I mentioned a while ago that my favourite walk in the UK is the one I’m about to do.
It still is but I’m particularly proud of my recent canal walk.
My walk along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal was the latest in my series of UK adventures by train.
I’m loving train adventures!
After a great weekend at the National Outdoor Expo. I set off to walk all the way home from Birmingham to Worcester via the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
But Fi, you don’t live in Worcester.
Okay, so walking all the way to Torquay from Birmingham would actually have brought me home to where I live now but I was born in Worcester.
And we don’t have that many canals here in Devon.
I’ll be writing the complete walk up for my collection of adventures by train (publishers feel free to get in touch) but this walking route had such a profound impact on me, I wanted to share a few highlights with you first.
My first long distance walk
The Worcester and Birmingham Canal walk was my first long distance walk!
Okay so it’s only 30-miles, and I did it over two days but it is officially mentioned on the Long Distance Walkers’ Association website, which makes me (at last) a long distance walker.
I did miss out a small section.
The Birmingham and Worcester canal runs almost alongside its ultimate adversary the railway. This makes it an ideal train walk so, at the end of my first day, I got back on the train at Alvechurch.
Tiny station, no loo.
The journey back to Worcester to stay with my sister was a delight because the train first whizzed me back to Birmingham. I had to hold back the giggles (and a couple of tears) as I passed many of the canal highlights I had earlier walked by.
Including the Bournville chocolate factory.
Instead of starting again the next day at Alvechurch, and having to divert around two tunnels (only one of the five tunnels on the route had a towpath), I opted to get off the train at Bromsgrove.
Bigger station, big loo.
A meander down a couple of lanes brought me back to my towpath, part way down the famous Tardebigge lock flight.
But it was still a long distance walk.
With my somewhat confused diversion on day one for the Wast Hills Tunnel, I walked more distance than the canal itself. In total I trod 65,000 steps.
And lost five pounds in weight!
A slow way from city to city
Never before have I had such a deep sense of journeying.
There was something truly magical about leaving the clatter and tang of Birmingham to emerge, at the end of my first day, in delicious rural Worcestershire. Not only was I following in the footsteps of the canal workers who first trod the towpath.
I was journeying in the purest sense of the word.
In other words, I was journeying on the slow ways. I was journeying on foot; as those who first trod the towpath had done before me. At times I was so weary and so absorbed in my footsteps I felt myself to be almost part of the canal; its quiet presence was both companionable and reassuring. For once I didn’t have to focus on navigation.
Neither did the canal.
We both knew where we were going. Our only task was to make progress.
Who knew a brown stretch of water could be so mesmerising.
A much needed route to green space
Although I was the only person I met making the whole journey, the Birmingham and Worcester sections of the towpath were well used by cyclists, walkers and runners.
I was fascinated by the idea of a corridor.
I guess because I’m an outdoor adventure writer, most of my walks start somewhere quite beautiful, and culminate somewhere even more beautiful. I don’t live in a city, and only have to walk for 20-minutes from my door before I’m on the South West Coastal Path.
I am very lucky but everyone deserves access to green space.
Which is exactly what our canal network provides. Created to join cities with other parts of the country, canals are a corridor out of the urban, through suburbia, and into open countryside. Standing in the middle of Birmingham, you wouldn’t imagine you could walk in a few hours out to fresh air and open fields.
But you can do exactly that.
Not only do canal towpaths provide a link from city to country, they also provide a corridor for wildlife. As soon as I left Gas Street Basin in Birmingham, I was spotting geese, enjoying blackthorn flowers, and appreciating spring birdsong.
My favourite was the mallard ducks.
Not only because their presence was nostalgic of childhood trips to feed the ducks with my grandparents but because they had so diplomatically spaced themselves out along the towpath.
All in pairs, nobody overcrowded.
The boats weren’t quite as good at that but their gathering points made a welcome distraction, and helped me to feel I was making progress.
What are the drawbacks of canal walking?
No walking experience is entirely blissful but this one came close. I did however have to deal with a few unexpected issues.
There really aren’t many toilets along towpaths.
I won’t say too much about this. The Worcester end of the journey offered more opportunity for relief (and chips) with a few pubs but I would like to extend my thanks to Sainsbury’s in Selly Oak for just being there. And my apologies to the passengers on the 11.00 train to Birmingham.
I did try to hide in the bush.
Another thing I will be aware of on my next canal walk will be the need to carry plenty of food and water. I naively thought this partially urban route would offer me plenty of opportunity to restock but that is one of the beauties of being on the canal.
Most of the time you are completely hidden from normal life.
Which also means that all normal life is hidden from you. Shops were presumably available but I was absorbed into my own narrow corridor, and didn’t feel much urge to venture off it.
You need to get used to the bike ping.
All the cyclists I met along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal were polite and friendly. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a better shared ‘shared path’. Almost every bike had a little bell to alert me that I needed to move to one side.
Which most of the time made me jump.
As it turned out this mini adrenaline rush was useful as I approached the end of my canal walk at Diglis Basin in Worcester. I was dragging my feet a bit by then, and I think it was the edge of needing to be constantly alert that kept me going.
That and the fact that my sister, and her sausages had joined me at Droitwich.
Would I do another canal walk?
Yes please! In fact I’ve already decided which canal to walk next. It’s closer to home, has a train station at either end, and I can do it in one day.
Now I know that I’m a long distance walker.
My journey along the Worcester and Birmingham Canal wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the Canal and River Trust who look after so many of our waterways. I would like to extend my thanks to them, and all their volunteers.