A splendid birthday weekend at Parkhead Canal festival

I’m only a mere ten days late posting about the sunny smiles that lit up our souls at the Parkhead Festival, on the last weekend of September …

Birthday celebrations

I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed when we’d booked into the event, knowing it was my birthday weekend. But I sucked it up gracefully. After 55 years on the planet, I guess birthdays aren’t quite as exciting anymore. How wrong I was!

I knew we’d be trading alongside Helen and Andy, with their Wild Side jams and preserves, so we’d be certain of a modicum of merriment, and a game or two of six handed rummy in their company. I wasn’t disappointed.

Then a couple of weeks beforehand, my adorable younger daughter said she was travelling up from Brighton to spend the weekend with us, and unbeknown to me had planned a visit from a dear friend on my birthday morning.

And to top it all off, my delightful oldest daughter and two grandsons visited for the day on Sunday. So it wasn’t the most restful of celebrations, but it was definitely filled with love and laughter.


Arlene, Sandra and Kim


Home baked chocolate cake from Kim, and cup cakes from Arlene who runs ‘Baking Dreams Come True


What do you call a collection of chocolate? Galaxy from Barry and Lisa, dark chocolate from Helen and Lisa. It’ll last me weeks – yum!

 Parkhead Canal Festival

The experience of arriving at this event by narrowboat was memorable in itself. Ascending the three locks to the festival site, we had helpers guiding us, whilst chatting amiably about the festival and what could be expected. Narrowboats were plentiful – apparently over the weekend there were 72 on the site of which 27 were historic working boats.

We had two boats breasted up alongside us – that was a first for us! It’s quite unnerving when you’re lying in bed to feel the boat swaying as people climb across your cratch!

I think for me, Parkhead would go down as my favourite of the three Black Country boating festivals. It felt so focussed on the history of boating, and you could sense the camaraderie of the organisers and boaters as many re-connected. It’s a bi-annual event which may make a difference.

There were a number of highlights over the weekend, including:

  • A horse drawn butty demonstration. ‘Carolyn’ towed an 8-ton boat up and down the three Parkhead locks.
  • ‘The Great Dudley Duck Race’ where 1,000 plastic yellow ducks were released by the Mayor of Dudley into the pound between the top and middle lock. My grandson and I were at the finishing line, witnessing a bit of a debacle as there was some miscommunication to the paddle operators. We’d heard them saying to drop the paddles, but apparently they meant ‘drop them half way’ – so the ducks slowed down to such an extent that there was a group congregating at the end and it was literally anyones guess which one scooped the prize – no chance of a photo finish when the numbers aren’t always apparent! But it was great fun, and the announced winner received a four-day holiday on narrowboat ‘Cecilia’.
  • A ‘legging’ demonstration a short way into and out of the Dudley Tunnel on Saturday, loaded with 20 tons of coal. This tunnel boasts being the second longest in UK (if you discount the fact that it’s a little disjointed in places!).
  • At 3pm each afternoon there was the opportunity to join a 2hr electric, battery operated boat trip through the tunnel (no diesel engines allowed due to lack of ventilation), visiting the limestone mines and then being coached back to Parkhead.
  • A beer and music tent for the general public each day, selling ‘Leggers Ale’, brewed specially for the festival. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the festivities were only for boaters with their red armband on. We went on Saturday night and were entertained by a rather bawdy band called ‘Dr Busker and the Wild Rovers’. Apparently they’d toned it down somewhat from 2012 when around 50% of the audience walked out in disgust – there’s a photo below of Barry laughing raucously at one of their ditties!

Carolyn shows off her finery along the towpath


The Home Brew Boat trading on a cloudy but mild Saturday


Helen and Andy with their Jam Butty


Spectacular colour combinations and reflections


Dr Busker and his Wild Rovers delight the audience with their slightly below the belt ballads


Barry is beside himself at one point, tears of belly laughter rolling down his cheeks!

We had a wonderful weekend in terms of socialising and trading, and fully intend to return to this fantastic festival in 2016 – so long was Barry’s next UK visa approval in November 2015 proves successful!

Post Parkhead journeys

We’ve been down and up the Wolverhampton 21, visiting Oxley Marina to book in a multi-fuel stove fitting. It’s going to be a messy job I feel – luckily Barry managed to negotiate the job to be carried out when I’ll be on grandma duties during the school holidays at the end of October! Now we just need to buy a suitable stove …

While we were sorting out the finer details, we heard the toot of a horn and were delighted to see the lovely Pam and Terry on Rooster’s Rest cruising by. I haven’t caught up with them for ages, last time our paths crossed I was off the boat, so it was great to have a good chat and a hug or two.


Pam and Terry, from NB Rooster’s Rest

Our whereabouts now and in the near future …

Last weekend I was with my parents, in between a night out I’d arranged to get together with some ‘old’ school friends, and had a fantastic day at the ‘UK Face and Body Art‘ convention at the Copthorne Hotel in Dudley. I’ll be at mum and dad’s again this weekend, then have a few weekends ‘free’.

We’re now tootling around the Birmingham Canal Navigations for the foreseeable future, many of which will be virgin territory for us, as our next event at The Bond in Digbeth, their autumn market, isn’t until Saturday 25th October.

Today we travelled along the Walsall Canal, descending the eight Walsall locks. We were reminded at times of the Rochdale Canal, with the shallowness and amount of debris attaching itself snuggly to the prop regularly! The heavens opened as we moved through lock seven, and thunder roared, but we continued undeterred – thankfully I was prepared with full waterproofs on and wellies!

The sky’s cleared now, it’s a Harvest Moon tonight, and we’ve decided to treat ourselves to a delayed anniversary and birthday meal somewhere amongst the delights of Walsall …

4 thoughts on “A splendid birthday weekend at Parkhead Canal festival

  1. Your comment about Parkhead brought back memories from 2012. I had never known before just how graphically “Seven Drunken Nights” ended! However, I don’t recall a mass exodus of outraged boaters on the night, maybe a couple of discomfited bottom shufflings , but that was about it I think. Anybody going into the beer tent at a canal festival in search of a moving and sensitive cultural experience is likely to come away disappointed.

    I was one of the two vandals who removed the stove from your back cabin at Windmill End this year. I hope you’ve managed to fill the hole we left with something useful! The range looks very good in the back of Nuneaton.

    Good luck with the “Englishness” homework!

    • Hi Colin

      The ‘mass exodus’ figure was one I was told by an ‘official’ at the 2014 event – maybe he slightly over exaggerated?! It was very amusing, but definitely below the belt and I totally agree with your sentiments.

      The ‘hole’ has been well filled by The Home Brew Boat stock of course, which is undoubtedly more useful than a stove we rarely used. So pleased it’s looking good and hope you find it useful and warming.

      The homework will definitely need some practice and research, most of the questions were totally irrelevant to every day life in UK but hey ho, it’s a box ticking exercise as we’re well aware 😉

  2. So pleased you had such a good time on your birthday Sandra. Now in Oxford at The Old Bookbinders in Jericho…..try it when you are next here……. French food by French chefs…..delish! The beers not bad either! Hacking down the Thames for the next 3/4 days to my mooring on the Wey. It’s been a fantastic trip, some probs, but mostly brill!


    • Hi Ray, WOW, you’ve had a great adventure on your trip. So pleased we got to spend a tiny part of it with you. Enjoy the food and beer – we did last night too 🙂

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