...there was certainly boating to be done! Team Yeoford left Gas Street Basin at 6:30am, and headed around the corner to position the boat at the top of Farmer's Bridge flight. At this point, I should introduce Mike, our fantastic skipper for the weekend. Despite being a somewhat over-skilled set of hirers, company policy dictated that we have a skipper. We had already let the company know that we were planning on doing the BCN Challenge and that we were going to be going late and starting early, but weren't sure if a 3am start on Sunday would still be acceptable! However Mike was totally amenable to this, and when we finished, said he'd really enjoyed the weekend!
|Team Yeoford (Mike the skipper in the yellow) T.Lewis is photographer|
So, at 8am we were moored up at Farmer's Bridge top lock, and as a nearby clock struck the hour, we simultaneously opened the hallowed BCN Marathon official envelope, and set off down the flight. The locks were set in our favour, but to be honest, with 10 people to work the locks we were not hindered by anything except the speed the locks took to empty!
|Farmer's Bridge Top Lock - our first of the challenge|
When we reached Aston junction at the bottom of the flight we made the fateful and somewhat unwise decision to head down the Ashstead Flight to Digbeth Basin and the skip out the Aston flight by heading down the section of canal between Digbeth Basin and Salford Junction! Although one of our maps had this section down as being part of the BCN, it appears that it is technically part of the Grand Union and therefore not officially part of the BCN challenge route. Oooops! Still, it is an interesting and little used section of waterway, so we felt like it was still within the spirit of the Challenge, and made the most of it! It was on this section that we got the worst rubbish on the propellor blades - a curtain and plastic bags halted our progress for some ten minutes. Unlike modern boats, Yeoford doesn't have a weed hatch so a boathook was required.
Soon, we were at Salford Juntion, where the canal passes under Spaghetti Junction. This is one of my favourite sections of canal in the country - the slow dark waters of the cut form such a contrast to the soaring concrete pillars supporting speeding cars on the mights M6 motorway.
We headed up the Tame Valley Canal, up the Perry Bar locks and enjoyed the way we felt like we were in the countryside, despite still being able to hear the noises of the city. beyond the trees. Once through Newton Junction and onto the Rushall Canal, the scenery becomes even more bucolic. It was quite beautiful, although very shallow - Yeoford's deep draft meant that the going was quite slow.
|Pippa serenades us on her tin whistle|
|Photo: T. Lewis|
However, once past Longford Boat Club, we were able to speed up as the water got deeper. It was on this section that we passed nb Indigo Dream, fellow Challengers and greyhound lovers who were doing the Marathon for a greyhound charity.
|Greygal, Mr Greygal and the hounds!|
At Catshill Junction we nipped up to Ogley Junction on the Anglesey Branch for there were points to be had up there, and a question to answer which would get us even more. Evening was drawing in but we continued on, hoping to stop up the Cannock Extension, where Sarah E's family have a boatyard, and we knew we could stop safely for the night. We passed Sarah's house, where her parents waved from the garden as we heralded them with a blast from the klaxon! James was steering as we turned into the Cannock Extension and he made a very good job of it!
However, not long afterwards, we met the pair Atlas and Malus coming the other way, which forced Yeoford into the bank where we promptly went aground, but were were soon on our way again. We couldn't find the answer to the question, unfortunately, as the light was dimming and we missed the crucial sign. But our thoughts were soon distracted by the promise of a Toby Carvery at the end of the branch.
It was 9pm when we stopped, meaning that we'd have to be off again at 3am if we were to keep to schedule... but it was worth it - we all had heaped plates of meat and veg which were extremely welcome, before heading back to the boat to grab a few hours sleep!
|Photo: T. Lewis|
Will Team Yeoford sleep through their alarms? Will they make it down the Walsall Canal, or will they have to bowhaul all the way back to Gas Street? Tune in for the next exciting installment!
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