Friday 11th August; Coseley to Coven Heath
Coseley is a good quiet place to stop, though the sun, such as it was, quickly went behind the trees. It was very quiet overnight. I thought there was quite a bit of weed last night; how wrong was I?
By morning there was a solid mat of the stuff most of the way to the tunnel. We crept slowly along trying to avoid picking it up on the prop, so there was plenty of opportunity to snap the tunnel portal and the steps up to the top.
We went up the steps twice, once last night and once this morning for shopping (me) and to play ball with Meg (Dave). Neither of us thought to count them – too busy puffing - they are very steep!
The tunnel turned out to be rather wet and we hadn’t taken the usual precautions for an unfamiliar tunnel. Luckily most of the drips were to one side. The drips in the photo look more like stalactites or bits of trailing weed but believe me they were very wet and drippy! Coseley tunnel is unusual in that it has a towpath on both sides.
As we entered the outskirts of Wolverhampton, Dave put the engine into reverse several times to try and clear the prop, and I had to get the short pole to push a wodge of weed off the bow. There were still some coot babies fluffing around the place, but they were too far away for my phone to get a decent picture. After a while we had to pull in for Dave to spend 10 minutes down the weed hatch while I held the centre rope as there was nowhere to tie up or bash in a mooring pin. Thankfully it was all weed round the prop, and no plastic to clutter up the well deck waiting for disposal.
Eventually we were nearing the centre of Wolverhampton and luckily the facilities at the Broad Street basin were vacant. We hadn’t been able to complete filling the water tank at Cambrian Wharf the other day, so got the hose out for that, emptied a cassette and the rubbish, and grabbed a quick sandwich before tackling the Wolverhampton flight of 21 locks.
We started down at 12.10, and met three boats ascending in quick succession. But the locks leak quite a bit, so it wasn’t long before I was having to lift a paddle when I locked ahead rather than just opening the top gate. Not a problem though; we had already eaten and it didn’t rain (well, only a little bit!) One of the locks near the top still has the metal strip on the corner of the bridge for the tow-rope to run through as the horse came through the bridge. I used to think, surely a rope can’t wear grooves in stone or metal? Eventually I realised that it was the grit picked up by a rope that must be doing the damage.
We soon got a good rhythm going; I locked ahead and Dave followed on, dealing with gates and paddles till I came back to let him out and close up after him. This is Dave getting on with the job as I returned to lock 12.
It was warm work, so plenty of water was drunk, and Dave’s delicious flapjack kept us going. There used to be a little shop after the second of the railway crossings, but it has closed now. It was at the end of a terrace where most of the cottages had a Torbay palm in the front garden. Many years ago we met an old gentleman who used to bring one back from his annual holiday to Torquay with his late wife, and after a while all the neighbours had one too. There aren’t many left now; people have paved over their front gardens to park their cars. The old gentleman must be long gone.
As we neared the bottom of the flight, we could hear a loudspeaker system and the cheering of a crowd; there was a meeting at the racecourse. Sadly, though races were clearly happening, we heard no thundering hooves and saw no action. Eventually we made it to the pretty bottom lock.
We had made it down in 3 hours 10 minutes. Now, our original plan had been to turn left at Aldersley Junction and complete the Stourport Ring, but Alvechurch marina had said they were unlikely to have room for us on our return. We will be wintering at Droitwich Spa, so rather than go south already we turned north and will do some phoning over the next few days to find a mooring for a few weeks till we can come out again in September. We stopped briefly on the visitor moorings before Autherley Junction so I could dispose of this traffic cone which had been floating around below the bottom lock.
Meg had worked hard supervising her crew on the flight and took a well-earned break.
It is quite a few years since we last came this way and we were a bit concerned about the rocky narrows – what if we met another boat? But it turned out to be quite a bit easier than the narrows near Llangollen and although we met a boat near the far end it was no problem to pull back to the nearest passing place.
We passed under the M54 and stopped for the night on an open grassy stretch at Coven Heath. The noise from the motorway was a bit intrusive till we shut the doors, but the outlook was pleasant and it was safe for Meg to wander around.
During the evening a couple of hire boats from the Anglo-Welsh base at Autherley Junction went past very fast. The first was a real speed merchant – his wake was slapping against our hull for quite a while as he increased his revs and sped away. I doubt we will catch up with him.
Just under 8 miles, 21 locks, Coseley and Wolverhampton Tunnels.