Victor finds the locks are better

Published: Tuesday, 22 May 2018

THE first lock on the Garrison Flight, with its bottom gate cill obviously in a bad state of repair, left us thinking—here we go again!

GarrisonFirstCillWith so much water then coming out of the bottom gate it was a struggle to fill, but eventually we made it and prepared for the worst, well remembering the patched-up gate beams, broken paddles and awkward gate of our last visit.

Work been done

Yet as we climbed Garrison Flight we soon realised that work had actually been done on the locks since we last passed through in May 2014—exactly four year ago, with new lock beams fitted, the gates extremely easy to swing and all but a few of the paddles easy to wind. So it has to be congratulations to Canal & River Trust.

CampHilFistGraffittiOnce we had passed through the first lock of the Garrison Flight, it was very easy going, the gates in good condition and all the paddles were in good working order.

So on to Camp Hill Flight into real graffiti land, as the picture shows, that yet again was a pleasure to work, with just one of the gate beams somewhat cracked, and most of the paddles easy to wind, though there were the now normal ones that had had their shafts too tight.

No mooring

The only problem was with the first lock of the flight at the junction with the Digbeth Branch, there was nowhere to moor as the bollards were on the actual branch, meaning that to get to them it needed reversing up the branch then walking to the lock over the bridge that really was too much of a hassle, so, as it was Jan's turn, it was up the ladder, something she is not at all fond of.

GarrisonEtcVisitorsOh yes, Jan had told us she was going to count the visitors, with our having to religiously mark down the actual people we saw using the towpaths, whether walker, runner or cyclist over the five and a half hours of our cruise through Bordesley, Small Heath, Sparkbrook, Tyseley, Acocks Green, and Solihull, right down to Catherine De Barnes.

Sunny Sunday

This was a sunny Sunday through a vast region of built-up area, and here is the sheet we used. Throughout the five and half hours we religiously marked down every single person on the towpath, with a total of 88 people over ten miles! 

Working out at just over eight a mile, it rather makes a mockery of the thousands that Cart would have us believe should have visited on the day. Surely no one with any acumen whatsoever can believe that absolutely ridiculous figure of 140 millions a year—140 thousands would be stretching it. Silly sods.

BirmStiringBlackDon't cruise here

I have been writing for narrowboatworld since its inception 19 years ago, yet have never told boaters not to use a waterway, though we have had some hair-raising escapades, but I am going to do so now. And it is the pound from Camp Hill Flight down to Catherine De Barnes—for it is diabolical.

As can be seen from the picture It is so silted that all too often all you see coming off the propeller is black mud, it has obviously not been dredged for many years, but this not only means progress is very slow it is fraught with a virtually continuous fouled prop shaft, the prop pulling up the endless plastic bags and debris from its bottom. Jan described it has 'thick sludge' being churned up by the prop, and we certainly were not 'pushing it', it just wasn't possible as putting on any revs brought the stern down and made it worse.

BirminghamDebrisThe word has spread

Our boat has a shallow draught, so just don't know how a deep draughted boat would manage, or that is perhaps why we only had three boats passing the whole day, and every one a hire boat, so it seems the word has spread to give it a miss.

Time and time again it resulted in taking up the stern deck cover and going down into the engine compartment to clear the prop shaft from the many things getting wrapped round.  At one time we were pulling into moorings to buy a newspaper but were halted a good two feet from the side by the silt, so no newspaper.

BirmMatressIn addition to the plastic and other debris, there was a great accumulation of timber from falling branches, semi-sunk, so just right to get the prop. The entire pound is surrounded on both sides by mature trees that shed their branches in high winds, and of course these are not collected by anyone and so accumulate year on year.

KnowleHillPaddleAll manner of things

If this isn't enough to deter boaters, the pound seems a depository for all manner of things, as time and time again we hit something solid, at one bridge hole striking three separate objects, and then there was a mattress (pictured above) floating down and even a child's wheeled horse.

From this experience, for the first time ever I advise boaters to give this pound a miss, as obviously many are already so doing.

Knowle Flight

And so to Knowle Flight and our first use of those peculiar paddles. I expect they have a name, but don't know it, but though the gates were heavy and some of the paddles difficult to operate, at least only opening one side still filled the lock quickly—yes you have gathered, all five were empty.

Though the grass is rather nicely mown the paddles are in a rough state, not having seen a lick of paint for many a year. After the locks we were at last clear of the sludge, and it was easy going.

HattonEmptyOh dear!

Oh dear! indeed, our second stoppage, though only a short one; the first pound of Hatton Flight was drained.  I expect this is an 'advantage' of early starts—empty pounds. But we had entered the lock before we realised,

This provoked some discussion as 'She' thought we should ring Cart and get a man out, but it was exactly 7.20am, and Thomas pointed out it would be hours before anyone arrived, and then all they would do was open the paddles and let water through—something we had experienced many times,

So Thomas had his way, the boat was reversed out (to prevent it rattling around in the lock) and tied, a top gate left open and then the bottom paddles opened, and hey presto! within 20 minutes the pound was full, and nobody is the wiser, eh?

HattonRoughWaited for them

Altogether we had waited quite a while for a boat to share with us, but as no luck we proceeded down the locks, but just getting the third lock ready a boat appeared at the top, and seeing a crew of four—guess what? We of course waited for them to join us.

Not I'm afraid to say for the purpose of conserving water, but to make our life easier going down those 21 locks. The hire boaters were soon instructed (by 'She' of course) with two of them going ahead and setting each lock, and each of the steerers entering the lock and closing the back gate whilst the other two opened the paddles, it soon going like clockwork!

Strangely a woman from a boat going up was most upset that one of us stepped off the boat when in the lock to close the top gate, saying in was not the steerer who should do that.  She would not accept that we did it to make life easier for the ones working the lock. I just don't get it. Possibly she is from one of those boats where the man steers and does nothing else, so the woman was alarmed at a man closing a gate?

It was in May 1999—19 year ago when we last 'did' this flight, and once again age had taken its toll, even though we swap steering and lock working, it was hard work so at least we were thankful for our long handled windlass. Afraid though that some of the locks could do with a little TLC as the above picture shows.

Victor Swift