The Midlands March, where are we now, Warwickshire.

My last post was in February, we had just left Birmingham and we cruising roughly eastwards along the North Stratford canal.

North Stratford canal

We sat out storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin in a pretty little village on the edge of the Solihul district, called Hockley Heath. It had both a well stocked Co-op, first class butchers, a nice pub, and good TV reception. So we were sorted for a fortnight. Especially as I was taking part in a competitive knitting event running parallel with the winter olympics, so my enforced down time was not put to waste.

A productive few weeks

But as soon as the winds abated we set off once more on our travels. Down through the Lapworth locks towards Kingswood Junction. Such a pretty set of locks, but you’ll have to take my word for that, because that’s where disaster struck. Absolute calamity. As I was struggling to wind up a stiff paddle, my phone camera decided to leap out of my “secure” pocket and take a dive into the swirling waters of the emptying lock. In a flash of madness I was tempted to leap in after it, but despite my distress I only plunged my arm in as I watched my entire life being sucked away into the locks murky depths.
Alas no more Midlands photos. And if you have ever tried to buy a new phone online, without a mobile number to verify purchases, you’ll understand when I say I wont ever ever ever let my phone go swimming again. Thanks to some very helpful friends and family, it is now all sorted, and I am reconnected, albeit with a few missing contacts, so if you are a friend who hasn’t heard from me for a while, please get in touch.
Since that fateful day we have continued our travels, onto the Grand Union canal, down through the Hatton Flight, into Warwickshire. Which got me thinking about where we were, and more to the point, when do I draw our Midlands March to a close.

Where exactly is the Midlands? We often hear the definitions “northerners” or “southerners” bandied around, equally with pride or derision depending upon the point being made or the person claiming heritage. And I think both parties would include or exclude areas of the Midlands to their advantage or disadvantage as the mood required. But until this particular part of our canal life, it’s not a part of the country that either of us were that familiar with. Having consulted Google, the fount of all knowledge, we have come to the conclusion it’s not a straight forward question. Yes it is the mid section of England, from the Welsh borders to the Lincolnshire coast,

The Midlands

But there’s the West Midlands and the East Midlands to take into consideration.

The West and the East, with more detail below.

The West Midlands and East Midlands regions are NUTS 1 statistical regions and were formerly constituencies of the European Parliament. Local government in the Midlands is as follows:
• Boroughs: (1) Birmingham, (2) Coventry, (3) Derby, (4) Dudley, (5) Leicester, (6) Nottingham, (7) Sandwell, (8) Stoke-on-Trent, (9) Solihull, (10) Telford and Wrekin, (11) Walsall and (12) Wolverhampton.
• Shires: (13) Derbyshire (Districts: (a) Amber Valley, (b) Bolsover, (c) Chesterfield, (d) Derbyshire Dales, (e) Erewash, (f) High Peak, (g) North East Derbyshire and (h) South Derbyshire), (14) Herefordshire (Districts: none), (15) Leicestershire (Districts: (a) Blaby, (b) Charnwood, (c) Harborough, (d) Hinckley and Bosworth, (e) Melton, (f) North West Leicestershire and (g) Oadby and Wigston), (16) Lincolnshire (Districts: (a) Boston, (b) East Lindsey, (c) Lincoln, (d) North Kesteven, (e) South Holland, (f) South Kesteven and (g) West Lindsey), (17) Northamptonshire (Districts: (a) Corby, (b) Daventry, (c) East Northamptonshire, (d) Kettering, (e) Northampton, (f) South Northamptonshire and (g) Wellingborough), (18) Nottinghamshire (Districts: (a) Ashfield, (b) Bassetlaw, (c) Broxtowe, (d) Gedling, (e) Mansfield, (f) Newark and Sherwood and (g) Rushcliffe), (19) Rutland (Districts: none), (20) Shropshire (Districts: none), (21) Staffordshire (Districts: (a) Cannock Chase, (b) East Staffordshire, (c) Lichfield, (d) Newcastle-under-Lyme, (e) South Staffordshire, (f) Stafford, (g) Staffordshire Moorlands and (h) Tamworth), (22) Warwickshire (Districts: (a) North Warwickshire, (b) Nuneaton and Bedworth, (c) Rugby, (d) Stratford-on-Avon and (e) Warwick) and (23) Worcestershire (Districts: (a) Bromsgrove, (b) Malvern Hills, (c) Redditch, (d) Worcester, (e) Wychavon and (f) Wyre Forest).

On that happy note, (if you have made if this far,) we shall consider our Midlands March closed when we turn South at Napton Junction.

Warwickshire countryside

The Midlands March, is that chocolate that I smell,

We were now heading due south on the Worcester and Birmingham canal, Much to our surprise the Edgbaston section around The Vale seemed pleasantly rural for such an urban area. It transpires that Lord Calthorpe decreed that whilst the canal could be built on his land, it was not to have any wharfs. So whilst he might have missed out on some lucrative 18th century investment opportunities, we benefit from a leaf soup in February.

What happened to winter spring and summer, this looks like leaf soup

However the beautiful beech trees and trim young university students out for their daily jog, were soon replaced by even more graffiti and detritus, so we focused our attention on some interesting boats along this section. This pedal powered raft might get you from A to B but it’s not very water tight

You wouldnt catch me on that one

And this one caught our eye, a Pod boat designed and marketed to provide extra space for boaters missing their garden shed. Definitely a tempting thought.

The Pod boat

But most useful was seeing the fuel boat, NB Roach cruising towards us, we flagged Richard down and transferred a few litres of diesel, refuelling mid canal.

NB Roach supplying us with diesel

I’ll say this every time we buy our diesel from a fuel boat, it brings such a sense of satisfaction that we have the opportunity to support these hard working traders and equally they support us. Use it or loose it. With the sweet smell of diesel permeating the air we cruised on to the other very distinct fragrance that pervades the atmosphere around Bournville, the Cadbury factory. Frustratingly the visitor mooring was all taken, by what looked to be winter mooring, so we didn’t stop. But unlike Lord Calthorpe who didn’t want any trade on his land, the Cadbury factory grew and thrived here because of the canal access bringing the raw ingredients and finished goods to and from the site. Nowadays there is a canal side train station, sporting a familiar purple livery.

Bournville train station

Bemoaning the fact that Eric wouldn’t let me loose in Cadbury world, (though I admit we have been before). Mr Tesco had the foresight to build a superstore canal side in Selly Oak, he didn’t have the foresight to provide mooring rings on the brick edge so Eric hovered whilst I nipped in to stock up. With fuel tank and fridge full we continued on to the next nice mooring, which turned out to be at Kings Norton Junction. It had taken us nearly 4 hours to move 4miles with all the distractions, but we ended our day at the start (or end) of the North Stratford canal.

Think we’ll got this way, down the Stratford canal

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.

Fill in your own comments

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


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 Midlands March, Blue Sky at the Engine Arm

Having escaped the scumbags disturbing the tranquillity on board Firecrest and travelled along the M5 at 2.6 mph, we found ourselves briefly cruising along another surprisingly quiet and peaceful stretch. But although we had blue sky it was still quite chilly. We had earmarked the old Pump House as a place to moor.

Smethwick pump house

Nowadays, it houses the Galton Valley Heritage centre, but in its heyday it was a pump house., Brindley’s original old main line(c1769) was 18 feet higher as the canal climbed up the hill and then back down again, thus requiring locks both up and down and 2 steam engines to pump water back up to the summit. However the amount of traffic transporting coal was sufficient to warrant a new cutting to be built at the lower level which in 1829 became part of Telfords efficient straighter and wider and lockless, New Main Line. Steam powered pumps continued to used on the old line up until c1930. During WWII two ex submarine diesel pumps were installed as the canal was part of the fire fighting water supply for the essential factory’s in Birmingham, thankfully they weren’t actually needed and the building fell into disrepair until the 80s when work began to restore it as a heritage centre.

Unfortunately although there are mooring rings, the centre is currently closed and there was a lot of fast food takeaway trash next to the bin and bench indicating a congregating place for thoughtless people. And we didn’t want to risk a repeat of our Oldbury experience. Quite odd standing on a Towpath looking down onto another canal.

Looking down onto the New Main line

We only needed to cruise a short distance before we arrived at the Engine Arm junction

The Engine Arm Aqueduct

The short branch takes the old line over the new line on an aqueduct onto what is now mainly residential moorings, but must have served a wharf at some point in the past. The aqueduct itself is a beautiful iron structure

Over the New line

We took advantage of this open quiet mooring and whilst Eric got on with some DIY on the roof,

Caution, men at work

I took advantage of some Seville oranges and made some marmalade.

My first ever batch of marmalade

The Midlands March, Nice Ice

We’ve woken up to frost and ice most days this week

We’re not cruising through that today

And whilst Eric is sensible and stays inside, I can’t resist being outside enjoying the diamond encrusted scenery

The Bumble Hole

I wasn’t the only one out walking, male swans are known as cobs, so quite appropriate that Mr Bumble the resident male, is posing in front of Cobb’s Engine House. (Female swans are known as pens)

We’ve been incredibly lucky, to have had sunshine every day.

although we’ve also had a bit of misty fog, the blue sky was just behind

But what can I say, we probably picked the best week possible to stay here

The scenery speaks for itself

All within 10 minutes of our warm snug boat