|Reflections of a wet city in|
the shiny valance around
New Street Station. That's us
|The Comfort Inn: the hotel in theatre land!|
From the train there's an interesting view across the West Midland Safari Park not long after leaving Kidderminster. Always there is a family in the park waving at the train, then the train pauses at Bewdley, once the terminus of the restored line before the new station at Kidderminster could be built. A stroll along the train to the buffet car and there were pints of beer for us all as we continued the journey northwards: the kind steward helped me carry them back to our compartment two carriages away.
This is one of the longer and better-established preserved railway lines in Britain and has a variety of stations each with its own character, and the line's own website is worth visiting for information about them. At a couple of the stations we crossed with trains going the other way, all trains steam-hauled today and one of them consisted of Gresley-designed teak panelled coaches. A little effort with the timetable supplied with our tickets enabled to work out which service we should need to catch on the way back in order to travel on this set, complete with Gresley buffet car, the whole set with art deco features!
Soon we were traversing the hillside high above the river at Bridgnorth and gathered our belongings to leave the train. Although I had visited this railway three or four times before I had never explored Bridgnorth: the plan was to have lunch here but we did not need to leave the station to do that unless we wanted to! There were many options, basically either a short time here and stop at several stations on the way back, or a longer time and stop once or not at all on the way back. After discussion, and looking at the reasonable weather (and it never got more than reasonable all week!), we decided to take a stroll into the town centre and visit the cliff railway on the way. The walk took us just below the top of the ridge, looking down on "Low Town" Bridgnorth and the River Severn, with "High Town" to our left and thence came across the upper terminal of the Cliff Railway. By now it was lunchtime and we were disappointed that the lovely-looking tea shop at the railway terminal was full and we'd have to look elsewhere for lunch, but we soon found the retro Tea and Roses in the charming town centre, which was worth seeing in any case.
visited most of the line before, so I was happy to do whatever the rest of the party wanted.
There was a short wait for our train back to Birmingham and we decided to leave the train at Snow Hill and walk across the city centre to our hotel, just to see something of how it had changed since most of us had lived here back in the seventies and eighties. My friends had not visited much since although I had been occasionally over the years and even visited from time to time when changing trains at New Street. The presence of trams and absence of buses in Corporation Street comes as a great surprise to anyone who has been away from Birmingham for a few years, and in my view there has also been a decline in the standard of the shops in both Corporation Street and New Street, with the "high end" shops concentrated at the Mailbox and in the shopping complex of Grand Central and Bull Ring. It is not bad, but it is not a smart as it was.
|The Grand Central terminus of the Midland Metro tram|
service. Soon trams will go through here to Broad Street and
beyond, using battery power in places to avoid the need for
masts in sensitive areas
I went back to the hotel to meet the others and off we went. The tour took us through some of the Birmingham Canal Navigation waterways with a commentary on the history of the canals and their significance in the city and region. The boat was comfortable and we took full advantage of the licensed bar. Not much had changed since my last trip on the canal, but a very great deal had changed since my first trip in 1972! It was hard to imagine back then what would become of this part of the city forty year later. But things come and go: in 1972 the smartest part of the canalside seemed to me to be the Longboat public house, crowded with young, upwardly mobile people in the lunch hour as I passed by on a tour of Birmingham in freshers' week - Aston Town Planning Department's intro to Birmingham for new students of town planning, as I was then. After our trip on the canals we visited the very same pub, now called The Flapper (though not as period as the thirties railway coaches we'd used the previous day!) and we were the only customers in a down-at-heel bar, a shadow of what I remembered. The rain didn't help, of course.
Before we went to The Flapper we visited the Library of Birmingham and made our way to the rooftop garden for views over the city, and especially the canals that we had seen and were about to see. After we left, we followed the canalside just a little farther and then made our way back across the city centre for our hotel.
On our final morning we went for a walk through the city and explored places we had known before and then in due course caught our respective trains home, the hotel having kindly looked after our luggage in the meantime. Over the three days a certain amount of shopping was also done, so there was more to take back than we had brought, although not a great deal more!
I ought to explain for those who've never been that it does not always rain in Birmingham, or indeed in England, but for several weeks this spring (but for one brief burst of cold and snow and another of blazing hot sunshine) we have had daily rain showers right across most of western Europe. It must end soon, surely.