Saturday, 17 August 2013

We REALLY must plan where we are going next!

(Boat Chalice - posted by Alan)

Disused industrial buildings on Stourbridge 16
This looked like being a fairly long boating day, and probably in fairly foul weather! Well at least that is what the excellent CanalPlanAC canal route planner and the BBC weather forecast were collectively telling us.  We had accepted this in order to enjoy a very leisurely day yesterday, (and as a consequence moor somewhere rather nicer than the Merryhill shopping centre), and also visit some new canal for us.

Plenty of ex working boats at Dadfords Wharf in the 16.
It would also gave me the opportunity to visit some other new canal today, and to finally complete a journey I completely failed to complete some 40 years ago!

Not only a pub, but also general stores and dock, according to sign.

View down the 16 with glass cone in distance
Let me explain, back in the 1970s I owned a somewhat ramshackle converted boat, believed to have been built around 1900, and which had been a tube carrying boat at the Stewarts and Lloys tubeworks as Coombeswood, Halesowen.  I and my then partner had decided we would try and take that boat back to those works, but in those days boating on the Birmingham Canal Navigations was very much harder work than it is today.  The tow-path could only officially be accessed in a small number of places, and was generally gated off as a "no go"area, and hence casual mooring in all but a few known "safe" locations was considered unwise.  Worse even the main lines were rubbish strewn throughout, but when actually trying to take a little used branch, they could often be found to be near impassable.  So it was when we tried to boat down the Dudley No 2 Canal, and I don't think we made it more than a few hundred yards before giving up.  The raw water cooling on the boat was currently clogged by weed and other detritus, and spectator sports including watching local kids prodding at the bloated corpse of a dead dog!

Approaching the second lock up at Delph, famous for its waterfalls.

Odin likes to ride shotgun, (at the Delph).
So for 40 years I have wondered what lay down that arm, and just how tight it is to get a boat through Gosty Hill tunnel, and to the area where the tubeworks was.  So today, finally we would actually try it.

Looking down the Delph - once it was coal pits at the bottom, not housing estates.
However first there was the small matter of two well known lock flights to pass through before we got there.  The first, the Stourbridge locks starts immediately you turn out of the Stourbridge Town arm, and there are 16 of them.  Cath and I didn't get off to a great start, as gates were blowing open again before we could draw paddles, and we were only in the second lock when we were aware a hire boat with a very large crew was in pursuit.  However we invoked our secret weapon, David.  When David is determined we will stay ahead of another boat, then we seldom have much trouble doing so!  Once he had engaged "warp drive" we fair belted up the 16, and were never in danger of being caught!

At the Delph, again
Next comes the locks at Black Delph, known as "the nine", even though there are eight!  this relates to the fact that the locks got rebuilt, and when they were it resulted in deeper locks, but one less of them.  By now we never saw the other boat again, and stormed up Delph as well, (largely due to David again, of course!).

Blowers Green pump house and lock.

Passing the Merryhill area where we might have spent last night, we were most glad we didn't!

Our final lock at Blowers Green is the deepest on the Birmingham canals I think, (in this case because two locks were replaced by a deep single one).  Here we passed the first boat we had seen all day coming the other way - even in August these canals are only very lightly used.

At Windmill End Cath executed the turn towards Gosty Hill, Coombeswood, and Hawne Basin, where the Coombeswood Canal Trust had said we could borrow a mooring for the night.  We were told thi canal would have some rubbish in it, and we might get some fouling of the propeller, but in reality it wasn't bad at all.

David's panorama shot of Windmill End, just before we turned under the bridge on the right.

Entering Gosty Hill Tunnel
Finally we approached the Gosty Hill tunnel.  I can honestly say I have not encountered anything like Gosty Hill.  Initially it starts off as a very high roofed narrow tunnel, but after a while you approach a section with a much lower roof - and I actually mean a very much lower roof.  I actually panicked, because as I visually aligned the wide high roof that Chalice has with what was approaching, I doubted we would get through without damage.  In fact it was fairly tight, but manageable.  Then suddenly you switch again to a stretch with a cavernously high roof - almost cathedral like by comparison.  Not content with that, it again reverts to a low roof for the final stretch, (althogh not as bad as the first low bit.

Approaching a dramatic reduction in headroom.

Looking back as we leave first low section - I'm there somewhere!

Next (and final) low section approaching.

Getting to the end

That was unexpectedly tight!

Little more than this remains of Stewarts and LLoyds tube works.
Had I managed to emerge from the tunnel in the 1970s, it would have been straight into a functioning works still making steel tube, and we would have had to fight our way through BCN Joey boats used to store this tube.  However now only high retaining walls, heavy brick buttresses and arches, and remnants of some anonymous buildings survive - what was typical Black Country industry is now a site mainly reclaimed by nature.

The colours are similar to those used on their boats.
There was nowhere obvious to "park" Chalice whilst I found out where we could moor. so David and Cath were left in charge as it drifted gently in the last winding hole. I was told to use a permanent online mooring that belongs to someone currently boating elsewhere.

He ran around too fast for a good photo!
Cath and I later took Odin for a long romp, initially on what looks like it has always been rough ground, but some of which it appears is actually over reclaimed tips,  Nature has done its bit, and it was a truly fine place to walk a dog.  We then ventured back up the towpath as far as the tunnel to assess just how little of the former tubeworks survives.

But back to where I started......  The bouts of heavy rain that the BBC threatened us with never really got going - a few showers, yes, but nothing more really.  And CanalPlanAC, set to our usual "progress" settings had predicted approaching 9 hours for the trip, so we don't think we did bad in shaving it down to just 7 hours!

But this really is the end of any formal planning I had done, and right now I haven't a clue where tomorrow might take us, other than it will start with Gosty Hill tunnel again, and be followed by the very much longer, but far far more accommodating Netherton tunnel.  I really must get a map out after this!

Stourbridge to Hawne Basin, (Current end of Dudley No 2 Canal)
Miles: 12.7 (Chalice), Locks:25

Total Miles: 259.5, Locks: 132

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