Saturday, 30 July 2016

Bashing the backwaters

Bashing the backwaters
July 2016

Whilst we may not be able to travel far, our remote location on the northern fringes of the BCN does off scope for a number of rather lovely overnight moorings.

Sunset at Pelsall Common

Helen has just completed her third course of chemo (half way there) and has recovered enough to want to venture outside the house, but needs to remain within striking distance of the hospital should anything go wrong.

And so a three day trip on the boat was prescribed. She has no energy for locking so that rules out the south - so, lets go north!  

Day one (Friday).

We make for Pelsall Common which is on countdown for the IWA Festival of Water  which will occupy the site in four weeks time. There is not a lot to see on the ground but the banners have appeared on the local bridges and the locals seem to have got wind of it.

We ate at the Fingerpost Inn and in spite of being just about the only eating customers at 6.00pm the food was less that inspirational, which was pretty much what we experienced last time. The lime mayo was missing from the starter and the deep fried onion rings were missing from the main - we had apologies and remediation but they weren't exactly rushed off their feet. I think we will pick up a Tesco's Finest for £10 next time and eat on the boat.

Water Lillies in the canal

As ever, the common was deserted and apart from some dog walkers we had the place to ourselves, savouring a lingering sunset after an afternoon downpour.

Day two (Saturday)

A lazy start followed and we puttered the hour back to Brownhills where we paid a visit to Tesco just beside the canal and also picked up 5kg of red peppers at Aldi for another batch of Blow your head off Chilli Jam.

Tranquility on the Anglesey Arm

Then it was for another hour as we wound our way along the weed fringed Anglesey Arm for a mooring in Norton Pool, beneath the high earth ramparts which hold back the Chasewater reservoir. Along the way we passed "Cockfest", Brownhills very own music festival which was in full swing. Now dont get me wrong, its a nice effort but the event isnt about to rival Worthy Farm in Glastonbury. I will bet you are wondering about the rather splendid name Cockfest. No its not a nudist festival for gents with impressive lunchboxes, but rather because it is held on the site of an old chicken farm. Only in Brownhills.......

Cockfest main stage

We have previously moored in the inlet beneath the dam, but the sound of running  water had me up to the loo four times in the night so this time we moored at the site of the old coal gantry, near the remains of the coal chutes. 

 Norton Pool 

Sunset at Chasewater

A lovely secluded mooring in the midst of the old drift mines with only the faintest hum on the M6 Toll to disturb us.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Rosie's Walk, Aldridge

The Jam Butty at Rosie's Walk, Aldridge
July 2016

The Jam Butty will be making a pop up appearance along the route of what will be the very last Rosie's Walk in Aldridge this coming Sunday (17th July).

Rosie's Walk, or more accurately Rosie's Helping Hands, has been a local charity inspired by the tragic and senseless killing of Rosie Ross in Birmingham on 12th May 2001 when she was just sixteen. Each year a large crowd gather near Longwood Boat club and walk a three mile circuit in her memory, raising about £15,000 pa which is used to benefit local children's works.

As well as a canalside walk, the route takes you through the Hayhead Local Nature Reserve which is itself one of the more fascinating lost sections of the BCN canal network.

This year will be the last and with the blessing of the event organisers (Rosie's mum) The Jam Butty will be open for preserve tastings and sales on the visitor moorings at Longwood Boat Club and Rushall Top Lock.

As an extra bonus the Homebrew Boat will be on the canal at the same time so you can sample locally made preserves and learn more about the subtle art of fermentation, as well as getting some exercise on what promises to be a lovely summer day.

The Jam Butty and The Homebrew Boat will be open from late morning till late afternoon and the walks themselves will start at noon and the last start for both the three and one mile routes will be at 2.30pm (Satnav WS9 0QQ).

See you there.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Bostin in Brownhills

Bostin in Brownhills
June 2016

I spent last weekend on the waterfront in Brownhills, taking nearly three hours to get there along the shallow and narrow Daw End Branch of the Wyrley and Essington canal on Saturday. I arrived in time to set the butty up ready for the Brownhills Canalside Festival and to go and chat the a couple of the other boaters for an hour or so, putting the issues of the EU to rights in the process.

Brownhills Canalside Festival 2016

This event is really a canal side fete put on by the local residents (The Brownhills Peoples Association to be accurate) and whilst a smattering of boats was needed to bring the water to life, it is not a boating festival by any stretch of the imagination. There was the Ikon art boat, the BCNS workboat Phoenix offering trips, two local boats in for the day, two permanent moorers who simply sat it out and then there was me, the first trading boat to appear at the event and a novel addition which went down well with the attendees.

The Jam Butty in action

The organisation is a bit hit and miss with limited direction and supervision, but there is a team spirit about the while thing and everyone just seems to muck in an it all comes together. There was no booking system for boats and no harbour master, so we all discussed the options and then made it happen. The limited number of boats should not come as a surprise when you remember that  Brownhills is at least a full days cruising on remaindered canals from any main waterways.

Lots of canoeing

There is something rather special about these small local events, organised by local community activists for the local community. From a trading perspective I never have high expectations but am so often pleasantly surprised, and Brownhills was no exception. I was trading solo with Helen staying at home with a friend so I scaled back the operations a bit, dropping the cordials and offering a more limited range which I can manage on my own.

Local musical acts

I woke to the sound of rain hammering down in the night but it had moved on my the morning and instead we had an unseasonal northerly breeze with a forecast of rail for late afternoon. These conditions called for the gazebo plus a couple of sides but come 10.00 am I was set up and by 10.10 I had covered my stall fee - not a bad start! The day continued in a steady fashion, never overrun but rarely quiet. I had some company over the lunch period but in the main I served alone and it surprised my just how many people I know, both locals and visitors. And so the day passed in a very sociable manner and by the time the rail arrived at 3.30 the table was looking a bit light on stock. In the end we have a good day with takings which would not have disgraced a big event like Droitwich.

But, as we have seen before, a late rain shower is the final curtain for outside events and the crowds just melted away and the stallholders trying to set gazebo dismantling records. I plodded on steadily and just after 5.00pm all was packed away and the Jam Butty was both weatherproof and ready to move.

And then a dilemma - do I stay or do I go? Well, I was already more than a bit damp so I pulled on my waterproofs and made a start on the return journey. The temperature plummeted and as I passed through Walsall Wood my breath was coming out as steam - great for the end of June! My destination was to stop at the offside mooring next to Aldridge Marina, only half a mile from home but a full two hours cruising from or mooring so with no plans for Monday morning I stopped for the night and was rewarded with a bright and dry end to my short trip out.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Brownhills Becons

Brownhills Canal Festival
June 2016

Brownhills, or Brownshill as one of my dear friends calls it, plays host to an annual canal festival but as you can imagine, its not high on most boaters itineraries. As a result its a one day event which is more to celebrate the Wyrley and Essington Canal which runs through it than about the boats.

There will be some boats in attendance, including a historic and the BCNS workboat Phoenix to offer boat trips, plus the IKON boat for an artistic dimension, as well a full compliment of land based stalls (the pitched sold out weeks ago) plus canoe displays and live music near the canoe club. All in all a nice little community event.

I passed through the Brownhills waterfront today and the area was alive with bunting and a big banner had been erected on the roundabout. However, the advertising alteration squad is active in the area, subtly changing the message which has triggered masses of interest on social media - a bit of a bummer!

If all had gone according to plan we would have been somewhere around Tamworth and making for the Grand Union when the festival is on. Given our limitations of movement at present and the fact that Brownhills is just 2.5 hours cruising away, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I contacted the organisers and asked for a trade boat slot, but we seem to be the first trade boat to make such an approach and we therefore made up policy on the fly. I guess I could have just arrived and set up the Jam Butty, but that seems wrong so we decided that paying the standard stallholder rate would be fair and I was delegated trade boat harbour master duty (for myself).

And so The Jam Butty will attend its very first Canal Festival this coming Sunday managed by just yours truly and any other friends who show up. 

If you are in the area its opposite the Brownhills Tesco's front door, and will run from 10.00am till 4.00pm on Sunday 26th June.

See you there!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Passport to Pelsall

Passport to Pelsall
June 2016

Right now the stars seem to be in alignment. Its the day after the summer solstice, the sun is out and most crucially, Helen is feeling well - so we seized the day and grabbed a night afloat.

The Fingerpost on Pelsall Common

There is an ill founded misconception that its all a bit grim on the northern BCN but nothing could be further from the truth. Tucked out in the far reaches of the remaindered section lies the village of Pelsall and with it a rather wonderful canal side common. This semi rural location has to be one of the gems of the BCN which, if it was anywhere else, would be rammed with boats moored bumper to bumper (think Tixall Wide).

Cannock Extension Canal

But because its in one of the remotest sections of the BCN - a full days cruising from the Main Line - it attracts few visitors. And so here we sit, moored next to the rather good Fingerpost pub in glorious isolation having had the ten miles of cruising without meeting a single moving boat.

Not that it has always been this way. The common used to be home to a enormous ironworks with blast furnaces blazing away 24 hours a day, fed by dozens of Joey or Day Boats bringing coal, ironstone and limestone and taking finished product out. But those days of industry are long gone and the sounds of birdsong seem to have eradicated even the echoes.

Of course, others do know of this spot and periodically the common is the venue for canal festivals. BCNS tend to hold biannual events here but this year its the turn of the IWA's big festival which will attract over 150 boats over the August bank holiday weekend. Given our change of plan this summer it seemed daft not to take advantage of the IWA gathering so Wand'ring Bark and The Jam Butty will be attending and offering as fine a selection of preserves as you are likely to find.

As this spot is three hours cruising from Longwood (not towing the butty) it is a regular destination and one which photographs well through the season. I attach a selection of tonight's images to let you see what you are missing.