Journeys on the BCN

by Tony Clayton

3 - Return to Coombeswood - June 1974

These narratives describe my experiences navigating the canals of the Birmingham Area during the 1970's, and in particular the BCN and Stourbridge Canals.

I used a cheap 'Instamatic' type camera to get proof of our reaching certain points on the canal system, and the quality of some of the photos regrettably leaves a little to be desired.

During the June half-term break we decided to revisit the BCN and explore some other sections.

We set off very early from Norbury, and this time we had some help from my father, who joined us by car at intervals. We had a good run up the Wolverhampton flight in just 2h 18m despite all the locks being against us. We had few problems, although I twice hit a lock wall severely trying to get in as a result of strong winds and weeding up at just the wrong moment.

My father went to collect his car, but at our planned rendezvous we found that not only were we downwind of Bilston steelworks, but that there was no access from the bridge to the towpath, and I had to climb over a fence.

Father decided to head home so we continued on to just before Coseley tunnel. Examination of the propellor while moored revealed a jagged piece of metal had caught on it.

Next day was drizzle and rain, but nevertheless we decided to go up the Olbury locks to the Titford Canal. By the time we got there it was pouring with rain, so we stopped under the motorway for coffee.

The pounds between the locks were fairly empty, so we had to let water down the flight using half a paddle at the top lock. The first two gave little trouble once enough water had come down, but the third gave us real problems.

First, when I wound the near side paddle up there were two loud pings and the bolts holding the gear wheel snapped off!!! As a result we had one unuseable paddle. (I cannot understand how I managed that, when I examined the thickness of the bolts).

Secondly, the bottom gate would not shut. After much prodding with our boathook and a spade we still could not shift it, so we moved Linton back into the previous lock and emptied the pound so that I could get at the obstruction. This involved climbing down the gate and paddling across the sill to remove the quantity of bricks that were causing the problem. This is when I found out that my wellingtons leaked.

We then had to refill the pound, which was slow work with only one paddle at the top. The remaining locks gave little trouble.

Titford Locks

Refilling the pound, Titford Locks

We picked up the largest plastic bag yet by Langley Park. At the end we first explored the Portway Branch under the motorway, and then along the Causeway Green line before stopping for lunch.

After lunch we headed back, stopping at a pub for water. Four youngsters joined us for a ride to the locks and one helped us down the flight.

At the bottom we turned left towards Brades, where we found the top half of the staircase empty but the bottom half full which was odd. We then headed for Netherton. We met two boats on our journey to the tunnel, and I remember the children having fun shining torches on the tunnel roof. The only hassle was a large piece of wood that lodged under us.

Since our last visit to Coombeswood Basin the line had been dredged, and the improvement was amazing, with almost no rubbish and little weed. However, the tunnel held its usual plastic bag which stalled the engine, and in releasing it I lost hold of it.

Gosty Hill Tunnel

Approaching Gosty Hill Tunnel

Inevitably, on our return we picked it up again, but this time I kept hold of it and removed it from the water.

On the way back through Netherton we hit that *@*?@* piece of wood again. At Dudley Port Aqueduct four more pleasant lads hitched a lift with us. We met another boat coming down Factory Locks which were moderately rubbish strewn, and finally moored for the night at Rough Hills.

Next morning we were at Wolverhampton Top Lock soon after 9, to find a very disgruntled lock keeper who had had no breakfast as he had been up to fill an empty pound. Hazel found some of the locks very hard, and Lock 18 defeated her. We met one boat coming up, and got down in 2h 35m.

Wolverhampton Lock 18

Waiting for Lock 18 to fill, Wolverhampton Flight

Thus ended our third visit to the BCN.

1 - On the way to Stratford and back, August 1973
2 - Stourbridge Arm & Dudley Tunnel, October 1973

4 - The Long Way Back from Leicester, August 1974
5 - Stourbridge Re-visited, May 1975
6 - An Autumnal Trip - The Body and the Tunnel, October 1975
7 - Exploring Unvisited Branches, June 1977

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Journeys on the BCN - 3
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v15 25th May 2015

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