Friday, 6 August 2010

All quiet on the Fazeley front

The canal network's contribution to Spaghetti Junction with the modern version above

But end amid run-down industry and dereliction
Farmer's Bridge locks begin among smart new flats and offices
"Have you just come out of Birmingham?" asked an anxious sounding boater facing city-wards as we were finishing up for the day. "Was it all right?"
Well I wasn't expecting to meet Somali pirates at every lock which they clearly seemed to be but all the same we were pretty surprised to find ourselves on an almost deserted Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. No boats - and no scrotes!
I suppose the B&F isn't a natural favourite for the cruiser. Half its fifteen miles run through pretty squalid areas of Birmingham and they pack in 38 locks too, most of them in two substantial flights, before it reaches its junction with the Coventry Canal.
All the canals to Birmingham are equally heavily locked which illustrates just how high above the surrounding countryside the city lies - something you'd never grasp if arriving there by motorway or train of course.
The B&F leaves the centre of Brum down the closely packed 13 locks of the Farmers Bridge flight, a flight that starts amid the glamour of redeveloped glass fronted offices and towering modern flats and ends in industrial decay amid a smell of urine, heaps of rubbish and empty cider bottles. A familiar scenario.
The eleven Aston locks are slightly more spread out and begin in not unpleasant semi-industrial surroundings before the inevitable dereliction of dead and dying industries shows its face again.
For the boater, though, the highpoint is reaching our own canal Spaghetti Junction where the B&F meets the Tame Valley and Grand Union canals in a four way junction (with the River Tame tucked nearby as well) -- all of takes place right underneath the better known motorway Spaghetti Junction whose vast concrete columns are all around. The multiplicity of levels, ages and styles of construction is just bewildering (all of it decorated with the usual scrote markings of course.)
After the junction the canal passes a vast, almost endless electricity works and a stream of industrial buildings, accompanied by a torrent of noise from the A38 alongside before reaching the very trim and tidy three Minworth locks, immaculately looked after by the local lock-keeper. Between the first two locks is the massive Cincinnati Machine Company factory, famous for its architectural style and the way it faces and embraces the canal rather than turn a grubby backside on it as most do. Sadly the lathe and machine tool factory is now shut (another sign of the times) but is being converted to new uses by the adventurous Urban Splash group.
Gradually we leave Birmingham behind and the graffiti and rubbish diminishes. How sad it is that a canal that has been spruced up for most of its length with cycleways, route markers and plaques should be treated with such disrespect by some of the local people who appear oblivious and uncaring of its virtues.
But enough grumbling, we have finally left the last clutches of Birmingham and arrived at a pretty mooring in the village of Curdworth - a place that's still determinedly a village despite the M42/M6 toll junction being barely a mile away.

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