Sunday, 28 June 2009

Single handed through the Black Country

Richard had to head off after helping me down the Crow, leaving me to tackle the return to Old Turn on my own. I have decided I want to do the Gower Branch so this means that my first single-handed locks will be the three Brades locks, two of which form the BCN's only staircase.

The stretch through Oldbury is taken slowly as I try to trace the lines of the old basins, loops and arms.

By Valencia Wharf there is a rather disconsolate set of moorings, but is all seems all rather half-hearted. There is a little more care for the surroundings here and it gets greener as I head west.

Approaching Brades Junction, I decide to moor up before the turn alongside the bridge. I am learning that when you are on your own you have to think way ahead of time. If I make the turn and find there's not enough space and a boat coming the other way, then I am buggered. After bringing North Star to a halt and tying up, I turn to see a boat descending. And there are bollards right by the lock. Oh well.

The lock is surprisingly easy but I still use a lot of energy doing it all myself. I am glad for the opportunity to try out a lot of little things with Richard on the Crow earlier and yesterday.
I am worried that any of a hundred common things could mess it all up. What if the top gate won't stay open? What it it won't stay open? What if it's so deep I can't get down to it. It's so hot and the clambering around is exhausting.

A Polish man stands and watches. He doesn't ask anything or say anything. He just watches intently. Two cyclists arrive and watch.None of them lift a finger at any point.

Eventually I move out and on to the third lock, only to discover no approach bollards. I find this quite incredible, given the staggering number of useless bollards placed in narrow locks everywhere now. When you really need a bollard, there's none to be seen.

As the lock is empty, I am going to have to wedge the bow by the gate on tickover while I fill it.
When ready I try to push the gate open against the pressure of the boat on tickover. No chance. I'll have to move North Star back, open the gate and run back to catch the boat and bring her in. Oh this is a lot of work, but eventually I am in and descending.

I discover that the approach bollards at the tail are occupied by anglers. This is a particularly annoying habit that anglers have: they can fish from anywhere, but the bollards at a lock are "ours": we really need them, never more so than when single-handed.

I am forced into hanging in the tail and hoping the gate stays shut. It does, and I do my best scowl at the two hopeless anglers. My annoyance melts away as I sail down the Gower Branch: it is very green and the eastern edge is fringed by rushes. I would happily moor along here.

I turn at the bottom and turn towards Birmingham.

8.1 miles, 9 locks

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