Monday 17th July; Hockley Heath to King’s Norton
Today was a day of bits and pieces. Early on it was very still, and with no passing boats the reflections were striking.
Before we left I walked back into Hockley Heath for some shopping. But, being Monday, the butcher was closed and the little convenience store hadn’t had a veg delivery, so apart from milk I bought nothing.
It was a hot and sunny walk, though with lots of cool shade along the towpath as I went back to the boat.
And it was very pleasant on the water. We stopped at Wedge's for some bread but were disappointed to find that the area that use to hold vegetables had become part of the well-patronised café area. At least we had fresh bread, so there was a pleasant lunch stop near the Bluebell. Then, having read on a blog some time ago that there is a Tesco Express at Dickens’ Heath, we stopped there next.
Apart from an older property near the canal, everything appeared to be built in the last ten years or so. The architecture is ….. interesting. It’s not like boring and soulless modern housing estates, and everything has the air of being designed to look interesting and established. A lot of the area is paved and pedestrianised, and there is everything you could need day to day; a surgery, dentist, optician, Tesco, chemist, restaurants, a library. There is even a clock on the oddly-shaped roundabout near the canal.
But everything was too neat and tidy, and none of the houses or apartments seemed to have any individuality. In spite of the sunshine, and people sitting outside the café, it felt soulless and rather creepy, as though the inhabitants had been taken over by aliens. At least we could get some fresh veg, but I wouldn’t like to live there.
On we went to the Shirley Drawbridge. Time was getting on, and as well as needing water we were hoping to stop for fuel at Lyons boatyard. We were quickly through the bridge, and the bridge came down, but would the road barriers open? No. So a call to CRT, and when they called back to say it would be a 45 minute wait, our hearts sank. But a lovely chap drinking in the pub garden would be around to warn boats and drivers, so as there was nothing to be contributed by hanging about we reluctantly left the CRT key in the lock (you can’t remove it until the bridge cycle is complete) and go on. We stopped at the tap by bridge 5, which is a good fast fill, and Dave went to check Lyons’ opening hours as we would be pushed to get there before 5. What did he discover? Closed on Mondays. Drat.
We had enough fuel to get us to Alvechurch even though it is a bit expensive there. We weren’t sure where we were going to moor for the night. We thought Hopwood, on the far side of the Wast Hill tunnel, might be rather crowded by the time we got there, but we didn’t want to moor before King’s Norton junction. Where there is a lot of graffiti you wonder whether it is advisable to stop. So when we saw a work boat with metal shutters locked over its windows we just carried on.
Dredging had been going on nearby, though everyone had gone home by the time we passed. The dredger and pan were moored near the offside, but not close enough for access from the bank. We guessed the staff had used the small workboat to get to the towpath.
We rounded the junction and started the long haul to the Wast Hills tunnel. We knew that there used to be a self-operated pump-out at the junction, which was removed after persistent vandalism some time ago, so were a bit dubious about being too close to the junction. We were wondering about stopping for the night near a private boat which is permanently moored on the way to the tunnel, and when we saw a hire boat pulling in not far away we thought ‘safety in numbers’, and stopped too. There were mooring rings, and one even had a short rope spliced to it with a loop ready to pop over a dolly, so we felt more confident.
And it was absolutely fine. A few cyclists (who rang their bells, on the whole), walkers mostly with dogs, and once darkness fell just one passer-by. Peaceful as anything. Meg was delighted – there was access 50 yards away to extensive playing fields just across the river Rea.
9½ miles, Shirley draw bridge (failed), Brandwood tunnel