About Me

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The name describes my demeanour and voice! I love narrowboating and that is why this blog is mainly about the boat and our interaction with it. I have been keeping a log for Sonflower ever since we bought her and moved onto her as our main residence. Some incidents in our boating life have been hilarious, some scary and some down right dangerous. I cannot tell what will come in the future but you can now share them! The crew are an 'ordinary' couple. The Best Mate and I.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Birmingham to Fazeley

We actually traveled the length of the Birmingham and Fazeley canal over two days last week. We went up to Fazeley by car and into Birmingham by bus on Thursday evening. Getting off in Broad Street at dinner time meant an almost obligatory visit to Barajee, our favorite Brum curry house. We finished the meal this time!  We then had an evening chat with our next door neighbours on NB Sola Gratia.

On Thursday morning we set off early, well before 10 o'clock! The Farmers Bridge Locks were the first flight we ever navigated back in 1999 and we have a special attraction to them. At lock 4 we were joined by a CRT Volunteer. He was helpful and gave me the opportunity of going ahead to open the next lock top gate. A CRT tug and hopper came up lock 6 and from then on all was set fair.

Aston locks were not such a smooth operation. At the first lock two CRT men were helping another boat up. It was in lock 2 so we had a bit of a wait. They were real black country folk. One had been an "Oss Boatman" and the other I describe as a black country comic. He had great wit. He quipped that we should have a fair flight until lock 9. Levels were a bit low there. Low!?! Sonflower bottomed in the lock. I refilled and floated her up again and rang CRT. The pound was long and water too low for navigation. I was not going to take responsibility for emptying the pound above to fill the pound below. The team who had been at lock 1 came down quite quickly and one went back up the flight to open paddles and one monitored what was happening below as they fed water through. It took about 90 minutes before he was satisfied that we had enough to get to lock 10. We had a great time with his black country conversation.

At lock 10 we found the problem! The top gate would not shut and the lock would not empty. I tried fishing with a boat hook but to no avail. I phoned CRT again and our comical friend appeared again, this time armed with a long rake. A lot of raking found the problem: a car silencer jammed against the seal. With this removed, normal operation was restored.

We had lost over two hours of boating. It was a nice day and we made good progress to the start of Minworth Locks. After this the canal cleans up a bit and we started to look for somewhere to moor for the night and to have dinner. We passed a few pubs on the waterside that looked as if they had seen better days. Traditional Inn means that no money has been spent on it for quite a few years in this part of the country.

On approaching the Cuttle Bridge (Wiggins Hill Bridge) we noticed that the Old Kingsley pub had been totally re-vamped and was now the Cuttle Inn and Hotel, with a nice looking outdoor seating and dining area. Why were there no other moorers here at 6pm on a Friday? I can't tell you. We had a very nice meal and good wine too. We also noted that they serve a buffet breakfast for £6.50 so we returned in the morning for that. The only downside is that the moorings are floodlit all night. Good for security and for reducing load on the leisure batteries. But next time I might move away for a bit of darkness.

So on Saturday morning we gently completed our passage of Curdworth locks. A sign here tells boaters that there is no longer rubbish disposal at the locks but at Bodymoor Heath. A sign at Bodymoor Heath yard says there is no longer rubbish disposal there but at Fazeley Junction.  At Fazeley Mill Marina we stopped for water and here there was a sign telling us that there was no longer rubbish disposal at the Peel's Wharf but it was in the marina (on behalf of CRT). We disposed of our rubbish. We would have been miffed of we had gone on to the junction and found no rubbish disposal there either. No wonder the inhabitants of Birmingham use the canal rather than a bin.

So to Tolson's footbridge where we moored on piling clips.

                                                                      15miles 38 locks   14hours

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Black Country Living Museum

We had a grandson on board for the trip from Cambrian Basin to the Black Country Living Museum. We chose to go along the Old Main Line from Brades Hall Junction which meant navigating the Gower Branch and Brades Locks which is new to us. It was our first experience of these locks which are a single lock and a staircase. We had no problems at all and gave our grandson his first experience of pushing and pulling lock gates and winding paddle gear.

The Old Main line is weedy. It is lined with water lillies and has blanket weed floating in clumps in the channel. Regular reversing of the prop kept it clear.

We moored for lunch above the Netherton tunnel branch on the Tividale Aqueduct. A boat was already moored there bit thy moved up a couple of bollards to let us in. They were very apologetic and told us they dod not expect to see anyone else as they had seen only one boat all morning.

After lunch we were soon at the BCLM and moored on 24hr mooring.

                                                                           8.1/2 miles, 3 locks, 8 hours (including lunch).

After a nice time in the museum including a visit down the mine and to the sweetshop we settled down for the night. The museum food outlets close at 5pm so we made use of the local takeway chinese "Chopsticks". I ordered the sort of meal we would have had in  Banbury but the size of the portions here was really OTT. The pancake rolls were the size of a pringle tube and the chicken balls the size of full size billiard balls. And there were loads of them. We decided to keep the barbque spare ribs, 1.1/2 spring rolls and the chow mein for lunch the next day. In fact we had more than that left over including half the chicken balls and king prawns in batter.

We went on the Dudley Canal  Tunnel Trusts tunnel trip int he morning. What a pleasure. The limestone caverns,including a light show and video presentations were wonderful. Our grandson got to leg us in the tunnel and we really enjoyed the experience. After this we went back to the BCLM for a bit more history and a pint of mild ale at the Bottle and Glass Inn.

After lunch we went back via the New Main Line. At Factory locks we had to wait for a D of E Award party to bring their butty up the locks. The last boat in the queue that built up behind them were in no mood to wait for locks which resulted in too many boats than would fit between locks 2 and 3. This boat emptied down and worked up lock 2 trapping Sonflower in the top lock with another boat waiting in the pound. Once they were up the jiggling and maneuvering about could commence to leave them in the short pound between the locks. I don't think they noticed the trouble their impatience had caused.

The rest of the cruise back to Cambrian Basin was uneventful. We were glad to get back. The best mate made a delicious chilli with the chicken that remained in the centre of the left over Chinese chicken balls.

                                                                       9 miles, 3 locks, 4 hours

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Walsall to Wolverhampton to Birmingham


We left Walsall Town Basin at 10.15 on Friday. The passage up the Walsall locks was weedy and the shallow canal gave us problems with prop fouling again. We could not enter directly into lock 4 as the boat stopped on something. We pulled the boat to the side and bow hauled her round the obstruction.

The services building at the top lock is closed and there was no water available. Local boatyard staff and a boater told us the nearest on our route was at Snyde Wharf.

The Canal Museum, signposted at the bottom of the flight,is boarded up and up for development.

The Wyrley and Essington Canal is full of blanket weed. Apart from that and the impediment to progress it is very peaceful and pleasant. Of course the local population keep it topped up with plastic bottles, drinks cans and bags of rubbish.

The Sneyd Wharf services were clean and cared for and a refreshing highlight of the cruise.

We got to Wolverhampton, winded in the basin and backed to the Wolverhampton Top Lock moorings to find they are 24 hour!
Pretty Wolverhampton Mooring


                                                 11miles, 8 locks, 8 hours

Hopper on lock landing, Factory Bottom Lock, BCN
So this morning we boated to Birmingham. It was good to be back in deeper water and reasonably rubbish free.


Arriving at Factory Bottom Lock, BCN
Factory locks had a reasonable variety of items including a "road closed" sign but it was not obstructing the workings and we could not get it out. As we were descending the locks we did not need to use the lock landing at the bottom lock: this was occupied by a moored hopper.



We did a tour of Oozle's loop to find the pump out services of Sherborne Wharf are on the main line at The Distillery. So we winded at Old Turn and again at another basin to the west of centre and the returned to The Distillery to pump out. A trip boat were not amused that we were on "their" stopping place. Apparently our pump out should have been timed between their need to use the stop! There appears to be a continual conflict if interest at this point as the discharge point is one bollard from the stop sign.By the time we were finished, unconnected and ready to leave there were two trip boats vying for the same stopping point.We left them to fight it out.

All services completed we moved on to Cambrian Wharf and returned SONFLOWER to her accustomed position.
                                               13 miles, 3 locks, 5hours


Monday, 30 July 2018

Titford to Walsall

Today we leave the Langley Green area of Oldbury and the tempting Titford Pools to navigate to Walsall. New to us and exciting.

I, the skipper, have decided that we will not attempt to navigate the pools on our own. BCNS have strong advice not to do so and having read some blogs, including our intrepid exploring friends  Halfie who made the same decision, we took the BCNS advice.

I do thank the BCNS for taking their work boat Phoenix through the route on Friday last and clearing the way but what has tipped my decision is the wind that has arisen and the unknown way it will behave around the motorway viaduct. I understand that the mud in the pools is too deep to pole ourselves off and there is every chance that a gust or two could take the boat into the shallows.

We will return in company.



Moored in Walsall Town Basin
We have arrived!

The getting here was interesting! The first job was depositing three bags of rubbish at the pump house skip. Thank you BCNS. Most was collected from above the Oldbury Top Lock.

Between the Oldbury Bottom Lock and Oldbury Junction there were in excess of 50 silver fish floating dead. I contacted CRT to alert them to an environmental catastrophe. Then just round onto the Old Main Line was a 30" koy carp! Negotiating the turn to Spon Top Lock took time in the wind under the motorway!

We turned north onto the Wednesbury Old Canal and were slowed down by the shallow depth of the narrow channel between the reed beds. It was very pretty. But pretty was not how you would describe the canal as we made our way north. The gates of some of the Ryders Green locks didn't fully open because of the rubbish behind them. The reedy and water lily lined canal was littered with rubbish and flotsam. We had to clear the prop of poly and other rubbish about ten times, often stopping the engine in mid channel. Mainly polythene sheeting and bags today but a draw string gym bag and a rope added to the mix. Some was obviously industrial waste.

The canal could be so beautiful. Walkers commented "Enjoy your trip" with a knowing grin. Fishermen cast over flotillas of plastic bottles; there are cascades of rubbish at every bridge; we stopped counting shopping trolleys when we hit double figures; there are settees and armchairs, fire extinguishers, a gas bottle, empty beer kegs, doors, wood, and board among the flotsam. The fittings of a moored small cruiser seemed to be floating away from it.

How do people put up with it and live with it? This could be a six mile long navigable lily pond! there are red, yellow and white water lilies growing in various stretches. Wildlife exists: muscovy duck, ruddy duck, coot, moorhen, swans with signets, canada geese, farmyard ducks , grey heron and cormorant were all spotted today along with ubiquitous gulls and mallards.

But in Walsall Town Basin it looks ok! I cleared a sackfull of plastic bottles and litter this morning.

                                     10miles and 17 locks:  8.1/2 hrs

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

BCN Anthem

"I've had miles and miles of poly round the prop..." Sings the chorus of a boating folk song about the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigation). And now we have experienced it.

We set off this morning to do the loops. That is Oozell Loop, Icknield Loop, and Soho Loop which are rarely navigated parts of the BCN Main Line. All went well and we exited Soho Loop onto the Main Line and stopped for breakfast at Smethwick New Pumping Station. Here CRT had an awareness promotion. Except the volunteers were not wearing uniform or badges, didn't realise there were two parallel canals where they were; could not answer simple questions about boating but did recommend a visit to Titford pools.

Just as we pulled away the poly struck. I could not get to the side but shut down the engine mid canal and opened the weed hatch. With craft knife and brute force we filled a carrier bag with poly including braided tape saying "security sealed" It  was not tearable.

We turned the tight right hander into the entry to Spon Lane Bottom lock. Here only one antivandal mechanism worked so I reported the defective one and we worked up on one paddle. All sorts of rubbish were successfully navigated through the looks but we came to a halt making the tight right-hander after the top lock. I poled to the side here and secured the boat on the lock mooring. The offending item was a tent. I pulled much of it off and cut it away but had to open the weed hatch again for the last fragments and some fishing nylon.

We stopped for lunch at Oldbury Bottom Lock. No problems here except more rubbish and a reed bed that we had to push into a lock with us. We got to the top and debated where we needed to turn and how far we could go. In the event the decision was made for us. We grounded entering Uncle Ben's Bridge and during a turn in the Uncle Ben winding hole, avoiding a coot's nest, we grounded again and picked up something else on the prop. I went to the weed hatch for a third time. This time it was a long length of cotton cloth.

We decided it would be fool hardy to try to get to the pools and went back a little way to mooring rings.

We walked to Titford Bridge in the evening passing two shopping trolleys and other debris in the canal. The water is too dark to tell whether the actual depth of the channel was shallow too.

We have not seen the pools yet.

7 miles, 9 locks, 7 hours

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Re-branding

Partial rebranding has hit mooring just north of Banbury. Obviously the £60k does not reach signs that actually effect what boats need to do.

This is on Banbury lock,so right in the middle of the re-branding target. But should we have bright blue on a item that has been black and white for 200 years? Where is tradition and heritage in this?

This is half a mile south of Banbury town centre so out of range of the £60k too.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Stoke Prior to Birmingham

15 July 2018.
We returned to the boat courtesy of a friend whose mother lives nearby. Sue-per crew is with us too. Just time for a drink in The Boat and Railway and a look at the World Cup Final before we let go and worked through the Stoke locks to moor below Tardebigge Bottom lock.

We will make our assault on the flight  in the morning.
          1.1/2 miles 6 locks 1.5 hours.

16 July 2018
0530 and Sonflower sits on her mooring  opposite The Queens Arms where there was a 40th birthday party last night. The crew needed an early night and a good night's sleep.
Add caption
Approaching Targebigge Bottom Lock
Sunrise as Sonflower rises


 The Best Mate demonstrating the accuracy that she learned on entering the locks. They have a by-wash to throw the boat to the right as it goes in.

We soon got into a rhythm. One of the crew went ahead to set the next lock while the other closed the last after the boat. In this fashion we alternated and the load was totally shared. The locks were set for us until lock 40.We then had to empty six locks before they were set for us again. 
Nick's Canal Planner says it is 2.1/4 miles and 30locks from bottom to top. The mobile phone walking app in Sue-per crew's pocket recorded 4.1/2 miles!

We were at through the Top lock and tucking into breakfast at 9.30am.

We decided to move straight off toward  Birmingham. The tunnels were mainly dry and our only problem was a "shiny boat" with a very bright headlamp that sat 50 yards inside Targdebigge tunnel all the time we made our passage. The light was blinding as we approached him. Obviously the helmsman did not trust himself to keep off the wall or our boat as he passed! Our light entering the tunnel brought him to a complete halt. We did brush the side in Shortwood tunnel and Sonflower's gate made an amplified rattling din as we did so. Water level was a little lower that usual and the gunwhale was just below the rubbing wooden rail on the side so the gate rubbed against the wood.

There was dredging on the stretch through Edgbaston and we had to wait for a tug pushed hopper to pass through the railway bridge narrows. The dredging has made things a lot easier through the bridge narrows which used to almost bring the boat to a standstill because of the lack of water under her. I have never been through them quicker that this time. 

We entered Birmingham and took on water at Cambrian House. There was space in Cambrian Basin so after checking in the office we moored on a pontoon in accordance with Mooring Agreement Terms and Conditions 4.10. The prior written consent is displayed in our window!

                             17.1/4 miles, 30 locks 10hrs