I, also, found myself getting caught up in this rollercoaster of a celebration of the motorway junction. Following on from my recent visit to the junction, IgersbirminghamUK organised a photographic meeting for the week of the celebrations. Just under 40 photographers arrived on a Sunday morning to be briefed on the planned photographic walk under the M6. The group photograph was a popular picture and was even featured by the national IgersUK Instagram page. All the photographs taken during the walk may be found under the Instagram hashtag #igbuk_meet_spagjunction. There are some very good pictures that show the relatively unseen world underneath the Spaghetti Junction.
The events of the meeting were recorded by the BBC and the report by reporter Laura Mcmullan featured interviews with me and other photographers. Following the publication of the BBC news item, I was invited by the University of Birmingham to write an article on what lies below the Spaghetti Junction from a photographic viewpoint.
Although I was busy with the organisation of the meeting, I did have time to take a few pictures myself as featured in this blog. I wonder what the place will be like in another 50 years. Meanwhile, I know that I will be passing over the Junction in the future as I hurtle in and out of Birmingham.
I always wonder how I miss local attractions when I have lived in the area for most of my life. Kingsbury water park and Drayton Manor Park are near to each other and the family has enjoyed many days out in both places. What I had overlooked over the years is Middleton lakes which is owned by the RSPB and is situated between the other two major venues. The RSPB reserve is next to the Bodymoor Heath Aston Villa training grounds and adjacent to Middleton Hall. The latter was closed when I visited but the RSPD car park was open and once there, I set off to explore the reserve.
My first port of call was the bird feeders and as I placed myself behind the hide, several birds visited included blue tits and a woodpecker. I had brought along my 400mm zoom lens and was able to get some good close ups. My walk up the river path took me to the Birmingham and Fazerley canal. The path took me past some nooks and crannies near to the river. Here I was able to stand in the woods and get some great pictures of the birds who came along.
I walked past the canal onto the flatlands and there were hundreds of seagulls flying around although there were a few other birds such as Canada geese present. I did spot my first butterfly of the season, an orange tip. The reserve is well set out and you can get good views of wildlife. I spotted swans, herons and partridges although I was not quick enough with my camera for some of them.
I did enjoy the visit but was left frustrated as I did not capture the flying birds as well as I had hoped. As I walked back reflecting on how to get better images, there were two ducks on the canal bridge walls. Getting my iPhone out I took a close-up picture of the birds before they moved on.
My duck stare picture did get a positive set of viewing on my social media channels. The picture of the lakes was featured on the lunchtime BBC weather report. These features made for a satisfying end of my visit to Middleton Lakes.
What lies below is a theme for this and my next blog. Spaghetti Junction is 50 years old in May 2022. Millions of car drivers pass over Spaghetti Junction as they hurtle past Birmingham. Many are on the M6 heading north or south to their destination with no thought about what is below. For others the Aston Expressway is the main northern route into Birmingham and is a spur off the Junction. The sprawl of roads spit out cars to Erdington and 6 ways along the Tyburn Road. People live in Gravelly Hill immediately adjacent to the junction. The area is a mixture of concrete, noise and fumes. The Junction celebrates 50 years in May and at the time was seen as a landmark construction. Over the years it has become synonymous with Birmingham.
As a photographer what lies below is much more interesting and is seldom seen from above. The first part of the junction to investigate is Salford circus which is the link roundabout for many of the local roads to the motorway. It is not clear what the planners had in mind but the inner pedestrian area of the junction is an unfriendly concrete jungle. It is covered in litter and graffiti tagging. It is not a place to visit alone and luckily my photographic colleague John Bray was with me. The concrete pillars are giants holding up the roads above. The area is under attack and the hero is nature as it attempts to reclaim the area.
Kicking our way through the rubbish we make ouir way through the underpasses and cross the busy junction to reach the canal access steps. Running under the Motorway the canals also make a junction. There is where three canals come together namely the Birmingham and Fazeley, the Tame Valley and the Birmingham and Warwick Junction canals. Flowing alongside the canals is the River Tame. The area has numerous bridges criss crossing the canal and the light peeks through vents above. There are grafitti strewn around the place. Cyclists and walkers move around in a surreal dance. Walking eastwards the Motorway passes Star City and the area is reminiscent of many TV programmes. This is probably because a great deal of car chase filming takes place around here.
Moving westwards there is a bridge tunnel where there is graffiti which in the past was renowned for its beauty and craftsmanship in previous years. When we visited, there was just a white washed wall with a prison window. I am unsure of the meaning of this painting. The site is used as there is a shaft of light that comes down from above the junction onto the canalside.
The canal path leads under all the roads that form the Junction and there is repair work on several of the bridges. A path along the Aston Expressway eventually comes out onto Aston reservoir. This is a hidden feature in the shadows of the Motorway. It is relatively peaceful and a contrast to the distant noise of the traffic. Moving along the perimeter and keeping the river Tame in view, there are trees and shrubs which are reclaiming the land underneath the tarmac. This becomes the end of our journey underneath Spaghetti junction, and we head home back on the M6.
There are likely to be birthday celebrations on its big 50 birthday but meanwhile here is a BBC link celebrating 40 years.
I just love taking pictures of street art around the West Midlands. As a companion piece to my photographic walk around Royal Leamington Spa, this is a detailed look at the street art around the Grand Union Canal area. There are several wall murals that are worth highlighting and many are curated by the Brink Street Art group. Each is interesting and whilst I know some of the artists, the vast majority I am unsure about. I have put down the Instagram link to Brink Street Art Group if you wish to find out more about these images. I will update the blog to give the recognition to the artist and their mural so please contact me. If you are visiting Leamington Spa, then they are worth a visit to see.
Royal Leamington Spa is long associated with the family. We used to visit in the late 1980s and think it was so exciting with the Parade and the Parade and the Royal Priors shopping centre. Returning over the years, the town still looks impressive with the Georgean and Victorian buildings looking clean and impressive in their whitewashed coatings. The opportunity to do a photographic walk around Leamington Spa was organised by my fellow photographer buddy, John Bray. I arrived in the town inbetween two storms, Dudley and Eustace. The sun came back during the lull which whilst welcome, created strong shadows during our morning walk.
Our first stop was the home of bowls, Royal Leamington Spa Bowling Club. The groundsmen were preparing the greens for spring and the greens looked beautiful. Our walk followed the river Leam and we passed through the Royal Pump Room gardens with the impressive Bandstand.
Moving over the river again we headed past All Saints Church where there were some opportunities to take reflective photographs. We went onto Mill Road and then Mill passage lingering on the impressive iron pedestrian bridge over the river. It was here that we encountered our first street art with a mural of elephants painted on an electricity substation hut near to the entrance to the bridge. This work was painted by the Brink Contemporary Arts group and makes a feature of three elephants who used to live in Leamington.
The river Leam was full following the recent rains and there was a strong current under the bridge. There was also a fine mist of the spray from the waterfall crashing over the weir. Having photographed the bridge and the river our next destination was the Grand Union canal.
Our walk took us through the streets of the town and we commented several times at the hidden gems of architecture. Just before the canal there is a mixture of light industry and new buildings that leads onto an old factory where the Brink art group has facilitated more street art. The pedestrian canal bridge has curved steps and provides views of the street art.
A selection of the murals is featured in my next blog. My favourite was a mural painted by @n_4_t_4 on the side of the canal. There were several others that are featured and part of the Brink Art group.
Making our way back to Jephson park, we stumbled upon a small oasis of crocuses in bloom showing that spring was well on its way. Following on from Jephson park, we took in coffee in the city centre before heading off to Clarendon Square where many films are filmed including Upstairs, downstairs. The latest TV series to be filmed there is “Stonehouse” based on the MP who faked his own death.
Royal Leamington Spa is well worth photographic attention as there is much to see from the beautiful architecture to the contemporary street art. All the pictures were taken mainly with my Fujifilm x100v compact camera unless otherwise stated.
On one side of the M1 is Warwickshire, on the other is Northamptonshire. Most of the time, I am in Warwickshire visiting my daughter and so Rugby is my final destination. Google maps is a wonderful tool for browsing and looking for new places to visit. Often, I use canals as my compass and it was following the Grand Union canal along Google maps that I was intrigued not only by Cracks Hill but also the surrounding area. I discovered the Friends of Cricks Wood web site and learnt about the good work being done by the community there. Close by is Cracks Hill which was formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age. Running through this area of natural beauty is the Grand Union Canal. This looked like a good place to photograph especially if the conditions were just right. The one ingredient that is needed is good light and on an evening in December, it looked as if there would be a good sunset. I packed my camera gear and set off to the woods. On arrival, I spent some time in the Jubilee woodland as the sun was setting. The colour on the leaves in the light at the end of day was something to behold.
The next place to visit was the summit of Cracks Hill. It was not disappointing and I was pleased that I had brought along my Canon D5 Mk4 with tripod. The windmills were fascinating to watch at such a distance and at a height. I was also taken by a lone tree on the side of the hill. Needless to say the tree featured in a few photographs. So it was a successful day and I made my way back to the car.
As I reached the bridge over the Grand Union, I met a dog walker and I let him pass. He moved onto the bridge and started walking into the embers of the sunset. I fumbled but I got my Fujifilm x100v just in time to capture a picture of the walker on the bridge. The resulting picture was dark but I used my editing suite to bring out the colours of the sunset. So part capturing the scene and then relying on a preset edit to produce the scene that I observed over that bridge and far away.
The final part to this series of photographs is the selection of the walker over the bridge by England’s Big Picture. It was my second feature of the year on the BBC site. I was very pleased with the outcome.
When the call goes out on Instagram for night time photography organised by the WestMidlandsPhotoCollective then you know it will be a good event. Unfortunately, it was limited numbers, and I was unsuccessful. I put my name down on the waiting list and promptly forgot all about it. A day before the event, a call came through saying someone had dropped out and was I still interested? No difficulties in saying yes.
We met at the Roundhouse Birmingham which is where the horses that pulled the canal boats were kept in the early days of the industrial revolution. After a period of falling into despair, the Roundhouse is now restored to its former glory. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage fund, a partnership formed between the Canal and River Trust and National Trust has led to a community-based centre offering new purpose for the building. Check out their web site to see what is on offer.
Jim and Sarah from the WMPC met us and outlined the walk. We followed a community route called “Brum through a Lens”. We were armed with our tripods and set out along the canals to Gas Street Basin to start taking our first set of photographs. It is one of the highlighted stops on the Brum through a Lens walk. This classic view is immediately under the Cambrian Wharf wall, looking out over the basin towards the Cube. I started having tripod malfunctions and struggled to get pictures. By the time I had freed up the tripod, it was time to move on to the Cube. On the way we passed under Holliday Street Aqueduct. This looked an ideal spot for light trials and I lingered around the place taking what turned out to be my best picture of the night. Several cars came through at once and I had the camera on the long exposure settings (25s, f22, ISO 100).
Catching up with the group, I took a picture of the Mailbox. Trying something different I went low and illuminated the train tracks with my torch. The long exposure gave the water a milky texture and the background was the bright lights of the Mailbox.
The final stop was Centennial Square with the Big Wheel and the Star Flyer. I looked around for a vantage point. Many of the photographers were setting up underneath the Star Flyer and I saw their pictures after the event. It was a unique viewpoint. I decided to stand back and get a good vantage point with both attractions in the viewfinder. After a while I got an idea of how the Star Flyer was moving up and down. I had a few efforts with the long exposure and then there was one session where I captured the movement from top to bottom. The flyer had illuminated struts with people suspended in chairs out into the heights. It looked quite scary and the movement made a good subject for the long exposure. There were also plenty of screams as well to accompany the long exposure.
The group moved back to the Roundhouse to take part in some light painting. Both fairy lights and long neon tubes were used for the light sources. It was a different light display and made for some dramatic effects as shown. The circular structure of the roundhouse allowed it to be very dark with little stray light. An ideal location for light painting.
All the walking combined with the photography made for thirsty work. The remaining photographers made their way to the Distillery pub for some well-earned refreshments. There was talk about those pictures that were successful and those that got away.
Thank you to West Midlands Photo Collective for organising the meeting which was very enjoyable giving many of us an opportunity to wander around the City. Being in a group reduced concerns about our safety with all of our equipment and we were able to concentrate on the photography.
All these long exposure pictures were taken with a Canon D5 on a tripod. I used a fast zoom lens 24-105mm. The camera settings were on manual with an ISO 100. The aperture was set at either f/11 to f/22. The timings were around 30 seconds for the light trails and the Star Flyer. At the Roundhouse, I adjusted the timings to be around a few seconds due to the intensity of the light.
The University of Birmingham has a major economic impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands region. The University educates students, is a major employer, a research leader in all sectors and a gateway bringing in global connections that benefit the city. Even though the University has a beautiful campus at Edgbaston, a physical footprint in the city centre has long been on the University’s wish list. The old Municipal Savings Bank began to look an interesting project. Especially with the location of the bank on the new look Centennial square.
The former Municipal Bank is a Grade II listed building and has historical links with the University. Joseph Chamberlain was founder and first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Neville Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain was behind the building of the Municipal Bank on Broad Street. It was first opened by Prince George in 1933 and has a long history of underpinning the wealth of an ambitious city. However, the bank closed at the turn of the century and the last 20 years has seen the building empty with no tenants. It was famously portrayed as the AC-12 base in the BBC series ‘Line of Duty’. The iconic safe deposit boxes in the vault were used in a Chanel advert amongst the various roles that the bank filled in these barren years. In 2018, the University negotiated a long lease of the building with Birmingham City Council and the renovations began.
I was fortunate in my University of Birmingham role to see these renovations firsthand in October 2019 before the pandemic. During my visit, I took a series of pictures on my iPhone. I had no idea which room I was photographing, although I remember the vaults where the safe deposit boxes reside. They are so interesting to see. Rows and rows of metal doors with numbers on them. One can only begin to imagine what was contained within them. The building was being gutted and there was so much to do from floor to ceiling in each room.
Fast forward to October 2021. Hasan Patel who is part of Communications Team at the University of Birmingham invited me to coffee at the Exchange after his Marathon Run. (Follow Hasan on Twitter to learn how to sponsor him on his running diary). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours putting the world to right. Hasan introduced me to the University team at the Exchange and we visited several rooms in the building.
Not long after my visit with Hasan, IgersBirminghamUK announced an Instameet at the Exchange. Immediately I signed up and went along. This Instameet is a friendly collection of photographers. We were given access to all areas including the Board room and the former bank managers office which I did not get to see on my first visit. The other interesting feature is the balcony where the bank manager opened the doors and looked out onto the banking floor to check that the bank was running smoothly. During the Instameet, this was a favourite spot for all the photographers.
Whilst we were in the vault, we were also given access to a utility room where many of the safety deposit boxes were stored. Now many of the boxes are placed strategically around the building and are a feature of those rooms which are used as teaching spaces and meeting areas. This basement room had many of the old boxes and proved to be a fantastic place to take photographs. There were still some stickers remaining and on one of the boxes the notice stated that this box could only be opened in the presence of a solicitor. Once again one could only imagine what was kept in these boxes over the years.
We finished the tour and adjourned to the Distillery Pub next to the Roundhouse. This is another interesting place to visit and includes a wall mural of a canal horse painted by one my favourite street artists, Annatomix. The Roundhouse was used to care for the canal horses that pulled the boats and has been renovated as a historical place of interest. There is even one of the horse stables on view.
This was a day taking pictures of historical buildings that have been brought up to date in a city that is rediscovering its roots and moving forward. Thank you to the team at IgersBirminghamUK for organising the tour and The University of Birmingham for opening the Exchange for this Instameet.
I have also included a blending of the old and new photographs in two of the rooms to show how the building has been modernised between my two visits.
Pictures taken with iPhone 11 and 13, camera Fujifilm x100v
Coventry is the City of Culture for 2021. This prestigious title runs from May 2021 to May 2022 and it follows on from Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and Hull in 2017. Taking my first train for over a year, I set off from Leamington to Coventry. So let’s be brutal, Coventry is not a place you would first associate with culture but do a little digging and you will be pleasantly surprised. The home of the Specials and Ska music offers up several delights. Autumn 2020 was my last visit to the City. Then my pictures were taken around the two Cathedrals and a brief stroll around town. This visit began at the train station and we moved through the city to the Canal Basin. The train station is sixties architecture which has seen better days. Leaving the station area we moved into the Plaza towards the much loved Trigger statue. Trigger, a metal horse, was put together by Coventry University student Simon Evans in the 1980s using scrap materials. Lots of photo opportunities around Trigger whether it is close up details or the interaction of people around it.
Moving on through towards the shopping centre, next stop the rainbow street or better known as Hertford Street. Here the Coventry City of Culture offices are situated. I asked the volunteers if they did not mind having their photograph taken to which they were a bit taken aback. I love their jackets! The street is colourful and a haven for Streetphotography as you will see from my photographs. I had my polariser filter on the wide angled Canon 5D which brought out the colours as people wandered past. We could have spent hours there but we moved on into the central shopping area.
We took a look at Pepper Lane that had been spruced up with colourful paint. The street art mural by @mattchuuk dominates the far end. The mural is a past, present and future dreamlike composition representing the spirit of Coventry.
Moving on to, through and past the Cathedral Square. We hit upon the tired and brutal architecture of the Britannia Hotel and moved swiftly onto the Whittle arches around Hale Street. Their imposing shapes fits in well with the surrounding area. Everything is blue including the buses and the spiral overpass into Lady Herbert’s Gardens and Volgograd place. So good to take pictures and another place where you could spend a great deal of time people watching and taking pictures.
Moving on our next destination was the Coventry Canal basin. I warned my photo buddy not to expect much as at my last visit, there was not much to see. I was glad to be proved wrong as there was activity around the basin and a few long boats were moored up. By chance I noticed people sitting outside a café near the canal bridge. Playwright’s café turned out to be a hidden gem. Scones were lovely and the coffee just right. Great service from the owner as well. So my opinion of the area is changed now!
Time to make our way back through the City to the train station. So lots to like about Coventry in its new clothes as City of Culture. There is still the awful Brutalist buildings, the bad architecture but there is also a sense of optimism around the place. The Specials sang in 1981 “This town is coming like a ghost town”, to which I would have agreed a few years ago. Now “the good old days before the ghost town” are slowly returning. I really hope so!
Look up any reference on Hillmorton Locks and they are quoted as being the busiest along all of the UK canal waterways. Found on the outskirts of Rugby, they are a hidden gem as accessing them is not straightforward. From the south, the locks are approached via a narrow entrance tunnel under the West Coast Railway line. Once through this, then there is parking available at the local parish church St John the Baptist. There are three sets of locks and the lower lock has a workshop and a few bridges. Nestling on the banks of the canal was a small inviting coffee shop which is getting ready to open.
The locks themselves are unusual in that there are two side by side. This was to ease congestion due to its position on the canal network as being the main highway south to London. The second of the locks is after a gentle curve in the canal and this is different as the lock beams have letters carved into them.
Locklines consists of a poem of which four lines are on the lock gates at Hillmorton. At first I wondered why they had been placed in the gates but then it made sense reading the article on them. They are interesting lines
WORKING WATER CAPTIVE FOR A WHILE CLIMBS CAREFULLY DOWN THIS DOOR MAKES DEPTH
There were three poets involved and one designer and the weblink provides more details on how it all pieces together.
It is then a straight walk up to the third and final lock. This provides nice views back down the locks and the criss cross pattern of the gates makes for some nice pictures of the canal. The canal then moves onto run past a new housing estate that is built on the old radio masts that used to be a feature of Hillmorton. I remember both as a boy and young man taking the train down to London and passing the Rugby antenna masts that were tall structures in the Landscape. Little did I realise that many years into the future that I would be passing them again but under different circumstances. Walking back down the locks provided different views including glimpses of the Church of St John the Baptist which were especially pleasing to photograph with the locks in the foreground.
I am glad that I lingered around the middle lock as my attention was caught by a signpost that had the directions Vaccine and New Normal. There was even a strange red ball structure on the top that I realised was meant to represent a corona virus. Further investigations revealed that there was a third sign with Way Out. Clambered over the gate I looked around to see where it led. Nothing to see until I turned around. The back of the sign was inscribed with different lines about the Covid19 pandemic and these included
No Hugs Mask uo No PPE 2 metres Clap NHS Rule of 3 Bubbles Home workers Pubs shut …..plus many others.
The whole list maybe seen in the photograph and I have highlighted the post for clearer viewing. It is great fun and it is still continuing I expect.
Finally I had a quick look at the Church which was quietly sandwiched between the railway line and the canal. Spring is starting and the blossom was just opening. I will revisit when the leaves are fully on the trees and the lovely café is open for a cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy the pictures!