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Birmingham and the Shroppie 2007

After a gathering of members of the Canalworld Forum at Napton, our friend Bones came back to Milton Keynes with us to spend a few days on Keeping Up. We were fully equipped for the trip, with the new cooker working well and the fridge stocked with Bones's favourite food, which is trifle. Our aim on this trip was to re-visit Birmingham and then to travel up the Shroppie.

We followed our familiar route up through Stoke Bruerne and Buckby to Braunston. At Buckby we had a reminder of the dangers of boating, as a crew-member on the boat in front of us tried to prevent the boat from hitting the lock entrance by using his foot as a fender, which is not a good idea! We departed just as the ambulance arrived for him.

We were travelling well as the hills got steeper and the locks became more frequent, but we were discovering a problem with the new cooker. The grill was working correctly but was not hot enough to make decent toast, which was most frustrating since our previous cooker had originally had a superb grill and it was that which had gone wrong and resulted in our buying the new one.

When we reached Warwick, our friends from the previous trip were still there, and we again had a most enjoyable evening in the Cape of Good Hope with them. This time however, the Hatton flight was ahead of us; luckily we were joined by another boat to share the work, and some more friends from the Forum joined us after just a few locks, so we had a good trip up the 21. Our friend Bones left us at Hatton, and we carried on towards Birmingham, carrying on up the Lapworth flight to complete a total of 40 locks and 11 miles in the one day.

 

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The new Dragonfly sculpture at Hatton A beautiful floral display in a garden backing on to the North Stratford There seemed to be flowers everywhere in Birmingham Flowers adorn the bridge opposite the ICC in Birmingham

We were delighted to find that Birmingham was having a heritage weekend, and decided that we would stay there for a few days. Our first evening  in Birmingham was spent at the theatre for a superb performance of Cats, which certainly got our visit off to a good start. The next day we strolled around Birmingham in the sunshine and planned our weekend, as there was an overwhelming choice of free attractions available to visit in a short time. We visited not only the city's Museum and Art Gallery but also our favourite retail Art Gallery where we were able not only to admire some wonderful pictures but also later in the weekend to revisit the gallery and meet their artist.

Birmingham was having a wonderful time. The weather was good, and there were scores of people (including us) eating and drinking outside all the bars and restaurants. The trip boats were doing a brisk trade, passing our mooring so often that we knew their on-board commentary by  heart. The artistic side of things hadn't been forgotten either: on the island there was a sculpture of a boat that had been created entirely from rubbish pulled out of the Icknield Loop, and they'd even created a beach in the city centre complete with sand and deckchairs.

 

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Sculpture of a boat on the island ...
... made from rubbish taken from the Icknield Port Loop
The trip boat passed us regularly
Note that it is wider above the gunwales to give extra room while still being able to pass the Toll Islands
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The little pink water bus was doing a steady trade too
The beach
The beach
The beach

We were determined to get as much benefit as possible from the Heritage weekend. Unfortunately many of the walking tours and other visits had been fully booked already, but we found a few to interest us. In the morning we travelled by Vintage bus to the warehouse where they store everything that they can't fit in the museums, and what a wonderfully serendipitous collection it makes! Items are stored not according to their function or style, but simply according to their size. There are shelves upon shelves of things all muddled together; sculptures rub shoulders with electrical items next to vintage cars, and so on, so that you never know what you'll find around the next corner. There were literally thousands of items on display, I've pictured just a few of them here.

 

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A vintage bus provided free transport
A Riley Elf pretending to be a Haynes Manual
A 1950's tape recorder used by the BBC. Compare this to an iPod
A magnificent 1935 Gardner 8L3 engine, originally used to drive a generator. I'd love to have a tug big enough for it!
How's your eyesight?

 

Returning to the centre of Birmingham, we walked into the Jewellery centre to visit the old "Smith and Pepper" jewellery factory, now preserved as a museum. The works had been opened at the end of the 19th century and had hardly changed at all since that time; the family that owned it had been reluctant to spend any money, and many of the machines had remained manual because the workers had not liked the idea of the new-fangled electricity. Safety regulations had been virtually unknown; not only was much of the machinery highly dangerous but for example there were two identical jars next to the chemical baths, one containing a white powder which was cyanide and one containing an almost-identical white powder that was sugar for the tea-round! The factory had closed down for a week in the 1950's while the owners found a buyer for the business in order that they could retire. It had never sold so it remained exactly as it had been when it closed down, even to the letters in the In and Out trays, the carpet slippers under a desk and the half a jar of Marmite in the office cupboard, because everybody expected to return to work there after their week's holiday. It was open for working demonstrations that afternoon, and we found it simply fascinating.

 

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Whistles for the Titanic (a pavement marker in the Jewellery centre)
Inside Smith and Pepper's jewellery factory
Inside Smith and Pepper's jewellery factory
Inside Smith and Pepper's jewellery factory
A student gives a practical demonstration on an old fly-press

On the Monday morning we set off towards Wolverhampton. We'd intended to use the Old Main Line but a landslip had closed the canal and we had to reverse back to the New Main Line which was not easy in the strong winds that were blowing that morning. After that we made good progress as far as Wolverhampton and down the first two locks; and that was when everything really slowed down. There was a pair of boats (boat and butty) ahead of us, and they were making slow progress pulling the butty between the locks in the wind; it took over 5 hours to complete the flight!

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Do you know which is the way to Chester? This way? Are you sure? OK I'll go this way Goodbye

Now we were able to take a trip up the Shroppie again. We'd been going to make the trip earlier in the year, but hadn't had the time in our headlong rush down to Stourport, but now we had as much time as we wanted. We spent a day in Brewood, waved to the A5 traffic from the aqueduct, and filled with diesel at Turner's of Wheaton Aston, before reaching one of our favourite pubs the Anchor at High Offley. Thankfully the pub is still totally unspoiled, serving beer from the jug in a cosy atmosphere, and we had a fabulous evening there. The company of the various boaters there was great, and the beer flowed freely - rather too freely in fact, for the next day we only felt like travelling for a couple of hours instead of the whole day as we had planned.

 

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The famous high bridge at Grub Street If you're going to do some serious work ... ... you need a serious work-boat ... ... painted bright orange

There was some major bank stabilisation work going on at Shebdon aqueduct, with some massive work platforms being assembled and pushed along the canal by a bright orange cross between a speedboat and a push-tug. They were driving some absolutely massive piling into the embankment, but luckily there was just enough room to squeeze past them. At the end of the embankment is the old Cadbury's wharf, with a collection of boats under the canopy. Soon after this we decided it was time to turn round and make our way back towards Great Haywood. On the way we met another member of the Canalworld Forum near Penkridge before stopping for a couple of nights at Tixall Wide. It was getting cold now so I got the chimney out of the locker so I could light the fire, only to discover that it had rusted away so we diverted up to Stone to buy a new one. We took the opportunity stop for lunch at the Holly Bush in the village of Salt, which had been strongly recommended to us. Yes, the food there is indeed wonderful, but the moorings would be a bit noisy overnight with the railway line just a few feet away.

 

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Cadbury's wharf at Knighton N/B Starling under the loading canopy at Knighton Cadbury's wharf at Knighton The heavy-looking bridge at Salt

Now we had only a little time left (pausing briefly to meet 2 more Canalworld Forum members on the way) before meeting our son, daughter, and grand-daughter at Drayton Manor Park for the day. We all had a wonderful time there before moving on to the Dog and Doublet for a meal together. The only problem with this is that the pub is just 3 locks up a flight of 11, and the next winding point is at the top of the flight. There was no way we were going to go up 8 locks in order to turn round and come back down them all again, so the next morning we reversed back down the three and along just over a mile to the winding point, much to the surprise of the boats we met, especially the one coming down the locks who saw our bows in the lock ahead of him then watched as they disappeared downwards.

Finally after another brief diversion up the Ashby Canal (we like the Ashby Canal) we headed back to Braunston before some friends joined us to cruise along the Leicester Arm to Foxton, where we had yet another appointment with the boat-yard to try and cure the leak in the gearbox. There was a surprise for us just after Foxton Locks, where a new swing-bridge has been built: not knowing it was there, Debbie had got back on the boat after the locks so I had to manoeuvre around to set her ashore again to open it.  After the boatyard had replaced the o-ring on the gear-shift arm, we visited Market Harborough to do some shopping before returning to our old favourite restaurant Edwards of Crick, to meet the family again for my Birthday dinner.

Now it was time to return home for a few days. There were several items of minor maintenance to complete, including a disturbing tendency for the alternator light to start glowing dimly (traced to a badly-fitted terminal on the alternator's output cable, let's hope it hasn't damaged the alternator). We were still not happy with the performance of the grill on the new cooker; I phoned New World to say it wasn't much good and they said "you're right they aren't very good at all". So we bought a pop-up toaster from Tesco at 3.75.

After 2 weeks at home, we would be setting off again, destination Aylesbury, for their firework party ...

 

 

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Go to Allan's Page Summer 2007, Leek and Sharpness Canals Home Page Autumn 2007, Aylesbury Go to Deb's Page

 

 

All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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