Thursday, 29 October 2009

In Praise of Wolverhampton

or Slowly to Stourport, Part II

My crew member for the rest of the trip was my old mate Duncan, who I always enjoy having on board. He has just as much boating experience as I have and we work well together as a team because each of us knows exactly what the other will do at locks, when tying up or in any other situation without the need for shouted instructions or consultations.
Duncan was coming from Mossley, where he lives within a few hundred metres of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, and we agreed to meet at Aldersley Junction at the foot of the flight of 21 locks that leads up to the Wolverhampton Level of the BCN at three o'clock. We both timed it perfectly, with Starcross approaching the junction from Compton as Duncan walked down the towpath from the town.
Our method of working was that once Starcross was in the lock, Duncan would close the bottom gates and open the top paddles to start filling the lock. He would then walk ahead to empty the next and I, once the lock was full, would open the top gate, take Starcross out and then close it behind me while the boat sat in the neck of the lock (although as you can see from the photo I always threw the stern rope off just in case she started to drift away - which would have been embarrassing to say the least!) Usually, by the time I got to the next lock Duncan would have it ready and waiting with the gates open, saving valuable time. I'm always surprised, and usually annoyed, when I see some crews not sending people on ahead to set the road in this way even when they are mob-handed.

Working this way we made steady progress up the flight and the ascent took us exactly two-and-a-half-hours, or just over 7 minutes a lock, which isn't bad going for a two handed crew when most of the locks were against us (i.e. we had to empty them before we could take the boat in and fill them again) and one of the crew (me) was not exactly operating at full strength.

Wolverhampton Top Lock is one of my favourite locations on the system. The juxtaposition of the lock and lock-side cottages creates an evocative scene that seems miles (or is it years) removed from the surrounding busy city centre environment.

Apparently some people don't consider the moorings at Wolverhampton Top Lock to be "safe" and prefer to tie up on the "secure" moorings further on that cower under the retaining wall of the city's inner ring road and from which there is no access from your boat to the outside world. But I've never had any problems and we passed another night there safely - but not before visiting a selection of Wolverhampton's better pubs beforehand.

In one of these, the Combermere Arms, we drank an excellent pint of Banks's Mild not more than 200 metres from the brewery in which it was brewed. I've always liked Banks's Mild, but I like asking for it even more since the brewery misguidedly renamed it "Original" some years back. Apparently they did this to try and dispel its alledgedly "cloth cap and whippetts" downmarket image. But this is the Black Country we are talking about and absolutely everyone here and in the rest of the Midlands has continued to call it "Mild" ever since and only the occasional tourist (the very occasional tourist in Wolverhampton) ever asks for it by its official brand name. A rare example of people-power defeating the marketing whizz-kids - and long may it continue.

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