Wednesday, 16 September 2015


Came up the Wolverhampton 21 locks and arrived in Birmingham which we visited by train four years ago when it was pouring rain so didn't get a really nice opinion of the city.  

This time we arrived by boat - totally different.   We moored up near the Gas Street Basin in the heart of the city.   The Basin was just delightful with lots of bridges over the canal which were lined with flower boxes of colourful begonias and petunias.   Canals heading off in all directions - supposedly more canals in Birmingham than in Venice.   It would take a month to see them all fully.

One of the many flower walkways over the canal.

Massive building works going on in the city with the major rail station being updated and huge tram works going on too.  Lots of beautiful old buildings and the best part was many parks and flowers everywhere.   

Certainly a different city to Manchester which had hardly a bit of green in sight.

Flower display in the Birmingham Cathedral gardens
Caught a train to Aston Villa, home of the famous football stadium.  Visited Aston Hall - a large 17th century Jacobean home built by Sir Thomas Holte.

Sounds like he really wasn't the nicest person to know.  His daughter wanted to marry a local farmer so he locked her up in an attic room until she changed her mind.  She stayed there for 17 years until she eventually went mad, fell down a staircase and died.  He is reputed to have chopped his cook's head in half with a meat cleaver when his dinner was a bit late. 

The Long Hall is 336 feet long - the longest in the UK.   This was for 'exercise' when it was too wet or cold to go outside.  The impressive staircase still has the damage caused by a cannonball during the English Civil War.  Famous visitors to the Hall (apart from us!) were King Charles 1 and Elizabeth 1.  It really is a grand house with members of the same family living there for over 200 years until it was locked up in the early 1800s and almost fell into ruin until being taken over by the Birmingham Museums Group in the 1990s.

Went to a lovely old Art Gallery and then to the Birmingham Library - quite a modern looking building costing 188 million pounds (about $400 million) which opened in 2013.

Birmingham Library

One of the Library's roof gardens
 It's the largest library in Europe.   The amazing thing is that right up on the top floor there's a room looking like something out of the 1600s with lots of leadlights and carvings and this room houses an extensive collection of Shakespeare's original works.

Also went to Blakesley Hall - a Tudor home built in 1590.  Sooo old but very well presented with furniture from that time and a very knowledgeable guide who knew all the secrets of the house.  We learned that the term 'sleep tight - good night' comes from when the beds consisted of a wooden frame laced with ropes so to get a good night's sleep it was necessary to 'tighten the ropes'.  

There was a group of actors dressed up as Tudors present on the day we visited and they had Tudor games to try, cooking food as the Tudors would have done, showing how to write with quills and also had a demonstration of sword fighting - well done and quite funny.

To top off our Birmingham visit we went to the Coffin Museum.  Seen it all now!!  It was set up by the Newman Brothers in the 1800s and it's just like entering a time capsule of Victorian engineering.  

This coffin was ordered by a chap who owned a rubbish trucking business

Two of these coffins were ordered by a couple of canal boaters  (Ballet coffin behind)
When the business was handed over to the National Trust in the 1990s all the machinery and products - coffin handles and ornaments, linings and shrouds - were left on the benches when the workforce downed their tools and left.   The company produced some of the world's finest coffin furniture, including fittings for the funerals of Sir Winston Churchill, Chamberlain and the Queen Mother.   There was even a display of 'crazy coffins' - interesting but a bit weird.

Had a bit of excitement during our stay in Birmingham - woken about 2.00 am one dark and drizzly morning by someone banging on the side of the boat and yelling out "your ropes have been cut"   Turned out six boats had been set adrift and were floating around at all angles along the canal.   As someone said - it was a great way to meet people in various stages of undress as we scrambled around to find more ropes and then start up the engine to get the boat back across the canal onto mooring rings.   The lady on the boat behind us kept apologising for what her countrymen had done to our boat saying "you've come all that way and this has happened to you - we're so so sorry - it's just terrible".   Terry had a deep and meaningful conversation with 'Blossom" our neighbour on the boat in front (6'6" with a very deep voice) so we weren't too sure about that one although she? did look very glamorous next morning.

Left Birmingham and spent a night at nearby Bournville Village.  This was set up by George Cadbury and his brother Richard when they moved their chocolate-making factory out from Birmingham in 1879.  The factory flourished and created finances for them to build good quality housing set up as a traditional English country village with shop, churches, sporting areas, community buildings and schools around a village green.   The Bournville Trust still manages the village today.  We decided not to do the Cadbury World (very expensive and a bit too Disney-world like for us) so we went on the Village Trail instead.

The Silver Wedding Anniversary present to the Cadbury couple

George Cadbury purchased two ancient oak-framed Tudor buildings and had them re-built in the village in the early 1900s surrounded by an authentic Tudor garden.  They have been open as museums ever since.  On the village green there is a lovely building which was a silver wedding anniversary gift to George and Elizabeth Cadbury.  This was paid for by staff from Cadbury factories around the world.

Tudor house bought and rebuilt in the village

Some of the Tudor costumes provided for visitors to try on.

Lovely apple archways in the Tudor garden
Back on our travels we came down the Hatton flight (22 locks) and then arrived in beautiful Warwick with its grand castle.   We had stayed there two years ago on our Stratford journey.   We moored up in the Saltisford Am - a lovely marina in a park-like setting.
One of the tunnels on the way - the horse used to have its own tunnel on the right.
Horse sculpture made from old lock gates

We had Sunday lunch at Jo and Ginny's home in nearby Kenilworth.  (We bought their home in Broadford 4 years ago.)   Their son, Max, is just starting a ourism course in Leamington Spa and Clara is going into Year 10 at the local seconday school.  They're such a lovely family and it was great to catch up on all the news.
Historic hospital in Warwick

Leamington Spa's famous Pump House
 So....... the 2015 adventure is just about over.  We've met some lovely people along the way - boat crew and passerbys - with everyone up for a chat.   We've travelled quite a few miles on lots of different canals and a few rivers but not had to work as many locks this year - only 390 - but many lift/swing bridges and the Anderton Boat Lift being another highlight.   It's been the year of visiting the big cities - Manchester, Liverpool, Chester and Birmingham  - all different but very enjoyable.   Also seemed to see just about every museum - silk, salt, hat making,  a few war-time ones and finally the coffin museum.

Weatherwise - well, Summer really didn't happen - it's been really cool most of the time although we did have the Hottest Day in July (37C), the Windiest Day and September will probably go down as the Wettest Month.

We've just come down Foxton Locks (10) in pouring rain and the boat is back at our Marina where it will be taken out of the water for the Winter.  

We're heading back to London to spend 4 days with Sooz, Ten and the girls before flying home, with a two night stopover in Brunei which should be interesting.

So.... 'til next time.