Back to the, er... BCN

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

De­cem­ber is a time to re­flect on a year’s cruis­ing. (I know you’re read­ing this in Novem­ber but in the strange par­al­lel world of monthly mag­a­zines, it’s De­cem­ber.) It’s been a year that cer­tainly has not panned as an­tic­i­pated. If you had asked me back in Jan­uary what we would be do­ing dur­ing 2015 well, it cer­tainly wouldn’t have in­cluded tack­ling the Ken­net & Avon for one thing.

I’ve said be­fore that I’m some­one who likes a plan. I’m not one to drift aim­lessly along, stop­ping and start­ing at a whim. In some ways I wish I was. No, nei­ther Mrs B nor me do our boat­ing that way. We both like to get a shift on; cruise some­where pleas­ant and then ex­plore around. What we very much don’t do is cruise for an hour or two, stop for a long lunch, per­haps put in an­other hour and then moor up midafter­noon and spend the rest of the af­ter­noon putting up the TV aerial. ( We don’t even have a TV). A typ­i­cal year’s con­tin­u­ous cruis­ing for us is pre­cisely that: we cover around 750 to 1,000 miles.

This past year has been no dif­fer­ent. We started from Shard­low and I had a plan: ex­plore the BCN and then head down to the Glouces­ter & Sharp­ness. Af­ter that, I ad­mit, things were left a lit­tle bit vague.

Some boaters love the BCN and would never want to stray far from it. I can’t say that I am among them. Birm­ing­ham’s canals had some of the high spots of our year – but also some of our low­est mo­ments. High spots? Cen­tral Birm­ing­ham, of course; a city we love and which wraps the canal in its arms with a pas­sion other towns could well look at.

Low­est mo­ments? Con­fronting a gang of teenagers one night who were jump­ing on and off our boat. They were a harm­less bunch, just try­ing to im­press their girl­friends re­ally, but en masse, be­came a threat­en­ing pres­ence that de­manded a mix of firm­ness and tact that was al­most be­yond me. Sadly, this hap­pened at Wind­mill End, a de­light­ful oa­sis of green cre­ated from old coal work­ings near Dud­ley.

There were sev­eral such sur­pris­ing oases on the BCN, like Chase­wa­ter Reser­voir at one of the ex­tremes of the Curly Wyr­ley. And sur­pris­ing mo­ments, such as spot­ting a pair of king­fish­ers on a derelict stretch of canal by the M5 mo­tor­way.

In our three feet draught Harry, we strug­gled with the pre­dictable un­der­wa­ter de­tri­tus and shal­low wa­ters on parts of the BCN, though rarely to the ex­tent the naysay­ers would have you be­lieve but, un­for­tu­nately, the last­ing mem­ory of our time there is of the rub­bish to be seen every­where: cans, bot­tles, plas­tics, in­dus­trial waste, fly tip­ping. The longer we were there, the more our spir­its sank.

Noth­ing tar­nishes the mem­ory of the great high­light of our year: Sharp­ness. The whole canal is a de­light. Not for it­self – it’s short, straight and wide – but for its sur­round­ings, from the mag­nif­i­cent Glouces­ter Docks with their ware­houses and vis­it­ing tall ships, to a chance to see the fa­mous Sev­ern Bore and, above all, the beauty of the es­tu­ary at Sharp­ness. We vis­ited the haunt­ing Pur­ton Wrecks and watched the ebb and flow of the tides across the wide river. For once, we couldn’t drag our­selves away.

In the end, the lure of the es­tu­ary be­came so hyp­notic that we de­cided it had to be ex­pe­ri­enced. So we hired a pi­lot and took the trip down un­der the two Sev­ern road bridges to Por­tishead and from there up the Avon and into Bris­tol.

Which meant tack­ling the K& A, a trip we’d sworn never to re­peat (but which proved much more pleas­ant sec­ond time around) and then led us on a huge wa­ter­way ring via the Thames, the Ox­ford Canal, River Avon and Worces­ter & Birm­ing­ham Canal... back to the BCN! If I re­call, I’d said we’d never do that again, either. Yet, there we were.

‘The BCN had some sur­pris­ing mo­ments, such as spot­ting a pair of king­fish­ers on a derelict stretch of canal by the M5’

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