I had a seminar with Rob today about military mutinies at 11 and cycled down in good time for it, parking my bike at a tiny car/bike park hidden underneath Muirhead Tower which is never as cluttered and overused as the wholly inadequate arts block and centre courts bike racks. The seminar had been cancelled; essentially a day off. LET THE EXPEDITION BEGIN.
The University’s very own railway station is not far at all from the Arts block; £1.15 return train to the centre of town, through the overcrowded misery of New Street station and out to the open sky. The walk from New Street to the coach station at Digbeth is not unmanageable, but not short or easy; it would be both unpleasant and possibly mugging-bait (there are so many horror stories) to be dragging my computer, and so I am glad and thankful that I will be able to borrow Oliver’s.
Then as I headed back, at the road crossing by the Bullring there was one of those weird cliche moments which I’ve seen in films but never thought happened in real life. Standing at a crossing, someone else on the other side; the lights change, we both begin to move, and just before we walk past each other I glanced at her and there’s a sudden strange recognition, and I stopped, and half-turned, and took a step back, and said her name, and she looks around, and hello! I had run into Mary (of Mary and Harry) on her way to a CAG meeting and we chatted for a few minutes about university and consultants and suchlike. How unexpected and nice.
My bus research satisfied I set off with my map in the opposite direction towards the fabled floating coffee shop, and along the journey realised that my phone actually contains a camera (not a good camera, but still, pictures!) so here are some pictures of my day out.
In parts, this city has a weird overdeveloped beauty to it that’s stark and cluttered at the same time: an oversized emptiness, as though it was built on a scale slightly larger than that of mere humans.
Checking location against my Google Maps printout.
The large and dingy roundabout had at its centre a stone pagoda with a plaque proclaiming it to be a present from China.
And a rather ugly mosaic of Birmingham People being Folksy.
After quite a long wander alongside very large roads, I turned off and found my canal. It was on an entirely unexpected bridge.
Turn left to get to towpath level and… there’s an incredibly long brick ramp the size of a road rather than a flight of stairs. Hm, I suppose a long shallow slope makes sense in order to get goods up and down to towpath level for loading, doesn’t it.
Eventually reach the very top of the ramp and… there’s a flight of stairs going DOWN to towpath level. Who the hell designed this?
Still, water. And NARROWBOATS! And a bridge. Which I crossed.
The view from the bridge, down the southbound canal. I headed the other way, north-west.
There were geese.
And pretty bridges.
And lots of red bri- hang on, what’s that up ahead?
om nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom nom.
I had a perfectly pleasant conversation with two old ladies during the (short!) wait for food. They would however not stop talking about their dental problems while I was eating, which was imperfectly pleasant.
I should really have taken more pictures of the interior. In my defence, I was distracted by delicious things.
Full and satisfied, I set off on the journey back to the train station, when I found a map and then a signpost which said that the University was on the same canal as this one. And I did have the whole day free.
And a very enjoyable 3.5km it was. I stepped out of the way of zipping cyclists, stooped low to get underneath low arch bridges and called hello to people at the tillers of puttering narrowboats.
Oh, and the canal runs alongside the railway for much of the journey.
Then there was a TUNNEL- but it was at this point that my phone got overexcited and conked out despite having claimed to be at a healthy 40% (choke on your venal lies, poisoner) and the rest of the journey I shall have to describe to you without visual aids.
It’s a nice canal. I grew up next to one, and this – the sights, the sounds, the scents – reminded me of a different home, what feels like long ago. And even moving through this, second-greatest of British cities, for long stretches I didn’t catch a sight of civilisation, besides the canal itself, dappled glimpses of tall buildings through the trees and the occasional whispering rumble of railcraft in motion.
The towpath is on the opposite side of the canal to the university proper. There’s a bridge at the northern tip of the campus, at the Vale Village, and what looks like a boat station complete with a University of Birmingham banner, but it was with no regret whatsoever that I remembered my bike needed to be picked up from the centre and continued back along the canal. For whatever imbecilic reason there’s no towpath/road access at Pritchatts Road, so I carried on the last to the bridge that meets University station, back to square one, and bought some delicious crisp juicy apples from the grocer at University Centre, walked across the campus, unlocked my bike from the shadowy windy ankle of Muirhead Tower and rode back home.
Outgoings: £1.15 train, £5.95 delicious floating full english breakfast, £2.24 many apples.