Thursday, 31 May 2012


We're still moored in Birmingham City Centre and have been out and about exploring (sorry I keep forgetting the camera).

The weather's been fantastic, until yesterday afternoon that is.  We'd booked a pump-out from the local mobile service boat but they couldn't come until 4.30.  All day it had been hot and sunny but at 4.25 the heavens opened, just as the service boat pulled up along side.  I felt so sorry for the guy doing the pump-out.  The rain was bouncing 6 inches off the canal and he didn't have a hat or coat on.  He said he was so wet it wasn't worth wearing a coat and getting that wet too.

We're really enjoying being moored back in a city.  There's so much to see and do and the shopping is fantastic.  I don't mean "retail therapy" clothes and tat, I mean FOOD.  The Bullring food markets are exceptional.  The fruit and veg are all sold by the bowlful at £1 each and there are Asian and Caribbean stalls selling stuff I have never seen before.  I got a bit carried away as usual so we're having a veggie week while I use it all up.  Anyone got any ideas for baby mushrooms?  The bowlful that I bought weighed over 2lbs and we've had 3 meals from it already. I haven't even started on the meat and fish stalls yet. I'm in foodie heaven, think I'll need to do lots of locks when we finally leave to make up for it. 

Monday, 28 May 2012


For me, the first sign of Summer having officially arrived is when the poppies flower.

We're now moored back in Birmingham city centre, in the same spot as Friday night.  It was lovely to sit on the back deck last evening, chilling out with a beer and listening to the sounds of Reggae music coming through the open windows of one of the apartments above the boat. The sun was so strong and there were so many different foreign languages being spoken by passers by that we could have been in any European country, Paris or Amsterdam came to mind, rather than Birmingham.   Long may it last...................

Sunday, 27 May 2012

BCN Explorer Cruise Day 7

We had a total of 12 miles to travel today, but no locks. Leaving Birmingham along the New Main Line we did a detour round the 2 loop-line canals of Icknield Port and Soho, to give Martin and Maggie a brief taster of things we'd seen and experienced already this week.

This is Winson Green Prison

built over an old canal branch.

We passed over these motorway stanchions yesterday on the higher level canal

The first of 2 tunnels today was Netherton tunnel, which is 3027 yards long, double width with 2 towpaths and very high.

There's plenty of room for passing boats.

At the other end of the tunnel we stopped to fill up with water at Bumble Hole services.  There was a wildlife event being held in the adjacent nature reserve and this pair of polecats were being made a great fuss of.  This one was particularly keen on ice-cream.

The main reason we'd stopped to fill the water tank was to make sure the boat was as low in the water as possible because Gosty Hill Tunnel is VERY low in places.  A friend of ours had measured the air draft for us the last time he'd been through, as we'd been told we would need to clear the roof. That wouldn't really have been possible as our roof box is too big and too heavy but, to be safe, I removed the windmill and moved the tallest plants to the back of the boat (which is lower than the front).  In actual fact, the roof clearance wasn't as bad as we'd expected and only the tops of the chive plants touched the ceiling, the box was well clear. The tunnel is 557 yards long and we went through very slowly, just over tick-over. It was quite an experience but not one I'd like to make on a regular basis (I'm a bit claustrophobic).  The return trip tomorrow will be quite enough, thank you!

this is the entrance to Gosty Hill Tunnel

The tunnel isn't very low when you first go in, but it is very narrow.  Half way through however, the ceiling level drops suddenly.  The vampire portrait guards the warning marker and gives some indication of the difference in heights. The sign says Hawne Basin 1 mile

air shaft in the tunnel

level change looking back

tunnel is extremely narrow, only a couple of inches
each side of the boat

leaving the tunnel

We finally ended our day's cruise at Hawne Basin, where we were made very welcome by the local moorers, two of whom had been on the cruise with us.

We moored in the basin and spent our last evening in the marina's social club having a Chinese take-away meal and fund-raising raffle.

The entire week has been amazing.  We've seen parts of the canal system we would never have visited alone, made good friends and basically had a ball. I know people say that us continuous cruisers are always on holiday, but this really has seemed like a good holiday!

If you've ever considered joining one of the BCN organised Explorer Cruises I'd definitely recommend it.  We'd like to return another year and do the 'A' cruise which has a different itinerary going to different places, with more locks.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

BCN Explorer Cruise Day 6

We had a good meal at Mad O'Rourkes last night. The portions were HUGE and the fish was the size of 2 normal chippy fish. The mushy peas were weird though. They were tinned peas in sauce, flavoured with mint and LOTS of sugar.......not very nice at all.

 Once again we spent time under the M5

and it was a bit surreal going under both an old canal bridge and a motorway bridge at the same time.

Looking down onto the lower level of the canal which we'll be on tomorrow

In some places, the bridges come thick and fast. Here you can see the 2 bridges before Summit Tunnel

Summit tunnel is very tall and lined in concrete

so I think BW have made a mistake with the air daft they quote on the sign - 1.98m ?????

Marie had organised for Smethwick Pumping Station to be opened for a couple of hours today so that we could all have a look round.

It was very interesting and as we were on our own it was like having our own private museum tour!

This model shows how the pumping station worked, and how it's built between the 2 levels of the canal. 

We're now moored in Birmingham City Centre, right outside what used to be one of the most famous pubs on the canal system.  Unfortunately the Fiddle and Bone has been forced to close down following complaints by people living in the flats which have been built on the opposite bank.  Miserable sods......shouldn't have moved here if they didn't want to live opposite a pub....and  they're trying to have moored boats banned here too!

the now derelict Fiddle & Bone pub

Once we'd got organised we headed into the city centre where we found a Caribbean Food Festival was on, featuring the TV chef Levi Roots.

We haven't been to Birmingham for years and it's a lot cleaner and a lot more cosmopolitan than I remember.  There are some fantastic squares and statues and when we come back next week, after the cruise has ended, I'll take more photos to show you.  In the meantime here are just a couple.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

BCN Explorer Cruise Day 5

With 17 boats needing to go up the 8 Ryders Green locks, we were asked to set off at 10 minute intervals from 7.30 this morning.  We were supposed to be last to set off at 10.00 but at 9.00 we had a phone call from the organiser, Marie, asking all the remaining boats to stay put as there was a problem at lock 8 and BW were on their way.  It turned out that a bicycle was stuck in the gate paddle gear and by the time it was cleared it was 11.15.

Ryders Green locks aren't very pretty and awful black smelly stuff was dragged up from the bottom as each boat went through.  The local scroats were on form and one lovely specimen spat down on Roger as he went under a bridge.  I suppose that one incident in the week isn't too bad, we could have had a lot worse.

The boat convoy was helped up the lock flight by volunteers, Charley and John and once we were back on the Birmingham Main Line we split into 2 groups to minimise the queues at the next locks.  One group went up Brades Locks and the others, us included, went up Factory Locks.

Can you see the gap below this bridge over Factory bottom lock?  It's to let the towing rope attached to the horse through.

We're now all moored at Tipton and have been to the local library for a presentation about the history of Tipton's canals by the local history society.  After I took tonight's mooring photo another boat arrived to moor against us so we're well packed in tonight.

We're now off to Mad O'Rourkes Pie Factory pub for dinner (and a pint or 2) 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

BCN Explorer Cruise Day 4

With 9 locks and 6.5 miles to do today, we set off fairly early to catch up with the other members of the cruise and arrived at Rushall Top Lock just as the other boats were setting off.

This is Marie who has done a wonderful job organising both of the BCNS Explorer Cruises and who started her day helping the first 16 boats down lock no. 2.

Once again, the Pelsall Canal is very pretty and very under used.  We didn't see any other moving boats again today, if only they knew what they were missing!

Everyone in the convoy helped out at the locks which were all easy to do (that's me sitting on the right hand gate)

There was a bottle-neck at Lock 4 when an aluminium Sea Otter boat couldn't get out of the lock.  There was something stuck behind one of the bottom gates which meant that it didn't open fully so with the Sea Otter having hard rubber fenders permanently fitted all round, it was just too wide to squeeze through.  They had to come back up the lock and reverse into the pound to let the rest of us down, until BW arrived to remove the obstruction behind the gate. None of the normal steel narrowboats had any problems though.

At the junction we turned onto the Tame Canal

and passed close to the M6 giving us a good view of the repair works being carried out below it.

We then passed over one of the worst motorway junctions there is.  Having been stuck here in the car lots of times in the past it was a great feeling to cruise high above the traffic.

The Tame Canal is pretty but there was quite a lot of floating litter, mainly empty Carling and Fosters cans and polystyrene burger boxes.  There was also a distinct lack of wildlife (apart from miserable fishermen drinking Carling and Fosters)  and this heron was the only bird we saw for ages.

We're now all moored up at Ocker Hill.  It's been another fantastic day, both weather-wise and boating wise and it's BBQ night.  I've just made a rosemary and garlic foccaccia loaf, Roger's cooking sardines and there's a bottle of Chardonnay chilling in the fridge.  Wish you were here????