Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th January
Time to move on now that the ice has all thawed out earlier in the week, but to where? The route south is blocked in so many places due to maintenance stoppages that we can’t reach Uxbridge until Easter at the earliest.
So whilst I could go up to Great Haywood then down the Trent and Mersey to Fradley, the route beyond is blocked at Atherstone unless I went all the way to the Trent, up the River Soar to Leicester but that area is currently closed to all Navigation due to flooding. Alternatively I could head up the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal into the centre of Birmingham, but that would just be a huge diversion to the more direct route straight up the Wolverhampton Locks in which we got stuck in the ice three weeks ago. Although this route is now completely thawed out, and I could stop on the 14 day moorings in the centre of Birmingham at Cambrian Wharf, this would be better delayed until I have a few days to so some exploring on the BCN rather than just going there for the sake of it. There aren’t many other safe places to leave the boat on the BCN so I will need to stay on board to get the best out of this part of the trip.
The decision point was Autherley Junction. Left towards Penkridge for a week or two? Right towards Compton for a week or two? Or down to Addersley and up the Wolverhampton locks? Indecision ruled and I went left, then changed my mind and spun round to go right. Compton for the night was the plan, with a chance to pick up diesel and hopefully some bits and pieces at Limekiln Chandlery. My indecision delayed my arrival at Limekiln until 4.05 pm, just in time to see them locking up and closing until Tuesday. Never mind – its a good enough place to stop for a while but I decided to push on down another lock to the next winding hole and then back as near as possible to town without being on a restricted mooring, so at least we are now pointing in the right direction.
I then had a chance to test out whether Wolverhampton really is the 5th Worst City on earth, as claimed a couple of weeks ago by Lonely Planet. I took the bus intending to go to Brewood to collect the car and missed the connection by 1 minute, forcing me to wander round Wolverhampton for 2 hours. It was not pleasant, although I did have a nice walk down some of the locks and then up to Horsley Fields Junction. I can thoroughly recommend not visiting MacDonalds, where the morning clientelle were almost all rough sleepers hugging a coffee, virtually every table had slashed chairs and my breakfast tasted like it had been fried in second hand oil, while leaving the hash brown largely uncooked in the middle.
On the way back to the bus I passed derelict bars and shops, doorways full of sick and kebabs, several shop fronts splattered with white muddy gunk, rancid piles of rubbish down every stair well, groups of smokers outside every pub (before 10 am) and I even had to pay again on the bus to Brewood, despite having a day ticket from Compton, as the bus I was on was from a different company despite being branded as West Midlands transport. I do however compliment BW for the excellent facilites at Broad Street depot where the toilet and shower block has a stock of local information leaflets, and was spotlessly clean. It can be reached from the towpath with a BW key. Unfortunately the towpath is open to the public and the immaculate top lock was strewn with freshly broken bottles and someone has hurled a tin of blue paint at the bridge, with a trail of tyre marks and footprints running through it.
Off to Brewood by bus, and back to Compton by car for a few things off the boat, and then set off home. I had hardly done 2 miles when a helpful taxi driver pulled alongside and told me my back tyre was looking flat. Marvellous – have you ever tried to get a puncture fixed on a Sunday? By the time I located a Kwik Fit I was driving on a 90% flat tyre, so ordered a new one instead of a repair, and landed myself with a second chance to explore Wolverhampton.
While killing time in what is the most dismal of shopping malls, I almost got involved in a fight between a security guard and two guys he was trying to apprehend. I can’t comment on whether he had the right to physically restrain them, or whether they had the right to fight him off. One escaped, one got apprehended – I do hope he was guilty in order to justify being pinned to the floor, but he had just thrown one guard onto the ground and into a litter bin so I didn’t have much sympathy. It reminded me that last week I was in a local store on Tattenhall Road when the manager confronted a thief caught on CCTV. What kind of place is this? I’ve never witnessed one such event in my life let alone two in a week.
This has done nothing to improve my impression of Wolverhampton, and I must therefore take a view that The Lonely Planet were probably right on this occasion. Back to the car I paid the £118 bill and this time made as fast an exit from the place as I could manage!
8 miles, 4 locks and possibly slightly closer to Uxbridge as a result