Sunday, 23 July 2017

Flower Walls

Ashted Tunnel
Yesterday we left Aston Science Park. The first (of the 6) Ashted locks lead straight down and down into the spooky Ashted tunnel with its spider web curtains which waft menacingly past as you scrape though. Although the tunnel is short and reasonably high, it  is arched and has a reputation for catching boats on their offside handrails.

First Mate did her impression of a horse (easy) and held the bow of the boat hard against the towpath. We made it with no scratches, but it was a close shave.

The weather was good in the morning and, it being Saturday, everything was very quiet. There are so few boats on this part of the canal system that it adds to the general air of sad neglect.

But the few people we met were friendly and courteous, asking us all about the boat and our destination. However, the stories that abound about the outskirts of Birmingham scare many boaters off completely.The Ashted locks were easy and they led to another 6 locks: the much deeper locks of the Camp Hill flight. The last boat through had, conveniently for us, left all the bottom gates open, so we could just go straight in and Captain could whizz up the ladders and do the rest.

A Flower Wall on the sides of one of the Camp Hill locks
This is a quite interesting post industrial cityscape. There are ghosts of important loading points, like the Typhoo Wharf, that has been replaced by Birmingham City University buildings. What is also alarming is that around Aston and beyond, the access points onto the canal have been fenced off. Why? It is nearly impossible to get on or off the tow paths. Are they afraid of vandals or drug dealers or what? It seems wrong to deny the citizens of Birmingham access to an ancient system of walks and cycle routes that are such a part of their trade and commercial history. It just doesn't make sense when so many places in the rest of the country are making a feature of their canal side and opening trendy bars in former warehouses. We saw a few homeless people sleeping rough under the arches but probably because they would be left alone there. And they amounted to nothing compared to the ever increasing homeless population of Sheffield. Mysteriously, there is an abundance of graffiti to demonstrate not only the endless creativity of the artists who have chosen this as their outlet but also their determination and resourcefulness. You have to stand in awe at the graffiti artists that have clambered into some of the treacherous places they choose to exhibit their work.

This trip, our journeys have been taking much longer than our route planner (CanalPlan) suggested. I realised that there are many lock flights on this trip, and their decreased times for locks in a flight (8 minutes is their default) is not really going to give any advantage when there are two of you (and no cycle). So I have changed this figure to the same as a single lock (12 minutes).

Catherine de Barnes was our stop for the night. Another rainy evening though, and we ventured out for a walk round the village and saw the local pub which trades on its canal connections. However, it does not allow dogs inside and so we stayed aboard and ate Spanish tortilla and giant couscous.

The next three nights we have doggy pubs planned.

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