A look back at our Summer 2022 Cruise – where we went
Our son George’s wedding had taken place on May 2nd and, once we’d done some clearing up, we rushed back to Droitwich and got ready for the off! We were so excited. We finally pulled out of the Marina at lunchtime on the 6th May. We were off!
We had a very rough outline plan, which meant we would be sticking mostly to the Midlands this year, but other than that we were just heading out into the wild blue yonder. We did have an immediate plan though, which was to head down the Severn and onto the River Avon at Tewkesbury. We spent almost exactly a month on the Avon and absolutely loved it. We had been warned that moorings were hard to find but we had no such problems. We relied heavily on the Avon Navigation Trust’s excellent publication “The River Avon Navigation and Visitor Guide” and would recommend buying one if you want to fully explore the river.
The Avon is 47 miles of beautiful and mainly rural river, with 17 locks along its course. We spent Jubilee weekend on there and had a whole weekend of the Red Arrows and also met up with Jonathan and Karen on board Ortomarine-built Watt Knott.
The strangest (and the most dangerous) thing we saw was unmarked frogmen in the river at Bradford on Avon. We also had the opportunity to be one of the first boats to moor at the new Shakespeare Marina, near Stratford. The weather was a joy and we would happily have stayed longer but Birmingham and the BCN beckoned.
We joined the BCN at its bottom right hand corner – having come up from Knowle, near Solihull, on the Grand Union. The map shows it in pale turquoise as Bordesley Junction. We turned right onto the navy blue section and then along the arrow straight Tame Valley canal, shown in red. After this, we joined the Wryley and Essington (AKA The Curly Wyrley) canal and went as far as Daw End (a little past Longwood Junction on the map, in black) in the North, but there was a bridge out of action so we could not go much further at that point.
We retraced our steps as far as Rushall Junction and then back onto the Tame Valley, to its junction with the Walsall canal (in Yellow). We turned left and went to the end of the New Main Line (pale Purple). After that, we went back up to join the Old Main Line at Smethwick Junction and then to the end of the Engine Arm and then on up to Spon Lane, where we went down to Oldbury and The Titford Pools. We got a plaque for visiting and did a pirouette on the big pool.
We had signed up for an event at the end of June, organised jointly by the BCNS ( Birmingham Canal Navigations Society) and the IWA (Inland Waterways Association), in partnership with CRT (Canal & River Trust). It was being held to publicise the Birmingham Canals ahead of the Commonwealth Games. And so it was on 25th June, that we found ourselves part of an 80 strong flotilla, processing through the heart of the BCN, with historic boats and us, the only Electric Serial Hybrid boat. It was a great day, which we spent with vlogger David Johns of “Cruising the Cut” fame. His video of the day can be seen here.
We decided to move on from the BCN at this point, leaving it at its Eastern edge (in Navy) at Fazeley Junction. We went to the end of the Birmingham and Fazeley and onto the Coventry Canal. Our bible for the BCN was the excellent brochure, produced by the BCNS which shows the location of services but more importantly, “safe” moorings. A must have for the BCN in our book.
We did an “out and back” on the beautiful Ashby Canal, visiting the Bosworth Battlefield on the way. We loved it and will be back. 22 lock free miles and largely rural. We experienced the hottest day of the year on the Ashby, with the temperature inside the boat at 40C. It was no fun. The Ashby is beautiful but moorings were few and far between and any shady areas of the bank were also very shallow. So we were in the full sun. And it was pretty hellish! I had to drape wet towels on the boys to keep them cool. Not a day I’ll forget for a while.
We rejoined the Coventry Canal, briefly, before joining the Northern half of the Oxford canal and thence onto the Grand Union at Braunston. We branched off the Grand Union onto the Leicester Line and up the amazing Watford Flight. We called in at Crick Marina and had a really happy week there with fellow Ortomariners and friends Mel & Phil (Hunky Dory) and Toy and Matt (Paintbrush).
We left Crick and proceeded on up the Leicester Line, going up the Welford Arm and the Market Harborough arm, descending the wonder that is the Foxton Lock flight. We had the joy of seeing our first ever Otter on the Leicester Line, a moment we will never forget.
We pressed on to Leicester and then onto the River Soar, which was another delight. After the Soar, we went part way up the Erewash Canal , which we loved but which was pretty weedy and thus quite hard going. As we had friends on board we abandoned it half way and vowed to return at a different time of the year, when it would hopefully be less weedy.
We went up the Trent and Mersey Canal to its junction with the Staffs Worcs canal, where we spent a happy week around Stafford and Tixall Wide. We met some Droitwich Spa Marina friends (Gail and Mark) there on their boat “Autumn Sunrise” at TIxall.
We turned off the Staffs Worcs at Aldersely Junction to have another bite at the BCN, entering in the top left hand corner of it. This entailed going up the Wolverhampton 21 and then branching off onto the Southern end of the Curly Wyrley (in black on the BCN map above). We went all the way up to Daw End, where we had left off, earlier in the summer, calling in on the short Cannock Extension Canal and going down to Anglesey Basin, at the top right hand corner of the BCN. Our highlight of that was beautiful Pelsall Junction where we had a wonderful week.
We came back down to Horseley Fields junction and onto the Old Main Line. We spent the night at the Northern portal of the Dudley tunnel before heading off onto the New Main line and into Netherton tunnel. From Netherton, we went down the Dudley No 2 Canal to Hawne Basin – just for the joy of it. Our favourite bit of that trip was the Gosty Hill Tunnel but we also found the basin very friendly and welcoming.
Our journey then took us down to Parkhead Junction and the Southern portal of the Dudley tunnel before coming on down to Dudley and then onto the Stourbridge canal. We branched off to the right at the top of Stourbridge locks, down the Fens Branch (now a dead end ) and mooring on the Stourbridge Extension canal – also now a dead end.
We came down the Stourbridge locks and then down to the basin on the Stourbridge Town Arm and eventually left the BCN in its bottom right hand corner, shown in a very dark green on the map above and rejoined the Staffs Worcs at Stourton Junction. This canal took us all the way down to Stourport basin and then it was onto the River Severn, up the Droitwich Canals and home.
21 of the most enjoyable weeks gone in a flash. And nearly 672 miles covered, punctuated by just over 400 locks. And all the canals etc. in bold italic were firsts for both of us. What a summer! There were water shortages caused by the long hot, dry spell, but we were not really that affected. The bottom may have been a little closer to the top on some stretches but we never went that badly aground. Weed was probably our biggest issue – especially in combination with plastic – mainly carrier bags. The BCN was an absolute treasure and we are now BCNS members and hope to support their efforts, henceforth. You can see the entire route of our Summer 2022 cruise on a zoomable map right here.
We are very lucky to have this wonderful resource and are grateful for the work that CRT and others do do to keep this poor old girl from crumbling away. It is a mammoth task, looking after every single structure on 2,000 miles of canals. And providing and cleaning hundreds of facilities points. They come in for a lot of criticism, but they are woefully under funded. Detractors will say that they waste money on fripperies and large salaries for their senior personnel and to some extent this is true. They also seem to be repositioning canals as a “wellness” resource and it kind of feels that boaters are an annoying consequence of the existence of canals.
The worrying thing is that their Chairman has recently gone on record as saying that he cannot guarantee the continued existence of the canal system. Thank goodness for organisations like the IWA, BCNS, NABO and other canal organisations who will keep lobbying and trying to ensure the continuation of our canal heritage.
And our favourite spots? Numerous, to be honest. But our perennial favourite Tixall Wide will always draw us and we have a new favourite in Pelsall Junction. We also liked Swan Neck, Strensham and Wyre locks on the Avon and the top of Parkhead locks on the BCN.
As you might recall, we popped in to quite a few marinas on our travels and our favourites were – and in no particular order – Bosworth Marina, Brinklow (aka “the marina of dreams”) , Crick and – to our surprise (mainly because it’s a bit “glitzy” – Mercia. Interestingly, we chose two independent marinas (Bosworth and Mercia) and two that are part of a large chain – Aquavista, whose portfolio contains 34 marinas, and counting.
Next week, we’ll do a run down of the all the VIPs we welcomed aboard this summer.