Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ice on the Old Main Line

Monday, 2nd February

I had been surprised that we had survived the Walsall Canal without a trip to the weedhatch yesterday, but when we turned onto the New Main Line it was obvious that it needed some attention. I decided to wait until we'd arrived at Birmingham but then promptly forgot all about it until reminded by Pete early this morning.

Despite their boating experience, the other members of the crew claimed never to have been down a weed-hatch before - even claiming not to know where it was!  I fell for this and volunteered to show them how.  Now I haven't mentioned the weather very much this trip, but the predominant feature was the cold!  The temperature had been several degrees below zero overnight and although no ice had formed at Oozells Street (those air-con vents again?) the water was bloody cold.

The mug in the weed-hatch
To be fair, Twelfth of Never's weed-hatch proved very easy to work in - much easier than Starcross's - but the water was so cold that I couldn't keep my hands in it for more than 20 seconds at a time, having to keep removing them to rub them with the towel to try and bring some feeling back to my fingers. After I'd removed a huge heap of crud - only part of which you can see above - I put them under the hot tap and spent several minutues wondering why the water coming out of it wasn't hot - until I realised that it was!

Once underway, Steve quickly discovered ice on the cut at the turn back onto the main line and once out of the city centre we were breaking ice all the way, plans to do the Icknield Port and Soho loops being abandoned due to the conditions.
Breaking ice on the New Main Line
When planning the trip, Steve's idea had been to incorporate a visit to the Black Country Museum, but it's not open at the beginning of the week in winter. Nevertheless we stuck to the route we would have taken and therefore turned right onto the Old Main Line at Smethwick.

Smethwick Top Lock
Leaving Smethwick Top Lock and the sadly burned-out toll house, the ice got thicker and we continued to hit patches most of the way to Dudley, the section where the M5 runs above being a rare exception. I was surprised to notice that someone has gone to the trouble and expense of erecting enormous illuminated advertising displays on that stretch.

Surely it can't be worth it for the number of boaters passing this way? (Or am I missing something?)

Despite the Black Country Museum being closed we journeyed up the arm leading to it anyway, as we needed water. I then entertained the Community Payback team working there by winding the boat in the rather confined space available.

Then it was on to Tipton and back on to the New Main Line. The turn onto the Netherton Tunnel branch was tricky, due to the ice, but Steve managed it perfectly and of course there was no ice in the tunnel itself! Up until now there hadn't been any moored boats to worry about, but once on the Dudley Canal we did come across a few which meant reaching a compromise between slowing down so as not to do any damage and maintaining enough forward motion to give steerage and break the ice. Fortunately, those few boat owners who were aboard their boats seemed very understanding.

We had a quick stop at Blower's Green so that Steve and Pete could walk up and see the other end of Dudley Tunnel (we'd seen the north end at the Black Country Museum) and then tied up at Merry Hill on the moorings overlooking Sainsbury's.  The rest of the crew were strangers to the Black Country and I think Brierley Hill High Street (or what's left of it) came as a bit of a shock, but we did find a reasonable Indian Restaurant for a curry later on.

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