23. A short walk on the Lickey Hills.


30th December 2007. After a very enjoyable Christmas break, we felt the need to get out of the house and take some fresh air. Especially as tomorrow (Monday) we have to get up early to go a long way to the New Year’s Eve gig. So we decided to spend an hour or so on the Lickey Hills, a few miles to the south-west of Birmingham. These are actually in the county of Worcestershire, but have long been the haunt of ‘Brummies’ seeking a day away from the toils and troubles of the city. The weather was cool but OK. Actually, the Lickey Hills are part of a long chain of higher ground that, in this part of England, constitutes an important watershed, viz., that between the rivers Severn and Trent. I have a long-term project on this incredibly boring topic; namely, to make an incredibly boring video entitled: ‘The Watercourses of Birmingham’ which, of course, lie to the north-west of the Lickeys, and hence are nearly all part of the River Trent catchment area. There are plenty of these watercourses, even though they are all quite small. But then, if a city is located right near a serious watershed (like Birmingham is), there won’t have been time for any of the watercourses to get big yet. So we’re stuck with these small ones, like the River Rea, the River Cole, the Bourne Brook & so on. However, much more of this anon., on a future web-page. Because in order to make a meaningful (but incredibly boring) video, it is definitely necessary to have a modern digital video camera, and I haven’t got one yet. I do have an old analogue camcorder, but the problem of transferring the output from it & converting it to .mpgs & things causes great loss of quality, and the time it takes to do this is incredibly tedious & boring, and all such things are much to be deplored. Only the end product should be boring, right ? So today we just took the still camera.



Here is a general view, looking sort of north-west from one of the hills, towards the centre of Birmingham. You can’t see the tall buildings in the city centre, because it’s too hazy. And of course it was quite dull, so the exposures selected by the digital camera were all relatively long: one sixtieth of a second, on fortieth & so on, so a lot of them were out of focus & had to be discarded. The industrial buildings in the nearer part of the shot are those that yet remain of the ill-fated motor car plant, originally the Austin motor company, and which have had so many names over the years that I can’t remember them all. British Motor Corporation, British Leyland, Austin-Rover and so on. Still, not many months ago, the whole company finally ‘went under’, and the effect on this area has been truly appalling, causing so much unemployment. Many acres of buildings have already been demolished. We can only hope that the uses to which this land is to be put, and the re-employment it will offer, will be constructive and enduring.



Looking backwards from where I was, you see the path I had come along, and the conifer trees. These are quite out of place here botanically - I think - and are probably part of some Victorian ‘Improvement’ to these hills. Oh, and I think the circular pool at the left might have been an anti-aircraft gun emplacement (there are several of them, made of concrete, more or less in a row) dating from WW2. They would have been in a good position to fire at aircraft trying to bomb the Austin Motor works. Indeed, for years one of my ‘local history’ things was to point out to people, as we drove by, one of the Austin Motor Works buildings that still preserved traces of its WW2 camouflage paint; this, as late as five or six years ago. This was one of the buildings that has just been demolished.



We tried to get a ‘zoom’ shot of the centre of Birmingham from here. It’s about 8 miles away, and this one didn’t turn out too bad. The very faint tower on the skyline, somewhat left of centre, is the big ‘Post Office Tower’ right in the centre of the city. It is part of the nationwide microwave-link network for broadcasts and other telecommunication purposes. Approximately the same distance right of centre, but only just penetrating the skyline, is a reddish-brown tower. This is the clock-tower of Birmingham University.



Here is a view to the north. Somewhere very close to here, in a valley like this (though probably not this one), is the source of the River Rea. It rises here in the Lickeys and flows right through the middle of Birmingham, though still only very small. Even so, it would give rise to flooding in the flatter built-up areas such as Selly Park, after a cloudburst. Here is an old post-card photo. of flooding due to the River Rea.  



Presumably the date 1st June 1924 is when this actually happened? Anyhow, the Rea is now safely confined in a deep brick-lined channel through most of its passage across central Birmingham, and such sights as the above will not occur again!



The above shot looks like an interloper on this page. It looks a bit like a screen-shot from Google Earth - perhaps taken from a height of a couple of kilometres above a relatively high-altitude and rather barren landscape, deeply riven by valleys, and with but sparse tree-cover on sheltered parts of its rocky peaks? Well, no: I’ve tried to play a trick on you!  It’s just a rather out-of-focus close-up of the bark of a tree! I will not trouble you with the full shot…




Perhaps this is the path down into the elusive valley in which rises the River Rea? But it was very steep, so we did not go down it.



Instead, we drove a mile or so to the other side of the Lickey Hills, and to the tallest of them. Well, it must be, because it’s called Beacon Hill! This viewpoint was originally constructed circa 1907, and restored later. The visibility was quite poor today, but in fine weather you can see ten counties from this spot.



Couldn’t resist trying for another shot of Birmingham City Centre from here. There again you see the Post Office Tower, 25% left of centre, about 8 miles away. The (narrow & pointed) University Tower is also still visible, two-thirds right of centre. By the way, these ‘Two Towers’ of Birmingham are by no means to be confused with J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Two Towers’ that appear in his ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. We have covered those elsewhere in this website, and a picture of thoseTwo Towers’ - albeit not a very good one - can be seen by clicking here.  Now this morning the weather up on the Lickeys was OK but pretty cold, and time was getting on. We’d taken a couple of apples with us to stave off the pangs of hunger; but it was now nearly 2 p.m, & we realised we had been traipsing about for at least an hour and half in the cold admiring the rugged grandeur of Mother Nature. Also, a light but chilling rain had started. Then it dawned on us: that is, why we kept trying to take photos. of the Post Office Tower! The Tower was calling to us. It was, as it were, beckoning to us; summoning us, indeed commanding and compelling us to approach it! But why? What mysterious Doom awaited us, should we succumb to this increasingly irresistible force? Only a few seconds thought was necessary to deduce the reason. There was indeed a ‘Doom’ awaiting us near the Tower - but it was an agreeable one! We are here perhaps interpreting the word ‘Doom’ wrongly, as more of a everyday, minor destiny, rather than as a catastrophic end to all things. In any event, we freely bowed to the ‘Call of the Tower’. Getting into our car, we drove towards it. Fortunately, this is very easy to do, as one single road, the Bristol Road, or ‘A38’ if you prefer, closely connects the Lickeys to the centre of Birmingham.



Parking our car, we walked for a few minutes along the Birmingham and Fazeley canal to our destination. You see to Tower there? The same Tower seen but hazily in the previous shots? It wasn’t the Tower itself that was summoning us, but a nearby ’pub, in which a Jazz session takes place each Sunday afternoon. The Tower had simply relayed the summons! You see here also, locks 2 & 3 of the Farmers Bridge flight, which carry the canal down the slope from the centre of Birmingham.




This is the view from the other side of the bridge. The canal bends left past the little Cambrian Basin, to its junction with the Birmingham - Wolverhampton canal. A dog, tethered to the narrow boat at left. waits patiently. The large dome-like structure is the ‘NIA’, that is, the ‘National Indoor Arena’, is which many major events take place, as may be seen on its website. Actually, I have played inside it several times, at some such events which required the services of a small Jazz band. I think it was one of those, when The Princess Royal (Princess Anne), the Royal guest of honour, was leaving: but saw the band having a drink in the bar, through which the Royal Party was passing, and - to our initial consternation - came over to us, and engaged us in agreeable conversation for a minute or two. Acts as spontaneous and democratic as this must account for a great deal of the esteem in which the British Monarchy is held by many of us.



Looking back, at the left is Lock No.1 of the Farmers Bridge flight, and the bridge on which we stood to take the 2 previous shots. There are twelve locks altogether, if I recall correctly. The small Cambrian Basin at the right is well populated by boats. Oddly, many of the photos. I took today don’t have any people in them. They may, therefore, create the impression of a dead, sterile urban environment. This environment is actually quite vibrant & living… usually! However, a dull grey afternoon of 30th December is not the best time to take photos. of well-peopled urban activity. Which is exactly why I like to take photos. on days like this! And to be sure, the dog has turned round & is looking at me, perhaps a shade ruefully, while the grey towers are replicated, unthinkingly, by the water…



But we have attained our destination, to which we were - somehow, and not really mysteriously - summoned from 8 miles away! The Malt House is, rather obviously, a canalside ’pub on the old Birmingham - Wolverhampton ‘cut’. By the way, the grey building that says ‘ICC’ is the ‘International Conference Centre’, and we have played quite a few gigs in there. Also, the black & glass multi-storey building next to it is the Hyatt Hotel, and have done several gigs in there too. Indeed, the first gig I did in it was a few years ago, while they were still building it! It was the Architect’s Birthday - or perhaps it was the Chief Engineer’s Birthday? - and we had to go up to about the eighth floor and play a surprise ‘Happy Birthday to You’, among all the rubble & cables & wheelbarrows & stuff. God knows what the Health & Safety people would say about anything like that today. Mind you, worse still, was when we did a gig when we had to lead a rebuilt huge freight locomotive out of its shed, to its rapturous reception by various officials and guests of the Railway Company that was rebuilding them. We walked along in front of it, between the rails, playing ‘Lo, The Conquering Hero Comes’, and all the time there was this 120-ton giant railway locomotive slowly rumbling along behind us. I’m quite sure, that we were just wearing ‘parade hats’, that is, ordinary peaked uniform caps; while all the dignitaries safely on the platforms above us were wearing yellow ‘hard hats’! I may have got this wrong, but I don’t think so! Anyhow, as regards The Malt House, I don’t know how much of it is a genuine old building, but by now, I was quite cold and my feet were beginning to ache, not so much from the walking, but simply from standing up for so long. We entered. It was warm inside, and the minor disappointment that there was no proper beer to be had, only lager, was quickly got rid of by the excellent music being played by The Jazz Bandits. Look!



The Jazz Bandits have Peter Carlton on tenor; Tony Pipkin on trumpet; Ron Hills on trombone; Alan Jones on drums and Dennis Mowatt on bass. Alas, I cannot remember the name of the piano player… I must correct this lapse soon. Anyhow, a little Carling lager and an hour relaxing in an armchair soon soothed away any stiffness from my walk. And now, having returned home & written this trivial web-page, I wish you a very pleasant evening, and may you fare well in all your enterprises!




30th December 2007.