We did the whole lollipop, 40 odd locks just for fun. But it was fun and for all the prop clearing, we reckoned it was the best of Birmingham in a nutshell. Just a few miles in total, too far for most people to trudge – in a very short distance you go from seeing less than nobody to the bustle of Farmers top lock where we managed to rope a couple of passers-by into working the last few for us.
From a boating point of view there’s no easier city to stop than Birmingham, we’re definitely fans, but its a good job stoppages are almost done with, looping round and round, inside out, up and down can begin to drive you crazy…Birmingham Fan Vid
“I’m gonna kill those bloody geese.” A second night under The Mailbox wasn’t on the cards. On through Gas Street Basin, along to Cambrian Wharf we began the Farmers Flight drop. Packed with signs of the past, Farmers Flight was once a warren of wharfs and basins and arms and must have been hectic in it’s heyday. Smart new developments have risen from the water but much of the beautiful old architecture stands worn out and forgotten.
The canal opens up to a wider stretch before Aston Junction where we swung right onto the Digbeth Branch. A lunch stop at the top of the flight then down through Ashted Tunnel, where an interesting canal enthusiast was taking photos and logging watery data for his website.
From 1892 – 1978 tea was big in Typhoo Basin but activity is long gone now, we turned left headed out to the Grand Union. Bordesley Junction to Star City is a stretch we’ve covered before, and just like last time it involved plenty of prop clearing. Not sure too many boats venture this way, a few people hollered from their balconies as though they’d been flogged a waterside apartment and finally, after years of waiting, a boat was passing through. Today’s journey was brilliant in part and grime in others.
Arriving at the gated floating pontoon Star City moorings Nick whooped with delight “I could live here.” That’s worrying.
Wast Hill Tunnel rained for most of the way. Out the other side things looked different in a floating burger box kind of a way. Not far to Kings Norton Junction, up to Bournville where we chugged on through chocolate air. A guy on a folding bike stopped peddling like the clappers to tell us there was tree down a couple of miles up. So we reversed back, moored and ducked down to the Cadbury shop for another 1.5kg. Three miles might not be that far but a Sainsbury’s stop, followed by ramping up over half a tree then removing a whole tyre from the prop took time. Topped with water before pulling round the corner to sleep under the The Mailbox glow.
Back through Tardebigge Tunnel and along to Alvechurch. A walk down the hill, things began to feel a bit twisted…tens of burglar alarms screeching yet no one seeming to care. The bottom of the hill looked normalish so we headed into the Co-op. Moments later, plunged into darkness everyone was frog marched out back into daylight. Power finally on long enough to buy some mince we climbed up to the canal quite happy to be back in a world where power supply depends on our very much abused bank of batteries.
Wikipedia doesn’t have a lot to say about Hopwood, but as canal stops go it’s dry, there’s water, rings, and a pub. Not bad. Decided to walk up, over Wast Hill Tunnel in search of ventilation shafts from above. After a pretty steep climb we found none, but figuring this mooring was just too dry, Murk did manage to cake himself in mud – seriously who would have a dog on a boat.. .
The gas flames were looking a bit suss for a whole roast dinner, the latest gas bottle change has just been done without a torch for the first time in months. Days are getting longer.
Leaving Hopwood and continuing on down to the Tardebigge flight, everything stays very rural – not a factory or slither of razor wire in sight. Alvechurch marina had an army of hireboats lined up ready for battle. Tunnels seem to come in droves in and around Birmingham and it’s easy to become a bit complacent about them but inside Tardebigge Tunnel was a surprise: bright orangey red boulder walls with a cavernous feel in places. The end of the tunnel is the end of the journey in this direction for now as there is still a stoppage on the Tardebigge flight – not that we’d be heading on down to the Severn anyhow…
Always ready with helpful boaty advice, like where to find good sausages and safe moorings, Adam of Briar Rose also has a photo shortlisted for the IWA calendar, summer category. Thankyou James for letting me know…and thank you Adam for the shout out! Here’s one right back.
It’s that time of year again…shortlisting of the IWA calendar competition. So France, Australia, select parts of the UK are you out there? Hope so. This year just one photo made the cut and I know it’s asking a lot – give the others a go and all that, but if you happen to have the time to vote then that’d be great, brilliant in fact. The photo has no narrowboat content whatsoever, other than we got there on one. Just click the IWA link above and be sure to select from the default drop down menu. Begging over, if you do click my way then a big bold…***THANK YOU!***
Other than locks, today had a bit of everything: lift bridge, winding hole (one we did fit in), repeat traffic clogging lift bridge, boat yard, tunnel, junction, longer tunnel and countryside. Turning left at Kings Norton Junction, it wasn’t long before we disappeared into the mouth of Wast Hill Tunnel piercing the hills above. Built in 1794, it’s a long one, just short of Harecastle but with room for two. Love a tunnel. We emerged into muddy waters, something to do with a feeder at the junction apparently. Other than murky water there were trees, lots of them, and with them Birmingham revealed a whole new side …on a straight run you can go from city centre to glorious countryside in around about four hours.
AJ and UM…we are almost in the land of The Lock Keeper’s Daughter but the Tardebigge flight has a stoppage – one day!
It was impossible to forget we were practically tied to Cadbury World, everywhere was purple. With more than it’s fair share of harsh Trip Advisor reviews we set off to see what the deal was. Mr Cadbury operated along the lines of Josiah Wedgwood – shelling out for cricket grounds, swimming baths, chapels, canteens, housing, healthcare, concert halls etc for his employees. We trekked through the lot, ‘yeah yeah, show us the cheap chocolate.’
Inside the shop Easter was in full swing, as was half term. Towers of chocolate bunnies glared down as we kneed our way through swarms of children and battled lines of fed up mothers forming buggy barricades. Blinded by the purple and deafened by the creepy model railway zooming round at head height ‘All aboard the chuckle train, life is sweet…’ we ploughed on in. Some of the mega chocolate deals are debatable but tucked right in the far corner we discovered Mis Shapes, random, mainly unidentifiable chocolates at rock bottom price. Oh yay..
It wasn’t far to Kings Norton Junction. A boy on a bike tagged along for most of the way asking what he considered to be the most important questions concerning boat life:
‘Can you go to the toilet when the boat is going along?’ ‘How do you get your Christmas and Birthday presents?’ With no exact route in mind we turned left, under the guillotine lock and on past the boat yard. Topped up with water, then attempted to turn in what Nicholson claims to be a 60ft winding hole…it might be 60ft but it’s not an inch over, no amount of shunting and tugging was getting us round. So we carried on, we’ll turn somewhere tomorrow.
A text popped up this evening to say the boat finally made it (very briefly) onto Corrie. Thank you Clare!
We tore ourselves from the city centre which isn’t something ever envisaged when we set out as country bumpkins. Still waters were swept into confusing swirls as the wind hit turning onto the Birmingham and Worcester, totally unprepared I served up some of the worst steering in a very long time.
Water onboard, boat work done it wasn’t long before we headed on out. A Sainsbury’s stop in Selly Oak, a few metres up from the canal it was hard to believe there were boats back down there at all. Food onboard, lunch done and rain coming down we almost stayed put but looking out the window the graffitiometer was off the scale so we moved on down to the Bournville moorings.
There was even a tiny bit of heat in the air as we wandered up to the Jewellery Quarter, not the best day to see it in terms of jewellery for sale but that wasn’t the plan anyhow. Sunday made for a ghost town in parts, clanking chains, flapping pigeons and newspapers dancing in the breeze. Beautiful old buildings where time stood still, in another world they’d be scooped up and renovated then sold off as ridiculously tiny apartments for crazy amounts of money.
Hockley’s sand pits played a key role in the area’s original success, with sand being used for metal casting moulds. Realising that to compete with London and truly prosper Birmingham needed the right to Hallmark, silversmiths lobbied hard and were rewarded in 1773. Aside from jewellery, whistles, coffins and pens were big business too. The first producer of pen nibs transformed pen affordability, reducing the cost by 99.9%. And then there were the clever people who made a fortune from small boxes made from paper and leather – every piece of jewellery needed one of those. With over 40% of British jewellery output still coming from the area some windows still have plenty of sparkle and make great Cinderella window gawking.
A good cluster of boats about now. Despite its great location, canal side Birmingham has to be one of the quietest cities by night.
The waterways chaplain is about, he’s clobbered Nick twice now, both times I’ve failed to appear no matter how loudly MY WIFE hs been thrown into the conversation. Apparently not quite as radical as the one who took Nick under his wing in Berkhamsted but still the underlying assumption is single men endure lonely winters all alone on chilly boats, with no hopes and no futures. He must have a certain look about him at the moment as Nick was even easy target outside the Bullring this afternoon by a very vocal basher who somehow managed to get a flyer into his hand.
A revisit to finish off Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, we were surprised to find things had changed. Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ is a series of six tapestries that explore his fascination with taste and tell a story of class mobility. The tapestries were created alongside his 2012 TV series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’ and feature people, events and objects discovered during the filming. A brilliant exhibition that screams genius.
Couples, roses, an alarming amount of red dresses swooped down on the canal area last night, we joined the party – tapas and cocktails, even the thermals had a night off. Having eaten a load of gunk at the park Murk played his part too, by throwing up twice… always especially nice to clear with a fuzzed up head.