Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Breaches and building

Breaches and Building
March 2015

Change is a constant factor of the canals in central Birmingham.

Worcester Birmingham Canal stoppage in Birmingham

Currently the start of the Worcester Birmingham canal is a muddy ditch, devoid of water from Worcester Bar to the turn at the Mailbox. This section of the canal is an extended aqueduct over Holiday Street and a disused railway tunnel. The base of the canal has failed flooding the old railway tunnel beneath so coffer dams have been constructed and diesel pumps are roaring away keeping the water at bay till repairs are completed at Easter. This is good news for the canal which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, but less good for the residents of the nearby swanky flats who will enjoy a diesel drone for the next six weeks.

The base of the canal offers a mouthwatering selection of detritus, rubbish which would delight the most discerning WRG clean up squad!


The new hotel extension to the NIA, Birmingham.

Curiosity satisfied we walked back to Old Turn Junction admiring the gleaming new addition to the NIA as we progressed down Farmers Bridge Locks and back to our car.  With the sun offering some real heat on our faces its good to know that we will soon be boating through these locks rather than slogging our way along the towpath.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Birmingham Library

Birmingham Library
February 2015

I think I must be just about the last person to visit Birmingham's controversial new library.

View from the Secret Garden viewing platform of Birmingham Library

The old Birmingham Library was a truly horrible bit of brutal 1960's architecture, slabs of grim concrete piled in top of each other like an inverted pyramid. Thankfully it didn't survive many decades and a new Francine Houben designed structure was opened in 2013 in centenary square adjoining the Rep Theatre - a strong addition to the contemporary gems which already surround Centenary Square.

Whilst its a bit boxy from the outside its the interior which offers the wow factor. The central atrium is built in a circle with galleries offering access to the rare reference books, rising up over several stories. We ascended the escalators and travelator which criss cross the atrium and to my delight we found ourselves in the map room. This room contains hundreds of maps of Birmingham and of course, I was soon throwing sheets over the desk and assembling a mosaic of the central section of the BCN. Sadly I had nowhere enough time to satisfy my curiosity but as Arnie said, "I'll be back"!

The reconstructed Shakespeare Memorial Room

With the serious bit of the library explored, we ventured up to the very top where an indoor viewing platform offered a great view of central Birmingham and then a real gem - the Shakespeare Memorial Room. Set inside a 21st century testament to modernity is a little 19th century shrine dedicated to Shakespeare. The old Shakespeare Room has been reassembled panel by panel and offering a tangible link between the past and the present.

Finally there is the secret garden - an outdoor viewing platform which offers views to the north and west, including the NIA and the Old Main Line from Cambrian Wharf to Old Turn Junction. The new library has an odd link to Brindley's original Birmingham Canal. The original terminus was into a wharf which extended beyond Cambrian Wharf and a basin which sits beneath the foundations of the new library building.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Birmingham Cathedral

Birmingham Cathedral
February 2015

With a good weather forecast and a Friday to ourselves we decided to pay Birmingham a visit. Of course, I work in Birmingham most days but I rarely have the time to stop and look at the cityscape which surrounds me. 

Birmingham Cathedral


This dawdle through my adopted city included a look at St Philip's, the city cathedral. I could say that I visit this building regularly in so far as I attend a business carol service each year, an event which marks the start of Christmas. But for the rest of the year I pass it by as I walk across the city centre.


Main alter window - Birmingham Cathedral

 Windows to the left and right at Birmingham Cathedral


As a cathedral it is understated to say the least. It was originally built as a parish church and consecrated in 1715. When the Diocese of Birmingham was formed in 1905 it was decided that rather than spend money on a flash new building, the cash would be used supporting the local poor. As a result the Parish Church off New Street would be upgraded to cathedral status, even if the structure remained unaltered.

Western window - Birmingham Cathedral

So what you get is a baroque church which is smaller than many village churches. That said ,it has four magnificent stained glass windows and a outlook which continues to worry more about the local people than an impressive pile of masonry.


I think the founder would approve....

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Lost Wonders of the Waterways World - Photo Competition

C&RT Photo Competition
Lost Wonders of the Waterways World

February 2015

When I saw that the C&RT are running a new photography competition to capture some atmospheric images of the lost waterways I just had to enter (closing date 10th April).

https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/news-and-views/news/spotlight-shone-on-lost-canal-wonders

And there are some serious prizes being offered with £500 for the winner and £250 for two runners up.

As you can imagine, I have no shortage of material but as many of my images are for the deeply lost sections of the BCN many have "atmosphere" but possibly not the sort to encourage Joe Public to get on their boots and have a look one Sunday afternoon.

I soon had over 20 images in my short list for submission and I am very fond of all of them.

However, I suspect that many of you have some cracking images so do enter and share your secret hidden gems with a wider audience.

Here is my full short list - I am not saying which ones I entered, but they are all there on the C&RT gallery....



 Bentley Canal from the Anson Arm

 Donington Wood Canal

 Fens Branch of the Stourbridge Canal

 Hatherton Branch Canal

 Ketley Canal

 Newport Canal - Forton Skew Bridge

 Humber Arm

 Ogley Locks at Pipehill

 Interchange Basin at Ridgeacre BCN

 Ridgeacre Branch BCN

 Shrewsbury Canal - Berwick Tunnel

 Shrewsbury Canal

 Longden on Tern Aqueduct

 Longden on Tern Aqueduct


 Longden on Tern Aqueduct

 Slough Arm BCN

  Slough Arm BCN
 Tat Bank Branch, BCN

 Trench Arm

 Trench Arm

Wyrley Bank Branch, BCN

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Downsizing

Downsizing
February 2015

Our plan for the next phase of our lives is in the process of taking a major leap forward.

Our Sutton Coldfield home of 25 years is sold (STC) and the purchase of a new, smaller, property in Aldridge has been agreed. 

Goodbye Sutton Coldfield

We moved into out current home in 1989 planning to be here for a couple of years but instead we raised a family in it, over time increasing its size to five bedrooms. But both children have moved on in their lives leaving just the two of us in the house for the last two years, rattling around in a property which is far too big for our needs. Whilst we have managed to find a use for all the rooms, the sad reality is that three are pretty much abandoned and another entirely given over to storing jam! 

Running alongside the empty nest issue we find ourselves wanting to spend more time afloat and what was once a great family home now become a maintenance millstone. To be honest, we spent so much time on the boats last summer that the garden got away from us and we started to wonder exactly what the point is maintaining a mortgage on a property which is patently ill suited to our current needs.

We therefore spent a lot of time in 2014 sprucing the place up and generally making it salable, a project which culminated with it going on the market in November. Much to our surprise it sold within a few weeks and so the race was on to find somewhere new.

But where to move to.... that was the question.

Over the last few years we have given the location of what will probably be the rest of our lives a lot of thought, and we came to appreciate the fact that friends are the most valuable asset you have, and making old friends takes time - a lot of time. Most of our friends tend to live in Aldridge, about four miles to the north of where we currently live and are focused on Aldridge Parish Church. Plus there is our boating network which is largely based around the BCN and its neighboring canals. By good fortune Aldridge is a village on the Daw End Branch Canal, an arm of the Wyrley and Essington, and therefore offers scope to keep the boats near home.

So, with the location decided there was the small matter of finding a property to suit our needs.

Our unusual requirements are a large kitchen with a ground floor store room, but we could compromise on the upstairs bedrooms, given the availability of the cabins on both the motor and the butty.  Lots of options were explored across a slightly insane price range with both old and new, large and small being examined, considered and ultimately discarded.

The problem with really new properties is the size of the rooms (tiny) and the problem with 1960's is one of size and lack of character.

In the end we opted for an end of terrace ex miners cottage, about a mile from Aldridge village centre towards Walsall Wood, a property which by definition sits close, but just outside the area undermined by the Walsall Wood Colliery, Sad man that I am, I have a map of the coal seams of the area! The property offers bags of character, and ticks just about all the boxes on our must have list - except the big kitchen for Helen and a big shed for yours truly.

However, the property does have a sizeable back yard which we will build over to make the kitchen and a decent back garden which will house all the sheds I could dream of. 

And as for canal moorings there are two choices - Longwood Boat Club at the far end of town and Aldridge Marina about 10 mins walk away. Not that staying at Calf Heath is much of a problem as its only 20 mins away by car.

As for the future, with us downsized to a more suitable property and the mortgage all paid off I will be giving up work in the spring of 2016 after 36 interesting years with the same company. We will then be setting sail into the next phase of our lives which will include six months a year travelling with the Jam Butty in tow and then spending the winter months in our new home on the bank.

So in the meantime all our surplus stuff in on flea bay and if all goes according to plan we will be moved by the end of February.