Having spent the last five days on HELEN, how would I summarise my feelings? It helped that the weather was pretty good - a few showers, some heavy, but generally dry and often sunny. Sometimes I wondered if I'd bitten off more than I could chew. I finished at 9pm on two nights but then I didn't start till 11ish most mornings.
I was unprepared for how green the eastern part of Birmingham has become.
I found all the lock flights in pretty good condition and nothing troublesome to work. Three paddles were temporarily out of use. All the lock flights looked cared for and the grass cut. I could have done with less rubbish in the water around Walsall and was too frequently having to put the engine into reverse to throw it off. Depth was generally OK. But I am not a fan of plastic bags!
I was unprepared for how green the eastern part of Birmingham has become. I hadn't been around some parts for ten years or more - indeed, I'm not sure I've previously used Garrison Locks. That famous green finger of the countryside stretching into city centres was very strong. Former grotty industrial areas have just disappeared. The scenery around Perry Barr and Rushall Locks was very much like many other flights. Anglesey Basin is an idyllic spot - wonderfully quiet and with heather on the bank side. Nature has reclaimed the land alongside much of the northern BCN and some is now nature reserves. OK, north Walsall is distinctly urban as is the approach to Wolverhampton. But the area around Horsely Fields Junction (what a misnomer nowadays!) is atmospheric as it still has so many old unloading basin bridge arches and the odd old arm or two - and long may this industrial heritage remain.
The northern BCN is undeservedly underused and I'd encourage people to go there. I know it takes longer than using the Main Line but it's certainly a lot more attractive. British Waterways and now the Canal & River Trust have done a lot of dredging - now let's use it.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Read Martin Ludgate's praises in a recent "Canal Boat" magazine - and the letter the following month from a group of four boaters reads well. They had been on one of the Explorer Cruises organised by the energetic BCN Society. They organise these each year.
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