We got off to a slow start today – we’d heard that there was dragon boat racing in Birmingham and we didn’t want to get caught up in the closures so we just pottered along! Richard’s boatyard was ever-helpful and gave us permission to leave the car in their car park for the weekend – don’t park there without some sort of permission as some of the locals are a bit territorial (can’t blame them!).
Plenty of interest today (isn’t there always!). We were surprised to find that a large branch had fallen across the towpath mooring overnight and there were several trees across the water further along. The canal was generally full of debris – the usual plastic bottles and tyres in the built-up areas but mainly bits of tree! We’ve only seen the like up in Penkrdige after a big storm a few years ago (which closed the M6) – if there had been a storm of that magnitude overnight then we managed to sleep right through it! All this debris made for a noisy trip – we were accompanied by the constant clunking of stuff bumping along under the counter. We’d normally suspect submerged trolleys and other hardware but in this case we’re pretty sure it was bits of tree!
The Stratford Canal continued it’s winding path through the surprisingly rural outskirts of Birmingham. The M42 intruded briefly but was soon lost in the trees. Trees are a major feature here – the canalside is richly wooded and peaceful. One of our canal guides calls it ‘soporific’ – it certainly was quiet – just a few boats passed us going the other way.
We noticed a few good pubs – The Wharf at Hockley Heath (just past bridge 25) had good access from the canal (we stalled here with a plastic bag round the prop so were in a good position to notice!). Later on just before Bridge 19 we spotted the welcoming sign of the ‘Cider House’ – fine pub moorings here. It was only 11am so a bit early for a pint but we’d like to explore there again!
Not far from bridge 16 we spotted another welsh boat, along with numerous welsh flags – this time it was nb ‘Rhyddid’ (trans. Freedom) that caught Richard’s eye. There’s a small canal branch here which is obviously used for mooring but also has a handy water point – not sure if it’s just for the moorers.
There are good moorings on either side of Shirley Drawbridge – maybe a bit close to the road for the dogs but there was a popular pub there and useful mooring rings. The drawbridge itself was electrically operated which was relief – the road’s surprisingly busy and quite a queue developed even with Richard’s fast finger on the button! However, just up from the bridge the canal felt quite rural again so Richard hopped off for a wander with the dogs. Good decision – we met another greyhound on the towpath – a BIG black and white boy (Proud Baz) – now six years old but retired early because he was too big for racing. He was a few inches taller than Blue and he’s not small!
There were very grand new canalside developments on this stretch – I love it when towns make the best of their waterfronts – I’m surprised they don’t all take advantage. They reckon that a river frontage adds £200,000 to a property on the Thames! There were many canalside gardens here but a big contrast between how their owners perceived the canal. Some gardens were beautifully maintained with rich hostas (miraculously uneaten by slugs!) sitting on neat decking; others were just backyards full of compost heaps, mess and general debris. We weren’t quick enough with the camera but there was also one where a very ancient sofa was perched precariously on scaffolding poles above the canal. I have no idea whether anyone ever sat there – it looked a complete mess and I hope that it’s destiny isn’t to be wrapped round a prop one day!
Once you get past bridge 7 you’re in the outskirts of Kings Norton. Kelly warned us not to moor here and the sudden rash of graffiti on every flat surface hinted that the local youth are active on the towpath. There were great waterpoints by Bridge 5 but each waterpoint had been thoroughly graffitied. We were also mystified by a long stretch of offside moorings by Bridge 3 – all the boats had hefty metal grills slung over their waterside windows – we were alarmed – were they really used for target practice by the local youth?? Moored boats on the River Wey often have solid boards but that’s to stop the fisherman’s leads from smashing the windows – but we hadn’t see any fishermen here. We cruised by worriedly until we saw the sign pictured above…..
It was a shock when we got to the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal – we’ve been here before! We passed this junction a few years ago in our shared boat, Dragonfly, on the way to our epic down the Tardebigge flight. As we turned right towards Birmingham bits of remembered journey came back but alas, our written log belongs to the Dragonfly so we didn’t have any past notes to refer to. That’s surely the strength of the blog!
I did remember that this stretch was prime territory for waving at trains (the track’s right by the canal). One train driver beeped in response to our enthusiatic (and slightly deranged) waving and another one waved – result! We didn’t manage to get any interest from the sad commuters….
Beware of this stretch of canal – although it passes through some industrialised bits it is quiet and tranquil – the people on the towpath smiled and waved and you could be lulled into a false sense of security. There are no boats moored here and there is a lot of graffiti (did someone on Radio 4 really try and claim that graffiti is art on Saturday morning?); the canalside businesses tend to be protected by spiky fences and razorwire so maybe all is not as it seems. The BW notice near Bournville maybe confirms the real situation – they warn that it is an urban canal and that thefts have occurred.
We savoured the rich smell of chocolate wafting over the canal from the Cadbury factory – slow down and enjoy it (unless you’re on a diet!). We had a visit to Cadburyworld last time we were here but we were disappointed – too much history and too little actual manufacturing. Given all the salmonella scares they’ve had since maybe it’s just as well we didn’t see the full process! If you want a good factory tour go round Wedgewood near Stafford instead – brilliant!
Just past Bridge 82 there’s a deceptively quiet mooring spot – all the bustle of Birmingham University is at the top of the cutting! This spot has useful access to the University train station – as we found out a few years ago it has good links to the west (Mum and her cousin started their journey back to Wales from here). Three years ago we moored overnight here without incident but we didn’t stop this time. It was good to see that the university’s involved in planning for the future of the waterways (see photo)
Birmingham is truly stunning from the water- it’s such a great mix of current industrial and swanky waterfront bars. Gas Street Basin and Brindly place were humming with life – possibly even busier than Camden. We were sad to see that the waterside Italian Restaurant which used to have a full-size venetian gondola morred outside had been demolished for development.
The dragon boat racing was just finishing when we arrived – good timing for getting the boat through but a shame to have missed all the events. We headed for Cambrian Wharf at the top of the Farmer’s Bridge flight – it’s a bit quieter here. The local BW office was very helpful and gave us some handy advice on where to moor – they reckoned Cambrian Wharf was pretty secure. The ‘town’ side of the canal has 48-hour moorings but the basin itself has 14-day visitor moorings so that’s where we moored. We’re leaving the boat here for a few days – I have a meeting in Manchester on Friday so I’ll be using the boat as a ‘halfway house’. We’ll then resume our exploration of Birmingham next weekend.
When we arrived we were shocked to see that the Farmer’s Bridge flight was closed – not a bother to us but it was unexpected! Apparently a couple of the pounds lower down were completely dry – it took most of the day to get enough water down there to allow boats to pass. Just as well we moored early – later on the moorings filled up with boats that had been delayed coming up the flight.
We took the dogs on a wander round the action at Brindley Place – they were very good in the crowds though Lou was spooked by the loud drumming accompanying some chinese dragon dancers in one of the squares. I’m very pleased that we’re spending another weekend here – Brindley Place (above the canal) is full of lovely squares and fountains with a good array of restuarants etc. However, when we found our way out to one the main streets we lost every hint of the canal – talk about another world!
After much debate we decided to go home in the evening and take advantage of the unexpectedly good weather to get some jungle control done (other people call it gardening!). We walked from Cambrian Wharf to Snowhill – even with bags and dogs and bike it is not a long walkand from there we got a great train back to Dorridge (nearest station to where we’d left the car). Dogs as usual attracted attention on the train. The fare was £3.00 for two humans (and two dogs) and that was a return! Richard cycled back to get the car (3 miles) and I colonised the local pub with the dogs. We met a charming man there who owned a young lurcher (sadly not with him) – he gave the dogs loads of fuss and even gave Lou his jumper to lie on (Blue had my jacket). When Richard arrived with the car Lou was reluctant to leave her hero.
It was a long slog home (dogs had a good chase of rabbits at Cherwell Services!) but we’re glad we did it – we achieved a useful amount of stuff at home (including preparing nice food for the week) – this will make it easier for us to have a long weekend away next week.
The Brandwood tunnel has very grand portals – especially looking back on the Grade II listed west portal where there is a Shakespeare plaque. Shame about the graffiti – i don’t think it adds anything really…..
All the bridges have on this stretch have little gates in the parapets – firmly locked. We’d passed under half a dozen before we realised they were fire brigade locks – apparently the fire service can draw water from the canal in an emergency!