The quickest way to get to where we're going would have been to go down the lock flights at Farmer's Bridge and Aston. But we like going to places we haven't been to before, and we're not short of time, so we decided to go the long way round, taking in the Tame Valley Canal.
We set off at 8am, following the trip boat out of the Oozells Street Loop. It would be the only moving boat we saw all day. We headed off up the New Main Line in the direction of Wolverhampton, travelling about five miles to Pudding Green Junction, where we turned right onto the Wednesbury Old Canal. At the top of the Ryders Green Locks, this becomes the Walsall Canal. Most of the lock were in our favour, and just like the time we came up them in 2008, there were BW guys out cutting the grass. We were down the eight locks in good time, then made the short journey to the junction with the Tame Valley Canal, where we turned right. This canal consists of long straight sections -- the Nicholson Guide calls it the dreariest section of the BCN, which I think is unfair. It also says the the approach to Rushall Junction is awsome, but you can't have one without the other. Awesome is a good word, though, as the location is where the M5 meets the M6. So there's an aqueduct over one of the link motorways, and then the M6 elevated section is right alongside. It's quite an experience, and well worth the three and a half miles of straighness to get there.
Past Rushall Junction (where the Rushall Canal goes off to the left), the Tame Valley alternates between cuttings and embankments. Some of the bridges over the cuttings are extremely high, like Chimney Bridge, a footbridge held up by huge pillars which do look like chimneys.
The embankments incorporate several aqueducts, and there are great views of the Birmingham city skyline. It was a familar view -- when I did my postgrad in Birmingham I lived in Great Barr and had that same view from my bedroom window.
When we got to Perry Barr Top Lock, the heavens opened and there was a very heavy shower which lasted a couple of locks. The flight is very green and pleasant, and passes the Alexander Stadium where some athletics were in progress; we could hear the tannoy announcements of the winners.
At one of the locks, I spotted a frog (or toad?) which didn't seem to be enjoying the swirling waters as the lock filled. He was grasping at the lock walls, but was no match for the force of the water. Once I could reach, I fished him out on my windlass, where he sat and had a breather. Then got off, turned around, and jumped straight back into the lock again. By now the lock was ready to open, but I made sure Adrian didn't bring in Briar Rose until the frog was well out of the way.
We had a slight problem at Lock 11, where neither of the bottom gates would open properly. One would only go to half way, and we tried all sorts of things: opening and closing it, poking around with the boat hook, pushing it with the boat. Finally, after using our new shaft (which actually wasn't long enough to reach the bottom), it opened and we were free.
There's about a mile's gap before the final two locks, where there's a nice little lock cottage with warehouses looming over it. Then the Tame Valley Canal comes to an end at Salford Junction, where the Birmingham and Fazeley and the Grand Union Canals come in. The approach to the junction is underneath Spaghetti Junction, and is quite spectacular, in a brutalist concrete type of way. If you've done the B&F route and enjoyed slipping quietly underneath the thundering traffic, then the Tame Valley version is like that to the power of ten.
Now we had a decision to make: turn onto the GU and spend the night on the Star City moorings (then have to reverse out in the morning), or carry on for at least two hours. As it was 3.30, we decided to carry on. The next section, through Bromford, Castle Vale, and Minworth is full of rubbish, a situation which wasn't helped by the water being at least four or five inches lower. At times it was like a roller coaster, as we scraped over submerged horrors. They were probably shopping trolleys or fridges, but the water was too black to see them. At Minworth Top Lock, a police officer and a communtity support officer, both on bikes, were making inquiries about an attempted rape in the area last night.
We knew we needed to be beyond Minworth before finding a mooring for the night, but didn't really want to have to go down any of the Curdworth Locks. So when we saw a collection of boats after Wiggingshill Road Bridge we joined them. There's a fairly busy A road alongside, but it's a lovely sunny evening and we've found the satellite, so we have TV.
All in all, a great day. We're really glad we went well out of our way to do the Tame Valley -- it's clearly an unfairly maligned canal, which we both enjoyed, with plenty of interest along the way.
20 miles, 24 locks. (156 miles, 184 locks)