49. Titford Pools & Canal Branch.
See also Diary 58 for Edgbaston Reservoir, to which the Pools are connected.
21st August 2012. A dull day, but quite warm – a maximum of 20°C. Having bankrupted ourselves by acquiring a new camera, we decided to test it on a short canal walk shown above. This is very much the Black Country – Junction 2 of the M5 is adjacent to our ‘Start’ point. The Titford Pool (or pools) is (or are) a canal reservoir, on the highest level of the Birmingham Canal Navigations, at 511 feet above sea level. As always, I jot down only the simplest of notes (which may be wrong!) so please, genuine canal buffs bear with me; and others who may be interested may easily find further info. on-line.
This is a corner of what we might call the ‘upper’ pool. Were it not for the pylon (carrying its 220,000 Volt cables!), we really could be in the middle of the idyllic countryside, rather than a huge and largely industrial conurbation.
The last thing we expected to see was a butterfly (the sun did not break out at all), but a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) fluttered by for some reason known only to itself, and settled in the grass. All unexpectedly, now was the time to test the zoom function of the camera! Making a mental note of where it had landed, we fumbled with the zoom control, and then peered through the viewfinder. Half pressing the shutter button, the grass obediently came into focus – but where was the butterfly? Eventually we found it, but it was bobbing crazily about in the viewfinder owing the high zoom. But as we were using the ‘highly automatic’ mode of the camera, it knew that this would happen, & so had engaged the image steadying function, and this shot worked quite OK. It bodes well for future butterfly shots – though of course the very poor weather this June & July have knocked butterflies (& many other organisms) for six. But, a promising start…
The incalculable mass of the M5 motorway and its supporting girders bear down remorselessly on the seemingly fragile canal link between the two pools. The shot is misleading, however; there is plenty of room to walk underneath, as the abundant graffiti on the opposite side prove.
Just round the corner we find Jarvis Bridge, under the busy A4123, the notoriously slow & congested Birmingham – Wolverhampton ‘New Road’, built around 1926 (I think). How many times we have travelled along it in our lifetime, heaven knows. The last time I counted, about 15 years ago, there were 17 sets of traffic lights in about 8 miles. There must be many more now! What a pleasant change to just walk under it…
Again, a scene that could be anywhere in the countryside; but as we have remarked before, when these canals were in in their heyday, they were lined with forges, foundries, chemical works, brick factories & all the bleak and smoky panoply of industry. If workers in the 19th Century (this canal was dug ~ 1837) could see this image, they would not believe it was the same place.
‘Uncle Ben’s Bridge’. Just as most fields on farms had a name, so did canal bridges. But who Uncle Ben was, is not known to us.
This bank of the canal is evidently ‘in course of rearrangement…’.
Typical industrial area canalside growth: dead nettle, bramble, bindweed and rosebay willowherb, with its purplish-mauve flowers. The last-named (Epilobium angustifolium) was apparently fairly scarce in England at one time; it used to be found mainly in woodland glades &c. However, it found a foothold in urban areas decades ago – it is said that it proliferated on the sites of bombed houses during World War II, and has, as it were, never looked back. Its leaves are one of the principal food-plants of the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk Moth, (Deilephila elpenor), which is a very lovely moth (as indeed many moths are). See e.g. http://ukmoths.org.uk/show.php?bf=1991
By way of contrast, here is another of the often rather unexpected sights one may see along our canals. A very imposing building indeed. But now totally abandoned& derelict. It must have been an important factory of some kind – perhaps a brewery? Added 9th September 2013: My guess was pretty well right – it was the Langley Maltings, built around 1880. It worked until 2006. Alas, in 2009, a fire destroyed a good deal of the vacated building. It is hoped to renovate some or all of it, and that it will serve a useful purpose once more.
Here is another obsolete thing: the Oldbury railway bridge. If I’ve got it right, this was a short branch line on the Great Western Railway which ran to Oldbury from Langley Green. It was closed to passengers inn 1915, but carried on with goods traffic until the 1960s, when the construction of the M5 motorway cut across its path.
Here is a crucial junction. The main canal now begins its descent to the main Birmingham – Wolverhampton levels, via a flight of 5 locks. But to the right, goes the branch called the Titford Feeder, which connects to the Rotton Park Reservoir (= Edgbaston Reservoir) in Birmingham, 3 or 4 miles away, which is evidently on the same level. It is no longer navigable; I have followed it on Google Earth for some distance, but then it ‘disappears’. Presumably it has been covered over, but still works as a link between the Titford level & Edgbaston? Must do some more research! As remarked above, see Diary 58 for more on this feeder and its emergence into the Edgbaston Reservoir. The building was a pumping station to recycle water – I suppose it took water back from the low level to the Titford level to avoid unnecessary drain on this high level? Once destroyed by fire, it was restored years ago, and the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society has part of the building as their HQ. The bridge seen to the left is…
…the appropriately named ‘Engine Street Bridge’, which must refer to the pumping station, which would have been driven of course, by a coal-fired steam engine. Just beyond is Lock 2.
Here is a zoom shot from lock 3 down to the junction of the Titford canal with the Main Line, which is under the Motorway, seen carrying its seemingly endless heavy traffic. The junction is a bleak place, and my feet were getting tired, so I did not go down there. We just sat on the arm of lock 2 and ate a few biscuits & drank our lemonade while being grateful for the attainment of all those who have kept for us these wonderful canals – most of which were once severely threated by neglect & infill. They are not only a valuable habitat for plants, birds & animals, but also for recreation of us humans. Thank you all very much!
Just leaving the upper pool, we noticed this vetch growing in the hedge. It is but the Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) as far as I can tell, but is no less a lovely thing to see. Encouraged by our trial of the new camera, we will try to learn what all the seventeen buttons on it do, besides all the menus & sub-menus and other controls & options. Surely, the results can only get better? 8^)
Page written 21st August 2012.
Slightly revised 9th September 2013.