Travels of Joanie M – Life as a Continuous Cruiser – BCN The Middle Bits Part 2
We left the Old Main Line at Smethwick but if we continued up the locks instead and onto the Wolverhampton level we shortly make an intimate acquaintance with the M5. The motorway builders elected to follow the canal route for the next mile or so with the motorway either above or to one side. To do this they have altered to canal a bit and you now have a concrete lined channel with some rather awkward bends. The land under the motorway is rather sterile but there are still some sights to look at. There are still a couple of original bridges in its shadow and you cross the New Main Line on the Steward Aqueduct. Look behind you here to see one canal crossing the other, the railway above both of them and the motorway higher still. If you are lucky you may also have a jet taking off from Birmingham Airport.
Just before the aqueduct are Spon Lane Locks. This is part of Brindleys original canal taking boats to the Wednesbury Old Canal. The New Main Line now joins these locks at the bottom. Just after the aqueduct is the junction with the Titford Canal. Climbing these locks takes you to the highest part of the BCN. The Titford ends in a couple of large pools under the motorway and is part of the feeder to Rotton Park Reservoir. The pumphouse at the top is now home of the BCNS.
Immediately after the junction was the site of Thomas Claytons yard. Claytons specialised in collecting waste products from the various gas works around the Midlands. Several of their boats are still extant, all being named after rivers.
The motorway now leaves us in peace and you arrive at Oldbury. There are moorings here to enable to you visit the large Sainsburys nearby. The stubs of old basins opposite were the home of Les Allen. You can see his boats all over the country, usually identified by having ‘Oldbury’ somewhere on them. The transport company that now own the land famously filled in one of the basins a few years ago without permission. It was too late to dig it back out so another bit of history is lost.
Next up is the junction with the Brades branch where a staircase pair and a single take you back to the main line. You then cross the Netherton Tunnel Branch on Tividale Aqueduct before passing through a housing development called Tividale Quays. There are extensive moorings here but I have never seen a boat here. It looks one of those places where you would be asked to move on if you tried it.
Another mile or so brings you to the beginning of the Dudley Canal. You can’t take your boat through the tunnel but there are very pleasant moorings and a very clean sanitary station. The Black Country Living Museum is well worth a visit as is a trip into the tunnel. The BCLM has a recreation of a Victorian fish and chip shop though they are no longer wrapped in old newspapers, and a reconstruction of The Bottle & Glass pub selling excellent real ale – no lager as it wasn’t around in Victorian times although the prices are distinctly 21st century.
Passing the end of the Dudley Canal you have some new CRT moorings in Tipton. Tipton is worth exploring. The first bridge you come to after the Dudley junction used to have toll house built against it. You can still see the outline amongst the weeds. The house here bears a BCN number plate above the door. The toll point was here because it was the junction with the Tipton & Toll End Communication Canal. although long infilled, you can still walk the route as far as the New Main Line, the path passing through one of the lock chambers.
At Factory Junction the New Main Line joins and we now follow the Brindley route for about 1/2 mile to Bloomfield Junction where the old route went off to the right. You can just make out the site by the difference in the canal edging. Telfords new line charges straight ahead through the short Coseley Tunnel to Deepfields Junction where you rejoin the original route. You can still travel part of this old loop as far as the CRT workshops at Bradley. I don’t think it is something you would want to do twice!
The remainder of the route to Wolverhampton is all Brindleys and you shortly pass through Bilston, where the mighty Bilston or Spring Vale Steelworks once stood. As you approach Wolverhampton, Chillington Steel Terminal is on the right. It has been unused for years and is now listed but is slowly rusting into oblivion. There are then two short arms on the left. The first, Minerva Wharf, is now the home of the City Council where they operate a boat collecting rubbish from the water. The second is Wulfrana Coal Company but is not accessible by boat.
Passing Horseley Fields Junction where the Wyrley & Essington Canal goes off to the right (see BCN – The Northern Bits) you pass through Wolverhampton Tunnel. This is not part of the original route but is a diversion built in 1850 to allow the construction of the LNWR station. The arm that now houses the sanitary station is part of this original route. There are plans to redevelop the station but I am unsure what affect this will have on the canal. There is plenty of mooring here. On the towpath outside the arm, directly opposite are very safe moorings but there is no access to the outside world, or through the bridge to the moorings above the top lock.
And now you descend the Wolverhampton 21. I like this flight. Quick and easy to use, you start in the city and end in the country. When first built there were only 20 locks but the last one was considered too deep at 10 foot and too wasteful of water so the current lock 20 was added in 1784. You will see that this lock has a single leaf bottom gate whereas all the others have a pair of mitred gates.
The junction at the bottom is called Aldersley and used to have two toll houses, one BCN and one S & W. Turn left for Stourport or right for Great Haywood or the Shropshire Union.