We are about to embark on another trip on the English narrow canals, this time from near Audlem to Bugsworth Basin, sometimes known as Buxworth or vice versa. I once lived over the hill just outside Whaley Bridge and many a bike ride or walk would find us at the basin. At the time this was a long-standing restoration project with no immediate prospects for completion. Stop locks were in place just beyond the aqueduct and the entire basin dry. It is a delight to be able to take a boat into this complex interchange which was finally reopened in 2005 on completion of the £1.2M British Waterways project.
I don’t expect Caggy Stevens ever operated on this part of the network but he was one of the last commercial operators on the English canals, a breed of men who had worked their entire lives on the narrow waterways. I nearly ‘bumped into him’ on the BCN in early April 1978. Suddenly he was there and just as suddenly he was gone – as can be seen from the wake in the first image, he was not hanging about; he had serious work to be done. It is a pity that no such encounters with the working past will be had on our next trip.
(click on the images to enlarge)
Connection to the Internet will be intermittent at best for the next two weeks so I will not be very active on WordPress. TTFN.
As you travel the English canal system there are bridges everywhere. Rail bridges, cobbled bridges, footbridges, motorway bridges, winding bridges that allowed horse drawn narrowboats to swap towpath sides without unhitching, viaducts, aqueducts over canals, roads and rivers and on the Bridgewater even a swing aqueduct over a ship canal. And when you see the bridges there are suddenly two as they stand on their watery heads (Norman MacCaig).
These were taken on the Birmingham Canal Navigations one wintery Spring long ago:
And if you ever fly over Spaghetti Junction in Bimingham and wonder what might be going on below – here you are:
I was prompted to find this photograph following Vladimir Brezina’s excellent post on kayaking along the Gowanus Canal on the day before hurricane Sandy hit New York. I went looking for something both industrial and seasonal and came up with this, taken long ago in April 1978. The scene is Windmill Junction on the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) with Cobb’s stark Engine House standing to attention in the background, as it has done since 1831.
The oft repeated fact is that there are more miles of canal around Birmingham than in Venice. If you ever travel over the M6 at Spaghetti Junction, be aware that beneath there is a wholly different watery world progressing at a much slower, sane pace.
The character in the foreground is my good buddy, Mick. This was the first of many week-long great escapes from wives, work and the daily grind; as it was our first such ‘adventure’ I remember it best. It doesn’t quite compare with the potential hazards of kayaking the Gowanus but it did have its drawbacks. Canal boats have become much more sophisticated over the years but back then they were Spartan, un-insulated and on days such as this, like sleeping in an icebox. Another peril of the urban waterways was junk – some animal, some mineral. As the engine began to labour and the rate of progress slowed to snail’s pace it would become obvious that something was attached to the prop. Very reluctantly, it was then off with the weed hatch and hands into the icy dark waters to extract the offending object; you were never quite sure what it was until it came free.
Mick was a statistician and very thorough in all things. We were not just going to cruise the BCN, we were going to cruise every last navigable inch. This would involve trips down side arms knowing full well that the only way back was on ropes in reverse.
When we reached this stretch the entire pound had been emptied; undeterred we opened the paddles on all of the lock gates above so the water would flow down from the summit, a procedure that involved a degree of panic once the pound filled; it takes a while to turn the taps off.
The pound is between the two bottom locks at Oldbury with the M5 flying over in the background. This arm leads up to the highest point on the BCN and in those days you would get a certificate from the pub at the summit for completing this section of canal – not something we were going to miss; I must still have it somewhere.
Our diet for the week was Banks’ Mild and Midland pies, a lethal combination in a confined space, much like life on the ISS I imagine.
It is good to remember old friends.