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Stourbridge ascent scrapped

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We were all set to leave Awbridge on Monday with orders for Birmingham and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal via the Stourbridge Canal. We intended to use this route because the stoppage at Coseley Tunnel was not due to finish until March, and we have a four-day window on Tardebigge Locks to get down them, make our deliveries and return up the locks. A week or so ago, we received an email from the Canal and River Trust telling us that one of the pounds on Stourbridge Locks was to be lowered by 400mm to facilitate some construction works associated with a new housing development alongside the canal. This was to be carried out exactly at the same time as we needed to pass through these locks. Clearly, with a boat that ploughs more than floats even with the canal full up, this was going to be a major problem. A few emails later, a meeting was convened on site, and an amicable agreement reached whereby CRT and the developer would fill up the pound to enable our passage. They also agreed to fill the pound up, on demand, should any other boats require passage.

We then received notice that the works at Coseley have finished almost two months early, which is good news as it means that we can load three or four more tonnes of coal on Roach, and travel up to Birmingham via Wolverhampton Locks. It is also bad news as it means that the works planners for this job were miles out with their timings. Lets hope that future jobs are planned a little more accurately. 

It makes sense for us to turn the boat round and head off to Brum via the 21 locks at Wolverhampton, but it does mean that we don’t get to spend a night at Dadfords Shed, and, more importantly, don’t get to have a night out with Ian and Marion Kemp. The area around Dadfords Shed is awash with good pubs selling good beer.

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Our last trip up the Stourbridge Canal was occasioned by the closure of the “21” in 2013 for repairs to the lock wall at lock no 20. We ended up carrying about 16 tonnes of solid fuels up the Stourbridge Canal, which was fortuitous, as any more cargo would have severely hindered us. As it was, we spent about an hour getting into Lock 14 (the one at the head of the pound to be lowered 400mm), as it has been the target for the local “hard of thinking”  to throw bricks into from the fire damaged glass-works alongside. The picture above shows Jenny steering Roach along this pound. The land on the off-side is the site of the new housing development. A more interesting feature of this pound (for those of an anorak-like disposition at any rate), is the concrete day boat that forms part of the off-side bank, as shown below. One day, tourists will flock here to view it.

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I do like the Stourbridge Canal, as it is still 1950 along most of it, but there are a few spots that need dredging before it forms part of our route on a regular basis. We still get stuck on the same lumps that I was getting stuck on twenty years ago! There are also some low bridges along this canal, in particular Brettel Lane Bridge. This is not a problem with a loaded boat, but an empty vessel will have to remove chimney, cans etcetera from the cabin roof, and probably take down the cratch as well. (The cratch is the triangular structure at the fore-end of the boat). Brettel Lane Bridge is behind Roach in the picture below.

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I’ve just had a thought - we could go over for a night out with Ian and Marion on Monday night by bus, and set off on Roach Tuesday morning. Simples.

Trip with the Boss

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On the 2nd January 2015, we were joined by Richard Parry, the Chief Executive of the Canal & River Trust, for part of one of our regular trips on Roach. 

We had met Richard previously, and found him to be very accessible, and easy to talk to so there was none of the awkwardness that can sometimes be encountered in these situations. After a quick tour of the yard, and our last minute checks (have you picked up the phone/invoice book/order list/bottles of Bathams/etc/etc), we were ready to leave.

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We left Awbridge mid morning, having loaded 19.5 tonnes of pre-packed coal the previous day, and headed off up-hill towards Autherley Junction and the Shropshire Union Canal. Jenny and I had loaded most of the coal the previous day in pouring rain, so it was a pleasant change to find a bright (but cold) day on which to set out. I suggested that Richard steer once we had left the wharf, and he readily agreed. He ended up steering for most of the day, and never once asked about the rate of pay. The boat was probably heavier to steer than he had tried before, but he got the hang of it immediately. 

We covered a variety of topics in our conversations, and we found him to be very receptive, open and, in some respects, surprisingly candid. Obviously, we bent his ear with our personal bug-bears such as the ridiculous hand-rails fitted to the lock-tail bridges on the Staffs & Worcs Canal - the one at Ebstree being particularly offensive in my eyes (it was obviously designed by Harry Hill as it highlights his initials), and the recent spate of irritating catches being fitted to the pawls on the lock-paddle gear. 

We encountered no real problems other than the usual irritants such as debris in the bottom of lock chambers, the odd sideways shift here and there caused by waterlogged tree trunks and the large lump of rubble left by contractors in Compton Bridge, and the general, gentle rocking and rolling that is always experienced on a loaded boat, (the size of most obstacles is exaggerated when bounced over with an empty boat). The stop-gate narrows beyond Wolverhampton Boat Club on the Shropshire Union Canal was the only place that actually stopped our progress - three or four runs at it with all twenty-nine horses engaged got us through though.

Dredging was the subject of a long discussion, my thoughts on profile-dredging in particular were listened to, as was my monologue regarding overhanging branches. Contractors, (in particular the supervision of contractors), the role of volunteers and water conservation were also discussed in depth.  Jenny gave him the benefit of her thoughts on the Winter Stoppage Programme among other things, and also supplied endless cups of tea. On the issue of reeds, he did ask me if I thought that the only good reed was a dead reed! 

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I did ask Richard if he was in the job for the ‘long-haul”, and he assured me that he was. In fact, he answered this particular point with some passion, and I have no doubt that he means to persevere, and that he does care deeply for our canal system. Jenny and I like him and wish him well.

We dropped Richard off just beyond Brewood, complete with instruction in the local pronunciation of that place, and we carried on with our journey. 


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