Tuesday 28 May 2019

Heading south again

Heading south again
May 2019

We seem to have been going round in circles so far this season.

Leo's back cabin

The sum total progress after one month afloat has seen us return to exactly where we started at Longwood. First there was the hurly burly of St Richards festival in Droitwich followed by the Coombswood open weekend at Halesowen and then to round it off we attended the BCNS Brownhills Canal Rally, after which we were pretty much out of stock.

CRT's Leo

We therefore returned and replenished the hold of The Jam Butty with the addition of about 1500 jars of preserve, and once again we headed south.

Day one
Our reloading and departure was on the weekend of the BCN Challenge so the reloading process turned out to be one of constant interruptions as competitor after competitor crawled past and greetings were exchanged. In the end we set off at 9.00 am on the Sunday, taking the less travelled eastern route to the Grand Union. 

Busy on the Moshes

The sequence of locks is engrained in my head in the shape of the old boatmans ditty "The Moshes two, the Ganzies seven, the New thirteen and the Lousy Leven."

Because the Rushall Flight had been well used over the weekend we had plenty of water to see us through the usually dry pounds at the bottom of the Ganzies, but all the chopped weed was a bit of a pain. The Perry Barr flight (new 13) was painless bar the dozen motorcycles roaring up the towpath and we soon found ourselves in the strange netherworld under Spaghetti Junction.

Butty's at Brownhills

We then used the Saltley Cut which is a stretch of canal I rarely travel and the oily odours from the silt at the bottom lock reminded me of the same smells when I travelled this way over 50 years ago with my parents. Our solitary progress was broken on Camp Hill where we met our first hire boats doing the Warwick Ring.

After 10 hours on the move we stopped at Camp Hill services, tucked into the arm behind the toilet block. This is a very secure location and we made use of the very comprehensive service block which would do justice to a better travelled route. It was Gay Pride weekend in Birmingham so our stay had a musical soundtrack courtesy of the main stage in Hurst Street.

Day Two
I was off with the larks on Monday morning, leaving my crew of two asleep in bed. The canal is good and deep through Tyseley and Ackers but the water channel shallowed off at Acocks Green. Every bridge seemed to be silted up and I was never really clear of debris on the prop. Rather disturbingly, the Knowle pound was a good 10 inches down and this will probably be a problem all season.

Knowle Locks are something of a nemesis for me. When descending the short square pounds seem to acquire a sharply rotating current which grabs the motor before the butty is clear of the lock. The end result was, as usual, a complete mess. The bows were swept past the lock mouth and I was left with the option of either doing 360 degrees or being roped into the rock in a most undignified way. On this occasion we opted for ropes.

The  afternoon was dominated with the Aston Villa -Derby match being played at Wembley  and the miles streamed past as I listened to the radio commentary. Aston Villa won the  day  and made their way back to the Premiership as we arrived at the moorings at the top of Hatton Locks. 

Day Three
As Dan had come with us from Longwood, we made use of his muscles to get us down the heavy going Hatton Flight. Progress was erratic and we had a series of waits for ascending boats and an equal number of squally rain showers. That said they passed, as they do, and we moored at the Cape of Good Hope where a downed some very acceptable pints and set Dan on his way back to Birmingham from Warwick Parkway. 

Hatton Locks

After three full on days we decided to stay put for the night and were later joined by Pam and Andy from the Glass Barge, who are also heading south.

We are now down to just the two of us and we are making for Banbury and then Thrupp, where we paused two years ago. Then it's a few weeks on the Thames and on to London.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Brownhills Canal Festival 2019

Brownhills Canal Festival
May 2019

Brownhills is an old ex mining town which sits on the A5 near Cannock and crucially, sits next the Wyrley and Essington Canal on the extreme northern edge of the Birmingham Canal Navigations. It also happens so be about three miles from our home in Aldridge, so its a place we know well.

The canal at Silver Street, Brownhills

Given its status of "capital of the Northern Reaches" it periodically hosts canal events, and this year the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) decided to hold a rally in the extensive moorings in the centre of town. Now this has to be one of the more tricky locations to reach, taking either one day through loads of locks of nearly two days on the flat via Wolverhampton, so no one was sure how many boats would make the long trek. 

Working Boats and Day Boats (Joeys)

Brownhills has historically held a one day canal side event each year, but the organisers ran out of steam a few years ago. One year the Historic Boat Club held an easter rally here, but last year was fallow and the broad expanse of water beside Silver Street saw few visitors.

Skippers polish their boats for the crowds

In the event nearly 40 visiting boats arrived plus a clutch of historic boats and unpowered day boats, plus four trade boats. Against this backdrop the land based pitches were sold out months ago and the organisers crossed their fingers that crowds would turn out to see the spectacle.

Visiting boats line all the towpath

The good people of Brownhills love their canal and there is nothing they like better than to see it jam packed with boats. As the visiting boats trickled in on Thursday and Friday more and more locals came to the waterfront with their cameras to stand and watch as boat after boat chugged up and found somewhere to moor. This trickle turned into something of a flood on Saturday with the towpath thronging with visitors, Phoenix, the BCNS work / trip boat full to the limit on each of its short runs up and down the waterfront and even the ever hungry armada of Canada Geese retired, sated by an onslaught of duck food offered by enthusiastic children.

  Governor looking splendid

And Morgana putting on her best face for the event

The site does have one disadvantage, a lack of space for a marquee and bar. But on the flip side, there is a large community centre a few hundred yards away, so entertainment and lubrication is offered just off site.

... and these guys are there selling their preserves

The event runs for two days so if you missed the Saturday jollifications there is still time to pop along on Sunday.