Saturday, 18 September 2021

Rough Wood Country Park

 Today's Canal - Wyrley and Essington

It was a splendid morning as we left our mooring alongside Pelsall Wood, much better than the uniformly grey that had been promised.

On the opposite side had once been a substantial iron works in the 19C but the next bridge not only reminds us why it was built there but also that the works closed a very long time ago.

Lord Hay's Branch ran from this point for just over a mile to a colliery and limekilns at Newtown. By 1920 most of it had been abandoned and shown on maps going as far as another colliery much closer to the main canal. The line can be seen clearly on an aerial view ahjd here as the hedge at the far side of this field. The original terminal basin is now underneath a large care home! It is from this point on the W &E that it is hoped that the restored Hatherton Canal will join in. Despite the fingerpost at Pelsall Junction, the old route via the Cannock Extension is no longer possible and this half of the canal will be a new build with only the half at the Hatherton end following the original route. It will use the last few hundred metres of Lord Hay's Branch.

A large site at Goscote is eventually being re-used for residential housing. Almost a decade ago we noted it was abandoned and three years ago still awaiting work to start.

This was once Elkington's Copper Works which refined copper using an electrolytic process. James Elkington was granted the first patent for such a process which was quickly followed by plants in US. Previously it was refined by fire. As with any new technology, it took several years and many different attempts before it was largely problem-free. It closed in the 1980s. It then took many millions to decontaminate the site.

Willenhall/Bloxwich was used to relocate people displaced from slums elsewhere and in the inter-war period a large quantity of poor quality developments took place followed by more in the late 1940s. By 2000 most of the industry had closed including its famous lock makers. Many parts of the town gained a reputation for crime, poverty and deprivation. Some estates have been renovated and a few have been demolished. Together with former industrial sites there is now a lot of new housing although it does seem to be very high density and many properties seem very small. Some estates appear to be maturing well.

This row of older properties have gardens that run down to the canal. Quite unusually many of them have pigeon lofts, something that we have not seen for a long time.

At Birchills Junction we thought that this large industrial unit with a distinctive ornamental feature must be the headquarters of a large corporation but, no. It is a regional distribution centre for TKMaxx, the country's largest off-price clothing retailer.

You may not be able to see it clearly (we were a little slow in taking the picture) but the only way down to this improvised fishing stand is using the blue looped rope ladder to assist down (and then up!) the retaining wall!

At Sneyd Junction we paused to use the services. Mike also checked out the expandable XHose that he thought had failed when we filled up over a week ago. To his surprise it seemed now to be working - but by then he had already filled up this time so the real test will be at the next fill.

We passed under the noisy (very) M6 bridge and started to look for a lunch time mooring. Ahead we knew was the Rough Wood Country Park where we stopped twice,including once overnight)( some years back. Our reports then recorded that we could not get right to the bank and today was no different but it was very much more peaceful than anywhere nearby.

After lunch there was again a proposal to stay here until tomorrow - we had been thinking about looking at the short arm of the former Bentley Canal in Wednesfield (handy for shops). But we did need to tidy up our mooring to be a bit more secure. It had been tested whilst we ate with a boat going by! We are now up to three moving boats on the northern BCN!

We were close to Bentley Wharf Bridge. This appears on maps for at least 120 years but there is no clear reason why it was built wide and then replaced with a narrow footbridge. There certainly has been no railway or road across in that time.

In the afternoon we took short walks to the country park- it seems to be generally scrub land ith plenty of foot and cycle paths but there may be other features further away.

7.8 Miles - 0 Locks

Friday, 17 September 2021

Pelsall Junction

 Today's Canal - Wrley and Essington

We were promised a grey day, all day, but although it started that way we did have a good number of warm, sunny spells that were very pleasant.

We set off to complete the short distance to return to Catshill Junction where we came up a few days ago. Many of the junctions on the BCN have the remains of stops, or narrows and at Catshill there is one on each of the canals, Daw End and W and E. They were generally not locks but places to collect tolls and to inspect documentation.

A few hundred metres on from the junction we arrived at the site of the Brownhills Festival that is being held this coming weekend as part of the campaign to maintain awareness of the Hatherton and Lichfield Restoration projects. Each of these would make a tremendous difference to the use2 of the northern BCN canals such as those we have travelled the past few days without so far seeing a single moving boat.

Fortunately we were still able to pull in at the service block, even if a couple of work boats had left slightly less than our length! Whilst Mike did all the usual servicing, Christine popped across the road to a very convenient Tesco supermarket. When she returned and was stowing everything away, Mike had a lengthy conversation with a chap from CaRT who will be on duty on their stand tomorrow. His normal job is looking after the Rushall Canal, everything from water management to greasing lock mechanisms. He only joined CaRT a few months ago after working fro decades in local industry. He thought that it was a job that would give much more satisfaction and customer contact, somewhere that he could make a difference.

As we sett off again we could see the arm that made this once a busy place - a transhipment base with the LMS Railway. That line crosses the canal a little further on - a different line crosses much closer. The arm, now used for permanent moorings, is about its original and the track of the long since abandoned railway is still visible, the transhipment base has all been built over.

And then, after not seeing a single moving boat (and only a very few moored ones) two close together came into view! We understood that they were headed for the festival.

Just under York's Bridge some piling works were underway - the bank in one or two places is beginning to rotate and will eventually fall into the canal. This piece is more heavily trafficked as it is a narrow path next to the Fingerpost pub which is also seeing some renovation.

We moored for lunch just after Pelsall Junction, the start of what remains of the Cannock Extension Canal. the area on the left is called Pelsall Wood but on the right was once a very large iron works. Nature has since reclaimed its rights!

After lunch there was a proposal to stay put for the night as this was a pleasant open space and there did not seem to be much on the rest of today's horizon. The motion was carried 2-0.

Mike did a (very) small number of minor maintenance tasks and also took a walk over the junction bridge to look at Pelsall Stop.

Here there is a toll house on one side and two cottages on the other. Although the latter look quite ordinary from the canal, on the other side they have a much more imposing appearance.

Never a dull moment on the canals: as Mike walked over the junction  ridge, a man with a small with a small dinghy in water beside his car asked for help to get the boat out onto the bank and then onto the roof rack of the car! Getting it out onto the towpath was no problem and then he asked to stand it up on end by the car. OK, so we managed that but Mike was sure that the two of them would have a disaster of they tried to lift it onto the roof of the car! (The man had come prepared with a short ladder) Luckily Mile recruited a walker passing nearby and between them they lifted it up, leaving the owner to tie it firmly down before setting off back home in nearby Bloxwich!

Later Christine also went for a walk, about half way along the Cannock Extension towards Norton canes. She took pix along the way, some of the bridges and the occasional passing cyclist!

Even later: a sunset pic.

3.2 Miles - 0 Locks

Thursday, 16 September 2021


 Today's Canals - Daw End, Wyrley and Essington, Anglesey Branch

Today began with a wonderful bright blue, cloudless sky. The water underneath us at the mooring was now very clear so before disturbing it we opted to take another look at the prop. Yes, there was a little more plastic rubbish which we duly removed. But this time would see that we had cleared it all away.

We could also see across the fields to the east of the canal.

One of the advantages of allowing the canal-side vegetation to develop is that along sections like much of today, the industrial works only a few metres from the bank are actually well hidden. Only rarely could we see what was actually being done - here is an exception: concrete mixing.

This area had been brick and tile making for a long time. Many of the former works have long since disappeared and many clay pits have been worked out. However, the area to he west of Aldridge still has a large, working pit but we never had  even a tiny peek look down inside. Just before Clayhanger Bridge we noticed this inset layby. This often indicates that there was a loading facility here. Back at the start of the 20C there was yet another brick works y the canal but by 1915 it is labelled as disused.

It was almost noon when we arrived at Catshill Junction and turned right onto the  Wyrley and Essington.

We immediately noticed a difference in that residential areas were generally quite visible to the canal. A little later we passed some estates where the gardens backed right onto the canal.

This pontoon mooring is attached to a primary school. In 2018 we noted in our blog that we saw a splendid floating classroom, based on a narrowboat. We questioned whether it really was value for money and would it get the use that justified such an expense .This time the boat is nowhere to be seen and the pontoon seems unused.It certainly would need some work on it before passing a school H&S inspection. It seems that our 2018 concerns may ell have been a realistic assessment. Or maybe it is just off on a field trip!

At Ogley Junction the canal becomes the Anglesey Branch.

As we approached the A5 Freeth Bridge we saw this For Sale sign. We nearly rang the estate agent but quickly realised that CaRT might accept our offer too quickly!

We had been moving quite well but since Ogley realised that we were much slower. However it was just as we passed underneath Freeth bridge that we realise that there was a problem with the prop - the water was coming out sideways. There was no choice but to drift to the bank before tackling the problem. 20 minutes later we had removed this pile of assorted rubbish, after which we made much better speed!

As on our last visit in 2018, we were disappointed that nothing has been done to make it easy to moor at Anglesey and to encourage boaters to cruise here as a destination. After turning around in Anglesey basin we managed to find a place to tie up for lunch alongside the remains of the wharf.

We then locked up the boat and walked up to Chacewater and the visitor area. The outflow from the reservoir into the canal was but a trickle.

Alas, there seemed to be very little happening - a small refreshment shop was open but with just a handful of customers - they only sold very ordinary factory-made ice cream - even the 'doggies' fared better with their own special brand!

Even the water sports centre looked very closed. Let's hope they all do better at the weekend.

Over lunch we found that where we had moored here was almost no mobile signal on either of the networks we use so we opted to move on, nit sure how far we might need to go kin order o have a quiet mooring and a good signal. The A5 and M6 Toll are both busy and noisy so we wanted to not be near either of them.

Under one of the road bridges we spotted these two graffiti messages on an anti-vax theme. Whilst someone may have written more for fun than real concern it is worrying that they do lead too many people to question well-founded science and medicine, occasionally with disastrous consequences.

This time we managed a photo of Ogley Junction and the start of what was once the Lichfield Canal hat joins the Coventry at Huddlesford. Good work is being done to keep the restoration moving forward - albeit at what may seem like a snail's pace. Once finished it will make so much difference to the canals we have been on for the last three days.

We made a couple of attempts at coming alongside for an overnight mooring but to no avail - at one of them we were really stuck for several minutes. We were closing in on Catshill Junction - with not a lot of options for some distance after that - when Mike decided gingerly to try yet another piece of bank. As he homed in, he noticed just before that there was a short section of Armco - boater's gold! Would we get in? Well, almost! Good enough - we knew that no-one would be coming back the way we were heading (none of the three moored boats along the whole length looked like going anywhere tonight) and a bed of reeds ahead protected us against anyone who might be coming up the branch - very unlikely. At least we were near enough to get onto the bank to chain up to the Armco.

9.9 Miles - 0 Locks

Wednesday, 15 September 2021


 Today's Canals - Tame Valley, Rushall

After yesterday's late 'drama' (almost as good as Silent Witness that we watched at 9!) we were in no mood for an early start. Mike had come nowhere near completing yesterday's blog so that was the first priority. Whilst he was doing that, Christine followed the advice of one of the Men in Blue last night who told her about a useful nearby Co-Op. She managed enough that should keep us going until the weekend.

We then moved the boat across to the opposite bank to use the services. Whilst we managed what we wanted to do, the elsan unit was not a salubrious experience - it is leaking badly and needs some urgent attention, Given the number (or lack) of boats coming this way, it may be well down the priority list!

It was almost 11 by the time we finally set off properly. There were some straight and wide sections to Rushall Junction. The canal provides a real green corridor once more.

Although quite a bit of today's cruise was well above roof top level on huge embankments, this first part was an equally deep cutting. As a result there are some very high level bridges.

And even higher ones (Chimney Bridge).

Scott Bridge carries a significant A road that is a local éxpressway. An extensive renovation project is underway bout the crew are well organised to open up the navigation as soon as a boat is spied kin te distance. So, apart from slowing to tick over we were not at all delayed.

We are not sure what the graffiti artist was trying to suggest on this wall underneath part of the M5-M6 junction but it looks as if someone thinks that Magic Mushrooms are not in the same league as mere placebos. Much more complicated! But is that after having taken some?

At Rushall Junction we turned right onto the Rushall Canal that will take us up nine locks to Longwood Junction. 

Another set of work boats were arranged so that a channel was left to one side for boats to pass without having to distract the team from their task of repairing part of the towpath with new piling.

It was a little early but we stopped just below the locks for a lunch break. The first of the morning was a bit grey but nevertheless much warmer (and drier!) By now much pleasanter sunshine had arrived and stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon.

The first seven of the nine locks are grouped  closely together so we made steady progress. Initially the flight is in open country but gradually the edge of Daisy Bank (?) starts to encroach.

Another team were at work, painting Birmingham Road Bridge. They too had seen us coming and moved their pontoon out of the way, well ahead of our arrival. This meant that they could at least lend a hand with the lock gates! It looked as if they had only recently started on this bridge - a ;little later we would see the finished result on another similar bridge.

Lock 3 is the top of the main set of locks. It has a lock cottage - slightly different in design from most and at least this one is still in use as a private residence. Leaving the lock we now had well over a mile of straight canal. We were making slow progress - the water level was well down on recent times (judging by the weed hanging from the brambles that dip down into the water) but it felt that there was more. At one of the last couple of locks Mike thought that we had picked up something on the prop but it did then seem to disappear. We now began to suspect a need to visit the weed hatch but coming to the bank was nit an option - the result of clear water is that you can see how shallow it is - so we had to wait until the next bridge hole where we could over and drift through.

It took some time to remove this pile of assorted detritus - nothing special but more dropped away as Mike hacked at it. We think that we removed all that was there but our hope of being able to see the prop in this clear water was frustrated by the quantity of duck weed that had collected in the access hatch. Whilst getting rid of this unnecessary cargo was a good thing, we still made very slow progress up to the final two locks.

Here is the newly painted bridge that we referred to earlier.

At the top lock we had a feeling of deja vu when one of the bottom gates refused to open fully. Would we have to call the out of hours team for a second evening in succession? We would be popular! However, by gently manoeuvring the boat at an angle into the lock we squeezed our way in and thankfully closed the gates behind us.

Longwood Junction, immediately above the top lock, was where Hay Head Branch once linked in. The first part of it is now used by Longwood Boat Club for moorings. This was, before the arrival of the Rushall Canal, the terminal part of the Daw End Canal (which we will be navigating tomorrow) and serviced the limestone mines around Hay Head. Only the first part was rescued by enthusiasts in the 1960s.

We moored just above the locks when we arrived here late afternoon in a hail storm three years ago. Christine has memories of being the target of too much attention from the local youth so she was keen to moor a little further on. Nothing is marked but we did manage to come alongside close enough after a few minutes - with a very pleasant warm and sunny evening to look at outside.

5.6 Miles - 9 Locks