Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Loops

Absolutely beautiful weather once again, and the world is out at Brindleyplace and around Farmers Bridge.

We set out, returning to Old Turn rather than the shorter way out to Ladywood Junction as it's difficult to turn. We leave the glitz and glamour just seconds after passing Sheepcote Street Bridge and return to the 1970s: big factories, open grass with broken glass glittering, empty basins, bricked up doorways.

We turn sharply after a mile, into the Icknield Port Loop. On the right is a wide open space with factories beyond, scrubby buddleia edging the canal. To our left, old buildings crumble in the sunshine. By the bridge, the old tube works has collapsed in on itself, leaving huge piles of bricks and a wall holding up glassless windows. Steel grills protect the spaces.

Then we burst through the bridgehole into a different world. Two wharves, backed by Victorian sheds and the green grass of the Rotton park reservoir. The BW yard here is crammed with boats - old and new - and all around is industrial equipment for maintaining canals. Great. It's like stepping back 100 years: grizzled, tanned blokes hammering things on boats, men wrestling with ironwork, loading scaffolding, all the time with a fag in the corner of the mouth.

We pass a covered boatdock and beyond it, water rushes in over a shallow weir from the reservoir. We continue out of the yard, through the bridge hole and back into the desolation of the 21st Century: lines of boats are tied up with blue string.

A minute later we are back at the BCN main line, where three wonderful bridges frame the junction. We cross over and continue up the Soho Loop. The heat shimmers off the walls of factories. As we take the first turn, a door lies wide open on the towpath: it's too dark to see in.

We pass a couple of prison guards who are all smiles and nodded Good Mornings. Anglers look up and give a cheerful smile. This is a friendly part of Birmingham. I suppose you have to be if you elect Clare Short as your MP.

We pass the arm that now leads to Hockley Port moorings: it looks lovely, all tree-lined and cool and green. The rest of the Soho Loop is equally verdant, but the anglers are less welcoming.

The grafitti dies away as we approach Winson Green Prison and its array of CCTV cameras. The main bridge leading to the prison is called the asylum bridge, a reminder of the days when it was, of course, a lunatic asylum. A deep, dark side arm seems to lead straight under the wall - not a Birmingham Traitors' Gate but to deliver coal to the old boiler house.

Just a minute later we are back out on the BCN at Winson Green Stop. The Cape Arm used to curve away to the southwest from here, but the Tat Bank feeder embankment has obliterated it at this end.

We turn left and head back to Oozells Street.

5.0 miles, no locks

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