It's not utilised by many people... Lots of people tell horror stories about it... There's even a song written about the stuff that you get caught around the propeller... It really can't be that bad?
I last went round the "Curly Whirly", more commonly known as the Wyrley and Essington canal back in 1995 with my parents. I remembered the canal being in a terrible state with lots of objects floating on the service and even more horrible things emerging from it's murky depths.
How things have changed...
Earlier in the week I was privileged to be invited away with some friends of mine on a Josher replica built by Roger Fuller. Steve dropped me out to Wolverhampton on Monday night after work where I joined Matt and Rebekah; along with their seven month old daughter Eliza aboard Azalea in Broad Street Basin. After a wonderful beef stew followed by apple pie and custard a compulsory visit to the Great Western Arms was necessary.
For those of you that don't know the Great Western, it is a fantastic pub, located just five minutes walk from Broad Street Basin and Wolverhampton top lock and sits on the corner of Sun Street being dwarfed by Wolverhampton Station towering above. It is like stepping back in time. The street outside is cobbled, there are several open fires roaring away and a quarry tile floor. The pub is adorned with railway memorabilia. After sampling some of the finest Holden's Golden Glow, it was time to retreat to the boat and get a good night sleep after a busy week in the office.
Next morning saw us leaving Broad Street at about 9am heading along the Wolverhampton level of the BCN. At Horseley Fields Junction we took a left onto the Wyrley and Essington. I was immediately surprised by the gentrification that has taken place around the entrance to the now redundant Bentley Canal at Wednesfield Junction. We headed along to Birchills Junction and decided to take a venture down to the top of Birchills where we were pleased to find Achernar on the bank. She was the first of the batch of Little Woolwich boats that the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company had built during their expansion in the 1930s. We turned round above the top lock and retraced our steps to Birchills Junction where we turned right to explore more of the Wyrley.
Next we were rounding the bends at Goscote and Bloxwich and through the surprisingly rural Pelsall Common. At Pelsall Junction we turned left to take a trip up the dead straight Cannock Extension Canal to it's terminus at Norton Canes where we stopped for lunch after turning round in the entrance to Matthew Cooper's dry dock.
Matt and I turning Azalea in the entrance to the CTS dock at Norton Canes.
It's a bit tight with a full length boat!. Photo: Matt Parrott.
We were soon heading back down the Cannock Extension. We took a left at Pelsall Junction and I was pleased to see Sarah Edgson's Josher motor Lamprey tied on the offside.
We decided to get through Brownhills and venture up the Anglesey Branch to visit Anglesey basin and Chasewater reservoir. You may remember that I was over at Chasewater last summer, but it was a whole different experience visiting by boat. I was pleased to see that the reservoir is now virtually full again after the level was allowed to drop a couple of years ago to do some major repairs. Chasewater is one of the major feeds to the BCN, so I winded Azalea around and backed right up to where the valve lets water into the canal.
We decided to retrace our steps to Brownhills for secure moorings for the evening and to have dinner in the Smithy's Forge which is a Sizzling pub that must be recommended. Good food, reasonable prices and good beer.
Next morning saw us away for about 8.30am, turning right at Catshill Junction and onto the Daw End Branch. The ice on the canal obviously hadn't been disturbed for a considerable amount of time, so it did take a bit of breaking. Progress slowed through Aldridge an Rushall and Longwood boat club was a welcoming sight. we descended down the nine locks at known as Rushall or the Ganzy's to local boat folk. The bottom end of this particular flight is very well kept and all of the locks were in good order.
On the approach to Rushall Junction we decided to take a detour along the Tame Valley to Ocker Hill as we had some time to spare. The first part of this section of canal is joined by the M6 which runs parallel and shortly by the M5 where it passes below the Tame Valley and joins the M6. There was heavy traffic on the motorways and I was pleased to be on a narrowboat pottering along at a steady three or four miles an hour whilst the motorway traffic was at a standstill! We winded at Ocker hill and headed for Perry Bar.
After descending Perry Bar we decided to reverse up to Cuckoo Wharf from Salford Junction. After a hearty Cottage Pie I jumped on the train at Aston back to New Street and changed to Stafford. Steve picked me up from the station and I was back at home by 7pm on Wednesday morning.
All in all I had a really enjoyable trip. We didn't have to stop and remove any unwanted objects off of the propeller and we didn't have any problems with yobs. It's such an underused part of our canal network. It really should be used more.
Until the next adventure.