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41. Ramblings in the West Midlands.

 

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14th February 2012. I had a grand present from my ex-wife and her husband last Christmas. Membership of English Heritage. Gosh. Membership of the National Trust and English Heritage is almost – but not quite – more than we can bear! After constant work on the PC for a few days, it was high time to get out of the house & activate the EH membership. The nearest EH site to my humble abode is Kenilworth Castle, so we fared forth, and were greeted affably by the skilled and dedicated volunteers who give their services gratis in running, organizing, administering EH, and above all, making visitors welcome. Excellent. It was a cold and windy day, with the very occasional touch of sunshine. This is the view you see when you arrive.

 

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Here is the ‘stable block’, which now contains in the left-hand part an excellent café, and in the right, a well-planned ‘pocket history’ exhibition of the castle, with many inter-active items to interest children – and myself. Today there were indeed many children present, as it was the half-term holiday week. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. And of course, groups of school-children come here in parties daily in term time as well.

 

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You can read all you wish to about the long history of Kenilworth Castle on line. A good starting point would be http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenilworth-castle/ . This building, after the Civil War, became an up-market rented house, and was still lived in until the 1930s. Now it houses further exhibitions of the history of the castle.

 

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A major new project is the restoration, or re-creation, of the Elizabethan Garden. It’s looking pretty good for February!

 

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For anyone not familiar with British castles, the reason they are almost always in ruins is simple. They didn’t just fall down by themselves over the centuries. Good heavens, no! They were far too robustly built to do that. Indeed, their robustness was the very reason why, after the English Civil War (or Wars) of 1642-1651, most of them were deliberately torn down, dismantled, or even blown up with gunpowder, in order to stop them being used as centres of opposition to whatever unpopular Monarch – or government – happened to be in power. The beautiful concept of a ‘unified England’ (first attributed to King Alfred the Great (reigned 871 – 899)), was actually incredibly fragile for many hundreds of years. Disputes & arguments between the Monarch and his supposedly subordinate lords were frequent. Nobles and barons, especially in the north of England, were often ready to oppose the Monarch, who was based in far-off London; and their castles were tedious, difficult, expensive, and not infrequently impossible to overcome. Thus, after 1651, they were essentially got rid of during the Commonwealth. This was the case with Kenilworth Castle: it’s all in bits and pieces.

 

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Another view of the same part of the castle.

 

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And a neighbouring part.

 

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 It was cold that day, and black-headed gulls and ducks stand in a resigned fashion on the ice of the pond in the grounds of nearby Kenilworth Abbey. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the castle to what remains of the Abbey, which are relatively little. When I was young, you never saw seagulls very far away from the sea. Whereas now they are common, even in central England, and we totally ignore their plaintive calls as they wheel around overhead. Probably as recently as 30 years ago, nobody would have believed there would ever be seagulls in Kenilworth?

 

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The gate-house is by far the tallest surviving piece of Kenilworth Abbey, which was founded as a Priory around 1122, and dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538. This view is from what would have been the outside…

 

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…while this is its appearance from the inside of the Priory, which was elevated to the status of an Abbey in (I think) 1458.

 

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17th February 2012. By way of complete contrast, here is a view of Birmingham Snow Hill station, looking south towards the tunnel under the city centre. It’s still quite cold, but we’re taking advantage of our free travel pass to go as far as we can, down towards Stratford-on-Avon. We can travel free as far as Earlswood.

 

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We have arrived at Earlswood, and are looking back towards Birmingham. The road passes over the bridge at the far end, which serves as the way for getting from the up-line to the down-line. Actually, I never could tell which was the ‘up’ and which the ‘down’. I think it has something to do with London – lines which go away from London are either down or up; and those which approach London are up or down? What happens to lines which e.g. cross the Pennines from west to east (& vice versa) don’t really go much towards London; but they must still have an up & down line?

 

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This is taken from that road bridge, looking south towards Stratford. Unfortunately, Earlswood station is quite isolated, and apart from a footpath across the bridge, there is no other footpath or sidewalk along the road. And although it is quite a minor road, it does have a surprising amount of local traffic on it. I have never been very keen on walking along roads in the face of oncoming vehicles, especially when there is no verge on which to take refuge. So instead of walking for a mile down the road and a mile back, as intended, we settled for half a mile each way. I have a GPS that was given to me by my son, and was quite pleased when it finally registered 0.5m, and could turn back.

 

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Earlswood having at it were ‘failed us’, we become bold and went in the opposite direction, back to Birmingham Moor Street, which you see above, looking south. Then on the line to Great Malvern, as far as Stourbridge Junction. Stourbridge is to the south-west of Birmingham, but the line, paradoxically, leaves Birmingham to the north, and winds through the Black Country to the west, and eventually the south-west.

 

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Here we are at Stourbridge looking back to Birmingham; while on the far left-hand platform, a nice little diesel railcar runs along the short branch line to Stourbridge Town station. We did not have time to explore that today – but do so later in the diary. But while walking down the ‘station drive’ of Stourbridge Junction, we found an interesting survival:

 

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The directors of the Midland Electricity Company – or at least their shades – would be horrified at the desecration perpetrated by graffiti artists and bill posters upon their once important (if admittedly utilitarian) structure. Probably a junction box, it reminds us of a time when there were many separate electricity generating & supply companies. MEC artifacts such as this are still quite commonly to be seen in & around the Black Country.

 

 

 

 

Page written 18th April 2012.