I love walking. So does my Mom, even at 78 years old. I recall once walking with her and my siblings from home in Alum Rock to the city centre some time in the mid 1970s (was there a bus strike? more likely she just thought it would be good for us). My clear memory is getting to Masshouse Circus and instead of using the underpasses she made us go over the huge traffic island there. There was my mom and us three kids avoiding the busy traffic at each exit to the island until we made safe ground at Tescos (now Argos). We’d do longer walks around the city as we grew up but none stick in the mind like this one.
The city’s a tad easier to walk nowadays and I love walking it. Today I walked 4.16 miles around the city from New street station to a meeting in Aston Science Park, to the Custard Factory, back to the City centre and then on to the arse end of the Jewellery Quarter where my workplace is. I finished a bit annoyed at how it’s too often the simple things we’re getting wrong in the city, things that stop this walk being one for the tourist brochures despite the obvious historic interest along the way. I started at 8.45am and was back at work by 2.45pm. Here’s what I found:
- From New st. to Science Park is a great straight mile that has benefited from the removal of underpasses at Bull street and Old Square. A lovely walk past the law courts and Aston Uni campus. Easy-peasy.
- Who would think to use the canal from Science Park to Digbeth? A lovely towpath route but the entrance on the Science Park is obscured and poorly signposted. It is easily the simplest route. I passed only one other person.
- The canal there is a bit intimidating due to poor tunnel lighting and the ongoing presence of loitering single men around Curzon street tunnel. Maybe a bit of a cottaging scene going on there? Of course it also lacks other people, maybe because no-one knows it’s there.
- The new Yumm deli at the Custard Factory is a welcome addition. reasonably priced, cheery staff. Still love Rooty’s though but the love has spread now.
- From Custard Factory to the city centre is NOT a pleasant walk. Was it lunchtime at the college? Does that explain the slightly intimidating youths? The ones who decided to do that come-right-up-in-your-face thing to me that youths sometime do? I’ve never liked it, still don’t. Too many side-roads including one where the traffic can come from the other side of the dual carriageway unexpectedly, and that fucking bus stop outside Digbeth Cold Storage where the path narrows. Why does this area need a dual carriageway? Why do we still love roads so much after all this time. Give us space on the pavement, please.
- From Bull Ring shopping centre to the library is great, I like the second half of New street as it rises into the impressive Victoria Square and then to the library. The mall bit in the middle of the library still seems like an oddity though, to say the least.
- But to get to Summer Row and to work from here – would you know how to do it? The weird exit to the right just after Nandos? Past the stagnant pool, down a red staircase (where do wheelchair users go?) and through the only underpass on the walk or across busy roads to avoid the underpass and onto another dual carriageway (although passing the very fine Birmingham Orthodox Cathedral),
Actually, in hindsight this is a great walk, spoilt only by poor signposting, a lack of thought about what make safe spaces and a continuing desire to prioritise the car. Above all, there seems a determination to keep the canals, the Custard Factory and Summer Row disconnected from the city centre experience. I’m not convinced that changing the road layout to prioritise pedestrians, stopping bus passengers being herded to the margins and installing better lighting on some canal tunnels need a Big City Plan to make them happen. It just needs those who make the decisions to come walk with us. To understand how good these routes are but understand the fine detail of what prevents them being great routes that we can promote with pride.
This is an open invite to all: in power, at the fringes of it or with a desire to influence it. Come walk with me, any time you like, I’ll show you the city I think you never take the time to see. And if she’s free, I’ll ask my mom along as well.