Blog

Manic Month

Wow! What a month we’ve had. Busy, busy busy!

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Our first trip this month was through Birmingham and onto the Stratford Canal, taking in Kings Norton Festival on the way. We left the yard with David Quarmby, new President of CBOA (Commercial Boat Operators Association) at the helm. He was keen to get hands on experience of narrow-boat carrying, although he has had plenty of experience pleasure-boating on the canal over the years. An excellent day was had, and he finally left us at the top of Wolverhampton Locks.

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We proceeded into Birmingham and carried on to Kings Norton, having battled our way down the Worcester and Birmingham Canal with the water-level four inches off. I don’t think that we floated once all day, but spent our time ploughing through the debris, mud, rotted vegetation and other assorted detritus that CRT (Canal & River Trust), have failed to remove from the canal over the years. They seem to think that removing one boat-load of spoil every so often is dredging. It is NOT. The Birmingham Level regularly suffers from low water levels through the summer months, yet no allowance is made in their depth-surveys or dredging programme for this situation at all. I didn’t get any photographs along the W & B Canal as I was so busy hanging on as Roach rocked, rolled, pitched and crashed its way through. We stopped dead at various locations, having to back up and charge the obstructions, finally arriving at Kings Norton Junction where we ground to a halt under the bridge. I had been told that the junction had been dredged recently - all I can say is “Really?” 

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The “do” at Kings Norton was part of the celebrations to commemorate the two-hundredth aniversary of the opening of the canal, and very good it was too. The beer tent had a vast array of good ales, which were sampled accordingly. There was a good selection of trading boats offering their wares, from potted plants to potted jams, and - as an added incentive to visit the beer tent - a chance to learn something called Salsa from genuine Mexican Salsarers. I always thought that Salsa was some sort of salad dressing, but it turned out to be a cure for constipation by dancing. Amazing. 

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Anyway, back to business. Struggle through the guillotine lock, struggle down the Stratford Canal, unload, and then return to base to load for a quick dash up the Shroppie. 

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We zoomed up the Shropshire Union Canal as far as Audlem, where we met up with friends for a drink or two on the Thursday night before the Transport Festival there. We were still there on Friday night, having turned the boat round at the bottom of the locks and trans-shipped some coal onto Buckden for delivery up Hurleston Locks. This is necessary because Hurleston Bottom Lock is too narrow for Roach to pass through. (The second lock may also be too narrow, but we don’t know as we have never got that far). The picture to the right shows that John Yates can still chuck twenty-five kilogramme bags of coal out of his boat in spite of his advancing years. So, back to the pub Friday night too, where there were quite a few more boaty types hanging around to exchange nonsense with. Saturday morning saw us departing, and we had a good run back to the yard, where it was very empty of boats, as the Narrow Boat trust pair, Nuneaton and Brighton, had departed with coal for the rivers Kennet, Thames and Wey. 

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                    John and Sue Yates contemplating a return to coal-boating.

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No rest at all. As soon as we got back we were loading Roach and Gosport up for the trip to Worcester via Birmingham. It is a pleasure to boat with Pete and Julie on Gosport; they boat with very little fuss, and are very efficient. And they like beer. We long-lined the boats up Wolverhampton Locks after a good night in the Swan at Compton, and ended up at the Malt House stables moorings in Tipton for the night. This meant a trip to the Pie Factory and a pint of Lumphammer, before repairing to the Fountain with a couple of our customers for an excellent night. The morning after, we made our deliveries and set off down Factory Locks. 

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Once out of these locks, it was evident that the level was down by four or more inches. This made for a long day. The bridge-hole at the entrance to Hockley Port in Birmingham was particularly problematical. This is another spot that CRT are supposed to have dredged, but obviously not with any enthusiasm. It took us around an hour to get both boats through. We decided to leave for Gas Street that evening after making our deliveries, just in case the level dropped further and we got marooned there. It took us nearly as long to get out of there as it did to get in, and the level was no better in the morning, so perhaps we made the right decision. Actualy, we did make the right decision, as, after tying up on the Worcester Bar, we found the usual suspects were ensconced in the Figure of Eight on Broad Street. This meant another night of good beer and talking nonsense. Excellent.

The trip down the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was slightly better than our previous trip - mainly because we had a few tonnes less aboard the boats. This canal still needs proper dredging though. We came to a halt under Masshouse Lane Bridge - not a surprise, as we had been warned that another deep-draughted boat had been unable to get through from the other direction and had subsequently reversed back through Wast Hill Tunnel. He had reported the issue to CRT, but we saw no evidence of any effort to clear the bridge-hole. This is the bridge-hole that the then Waterway Manager assured readers of Waterways World a few years ago, was regularly cleared out as it was a known location for locals throwing stuff into the canal. The word “regularly” obviously does not mean what I thought it did. 

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We did finally manage to batter our way through, and made Alvechurch for the evening, after struggling to unload coal to boats at Bittell Reservoir. We could not get anywhere near to the boats moored there, and a twelve-foot long plank was only just long enough to cope with the job. Bear in mind that we were drawing a fair bit less than three feet at this point, and you will see why I complain about the lack of dredging  on this canal. 

Once Tardebigge Locks were reached, the boating became easier (for me at least, as I did not have to bow-haul the butty) as there is rarely a shortage of water down these locks. This is because most people do not lock-wheel properly - that is just using the one lockful of water to descend the locks rather than thirty locks full.

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A night at the Boat & Railway was followed by a night in the Eagle & Sun on my birthday. We were joined by Jim Taylor (the owner of “Empress", which was moored just down the cut), and his mate, John Goodier, two well known imbibers of alcoholic beverages. We were also joined by a couple of our friends from Hanbury Wharf, and another great night was had. I have to say that the Eagle & Sun has improved dramatically from the previous ownership. We carried out our deliveries along the moored boats at Hanbury whilst breasted up, thus proving that the Worcester & Birmingham Canal had been built, apart from the locks, as a wide canal.

The rest of the canal is still very reedy, as documented previously in my blog, and still in need of proper dredging and vegetation management. 

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We made Worcester finally, where, after making deliveries in Lowesmoor Basin, we tied up at Diglis for the night. It was nice to see Paul, the ex-landlord of the Anchor, and have a couple of pints with him whilst reminiscing about the old days. We knew each other before he was a publican, and had various adventures around Stourport - mainly involving beer and Martin of “Banjo Boy” fame. One such adventure involved the fire-brigade being called to put out the tarmac car-park of the Bell in Stourport, which had been set alight by our fine bonfire one November the fifth. Later, we ventured out to the Plough, a fine hostelry that I had never been in before, which had been recommended by Graham Wigley. An admirable pub, reminiscent of the old days when folk talked to each other.

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A final delivery to the house on Diglis lock-island, then back up the river with Captain Harrison at the helm, to return empty to the yard by way of Stourport and the Staffs & Worcs Canal. 

Only back for a day and a half and Roach is already loaded and on the way to Gloucester.

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Phew! What a month.

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