Journeys on the BCN

by Tony Clayton

7 - Exploring Unvisited Branches - June 1977

In June 1975 halfterm was a little later than it would be nowadays, and the Silver Jubilee celebrations were due to take place, so we decided to revisit the BCN and explore some bits we had not been to before. We were now based at Wheaton Aston, with an offside mooring just below the lock. It was to prove to be our last visit to the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Day One

We set off at around lunchtime, and stopped for tea by Fancy Bridge. Near Chillington Wharf a productive duck was shepherding no less than 10 ducklings. While I locked through at Autherley Hazel bought some pumps for the children, and we headed on to Aldersley Junction where we moored for the night.

Day Two

We set off quite early and went up the first four locks of the Wolverhampton flight on our own. We had the good fortune to meet up with a Countrywide cruiser that was just setting off, so we were able to go up the rest of the flight with them, taking about 3 hours in total. We had to wait in the top lock to take on water, as the tap was next to the lockside.

At the top we helped someone who was having trouble with their heater, and then made good progress despite a strong wind as far as Deepfields Junction, where we stopped for lunch.

With the wind it was tricky getting clear of the weeds into clear water. We then headed up the Bradley Arm. We had little trouble until we got to the narrows by the site of an old railway bridge, which was full of floating rubbish. There was no alternative but to moor up and clear as much as we could before pulling the boat through using the ropes. Beyond Glasshouse bridge another piece of rope got round the prop, stopping us before I could get into the bank. After being blown around a great deal by the wind I was eventually able to get alongside the towpath. Clearing the rope was memorably troublesome. We carried on through a recently strengthened Pothouse Bridge to the BWB workshops.

Bradley Yard

Narrowboats at the end of the Bradley Arm

We turned round and headed back. The wind remained very strong but fortunately we had few problems. At the narrows we had less work to do clearing as much had been away from the narrows by the wind.

At Deepfields Junction we turned left and passed a Shropshire Union Cruises hireboat recovering from two plastic bags. We passed a very strange boat, which I think was called Lucy Lee. Coseley Tunnel was clear, although it was our turn to pick up a plastic bag soon after.

Coseley Tunnel

Looking through Coseley Tunnel

At Factory Junction we turned right, and we did the same at Tipton Junction, going right up to Dudley Tunnel and mooring in the entrance while we had a cup of tea. The sun came out and it was very pleasant, despite the graffitti all around the tunnel portal.

Dudley Tunnel

North portal of Dudley Tunnel

We then headed towards Smethwick, noting how the colour of the water varied through several shades from bright orange to bright green. Shortly after Spon Lane Junction we encountered a strange floating scaffolding set up to paint the motorway girders. It was a little disconcerting to have to go between two boats being used to support this structure. On arrival at Smethwick Locks we decided to go back to more pleasant surroundings just south of Summit Tunnel to moor for the night.

Day Three

As it was raining on and off next morning, we were in no hurry to get organised and did not get going until about 10 o'clock.

We soon arrived at the Engine Arm and crossed over the Telford Aqueduct. There was a sharp left turn at the end, and a very clear canal until about halfway between Engine Bridge and the end. Weed then started to give us trouble, but we did get almost to the end before turning.

Engine Arm

At the end of the Engine Arm

When we turned wind and weed combined to get us in a bit of a mess, but after much poling we got clear of a sunken boat, and were soon back on the aqueduct. We stopped for photographs while we were still on it, and then headed down Smethwick Locks.

Engine Arm

On the Aqueduct, taken from the towpath bridge at the junction

Engine Arm

On the Aqueduct

At Smethwick Junction we turned right and headed back along the New Main Line. It was very pleasant through Galton Cutting. We picked up yet another plastic bag just before Stewart Aqueduct, and then passed a boat called William Jessop just before Bromford Road Bridge. We headed on to Dudley Port Junction where we turned left and found water by the aqueduct where the Old Main Line crosses.

Anthony Martin was moored nearby, and very kindly signed the log.

After a cup of tea we headed on into the tunnel. The children and Hazel all sat on the front and entertained themselves making shadows on the wall. 25 minutes later we emerged, having passed another boat about halfway through. We moored for lunch by Cobb's Engine House.


Moored for lunch

It poured with rain while we were there, but fortunately eased off so we continued on our way. We caught up with William Jessop again by Primrose Bridge, and then having passed them picked up two plastic bags in rapid succession. The canal was very shallow in places, especially near Park Head. On arriving there we found the lock half full so we filled it and carried on down.

The pollution near the steelworks at Round Oak was much less than on previous visits, with the worst confined to a couple of hundred yards near Green's Bridge. We had more plastic bag problems in the vicinity of Peartree Lane Bridge, and as a result of meeting another boat got weeded up in the stretch leading to Delph Locks. The other boat had similar problems on the other side of the canal.

We stopped for tea above the locks while the children went fishing, with little success.

After we had descended the top lock we had to wait while Drusilla came up the second lock, and then William Jessop appeared, so we waited and they joined us down the flight. With a full set of locks and fast working down the flight the weirs had trouble coping, and this became ridiculous at the bottom lock where the wind under the bridge blew the water flowing over the bottom gates into an inverted waterfall.

Delph Locks

Delph Locks

Delph Locks

Inverted waterfall at Delph Bottom Lock

We carried on, leaving the BCN proper for the last time, picking a toy boat up on our way, and found we had to lower the windscreen for Brettell Lane Bridge. By the next bridge we twice hit submerged obstacles, in the second case having the weird sensation of going up and over a bump, which proved to be a large tyre floating vertically just under the surface; we had rolled over it.

We moored for the night just beyond Brierley Bridge.

Day Four

It was raining when we woke, but a pause encouraged us to get going. We were soon at Leys Junction and the top of the Stourbridge 16. The locks were against us, so we descended slowly and steadily. Some of the locks had only gate paddles, so were slow to fill. We waited above Lock 9 while the hotel boats Dabchick and Mallard came up .

Hazel and the children shopped while I took Linton through Lock 11. At Glasshouse Bridge attempts to get petrol failed as the garage was closed. I then found that John had left his bucket by the Double Locks, so I had to go back to retrieve it.

There was a playground that the younger children enjoyed by Lock 15, and then we were soon down, mooring for lunch below the bottom lock.

After lunch we headed down the Stourbridge Arm yet again. This time the journey was much easier despite some weed, but very little submerged or floating debris.

The Bonded Warehouse

At the end by the Bonded Warehouse

Our journey back to the junction was slow, but only marred by a plastic bag just before Junction Road Bridge. The weather became sunny and warm with occasional light showers, and the stretch down to Stourton Locks was as lovely as ever.

A boat was coming up Stourton Locks, although with little water below the top lock we had to let some down so that we could both get through. After re-watering at Stewponey we joined a hireboat called Pearl up as far as Greensforge. We eventually stopped for the night above Hinksford Lock.

Day Five

Our journey home included our 1250th lock as we ascended Compton Lock

Compton Lock

Our 1250th lock, Compton Lock, the oldest narrow lock in the country

1 - On the way to Stratford and back, August 1973
2 - Stourbridge Arm & Dudley Tunnel, October 1973
3 - Return to Coombeswood, June 1974
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

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Journeys on the BCN - 7
Copyright reserved by the author, Tony Clayton
v3 25th May 2015

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