Around the world through 191 airports . . . and counting

I took my first flight, in the summer of 1966 when I was seventeen. Fifty-three years ago.

It was a short hop, just 137 nm and less than one hour, on a four-engine Vickers Viscount turboprop from Glasgow Airport (GLA, then known as Abbotsinch) to the low-lying island of Benbecula (BEB) in the Outer Hebrides, between North and South Uist. I was to spend a week there bird-watching at the RSPB’s newly-established Balranald reserve.

In the intervening years, Glasgow Airport has become an important international hub for the west of Scotland. In 1966, Benbecula had just one small building, almost a hut, serving as the terminal. When I passed by a few years ago during a vacation in Scotland, it didn’t look as though it had grown much.

Since that first flight I have taken hundreds more and, as far as I can recall, taken off from or landed at a further 189 airports worldwide. Navigate around the map below, or use this link to open a full screen version to see which ones.

Each airport is identified using its three letter IATA code. Just click on any symbol to see the full name, and a Wikipedia link for more details on each airport.

The airports I have departed from or traveled to are shown as dark red symbols. Also included in this group are the airports (actually quite a small number) where I changed flights, to the same airline or another one, but did not leave the airport itself. Airports that were operational during the years I was flying regularly, but have now been superseded by new ones such as in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hyderabad (India), and Durban (South Africa), to name just four cities are listed in this category. In most cases, the old airports still operate commercially in one form or another, but not generally for international flights.

If passengers could not disembark during a lay-over or only spent a brief time in the airport terminal before continuing on the same flight, then I’ve used a blue symbol.

Three airports (shown in yellow) have since closed. In Hong Kong, the infamous Kai Tak airport in Kowloon was closed in July 1998 when operations moved to Chek Lap Kok, west of the city. The site is being redeveloped.

When I visited the Caribbean island of Montserrat in November 1979, we landed on a small strip on the east coast. It now lies under several meters of volcanic ash following the disastrous eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano between 1995 and 1999.

A third, at the Mayan city of Tikal in the rainforest of northeast Guatemala, is no longer operational. I can see from a satellite image on Google Maps that buildings now line either side of what appears to have been the runway. Steph and I flew there in August 1977 on an Aviateca DC-3. Nowadays, I assume that visitors to Tikal must either travel by road (there were none in 1977) or fly into the international airport (FRS) at Flores, a city north of Tikal.

An Aviateca DC-3 at Tikal in 1971.

Finally, three airports (all in central Peru) are shown in green. These were airfields or landing strips not served by commercial flights where I traveled by light aircraft.

Steph and I flew from San Ramon (SPRM) on the east side of the Andes to Puerto Bermudez on this Cessna. We didn’t have seats, and on the return flight sat on empty beer crates, sharing the cabin with three dead pigs!


The second flight I took, in early 1969, was back to GLA from London Heathrow (LHR) to attend a student folk dance festival at Strathclyde University in that city.

My third flight (and first outside the UK), in April 1972, was to Izmir, Turkey to attend an international conference on plant genetic resources. With my friend and former colleague, Brian Ford-Lloyd, we flew from Birmingham (BHX) via LHR to Izmir (IGL – now replaced by a new airport south of the city) through Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport (ISL) formerly known as Yeşilköy Airport. On the return journey, Brian and I almost missed our flight from Istanbul to London. With all the ambient noise in the terminal and inadequate tannoy, we hadn’t heard the flight departure announcement and were blithely sitting there without a care in the world. Eventually someone from Turkish Airlines came looking for us, and escorted us across the apron to board the 707 through a rear door. Embarrassed? Just a little.


The first long-distance flight I took (5677 nm, and only my fourth flight) was in January 1973, to Lima to join the International Potato Center (CIP) as an Associate Taxonomist. On a Boeing 707 operated by BOAC (the predecessor of British Airways), this was a long flight, with intermediate stops in Antigua (ANU) in the Caribbean, Caracas (CCS) in Venezuela, Bogota (BOG) in Colombia, before the final sector to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM).

Steph joined me in Peru in July 1973, and flew the same route (but starting at LHR), only her second flight (the first being school trip to France in the 1960s).


In compiling this list of airports, I’m also reminded of the many flights that passed through them, and my impressions of each terminal and facilities. After all, transit through an airport is an important part of the overall trip experience. In some instances you can spend almost as much time in the airport as in the air, having to cope with the hassle (challenges in some cases) of checking in, passing through security, the boarding process (which can go smoothly or not depending on how ‘friendly’ the ground staff are) on departure, and immigration, baggage pickup (always stressful), and finally, customs control on arrival. So many steps. So many opportunities for something to go awry. I think we tend to almost discount trips when everything goes to plan. It’s what we hope for, expect even.

However, let’s have a look at the particular challenges of some airports, based just on where they are located, and their difficulty for pilots. Now I’ve never landed in Paro (PBH) in Bhutan (regarded as one of the most ‘dangerous’ airports in the world, flown visually throughout (check out this video to see what I mean), or the gateway to Mt Everest, Lukla (LUA) in Nepal.

But landing at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak¹ was always interesting (even when there were no weather issues), and that I’ve seen referred to as the ‘heart attack’ approach, banking steeply to the right on final, and seemingly skimming the roof tops.

 

While in Lima (1973-1976) I made a few internal flights but nothing international.

I flew into Cuzco (CUZ) a couple of times. It is surrounded by mountains, and flights can only land from and take off to the east. A new international airport is being built (controversially) at Chinchero north of the city, an important area for indigenous agriculture (potatoes and maize!) and cultural heritage.

The airport at Juliaca (JUL, for Puno on Lake Titicaca) lies at 12,500 feet (or 3800 m), and has one of the longest runways in Latin America. I’ve been there two or three times.

It wasn’t until I moved to Costa Rica (1976-1980) to lead CIP’s research program, that I began to travel more regularly around my ‘patch’ from Mexico to Panama and out into the Caribbean Islands.

San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is surrounded by volcanic peaks up to 3000 m. This was my local airport for almost five years (we lived in Turrialba, 82 km to the east), and it could be quite badly fogged in from time to time. I remember one time returning from Guatemala City on the late evening Pan Am 707 flight. We had to circle overhead the airport for more than half an hour, until the fog cleared. However, just as we were about to touch down, the Captain applied full power and aborted the approach. At the last moment, the fog had obscured his view of the runway. He banked away steeply to the left and, according to the driver who came to pick me up, our aircraft skimmed the terminal building!

One could always expect a white knuckle approach into Tegucigalpa’s Toncontín  International Airport (TGU) in Honduras. Just before landing, aircraft have to bank steeply to the left then skim a hill at the end of the runway, before dropping quickly on to the runway and braking hard to avoid skidding off the end of the runway (which has happened several times). Here’s a B-737 cockpit view of landing there, the aircraft (but generally the 737-100 or 737-200) I often flew into TGU.

 

 

The take-off roll at Mexico City (MEX) can last a minute or more, because of the altitude of the airport (7300 feet, 2230 m). The airport has parallel runways almost 4 km long. In 1979, I was returning to Guatemala City with a colleague, and we boarded an Aviateca B-727, a new aircraft. The take-off seemed to last forever. In fact, the Captain lifted the nose just before the end of the runway, and we skimmed the landing lights by only a small height. Then, on landing at Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport (GUA, also surrounded by several volcanoes which can make for a tricky approach) we burst a tyre and skidded off the runway, coming to a halt some distance from the terminal building.

Turbulence always makes me nervous. The airspace around the approach to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) is always busy, and often subject to bumpy air. Many’s the time I’ve bounced into and out of NRT, but fortunately never experiencing the very severe turbulence affecting some flights.


It wasn’t until I moved to the Philippines in 1991 (until April 2010) that I began to fly on a regular basis, mostly intercontinental flights to the USA or Europe, but also around Asia.

My first foray into Asia was in 1982 when I attended a conference in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, flying into the old Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport (HLP) on a KLM B-747 from Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport (AMS).

AMS and Frankfurt (FRA) became hubs for many of my flights, business and pleasure, until I discovered Emirates (EK) in 2000 when they commenced flights out of Manila to Dubai (DXB) and on to BHX, on a wide-bodied B-777.

And it was during these years that I got to travel into Africa for the first time. In January 1993 I flew to Addis Ababa (ADD) from Manila (MNL) via the old Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. On another occasion I took Singapore Airlines from MNL to Johannesburg (JNB) via Singapore (SIN), with a South African Airways (SAA) connection in JNB to Lusaka (LUN), Zambia. It was 27 April 1994, and South Africa was holding its first democratic election, won by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) Party. Having traveled on Business Class, I was settling into the the SAA lounge at JNB when a bomb was detonated in the departure hall above my head. We were all evacuated on to the grass outside, passing through the devastated hall on the way, until we were allowed back into the terminal after several hours. Fortunately it was a fine autumn morning, bright and sunny although a little chilly.

Arrival at Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS) was, for many years, quite stressful. Greeted on arrival with sinister looking individuals not in uniform demanding one’s passport was one thing, but on departure there was always pressure from immigration and security staff at every point in the departure demanding to look through one’s hand-luggage and ‘ask’ for a bribe, a token of ‘friendship’. It didn’t matter what the item might be, one was always faced with the same old question: ‘What have you got for me in your case?’ Invariably I would answer: ‘A nice big friendly smile’ and passed on with no further toll levied. By the time I made my last visit in the early 2000s, those practices had more or less disappeared.

I’ve always found immigration into the United States somewhat intimidating. Whether immigration officers are told to be generally difficult, I don’t know, but they do ask some rather strange questions. On one occasion, in September 1978, when our elder daughter Hannah was just four or so months old, we flew back to the UK from Costa Rica via Miami (MIA). This was Hannah’s first flight – and she nearly didn’t make it.

In those days, MIA (and probably many other ports of entry into the USA) did not have a transit facility. Even if just changing flights, you had to pass through immigration requiring a US visa. Hannah was registered in Steph’s passport, and we did not realize that Steph’s visa did not cover Hannah as well. At first, the immigration officer was reluctant to allow us to pass, but after discussing the situation for more than 30 minutes, she did allow us to proceed to our next flight. Needless to say I had to get Hannah a separate visa at the US Embassy in San Jose on our return, attending an interview on Hannah’s behalf to answer all those silly visa application questions. No, Hannah had never been a Communist, or convicted of war crimes.

This transit situation reminds me of another instance when I was traveling with a Peruvian colleague to the Caribbean islands from Santo Domingo (SDQ) in the Dominican Republic via San Juan (SJU) in Puerto Rico. I had a US visa, Oscar did not. We had a lay-over of several hours between flights in SJU. Eventually Oscar was permitted to join me in the airport terminal, on the condition that he was accompanied by an armed guard at all times.


In 2005 I was caught up in a major strike at Northwest Airlines (NWA, now absorbed into Delta Air Lines). I had a business trip to the USA, to attend a meeting in Houston, Texas. By then, Hannah had been living in St Paul, Minnesota for several years, and I’d schedule any trip to the US at a weekend via Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) so I could spend time with her and Michael (now my son-in-law). The day after I arrived in St Paul, a strike was called at NWA that lasted for some weeks, causing my travel plans to be thrown into considerable confusion. Fortunately, NWA handled the situation well, and transferred me on to other airlines, mainly United. I flew to George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston via St Louis (STL). From Houston, I traveled to New York (JFK) for meetings at UNDP. But because of the NWA strike, there was no flight home to the Philippines from MSP. Instead, I flew direct to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to connect with a United non-stop flight to Hong Kong (HKK, at Kai Tak). And that’s how I came take the world’s longest flight in those days: 17½ hours, 6773 nm. The flight was full. I already had a First Class upgrade from NW that was honored by United, so was rather more comfortable than those in the back over such a long flight. But would we make the flight non-stop? That was the concern raised by our Captain as we taxied out to the runway. He told us that because of the length (and weight) of the full flight, and expected headwinds, there was a 30% chance we might have to land in Beijing (PEK) to refuel. In the eventuality we must have glided on empty from PEK to HKG. Then, in HKG, I transferred to a Canadian Airlines flight for the last sector into MNL.

The whole trip covered more than 17,000 nm.

Then in November 2016, when making a review of genebanks, Brian Ford-Lloyd and I flew to Melbourne (MEL), Australia for four nights, on EK from BHX via DXB. The DXB-MEL sector was the second longest flight I have ever taken at 14 hours or so, and 6283 nm, fortunately on the great A380. This trip was, in total, longer than the US trip I just described above, at 18,625 nm.

Enjoying a wee dram at the bar at the rear upper deck of the A380.


Recently, I came across an item on the CNN travel website, listing Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) as No. 1 on its list for 2019, the seventh year in a row that it had received the accolade. Even LHR was on the list, at No. 8. That surprised me, given the problems it has experienced in terms of processing incoming passengers through immigration. It’s an airport I have avoided for many years.

When I first began flying, five decades ago, airport terminals were quite rudimentary in many respects, and even until recently some international airports have failed to make the grade. Many airports didn’t even have air bridges to board the aircraft, and you had to walk to the aircraft in all weathers, or be bused out to the aircraft.

Airports have become prestige projects for many countries, almost cities with many opportunities to fleece us of our hard won cash, flaunting so many luxury products.

It’s no wonder that SIN is No. 1. It’s a fabulous airport, almost a tourist attraction in its own right. As are airports like Dubai (DXB), the airport I have traveled through frequently on home leave. EK via DXB also became my airline of choice for flights into Europe on business.

Some like Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) are so huge, there’s an internal transportation system to move from one part of the airport to another. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is large – and badly designed. I remember one time arriving there on American Airlines (AA, from MEX I think) to connect with a British Airways (BA) flight to BHX. All the terminals at JFK are arranged around a circle, and there were shuttle buses—in one direction only—connecting them. I arrived in the American terminal which was next door to the BA terminal, but to its right. There was no way to walk from the AA terminal to the BA one. I had to take the shuttle bus all the way round, stopping at every terminal on the way to drop-off and pick-up passengers. It was a busy afternoon. It took almost 90 minutes, and I thought I was going to miss my flight, that was, in any case, delayed. I haven’t been to JFK for a couple of decades so don’t know if this set-up is the same.

On these long-haul flights, we were permitted to fly in Business Class. Having picked up so many air miles I could, on occasion, upgrade my seat to First Class. What a privilege. Flying Business Class also meant access to airline lounges where one could escape to a more relaxing environment before boarding. Given the parlous state of many airport terminals (especially the toilets) this really was a boon.


And to wrap up this post, I’ve been thinking of some of my favorite airports. On clear days, the approaches into SJO or CUZ could be marvelous, with fantastic views over the surrounding mountains. Likewise GUA. In Asia, the approach to Luang Prabang (LPQ) was scenically very beautiful.

But I guess the airports that have caught my attention are those that just worked, like SIN or DXB, BHX even. Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport or NAIA (MNL) Terminal 1 (which we used throughout our 19 years in the Philippines, before the new Terminal 3 opened to international traffic in 2011) lacked many facilities, with little space for passengers to wait comfortably for their flights. However, I have to admit it was one of the fastest and easiest I’ve ever transited in terms of immigration procedures. In 1996, I flew back to the Philippines with our younger daughter Philippa on a KLM flight from AMS. We touched down, on time, around 16:30, and we were leaving the airport with four bags, having taxied to the terminal, disembarked, passed through immigration and customs, within fifteen minutes. That’s right, fifteen minutes! That must be a record. But that was NAIA for you. I was only delayed seriously on one occasion in all those years.

So many airports, so many flights. So many memories, also. And, on reflection, mostly good. After all, that’s what has allowed me to explore this interesting world of ours.


¹ It’s also noteworthy how many of the aircraft shown in the video are B-747s, a plane that is becoming an increasingly rare sight at many airports around the world, many having been pensioned off and replaced by more fuel efficient twin-engined aircraft like the B-777 and B-787 from Boeing, or the A330 and A350 from Airbus.

Walking with my mobile: [3] Water and steel

Milestone, near the Queen’s Head pub, a couple of miles south of Tardebigge.

It’s 1807, and fields around Tardebigge, a small settlement east of Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire, are swarming with hundreds if not thousands of workmen, known as navvies (from the name by which canals were also known at the end of the 18th century: ‘navigations’) facing their next challenge in the construction of the 29 mile Worcester and Birmingham Canal that would finally open in 1815 after reaching Worcester on the River Severn. That’s what I imagine it must have been like.

Tardebigge is almost equidistant between Birmingham and Worcester. It had already taken 15 years just to dig this first level section of the canal, on the same level as Birmingham (at 453 feet above sea level).

While engineers had avoided building any locks as far as Tardebigge, they had to construct four tunnels, the longest (at 2726 yards) taking the canal under the Lickey Hills (the Wast Hills Tunnel). North of Tardebigge they also constructed the Bittell Reservoirs, to feed the canal.

The Tardebigge Tunnel entrance.

South from Tardebigge the engineers and surveyors had to drop the canal almost 430 feet over the next 15 miles to Worcester, constructing 56 narrow (7 foot) locks, and two larger ones at Worcester where the canal meets the River Severn.

The Tardebigge Flight south of the Tardebigge Reservoir.

Tardebigge Bottom Lock near Stoke Pound.

Immediately below Tardebigge there is a flight of 30 locks, the longest in the country, in the space of under three miles. And another reservoir, and a pumping house (now converted to luxury apartment).

Following the Tardebigge flight is one of my favorite walks. On 11 April, I made a walk of just over six miles, covering much of the same route I described in an earlier post. On this latest walk, I went beyond the Tardebigge Reservoir, leaving the towpath where London Road crosses the canal, and less than half a mile from the last lock of the flight, Tardebigge Top Lock (the deepest of all the 56 narrow locks).

Take a look at the route of this walk. There is an image (or more than one) linked to each of the red via points.

Overlooking the canal at Tardebigge is the late 18th century church of St Bartholomew. From there one can see  the spire of 12th century St John’s Church in the center of Bromsgrove itself. In the image below, the spire can be seen just to the right of the chimney on the right. Click to enlarge the image.

Looking east to Tardebigge church and the canal, from Dusthouse Lane.

What I find myself thinking about, as I walk the towpath, is just what it took to dig the canal, and construct the locks. How did they achieve all this without recourse to machinery? Each of the locks is brick-lined, and some are edged with large and beautifully dressed sandstone blocks. Were the bricks made on site, or transported to each lock? Where did the sandstone come from? And the lock gates (double on the lower side, single on the upper), made from huge oak beams, weighing (when assembled) over a tonne? You can’t help wondering how they managed to position all these into place. On many sections there are no nearby roads linking with the canal. How many navvies were injured, or killed even, during the whole construction.


For 25 years, the Worcester and Birmingham Canal had no competition. However, in June 1840 the railway came to Bromsgrove with the opening of its station on the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, linking Birmingham with the Bristol and Gloucester Railway at Gloucester. Constructed just east of Bromsgrove town center, the line climbs the famous Lickey Incline, a gradient of 1 in 37.7 over a distance of two miles, that begins immediately north of Bromsgrove station.

My walk route also parallels the rail line south to Stoke Pound, crosses underneath there, and again at Finstall on the north side. Approaching the line one cannot but be impressed by the engineering needed to raise level embankments over undulations in the landscape, yet climb the gradient of the Incline to its summit north at Barnt Green.

How many more thousands of navvies swarmed once again into Bromsgrove and surrounding areas while the line was being constructed?

Today the line through Bromsgrove carries commuter services on the recently-electrified Cross City extension (of West Midlands Railways) from Birmingham (and connecting with Lichfield in Staffordshire), or on diesel units south to Hereford via Worcester and Malvern. CrossCountry services hurtle through Bromsgrove (as seen above) on their way south to Penzance at the tip of Cornwall, via Bristol, or north to Aberdeen in the northeast of Scotland, via Birmingham, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.

So much industrial history to absorb, and so much to think about while enjoying the tranquility and beauty of this north Worcestershire landscape. I never ceased to be awed by what was achieved.

You’d be hard-pushed to be ‘one over the eight’ in Bromsgrove (updated 18 April)

One thing has caught my attention while out exploring Bromsgrove (in northeast Worcestershire) on foot: how few public houses (or pubs as they are more commonly known) there are in the town. My walks cover an area within a 1½ to 2 mile radius from home, encompassing the town center and immediate surrounding area.

If one was to visit every pub within this area of Bromsgrove (each marked with a green beer mug on the map), and drank a half pint of beer in each, it would be quite an achievement to become inebriated, or as the colloquial saying goes, ‘one over the eight‘. There are just 13 pubs within easy walking distance of home, and the majority lie on the Birmingham-Worcester Roads close to the town center.

There were a few more pubs in the past, but that does not explain the low number (much less than half) compared to Congleton in east Cheshire (where I was born in 1948) and Leek in North Staffordshire, where my family moved in 1956. These towns have many more pubs than Bromsgrove, with around 30+ and between 50 and 60, respectively. When I was growing up in Leek and living in the Market Place in the 1960s, there were at least a dozen pubs within just a couple of hundred meters from home.

Why can’t I provide accurate pub counts? Well, based on the information I’ve received, it depends on what is classified as a pub, and the area taken into account. For the purposes of this post, I’m considering only Bromsgrove pubs in a ‘traditional’ sense, i.e., a premises (often owned by a brewery) where one can walk in and order a glass of beer at the bar. And they often have an interesting or quirky name, such The Red Lion, The Duke of York, or Dog & Pheasant, for example.

Many pubs have become eating places as well and, for some, the sale of beer and other beverages is almost secondary now to the catering side of the business. I have not considered wine bars and the like as ‘pubs’. We have a few of these in Bromsgrove.


Congleton, Leek, and Bromsgrove are old market towns, and have a comparable population: 26,500 for Congleton; 20,800 for Leek, and 29,000 for Bromsgrove (census data from 2011 and 2001). However, if the wider Bromsgrove/Catshill urban area is taken into consideration (that I always think of as ‘Bromsgrove’) then its population is almost 40,000.

Tracing the drinking history of any town can be interesting, but not without its pitfalls. It has been achieved successfully, however, by Leek local historian, Neil Collingwood, who recently published a book about the town’s pubs. Leek apparently has boasted 150 pubs over the centuries!


As far as Bromsgrove is concerned, I have marked (in the map below) all the pubs I come across during my walks (within that 1½-2 mile radius) with a green beer mug symbol; except for my local, The Red Lion which has a red beer mug. Those outside my normal routes, or too far on foot, are shown in purple. Black beer mugs indicate pubs that have closed. Just expand the map to see more detail.

There is at least one image for each pub; just click on the beer mug symbol. Many of these images I have taken myself, but others were captured (under fair use) from Google Maps Streetview, and acknowledged thus.

It’s interesting to note, but not surprising, that many of the pubs follow the route of the main highway south from Birmingham through Bromsgrove to Worcester. This is/was the A38 Birmingham Road/Worcester Road that bisects the town into two almost equal west and east sides. And I guess some of the hostelries must have catered to coaches and their passengers before the railway came to Bromsgrove in June 1840, east of the town. The Ladybird (formerly The Dragoon) was built at Aston Fields in 1905 to serve the railway. It’s close to the site of the old station. In 2016, the new station opened a few hundred meters south.

The Ladybird at Aston Fields. The access road to the rail station (New Road) is on the right.

New Road/Kidderminster Road bisect the town almost equally north and south, and meet the A38 in the town center at the High Street, now closed permanently to traffic (but was still open when we moved to Bromsgrove in 1981). The A38 was also diverted around the town along the Bromsgrove Eastern By-Pass (A38) around the same year.


The Red Lion on Bromsgrove High Street, right in the center of town, is a 10 minute walk or so from home. It serves great beer, and always has several ‘guest’ beers on tap. It used to be quite dingy (although the beer has always been good). The 2007 smoking ban made such a difference, when the landlord took the opportunity to refurbish inside. It has undergone a couple more internal facelifts since then.

All this interest in pubs must give the impression that I’m always frequenting one or another. Not so!

In fact I have only been in four of the pubs shown on the map. Besides The Red Lion, I’ve been in The Ladybird (enjoying several pints of Bathams Bitter) a few times. Steph and I once went to The Gate Hangs Well southeast from Bromsgrove. It closed at least a couple of years ago, and is marked on the map as a black beer mug outlier. And then there’s The Swan, shown in purple at the northern range of symbols on the map, in Fairfield. We used to go there during our home-leaves for a meal and some good Marstons Bitter. But we haven’t been there in recent years.

Memo to self: I should research all these pubs some more—both physically and through searching historical accounts on the Internet.


So why are there fewer pubs in Bromgrove? Well, the only thing that comes readily to mind is the difference between Congleton/Leek and Bromsgrove in terms of industry.

Both Congleton and Leek were once textile towns, with thriving silk weaving mills (and others); Leek also had dye works exploiting the soft water flowing in the River Churnet. These industries declined since the 1960s.

Were so many pubs opened to serve workers in these mills? While many of the workers would have been women at one time, surely when they opened and expanded in the 19th century many more men were occupied then. Many dry throats to satisfy.

Bromsgrove had a lot of cottage industries, such as nail making and the like. But not the widespread industrial employment that characterized Congleton and Leek.

Apart from the forge works, known as Garringtons. In 1946, Garringtons acquired Deritend Stamping Limited of Newton Works, Bromsgrove [established in 1940] in order to expand production of castings for the automotive industry. Newton Works eventually covered 50 acres, and gave employment to 3,100 people. The works (United Engineering Forgings) closed in 2002.

Garringtons was sited on the east side of the town (map), south of and alongside the mainline railway. Since its closure, the Garringtons site has been redeveloped for housing known collectively as Breme Park.

There were no pubs near Garringtons, apart from The Ladybird, and the Aston Fields Sports & Social Club on Stoke Road (shown as a blue beer mug on the map). I’m not sure if one has to be a member of the club to drink there. The Sugarbrook used to stand at the crossroads of the A38 By-Pass and Charford and Stoke Roads. I’m not sure when it was first built. It was demolished in 2012 and the site now boasts a KFC drive thru!


As I’ve said, there’s more research to be carried out. I’ll post again as and when I uncover more details.

In the meantime, Cheers!


18 April

I’ve just discovered two more pubs. One, the Golden Lion, is on Austin Road on the Charford district, just over a mile south of home. But an area I’ve never walked before.

The other, the Royal Oak, is on the north side of town in Catshill.

Walking with my mobile: [2] Exploring my hometown

When Steph and I moved back to the UK in 1981 from Peru, we had to find somewhere to live that was not too far from Birmingham. I’d been appointed to a Lectureship in the Department of Plant Biology, so needed a base from which to conveniently commute. We’d already decided that we didn’t want to live in Birmingham, so began to look in the area covered by an arc from the west, south and southeast of the city.

Bromsgrove, some 13 or so miles south of Birmingham, was the first town we visited. It’s a straightforward drive south from the university, and was an obvious first choice. In any case, we’d already seen some property flyers for a couple of properties there that had caught our attention.

And in less than a week we had settled on the house that we bought. And we have ‘lived’ there since July of that year. I say ‘lived’ because a decade later I accepted a position at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. For almost 19 years, our house remained empty (although fully furnished) until we moved back on my retirement in April 2010.

I then realized just how little of Bromsgrove I actually knew, or had explored during the 1980s. I also needed some activity to keep me fit. In the Philippines I’d been reasonably active in the decade leading up to my retirement, enjoying scuba diving, badminton twice a week, and swimming at the weekends. So I took to walking on a daily basis (mostly). And I try to walk a minimum of two miles or 45 minutes each outing, often quite a bit more, and began to explore Bromsgrove.

Our home lies to the east of Bromsgrove town center, near the junction of New Road and the Bromsgrove Eastern By-Pass (A38). My Bromsgrove walks cover an area within a 1½ to 2 mile radius from home, west almost to the M5 motorway, and east to the Worcester and Birmingham canal.

Here is a small sample of five walks that I have made in the past ten days. I have plotted each of the routes in Google maps, with red via points indicating that a photo (maybe two or three) is attached. Just click on a red point to open the image. I have added grey via points to fill in some of the ‘gaps’ in the routes.


23 March (2.47 miles | 52 minutes)
This is one of my frequent railway walks, taking in the bridge over the mainline to Worcester and the West Country. I had actually planned a much longer walk on this day, but when I arrived at the bridge, I discovered that further progress was blocked as the public footpath had been closed (indicated with a blue via point). The bridge used to be a great location for trainspotting, but since electrification of the line, safety barriers have been constructed on all three bridges over the railway restricting the view from each.

Looking north towards the new station at Bromsgrove, that was ‘electrified’ in 2017.

From the bridge, this walk eventually ends up at the roundabout in Aston Fields. On this occasion, I followed the footpath alongside the railway to join Finstall Road a little way north. Then it was back home from there.


24 March (5.16 miles | 1 hour 51 minutes)
This is one of my longer walks, as far as the Worcester and Birmingham Canal (constructed in 1815), north along part the Tardebigge flight of 30 locks (the longest in the UK over 2 miles), as far as the Tardebigge Reservoir, then west back across the fields to home.

A narrowboat passes through the lock below Tardebigge Reservoir (that supplies water to the canal). From here, this walk takes me west towards home.


25 March (4.67 miles | 1 hour 40 minutes)
This is a route that I’ve walked on just a few occasions, taking me to the northwest of the town center. But it’s interesting to see that side of the town, where urban and rural meet, and farmers are ploughing their fields and keeping sheep, right up against the M5 motorway. Then I head south back towards Sanders Park on the south side of the town center, and from there back along the by-pass to home.

This the public bridleway connecting Perryfields Road with Crabmill Lane. The fields either side were sown with barley in 2018. The spire of St John’s Church can be seen on the horizon, left of center.


27 March (2.42 miles | 51 minutes)
This walk follows a route along New Road into Bromsgrove town center, then through the High Street, on to the Stourbridge Road, before heading southeast once again and back home.

The statue of Bromsgrove poet AE Housman in the center of the High Street.

All Saints’ Church on the Birmingham Road.


1 April (4.2 miles | 1 hour 30 minutes)
I’d set out on this walk intending just to take a few photos for another blog post I’m preparing. But since it was such a fine day, I decided to venture further afield, mainly south from home.

Looking north along Rock Hill towards Bromsgrove town center. The spire of St John’s Church can be seen on the center horizon. This spire dominates the Bromsgrove landscape for miles around.


 

Walking with my mobile: [1] Out and about on 20 March

Until I retired in April 2010 (aged 61) I had been quite active in the previous decade, playing badminton twice a week, and swimming at the weekends. As you can imagine playing badminton was quite strenuous in the heat and humidity (>30ºC/>80%RH) of Los Baños in the Philippines (where I worked for 19 years at the International Rice Research Institute). However, when Steph and returned to the UK, to our home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire (about 13 miles south of Birmingham city center), I needed to find some other form of exercise.

So, almost religiously since then, I have walked an average of 2 miles a day, around 45 minutes, at about 2.8 mph. Some days I don’t go out, especially if the weather is inclement, but other days, I may walk three to four miles or more. And I have taken these opportunities to explore my ‘home’ town, visiting areas I had never visited when we lived here in the 1980s.

To some extent, the same old walks have become somewhat stale, the same routes, so I always enjoy when we decide to go further afield (by car in the first instance) and then make a long walk. The parks at two national Trust properties, Hanbury Hall and Croome Park (7 and 20 miles from home, respectively) offer good long walks and beautiful landscapes.

Walks around Bromsgrove are mostly less photographically attractive, in the main, but there is a number of interesting landmarks that are worth documenting.

So, with this in mind, I’ve decided to begin a series of blogs, Walking with my mobile, in which I will illustrate the various walks that I make, with photos linked to the various via points added to a map for each.

Today’s walk, just over 2 miles and taking 44 minutes, was a test, as it were, of what I intend to do. I had thought of taking my Nikon D5000 DSLR camera (18-200mm) camera with me. But for a routine walk it’s rather heavy. So I decided to use my mobile phone camera.

In 2016 I acquired my first smartphone. It’s a Doogee X5pro, running Android 5.1, with 4.92MP camera, not the high resolution that is standard on much higher spec (and considerably more expensive) phones. But for the purposes of my walks, I reckon these images will be fine. See what you think.

Click on any of the via points to open an image or two. And this is what I’ll do in subsequent Walking with my mobile posts. Each red point has an image associated with it; the grey points just fill in some of the gaps in the route.

 

Around the world in 40 years . . . Part 23: An Anglo-Italian connection

I’ve twice traveled by train, in 2004 and 2006, from my home in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire to Rome in central Italy. And if I had my way, I’d travel everywhere by train, if that were possible.

When visiting government agencies that provided financial support to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) when I was Director for Program Planning & Communications (DPPC), I tried to combine as many visits into a single trip as possible, thus making the best use of my time on the road. In Europe, traveling by train was by far the most convenient (and comfortable) way of visiting several cities on the way, rather than hopping on and off planes for relatively short flights. Not to mention the inconvenience of additional waiting time at airports and the hassle of actually getting to and from them.

Train travel in many European countries is reliable and, compared to the UK, competitively priced. Purchasing a Eurail pass was by far the cheapest option, even for First Class tickets, and could be bought online from the Philippines.

This was my itinerary on both occasions:

  • Bromsgrove – Birmingham New Street – London Euston (into Birmingham on London Midland—now operated by West Midlands Trains—then Virgin Trains to London; around 2 hours or so; map)
  • London Waterloo (Eurostar now operates from London St Pancras) – Brussels Midi (on Eurostar; around 2 hours; map)
  • Brussels Midi – Cologne – Bonn Central (on the Thalys to Cologne, and Deutsche Bahn, DB; just over 2 hours; map)
  • Bonn Central – Basel – Bern (Deutsche Bahn to Basel, then Swiss Federal Railways, or SBB/CFF/FFS), along the Rhine Valley (around 5½ hours; map)
  • Bern – Milan Central (on Swiss Federal Railways; around 4½ hours; map)
  • Milan Central – Rome Termini (on Trenitalia; 3 hours; map)

On the second trip I traveled with IRRI Director General Bob Zeigler (and his wife Crissan) to visit donor agencies in Brussels (Directorate General for International Cooperation or DGCI of Belgium, and the European Union, EU), the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Bonn, the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) in Bern (and a side trip to Basel where Bob gave a seminar at the Syngenta Foundation), and finally, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, an agency of the United Nations) in Rome – all members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research or CGIAR.

Crissan and Bob Zeigler


We met at London’s Waterloo station for the Eurostar service to Brussels, arriving there mid-afternoon. Since no meetings had been arranged that same day, we enjoyed the warm afternoon sunshine for a stroll around La Grand-Place (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), before enjoying our dinner at one of the many cafes close by.

Bob and Crissan feasted on one of the local delicacies: moules (mussels).

I like mussels, but in moderation, just a few added to a fish pie or a fish soup. Not a whole meal. In any case, our meal was accompanied, of course, by several glasses of excellent Belgian beer.


The day after our meetings, we caught the Thalys (the Belgian TGV) to Cologne, and then a regional service for the short hop to Bonn. We had just one day of meetings in Bonn, with the German aid ministry (BMZ), and then spent an excellent day touring the vineyards of the Ahr Valley just south of Bonn. Our main contact was my old friend Marlene Diekmann who I’d known for many years before she joined the BMZ when she was a plant pathologist at the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI, now Bioversity International) in Rome.

On previous visits to Bonn, in all weathers, Marlene and I had gone walking along the terraces of the Ahr Valley, as I described in this blog post. On this current trip with the Zeiglers, as in the past, we sampled some of the fruits of the vintner’s art. And very good it was.

Each time I have visited the Ahr Valley I have never failed to be impressed at the cultivation of the vines on such steep slopes. In the early evening we headed to Rheinbach (map) to join Dr Hans-Jochen de Haas, who was Germany’s representative to the CGIAR, and became a good friend.

I’d last seen him the previous year in Bonn and presented him with a book on rice culture.

A few years later (and before I retired in 2010) he sadly passed away after contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD.

Bob and I (with Marlene) also made a one-day visit to Hannover (again by train) to visit the Volkwagen Foundation to try and tempt them to support a research project on rice and climate change involving a German scientist seconded to IRRI.

Commitments in Germany completed, Switzerland was our next stop, so we took the train along the River Rhine to Basel, and transferring to Swiss railways to Bern.


I first visited Switzerland in July 1984 when I attended the 9th Triennial Conference of the European Association for Potato Research (EAPR), that was held in Interlaken in the heart of the Bernese Oberland.

A group of us from the UK flew from London Gatwick to Bern (Switzerland’s capital city) on a Swissair BAe 146, and then taken the train for the 1 hour rail journey to Interlaken. There are no flights to Bern nowadays; Switzerland is served by two major international airports in Geneva (in the west) and Zurich (in the north central part of the country). And, in any case, rail services across the country are frequent, convenient, and comfortable.

In 1984, I’d taken a trip up to Wengen (1274 m) from Interlaken, with the last leg on the funicular railway from Lauterbrunnen. The Zeiglers and I repeated this trip. And after lunch in Wengen, we took the cable car up to Männlichen (2343 m), before dropping to Grindelwald (1034 m) on Europe’s longest gondola cableway (and third longest in the world).

At Männlichen there are fabulous views of the Eiger, Jungfrau and other mountains.

Watch this video that I found on YouTube of the cable car ride to Männlichen and the gondola cableway down to Grindelwald.

All too soon, our Swiss visit was over, and we took the train to Milan, an impressive journey through the Alps and the Italian lakes.

In Milan, we transferred to the high speed train to Rome. That was an interesting journey. In 2006, the 18th FIFA World Cup was hosted by Germany. Although Mexico had been eliminated from the competition by then, our train was full of supporters from Mexico on their way to Rome to enjoy the sights. Bob, Crissan and I all spoke Spanish. Bob and Crissan had actually lived in Mexico for a few years before returning to IRRI in 2005. So we had a great time with the Mexicans, and our fast train journey to Rome (a city I have visited numerous times) passed even faster it seemed.


 

A stroll in the park

14 February 2019. Valentine’s Day. Bright and sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. Just a gentle breeze. What a better day for a nice long walk in the Worcestershire countryside.

So Steph and I headed off to Hanbury Hall, just over 6 miles from home, the closest National Trust property¹ where we often enjoy the garden and parkland. This short video shows the last couple of miles of the trip, through Stoke Prior, past Hanbury Woods before turning right on to School Rd just outside Hanbury.


We completed the circular walk that we had part enjoyed last August, taking in the extra mile or so that we had omitted then.

This is the route we took, clockwise from the car park, and ending at the shop and plant sales.

In all, this walk was just over 3.6 miles and took us almost 1½ hours. From the car park, we headed round the south side of the hall and through the parterre, northwest across the fields (sown with soybeans, we think) before joining the Worcester and Birmingham Canal towpath at the Hanbury Park lock, then following the towpath north to the next lock at Astwood Lane.

Here we turned east along Astwood Lane, heading towards Hanbury Church of St Mary the Virgin, before once again turning south on to National Trust land and back into the park and along an old oak avenue.

Along the way we enjoyed the stark magnificence of Hanbury’s parterre and its box hedges and cones, banks of snowdrops and emerging and soon-to-flower daffodils.

Along the canal there was hardly a breath if wind, so the reflections in the water were particularly strong.

We came across two badger carcasses, roadkill perhaps or maybe victims of TB? Near the church a fox came out of the undergrowth and trotted along the lane ahead of us. We think it had been inspecting one of the dead badgers, an easy meal in the middle of winter.

In a field attached to Webb House Farm we saw a flock of perhaps a hundred fieldfares (the largest of the thrushes that visits these shores in winter); and rabbits skipping along in the warm sunshine. Everywhere there were flocks of heavily pregnant ewes.

Male fieldfare

A full album of photos from our walk can be viewed here.

It was certainly a beautiful day to be outside. And remarkably, it was almost a year to the day that we visited The Firs (the birthplace of composer Sir Edward Elgar) near Worcester, and had enjoyed equally fine and warm weather.


¹ Actually, Rosedene is closer by two miles, but is open only on a few weekends each year.