Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Leasowes

Lapal Canal
July 2015

Tracking down the western portal of the Lapal Tunnel is very tricky All trace has been covered but the maps suggest it exited just west of Lapal Lane South, close to the fishponds of St Marys Abbey. 

Map of western end of Lapal Canal - courtesy of Waterways Routes

Fishpond dams with manhole cover

There is a footpath from Lapal Lane to the fishponds which offers a great view of the remains of St Mary's. There appears to be a vent / manhole cover in one pf the fishpond dams which clearly is not medieval and may be a tunnel vent inserted after closure.

Canal at Mucklow Hill

The canal swung north at this point and crossed what is now the A456 just below the  Black Horse Pub, an old boatman's pub.

From here the canal track becomes obvious heading north just to the west of Cloister Drive with the towpath turned into a cinder footpath. The canal bed is full of weed cut clearly visible as it contours round the hill eventually reaching a narrows which was reconstructed in the 1990's. 

Then suddenly the canal is in water as it crosses Leasowes Park on one of the biggest embankments have ever seen. I had been wondering where all the tunnel spoil went and I guess the embankment offers a likely solution to its absence from the fields around the western end.

The canal is largely empty over the embankment with just a foot or so of rainwater offering a canal like appearance but it offers a great circular walk right up to Mucklow Hill and then back again on the other side, the path flanked by the remains of a minature railway track with amazing views over the trees surrounding Breaches Pool in Leasowes Park. A spectacular sight even in the pouring rain!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Selly Oak to the Lapal Tunnel

Lapal Canal
Selly Oak Park to the Lapal Tunnel
July 2015

It has to be said that the exploration of the BCN's lost canals can often lead me to the dark and dingy back end of the Black Country but this walk turns out to be quite a delight, jumping from public park yo open space and linked by  a nearly continous thread of an long lost canal. If ever there is a route worth walking its this one.

Footpath on the Lapal Canal Route

You dont need fancy maps apart from something to help you find the locations of the two tunnel portals which are not immediately apparent.

Lapal Canal western end - courtesy of Waterways Routes

The route out of Selly Oak Park is clear with the canal infilled but its bed remains as a path which proceeds in a straight line alongside Reservoir Road as far as Bourn Brook and then alongside Swinford Road to the now buried portal at California.

Somery Lane Bridge

Along the way the track runs under a tunnel of trees. Mostly its a pleasant walk but here and there it lapses into a tip with burnt matresses and abandoned motorcycles in the verges. 

At the California end the lad starts to rise and the canal used to run in a deep cutting. Today Somery Lane Bridge remains the cutting filled to the brim and the line beyond built on by an industrial site.

Beyond Somery Lane

At  the very end, where the tunnel dug under the hill, the portal was buried long ago. Today the entrance area is public open ground, built on a landfill site with just the stubs of old ventilation pipes to show its boundaries. There is just one telltale built fragment remaining - a wall which was a bridge parapet over the tunnel portal which isn't recognisable as such unless you know what to look for.

Bridge parapet over tunnel entrance

  1. Same place in the 1950's

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Lapal Canal - Selly Oak

Lapal Canal
Selly Oak
July 2015

Posts in this series:
1. Selly Oak - this post
2. Selly Oak Park to Lapal Tunnel
3. Lapal Tunnel to Leasowes Park

At last, after a long break I have been back on the trail of the lonesome canal.

Lapal Canal courtesy of Waterways Routes

The prospect of "family church" was not an enticing so in spite of a very suspect weather forecast I was up and out by 6.30am, initially visiting Kings Norton to pick up a bagful of Himalayan Balsam flowers to try out their potential for a jelly, a vinegar and a cordial and then on to take a look at what is now referred to as the Lapal Canal.

Hamalayan Balsam in Kings Norton Park

Now lets get this right. What I am actually talking about is the abandoned section between Hawne Basin and Selly Oak which includes and infamous Lapal Tunnel with its tendency to collapse.Technically this is part of the Dudley No 2 Canal that went all the way to Blowers Green where it met up with the Dudley No1 Canal but the Lapal Canal has a nice ring to it..

Junction with the Dudley No2 Canal

This six mile stretch is the last significant chunk of the abandoned BCN which I have yet to explore and afterwards there is just an assortment of odds and ends so this was something of a landmark walk.

Lapal Canal - Battery Park site under construction August 2015

I started at the Selly Oak end, parking at the Park and Ride but as an alternative there is a good car park in front of the Scout Hut in Selly Oak Park. This starting point offers a good vantage point to view the old canal junction where the Dudley No2 joined the Worcester Birmingham Canal, now visible as just a rise in the towpath.

Harborne Lane Bridge in Selly Oak

The canal route behind the new Homebase store is not accessible but its route emerges beneath the new Harborne Lane bridge which was built with a navigable channel beneath. 
However, the canal route become much more apparent as it enters Selly Oak Park. 

Selly Oak Park Bridge

There has been a lot of time spent of this section, through to the extant Selly Oak Park Bridge which still stands astride a dry channel.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Canals of Amsterdam

Canals of Amsterdam
July 2015

Last week saw me off on another continental jaunt which included both Brussels and Amsterdam.

Brussels was nice enough but it has nothing like the appeal of Amsterdam, with its intricate network of canals radiating out from the city centre in a series of ever widening arcs.

I had never visited the city before and was immediately seduced by its old world charms.

Having arrived on the Thalys (high speed train) I entered via the central station and decided to walk to the hotel, a couple of miles away just outside the fourth canal. This walk gave me an opportunity to find my bearings and get a feel for a cross section of the city.

Of course, there was the small matter of business to attend to but lets not dwell on that!

On my second evening I wandered over the road from The Park Hotel, minding out for the pink pavements which are the province of the bicycles which throng the city. I bought a ticket on The Blue Boat Cruise company and, for just over £10, I secured a seat at the stern of the boat and watched the old town slip bye  on a balmy summer evening.

By sitting outside I did get come good images on the i-pad, but had to forgo the commentary so I didn't pick up much of the local history. Never mind, having whetted my appetite it means there is a reason to return to this wonderful city.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

I've got that sinking feeling.....

Subsidence in Walsall Wood
July 2015

Before you leap to the wrong conclusions - neither of our boats is in imminent danger of sinking.... I hope! True, I have replaced the packing in the stuffing box today so a tragedy could follow but overheating from over tightening is a more likely outcome.

No, today's post is about subsidence of the Daw End Canal as it passes through Walsall Wood, less than a mile from our home.

The Daw End Branch canal ran over a very good coal measure so naturally enough them mined the stuff out and in time the surrounding land settles several feet as the workings collapsed. The mines were last worked over 100 years ago and the general view is that if subsidence is to occur it will stop after 40 years.

The canal neat our house therefore suffered severe subsidence and had to have its banks built up repeatedly and even today the channel, with its silt, is over 6 feet deep. Raising the banks is ok, but it bridges are a problem. In areas prone to subsidence the old hump backed bridges were replaced with flat topped ones, which could be jacked up as an when necessary.

There is one bridge which particularly catches my eye every time I pass under it - Black Cock Bridge.

This venerable old iron span has been lifted on at least one occasion and its walls have built in jacking points to cater for any future movement. If you look closely al the walls lower down you can see a row of old jacking holes which have been bricked up and who knows if there and now underground / under water.

The other tell tale evidence of subsidence are the rope rollers which should go from ground level to the bridge span. Instead they are half buried which indicated that the last lifting was after horse drawn traffic switched to diesel in the 1930's.

Finally, if looked at from a distance you can see the pipe which accompanies the road has been cranked up to give headroom and shows just how much lifting was needed.

Monday, 13 July 2015

A long and winding road

A trip down the Curley Wyrley
July 2015

Our trip to Kings Norton festival hit a snag even before we had started. 

There are three alternative routes :

1. The direct route down to Salford Junction and back up the farmers bridge. Very short but with the better part of 40 locks - about 12 hours.

2. The less direct route via Ryders Green which is longer but has 17 locks - about 9 hours

3. The long way using the Wyrley and Essington via v Wolverhampton - only 3 locks but 17 hours.

Pelsall Common at dawn

No guessing which route we wanted - but Ryders Green top lock was closed with a split balance beam. As I was to be single handed for the day the Salford Junction option was impossible. Nothing for it but to hit the W&E and settle in for a long haul, literally.

Watch out in Harden!

I teed myself up on Wednesday evening by moving the boats to Walsall Wood and then it was up and away at 5.00am - so I was cruising into Sneyd before 10.00am. The sun shone and the boats gluided over gin clear water, fish flitting in and out of the weeds beneath me. During the 10 hours I was on the W&E I passed just one other moving boat, and then was right at the end. That's not to say there are no boats, only last week I found myself behind Atlas and Malus as they made their slow way home from Longwood Festival.

The W&E is a canal of many parts and most of them surprisingly pleasant, especially the section from Longwood to Bloxwich.

Pidgeon at Sneyd

But my trip didn't end at Wolverhampton. I pressed on to Tipton where I picked up Helen and then we moved on the Central Birmingham, rolling in at about 8.30pm - after 15.5 hours at the tiller. A great day but perhaps a trip which is better split into two!

Sunday, 12 July 2015


Roach - Coal Boat

July 2015

I always knew I would come across Roach, and this weekend was the time!

You see, I unashamedly copied their cratch plate when I had The Jam Butty painted and It was a little bit of nervousness that I approached Worcester Bar on Friday and passed John Jackson with Roach literally loaded to the gunnels with coal destined for Lyons Boatyard on the North Stratford.

I needn't have worries because John admitted that Roach was copied from the Ovaltine boats and he thought that the front of Montgomery looked very fine. 

Roach was also heading for the Kings Norton Junction gathering to celebrate the 200 years anniversary of the Worcester Birmingham canal's completion.

Long after we arrived Roach came labouring up the cut, sometimes ploughing a furrow in the silt band at other times bumping over the underwater obstacles. Even as she came under the junction bridge she stuck fast and needed a run up to break through and enter the junction itself.

All this stopping and starting offered plenty of time for good photos and her departure on Sunday was no less entertaining as she ran into trouble passing through the Kings Norton Guillotine which is notorious for its mudbank at the Stratford end. After several attempts to get through we ended up with five people on the ropes and inch by inch she edged into the canal beyond, the water bubbling from her bows as a new navigation channel was established!

Its not every day you see a fully laden working boat moving on these waters and it was certainly a wonderful sight.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A shed for all seasons

A shed for all season
July 2015

When we were looking for a new house we did see a lovely mews property, but in spite of all its rustic charm it didn't have space for a shed. I pondered over this for a minute or two and advised Mrs Ahab "I cant live without a shed".

Now technically speaking it would be quite possible to exist without a man cave, but my question has to be "why would I want to?". I have always had a workshop of some sort but I always promised myself that, one day, I would buy a really nice one - and a big one too.

Our move to our new home in Aldridge came with a good sized garden and ours was the only property in the terrace without a shed / garage, but plenty of space to rectify the deficiency. During our watery travels we had passed Warwick Buildings in Leamington Spa on several occasions and I always admired the quality of their sheds, and decided that when the time came my shed would come from there.

We visited them a couple of months ago and selected the type we (I) wanted and then agreed the dimensions and layout and they made it up for us. Bespoke does not come cheap but the end result is truly a shed among sheds. It has an insulated 22mm T&G floor, tannalised ship lap sides backed by waterproof membrane and ply wood - all laid on a slab base. Very sturdy.

Now dont get me wrong, this shed is not all for me. In the absence of a garage Helen needs somewhere to store all her unused glassware and packaging which consumes 6ft of the overall 20ft length, but that still leaves me with a 14ft x 8 ft workshop complete with two windows, an office style door and a pair of double doors to access big projects. There is even room to initiate the Walsall Wood Road micro brewery and within 24 hours I had three vats on the go.

Warwick Buildings arrived at 10.00 last Friday and by 3.00pm they had it finished - and what a superb job they made of it. In one fell swoop I became the envy of the street!

Here is how it went: