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The 1997 Mega Cruise

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16. Wolverhampton to Harefield Marina. B.C.N. inc. Wyrley and Essington, Walsall (+Town Arm) Canals, Grand Union and Southern Oxford Canals, River Thames and Grand Union Canal.

Tuesday 29th July we set off at 7.00, a bit early for getting to Birmingham Broad Street moorings, but we were going via an evasive route! When we did the B.C.N. Challenge in1994 the Walsall Town Arm and Basin was not yet re-opened, so this needed rectifying! We decided to go up the Wyrley and Essington Canal, then come straight down the Walsall Canal, as in 1994 we found the Walsall Canal the worst of any in the B.C.N. and needed some more traffic. At 7.15 we were at the easily missed Horseley Fields Junction and turned left under a railway bridge on to the Wyrley and Essington Canal, or to give its pet name, the Curley Wyrley. 
When we first ventured up here the Wednesfield locks of the Abandoned Bentley Canal could still be seen and Neil walked down them and videoed them. We passed here at 7.35 and to our surprise they were now completely obliterated. The turnover bridge was still here with a small basin beyond, but this desolate waste land had been transformed into a new retail park. The towpath had a severe pavoir attack and an old derelict building turned into a new pub. Hollybank basin was passed at 8.40 and Sneyd Junction at 9.15. The long abandoned colliery branches from Sneyd Junction used to go up another 5 locks to Wyrley (503ft) and yet another 5 locks to Essington (533ft!)  this being the highest level on the B.C.N. Since our last visit the old B.W. Sneyd Maintenance Yard has been re-opened as residential moorings, quite a few being taken up. Birchills Junction was passed at 9.45 and we headed right into the Walsall Canal. The 8 Walsall Locks were much improved, being fairly rubbish free. In one pound a B.W. bod was chasing round an old sofa. "Beatty" rounded it up and we helped him cart it off to his van. 
At the bottom of the flight is the sharp left turn into the Walsall Town Basin. We swung round and set off up the short arm at 10.50. The arm was officially closed again as all the re-development work was going on around the basin, but we had heard that you can get into the basin by boat, but you cannot officially get out of the site and into town. Much Arrowroot water weed was growing up, even in centre channel, showing the lack of use the arm had since opening. The weed did not slow us down as the water was quite deep. Soon were in the tiny basin, which had been enlarged from the infill car park that covered it on our last visit. The old wharf building had been saved from the grave and now looks very smart with its new slate roof. Linda managed to walk through the building site to go shopping, while Neil chatted to the owners of the other boat who were sunbathing on their rear deck! 
At 11.30 we shoved off. The Black Country Spine Road is now open. On our B.C.N. challenge tour of 1994 whilst navigating through the works associated with this new road we very nearly did not get through the Walsall Canal, but that is another story (See Tour 1994) The works all around Willingsworth Hall Bridge in Moxley are now all complete. The towpath, both side of the canal have suffered from a bad bout of pavoiritis. The bombsite around here has been turned into yet another large tin shed farm! Soon at 13.20 we were at Ocker Hill Junction, but we were unable to try to venture any further up the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch (we got stuck in the second bridge hole in 1994) as it was drained. B.W. were in the process of dredging it and turning it into residential moorings and their new Black Country Canal Office. 
Ryders Green Flight of 6 locks were next, which again were fairly tidy and all worked fine. At 14.45 we came off the Wednesbury Old Canal onto the New Main Line at Pudding Green Junction. On this traverse of the Walsall Canal we found less rubbish around and the locks were better maintained, but it still needed dredging, especially just below Walsall and around Great Bridge. Soon we were whizzing along the Main Line to Broad Street, the section from Soho has recently been dredged to nice deep channel. We made our moorings at 16.05, these were the quieter St Vincent Street visitor moorings, opposite the Convention centre. That night we went to the Chinese Restaurant in the new Broad Street centre.


The next morning Wednesday 30th July we left late at 11.15. The plan was to leave Birmingham on the lesser used Grand Union, which necessitated going through the narrow Farmers Bridge (13 locks up), Ashted (6 locks up) and Camp Hill (6 locks down). Farmers Bridge took between 11.20 and 12.25, Ashted, between 12.40 and 13.15, and Camp Hill between 1325 and 14.00. We know from experience to be wary of Ashted Tunnel, as the tunnel curvature is sharp and can hit "Beatty's" handrail on the non towpath side, other navigators beware!  
We were held up slightly at Ashted Locks as there was a bit of traffic and due to the dredging process carrying on here. As the dredgings are virtually toxic waste they have to be dried out in special plant which had been set up by the top Ashted Lock. It was a real mess here with thick black grunge every where! Below Camp Hill Locks the Grand Union assumes its 1930's modernisation 14ft 6ins width. Down to Tyseley the canal is industrial, but fairly open , beyond this to Ulverley Green the canal enters a suburbanised cutting, with much rubbish dumping down the banks. 
This section is fairly slow as there was a fair amount of plastic picked up on the prop, it is also surprisingly shallow, needing a good dredge. You feel fairly prone to yobs in this section and we had one stone throwing incident. Beyond the Land Rover works in Solihull the canal opens out and suburbia is soon left behind. The first place we would fancy mooring is at Catherine de Barnes Bridge No78, where there is the "Boat Inn" pub. 
Not far into this pleasant section you come to the Knowle 5 locks, which are the last of the 1930's widened locks of the "Hatton" type, with the tall angled encased paddle gear. The Knowle Flight took between 16.50 and 17.20. We carried on just passed Lapworth side on junction with the Northern Stratford Canal (the "normal" Southern exit route from Birmingham) and the Southern Stratford Canal. Our overnight  mooring (stop 18.35) was Bridge No63 at Turner's Green, for the "Tom O' The Wood" pub, that Linda and Neil first visited in 1978. As is usually the case when you do not phone up a pub there was a problem. This time it was a big problem, the pub was shut and boarded up! we went back to "Beatty" and ate onboard.


We shoved of at 8.55 on Thursday 31st July. Hatton Top Lock was passed at 10.20 as we went straight in and paired with a hire boat. We had quite a good run down, with Neil lock wheeling on the mountain bike. Unfortunately we were stopped by a line of boats in front, just below lock 35. Neil went down to investigate, the towpath telegraph having suggested that there was a big problem with the Cape Locks. When Neil got there two B.W. bods had just finished draining the short pound between the two Cape Locks. Apparently an upward bound Anglo Welsh hire boat had got its bow caught under one of the top gates and had taken it out of it's bottom socket. They managed to get out of the lock as we had passed them as they escaped up the Hatton Flight! The B.W. blokes eventually managed to lever it back into place. On the way back Neil noticed a new looking mountain bike dumped in the dry pound, which was surprisingly deep. He shot off back up the Hatton Flight to get our boat hook to try to retrieve it. In his haste he cycled off the tow path, just into the canal on the exceptionally narrow bit of towpath just above the Saltisford Arm Junction. By the time Neil had got back to "Beatty", cleaned himself up and got back with the boat hook he was just in time to see a smug B.W. bloke on a Honda quad bike carting of this shinny dumped bike! B.W. soon had the pound filled up and Neil assisted them by following their orders and going up to the Hatton Top Lock No46 and letting about 15 minutes of water down. We had been stopped for just over two hours, but it took us until 15.30 to get out of Hatton Bottom Lock No26 due to the queue in front. Finally we came out of the reassembled Cape Bottom Lock and onto the River Avon valley sump pound at 16.10. The next provisioning stop was at16.55 for hour at Bridge No43 in Leamington Spa for the recently constructed mega Sainsbury's. For the boater tired of cooking, this new retail park also contains a K.F.C., Mc Donalds, Deep Pan Pizza Company and new family pub "The Moorings". We finally gave up at 18.10 at Radford bottom Lock No23, the start of the assent out of the Avon valley. That night we again stayed in, Linda having got something from Sainsbury's. There was a time when we used to do the Hatton and Stockton Flights in a day, but we must be getting passed it now!


Friday 1st August we started off at 8.10, with the hope of getting a fairly free run up to Stockton. We were on our own until Lock No20, where we waited 15 minutes for a boat taking on water at Fosse Wharf. We must be getting lazy for we managed to stay together until Stockton Top Lock No4. At Calcutt Bottom Lock No3, (13.15) we caught up and shared with another boat. 14.05 saw us turn right at Napton Junction, for the Southern Oxford Canal. Our stop for the night was Napton at 15.05. There was surprisingly plenty of space on the 14 day visitor moorings just beyond the winding point so we took on water then reversed back. That night we went to one of our recent favorite pubs, "The Folly".


Saturday 2nd August was to be our last day as Sunday morning Ian and Chris Scott and family were meeting us to take "Beatty" back to Harefield via the River Thames. We had worked out Cropredy would be a suitable changeover spot. We were keen on our last day and started off at 6.45 as B.W. only padlock the top of Napton Flight. We came out on the summit at Marston Doles at 8.50. A stop between 11.25 and 11.45 was made at Fenny Marina to fill the boat up with diesel for the Scott's. Claydon flight was traversed betwwen 12.40 and 13.15. This was fast, as everyone seemed to have stopped for lunch. The visitor moorings just above Cropredy Lock was made at 14.30 and we spent the rest of the afternoon tidying up "Beatty". That night we went to the excellent as usual "Red Lion" pub. If eating it is essential to book here in the season. 


The Scott's had a smooth change over and trip down the River Thames. However disaster struck in the Grand Union Hanwell Flight as "Beatty" shredded the spline in the gearbox / engine drive plate. Neil rescued the Scott's and managed to find some poor soul ("Aimee" a 40ft Springer of Maple Cross) to breast up and get "Beatty" as far as Cowley, where a full repair was carried out. The problem had been due to not all of the splines mating. The old drive plate was modified as a spacer and the new two stage R&D anti chatter drive plate was bought from Norris's in Isleworth. "Beatty" eventually sulked back into Harefield Marina on a true Tuesday Night Club boat move on Tuesday 12th August. John Fleming, John Rushbrook and Julian being the other crew.


This basin was the entrance to the Wednesfield Lock Flight of the Bentley Canal, now totally disappeared. Wednesfield, Wyrley and Essington Canal.

Looking South down the Walsall Canal from the junction with the Walsall Town Arm.

Interesting old loading dock to the left as you start up the Walsall Town Arm. Lets hope it survives.

The dug out and spruced up Walsall Town basin.

The basin warehouse, what a difference from our 1994 visit! The posts are ready for mooring pontoons.

Our sunbathing friends in the basin.

"Beatty" moored against scaffolding in the Walsall Town Basin.

View showing the basin walled off while building underway.

The Walsall Canal in Rough Hay showing the now open Black Country Spine Road.

The Willingsworth Hall Bridges that nearly stopped our complete Walsall Canal traverse in1994. Moxley, Walsall Canal.

New B.W. Black Country Office going up at Ocker Hill. Walsall Canal.

The entrance bridge to the Ocker Hill Tunnel Branch, now drained for dredging and turning into residential moorings. Walsall Canal.

Peter and Wendy playing in the fountains at the new Broad Street development. Birmingham.

The Birmingham Sealife Centre at Broad Street.

The famous "roundabout" at Deep Cuttings Junction. The new "Malt House" pub looks on. Broad Street, Birmingham.

Cambrian Wharf at the top of the Farmer's Bridge Flight, Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

Entering the top lock of the Farmer's Bridge Flight. Note the new lock keepers hut replaced after the developers caused the old one to collapse!

Looking back up the Farmer's Bridge Flight. Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

The extremely messy silt removing plant for dredgings. Ashted Bottom Lock, Digbeth Branch, B.C.N.

Cape Bottom Lock No24. Pound above drained so B.W. can lever gate back into position. Note the virtually new mountain bike in the mud to the left! Grand Union Canal, Warwick.

Cape Bottom Lock No24. B.W. hard at work getting the gate back.

Early misty morning start up the Napton Flight. Southern Oxford Canal.

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