Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A Different Face of Birmingham.

Wednesday 9th July at Catherine-de-Barnes.
Another lovely day dawned. We've been so lucky with the weather this year, certainly compared with 2012 when it rained almost every day!
We waved goodbye to Mike and Sue on nb "Arathorn", who were heading up to Nantwich, then set off ourselves in the opposite direction. We hope we meet them again one day.
Last year. we came through Birmingham from the south and it was mostly green and pleasant all the way in to Gas Street Basin, which has been beautifully redeveloped. This year, travelling in from the north-east, the surroundings could hardly have been more different.
The journey up to Salford Junction was not too bad. The Junction is incredible, it is where three canals meet (and the M6 passes overhead).
The Birmingham & Fazeley (on which we had come up from the north east) continues up into the centre of Birmingham, the Tame Valley Canal goes up to the north west and the Grand Union Canal goes toward London and the south east via the short Saltley Cut, which was our way forward.
In its heyday, this must have been a very busy and in its way, attractive, junction. Now, however, it is dominated by the M6 motorway towering overhead and right next to it is "Spaghetti Junction" - so 200 years later it is still the location of one of the most congested junctions in the country. It seems that nothing changes! Well, certainly not for the better.
Our route required a very sharp left-hand turn on to the Saltley Cut and through what had obviously once been a stop lock.
The conditions in and around the canal deteriorated rapidly. The canal was flanked by industrial units, often derelict. The water was oily, full of scum and litter (we saw a TV and a bird feeding table float by) and here, the graffiti king rules okay. At one of the locks, the lockside house had recently been gutted by fire, damaging one of the lock's balance beams.
It seems that nothing changes because even the old boatmen in the nineteenth century were known to hate the Saltley Cut. Five locks later, we arrived at Bordesley Junction and the surroundings got even worse. We cruised up to Warwick Bar, which is the top end of the Grand Union, where it joins the Digbeth Branch into central Birmingham.  We had been hoping to go into "Tyhoo Basin", not least because of the delightful name, but we chose not to, due to the presence of too much vegetation on one bank and large metal spikes sticking out of the opposite bank (welcome to Typhoo?).
We turned (going through yet another stop-lock) to go up through the six Camp Hill locks south along the Grand Union.
M recoiled in horror at the sight of the forbidding, gloomy bottom lock gates with filth and detritus piled up against them on the oily water. M was even prepared to go back the awful way we had just come rather than face such a grim prospect; however, we girded our loins and and got on with it, in true narrowboating fashion.
It was really sad because it was clear that an absolute fortune had been spent on these locks. All the surrounds had been block-paved at vast expense and the brickwork was in excellent condition - but no attempt had been made to maintain them. There was tall grass and weeds everywhere and almost every flat surface was covered in grafiti. At least it got marginally better as we proceeded up the flight.
Half way up, we met some C&RT chaps who were dredging the pounds and M took a photo of their "haul". At least two supermarket trolleys and a child's bike, all rusted almost beyond recognition.
One of the C&RT chaps said that they were not allowed to maintain the flight because of high levels of phosphate pollution from WWII. Sounds like an "Elf" excuse to us - if they could renovate the brickwork they could certainly mow the grass.  Such a shame; this is the first time in nearly three years' cruising that we haven't felt able to be positive about the waterways.
The surroundings stayed fairly grim all the way to Tyseley, where we moored up and walked the mile or so to the local Railway Museum.
It was closed! Had we studied the guide books more carefully before we set off, we would have discovered that it only opens weekends. Durr! However, it was interesting to see the network of rail lines at Tyseley with the skyline of Birmingham in the background. M remarked that it reminded her a bit of New York.
Just after Tyseley, we passed the burnt out shell of a narrowboat that was stuck across the canal leaving little room to get by. Such a very sad sight.
Thankfully, after Tyseley the surroundings truly improved and we eventually moored up in a delightful village rejoicing in the name of "Catherine-de-Barnes" or as the old boatmen used to call it - "Kate". Modern day locals call it "Catney".
Today: 12 miles, 11 locks and 6.7 hours.
Trip: 54 miles, 33 locks and 28.4 hours.

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