Monday 29 June

Sorry if you’ve missed us.  We’ve been away for ten days having far too much fun with our granddaughter who at 21 months old is growing up far too quickly.

We left the boat on the 14 day moorings in Birmingham and we’ve come back to find it just as we left it and our helpful friends moored opposite have kept an eye on it.

Admiring Flint Castle

Milky Bar Kid in Dandad's specs ...

Milky Bar Kid in Dandad’s specs …

I'll sit here by myself and eat my lolly ...

I’ll sit here by myself and eat my ice lolly …

Footing the ladders for Dandad!

Footing the ladders for Dandad!

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Putting wellies on

Wellies on

Engrossed by Peppa

Engrossed by Peppa

Dressed for plant watering

Dressed for plant watering

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Cuddles for Max

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Wednesday 17 June

We packed a rucksack and headed off to explore and to look for a park where Max could have a good run off his lead.

We left the canal at Rotton Park and walked westwards along the line of a dismantled railway line which took us to Summerfield Park. Rotton Park was once open land but has been developed for housing over the years. Summerfield Park though is one of Birmingham’s few public parks with a large area of open grass with a mixture of indigenous trees around the edge and lining the pathways.

Max enjoyed his freedom here running between us and fetching sticks. After a while we headed off again to look for a different route back towards the City centre. We’d no sooner left the park than we saw a sign for a “Sailing Club”. Being less than a mile from the City Centre, we found ourselves on the edge of Edgbaston Reservoir; built by Telford to feed the canals and now used for various water sports with quite a number of aquatic birds.

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Edgbaston Reservoir

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Telford’s feeder channel from the reservoir that takes water down to Icknield Port

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Great Crested Grebe with one of its three chicks

As we walked along its causeway we found ourselves looking down on Icknield Port (a loop off the canal inaccessible by foot from the main line). Here was another secret community of boats surrounded by workshops now used by CRT maintenance crews.

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Icknield Port

Birmingham’s Tower Ballroom overlooks the reservoir and the sailing club and hides much of the reservoir from another Telford building – one of his typical houses with hexagonal bay which was built for the reservoir manager.

Leaving the reservoir behind us we headed eastwards and were intrigued by a decorative chimney that towered above the nearby housing. We went to have a closer look. This belongs to the local water company, when perhaps the Edgbaston reservoir was used to supply local housing.

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We turned another corner and found ourselves looking at another interesting tower. This was Perrott’s Folly. Apparently the two towers together, gave J R Tolkien the inspiration for his twin towers in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien apparently lived nearby.

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A local resident said that both towers had also featured in a Harry Potter film.

Tuesday 16 June

The owners of Sherbourne Wharf Heritage Narrowboats, who operate all the trip boats in Birmingham, have recently renovated the Fiddle & Bone canalside pub located between St Vincent Street Bridge and Sheepcote Street Bridge.

The boat behind us with clematis growing on its back deck

The boat behind us with clematis growing on its back deck

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The Fiddle & Bone

The pub is one of a group of buildings here that together provide a stylish example of early canal architecture. We fell in love with this site when we first came to Birmingham in 2010 and have always hoped that it would be lovingly restored.  The pub has stood empty for a number of years after the residents who moved into the modern flats opposite, that were built as part of the area’s regeneration, complained about the noise the pub generated.

The downside of the pub reopening is that Birmingham has lost about 4 of its “14Day” mooring spaces, as Sherbourne Wharf has now moved its service jetty for diesel, coal, gas, etc to the pub site and the space is needed for passing boats to pull in.

When we arrived yesterday all the moorings here were full but after a conversation last night with one of the boats occupying one of the spaces, who had offered to move up so that we could moor behind them, we spent this morning moving boats.   We managed to moor with our stern and middle ropes fastened round bollards with our bow against the wall to the exit from Oozells Loop; not ideal but we wish to stay in Birmingham for longer than the 48 hours allowed elsewhere nearby. We had a good chat with our neighbours before heading back on board in search of some shade as it was so hot out in the sun.

Yesterday Storm had been busy texting our friend John who said that he would like to come and see us today.   He arrived at lunchtime and we went over to the Fiddle & Bone for lunch. The food was very good and reasonably priced. They had lots of tables with sunshades set out in their courtyard and so we sat outside and spent a very pleasant afternoon catching up on each other’s news.

Monday, 15 June

Last night’s visit to the Dry Dock Pub didn’t happen as we discovered that it had been converted into flats about two years ago.   There is a surviving pub on the opposite side of the road that is a sixties estate pub selling keg beer and lots of lager – what a shame!

This morning we walked through more of the Windmill End Park and down the Bumblehole Branch which is a lovely urban environment, at the end of which there is a hidden community of boaters who are overlooked by the last surviving ‘gallows’ crane.

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We passed by the Bumblehole Conservation Group Visitor Centre again only to discover that they’d had some unwelcome visitors overnight who had sprayed the outside of the building with meaningless graffiti. This appears to be an on-going problem here and as fast as the Group remove it, the graffiti returns.   We’d been moored about 20 yards away and we’d not heard or seen anyone loitering in that area.

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We moved off after we’d had breakfast and headed through the 3027 yard Netherton Tunnel, which took us about 40 minutes. This tunnel is quite light and airy, with a towpath either side, but it was nice to reach the end and head out into sunshine. We turned right onto the Birmingham Mainline Canal and continued on for 5.5 miles before mooring up outside the recently refurbished Barclaycard Area (formerly the NIA).

There were more boats on the move today than we’ve ever seen in Birmingham before and we were glad we arrived at lunch-time as by tea-time incoming boats were struggling to find somewhere to moor.

We headed out on foot this afternoon to New Street Station to pick up some pre-ordered rail tickets and en-route passed this guy sitting in thin air. How does he do it?

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Sunday 14 June

In the sunshine Merryhill Shopping centre looked far more welcoming but we resisted.

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As we were leaving we visited the sanitary station where the showers were clean and tidy with copious amounts of hot water.   The only thing that was missing was a tap and so we had to wait to fill our water tank until we reached Park Head Junction.   We passed through Blowers Green Lock (the deepest on the Birmingham Canal Network at 12ft), and turned right towards Windmill End.

 

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We moored at Windmill End as this is now an attractive grassed area with fishing ponds and footpaths through the parkland, and it is hard to imagine it once being a busy inland port surrounded by mines where coal, ironstone and clay were extracted, and boilers, blast furnaces and open cooking hearths and brick kilns stood by the canal, belching thick black smoke into the air.

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We decided to stay here overnight so we could better explore the area. This afternoon we walked to Cobbs Engine House which was built in 1831 to drain the mines, but it is now just a shell that looks rather surprised…

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This engine house sits beside the southern portal of the Netherton Tunnel.   Netherton, once the centre for the manufacture of chains and anchors, is proud to boast that the Titanic’s anchor was built here.

The views from the hill above the tunnel look southwest towards Merryhill and south east towards Halesowen.

Tonight we plan to visit The Dry Dock Inn as our appetite has been whetted by our guide book that  says they dispense real ale from a salvaged Runcorn six-plank hull set inside an imitation galleon and the walls are ornately tiled.

Everyone we’ve spoken to today has been really chatty, even the fishermen.

Saturday 13 June

Through disturbed sleep we suspected it had rain steadily all night and the forecast was for it to continue for most of today.   We decided to treat ourselves to a cooked breakfast and Storm turned into an intrepid explorer as he set out in his waterproofs with Max in tow to find our regular Saturday newspaper and some sausages. He found both on Brierley Hill’s main street.

We stayed indoors for most of the day reading the papers as our steamed up windows didn’t encourage us to head out and we only ventured out again later in the afternoon once the rain had stopped to take Max for another walk.

Friday 12 June

As we were awake early we decided to get up and off. We thought the day was going to turn out warm and sunny and with 24 locks and five miles to travel to our planned mooring beside the Merryhill Shopping Centre, we wanted to try to get as far as possible while it was cool.   We were underway by 7am.

We travelled along the Stourbridge Canal and passed the end of the branch arm that goes into the town and headed up the 16 Stourbridge locks which rise past some fine examples of Black Country canal architecture with little sign of the industry that once supported the canal.   These sites are being developed for housing. Storm worked the locks and I steered. After about half way you are invited to visit the Glassworks Museum with moorings outside but we arrived before it opened and so continued on to the top of the flight.

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The Glassware Museum

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Black Country canal architecture

Here we turned right and were wending our way around Brierley Hill when we suddenly stopped moving. Reverse gear didn’t make any impact on our predicament and we had to get the pole out.   The boat’s stern was well and truly stuck but we did manage to pole the bow over to the bank so that we could all get off; Max leapt from the roof, and we stepped off the side, taking the stern and middle ropes with us.   We both pulled on a rope and only when we managed to cause the boat to rock sideways did it finally float free.   The lady living opposite seemed quite concerned about the boat but was very impressed when we freed it.

We got back on board and motored on slowly, trying to keep in the deep water in the middle. There were signs that the water level was about a foot lower than usual and our passage wasn’t helped by the objects discarded in the canal. We spotted a few shopping trolleys, a fridge, and other twisted metal objects that could have been pushbikes in a former life. The boat bucked over other submerged objects.

We made it to the locks where we swapped roles and I set off to prepare the next 8 locks while Storm steered.  The start of the locks heralds the start of the Dudley No 2 Canal.   Storm had a trip down the weed hatch while he waited for me and removed a pair of jeans from round our propeller.

Delph Locks are designated a conservation area and so are all well looked after. They were all set in our favour.

I spoke to a CRT staff member about the low water levels and he looked slightly sheepish and admitted that he’d expected it to rain overnight and had not switched on the overnight flow button that tops up the pound.   He said he’d just switched it on so the levels would improve through the course of the afternoon.

As we cleared the top lock the sun came out as though to confirm that we’d made the right choice by setting off early.   The good weather didn’t last long though and by mid afternoon it was raining and it hasn’t stopped since.   It looks as though yesterday’s heat wave was just a flash in the pan.