Sunday, 18 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 12 Merry Hill to Stourton Top Lock

What happened to Day 11 I hear you ask?  Well as you know it was a complete wash out.  Strong wind and rain from the moment we woke up until to the moment we went to bed.  Even Smudge kept his walks to a minimum.  In short the day was yuck!  We simply pottered about, mostly chilled and stayed put.  

I spent the day trying to get our GPS tracker, Navvigator to work.  I completely reformated the PC disk, reloaded Windows, and all the needed software but still the open port error kept occurring.  No matter what I did it would not work.  Finally, just before going to bed, I tried it one more time.  It worked!

This morning we got AmyJo ready to cruise.  I turned the PC on and with trepidation turned on the the GPS and, yay, it worked again.  Smug with success I got underway.

The Brierley Hop Inn where we had bad service and equally bad food.
 There is a sense that this area has been extensively redeveloped.  The cut is clean and lined with concrete banks.  Mooring rings are plentiful if always, for some reason, on a curved stretch of the cut.  To the left is a huge retail park.  I wanted some fuses from Halfords which was at the far end of the complex.  It took me a full 20 minutes to walk from one end to the other yesterday.  The centre covers 2 floors and is clearly popular with the locals.

Leaving the moorings for todays cruise
 Not long after leaving the Waterfront complex  we arrived at Delph Locks.  It was clear a boat had not long descended as the locks were against us, we thoufght it was one moored in the basin that left early this morning.  The first lock is right under a busy main road.  I got to wondering how they managed to remove and replace the gates as, being quite deep, there clearly was not enough head room to crane the gates out.

Delph Top lock under the busy main road
 After pondering this for a while I noticed two groups of three loops in the underside of the bridge .  Clearly these are so block and tackles can be used to edge the gates in and out so a crane can lift them.

You can just see the loops in the bridge above the lock gates

First one done, 8 more in this flight to do.

Waiting below top lock whilst Chris reset the next lock for us
At the second lock we could see down the flight and our assumption was confirmed,  three locks down the afore mentioned boat was descending, so now we would have all the locks against us.

The prospect of all these being against us did not fill us with joy

Beams in this state did not help

Locks against us as far as we could see.

Progress down the first two locks was slow.  There is only one ladder in the chamber to climb out and its in the middle making it difficult for me to climb out to help Chris.  Coupled with the fact the only way across the lock is on top of the lock gate, squeezing past greasy lock paddles mid way.  Added to this there is no access below the first lock for me to walk up and close the other gate for Chris, though there was at the second lock shown above..

I had just commentated we don't get lockies helping us down locks like they do on Celebrity 5 Go Barging when, as we entered the third lock, we could see two CRT volockies (volunteer lockies) walking up.  Both then helped us down the rest of the flight.  One reseting the lock below and the other helping Chris at our lock.  This made our passage down the flight much quicker and easier from then on.

If there was a prize for the most helpful and cheerful volunteer lockies then Steve and his companion must get top prize.  They work Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week and Saturdays at weekends. They work with only one cuff key between them and CRT will not buy them a second.  A cuff key is used to unlock a pin that stops the paddles being wound up, it also known as an anti vandal key.  As we worked with them Chris lent them one of ours for which they were truly thankful.  If we could have got another one close by I'd have gladly bought them one as a thank you.  We have met many volunteers on our travels but none quite as freindly and cheerful as these two.

Steve and his companion, sadly we did not get her name but thanks to you both.

This bridge was so tight they have marked where to line up as you go through

The fishermen here are really freindlly

This gent to the left of frame had followed us down the locks and remained with us for the next four miles on and off.
After Delph locks the canal twists and turn sharply at times through suburbs, some neat some unkempt as is the canal in places.  We soon reached Leys Junction at the head of the Stourbridge Locks.  Steve had told us the boat in front was heading for Kinver via these locks so, windlasses in hand, we stealed ourselves to reset all 16 locks as we descended.

Leys Junction is lined with graffitted walls hiding some industrial units.

Having helped Chris open the paddles I returned to AmyJo

Chris waits for the top lock to fill whilst our walker passes by again.

The locks in this flight have large wide pounds to conserve water.

In the foreground the walkway over the lock gate can be seen and is typical round here.  The curve bar is a hand rail!

This boater had found a lovely spot to rest and chill out fishing.
Chris was beginning to find the locks too hard to work so I insisted we switch roles, I lock wheeling and Chris handling AmyJo (I like her to keep her hand on the tiller through locks now and again anyway).  

This change was quite timely as the next two locks were unusual.  Whilst they were two seperate locks, only 10 feet seperated them.  Took me a little while to work out how to set them.  Leave the bottom lock top paddle open and let it fill as the lock above empties.  When the lock above is down the levels should all be equal so top gates of the bottom lock can be opened.

Empting the lock AmyJo sits in

The closeness of the two lock is evident here as is the relief on Chris's face.

Safely through and into the next pound.
After this we swapped back as we wanted to moor up below the next lock and Chris didn't want to do this.  As I pulled off I felt something wrap itself round the prop.  My third visit down the weed hatch of the day revealed nothing.  It must have freed off as I stopped again.

AmyJo waits whilst I get to grips with the weed hatch

The locks are quite pictureesque here
Below lock 12 is the Red Cone glass factory and they have convenient moorings on the offside outside their factory.  Time for some lunch in their cafe.  Toasted Cheese and Ham sandwiches can be recommended here.  Kathrine if you read this get Alan to bring you here you can try all sorts of crafts, and their shops are full of the sort of things you would like.

Glass factory moorings are big enough for just one boat

The bottle kiln now houses demonstrations of glass blowing.

Not sure if these are part of the factory or juct an office block

My arty photo for today

Finally after 3 more locks we reached the bottom lock to find hoards of paddlers of all ages below the bottom gates.  Below the lock is the junction to the Stourbridge arm and the paddles were directly in our path once we cleared the lock.  I got Chris to check with the instructor if it was ok to lower the lock as I feared the turbulance may overcome the less competant young paddlers.  The instructer got the paddlers to move into the arm out of the way but two wanted to ride the turbulance as Chris emptied the lock.  They thoroughly enjoyed it.

Riding the turbulance
We had planned to got down to Stourbridge but the staff at the glass factory informed us the moorings would be very busy with boats for the coming Glass festival next weekend.  We decided to give it a miss this time.

Safely out of harms way.  Off to the left is the route to Stourbridge.

Whilst parents and instructor look on
The next few miles of the canal becomes quite narrow and reedy,  I was just thinking good job it is not busy when a boat rounded a bend towards us.  It took some slow and careful manouvering from both of us for them to pass.  In fact we are very surprised that today we have only seen three boats on the move all day.  This stretch from Wolverhampton is so quiet, hardly any boats about, moored or moving.  Just the odd long term mooring here and there.  If you want quiet then do this ring!

Narrow and reedy with over hanging trees
By 5pm we reached the last locks, Stourton locks, before the end of the Stourbridge canal.  There was just room for us to moor up before the lock landing and so we gratefully moored up, exhausted having done 25 locks, every one against us, but happy having enjoyed the Strourbridge canal.

Sad end to a work boat near the locks,  I hate to see them like this, so sad.

Tomorrow we set off on our last leg of the Stourbridge ring and meet back at the top of the Wolverhampton 21 where we started it.  We'll then continue up the Staff and Wocester canal back to Autherley Junction.

Total distance:5.85 miles Elapsed time:h7m37s Locks:25 Bridges:27 
Average speed:0.43 mph (4.21 lock/mph) 

Friday, 16 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 10 Black Country Museum to Merry Hill

We rose at our usual time and got all the morning chores out of the way.  We were underway at 9:30am.  When cruising we use a program called Navvigator that uses a GPS puck to record our journey.  This morning the communication between puck and laptop refused to work so a manual method of pen and paper had to suffice.

Those of you who have been watching Celebrety 5 go barging may recognise the boat behind AmyJo.  In one episode the 5 were invited aboard "The Rum Wench" for a drink.  Not being celebreties we didn't get an invite :-)

Our mooring at the Black County Museum.

End of the arm for us but the cut continues into the Dudley Tunnel.
We retraced our steps back through Tipton junction to Factory Junction where we turned right and up 3 Factory Locks.  The morning was not too warm with a chill in the strong breeze but we were blessed with sunny spells that felt warmer.

AmyJo descending Factory Top Lock
 After Lock 2 we waited for a hire boat to come up the bottom lock.  Its crew were from Amsterdam and were videoing and photographing just about everything.  Despite the lock being in their favour Chris had to perwade them they could come up first.  Apparently at the beginning of their holiday they had been told by a boater that private boats have priority over hire boats and had turned the lock against them whilst they were at the bottom of the lock.  Chris put them right and helped them up.

Big wide pound between locks to store water
 After the locks we continued on the BCN new main line.  This section is as straight as an arrow and you can see for miles.  

As more canals and branches were built or connected it became necessary to review the long, winding, narrow Old Main Line. With a single towpath boats passing in opposite directions had to negotiate their horses and ropes. As traffic grew the locks at Smethwick Summit were still a constriction.

In 1824 Thomas Telford was commissioned to examine alternatives. He famously travelled the route of the Old Line and reported the existing canal as:

"… little more than a crooked ditch, with scarcely the appearance of a towing path, the horses frequently sliding and staggering in the water, the hauling lines sweeping the gravel into the canal, and the entanglement at the meeting of boats being incessant; whilst at the locks at each end of the short summit at Smethwick, crowds of boatmen were always quarrelling, or offering premiums for the preference of passage; the mine owners injured by the delay, were loud in their just complaints."

Telford proposed major changes to the section between Birmingham and Smethwick, widening and straightening the canal, providing towpaths on each side, and cutting through Smethwick Summit to bypass the locks, allowing lock-free passage from Birmingham to Tipton. Telford's proposals were swayed by the threat of a new Birmingham to Liverpool railway. His suggestions were accepted and he was appointed chief engineer on 28 June 1824.

By 1827 the New Main Line passed straight through, and linked to, the loops of the Old Main Line, creating Oozells Loop, Icknield Port Loop, Soho Loop, Cape Loop and Soho Foundry Loop, allowing continued access to the existing factories and wharves.

There is not much of note along the way but occassionally interesting places appear like Caggys Wharf and a mosque over looking the canal.

Caggys Wharf not much more than a winding 'ole

Not a boat in sight for miles

This mosque seems out of place by the canal

A very high aqueduct
 As Dudley tunnel became un navigable for motorised boats a new wider Netherton Tunnel was dug.  We reached the Netherton Junction and turned into it.  It is still a mile and a half to the tunnel.

The turn into the Netherton Branch

The tunnel is over a mile that way
 The approach to the tunnel passes under the BCN old Main line that is carried by a double arched Aqueduct.  There is no indication of which arch to use so as practise is to use the right hand side of the cut I passed through the right hand arch.

Presumably these are tunnel keeper's cottages

entering the North portal
Netherton Tunnel was the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain during the Canal Age. The first sod was turned by the Lord Ward on 31 December 1855 and the canal opened on 20 August 1858, providing a waterway connection between the Black Country towns of Netherton and Tipton. It was built to relieve the bottleneck of the adjacent Dudley Tunnel which is very narrow, has alternating blocks of one-way working, and had waiting times of eight hours or more, and sometimes several days.

The Netherton tunnel was built with a width of 27 feet (8.2 m) to allow two-way working of narrowboats, is 9081feet (2,768m) long; and is brick lined throughout. It has towpaths running through it, one on each side, which enabled horse-drawn narrowboats to be pulled through it. Chainage (distance) markers are still visible on the Eastern wall. The tunnel was fitted, from the start, with gas lighting over the towpaths, though this was later converted to electricity and it is now unlit.

The air vents that run along the line of the tunnel and provide ventilation, and a shaft of light into the canal, are known by the locals as "pepper pots", because of their shape. They are brick-lined and the openings are covered by an iron frame or grill. The wide bore and good ventilation mean that boats using the tunnel today are allowed to use the power of their internal combustion engines, which is prohibited in the narrower Dudley Tunnel.

The tunnel cost £302,000 as opposed to the £238,000 estimate prior to construction. The main reason for the project being overbudget was the extra works necessitated by the condition of the ground through which the tunnel passes.  It is the second longest tunnel on the network, Harecastle being the longest. 

So straight its possible to see the south portal as you enter the tunnel

After 55minutes we emerge from the south portal
 After the graffitied urbanisation of Wolverhampton the cansl now reverts to a more rural one.  Banks are manicured with short cut grass, bridges of iron are well maintsined in their black and white paint.  Overall there is an air of pride in the maintenance of this section.
Ornate painted iron bridges abound around this section

Glad these signposts are about, so many junctions you need them to stay on course

Approaching Withymoor Island Trust moorings
 So far our route has been taking us back towards the Dudley tunnel South portal at Park Head Junction.  Here is a very tight left turn.  to the right leads up 2 locks and the tunnel.  I started the turn to the left and found a lock gate withing feet of the turn.  I had to reverse back round the corner to left Chris off and set the lock.

the lock at Park Head Junction

The lock leads up to Dudley tunnel.  We came in from the right
 This lock is a deep lock at 12 feet so whilst I descended in AmyJo Chris got talking to two young ladies that had been following us.  They had quite a chat and followed us for some time after the lock.  They must have walked for miles.
Chris nattering, what she does best
 A few more miles and we came to the waterfront.  This is a new looking area with lovely moorings, shops and pubs.  This seems a really nice area, so much so there is a notice board with a code of conduct!  Sadly like most areas the Waterfront too suffers from shops and bars closing with many boarded up.  We found a nice spot to moor up and this evening had a meal in the Breirley Hop Tap pub.  We'll stay here over night as tomorrow we have another raft of locks to do, 9 Deft locks and if we cannot moor 16 Stourbridge locks.

Our moorings at the waterfront

Shops and weathespoons opposite

The view fromt the side hatch tonight

Total distance:8.35 miles Elapsed time:4h20m30s Locks:4 Bridges:39 
Average speed:1.92 mph (2.84 lock/mph)