I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Tuesday 27 June 2023

June 2023 - The first few days of the BCN Explorer Cruise

 Norton Canes – (Birmingham Mainline/Wyrley & Essington/Cannock Extension Canals) – Saturday 24th June

The plan of action was to leave around 9.30am.  The first boats went passed us much earlier than that and we were ready to leave at 9.35am.

We turned onto the Wyrley & Essington Canal, which is nicknamed the Curly Wurly and it is quite curly!  What hit me were the beautiful water lilies, they really were amazing.  We were made most welcome by the users of the towpath, asking where we were going and why there were so many boats.  

The only trouble was the weed and other things that get thrown into the canal.  Richard was down the weed hatch five times with the fifth time bring out an anorak!  This photo was taken before the anorak joined the heap! 

Just before we turn off the Curly Wurly we went through a lovely area which is called Pelsall Common.  It’s history goes back to 1794 when the  Wyrley and Essington was built. The canal provided a vital link between local coal fields and the Black Country.  Between 1832 and 1888 a large area of the common was taken up by a huge iron works which was of great importance to the people of Pelsall village, providing over 100 jobs.  When the Cannock Extension Canal was built in 1863, the iron works thrived. However, a sudden slump in iron prices forced the Pelsall Coal and Iron Company into liquidation. Towards the end of the 1920's the buildings and chimneys were demolished.  A huge machine called 'the cracker' was used to break up mounds of foundry waste known as cinder and tap. This gave the common its local nickname 'the cracker'. The machine was demolished after the Second World War. Today apart from its historical importance, Pelsall North Common is extremely valuable as a nature reserve. Its rare plants and varied wildlife make the common a wonderful place to visit. 

We turned down the Cannock Extension Arm, which is a 1.8 mile straight line to Norton Canes.  We were the fifth boat to arrive, we moored up at the end of the line and got the chairs out and relaxed. 

In the evening we went to the local Toby Carvery for dinner.  Sadly, the place was far from dog friendly – I will say no more   We sat out in the garden with John and Hazel from Doo Lally Ally and their dog Bridget and enjoyed our evening, no thanks to the staff at the pub.  We wandered back to the boat and sat out with Steve and Diane until bedtime.

It had been a long and very hot day.

15.3 miles
0 locks

Longwood Boat Club – (Cannock Extension/Wyrley & Essington Canal/Daw End Branch) – Sunday 25th June

We were away by 9.15am this morning and were only the second boat to leave.  I got a message from Steve to say that they had only just woken up! 

Up to the junction with the Wyrley & Essington where we turned left.  We continued up to Brownhills where we found the poshest service area I have ever seen!  To be honest it is also used by a canoe club, so I guess they have put the fake grass down! 

Tesco was just across the road so off I trotted!  I really only wanted fruit, coke and beer as we are eating out this week, so I don’t have to worry about food.  Back at the boat quite a few of the others had stopped for water etc. and were also heading to Tesco.

We were the first to set off and headed up to Catshill Junction where we turned left onto the Daw End Branch.  Muffin and I jumped ship to walk for a bit, but with the heat and my back starting to hurt I didn’t do the full walk I had planned. 

The Daw End Branch was interesting, to say the least!  Windy, very narrow in places and pretty shallow.  We were first to arrive at Longwood Boat Club and it took quite a while for the other boats to arrive.  The main topic of conversation as each boat arrived was about the last part of the journey.  There was also this amazing mural one of the bridges. 

Gradually all the boats arrived and moored up, well except for Endeavour who had taken a detour up the Anglesea Arm.  He found this in the canal!! 

The entertainment for tonight was fish and chips in the club house.  We had pre-ordered, and each boat had its own bag.  I had ordered one mini cod and one large one.  The mini one turned out to be the size of a regular that we have at home and Richard couldn’t get his large one on the plate in one piece!  The portions of chips were enormous too.  We try and sit with different people each night and it really is interesting to learn about the others.  However ,we still have Steve and Diane to catch up with each day, so we always end up on the towpath for a bevvy or two before retiring for the night.

I took this photo of the boats from the top lock.  Eric and Deb live on board their boat, Georgina, and love salad, hence the greenery everywhere! 

9.60 miles
0 locks

Walsall Town Basin (Rushall/Tame Valley/Walsall Canals) – Monday 26th June

Yesterday we ended our trip on the Daw End Branch but today we set off on the Rushall Canal which was built in 1844 to connect the Daw End Branch to The Tame Valley Canal to take coal from Cannock mines to Birmingham and the Black Country. It was specified to be 36 feet wide with towpaths on both sides. The towpaths were to be 9 feet wide, but only one of them (on the west side) was constructed. It was completed 1847.  C&RT are working on the towpath now and it should make a nice place to walk when they are finished. 

As we were moored above the first of the Rushall Locks we all had to leave one at a time to get through the top one.  It seemed to be the first one in the row to go each time.  About 9.20am it was our turn.  The Rushall flight consists of 9 locks.  2 in rapid succession then there is a gap of 1.3 miles before the next one.  We had help from the BCN members and after the first two locks there was one at each lock which meant that we raced through them.  1hr 40mins to do them and it would have been quicker if there hadn’t been that 1.3 mile gap!

It wasn’t long before we turned off the Rushall and onto the Tame Valley and we were soon going over the M5 Aqueduct.  I jumped ship to take some photos.  The queue is to get off the M5 onto the M6. 

This little island used to be a toll island.  These are a feature of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.  As the boats passed through the narrows the toll collector would use a marked stick to check the depth of the boat in the water to see how heavy the load was so the appropriate toll could be collected. 

The Tame Valley was built in 1844 and has no locks on its 8½ miles, but it passes over eight aqueducts within five miles (seven of which are original).

We turned onto the Walsall Canal and then it all went t**s up!!  The canal was covered with blanket weed.  It was dreadful.  We lost count of the times that Richard went down the weed hatch, but he filled a black refuse bag!  Everyone was struggling, well except for a couple, but they were still held up by others down their weed hatch.  For those of you who are not boaters, the weed hatch is literally just that, however you have to open the engine bay, take the lock off the lid, take the lid off (and it’s a big old thing) put your arm down into the water and pull out whatever is round the propeller – in 99% of all  boat crews it is a “blue” job!!  I will try and take a photo at some stage.

This photo just shows the junction and not the blanket weed.  I forgot to take a photo of it

Eventually, after about 8 hours (it should have taken 6) we arrived in Walsall Basin.  Well this one didn’t (not one of ours I hasten to add) 

The basin is modern, but I doubt it will get used much.  Oh! I forgot to mention we actually came across a boat going the other way!  I wandered around the basin and took a couple of photos of the boats and the nice basin.  I’ve just been doing some research and discovered that quite a few people have fallen in the basin and apparently the water is deep.  This bit in a newspaper tickled me “In 1999, a pensioner drove into the canal after mistaking it for a flooded car park and had to climb out of his sunroof and in 2007, a businessman drove his BMW into the canal, escaping before it sank to the bottom.” 

Built in stages, the canal started as an extension of the Wednesbury Canal which opened in 1785 and served collieries in Moxley.  An Act was passed for the building of the canal to Walsall Town in 1794 with this being mostly complete 6 years later.  Businesses to the north of Walsall were keen to access the quicker route south offered by the Walsall Canal and the short Walsall Junction Canal with 8 locks was completed in 1841 to link to the Wyrley and Essington Canal.  The Walsall Canal was successful with many branches and wharves but 1966 saw the end of the last regular commercial traffic to Walsall Gas Works.

 This next part was taken from the Walsall Council’s website.  It is pretty much verbatim, but I thought it was interesting, I could almost visage the scene and hear the noise!  I hope you enjoy it.

The first wharf from the Walsall Canal end was Corporation Wharf, which supplied the town’s gasworks from 1850-1877 when it moved to Pleck Road. From 1895-1916 this site also supplied electricity for Walsall and district. In addition, the gasworks provided outgoing supplies of coke and other by-products.

Between Corporation Wharf and the bottom of the canal arm were the following wharves: Dock Wharf, Albion Wharf, Victoria Wharf, Providence Wharf, and the Old Wharf. With all these and their basins extending practically onto Wolverhampton Street, this street, before the coming of the railway, must have been a hub of activity, with horse transport distributing local goods for canal transport, and many tons of coal moved from these wharves for domestic consumption. The other side of the arm was the towpath and was fairly wide to accommodate the many horses awaiting turnaround, before the days of motorised narrowboats.

During a normal working day, the Walsall Arm would be filled with approximately 50 to 60 narrowboats, as recalled by Len Wilson from his first journeys on the Walsall Arm with Shropshire Union boats during the Great War. Those were hard times, and Len remembered that by age 16 he was working a boat of his own in company with his father, due to the great manpower shortage during that war, and at the time food supplies were the main cargo into Walsall, comprising grain, cocoa and sugar, as well as boxes of tinned meat and fruit, and barrels of Guinness Stout for the local pubs.

On the towpath in the 1880s, three ironworks needed many boatloads of coal. The Bradford Ironworks, The Iron Manufacturer and The Globe Ironworks which was known as the British and Colonial Horse Shoe and Machine Co. Ltd, of Charles Street. These works were still busy during around the time of the Great War, but the nearby Waterloo works had closed in the 1890s.

Marsh Lane, leading off Marsh Street to the main Walsall Arm canal towpath, was one of the most notorious parts of old Walsall, as many local folk still recall. It was well known for the prostitutes who plied their trade and took advantage of the stationary cabin boats on cold, dark winters nights in this poorly lit area.

The Dun Cow pub in Wolverhampton Street, long demolished, was a popular meeting place from its building in 1894 until just after the Second World War. Most boatmen also frequented the Barrel Inn, the Flitch of Bacon, Elephant & Castle, Engine Inn, The White Horse and The Albion, all along the Wolverhampton Road and Wolverhampton Street. With many boats getting an early start for the Cannock collieries, many local boatmen preferred to wait until just after midnight and being partly drunk enabled them to summon up the courage to get going on their long, slow journey of many miles. Life on the boats was very hard, being a cut-throat and desperate trade, with none of the glamour or romance that some modern narrowboat owners seem to imagine.

By the 1930s, however, road transport was becoming affordable. Although for some years the lorries complemented the remaining boats, delivering coal and other goods from the wharves to their final destinations, eventually the idea of using vehicles caught on, and with cheap pre-war petrol, the days of canal transport were numbered. There was a respite for the boats during Second World War petrol rationing, but the post-war availability of cheap army surplus lorries was the final nail in the coffin for ‘the cut’. By 1958 the Walsall Arm was practically full of rotting and disused boats, and most of those once employed on the canal had found better-paid jobs in local factories.

Over many years, the Walsall Canal became filled with weeds and rubbish, and this once thriving part of the town’s commercial life became a foul-smelling and depressing dump. But this was not to last for ever, as in the late 20th century the nation’s canals, once forgotten and ignored by the majority of the population, began a revival as a resource for leisure boaters.

Today, life is returning to the Town Wharf. Walsall’s prestigious New Art Gallery has been built on the site and attracts many thousands of visitors each year to what was a lonely, abandoned place. The award-winning Wharf pub is providing good beer and food in a now-attractive setting. Already, prestigious canal side housing and retail units have been developed in the area, and much more is hoped for in years to come. Boats are now able to use the canal again, and narrowboat rallies have become a regular occurrence, bringing a reincarnation of many old traditions and the creation of many new ones as leisure has taken over from labour as the mainstay of the canals. The Town Wharf has begun a new and exciting life as a very different hub of activity in 21st century Walsall.

11.20 miles
9 locks

1 comment:

  1. Did you go into the Premier Inn at Walsall Basin? A wall in reception is covered in a huge photo of Briar Rose coming down the Ryder's Green locks.