Friday 14 October 2022


Today's Canal - New Main Line, Soho Port Loop, Hockley Port Branch

So, here is where we stayed last night, on an almost deserted stretch of the New Main Line, just after the Engine Arm bridge and a bit before Smethwick Junction. 

There was almost no passing traffic (cyclists or walkers) and we were shielded from the nearby main railway line. It took a little effort to bang in the mooring pins as the work to strengthen the bank of the towpath as well as to create the hard surfaced cycleway has left a very stony strip.

Looking back to the Engine Arm, the Old Main Line is at the top of the embankment to the right, very close indeed. It was a bright and sunny day as well.

Just after Rolfe Bridge we spotted this remaining disused former telephone pole. Why is it that one on the Coventry Canal and one on the Shroppie are on everyone's obligatory photo list but this one misses out entirely? Perhaps it is unconscious bias against poles in industrial areas!

Only a few metres further along is another one but it seems to be so ashamed of its context that it is all but completely disguised.

At one time there were very many short arms and wharfs - this one seems to have been just to serve one factory.

But this one led into a basin that was part of a large chemical works.

At Winson Green Junction we made a very sharp turn onto what is now called the Soho Loop. originally this was part of Brindley's original contour canal but later cut off by Telford's straightening work.

Just after the junction the loop passes alongside Winson Green Prison, now HMP Birmingham, built in 1849. According to old maps, this towpath bridge into a loading bay was built a long time ago, perhaps part of the original design - now it looks as if it is an invitation to an enterprising resident to build an escape hatch. 

On the opposite side is a Wildlife Trust project intended to create a haven in the centre of the industrial city. Alas, as is so often the case with similar ideas, more thought was given to creating it than to how it might be maintained and it looks a little forgotten now. However, behind the wall lies a much larger open area and the Birmingham and Black County branch have their headquarters building there.

About half way around the loop we came to Hockley Port Junction with an even tighter turn. We have never been down here before - only probably twice around the loop and we had thought that it was just a small residential mooring. However, up-to-date information indicated that there are good services at the end as well as a visitor mooring.

However, it turned out that there was plenty of width to navigate right to the end - there is indeed a visitor mooring but with no way out into the surrounding area it is of limited use, but could make a safe haven for an overnight stop.

There are two short interchange basins towards the end which also hold a number of residential boats as well as a dry dock operated by Sherbourne Wharf. Goods were transhipped between canal boats and the nearby GWR railway. (We heard tomorrow at the Roundhouse that in the early railway days the companies in Birmingham came to an agreement with the canal operators that long distance traffic should go by rail but that water was the better option for local deliveries - presumably this was why so many wharfs were constructed off the main line. The later arrival of powered road vehicles and tarmac changed the economic landscape yet again)

The arm comes to an abrupt end where the Customer Service facility has been built, and is well maintained. Originally the arm was twice as long and initially served a tinplate toy factory run by Boulton (of Boulton and Watt - their steam engine factory was close by) which later also made expensive jewellery.

We paused here whilst we filled and emptied. We also had quite a chat with one of the residents who is a keen participant in the annual BCN Challenge.

We returned back to the Loop and continued towards the other end and the New Main Line again. Just before the end is a very large housing development, creating 100 town houses and 650 apartments in about 10 blocks: very dense housing indeed! Only 300 parking spaces so most residents will have to use public transport or the canal-side cycleways. The project was given the go-ahead only two years ago and will transform this part of Birmingham.

We now had a short distance to go before our intended mooring. We passed the other large development (not quite on the same scale) on the island created by the Icknield Port Loop which we went around last year.

As always it is a bit of a relief to find a good mooring in the centre - we were fortunate that our particular favourite spot was free and we quickly bagged it, mooring up in time for lunch.

In the afternoon we walked into New Street and the surrounding shopping malls. Christine was keen to find M&S - which is about as far as it could be on Carrs Lane which gave Mike a chance to sit in the sunshine on a seat in the street outside, listen to a street musician and watch passers by.

We also went into the Vodafone shop where they had promised that they could organise a replacement contract for Christine's phone as the current one runs out tomorrow. Alas, after a wait and then lengthy personal details collection (and making sure that she really did not want to upgrade her phone!) they decided that it cannot be done ahead of Monday!

The Christmas skating arena is under construction in Centenary Square, outside the Birmingham Rep (where we booked tickets for tomorrow night)

About 30 seconds after we returned to the boat and shut the doors, rain arrived and stayed for most of the night. Lucky escape because we had not taken rainwear with us!

3.7 Miles - 0 Locks

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