GOING WILD IN BIRMINGHAM
The Brompton takes Mark Jacobson to the big city.
No problem in catching the 8:51 Virgin train to Birmingham International station, running just 5 minutes late. Although lightly raining, this was not too much of a problem. From the station I had need of the map to find my way out to Bickenhill Lane; after about a half-mile I came across the first cycle sign! This was essential, as the cycle route circumvents a very busy multi-level junction with the Coventry Road. Riding past the Dogs Trust kennels I found that my cycle computer had stopped functioning: a number of times this has happened, either because the magnet or the sensor has moved fractionally, so it is proving unreliable. I may have to replace it.
I joined the Grand Union Canal at bridge 78, the Catherine de Barnes bridge. Here I met up briefly with two oriental visitors, intending to cycle to Barmouth (in Wales) in two or three days! When seeing all the mud, for this part of the tow path had patches of mud every so often along its length, I think they took to the roads! I proceeded, slipping through some deeper mud patches, being careful to keep away from the edge. In places the tow path narrowed to considerably less than a metre in width. At one point in order to pass a dog walker, he had to step between two bushes on the bank to let me scrape past. Other than a few walkers, it was deserted. Under the light rain gorse blossom was just starting to show itself, a pale glow n the gloom.
It was only at Bridge 85 that the tow path became good: newly tarred and at least 1.5 metres wide, allowing for more relaxed riding. Much of the canal is dug deeply into the bank so, although the rain had by then stopped, the still louring skies presented a deep gloom around, so all my pictures have had to be lightened. From about bridge 88 there are a number of ramped sections where the tow path climbs up and down, the ramps being of raised brick courses to help the horses, far too rough to cycle the Brompton, so these had to be pushed. I left the canal at bridge 88F, where the Ackers Adventure Centres is, to follow the River Cole which, at this point, passes beneath the canal.
From Ackers the path crosses the river before following it upstream. Through Greet the river is really a backyard dumping ground but further along some efforts have been made to tidy up this waste ground into some park areas. At the multiple road junction the path continues through Cole Valley Industrial Park to a barrier too narrow for the 500mm Brompton bars! However, the condition of the parkland improved and I came across some weirs and, at Green Road, a deep ford. Newer barriers encountered, easily identified by the stainless steel side panels, proved wider and it was possible to ride through without dismounting.
Sarehole Mill, the inspiration of the Hobbit, was closed this Saturday, despite it advertised as being open from Easter to October, but perhaps is only opens in the afternoon. Just a little further on at the Springfield roundabout I found a café for refreshments, the Hungry Hobbit! Tolkien lived near here and said later to have used the mill and surrounding rural neighbourhood to inspire his idea of Middle-earth.
I retraced my wheel tracks to Ackers, then found the path trending northwards down the river Cole. This meanders by the river, frequently leaving for a pavement alongside a busy road before returning to the river. St Cyprian's church tower stands prominently above the trees, drawing the eye. The path continues in good condition through various recreation grounds, the debris from the recent flooding masking the river banks with a mess of twigs and branches, not to mention a myriad of plastic, bags and other junk.
At Colehall I came across several burnt out cars: this area has a number of high rise flats and, presumably, the residents are blessed with louts. At one point the well-made path left the park but I cut across the field to regain the river and found a very muddy link to get me back on track, almost unrideable! This was not shown as such on the map.
I tried to find a suitable lunch spot in the Chelmsley Wood centre, to no avail, so set off to find a link to Marston Green, losing myself briefly in Alcott Wood. Arriving at the Marston Green Tavern by 1:30 pm, I could take the folded Brompton inside and relax over ale and eats, prior to returning to Birmingham International station for my return home. On the way the road was closed, but not the cycle path, due to a mass march of sorts, starting from the station as I arrived there. Riding this stretch along Bickenhill Road the signing at Starley Way was confusing, and I nearly followed Starley, of bicycle fame!
The map Birmingham Greenways, obtained from Heron Maps,
ISBN 978-1908851161 • Price £5.99
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2016