. . . and it's sayin', "Is this really a good idea, Muntz?"
Or it was, this evening, after the longest walk yet in my preparation programme.
Wolverhampton, down to the Staffs & Worcs Canal, and then back, along the Birmingham Canal
and home. A walk of a little over fifteen miles, I think; by my estimation that's about 60% of the length of the July walk.
By the end of it I was more tired than I can remember being for years, and if I had had to walk the extra couple of miles into the centre of
O Birmingham, I really don't know would have been able to manage it. I suppose that if going all the way into Brum was the only way of completing the walk - as going to Penkridge will be in July - I'd have managed it. As it is I had to rely on what I'd posted about Susie Hewer a couple of days ago for inspiration: Susie is rapidly attaining mythic status for me!
This was the second walk I had done this week. The first was from Wednesbury, home. A total of about nine miles along very quiet towpaths: I met just a handful of people that day, one of whom, bizarrely, was riding a mobility scooter.
I had decided some time ago that I would need to walk the whole length of the walk - not necessarily on the same day - before July 17th just to identify where I might encounter problems. So that was what made me choose today's route. If you take a look at the Mappa Sparki, it started at the black spot that indicates Wolverhampton; west a couple of miles to the corner (which is where the Birmingham Canal meets the Staffs and Worcs) and then back east again, through Wolverhampton and almost all the way into Birmingham.
The trouble with that bit from Wolverhampton to the Staffs & Worcs is that it is a flight of locks. Twenty-one of them, in a little under two miles. All going up from the Staffs & Worcs. And it's not a gradual slope - the upslopes are alongside the locks themselves, or else the horses that used to tow barges on the canal wouldn't have been able to do what they needed to do.
At the canal junction, there was a couple who had clearly decided to hire a barge for 'leisure' and they were trying to manoeuvre their barge into the first lock. The trouble is that the space they had to do it in was barely longer than their barge. Goodness knows how long it took them to get up the first flight.
That stretch of canal is surprisingly rural: a country park on the north side, and Wolverhampton Racecourse (pictured) on the right.
It seemed strange to hear birdsong in a place so near home. We don't hear much of it in Birmingham.
I noticed that buds were appearing on the trees:
they will look noticeably greener when I do the walk again, which will be some time in the next couple of weeks.
The next few miles were through a depressing, post-industrial landscape and along a stretch of the canal that is pretty twisty - this was the original route, built by James Brindley.
Signs alongside the canal are confusing and contradictory, with one at Wolverhampton saying it's 14 miles to Birmingham, another three miles or so further on saying it's still 14 miles; and then yet another, half a mile later, giving the distance as 11 miles. There's a tunnel, too: 300 yards long - or a bit more - and unlit, though at least the towpaths have handrails and, today at least, there was nobody coming in the opposite direction.
At Tipton there's a canal junction - and you can take either branch to Birmingham, though the quicker one is the 'new main line'. There's a nice canalside pub, there, too. From there the route becomes straight, and dull: that's until arrival just south of West Bromwich and the Galton Valley. This is the new main line, and the newest part of the canal; hewed out of a ridge, by hand; and containing two elegant bridges, designed by Thomas Telford.
Before that, though, the old main line (which we last saw at Tipton) crosses the new line on an aqueduct, under the M5 motorway.
The one on the left is the beautiful Galton Bridge, which carries a road - now closed to traffic - over the canal cutting. Note the resemblance to Telford's bridge at Ironbridge. The one on the right carries water from a reservoir a couple of miles away; this is used to fill the old main line - else the water would all drain out when the locks were used.
Not far from there, it's home.
The walk took me far longer than I had expected, but I'll certainly benefit from the exercise. I'd gone with a small amount of food - steamed chicken in pitta bread and a couple of sandwiches on
brown bread - plus a bottle of lucozade.
If you do this walk, make sure you use the new main line and not the old one: the old line is longer and, just after it crosses the new one at Galton Valley, there is a stretch on the summit where the towpath hasn't been maintained, though the canal bank has; the result is that the towpath is knee deep in mud, especially after cold or wet weather.
I'll leave with this. Nothing to do with the walk, I just like it.
The Pointer Sisters.