SINCE we were last in central Birmingham CaRT have changed the signs which regulate mooring outside the National Indoor Arena and opposite. In the past they stated '48 hours' and threatened a £25 per night fine for overstaying.
The threatening notices have gone and the other signs say '2 days'—which is all very well, but what does '2 days' actually mean? Is it 48 hours from the time of arrival or does it mean two full days—which is quite different and could involve three nights?
I can understand that longer periods have to be quoted in days—'120 hours' would just be silly—and wonder whether the change is simply to achieve consistency. Talking of longer periods, the other change in the area has been to introduce two moorings, one on each side, designated for '14 days'. This seems unreasonable in such a popular spot, much favoured by hire boats stopping for a day's tourism in Birmingham. In any case there are several 14 days moorings the other side of Sheepcote Bridge and I don't see why more are needed. Indeed, I would have thought that seven days would be a more sensible maximum in this area.
Graffiti major scourge
Graffiti is a major scourge in Birmingham, as in most other large towns and it was good to see that as part of the restoration work on the Horsley Ironworks bridges the contractors were actually cleaning off graffiti from the brickwork. I hope they will be treating it in some way to make restoration of the graffiti more difficult.
Otherwise CaRT's policy on graffiti seems to be 'if you can't beat them, join them'—they have put silly poems and strange slogans on its own towpaths around the Symphony Hall; presumably these are the same ones as have been reported in London. Since the area is one of the few where the number of 'visitors' might actually approach the claimed figures, I can only hope that the messages will soon wear off.
Leaving central Birmingham (splendid new boater facilities at the Fiddle and Bone, by the way) we headed to Walsall, with some trepidation as the last time we did this we were down the weed hatch every half mile or so. Not this time—only once between Pudding Green and Walsall. This may well be down to the efforts of the BCN Society, whose boats we met on Rushall Locks coming back from a clean-up weekend—one butty was entirely filled with nothing but shopping trolleys. Later on, we were on the much more popular Birmingham & Fazeley and had to clear the prop four times between Salford Junction and Minworth Top.
I expected to have Walsall Basin to ourselves, but two other boats arrived to use the pontoons and enjoy the facilities. Since we last visited a vast new Tesco has opened two minutes walk from the basin and there are some excellent pubs—try the Pretty Bricks or the Black Country Arms. Incidentally, there are no mooring restriction notices.
Coming down Rushall Locks on our way home we encountered the only serious maintenance problem of the trip. The bottom gates on Lock 4 would not stay open, swinging shut immediately. As there were only two of us, this made getting the boat out of the lock an interesting exercise—had I been alone I'm not sure how I would have done it; tie the gates open with ropes or wait for one of the numerous (not) 'visitors' to help perhaps. I did report the problem to CaRT staff, who assured me they knew about it.
Another near drowning
Descending Curdworth Locks we came across our first lock swimmer of the summer—a cow. The animal was in some distress and I guess not far from becoming an ex-cow and an obstruction to navigation. After opening the top gate we were able to persuade it to leave the lock, where it was at least able to stand up, which brought it some relief, but it could not get out of the canal.
I have pulled sheep out in the past, but cows are a bit on the large and heavy side. We phoned the police, who said it was not an issue they could deal with and advised me to call the fire brigade. They were there within 15 minutes and assured us they could deal with it, if necessary summoning their Large Animal Rescue Unit from Rugby. Unfortunately we had a train to catch, so could not wait to see the outcome, but I am sure the animal survived.
I have complained often in the past about the inconsistent way in which CaRT maintains the vegetation, especially with regard to the towpath edge, which on some canals is thick with young trees, nettles etc. I am happy to report that on this trip, which included the Grand Union via Hatton, the Stratford, the Staffs & Worcs, the Stourbridge and most of the BCN, everything was in good condition. Indeed we saw several gangs from Fountains mowing and strimming, usually to bowling green standard, grass which was already cut pretty short. One wonders if they are contracted to mow the grass whether it needs it or not, but better too much than too little.