Thursday, 8 July 2010

Birmingham to Brewood, via the "Scenic Route"

Faced with the need to traverse the BCN from Birmingham to Wolverhampton I can rarely bring myself just to use the obvious route. At the very least I'll go "Old Main Line" rather than New and, if I've got the time, I'll incorporate as many diversions and deviations as I can fit in - what we old busmen like to euphemistically call the "scenic route". For this trip the diversion of choice was to be Spon Lane Locks.
It has to be said that there is no obvious reason for any boat to use Spon Lane Locks these days and they must surely be some of the least used, as well as some of the oldest, locks on the system. They link the New Main Line at Bromford Junction with the Old Main Line half-a-mile away at Spon Lane Junction. A boat ascending the locks from the Wolverhampton or Walsall directions would have the option of continuing on the Old Main Line for hardly a mile before going down to the new line again at Smethwick Locks or turning almost 180 degrees at Spon Lane Jc to head back in the direction whence it came. I suppose a boat from Walsall to the top of The Crow (Oldbury Locks) might come this way but even such an unlikely movement would have an alternative route via the Gower Branch and the Brades Locks. A map might make this clearer. . .
GEO Projects map of the BCN showing Spon Lane Locks just left of centre.
. . .but then again, it may not!
Our route was out along the New Main Line to Bromford Junction, where we doubled back on ourselves round an almost 180 degree turn to the bottom of the Spon Lane flight.
Bromford Junction. Spon Lane Bottom Lock on the left, New Main Line on the right. Although bound for Wolverhampton, Starcross is at this point facing 
towards Birmingham, having come under the bridge on the right of the picture.
No sooner had I made the turn than we were brought to a full stop with a fouled propeller. I must admit that, even armed with the rubber gloves I keep especially for the BCN, I hesitated before plunging my arm down the weedhatch, such was the colour and smell of the black gunk where the water should have been. As often in Birmingham it was a piece of discarded clothing on the blades - in this case the remains of a pair of overalls. Perhaps its because there are so many miles of canal in Birmingham that the locals find it easier to dispose of unwanted clothing in this way rather than take it to he charity shop like everyone else.
The locks themselves were surprisingly well maintained and we had no further difficulty in reaching Spon Lane Junction, located underneath the elevated section of the M5 motorway, where another 180 degree turn brought us onto the Old Main Line and had us pointing in the right direction again.
Spon Lane Junction, where Starcross would turn to the right, 
behind the pillar in the foreground, onto the Old Main Line
My log shows that we left Birmingham at 08.55 and arrived at Wolverhampton Top Lock five-and-a-half hours later, so our little escapade had added an hour to the normal transit time. A boat was just leaving the top lock, heading downhill, so we could expect all 21 locks to be against us which, in the absence of any uphill traffic, proved to be the case. I think, therefore, that our time of 2h 37m was very creditable, being an average of 7.5 minutes a lock, not forgetting the two miles distance also covered. The folding bike really came into its own here as it allowed the lock worker to go on ahead to set the next lock and then return to close up after the boat left, before charging back down to arrive at the lower lock just as the boat reached it and in time to draw a bottom paddle.
We were at Autherley Junction at 17.05, but with no reason to stop here carried on to Brewood for the night, finding a space just past the official visitor moorings, which were full.
In the three days since leaving Stockton Top Lock we had covered 58 miles and no fewer than 87 locks so we felt we deserved a few pints in the hostelries of Brewood. We ended up in the "Swan" which, as well as good beer, has the advantage of having the village's main bus stop right outside, where we could keep an eye on the Arriva buses en-route from Wolverhampton to Stafford as well as the late evening "Midland" service to Ivetsey Bank. 
Paradise indeed - made even sweeter by another failure to close the bar at 11pm!

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