The Midlands March, Blue Sky at the Engine Arm

Having escaped the scumbags disturbing the tranquillity on board Firecrest and travelled along the M5 at 2.6 mph, we found ourselves briefly cruising along another surprisingly quiet and peaceful stretch. But although we had blue sky it was still quite chilly. We had earmarked the old Pump House as a place to moor.

Smethwick pump house

Nowadays, it houses the Galton Valley Heritage centre, but in its heyday it was a pump house., Brindley’s original old main line(c1769) was 18 feet higher as the canal climbed up the hill and then back down again, thus requiring locks both up and down and 2 steam engines to pump water back up to the summit. However the amount of traffic transporting coal was sufficient to warrant a new cutting to be built at the lower level which in 1829 became part of Telfords efficient straighter and wider and lockless, New Main Line. Steam powered pumps continued to used on the old line up until c1930. During WWII two ex submarine diesel pumps were installed as the canal was part of the fire fighting water supply for the essential factory’s in Birmingham, thankfully they weren’t actually needed and the building fell into disrepair until the 80s when work began to restore it as a heritage centre.

Unfortunately although there are mooring rings, the centre is currently closed and there was a lot of fast food takeaway trash next to the bin and bench indicating a congregating place for thoughtless people. And we didn’t want to risk a repeat of our Oldbury experience. Quite odd standing on a Towpath looking down onto another canal.

Looking down onto the New Main line

We only needed to cruise a short distance before we arrived at the Engine Arm junction

The Engine Arm Aqueduct

The short branch takes the old line over the new line on an aqueduct onto what is now mainly residential moorings, but must have served a wharf at some point in the past. The aqueduct itself is a beautiful iron structure

Over the New line

We took advantage of this open quiet mooring and whilst Eric got on with some DIY on the roof,

Caution, men at work

I took advantage of some Seville oranges and made some marmalade.

My first ever batch of marmalade

The Midlands March, Fast or Slow on we go.

Much as I love visiting Mum, it was lovely to be back on board Firecrest, until we settled down for tea. Someone was banging on the back of the boat…. huh no one there. Kids mucking about but after 3 hours the game was wearing thin, every 20 minutes or so, bang bang bang. We could, perhaps should, have ignored it, but what if it really was someone needing help, or what if they decided to get braver with their dares and did something that caused damage. We probably should have called 101, the non emergency police number, but it must have been a school night because they stopped at 9pm. We slept fitfully but awoke to sunshine and on inspection, no damage to our precious home. We had always planned to move on, but it irked that the scumbags might have thought they’d won and scared us off. They didn’t.

Time to move on from Oldbury

We had studied our map to see that James Brindley was way marking for future transport needs. The M5 motorway was to be built directly over the canal for the next mile or so.

No electronic central controlled interactive signs for us down here

We are used to seeing some incongruous things on the canal, but this really was weird, the noise was phenomenal, quite unlike when we cruise from side to side underneath a motorway

Under the M5

the amount of scaffolding did make us worry for our safety. With more “road works” going on but these weren’t causing a logistics nightmare.

Should we be worried? Or is it installation art?

probably a good job because the next thing we saw was the DPD headquarters. And oh boy was it huge. The loading bays were numbered, about 230 canal side and possibly the similar on the other side.

DPD headquarters, to big to

But we still passing under some reassuringly familiar cute little bridges

Blakey Hall Bridge

Some not so cute causing us to duck

The Stewart Rail bridge

And then we wondered if we’d reached canal spaghetti junction, as the “old line” passed under the train line, over the “new line” with the M5 towering above us all.

Stewart aqueduct

There are several junction branches for boats to cross from the old (c1770s) to the new (c1820s)

locks at Spon Lane junction

But we stayed on our chosen route and shortly said goodbye to our motorway canopy to return to more familiar bridges and tunnels

Summit bridge and summit tunnel, it’s downhill from here

And what a difference, back out in the countryside again