Wednesday, 16 July 2014

...and then there was one

After our rain-soaked recce of the Stoubridge canal we made an early start from a lovely mooring about a mile before the town arm turns off.

We climbed the sixteen locks of the Stourbridge flight pretty easily, despite some of the gates being unbalanced meaning they try and open themselves as soon as you've closed them behind the boat. That aside, it's a pleasant flight with amazingly clear water and well maintained locks that even give the boat a bubble bath as you go up.

By the top of the locks the surroundings turn more industrial and a lot less scenic. We didn't explore the dead-end Fens Branch, but turned right to pass around the top of Stourbridge. The lovely clear water remains here, which is handy for spotting all the traffic barriers that lie just under the surface!

Half way up the next locks, the Delph flight, Victoria decided she'd done enough locks for one day so we swapped over meaning David got to appreciate the views showing how much height we'd gained.

The Delph locks are a quick and easy flight with very short pounds between the locks so we made it to our mooring at Merry Hell Hill in time for lunch, before venturing down to brave the vast shopping complex underneath.

The following day we continued on the Dudley No1 Canal to Parkhead Junction, where the Dudley Tunnel burrows under Netheron Hill, but only for very, very low boats which must be towed through by an electric tug due to ventilation problems for diesel engines.

We took the easy option and turned right onto the imaginatively named Dudley No2 Canal, wiggling through mixed surroundings all the way to Windmill End Junction. In preparation for the Netherton Tunnel David did our normal thing of taking the flowers and sack trolley down from the roof to allow us to see better and in case the tunnel turns low. As we approached the tunnel we realised this may not have been strictly necessary this time....

The 1.75 mile long Netherton Tunnel is more like the Channel Tunnel than most canal tunnels we've been through. It's dead straight, two way with a towpath each side and a huge high roof. So plenty of room for the flowers after all!

Emerging from the tunnel we were on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) and turned left onto the New Main Line to climb Factory Locks before turning south to reach the safe moorings at the Black Country Museum, just in front of the other end of the Dudley Tunnel we'd seen hours earlier.

The moorings beyond the winding hole where PM is in the above photo are free for museum visitors. We bought tickets online which give unlimited entry to the museum for a year so we could come and go as we wanted, coming back to the boat for a tea break when the museum was busiest!

The Black Country Museum is a unique recreation of a Black Country village with associated industries from the early 20th century. There are museum staff in costume to bring the history to life and live exhibits such as chain making and working steam engines. We really enjoyed it, especially the mine tour and the 1930's style fish and chips, which are second to none.

Back to boating on the Sunday and we crossed Birmingham, firstly on the Old Main Line, before dropping down three locks on the Gower Branch to join the straighter, more direct New Main Line. We helped some hire boaters with the Brades Locks staircase as they hadn't seen one before and were thoroughly mixed up, in danger of draining the canal and flooding Birmingham.

Disaster averted, we carried on, navigating our way through the maze of junctions on the BCN. We particularly like this one, where the canal we were on is crossed by another canal, with a railway next to it and the M5 ontop of everything.

We eventually arrived in the centre of Birmingham and moored near the National Indoor Arena. We had arranged to meet nb Leo here and they eventually caught up having done all the extra loops off the BCN main line on the way.

Having had a day looking round Birmingham when we were here in June we didn't hang around and left the following morning, retracing our route down the 13 locks of the Farmer's Bridge flight. This time we turned off at Aston Junction, avoiding the troublesome Ashted tunnel (see our earlier blog!), but leaving us another 8 locks to do down the Aston flight. This isn't the prettiest area of Birmingham but we made it down without incident.

We'd been aiming for Cuckoo Wharf secure moorings but when we arrived it wasn't exactly the idyllic city retreat we'd been hoping for. David walked over to Star City on the nearby Grand Union Canal to see if that was any better but in the end we decided to stay put.

We didn't have any bother and even managed to get TV reception to keep up with the Tour de France so not such a bad mooring after all.

The following day we said goodbye to nb Leo. We have decided to head South for our mooring this winter, while Leo had always planned to go North. Being in the middle of the country with a T-junction ahead it was decision time. We turned right at Salford Junction to head out of the city on the Birmingham & Fazeley canal, while nb Leo turned left to explore a lot more of the BCN on their way northwards.

We have enjoyed travelling with nb Leo for the past 10 weeks and it was a bit sad to leave them but we hope to meet and travel together again next year. Now we're on our own we will definitely have to keep the blog updated as we can't rely on Leo's blog to do it for us any more!

For our first night out of Birmingham we stopped near Curdworth. It was a really nice mooring and great to be out in the countryside again (even if you could see and hear the M6 toll).

Today we've had an easy day, coming down most of the Curdworth flight to moor near Kingsbury Water Park. We've heard tales from nb Leo of empty pounds and lots of rubbish on the BCN so far and can't help but feel just a little bit relieved that we made the decision to come this way out of Birmingham. Nevertheless, good luck to nb Leo on their BCN adventure and we hope things improve for you in the next few days.

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