A short walk on the Lickey Hills.
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
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
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 those ‘Two 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.