Writing The Test (1)

Yesterday morning I grabbed my goodies and headed off to Birmingham to write my “Life in the UK Test”. Naturally there is a whole backstory to this but in a nutshell I needed to pass it to continue with my visa applications. The closest testing centre was in Birmingham and I booked for the last day of April (Friday) because then I could have a long weekend. You need to understand though that I do not write tests very often so trying to get the relevant parts of the brain kick-started was quite a mission. Our narrative starts on the bus to Cheltenham.

My appointment was for 12H00 and I had allocated an hour to get to Cheltenham, and an hour to get to Birmingham, an hour to find the test and 2 hours to get back to Birmingham New  Street Station.  Naturally on this fine morning they decided to dig up a portion of the road into Cheltenham which delayed the bus by 10 minutes, but I had enough built into the schedule to still make my 10H00 train. I bailed out at Tesco and with some excess time decided to investigate the cycle path that runs along what was once the railway line into Cheltenham (I surmise that these are the remains of the line that links with Cheltenham Racecourse to Teddington but need to do more homework on this).  I have wanted to investigate it many times but so many things have been sidelined over the years because of time and effort. The quickest way onto the path is via the former railway bridge in the image below.

As you can see the weather was overcast and I was taking these images with my phone so quality may be iffy at times. I did not take the camera because of restrictions on electronic devices.  Before I climbed that bridge I had to pause to photograph this beauty.

There are lot of very talented street and graffiti artists that work around the city and there are usually a number of artworks on the cycle path worth seeing.  The image below shows the path as it leads away from the town towards  what is now the Prince of Wales Stadium. 

Turning around I headed towards the station, poking my head over the walls to see what I could see as I walked. My first surprise was a pathway to the Winston Churchill Memorial Garden. I had seen another entrance to the garden from the bus but had never been into it although there was a very intriguing building at the end of the entrance. 

The biggest surprise was finding 3 graves inside the garden. 

The building should provide some clues, although it is all closed up and the only identification that I could see was “Cheltenham Martial Art Centre”

A bit of rooting around revealed that this area was once a cemetery for St Mary’s Minster and it was purchased in 1829, and the chapel (St Mary’s Mission) was built 1831. The first burial took place on 19 September 1831 and it remained in use until 1864 when the new cemetery opened in Prestbury.  Following a period of neglect, the cemetery was purchased by the council in 1965 and developed into a garden. (https://www.cheltenham.gov.uk/info/33/parks_and_open_spaces/354/winston_churchill_memorial_gardens/2)

I turned my bows back onto the cycle path because the next feature that I really like is the large pedestrian bridge that spans Honeybourne Way. I have visited the bridge before but never have much luck with the weather here. It is known as the Honeybourne Bridge as well as the Waitrose Bridge and is an attractive structure and well worth the detour.

Back onto the path it was now a straight run to the station. Realistically there isn’t too much to see on the path apart from the strange twisted shapes of exercise machines, old railway bridges and sprawled graffiti and undergrowth. On either side of it housing stretches into the distance and I think it must have been much more interesting when trains ran along here.

The last time I had been on the path way back in 2018 when I went to Liverpool, and I am sure that the images from then would be interchangeable with these. Finally I reached Cheltenham Spa Station with 20 minutes to spare. Phew, that is cutting it close.

And while waiting for the train a Class 66 Diesel passed through with its load. I used to see a lot of them when I lived in Southampton and nowadays seeing one is a rare event worthy of a pic.

My train was on on time and I was soon on my way. I had not traveled on a Class 170 Turbostar DMU before and it is quite a comfortable ride. The image of the class I took way back in at Birmingham in 2015 and the interior I photographed today.

The train was destined for Nottingham via Worcester Parkway, Birmingham, Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent etc. And was supposed to only take 45 minutes but we crawled along after Bromsgrove and ended up about 10 minutes late.  Parkway is a reasonably new station that is just before Worcester and the train didn’t even pass through Shrub Hill at all. There was not much to see at Parkway either, just steel structures seen through dirty windows. 

And then finally I was at Birmingham New Street Station. My last visit to it had been in 2018 and it had changed considerably since my first visit in 2015. It is a cold soul-less place, made even worse by the diminished passenger traffic through the station and the closed shops and signs to wear a mask. Fortunately I managed to find the loo in time and could then plan my walk to where the test centre was.

Birmingham is a confusing place even during normal times and I kept on trying to compare what I saw back in 2015 with what I was seeing in 2021. I do not recall this circular building at all (known as the “Bullring”).

I had to find a passage around this building into High Street and then a 5 minute walk theoretically would take me to the test centre. If you liked a bit of Bull in your life then this statue is for you.

The area is pedestrianised and was quite crowded too. 

I even spotted a Burger King in the distance: things were looking up! I made a slight detour to see whether I could spot any of the trams in that area as they were working on the lines when I was here in 2015. Lo and behold…

Then I checked my watch and it was time to hit the test. I had to be at the centre 30 minutes before and there were 9 of us taking the test. It took longer to go through the verification and security process than the test did. Fortunately I passed and am quite chuffed about that and will be glad to dump all of the stuff I was studying like mad these past few weeks. I had almost 2 hours to kill and the first place I headed to was…

Following my grub I headed back towards the station and to see whether I could find the Hall of Memory. I had a vague idea where it was, but my memory had been messed around by all the many changes that had taken place since I had been there in 2015.  I will get to that in my next post.

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