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A WALK ON THE QUIET SIDE
June 20 1999
As anybody who has cruised through Birmingham recently will tell you, the development and opening up of the canal around Broad Street has created a tourist trap - on a early evening recent visit there, there was hustle and bustle from all the locals and tourists taking time out after a hard day at the office or on the hoof. Trip boats came and went, the odd passing boat navigated through cautiously the throng and the floating coffee bar packed up and went home, with the owner's Scottie dog on the cabin top making sure all was well. At times, you were hard put to hear anybody speaking English.................
Oddly enough though, a walk of less than five minutes, past a pub with the oddest narrowboat I have ever seen (the "rudder top" was welded to the counter!) saw us away from the crowds and the boats as we walked down the Farmer's Bridge flight of 13 locks on our way back to Snow Hill Station. Apart from runners, the odd (polite) mountain biker and the very occasional other walker, we had the towpath totally to ourselves.
It seemed very strange to be in, but apart from, England's Second City but we were totally isolated by high walls from the "real world", with only the locks for company. Unlike rural flights, this one is closely hemmed in by buildings, which at times have been built over the locks, I-beams being provided (by the developers, presumably) to lift lock gates out in the future. The pounds extend alongside each lock to provide a little more water in times of need. In some cases, these are hidden by half- demolished chunks of brick wall, at times this area has been developed with new decorative walls. Other "decoration" is the inevitable graffiti, some of which made interesting reading to an innocent country girl.........
The top section has been "prettified" in much the same way as urban canals elsewhere, but at least this has been done here with a modicum of respect for the past. New brick paving alternates with original worn (but sound) brick sections and the new lighting echoes the bracket design used for the gas lighting which was installed when the flight was much busier than it is now. One of the original brackets still hangs, badly rusted, on a wall, with a neat tablet explaining what it was. The "mileposts" giving distances to the various parts of the city are frequent (and metric) and enable you to follow the Towpath Walk (in a leaflet available from BW) with a deal of ease.
The lower half of the flight has not been altered - new brick paving gives way to black earth and old brickwork and the flight dips beneath a bridge to enter the cavern which is the GWR viaduct into Snow Hill station. A mouth-organ player, above us, was using this space as a vast natural echo-chamber - very effective it was, too! Susan commented that the small arches at the side of the towpath, if a little cleaner, would make ideal trysting places for young lovers......... Having gone under the railway arch, one of the little secret archways which are the towpath access in this part of the world spat us back into the world of bustle, traffic and everyday worries which is the lot of the non canalaholic.