Day 3: Birmingham to Phepson Farm, 26.7 miles

The pier or walkway you can see to the right of the picture is the Worcester Bar, which used to be a physical barrier in Gas Street Basin that separated the Worcester & Birmingham Canal from the older Birmingham Canal. The Birmingham Canal Company didn’t want its water going to the “downstream” Worcs & B’ham (even in rain-soaked England, water is a precious commodity). Goods would be taken off a boat on one side of the bar and transferred to a boat on the other side. It wasn’t until 1815 when a stop lock was installed on the bar that allowed boats to pass from one canal to another. Gas Street Basin is so named because it was the first area in Birmingham to be lit by gas lamps. From pictures I’ve seen, the basin is still pretty by night but since I always went to bed early I never saw it.

On Saturday my goal was to go south from Birmingham, following the canal to Hanbury Wharf, just east of Droitwich Spa, and from there to Phepson Farm Bed and Breakfast and Cottages. I would be retracing my ride of the previous day until I got to Kings Norton and the Wast Hill Tunnel, about which I was a little nervous.

The tunnel, which is about a mile and a half long (2,726 yards/2,493 meters), is a fun but spooky adventure on a narrowboat, but because there’s no towpath1 through the tunnel I would have to go aboveground. However I’d read a post on a cycling discussion board about being harassed while riding through the housing estates surrounding the tunnel, so I was apprehensive.

Map: Birmingham to Kings Norton

Unfortunately I again had little sleep. The temperature in my room at the hostel must have been in the 90s when I’d returned from my dinner with Andy. I told Philippa the night desk clerk and she battled with heat registers, control panels and even moved part of a wall in the lobby to turn some knob. That finally stopped the heat, but it took some time for the room to cool. Sometime during the night, however, the heat returned, making for a miserable night.

Consequently I was miserable in the morning and the weather—cool and misty with dull, gray skies—didn’t help. Once I started riding, however, my mood and the weather improved. Although threatening in the morning, it never really rained that day. By 10 am I made Kings Norton, where the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal meets the Worcester & Birmingham.

The surrounding trees provide a tranquil setting for the former toll house and the arched bridge over the Worcs & B’ham. I could easily ignore the faded graffiti on the somewhat battered bridge, evidence of a few wayward narrowboats. Eventually hunger intruded on my appreciation of beauty (yes, this is a theme). My breakfast at the hostel was already forgotten, so I asked a passing cyclist if she knew of somewhere to eat.

The former toll house at Kings Norton Junction has a reproduction of a sign that list tolls for specific cargoes. You can just see the sign in the picture above on the wall fronting the canal.

She gave me directions to two nearby cafés (pronouncing them caffs), but while in search of them, I encountered the Navigation Inn.  (Navigation Inn is a very popular name for a canal-side pub.) I’d noted it while planning my trip and as it was open, I thought I would eat lunch there. Unfortunately I was too early for food service and declined the suggestion of a pint. The bartender, however, said I could use the toilet, for which I was very grateful.

Leaving the pub, I realized I was at a roundabout that met the Redditch Road/A441, which was one of the two routes around the Wast Hill Tunnel I’d planned. I decided to push on rather than stop to eat, thinking I could have a later lunch at the Weighbridge in Alvechurch.

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