Page published 7 May 2014

To discover why I was here see the Introductory Page.

Go to Top The Birmingham Main Line

Having completed my walk up the Farmer's Bridge Flight, I now crossed the Birmingham Main Line via the footbridge that led me across to the Sea Life Centre building. From there I could look back towards Deep Cuttings Junction and, to its right "The Malt House", now a pub, but still with yet another of the bridges to nowhere that I had seen while following the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal.

The Old Turn Island

Deep Cuttings Junction, also known as the Old Turn. The distinctive island was apparently re-sited in 1985.

Once over the bridge I made my way round the curve of the Sea Life Centre where you encounter two foot bridges, restaurant boats and water buses before coming to Broad Street Tunnel. This isn't a tunnel in the conventional sense, merely a rather wide bridge over which runs, not just a road and wide pavement, but also a row of shops. This part of the canal is also unusual in that it features towpaths on both sides of the cut.

Broad Street Tunnel

Broad Street Tunnel is perhaps misnamed as it is just a rather wide bridge.

Once through to the far end of the tunnel I found myself at my destination...

Go to Top Gas Street Basin

I stood for a while leaning on the rails at the far end of Broad Street Tunnel. I wasn't entirely sure what I had expected to see. I was aware that the whole area had been rebuilt and had learnt on my way up the Farmers Bridge Flight that I was approaching the "Convention Quarter". I knew this to be a tourist attraction with many pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants on the waterfront. I suppose I should have expected some large water buses but, for some reason, the sight of such large ones surprised me, but perhaps that was only because they were all empty and not trading.

Gas Street Basin

Gas Street Basin from the mouth of Broad Street Tunnel. To the right is the old Stop Lock now permanently open.

You'll have noticed, from the photographs, how few people seemed to be around. It was now just before 11:20 and I had expected the place to be packed with tourists and shop and office workers taking their morning breaks. I walked on along the towpath and climbed the bridge at the site of the stop lock and stared down at "the bar".

Until an Act of Parliament in 1815 the lock did not exist. All goods coming up the Worcester and Birmingham Canal had to be man-handled into other boats waiting on the Birmingham Canal side of the bar as the older Birmingham Canal company refused to allow a junction. I am unclear why that might have been. You might have thought that easing the flow of goods through their canal would have encouraged traffic and hence revenue.

However the more likely possibility was that the Birmingham company was concerned about the potential for loss of water. The Worcester and Birmingham has a long summit pound, level with the Birmingham Canal. There are relatively few small reservoirs to feed it before the top of the infamous Tardebigge flight of 30 locks, which drops the canal 217 feet. After that they are lesser flights beyond. You can understand why the Birmingham company might have been reluctant to open a route that would allow its precious water onto another company's cut.

The Worcester Bar

Looking down on the "Worcester Bar" across which good s had to be lifted from one boat to another.

It would appear any such fears that the Birmingham company had about water were unfounded. These days the lock gates are removed and you can proceed without stopping through the bar and after climbing onto the bridge over the lock that's what I did, walking past the pub that overlooks the site of the lock and on towards Worcester.

Go to Top The Worcester and Birmingham Canal

Now, just after 11:30 I saw my first boat under way. According to the signage Tinkertoo was owned by Phyll and Matt Webb with a home mooring at Preston Brook, which is a long way up the Trent and Mersey. I presume it was Matt at the helm, though I saw no sign of Phyll, so it's possible that the boat had changed hands and the sign writing not updated. Whatever the ownership it was a boat equipped to work as a liveaboard, with a good stock of wood on the cabin roof and solar panels.

Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Tinkertoo had come down the main line and through the Worcester Bar, coming past me with the engine at a little above tickover.

I caught her up just round the corner at Holiday Wharf, where she found a gap in the moored boats just long enough for her. She was skilfully steered into the gap and secured by her steerer. The stove on the small boat ahead was belching a very tarry smoke from its chimney. Its occupant engaging the new arrival in conversation. I was unclear from this whether they knew each other, but I suspect not and the chat was just that which any newcomer might ask another boater about the local facilities for it emerged that Matt, if it was he, was looking for a post box. I offered my ten year old Nicholson to find the answer to that, but it wasn't taken up - and I don't blame him, given the number of post office closures over the last ten years!

Holiday Wharf

Tinkertoo moors at Holiday Wharf, while the neighbouring boat burns a noxious fuel to warm his water so its occupant could take a shower.

The "Conference Quarter" Map

The sign that I studied when I got home to see if I could find any evidence of a post office.

On getting home I studied the photograph I took of the sign I found half way up the Farmer's Bridge flight which showed the "Convention Quarter", thinking this might be more up to date than my Nicholson. Although the key showed a symbol for a post office I could not find one anywhere on the map.

I had half hoped that the prominent building with the words "The Mailbox" on its roof might have provided the answer, but it didn't and from what I read is a typical shopping mall rather than a place that lives up to its name.

I began to think it was time to turn around and head back to somewhere that I could consider for a bite to eat. Having been sunny when I had started my walk, the sun was again beginning to break through the thin cloud that had appeared. This gave me the opportunity to take fresh photographs of the places I had passed earlier. First to get this treatment was the Worcester Bar, although the foreground was going to remain in shadow for the rest of the day.

As I passed by the Worcester Bar, at last, there seemed to be more people about. The first couple to catch my eye were an older east Asian couple, though whether Malayan, Japanese or Chinese, I was not sure. The warmly wrapped up woman was taking a photograph with a phone while her partner dragged around a shopping basket on wheels. I was left unsure about whether these were foreign tourists or British folk on a day trip as I was.

The photograph I took at this point shows yet another of those bridges to nowhere on the far side of the Bar, which I had not noticed earlier. This one is beside a building whose function, neither current nor original, could I work out. Its large chimney, no longer appearing very tall, given the more modern buildings around it, only left me with the thought - how horribly grimy the whole place must have been in its heyday.

Worcester Bar

On my return to Gas Street Basin I spot Chinese(?) tourists and a mystery building with threatening chimney.

Go to Top Back on the Birmingham Main Line

Once past the bar I was back on the Main Line. The sun now seemed to be shining more reliably and I was on the point of worrying that I'd soon be needing to carry my jacket rather than wear it.

Site of the Stop Lock

As I walk past the Worcester Bar it's almost 11:50 and still all the waterfront tables are empty of customers.

As I approached the Broad Street Tunnel I couldn't help but notice the modernistic sign, "the bar". I had always assumed I would find some drinking place called the "Worcester Bar" but I guessed this one would serve as the closest I would get. In spite of the sash windows I had taken this building to be a modern extension to the tunnel but now I was closer I could see it was built in English Bond so older than I thought.

Broad Street Tunnel

Is it modern over the top Health and Safety, or is this a sign that pre-dates such things? The large white sign above the towpath reads:

Meanwhile under the the vaulted ceiling supporting "the bar" there was a sign that amused me. I would have taken it to be something erected in the last 20 years, but closer inspection suggests it was significantly older. Health and Safety ruled much earlier than I had realised.

Aston Junction

The National Indoor Arena looks like a multi-storey car park under construction at the moment.

Once back past the restaurant boats and water-buses, still empty of crew, passengers or diners, I got my first decent view of the National Indoor Arena. When I first reached Deep Cuttings Junction I had not realised what was on my right. To me it was just a large multi-storey car park under construction. Now I know different!

It was still before mid-day when I rounded the Sea Life Centre and reached the bridge to cross back to return to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. However, now on the sunny side of the canal, I decided I had time to explore a little way a little further up the Main Line before returning down the Farmer's Bridge Flight.

Birmingham Main Line

The furthest point I reached along the Main Line, barely 100m from Deep Cuttings Junction. Where did all those people suddenly come from?

In fact, I didn't get very far - barely 100m, not even as far as the other end of the Oozells Loop. Instead I found myself spending ten minutes chatting with a woman who was pinning all kinds of doggie things to her narrowboat. What had taken my eye was box after box of "Dogopoly" displayed on the roof of the boat - except that it wasn't just "Dogopoly", but also "Lab-opoly", "Westie-opoly", "Beagle-opoly", "Jacks-opoly" and almost any other breed version of the game. Seeing my interest she asked if she could help but I got the response that she didn't have either a Whippet or English Setter version of the game in stock.

That's how we got into conversation. She explained that running the business was a good way to fund her boating over the summer. The trading licence fee was only £70 more than that for a private boat. (Having looked up the details and guessing that her boat was 57ft long, she's right! In fact, it's nearer a £60 difference. The annual fee for a private boat this year is £919.03 and for a roving trader, £981.55).

Trading Boat

The Doggie Trader's Boat adorned with everything a dog owner might desire (and quite a few he might not)! But how come all the people had suddenly vanished again!

I learnt that these days there is quite a circuit for roving traders. She pointed out the posters advertising the dates and venues of a number of "Floating Markets" which members of the "Roving Canal Traders Association" would be attending. Clearly things have changed much since I was actively following the canal press around 15 years ago.

Doggie Stuff

"The Roving Canal Traders Association" was a body that was new to me. Clearly I've been out of touch with the Canals for too long!

After my chat I walked only a few yards further before turning back to Deep Cuttings Junction. For a few moments I seemed to be surrounded by people, but they evaporated just as quickly by the time I was back taking pictures of the trader's boat.

Old Turn

"The Malt House", now a pub or restaurant, is the only old building to be seen at this point on the canal.

Two more minutes and I was at the top of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal again. You can read my report of my walk up the Farmer's Bridge Flight or discover why I was here at all on the Introductory Page to my Birmingham canal walks.

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