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

Saturday 1 July 2023

June 2023 - Three more days on our cruise

Old Bentley Arm (Walsall/Wyrley & Essington Canals) – Tuesday 26th June

We left about 8.45am and headed to the 8 locks of the Walsall Flight.  At the junction of the basin arm and the canal is this amazing mural. 

I wanted to put the above photo in first as it will show up on Facebook, but this one should have been first!!  This lot had obviously been fished out of the basin. 

Just after joining the main canal, we had 8 locks to do.  Once again, we had very kind BCN lock wheelers which meant we would get up the locks quicker.  However, no one envisaged that Richard would have to go down the weed hatch 3 times on the flight which caused a hold-up!  The first time it was a bicycle tyre and some parcel tape. 

At the top of the flight are some interesting buildings.  One is the old toll house, which has recently been sold and is undergoing restoration inside.  The other is the building that was the Boatman’s Mission.  The plaque on the building says, “Boatmans Rest built in 1900 - 19011 by the Incorporated Seamen and Boatmens' Friend Society one of only two such boaters' missions surviving in the Black Country”. This Boatmans Rest was one of three in the West Midland canals operated by the Incorporated Seamen and Boatman's Friend Society. The other two have since been demolished. At the time of its opening the locks were used by 200 barges a day bringing coal and goods from the Wyrley & Essington Canal to the north into the wharves in Walsall.  

As a horsey person I love this bit of wall with the rings to tie the horses up to.

We rejoined the Wyrley & Essington Canal at Birchills Junction and had a pretty uneventful cruise down to the old Bentley Canal.  We came across a man magnet fishing who asked us if we had come across any obstacles in the canal.  Nothing strange there, but he had told one boater that he had found a sword and a revolver in the canal and another boater that he had found a machete!  The good news was that Richard was only down the weed hatch twice.

Our destination today was the old Bentley Canal, well what is left of it. The canal used to head southeast through Willenhall and Walsall and connected with the Anson Branch and thus the Walsall Canal. The main line opened in 1843, with the Neachell Hall Branch following two years later. The branch closed in 1953 and the main line in the early 1960’s.

We were moored outside the Wednesfield Leisure Park.  It was mainly shops, but also has a cinema.  I walked to Sainsburys as this was our last chance to stock up before the end of the cruise on Saturday.

About half the boats were moored on the canal and the other half were in the arm.  I wandered up to take some photos.

It was a very grey and drizzly start to the evening, so we made the decision not to join the others in the Nickelodeon pub as dogs aren’t allowed in and it wasn’t an evening to be sitting outside.  There was a talk planned and so that doggy people could attend the patio doors were supposed to be opened.  However as it was such an inclement evening we assumed they would be closed.  Wrong!  I got a message from Steve to say that the doors were open and another crew had their dog inside.  As I didn’t see the message until 20 minutes after the talk started, I didn’t think it was worth going along.  Shame but that’s how things go.  We had a KFC, as we could see the restaurant from the boat – haven’t had one of those for years.  We also caught up on Eastenders! 

7.26 miles
8 locks

Bradley Workshops (Wyrley & Essington Canal/Main Line/Wednesbury Oak Loop) – Wednesday 28th June

We left at 9.30am but got stuck behind Mugwump, who had moored in the arm, and had picked up weed from there.

This is the bridge that goes over the arm. 

Once again, an uneventful cruise to the Bradley Work Shops.  The canal started off in this colour

And ended up this colour!  

We were first to arrive at the Bradley Workshop.  We were told to look out for a black and white bridge, but the black and white bridge doesn’t exist anymore!  We had to reverse in and moor up against the side only we had to moor against an old barge.  Steve, from Over the Moon found a piece of wood that was light enough to move which made a really good step. 

Slowly the other boats arrived and most reversed into the basin but two opted to stay out on the canal.

As the last boat arrived it started to rain.  Tonight, was the only night that the weather mattered as we were having a BBQ. 

Eric was having trouble with his umbrella/sunshade! 

It was decided to start the BBQs about 5pm which was fine but then it started to rain and quite heavily too.  Out came the umbrellas and some people sheltered under a tree.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay out for long which was a shame. 

When we come up the canal, just before the basin we saw all this water pouring out into the canal.  I found a notice which said that were numerous old coal mines around and one of the mines was where the Workshop is now situated.  The mines were very wet as they were close to a subterranean aquafer and required round the clock de-watering to prevent flooding.  The pumps would have been steam powered in their day but were probably removed in the early 20th Century.  I had to smile when I saw that the canal company charged the mines for accepting their water, which of course, helped to fill their canals. 

6.84 miles
0 locks

John the Lock Moorings (Wednesbury Oak Loop/Old Main Line) – Thursday 29th June

We had a very interesting trip round the C&RT lock gate workshop.  It was fascinating to see how a gate is made.  The average life of a lock gate is 25 years, when they get to about 23 years old they are visited and checked to see how much longer they can last for.

It all looked very quiet but the men had all gone for lunch!  The gates are all made from green English Oak which comes from Hereford.  Each gate takes between 10 and 21 days to make and Bradley produces about 140 to 180 gates a year.  There is another workshop at Stanley Ferry, in Wakefield, which makes slightly larger gates. 

This gate is almost ready for to go to the Peak Forest Canal.  The gate it is replacing is Grade II listed so they have had to work with the authorities to make sure it all conforms. 

This is a banjo mechanism which is sitting on 1 of 4 gates bound for Oxford.  Not many places use the banjos winding mechanisms. 

More mechanisms!

The wood is all planed using a planning machine (I didn’t get a photo of it).  The gates are then put together using the tenon and mortise system using a large drill like machine which makes holes in the wood and then they change the drill to a chisel like one which chisels out all the wood to make the mortice.  The tenons are also made using the same machine.  These 2 machines are 50 years old, and the planing machine is 70 years old.  Apparently, it is quite difficult to get spare parts for machines of this age – tell me about it!!! 

These are all bits needed to make one gate.  The paddles are made of a composite material.

A plaque waiting to go on a new gate. 

The workshop has two dry docks, neither of which are used for that purpose now.  This one is a store!

This one is mainly covered over but they have left a very interesting piece of machinery there.  This contraption was used to turn over an old wooden working boat so that it could be repaired. 

These two doors are Grade II listed and come off a building by a lock somewhere (Ian did say but I have forgotten!)  The workshop has got to restore them the best they can, so they still conform to Grade II rules.  The reason they are listed is because they are original Thomas Telford doors.

Outside were gates that were ready to go off to new homes. 

There was a walk up to the old locks, but we declined deciding to make a move.  Over the Moon was going and as they were beside us, it seemed to make sense.  As each boat had to leave the basin and then wind, it was going to take time to get all the boats out and facing the correct way!

Yesterday I missed this coot sitting on her nest in the middle of the canal. 

Onto the Main Line, through Coseley Tunnel and we were soon at the junction where the Main Line becomes the Old Main Line and the New Main Line.  Our direction was the Old Main Line.  Half a mile on and we moored up on the John the Lock Visitor Moorings. 

The water was very clear compared with some we have been through! 

In the evening we walked to Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory for dinner.  We sat in the garden with Steve, Tracey, Ted (the dog) and their son, Richard.  We had pre-ordered, and the food was excellent.  The pub is a fascinating place as you can see from these photos. 

These bits were copied from the Pie Factory’s website.  Mad O' Rourke's Pie factory was originally built in 1856 and was equipped with shell die presses from the Royal Ordinance works at Bilston.  Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor to the Pie Factory.  It was rumoured that she was having an affair with Mad O'Rourke.  The factory was extensively re-built in 1923 after an explosion caused by a loud Bang!  It was re-designed by 'Le Courbossier' and has the only Art Deco cow trap in Europe.  The factory produces 17500 pies per day plus VAT and they are all prepared to a unique set of recipes, known only to three people, the parish priest and a cat. 

3.62 miles
0 locks

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