Friday 14th June to Saturday 22nd June 2019.
Well, what a nasty cold start to the summer’s cruising it turned out to be! We straggled and struggled from all parts of the country in pouring rain to take part in this cruise. Two 4Cs boats had to drop out for personal reasons and Sue and Martin Turner on NB Doinmein joined us late after Martin became ill en route, necessitating a brief hospital stay! However, by Thursday or Friday we had mostly managed to moor at Wolverhampton for the welcome.
4Cs Boats attending were NB Aquarigo; Lesley and Peter Taylor. NB Dabbling: Jan and Ged Bird, NB Doinimein: Sue and Martin Turner. NB Indecision; Richard and Sallie Gleed and finally NB The Great Escape: Mo and Mike Wood. There were 7 other boats taking part and we soon got to know one another, and a camaraderie developed.
Friday evening 14th June, meet at Wolverhampton
We moored our boats on visitor moorings either side of Broad Street bridge. An informal evening briefing took place in torrential rain. We were issued with detailed information packs. There was an evening get together later at the Great Western pub in Sun Street for those hardy enough to withstand the storm conditions.
Day 1 Saturday 15th June Wolverhampton to Cannock Extension (13 miles 0 locks 7 hrs)
The Boats left Wolverhampton in a staggered formation and turned on the Wyrley & Essington canal, travelling through Sneyd, Goscote, Little Bloxwich and coming to moor at the end of the Cannock Extension. Torrential rain for the second half of the journey made it a bit depressing as did the constant need to stop and dive down the weed hatch. Some boats encountered half-hearted vague hostility from a few local youths on bikes and there was a report of stones being thrown at one boat, no damage done luckily. We moored up near the end of the arm which was very weedy and had a pleasant meal at The Turf (a Toby Carvery) across the A5.
Day 2 Sunday 16th June Cannock Extension to Longwood Junction (12 miles 0 locks 6 hrs)
Turning left and continuing to Catshill Junction, we stopped at Brownhills for services and a Tesco visit to replenish stocks as Wolverhampton had proved a bit thin on the ground for shopping especially in the persistent rain. Most boats chose to turn off to visit Anglesey Basin, which is hard up against Chasewater Reservoir and which was used for loading coal; some fragments of its former use are still visible.
Some of us stopped for lunch there before returning to Catshill Junction and taking the Daw End canal.
We moored at the Longwood Junction three abreast for an evening at the Longwood Boat Club where we were made very welcome. After a “mixed-up team” quiz, allowing us to get to know fellow boaters a bit better, some nice hot fish and chips. Everyone got theirs eventually!
Day 3 Monday 17th June Longwood to Walsall (12 miles 9 locks 8 hrs)
We left the Longwood boat club and descended the Rushall locks ably assisted by BCNS lockwheelers, then turn right at Rushall Junction onto the Tame Valley canal to Ocker Hill. From here, we turned right again onto the Walsall canal, easily the dirtiest, smelliest and most depressing stretch of canal I have yet encountered. We moored at Walsall Town Basin in very windy conditions. We drew a lot of attention, obviously the local populace is not used to seeing the basin occupied by 12 boats! But we had a quiet night there with no trouble at this town Centre location.
Day 4 Tuesday 18th June to Walsall to Wednesfield Junction 8 miles 8 locks 6-7 hrs
As we left Walsall town basin to ascend Walsall locks we gained a hitch hiker! It was none other than Michael Pearson doing research for an update of the Pearson’s Guide for the BCN, so watch out we may appear in the new edition! Again, we were assisted by BCNS lock-wheelers. We continued back onto the Wyrley & Essington canal and moored in or around the Bentley Arm outside the Nickelodeon pub, where we met Martin and Sue and most of us had a pleasant meal in the evening. There was a plethora of shopping and entertainment opportunities as the mooring is by a huge retail park! Another quiet night and we were undisturbed.
The following morning, we had an interesting talk by a local councilor, Phil Bateman, who is passionate about putting the canal on the map in his community and making the most of it as a resource, getting local kids involved in cleaning and greening it. It is to be part of a linear nature reserve with the help of Regional Development money from the EU already secured.
Day 5 Wednesday 19th June Wednesfield Junction to Bradley Arm 7 miles 0 locks 2-3 hrs)
Turning back onto the Old Main Line at Horseley Fields Junction. We continued to Deepfields Junction and into the Wednesbury Oak Loop, sometimes known as the Bradley Arm. At the end we arrived at the Bradley Workshop. We moored here overnight and enjoyed a d.i.y barbeque before rain stopped play.
Day 6 Thursday 20th June – Bradley Workshops – Tipton
We were able to have a look around the CRT workshop where lock gates are made. There is no guided tour as such, but the staff were prepared to answer our questions. After lunch on our boats, our walking guide arrived to give some of us an informative walk along the Bradley Locks. On our return from the walk we headed for Tipton for the evening mooring near the Fountain Inn & Neptune Health Centre on either side of the canal. We ate at Mad O’ Rourke’s Pie Factory which was quite an experience! One of our two chaplains from NB Muscovy Duck managed to get the Desperate Dan Pie Eaters certificate for consuming a 4lb pie!
Day 7 Friday 21st June Tipton to Titford (4 miles 6 locks 3-4 hrs)
In the morning we were given an historical talk with slides at the Tipton library by Phil Wild about this section of the old main Line, which put it into context of the industry which once surrounded it.
We continued towards Birmingham on the Old Main Line, stopping at Tividale Quays for lunch. It is a canal basin surrounded by residential development which has good moorings that hardly anyone uses. So, it had to be done! At Oldbury Junction we turned right to ascend the Oldbury locks (aka The Crow). The promised BCNS lockwheelers failed to materialize on this occasion but we had a great deal of help from a passing cyclist called Peter, who borrowed a windlass from us, being the 2nd boat, and then proceeded to help all ten boats that followed us, up the locks, before returning our windlass. Never judge a book by its cover.
There followed an Evening social “Let’s All Share Some Songs and Stories” in the Pump House with Billy Spakemon of Black Country fame. (HQ of the BCN Society). He was very good!
Day 8 Saturday 22nd June A Trip round Titford Pools & off Home
Before leaving for our next destination, we had the opportunity to cruise round Titford Pools and gain a special brass plaque from the BCN Society. Not everyone decided to do so.
NB Aquarigo in winding at Langley got a car tyre round the entire propeller. With the help of Ged and some other members of the cruise it took about two hours to remove it.
All in all, we were very glad to have done the cruise and it has broken our fear of going through Birmingham, about which you hear so many stories. We are very grateful to the organisers Brenda Ward of the BCNS and the cruise leaders Andy and Debbie Shepherd for making it possible. If you haven’t done it, we thoroughly recommend it.
Mo Wood NB The Great Escape.