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Five Go On A Midsummer Adventure

Jemima D on the BCN Challenge 2002

From Sue Butler


It is June 2002 and the Famous Five are off on another adventure. In Yorkshire, Sue has loaded up her motorcar with ginger beer and sticky buns, to make sure they didn't go hungry. Plucky Richard and Alastair have brought Jemima D, their trusty rusty boat, from the wilds of the Shroppie into Birmingham, while Douglas braved the vagaries of the railway timetable from Scotland. Mike carried his extensive weed hatch and engine maintenance kit in his shiny red motorcar, and they all met up in Gas Street Basin on a sunny Friday afternoon.

As tradition dictated, they celebrated by going out for a few beers and a curry, and they were pleased to meet up with a few of their pals at the same time. They were soon all tucked up in their bunks, filling Jemima's cabin with the sounds and smells that inevitably followed.

At 9 o'clock the next morning we set off on their adventure, leaving the safe harbour that is Gas Street Basin and heading off into the wild unknown.

Jemima, as always, was unable to resist the allure of a loop so we turned into Icknield Port Loop, and 10 minutes later we were crossing the main line at Rotton Park Junction and entering the Soho Loop.

Icknield Port Loop

We didn't attempt Spring Hill Branch, having got firmly stuck there in the past, but headed on past the prison and Asylum Bridge, to emerge back onto the main line.

Soho Loop

Along the New Main Line we made splendid progress, for almost an hour, but then Jemima began to struggle so we pulled in to inspect the weed hatch. While we were by the bank, Florrie overtook, and Wye came from the North.

We reached Pudding Green Junction, and followed Florrie into the Wednesbury Old Canal, but poor Jemima was really having trouble now, producing huge clouds of oily smoke so it was 11.40 when we stopped at Ryder's Green Junction. Florrie, Mary Hayes and Caen went through the locks while Chief Engineer Mike made extensive repairs to Jemima's unhappy engine.

Eventually Jemima entered the first lock, and Dougie and Ally began to work them down the flight, it was a smooth descent, and by 1 o'clock we were onto the open cut again. The waters here were dark and murky, and who knows what lay beneath the surface? Passing through the Tame Valley Junction, we came to Gospel Oak Branch, which we briefly explored.

Jemima emerged from Gospel Oak Branch, and then five minutes later, in true African Queen style she boldly set off down the Bradley Branch. This was a slow and tortuous journey, and ended with Jemima's bow nosing into water less than a foot deep. The journey out was even more difficult, and we were eventually towed out by a very helpful Falcondale, followed by a weed hatch stop. Mike braving the thick black soup that passes for water on the upper reaches of the Walsall Canal.

Bradley Branch

Underway again, we soon met a few boats, Kandahar, Carousel, and Joanna. The Walsall Canal is weedy, and full of water lilies of all colours, so we soon had another weed hatch stop and then met Copperkins.

We turned into Walsall Town branch just as Falcondale were leaving. What a bleak and desolate place Walsall Town Basin turned out to be!

Walsall Town Basin

We entered Walsall Bottom Lock, and our synchronised lock wheeling team once more sprang into action. We met Quercus in the flight, and by 5.50 were at Birchills Junction.

Without hesitation we turned onto the Curley Wyrley, and wondered whether we had really reached the back of beyond.

We were not alone, we met Colehurst and not long after came across Maranatha and Yesitis, they warned that there were bandits ahead. As we passed houses with large and ferocious dogs, chipboard curtains and some that were just burnt out shells we knew we needed to keep our wits about us, but maybe the bandits had gone home for tea, because we didn't see them! Then we were suddenly in the countryside, and by Pelsall Junction the Wyrley and Essington had taken on a completely different character.

At Pelsall Junction we turned up the Cannock Extension, straight and deep, it felt like we had moved from a country lane to a motorway, and we were soon meeting a stream of other boats, Caen and Rugrat closely followed by Arun, May Sheridan and Falcondale and at 8 o'clock we reached the end of the navigation. We didn't meet any more boats on our way back out.

Back at Pelsall Junction we again turned left, back onto the Wyrley, and soon met Caldon and Mary Hayes.

At Catshill we turned left, heading up the Anglesey Branch, ignoring the delights of The Anchor. The light was beginning to fade from the sky when we reached the promise of Ogley Junction, and thoughts of the Lichfield and Hatherton. A little further on we passed a moored boat, who hooted in appreciation as we passed.

We met Princess, Caen and May Sheridan on the way to Anglesey Basin, and once there we pirouetted round the basin in the company of Dispatch, Arun, Falcondale and Adderley.. Two fishermen sat by the side of the basin in total shell shock - they had planned a quiet night's fishing and it was more like Braunston on a Bank Holiday weekend!

Anglesey Basin

We managed to run aground trying to pick up Mike who had gone ashore to take photos, and this delayed our departure. Our journey back was slow and dispiriting, as we were behind a stream of boats, and we soon realised that we would not reach the Anchor before closing time. Only the tiredness of the crew prevented a lynching of the navigator and route planner!

We had a small nightcap, set our alarm clocks and settled down for a well-earned rest.

It was surprisingly bright at 03.50, and ten minutes later we were heading down the cut, past Catshill Junction and on to the Daw End Branch. We crept past moored boats and made slow progress along the weedy, shallow and narrow cut. We were overtaken by Stort, a rather futile manoeuvre as we caught up with them at the next locks!

At Longwood Junction we came across our first locks of the day, and we were already having to queue, so we took advantage of the facilities at the Top Lock to get rid of our rubbish and waste. We were relieved to pass under the motorway and join the Tame Valley canal where at last we could make some decent speed and relax for a while. Richard took the chance to feed the crew a massive breakfast that would set us up for the rest of the day!

Tame Valley

We arrived at the top of Perry Bar locks to find a real log jam of boats waiting to go down. We had a 'rest' here and moored for a while waiting for things to clear. Even so our passage down was fraught, travelling behind a non-participating boat that wanted to take forever to go through each lock, and happy to let us do all the work. They were even delighted to find that we had made ready the next lock for them! However, they did eventually let us pass, and progress became much faster then.

Now the greenery of the Rushall was nothing but a distant memory as we crept beneath Spaghetti Junction. Road and Rail above us, oblivious of the canal beneath. Salford Junction loomed out of the subterranean half-light and we turned onto the Birmingham and Fazeley, crossing the River Tame that ran beneath us. Fine-tuned by now, we sped up the Aston flight, turned right at Aston Junction and motored our way towards Barker Bridge. Here disaster almost struck, as Jemima skimmed over an underwater obstruction, her bow rose and fell, and the helmsperson dropped the throttle and held her breath. We were lucky, with only one person on board we made it over, another half inch and we would have been stuck!

Farmers Bridge Locks are an inspiring way to enter Birmingham - as history and modernity each struggle to gain the upper hand. The sheer boldness and vision that each generation has imposed on this early 'Aston Freeway' is incredible.

Farmers Bridge Locks

Reaching the top lock we spied Arun exploring the Cambrian Wharf Arm and, unable to resist the chance of adding another Arm to our itinerary, we did the same. Then we made our way to Farmers Bridge Junction, and the inevitable confusion and chaos from there to Worcester Bar.

Cambrian Wharf Arm

We never did note how long it took us from the Junction to Gas Street, as we manoeuvred around the trip boats and fellow BCNers. I remember seeing faces I recognised as we went under the bridge at Worcester Bar, and soon we found ourselves a spot to moor and a chance to rest.

Celebrations followed at the "Bombay Mix" restaurant in Broad St, and the "Prince of Wales" public house.

Well, another year, another BCN Challenge, and what a wonderful trip we had. The weather was warm and pleasant throughout, and the crew were mainly good-tempered. Jemima had found the going tough, but the number of locks we included in our route prevented the over-heating problems we had last year.


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