(If you double click on any of the pictures it brings up to a decent size)
Sunday morning we returned to urban cruising after almost two weeks of weeping willows, quacking ducks, and grazing sheep and cows, interspersed with little market towns and villages with canalside inns. In fact I got to see my first kingfisher on Saturday, sitting bold as you like on a branch sticking out of the water.
|A pastoral view of the Shropshire Union, south of Market Drayton|
We hung around a bit at the southern end of the Shropshire Union waiting for the weather to pick up before we made our move into the Black Country. And it needs a bit of planning. It’s a climb of 21 locks, over about 2 miles, into Wolverhampton city centre and those locks come thick and fast. Pat had to work hard and it was our biggest flight yet. It was also a cold, damp journey but four hours later we get to the top lock after only passing two other boats the whole morning. That’s where we stopped for the night, right in Wolverhampton city centre on our own. Not used to that.
However, even in large, busy conurbations such as Wolverhampton and Dudley life on the waterways is generally fairly peaceful and tranquil. I guess that’s the attraction for most people. Indeed, after a while, one tends to get excited by the smallest things – a duck walking over the roof first thing in the morning or the swooping of swallows as the sun goes down, so when we returned to The Cat’s Whiskers after a trip to the local Spar in the village of Wheaton Aston, to find an ambulance at the top of the slope and several professional, rescue-types with their day-glow patches, hanging around our boat, we were both bemused and puzzled.
It transpired that the chap on the boat next to us, David, had a dodgy ticker, thought he was having a heart attack and had rung for assistance.
He was alone on his boat, except for his Labradoodle Ruby, who he was reluctant to leave, and the emergency services were deciding what to do with the dog when we turned up. Now Wheaton Aston is not the sort of place we had planned to spend any time in, but needs must, so we agreed to look after her until he was checked out. The poor old dog then spent all day gazing down the towpath, waiting for her master to return as we tried to reassure her.
|Pat comforts "Ruby" as she awaits the return of her master|
Two things became very apparent as this incident unfolded. One was how quickly the emergency services managed to get to the towpath to give assistance, which is reassuring to know, and the other was how quickly all the boats moored along the towpath came together to offer help. David returned to the boat early evening and the following morning we left in different directions but while he was away several boaters dropped by offering assistance of all sorts.
After Wolverhampton we then pushed on to Dudley. There is a lot of weeded up sections right through the Birmingham Canal Navigation, and we got most of it round our propeller. It was a problem everybody was facing, and we have revised our itinerary into Birmingham tomorrow to by-pass the worst of it.
When I was organising leisure events at John Lewis, the Black Country Museum at Dudley was often on the must-do list and never happened, so I was determined to spend a day there, at least, as we could moor alongside the site and we were not disappointed.
It is a very impressive place, and I am glad we went. Nearly every shop, house or place of interest, had a guide there to talk to you about the buildings history and all the premises came from a five-mile radius of the museum, often taken down brick by brick, numbered and then re-assembled on-site. We were also surprised to see probably the most famous narrowboat in the country, “President” was also in the basin there. Fresh from leading the narrowboat flotilla on the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant, it will haul the Olympic flame when it visits the museum later this week.
|Roger can't make his mind about what will go with his Banks Sunbeam.|
Pork Scratchings or a Pickled Egg!
|This bridge once stood on the canal at Wolverhampton. Pub in background|
The on-site pub, “The Cork and Bottle”, which used to be at Brierly Hill beside the canal, sold Banks and Holden’s beers, so that was very Black Country, (no lager), and the fish and chips were some of the best we have ever had. Shame the prices were not in shillings and pence though. Both the drinks and food were expensive, but the trip down the mine was very interesting and it’s been around 45 years since I have been on a trolley bus.
Tomorrow morning we set off for the three-hour cruise into central Birmingham. The Olympic flame travels through the city late Saturday afternoon and my pal Paul is coming up for the weekend to give us a hand through the city’s locks and to teach us some “Brummagem”. If the event is anything like the one we saw in Wales on the Llangollen it looks to be a “full-on weekend in the nation’s second city. I am hopeful we can moor in or around Gas Street basin if possible though we have been warned it’s noisy.