Thursday 8th October; Roughwood Country Park to Summit Tunnel, Wolverhampton Level
What a beautiful morning after yesterday’s greyness and cold! We left about 9.30. The canal looks peaceful and very rural, but the M6 was roaring away to our left.
After ten minutes enjoying the sunshine there was a sudden bang and the engine stopped. B***er, we thought – reeds both sides of the canal and no chance of mooring to get down the weed hatch. We drifted on a bit, then Dave cautiously tried reverse – whatever it was had luckily dropped or got thrown off and we continued cautiously to our first planned stop at Sneyd Junction sanitary station for filling and emptying. There is a little community of permanent moorers here, with electric hook-ups. It’s also supposed to be a safe mooring for visitors – it’s on the list compiled by the BCN Society – but we were at a loss to see where you would moor. Apart from the sanitary station mooring, the non-residential spaces were taken up by a weed-cutter or marked as ‘work-boats only’.
And the M6 was roaring away behind the trees. Much quieter where we were last night! As we moved on, the edges of the canal remained very weedy although the depth was generally good. There was a lot of floating debris – not rubbish particularly, but lots of bits of tree such as this which got caught round the bow and was long enough for Dave to spot from the stern.
At Birchills Junction the Curly Wyrley continues eastwards, but we started down the Walsall Locks on the Walsall Canal. Half way down, to our astonishment – and theirs too – we met a boat coming up. It was the only one we saw on the move all day. Both crew were shedding layers like mad as the weather had almost reverted to summer. The locks are quite attractive, though there was a fair bit of broken glass around so Meg had to stay on board.
We decided not to go up the Walsall Town Arm. The crew of the other boat told me the pontoons are covered in goose and duck sh*t so they had to use the pub mooring. But our batteries seem to be on the way out; when we stopped yesterday they were only showing half full even though the fridge had been off. So we wanted to push on to Birmingham. We lunched on the move, as time was getting on and the only mooring spot we saw had a scaffold pole sticking out of the water. We passed under the M6 for the second time this morning; this is the long crawl to the M5, courtesy of long-term road works. Dave will be crawling along with them at boating speed in a week or so when he fetches the car from Swanley.
The canal edges continued to be weedy. You’d have to be careful turning in this winding hole ….
Meg had her comfort break between bridges, and as we got back on the boat a kingfisher shot past through the bridgehole. After a long built-up and industrial stretch, with a herd of cherry-pickers peering over a fence, it became more rural again, with the occasional horse tethered out to grass.
We had considered mooring overnight at Ocker Hill, which is a safe mooring – but it was flanked by what looked like an electricity sub-station and near a busy road. We didn’t fancy it at all and thought if we couldn’t find a suitable towpath spot we’d try our luck in Birmingham centre. We went up the Ryders Green locks, which were all in our favour, and at Pudding Green Junction we joined the Main Line. This pic was taken looking back towards Walsall.
As it was already well after 4, we were a bit concerned about finding a decent mooring in Birmingham itself, so we decided to go up the Spon Lane locks, as we’d remembered a reasonable spot the other side of the Summit Tunnel on the Wolverhampton Level. As I opened the paddles to empty the first lock, a mighty stink of stagnant ponds rose up! I don’t think these locks are used very often! The top of the three has a little split bridge, like the ones on the Stratford. The split is to enable the tow-rope to pass through the bridge without the horse having to be unhitched.
It’s an incongruous sight sitting there under the M5! At the top of the locks we joined the Wolverhampton Level as it comes in from the right (it would be a bit of a shuffle if you wanted to turn right here to go towards the Black Country museum – the angle is well under 90 degrees). It has just crossed the Main Line on the Stewart Aqueduct and swings round to pass underneath the towering M5. You can just see the signpost sticking out to the left of the pillar. Some wag – either someone very tall or more likely sitting on someone else’s shoulders - has twisted the arms round so they are pointing down the wrong bits of canal.
As you leave the M5 behind, the Summit Tunnel comes into view. The railway bridge comes first – in the low sunlight, the arches and the shadows were striking.
We moored a couple of hundred yards before the Smethwick Pumping Station Heritage Centre, which has rings outside but is much too close to a noisy and busy road to be safe for the dog.
Along one stretch today we saw a fridge bobbing about, and later on we counted eight shopping trolleys sticking out of the water. We will report them tomorrow. The second defunct fridge of the title is ours – or rather it’s just turned off so we are sure of having enough power for essentials like the water pump. Wet newspaper is doing a splendid job of keeping the milk fresh!
19 locks, about 11 and a half miles