Before leaving Wolverhampton I found I had the perfect excuse to do something I've been wanting to do for some time; to take Starcross into British Waterways' Broad Street Depot. Its not really a working depot any more - in fact the main buildings are a night club - but it still looks the part. The entrance to the depot is under a bridge off the Birmingham Main Line and once in you have to reverse out, which in our case we did after using the Elsan (chemical toilet) disposal.
The rest of the sanitary facilities here, despite being kept behind two locked doors are very well looked after and rank as some of the best on the system. In fact, I was so impressed I filled in a comments form and told them so.
After backing out of the depot we headed off eastwards along what I've always thought of as the Birmingham Canal Navigations Main Line, although according to this sign at the top of the "21" I might be mistaken:
Apparently, it's the Wolverhampton Canal, but I wonder if I detect a touch of Midlands rivalry here? After all, If Birmingham, Coventry, Walsall, Dudley and even Stourbridge can have their "own"canals then why not Wolverhampton?
At Tipton Factory Locks (3 locks - 21 minutes) we were hailed from the towpath by a young lady who'd noticed the "Norbury Junction" on Starcross' cabin side. She'd just moved to Tipton from Norbury and was finding it all very different, as you can imagine. From rural Staffordshire to the heart of the Black Country must be a great culture-shock, but she seemed cheerful enough.
At Dudley Port Junction we turned right and were soon into Netherton Tunnel. Duncan takes no prisoners when steering and we were through the 3,027 yards in thirty-two minutes, never deviating from a straight course and not slowing down a bit - even when we met an oncoming boat, which must have been nerve-wracking for its steerer, but he didn't seem to mind as he exchanged gruff "'Ow Do?'s" with Duncan as they passed!
Emerging from the tunnel we were soon at Windmill End, one of the more conventionally attractive spots on the B.C.N.
The bridge directly behind Starcross spans the line from Netherton Tunnel. This new line, completed in 1858, cut across the original route of the Dudley Canal, leaving a loop which was later severed by subsidence forming two branch lines, known today as the Boshboil and Bumblehole branches. We decided we had time to explore at least one of the arms and decided on the Bumblehole as it was longer and had the advantage of a winding hole at the terminus. The first obstacle was the layout of the junction, which assumes that boats entering the branch are coming north, following the original route, and which therefore makes southbound boats negotiate a 270 degree turn, which is just about possible in a 50ft-er like Starcross.
Then comes Dunn's Bridge - one of the lowest on the BCN.
Here, Duncan keeps a sharp eye on the new vent for the Murco water-heater as well as adding extra ballast on that side of the boat. (He did remember to duck and was therefore able to complete the rest of the trip.) The Bumblehole Branch sounds as if it should be some bucolic rural retreat, but its really fairly suburban in charachter.
On the way in I tried to pass the boom on the towpath side, as far as possible from the hinge, but it was very shallow and I ran aground. So on the way out I came down the middle and hit it straight on - with the result that it went directly underneath the hull and although it eventually emerged behind us it was, alas, no longer bright yellow, but more sort of "mud" coloured!
The terminus is occupied by a number of moored boats, which really do have one of the most salubrious mooring spots on the BCN. The approach to the moorings is protected by a boom - a bright yellow plastic barrier, hinged at one end to allow boats to pass but keep floating rubbish out, which you can see just in front of and to the right of Starcross.
We beat a hasty retreat back on to the main line.....