Sunday 26 September 2021

Cathedral and Water Loss

 We were aiming to get to the cathedral in good time for the main 11 am service. It takes around 30 minutes to walk there, if no wrong turnings are taken so we gave ourselves plenty of time.

After Mike had made tea, been to the bathroom and dressed, Christine thought that there was still just enough time to do a load of washing so she filled and started the machine. Just as she too was heading to the bathroom she could hear that the water pump was running continuously so she switched the machine off, thinking that its rinse cycle was a problem.

At this point we noticed that the gauge for the water tank was showing EMPTY! Since we filled it to 2/3 last night this was a a real puzzle. Had someone left the tap on? We had not heard the pump running until now so that seemed unlikely.

Mike filled the tank to the brim this time hoping that this would help but we ran out of time to investigate further as it was time to leave for the cathedral.

At least we knew the route - much the same as before but we checked out the final part yesterday on our way back. This time we had no unexpected diversions - aka wrong turns - and arrived with 16 minutes to spare! We were amongst the earliest arrivals.

We were made very welcome - by the time the service started there were around 50 people in the congregation and a dozen in the choir. The service was led by the Dean and the Canon Missioner preached - it was Safeguarding Sunday and he dealt with the subject carefully but clearly setting the agenda locally for much improved responses to survivors than has sadly been the track record of the Church of England in the past.

It was a well presented service and we were glad to have been able to be there.

In the churchyard we were amused by this grave - the stone reads, "Entrance to C Rowley's Vault" - as if anyone goes looking for the way in!

On the way back we were a little surprised just how quiet the central open spaces were.

Back at the boat it was straight to get changed to to investigate. Initially we thought that it was a problem with the pump or the adjacent accumulator (which maintains pressure in the water system) but there was nothing we could see nor anything from the instruction booklet to suggest things we could do without specialist equipment.

We were pleased that the tank gauge still showed FULL so we then switched the pump back on to see whether it could pressurise the system but alas the pump just kept running. Normally it takes just a few seconds.

We then realised that gauge was now down to almost half. Where had the water gone? We looked all around the cabins and cupboards but could see nothing strange. We then thought to look in the engine bay and found that the bilges were full of excess water. A least we knew where it had gone.

We carefully tried the pump again and immediately spotted water spurting out from the complex piping around the calorifier. Eventually he leak was tracked to a joint which had come completely apart but it is right behind most of the other pipes so difficult to see and reach. However it seems to be just a push fit connection (perhaps it should be something else?)and Mike managed to reconnect the joint at least temporarily. A quick test showed that the pump now reset the pressure as quickly as normal. Time for lunch!

Later, a check showed that all was holding for the moment. (It was the red pipe coming in from the top that was the problem) We made several attempts to find a mobile engineer but, as we suspected, getting help where we are is not going to be easy. We may have to wait until we return and can take the boat to the nearest available boatyard engineer.

We then pumped and mopped out the bilges - there was a LOT of water. We have been puzzled for about a year why one side of the bilges keeps filling with water whilst the other is quite dry. On the other hand, we dried it out a couple of weeks ago and it remained so until this morning. Perhaps it is had been an intermittent leak that at last failed completely?  By the time all of this was done Mike needed time to recover from bending himself into the confines of the engine bay  -he cannot do much anyway! So, the plans for doing one or two other tasks on the boat have had to be deferred yet again.

Whilst we have not been able to effect a permanent repair, at least we can leave with some explanation for the loss of water. It would have been difficult if we went back home completely foxed. 

Later update: around 9:30, just as Vigil on BBC1 was reaching its climax, we heard the pump running again. A check in the engine bay showed that water was again leaking, not as badly as last time but enough to prevent further use of the pump. We filled as many kettles, pans etc as we could find. No shower but at least we could have a cup of tea and a wash.

The situation is now stable with the main tank isolated and the water level in the calorifier below that of the leak, This means that, as we are going home tomorrow for a short while, we can consider the options for a repair, but they are no so easy in the middle of Birmingham.

Saturday 25 September 2021

In Birmingham

Mike had a Zoom meeting - the very last of his duties with the Diocese of Truro. It has been a long association with some interesting times along the way. Hearing what his successors are doing was quite cheering in that there is still much of what he did still in place.

This lasted until 2:30 - there was a short lunch break, thankfully.

We then walked into the city centre shopping district, mostly New Street. 

In one of the open areas a group of performers were animating a large puppet. We are not sure but it may have been taking part in the large Pride Parade which took place around midday. 

Christine had plans to visit three shops - the first was Body Shop where she a discount offer that she wanted to use before it expires! Then on to Cotswold but none of the warm jackets they socked at the moment seemed to fit the bill.

We eventually found Marks and Spencer (John Lewis, despite the direction signs claiming to the contrary, is no longer represented in Birmingham city centre) where found a smart, very cheerful striped cashmere jumper but was put off by the price (well, it was a really good quality item!) So she opted to leave it on the rack. 

We set off back but then went back to the Food Hall to pick up a few items to make a 'super' pizza for tonight. 

As we set off back, it became clear to Mike that Christine was still rather attracted to the jumper so, after a lot of arm twisting, we turned around and went back. Even then, he had to offer to queue up to pay for it so that she did not sneak away!

On the way back we had a chance to take a closer lo ok at this Luke Perry sculpture Forward Together about the many different men and women who have played their parts in the history of  the area. The city council's web site tells us that it includes quotes from Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem We Refugees – “No one is here without a struggle” and “We all came here from somewhere.”

Friday 24 September 2021

Sherbourne Wharf

Today's Canals - BCN Old Main Line, New Main Line,  Icknield Port Loop, Oozells Street Loop

It was a pleasant morning as we sett after a quiet night  and we soon arrived at the top of the Smethwick Looks flight of three.

The old Toll House had been repaired yet again. Last time we came this way it had been vandalised and badly burned. This time it has sprouted a strange pimple of the top which was not there the last time (we think) that we saw it in good repair, in 2012.

The locks were a bit stiff but mainly, we suspect, through lack of use. The gates themselves were generally OK but the paddles needed a bit of a push to persuade them to get up this morning!

So we left the last lock on this trip.

Just as we were emerging from the end of the Old Main Line onto the New, a boat appeared coming from the Birmingham direction and so we had to make a quick stop. In the process something cause the engine to stall but it restarted OK and we were able to continue,. Fortunately we had already lost enough momentum not to cause a problem for the other boat. Going ahead we made good speed as we entered the deeper water of the \Mai Line but were still a little unsure whether we had thrown off the prop whatever had caused us to stall.

As we continued down the familiar straight of ge Main Line we noticed a number of the smart new litter bins that CaRT of recently been installing.

We planned to explore the Icknield Port Loop. It is some years since the only time we have done this. At that time it was still very derelict and not particularly scenic. It was also very heavy rain! Since then the site has been taken over for redevelopment and the first few blocks of housing apartments are already occupied. As we turned off the main line and under the towpath bridge we stalled again when using reverse to help with the angle. We manage to recover enough so that we did nit bank the edge too hard but we were then making little progress. Fortunately, the developers have installed a nice long line of mooring rings all along the first part of the loop so we were able to come alongside and remove the rather large amount of waste that was clogging the prop. After that we moved a lot faster!

Half way around the loop is an active CaRT and maintenance yard.

There are also moorings for a number of old and replica working boats.

The waterside block look quite attractive, although, as far as we could see, they are all quite small.

The other blocks, still surrounded by open waste land, are less impressive and look quite regimented

We rejoined the main line and continued the short distance to the Oozells Loop, which we entered from the Old Turn end, as we had been advised by Sherbourne Wharf where we had arranged a visitor mooring. Just before our destination we passed nb Harnser moored near the Sea Life Centre but we could not see anyone around. Their blog indicates that they must have been making final preparations as they left a few minutes later.

It took some time to sort out where we should moor as our main contact is on holiday this week. We eventually found ourselves on a central pontoon close to a tap and electrical hookup.

It is clear that Sherbourne Wharf has changed dramatically since we were here last, a number of years ago. (We have moored here at least twice before). The land that they used to have for an office and facilities has since been sold for redevelopment and most of the construction work is now complete, leaving the moorers with just the waterside! There absolutely no on site parking, not even for deliveries. However  people here have been just as helpful as we remember.

You may remember that at the start of this trip we left the car in Banbury in a space managed by  Your Parking Space at Morrisons. We were booked until Sunday but Mike has a Zoom meeting on Saturday until early afternoon and on Sunday morning we planned to visit the cathedral, not leaving much margin for the unforeseen. So, after a quick lunch, he set off to catch a train from New Street.

The route is much as before, through Brindley Place (eating district), the ICC and then Century Square. Last time we were here there was a lot of development taking place and the open spaces were all enclosed by construction hoardings. Almost all of that (save for one office and retail block) is now compete and there are some great open areas. 

One of them has a mirror pool and fountains which is only a few millimetres deep so that kids (old and young alike) can happily splash around in it. (Alas, most dashed off to the far end just before Mike took his camera out and there was not enough time to wait around)

Mike made it to the right platform (having misread the indicators once) with a minute to spare before the train arrived. It was a smooth and efficient journey to Banbury and then a little bit of a walk back to the car which seemed to have enjoyed its own holiday at the far corner of the car park.

Most of the journey back was straightforward until about four miles to go when the car's sat nav (which does not have automatic updates) tried to make a route down roads that have recently been made No Entry! Eventually we were back on track until about 200 m to go to the car park that Christine had meanwhile arranged: Broad Street was closed immediately before the final turn. Mike reverted to Google Maps on his mobile which sorted out final part of the journey. Paying was yet another hurdle.  The signs offered three options. The  first, using a QR code, did not work and so on to the phone number which was an automated system that required endless option choices. Eventually a text confirmed that the payment had been made!

4.6 Miles - 3 Locks

Thursday 23 September 2021

Smethwick Pumping Station

 Today's Canals - Dudley No 1, New Main Line, Brades, Old Main Line

The day started grey, even a little damp, but quickly turned warm, later hot, with plenty of sunshine amongst a few fluffy clouds.

We have had various plans for this week in and around the BCN and they are still evolving! After some debate we set off with a plan to reach the city centre by mid afternoon via the Old Main Line (Wolverhampton Level) Whatever the plan, the first task was to return back through Netherton Tunnel. Yet again we saw no-one else in the tunnel either coming towards us or following behind.

When we came this way two days ago we mentioned the cottages at the toll stop at the north end of the tunnel. What we did not spot then was that, although the front has the two original numbers, each has been converted into two apartments, making four in all!

At the main line we turned right until we passed through Albion Junction Toll Island.

Another right turn and we were heading up the branch to the Brades Locks, but we could see that there was a boat just ahead of us almost at the locks.

As we neared the first lock we could see that the other boat had kindly drawn the bottom paddles so that the lock was set for us when we arrived. As a result we were catching them up at the staircase and Christine went to empty the bottom lock as they should by now be in the upper lock.

Mike was a bit puzzled as he hovered mid stream - there is no lock landing to tie the boat to. Then he saw Christine coming back and directing him towards the bank. It seems that she had had to sort out two quite different problems for them. Firstly they wanted confirmation that turning right at the top would bring them to Netherton Tunnel (they were out from Worcester and doing a ring via that tunnel and the Delph Locks and thence down to Stourport and the Severn) Christine had to point out to them that they would be crossing the tunnel approach at some height and that they needed to turn around and go back down the locks! Their second problem was that they could not get out of the bottom lock into the top one - they had omitted to fill the top lock first as given on the instructions! Repaying their earlier helpfulness she offered to let them wind and come back down straight away and that we would wait for them. After all, we are not on a schedule - yet!

When we finally reached the junction we turned left and followed the line to Oldbury Junction we took when we visited Titford Pools. The Titford Canal goes off to the left in the photo above.

For the next mile the canal weaves in and out from under the motorway. Most of the works that have taken several years are now complete and the scaffolding removed. A number of teams remain on site presumably to complete unfinished business.

The few remaining old bridges look incongruous and quite out of scale.

Just occasionally we could see some large scale metal manufacturing that was once the life blood of this area. Sometimes the names of specialist processes mean nothing to us - this one undertakes slitting and cutting - it seems that the term slitting refers to taking a coil of metal and chopping into required lengths. It may be an old industry but this company was only formed in 1999 and has expanded considerably (or so their web site says!)

By contrast, Steel and Alloy Processing Ltd are now part of  Gonvarri Industries, originally from Spain, who have 45 factories in 19 different countries and over 60 years history. They process steel and aluminium into a wide range of products: precision tubes to lattice towers. Here in West Brom they seem to be focussed on the automotive industry.

As soon as we finally left the motorway the scenery became almost rural.

An attempt was made in 2006 to prevent the removal of the loading chutes at Sandwell Park Colliery Wharf. Although at first it seemed successful they, alas, as no more. See here and here for a bit of detail. They were last used in the 1960s.

We stopped for lunch outside the Smethwick Pumping Station where there was a rare set of mooring rings. Afterwards we again reviewed our plans and agreed to stay here tonight (it seems as quiet and safe as anywhere) and call Sherbourne Wharf to see if we can arrive there early - perhaps even tomorrow. They were happy to accommodate this change of our booking - originally we aimed to arrive there on Monday before returning home.

We took time to wander around the immediate area a bit, unfortunately the pumping station museum is not open at present.

Later Christine went  down to the New Main Line and across a high footbridge (over road and rail) to the local shops in Smethwick. She came back bearing a sugary cake for tonight's pud. The shops are very much dominated by the particular ethnic population. History has not always been kind to Smethwick but it does seem to us that there is a sense of community pride. Far less litter and rubbish than we might have expected and certainly no marauding gangs!

Beside the road that runs over the canal there is a small quiet area with a number of sculptures relating the canal history of the area (even if we have never seen a balance beam looking like that!)

7.0 Miles - 3 Locks

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Windmill End

Today's Canals - Dudley No 2, Dudley No 1

We had a slow start to the day (great weather!) as the basin shop did not start serving until 10 am. this gave us a a chance to do various servicing, including removing more plastic from around the prop.

Christine decided that as well as filling with diesel we should also take a bag of coal and a net of logs just in case the temperature drops suddenly! Overall we have been most impressed by the welcome and service that we received here - recommended to anyone. Thanks Dee!

It was 10:30 before we were able to unmoor, turn the boat around and head out through the narrow towpath bridge.

Not all former industrial sites are redeveloped into housing - this one (we think) is Mapei, an Italian multi national manufacture of adhesives and surfacing products for the construction industry.

Before long we were approaching the southern entrance to Gosty Tunnel. Having cleared the prip we had hopes of a quicker passage than yesterday - we certainly crossed wide space before the canal at speed! However, we soon realised that the speed in the tunnel is determined mainly by the bore and the water depth, neither of which allowed us to make much speed at all! We wondered if we might have been quicker of we reverted to the traditional legging technique!#

At least we managed a few photos from inside - this one shows the lowest point in the tunnel. It varies from quite low to almost cavernous.

We also managed the obligatory shot . . . This is the point at which, from the northern end, the roof level changes abruptly. From the other end it is much more gradual.

Just before we arrived back at Windmill End this short arm branches off to the right. We wondered if it led anywhere interesting. On the old maps it simply describes the site as Breeze Oven  Perhaps like us you have never heard that term before, Looking it up (and there are very few references to help as the name seems to have been taken over to describe a domestic gadget, quite different) we found that it makes 'small coke'.

We moored just around the corner at the junction for our lunch break. 

It was a bit early so Mike took the time to walk up the hill to take a closer look at the remains of Cobbs Steam Pumping Engine House. This was used to remove water from the main mine in the area, a problem that was long one of the biggest challenges for mining - something that drove the development of stationary engines.

On the way up, from a former railway bridge, there was a chance to look back at the southern portal of Netherton Tunnel.

From the top of the hill there was a good view. In the far distance, according to a local dog walker, are the Malvern Hills.

In the afternoon we set off towards Park Head where we planned to go up the three locks to the entrance of the Dudley Tunnel.We recalled from a visit some years ago that there is a good open area where we planned to stay the night.

Soon we passed the Withymoor Island Moorings. Tere are about half of the boats moored on line with the others along what seems to have been a short arm, perhaps even a bypassed loop. In fact, this was the site of a major rail-canal transhipment facility where the canal ran into a large shed so that loading could be done in the dry. There never was a way back onto the main line at the other end.

A little further comes Primrose Basin, accessed under a typical towpath bridge. This was created as yet another transhipment facility.

The original line follows the contour up to Park Head where it turns sharply through almost 180 to go back along the other side of a valley. Later, to save time, a short cut via two locks was constructed (hence the name Two Locks Branch) but was soon disrupted by subsidence from mining woks underneath. Although long abandoned, the splendid turnover bridge at the start is intact.

We started to go much slower and suspected something around the prop so pulled to the side and removed a quantity of plastic and metal threaded material. Fortunately it came away quite readily. We were almost at Blowers Green where we were able to dispose of it at the Boaters Facilities.

Christine walked across to the first of the Park Head locks to prepare it for Mike to bring the boat in. After opening the first paddle she noticed that the around the gates was a piece of wire holding a sign that said Danger. \we were not aware of any closure and people were walking and cycling the towpath. A local person suggested that it was something to do with the Metro Extension project which will cross the disused viaduct that runs over the locks. It was also suggested that some lock gates were being taken out and replaced a short time ago. If this would have caused us a significant delay then we might have investigated further but it seemed sensible just to turn around and return to Windmill End for the night.

After mooring up we both - at different times - walked around the Bumblehole country park, following the line of the old loop. In 1887, the loop was still complete and boats could still go all the way round to rejoin a few hundred metres at the junction with the Netherton Tunnel branch.

By the start of the century maps show that part of the loop was no longer usable - it seems that the mining or quarrying had left a large hole, now filled with water, and undermined the canal.

At the mid point of the loop a further arm used to serve a small mine but now is largely filled in, leaving just a winding hole. A small residential mooring community live here. Christine had a long chat to one of the boaters.

Bumblehole Arm ends rather ignominiously!

A little bit of the lost section can still be followed but the rest is invisible.

The other end, now named Boshboil, is much shorter and seems not to be used although, if there were sufficient depth of water, would be a pleasant mooring.

8.1 Miles - 0 Locks