Days 38 and 39: Up the hill to Birmingham

August 4th, 2010

I had a very productive morning on Tuesday, revisiting some software that I’d given up on and came within a hairsbreadth of getting it working. I reckoned it was worth a day or two’s effort before I wrote it up as a failure! Another day or so and I might actually have it working, which would be great.

Anyway, in the afternoon I locked up the five locks at Knowle on my own – the locks are closely spaced and I was able to use the “back-stitch” technique of allowing the lock with the boat in it to fill while going back to close the gates on the previous look and then going forward to open the gates on the next one. You do walk a long way, but it’s so much easier to drive the boat from lock chamber to lock chamber rather than try and moor up singlehandedly between locks, especially where the pounds are short.

After Knowle the canal becomes very quiet – I saw very few moving boats, but an awful lot of debris in the canal, drawn out of urban Birmingham on the slight current generated by the lock flight. A car wheel, with tyre, floated by, accompanied by a builder’s helmet, some roadsigns, various footballs, and countless plastic bottles and other items of jetsam – all rather incongruous on the otherwise still very rural canal. Once through Catherine de Barnes, the canal enters a very long wooded cutting in Solihull which is mostly straight and quite boring. I was hoping to get a view of the Land Rover factory, but it’s hidden behind high fences. At Tyseley the canal emerges from the cutting and becomes a more typical inner-city setting, with industrial and post-industrial buildings along its banks. Finally I arrived at my destination for the day, Camp Hill top lock. There’s a little BW compound here, with a sanitary station, showers and secure moorings. I asked the lock-keeper, who was just knocking off, where was best to moor, as the little mooring arm was full. He suggested that I go on the water point overnight, so I did.
I mooched off to a nearby supermarket in the hope of getting a sturdy plastic box to cover the generator with (the last one disappeared in Claydon, mysteriously), but they didn’t have anything suitable. Returning to the boat, I met a Dutch family in a hired narrowboat that were stuck in a lock – the pound above them was almost completely drained. I showed the lady how to let water through the flight to refill the pound, went back to my boat for my windlass, and then helped them get through to the top. They then moored alongside me and thanked me profusely.

Day 38: Knowle Bottom Lock to Camp Hill top lock, 10 miles and 5 locks.

Today I decided to cruise all day, as I needed to get off the water point and that would allow me to get all the way to central Brum without having to stop in Aston overnight. It was also raining, heavy drizzly rain, the kind that gets you wet. Much faffing ensued as the Dutch family reversed off the mooring and headed to Knowle, and I went into the first lock just as two boatloads of Scouts and Cubs arrived who wanted the water point…
I locked down slowly in the rain, and the Scouts caught me up. In fact, they did the bottom three locks for me, since they were so mob-handed, and I rewarded the gaggle of girls who’d manfully pushed the gates with a packet of hobnobs, they were very chuffed. At the bottom of the six Camp Hill locks is Bordesley Junction. I turned left, passed through a nicely-restored stop lock (the Warwick Bar, which once seperated the BCN canals from the Grand Union system) and then turned right at the junction onto the Digbeth Branch of the Birmingham & Fazeley canal. A sign here said “Be aware of the Somali mugger, call 999!” – nice!
Having done six locks down at Camp Hill, I was then faced with six locks up at Ashted, surrounded by a lot of empty plots where industrial buildings had been demolished. Just before the top lock is Ashted tunnel, a narrow, drain-like tube 100m long, but with a towpath inside. At the top is Aston Science park, where there are nice secure moorings, and I stopped for a bite to eat.

I then joined the Birmingham & Fazeley main line and locked up the 13 Farmer’s Bridge locks, where I was assisted by a helpful retired gent who was dawdling on the towpath on his way back from the Records Office – he’d been doing some geneaology. He and I chatted about canals, and it turned out that he’d worked for a firm that made equipment for forges and foundries. He helped me to the top lock and I managed to bag a 14 day mooring space right there, after some entertaining reversing manoeuvres!

I’m now in Brum until Saturday, so no more cruising ‘tll then. I have some odd jobs and plenty of PhD work to do though!

Day 39: Camp Hill top lock to Cambrian Wharf, Birmingham: 3 miles and 25 locks.
Total so far: 407 miles and 294 locks.

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