I can see why people are captivated by the BCN. We’ve barely scratched the surface, barrelling down the Main Line and only deviating to spend a couple of nights moored up outside the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley. What a great place. Martyn’s been there twice before, but it was my first visit. I hope it won’t be the last. I’m of the age where it brings back memories for me too. Some of the brands in the chemist shop looked very familiar (Milk of Magnesia, Sloans Liniment and Andrews Liver Salts). What really took me back was coming across a stone grinding wheel in a yard behind a cottage. It used to be my job to turn the handle on Dad’s grindstone so he could sharpen the knives he used in the shop. I never seemed to get the speed right.
We get asked a lot about the flag flying from the stern of Beau Romer. It’s the Dorset Flag of course. We’re both proud of our heritage. When we were in Birmingham I started to see a flag I didn’t recognise, and discovered it was the Black Country flag. It’s full of symbolism, representing the manufacturing heritage of the area, the conical furnaces and the description of the Black Country being “black by day and red by night”. One of the activities in the museum was a chain-making demonstration, which makes the chain on the flat seem appropriate, but chains as a symbol have become so controversial now. The flag hasn’t escaped that controversy.
The BCN has meant the expected trips down the weed hatch, but we haven’t picked up a lot of debris and detritus, most of the time it’s only weed. I read a strikingly accurate description that in some places boating on the BCN is like navigating through salad. Apart from the weed, the thing that struck me about the water was its crystal clarity. Apparently it’s something to do with the coal dust acting like a carbon filter, and having no runoff from farmers’ fields. Anyway, it’s wonderful to watch the fish and see what’s on the bottom of the canal (not so wonderful when we passed over what looked like the entire front end of a car!)
We had an overnight stop in Wolverhampton, which was fine, apart from the thump, thump of the bass beat from a nightclub somewhere near our mooring until 2 am. There was a building opposite the mooring that proudly proclaimed “Chubb & Sons Lock & Safe Company Ltd Founded A.D. MDCCCXVIII”.* No such problems then.
Today we slogged our way down the Wolverhampton Flight. Slogged being the operative word. They are single locks, but most of them were empty and we needed them to be full. The only way to achieve that state was for us to fill them, which takes time. It took us over four hours to negotiate the flight. Usually, Martyn’s at the helm when we’re in locks. I’m perfectly capable of driving, but we’re still treating him gently. I did the first five today. We’ve developed our own system and the helm doesn’t just stand there operating the throttle like a stuffed dummy, but gets on and off, closes gates and opens paddles. It’s much more fun. The flight changed in nature as we descended its 132 feet. It got somehow softer and kinder and more rural. Lock 17 even had a dinky little iron footbridge, so no scary scrambling over the lock gates on that one.
I found myself wondering somewhere around lock 18 why, with all the exercise I get and all the heavy lifting I’m not skinny as a rail, with taut muscles like Nicole Kidman. I guess my liking for chocolate, ice cream, beer and gin might have something to do with it.