I’ve recently had several new articles published – a series exploring the hidden wild spaces of Birmingham for GEM Magazine, and an article – in Italian! – giving a British writer’s perspective on the home city of a quality local journal. Backyard Beautyspots has become a returning feature for GEM Magazine…
Backyard Beautyspots is all about the hidden treasures on our doorstep, however urban our neighbourhoods might appear. I’ve now had several of these articles published in GEM, illustrated with images I’ve taken during the walks and cycles I write about; I’ve attached the first article as it appeared in the magazine below, followed by the textual content. If you’d like more of this, let me know! I’ve got loads of these stories to tell, and I might create it a website of its own.
The request to write an article for Locorotondo journal Paese Vivrai was a pleasant surprise that arose from a meal when I was received by the editor and his family for a wonderful Italian family lunch – thanks to my friend who is his daughter. It was definitely a novel experience, trying to write a publishable article in another language – not one that many English writers ever get the chance to do. So of course I needed plenty of proofreading from Italian friends, but my structure and content held up well. Thanks to everyone for the opportunity! I’ll post images here when I get them.
Backyard Beautyspots: Hidden Birmingham revealed
1: Birmingham to Stratford, Warwick and Leamington Spa by canal
My dad’s colleagues couldn’t believe we were leaving Carlisle for Birmingham, swapping the Pennines and Lake District for urban sprawl – but Bournville was full of safe parks and green spaces for me to explore as a child, and I’ve carried on discovering more ever since. It’s no surprise to me that Birmingham has joined an elite global network of ‘biophilic’ cities: I believe that anyone here with an eye for adventure can discover memorable and wild spaces on their doorstep.
This trip, direct from the Mailbox and the Cube to the old-world charms of any of our classiest neighbouring towns, opens up swathes of green space to explore. It crosses under or over all of South Birmingham’s major roads, with barely any hills, slopes or mud to slow you down. Simply follow the canal Southwest from the City Centre, and sample the fresh air, space and views as you pass through tunnels, the University of Birmingham, the views from Selly Oak’s impressive new canal bridge, and Bournville. The industrial zone of Stirchley briefly takes over from the greenery, but soon after, take the left turn towards Warwick, Stratford and Leamington Spa and watch out for kingfishers and woodpeckers as the canal guides you towards Shirley. One mile on, a half-mile of up-and-over provides your only opportunity to get lost, so keep your eye out for the downhill path once you reach the pedestrian crossing on the main road (Moneyhull Road/Brandwood Road).
After this, steep wooded banks keep you worlds apart from the city you haven’t even left yet. The route then becomes a marshy winding waterway along fields, moors and open gardens – more like being on the Ox or the Cam. Around 75 minutes by bike after leaving the City Centre, you reach the aptly-named Drawbridge pub in Shirley, where you can settle for a drink or a meal and watch the passing canalboats interrupt road traffic.
From here you can turn back and take the better-publicised (but less enjoyable) Rea Valley route from Kings’ Norton to the City Centre through Pebble Mill Playing Fields and Cannon Hill Park; but if it’s dry season, don’t turn around at all. Keep going instead, into the countryside beyond the M42. Strictly speaking, cycling is not permitted on the rural towpath, though the tracks will show that many people can’t resist it. Whether on foot or not, you can continue as far you have the energy to. After a few miles of eye-catching downhill canal locks at Lapworth, the pretty canal basin offers you routes to Leamington Spa, Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon. Whether you stop here or continue to any of the other destinations, you can finish a beautiful trip with a pleasant drink or meal in a historic area that couldn’t feel further removed from industrial sprawl. Let the train do the hard work of the journey home for you (and your bike); the last connecting trains from Stratford leave early, but if you end up stranded, you can spend the night telling your friends in other cities that you did all this directly from the heart of Birmingham.
Distance: anything up to 35 miles (and back!)
Time: anything up to 3-5 hours by all-terrain bike in summer, if you’ve got the energy.
Best stopping points: The Roadhouse (Stirchley), The Drawbridge (Shirley), Kingsworth Junction/The Navigation Inn (Lapworth).
Ratings (out of *****)…
Different every time? ****
Accessibility and disabled access *****
Nature and Wildlife ****
Further opportunities to explore and discover *****