Monday, June 30, 2014

A brief visit to Birmingham City

We had a meeting in Birmingham.  Well it was actually a meeting at Heathrow and Birmingham was the nearest major rail connection.

But first I want to mention our 32” Panasonic TV with in-build FreeView and FreeSat tuners.  It’s in perfect working order and needs a good home.  It seems such a shame to dump it in a skip.  Does anyone want it?  Only condition is that you must collect it!

It was the boat trading weekend in Birmingham and all the usual moorings were full, however we managed to find what turned out to be a good mooring away from the usual areas. Jan noticed nb Wandering Bark and we did manage to stop for a brief chat with Helen and bought some jars of her lovely chutney and jam.

The tomato and ginger chutney is delicious!

I had purchased in advance cheap tickets (Birmingham-London) and boarded the Virgin train only to find the carriage full and someone in my reserved seat.  On requesting he vacate my seat I was informed Virgin had cancelled all reserved seating which made me more than a little annoyed.  Eventually I found another seat, but have yet to forgive Virgin…… (it may take some time!)

After topping up the Oyster card I made my way to Heathrow Terminal 3 on the Tube.  Our niece from Perth was arriving on Emirates via Dubai and I wanted to find a position where I could observe her entry into the Arrivals Hall before greeting her.  I’d previously informed her the best way to avoid any touts was to confidently stride through the crowd giving the appearance she knew where she was going (it’s her first time to the UK).  She did very well.  In fact so well that she confidently walked right passed me without even noticing me standing beside a column.

However her immigration and customs clearances had taken longer than I had allowed so it was a frantic dash back to Euston Street Station for the train to Birmingham.  The pressure was really on when; with only 5 minutes before departure time; the Virgin ticket machine refused to accept her booking code.  Eventually I tried a second machine and off we dashed for the train.

With only one full day together we planned a short cruise down to Kings Norton Junction.

This was piece of canal we hadn’t previously done.  At Kings Norton Junction the Worchester & Birmingham Canal meets the Stratford-Upon Avon Canal.  On our last hire boat holiday in 2009 we had come up the Stratford-Upon Avon Canal and turned left, away from Birmingham.  We can now say we’ve cruised all of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

The main reason for deciding to head south was to reach this place.

Because the way to a girls heart is….

Where some serious shopping took place.

We had a lovely dinner together.  One jet-lagged niece managed to stay awake until 9.00pm before crashing into a very heavy sleep.  As expected she was awake at 4.00am, but managed to nod off for another couple of hours.  Hopefully she is now over most of the jet-lag.  We took her to New Street Station for her trip back to London where she is meeting her girlfriends to commence her bus trip around Europe.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Engine Arm

We weren’t the first to depart but then we did wait until the water point was vacant so we could slip across and top up the tank.

Somehow I managed the turn onto the Old Main Line at Tipton Junction in one bite <fluke>.  We were now retracing our route.  There has obviously been some urban redevelopment along the canal in the past couple of decades.  It appears what might have been a former industrial basin has been converted into attractive residential accommodation.

There were mooring rings along the canal frontage and in the basin.  I was almost tempted to cruise into the basin before winding and exiting.  But the water lilies looked thick and and depth of the water in the basin was unknown.  Still, it might have given the residents a thrill!

Later we passed some good floating moorings on the ‘off-side’.  There were no signs indicating mooring was forbidden or limited.  Maybe the adjacent cafe installed them?

It felt as if we picked up something around the propeller just prior to Summit Tunnel but we kept going in the hope we could flick it off.

The tunnel actually looks reasonably modern being made from reinforced concrete.  Maybe it has been relined…. But we suspect not!

Immediately after the tunnel there was a strange object on the distant skyline.  A gold and white tulip shaped dome.  From a distance it appeared to have a golden cross on the top.  Perhaps an orthodox church?

I think this might be another mosque rather than an eastern orthodox church.  A walk back for a closer inspection may be required.

We managed to turn right onto the Engine Arm and then stopped on the aqueduct over the New Main line for a photo opportunity.

Looking down at the New Main Line.

There’s a sharp left turn at the far end of the aqueduct followed by a short cruise to the end of the arm which takes you past a row of friendly long term residential moorers.

The CRT facilities block and winding hole is at the far end of the arm.  The sole visitor mooring (48 hr) is in the winding hole.  It must have been our day because there was already a visiting boat on the mooring plus two CRT working boats.  Winding proved to be more complex than we had anticipated.

I used the electric boat pole to get us around!

By now were were getting heartily sick of the cr@p stuff around the prop.  Bursts of reverse wasn’t working so we stopped in the top lock the see what new possessions we had acquired.

Can I come out now mum….. I promise to be good!

Les, If you need any additional stoma bags we have a few.  Yes,  I had to use the bread knife (serrated edge) to cut that lot away.  Don’t worry, I wiped it on the back of my jeans before returning it.

Jan obviously thought we might need some divine assistance. 

I’d have preferred the lucky white rabbit’s foot myself! 

The last interesting observation for the day was a large temporary roof which has been erected over what appears to be at least one old brick building.

A major restoration project?????

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dudley Tunnel–North Portal

A slightly confusing set of mooring signs at the Dudley CRT Facilities.  The was room for two boats just beyond the bridge.  At one end it stated 48 hours and at the other 24 hours.  We had the 48 hour end.  Here we are, front left with the tunnel in the distance.

We wandered down to the shop and tea rooms in time to see one of the Dudley Canal trust boats exiting from the tunnel.

The photos are in the correct sequence.  The boat was reversing out of the tunnel.

In the evening I went for a walk with the intention of circumnavigating Dudley Castle.  Actually I was going to walk up to the castle in the hope I might get some panoramic photos of the area.  Unfortunately two problems arose.  First, I forgot the battery for the camera was on charge which forced me to use the phone camera.  The second problem was the castle is also the zoo.  Discretion being the better part of valour I decided against climbing any fences or walls!

Managed to get one photo

It appeared Dudley Tunnel might go directly under the castle and I did wonder if the tunnel builders managed to avoid the castle ‘long drop’?  A subsequent check of the map showed the tunnel alignment is slightly north of the castle.

On the far side of the castle is what appeared to be a brick arch road bridge over a railway cutting.  On the opposite corner stood the following building.

The Station Hotel

Nothing but trees and vegetation could be seen when peering over the side of the bridge and into the cutting.  I assumed it must have been part of Beeching’s (right name?) cuts!

Whilst looking around the area I noticed another austere Victorian grey brick building which might have come directly from Hogswarts except it had two large white light bulbs on adjacent towers giving it a very odd appearance.

It wasn’t until I took a second look that I noticed the sign to the left and everything became apparent.

Dudley Central Mosque. SmileNot quite what I’m used to seeing!

Heading back to the boat I passed the main entrance to the Black Country Living Museum.

I found this slightly confusing as it was possible to see into the museum area from the Dudley Canal Trust.  you can even gain access to the museum from the Canal Trust area.  Initially I thought they were the same organisation, but obviously they are not.

My confusion is probably not surprising when you can look from the Trust area and see canal boats in the museum.  The fact that there were groups of school children going between the two separate entities didn’t help!

There’s a large Tesco Express 15-20 minutes walk up the road (walking south on the A1423) from the moorings.  There’s also a Screwfix just before Tesco.

Blog reader Richard and his dog Sadie from nb Pendle Warter introduced themselves and then the steerer of nb Rosalan called out that he also reads this rubbish. 

We have a weekend meeting in Birmingham and will have to slowly start making our way back tomorrow!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Old Main Line

The Birmingham Old Main Line (canal) was quite a pleasant surprise.  We were expecting to cruise through filthy rubbish filled water surrounded by grim and dilapidated old brick factories covered in graffiti.  It was completely different.  Almost a tranquil green linear park consisting of a mixture of redevelopment, residential, light industry and linear park.  The water was some of the clearest we’ve seen this year.

However we had to cruise from the Soho Loop to Smethwick Junction on the main line and that’s where you gained an impression of Birmingham’s industrial past.  There were numerous small ‘arms’ which must have serviced factories in years past.

Along the way there was an island in the canal which I assume was either a toll point or a gauging point (to check the weight of the load).  Perhaps it was both?

Initially I wondered why it would have been located in this position when we had already passed two other toll houses nearby.  Then I realised there was probably a considerable amount of short haul canal traffic carrying produce and materials between local factories.

There were only the three Smethwick Locks to go up and we met the only boater of the day at the second lock.  A single handed lady (well she had two hands but was on her own) heading to Birmingham.  We decided to pass the entrance to the Engine Arm, perhaps we’ll visit on the way back.

Bridge and an aqueduct over the “New Main Line” below

Immediately after Spon Lane Junction we crossed over the New Main Line which, unlike the old Main Line, has a reasonable straight alignment.

After that we found ourselves under the M5 Motorway with it’s huge concrete columns straddling the canal.  The rumble of traffic could be heard overhead and we wondered how many drivers realised they had a 200 year old canal underneath.

Just beyond the M5 we came upon six CRT workers employees on the towpath.  It appeared there was

  • The Area Manager
  • Local Manager
  • Deputy Local Manager
  • Health & Safety Supervisor
  • Foreman; and
  • Trevor, who had the group shovel

We had the impression Trevor (with shovel in hand) was being counselled about his performance! Smile

From Oldbury Junction to Tipton Junction the canal looked very residential and Jan noticed one or two homes she would have been happy to live in. Reminders of the age of the canal appear everywhere.

1828.  That’s 12 years before Britain annexed NZ!

The current objective is to reach the Dudley Canal.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hockley Port Interchange Basin

Itchy feet had us on the move, but not before an evening canal walk around the vicinity of Gas Street Basin.

We only moved 1.5 miles turning off the “Main Line” onto “Soho Loop”.  This area shows it’s industrial past.

Jan noticed all the vegetation sprouting from the chimney whilst the major cracks in the brickwork were my concern.  There is a short branch off the Soho Loop leading to Hockley Port where there are residential moorings, a dry dock and boater facilities.

Waiouru moored at the facilities block taking on water.

Now for the historical stuff….

Apparently Soho Loop is the path of the original canal but became a loop when the canal was straightened.  Hockley Port was a transport interchange point. It actually consist of three short arms which are now all residential moorings.

The port was adjacent to Mathew Boulton’s Soho Manufactory (built 1765).  Even before the age of canals Birmingham was a centre for making iron and steel.  Initially charcoal was used and as a consequence the surrounding countryside was deforested.  Then coal was discovered in Warwickshire and Staffordshire so coke was used in the process.  The Birmingham area became known as the “Black Country” because of the many forges, factories, and air pollution.  Mathew Boulton was the son of a metal smith and became a partner of James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine.  Between them they manufactured many steam engines.  Boulton built a Manufactory in the Soho area when he minted coins and pressed other small and semi valuable items such as belt buckles and snuffboxes. The items had to be small but valuable because the site was far from the main modes of transport.  The canals came later.  These small items were known as “toys” and their manufacturers were “toymakers”.  In 1779 the canal reach his Manufactory which increased his prosperity as goods could now be transported by water as far as Bristol and Hull.

Interestingly, Watt & Boulton didn’t actually manufacture their steam engines.  The purchaser had to buy the components from subcontractors and have it assembled on site under the supervision of a Watt & Boulton employee.  Watt and Boulton not only made their money from the sale of the engine but also received 25% of the savings that the purchaser made from the efficiency achieved in the reduced need for coal to drive the engine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

By request

It appears our three readers would like to read a little more about Paris.  Before giving a brief description of events I must mention that the post isn’t going to be a montage of Paris scenery.  Instead it will be a description of our observations, impressions and experience.

Almost the first thing we noticed was that whilst the apartment had two shower roses there was no system for fixing the rose at head height to have a shower. We were subsequently informed that the shower rose is for rinsing ones hair whilst having a bath.  Apparently the French prefer to wallow in their own filth rather than shower.  I leave you to imagine how we managed to shower whilst lying in the bath!

Next morning the first item on the agenda was breakfast.  Six flights of stairs and one large courtyard door later we’re on the street, and it’s busy with adults heading to work and children being taken to school.  The homeless drunk who had chosen our apartment door was dead to the world wrapped in a couple of old jackets and surrounded by empty wine bottles. He wasn’t the only homeless person we saw during our stay.  Initially I thought the French were ambivalent about the situation but I subsequently realized they had a solution.  Every morning the green men would appear with their hoses and brooms to wash down the pedestrian footpaths and gutters.  Mr Homeless either woke and moved on or showered instead of bathed.

We wandered into the local patisserie where I walked up and down the counter pointing to all the items that looked interesting.  Having made my selection I wandered off leaving Jan to deal with the mundane financial matters.

Jan got all excited when she realized the apartment had both a washing machine and dryer.  I left her to play with them whilst I went for another local trip to find a supermarket.  There was a Carrefour around the corner.  I recognised the name and logo from my time in that other country where they also have a presence.  It was interesting wandering around looking and as I don’t speak much French purchases were made by gestures.  Fortunately the apartment had a good stock of toilet paper.

The sons decided we should have dinner at a local restaurant and eat genuine Parisian cuisine.  Wandering down the the main boulevard we noticed Le Big Mac on one corner and Le Pizza Hut on the opposite.  However further down youngest son found what he believed was a genuine Parisian restaurant.  Three of us ordered steak whilst youngest son ordered a dish made from minced raw meat.  Then he went on to explain to the waiter in murdered French that he particularly wanted vegetables.  I didn’t understand the significance of this until our meals arrived.  His was the only meal with vegetables.  The rest of us had a steak and huge pile of french fries.  However he didn’t get it all his own way because the only vegetable he got was a large pile of string beans.  Subsequent comments about the meal elected a response from youngest son informing us that in Paris you usually don’t get vegetables with your meal.  No, I don’t understand either!

Next morning three of us had complaining colons whilst youngest son suffered diarrhoea.  Probably a combination of the raw meat and Algerian chief.

The plan for the second day was to wander along the banks to the Seine.  That’s the name of the large river which flows through Paris.  We caught the Metro (underground train system) to the Morsey Dorsey (Musse D’Orsay) because eldest son wanted a cultural ‘hit’.  The museum had some of those paintings done by the Dutch fella who cut off one of his ears. Outside was a row of scantly clad ladies all showing their boobs.  I subsequently realised that this wasn’t uncommon in Paris.

Can you see the row of black ladies with bare breasts.

Whilst eldest son pretended he knew something about art and went off to examine paintings the philistines in the family were more interested in the building.  It was mutually agreed that the building was probably a former railway station.

This seemed to be confirmed when examining the exterior from the river side.  The words PARIS –ORLEANS could be seen along with the names of numerous french cities.

Wandering along we reached the Eiffel Tower where a discussion took place whether to go up it.  No2 son and I have been half way up whereas No1 son has previously been to the top.  He told us that on the day he ascended there was only him and a nun at the top.  It was very high and the railing seemed quite low.  Consequentially he clung to the nun in fear almost tearing off her habit!

We decided to go up and joined one of the very long queues.  Shortly thereafter a voice behind us asked “Cuse me mate, do youse speak English?”  Australians… you can’t get away from them. No1 son said “Yo Bro!” (born in NZ)  Then we notice the large neon sign stating “Top temporarily closed”.  If we can’t go to the top then we’re not interested.

After all this walking we were getting a little thirsty.  “Anyone for a beer… my shout” (kiwi for I’ll pay).  Youngest son found a small cafe and in my best schoolboy French I ordered “Tray beer and tray glasses”.  I managed to conceal my surprise when the waitress delivered 3 beers and 3 ice creams.

Rehydrated we continued along the banks of the Seine.  Then No1 son announced “I know about this bridge!”

It didn’t look all that special until getting closer.

I’ve previously seen something similar on a bridge in Lithuania.  Couples place a padlock on the bridge as a symbol of their union in love.  But he had the wrong bridge!  The next bridge looked like this……

And so did the handrails on the third bridge.  What he remembered was a news article where the handrail on one of the bridges couldn’t take the load and fell off into the river.

Rather than have another colon attack the sons decided we would have a traditional Parisian evening meal of bread, cheese, pickles and cold cuts all washed down with fermented grape juice.  They went off to do all the purchasing

I got to point again and have someone else pay! Smile

That evening youngest son had an email advising that his train to Mons the following day had been cancelled.  Apparently the French train drivers were going on strike because a 36 hour week is too long!  He spent much of the evening attempting to find another way to reach Mons (successfully). Eldest son had the most exciting experience arriving at Charles De Gaulle airport just as the authorities blew up an unclaimed suitcase.  We had a mundane experience checking into the Eurostar and passing through both French and English immigration at the French end.