Into Birmingham for the Third Time and on to Walsall

  We stayed in Gas Street Basin for four nights and had a very pleasant stay. We decided against moving to the other side as we had no repeat of the thumping idiot incident. The weather, unfortunately, wasn’t great but we had some nice canal side walks. Sadly, we needed to attend a funeral on Thursday 20th so Rhys and Ash boat/dog sat for us. Rhys kindly lent us his car for the day, too – a double whammy as he didn’t have to pay for city centre parking – but the journey took longer than Google predicted – 60 mph seems SO fast after only traveling at about 3mph for the last nine months – we certainly didn’t feel comfortable doing 70 on the motorways!

We left Gas Street Basin on Friday 21st Feb, after a quick trip into the shops to go to Moss Bros to look at suits for Dave & Mel’s wedding. The whole area is being redeveloped and, although very much a building site at the moment, looked really lovely! The mix of old architecture with new is very interesting – we thought it was a very attractive part of Birmingham.

We moved off from the mooring and made our way from Gas Street Basin onto the Birmingham Main Line canal. There are several branches and choices of route from here; we’d decided to cruise the canals to the north of the Birmingham Main Line, known as the Birmingham Ring, heading north towards Wolverhampton but then turning east towards Walsall, south towards Sutton Coldfield and back round to central Birmingham, then a shorter ring inside that area. 

So, we took the Birmingham Level Main Line, remaining on the Birmingham Level at Smethwick Junction and continued on. This section was quite interesting – lots of quite ornate bridges and at one point the canal is down on one level, the train line on the next level up, then the M5 crosses high over the canal and the rail line. We passed the junction with the Wolverhampton Level at the other end and continued on the Birmingham Level. The wind was quite strong so we were keen to get moored up, so decided to stop just before Albion Junction overnight. Although the edges are brick and straight, there was no Armco, so mooring pins were required. There was also a fair amount of vegetation growing out of the brick face – strong branches/roots of shrubs that had been cut back but still sprouting. This was along the entire length as far as we could see, so no point in moving either. We were soon to learn that this was troublesome! The noise from inside the boat due to scraping against the vegetation was incredible – Sal didn’t like it at all – and neither did we, come to that! This was even when we were tightly moored and not able to move much! We both had several trips outside to try to stop the noise, Tony deploying various tools to remove said vegetation, as far as he could, but as we weren’t sure exactly where it was scraping and bumping, it was difficult to rectify. It was windy, too, so a lot of rolling movement which didn’t help! Meanwhile, Sal was getting more and more worked up, and couldn’t be comforted, bless her. Horrible to see her so on edge! Eventually, we managed to ram our “fat” fenders down far enough in the right places to stop the noise. Sal was on the bed all night, but unsettled and still on edge. None of us got much sleep! At 4.15 am, we woke up as it was really windy and one of the fenders must have moved as the boat starting bumping again – I had to physically hold Sal and hug her to calm her down and Tony had to venture outside again to replace the fender! What a night!

We fortunately awoke to calmer weather on Saturday, although the wind was still a bit gusty. We moved off, passing through a set of three locks; the gates of one of them was restricted by something that we couldn’t see or move, making it a bit difficult to get into. A bit of engine revving and hauling of ropes and we managed to squeeze in. After the locks, the Birmingham Level ceases and becomes the Wolverhampton Level. We continued on, stopping and mooring at Coseley, which was quite pleasant. A pony was in the field opposite – it raised it’s head and pricked it’s ears when I called over to it – it seemed to enjoy me chatting! The towpath was quiet and sheltered and we had a welcome peaceful night after the previous fraught one! I also spotted a couple of waterbirds I hadn’t seen before; some research found that they were Little Grebes ??

On Sunday, 23rd, we set off and continued our cruise up towards Wolverhampton. It was cold but bright and mostly clear, but it was hard going! Tony had several trips down the weed hatch to clear the crap from the propeller, but in addition to those problems, the canal was very silted up along the edge, making it difficult to steer at times as we kept getting into shallow water! We managed to get to Horseley Fields Junction after about 4 miles and turned into the Wyrley & Essington Canal. Almost straight away it was a little more picturesque, but the propeller and shallowness problems continued and were even worse, if anything. We had to stop at one point to clear the prop but we realised that we were very close to an Aldi, so off I popped for a few bits and pieces whilst Tony cleared the prop and made a cuppa. We continued on but the shallowness became more of a problem – the water is black from the mud and we completely lost control at one point, crashing into a bridge opening, as we totally lost the ability to steer – or reverse! You can’t even get into the towpath side to moor up or sort any problems! We were wondering what we were going to do to moor up for the day but came across a mooring, Lane Head Visitor’s Moorings – gated and secure but not marked in our canal guide so a nice and very welcome surprise! These had been the worst couple of days so far, but we were still enjoying it! It would be boring if every day became routine, so days like those few make it into more of an adventure!

We left our moorings at Lane Head on Tuesday 25th Feb, after a two night stay. The weather was pretty rainy all day on the Monday; we had a couple of wet and soggy walks with Sal but we’re all getting used to those now! The journey was better on Tuesday than it had been over the previous couple of traveling days – we went a couple of miles to Sneyd Junction, which isn’t really a junction at all anymore, and almost straight away the water was much clearer and with not so much rubbish so was much easier going. We had a brief unscheduled stop when the heavens opened – we made a cuppa and waited for the rain to pass, and we had another longer hold up – there was a small section of the canal on a bend which seemed to gather weed and rubbish. It was a shame as it was quite a nice section of the canal – must’ve just been the action of the wind collecting it all at one point. The weed was so thick, it was like pea soup and all the rubbish was trapped in the weed. The propeller was completely fouled, we had no choice but to stop again to sort it out.

We continued on after clearing the prop and the canal became more and more rural and we came across a gorgeous section at the end of the Cannock Extension Arm, where we moored overnight.

We weren’t sure whether we would bother with the Arm itself, it was a long, straight and seemingly pretty boring bit, but, on looking at the map, we spotted that there was a Toby Carvery at the end of it. Of course, Wednesday 26th was my birthday and anyone that knows me well will know that a Toby Carvery is my absolute favourite, and what’s more, we hadn’t had one since we left Newbury last May, so we were well overdue to have one! Decision made, we ventured up the Cannock Extension Arm on Wednesday. It was quite windy but the arm was fairly sheltered and it is, in fact, a very nice stretch! We moored just short of the end, about a 500m walk to the Toby – perfect! We booked an early table so that we could walk there in daylight (towpath a bit narrow and unlit and muddy!) and we both thoroughly enjoyed our roast! We also discovered, on checking, that the Arm was one of the waterways of the Inland Waterways “Silver Propeller Challenge”. This encourages boaters to visit 20 out of a list of the less frequented stretches of waterway and awards them a plaque to be displayed on their boat when complete. Whilst we are not going out of our way to complete the challenge, by virtue of the fact that we are aiming to cruise all of the navigable waterways, we will be doing it by default so we were pleased to tick one off our list!…/silver_pr…/silver_propeller_challenge

On Thursday, we cruised back down the Cannock Extension Arm and continued our journey towards Brownhills. Here we found an excellent mooring right next to a large Tesco and very near to the high street for other shops (and an Amazon collection point!) It also benefited from being close to Clayhanger Common, good for doggie walks! We stayed there for the Friday night, too, as again, the weather on Friday was a bit grotty.

On Saturday,  29th Feb, we ummed and ahhed about moving as the forecast wasn’t too good, but the actual weather was quite clear and not too windy, so we decided to go for it. We cruised only a short distance to the junction and went up the Anglesey Branch and it was really quite nice. The end, at the Basin, is lovely and borders The Chasewater Country Park, which is enormous! What’s more, as we approached the end, we were astounded to see a small herd of big, red deer, just standing there, only about 20 feet away at the water’s edge, looking daggers at us for disturbing their peace. Sal thought it was well worth a good bark and one of us had to hold her for fear of her forgetting herself and jumping off the boat to go after them! We moored up and had a very pleasant walk around some of the area.

We left the Anglesey Branch on Monday 2nd March. It was a really lovely spot and we had a few very pleasant dog walks around the area. Before we set off, though, we walked to Chasewater Country Park as there was a lovely open stretch of grass and flew our new drone. I had long since wanted a decent drone – I’d had a couple of toy drones before but they were SO hard to fly! I didn’t particularly want one for the flying experience, more because I really like aerial photos and videos, and seeing as we are having this adventure, thought it would be good to have some aerial footage of our travels occasionally. Paul from NB Summerbreeze and Mark (Well Deck Diaries) both had decent drones which produced excellent footage, so I decided I wanted to join their gang! I did some research and decided on the drone I wanted and we were duly in receipt of it, but we’d been unable to fly it for quite a while as the weather had been so awful. So, when Tuesday dawned clear and still, it was the ideal time for a maiden flight! It was rather cold, though, (excuse the very fetching bobble hat in the picture below!?) but I had a good first session, and gained a bit of confidence. It is quite scary, having spent a sizeable amount of money, to put this thing up in the air and hope you can control it!! Tony didn’t have a go – he has yet to do his “flyer licence” – yes, that is an actual thing – you have to pass an online multiple choice test in order to fly any drone over 250g now!! I was quite pleased with my first effort but lots more practice needed – not in controlling the drone per se, more in controlling the speed at which you move it in order to get smooth footage – I felt a bit seasick on watching the videos – turning too fast, etc! I think Tony will probably be better at that sort of thing – he usually is and will probably end up being the flyer – I will just do the video editing, for which he has very little patience!

So, after we set off from Anglesey Branch, we made our way to Catshill Junction, stopping once to clear the prop (and very nearly squashing a grp boat due to losing steering, due to the prop being fouled!!?No harm done, though, fortunately!) and continued our journey down onto the Daw End Branch of the Wyrley and Essington Canal, heading south back towards Birmingham. There were a couple of low bridges that caused a little consternation, mainly because the wrong bridge was marked in our canal guide, so we weren’t prepared for it! We had a fairly long but easy day as there were no locks, and moored at Longwood Junction at the top of the Rushall Locks. This is where the Wyrley and Essington Canal meets the Rushall Canal.

On Tuesday 3rd March, we had a funny start to the day – and not funny haha! First, we dropped one of the poles from the canopy into the canal – it came loose from the fitting and just plopped into the drink. We made a fruitless attempt at retrieving it – you know it’s going to be fruitless but you still try anyway – which wasted a good many minutes, then I dropped in the key which we need to open the deck filler caps for the water and pump out! Again, a fruitless attempt at retrieval wasted another few minutes! Ho hum. When we finally got going, we worked the 9 locks of the Rushall flight, the red weed in the water being evident again. The floating carpet of weed is made up of tiny little individual florets but when they all congregate and float together, it’s like sailing through sludge! We also came across a school party on an educational trip at one of the locks being shown how a lock works and the instructors were delighted when we came along so they could demonstrate it with a boat actually in the lock! I think the kids were more interested to see Sal on the back deck than how the lock worked, but that’s kids for you! We went through Rushall Junction and turned onto the Tame Valley Canal. We moored for the day at the top of the next flight of locks at Perry Bar. The last section of the journey was interesting – first in a cutting and then out and up on an embankment with views all around – I didn’t realise that the Birmingham area was so hilly!

We set off on Wednesday 4th March to do the Perry Bar flight, but some of the pounds further down were empty. Tony went ahead to fill them but then a couple of CRT chaps turned up. They sent some more water down the flight and a couple of the pounds then ended up flooding. None of it was a problem, though, really. We completed the 13 locks with the last one being a bit problematic in that the anti vandal device on both paddles was non operational – Tony had to get out his tool kit and remove one of them in order for us to get through. We phoned to let the CRT know that we’d had to do this and was promised a return call but didn’t hear anything from them subsequently. ? We continued down to the Salford Junction (under the M6 spaghetti junction) and turned onto the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and moored at Cuckoo Wharf. Not the most picturesque of moorings but served the purpose after a long day’s cruising! We’d also ordered a couple of Amazon parcels (replacement fittings for the lost canopy pole and a water gauge so we can see how much water we put in the tank each time) and the pick up point was the closest we’ve found so far – only about 200m away from the mooring! Cuckoo Wharf was very urbanised, obviously, being in the middle of Birmingham, but we managed to find a half decent dog walk for Sal around the Aston Reservoir. A bit surreal, as the bridges of spaghetti junction are virtually overhead! We stayed at Cuckoo Wharf for two nights as we needed a rest and the weather was pretty horrible, too!

On Friday 6th, we faced a long day! There are 11 locks of the Aston flight and 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge flight to get through in order to get into the Gas Street Basin area. Research told us that there weren’t really any safe moorings mid way to break it up, so we girded our loins and set off. We stopped for a coffee in one of the locks of the Aston flight (ok at this time of year as no other boats moving, in fact we’ve only seen 4 or 5 boats moving over the last 10 days or so) and looked at our map. There is a small section of canal – the Digbeth Branch – that joins the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at Aston Junction with the Grand Union Canal at Bordesely Junction. We didn’t need to do this section at this point in order to get anywhere, but in the spirit of our quest to cruise all of the navigable waterways, we decided we ought to do it. The question was whether to do it now or at another time. We decided that it would be quite a bit out of our way to come back at another time, so we made up our minds to turn onto the branch to see what the moorings might be like and to stop for lunch, at least, whilst we were in the area. We came across some very nice moorings outside Aston University, so decided to continue on down the branch with the intention of turning at the end and returning to the moorings, if we found no other suitable moorings further on. It also meant that we could have a break and not do the second flight of 13 locks. This turned out to not be very advantageous, though, as there are 6 locks on the Digbeth Branch! The branch was actually quite pleasant, in places at least, and the locks were not very deep so fairly quick to do. Some of the students were eager to help with the locks – it clearly isn’t a very well used section of the canals as they were surprised to see a boat! We got to the end of the branch and turned at Bordesely Junction, then went into Typhoo Basin to see if there were any potential overnight moorings. Unfortunately, the basin was an extremely under utilised area – it could easily be used for secure visitor or even permanent moorings but it was just a bit of a junk yard and completely devoid of boats. We reversed out and moored just outside the basin for lunch. A couple of runners stopped to help us pull the boat in and we asked them if it would be a safe place to moor overnight – answered with an immediate and very emphatic “NO”, so after lunch, we made our return trip back to the good moorings we’d spotted at the start. Unfortunately, this meant redoing the 6 locks of the branch, so instead of having a break from the 13 of the second flight, we ended up doing the 12 of the branch, 6 each way, so not much of an advantage!!! The moorings at the university turned out to be excellent; quiet, apart from a little road noise, with a Tesco Express (and a Greggs!!) only a short distance away. We moored there for two nights and had a very pleasant stay. Sal’s walks were sorted by walking round the grounds of the university campus which were lovely!

Sunday 8th March saw us doing the 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge flight. These are iconic, really, due to some of them being underneath the towering blocks of flats and roads built over them. It was very interesting, if not particularly pretty!

With it being a Sunday, too, and good weather, there were lots of “gongoozlers” so we had a bit of help from enthusiastic onlookers and Sal was a very photographed dog! After we’d completed the locks, we made our way to Gas Street Basin and took the same mooring as we’d had a couple of weeks previously. 

After staying for two nights, on Tuesday 10th March, we left Gas Street Basin, stopping on the way to fill the diesel tank and to buy more coal. We cruised two of the loops which radiate from the main canal, the Oozells Street Loop and the Icknield Port Loop; unfortunately the Soho Loop was closed for maintenance so we were unable to cruise down there. The Oozells Street Loop was great, mostly used as residential moorings and has a hire base at Sherborne Wharf with lots of regeneration and building works – it will be very smart when completed. The Icknield Port Loop – the land in the middle – was in the process of being built on and was starting to look smart on one side but go round the corner and it was a vision of neglected and derelict buildings. The people who’d already bought a flat in the first block had taken a real leap of faith that it was going to look good when it was finished!

When we got to Smethwick Junction, we turned onto the Wolverhampton Level this time, as opposed to the Birmingham Level that we’d cruised the last time. This meant we were able to cross the aqueduct that we’d previously cruised under and go into the Engine Arm. There was a bit of a tricky turn to get into it – a very low, narrow bridge, and also a tricky turn on the other side of the aqueduct.

Most of the length of the Engine Arm is gated residential moorings but there was a spot available for visitors at the end. There was also a very good amenities block and I made use of the shower – unlimited hot water – bliss! I don’t usually fancy using communal shower facilities, but this was tucked away and only really used by the few residents, so it felt like showering in someone’s own bathroom. We also took the advantage of unlimited hot water to give Sal a long overdue bath – she was very pongy!! She smells much sweeter now – won’t last long but hey-ho!

On Wednesday, we continued on the Wolverhampton Level and stopped soon after at Smethwick Pumping Station as it was near a railway station. Tony hopped on a train back to Birmingham to pick up his wedding suit from Moss Bros which we’d ordered on a Click and Collect. Once he’d returned and we’d had lunch, we set off again and cruised the slightly scary section which runs completely underneath the M5. The M5 turns away at the Spon Lane junction – we continued on and down the Spon Lane locks. At the bottom of the locks, the Wolverhampton Level rejoins the Birmingham Level at Bromford Junction, we carried on for a short distance and turned onto the Wednesbury Old Canal at Pudding Green Junction. After about another half mile, we moored at the top of the Ryders Green Locks. Ridgeacre Branch was just off to the right but we had been advised that it was no longer safely navigable, so weren’t going to risk cruising that bit!

After another wild, wet and windy night (we missed the forecast for that one!), we set off early the next morning and worked the 8 locks of the Ryders Green Locks. The canal was hard going – shallow and full of rubbish, so a couple of trips down the weed hatch were necessary. We turned, after about half a mile, onto the Tame Valley Canal to cruise to Rushall Junction. This was the section we hadn’t done when coming down from the Anglesey Branch previously. We identified a decent mooring for later but didn’t think we were going to make it at one point as we couldn’t get going – we just thought the water was too shallow but it turned out that the prop was fouled again – with a curtain!! Having cleared that, we set off again and had a trouble free cruise to the end at Rushall Junction, where we turned and returned back to the mooring we’d spotted earlier. I liked the Tame Valley Canal – it is elevated so you can have a nosey down into people’s gardens and see over the town, you can also see the M6 at the same level which is quite interesting! Tony found it a bit boring,though, as it is very straight. We moored up for the night against a pleasant grassy bank.

Yesterday saw us continuing our journey up the Walsall Canal – and what a day!! It can only be described as a complete shit hole! We only had about 6 miles to travel – at least 5 of those I wouldn’t care to do again! There was so much rubbish in and around the canal that we were barely able to go above tick over speed, having to put the engine in neutral a lot of the time so as to glide over the obstructions in the water. Tony had to pole us along at one point – like a Venetian Gondalier! – as we couldn’t get into the side for one of us to get off to pull along with ropes and we daren’t have the engine in gear, there was just too much rubbish. We got a foam mattress caught round the prop as it was, which Tony managed to push off with the bargepole. It was a disgrace and such a shame as it could be a quite pleasant stretch of canal, as far as geography and scenery goes. Eventually, after a slow and laborious day and carrying a bag full of rubbish we’d taken off the prop, we pulled into the Walsall Town Arm. There is a floating boom across the entrance but we are unsure whether it is supposed to keep the rubbish in or out! It is very nice, though; a small basin surrounded by restaurants, an hotel, a coffee shop and smart new blocks of flats, with a nearby retail park which I shall be visiting. It’s a little noisy in the evenings due to the nearby restaurants but it went quiet reasonably early and we expected it anyway. It was VERY quiet this morning! There has been an element of surprise from the people at actually seeing a boat in here – obviously not many are as brave – or as stupid – as we are in wanting to come here! In fact, it is so infrequently visited that it has been added to the Silver Propeller Challenge. We met a couple of lovely ladies who’d watched us come into the basin and who came to say hello, they even Googled us and found our website!  We plan on staying here tomorrow (rain forecast) and continue our travels on Monday.

Last minute edit – someone has just been stabbed right outside the boat – not such a good place to stay, after all? Mind you, with the police here investigating, we should be quite safe!