Sunday, 27 May 2012

Through the Midlands

While technology is wonderful these days, it is not infallible and I have once again had a few days when I’ve been unable to access the internet from the laptop.  All miraculously came right this afternoon for no logical reason that I can see, so I’m taking the opportunity to update the blog.

From our last point we soon came to Kingswood Junction where the Grand Union and the Stratford Canals come very close together and have a short arm linking them.  The picture here shows the junction looking back – we came from the left and the house in the background is actually on an island surrounded by three canals.

Kingswood Junction
 From the junction we climbed 160 feet up the 19 locks of the Lapworth flight.  The Stratford Canal took us back to narrow locks so the two boats went up separately.  After another evening in the country, Thursday took us to Birmingham with no further locks, though we did have some fun and games with an electrically powered lifting bridge called the Shirley Drawbridge.  This was on a quite a busy road so the canal boaters were stopping the cars.  However there were a lot of boats waiting to come through and it caused quite a traffic hold up on the road, so we let the bridge down between boats to avoid too many irate motorists.
Shirley Drawbridge
 We had quite a lot of difficulty along this canal which was quite shallow and Leo struggled with a full tank of diesel weighting down the stern and dragging the hull through the mud on the bottom of the canal.  That and plastic bags and bits of wire round the propeller.  The final difficulty was a very narrow (no room for fenders however thin) guillotine lock which used to act a stop lock to restrict loss of water from one canal to another.  We only just managed to fit through this lock which was also very shallow.

 And so finally to the centre of Birmingham where we moored the boats side by side in Gas Street Basin.
Moored at Gas Street Basin

Worcester Bar, Gas Street Basin

On Friday we had a day off from boating, visiting the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum, including viewing the Staffordshire Hoard of Saxon Treasure and some wonderful Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  The building itself is splendid.

 In the afternoon we did a tour of the Birmingham Back-to-Backs, a small remnant of the many such houses, which has been restored by the National Trust.  The stories of the families who had lived in the houses were fascinating and we would certainly recommend a visit.  Man, wife, 10 children (though the older ones were probably working and staying elsewhere) and a lodger all in one very small 2 bedroom house.  In the evening by way of a complete change we went to the National Indoor Arena just 5 minutes walk away from the boats to watch the World BMX Bike Racing Championships.  An easy sport to get badly injured!

Our friends Maurice and Carolyn joined us at the bike racing and stayed the night with us.  As Maurice put it, “We’re sleeping next to a pavement in the middle of Birmingham”.  They stayed with us on Saturday on the canal journey from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.  There are more canals and canal junctions in this 13 mile stretch than probably anywhere else in the country and the start from Gas Street takes you under Broad Street and past a ‘canal roundabout’.  
Broad Street Tunnel

Canal Roundabout

For the first few miles you have a choice of the old windy canal built by James Brindley and the ‘straight as an arrow’ canal built by Thomas Telford.  We started with Telford and soon branched off with Brindley and then our troubles started with the 3 locks taking us up to the higher level.  We were unable to close the bottom gates of the second lock and Leo struggled with gluey mud and sundry Birmingham rubbish including baling wire around the prop.  Eventually we succeeded in making the lock work and carried on under the M5 and through industrial scenery to Wolverhampton where we said goodbye to Maurice and Carolyn who returned by train to Birmingham.
Under the M5
And today we’ve left the industrial heartland behind, coming down the 21 locks of the Wolverhampton flight early this morning before the heat of the day. The descent was surprisingly rural and pretty and the only boat problem today was as we tried to enter the second lock: The engine simply stopped and we feared a major engine failure but it turned out that a really tough double blanket was wrapped round the prop so securely that the prop would not turn even by hand. It took a long time to cut away but eventually we succeeded and carried on down the flight and finally out into open country on the Shropshire Union Canal heading for Cheshire in a few days time.  There were some lovely bridges along this stretch including this one built in a grand style to match the wishes of the Giffard family of neighbouring Chillington Hall.
Pretty Bridge

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