 locks awaiting fitting during the September closure.

New gates for the Rushall flight

And so it was back to the boats and by the time we had eaten some lunch, only two craft remained so we dropped into our tail end Charlie position and started a plod up the Walsall Canal through Darlaston. My lack of enthusiasm for this stretch is well known and it was somehow fitting that as we tackled it the heavens opened again and we made the transit under leaden skies and the boats running with water. Whilst the clean up squad have achieved wonderful results in recent months, extracting 40 tons of hard debris from the bridge holes, the amount of floating crap is immense and the depth is never more than minimal. 

The configuration of the two boats is not well suited to shallow canals and whilst we can maintain a near normal speed on deep water, progress slows massively when the gap between top and bottom is small. The butty's stern sits nearly three feet deep and has a habit of swinging in to any shallow margins. The trouble with this section is that's its all shallow margin and as a result the butty can develop am alarming swing to right and left and the narrowness of the navigation channel makes it difficult to get it back in the groove.

But we persevered and apart from grounding on some concrete at the M6 we emerged into a damp Walsall Basin and a scene very reminiscent of the last BCN Challenge I attended in even worse conditions in the year of the Queens Jubilee. Fred, my crew for the trip, is no great beer drinker so we opted out of a squelch up the Black Country Arms and instead ate at Pizza Express and took in the new Captain America Film at the new "Lighthouse" cinema on the waterfront. The cinema is excellent and I have to say that the waterfront area is coming on a treat - but the Marvel films are as dire as I feared! 

I now have two issues with Walsall Town moorings:

 1. The Wharf Inn is a very poor pub with little atmosphere - not exactly a destination pub.
 2. There are no facilities to encourage you to linger - not even water let alone a sanny station.

Apart from that the waterfront area is coming along well and is well worth a visit.

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