27.4 miles – ponderous skies, which having considered things, deposited their rain, and then returned to self-contemplation
I had camped in a patch of woodland, well away from the main path. I was awakened in the middle of the night – I’ve no idea how late it was, it was pitch dark – by the sound of three or four men’s voices and the glare of their torches. I had been too deeply asleep to be alarmed; by the time I had come to they were right outside my tent. I decided to take the same approach as I had with the inquisitive bullocks (Day 53) and greeted them cordially. “Didn’t mean to disturb you,” one apologised, “we’re just out for a bit of a walk.” And indeed, they moved on and I spent the rest of the night in peace. But what on earth did their ‘bit of a walk’ entail?
At Hopwas the Coventry Canal becomes the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. I’ve no idea why; it’s the same canal. Fortunately for Coventry, it becomes itself again after Fazeley Junction.
The morning was very much like the previous day: a cheerful canal winding through wheat fields with pretty and tatty narrowboats to contemplate and enjoy.
There was a nice-looking pub next to the tow path (The Boat at Minworth) and I so nearly stopped there for lunch; but it was still only 12:00 and I wanted to get a few more miles under my belt first. A helpful boat owner assured me there was another one fifteen minutes further on. I never found it, and in fact the next pub I saw was six-and-a-half hours later at the end of the day – oddly enough also called The Boat. How do they manage in Birmingham without beer?
If one has resolved to walk through Birmingham, canal tow paths are undoubtedly the best way to do it. However one feels a sudden change. I saw few narrowboats after entering the city, but lots of cyclists to dodge and a few youths hunched over lock gates.
The canal passes through industrial Birmingham: six miles of heavy industrial units on either side of the canal. I could hear and sometimes smell them constantly, but I seldom saw them, as the canal is tree-lined until Salford Junction.
The next three miles are quite grim; the industry here is neither quaint-old-fashioned nor swish, new developments, but hurriedly-built factories, now becoming dilapidated.
South of Aston Junction there was a sudden change; all the new, more prestigious buildings were being erected here, including the new HS2 rail link with London.
The last half-dozen miles were tree-lined again; I walked right through Solihull without seeing more than a dozen houses.