March 10, 2009


Birmingham fills its map so it takes hours to find the edge of the city. The centre’s obvious Bullring and Selfridges landmarks are thrilling to behold. Birmingham’s cosmopolitan in a nice way, and the locals see through skin. The accent drawl is inexplicable but surely must be rural spreading the Industrial Revolution along the canals from Dudley. The city emerged because the towns like Warwick and Kenilworth were too established and snooty to embrace industry. Birmingham’s inner circle of canals is stepped very heavily in tightly packed locks often overshadowed by road and rail bridges. The canal system defines Birmingham centred on navigation circulation. To cycle out from Birmingham New Street station find Snow Hill station and join the canal just beyond. The key junction is Aston Junction. Pass north east over a series of warehouse side pools each with dark tar bridges to Gravely Junction whose form is mimicked by the canal system below. This junction is called Salford Junction. Go west north west through deep cuts to a cluster of 5 locks lying east west at Kingstanding. Travel the Coventry Canal south north east past the Cincinnati works that made machine tools for Spitfires. Fields open northwards at Minworth, the canal flanked south by a main road. The canal swings north through sublime countryside peppered with reminders of faded industry. Each canal has its own style, from landscape, climate and the detailing on the locks. Some have sculptured overflows, some tightly ramped inclines under bridges. Here is crenulated Drayton Bassett footbridge. Pivotal Fazerley Junction offers a link home to Tamworth, or left a tough ride into the idyllic heartland of Warwickshire via Hopwas northwards where the river hugs the contour canal to Huddlesford Junction thence Fradley Junction. Return via Litchfield. In central Birmingham from Old Turn Junction head west along the Birmingham to Sandwell and Dudley. This feels like distilled industrial England: A derelict museum occupied by a real circus of humanity. Continue to Factory Junction. This is Wolverhampton the darkest corner of the Black Country. Fork north east before Wolverhampton via Wednesbury via sometimes violently meandering or deep gorges to Litchfield via Birchill‘s Junction and Bloxwitch. Cannock and Wallsall are nearby. From Kingstanding follow to Rushall Junction which presents carrying on or a branch up Rushall Canal to Catshills Junction, or through north Birmingham to Tame Valley Junction. Look for the signs to get home.
Kidderminster. Follow the canal and rural flank north to Wolverhampton. A nice town Wombourne on the way.
Stafford. Follow the Stafford and Worcester canal to Wolverhampton via Acton Trussell. This route is emblematic of romantic waterways and entirely rural.
From New Street find the canal south via Selly Oak aligned with the railway south at Bourneville to King’s Norton Junction. Wast Hill northern portal is reached: The south portal is not far but difficult to find. This is the Alvechuch Canal. Over another tunnel proceed on to marina after which the canal is dry and derelict. From Royal Leamington Spa via Shrewley Tunnel on the Grand Union Canal re-emerge and journey to Kingswood Junction. From here a great canal, the Stratford upon Avon winds to King’s Norton where it joins the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
All this beautiful detail: So why is a short life expectancy so bad?


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