Day 58: Hopwas – Birmingham & Fazeley Canal – Fazeley Junction – Curdworth – Birmingham ( – Erdington – Salford Junction – Aston Junction – Grand Union Canal – Yardley – Orton) – Solihull – Catherine-de-Barnes

27.4 miles – ponderous skies, which having considered things, deposited their rain, and then returned to self-contemplation

This boat owner specialises in sculpture; every inch of the roof is covered!

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?

A narrowboat between Hopwas and Fazeley…
…and its own, very special pile of ‘things’.
Pretty flowers, statuette of the Buddha, and (out of sight) a painted model of a flyagaric: the quintessential aging hippies’ boat.
Drayton Footbridge and Swingbridge (behind).
Curdworth No 11 Lock
A queue of narrowboats near Minford.

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.

A rare narrowboat in industrial East Birmingham.
Grim. The canal between Salford Junction and Aston Junction.
Aston junction
The Grand union Canal – remnant of its original use for transporting goods.
Leafy Solihull – and the day’s one moment of sunshine.
A duck (or duck-like creature) and her brood of six ducklings (or such fledglings that one who has not studied ornithology might reasonably confuse with the same)… Guy? Julia? Peter?

Comments (7):

  1. Guy Harbottle

    24 July 2022 at 05:09

    Female mallard duck; ergo, ducklings.

    • Toby

      26 July 2022 at 10:51

      I needed to cover myself after your comment on Day 26 (I think).

  2. Guy Harbottle

    24 July 2022 at 05:17

    I think I remember my mother saying that she and my father used to go courting along the Birmingham canals. This would be the 1950s. I imagine the canals and their industry might have been a little more dynamic back then. Anyway, no doubt they would have appeared less grim to those with love in their eyes.

  3. Emma Brandon

    24 July 2022 at 18:16

    One of my run routes home from work takes in a good stretch of the Grand Union! So you are heading to London 🤣.. . Keep plodding Toby! Emma x

    • Toby

      26 July 2022 at 10:54

      Not your part of the canal, I’m afraid, Emma; as you may have read by now, heading south on the Cotswold Way.

  4. Julia Bevan

    25 July 2022 at 15:30

    27.4 miles!!! Still, I don’t expect you were inclined to linger. (It is indeed a female mallard, pretty little duck). Dodgy characters out for a walk in the middle of the night, I hope you don’t encounter any more like that! xx

  5. Toby

    26 July 2022 at 10:57

    The men with torches incident was very odd, but they were perfectly amiable. They sounded like they were up to some exploration. I wasn’t’ at all scared, but I’ve been a little more circumspect since then.


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