In this latest entry, Trustee John Dodwell, joined by chief exec Richard Parry, shares his experience of the BCN Society's annual 24 hours Challenge.
We came down the six locks in the Oldbury Flight on the Titford Canal (highest part of the BCN) in 40 minutes. It was last Saturday, the start of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society's annual 24 hours Challenge. Some 40 boats had entered and the purpose was to see how much of the BCN we could cover in 24 hours (not continuous) and so encourage use of the BCN. Bonus points for going to the extremities.
By 'we', I mean my son Richard with me on HELEN and Martin Brookes and his family on TRAMP. Martin lives on his boat at his boatyard on the lower Stourbridge Canal, so he depends on the canals both for his livelihood and his home.
Having next come down the three Spon Lane locks, we went round the Soho Loop (photo on the right shows how green it is nowadays) and Icknield Port Loop before arriving at the top of Farmers Bridge Locks at about noon. Martin took TRAMP down first with his son Harry going ahead to set the locks. HELEN followed. Richard went ahead and filled the next lock and opened the top gate so HELEN could go straight in - so no need to tie up. I shut the top gate (and paddles) of the lock HELEN was in and raised the bottom paddles before getting back on the boat, waiting for Richard to come back and open the bottom gate for me. We switched roles about half way down. This process was helped by the pounds being very short and we got to the bottom of the 13 locks in about 90 minutes.
As there was a stoppage on the Aston Flight, we went round via the Ashted and Garrison Flights, passing the area around Warwick Bar - which cries out for a conservation policy as it is an iconic example of what the BCN used to be like. Again, nature has healed the scars of industry and the Garrison area no longer merits the poor "Bottom Road" name it had in commercial carrying days. The photo right shows Garrison Top Lock. We stopped near the top of the Perry Barr Flight on the Tame Valley Canal shortly at about 10pm (Nb, there's a good fish and chippie nearby). Going up the Perry Barr locks required a different locking technique. TRAMP went first.
Martin's daughter Philippa raised a bottom paddle after TRAMP had left the lock, so emptying it for us. I then opened the bottom gates for Richard to bring HELEN in, shut the bottom gates and opened the top paddles. After HELEN left the lock, I closed up and walked on to the next already empty lock to open the gates. Richard took HELEN slowly between the locks and avoided having to tie up. We could see the recent towpath improvements works.
Sunday was another very good day for weather. We began at 6am - it's lovely to be on the move at that time of morning. At 7am, we were joined by Richard Parry, the Trust's Chief Executive, who spent all day with us. He steered HELEN round the 90 degree turn at Ocker Hill to Ryders Green Locks - where we were followed by SPEY, that wonderful historic tanker boat which used to carry liquids for Thomas Clayton's and still has the single cylinder Bolinder engine in her.
When we got to Pudding Green Junction (now, there's a name to conjure with!), we opted to go along Smethwick Cutting again (see photo right - would you believe this Smethwick?!) and up the three Smethwick Locks (see main photo for HELEN approaching the Top Lock (same comments!) before going down the Brades Three. It was notable that Richard Parry operated all the locks - he wanted to see for himself the state of the paddles gear and lockgates.
Richard Parry steered HELEN through Netherton Tunnel and then turned left at Windmill End onto the Dudley No 2 Canal, heading for Gosty Hill Tunnel and Hawne Basin, where all the boat entrants were gathering. I think we were the last to arrive at 5pm. We found many friends there and it was 7pm before Richard Parry, my son and I left for home. HELEN will now stay there for three weeks until we set out to go to the Historic Boat Gathering at Braunston on June 25/26 - via the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. I shall have with me Ian Lane, the West Midlands waterway manager, down that Canal and I hope to have also some of the dredging team - as this Canal is due to be dredged soon.
I hope readers will be attracted to use the BCN. My photos show it is no longer dominated by industry. We did have our share of troubles with rubbish around the propeller but boats drawing less than HELEN's 3 foot are less likely to catch rubbish.
Although this weekend we chose to do many locks, most of the BCN is on one or other of two 50 miles or so long pounds without locks - such as the rural (mainly) Wyrley & Essington Canal). The BCN Society does a good job in encouraging new users and offer "Explorer " Cruises in company with boat owners used to these waters. The next one is June 10-18 (at a more leisurely pace than my last weeken) and includes a visit to the lock gate making yard at Bradley.
There's another from August 19-26 tie-ing in with the IWA Pelsall Rally. If you're interested, have a look at their website at www.bcnsociety.co.uk.
John Dodwell is one of our 10 volunteer trustees, who carry responsibility for the charity’s policies and strategies. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.
John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!See more blogs from John Dodwell