LEJoG Birmingham Part 2 of 2

A warm B(r)ummie welcome to the second and final day of arse-kissing. Philosophical question: does this give you a blue nose or a brown nose?

LEJoG Birmingham Part 2:

Day 33 (Friday 31 August 2018)

Birmingham – Gas Street Basin to Sutton Park (10 miles)

Cumulative: 465 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 2 hours 45 minutes. Average speed: 3.64 mph. Weather: Warm, some cloud (not overcast).

Practicalities: Walked from the hotel to the Mailbox and started the Fitbit at the Gas Street Basin sign.

The LEJoG Birmingham walk (Part 2 of 2)

Start: Gas Street Basin, Birmingham, 10:35am. End: Memorial, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, 1:40pm.

I’ve been looking at Birmingham canal maps and information pages in preparation for this write-up. Apparently the Worcester to Birmingham canal comes to an end at the Worcester Bar bridge, near the Mailbox end of Gas Street Basin. At this point the Birmingham Canal Network (BCN) Main Line begins its route to Wolverhampton. I followed the BCN Main Line for the first few hundred yards of today’s stage. It was another brief sentimental journey.

First the tunnel under Broad Street, which (even though you’re not in a late night bar) inevitably brings back memories of mis-spent nights out after work. Emerging on the north side, you look upon Brindleyplace. Slightly classier memories of the same, usually associated with earlier in the evening (e.g. All Bar One or the Pitcher and Piano) before hitting Broad Street, or with group meals (Pizza Express, Bank etc). Sometimes it was the place to meet before balls at the ICC. The footbridge in the picture below was crossed many times on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Brindley Place canal footpath and bridge, LEJoG Birmingham Part 2

Footbridge between Brindleyplace and the ICC

This may be sentimental, and I make no apology for that, but it’s subtly different from pure nostalgia. I used to get very nostalgic, even when still surrounded by friends and many other blessings. And then life gave me a real reason to miss those people and treasures. Now it’s a belated appreciation of just how valuable that time was. But it’s also combined with a deeper appreciation of how valuable this time – now – is. Even though the person you used to be would be horrified by “now” and how much he came to lose.

Approaching the National Indoor Arena, the canal pedestrian reaches Old Turn Junction (see header image). To the left, the rest of the BCN Main Line. To the right, where I was headed, the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. This was the first time I’d seen the canals beyond Brindleyplace. It’s an interesting walk, starting with the business district and Snow Hill Station. The buildings are still familiar years after leaving my job behind, but seeing them from a new angle is an unexpected pleasure. Here, for example, is the BT Tower, the tallest structure in the city:

BT Tower Brum

Yeah, it’s not the Malverns or South West Coast Path, is it? But hey, Britain is nothing if not a “land of contrasts”. That’s in inverted commas because it’s a standard cliché of travelogues, as identified by Clive James here.

In television documentaries, the phrase ‘city of contrasts’, along with ‘land of contrasts’, comes just behind ‘meeting the challenge’ and ‘time was running out’ as a sign that you won’t be hearing anything remarkable.

Continuing NE under St. Chad’s Queensway (how many times have I driven under there?), I’m heading inexorably towards another over-familiar road, the Aston Expressway/A38(M). Immediately after passing under it for the first time I reach Aston Junction, where the Digbeth Branch Canal terminates. That runs SE; I carry on NE, passing industrial buildings on the way to Aston railway station. The football grounds of both Aston Villa and Birmingham City are visible for the next mile or so.

After Aston station, the next major landmark looms inescapably: Gravelly Hill Interchange, better known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’. The B&F Canal is now running parallel and slightly east of the Aston Expressway. It comes to an end at Salford Junction, which is close to the easternmost part of the interchange (the A5127 roundabout). In order to pass under Spaghetti Junction and start my trip through the northern suburbs of Birmingham, I have to head NW on the Tame Valley Canal for a few hundred yards. There’s a crossing point right at the end of Spaghetti, and a path on the north side of the canal which grants access to Park Approach: here’s the satellite map of the area.

From here it is possible to devise a route taking you through green space (via Perry Common, Oscott and Kingstanding) almost all the way to Sutton Park, the vast majority on clearly marked paths. I was surprised and impressed, to be honest.

Walk the full length of Brookvale Park Lake on the west side. Took a photo here of a plane coming in to land at Birmingham International Airport. Hope it’s just about visible.

Brookvale Park Lake and plane, LEJoG Birmingham Part 2

(If not, the lake is nice enough)

At the end of Brookvale Park, take the road to the left of the church and cross the A4040 ring road (busy). Walk straight ahead through a narrow stretch of grass: the path bends to the right and passes south of Witton Lakes and the park of the same name. Cross Perry Common Road and head north through the eponymous grassland. It was actually blocked off today and there was a diversion to the east. Cross the next road and continue through parkland to the right of Hurstwood Road. Eventually you will join the road, then cross the main A453 and continue through another narrow stretch of parkland.

Cross Homerton Road and continue heading NW on the park path. As you come close to the B4149, the path bends slightly to head north. After crossing the road, continue in the same direction through the middle of a residential court, which soon gives way to yet another park. This one takes you to Banners Gate Road: turn right and within 200 yards you will be at Banners Gate itself. This is the south-west entrance to Sutton Park.

For me, Sutton Park is indelibly associated with training for my first (and only) London Marathon in 2002. It’s a huge space, with clear paths everywhere for runners, walkers and cyclists. Devising varying routes while building up from 7-8 miles to 23 (and then tapering down for the last 3 weeks) was a doddle. There was also an open marathon training run in March, with groups based on target time each led by different club runners. I joined the 4-hour group and this was the first day I felt confident about getting inside that target. I also have Runner’s World magazine to thank for helping with this – remember following their training tips carefully, learning terms like “fartlek” and “interval training” and applying it to treadmill sessions as well as long runs.

I’ve always been chuffed with my 3:45 time – top quartile overall and top third of men was good enough for me. Later that summer my distance running career peaked with a time of 1:38:14 in the Robin Hood Half Marathon, Nottingham (top decile overall, probably top 15% of men). The following year I was successful in the London ballot again, but suffered unbearable shin splints that refused to go away as I was trying to build up mileage, and deferred my place. In 2004 I had ITB syndrome and muscle stiffness that turned into chronic knee pain on the opposite leg, pulled out again and ended up with knee problems that were serious enough for a specialist to advise me to stop distance running ASAP. The “runner’s high” was definitely a thing, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more irritable than when I couldn’t run in 2004.

But that’s all history now. Today I just had lunch in Sutton Park, turned left at the major crossroads and stopped at the Memorial, sat in the middle of a triangle of paths, almost at the geographical centre of the park.

After the walk

A little more sentimentality – went a long way round to Town Gate, so I could see as many of my old running paths as possible. This included walking down something I used to call ‘Savage Hill’, basically the first sharp climb after 15 minutes jogging from Town Gate past Blackroot Pool first thing on Sunday morning. Savage? It, er, had nothing on Dollywaggon PikeChipman Point or Dale Head. From Town Gate I walked to Sutton Coldfield station and caught the train back to Birmingham.

In the evening, went to Carluccio’s on Brindleyplace for a meal. Timed it to catch the close of business, but didn’t see anyone I recognised. Hardly surprising. Back to Le Freak at Night Owl that night: another Soul Train special. Danced for a short time, but it wasn’t big enough to find decent room and it didn’t feel as welcoming as first time around. No walking on the Saturday: went clothes shopping in House of Fraser and bought trousers and a T-shirt. Pizza Express again in the evening. Last night in the hotel: reasonably early to bed as I was planning another walk for tomorrow.

Postscript: My Listening Pleasure

This first, during the canal section. I definitely listened to some of this episode of Chart Music between Spaghetti Junction and Kingstanding: not sure why unless I was on a second listen highlights binge. Finished off with some Madonna as I entered Sutton Park.

Picture (taken 31 August 2018) shows the fingerpost at Old Turn Junction. Here the BCN Main Line meets the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, which I followed to Salford Junction. The ICC and Hyatt Hotel in the background; the Malt House pub and Sealife Centre to the left and right.

Next: Day 34 (2 September 2018)… in which I enter the county other LEJoGgers warn you about.

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