North by North West

From Fazeley Visitor Moorings (Tolson's Mill) to Rugeley North Visitor Moorings, a distance of 18 miles, 4¼ flg and 3 locks.

Unlike central Birmingham it was nice and quiet over night in Fazeley, and although the weather wasn’t perfect when we woke up it wasn’t raining.

You exit Fazeley almost as quickly as you enter it and you are soon back in the open countryside, which is pleasant rather than outstanding, as the canal meanders its way through Hopwas and on to Huddlesford Junction.

It was just beyond the junction when a boat pulled out behind us – he never slowed down past moored boats but seemed unable to get through bridges without really slowing down – so we’d pull ahead at points and then he’d come right up behind us : it was extremely annoying and completely pointless because if we had let him past us we’d either to have had to slow down or we’d have kept catching up with him.

We were coming through Fradley Bridge No 90 when we met a working boat coming the other way – it went into reverse to give us space to slip past and we indicated to the boat behind us that there was a boat coming the other way… and what did he do? Did he slow down and let the working boat through? Of course not – we’d told the working boat that there was a boat behind us but I don’t think he imagined this meant that the person was going to charge through the bridge without checking if the way was clear… it was all a bit chaotic.

About halfway along the section between Fradley Estate Access Bridge No 90A and New Bridge No 91 there was a C&RT work boat moored up who were doing some work on the bank edge, we could see a boat coming the other way but we were closer so we made our way past the boat and then said Hello to the boat going the other way. By now the tailgating boat was catching up with us and, once again, they decided that they had the right of way… however they realised at the last moment that they didn’t have the space and had to basically nose into the bank.

We felt a little sorry for the boat coming up Junction Lock No 17 because in the space of about 3 minutes they went from being second in the queue to go up the rest of the locks to fourth. As it was lunch time the volunteer lockies had knocked off for lunch so it was just us and the crews of other boats working the locks. We stopped immediately above Shade House Lock No 19 and walked back down to The Swan where we had a rather good pint of Everard’s Tiger.

A large amount of reed had got stuck in the gate paddle at Wood End Lock No 20 and as it only has one ground paddle it made getting through the lock a little slow and a queue was starting to build up. Various attempts with boat hooks etc to pull it out didn’t work but at least it was possible to close the gate paddle so you could empty the lock. The only good thing about the reed slowing the lock filling down was that we weren’t stuck in a convoy once we’d got through the lock. As we were making pretty good time we decided to stop at The Plum Pudding PH and have a drink – we don’t think we’ve ever stopped here for a drink, or if we have it was a long, long time ago.

We managed to get through Armitage Tunnel with absolutely no waiting, and without another boat wanting to come in at the other end, which for us was rather unusual.

We have no idea what was under the water right by Rugeley Railway Bridge No 65A (disused) but it tipped the boat quite dramatically and made a rather unpleasant grinding noise as we slid over it. Rugeley Visitor Moorings were completely rammed, as usual and so we cruised on to the always vacant, and rather neglected visitor moorings at the north end of the town where we stopped for the night. After eating on board we went out into town to explore the pubs where we managed to have a few good pints of beer.

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.

Birmingham – and it’s raining

From Coalbourne Brook Bridge to Sheepcote Street Visitor Moorings, a distance of 20 miles, 4¼ flg and 25 locks.

We got up to overcast skies and we just knew the weather was no going to be good. We headed off up the arm and turned at the Closed Arm to the old Iron Works before heading back to the junction and dropping crew off so we could start up the Stourbridge 16

We’d only done a couple of the locks before it started to drizzle, and that pretty much set the weather for the day although there were periods of relative dryness. We made pretty good time up the flight even though it wasn’t fun getting over the top balance beams in the wet.

It was interesting to see how much the area round the flight has changed – even from our last visit which was only a few years ago. I can remember when the glass works was still operational and you could go on factory floor trips. The conversion of most of the buildings has been quite tasteful and sensible and most of the new build even though its done in a rather obvious mock industrial doesn’t look that bad at all.

As you get towardsDouble Lock Cottage Bridge you could almost be back in the countryside and it’s hard to believe you are only a few miles from the centre of Birmingham.

C&RT were out kebbing each of the weirs collecting weed and rubbish and apart from some minor vandalism the whole lock flight, and indeed the whole canal, was actually quite pleasant – and I’m not sure why many more people don’t use the canal as it gives you a much more interesting way out of Birmingham than say Wolverhampton or Tardebigge, and although the locks can be a bit awkward they are relatively easy to use and pretty quick to empty and fill and there is just about no surging – we just sat at the back of the lock and didn’t even ride the bottom gates.

We turned right at Leys Junction and made our way in the now quite heavy rain towards the Delph locks. It hadn’t eased off by the time we reached Black Delph and the bottom lock. The Delph locks are often know as “The Nine” and the local pub is called “The 10th Lock” even though there are only 8. The top lock and the bottom lock are the 1st and 9th lock of the old flight but a new flight with one less lock was built alongside the original flight which was then abandoned. The only indication that the lock layout has changed is the alignment of the top and bottom locks in relation to the main flight of 6 locks, and the arm leading off below the top lock. The overflow weirs for the new locks are very impressive, especially when there is a lot of spare water on the flight, and look more like reservoir spillways than simple canal lock overflows.

We met a boat at lock number 3 who wanted to know if all the locks were this big and we had to tell them yes – they were heading to Stourbridge and they looked about as soaked through as us.

There was a lone angler just above the top lock and apart from him we saw no-one until we got to Merry Hill where the Merry Hill Visitor Moorings were pretty much full of anglers who seemed far from pleasant. We stopped on The Waterfront Visitor Moorings (Dudley) and had a coffee and warmed up a bit.

It was still raining when we got to Blowers Green Lock and we swung round the corner, moored up and filled up with water. The rain was pretty set now and all we could do was chug on – parts of this route into Birmingham aren’t the most enticing and continual rain doesn’t really help make it any better, and as you pass Blackbrook Junction you kind of wish that the old “Two Locks” Line hadn’t succumbed to mining subsidence.

We finally got a break from the rain when we dived underground at Netherton Tunnel (South end) but even then we had to dodge water pouring down some of the air shafts. We sort of hoped that maybe the weather might have got a little better whilst we were in the tunnel but by the time we reached Dudley Port Junction it was pretty torrential and rather unpleasant. We plough on through the rain until we reached the centre of Birmingham where we stopped for the night. After drying off and getting changed we went and had a couple of beers at The Craven Arms before wandering down into the Chinese Quarter and having quite a good Vietnamese which was very different to the “Vietnamese” food we’d had in the past in Cheltenham. Then we wandered up to The Wellington where we finished the evening off.

Ambling to Amblecote

From High Green Bridge No 14 to Coalbourne Brook Bridge, a distance of 20 miles, 6½ flg and 23 locks.

It was a nice sunny day when we got up and took another look at the wiring. Nick had had an idea over night – he suspected he’d not reconnected the main engine negative… He hadn’t, so basically the engine was trying to crank using the exhaust as the negative. We reconnected it, swapped out the fan belt which had been slipping, got it started with no problems, and cast off.

We only met a couple of boats on the move between Brewood and Autherley Junction and we made pretty good time. Close to Three Mile Post there was a man on a moored boat who asked us if there was a supermarket near by. We told him there were two small ones in Brewood but he said he needed a big one, so we told him the nearest big supermarket is in Market Drayton and it’s quite a walk from the canal.

There were the usual problems at Autherley Stop Lock as the hire base had moored boats right up to the entrance to the lock. So we did the usual and put our bow into the lock entrance and the crew jumped off. Unusually there were no boats waiting to come in, or even cruising down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal (Main Line: Aldersley to Autherley) so we were able to go straight out in the canal. There was no sign of activity at Aldersley Junction and we only saw one boat on the move until we were through Compton Lock No 31. We had a single handed boat pull out from the moorings beyond the bridge and he headed straight for us before stopping and backing up a little – he said he’d not seen us at all.

We met another single hander at Wightwick Mill Lock No 30 who, as the lock was pretty much full, got it ready for us. So in return we stayed back after we’d worked through the locks to close the bottom gates for him. The person at Wightwick Lock No 29 hadn’t even looked before emptying the lock in front of all, and all he could say was “Its getting a bit cold isn’t it?”

After we were though the lock we threw a whole chicken into the slow cooker for supper. – we’ve found that the slow cooker is a great addition to the boat’s galley because it can just sit there tucked away safely on counter top cooking away and you don’t really need to check on it as much as if you were cooking in the oven or on the stove top, and of course you’re not burning lots of Calor Gas or heating up the boat doing so.

By now the clouds had started to build and without the sun shining the wind was quite cool and we really thought the weather was going to turn like it had the previous day. We met very little traffic as we made our way along the canal and through the scattered locks. We got to The Bratch and were basically waved straight in the the C&RT lock crew who said that most of the traffic was heading south which possibly explained why we’d not seen many other boats. There were two boats waiting at the bottom but then it was back to it just being us alone on the canal.

We stopped at Round Oak PH for a couple of drinks and discussed our plans for the evening which basically boiled down to “Get to Amblecote, moor up, eat and then and visit the pubs”.

It was a bit chaotic atGreensforge Wharf Services with people moving boats round and people standing round holding ropes. We suspect that the Viking Afloat boat that decided to send crew off to the lock as we went past them might have felt that we’d “stolen” their lock but ….

There were quite a few boats moored on the Stourton Moorings including a boat that was selling engine oil – and as we seemed to have a leak round the oil filter we picked up a gallon of oil just to be on the safe side.

The pounds between the four Stourton locks were low, especially below Stourton Top Lock, Lock No 17 where it must have been a foot to 18 inches down, but luckily above the lock the canal was nice and full and we made good time across the remarkably rural landscape until we reached Wordsley Junction where we turned onto the Stourbridge Town arm. The arm is quite deep, with a lot of weed, and very clear so you can see all the rubbish on the bottom of the canal.

We moored for the night opposite the moorings for the Ruskin Mill Trust and after enjoying the rather delicious chicken which we served with new potatoes and veg we got cleaned up a bit and went off into town for some drinks at The Maverick, The Swan and The Starving Rascal, before heading back to the boat past The Robin Hood which we keep failing to visit (Note to self : next time do the loop in reverse so we do the Robin Hood first).

We flew to Brewood.

From Tom's Moorings to High Green Bridge No 14, a distance of 21 miles, 6¼ flg and 6 locks.

After an easy drive up via The Falcon at Hinstock on Wednesday evening¬† we went and tried Market Drayton’s newest pub – The William Chester. It’s a really rather nice pub and it feels like its been there for ages and has just had a rather nice refit. The beer range was limited but given that it was a Wednesday night in early September you couldn’t complain, and it was in good condition. Over a few pints we made plans about when we were getting up on Thursday morning and where we were going to stop for the night.

We walked back to the boat under cloudless skies : the stars were clear and there was a nip on the edge of the breeze,

We woke to a slightly cloudy day but the sun was shining and so we got ready to set off…. but the engine wouldn’t start! Borrowing the jump leads from Nick’s car we established that the engine battery was basically dead and just about open circuit. So we left the engine running and jumped into the car and drove over to XX Motor Factors and picked up a replacement battery. We decided not to fit it right there and then but to get going. So we left the moorings at about 08:20 with a new battery sitting on the back deck.

We chugged past the moored boats and arrived at Tyrley Bottom Lock No 7 where there was a boat just entering the lock so we pulled in and waited. There was a single hander in front of them but he seemed quite efficient and with some sensible lock wheeling we made it out of Tyrley Top Lock No 3 before 09:35 which isn’t bad considering.

We recently acquired a cheap sandwich toaster so rather than regular bacon and mushroom sandwiches for breakfast, which can be awkward to eat whilst steering, we had toasted versions which were very good apart from the pockets of super-heated ketchup that they seemed to contain.

The moored boat situation on the southern Shroppie hasn’t improved so progress was a bit slow in places and of course we met a couple of boats either at bridge holes or other narrow place, and to cap it all off it had started raining, but we made it to Norbury Junction by early afternoon where we fueled up and got a pump out before pushing over to the other side of the canal, mooring up and going for a couple of pints in The Junction Inn.

We sort of hoped that sitting in the pub for a bit might give the weather time to improve but it didn’t so just after 2:30 we headed back to the boat and cast off into the rain. We had to jump the engine battery so we’re going to swap it out first thing tomorrow morning.

The rain never really got very heavy – it just varied between various intensities of drizzle – but it made steering a less than pleasurable experience until it dried up round Rye Hill Bridge No 22 and the last couple of miles to Brewood were quite pleasant.

We mooed up just before the bridge and swapped out the dead engine battery for the new one which didn’t seem too keen on starting the engine!

We got cleaned up and went for a pint at The Bridge Inn before heading off for a curry at The Curry Inn.  We finished the night with a couple of pints at The Three Stirrups before wandering back to the boat under clear skies

September 2018

Our, now almost traditional, September boating holiday this year sees us heading south and then up through Birmingham before swinging round through Rugeley and Penkridge.

We can’t actually remember when we last went up the Stourbridge Canal and then down Farmers Bridge so its going to be a bit different for us. As usual we’ll be swapping crew on and off during the holiday.

Starting at Tom's Moorings and finishing at Tom's Moorings with overnight stops at : High Green Bridge No 14, Coalbourne Brook Bridge, Sheepcote Street Visitor Moorings, Fazeley Visitor Moorings (Tolson's Mill), Rugeley North Visitor Moorings, Cross Green Visitor Moorings, and Gnosall Visitor Moorings (South). A total distance of 149 miles, 2¼ flg and 116 locks.