Thick ice on the BCN Old Main Line at Tipton

Last night was cold and ice had formed on the section running down to the Dudley Tunnel. We left around 9:15 and broke up the pretty patterns on the ice. Sections where the sun and wind hadn't managed to disturb the surface were icy but others were clear. It was also in icy sections that rubbish collected.

Ice sheets and flotsam and jetsam
Approaching Coseley Tunnel
Coseley tunnel had been closed on Thursday because of a fallen tree. We saw evidence of the tree but there was also lots of debris in the water. As we got closer to Wolverhampton we found ourselves following the path cut through the ice of another boat. The boat must have gone down the flight in front of us because all locks at the top of the flight were set against us.
Wolverhampton Top Lock
BCN Marker

Top Lock Cottages Wolverhampton Flight
We made steady progress down the flight but we had to take it steady because the lock gates were a bit icy. We passed a couple of boats coming up the flight when we were about halfway down, so for a while the locks were set for us.
Lock 8, Wolverhampton Flight

A well-worn casting
About halfway down the flight a working boat (NB Halsall) with an enthusiastic crew caught us up. After that we got into a rhythm with their crew coming forward to give us a hand with closing the gates. Leaving Lock 12 we found the pound was low and Albert ran aground. We had to let down another lockful to get into the next lock. This was a bit strange because all the way down the flight there was plenty of water going over the bywashes.

Magnificent railway viaduct arch - built on the skew
Wolverhampton Railway Viaduct

We finally got down the bottom of the flight at 3:15, just less that four hours after entering the Top Lock.  Hardly a record but we were unlikely to get down quickly.


Wolverhampton Bottom Lock, Aldersley Junction

Aldersley Junction, Staffordshire & Worcester Canal
On the Staffs & Worcester we passed Oxley Marine. Moored up was Felis Catus III. This boat still bears the name of Mike and Wendy Stevens. Mike ran one of the early major waterways web sites and was a great waterways enthusiast. Mike sadly died aboard the boat in October 2007.
NB Felis Catus III
Bridge Protection, Shropshire Union
We joined the Shropshire Union at Autherley Junction. Napton Narrowboats are now operating from the stop lock base. There were  plenty of their boats moored up but according to one of their staff moving boats, eight will be hired out over Easter. Given the weather, and the early Easter, I suppose that is not bad.
We moored up on the visitor moorings just before Bridge 8 near Brewood. In the distance we could see snow on Cannock Chase although there was thankfully no snow on the towpath. It is going to be cold tonight so we expect there will be some ice on the cut in the morning. 




Dudley, Black Country Museum


We are on the move again after our pause for the snow & ice. We returned to Albert last night after a train journey. The boat was cold! We just had to get the heating going as soon as possible. There was much less snow than when we left on Monday but there were still slippery spots all across Birmingham.

Icicles under St Vincent Street Bridge

We picked up coal and gas from the wharf and said farewell to Charlie from Felonious Mongoose, and made our way along the mainline towards Wolverhampton. There was plenty of ice on the canal but thankfully it was thin and we could break it easily. There were also spectacular icicles under some bridges. One large icicle even fell into the canal in front of Albert as we passed under Spon Lane Bridge.
Rubbish Clearance Barge - Birmingham Mainline
Looking back towards Engine Arm Aqueduct
Galton Pumphouse
Looking back towards Galton Tunnel and Bridge
Complex of bridges and aqueducts - Stewart aqueduct and M5
Looking towards Dudley Port Junction
At Factory Locks there was some sheet ice but it wasn't very thick. However, the bottom lock was full of rubbish including a dead badger. True to form we picked up some of the rubbish around the propeller and I had to go down the weed hatch. Clearing the propeller under normal circumstances is far from pleasant but this was icy cold! Double gloves helped a bit.

A rubbish filled Factory Lock Tipton
After leaving Factory Locks we diverted toward the Black Country Museum and moored up a their visitor moorings. The sun had begun to shine (briefly) and we were able to spruce up the boat - Maggie polished the brass and I washed the roof which was filthy after the snow had melted.
Dudley Canal Trust Boat entering Dudley Tunnel
Moored up at the Black Country Museum

Sunshine- looks like spring until you see the snow!

Rapid Rivers by William Bliss 1935

After the success of his Heart of England by Waterway, William Bliss went from reporting about his trips along waterways to writing about the rapid rivers that are probably nowadays more associated with canoeing. This book is probably of less interest to canal enthusiasts but Bliss can't resist reporting about canals, in this case the Brecon Canal. He reports (twice) about trips along the River Usk and the Brecon Canal, the first when he was 29 in 1894 and then in 1935 when he was 70 years old.

My main interest in the book, and my main reason for buying it, was its provenance. The book was not cheap and it was certainly not in good condition being water damaged, but it was a presentation copy signed by the author.

Title Page

Inscription by the author

The inscription is not easy to interpret but I read it as "To Col. the Idler; & Mrs. Fred. Cripps with the authors good wishes William Bliss Jan: 1937"

When I got the book I started researching where Bliss lived in the thirties and his connections. As I reported in  my earlier post, Sir John Squire met Bliss in 1936 at his cottage in the Chilterns. Bliss gives his address as Lane End, Buckinghamshire. In fact he lived at Priestley's Farm which is near Finings Road, Bolters End. So who are the Colonel and Mrs Fred Cripps?

Assuming that the Colonel is Fred Cripps, I searched for information. Colonel the Hon. Frederick Cripps, DSO and Bar, was the second son of the 1st Lord Parmoor and an elder brother of Stafford Cripps, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer. A noted horseman, Frederick Cripps commanded the Royal Bucks Yeomanry in the cavalry charge against the Turks at El Mughar in Palestine in 1917. His wife Violet (née Nelson) had previously been married to the 2nd Duke of Westminster. Violet, daughter of Sir William Nelson and previously married to the second Duke of Westminster.They they were divorced in 1951. In the thirties the Cripps were neighbours of William Bliss living just over the hill at the Parmour estate. I suspect that the Idler was a nickname for Colonel Cripps, although given their equine connections it could refer to a horse.

Returning to the book's content, it is of course well written and full of detail about journeys taken over William Bliss' life. Unlike Heart of England there are numerous illustrations, mostly photographs. Many are action photos showing rapids being shot so I suspect they were taken close to the time the book was published. Unlike Heart of England by Waterway it has a proper conclusion - an epilogue that covers the dangers and fears associated with rapidly flowing rivers.

I don't think many canal enthusiasts will rush to find a copy of this book, they are also difficult to obtain, but to me this water damaged author's signed copy provides me with a direction connection to a great waterways author and pioneer who is often overlooked. As you will probably realise, it has become one of my treasured books.


Waiting for a Thaw

Snowman from an enterprising restaurant

We are not fair weather boaters, and don't mind some difficult weather during our boating, but the unseasonal weather has made it very tricky. On Sunday the snow flurries in Birmingham lessened but on Monday there was still plenty of ice and snow around making life quite difficult. We had thought that if it was not snowing we would move along the Birmingham Main Line towards Dudley. It soon became clear that although this was perfectly possible to proceed, getting on and off Albert, and operating locks in particular, would be hazardous. With this in mind we decided that we would take a couple of days away from Albert and hope that a thaw might set in.

Some brave daffodils in Birmingham City Centre

Immediately we had decided to leave the boat the snow on Albert's roof started melting and we wondered if we had made the right choice; maybe we could proceed earlier than we thought. This was somewhat reinforced by our walk to the station to take a train home - it was much easier moving around the city centre than on Sunday. However, a shaded windy underpass near New Street confirmed our original view that it will take some days for a thaw to really set in. We had great difficulty getting down a slope and other pedestrians were actually sliding down the slope as if on a ice rink and predicting "someone will break their back".

We thought the technical difficulty of  appearing in a production of Wolverhampton 21 on ice was too challenging and we doubted if we would gain any marks for artistic impression!

Albert's roof is under there somewhere!

We will return to Birmingham shortly and hope we can move on.

Still in the Snow at Birmingham

The snow on Sunday morning was even deeper and light flurries continued to fall most of the day. It was clear that travelling down the Birmingham Main Line was not an option, at least for the day, so we stayed put at Sherborne.

Albert well covered with snow and ice

Even more snow

Waterway Routes (moored alongside) well covered with snow

Hot air from the mushroom vents melting snow
We stayed on board in the morning but ventured out into the snow and ice in the afternoon. We visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to look at the Pre Raphaelites, an exhibition on the development of Birmingham, and the famous Staffordshire Hoard. We had very nice tea and cakes in the splendid Edwardian Tea Rooms.  
Tomorrow we hope to move on to Dudley as long as conditions don't deteriorate. The forecast is for continuing cold weather but snow doesn't look imminent. We are certainly getting through our coal and gas.

Birmingham in a Blizzard

On Thursday we moved from our overnight mooring at the Mailbox into Sherborne Wharf on the Oozells Street Loop. The idea being we could safely leave Albert while we attended a wedding in the city on Friday. We don't have any qualms about mooring in central Birmingham but we thought it would help if we were not going to be on board if we moored Albert at  a secure wharf. It would also help to have an electric hook-up to keep the batteries charged. As it turned out it was also a smart move because of the weather to come.
Passing through the Worcester Bar in Gas Street Basin

Approaching Broad Street Tunnel

Having moved into Sherborne in the morning, we spent Thursday afternoon visiting the wonderful Birmingham Back to Backs National Trust site. The well preserved houses are a "must visit" attraction for those with an interest in the social and industrial history of working class England. They are only a short walk from the canals of central Birmingham.

The Birmingham Back to Backs

That evening we managed to get last minute tickets for the Phantom of the Opera which was playing at the Hippodrome. We had yet to see this blockbuster and enjoyed it a lot. The stage setting, singing and, of course, the music were great. As we left the theatre the snow began falling. Little did we know that it would continue through the night and come down more heavily during the wedding on Friday!

Snowy Sherborne Wharf

Moving back to the boat on Saturday it was clear that the blizzard that had enveloped most of the country was going to make going to Dudley that day very difficult. There is limit to how much discomfort one can stand when boating. Although Albert stayed put at the wharf all day on Saturday we visited Maggie's mother in Solihull using the local trains and buses.

Cambrian Wharf in the snow

Farmers Bridge Locks in the snow

It took the boat some time to warm up when we returned in the evening. We will have to see what weather is in store tomorrow. Arctic conditions appear to prevail over most of Britain and the prospects for reasonable weather at Easter look remote. Still who knows what is to come. And this is mid March!

Heavy snow on Albert

Birmingham (Mailbox)

We have arrived at our first major destination, Birmingham.

This morning we travelled up the northern Stratford Canal towards Kings Norton Junction - no locks apart from the stop lock at the junction with the Worcester and Birminham. There was however the lift bridge at Shirley - called The Drawbridge for some reason. Being a busy crossing if is automated and only requires the usual BW key.

We turned onto the Worcester and Birmingham canal through the newly-refurbished guillotine stop lock and travelled towards Birmingham.

Kings Norton Junction - Worcester & Birmingham and Stratford Canals

All was plain sailing, and very quiet, until we got to Bournville. Just by Cadburys there was a large bundle of wood floating under the bridge blocking navigation. We stopped and Maggie moved it aside using our boat hook. Unfortunately in the process we picked up something large around the propeller. We limped along to the moorings by the station and I went down the weed hatch. The large object turned out to be a duffel bag. The water was really cold even with gloves on!

Egbaston tunnels - rail and canal
We decided that lunch at Bournville was a good idea but we then moved on into the city. Even though we have been into Birmingham via this route quite a few times, once again there were changes with lots of new offices and flats.

Window cleaners on a new high rise building at Salvage Turn
We stopped at Holiday Street Wharf for water (slow tap) and then moored up just around the corner in front of The Mailbox. There were only a couple of boats moored up on this stretch - quite different from summer.

Mooring up at The Mailbox, Birmingham
The Mailbox at night; note the reflection on Albert's cabin side (right)