The Midlands March, breezing through Brum

Much as a big city has lots of exciting things to see and do. This time, we only stayed a few days.

Passing the Sheepcote Street mooring

We needed water so set off onto the Fazely branch for the water point and rubbish bins, not a pretty sight.

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But the backdrop was of the Birmingham BT tower, and many years ago this was were Eric began his career as an enthusiastic electronics engineering student with a sponsorship from the GPO. He tried to locate some of the offices he’d worked in but alas the landscape hasn’t stayed the same.

I bet he never thought he’d be back by boat

Then it was back onto the main line, under the Black Sabbath Bridge

Renamed in 2019 in honour of Birmingham’s famous sons

And through Gas Street basin

One of the old warehouses

Capturing the significance of this place on camera isn’t that easy whilst you’re on a boat but fellow blogger, Captain Ahab has recently shared some historic photos of the development of the area and I really can’t do any better than refer you to their blog please take a moment to read what Captain Ahab says


But we do love seeing the old and the modern nestling in together.

Wharfs and hotels

With the television studios in the Mail Box,

The mail box

the area attracts creativity, some amusing

We’re not sure if this is or isn’t a Banksey


Some weird

Why?

And some just out of this world

From the tv studio

One of our favourite iconic buildings is the Cube

The Cube


But all these buildings funnel the wind making it tricky cruising, we rounded the corner onto the Birmingham and Worcester canal

And half an hour later moored up in the university quarter.

Outside the Shackleton buildings in the university quarter

The Midlands March, Made it to the middle

And we’ve made it, we are now moored in the centre of Birmingham, just a stones throw from the popular canal hub, celebrating heritage and entertainment.Admittedly it doesn’t look a very exciting mooring,

Ladywood wharf

but we weren’t sure if or when the brummies went to bed

The canal quarter


And we were only a minute from the some real culture

Who doesn’t love Lego


But the first thing I did was get us some tickets for a Symphony Hall concert We hadn’t planned our arrival so we had to take what was on offer, I was hoping for some classic orchestral magnificence and I think we struck gold

CBSO in the Symphony hall


What we got was an orchestrated Abba tribute evening. Not quite the sort of classical we had hoped for, but definitely a classic, and it was fun. We both love Abba and we were encouraged to join in and dance. Brilliant to be moored 5 minutes walk from the ICC, home of the symphany hall. We were set us up for a good few days exploring.

The old and the new


Birmingham is getting ready to host the commonwealth games later this year, so there’s quite a bit of revamping the attractions, unfortunately the big museum was closed. But the famous library was open. It’s quite an iconic modern building from the outside,

The Library

but if you take the time to climb up to the very very top, not only is the view spectacular, (if you look beyond the construction)

But you can still the 1882 Shakespeare Memorial room, that was dismantled and reassembled in its new home, combining the old and the new

The Shakespeare Memorial room

Birmingham seems a progressive city which embraces changes in society. In 2014 a controversial sculpture called “A Real Birmingham Family” was unveiled outside the library, it depicts two single parents, who are sisters, and their children. Whilst I love the support they obviously give each other, I hate seeing fathers sidelined.

“A real family”


But I’m sure my favourite sculpture in Birmingham has to be the giraffe.

Of course another of Birminghams big draws is the Bullring shopping centre. But as it was at least a 25 minute walk from Firecrest and I’m still hesitant to mingle and browse in shopping centres just for the fun of it, and I couldn’t persuade Eric to take me shopping in the jewellery quarter, we decided to explore those areas on another visit.

The Midlands March, looping the loops

If we had a penny from everyone who told us that Birmingham has more canal than Venice, we’d be very happy. I wonder how many Venetian’s would claim something different. I think the truth depends upon where you draw the boundary line. Certainly the Birmingham Canal Network has well over 100 navigable miles, with about 35miles within the city itself. We were currently moored on the Old Line, built by Brindley c1770. It follows the contours and for the commercial barges has time consuming locks, but we were enjoying our journey so with the sun shining we set off down the 3 Smethwick locks.

Smethwick locks

Under Popes Bridge. We had to wonder who this warning sign was aimed at, or perhaps it’s an instruction

No thanks

And shortly after we merged the New Main line.

The old and the new

As the sun was shining we decided on a short detour around the Soho Loop, which served the prison, lunatic asylum and sanitorium. Thankfully we weren’t detained although it was slow going, shallow and full of debris. I don’t think we’ll bother with any of the other loops on this trip.


We had also lost the sun, which doesn’t make for enjoyable cruising. We were unsure what mooring would be available in the centre of town, and whether it would be noisy or safe.

Ladywood wharf

But we struck gold and spotted the rings at Ladywood wharf, right on the edge of the central hub. We had arrived. The middle of the Midlands March.

The BCN

The Midlands March, Fast or Slow on we go.

Much as I love visiting Mum, it was lovely to be back on board Firecrest, until we settled down for tea. Someone was banging on the back of the boat…. huh no one there. Kids mucking about but after 3 hours the game was wearing thin, every 20 minutes or so, bang bang bang. We could, perhaps should, have ignored it, but what if it really was someone needing help, or what if they decided to get braver with their dares and did something that caused damage. We probably should have called 101, the non emergency police number, but it must have been a school night because they stopped at 9pm. We slept fitfully but awoke to sunshine and on inspection, no damage to our precious home. We had always planned to move on, but it irked that the scumbags might have thought they’d won and scared us off. They didn’t.

Time to move on from Oldbury

We had studied our map to see that James Brindley was way marking for future transport needs. The M5 motorway was to be built directly over the canal for the next mile or so.

No electronic central controlled interactive signs for us down here

We are used to seeing some incongruous things on the canal, but this really was weird, the noise was phenomenal, quite unlike when we cruise from side to side underneath a motorway

Under the M5

the amount of scaffolding did make us worry for our safety. With more “road works” going on but these weren’t causing a logistics nightmare.

Should we be worried? Or is it installation art?


probably a good job because the next thing we saw was the DPD headquarters. And oh boy was it huge. The loading bays were numbered, about 230 canal side and possibly the similar on the other side.

DPD headquarters, to big to

But we still passing under some reassuringly familiar cute little bridges

Blakey Hall Bridge

Some not so cute causing us to duck

The Stewart Rail bridge


And then we wondered if we’d reached canal spaghetti junction, as the “old line” passed under the train line, over the “new line” with the M5 towering above us all.

Stewart aqueduct

There are several junction branches for boats to cross from the old (c1770s) to the new (c1820s)

locks at Spon Lane junction

But we stayed on our chosen route and shortly said goodbye to our motorway canopy to return to more familiar bridges and tunnels

Summit bridge and summit tunnel, it’s downhill from here


And what a difference, back out in the countryside again