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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Birmingham Kingswood mini-Ring

Saturday 11th October
(0L 1504.38M 58F)
Birmingham, National Indoor Arena

Ian & Penny had a little request. They are heading for Birmingham NEC Camper Van and Caravan Show on Tuesday and wanted to spend a couple of nights with us after the holiday. We were pleased to help. They also proposed that we could do a mini-ring from the boatyard into Birmingham city centre, down Farmers flight, then the Digbeth cut onto the Grand Union and south to Kingswood Junction before returning up the Lapworth flight on the Stratford and hence back to the boatyard. It seems a big ask to complete in 2 days but we decided that if we could get a half day in on Saturday we would give it a go.

We had our own favour to ask. We are heading up to Venetian Marina with the boat for the end of the month and wanted to leave our car there on the way back from the Lake District. We could do this if they would come with us and bring us back to the boat. So we made a fairly early start and got on our way before 9am. We left Venetian around midday and got to the boat around 1.30pm. while the girls stocked up with supplies from a selection of local convenience stores Ian and I got the boat filled with water and fuel.

I also got advice from the locals. The general opinion was good luck to you – 3 days would have been better. Still I got some useful tips about where to moor overnight in Brum. We got away around 3pm and set off on the lock free run into the city centre.

Ian at Guillotine LockJust before King’s Norton Junction we passed through Brandwood Tunnel and a guillotine lock. This is a stop lock – i.e. there is no elevation change – and is normally open, so it is just a drive through.

Chimneys & MinaretsAt King’s Norton the Stratford Canal ends where it joins the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. This canal runs north to Gas Street basin. Along the way it passes Bourneville – the creation of the Cadbury family when they moved their cocoa and chocolate business south from the centre of Birmingham. It is now the home of Cadbury World. Before arriving in the city centre the canal also passes through the University campus, and to the east the scene is dominated by a large minaret.

Gas Street Basin Pitcher & Piano Brindley Place

The four of us travelled through here almost exactly a year ago when the idea of buying a boat was first mooted. I was very taken by Birmingham’s canal centre and was not disappointed on my return. They are still working on the NIA but the whole development is very impressive. We passed through in search of a good mooring. The advice we had received was to go on to the Main Line and either moor at Sherborne Wharf (on Oozells Street Loop) or on either bank straight ahead. The only problem with these options is that we will need to turn around before carrying on in the morning. We turned in to the Loop but the moorings were already full so I backed out and we went on. There were moorings here so we went past and drove on to the Rotton Park Loop which we went round, passing the CRT depot before turning back on the Main Line heading back the way we came.

We finally tied up at about 6.30pm. The light was definitely going – although the sky was light it was much darker in amongst the buildings. This puts a limit on our cruising time for tomorrow.

Sunday 12th October
(30L 1522.33M)
Kingswood Junction

The weather forecast for today is quite good. The forecast for tomorrow is bad. With this in mind we decided to do as much as possible today so we set off early and were on our way by 7.30am – tea but no breakfast.

Farmers Bridge Top LockJust round the corner we arrived at the top of the Farmer’s Bridge flight of locks. These 13 closely spaced locks drop down into the heart of the city. To increase the size of the pounds there is water everywhere and a great deal of it is underneath the surrounding buildings! The canal burrows its way under bridges/tunnels constantly overlooked by the BT tower. With the four of us functioning as a well oiled machine (not so well oiled as last night!) we progressed rapidly down the flight in the early morning light.

We had an abundance of water and some of the locks were flooded. At one point Penny had to let some water out of the next lock to drop the level in order for our driver to see the lock sides.

At another lock Ian spotted a large goldfish swimming about – a mutant ninja goldfish?

Before 9am we reached the bottom and stopped for bacon sandwiches cooked by Glyn – who also did most of the driving.

Farmers Bridge FlightFarmers Bridge FlightFarmers Bridge Flight

Early morning skyFarmers Bridge FlightPenny & Ian studying Goldfish

Then there is a short stretch to Aston Junction. Straight ahead the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal continues north east immediately entering the Aston flight. We turned right onto the Digbeth branch and straight into another set of locks. Except we didn’t. We are using an ancient (well 1989) copy of Nicholson’s Guide and it indicates a flight of 6 locks adjacent to the junction. After driving for 5 minutes we thought we must have gone wrong, but no, eventually the locks appeared. I wonder how many boaters over the years have had a similar scare. Thanks Mr Nicholson!

Are we lost?

After the first lock is the Ashted Tunnel “one of the lesser known tunnels on the canal system”. It is a narrow tunnel with the towpath running alongside. It also has a rather nasty little kink in the middle which can catch out the unwary – you have been warned!

Digbeth BranchDigbeth BranchThis first part of the branch ends in Digbeth Basin, but a junction on the left leads to Bordesley Junction and the Grand Union. Our route sweeps through the junction and away south east, the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal heads north from here up to Salford Junction.

Bordesley

Camp Hill flightSuddenly we found ourselves climbing again – this time through the Camp Hill locks onto the revamped and modernised Grand Union. As we reached the top we arrived at the penultimate pound which turned out to be completely empty. Penny and I went ahead to bring down some water through the top lock while Ian and Glyn stayed with the boat. It was only a short pound and the next pound is miles long so there wasn’t much problem. In short order we were able to bring the boat up.

At the top is a wharf and the CRT Sampson Road depot. 25 locks and it isn’t even lunchtime yet!

Grand UnionIt took a while to escape the clutches of Birmingham as we passed through Sparkbrook – where I was amused by the juxtaposition of the Tetley Brewery and a large mosque – Tyseley, Acock’s Green, Olton and Ulverley Green. After Solihull we passed the wharf at Copt Heath – home of a few hire boats.

Once again we made good progress along the Grand Union. Initially there were very few moored boats to slow us down and we were able to progress at something approaching 4 mph. I know it doesn’t sound much but the difference between 3 and 4 mph is significant to us.

KnowleBy the time we reached Knowle we were definitely back in the rural hinterland. The five locks here are quite impressive, and the flight makes quite a statement. The side pounds wrap around and leave one side of each lock feeling like an island. It also makes for an extended walk between locks. Glyn reported problems steering from one lock to the next which I believe was caused by water leaving the lock swirling in the pound. Certainly I had problems with the one that I drove across. Yes, we are dropping again. At the bottom we met a day boat about to start up the flight. They warned us that there was a barge on the loose that was obstructing the canal.

Barge on the looseWe encountered the barge shortly afterwards broadside across the canal. I nosed up to it and Ian took our pole and boarded. The barge had pulled out one its pins and swung round. Ian poled it back far enough for us to pass but because of the depth he couldn’t push it in far enough to re-secure it.

It was still early and we clearly had time to carry on and moor at Kingswood – which has become one of my favourite spots. At the junction we turned back onto the Stratford and very familiar territory for Glyn and me. We passed under the railway bridge and moored by the picnic area. A perfect spot – except it turned out that the railway was going to be a little noisy…

Monday 13th October
(19L 1532.65M)
Lyons Boatyard

We woke in the morning to find the weather had changed for the worse but as the rain was only light we set off up the Lapworth in quite good spirits. We made our way through the preliminary 5 quite happily, and at the first of the flight proper we picked up a volunteer. A second boat was coming up behind so he shared his time between the two boats, emptying our lock behind us.

With the deterioration in the weather the wind had picked up and this combined with the water flowing down the by-washes made passing between the locks a little tricky. At 10 o-clock Glyn left us to go in search of some milk and Ian took over the driving. He overcame the problems by increasing boat speed which seemed to work pretty well.

There was one little incident near the top where the pound was on quite a sharp bend and I attempted to fend the boat off on entry to the lock. I got a little too ambitious and came as close to falling in as at any other time this year. In the event I got away with just a wet foot but Glyn happened to be looking out the window at the time and Ian was running through emergency scenarios in his mind!

At the top Penny and I walked on to lock us through the two remaining pairs and then I took on the first of the lift bridges – the heavy one – and left the light one for her. I did tell her that it wasn’t very far and it turned out to be a route march but hey, this is the Penny that walked the length of the Llangollen.

The rain started to fall more heavily and for the rest of the journey we took it in turns to get soaked. It wasn’t much fun and to make matters worse the wind was bringing down a lot of autumnal leaves which get packed around the propeller and require the engine to be reversed to clear.

We eventually arrived back at Lyons and turned to the alcoholic refreshments a little earlier than usual. We whisked up some painkillers – our Caribbean cocktail favourite – and started a game of Settlers. We had booked to eat again at the Indian on our recommendation and the game had to be interrupted for us to get togged up in our waterproofs and walk up the road. We were pleased with our second visit where we were welcomed back like old friends. Then back to the boat for coffee and to finish our game.

A good way to finish our “holiday”.

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