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Monday 29 February 2016

Boats, beers and boozers 6.

I can't believe this would be only my fourth post in February. I can't believe how quickly the month has passed. we don't seem to have stopped at all, but have achieved very little in the field of narrow boats. I have been wearing other hats though and have been busy promoting the United Towing and Salvage Society, of which I am Chair, which involved presentations, speeches, TV and press appearances. I have also been busy getting my Hedon History Walks off the ground too. Where we live on land has a very proud history and is little known to the newer citizens so I thought I would start up walking tours to show it off, and hopefully contribute funds towards my travel backwards and forwards. Find them on Facebook. That has been fitted in around the aftermath of my mother passing, and sorting everything that needs to be done for that.

We were going to go down to the boat last weekend but thought that we should get everything at this end sorted and completed rather than having loose ends to come back to, so we remained in Yorkshire. It will be later in March by the time we can get down there now. Consequently you will have another pub visit to read about.

From our last pub at Netherton (well last reported on pub) we moved down through Park Head Junction and down the Delph Locks to Black Delph and Junction. Delph Locks make a great sight and if they were just about anywhere else they would be very busy with gogoozlers. When there is plenty of water the six middle locks have over flow weirs running. These six locks replaced seven built in 1779 and date from 1858 themselves. There is a stable block half way down if anymore interest was needed!

The middle six Delph Locks. The canal is lowered down 85 feet and you get a little bit of a feel of Foxton Locks, with houses!

Nearly at the bottom of the middle six of eight locks at Delph. At the foot of the locks the Dudley No.1 Canal morphs into the Stourbridge Canal.

After a while you come to Leys Junction where the Stourbridge Extension canal and Fens Branch led off NE. A sharp turn to the left gets you straight into the sixteen locks down to Stourbridge. These are another flight of locks that should get ore attention from the public than they do. From top to bottom is about a mile so a good walk with a pub in the middle and plenty of interest all the way down, or up.

At Buckpool there are little side bridges like her at Lock 10, and a a wide towpath and plenty of opportunity to help boaters as you walk. We didn't see a boat at all when we were coming down though.

Between Locks 11 and 13 there is a small transhipment dock on the offside that has the wooden Dadford's Shed still in use as boat repairer. The photo is Red House Cone which is now a glass making museum. We didn't stop this time but it is well worth a look if you haven't been.

At about Lock 15 there were some builder taking a rest and watching our progress as we settled in the lock I asked them if they had a spare scaffolding board. One was produced and it scrubbed up very well and has become our short gang plank. We turned up the branch to Stourbridge. There were plenty of boats moored up but after going to the very end, into gated private moorings, we winded in the shadow of the restored Bonded Warehouse which has a chandlery and the HQ of the Stourbridge Navigation Trust.  We picked up the last mooring closer to the town.

This was just at our bow. I wonder if metal from today would last so well.

Once moored up and a cup of tea downed we went for an explore into the town, that isn't very far away at all. Our main target was the Royal Exchange pub as I knew it served Bathams. I had missed the Vine near Merry Hill where it is brewed and was seeking it out here. I can assure you it was worth the wait.

The Royal Exchange is a 'normal' boozer with a drinking front room and a more decorated lounge. It is one of 11 pubs owned by Bathams. The young barman was very knowledgeable and pulled a perfect pint of Batham's bitter with a good golden yellow colour and a very smooth taste too with a nice hoppy finish for it's 4.3%. At £2.60 a real bargain. We chatted to the chap next to us with his whippet and the gang of blokes in the window broke into song that was quite tuneful actually. Maybe the lubricated tonsils helped. I went back to the bar to try the mild, which is perhaps their best known drink as the West Midlands is one of the strongholds of mild. We refused to sell me one until he had pulled a couple of glasses off as he hadn't served one that session. He needn't have worried as it was as near perfect for me as could be. A beautiful dark brown and a taste of roast malt that just took the edge of the sweetness. At 3.5% you could drink this all day, and  £2.35 a pint the wife wouldn't mind either. I can't recommend the pub, or the beer highly enough. I have a mind to try and visit all the Batham pubs just to check on how they are all kept. Stourbridge and the Royal Exchange is definitely a place we will revisit.

Friday 19 February 2016

Boats, beers and boozers, 5.

I thought I was time poor when I was spending a lot of time with my Mum, but now she has died I have no idea where the time goes every day! Everything seems to be happening at once!! still I have found a window of opportunity,and I am really going to enjoy telling you about this pub, and the area.

From Birmingham we headed west out of the city on the New Main Line. The New Main Line is the motorway compared with the Old Main Lines old A road but the route isn't without interest. After the initial loops you catch a glimpse of the old Soho Foundry works on the right then Smethwick Junction with the Engine Arm passing overhead on it's cast iron bridge. Then comes the Smethwick Pum house that spans both lines as they are so close here. The graceful Galton Bridge with a station platform on it spans the canal next before the individual pleasure crossing under the old main line at the same time as going under the M5. The concrete supports of the overhead motorway were placed in the middle of the New Main Line, fortunately not causing too many problems. After that the canal is dead straight but there are junctions present and disappeared to look out for before turning left into the Netherton Branch and heading towards the tunnel. Before actually entering the Netherton Tunnel you pass under the Old Main line once more.

The Netherton Tunnel I think is the third longest working canal tunnel in the UK and is 3027 yds long. It was the last one to be built and so was made wide enough for two way working with the luxury of having a towpath on both sides. It is dead straight and was originally lit by electricity produced by a turbine on the Old Main Line at a higher level. 

After about half an hour you come out at the southern end and it seems you have been in a time machine or something as you emerge in to the countryside, or so it would seem. In fact Windmill end used to be far from it as there were numerous mines and iron and chain works, together emitting enough smoke to aid painting the Black Country black. The numerous cast iron roving bridges and the several short arms give the country park an air of mystery and of hidden meanings. The shell of the Cobb pumping engine on the hill overlooking the canal hints at the industrial past. It once pumped the mines dry and discharged the water in to the cut.

We moored opposite the Information Centre on rings and had some good walks around the green space that covers the area now. We did go for a walk in to the town of Netherton. After about only one kilometre you get to one of the many gems of a pub in the Black Country and we weren't disappointed.

Fantastic photo by Dayoff171 and found on
The Old Swan on Halesowen Road is a Real Heritage pub and is has a brewery on the premises. The pub is better known hereabouts as Ma Pardoe's after a long time Landlady.We never made it past the front bar that is nationally important due to it being unchanged. Apparently they do food that is well thought of and can be had in the back room lounge or the upstairs restaurant. I however was there for the beer. There has been a licensed premises here from 1835 and the present building and brewery have been up since 1863. Brewing on site went on until 1988. Fortunately it was resurrected in 2001 and is mainly for consumption on the premises and not easily found anywhere else. So do not miss out. My first pint was of Original 3.5% session beer. It was all a good pint should be, thick with a good head and smooth with bitter sweet taste and not too hoppy. When you factor in it was £2-20 I am thinking that the 4* I gave it at the time was a little mean. I can still taste it! I then went for a pint of Entire at 4.4%. Wow, it was even better with the same beautiful head and thick taste but now a little sweeter on top of the bitter taste. At £2-70 it gained a 4.5* from me. I reckon if it had been £2-20 it would have been my only 5 out of 5. (I'm loathe to give this score as a typical Yorkshireman I am always hoping for better!). I need fortifying for the journey back to the boat carrying the shopping so I went for a dark beer this time. This time Dark Swan at 4.2%. This is a 'soft' beer, nothing tart of strong tasting here, just a mellow smooth taste that flows across the tongue with alternating bitter sweet tastes. All three beers give you the feeling of 'thickness' as you drink them, probably as they are stuffed full of ingredients. £2-70 again won another 4*.

As you can't get this beer anywhere else, and you will never see a pub like this either it is well worth the walk up from moorings at Windmill end. The natives were very friendly and we had a good chat to go with our beer. All round a must do visit.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Memories of 1981.

One of my big regrets is that my Mum was never able to come out on the boat with us, or even visit as by the time that we had bought it she was not mobile enough to get up and down the steps etc. It is too late now as she has passed away. It has been a hectic three weeks and I expect the next month or so will be likewise. She was at home and didn't take to her bed until the last day and there were loads of us with her so not too bad all in all.

My Mum, Betty, had a full life 'til 89 years old.

If I remember rightly we hired from Claymore near Preston Brook. The boat was the 'Bowden Hall'. My Granny was 89 and my Aunts were well in to their 60's and had never been on any form of a boat previously, other than a cross Channel, or cross Humber ferry. In the end my Gran sat and did Granny things and said everything was lovely. My Aunty May designated herself to the galley and my Aunty Madge did most of the steering and I did everything else! And we chose to do the Cheshire Ring!!

They had said that they were interested in having a canal holiday and I said okay sure I would go with them and disappeared off to sea for a few months never thinking that they would do anything about it. I should have known my Mum's sisters were made of much sterner stuff than that and as soon as I got back I was informed of the date of our cruise and off we went.

We were blessed with lovely weather all the way. It was before the school summer holidays and I seem to remember that as we passed through Manchester there was a mini riot going on. England had been beset with city riots, and I seem to remember Gran sitting on the bow as we descended the Rochdale 9. There was much verbal abuse and some spitting and I had to drag her in when stones were thrown! All exciting stuff, but we escaped unscathed.

Upper picture; Aunty Madge and Granny P inside 'Bowden Hall'.
Middle picture; Aunty Madge penning down. Maybe the top Wheelock pair of locks or maybe around Church Lawton.
Bottom picture; Is this the Broughton Arms at Rode Heath. I think I would have deserved a pint.

I think there are 97 locks on the Cheshire Ring so it was a good job I was fit and active at 26. The girls certainly enjoyed it. My Gran died a little over a year later but my Aunts frequently used to remind me of it when they were still with us. I must have enjoyed it as I ended up on lots of later hire boat holidays and later we have been able to buy one. We are looking forward to been able to visit the boat and get away from it for at least a few days before the 'season' starts.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Boats, beers and boozers, 4.

You could say that the walk to the pub is the best bit about the pub featured in this blog. We have now dashed down to the centre of Birmingham. I love Brum. Maybe it is because it has enough of the north in it to be comfortable, but being the second city has so much going on for it, and then there is the BCN! We always try to moor up at Cambrian Wharf as a good spot for a visit. Failing that we will aim for the Oozells Loop close to the Old Turn Junction that is right by Brindley Place but has little foot fall past the boat.

The walk from there will take you through Bridley Place, over the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and through the middle of the Symphony Hall and International Conference Centre and out in front of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Centenary Square.

The bridge crossing the Worcster and Birmingham Canal between the Brindley Place area and the International Conference Centre. You pop out in front of the Symphony Hall

The Symphony Hall from Centenary Square with the Birmingham Rep. behind the camera.

Of course next to the Rep. is the new Central Library. If you haven't been inside you should go for a nosey as it good to have a neb about in there. Up a few floors to see the gardens and at the top is the Shakespeare Library  that is also worth a gander at. Just the building design, in and out, is worthwhile as it is a dramatic building.

The Birmingham Central Library on Centenary Square

For a change of mood I would also recommend a visit to the rotunda Hall of Memory that is also in Centenary Square. From there you walk through a tunnel under a derelict building that was the old Brutalist Central Library. It is awaiting the builders at the moment. I'm not sure if they will have to keep the tunnel as a public right of way through the building works but it is great to emerge on Chamberlain Square and look over the monument to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery next to the Town Hall.
Chamberlain Square L to R, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Memorial and the Town Hall. The Chamberlain Memorial was actually raised in 1880 to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain who was a Brummie through and through. A businessman, Councillor, Mayor and MP. Unusually he was actually at the opening ceremony as he didn't die until 1914! 

From Chamerlain Square you pass into Queen Victoria Square and the magnificence of the Birmingham Council house over looking the  steps and water falls down to New Street.

The whole walk from the canal is full of interest and real stand out buildings and something not to be rushed. Once on New Street you are into the shopping straight away, and of course there is the new New Street Station to have a look at too.

But before you head off to the shops, when at the foot of the steps from Victoria Square look for Pinfold Street leading down hill towards New Street Station. The pub of the blog is the Post Office Vaults. This has the distinction of having two entrances from two different streets. The main entry is from Pinfold Street but there is a staircase leading down from New Street. The bar is small but is well stocked with 8 beer pumps and at least 10 different ciders, and  200 different bottled beers from around the world. I don't really do bottled beer but you could have a cruise sitting in Birmingham. The  pub doesn't do food but you are welcome to bring a takeway in and they will lend you plates and crockery. We had a nice chat to the staff so it is a friendly place to pass the time. 

Post Office Vaults entrance from Pinfold Street.

When I was there last year I had a pint of Faith from the Leeds based Northern Monk Brewery. It was a beautiful hoppy American Pale ale with a light colour that just touched the spot. I scored it 4.5* out of 5. I am hoping that it wasn't just after a long day trailing round the Bull Ring etc. The second pint I tried was a LocAle. This is an initiative by CAMRA for pubs to serve at least one beer that comes from no more than 20 miles from the pub. This one comes from Erdington, just the other side of Spaghetti Junction and the Froth Blowers Brewery. The pint of 'Gollop with zest' was a light beer with a good hoppy taste. It wasn't quite as good as my first pint, but then again, as I say after a days shopping the first pint is always going to be hard to beat. However I did score it 3.5*.

Birmingham is full of nice pubs and I have entered this on for my blog for the location and the walk from the moorings. That with the fact that there are  8 hand pulled beers, 10 ciders and 200 bottled beers to choose from, plus no TV, duke box or other distractions, it is a great pub for a pint.