Monday, 28 January 2013

Birmingham Delights.


Well,as the title suggests,this week we have been enjoying a few of the local attractions as well as making the most of our first experience of being on our boat in the snow.We’ve had no problems,the towpath has been a bit iffy at times,but we’ve gone out every day well wrapped up and enjoyed ourselves.Got to be honest though,not having to get up for work makes everything so very much better.This is only the second time I have ever seen snow in Birmingham,the first time must have been in the late seventies or early eighties.I was driving through here in the early hours of the morning and everywhere was white over, but by the time I got back later that day,it had all gone.Snow nearly always either turned to rain or the sun melted what had settled in those days.This time it stayed and made everywhere look like a Christmas card.I’ve always liked the snow and I remember as a kid,how disappointed I was when it thawed and also the shock of getting my knuckles rapped for staring at the falling snow through the classroom window during lessons.I remember being snowed in for six weeks in the 60s when all the surrounding roads were blocked.I was in the forces in Harwich and never saw a flake,I was really disappointed I can tell you.

Nearly every day we have been out walking and taking a few pictures of the canals around here,they look very picturesque when covered by snow and with the water frozen.I guess that it’s because they no longer look so urban and industrial,the snow somehow gives them a rural look.Derelict buildings,and open spaces where buildings once stood,the bridges and the locks and even the black waters themselves seem to lose their harshness when covered in a blanket of white.

Birmingham (3) 005 Birmingham (3) 011

That’s Chyandour on the left,moored at Vincent Street Moorings,on the Birmingham Main Line canal,shortly after the snow first started.Not getting a lot from the solar panels that day.

Birmingham (3) 010 Birmingham 21.01.13 002

Now we’ve all heard the saying “ Like water off a ducks back” ,well it seems snow doesn’t slide off quite so easily.Cambrian Wharf at the top of the Farmers Bridge Flight on the right.

Birmingham (3) 018 Birmingham (3) 020

Above left is of the Birmingham & Worcester Canal as it leaves Birmingham.On the embankment to the left there used to be a brewery.Anyone remember the slogan “Beer at home means Davenports”? Well,this is where Davenports brewery used to be.On the right is Worcester Bar,from 1792 until 1815 there was no canal here on this short stretch for the reasons I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

Birmingham 27.01.13 002 Birmingham 27.01.13 005

Birmingham 27.01.13 007 Birmingham 27.01.13 006

Above are a few pictures of some more of the work being undertaken by C&RT on the Farmers Bridge Flight.As you can see,the water has been drained away and there’s some of the mud and the obligatory shopping trolley.Bottom left is something rarely seen,a ground paddle,usually underwater.It gets its name from the fact the winding gear and paddle are on the “ground” as opposed to gate paddles which,as the name suggests,have their winding gear and paddles on the gates.The bottom right is of a byewash which allows excess water to bypass the lock.This byewash is where there used to be another lock,additional locks were built alongside the present ones to relieve congestion in the 19th Century and abandoned and built over in the 20th.

As well as walking the towpaths we have gone inland,as it were,to see the Sea Life Centre and the Jewellery Quarter.

Sea Life Centre 020 Sea Life Centre 035

Some spectacular exhibits at the nearby Sea Life Centre,apparently the fish on the right,the ones covered in spots,are Rays and can be deadly if you should be unfortunate enough to tread on one.

Birmingham 28.01.13 002 Birmingham 28.01.13 003

Anyone recognise the structure on the left? Similar constructions used to be seen in lots of towns and cities and this one was made at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane Ltd.,at that time,the most important ornamental ironwork manufacturer in Scotland.Haven’t seen one for years.

Birmingham 28.01.13 005 Lisa's Birmingham 28.01.13 006

The jewellers Arms pub in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham and a plaque on the footpath about the whistles on the Titanic.These were the Thunderer whistles issued to the officers on board before she sailed in April 1912,and not the ones on the funnel,which is what I first thought.

That’s all again for this week,since our blog on the 14th of January we have done 0 miles and 0 locks so the grand total is still 53 locks and 73 miles.Take care everyone.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Goodbye Dai.


Our blog this week is going to be a bit on the short side I am afraid.We’ve been here for two weeks and on top of the weather restricting us we have had a very sad event.As you will know from previous blogs,we wanted to be here in Birmingham to meet up with our friends Janice,Dai,and their dog Foxxie,on their boat Jandai.We had hoped to make it here for New Years Eve but the flooding on the Trent at Alrewas held us back,so as a result,we had to wait till the 7th for our celebrations and a good time was had by all of us.We made plans for the next couple of months as we walked around the markets and shops over the following days,and over the odd glass of wine in the evenings.We each had things we wanted to do,but for the foreseeable future our plan was to spend some time together cruising some of the network,before going our separate ways.

Sadly,last Monday,fate struck a cruel blow.While taking Foxxie for a walk along the towpath,Dai collapsed and died.It happened suddenly and without warning and as a result Janice,as you can imagine,is heartbroken.We are now going to stay here with Janice and Foxxie till everything has been sorted.Thankfully we are in a position that makes it relatively easy for Janice and Dai’s family and friends to visit and,as I’ve said before,everything we need is nearby.

Before I close our blog today I would like to thank all the people from the Emergency Services who tried so very very hard to help Dai.Also,thank you to all the lovely local people who have helped Janice or offered to help,some who’s names we don’t know,but who have still made an effort to help a stranger.Thank you too, to C&RT,for their understanding and assistance at this time.


Dai was not someone who liked having his photo’ being taken but here he is in July 2011,admiring the engine room on a boat moored at the Shroppie Fly in Audlem on the canal he loved the most,the Shropshire Union.


Here,from the left, Lisa,Janice and Dai sheltering under a bridge near Brewood in December 2011,the rain was lashing down.

Janice and Dai helped Lisa and I as we searched for our own boat,and helped us to achieve our own dream.

                          Goodbye Dai,It was good to have known you.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Will they or wont they?


This week we are still in Birmingham,wondering,as the title says,will the canals freeze or wont they?The forecasters are predicting below freezing temperatures for the next few weeks and we don’t want to get caught out.Here in Birmingham we have everything we need so we are reluctant to move very far while there is a risk of getting stuck somewhere where there are fewer facilities.As well as boat facilities there are a couple of large markets selling fresh meat and fruit and vegetables at very modest prices.We only need to take a walk of about twenty minutes to get fresh food everyday.Part of the conditions of our licence though,tells us we should move after 14 days to somewhere else,but of course,we wouldn’t be expected to move if the canal is frozen,so,as a result,we are in a bit of a limbo waiting to see what is going to happen.

Birmingham (2) 006 Birmingham (2) 001

The view from our mooring this morning.We had snow overnight which had turned to sleet when I took the pic’.Some of the entertainment in Birmingham on the right.A band of Morris Dancers performing on New Street.

There are plenty of places to walk too around here as well as the shops and markets in the city centre.We’ve been down the Farmers Bridge Flight of locks to see how C&RT are getting along with the winter maintenance on a couple of the locks.They were replacing the top gate on lock 8 with one of the new gates that has a poetic quotation carved into the balance beam.This is one of the many projects being undertaken by C&RT to attract more interest in our canals from people who aren’t lucky enough to be on a boat and who would like to help with the upkeep of the canals.

Birmingham 003 Birmingham 002

The new gate and balance beam waiting in the lock and the gantry ready to lift the old gate out.

Birmingham (2) 007 Birmingham (2) 008

The above pictures were taken a few days after the first ones.On the left the stop planks are in place ready to access the new top gate from both sides and on the right is part of the inscription carved on the new balance beam.It does make sense if you can read it all but I was unable to get to photograph the rest at this stage.

Only a couple of miles from where we are moored is Winson Green Prison which is right alongside one of the canal loops that branch off the main canals here in Birmingham.The high walls of the prison tower above as you walk along the towpath of the Soho Loop.It was here,on this loop,that Matthew Boulton built his Soho Manufactory in 1776,Boulton was a member of the Lunar Society,a group of prominent individuals who could be said to be the fathers of the Industrial Revolution.He was also a business partner of James Watt and between them they installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines in factories,revolutionising manufacturing in the U.K.

Birmingham (2) 005 Birmingham (2) 004

The signpost at the junction of the Birmingham Main Line and the Icknield Port and Soho Loops.One of the bridges on the Soho Loop close to Winson Green Prison,don’t know why it’s called Asylum Bridge.

Birmingham (2) 013 Birmingham (2) 015

The left hand picture is close to where we are moored,it’s the Old Turn Junction of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and the Birmingham Main Line.To the left of the junction is Gas Street Basin and then the start of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Worcester Bar.Worcester Bar was a barrier to prevent the Worcester & Birmingham canal from having access to the water of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.This meant cargoes had to be manhandled between the two canals.The politics of the canals were positively eye watering by todays standards.On the right is Brindley Place,just round the corner from where we are moored,it’s a canalside development of shops,bars and restaurants,named after James Brindley the canal engineer.

Birmingham (2) 010 Birmingham (2) 011

These buildings are at the end of the B & F canal just before Old Turn Junction.On the left is the Malt House,a pub,where nearby,in the early nineteenth century,stood a brewery that sold some of it’s produce to the  thirsty Bargees on the 100 or so barges that passed here each day.Alongside the Malt House,and part of the same building,built in 1803,is a former nail warehouse with the loading bays facing the canal.

That’s all for this week folks.Since our last blog we have done 0 locks and 0 miles,giving us the same grand total of 53 locks and 73 miles as last week Take care everyone,you just don’t know what’s round the corner.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Away at last.

Yes we’ve moved,we finally got away from Barton Turns after ten days and made our way here to Birmingham.A quick phone call to C&RT on Thursday morning gave us the all clear to go across the River Trent at Alrewas ,the water level having gone down quite a lot over the previous 48 hours.The 200 metre trip across the river was pretty much uneventful,the flow pushed us over towards the bank just before Alrewas lock,but other than that it was fine,for our first time crossing in those conditions anyway.

Lisa's Coventry Canal 03.01.13 018 Lisa's Coventry Canal 03.01.13 020

On the left there is still a lot of water going over the weir at Alrewas and on the right we just have to go round to the left before the bridge and we’ll be into calm water

From Alrewas we had 30 miles and 43 locks to do and we needed to do them within four days at the most.Birmingham sits on a plateau so every approach to it by canal has a number of locks close together called a flight.Coming from the east,as we were doing,meant coming up the Farmers Bridge flight,which consists of thirteen locks,and we knew that C&RT would be closing them for their Winter Stoppage on the 7th of January.That meant we had to be away from Barton before Friday if we wanted to take the shortest route,and yippee ,we did it.We cruised for six hours each day,which is more than we would normally do in a week,the weather was exceptional,for the time of year,and it was brilliant.We are going to relax now for a few days and let Lisa get some retail therapy as reward for the hard work she put in getting us here.Remember,she’s the one who works the locks and she had 27 to do on Saturday alone.Lisa doesn’t like being on her own,on the boat, in the locks,so I get the relatively easy bit,but we do work well together and I try to do as much as I can to help.half the locks she had to do were against us,i.e.they were full,so had to be emptied before we could enter with Chyandour.

On Thursday we made it to Whittington,on the Coventry Canal,after stopping to use the spotlessly clean services at Fradley Junction where the T & M and the Coventry Canal meet.This junction is one of the most famous on the canal system with a popular pub called The Swan,we didn’t have time to visit so we’ll save it for another day.

Fradley 03.01.13 001 Fradley 03.01.13 003

An old British Waterways van at Fradley Junction and a tiny narrowboat,with two famous people on board,in the Carpenters Shop there.

After turning left at Fradley,off the T & M and onto the Coventry Canal,we cruised as far as Whittington where we moored just short of the first bridge for the village.By Friday afternoon we had got as far as Curdworth on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal,where we moored in open countryside,and Saturday had us moored here in Birmingham by about 15.30.Three good days of the best that narrowboating has to offer.The journey was very quiet though,we met a couple of boats on both Thursday and Friday but non at all on Saturday which was surprising,‘cos it was ideal cruising weather.

Whittington 03.01.13 003 Lisa's Coventry Canal 03.01.13 027

On the left is the sunset as we moored up on the Coventry Canal at Whittington and on the right is Huddlesford Junction at the end of what was the Wryley & Essington Canal.This is now the proposed Lichfield Canal,which it is hoped,will one day be restored.There has been an aqueduct built over the M6 Toll Road ready for it but there is no water to it yet.The Wryley & Essington still exists to the west but the seven mile stretch from here was drained and filled in in the 1960’s

Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 003 Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 026

Anyone care to guess what could be flowing through this pipe?It has to be a metre in diameter.On the right is something that always intrigues me.What went on behind that wall when it was first built a couple of hundred years ago?Factory,warehouse,home,what was there,and how many changes has it had?I would love to know.

Lisa's Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.13 006 Lisa's Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.13 020

Factory Tunnel on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal,these are the foundations of a factory that was built over the canal but so far I can’t find any details of the factory,which incidentally,is still there but closed.On the right is part of Spaghetti Junction,where the M6 and the A38M meet,with Salford Junction on the B & F under it on the left.

Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 010 Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 012

A view down the Ashton flight of 11 locks and Lisa at the top taking a few minutes before we had our lunch prior to setting off for the Farmers Bridge flight.

Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 027 Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 024

Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 030 Birmingham & Fazeley 05.01.12 034

Above are some of the views we enjoyed as we climbed the Farmers Bridge flight,you can see that,over the years,Birmingham has always been built around the canals.This was a memorable experience coming up through the locks,something we would love to do again.

Visiting Birmingham has got to be one of the highlights of narrowboating because you can moor right in the centre of the city,and all for the cost of the annual boating licence.The canal system has been maintained as a feature of Birmingham and all modern construction has been sympathetic to it.The canals are,arguably,the reason why Birmingham is the UK’s second City,having provided a transport system that enabled all the ingredients for the Industrial Revolution to come together.The first canal was constructed in the second half of the eighteenth century and by the middle of the nineteenth there were about 160 miles of canal in use.Even the coming of the railways didn’t result in the decline of the canals,as happened elsewhere and they were still being used commercially in the 50’s and 60,s.Today there is only about 100 miles left and it is possible to see traces of the junctions of some of the old arms and branches that no longer exist,all bricked up,as you cruise what remains.It has been said that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice,it may be true,and it’s nice to think it has.

Birmingham 06.01.12 003 Birmingham 06.01.12 002

A couple of pictures of Gas Street Basin in the very centre of Birmingham.

Of course,being moored here,has the advantage of giving us access to all the major retailers in some of the best shopping centres in the country.The Bullring centre is vast,and there is also a lot of other interesting features only a short walk from the towpath.To cap it all,where we are moored is very quiet,even on a Saturday night there was no disturbance,we are opposite the N.I.A.,a few yards up the Main Line past the first entrance to Oozells Street Loop.Everything we require is nearby,other than shopping we have all the boating facilities within walking distance,if we don’t want to move our boat that is.

That’s all for this week,we are going to be staying around Birmingham now for a week or two,maybe do some more of the BCN navigations that we haven’t done before.Since our last blog we have done 46 locks and 33 miles giving us a grand total of 99 locks and 106 miles.Take care everyone.