Friday, 12 May 2017

Where have we been?

Moored in Birmingham with the library behind
I can't imagine too many people are asking that: there's nothing like a comatose blog to have readers looking elsewhere.
But just in case one or two of the kids are starting to get alarmed by our absence (only joking, girls) here is something of an update on our recent travels.
It's an update that won't have much in the way of pictures: my fancy Canon camera jammed up a few days before we returned to the boat. Fortunately it was still under warranty but repairs are taking a while. An iphone camera is making a poor substitute.
What with one thing and another we've only been back on the boat since mid-April and we set off from Stourbridge vowing to take things steadier than we have in the past; to boat less and walk more.
There's a reason: we are spending a week walking on the Pennine Way with friends in June and, at the moment, walking up a flight of stairs gets me out of puff so we need a spot of training. Most of that has been provided by walking back and forth to move the car we've brought along with us for Pennine Way transport.
From Stourbridge, a gentle jog took us down to Stourport, where we were spotted by Keith from Nb Fruit of the Vine – a boat I reviewed for Canal Boat a few years back and which still looks good as new.
We also spotted an intriguing little craft –  sort of mini working boat – called Henry II and the following day found ourselves on the River Severn with them. With a Gardner 2LW pushing 40ft of boat Sarah and Andy didn't hang around and neither did we: it was good to get some deep water under Harry.
Hustling down the Severn with Henry II
Off the river at Worcester – a place that the river makes a glorious entry into, past the cathedral, cricket ground and elegant buildings – we were destined for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, with a challenging 58 locks in the 24 miles to B'rum.
We despatched 13 of those in the first session, despite only leaving the city in the late afternoon, and finally moored at Tibberton at nearly nine p.m. Did I say we were taking things steadier? The next day was a six mile walk back to get the car!
The W&B hits you with most of its locks in one heavyweight hit, like a punch from Anthony Joshua. The Tardebigge flight is 30 locks long and you get a warm fight with the six Stoke locks immediately before it. Which would be no problem except that emergency repairs had left one pound near dry and the next few shallow so we were stuck, semi-stuck and just about unstuck for the first half a dozen locks.
A walk in the woods over the tunnel top
Everyone stops and relaxes at the ample moorings before Tardebigge top lock – not us. We went on, moored at the top, walked all the way back down 36 locks, got the car and drove back – before leaving it at the Wharf and heading on through two tunnels to finally stop just outside Alvechurch. From where we could walk back the next day to get the car! (But what a delightful walk following the old boat-horse track through picturesque woods over the top of Shortwood Tunnel – without this car fetching routine, we'd never have found it.)
Having a car is handy, I must admit. We drove to nearby Bromsgrove for shopping – a dreary little town swamped in tiresome roadworks - and to Redditch which has a modern shopping centre surrounded by a vast one-way ring road system around which the locals race at high speed and which is unintelligibly signposted for the visitor.
They don't do names like this any more
We even drove back to Tardebigge Wharf with our rubbish, only to find the road closed by yet more roadworks. We parked at the church, high on a hill overlooking the canal and wandered down via the Victorian graveyard. Here in this remote Worcestershire spot were the family plots of various Earls of Plymouth and their relies - including the stupendously named Walburga Ehrengarda Helena Hohenthal, a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria and, incidentally, a believer in the 'hollow earth' theory.
Seemingly, there were cities under the deserts where the descendants of the lost city of Atlantis went, according to its Victorian devotees. One day in this century they are due back up topsides, which will be a nice surprise.
The Earls and co are buried there because the first Earl was a big local landowner and had a monster Jacobean style manor built nearby in the 1880s. The family also had a decent little castle in Wales and clearly preferred it since they sold Hewell Grange to the State in 1946 – who promptly turned it into a Borstal. It's now part of a sprawling prison set-up. You don't need to be doing time to see inside this Grade II* building: there are occasional tours of the house and grounds for non-residents.
Today we set off from quiet Alvechurch in its rich, rolling countryside en route for Birmingham. The canal is thickly silted - even shallow hire boats churn up silt and leaf mulch. A far cry from the '50s as a local told us: born and bred in Alvechurch and married to a local girl, he recalled the days of horse drawn boats and a canal that was far cleaner than it is now.
The cavernous mouth of Wasts Hill Tunnel is the entry to Birmingham. You depart into the tunnel from countryside and exit, one and a half miles later, into the dank, grubby edges of the city. From there it is a messy, sludgy trudge through scruffy industrial suburbs, then past the university before reaching The Mailbox corner and turning sharp left into central Birmingham, bustling with people and noise.


  1. Sounds like you need a bike!

  2. You're back - excellent! Having read your last column I do hope you have your plan now :-)

  3. I was wondering where you were! Love reading your posts.