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Birmingham trip, spring 1998

fradley junction at night
Fradley Junction at night, with the excellent Swan pub

A 1-week loop from Fradley Junction via Fazeley Junction, Salford Junction, Rushall Junction, Wednesbury, Walsall, Horseley Fields Junction, Haywood Junction and back to Fradley. Including parts of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, the Tame Valley canal, the Walsall canal, the Wyrley and Essington canal, the Birmingham canal, the Staffordshire and Worcester canal, and the Trent and Mersey canal. Total 82 miles and 73 locks.

This was an excellent trip for contrasting the industrial canals of the Birmingham area with the more conventional attraction of the sleepy English countryside. And it was a huge contrast. The three women who formed three-quarters of the crew refuse to go anywhere near most of these canals again.

The quantity of debris in the canal you are prepared for. Frequent stops to clear the prop are part of the fun. But we were not prepared for the canal to be empty. The main stop was at Perry Barr locks. We got through the first one or two, then the pound ahead was completely empty. Waterways staff had made some emergency repairs to the paddle gear of the next lock, and they had left the paddles open to refill. This took hours during which time we were an attraction for all the local urchins. As it got towards late afternoon there was enough water to move on. At the next lock we got in but could not close the gates properly, there was something jamming them. By this time it was getting on towards evening and the audience was getting older and a bit menacing for the women, so we used the mobile to call out the emergency crew. They stuggled, about four of them, to remove a sodden double mattress from the bottom sill, and we got on. Fortunately the waterways men did not disappear, for a couple of locks further up the gates would not open fully. They used a long-handled scoop to remove brick waste from behind the gate, and we went on. Now it was practically dark, and were proceeding by torchlight and the boat's headlamp, three of us and four waterways staff working the locks. We got to the top at 21:30 and stayed the night there.

There was also a low pound and an empty pound on the Walsall flight, but this we coped with ourselves, letting in water through the upper locks to give us just enough water to float across. We were a little worried when a bystander here said that he hadn't seen those locks used before. Just above here, we passed the first moving boat we'd seen for two days.

To add to this, the boat broke down twice. The first time was in the bottom lock of the Perry Barr flight, when the engine wouldn't start after a prop-clearing stop. The boatyard came out and changed the battery. We didn't lose any time for this of course, as we soon found out that there was no water just ahead. The second time, again it wouldn't start after a lunch stop. Again the boatyard came out, and this time fixed the real fault, a loose connection on the starter. This time we got to wait for them in sunshine in a pleasant rural spot.

Whatever, you can't complain when your trip ends at Fradley Junction, and you can spend your last night in The Swan pub.

Diary extracts...

Sat 1998-05-09
To Fradley Junction, arr at Swan Line about 1440, away at 1605. People in the shop/office a bit surly, engineer OK. They've fallen out with the landlord (owner of the Swan pub), and can no longer park cars nearby, so they're parked on a farm about 2km away, with lift back in the company van. 5L per car. Boat is White Swan, fittings seem OK. Hot and sunny all day. Stop by br 83 of the Coventry at 1730. Boat about 15m. Today 4mi, 1h25m, 0l. The single swingbridge was open. Eve to Plough, right by canal and sit out in garden.
Sun 1998-05-10
Engine is VW, 4-cyl OHC, water-cooled through the hull. Walked into Whittington for a paper. A little light rain at first. Start 0805. Lunch below the 3rd Curdworth Lock, at the Dog and Doublet. Sitting outside because of the dog. Light rain as we ate our, very late, lunch. Lunch stop 1225..1410. After lunch a clap of thunder and very heavy rain for 10 mins or so. Followed a working boat which just stopped in a lock entrance during the rain, and then got itself wedged in a lock. BWB tug and skip floating loose between 2 locks. Stop at 1635 at Wiggins Hill Br, by a new Beefeater, the Kingsley Arms. Today 14.5mi and 11 locks. All swing bridges open. Stop 5 mins for water at Fazeley Jn. Eve on boat.
Mon 1998-05-11
Heavy rain overnight, then steady and persistent rain, and uniform grey cloud cover. A day of disasters. Got beyond Salford Jn OK, but in the second lock of the Tame Valley had the weed hatch up, and the engine wouldn't start. Boatyard out eventually and fitted a new starter battery. I'm still suspicious because the voltmeter does not budge when the engine starts, even though the charging light does go out. Then we can't go up Perry Bar flight, because it's de-watered for emergency repair to a paddle. They re-fill it, but then are called away to the Aston flight (lock-keeper Mark and his father, who worked horse boats in Brum). We start up, but get stuck at the next lock, the bottom gates won't close. Crew almost frantic by this time, it's getting dark and there's lots of dubious children hanging around. But we call out BW again, and they pull out a mattress. Two locks further up the gate won't open, and we meet more BW people, who pull out a couple of bricks. Then up the rest of the flight with all 5 BW men helping and moor at the top. Times: start 0830, breakdown 1130..1415, wait for flight to be re-filled 1430..1845, moor 2130. It's quite dark when we stop. Dull all day, but mostly dry after early morning. Today 7+3/4mi & 16 locks. Just time for a pint eve, as we need to start early tomorrow and get a good run on the lock-free bit next. Total actual running time 6h out of 13h. Gave the BW men a generous tip. One of them was off to a flood in Walsall after he'd dealt with us. One other boat with us at the top lock, waiting all day for the chance to go down.
Tue 1998-05-12
An early start, and misty. Water first and clean the prop, then off at 0745. Lots of miles with no locks, the mist lifting a bit but still overcast and cool. At least one weed-hatch stop, all big poly bags. Along the rest of the Tame Valley, then onto the Walsall, meandering up to Walsall J, where lunch at 1205. The Walsall around Tame Valley J has been done up, with a new waterpoint. After lunch, up the Walsall flight of 8. One pound vas very low and we assisted the boat with a little from the pound above. The second to top pound was almost empty, but we waited for it to fill from the overflow weir from the pound above - about a 30 min wait, so top of flight at 1420. Milk purchased at a shop by the top lock during the wait. There are moored boats at the top lock, the first boater-friendly sign since the country parts of the Birmingham and Fazeley. Passed a moving boat just after Sneyd Junction, the first (except for the one that was moored at the top of the flight yesterday) since Salford J. A gongoozler at Walsall said he'd never seen a boat in the locks there. Moor about 1 mile or so out of Wolverhampton, beyond Rookery Bridge, in Wednesfield, at 1655. Today 18+1/2mi & 8 locks.
Wed 1998-05-13
Misty again this morning. Short walk to shops for a paper. Our stern rope is hanging loose, though the spike is still secure, so we suppose someone lifted it off last night, but the boat moved only about 1m along the bank. Start 0815. Start down the 21 flight at 0900. All done in 2h10m, then up the Staffs and Worcs to moor by br 71 at 1210. Eat on boat. Go to start again at 1315, and again a whistle and no cranking. The boatyard are coming out again, though this time we get to wait in a nice rural spot in hazy sunshine, rather than the middle of a seedy bit of Brum. The engineer this time actually measured a few things before just changing the battery. He found loose connections on the starter and the battery isolation switch, and then it started quite happily on the same battery. Start again 1520, now with no chance of getting to Gailey in time for a pump-out. Water at Gailey for 10 mins, then moor midway between Brick Kiln Lock and Boggs Lock at 1745. Eve a barbecue in the sunshine, in total contrast to the industrial surroundings of yesterday.
Thu 1998-05-14
Day starts warm and bright, though a bit hazy. Start 0840. Pass an old man on his own, working with tiller roped to straight ahead, a long telescopic boat hook for picking up the rope, and a custom-made dual-radius windlass. He's out 8 months of the year. Later the brightness went, and near lunchtime it started to rain. Fewer boats than yesterday. Pump-out 10 mins at Teddesley Boat Co (12L). An old couple appear to live in the cottage at Deptmore Lock, he a bit bent, and to fetch their shopping in a short, open flat with an outboard. Teddesley report most of their boats in this week, Gailey had 6 or 8 in dock, and Swan Line had few out as well. Lunch 1255..1450 at br 98 at Radford Bank, a chain eatery, replacing the Trumpet pub as listed in the guide. It was almost empty, and the food was OK, but not hot enough. Aft still light rain, drying later. Moor at Great Haywood J at 1645. Mood now completely changed from possible abandonment of the ring on Monday, to restful enjoyment of the rural bit, with the ring well up to schedule. Today 12.25mi and 10 locks. Walk to ancient bridge over Trent, below its J with Sow, only about 1m wide walkway with low parapet. Also to Shugborough park, and then to the Clifford Arms in the village.
Fri 1998-05-15
Misty early, then by 0830 bright sunshine. For a walk along the towpath, along the Trent, and around the grounds of Shugborough Hall. Start 0855 in hot sunshine. Water 10 mins at a new point by br 62. Kath's cross-stitch went into the canal and had to be rescued with the boathook. Stop at 1155 at the Plum Pudding Inn, to eat outside canalside. PM in shorts for the final run back to Fradley, 1345..1600. Moorings too shallow or blocked by BWB flats above locks, so squash in actually on the junction. Today 12.25mi and 5 locks, total 81.75 miles and 73 locks. Eve for blow-out at the Swan. Later taking long exposure shots of the floodlit pub and canal scene; met another bloke off another boat doing exactly the same thing.
Sat 1998-05-16
Clear, warm morning. Take the boat across alongside Duke of Rutland, then fetch cars. Had an old Volvo this time, so need only 2 trips for 4 drivers.
day    date   stop
Sat    980509 Coventry br 63, Plough
Sun AM 980510 Curdworth locks, Dog & Doublet
Sun PM        Wiggins Hill br, on boat
Mon AM 980511 Perry Barr 2nd lock, broken down, on boat
Mon PM        Top of Perry Barr, on boat
Tue AM 980512 Walsall Junction, on boat
Tue PM        Rookery Bridge, Wednesfield, on boat
Wed AM 980513 Staffs & Worcs br 71, on boat
Wed PM        Brick Kiln Lock, barbecue on boat
Thu AM 980514 Staffs & Worcs br 98, Radford Bank Inn
Thu PM        Great Haywood Junct, on boat (us to Clifford Arms)
Fri AM 980515 Trent & Mersey nr br61, Plum Pudding Inn
Fri PM        Fradley Junct, The Swan
Sat    980516 -

day    date   water      event
Sat    980509 -          Hot
Sun AM 980510 Fazeley J
Sun PM        -          Heavy rain
Mon AM 980511 -          Broke down in flight
Mon PM        -          Flight de-watered, mattress in lock, late stop
Tue AM 980512 Pry B top
Tue PM        -          Walsall flight dry pounds
Wed AM 980513 -          Broke down after lunch
Wed PM        Gailey
Thu AM 980514 -          Pump-out
Thu PM        -
Fri AM 980515 br 62      Hot, Kath's cross-stitch fished out
Fri PM        -          Hot
Sat    980516 -

        mi      lks hours  form   avesp     steer
Sat      4.00   0   1.42   1.60   2.82      nib
Sun AM  11.50   2   4.25   4.77   2.71      kew
Sun PM   3.00   9   2.42   1.95   1.24      cmb
Mon AM   5.50   5   3.00   2.62   1.83      nib
Mon PM   2.25  11   3.00   1.82   0.75      cmb
Tue AM  11.25   0   4.33   4.50   2.60   n/k/bw
Tue PM   7.25   8   3.83   3.57   1.89      cmb
Wed AM   7.00  21   3.92   4.55   1.79      nib
Wed PM   5.50   2   2.25   2.37   2.44      kew
Thu AM   7.50   9   4.08   3.75   1.84      cmb
Thu PM   4.75   1   1.92   1.98   2.47   kew/bw
Fri AM   7.00   2   2.83   2.97   2.47      nib
Fri PM   5.25   3   2.25   2.35   2.33      cmb
Sat      0.00   0   0.10   0.00   0.00      nib

Totals  81.75  73   39.6  38.78   2.06

Formula hours calculated by:
Lock time (mins)              5
Miles/hour                  2.5

Cruising times do not include water or pump-out stops.

©nib 2003-02-03..2003-03-09

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