Get down deeper and down

From Sheepcote Street Visitor Moorings to Fazeley Visitor Moorings (Tolson's Mill), a distance of 15 miles, 4½ flg and 38 locks.

Mooring on the visitor moorings on the main line in Birmingham is not one of the best places to stop – it was noisy for most of the night : either with people heading home from pubs and clubs or with people heading into work early… oh and someone stole our old brush off the roof.

It was a little damp and a little cool when we cast off and made our way to Farmer’s Bridge Junction and started the long, slow, descent to Fazeley.

One thing you can say about the locks on the Farmer’s Bridge flight is that they are quite quick to fill and empty and they’re pretty easy to use. We met a single hander going down in front of us so we gave him some help and we got to the bottom in quite a reasonable time.

When we got to Aston Junction he had pulled over to let us go down the Aston Locks first – so we made sure that we wound one of the top paddles up after we’d gone through each lock to make things a little easier for him.

There was more than enough water on the flight, in fact there was a little too much, and some of the locks were almost overflowing as we went down – each lock was full and the overflows were running so each lock we emptied just put even more water into the already full pounds.

We saw a couple of people from C&RT above Lock 9 but they didn’t seem to be doing anything useful – and the owner of the working boat we met near the lock wasn’t too impressed with them either. There had been quite a lot of people walking the towpath since we’d left Farmers Bridge but once we were past Aston Bottom Lock 11 No 24 we pretty much had the canal to ourselves.

The moorings at Cuckoo Wharf looked a little forlorn and unloved which seems a shame as there is a shortage of overnight / visitor moorings on this length of canal.

We were trying to arrange a crew pickup and were exchanging text messages and phone calls but finally worked out that The Tyburn House PH seemed like a sensible rendezvous point, but when we got there we found that the extremely well maintained towpath has no rings or bollards so you can’t actually moor up, and apparently the pub has no real ale which meant our new crew member had been forced to drink a rather bland national brand lager. We’d all rather been looking forward to a lunch time pint so we looked at the maps and decided that we’d go through the Minworth locks and moor up at The Boat Inn (Minworth) – however when we got there we found that they had no food and no real ale – not really a good situation to be in on a Sunday lunch time. We sent a scouting party ahead to the Hare & Hounds PH and they texted back that the pub had beer. We moved the boat down to just before Minworth Green Bridge and moored up but found out that actually there are moorings right outside the pub. After a not too bad pint of beer and a discussion about where we’d stop for the night we went back to the boat and cast off again. The Cuttle Bridge Inn looked extremely busy and it seems to have turned into a hotel – there are moorings here so it could well be a sensible place to stop for the night when heading into Birmingham if you can’t make it through to the centre.

There were a few boats moored on the Curdworth Visitor Moorings but no-one was moving and we were able to go straight through the tunnel without having to wait.

Curdworth Locks were, as usual, well maintained and we made good time through them. The towpath seemed to be quite popular again for cyclists and dog walkers – a lot of whom seemed to be making their way to Dog & Doublet PH which we decided not to visit as it seemed to have a rather uninspiring range of beers.

The derelict Kingsbury Swing Bridge and Curdworth Bottom Lock No 38 are extremely picturesque and the old gravel pits, which are now a large water park and nature reserve just add to the scene. There are some moorings below the locks and lot of posted paths and its nice to see that the relics of our industrial past have been turned into something that encourages nature and wildlife.

One of the side effects of all this gravel extraction would seem to be that the canal is quite deep and you really can make some good time along the stretch to the wonderfully ornate footbridge at Drayton Manor Bridges where the swing bridge now seem to be kept open so there is no need to pull in and use the two spiral staircases to cross the canal.

We stopped just before the junction on the visitor moorings which were totally vacant even though there were several boats moored on the bank just before them. We explored a few of the pubs and ate at The Ivory Tusk Indian restaurant.

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