Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Looping the loop and a stack of cake boxes

Saturday 6th September

We planned to stay in Birmingham, but were pointing the wrong way for tomorrow, so we thought we’d turn by exploring the Icknield Port and Soho loops (and charge the batteries into the bargain).  We went up the Main Line to the far end of the Soho loop and turned into it, expecting unremitting dereliction and abandoned industry.  But no!  We passed the prison (which was close to the junction)

1 winson green prison wall

and an equally high wall on the other bank, behind which is the Birmingham hospital.  There is an Asylum Bridge, so it must have had some kind of hospital for many years.  Then it opened up and there was lovely parkland on the towpath side

2 soho loop

then residential areas.  The BT tower is visible from many parts of the city.

3 soho loop with bt tower

Hockley Port inlet (private moorings and Sherborne Wharf dry dock) is at the furthest point of the loop, after which it gets more scruffy.  We approached the ‘cross-roads’ across the Main Line to the Icknield Port loop and the striking bridge at its entrance. 

4 to icknield port loop from soho loop

We had to go very carefully – there was a novice group of canoeists on their way out.  The Icknield Port loop is quite grim – the towpath is closed (where it actually exists), derelict industry abounds and there are several sunken (and unmarked) barges.

6 sunken barge icknield loop

We did see a kingfisher though, and then at the furthest point of the loop is the old BW wharf with two restored BW boats Scorpio and Nansen II (I think). The grass bank and fence on the skyline mark the edge of the Edgbaston Reservoir (marked as Rotton Park on Nicholson’s).

8 scorpio at icknieldport

After lunch we went to investigate the new City Library which has just celebrated its first birthday.  It looks like a stack of cake tins or hat boxes and is as amazing inside as out.  I took this from the plaza below and couldn’t get the lower storeys in unless I crossed the busy dual carriageway – which I didn’t.

18 cake tins or hat boxes

If you thought libraries were boring and dry as dust, think again!  It’s being marketed as a leisure destination and has blue-lit escalators, a travelator and a glass lift to the upper levels.  There are two amazing rooftop gardens with views to match.  (I was cross to realise later I’d taken no pictures of the gardens themselves).  It was heaving with visitors, it being a Saturday afternoon.  Here is the square below, which also has the Symphony Hall (where the National Brass Band Championships were taking place), the International Conference Centre (Conservative Party Conference in a few weeks, with associated restrictions on the towpath) and the theatre.  A Science Festival was in full swing, with several eye-catching experiments for the kids – enormous bubbles for one.  The patterned paving is wonderful.

 10 science fest from library garden

11 custard powder experiment from library garden

To the right of the yellow bus you can just see an aircraft-shaped outline on the ground.  It is the shape and size of a US drone (the sort that carries weapons) and is advertising a play at the theatre.  We had no idea they were that big – we thought they were more like radio-controlled model gliders.

Looking further afield we were delighted to see Chuffed in the distance – bottom half of the picture, fourth boat on the left!

15 chuffed 4th on left

and there’s that BT tower again.  As you can see, the sun was very bright.

13 dave dazzled and bt

I whizzed back up the down travelator so Dave could get a picture!  The queue for the glass lift is in the background.

17 deb on travelator in library

We spent far longer than we intended there, and recommend it highly for a visit.  Oh yes, there are squillions of books too, and old maps.

We thought we’d reward Meg for her patience by a walk out to Edgbaston Reservoir.  The towpath would have been better – she had to be on the lead the whole time.  You go through Ladywood (bins overflowing, though it’s only 10 minutes walk from the centre, where the bins are emptied daily), and part of Edgbaston though not the posh bit, then you are at the reservoir.  It’s OK but we won’t bother again – a mile walk each way just to stay on the lead isn’t what a lively dog expects!

19 edgbaston reservoirWe finished the evening with another stroll round Brindleyplace and the Mailbox, buzzing again! Hen and stag parties in abundance and all the restaurants were heaving.  We ate in Cafe Rouge which seemed to have a slightly more mature clientele – and hence a few free tables!

Only 4 miles today, ending up where we started just pointing the other way.

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